In September 2010, creative social innovator Vicki Robin undertook her own local food challenge – 30 days eating only food sourced within 10 miles of her home. What she discovered moved her to share her experiences – and her questions – through her book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us (Viking Penguin 2014). Approached by readers for guidance on how to set up their own experiments, she came up with a simple basic design: For 10 days or more eat food grown within 100 miles or less of your home. Give yourself 10 or fewer exotics, foods from afar (like coffee or oil) to make it do-able. Within a month she’d built a website and a Facebook group, and launched the 10-Day Local Food Challenge in the Fall of 2014.
Vicki says, “My experience of my 10-mile diet was profound. It changed me. Not only how I eat but where I belong. I felt as never before part of a people and a place, and that my destiny is tied to whether this place flourishes or not. Eating became an act of belonging. I call this ‘relational eating’. To even coin a term is odd. Everyone eats. Most humans for most known history have been farmers. Many people maintain food gardens (during WWII 40% of the nation’s fresh food was from Victory Gardens). Local food isn’t some odd sideline for hippies and yuppies. It’s normal. Abnormal is ‘anywhere, anytime, anything food.’ The 10-Day Local Food Challenge is my gift to eaters – discover for yourself the transformations that come when you put your life in the hands of those who grow food in your wee patch of the planet.”
Ten days seemed long enough to go through a life-changing experience but not so long that busy people couldn’t imagine doing it. One hundred miles as the crow flies seemed to be a wide enough circle to find a sufficient variety of foods. Those that needed more space set a wider circle, and stuck to it. Ten exotics were to take the pressure off – and because she needed 4 (oil, caffeine, salt and lemons) to survive her own 10-mile diet.
Eaters from around the continent and several other countries signed up to find out more. When ready to commit, they took surveys about their locations, intentions, habits, and hopes; and made their own personal commitments for the grand eating experiment. On Facebook, they connected with support, enthusiasm, problem solving, issue opening, and recipe sharing. By the time Halloween rolled around, friendships had blossomed across thousands of miles, and strangers from around the corner had become food buddies too. Momentum grew.
At the end of the Challenge the eaters reflected on their experiences and responded to a survey sharing what they learned. Inspired volunteers gathered, compiled, and analyzed their responses.
Their feedback indicated that the 10-Day Local Food Challenge is a winning formula and a team formed to share the Challenge with an even wider audience in 2015.
Today, thousands of eaters around the world are pondering how they’ll challenge themselves to take their next important steps in growing local food systems right in their own communities.
Why do it?
Local, they say, is the new organic. It nourishes you: body, soul and community. But sourcing our food locally can be difficult. Most of us depend almost entirely the corporate industrial food system for every bite we eat. Few communities have enough local production to cover even 5% of eaters’ daily fare. Can this change? Can we achieve 10% local? 20%. More? How local can we go?
Very simply, dedicating yourself “faithfully” to living a value you espouse but don’t fully embody is a powerful personal transformational journey. Like Lent or a meditation retreat. Like running a Marathon. It opens your eyes. It strengthens your commitment to be the person you want to be.
Beyond that, it gives you a high-integrity place to stand for challenging the status quo. If we want a non-GMO, antibiotic- and cruelty-free, non-toxic, fair-to-farmers, and nutritious food supply, the 10-Day Local Food Challenge gives us firsthand experience of what we stand for. We know we are participating in building the world we want, bite by bite, even as we protest and boycott the food system we don’t want.
Vicki says, “My 10-mile diet also changed my involvement in our collective destiny. I’d been a tireless activist in the 1990s, and tired out big time by 2004 when I was diagnosed with cancer. After half a decade of quiet healing years, I again faced into the darkening storms of climate change and resource depletion. If our agriculture depends on oil, then what? How do we feed ourselves? My 10-mile diet was my experiential way to ask the tough questions. The quest led me to actively hunting for answers to how we can all source food closer to home. What kind of food system do we need? Now, through the 10-Day Local Food Challenge, I’m giving others this question. My dream: a thousand committed eaters around the world on this quest together, each in our own unique places, sharing stories and strategies through this website.”
The local food movement is a positive revolution. The 10-Day Local Food Challenge is a great first bite.