Across the glossy river at East Ballina one sunshiny Sunday, sixteen diners settled down to Sandbar’s Hundred Mile Lunch.
Hundred Mile meals have been conducted all around the world for about five years now – ever since Canadian writers Alisa Smith and JB MacKinnon documented their experiment of restricting their diet for an entire year to include only foods grown within 100 miles of their residence. It is of course the consummate Slow Food experience, based as it is on utilising what is seasonal and local, making minimum impact on the environment. Smith and MacKinnon relied on farmers markets and visits to local farms, and they preserved foods to carry them through winter. They were overwhelmed by the response, first from other locavores and then from local and international news media; the articles they published in online magazine The Tyee led to a book deal and a subsequent best-seller. Its timing was perfect because, while the concept of only eating locally-grown food was hardly new, it coincided with the emerging popularity of farmers markets, the locavore movement and the ever-widening interest in the Slow Food Movement.
It was the book, in fact, which inspired Bush Marketing’s Greg Cromwell to hold his first Hundred Mile meal, and then his second, by which stage he had acquired his own livestock to fatten specially for the event. (Greg, we eagerly await your next!) Others in the region have attempted something similar, notwithstanding the challenges involved.
Some of these challenges were explained the boyish blond Spaniard whose Iberian- inspired menu, cooking classes and commitment to sourcing as much local produce and product as possible for his enviably-positioned restaurant have slowly been garnering a happy following of a tightened violin string as he spoke about his determination to use only what was absolutely in season and of the moment; how he had had to change some original ideas because certain foods were not available; how the inability to use flour, for example, meant that one of the dessert’s components was made of ground nuts. He also spoke about the endless phone calls and driving around in order to source the ingredients but how hopefully the recently eventually facilitate the onerousness of distribution. Finally he left us, swallowed back in to his kitchen in order to send forth our Hundred Mile lunch.
And out came delicate drapings of duck breast from Bangalow Poultry, pinkly roasted alongside a fat dab of beetroot relish; Ballina prawns grilled still in their shells beside a creamy mound of avocado seamed with red finger-lime ‘caviar’; big field mushrooms swathed in molten Bangalow Cheese Company blue cheese; blissfully tender Alstonville chicken flanked with potatoes and warrigal greens and a scatter of burnt-buttery macadamias; Bangalow Sweet Pork Scotch fillet; a finale of halved Alstonville peaches stuffed with crunchy, honeyed pecans alongside a spicy nut-based sponge wedge a little like gingerbread.
It was all lovely, our motley group of mostly strangers united by our decision, this Sunday, to lunch like this. It reminded me of two things – that this fertile region is a veritable source of culinary treasures and to eat locally; and that the more of us who do eat locally the easier it will be for farmers and producers to continue to provide us with their glorious produce. One of the articles written by Smith and MacKinnon says that ‘… we need to reconnect. Because I don’t hold out hope for deep, revolutionary change in the food system unless more people begin to remember what real food tastes like, what foods come with each season, who produces their food and how it is produced, what a Brussell sprout plant looks like, how garlic delivers rain down its stem to its roots, how intelligent a pig can be…’