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.
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. Now 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!)
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.
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!
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.
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!
The news is full of items on all the trends about food and eating – Slow Food, the Food Revolution, the 100 Mile Diet – but does any of it really make a difference? I mean really, in the grand scheme of things is it better if I support the local farmer who is trying to grow something here instead of supporting someone who can grow the same thing more easily farther away? And if I am healthy, what difference does it make if a family somewhere in the USA or elsewhere in the world is unhealthy from obesity, or from malnourishment? How responsible are we for the world? (Are you feeling guilty? Is your morning bagel getting stuck in your craw??)
I don’t mean to sound callous; I just wanted to get your attention. I was thinking that with Earth Day approaching, it is a good time to stop and think just how much we want to do to support our planet and its fellow inhabitants. I am a big believer in consistency – even if you only want to commit to a small amount of effort, if it happens consistently that speaks volumes. I also believe that we should be honest with ourselves, and we should be selfish about enjoying our own lives. Don’t say you want to save the planet for your kids – do it so that you can breathe easier tomorrow. Then your kids will know you mean it.
So, does that mean we should eat dirt on Earth Day? Well, a bit of dirt wouldn’t hurt… like the dirt on the carrots you can buy at the Farmer’s Market, open now for the season. I think they taste better with a bit of dirt still on them. Let’s face it, fresh garden carrots taste better any way you eat them, dirty or not. I wonder if people were mass-produced like some veggies, would they lose their character too? I think I remember reading about that in a Robin Cook novel years ago.
It probably isn’t the best day to visit a fast food joint. Something about eating processed food , even if it is now in a recyclable container, seems to go against the grain of the event. Perhaps you could work on eating meals from around the world next week – that could be fun! Not local, but fun. If local is your thing, maybe visiting a locally owned restaurant would do the trick, even if it served ethnic food from another place. Maybe just thinking about the food, enjoying the bounty, is the thing to do.
Maybe if we just take a drink of water, breathe in the air, feel the sun on our faces and the grass between our toes, that will be enough to remind us of all that we have. In the forty years since Earth Day has existed, we don’t seem to be making great progress in improving. But then, don’t they say that life begins at 40?
If you feel like you need to have a tangible reminder of your mid-life status and the necessity to care for the earth, try these cool do-it-yourself adult crafts that recycle water bottles. Your kids will think you are a cool middle-aged parent if you have a recycled lava lamp!
Earth Hour is tonight – will you be joining in the celebration? Since 2008, there has been one hour when people around the planet turn their lights off for one hour, in recognition of the need for action to create a more sustainable environment. If you didn’t think each of us could make a difference, check out their website for some of the great photos of places around the world that are dimming their bulbs for this evening.
If you’re worried about eating in the dark, don’t be. Seize the spirit of adventure and discover what the food and drink tastes like when you can’t see it. Did you know that even wine experts are stumped almost 50% of the time when they can’t tell if the wine they are tasting is red or white? Our sense of sight is so dominant that we make assumptions based on what it shows us. Sounds a bit like our assumption of living beyond the means of our planet, no?
But really, who needs another reason to enjoy a candelit evening? If you don’t have someone to snuggle up with, it’s a great excuse for a nice soak in a tub of bubbles with your favourite glass of wine.