Back in 2008, when I was living in Surrey, BC, I stumbled upon a grassy, vacant lot and an age-old idea: a community garden where the area’s townhouse residents could grow their own veggies and compost their food scraps. It never materialized beyond a blog post, “Community solutions for food security and urban health“, and today — I did some Street View sleuthing — there’s another cookie-cutter house on the lot. So be it.
Fast forward to 2020. We’re currently 6 months into a pandemic, there are issues with food security (still), and seed sales are through the roof. We need each other more than ever, but we have to stay apart. That doesn’t mean we can’t come together on solutions.
I’ve been reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver) this summer, which puts great emphasis on how food — specifically local in the case of this book — brings people together, in celebration and as part of their culture. With that in mind, I’m pleased to tell you about an upcoming, worldwide event that uses the occasion of dinner toward making positive change. (Two of my favourite things in one — how could I resist?)
The Feast Worldwide is a day of global dinner parties in 40+ cities across 6 continents. The goal? To spark collaboration that drives local entrepreneurs and social initiatives forward.
On October 18, we’re inviting Vancouver to explore the global theme of progression through food and sharing. Join us in envisioning, “A world where growing and eating healthy food connects people.”
The idea is simple. Come for an interactive dinner that explores connections between food, community, technology, sustainability, business, health, design, and more! We’re inviting incredible entrepreneurs to share their work to inspire greater discovery and ideas. Let’s sit together over dinner — and instead of talking about problems, talk about ways to support each other, collaborate, and make things work better.
“…we don’t plant too much of any crop, though we are growing dangerously close to having too much garlic. But then how can you ever have too much garlic?”
— Brian Brett, Trauma Farm
I procrastinated a little bit and planted my garlic in November last year. In my kitchen, garlic doesn’t survive very long before being eaten, so it was almost reluctantly that I saved a mere four cloves for planting. They were paired up in pots far too small, I knew, in shallow soil less than ideal but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. To my delight, they all came up, and come summer I enjoyed five plump garlic scapes.
Uniform, flawless produce requires a heartbreaking amount of food waste. (Photo by rick via Flickr)
If we’re to feed the world delicious, nutritious food and halt climate change, we have to kill the supermarket.
There are many reasons why I suggest this enormous beast be culled. It thrives on the unsustainable industrial agriculture model of large-scale, monocrop food production, where food is not grown for taste or nutrition. It’s then shipped long distances, so you can eat lettuce in Vancouver in January. Even if garlic is grown in your region, you’re served up the garlic from China instead.
The produce section is a sterile place devoid of scent (the first sense to get us salivating), where the fruits and vegetables are uniform, barely ripe (if at all) and virtually flawless. It’s no wonder children don’t know their food grows in the ground or on a vine: the produce is so unnatural, it hardly seems a product of nature. Its sprawling, dizzying vastness is a maze that encourages overconsumption and takes up excess land to, among other things, allow for extra-wide shopping carts. It makes buying junk food more appealing than buying produce through a combination of store positioning, packaging and price, and this leads to disease.
I could go on; the reason I’m going to focus on here, however, is its massive — and one could suggest criminal — contribution to food waste.
While searching for articles more in-depth on the first issue here, I came across some interesting finds. If you can read between the lines, you’ll figure out my headline. (Unintentional cheesy rhyming.)
Update March 9:Today’s ethical deal is 50% off two Vancouver Farmers Markets memberships!
Following several mentions at this past weekend’s Greenest City camp of how food prices have risen in the wake of higher oil prices, I was reminded again by The National‘s coverage tonight. They examined which commodities have spiked most, how our food spending compares to other nations and how to save money.
The prices for grains, dairy and sugar — the latter of which is non-essential — have risen by 10% to 30%, reaching in some cases historical highs. When comparing food spending — Canadians put 11% of their income toward it, whereas the Chinese spend 36% and in Yemen 80% — it’s important to realise that while our food spending has trended downward, our health costs have increased dramatically. This relationship between food and health spending has much to do with the quality of our food. So while the CBC’s reporter suggests 11% is a good number, I disagree.
Rising oil prices, a trend that will inevitably continue as supplies dwindle and economies recover, are a reminder of just how much energy goes into agriculture from the field to the plate. For Americans, the combined cost of transportation and energy accounts for more than 10% of the cost of US-produced food, with the majority of each dollar going to marketing. Factor in how much of our food comes from other continents — bananas, cocoa, sugar, seafood, rice — and watch that energy cost go up.
If London’s too far away, there’s a Food Coop in Port Townsend, WA. So next time you’re feeling plastic-free and hungry on your way to Seattle or Portland, or you’re a diehard Twilight fan, be sure to stop by. Supporting small businesses with these genuine values is incredibly important.
It took me almost four years to find out that in 2007 the US Department of Agriculture approved commercial production of the first genetically modified food crop containing human genes, a “laboratory-created rice [that] produces some of the human proteins found in breast milk and saliva.” In my head, my reaction to this was incredible disgust mingled with angry expletives and a little bit of fear. From what I’ve learned about genetically modified organisms, this paves the way for the seeds to be patented — in other words, effectively patenting human genes. Patenting pig genes was bad enough.
I’m extremely skeptical that the “good intentions” of treating “children with diarrhoea, a major killer in the Third World”, are actually valid. Genetic modification has a history of being touted as a way to solve food shortages, but they wind up leaving GM farmers poor, and organic farmers sued when seeds contaminate their crops. As for these children, attempting to treat them with GM products — any negative consequences of which may be unknown — is akin to us focusing the bulk of our efforts on curing cancer and diabetes and almost completely ignoring prevention. We should be ensuring access to healthy food, clean water, and education. Whatever Monsanto and other GE agribusinesses say about solving developing nations’ problems with their products is complete bullshit.
With lucky last-minute tickets, I attended an engaging talk by author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) at Vancouver’s spectacular UBC Farm this afternoon. This was his only Canadian stop on a book tour for the paperback edition of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (reviewed here earlier this week) and the location could not have been more appropriate. The afternoon included a quick farm tour after the talk, upon which I’ll touch later. It was cloudy for the talk, quite gladly, then the sun showed up afterward and made the place look like paradise! I enjoyed eating a yummy home-made salad and watching others eat around me. The event sold out all 670 tickets, and each person received a signed copy of the book.
If that title seems confusing at first, the sentiment simply represents the chaotic experience of the modern North American in deciding what to eat.
With thousands of choices at the supermarket, diet advice that changes every year, and a regular barrage of the “latest studies” that turn previous ones on their heads, it’s no wonder we’re looking for simple solutions. From fad diets to the latest incarnation of margarine (50% lower in calories!), what to eat and how much is often up to the discretion of our sources — the most prominent of which have other motives besides your health in mind. And even if you think you know what to eat and are feeling pretty healthy, chances are you can still do better. Michael Pollan, recognising this conundrum, offers seven words that will change your life in the most literal sense: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
In the first two of three parts of his fifth book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008), Pollan illustrates in depth the problems with our food (in the broadest sense possible) and how it is we arrived here. The history is fascinating, and it is that which helps the reader understand why and how we got here, who the key players are and, ultimately, how to go about fixing it. As it turns out, the history goes back a long way.