• Matteo De Vos

A 100-mile diet in Paris

Rediscovering food in the world’s food capital

I live in Paris: the sentimental capital of gastronomy. Or so they say. A food lover’s paradise. Yet for all that Paris has to give, for all the tastes and all the glory, how much of what it has to offer is, in fact, ‘Parisian’?

After interviewing best-selling author J.B. Mackinnon of the 100-Mile Diet for the For Food’s Sake podcast last week, I got thinking. What would a Parisian 100-mile diet look like?

The challenge:

For 7 days, eat only food produced within a 100 mile radius of where I live. No exceptions. For starters, that means no condiments, no sugar, no coffee. Add to that no meat or fish, since I’m a vegetarian. To top it off, do it in the winter. Et voilà — you have yourself a recipe for disaster.

Or do you?

Committing to a strict 100-mile diet certainly seems absurd, impossible, and pointless. In the days leading up to my challenge, I braced myself for a rough week of bland repetitive meals. Winter vegetables are hard to get excited about. But don’t knock the diet before you try it.

Here is what I learned.

1. You’re not the first.

Half an hour of Googling will tell you that the locavore movement is nothing new. Looks like I’m a decade too late. But don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing. The movement is alive and well.

I signed up to La Ruche Qui Dit Oui, a French online platform that connects local farmers with consumers. It’s as simple as ticking the food you want from a cleverly filtered, neatly categorised, eye-catching online grocery list. Et voilà — you have yourself a recipe for success! With over 40+ drop-off points across Paris, you’re never more than a fifteen minute walk away from your local goodies.

2. The palate must adapt

So we’re off to a good, positive start. The 100-mile diet is not only feasible, it’s doable. But I sign up just too late to get in on the week-end’s delivery. Instead, I head to a small grocery store called Les Poireaux de Margueritte. I stock up for the weekend— Lettuce, fennel, carrots, Brussel sprouts, onions, mushrooms, pears, garlic, baby potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, and even local beer.

And yet, the first three days are rough. Winter is still winter. Pears and spinach for breakfast, boiled potatoes, lettuce, carrots and mushrooms for lunch. Pumpkin soup for dinner. No salt, no pepper, no butter or olive oil. Exquisite Parisian cuisine suddenly doesn’t feel quite so exquisite. The palate takes time to adapt.

3. Thirteen different types of mushroom

Where I first felt dread at the thought of ‘losing’ the richness of an abundant global diet, I soon felt excitement at having gained something completely new.

It’s Tuesday night. I pick up my delivery from La ruche from Gaité Lyrique, a beautiful historic theatre-turned-cultural centre in the middle of Paris. I meet the volunteers and sit down with the organiser, Lionel Guerin. I meet a farmer selling thirteen different types of mushrooms. I collect lettuce picked the very same day.

I see pride here in what they do. Undeterred, unfazed, and defiant, these people choose to opt out.

I begin to give more meaning and significance to what I eat. That Belgian endive, onion and mushroom stir fry feels earned. I look forward and begin to long for dinner. I value my ingredients, for I can no longer take them for granted.

4. A bittersweet diet?

Once upon a time, Paris did source all its food from the surrounding countryside. But no more.

The 100-mile diet is a glimpse into the past. Paris has largely moved on.

I spent over a year living here eating the way most Parisians do — with pleasure — but with little understanding of where my food came from.

But let’s not get too sentimental.

The 100-mile diet is an opportunity to act, to reconnect and rediscover; not a sulking exercise, longing for better days gone. The local food movement is resilient and resurgent; it’s clear to see if you look for it.

. . .

Our taste buds are spoilt rotten and we don’t even know it.

I urge you to try a 100-mile diet. Catch a glimpse of what food has always been about. Get a taste of what lies behind your food. Honour and support those in your community who dedicate their lives to feeding you.

You won’t regret it.