Thursday, June 26, 2008

Great Canadian lakes... bottled!

When you're behind the wheel cruising those highways and biways, it's common to glance around at other drivers to see what they're up to. Typically, there are cellphone talkers, self-talkers, nose pickers, makeup artists, and that guy that's just rocking out to some tune, two hands gripped around the streering wheel, head shaking violently back and forth, singing at the top of his lungs. It's always a fun game to see if you can find the radio station playing that particular song, that is if he's not listening to a cd! One of my favourite things to do while driving is listen to CBC Radio 1. And one of my favourite shows is Sook-Yin Lee's DNTO (Definitely Not the Opera). A couple of weeks ago, she explored the topic of water, and what water has meant to various individuals growing up. Most of us who have grown up in Canada will likely have some memory of water, be it swimming at the lake in the summer or those awkward shower moments at the local pool. Because food takes vast amounts of water to grow and produce, I thought I'd explore the topic of water in this particular blog. Specifically, bottled water.
Yesterday, Stats Canada just released their findings on Canadians and bottled water. It turns out that 3 out of every 10 households use bottled water as their primary source of water! (Well, I should say used, as the survey was done in 2006). As the environment moves to the forefront of newscasts, and has become the number 1 issue for political platforms, people are reconsidering their decision to dish out that buck and change for a taste of the liquid gold. And when you get right down to it, there are a lot of reasons to discourage us from buying those 600 ml bottles.

First, there is the environment to consider. Obviously, we're moving in a direction away from plastics. And although they are recyclable, Canadian stats showed that 40% of the plastic bottles don't even make it to the recycled bin!
Second, there is the global consideration. Millions of people in the world do not have access to clean water, yet we in North America decide daily to pay for our water instead of getting it free out of the tap.
Third, bottled water is essentially tap water. Ontario in particular, was rated as having the 3rd best tap water in North America. So why do we pay for the stuff?
Our perception of where tap water comes from is misguided, and we have been somehow led to believe that bottled water comes from a cleaner source. Or maybe it's just that we've convinced ourselves of this in this age of convenience.

Provinces, city councils, school boards and even some restaurants are stepping up, and deciding not to buy, sell or drink bottled water. Even politicians in the U.S have committed to head to the fountain instead of the convenience store. It's up to us, the consumer, to stop the trend of bottled water, and start enjoying one of the greatest assets our country has to offer.
Below is the link to CBC's coverage yesterday of this issue.

Pictured above is the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories during a small canoe trip with my buddy Rob!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My current "locavore" craze...

I've always wondered whether human beings develop an ability to be opinionated at a certain age or whether it's in fact innate? There's certainly no shortage of critical opinions... over the past week, I have heard opinions about the state being involved in parenting, opinions regarding recent outcomes of First Nation's residential schools of years past, and opinions about oil, and how its rising price is going to affect our lives. I've also heard critical opinions of who was the worst dressed in Hollywood this week, and why Grey's Anatomy has gone downhill.
Add to the list of opinions that I am en "eco-snob" for writing about my local Ontario diet! I have, on occasion, been accused of being a little sensitive, but consider this... In the June 9th, 2008 issue of Maclean's, Andrew Potter wrote a piece on authenticity, and points the finger directly at people like me! He calls this whole "n-mile-diet game to be an utterly transparent form of status-seeking... it's all a bit of a laugh."
He argues that... "authenticity these days has something to do with ideas like organic and natural and local" in this whole "craze for local eating". He then goes on to call me "navel-gazing" and "narcissitic" in my quest for authenticity.

Until I read this, I had no idea how hard I was trying to be authentic! I knew I was trying to reduce the miles my food travels to get to my plate. I knew I was trying to support family farms instead of the factory farms that have a monopoly in our grocery stores. I knew I was trying to eat healthy. And I knew that I was trying to better understand where my food actually comes from. But thank you Mr. Potter for pointing out that I wasn't, in fact, doing any of this. Instead, I now see that I am making a misguided attempt simply to be authentic, and in doing so, am a snob. Perhaps I can forward your article to the likes of Barbara Kingsolver, bestselling and world renowned author who dedicated an entire book to the subject of local eating in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, so that she too can join the ranks of snobbery. I would quite enjoy the conversation that would ensue between yourself and Barbara as you explain to her why she isn't authentic, let alone narcissistic. I'm sure she'd understand... you're both writers after all.
Below is the article in it's entirety.

Well, my snobbery and narcissism will push on!
Above is a picture of fresh strawberries I purchased at the farmer's market this past weekend.
I can't begin to describe how they burst with flavour as they melt in your mouth!
Last night, I made my first stew. Into the crockpot went fresh Ontario stewing beef, fresh Ontario spuds, fresh Ontario snow peas, and fresh Ontario mushrooms. I added a bit of water, and 5 hours later, savoured every bite, including whole wheat bread with local Ontario-milled flour that I dipped into the au-jus. Delicious!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Product of Canada...

Okay, a quick update... work has been busy and therefore I have been eating the same thing for lunch quite a bit; grilled cheese sandwiches! Granted they're the best grilled cheese sandwiches I've ever had, but Barb, one of the infamous "kitchen ladies" here at work, thought it would be a good idea to document exactly what I'm consuming. I will admit to getting a bit tired of eating the same things, but I think once I have a bit more time on my hands (next week!), I'll put a lot more effort into my meals. Also, people who know me well would tell you of my Coke addiction. It was usually two a day. I'm proud to report that I have not had a Coke in two weeks! Small victories in my world...

Okay... so in the fall of 2007, CBC aired a program on Marketplace about the Product of Canada label on food. Consumers were assuming that if their food had this label, the food was grown or made in Canada. Nope! It turns out that only 51% of the total cost of the product had to be Canadian. If you have 21 minutes in your day, I'm attaching the link, because this is worthwhile to watch. And because of this, I won't inundate you with any rants, other than this one fact that shone above the rest for me. High Liner frozen fish, which you can find in any grocery store carries Haddock and Wild Pacific Salmon, both fish that could be caught in Canadian waters. However, after some research was done, it turns out the fish are caught in Russian waters, shipped to China, then to Halifax or Maine, and then to the plant for processing. These fish have travelled over 25,000 kilometres to get to our plates... unbelievable!

As a follow up, which you'll see if you go check this story out, Stephen Harper held a press conference this past May announcing that in our grocery stores, Product of Canada labels will mean that... "all or virtually all contents are Canadian."
Baby steps!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Where food comes from...

When elementary students come up to our outdoor centre, their first meal is usually dinner, however, staff must go through "Mealtime Procedures" first, where they explain all the ins and outs of the dining hall and how mealtimes work. During this explanantion, 6 students are chosen by the staff, taken downstairs and given costumes representing the sun, water, soil, the farmer, the trucker and the cook. The rest goes like this:

Andrew is on stage and takes a piece of food off the table. He takes a bite, and then discards it on the floor, telling students he didn't really like it. Erin, who is at the back of the dining hall, asks Andrew what he is doing. Andrew replies that it was just a piece of lettuce and he didn't really like it.
Erin... "Do you know how much energy went into that piece of lettuce?"
Andrew... "Erin, it's just a piece of lettuce... no big deal."
Erin... "It is a big deal and I have some friends to tell you why!"
And so the sun, played by a student, comes up on stage and tells Andrew that they are the source of light for all living things and that without the sun, there would be no food at all.
Andrew plays along and asks Erin, "So you're telling me this piece of lettuce comes from a flaming ball of fire?"
Erin proceeds to bring the water up, and Andrew continues to play along, not quite understanding what the point of this is.
One by one, the sun, water, soil, farmer, trucker and cook all give their two cents as to the energy that it takes to produce the food that is being served on the student's plates.
Andrew finally "gets it" at the end and decides to not waste any food. He picks up the piece of lettuce that may or may not have been trampled on by students throughout the skit, but at the very least, has some dirt or sand on it, and finishes it off, much to the students groans of disgust.

On Friday night, I went to the grocery store to pick up some asparagus, one of the only veggies I can guarantee is from Ontario, because the sign at the front of the store boldly states it!
But as I meandered my way through the isles, salivating for a bag of chips or some chocolate eclairs, I realized that there is really not a whole lot in that grocery store that I could purchase, primarily because I don't know where the ingredients came from. When I walk into my local grocery store, first off is the vegetable and fruit section. Here, they actually tell you what country it's from! But then I hit the bakery section, with breads and pita shells and hamburger buns. Followed by canned soups, spaghetti sauce, crackers, frozen pizzas, cereals, juices, canned beans, olives, pickles, etc...

Never mind for a moment the ingredients that are in some of these items. Do we have any idea where this food is coming from? My guess is no. On the packaging, they'll tell you the ingredients, nutritional info, date of expiry and the name of the company that is producing it, but they won't tell you where that pepperoni is from on that delicious McCain rising crust pizza! We live in an age of convenience in North America, which we must take for granted if we don't even care where the ingredients are coming from. Should we care that the chickens we are buying are pumped full of hormones? Do we care that those chickens might be travelling thousands of kilometres just to reach our plate? And where the heck are those chickens coming from?

When we purchase cars, a determining factor can be whether it's North American, Japanese or European. When we buy something off eBay, we want to know what country we're buying it from. We're extremely interested as to where our beer is brewed. (Micro breweries are all the rage right now). Hell, even when we buy that little plastic gadget for the whatcha-ma-call-it to fix the such and such, it even tells us that it was made in China. So why can't our food tell us the same?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rules and Regulations...

Every season, new staff come in, and I'm the one who gets to bore them with things they are allowed to do, and things they're not! I would say for the most part, that the rules are fairly black and white; first aid kits must be brought to all lessons, helmets must be worn while running high ropes, facilitators must check in with teachers at the end of the day... you get the picture! Over the past couple of months, as I have been chatting about this diet with friends and coworkers, I have come to realize that with some, there is an expectation that every single thing I consume is going to be local Ontario ingredients. The "kitchen ladies", as they're affectionately called at work have been very quick to question my every move (they're like my second mom)! Clearly, this is not a black and white subject. In fact, there's a whole lot of grey that I should talk about. Simply put, the authors of "100 Mile Diet" were hardcore, if I'm allowed to use such a word. In order to publish this book, they took things to the extreme... readers wanted to see if they would break on things like coffee, chocolate, and other things like bananas that we take for granted will always be in our grocery stores.
Even Alisa and James admitted that this strict version of the diet would be difficult to maintain for years on end. Their recommendation was to eat as much local food as you could. And that is what I am trying to do. I have started keeping track of what I'm eating throughout a given week, and eventually I will find an organized way to post this info. But I am confident that over the course of time, the average will be above 80%. But in this culturally diverse country we live in, it would be foolish to give up things like sushi, thai curries, and naan.

So here are my rules (so far):

1. Overall, the meals that I eat at work and home will be local Ontario food. Exceptions will be
things like salt and pepper, mustard and salad dressing. But the vast majority of what I
eat will contain local ingredients.

2. If I am invited over to a friends house for dinner, I will eat what is served.

3. On occasion, I will still enjoy meals out at restaurants. I am hoping to eat out less, but if friends are going out for a night on the town (rare in Haliburton), I will join them.

4. As of now, I am still having the occasional beer. Hops are hard to come by in this country, but
I am buying beer that is brewed in Ontario.

5. I will still have the occasional piece of chocolate, but again, I am going to reduce drastically the
amount I have normally consumed. And the chocolate I do purchase will be organic and fair

In time, I would like to see if I can go for a stretch without beer, or without chocolate. But again, this diet is not meant to be the grade 7 teacher who keeps giving detentions for no apparent reason. I'm not out to punish myself! I'm simply trying to think about what I eat and where it comes from. And let me tell you, it's not easy right now.
As I am writing this, students and staff are upstairs enjoying a lovely roast beef dinner, with fresh bread and vegetables. I'm thinking about how I can change the way I cook potatoes tonight to make it more interesting! And I'm hungry!!

Feel free to give suggestions for other rules that you think might be pertinent!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The last two weeks...

Here's the low down... I have worked at an outdoor education centre for the last 6 years where all of my meals are provided for me. The food is good, and tastes even better with me not having to cook it! So it might be an understatement to tell you that this has been tough the last couple of weeks. However, I have not faltered, and have yet to sneak into the back of the kitchen to devour those delicious chocolate chip cookies. (Besides, the kitchen ladies are watching my every move!) I can't really say that I've been eating a lot... in fact, I've been eating a lot less, which is good... in some ways! I have unfortunately skipped a lot of breakfasts, but have been snacking throughout the day instead of big meals. I think most nutritionists actually agree that eating smaller amounts 6 times a day is much better for our bodies than our standard 3 meals a day. Maybe that's just my way of justifying eating more often! So at the market, I picked up local chicken breasts, cheese, veg and some other stuff that's slipping my mind. I survived the first two weeks, albeit I was hungry quite a bit!

This past weekend, I made the trip to Meaford, Ontario and went to the 100 Mile Store, just off Main Street. Barb and Jan welcomed me and showed me around. I felt like I was 9 again, and had just walked into a giant toy store... I was so excited! There was fresh bread with local Ontario wheat (hard to find!), local pancake mix, smoked rainbow trout from Georgian Bay, free range chickens, beef, lamb, preserves, grains and a whole lot more. I filled two baskets, and Barb topped me off with two bags of elk pepperottes, which they grew and produced on their farm. I had a huge smile on my face as I drove home that evening, and couldn't wait to share some of my experience with some friends.
Now, if you know Ontario, you'll know that Meaford is quite a distance from Haliburton, but think about this... my round trip was approximately 500 kilometres; still a far cry from the 2400 average! And my car was probably a little more fuel friendly than those 18 wheelers!
Granted, the trip was far and I wouldn't want to make it all the time. But as I chatted with Barb and Jan, it turns out they have a cottage within a half hour of Haliburton, and offered to bring up groceries for me next time they were up!
So, over the weekend, I enjoyed farm fresh eggs and homemade local bread... delicious!
For lunch, I had the best grilled cheese and tomato sandwich I've ever had... for real!
I even found a local bottle of red wine, made right in the Kawarthas.
I am no longer hungry, and although my menu is still not extensive at this point (primarily due to the hectic pace of work), I am enjoying my food. I can only hope that my creativity with the ingredients I have will improve dramatically over the course of the next few months!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Some preamble...

Often, we read books or watch movies or see theatre that inspire us... ignite an idea or thought that make us want to change in some way for the better. All too often, I have had these moments of inspiration that have lasted anywhere between 30 seconds to a few weeks. But sure enough, life gets busy and that thing I promised myself I'd do fades into the background until it's often forgotten. This is my attempt to change that. And although writing a "blog" seems almost cliche to me, it seems like a good way to be accountable for what I'm attempting to achieve, which is to have 80% of my diet be food that is grown locally in Ontario. For one year!

This new journey started last fall when I read "100 Mile Diet", a Canadian bestseller about a couple in Vancouver who decided to eat locally grown food within a 100 mile radius of their home for a year. All ingredients had to be from within this 100 miles... so no chocolate, no coffee, no sugar, no bananas, no pineapples...all those spices that we take for granted in our everyday food... nope! The only exception they made was salt. (And when they got invited over to friends homes for dinner, they would eat what was served, and when they were away and had to eat out, that was okay too). But the idea was to eat local food, as best they could, for 365 days. The reason behind doing this is fairly straightforward... the average meal on our plates in any given day travels 2400 kilometres. Ingredients in that plate of food can potentially come from 5 countries other than your own!

Although there is a tendacy to label people like myself a hippie or a tree hugger or even an environmentalist, where our food comes from has become an emerging issue over the past year, and Canadians are jumping on board. Do you know where your chicken comes from when you buy it in the grocery store? Do you know the practices of the farm that produced it? Does it cross your mind that the avacado you just purchased was grown in a country thousands of miles from Canada and shipped by trucks burning huge amounts of fossil fuel just to get that avacado into the supermarket? Hmmm... this blog is going to be difficult... because already I can feel myself being preachy, and that is not my intention. Both of my parents were church ministers earlier in their career, and have uttered their fair share of sermons (most of which I was doing something other than listening in the back row of the pews), yet had an ability throughout not to sound preachy.... to engage their congregation without pointing fingers. This is my goal... to engage you in conversation without seeming like a "know-it-all"! You can let me know how I do!

So two weeks ago, I went to my first farmer's market in Peterborough, and had no clue what I was doing! I brought home about 30 potatoes, most of which are still growing roots on my floor right now. (Most of you who know me well will not be surprised by this!) I came home with onions, garlic, chicken, tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers... wait a second... it took me a short time to realize that bell peppers were likely not grown in Canada in May, let alone Ontario! What was going on here? I found a contact name for the Peterborough Farmer's market, and gave the woman in charge a ring. I suppose you could argue that I should have just asked where the food was coming from, but it was a farmer's market, and I assumed that the veggies were coming from their farm. Well, it turns out that food sold at the market is supposed to come from their farms, but this matter is hard to police, and therefore it is up to the consumer to know better! Lesson one learned... even at a farmer's market, you need to ask that farmer directly if they grew that food before you fork over the dough!