365 days of food autonomy in the Magdalen Islands

This text is part of the special Pleasures notebook

On December 31, 2023, Gilbert Richard drank one last beer and swallowed one last bag of chips with ketchup. The next day, a great adventure awaited the man who lives in Havre-aux-Maisons, on the Magdalen Islands: in 2024, he was only going to eat what comes from the Madelinot territory. For a year, on his plate, there would be only what he cultivated, preserved, raised and fished.

“It’s not only a personal approach, but also a tribute to the Islands,” admits the 28-year-old professional videographer, who writes everything down to make a book as well as a documentary film, which he hopes to unveil somewhere in the spring 2025. Meeting with a passionate locavore.

Where did the idea for this project come from?

As a teenager, I left the Magdalen Islands to learn the circus in Quebec. Following an injury, I changed fields and studied documentary filmmaking. I was actively looking to come back to the Islands, so I found a little job videographer for businesses. I didn’t like it, so I quit and tried things here and there, including becoming a crab fisherman, a halibut fisherman, a carpenter… Before deciding to start my own video production company.

I’ve been planning for a long time to meet someone who would take on the challenge of eating only Island foods for a year to document it all. I quickly realized that no one was going to do it… except me! I accepted my idea and went for it.

What are your impressions after these first weeks of food autonomy in the middle of winter?

My first observation is that we are really addicted to processed products, full of sugar. I now only have honey in my diet, and no bread or pasta. I also eliminated coffee!

The first few days were difficult, I had sugar cravings and headaches. However, I can now say that my sleep has improved and I have lost weight. I would like to point out that this was absolutely not the goal of my approach, but I note that it is one of the effects of eating less processed foods. Besides, before starting, I had blood tests done and I will have them every three months, to find out if I have any deficiencies.

Otherwise, things are going pretty well! There is a trough in fresh produce in April and May, since my reserves are finished and the harvest has not yet started.

I miss eating grains, since we don’t have them in the Islands. I miss it, that’s for sure. Then I realize I wish I had cauliflower. I could have made fake rice. I’ll get back on track this summer.

What do your meals look like?

For breakfast, I eat mostly eggs, homemade bacon (I have my pigs that I raised, slaughtered and processed myself), lots of potatoes (a flagship product in the Islands). Recently, I made my own potato flour so I could cook pancakes in the morning, just for variety.

My lunches and dinners are the same: I eat a lot of fish and seafood, which I frozen when they were in season, or meat like pork and beef. This winter, I went seal hunting. So I was able to stock up on fresh meat. I froze part of it because in the Islands, seal meat is very festive, we like to share it at large tables. I promise to make a nice meal of it this summer.

As for fruit, I took advantage of the summer abundance to stock up on strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. I have a stash of cranberries, peaches, honeydew melon, and watermelon. I admit that I’m rationing myself a little at the moment, to make sure I have some until the summer months!

I have gardens and a greenhouse, so I grow a lot of things. I built myself a cold room at home, so I can cook my beautiful storage vegetables all winter: potatoes, turnips, carrots, beets, onions.

I was also able to find a man who wanted to help me and who supplied me with milk. I make my own cheese, my yogurt and I am currently preparing my vinegar.

Would you say that you are 100% self-sufficient?

Practically, yes! The only two products that I will buy from local artisans are the honey from Miel en mer (but I have a hive too, and I will soon have my own honey) as well as the Alcyon salt. To make my brines and for cooking, I needed a lot of it, so they will provide me with it all year round.

My project is attracting a lot of attention from Madelinots and, already, some have come to bring me fresh food that they have hunted or fished, including duck and smelt, to help me.

What about alcohol?

The only one I can drink is Miel en mer mead. All its ingredients are local, except the yeasts, but that’s one of my two exceptions, for the bacteria that go into making my cheese and my yogurt, for example. I know there is also a vineyard in Bassin. I have to go visit it!

As summer approaches, what is your game plan when it comes to fresh produce?

I plan to take better advantage of what is in season. Last year I made so many cans to prepare that now I want to eat fresh too. For example, when the lobster returns, or the cod, as well as the chanterelles…

What do you think you will learn from this experience?

I’m learning a lot: fishing techniques, conservation, lactofermentation… I already realize that it’s a sharing challenge. The community is behind me and they want to re-appropriate these hunting, fishing and slaughtering techniques, and to consume more local products. It is the preservation of the intangible heritage of our region.

To follow Gilbert Richard on Instagram : @carnetdautonomiealimentaire

This content was produced by the Special Publications team at Duty, relating to marketing. The writing of the Duty did not take part.

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