Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: Plenty

Here is a great read, chronicling one couple's attempt at eating locally!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of several books I've read already that start out with a similar mission: the author sets out on an experimental journey (usually of one year), vowing to eat only foods that come from a certain radius of their home. In other words, to plunge headfirst into the locavore movement to see if it is a feasible goal. Of those that I've read (including my beloved Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), each has its own flavor and personality to add to the genre.

Plenty is definitely worth reading. Written by both Alisa Smith and her partner, James, there are tender moments between the two...and not-so-tender moments as their relationship centers around their eating. They add plenty of personal background stories, and have some great, well researched pages about the history of human beings and food. There are even some deep moments in which James and Alisa question everything about their very lives, which resonates with anyone who is...well, human. I enjoyed the humor, wit, and pure emotion these two willingly expose along their journey.

What I really like about Plenty is that Alisa and James live in a city apartment, with literally just a balcony. After years of waiting, they have a tiny plot in the community garden, but not enough room to grow a significant portion of their own food. It was inspiring to read about their dedication to finding sources of food within their 100 mile limit. Even if, at times, I wondered about all that driving they were doing (trips to the outermost limit of 99 or 100 miles to find food started to become routine). They did make sure to mention that they had a 'tiny' car with great gas mileage.

One of the challenges that really resonated with me was the difficulty they had procuring rice and flour. Lack of local rice was not a huge shock, but not having access to wheat? I commend them for their commitment to their project even when facing this staple loss! While trying to work with other carb sources, and eating LOTS of potatoes, the theme of searching for wheat was recurring. They were close to victory a couple of times: once getting a tubful of wheat from a nearby farmer who had grown a small amount but found it unprofitable. Their precious tub of wheat quickly became an elephant in the room as they began sorting it...and finding they had to separate almost equal parts mouse poop from the wheat berries (which smelled like mouse urine even after being sorted). What a huge effort filled with disappointment! Once Alisa and James finally find a local wheat source, near the end of the book, I nearly cried with joy with them as they baked and feasted.

When not driving to obscure locations, they walked to farmers markets, or, shockingly, rowed to the sea to collect saltwater in order to make their own salt. Yeah, they did that. Everything else in the book was pretty mainstream for collecting/foraging/seeking out local food, but by adding the saltwater story at the end, I saw that they were willing to take great pains to truly obtain their own food in the future, if they suddenly were no longer able to put gas in that tiny car. Which is a skill that I think we should all be thinking about obtaining!

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