A love affair with leafy greens (i)

In which I wax loquacious on attempts to eat local, be a vegetarian, and discovery of things leafy and green.

It started in September 2010. Having flown across the ocean in an aeroplane to live a privileged student life at a posh old institution of higher learning in Britain and spend lots of time thinking about big problems like degrading ecosystems and unsustainable consumption and collapsing economies – and other things related to too much flying across oceans in aeroplanes and posh old institutions, I thought I’d try to compensate by otherwise being as low impact as possible. One way to do this was to make smart decisions about food, so I became a compulsive label-reader, and quickly realised that ‘low impact’ is really difficult to do: food is mass produced, grows in places it probably isn’t meant to grow (from, say, a climatic, soil chemistry, or pre-existing ecosystems perspective), it is sprayed, spliced, has strange things added to it, is over-packaged, and is flown/shipped/trucked in from thousands of miles away. Food lifecycles are so huge and complex that trying to achieve a perfectly environmentally and socially conscious diet is a decidedly Sisyphean endeavour. It seems you can never win.

So I decided I’d try to do two things in the spirit of a ‘low impact diet’:

(1) Eat as little meat as possible. 

This worked out to me becoming a capital ‘V’ vegetarian, with the notable exception of the occasional fish supper at the local chippy, because I was living in absurd proximity to the Best Fish & Chips in the World*. Outrageous hypocrisy aside, why eat as little meat as possible? It’s all about energy: you can get more energy from eating things lower down the food chain. The logic goes: why eat a cow, which has to be watered and fed grain and sustained for a number of years before I can eat it, when I could just skip all the effort/energy consumed in feeding and watering the cow and eat the grain myself? At the moment, I’m not really capable of providing a more elaborate answer than that, but I hope we can draw this out in future posts. Amy knows worlds more about biology & ecosystems than I and is thus substantially more qualified to talk about this type of thing. Also, she recommended a book to me: Diet for a Small Planet, which I acquired at a lovely bookstore in town (which sadly no longer exists), and expect will be very enlightening.

The other thing I tried to do was:

(2) Eat things that grow in the ground nearby at the time of year when they ought to grow there. 

This is kind of how I justified (*ahem* tried to resolve my own cognitive dissonance regarding) the fish & chips. The fish, you see, were coming in on little boats from the sea, which was literally right there. We’ve already seen that there is doubt about the idea that eating local is be-all-end-all of environmentally conscious diets <link to Amy’s post> and we’ve seen that, at least in Canada, food waste <link> has a much greater environmental impact than food miles. That said, eating local can have social benefits. For example, keeping your neighbours in business is probably good for your community. I also tried to eat seasonally, tried to eat things that could be grown in the climate in which I was living without too much extra energy input. That said, sometimes I just really wanted a glass of orange juice, and god knows oranges do not grow in Scotland. Not yet, at least.

So I went hunting in Tesco (not exactly a saintly food store, but it was in walking distance of my flat). That is when I found kale. Hey look! It grows in England, it’s £1 for a half kilogram bag, and it’s GREEN. That’s important, right? Eat your colours! and all that. Green = vitamin C and iron. Iron is a thing I am concerned about if I’m no longer enjoying the weekly Alberta beef of my upbringing. (I’m not going to lie: it’s good stuff, and my father is a barbequing professional.) But, yes, iron.

I tried kale and I tried cabbage and I after I went a bit overboard one time with brussel sprouts (which aren’t really a green, but look! 1 kg of Scottish brussel sprouts for 50p!!) I tried swiss chard. You can do LOTS of different things with greens. I’m slowly building my repertoire and I intend to share some of my “findings” and am excited to hear about other folks’ adventures in cooking/raw un-cooking with greens.

Greens 

Taste and versatility aside, cooking with greens can be a lovely aesthetic experience. Swiss chard, for example, is a really beautiful thing! It is lovely and leafy and green, and some varieties have the most beautiful rainbow-coloured stems: crimson red and vibrant yellow.

rainbow chard!

rainbow chard!

* The Best Fish & Chips in the World are in the East Neuk of Fife:

+ The Wee Chippy in Anstruther**

+ The Anstruther Fish Bar

+ The Tail End in St Andrews

** ‘EN-ster’ to locals

See my next post for my favourite greens recipe.

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The Olympics, Junk Food and Choice.

Last Friday marked the start of the London Olympic Games. They are an event that celebrates sport, competition, perseverance, national pride and dedication to physical health. So what does this have to do with food? Well, for one thing, there is a tonne controversy surrounding the junk-food sponsors of the 2012 Olympics. Two of the Worldwide Olympic Partners are McDonald’s and Coca Cola with sponsorship contracts until 2020. For the London 2012 Olympic Games Cadbury is among the official “supporters” and Heineken UK is one of the many “suppliers and providers” of the games. In the official IOC Marketing: Media Guide London 2012 document, Coca Cola boasts that it is “proud to be the longest continuous sponsor of the Olympic Games, in a partnership that has spanned 84 years.”

The issue, for many, is that McDonald’s, Coca Cola and Cadbury are makers of junk food, food that does not contribute to health. Some assert it is incongruous with the spirit of athleticism for which the Olympics stand. Opponents state that without such popular sponsors, the Olympics could not afford to be held (which may be true) and that it is up to each individual to make their own choices when it comes to food.

There are many great articles outlining the debate, but this one by CBS news, has Dr. Marion Nestle weighing in (love her) and this article by Neville Rigby for the Guardian UK is also definitely worth giving a quick read.

It is on the “individual choice” point that many disagree. I think it is also the most important point that has come from the controversy over the Olympic junk food sponsors and one I think could be paid a lot more attention. Do we really have the ability to choose? Does everyone have the same freedom to choose what they eat?

Last month, Courtney Shea interviewed Nick Saul of The Stop Community Food Centre for The Grid. The interview progressed toward the notion of choice when it comes to food. Shea asked what Saul thought of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sweetened drink ban. Stating that he was totally for it, Saul asserts, We’re not going to change anything by assuming that people can and will change their own habits. We’ve got to lead by regulating this stuff.” When asked if that does not leave much responsibility to the consumer, Saul responds, “There was a great study done in the States that showed that the marketing budget for one sugar cereal was the same as the entire public health budget in the U.S. This is not an even fight.We privatize profit and socialize cost. Look at diet-related illness. That’s our bill as taxpayers..”

I think that Saul is touching on something very important. McDonald’s and Coca Cola are very powerful companies, which is why they can afford to be counted among the biggest sponsors of the Olympics. They are literally everywhere.There are people who live in neighbourhoods that do not have grocery stores, referred to as “food deserts”. What these areas often do have are fast food restaurants and convenience stores. (Sociological Images has an excellent, very concise post about US food deserts, if you are interested.) A lot of money is spent on fast food advertising, branding and availability. Likely much, much more than what governments spent on nutrition education and to ensure access to nutritious food. When you consider this, it becomes harder to accept the idea that consumers can just chose to eat healthy food or, for that matter, chose not to eat junk food.

Is it the responsibility of the Olympics to take a stand? Is the contested illusion of consumer choice really their problem? Probably not.

What about diet-related illness? Nestle and others have made the point that you don’t see cigarette sponsors for the Olympics, presumably for the same health related objection that is currently being made regarding fast food. But the Olympics did accept sponsorship from cigarette companies up until 1984 as far as I can find. The Olympic Marketing Fact File 2012 Addition mentions cigarettes only once. Under the 1964 Tokyo Olympics reads, “The new ‘Olympia’ cigarette brand generates more than US$1 million in revenue for the OCOG.” Right beside this, in brackets, is the line: “The tobacco sponsorship category is later banned.”

For those who believe the decision to eat junk food is one everyone can make freely, surely cigarette smoking did (and still does) boil down to individual choice. The OCOG took a stand then. Why not now?

hunger: poverty & inequality, not scarcity

“Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world already produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That’s enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. But the people making less than $2 a day — most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating unviably small plots of land — can’t afford to buy this food. In reality, the bulk of industrially-produced grain crops goes to biofuels and confined animal feedlots rather than food for the 1 billion hungry. The call to double food production by 2050 only applies if we continue to prioritize the growing population of livestock and automobiles over hungry people.

– Carl Sagan

[emphasis mine]

(Trying to track down original source)

Soapbox Sunday, anyone?

A cuppa & some thoughts about food waste

Macleans magazine had an article earlier this month about tea bag food waste in Britain. Having recently developed a tea habit on that fair island, and being generally concerned with food and waste and composting, I’ve got a vested interest in this.

Britain’s 62 million residents drink 165 million cups of tea per day. (Fun fact! That’s 2 ⅔ cups per person.) This is a lot of tea, and it produces a lot of waste: tea bags add 370 000 tonnes of waste to landfills per year. Wrap, a government-funded organisation that works to reduce waste, encourage recycling, and to create a market for recycled products, estimates that tea bags are now the single largest food waste contributor in the UK. Now, tea-drinkers are being encouraged to compost their used tea bags instead of throwing them out.

Amy wondered if there is some kind of Canadian equivalent. While my admittedly cursory search did not turn up any one food item equivalent, a 2011 article in the Toronto Star about food waste caught my attention, and is an interesting complement to Amy’s post regarding the locavore/locally-sourced food movement. According to a study entitled Food Waste in Canada by the Value Chain Management CentreCanadians manage to waste $27 billion worth of food per year. This food goes to landfill and, yes, some goes to compost … but it’s still going to waste. In fact, the green bin compost-collection programs in some cities may be acting as a psychological ameliorative: people feel ok wasting food because they are composting it.

What is interesting is that food miles (how many miles food travels — and therefore how much fuel burned and greenhouse gases produced — to get to consumers) are seen as a kind of environmental big bad. In particular, food miles are what locavores/people who eat only/mostly local food aim to do away with. However, food miles are responsible for only 3 percent of food waste, compared to the 51% contributed by consumers who throw out food at home. (I’m unsurprised to find that Desrochers & Shimizu, authors of the new book Amy has mentioned previously, ‘The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of a 10,000-Mile Diet‘ are referenced in the report.)

I’m interested the idea that eating local isn’t the be-all-end-all, perfect solution for food sustainability that some folks might like it to be. This doesn’t mean I’m about to give up on shopping at the lovely Kamloops farmers’ market, or start buying mangoes or avocados as anything other than occasional treats, but it is definitely food for thought. More evidence that there is not necessarily a simple, one-size-fits-all solution for sustainable lifestyles and diets, and all the more reason to keep on experimenting with and learning about food, and strive for zero food waste.

Vegan-easy

A lot of people might think that being a vegan, or cooking vegan meals, or baking vegan treats could be really intimidating. Like it might possibly involve a lot of strange and exotic ingredients, and kitchen acrobatics.

What is a vegan? What is a vegan meal?

A vegan is a human who chooses not to consume any animal products or by-products such as meat, cheese, eggs, dairy, butter, gelatin (sometimes in yogurt, licorise allsorts), fast food french fries (can be deep fried in animal fats), honey (made by bees), &c. It might also involve wearing clothes and shoes made only from plant-derived or synthetic materials (no leather or wool). Folks do this for political, ethical, dietary, religious, and/or health reasons. (This list, I recognise, fails to do justice to the myriad reasons which inspire and motivate people to become vegans, but which must suffice for the sake of brevity. If you know things about being a vegan/eating vegan, please share your thoughts! Teach me things!)

There are varying degrees of veganism. For example, some vegans may go so far as to avoid refined sugar, because sometimes animal charcoal is used in the refining process. A cool lady I knew, Steph, was a vegan for dietary and health reasons (for her, the ethical implications were an awesome bonus), and she owned and wore a kickass pair of leather boots. To each her own.

In short, vegan meals are meals that do not include any meat or animal byproducts. Making a vegan meal might sound challenging. ‘But what would you even put in a vegan meal?!’ one might ask.

the answer

The Vegan Stoner is here to prove that you can make delicious, nutritious, über-cheap, easy-peasy vegan meals with 6 readily-available ingredients in 6 steps! It is even illustrated!! Look:

I’m a big fan of these recipes because they are so basic, they don’t require that you have expensive kitchen tools or know fancy cooking techniques, and while some recipes call for an obscure vegan substitute, they are not all heavily soy dependent. (Soapbox aside: I tend to think an over-dependence on soy products is not terribly good for your body, or the earth. Maybe I’ll write about this another day.)

Since I am not vegan myself, I am ok with substituting cow’s milk yogurt for soy yogurt, and I am ok with using honey instead of agave syrup. (Though if you are looking for something a bit easier to come by than agave syrup, which is a cactus-plant-derived sweetener, you can opt for maple syrup, a tree-sap-derived sweetener.)

Have a go! I think you’ll like it: The Vegan Stoner.

Introduction to bread making

This past weekend I made Amish Friendship Bread. It tasted fine. It has a nice texture and an earthy sweetness that reminds me a little of my Baba’s bread.

This was my first time baking with yeast. To be honest, doing so used to intimidate me greatly. This may seem silly to some, especially because many people all over the world bake their own bread. I am hoping that maybe others share my trepidation, only so that what I write about below might inspire them as well!

Now that I know what the active yeast will look like and smell like – much like beer, actually – I am really excited to try baking a loaf of savoury bread.

I wanted a very, very simple bread recipe and I knew I could count on one man in particular. If you are not already familiar with Mark Bittman allow me to introduce you to my most current food-hero crush. Mark Bittman is a food writer and journalist with a wicked TED talk about the dangers and inadequacies of our Western diet. Mark Bittman explains, “I try to write simple, straightforward recipes that encourage people to cook rather than wow or intimidate them.” I decided to put his assurances to the test.

I was incredibly pleased to find exactly what I was looking for. I challenge anyone to find a simpler bread recipe than this one. To be fair, this is not Mark Bittman’s recipe. He is promoting Jim Lahey’s (of Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan) very simple no-knead bread. Mr. Lahey has a super hip philosophy. Not only should his bread be simple enough that a 4-year-old could bake it, the recipe should be shared with as many people as possible.

I am not at all intimidated to try this recipe. In fact, I am really excited. The first step will be finding the appropriate vessel (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic pot with a lid). I am hoping to give it a whirl this weekend. Stay tuned!

 

If you would like to read Mark Bittman’s New York Times article on Jim Lahey’s bread you can do so here. The same link contains a video of Mr. Lahey demonstrating the process. You can also find the video here.

For more on bread – I am on a serious bread philosophy kick – here is a great TED talk by Peter Reinhart (breadmaker, teacher, author and theologian).

 

Hello and happy Food Revolution Day!

Mississauga and Kamloops (like most other pairs of cities in Canada) are very different and very far apart. Four thousand kilometres, give or take. It’s important to recognise our geography: Canada is a big place and the unique characteristics of each little corner play a big part in how we live our day-to-day lives, the weather, the things we do, the things we eat, the things that grow around us. There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’. That said, we also have a lot in common. Despite our distance, we wanted to do something together to celebrate, explore, experiment with, and share our common passion: good food shared with good people. Good food brings good people together, and good people come together and share good food, whether around the kitchen table, patio table, picnic blanket, campfire, or cookstove. [In our culture,] important discussions, crucial decisions, hysterical laughter, passionate dialogue, plans for the future, business strategy, and demonstrations of love and friendship and family often happen around a table of one form or another. These are important things in which food plays a big role, but we don’t spend nearly enough time really thinking about the food we eat, where it came from, who harvested and/or prepared it, and how it was prepared. Here, we think, write, and learn about food; across distances, one thing we all have in common.

We have been working on this blog concept for sometime now. We decided that Food Revolution Day would be an excellent day to launch.

Welcome to 4000 km + 1 table. We hope you will visit us often.

– Kate & Amy