She’s on an “80/20” diet, meaning that the majority of the food she and her family eat only travels 80 miles from farm or ﬁeld to the table.
The term is taken from the book, “The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating,” by Alisa Smith and J.B.
MacKinnon. The two spent one year eating only foods that were produced within 100 miles from where they lived. The book generated lots of focus on eating local foods, wherever “local” may be, and people across the U.S. and Canada took up the authors’ challenge to live off a 100-mile diet.
Think about the last meal you ate. Chances are, nearly all ingredients that made up your meal traveled an average of 1,500 miles to make it to your plate. It may be hard to believe, especially smack in the middle of summer, when tempting and colorful fruits and veggies adorn grocery store aisles and area farmers’ markets. But if you drank a cup of coffee or a soda, if you ate a candy bar or some chips with lunch, the birthplace of your food probably isn’t anywhere near where you ate that food.
And by the time the food reaches your dinner table, it will have been frozen, or preserved, loaded up with additives to keep it fresh, making for some “fresh” but typically tasteless — and unhealthy — fare.
Eating locally grown, fresh, healthy food isn’t a new phenomenon; it was the norm decades before the advent of the microwave, TV dinners and supermarket convenience. For years, Wiitanen, a Paonia resident, has eaten just such a diet, before the idea even became popular.
“I think it’s just the right thing to do,” she said, “to get as much as I can locally.”
She makes a conscious effort to eat foods grown by her neighbors in the North Fork Valley. In a day and age when it’s easier to go to the store and buy a frozen lasagna for dinner, Wiitanen spends hours tending to her own garden, not as a pastime or hobby, but as a primary food source for her family. And that’s rare.
“I recognize that I’m very fortunate to live in a place like this,” she said, a place not only where she is able to dedicate much of her time and land for food production, but a place where a good majority of her friends and neighbors are food producers, too. “I’m happy to support my neighbors,” she said.
And with all that is available in the North Fork, and in Delta County, more and more are signing up for a diet that is as close to home as possible.
“The hundred mile diet is certainly something people can have fun with,” she said. It has the advantage of making people really aware of where their food comes from. A meal in a restaurant may be billed as local fare, but are all the ingredients, from the wheat in the bread to the cream and salt in the butter, from local sources?
People make the choice to adopt a 100-mile diet lifestyle for many reasons. We’ve all seen the prices at the grocery store increase over the past few months, increases that have been blamed on fuel surcharges. As gas prices go up, it’s likely food prices will increase as well. “We have an assumption that things are cheaper in the bigger stores,” Wiitanen said, though that’s not always the case.
Safety issues are also a factor in the diet. There’s an element of trust if you know the person who grew your lettuce or raised the beef you eat. Food that is grown hundreds of miles away and then shipped to the local grocery shelves has more of an opportunity to carry bacteria; for example, look at the recent salmonella cases. “It’s wonderful to know the people who grow your food,” Wiitanen said. “There’s a real security in that.”
For her, it’s about her health. Drinking farm-fresh milk and eating grass fed beef help her feel better. She also likes the idea of supporting her local community through agriculture.
If you’re thinking that sticking to a diet of foods grown within 80 or 100 miles of home would be difficult, Wiitanen’s answer is that it’s only as tough as the person makes it. She says if people are looking for local substitutes instead of what they normally use, they can get frustrated. Instead, she suggests looking around for what’s available and using those ingredients instead.
And the North Fork valley seems to be a plethora of great, locally-made food. Beef, chicken, mutton, lamb, elk and buffalo are all produced locally, as is milk, cream, cheese and eggs. There are jams, jellies, honey, syrups, juices and wines, not to mention all the delicious fruits and veggies.
Monica and her husband, Wayne, have Small Potatoes Farm. They grow potatoes, garlic and chilies, which they sell. They also grow, for themselves, a variety of fruits, vegetables and even some grains.
Making a commitment to live on local foods does take some effort. For instance, this year as a cover crop, she grew rye. She’s planning on grinding into ﬂour to make bread. She has “bake days,” during which she makes her own breads, sweet breads and desserts for the coming week.
She also eats seasonally. “Supermarkets have trained us to expect everything all the time,” she said. Produce is shipped in from far corners of the world, and the result is that people don’t pay attention to ﬂavor. “Maybe you shouldn’t expect a great tomato in the winter,” she said.
Instead, she eats enough of one seasonal fruit or vegetable until she gets her ﬁll. Early this summer, she picked strawberries out of her garden. “I had wonderful,
ﬂavorful strawberries,” she said. And once gone, she didn’t miss them. Now she’s waiting on raspberries.
From her summer bounty, she’s planning to freeze and can some things. She’s planning on having a “hoop house,” where she’ll grow greens and herbs for use this winter. She also uses her own tomatoes, garlic, onions and basil for homemade pizza and pasta sauces that she freezes.
Wiitanen likes to point out that what she’s doing is nothing special. “The hundred mile diet is nothing new. It’s what my mother and grandmother did. It seems normal to me.”
She tries to avoid the “hair shirt 100,” as she calls it. One hundred miles is possible, but maybe not very fulfilling. It comes down to whether or not she wants to use salt, she says. She enjoys cooking with spices, and as of yet, has been unable to grow many of the exotic spices she enjoys. So she buys those from the grocery store. She also buys olives from Croatia through a co-op program, and cheeses from Vermont — two items that are luxuries to the family.
It takes a happy balance to make the 100 mile diet work, or the 80/20 diet. “Could I survive on a hundred mile diet?” she asked. “Yes. But I don’t need to.”
If you’re interested in adopting more local food into your family’s diet, check out www.vogaco.org, which has a list of area farms, markets and food stands that offer a little of everything.