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Being a Good Steward of the Earth

Ah, Spring! Blossoms abound, and the buzzing of bees and twittering of birds are hard to ignore. It is a time when most of us feel happily connected to the earth. The days are getting longer and the landscape gets greener. Really, what’s not to like? But are we truly connected to the planet? Do we understand what helps keep the planet healthy? Perhaps it’s a good idea that we have Earth Day on April 22 to remind us to be responsible planetary citizens.

Did you know that Earth Day has been around since 1970? A U.S.  senator first launched the idea – he wanted to bring attention to the environment after seeing the effects of an oil spill in California. He capitalized on the enthusiasm of student protests from the late 1960’s, and organized a group to promote events across the nation. There were 20 million Americans in the streets on April 22nd that first year in support of a healthy, sustainable planet. In 1990 the program was taken to the world, and Canada was one of the nations to adopt it. Almost thirty years later we are still working to maintain our environment.

Natural food has always been at the heart of the environmental movement, not just because of nutrition and eating seasonally and locally but also now with the affects of chemicals on animals, soil and air. Talk of bees and other pollinating creatures being at risk due to changes in our environment add another layer of danger to our natural world.

Can I plant enough wildflowers to help the bees win their battle? Can I convince enough children that they can make a difference if they eat a fresh apple instead of processed applesauce made across the world, or have homemade salad dressing instead of something in a bottle with added preservatives and sugar?

I spend time with kids in my volunteer work, both through Girl Guides and the Farm to Fork education programs in which I take part. Kids are aware of being responsible about recycling and not wasting energy, but they are also used to consuming processed packaged food and using all kinds of products to make life easier.

Products and packaging end up in the earth through landfills or sewers, despite the bits that gets recycled. Sometimes I wonder if we haven’t just adapted through technology – we have more ways to be earth-conscious, but we consume more stuff so we just recycle more. I am grateful for the sincerity and enthusiasm the kids have. It gives me hope to see their passion for our planet; they want to make it a better place.

Is Earth Day one you will mark on your calendar? Do you feel you make an effort towards having a sustainable planet? I remember 1990 – I was in the bicycle business back then, and the shop I managed was very keen to promote cycling as a clean mode of transport. I met a guy named Dave who became a guru for many of us at the shop. He was trying to live a pure life, he said, getting in touch with Nature. He wore hemp clothing, and was a vegetarian.

The most striking thing about Dave was the aura of peace he had. He wanted to be your friend, to hear what you were about. He thought if we could all just slow down and take the time to hear each other’s stories that perhaps we could find common ground where we could live in harmony. We called him Dave Zen.

A few years later I left the bike business and Calgary and I lost touch with Dave Zen. I have often wondered over the years what became of him. I imagine him in a community somewhere, a sort of co-operative where people have found the secret to a long and happy life. When I spend time with the kids, sometimes I see the same glimmer in their eyes that I saw in his, and that makes me smile.

So, in honour of Earth Day, my recipe this week is one from Dave. It may look overly healthy and you might be suspicious as a result, but trust me, Dave Zen Orbit Oatmeal Cookies are truly awesome. They taste the best when you eat them outside in the fresh air 🙂

Nurtured little sprouts can grow into foodies and chefs!

kids in the garden cartoon

When I was a kid it was common for my peers and I to be commandeered as helpers in the family garden. Some people just had window boxes to worry about, but my parents were always keeners and we rented a duplex with a yard. Our back car stall was converted to a veggie garden and that became my number one summer chore.kids in the garden eating I learned quickly that gardening was not for the lazy, but I also learned that fresh peas and beans and carrots that I helped plant and water and pick were much tastier and more fun to eat than store-bought items.  There wasn’t a farmers’ market where I grew up, but I did learn about where food came from at an early age.

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For the past five weeks I have been working with local chefs as part of a program that helps kids today learn how much fun food can be. Growing Chefs was started in Vancouver in 2005 as a way to transmit the knowledge and share the passion of chefs and growers to kids in urban settings. This is the second year for the program in Kelowna and classes in Comox and all areas of the Lower Mainland are participating as well. Last year over 120 volunteers helped 850 students to experience the fun of growing their own food.

 

In a regular classroom we can only do so much, so I hope that the spark has been ignited for these kids. Maybe they will ask a grown up to take them to a farmers’ market or stop at a fruit stand. Perhaps they will try growing plants in a patio pot or on a windowsill.  Hopefully the flavours excited them enough to make them want to explore with their tastebuds too. Today we made salad dressing from scratch and had them choose ingredients from a salad bar we set up. I loved seeing them – some liked the taste of the dressing on mixed greens,  others liked grated beets and carrots, and then there were some who liked the crunchy sunflower and pumpkin seeds.  The best part was seeing almost the whole class excited about salad – imagine that!

Rabbit Hollow dessert

Chef Martin and his daughter finishing homemade rhubarb cobbler with creme anglaise

At Rabbit Hollow this summer we’re going to explore the farm-to-table idea with families in some of our events.  We will literally take ingredients from the farm to the table, picking them fresh and then working with them in our backyard kitchen and tasting them at the harvest table. Parents and kids will be encouraged (even pushed if necessary) to work together and play with their food.  We hope they will find out that it’s more fun (and tastier) than opening a box from the freezer.

We can all do our part to contribute to a sustainable environment and a life eating real food. Simple things like visiting the markets in summer will open your eyes to local wonders, I promise you!

If you have kids, maybe we’ll see you at Rabbit Hollow this summer (just contact me if you want more information). If you are interested to volunteer for Growing Chefs you can check out their website; they also have great information on planting suggestions for the urban gardener. And if you’re just a big kid like me, then perhaps I’ll see you at one of the local markets or fruit stands. Check out Soil Mate if you are looking for places and ways to connect with fresh food in the Okanagan.

 

Is perfect food bad?

perfect peppers

As a foodie, I like to consider myself close to the earth. I enjoy knowing where my food comes from, and I’m lucky enough to live in a region where lots of stuff is local. There is a fruit orchard on one side of us, a huge vegetable garden out back and an organic vineyard on the other side. We are neighbours with Paynter’s Fruit Market , a beautiful farm stand operation that is owned by a 4th generation farmer in the Paynter family. Blessed? Yup, I think so.

So, you won’t be surprised when I tell you I like my carrots with a bit of dirt on them, and a blemish on my tomatoes is not the end of the world at all. Does that mean I am suspicious of “perfect” food? Perhaps. It seems to represent the industrial production methods we have come to link to all that is bad in the food world – pesticides, GMO’s, lack of care for the workers, animals or plants… But how about if a larger scale operation worked to use the good methods, like beneficial bugs instead of pesticide and heirloom seeds instead of GMOs, and using local labour…

Check out this story from Vancouver, posted recently by a great blogger who talks a lot about local gardens and food. This story details a PR makeover for greenhouse veggies that are seen as “too perfect”. What do you think? Is this an OK deviation from supporting “the little guy”? It seems they are trying to downplay their beauty – an understandable position for a Canadian company – we like to apologize for our success – and educate people about their efforts to be on the right side of the good food debate.

follow "The Green Man" blog for more interesting garden and food news

follow “The Green Man” blog for more interesting garden and food news

I will still do my best to support the small business in my neighbourhood whenever I have a chance, but I don’t mind knowing that there is an awareness to use the same old-fashioned wisdom on a larger scale 🙂

… 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.

What Goes Around…

All gourmands aren't this round, but we do tend to be this satisfied :)

All gourmands aren’t this round, but we do tend to be this satisfied 🙂

I write about the passion I have for food – its tastes and textures, the variations that come with different spices or cultural evolution, and how it affects the rest of my day. All this seems normal to me but every once in a while I do remember that there are people who don’t relate to food in the same way. For some, food is really just a means to an end; eating a meal is just a fuel stop. But I don’t think that means they don’t enjoy the experience, perhaps the company or the memory that might go with a food item. After all, Tim Hortons TV commercials wouldn’t be nearly as poignant if they just showed people drinking coffee without showing us where they are or who they share it with, would they?

So am I a food snob ? Did the enthusiasm from foodies like me inspire the market to offer exotic ingredients on a more regular basis?? Am I to blame for the impression we have as a society that the value of food is only as much as the latest grocery flyer says? This may sound like faulty logic but I have started to wonder if we are reaping the harvest sown from our own greed.

When I was a kid, many of the foods that are imported from faraway places were rare, expensive, and only seen at certain times of year.

papaya, coconut, kiwi, mango, even cherries were a delicacy when I was growing up.

papaya, coconut, kiwi, mango, even cherries were a delicacy when I was growing up.

Gradually it got easier for those foods to become more common on grocery shelves; the world got smaller. And then stores got bigger. And then prices dropped and you could buy a pineapple for $1.99 or kiwi 3 for a dollar. Pretty soon it was cheaper to buy a plastic box of strawberries from Mexico or Chile than it was to buy the ones from the local farmer’s market. Costco strawberriesNow you can get just about anything you want – ingredients or prepared food – at Costco and places like it. So, does this go against the philosophy of supporting your local farmers? Am I committing a foodie sin if I shop at those big box places??

(I’ll continue with part 2 of this post tomorrow. In the meantime, I’d love your comments!)

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