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January 3, 2008

“Always Fresh?”

The latest ads from Tim Hortons feature the “Bagel B.E.L.T.”, a breakfast sandwich with bacon, eggs, lettuce “and toh-may-toooe.” Aside from my friends’ unrestrained mocking of the sheer stupidity of the commercial and the name (more belt notches, anyone?), I can’t help but wonder how Tim Hortons aims to uphold their “Always Fresh” slogan (with questionable typography, I might add) when it’s clear that the ingredients for the B.E.L.T. are anything but fresh in the middle of a Canadian winter. In the past their “freshness” has been called into question with a little doughnut scandal: apparently they were being baked out east and shipped westward to be warmed up before sale. Maybe the Tim Hortons idea of “fresh” is more to do with not being “canned, frozen or otherwise preserved” and less to do with being “recently made or obtained” (fresh, Oxford American Dictionaries).

Their website states:

Introducing Tim Hortons new Bagel B.E.L.T. Made with crisp bacon, seasoned whole egg, fresh lettuce, ripe tomato, and processed cheese. It’s five layers of breakfast – in one. Enjoy it on any toasted bagel.

I’m sorry, fresh lettuce? Ripe tomato? Processed cheese? I can guarantee the lettuce and tomato are coming from either California or Mexico because even here in the moderate southwest BC climate we stopped growing lettuce ages ago, and the last I saw of tomatoes, they were nothing short of abysmal if they were even grown here. Processed cheese is just another disgusting story altogether. Now how about the eggs? It’s a little less obvious where those come from, though they’re probably Canadian. But are they supporting organic growers? Doubtfully. What about free run? Local farmers? How far are these eggs travelling? Is the cost of shipping them negating the low cost of mass-produced, non-organic eggs?

This brings to mind the confusion with which I met one of Panago pizza’s new creations. Imported Italian vegetables? I’d rather they be lying and call them Italian when they’re actually local, because to be honest, Panago is touting gourmet European dining in an age when the movement is toward local produce. It can still be gourmet, it can still be sexy. It is NOT necessary, however, to import veggies during the several months when they’re grown perfectly well up here. I saw another sign recently for something else boasting food imported from France. I wonder, in Europe, are foods imported from Canada a delicacy? Certainly not in Italy, where they take utmost pride in their own tomatoes and scoff at the tennis balls they serve up in the United States. No pun intended. Seriously.

On New Year’s Day we had breakfast at IHOP in White Rock, my second time, and I faced tough choices trying to marry my need for tummy-friendly foods and wanting to avoid Californian products. Greasy, sugary food wasn’t going to cut it, and last time they refused to substitute fruit for hashbrowns (barf) with my ham and egg sandwich. So I paid for an expensive bowl of mostly tropical fruit and a few grapes — from California no doubt — on a bed of a generous leaf of California lettuce. Lettuce? In a fruit bowl? I hate to see food go to waste but I couldn’t possibly eat that. In the summer time the restaurant no doubt serves up our own mix of fruits.

So when will major chains start aligning themselves with greener issues and start cooking seasonal? From what I’ve seen, restaurants that change their menus with the seasons’ local fare are très chic, very appealing and, if you want, gourmet. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. We can’t wait for most consumers to demand it; the change in thinking may need to come from higher up and people will catch on. In the meantime, at home, I’m sticking to my own rules: if it grows here, but isn’t grown right now, be patient and do without.

Update: read this excellent article by CBC’s Heather Mallick about our food fetish and how messed up we are in the West.