Natural Foods Merchandiser

40 Under 40: Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon

Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon
Plenty: Local Eating on the 100-Mile Diet (Three Rivers, 2007)
Ages: Alisa, 36; James, 38.

When the average North American sits down to eat, each ingredient on the plate has typically traveled at least 1,500 miles. In 2005, beginning on the first day of spring, Alisa Smith and James (J.B.) MacKinnon began an experiment to challenge this statistic: For the next year, the two would only consume food or beverages with traceable origins within 100 miles of their apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The two call the 100-Mile Diet simple. "It's a living experiment in local eating that will reconnect you with your food, your local farmers, the seasons and the landscape you live in." The authors say they're proud to hear how they've changed the way others look at food, as well as how they, in turn, have changed their lives and community by discovering local, healthy foods.

Smith and MacKinnon are both journalists. Smith's work has been published in Outside, Reader's Digest, Utne Reader and Canadian Geographic. MacKinnon is a senior contributing editor to Explore magazine, and won the 2006 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction for his previous book, Dead Man in Paradise (Douglas & McIntyre, 2007).

Smith has spoken throughout North America about the importance of local foods in building healthy communities. Their Web site,, is a resource for those wishing to localize their own diets. The site features a 100-mile finder and nine tips for starting one's own local diet.

After a year on the 100-Mile Diet, MacKinnon has vowed to never again eat store-bought sauerkraut. Smith hopes someday to successfully grow an eggplant.

What was your first job in the naturals industry? Or first exposure? MacKinnon's family started eating vegetarian when he was a young teenager; Smith's mom cooked everything from scratch with natural ingredients when she was growing up.

What are the biggest challenges facing the naturals industry? MacKinnon: Gaining a bigger slice of the mainstream market without compromising its values.

What would you like to see change in the naturals industry in the next five years? MacKinnon: For us, we think of local food first, and we'd like to see more natural foods shops take this on as a priority.

What was your inspiration when you were getting started? MacKinnon: The hope that two committed people could make a change in the world.

What's the one natural product you can't live without? Smith: bread. MacKinnon: beer. Guess we're grain-oriented after going without wheat for seven months!

If Ben & Jerry's named a flavor after you, what would it be? MacKinnon: Northwest Best Berry.

What keeps you going on a tough day? MacKinnon: The thought that we're part of a global movement that's gaining ground.

As a little kid, you wanted to grow up to be … Smith: an archeologist. MacKinnon: a marine biologist.

What are you afraid of? MacKinnon: Global warming.

What's next for you? MacKinnon: Making a television show in which we challenge a town to eat all local foods for 100 days.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 36

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