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November 27, 2006

"The Fabulous Girls' Guide to Eating Local"

Having a little bit of fun with the eat local challenge: Pim from Chez Pim gives readers the scoop on the other products: the hot farmer men! A good laugh, of course. Take a look.

November 26, 2006

"Cost in Translation"

Seriously, now — why aren't organics getting affordable?

Christy Harrison
25 Aug 2005
Full article

So you like whole-grain bread, pesticide-free plums, and low-fat meat? Better ask for a raise.

A recent study by researchers at the University of California-Davis reported that U.S. shoppers who consistently choose healthy foods spend nearly 20 percent more on groceries. The study also said the higher price of these healthier choices can consume 35 to 40 percent of a low-income family's grocery budget. That's bad news for public health. It's also bad news for the organic-food market, since organics usually carry the highest price tag of all the healthy stuff out there.

Eventually, analysts keep telling us, demand for organics will set the wheels in motion that will drive prices down. But eventually never seems to come. Even though organics sales are growing by about 20 percent a year -- almost 10 times the rate of increase in total U.S. food sales, according to the Nutrition Business Journal -- these cleaner, greener products still carry a hefty premium.

How many shoppers have to jump on the organic bandwagon before we actually see prices fall? How long will that take? And what's the government's role in all this? It depends who you ask.

» Read the full article at Grist

I highly recommend reading the public feedback in response to the article.

The converted

Whenever I was told, growing up, that I should eat whole wheat bread because it's better for me, I argued that it didn't taste good with my favourite cheese (cheddar), unless toasted or melted. I took only white bread in my school lunches unless it was a peanut butter sandwich! However, I liked to have a variety of white bread, though I would refuse even now to stoop to the Wonderbread type of sliced white bread. I rarely had anything quite that fluffy. It's probably my European blood that dictates to a certain extent my preference for drier, heavier breads... but it must have been the cheese that determined my bread choice.

This spring I moved in with my boyfriend, who picked up some cheap 100% whole wheat bread. We made sandwiches with it for a road trip. I assure you, even a McDonald's cheeseburger is almost heaven when you're hungry/bored on the road. (I boycott them otherwise.) The sandwiches had mayonnaise on them, I'm sure, plus honey ham, cheese, and lettuce. The bread was soft and almost melted in my mouth. I fell in love. Since then, I've discovered that even when I'm not bored or starving, whole wheat bread tastes GREAT with cheddar cheese.

I also realised why my lunch in high school often left me unsatisfied: white bread isn't a whole lot of anything. Whole wheat bread has much more substance to it, in addition to the nutrition.

It seems I needed to discover the taste before I could give in to the health benefits. This project has really drilled those into me, after what I've read and experienced. The other thing is that we rarely have any quality white bread, since there is little selection at supermarkets. My favourite ones are the organic breads from SuperValu. I think it's the Mediterranean Bakery or something. We don't have SuperValu out here so I don't get it often anymore.

I don't bother with enriched breads, but I do like heavier multigrain. What I don't like is Orowheat's extra packaging: they put it in a second, thin plastic bag inside the main one! That's upsetting because a) that's extra waste and b) it makes it really awkward and messy to get bread out. I don't find it keeps it any fresher, longer. Oh, speaking of which... white bread goes mouldy so much faster.

Finn Crisp rye bread

Some favourites growing up include Tilsit/Havarti cheese on pumpernickel bread; salami + tomato on pumpernickel; cheddar or cream cheese on Finn Crisp thin rye bread (cream cheese + chocolate Quik powder is good too) which you can get in Vancouver.

November 18, 2006

What does food mean to you?

What does food mean to you?

"Will We Ever Eat Well Again?"

End of Food author Thomas Pawlick believes there's hope if we begin with ourselves.

By Kendyl Salcito
Published: June 28, 2006

Thomas Pawlick believes "the food industry is destroying our food supply." He also believes those who eat responsibly can not only become healthier but also provide some small impetus toward a system that serves us better.

In The End of Food, the science reporter and journalism professor from eastern Ontario makes the case that today's produce lacks the nutritional sustenance it had 50 years ago: meat is higher in sodium and fat and lower in protein and vitamins, and the genetic modification of some foods is wreaking havoc. "You can't eat a tomato or a potato or a carrot or anything now without it having either a whole lot of toxins in it or very little nutrition in it compared to the old days," Pawlick told The Tyee, during an interview last week in a Vancouver restaurant.

Read the full article and very interesting comments(!)

» See also the excellent Gremolata.com interview with Pawlick, and the wonderful CBC Radio archives of interviews with him.

» Great interview with Thomas F. Pawlick @ The Writer's Café, in conversation with host Robert Gougeon

» The article was republished with further comments on Guerilla News Network.

"The ducks in the henhouse"

Wild birds are being blamed for the death of 19 million chickens. Yet factory farms are the real problem.

By Eve Johnson
Published: April 13, 2004

Yes, the scope of the avian flu epidemic in the Fraser Valley staggers the imagination. How do we digest the idea of 19 million birds, mostly chickens, all being killed over a matter of a few weeks? It's hard enough to imagine 19 million chickens living, much less all dying at once, between here and Hope.

How did there get to be so many of them, so close to us, so close to each other, so vulnerable to viral infections?

Johnson continues, revealing the disastrous truth behind the epidemic: what really started it, how the industry won't take the blame, and how mistreated chickens are in today's world. Why should their conditions matter to us? We eat them.

Read the full article with comments

"Living on the 100-Mile Diet"

Eating a truly local diet for a year poses some tricky questions. First in a series.


By Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon
Published: June 28, 2005
Article with comments here

It's strawberry season. James and I are at the Ellis Farms u-pick on Delta's Westham Island, crouching between long rows of the bunchy green plants, plucking the big berries and dropping them gently into small buckets. We imagine their future with cream and in pies. I lick the sweet red juice from my fingers. "If I make jam we can have strawberries all year," I say. James asks with what, exactly, I plan to make the jam? Sugar? One of the planet's most exploitative products, shipped in from thousands of kilometres away?

"But what," I reply, "will we eat all winter?"

This may seem like a peculiar question in an age when it's normal to have Caribbean mangoes in winter and Australian pears in spring. However, on March 21, the first day of spring, we took a vow to live with the rhythms of the land as our ancestors did. For one year we would only buy food and drink for home consumption that was produced within 100 miles of our home, a circle that takes in all the fertile Fraser Valley, the southern Gulf Islands and some of Vancouver Island, and the ocean between these zones. This terrain well served the European settlers of a hundred years ago, and the First Nations population for thousands of years before.

This may sound like a lunatic Luddite scheme, but we had our reasons. The short form would be: fossil fuels bad. For the average American meal (and we assume the average Canadian meal is similar), World Watch reports that the ingredients typically travel between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres, a 25 percent increase from 1980 alone. This average meal uses up to 17 times more petroleum products, and increases carbon dioxide emissions by the same amount, compared to an entirely local meal.

Let's translate that into the ecological footprint model devised by Dr. William Rees of UBC which measures how many planets'-worth of resources would be needed if everyone did the same. If you had an average North American lifestyle in every other way, from driving habits to the size of your house, by switching to a local diet you would save almost an entire planet's worth of resources (though you'd still be gobbling up seven earths).

Mmmm, good?

But forget about virtue. Think instead about the pure enjoyment that should come with eating. Few would deny that all this seasonless supermarket produce often has very little taste. Those grapefruits the size of your head, and strawberries the size plums used to be, have the consistency of cardboard. On the other hand, we took our inspiration from a meal we created entirely from the bounty around us while staying at our off-the-grid cabin in northern British Columbia: a Dolly Varden trout, chanterelle mushrooms, dandelion greens and potatoes--all from the fields, forests, and streams within easy walking distance.

So our rules, when we began, were purist. It was not enough for food to be locally produced (as in bread made by local bakers.) No. Every single ingredient had to come from the earth in our magic 100-mile circle. Our only "out" was that we were allowed to eat occasionally in restaurants or at friends' houses as we always had, so that we did not have to be social outcasts for a year. And, if we happened to travel elsewhere, we could bring home foods grown within a hundred miles of that new place.

Immediately there were problems. First was the expense. We used to eat a nearly vegan diet at home-our dwindling bank accounts emphasized how much cheaper beans, rice and tofu are than wild salmon, oysters and organic boutique cheeses.

Shrinking butts

Then, we wasted away. We were unable to find any locally grown grains-no more bread, pasta, or rice. The only starch left to us was the potato. Between us, we lost about 15 pounds in six weeks. While I appreciated the beauty and creativity of James' turnip sandwich, with big slabs of roasted turnip as the "bread," this innovation did little to stave off the constant hunger. James' jeans hung down his butt like a skater boy. He told me I had no butt left at all.

At the end of these desperate six weeks, we loosened our rules to include locally milled flour. Anita's, the one local company we found, said they got their organic grains from the Peace district and from Saskatchewan. We decided this would have to do. We had phoned a couple of local organic farmers who, on the Certified Organic Associations of BC website, listed wheat among their products, but one said he no longer did it, and the other never returned our call. Surely, 100 years ago, farmers grew wheat in the Fraser Valley to supply local needs, but the global market system is a disincentive to such small-scale production. There's no competing with the huge agri-businesses that have cloaked the Canadian prairies with grain.

Then there was a lack of variety. From March 21 until the farmers' markets started in mid-May, the only locally grown vegetables available were humble fare like kale, cabbage, turnip, rutabaga, parsnip and leeks. By late April, even these ran out in our West Side neighbourhood stores-Capers, IGA, Safeway, New Apple, and the Granville Island market-and only U.S.-grown versions were available. For a couple of weeks we wondered if it would be possible to go on with this crazy diet. We could walk into, say, an IGA and look down all those glittering aisles, and there was not a single thing we could buy.

On a late-April visit to Victoria I checked out a Thrifty's supermarket, and they had a local organic salad mix. I bought a huge bag to bring home-at $17.99 a pound. While we are grateful to have a Capers near our home, we were frustrated that, for about two weeks after local lettuces were for sale at the Trout Lake farmer's market, Capers continued to sell only organic greens from California.

Farmers' market heaven

Now that the farmers' markets are in full swing, we are perfectly content with the 100-Mile Diet. But the markets end in September. What to do from then until next March? My thoughts turn to preserves. Then it comes back to the sugar question.

"Couldn't we use honey?" James says as we survey our 26 pounds of fresh-picked strawberries.

"I don't think it will 'jam' with just honey," I say. "And you need so much sugar-I can't imagine what that much honey would cost."

The strawberry lady tells us that the Cameron family sells honey just up the road, so we drive there to find out the cost. The bee lady, Gail Cameron, walks out of her bungalow when she hears the crunch of our tires on the driveway. She tells us that this is the first honey of the season, blueberry, and she gives us a sample on a popsicle stick. It is the sweetest, most delicious honey I've ever had. We buy a kilogram for $11. (A kilogram of sugar costs $2.59.)

At home I heat a few saucepots of strawberries until they release their own juices, and grudgingly add one cup of precious honey, to make a grand total of two large jars of preserves. I was right, they don't "jam," but we do end up with a tasty sauce. We pray for good bulk rates when summer sunshine gets the bees making more honey, but we suspect that honey is out of our reach as a means of preserving a winter's worth of fruit. But there is d├ętente for now on the sugar question-at least until blueberry season next month.

Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon will be writing twice a month on The Tyee about their attempt to eat well on the 100-Mile Diet. For more information on finding locally produced food visit the web site of FarmFolk/CityFolk at www.farmfolkcityfolk.ca

More articles by Alisa and J.B.:
Why We Pay Too Little for Well Travelled Food
A Local Eating Rhapsody
The Incredible Expanding 100-Mile Diet

Visit their website at 100milediet.org
Article reprinted with permission from the author.

November 8, 2006


At the market this week, I went to pick up tomatoes, among other items. While carefully picking through the tomatoes, I noticed people going for the more expensive (over $1/lb) on-the-vine tomatoes. I'm sure they were drawn by the same thing I would be: natural-looking vine-bound tomatoes with rich(ish) colour. One bunch I picked up featured one patchy-looking tomato that was part green/yellow. Yum... sometimes tomatoes don't look perfect, they in fact look terrible. I was tempted to tell a man that they're (the red ones on the vine) not really as good as they look, but I don't tell people how to shop.

Loose vine tomatoes
Recent photo. You can see some of those were definitely picked green!

The ones I got seemed to have come down in price. When I photographed them a week or so ago, they were $1.19/lb and on Monday they were merely $0.99/lb. They're local grown "loose vine tomatoes." The local grown part was attractive. Some of them were very hard (not firm, hard), and some were soft. I chose ones that weren't too squishy and had good colour. They didn't seem to be bruised or anything. It was satisfying having tomatoes that I feared could actually get squashed! The next step, of course, is to try them and see if they taste as good as they feel.* On the other hand, home-grown tomatoes from my mother's front deck had a sort of springy firmness, like you could squish it if you squeezed hard enough. They're kind of like inflated balls. They're tender, but not too squishy. Sometimes they're fuzzy as well. That's the perfect tomato.

Ripe tomatoes have a very distinct colour, although I'm sure it varies between varieties, not that there is much selection in stores.

The appeal of local produce is very seductive. I often walk out with more produce than I intend simply because it's local. I went in thinking I wasn't going to get potatoes or apples just yet, but the potatoes were local grown, and the Granny Smith apples all looked different and were a good price. The peppers had gone up in price since the summer/end of summer, but they looked good overall AND they were local grown. Green peppers from California? Forget it. I support local farmers. It seems most of everything I buy there now is either grown locally or somewhere in BC. The Chinese mandarin oranges were, of course, an exception! (I find the best ones are smaller and slightly squishy, like the skin is loose.)

When you're given the choice, do support local growers! If organic produce is the same or similar price, try to get some of that too. For instance, Safeway romaine lettuce was 69c each. Organic romaine lettuce at my local market was also 69c each.

Author Marion Nestle pointed out that the benefits of organic produce go far beyond higher nutritional values, which itself has been debated. Because the growing methods do not rely on chemicals, it is healthier for the environment. The method "conserves natural resources, solves rather than creates environmetal problems, and reduces the pollution of air, water, soil... and food", Nestle quotes Joan Gussow in What to Eat (55). Nestle writes, "Pesticides are demonstrably harmful to farm-workers and to "non-target" wildlife, and they accumulate in soils for ages. ... If they really were all that benign, there would be no reason for the government to bother to regulate them, but it does" (45, What to Eat).

*The verdict? The tomatoes I bought, though not as impoverished as the Dole tomatoes, tasted horrible. They're fairly flavourless, and in fact kind of revolting, and left pinkish water in the plastic I had them wrapped in. Overall, they were very unpleasant. I still have 3 more, and will have to disguise them in a burrito. Blech. I told my friend that I'm sick of these bad tomatoes.

Watery tomato juice on my cutting board
The evidence

A very yucky tomato
The culprit!

Looks pretty good, right? Well, don't be fooled... And the phrase "beauty is only skin deep" definitely applies to non-organic tomatoes.

November 5, 2006

"U.S.: Ozone-Zapping Pesticide OK"

Full article posted at Wired News.
Associated Press 10:45 AM Nov 04, 2006

The Bush administration on Friday won international approval for U.S. farmers to use thousands of tons of a potent ozone-destroying pesticide without having to dip substantially into large stockpiles that were recently revealed.

The pesticide, methyl bromide, was banned under an international treaty nearly two years ago except for uses deemed critical. U.S. officials have secured exemptions to the ban so that growers can use it to kill soil pests for tomatoes, strawberries and other crops in agricultural states like California and Florida.


"It's extremely disappointing that now that the U.S. has finally confirmed its enormous stockpile [nearly 11,000 tons], it continues to fight tooth and nail to get special treatment in the world to use a gas that will cause increased skin cancer and a host of other environmental effects," said Sascha Von Bismarck of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

The article says that their reserve stockpile of almost 11,000 tons is down from over 18,000 tons two years ago. That's more than 7,000 tons, or 14,000,000 (14 million) pounds, or 6,350,293 kg in two years which is 7 million pounds per year! And they say they're "cutting back"? The "methyl bromide phase-out" was ordered 14 years ago.

"Many farmers have switched to other pesticides for a 75 percent reduction in methyl bromide levels since 1991." Why does the government still need more?