Voting for food security: giving kids access to healthy nutritious food

Looking back on my life so far, I can point to a few pivotal moments that have really affected how my life has turned out. As the Canadian federal election really gets going (towards an election date of October 19, 2015), I am reminded of the importance of food security…and the year I started to really explore the concept of food security is one of those pivotal moments of my life.

Rewind to that pivotal week

I became involved with a community service learning program at my university, where we learned about and discussed issues that impact a specific community while volunteering with an organization within that community. During Reading Week in my second year of university, 30 students came together from across many academic disciplines to volunteer in spaces like an elementary school, a women’s transition house and an HIV/AIDS health program. Each morning, all of the university students would come together and have an incredibly thought-provoking discussion led by a community leader or faculty member. I don’t think remember specifically discussing food security during those 4 days together, but we talked a lot about issues that impact marginalized communities.

My participation in that 4.5 day project has really shaped my view of the world. It was the first time that I really remember being pushed to think in a different way. I almost feel like most of the learning that I had ever done in school up until that point was very passive; you go to school, you learn about set topics, you hang out with friends (usually people somewhat like you socioeconomically speaking) and you regurgitate content (tests, exams, projects, assignments). That week, I was exposed to a number of issues that I had known about in a cursory manner but had never discussed in such depth:

  • what does it mean to be marginalized (I actually don’t know if I even knew that word existed prior to)?
  • what do marginalized women face and how can a community support them?
  • what special issues do children who grow up in marginalized communities face?

Going through that project, I don’t think I even understood how much of an impact it would have on me. Only now, looking back, can I see the trajectory that it pushed me on. Anyways, my continued involvement with the community service learning program over a few years really educated me on appreciating each person’s life experience. You never really know what another person is going through or has gone through and how that impacts their interaction with the world. Which brings me to food security.

Fast forward to voting for food security

Food security is having access to a sufficient amount of safe and nutritious food.

A basic element that every child needs to survive is food. Without food, they cannot meet their potential. Imagine having a growling stomach all day long, every day. Your stomach could be growling for many reasons; maybe your caregivers can’t afford much food or maybe you don’t have regular access to nutritious food. I bet you’d feel tired and your main focus would be on finding something to eat. Imagine going to school in that state, every single day. Being told to sit in your seat, finish your assignment, write that test, run a few laps, don’t fall asleep…all while your stomach growls. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Every child should have access to enough safe and nutritious food so that they can focus on learning and growing and playing instead of on their empty stomach.

Nobody can deny that children are the future. Just biologically, this is a fact. Children will grow to be the adults of tomorrow and the adults of today will eventually die. Investing in the children of today is incredibly important. And it is truly the biggest and best investment that we can make. How these children feel, think, perceive the world will impact what our world will look like in 10, 20, 40 years. This is why we need a universal healthy national school food program for children.

How would a national school food program impact our today and our future?

Show that we, as Canada, truly value and recognize the important that food plays in our communities and in our future as a country. Encourage the adoption of a food policy that gives kids healthy and nutritious food at school. A national school food program would shape our future in a few ways:

  • immediate impact: children would have access safe nutritious food so that they can focus on learning and playing.
  • intermediate impact: children would explore what ‘healthy eating’ truly means, understand the role that food plays in their own culture as well as in society by growing a school garden, learning about food systems locally and globally, discussing issues related to food security and learning to prepare delicious culturally appropriate meals.
  • long-term impact: children would grow into adults who think critically about the world around them and can support and sustain themselves (better able to focus at school may mean more likely to succeed in society, know how to grow and cook healthy foods, understand the relationship between themselves, food and the environment). They may also be healthier, reducing negative impacts on our health care system.

You can read more about this on Food Secure Canada’s page on a national healthy school food program. This year, ask your local candidates what they think about giving kids access to healthy food and EatThinkVote.

Roots and Shoots CSA share – 2nd week of August

Share

Summer is really ticking along! This is the first share where we’ve gotten a hot banana pepper. I don’t recall ever having one in any of our shares over the past years. We got some eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and beans – the staples of summer.

A garlic harvest of our own

Last weekend, we celebrated our very first garlic harvest! After eating the little scapes from our garlic last month, we were excited to see what the bulbs looked like beneath the soil. I think we harvested them a little bit later than we maybe should’ve (1 week earlier would’ve been good) but sure enough, we found fully formed bulbs! They were rather small but I’d still say we were fairly successful for a first ever garlic planting. These were from cloves that we picked up at last year’s Carp Garlic Festival. We’ll be going back to the festival this year to buy a few more bulbs for eating and for planting.

Fresh out of the soil Ready to be hung

In other news, our tomatoes are still green but there are a good number of them growing larger by the day. We also have a healthy number of flowers that will become tomatoes very soon (fingers crossed!). The peas are doing fabulously but like last year, the plant is large and unruly. I really need to work on how to grow a nicely contained pea plant. Our purple beans are beautiful as ever and the plant looks like it is doing well. The chard and kale are producing good yields, and unlike last year with a mold issue, this year’s cucumbers are looking great! We’ve got a lot of flowers and a few cucumbers already growing.

Ripen, babies, ripen Future tomatos Part of the haul Peas IMG_4481

I love seeing our vegetables doing well. It is so satisfying! But I also cannot believe that it is August!?

Roots and Shoots CSA Share – 4th week of July

So fennel…really not a fan. There is just something about the smell and the flavour that I absolutely dislike (black licorice…). Otherwise, we had another healthy helping of zucchini (which I blanched, chopped and froze) and cucumbers, a lovely bunch of beets, onions, beans, carrots, kale and chard.

CSA share 4th week of July

New this week: some cute and crisp green peppers and a bulb of garlic! Can’t wait to get more peppers!

Roots and Shoots CSA share – 3rd week of July

I cannot believe how quickly time seems to pass by. I used to think time passed quickly but now, with a toddler, I feel like it whizzes by! This week’s share included one of my least favourite veggies: fennel. I just cannot tolerate the licorice scent or taste! However, in looking for fennel recipes, I found fried fennel. Maybe we’ll give that a whirl this weekend….

It looks like we got a mound of zucchini but half of them are from my trade this week (I traded in my cilantro for more zucchini). Scapes are still looking great! The garlic that is growing in our garden is long past the scape stage, with its greens almost completely brown and dried. Almost time to harvest?

CSA share 3rd week of July

From left to right, we have a bag of mixed beans, lettuce, beautiful beets, kale, carrots, onion, zucchini, fennel (ugh), scapes and cucumber.

Nothing says summer like….

Nothing says summer like...

We took our toddler strawberry picking for the first time at the end of June. For the first time that I’ve gone, it wasn’t hot, humid and sticky but rather pleasant. Sunny blue skies with no humidity! Definitely a welcome change as there is absolutely zero shade in a strawberry patch. Makes me appreciate commercial strawberry pickers even more.

Of course, preceding this trip to the strawberry patch was the introduction of strawberries to our toddler to make sure he wasn’t allergic to them. I had wanted to wait to test strawberries until we could give him fresh ones (not ones that had been trucked hundreds of kilometres) so the timing is limited. I missed last June/July so this year it was! And he was fine – phew.

I’m guessing like most of the other kids, he stood in the patch eating berry after berry while we tried to pick as many to take home as we could. Then came the mass processing – washing, cutting the greens off and freezing. I also tried canning a no pectin strawberry jam, which turned out marvellously. Got to use our candy thermometer for the first time! I’ve learned that greener strawberries naturally contain more pectin so next year, note to self, I need to bring home a few part-green ones for jamming.

Next up: raspberry picking. We had wanted to go blueberry picking but the farms closest to us seem to have all lost their crop during our tough winter!

Roots and Shoots CSA share – mid July

The first year we joined our vegetable CSA (community shared agriculture), I took photos of our shares each week. I decided that it would be fun to start with the photos again this year. We are still with the same fabulous Roots and Shoots Farm (see some photos from the farm tour several years ago) and are getting a full share this year, as we cook just that much more from scratch nowadays.

Do you know what each of the vegetables are?
Do you know what each of the vegetables are?

Our shares actually started a few weeks ago. Radishes, hakurei turnips and onions have been the staple vegetables for all of the shares. We’ve had scapes for two weeks, zucchini and cucumber for two weeks, last week was the first showing of broccoli and this week, we have carrots and beans! I’m fairly certain tomatos are just around the corner, which is exciting…but it also reminds me that summer is passing so quickly!

Lately, we’ve been making a lot of green soups. Using our homemade stocks, we add beet greens or radish greens and puree with our Vitamix (new addition to our household this Spring – loving it!). Our toddler absolutely loves these soups and we’re happy because he’s getting greens and fiber. Occasionally if we’re inundated with lettuce or chard, we’ll throw those into soups too.

Cucumbers, when not added to salads, are turned into quick Japanese pickles (I just use rice vinegar, sugar and salt). These are so refreshing on a hot summer day! I tried this recipe with radishes but found that they were a bit spicy; the pickles tasted like wasabi. However, the recipe with hakurei turnips is reminiscent of pickled daikon, which I love!

I love seeing that some of our friends, near and far, are getting onboard with CSAs in their area. They typically start with vegetable CSAs but I like to remind them that there are beef, chicken and pork CSAs too!

You spend some, you save some

Ever since finding out that our baby has food allergies, as a breastfeeding mom, I have been working to cut out his allergens from my diet as well as cooking allergen-free family meals. It’s quite the educational experience for me as I delve into the world of cooking without dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, and wheat.

You spend some.

Using allergen-free gluten-free wheat alternatives is adding up in costs. We have a variety of flours in bags of approximately 700g, with each bag costing between $6-8. The grains are all grown in Canada and non-GMO, and mostly importantly, they’re safe for our toddler. Our most commonly used flours seem to be brown rice flour, oat flour and tapioca starch. The latter may seem odd but we found an awesome waffle recipe that happens to use quite a bit of tapioca starch. Anyways, you compare the cumulative cost of the flours with buying a bag of all-purpose wheat flour…let’s not bother calculating the difference.

You save some.

February is half a month away but you wouldn’t have known it walking down the aisles of any food-selling store in early January. There was so much heart-shaped, pink or red-coloured sweets adorning the shelves that you would think that Valentine’s Day was just a few days away. I used to wander the aisle of commercial chocolates, looking at all of the options, maybe buying a box of this or that on the odd occasion, but even if I was window shopping that aisle on most days, I’d still spend time there. This year, at Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day…I just blast right through the seasonal section of the store because I know that hardly any of the options are allergy-friendly.

This isn’t just true of the seasonal chocolates. Most of the candy in the store that I would ever want to buy either has milk, modified milk ingredients, peanuts or other tree nuts, or egg. One day at work, I was feeling munchy but after having eaten all of the snacks I had brought from home, I wandered downstairs in our office building to the little convenience store. I wanted to buy a small snack. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother but not surprisingly, every single item I picked up had one of our allergens (usually more). I can only imagine how tough it can be for people with multiple allergies. It can be challenging finding safe foods on a whim.

My new take on vegan and gluten-free

Ever since finding out that our baby has food allergies, as a breastfeeding mom, I have been working to cut out his allergens from my diet as well as cooking allergen-free family meals. It’s quite the educational experience for me as I delve into the world of cooking without dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, and wheat.

A year ago, if you told me you followed a vegan or gluten-free diet, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to have you over for dinner. I just wouldn’t have known how to prepare a meal for you because those words were huge psychological barriers.

Whenever we prepare food for our friends, I ask if there are any dietary restrictions. This has been a habit for me for many years. Usually, the answer was no dietary restrictions (phew). Occasionally, there was an allergy to nuts, an aversion to beef, or a religious restriction on pork. One type of food restriction, I could handle.

Now that I have spent almost half a year working on cooking and baking without a number of categories of ingredients, I feel as though I can be a much more welcoming host. My pantry includes a host of gluten-free, top 8 allergen-free products: tapioca and potato starches, brown and white rice flours, oat flour (gluten-free of course), sorghum flour, xanthan gum and egg replacer. I’ve become more familiar with the brands that I can buy from: Only Oats for oat products, EnerG for xanthan gum and egg replacer, and Purest for baking ingredients. Unfortunately, brands like Bob’s Red Mill, which is a super popular and widely available gluten-free option, have precautionary labelling for cross contamination with some of our allergens, making those a non-option for us. It isn’t enough to be gluten-free because it needs to be allergen-free for us as well. And yes, I have been that person, sitting on the floor in the natural foods stores/aisles, phone in hand, researching the companies that produce the products in my hand to see if they are allergen-free. It’s a time-consuming process.

I should note that we aren’t avoiding gluten because of celiac disease in our household. We’ve noticed a few welts and itchiness/redness develop after our toddler consumed wheat products (all homemade so we suspect it’s wheat and not anything else), so we’re taking a wheat hiatus. You’d think that would mean just avoiding flour but it turns out that things like oats are usually contaminated with wheat and that wheat can be masked in many products under many names. It’s actually easier just to avoid gluten because if a product is gluten-free, then it is definitely wheat-free.

My recipe arsenal is also growing. When I’m searching for recipes on the internet or in cookbooks, I use certain key words now: vegan, gluten-free, allergen-free. For baking, I find it easiest to search for vegan recipes because I know they will not include butter, milk, or eggs. From there, I can try to substitute my own home-mixed gluten-free flour for the conventional flour the recipe calls for. The only issue with vegan recipes is that they call for nuts. With savoury cooking, I start my search specifically looking for allergen-free recipes and I am so appreciative of the many blogs that I’ve come across, as well as allergicliving.com. I want meal recipes that I can just follow without having to experiment too much with ingredient substitutions. Sometimes I search for vegan recipes to find bean, vegetable or quinoa-based recipes that don’t call for dairy or eggs. I try to make a new dish at least once a week so that we continue to increase the variety of dishes we can eat.

A year ago, if you told me you followed a vegan or gluten-free diet, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to have you over for dinner. A lot can change in one year.