I'll use any excuse to go to the farmers' market, so when I heard about the 100-mile diet--eating food produced within 100 miles of my home--I had to try it. I wondered if it would be possible to subsist on food grown and raised in and around New York City. So on a warm, autumn day last September, I got my canvas bags out of the closet and headed to the Union Square Farmers' Market in Manhattan. I felt like I was wandering through a gigantic garden. Folding tables under tents along the walkway were heaped with bushy lettuce heads, lavender eggplant and gnarled sweet potatoes. Bunches of radishes, beets and carrots showed off their spindly roots. Tomatoes of all different colors were spread out in squares like a quilt. With just a few exceptions, all of it came from within 200 miles of New York City--close enough to count.
Before that day, I hadn't been much of a local food connoisseur. What intrigued me were the diet's environmental benefits: buying locally means less fossil fuel burned to transport food, which means less pollution and greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. But buying exclusively local takes a lot of effort, and it can be hard to determine the origins of many foods. Plus, the diet can be expensive and choices are limited to seasonal offerings.
The concept of the 100-mile diet started to spread in 2005 when pioneers James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith decided to eat foods produced within 100 miles of their Vancouver home, which is surrounded by mountains, a valley and water. "That was big enough to have the potential to feed us, but small enough to feel genuinely local," says MacKinnon. They lived to tell about their experience in the book Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, which hit shelves last May. Fiction writer Barbara Kingsolver's testament to eating mostly homegrown food with her family, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, came out the same month.
Confining "local" to a certain radius is not a new idea. Gary Nabhan, author and founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH, a nonprofit organization that preserves heirloom seeds that connect Native Americans with the land, ate foods produced within 250 miles of his Arizona home for a year in 2000.
Although I was inspired by these conscientious consumers, just deciding what I would eat for breakfast made me nervous. I planned to make few exceptions--no coffee, tea or orange juice. I prepared menus and talked to people who...