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… Comes Around

this is part 2 of my earlier post, What Goes Around… where I offer a way out of the “food guilt” that we foodies may feel amidst the mass production of a plethora of foods and the slippery slope between following every new trend and being true to your food.

lemons and olive oil Happy GourmandI am a believer in moderation and practicality. For most people, the idea of living within the concept of the 100 mile diet is not something they are willing to do. I know I enjoy lemons and coffee and olive oil too much to say I will swear off eating them. My husband says anything that is called a diet puts him off immediately (chefs don’t like being limited).

I like the concept of Slow Food, that says you support local producers and encourage traditions to continue as part of everyday life in working towards a sustainable food community. That can include supporting the local store that sells  organic lemons and fair trade coffee and  artisan olive oil, as they are likely the place that also sells local strawberries (instead of the imported ones shipped by the pallet-load) and other seasonal fare.strawberry fields

I also think that education is crucial, and it happens to be another Slow Food pillar. We all need to understand our food – where it comes from, how it grows, what connection it has to our history and our future. If the only way we see food is wrapped in plastic, already portioned, then our education suffers from a lack of information. Children should know that bacon comes from a pig, not a grocery store. When they understand the pigs can live a happy life then maybe they don’t need to think they should be vegetarians because we are cruel to animals. If there is no sharing of traditional celebrations or recipes and their preparation, then our palates suffer from a lack of distinction in flavour. Grandma’s recipes should live for generations, and not just because they were published. Often the secret is in knowing just how to prepare a dish, or season it, so that it has that special something. We all deserve to be thrilled with our own food.

Maybe I did play a part in creating the monster. Now that it has reared its ugly head, though, there seems no reason I can’t be of help in getting a lasso around its neck so we can train it to work with us instead of against us. If sharing my enthusiasm can include the encouragement for others to learn the whole picture and not just the processed one, then perhaps we can reach a happy medium. Everyone deserves to have access to good, clean, fair food – food that tastes good, and is free from unnecessary chemicals, and for which the producer receives a fair price. All these advantages are then passed along to the consumer, who is aware and supports all of these tenets.

I am fortunate enough to live in a region where there are many people connected to the land, and happy to share their enthusiasm and their knowledge. Slow Food is a new organization in our community, but its philosophy is already alive and well here in the Okanagan, and I am proud to be a part of it. There is an orchard down the road from our house that is owned by the same family who planted it one hundred years ago (in the Canadian west that’s a long time!)Okanagan peaches Happy Gourmand They sell the fruit at the fruit stand on the corner, and the taste of fruit picked that morning simply does not compare to the same variety packaged in crates and shipped and sold in a major chain store. In season, the fruit stand prices are close and sometimes even cheaper than the stores, but I for one am willing to pay a bit more for the taste of fresh Okanagan sunshine packaged that way. Maybe the extra pennies are like penance for my foodie sins, but I don’t mind – it’s worth every delicious bite!

Do you have a favourite local food or traditional recipe? What is a delicacy where you live or where you come from?? I’d love to hear your comments. If you prefer Facebook, you can join me thereslow soup too!

If you are interested to learn more about Slow Food, you can check out their fabulous website with many stories. There are convivia (local chapters) in over 150 countries, so I’m sure there are like-minded souls near you. If you live in my neighbourhood, you can follow Slow Food Thompson Okanagan on Facebook.

Slow and sweet

I’d like to link you to a post I wrote for the Slow Food Canada newsletter, about my time as a delegate at the Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre 2012 – the international conference held every 2 years by Slow Food International. We are hosting the national Canadian conference here in the Thompson Okanagan in April 2013, and our delegate team was so excited by what we experienced that we are preparing a mini-Terra Madre to share the stories of our region.

This is a cause I believe in strongly – food is at the heart of our existence and community is what keeps all of us going as individuals. Having a strong food community means being in touch with what’s on your plate. If you share my passion, feel free to check and see if there is a convivium (local chapter) in your area. If you live in my region and are keen to be involved, you can contact me directly. I’d love to hear your comments on this topic too!

thanks to fellow delegate Sara Dent for this great photo

thanks to fellow delegate Sara Dent for this great photo

“Slow and sweet” – my experience at the Terra Madre honey bar in Turin, Italy

How sharing food can change the world

I was fortunate to attend a gathering of people who share a common passion – enjoying food. This may sound like any other dinner party you’ve been to, but imagine if you will a party of about 5,000 people. We didn’t speak the same language, we came from all walks of life and corners of the world, but we could enjoy sharing a taste of food because we all believed that everyone deserves to enjoy good food. We all believed that we are each responsible for taking part in our food community.

one of 4 halls that contained booths with food – and stories – from around the world

The gathering I attended is called Terra Madre. It is a conference organized by the food communities that belong to Slow Food; there are 2000 of them around the world, representing over 100,000 members. It’s a chance to share ideas, learn new information and go back to our communities energized with ways to make a positive change. Not to mention we tasted all kinds of food from around the world!

More than anything, this was about the experience that food can create in our lives. Sometimes the talk was of “edible education” – the importance of teaching children about the pleasure of good food that is sustainable and wholesome. Other sessions discussed keeping traditions alive by sharing the stories of food and maintaining them in the environment and in the culture. Still others delved into the politics of sustainability and hunger. There were panel discussions that offered many points of view but many of my most powerful memories are of conversations I had with other individuals, or interactive experiences. There was effort made to ensure we enjoyed our food, from the way it was prepared to the venue and atmosphere in which we consumed it.

different kinds of grains grown around the world … there are 15 kinds of millet alone!

I took part in a bread-making session held by a family that has produced bread in their region for 4 generations. I don’t speak Italian, and the presentation wasn’t offered in English, but I could understand the gist of it. They spoke of their passion to flavour the bread with whole grains, milled fresh, and herbs in season. They spoke of the character of the bread, the sense of place it offered in its taste. They were proud of their work, and happy to share the secret with others. They even sang about it!

I sipped a special drink that was invented in Turin, called a Bicherin, in the cafe  where it was first created.

Basilica della Consolata, in Turin

This delectable combination of chocolate and coffee with full cream on top was designed to offer sustenance to those enduring the long church services at the basilica across the piazza. The parishioners would sneak out to the cafe and down a drink so as to be able to make it through the entire service.We lingered and enjoyed a biscotti with our beverage, just like the locals at the next table.

performers delivered salad on unicycles!

I had a lunch that offered local ingredients prepared by local chefs. There was salami and cheese from local producers, regional wines, a risotto made with a special cheese that has layers of flavour from different batches that are stacked on one another in a pyramid, and a dessert of candied beets and persimmon “pearls” in local ricotta.This meal was experienced in a circus tent, allowing the flavours to unfold at the same time as the story of two young performers who fall in love and celebrate on a rope trapeze, while another is jilted and performs an angst-ridden acrobatic routine in a giant spinning hula hoop. In the background, a gypsy band played mournful accordion and guitar. Art, music, food and wine – this was an integrated experience, to be sure!

If ever I was unsure about the importance of enjoying food and how much it can galvanize relationships and create a sense of community, this trip convinced me. I think that is the secret to teaching people who have not discovered this magic: don’t just feed them, share the food with a smile or a touch or a story. Remind them we are all connected, and the food is one of the most basic ways we stay connected – to each other, to our community, to the planet. Slow Food is about everyone’s right to good, clean and fair food. Access to food is a right, not a privilege, but as aware consumers we must also remember that our part is a commitment to the community and the environment. We must each work to maintain those connections. It’s a job I relish!

fresh heirloom tomatoes at Eataly, a local co-op store that features only items from Italy. There are now branches in Tokyo and New York.

To see more photos and experiences from Terra Madre, check out the photo galleries on the Slow Food International website.

Celebrate food!

Okay, maybe that sounds a bit excessive. We celebrate WITH food all the time – Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving… not to mention birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, and so on. But especially in our part of the world, where we seem to feel that everything needs to be fast and we should always be doing more than one thing at a time, perhaps taking the time out to celebrate our food that comes from right here in our own backyard would be a good idea. Maybe it might be a way to remind us of how fortunate we are? Or maybe it might just teach us something  – are you aware of all the things that are grown or produced here?

This Saturday, August 4th is Food Day in Canada. Never heard of it? That’s okay, it’s never too late to join the party! It’s a celebration of Canadian ingredients across the country. There are restaurants that offer special dishes, or even menus, and there are lots of people who offer their comments on the website (www.fooddaycanada.ca) about their own backyard parties. Since we live in one of the most abundant food basket regions in the country, I thought it only fair I put the word out. And besides, it’s always great to enjoy good food with friends. At the peak of our growing season, why would you not sample the local fare?

Here’s a few ideas for you to make the most of this event:

  • visit a local farmer’s market – check here to see many of the ones around the province. Here in the Okanagan every community has something every week, and they are all worth visiting as each one is unique. 
  • pick fresh fruit – if you don’t have a tree, ask a neighbour or stop at a “u-pick” place. There is no food fresher than stuff you pick right then and there. It’s as much fun as drinking from the garden hose!
  • stop at a fruit stand or a farm stall – talk to the people and ask them how to prepare or eat anything that is new to you.
  • visit a local food store (by this I don’t mean Walmart or Superstore). Ask the butcher or cheesemonger or baker , etc. what they recommend for local fare
  • if you shop at a larger store, look for local seasonal fare – you will be supporting local farmers and the food will likely be fresher than something shipped from further away
  • Share! Invite friends, family, neighbours to share in a meal – share recipes and ideas. It’s impossible not to learn and discover new things when you do this.

If you are reading this after Saturday and feel like you missed out, never fear. Here are a few suggestions for celebrating food on other days:

  • try out food events – Feast of Fields is a great event that focuses on local producers.. Here in the Okanagan it is on Sunday, August 12. Details on their website.
  • join Slow Food – a local chapter is forming in the Thompson Okanagan. Check out the international organization that started in honour of keeping local traditions and food specialties and now operates in 150 countries
  • celebrate Julia Child’s birthday coming up August 15th (she would have been 100 years old this year) . She was quoted as saying that food should be a recreation, not a fuel stop. That’s my kind of hero! Watch for more on Julia in future columns.

Whatever you do, take the time to enjoy your food and the company at your table, every chance you get.  I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Slow down, and save our fruits and veggies!

This post was first published in my weekly column on Castanet, a local Okanagan news website. I liked it so much I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it if you follow me here!

How much are we willing to manipulate our food?

I know I am going to sound like a nostalgic old fart this week, but if you will indulge me a little, I think I can bring you around to a pertinent point that requires everyone’s attention, even that of the “young farts”…

Last weekend we sat down for breakfast to enjoy a nice pastry with some fresh strawberries I had bought. I will attest that they were not local – I couldn’t find local ones at the Westside stores and regrettably I didn’t have the time to go downtown and visit the u-pick places. However, I did not think I deserved to be punished for buying from a larger store; they usually try to offer the best products within their channels. The utter lack of taste that I experienced was in total contrast to the plump, intensely red outer appearance. Was I to expect that was too good to be true? I felt like I was eating a cardboard cut-out of the food I was expecting.

Later that same day I had the same kind of experience all over again. (I kid you not – I really felt picked on by this point…) It was a hot day, and I thought, “What better thing to do than to have a piece of watermelon and spit the seeds off the deck like we did when I was a kid?” I am sure that was how generations of kids learned to spit. After all, the alternative was having a watermelon grow in your tummy, and who wants that? (My Gramps told me that, and he was never wrong.)

Well, that is all fine and good unless you live in today’s world where watermelons are all seedless (and they often don’t taste like much either). I figured that the reason both the strawberries and the watermelon didn’t taste like anything was the produce equivalent of a big box store: mass production. But then I wondered, just how do they produce masses of any kind of produce when they have no seeds??

That is when the whole thing started to get a bit scary, as I started to contemplate some kind of scientific lab slash greenhouse where an injection or laser perhaps was the secret to starting a new fruit. It made me think of episodes of “The Twilight Zone” where you thought at first the idea was too far-fetched to ever be possible, but by the end you realized that you had been hoodwinked and you were left helpless in a world filled with these dangerous far-fetched ideas as part of everyday life.

Do not adjust your screen….

I know that at this point I have not gotten the attention of any younger folks, since they tend to figure that technology is almost always an advantage and unless a government conspiracy is involved, bigger ideas and projects are better. I am not against advancing, but I do think we should look before we leap.

You may not be a garden geek like me, using heirloom seeds and loving the wild plants that come up in the garden after the birds have dropped them or the compost has sprouted them. But here is another good reason to support those local farmers that grow food that survives in this environment. Even if they are not growing organic food, it is certainly sustainable. You may not have a memory of food from days gone by, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve food with character. Down with wimpy watermelons!

If you want to get involved in a network that works to support having a sustainable food community, Slow Food is a worldwide non-profit organization with members in 160 countries around the world. It was formed over twenty years ago in Italy as a way to counteract the trend of fast food.  A local chapter, or convivium, is being formed. Check out their website for information on how we can change the world and connect people through food!

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