Tag Archives: food

Where Your Purchases and Information Come From

“This Headline Is Irrelevant” will never make the front page. The evening news will not say, “Tonight’s top story, Nothing to Report.” You’ll get a lot of “news” about sports, and “Muslim Rage”, but never, “Government Forsakes Tax Payer Interests to Bail Out Acme Corporation” or “Tonight’s top story, our senior business correspondent, fired for investigating our major sponsor”. Likewise, products that admit “may contain nuts” will never admit “may contain cocoa harvested by captive runaway children”.

Spring Meadows Farm

Spring Meadows Farm

If you want legitimate information, you have to get it from the horse’s mouth. So I visited some animals and their farmers two weeks ago on Open Farm Day in New Brunswick. On two farms, I saw turkeys and chickens move about freely in open pens that were not spacious but not overcrowded. I saw pigs that were happy as pigs in…sod (that’s what they’re happy to be in). They ran to me like any family dog would, then scurried off and played. A week later, returning from the farmers market, I ate bacon that came from one of their cousins, smoked by the articulate, charismatic, happy-but-overworked (his words) young farmer with whom I spoke both on the farm and at the market.

Kingston Farmers Market

Kingston Farmers Market, New Brunswick

Another thing I saw on Open Farm Day was grass fed cattle. (Contrary to a popular myth, Canadian cattle can be raised exclusively on their natural diet of grass and hay year round; they just can’t graze in the pasture all year. The alleged “need” to feed beef cattle with corn—which they cannot easily digest, like making a lactose-intolerant person live on milk—is just a way to fatten them up in two years instead of three.) The four dozen cattle grazing in the field were as happy as cattle grazing in a field. The young ones, about 15 of them, were in a barn lined up almost shoulder to shoulder. The barn was clean and quiet, the air was fresh, the young cattle had fresh water and hay. What was distressing was that they were on very short tethers. For their first season, they can do nothing but stand up and lie down. The intelligent and personable farmer explained in plain and unapologetic terms that they are being shielded from pests (horseflies) and predators (coyotes) until they are grown. “We’d take them out for a walk every day if we could, but there are only two of us,” she said. “In the spring, they’ll be out in the pasture with the rest of them.” For a dog or a cat to be chained up like that for a year would be torture. But these are not pets. Compared to conditions for industrial cattle, such treatment is luxury. My first thought was, It’s so unfair. But I looked the cows and the farmers in the eye and, despite my sentimental misgivings, I felt that these were not conditions of cruelty and I did not feel the urge to return to vegetarianism.

If only we could all have such immediate access to the origins of all products we consume. To be able to drive an hour from home and see the very starting point of any item you pick up off the store shelf downtown, and form your own conclusions about how well the system is working. But for most people and most products, going to the source is not so easy. Where, then, do you get your information?

Around 1994, attending a presentation at UNBSJ discussing the emerging World Wide Web, I asked if it could be a reliable source of useful information. The presenter told me it would take time, but he believed it would gradually become a powerful resource.

My immediate reaction upon first reading about Twitter (back when I used to discover things on my own rather than through Facebook, to which I remember having a similar initial reaction) was, “What the hell is the point of that?” But as Oscar Wilde said, “The value of the telephone is the value of what two people have to say.” Although it is damningly faint praise, I can now say that a few minutes on Twitter supplies me with wide ranging information of significantly greater importance and interest than does “the news”.

People who have something valuable to say are finding each other. And, having been away from my own blog for some time, (the rewriting of my novel is going well, thank you), I was pleased to once again find something on my own—an increasingly rare occurrence—while looking for something to read in French.

http://alternatives.blog.lemonde.fr/2012/09/29/sourcemap-le-wiki-qui-simplifie-la-conception-des-produits/

This blog post introduced me to Sourcemap, “the crowdsourced directory of supply chains”. A project of MIT’s Tangible Media Group, Sourcemap “is a social network built around supply chains, enabling collective engagement with where things come from and what they are made of.” Something starts out as some project which then begins to attract a handful of geeks and enthusiasts, and then one day is suddenly indispensable, a tool which becomes to shopping (and selling) as a seat belt is to driving. People are becoming increasingly conscious of the harms their spending can be connected to.

A rant about fair-trade bananas or chocolate gets a pretty small audience. But responsible consumerism may become something in which everyone partakes as a matter of course once it becomes possible to confirm, as easily as checking the weather forecast, whether the thing you are planning to buy is produced under inhumane conditions, grown in night soil, derived from unsustainable sources, or shipped from thousands of kilometres away when a local, ethical, sustainable option might be available.

sourcemap showing sources of laptop

A Sourcemap showing sources of laptop components

With the “era of traceability” now upon us, participating in unsustainable and unethical consumerism is becoming increasingly inexcusable. Even here in backwards old New Brunswick, I am finding with no effort such things as fair-trade chocolate chips and local, grass-fed beef, at multiple locations and reasonable prices (no more expensive than the same products in fancy-ass Toronto where everything other than rent is generally cheaper than on the east coast).

sourcemap reveals shared problem of bottle shipping

Sourcemap shows shared shortcoming of shipping

Take a look, get involved. We can bring meaning to the phrase “guilt-free shopping”. Where did the parts of this computer come from? Where will they go when it is recycled? Who made your T-shirt and where was the cotton grown? Sourcemap is still a work in progress, and it may not dazzle you yet, but watch out. You may soon forget what life was like without it.

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Drop That Banana! Doleful Story of Corporate Malice and Control of Media

Bananas!* (2009) is a documentary about Dole food company being found liable, in an LA courtroom in 2007, for malice and misconduct. No surprise, they got that reversed. (Yeah, like a group of poisoned banana farmers from Nicaragua could win against a billion dollar multinational. Disney puts all the happy endings in their movies, not in their news programs.)

Bananas!* At Any Cost?

Just as Bananas!* was set to open at the LA Film Festival, Dole threatened to sue everyone involved in the production and presentation of the film. Plucky Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten decided that, if they were going to sue him and try to silence his film, he would capture it all on film. The result is the nail-biting and inspiring new film Big Boys Go Bananas!* (2011).

Big Boys Go Bananas!*

As I sat down to watch my reviewer’s copy of the film, a friend offered me a banana. “Is it Dole?” She thought it might be Chiquita. I lamented (whined, blew hot air), “That’s no better.” I prefer my banana growers unpoisoned and fairly paid. As described in the film Big Boys Go Bananas!*, (and reminiscent of stories of corporate news-hijacking discussed in another fine new doc, Shadows of Liberty) Chiquita got an apology from the Cincinnati Enquirer for its 18-page 1998 exposé of how “Chiquita exposed entire communities to dangerous U.S.-banned pesticides, forced the eviction of an entire Honduran village at gunpoint, suppressed unions and paid a fortune to U.S. politicians to influence trade policy.”

Dan Koeppel, journalist and author of Banana: The Fate of The Fruit That Changed The World, says in Big Boys Go Bananas!* “We have an astounding lack of curiosity, the journalism community in the US; a lack of skepticism.”

During the Hot Docs film festival earlier this month, I interviewed the unassuming Gertten. I asked him what he made of this lack of curiosity. Gertten told me his Canadian producer of Bananas!*, Bart Simpson (also of The Corporation), “couldn’t get people interested in this story. [People thought it was]…too heavy… too much …Maybe it’s too dangerous.”

What has changed since Bananas!* [the first film] came out?

In my own country they say that Fair Trade bananas has more than doubled. In that sense, the Fair Trade farmers have better conditions than before. The conventional bananas are produced as they have always been produced, under a cloud of chemicals—one third of the production costs of conventional bananas is for chemicals. So my film, in that sense, hasn’t changed anything for the banana workers. What I did for the banana workers in Nicaragua is, they have fought for a long time to tell their stories to the world. I told their story.

Are things like the Occupy movement and Fair Trade making an impact?

The people who created the financial crisis are still in power…My new film is partly about the PR industry…When a big corporation has a PR crisis, they do everything they can to turn the story around. Can you imagine how much the banks are spending on PR over the last five years! And you can’t follow that money. Because, you read an op-ed in a big newspaper here in Toronto signed by some professor; that op-ed could be written by some PR company and paid for by a bank. And everybody’s hunting away with their microphones to interview the professor, but he’s actually just sending out a paid message from the most powerful people in the nation. And if we could follow that money, if the PR business was transparent, we could see, “OK yeah, but you’re talking—these guys are paying you.” Then we would listen to him in a different way. And that doesn’t happen. So, in these times when journalists are losing self-confidence and losing jobs, and the PR industry is growing and making more money than ever, I think we need to legislate about transparency. If they don’t want to be transparent by free will, then we have to ask for it.

Both films are playing in Toronto this week at Bloor Cinema.

For more information on the films, see http://www.bananasthemovie.com/ and http://www.bigboysgonebananas.com/about

Please read the published portion of my interview for more about why Gertten thinks a documentary about a banana company might be considered “dangerous”. Post City www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/May-2012/Now-playing-Indie-filmmaker-Fredrik-Gertten-takes-on-food-giant-Dole-He-tells-us-why/

Now go enjoy a Fair Trade banana.

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Happy World Fair Trade Day!

World Fair Trade Day, take a step

World Fair Trade Day, Take a Step

 

I discovered today is World Fair Trade Day as I was having my “breakfast” of the Fair Squares (brownies) I made yesterday.

World Fair Trade Day (WFTD) is the largest Fair Trade event in North America, with events happening from May 6 to 20. But the most important event is when spend money on chocolate, coffee, sugar, bananas, and other products that are farmed in far away places, too often in conditions you wouldn’t want to perpetuate, even if it would save you 20 cents a kilo.


 

As my Fair Trade Day gift to you, here is my recipe:

Fair Squares

Mix

  • 1 cup flour (unbleached)
  • 2 tablespoons Fair Trade cocoa Fair Trade

Beat

  • 2 eggs from humanely raised chickens
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ brown sugar Fair Trade
  • ¾ cup melted butter from humanely raised cows

Combine, pour in prepared square pan.

Bake at 325°F for 35 minutes. Don’t overcook.

Icing, prepared just before the brownies come out of the oven and poured on while icing and brownies are hot (if you time it right, the icing will spread itself out in a smooth glaze).

In a small sauce pan melt and heat till bubbling

  • 2 tablespoons butter from humanely raised cows
  • 1 tablespoon  Fair Trade cocoa

Without delay, mix until smooth

  • 1 cup icing sugar Fair Trade is available, so if you don’t find it, request it
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 to 1½ tablespoons milk from humanely raised cows

And to be completely fair, share them. And don’t be shy about letting people know that the treat they are enjoying is not the product of abuse, exploitation and child labour.*

*Unless you had your kids make them.

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Robbie Burns Haggis

Happy Burns Day to you!

Och, you look famished — hungry enough to eat a horse, or sheep entrails. Come, pull up a chair and have a wee nibble o’ haggis!

Fresh butcher-made haggis hot out of the oven

Haggis out of Focus (might've been the whisky), prepared by ethical butcher, cooked at home

Listen: (My Luve is Like a) Red Red Rose

Read: Got haggis? You should — it’s Robbie Burns Day (below)

Robert Burns was born Jan. 25, 1759. His birthday is celebrated all over the world. Best known for having written “To a Mouse” and “Auld Lang Syne,” he also wrote “Address to a Haggis,” an ode to Scotland’s notorious national dish. Burns called it the “great chieftain o’ the pudding race,” but if you find it hard to think of haggis as a delicacy, think of it as sheep recycling. In honour of Burns, let’s consider the haggis, which he immortalized with a “grace as lang’s my arm.”

They say those who love sausages wouldn’t want to know what goes into making them. That goes double for Scotland’s chieftain of sausages. How haggis is made is a simple question to answer: take a sheep’s heart, liver, lungs and anything tasty that might be stuck to them, mince them up with onions, oats and suet (or maybe sweat), fry it all up and sew it into the sheep’s stomach or intestine (whichever you find more appetizing). The next question is “why?” It is a way to enjoy and preserve those precious, tasty bits that might get you through a few cauld winter nichts.

Haggis, which basically means “hash” (or hacked up bits that no one would eat if they were identifiable), is not nearly as horrible as you might reasonably imagine it to be. Granted, before it’s cooked it starts off looking like road kill, but once it’s been hacked, minced, fried, stuffed, stitched, boiled and roasted, it comes out looking like, well, cooked road kill.

By the time it gets to your plate, haggis no longer looks like, um, anything in particular. In taste and texture it’s kind of like a spicy shepherd’s pie. As if that weren’t fancy enough, haggis is generally served with a side of tatties ’n’ neeps (a lovely pair, especially when they’re mashed together). That may sound a bit risqué, but it’s actually just vegetables: potatoes and turnips.

Once you’ve gone through all this trouble, don’t just sit in front of the telly and chow down. You have to dress up in your kilt, parade the haggis to the table marching in step with your household bagpiper and then recite the “Address to a Haggis” in your most obnoxious faux-Scottish accent and pretend you know what it means.

Then you pour a wee nip of whisky from the teapot and toast Burns, then toast the lassies. Repeat until the teapot runs dry.

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Conscious Food Festival, Thought for Food

Toronto’s second annual Conscious Food Festival at Fort York National Historic Site, today and tomorrow, is an opportunity to meet local people who bring you good things to eat. Unlike old familiar festivals around town, this festival is new enough that there is no waiting in line, no crushing multitude. Good food, good weather, good space, good music, good karma, good moods, good times all around!

Conscious Food Festival 2011 map of venue

Conscious Food Festival 2011

While other nations starve, most of us in Canada are able to eat anything from anywhere at any time. But think before you consume. Watching what you eat is about more than just your personal well-being. There are other people, other species, and a whole planet to consider.

It’s not as simple as following some no-buy list, or swallowing every “organic” label hook-line-and-sinker. As Dan Donovan told me when his Hooked fish market opened this spring, sustainability is not about which species you buy, it’s about how that fish gets caught. And the same goes for any other food item. It’s important to know where and how that food was grown, and how was it harvested and brought to where you are.

With Chef Martin Kouprie and members of the Pangaea team

With Chef Martin Kouprie and members of the Pangaea team (and a bag of cookies from ChocoSol!)

At the Conscious Food Festival today, I was fortunate enough to have a good long chat with affable, Fredericton-born Chef Martin Kouprie of Pangaea Restaurant. His new book Pangaea: Why It Tastes So Good is available at the festival at a discount. (And the halibut and ratatouille today did indeed taste so good!)

Other books that will give you thought for food are Locavore by Sarah Elton, Edible City co-edited by Christina Palassio, and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.

And if this kind of thing is your cup of tea, keep your eye out for the next Brewer’s Plate fundraiser.

Bon appétit!

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More to Indian Food: Vij’s

Here’s a taste of my interview with Chef Vikram Vij, who was on hand yesterday at Toronto’s All the Best Find Foods in its tasty new space at 1101 Yonge Street:


There is no vindaloo in your first book Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine. Did you just run out of room?

[Laughs] You’ll never find that. You’ll never find butter chicken either…Why would I do vindaloo or chicken tikka masala or chicken korma? That’s like if someone opens a North American restaurant in India, a pancake restaurant, and then everyone thinks all that North Americans eat is pancakes. Unfortunately, many Indian restaurants have almost the same menu. But if you go into Indian homes, people always use different flavours and make different dishes. And that’s the beautiful thing about our cooking. We have the largest “democracy of food”; you can do whatever the hell you want and get away with it!

 

 

M Read the rest at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Eat/March-2011/Chef-Vij-hits-up-TO-gives-props-to-Kennedy-McEwan-and-Dooher/.

More coming at PostCity.com.

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Locavore Doesn’t Mean “Eat Locals”

Locavore is a new book (if you read as slowly as I do) by Toronto food writer Sarah Elton ( CBC Radio’s Here & Now). It’s a good book — published locally without pesticides or antibiotics, low-fat and high in fibre — but the title could be misleading.

An herbivore (“a” herbivore? now there’s something to fight about) eats herbs, a carnivore mangia il roastbeef, an omnivore eats a family car “specially designed for India”. So I opened this book expecting to learn something about how to take nutritional advantage of people in my neighbourhood. Sure the Emersons are lovely people, but could they be an important part of my diet?

Turns out “cannibalism” isn’t even in the index. Locavore is about choosing, when the choice is there, to buy food that is produced closer to home. Why is that such an important thing to do? Read it yourself, you lazy bugger!

Locavore by Sarah Elton

Locavore, by Sarah Elton

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Bananas: Guilt-free snacking

My father remembers when bananas used to arrive only periodically. They would come off the boat in Saint John harbour and it would be an event. Now everyone expects bananas to be available everywhere, all the time. And they’d better be cheap.

Last winter I saw Chiquita bananas with a sticker that said “Guilt-free snacking”. I thought, Hooray! Chiquita has come a long way since it was known as the oppressive “United Fruit CompanyPablo Neruda wrote about. Then I thought, Wait a minute, this isn’t labelled Fairtrade.

Of course, “guilt-free” didn’t mean “no blood on your hands”, it meant “not detrimental to your well-being”. Far from guilt-free. Most supermarket bananas are the fruits of corporate malice. Buy bananas that really are guilt-free or do without.

Corporations on Trial: The Banana Murders

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