Monday, January 25, 2010

Eat...local food

Last weekend I attended my first Winter Farmer' Market. I organized a tour of the market for fellow dietitians to learn more about local food systems and we had the good fortune of having the Markets' Executive Director, Tara McDonald, give us a tour and a history of the market. The winter market takes place at the WISE Hall, which is just one block east of Commercial on Adanac and we were treated to the first sunny clear day that week on which to explore the surprising display of abundance. I continue to try and convince myself to carry my camera so I can put some fun photos up on the blog. After market day, I actually charged the battery and promise to get snapping.

Vendors spill out of the hall (next year the market will move to a larger venue) and down the street.  2009 marked the first year that demand overwhelmed capacity for the farmer's market society. Vancouverites are walking the walk when it comes to eating local and the market was packed all morning and food was getting bought up quickly. From low mercury, line caught tuna and biodynamic squash to grass fed meat and beautiful organic spelt bread from Rise (which I devoured almost immediately), the market shuts down any dispute that you can't eat local in January. Almost everything you need is here: gorgeous greens from Forstbauer biodynamic, legendary potatoes (I loved the banana fingerlings) from Helmer's in Pemberton, succulent olives from Dundarave olives ( I could write pages about picholines...which take me immediately back to Provence) and even some locally made kombucha - which I didn't try but will pick up next time for sure.

So often I feel like most of our problems with food and eating stem from a true disconnection from what food is and where it comes from. Food raised for export favours woody, tasteless varieties picked early to survive a long journey to our tables. Commodities such as corn become more food type substances than you could ever imagine: various shapes, sizes and artificial flavours in brightly coloured and agressively marketed packages that leave us wondering what food actually is anymore.

I grew up with a huge vegetable garden, a grandfather that spent his weekends fishing and a kitchen that was constantly turning out real food: bread made from scratch, left to rise on the kitchen table; pies brimming with cherries from the tree outside the window and salads made with vegetables picked just an hour before. Growing up around food connects you in a way that a lifetime eating boxed and bagged fare can't. Like most condo dwellers, I too obtain the vast majority of my food in a supermarket (thank goodness for Choices). While many West  Coast retailers take advantage of local foods, it is visiting a farmer's market that lets you get a bit of that connection back. Don't know what to do with kohlrabi? Ask the person who grew it! Find out what biodynamic agriculture is....or why granny smiths make a better pie. And rediscover what food should taste like - food picked just a day earlier instead of two weeks earlier and shipped across the country. Greens that taste like the earth, not like water and new flavours like sunchokes or kabocha squash. The market is filled with small scale farmers - not those selling the cash crops of cranberries and blueberries but those doing the incredibly noble work of feeding us with a variety of winter crops. Whatever can be grown, is grown and then put on offer at the market. And buying from the market provides the farmer with more money for his crops so that his family might farm another year.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention La Boheme - the crepe truck of my dreams. By noon the line up was at least 10 thick for these amazingly satisfying buckwheat crepes filled with any number of creations. My friend Heather had an apple and ricotta number and I went for the cranberry brie...the crepe perfectly tender crisp and flaky, filled with generous wedges of brie and cranberry preserve, just a touch of bechamel and gorgeous winter greens. I have been dreaming about it ever since....

The next winter market is this Saturday January 30th from 10:00AM. Get there early, get a crepe and laugh at how ridiculously lucky we are to live in Vancouver. More information?

Let them eat crepes,

Monday, January 11, 2010

Eating Animals

Full Disclosure: I am a vegetarian and have been, with tiny blips, for 13 years. I choose to be a vegetarian not because of health…I have taken my fair share of Haagen Dazs and Lays as proof of this. I became a vegetarian because I wanted to avoid harming animals. As my own awareness of the impact of eating animals grew, my choice was strengthened knowing that my vegetarian ways also went a long way towards minimizing my impact on the planet. It is estimated that animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change – not airplane or car travel – it is eating a breakfast of steak and eggs that seals the planet’s fate.

As a dietitian, I read a lot of nutrition books – I consider it both entertainment and a job requirement. So my interest was piqued when I came across Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer is a novelist (a pretty gifted one at that) and an “on again, off again” vegetarian but his most recent book is one about the current state of our food supply where animal agriculture is concerned. In his own words:

“This story didn’t begin as a book. I simply wanted to know – for myself and my family – what meat is. I wanted to know as concretely as possible. Where does it come from? How is it produced? How are animals treated, and to what extent does that matter? What are the economic, social, and environmental effects of eating animals? My personal quest didn’t stay that way for long. Through my efforts as a parent, I came face-to-face with realities as a citizen I couldn’t ignore, and as a writer I couldn’t keep to myself. But facing those realities and writing responsibly about them are not the same.”

The book is about what it means to eat animals and in today’s industrialized food system that means factory farmed animals. Animals that are “maximized” and “commoditized” as opposed to tended and nurtured. Some who eat animals believe that it is natural for us to do so; however, factory farms, with their crushing conditions and artificial daylight are as far from natural as can be. Even though I am resolute in my own choice to be a vegetarian, as I learn more about our food system I can sincerely appreciate that there is a significant difference between the factory farmed poultry you find at most national supermarket chains and the poultry that you get from Polderside farms (see the article about them in Edible Vancouver here). While the choices to eat animals or not is quite personal and both sides of the argument have merit – I share Foer’s conviction that no one can honestly debate the merits of reducing suffering of our food animals.

I started this book yesterday and already I am a third of the way through – I am drawn to its message and its fairness so far – this is not a book that demands its readers become vegan. You might think, “Isn’t it a convenient position to support since you are already vegetarian”, but I argue that the book is bringing my own dietary inconsistencies to centre stage once more. If our intent is not to harm animals, we must also think about the way the chickens that lay our eggs and the cows that produce our milk have been raised as well. And for many years I have justified buying conventional eggs and milk because they are half the price of organic and humanely raised products. Yet by giving up a couple of lattes a week I can make up the 6 dollar difference pretty quickly and ensure that the animals that supply my food don’t suffer in the process. So here is my promise, placed on the web for all to see, that I will no longer make that compromise. I encourage you to pick up the book and join the conversation….how will you change the way you eat animals?

In good health,


Friday, January 1, 2010

Resolve to eat well in 2010

Welcome to 2010....and to the first day of the rest of your foodie life! As many of us wake up from a night of "turn of the decade" revelry and head straight for the greasy spoon cure...resolutions that seemed so on point last night are probably being postponed for Monday. So while you nurse your hangover, why not take advantage of this opportunity and mentally prepare to set some real revolution in place.

A quick and very unscientific Google scan points to a harrowing survey statistic - that only 8% of people keep their New Year's resolutions....and about half fail by January. If any of you are dedicated gym goers, you probably loathe the January gym crush but keep your self serene knowing that the rif raff will disappear by February 1. Why is that? Perhaps we need to look at what is motivating our resolve for the answer. Is it 10 pounds and a serious energy deficit brought on by holiday excesses? Is it a desire to look like the airbrushed masses blankly staring back at us from our magazines in time for summmer nuptuals? Or what if resolutions come from a more serious dissatisfaction from how we are actually living our lives?

The biggest obstacle I see with clients is the "extreme makeover" phenomenon. People who vow to go from take out and Seinfeld to vegan raw and yogic literally overnight. This all or nothing approach is almost always doomed to fail because it suffers from a fundamental disconnect of what your needs really are and what benefits your current lifestyle brings. This concept might take a bit of explanation. For example, if you work a typically harried 55 hour work week, when you get home your primary objective is probably to clear your head and nurture your psyche back from the enormous stresses of the day. You turn on the TV and order a pizza so you no longer have to make any decisions and can conserve that last thread of energy left in your body. You lay down, perhaps without knowing it, because this physically cues your body to relax. And the high fat, high salt, high calorie food is also a common response to stress...and soothing hormones are released as a response to the indulgence. As a result of these choices long term, you may not be that fit or too practiced in the kitchen. Then January 1st rolls around and you commit to yoga 5 times a week...rushing from the office to make sure you get a spot in the class, and then finding yourself at home 2 hours later than normal only to try and figure out how to get some plant based protein and vegetables morphed into a nourishing meal before you have to get to bed.....just thinking about it is already stressing me out. So a few weeks is back to Seinfeld and pizza because your soul just can't take it. 

I personally am a big fan of the quiet revolution. The challenge I find is convincing people that taking small steps will actually result in the kind of monumental change they are looking for without the headaches. But it is far easier to work on goals in an achievable stepwise fashion. Want to be a vegan? Perhaps your first goal should be buying Becoming Vegan, a great book by two Canadian dietitians that will teach you everything you need to know. And since that is an easy one, you could add that you will experiment with cooking tofu or tempeh each Sunday. This way you will have time to look up a recipe and then have fun experimenting. Once you have that one down, you could make the switch from cow's milk to soy milk in your morning latte. By working each new change into your lifestyle permanently, by the end of the year you might actually get to vegan. And you won't be struggling...each new change will become habit.

I am going to leave you with 10 mini resolutions to get you inspired. Perhaps try adding one a week....and within 10 weeks you are going to have gotten a lot farther that most of the resolution crazed masses.

1. Add 1/2 cup of blueberries to your breakfast every morning for an antioxidant boost.
2. Trim up your milk: if you drink 2%, move to 1%; if you drink 1%, switch to skim
3. Replace your afternoon snack with chopped celery, baby carrots and a bit of hummus to sneak more veggies into your day.
4. Replace your second cup of coffee with green tea for less caffeine and cancer busting phytochemicals.
5. Swap veggie ground round for ground beef once a week to save saturated fat and calories...not to mention the eco effects of eating veggie.
6. Snack on yogurt with 1/3 cup of Bran Buds or Smart Bran to boost fibre intake in a big way.
7. Keep prewashed bags of spinach in the fridge and add it to everything: saute in omelets, pasta sauces and stews; stuff sandwiches and wraps or toss with dressing for a super simple side salad to an otherwise veggie-free meal.
8. Keep good quality pureed veggie soups at the office so you always have a healthy lunch or snack option.
9. Swap at least one energy drink or flavoured "water"  a day for actual water for a natural energy boost.
10. Try one new recipe per week; buy a beautiful new cookbook or troll great, free recipe websites like eating well or epicurious.

PS. My own resolutions this year pertain largely to my committment to this blog - I am going for a post a week. If you have any topics you would like to see covered...just let me know!

Here's to personal revolution,