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Eating within your radius not so hard with a little help

Viewpoints: Anna Ferguson

"You're doing what?" my mother asked, more confused than shocked.

"I'm doing the 100-Mile Diet," I said.

"Why are you going on a diet?" she asked. This, I found, was a common response. See, the purpose of the 100-Mile Diet is not to trim your waistline, but rather to expand your mind. I tried to explain that to my dear mother, but she only wanted to know what I planned to eat.

"You're going to starve," she said. I found this, too, to be a common response.

For a fleeting moment, I thought those critics were right. The first few days were, admittedly, slightly rough.

After a couple of trips to local farmers markets scattered all around the metro area, I had a lot of green-type things. Mustard greens, collard greens, spinach, lettuce. I had a few add-ins, namely garlic, radishes, onions, green beans and beets. Even with my small bag of grits and popcorn, it was not enough to live on for a week.

And then, after a very, very lucky stop at Whole Foods, I hit a turning point. An ultra friendly employee at the Briarcliff location, who shall henceforth be known as my best friend, helped me locate any and all locally grown foods in the store. This meant trout fresh off a farm in Ellijay, a bottle of wine from a local vineyard, as well as peaches, bok choy, kale, lots of carrots and several other items.

Added with the farmers market finds, I was set.

More or less, I know how to cook. No, I take that back. I know how to assemble, not cook, so preparing all my food from scratch was a new arena for me. My initial efforts did not turn out well. (Let's not bring up the charred popcorn fiasco or my disgraceful attempt to prepare beets.)

Once I got the hang out it, though, I fell in love with this new eating plan. Not only did I learn where to shop for the freshest produce, I also figured out how to make grits the old-fashioned way, boil collard greens, stir-fry bok choy and whip up several variations of Georgia-raised trout.

After spending a few hours in my kitchen, I had concocted a handful of new recipes and had enough food to last a week. (The bok choy stir-fry proved delicious, and the white wine and garlic trout, served with a side of steamed green beans, was to die for.)

During the week, I noticed that my friends and family had become highly interested in the whole ordeal. Between my parents, sister and boyfriend, I received near-daily calls about possible local food leads, and I was sent a dozen or so e-mails with links to helpful resources. It seems that they, too, wanted a slice of the locally grown pie.

My week-long sentence of 100-mile dining was served all too soon, so I stayed on the plan for a few extra days, until my food choices dwindled down to two onions and a peach. Now, even though I'm able to drive to the grocery store and buy whatever my hungry stomach desires, I feel a pull to look at the backs of the packages and see where my food is from. I try to always opt for the items harvested closer to home.

True, only eating food grown within a 100-mile radius of your home takes a lot more effort than traditional eating methods. True, the options of what you can eat are limited to what's in season and where you live. True, there are no bargain buys and member-card specials.

But equally true, knowing where my food was grown and meeting the farmer who grew it does make it taste better. And knowing that I was supporting local agriculture and am much more aware of my dining choices does make my meals easier to digest.

Would I try to 100-mile diet again? Absolutely. In fact, I'm planning to diet again later this summer. Care to join me?

E-mail Anna Ferguson at anna.ferguson@gwinnettdailypost.com.

Eating Local Web sites:

Georgia Organics

678-702-0400

www.georgiaorganics.org

This organization promotes eating locally and sustainable farms. The group publishes a comprehensive, county-by-county guide to Georgia's organic offerings, including farms and farmers' markets.

Local Harvest

www.localharvest.org

The Web site offers a nationwide directory of farms and farmers markets.

Eat Wild

www.eatwild.com

This Internet resource provides a state-by-state directory of grass-fed meat, eggs and dairy products.