What’s your Island?

Jul 28, 2015
Vicki Robin
galiano saturday market

Galiano Island Saturday Market

If you say “Yes” to the Challenge, you’ll find yourself, for 10 days, on an island 200-miles across with you standing at the center. There’s still food 101 miles away, but for 10 days, it might as well be across the ocean.That’s how I felt when I did my 10-mile diet in September 2010 on Whidbey Island. Like a kid nose pressed against a department store window longing for all the things now out of reach. But what I lost in access, I gained in a surprisingly wonderful feeling of belonging.

Last weekend I visited Galiano Island off the coast of Vancouver Island in Canada. I was the speaker for a harvest dinner and gave myself 5 days to meet the community and relax. Being there was a bit like being on Whidbey – and I realized the Challenge would send all of you into island life.

An island is a perfect place to practice local eating. Even with ferries to take you to the mainland, the shoreline reminds you that you are part of a small patch of the planet, shared with a small community of people. And “island” is a perfect metaphor to help you think about your Challenge.

Where will you be for your Challenge? Chicago Island? New Orleans Island? London Island? Missoula, Montana Island? Dubai Island? Sound odd? Dangerous? Challenging? It’s supposed to.

Take Chicago Island for example. According to a recently published study by Andrew Zumkehr and J Elliott Campbell or the University of California Merced, Chicago Islanders could actually feed themselves from their 100 mile circle because it’s surrounded by farmland and no other big city competes for that productivity. A lot would need to change, of course. Habits and preferences. Limited (but luscious) seasonal choices. Cooking and preserving food. Even the laws and customs, because those farmers would need to be rewarded for growing for Chicago Islanders rather than export.

See. You’re already thinking like an islander.

Other metropolitan areas – certainly places like Dubai Island – a Challenger would soon discover some of the limits of what seems now to be a limitless food supply. You’d soon learn how food circulates through your economy, and find community gardens, farmers markets, food delivery services, restaurants that feature local products. Some Challengers might find that the only way to survive for 10 days of local is to draw a 200 mile circle – but you’re still on an island.

Here are some benefits of island life you might glimpse from your Challenge.

When you are an anywhere, anytime, anything eater you become like the products you buy. You are anonymous. You conform to get along. You’re not special. On an island, though, you are special and unique. I noticed on Galiano how people spoke about their island-mates. An artist is “our” artist. A grocery store is “our” store, independent and more able to stock unique local items. The recycle center is volunteer run and donation dependent – “our” dump. On an island, everything hauled from the mainland is a candidate for up-cycling rather than tossing. It’s “ours” and precious. Island Recycling on Whidbey, for example, will buy anything with a second life in it, limiting what you have to pay to toss.

In cities, our fun is often manufactured for us. We consume entertainment. The whole world is like a multi-plex in a mall. What distraction can we feed you today? On island fun and festivals are often home-grown with local talent around local traditions. On Galiano, the community that invited me to speak for the harvest potluck also runs a popular blues festival. Yes, they have blues performers, but the festival actually honors their annual blueberry harvest. Blues in a bowl. Blues in a band. On Whidbey we have August street dances each Wednesday at Bayview corner, and 2 days after returning from Galiano I was whirling around to the sound of PeTe, a local band, with friends I’ve known for a decade as well as lots of others new to me, all of us enjoying the evening, the full moon and the friendly spirit.

Your 10-Day Local Food Challenge may open your eyes to the unique people and businesses around you. The festivals, the music, the art – and the local food – are all elements of localism, communities expressing themselves through their people and landscape, being nourished body and soul, through art, friendliness, mutual aid, shared harvest.

Don’t be surprised if a warm feeling washes over you. I discovered from my 10-mile diet (documented in my book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us) that I seem to have longed my whole life for this belonging. I hope you discover this through your 10-Day Local Food Challenge, though far be it from me to say what YOUR finish line will be. Please join our community so you can share your stories as I have here.