Friday, June 3, 2011

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My Story!

Thriving after a year on a 100-metre diet

PUSLINCH TOWNSHIP — The recipe sounds exotic and straight off the table of a five-star restaurant. Handmade, organic ravioli filled with goat meat, dandelion leaves, chives and tomatoes, with a light tomato sauce.”

Along with sounding mouth-watering, the dish is something else: everything but the flour in the pasta came from within 100-metres of Greg Stevenson’s home.

The Puslinch resident recently completed an entire year when almost everything he ate came from within 100 metres. That means that he had to raise, grow, gather and forage what he ate from his 4.5 acre (1.8 hectare) property. The only things he allowed himself to buy were flour, sugar, local honey, spices, vinegar, oil, yeast, baking powder, vanilla, yogurt starter and the “odd vitamin.”

The idea came to Stevenson, a pension consultant, in January 2010.

“I looked around the farm and saw we had chickens for fresh eggs, and goats for milk, and I thought, I think I can live off what I have for one year,” he says.

The idea was also driven by his weight and diet.

“I was pretty discouraged with the food I was eating, and I knew there had to be a better way.”

Rather than jumping in immediately with both feet, Stevenson planned for six months, planting and storing up some food in the freezer. In June 2010 he started, treating it mainly as a diet at first. He quickly realized that wasn’t the way to go, as his weight dropped from 198 pounds to 160 in only four months.

“I realized you have to eat when you are hungry and eat as much as you can, because you are eating healthier foods,” he says. “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.”

The first months of the diet were the easiest, says Stevenson, as he was able to eat the bounty of the garden. By the time late December and January rolled round however, Stevenson realized the full implication of his decision.

“Around Christmas, I stopped milking the goat, so I could just drink water,” he said. “In January I realized I’ve got nothing fresh, I’m just living off of my freezer. That was the hardest period.”

It was then that he relied on the support of his wife, Barb, and three boys, Michael, Matthew and Daniel.

“This year absolutely brought our family together,” he said. “They all pitched in when they could. You couldn’t go through this on your own.”

Most of what he ate was egg-based, as well as homemade cheese and pitas. As for vegetables, his diet consisted primarily of tomatoes, squash, zucchinis, onions and potatoes. Fruit was more difficult, as he had to rely on foraging some wild grapes, currants and some rhubarb. In terms of meat, Stevenson at first relied on his stockpile of 20-plus frozen chickens and a goat that they had butchered before he began.

According to Stevenson, the tough thing about the diet is the amount of time you spend in the kitchen. While he appreciates the cooking process the experience has given him, he says he would spend a lot of his weekends preparing food for the week ahead. If he had a family visit on the weekend, the week ahead would be “eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he says with a smile.

In order to have enough meat for the final five months, Stevenson brought two of their goats, Lucky and Chocolate, to the butcher in January. While some would have a tough time killing an animal they had bottle-fed, hug and named, Stevenson takes a different approach.

“I treated them with respect, I raised them humanely, but I knew their ultimate purpose was for the table,” he says.

It is all part of the appreciation for food that Stevenson says the year gave him.

“You won’t remember a steak you eat one year later, but I won’t soon forget the animals I’ve eaten this year,” he says. “That’s very meaningful for me.”

Now that it’s officially over, did Stevenson run to the closest convenience store to grab a bag of chips and a soda?

“I’m not that person anymore,” he says. “Once you begin it’s hard to stop, I’ve changed and I don’t want to eat that way again.”

Stevenson is in the process of figuring out how to proceed and “evolve” his diet. He says he is going to buy beef from a neighbour who raises cattle, and that he will be a regular at the Aberfoyle Farmers’ Market, following a simple mantra:

“Nothing out of a can or a bag,” he says. “If it’s not in its original packaging, I’ll say no.”

Not that Stevenson is an activist for the “humbling” diet.

“It’s hard and it’s not for everyone,” he says. “It gave me an appreciation of where food comes from and the effort that goes into preparing it,” he says. “Grocery stores today are selling convenience. I just made the choice to not go the convenient route.”