Sea Vegetables

Today, the bento box is a trendy lunch style. Growing up, my mom would pack me a bento box to take to elementary school, complete with onigiri (Japanese rice balls) and a few side dishes to go with it; sometimes my lunch even included warm miso soup. Sounds amazing, right?

Well, I remember the reactions I got from my classmates when I’d open my bento at lunch. Classmates would hone in on the onigiri, wrapped in nori (sweet-salty Japanese toasted seaweed), and react with disgust and ridicule. I would go home and tell my mom that I just wanted a ham sandwich, just like everyone else.

I’m reminded of this memory as I listen to an episode of the BBC’s Food Programme on seaweed. Many cultures around the world have incorporated sea vegetables into their diets over hundreds of years. Growing up, my experiences told me that I was the odd one out, eating various seaweed products (nori, kombu, hijiki)…but now, I feel like North America and parts of western society are the odd ones out by not eating any seaweed.

Interestingly, seaweed use is becoming trendy, recognized for its vast flavours (including umami), mineral and trace element content, potential for supporting sustainability in energy (for humans and beyond), and – I’m assuming – because it still has that exotic pull. I’m noticing friends who really enjoy eating Korean or Japanese nori as a snack, eating or even rolling their own sushi, adding dulse or kombu to soup. Seaweed can be a condiment, a base, a main dish.

The future is bright for seaweed!

Mer Bleu in Spring

This past winter, right after a heavy snowfall, we went snowshoeing at Mer Bleu Bog. The boardwalk was nowhere to be seen and it was a serene white all around us. We decided to venture back there on a beautiful sunny late Spring afternoon to see what it looks like when the snow has disappeared.

Welcome to Mer Bleu bog boardwalk in late Spring
Welcome to Mer Bleu bog boardwalk in late Spring
Cattails in the water
Cattails in the water
Beautiful reflections
Beautiful reflections
Bog - apparently Mer Bleu's pH is around 3.5...wonder what happens to you if you accidentally fall off the boardwalk....
Bog – apparently Mer Bleu’s pH is around 3.5…made me wonder what happens to you if you accidentally fall off the boardwalk….
The tree needs a hair cut!
The tree needs a hair cut!
Such beauty!
Such beauty!

Now that I’ve seen the bog in the dead of winter and in late spring, perhaps this means I’ll need to take a visit later this year during fall as well. Hmmm.

Local Food Act: Good things grow in Ontario

With the Legislative Assembly of Ontario back in action after a prorogation by the previous premier, the Local Food Act (Bill 36) has once again been reintroduced by the Minister of Agriculture and Food. The Minister explained that the Ontario government will lead by example in the support of local food systems by setting policy direction such as “requiring ministries to consider local food for procurements under $25, 000”. Also, the week leading up to Thanksgiving, which is the first Monday of October in Canada, will be Local Food Week, overlapping with the already existing Agriculture Week.

The bill definitely has a catchy title that is very with the times. However, all of the discussion that I have heard around the Local Food Act raises questions in my mind about what the government is trying to achieve. The phrase ‘local food’ is thrown around a lot. In the Act, local food is defined as:

(a)    Food produced or harvested in Ontario, and

(b)    Subject to any limitations in the regulations, food and beverages made in Ontario if they include ingredients produced or harvested in Ontario.

But I don’t think all local food is equal. And not all local food should automatically be considered to be superior to non-local food. “Local food” is more complex than just naming the borders of production. We need to think more critically about what it means to buy local, eat local, and support local.

  • If we do the ‘local’ thing, what factors do we want to prioritize? Is it eating more seasonally? Increasing funding and decreasing red tape to support the infrastructure necessary for local food systems?  Encouraging farmers to work with the land with sustainability for generations in mind (meaning less harm done to the soil and to plant diversity)?
  • What are the implications of decreasing your food mileage? How could this impact the farms countries away that have been shaped to supply some percentage of our food? Is a local food system more efficient or sustainable than a global food system?
  • For the public sector organizations that would be impacted by any targets set under the Act, what effect would local food procurement targets have on their overall operating budget? For example, hospitals receive decreased provincial funding to provide services, which result in cuts to staff and services; will local food procurement be affordable?
  • By using more of the food produced in Ontario within Ontario, will this have any effect on the availability of Ontario produce elsewhere in Canada?
  • Where does education fall into this picture? There is IMMENSE value in teaching children from pre-school through high school about food production and cooking through school gardens and kitchens. We need to educate kids and folks in general about making decisions related to their food. We also need to seriously address food security.
  • Even if the supermarket has signs indicating that this product was made in Ontario, what does this mean to consumers? Do they notice? Does this factor into their decision-making? Does it make a difference?

These are just some of the questions that floated into my head after reading the Local Food Act. The Minister (and numerous critics) has publicly acknowledged that the content of the bill is vague, but I suppose the idea is to create a framework to which more detail can later be added…?

Don’t get me wrong. I think it would be great if places like hospitals place real value on the quality of the ingredients that they use in their food; after all, ingredients do make a big difference. But the issue is complex and we just need to make sure that we’re having active discussions on what we want to focus on and prioritize.

You can read the short bill here:

A side note on food security: I was listening to a podcast that was discussing this topic and someone made a very good point that hadn’t consciously occurred to me. It isn’t just about teaching people how to cook from ‘raw’ ingredients (vegetables, meats, etc). Some people don’t have access to cooking implements. No stove, no oven, maybe no microwave or toaster. We can’t just think of a lack of access to affordable good ingredients. It’s access to the whole package.

Stimulating Saturdays: What is “sustainability” again?

There’s a lot of green-washing nowadays, with marketing moving towards green this, natural that, local this, sustainable that. So I thought it would be good to take a step back and remind ourselves of what ‘sustainability’ means as well as what some of the core principles that we should be using for guidance are. It’s a complex topic once you start getting into the weeds (the details) and there are different ways of interpreting and integrating principles of sustainability into your life and your business. It’s also easy to get swayed by effective marketing….

Sustainability: Everything is connected. Allowing for a good quality of life for us now and for the future generations, all around the world.

Stimulating Saturdays: How do we feed the world?

In the previous Stimulating Saturdays post, I shared a video that explains the concept of food security. This week, I’m following up with this video on the ‘global food crisis’, which is a combination of inequitable food and resource distribution, a rising demand for food as the population increases, and building or maintaining sustainable resource systems (food production, environment, lifestyles).

It’s interesting that a picture of corn is used to represent food in quite a few of the animation frames. I recently watched the documentary, King Corn, which follows two relatively young guys who go to middle America to grow corn because they learn that their body is essentially corn. A testament to how much corn products make their way into our foods. A substantial amount of food is grown to be fed to animals, not people, so that countries that crave a large amount of cheap meat can be satisfied. Corn is a common feed element for animals but it is also processed into various corn-derived substances. A lot of the corn that you see driving through the countryside is not meant to be eaten directly by humans but you end up eating a lot more corn than just corn-on-the-cob if you buy pre-packaged or pre-prepared foods.

If you’re interested in these topics, a great book to read is Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System by Raj Patel.

Stimulating Saturdays: Lobbying for a place on your lunch tray

The National School Lunch Program in the United States is a great idea. However, the implementation is worthy of a certain level of criticism, with its skewed balance of interests representing food producers, educators, school boards, the government, and many more. Oh yes. Let’s not forget the students who consume the school lunches. I wrote a bit about my experience with school lunches here and think that a lot could be done to improve the food that a good portion of students in North America consume within the school context. But there are a lot of movers and shakers behind the doors, controlling what foods are available at schools.

Stimulating Saturdays: The Meatrix

Loved the Matrix? Well, I’ll admit first up that the Meatrix isn’t exactly as fancy schmancy as the Matrix was. But who knew that an animated trilogy inspired by the Matrix could be produced to explore factory farming!? The Sustainable Table and Free Range Studios produced the Meatrix trilogoy, starting in 2003. Let Moopheus escort you through the Meatrix, which is “the lie we tell ourselves about where our food comes from”.

The Meatrix website includes some tips on the issues that are covered in the films and ideas on what you can do to “escape” the Meatrix.

Shaping the future Ottawa: Open House Jan 29

If you’re interested in city and community planning, the City of Ottawa has an open house and presentation in the evening on Tuesday January 29 for its Building a Liveable Ottawa Plan. This is the start of their strategic review of planning, development, and transportation policies and priorities. Straight from their website, the city has identified 12 planning issues:

  1. Intensification: smart development
  2. Urban Land Issues: building in or building out
  3. Rural Components: protecting and preserving Ottawa’s countryside – most of the city of Ottawa is actual rural land use
  4. Urban Design: creating people-friendly environments
  5. Transit Oriented Development: living and working around transit stations
  6. Employment Land Review: protecting and diversifying the economy
  7. Infrastructure Needs: providing the services required for growth
  8. Public Transit: moving people when and where they need to go
  9. Complete Streets: making room for all transportation choices
  10. Active Transportation: promoting healthy lifestyles
  11. Sustainable Transportation: developing travel options to reduce car dependency
  12. Affordability: realizing development within our financial means

I like what I’m seeing so far, with a decreasing emphasis on cars and more thought being put to how to make it easier for people on foot, bikes, and public transportation to get from point A to B in an efficient, safe manner. So far, so good.

Stimulating Saturdays: Lemonade stand 2.0

Following up with my first Stimulating Saturdays post, here is the next short video I’d like to share.

I think a lot about conscious capitalism but I’ve recently heard about connected capitalism, where you really think about how one can leverage interactions and connections with the surrounding community (local or global) to make the most positive impact possible. I randomly found a short animated film produced by the Changers of Commerce to illustrate connected capitalism. I call it, the Lemonade Stand 2.0.

As a side note, the Attawapiskat First Nation has been mentioned fairly often by the media since Member of Parliament Charlie Angus presented the state of this remote reserve last year (or the year before?). I wanted to mention a documentary that I recently watched on this First Nation community, the National Film Board’s The People of the Kattawapiskak River; it gives a good visual of some of the conditions within which the people live. Because I don’t have an intimate understanding of the First Nation issues, I find myself unsure of how to appropriately assess the information that is presented by the mass media. What is truth, what is sensationalism, what is being twisted, what is being omitted, and what is being misrepresented? I found myself watching the documentary and thinking, “so that’s what Charlie Angus looks like” (remember I only listen to the news, I don’t watch it). I appreciated seeing a completely different angle of the reserve from what mass media has told me and thinking more about the challenges that they face in trying to maintain quite a remote community. Definitely an interesting film.

CSA share: First week of November

Time sure does pass quickly. It’s November already! We received the second of three fall CSA share deliveries during the first week of November and yes, there were a lot of root vegetables. I better learn to like carrots and beets!

Last time we picked up our fall share, there were two big luscious bunches of carrots. I made a batch of carrot cake and the rest disappeared into stew or stir fries. This time, we got a 5lb bag of carrots…that translates into a lot of carrot cake and I already have some stowed away in the freezer!

Brussel sprouts, carrots, spinach, mesclun, beets, 2 squashes, garlic, potatos, kohlrabi, bok choy, broccoli, onions

As a side note, I blanched some broccoli to have with my dinner and I guess I hadn’t washed the broccoli well enough because as I finished my half of broccoli (the other half would be taken for lunch the following day), I noticed a little dead (boiled) worm hanging out of a piece of broccoli! Note to self: wash veggies well.