A few years ago, Canadian husband and wife team Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon put on their locavore shoes and decided to feed themselves food which they could source within a 100 mile radius from their home.
The couple relied on farmers markets, and local farms for most of their products, and the exercise became well known after the couple wrote about their adventures in the best-selling book : 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating (or Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally). I hadn’t read it, so down to a popular cook book store I went. The owner laughed at me, “Man, I haven’t even bothered with that one, you just can’t do it over here, I mean can you?” Tell Mira “NO” and her brain doesn’t quite register; surely I could do this, at least for just one day? I could forage, take out some of those preserves, butter my bread with marrow, skin a few street squirrels Girl Hunter style? Problem Number One – it’s the dead of winter. Problem Number Two – my garden is caked with three feet of snow. Problem Number Three- whilst my palate has a renewed appetite towards meat over recent years, it rarely extends beyond the big three.
But, I was up for the challenge and decided I’d loca loca my way over to market and see what I could find. Before that, I did some mucking around on the net, and found a couple of tools to help me calculate a 100 mile radius from my house. This tool will provide you with a visual and textual breakdown of towns included in the 100 mile radius. The Atwater market is smaller than the larger local Jean Talon market, but I like it for this reason alone – its compact size makes shopping easy – you have one large fish store, several specialty butchers, two cheese shopees, and one bakery. Montreal being close to the St Lawrence river, and the province being abundant in lakes, I am thinking there must be something fishy for me to find for dinner. Tough luck, whilst there’s plenty of the finned variety from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the nearest fish did his last laps in Maine.
I keep on and meet a butcher from Saint-Vincent. “Where’s that I say?” It’s in the grid, and I buy fresh eggs (not even in a carton), some pork, lamb and beef mince (for work pot-luck pies) and a little bacon. It’s going well, but this does not complete a meal. To the vegetable stalls, and whilst there’s loads of vegetables – most of them have accumulated several thousand frequent flier points on their way to market. I settle on some potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes (for soup), and a kilo of apples and apple juice. For breakfast I want to make pikelets – yet although I find some locally milled flour, its three times more expensive than what is in the supermarket. Into the specialty food store, and there’s a proud display of Italian imported pasta, grains – red rice from China, chickpeas from India, not a single grain from Québec.
I’m getting stuck, and it looks like asides from a Jerusalem artichoke soup, which I can dress with some rosemary butter made from the plant I have growing on my kitchen sill, it’s going to be a standard meat and potato dish. I do yet another trip around the market, and then start thinking about my husband’s forbearers – what did they eat before there was imported chorizo and olive oils on every supermarket shelf? More so what did they do before the local greengrocer was pushed out of his shop by the big brother food corporations? I then thought of my father-in-law, and on the rare occasion he cooked, he would usually prepare something from his hometown in Northern Quebec. That’s right slow cooked beans in maple syrup! Instead of breakfast, I’d serve the beans for dinner, but what with? Around the corner was my answer, a sausage store using biologically raised meat. I chose deer with apple and maple syrup. I didn’t dare ask where the deer came from, so excuse me if old Bambi doesn’t fit in the map, but be happy he didn’t have to board a cross-Atlantic flight just to land on my plate. Back home, I unloaded my loot on the table, and figured I’d done a pretty good job.
- Breakfast: Baby pikelets with apple butter
- Lunch: Jerusalem artichoke potage with garlic and rosemary butter
- Dinner: Slow cooked beans with maple syrup & molasses and deer sausage with apple.
It wasn’t too tough, but it was basic, with the biggest challenge being a lack of variety amongst the vegetables and grains. I was happy to have a good selection of root vegetables on hand – including beets, potatoes, the chokes, and I think Quebec farmers do a good job in preserving these through the long winter months, but I wonder whether the local farmers market really is the right place for imported oranges and avocado? I had fun doing this, but seriously speaking, this is no fun and games matter. As the world’s dependence on petroleum grows and gas prices increase, the food sold in supermarkets, and even some of the food in the market I visited today has travelled up to 1500 miles to get there. Most of the products on supermarket shelves can barely be called food – with something like 80% of packaged food containing two products – soya bean and corn, food that has been so fooled around with, it no longer resemble the crop it once was.
I live in Québec, where it’s especially tough to stay local, the winter is long, and I myself am in no way a purist, yet we can all do better. Most cities, including Montreal do have community supported agricultural projects where people can sign up for a weekly fruit and veg basket for example. Also, if you do a bit of research, most farmers would be happy to have you pick up your meat or dairy products from the farm itself – which if you have kids, is a great outing. There is a myriad of locavore online resources to help you plan your meals, and in my experience, preserving, saucing and growing your own is where the real fun lies – not only are you helping preserve scarce farmland, and look after our fragile environment, but you are keeping yourself healthy. At the end of the day, I felt lighter, healthier and calmer.
Jerusalem artichoke potage with roasted garlic and rosemary butter dressing.
8-9 Jerusalem artichokes
2-3 medium-sized potatoes
a liter and a half of vegetable stock
two knobs of butter
Sprig of fresh rosemary
2-3 bay leaves
3 cloves of garlic
Peel and dice the potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, place in saucepan and cover with vegetable stock. Add in the bay leaves.
Bring to boil, and then simmer until vegetables are cooked through.
Take out the bay leaves, and then purée the vegetables and stock in a blender with a knob of butter.
Put back into saucepan.
Finely dice garlic and rosemary, and then in a small pan, melt the other knob of butter and lightly sauté the garlic and rosemary (1-2 minutes).
Serve soup with the rosemary butter garnish.
For information on Atwater market, visit: http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/English/Mission/