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.

Stimulating Saturdays: What is ethical eating?

To you, what does it mean to eat ethically? Off the top of my head, ethical eating would mean consuming food that has been ethically raised and obtained. Of course, that interpretation alone in and of itself is open to much interpretation. What it means to one person to be “ethically raised” might not be ethical enough for the next person. However, I saw this trailer for a book (yes…I wondered to myself what a ‘book trailer’ is) that made me rethink ethical eating.

The trailer is for the book, Behind the Kitchen Door, by Saru Jayaraman. I haven’t read it yet but it raises a very crucial point: the food that you are eating at a restaurant may meet your definition of ethical eating, but are the people behind the scenes of your food being treated ethically? And if not, can eating at that restaurant still be ethical?

I am not too familiar with the minimum wage situation in the United States but was shocked to see that for tipped workers, the minimum wage is just over $2 per hour. There have also been numerous attempts to have the minimum wage raised, including a campaign by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

The minimum wage in Canada for all workers is higher than $2 per hour but is still under the poverty line and has been in the media spotlight again recently. In Canada, each of the provinces and territories set their own minimum wage. In the province of Ontario where I live, the provincial government just announced that it will be raising the minimum wage to $11, effective June 1, 2014, ending the freeze that has been in effect since 2010. Decisions on when and by how much to raise the minimum wage have been haphazard in the past. To address this, the provincial government also promised to introduce legislation enabling annual increases to the minimum wage, linked to the rate of inflation, that would be announced each year on April 1 and becoming effective on October 1 of the same year. Critics continue to argue that these announcements by the government are not enough to address the fact that the minimum wage is still below the poverty line (for a person working full time year-round). I can’t imagine only earning $2 per hour at any job. I can’t imagine having to support a family at $11 per hour.

So again, I ask, what does it mean to eat ethically?

Powder or pods?

With my kitchen reno arrived a new appliance in the house: a dishwasher. I’m still ambivalent about whether a dishwasher is more effective/efficient at washing dishes than I am.

Consumables of a dishwasher:

  • electricity (new dishwasher takes 2 hours on a normal cycle)
  • dishwasher soap (seems more chemical-y than my dishwashing soap)
  • rinse agent (to help dry the dishes)
  • space (lost base cabinet space)

Consumables of a human dishwasher (ie. me):

  • dishwashing soap
  • sponge/rag
  • gloves (I gave in after years of washing without gloves…I can use hotter water and my hands aren’t wrinkly/dry by the end)
  • space (lost counter space due to drying rack)

Obviously I myself need energy to run but I usually need to eat regardless of whether or not I do dishes, so I’m not including that on my list of consumables.

We’ve never had a dishwasher of our own – and my partner never grew up with one either – so for our first purchase, we went with the dishwasher manufacturer’s recommendation on products to purchase: dishwashing tablets and rinse agent. Growing up, my mom always used powder detergent. I figured we could give these new tablet things a whirl…but now I’m wondering if they are a huge waste of money. I’m always skeptical of a company recommending specific products for use with their own products; it smells of a scam to me. My dishwasher also has half load capability so it’ll run half a load (either the top rack or bottom rack) in half the time, presumably with half the volume of water. If I had powder detergent, I could add half the dose but with my tablet, I suppose I could cut it in half?

Are pods/tablets just a way for manufacturers to further “create convenience” for the “modern woman” who considers it to be too much effort to use powder instead of a neat tidy pod? Not to mention every pod comes in its own little bag, creating much more waste than powder.

Powder or pod. That is the question.

Stimulating Saturdays: Food Waste

I remember going to an outdoor school in grade 4. We were incredibly fortunate at my school to have access to such a facility. We would all pile into school buses with sleeping bags and outside clothes for a 3 day stay at outdoor school, where we – city kids – would learn about nature (like what the inside of a fish feels like!). At meals, we were assigned chores. Some of us would be responsible for putting together the day’s weather forecast (so that everyone would know how to dress after breakfast), some of us would help prepare and set tables for meals, some of us would clear the table…and that included collecting all of the leftover food to feed the resident pigs. Now, as a 10 year old, I recall seeing the slop of food that we took in metal pails to the pigs and thinking how disgusting it looked, but I also remember the pigs really loving the fare!

Food waste is a complex issue because it arises in so many different facets. Supermarkets getting rid of food because it is no longer saleable, households overbuying food at the supermarket and throwing it out in the garbage, producers losing food because they can’t process it efficiently (just as an example).

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: What is food security?

Compared to so many people around the world, I am lucky that I do not have to legitimately worry about where I will get food to feed myself and my family today or tomorrow. As I read more and more about the global food system, alternative food systems, and resource distribution, I’m learning that there is definitely enough food being produced around the world to feed everyone. This is illustrated by dividing the amount of current worldwide food production by the number of people around the world. However, food insecurity (or food security) is a huge issue in every single country, no matter how rich the country is overall. Reminds me of the saying, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link”.

Here is a great short and simple video explaining what food security is:

Stimulating Saturdays: Fighting hunger with policy

How do you feed the world’s population while protecting ecosystems, cultures, people’s livelihoods and dignity? How do you democratize food, making fresh, delicious, wholesome foods available to all? How do you address hunger and inequalities? Food policy deals with all of these questions and more. This short video describes how food policy can fight hunger and was produced by the Interational Food Policy Research Institute.

If you’re interested in learning more about the policy direction for food in Ottawa, the organization Just Food, which champions a just and sustainable food system in Ottawa, features the discussion and learning forum, Food for All. The City of Ottawa also publishes the Nutritious Food Basket Survey on an annual basis and commented on the price of eating well in Ottawa in 2011.

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.

Love documentaries?

I am increasingly finding that I enjoy documentaries and was quite excited when a friend told me about Top Documentary Films, a website where you can watch documentaries for free. There are a variety of genres (health, art, sexuality, politics, history, etc.) to suit whatever mood or interest you may have.

I’ve been slowly trying to declutter my life and my living spaces (work and home). This means really evaluating what something means to me in my life at the moment and assessing whether it should stay in my life or not. Of course, it only makes sense that at the same time, I’m also trying to be very conscious about things that I bring into my life. It isn’t about getting rid of things just because they’re old or ratty or unwanted anymore and replacing them with new, shiny things. Rather, it’s about keeping the things that matter and acknowledging things that may have meant something at one point but don’t anymore. I donate what I think is acceptable for donating, recycle as much of the remainder, and throw any leftover things away (really trying to avoid this last option).

What this has to do with documentaries is the concept of living in a tiny space and focusing on good design coupled with conscientious living. I watched the film, We the Tiny House People, and felt pretty inspired to have less material things in my life. More space means more opportunity for accumulation of stuff, which means more cleaning and more resources spent maintaining the stuff, not to mention all the stuff that doesn’t get used because you have so much stuff! I don’t think I’d want to live in a 100sq ft house but I think I’d be happy in a 900sq ft house (typical 1950’s home), which is a bit smaller than what I currently live in. I certainly don’t want a 2200sq ft house, which I’ve heard is the typical desirable size home at the moment.