Fair Trade, Fair Transport Chocolate

I was listening to a podcast of the BBC’s Food Programme on Mott Green. I had never heard of him previously but was quite intrigued by his creation of the Grenada Chocolate Company. In this age of microbreweries, artisanal food production, and maker culture, the philosophy embodied by Mott Green doesn’t sound all too foreign. However, this does not diminish the amazingness of what he did:

  • Small-batch chocolate production;
  • Cocoa grown, harvested, and processed into chocolate all in Grenada;
  • Self-empowered cocoa farmers who are part of a co-operative;
  • Keeping production local;
  • Living with the land;
  • Use of sustainable means to power machines.
  • Use of sustainable transport (a wind-powered ship) to move bars to international markets;
  • Control of the fermentation process for the cocoa and of the overall supply chain;
  • Certified organic ingredients; and
  • Building all of the machinery used in the process.

In 2012, Kum-Kum Bhavnani produced a documentary about the Grenada Chocolate Company called Nothing Like Chocolate; here is the trailer.

Mott Green facilitated the creation of a true tree-to-bar sustainable organic dark chocolate bar. Very cool, very inspirational.

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.

Taste, Process, and the Hypocrite

I don’t think it’s very uncommon these days to find people whose unintended but self-fulfilling mantra seems to be “I don’t have enough time to do anything”. In my attempt to realign my life according to my values and priorities, I have been spending my lunch hours at work reading books that I previously “didn’t have enough time to read”. I picked up Alissa Hamilton’s Squeezed off my bookshelf and decided to put a more concerted effort into reading it. It also helps that in the one year plus since my last attempted read through her book, I’ve done a lot of questioning, discussing, and learning around food and feel that I’m coming back to her book with broadened horizons, so to say. In essence, I’m that much more interested in finding out how food is produced, why it is produced a certain way, and what the driving forces are behind the foods I see at the supermarket today.

Alissa’s book recounts the US Food and Drug Administration’s “trial” on orange juice back in the 1960’s. It wasn’t really called a trial but it involved examinations and cross examinations of industry and a very select number of consumer representatives around the definition of a standard of identity for orange juice. I hadn’t heard about standards of identity until reading her book; these are essentially descriptions of what must be in something to constitute <insert name of food here>. For example, what should be in an orange-coloured fluid for it to be called orange juice?

Processed Products Regulations, Schedule II, Standards of identity for specified fruit and vegetable products (don’t skip over this just because these are Regulations; it’s actually quite interesting scrolling through)

Food and Drug Administration, 21 CFR 146.135 – Orange juice

The rhetoric and questions that were brought forth as part of this “trial” were quite interesting and are making me think about food production from yet another perspective. For example, as a consumer, does the final taste of the product you purchase trump how the product came to be? In other words, does taste trump process? No…right!? I thought about it some more and if the taste isn’t what you were expecting, then you question the process, but if the taste is just as you expect and are accustomed to, then do you question the process?

Several years ago, I don’t think I would’ve questioned the process nearly to the same extent that I do today, especially if the product always tasted the same every single time I consumed it. I don’t expect I’m alone in stating this. Maybe you question what ingredients went into your food, how it was processed, and where your food is coming from when you hear about the newest dietary fad (e.g., reduce sodium, ingest more omega 3’s, MSG is bad), you get food poisoning, or someone you are feeding has a dietary restriction…but I’m sure that most folks don’t question every single time they come in contact with a food item. And I’m not even talking about nutritional content, which I think many people are relatively concerned about these days.

After some pondering, I’ve realized that I question the food that I see around me, whether it be raw ingredients or processed foods, but to differing extents. For me, I think it boils down to the question of the level of control that I feel I have over the food item:

  • For chocolate, there are a huge variety of options commonly available in Canada: Locally produced, bean-to-bar, foreign-produced, exotic flavours, fair trade, organic, dark, white, milk, and so on. Therefore, I question where the cacao beans were grown, who picked them, how were they processed, what the ingredients are, and who (and what) am I supporting if I buy chocolate bar A over chocolate bar B, C, D, E, F. And my choices reflect my values. The process is just as important as the taste and without both being acceptable in my mind, I don’t think it’s worth buying or eating.
  • For bananas, there is less variety in options commonly available in Canada compared to chocolate. There is one main eating variety (the Cavendish), most bananas are under a limited number of multinational brands (Dole, Del Monte, or Chiquita), and most bananas are produced in a handful of countries that support the ideal growth conditions. The treatment of the people who work on banana plantations is of concern to me and I’ve learned that fair trade bananas exist but the issue is that they aren’t commonly available in Canada. There isn’t even an option on the degree of ripeness, just what is available on the store display that day…although banana ripening post-picking sounds rather disappointing and one day I hope to eat a banana that has ripened on the tree and not after being sprayed with ethylene gas. Realistically, when I want to eat a banana, the only usual option is organic or not organic. That isn’t to say that there are just as many ethical issues as there are with chocolate but the options just aren’t as vast…so I question but my choices don’t necessarily reflect my values.
  • For some common Japanese food ingredients which I grew up eating, such as mirin, furikake, and kamaboko, I can only provide a vague description of what they are and I have only a vague notion into how they are produced, mostly guessed upon the characteristics of the final product. These were ingredients that my mother always bought at the Japanese food store (bless Vancouver) and the variety in options within these product types was typically limited to the brand. There really wasn’t much choice, I haven’t been exposed to any other way of obtaining these ingredients except at an ethnic store, so I seem to complacently consume them. Taste has been the driving factor with these types of products, not the process.

I admit, my own analysis reveals that I’m a hypocrite but this concept of taste versus process isn’t as clear cut as I thought.

A source for burlap bags!

I was delighted to find that Bridgehead, a chain of local coffee shops priding itself in fair trade, is selling the burlap bags in which their green coffee beans come in. They opened a roastery at the corner of Preston and Anderson in Little Italy a few months ago and have a nice stack of burlap bags to choose from. They suggest a donation of $2 per bag (although there was a bit of confusion as to whether it was $2 a bag or $2 per pick up when I went to get a few bags); I forgot to ask if they had selected an organization to give proceeds to. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the six bags I got yet, but there are a bunch of DIY ideas posted all over the net: seat cushions, throw pillows, wreaths, book covers, stockings (for Christmas – not to wear!), napkin holders, baskets…I was even thinking it’d work well as a door mat (maybe stuffed with a little something to give it some cushioning).

So if you’re in Ottawa, stop by the Bridgehead Roastery for some burlap bags!

Feast of Fields 2012: Cooking by farmer-chef teams

I had never before attended Feast of Fields but figured that I should give it a go this year. The Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Organic Growers hosts this event, which teams farmers with local chefs to create small dishes featuring the farmers’ products. I think it’s a great opportunity for farmers to be able to show off their produce outside of a farmers’ market or CSA box and for chefs to show their hand at creativity. Over the past few years, the location for the event has changed and this year, it was appropriately held at the Canada Agriculture Museum in the Central Experimental Farm. There were 21 teams “competing” for fun titles like best dish and best decorations. There was also on-site entertainment; it’s fabulous eating lunch on a hay bale listening to aboriginal drumming (and singing)!

Welcome to Feast of Fields 2012
Host of the event: Canada Agriculture Museum. A working farm in the middle of the city.
Coffee samples thanks to Cafe de Joel. He had a special Feast of Fields blend.
Castor River Farm and Tennessy Willems teamed up to produce an open-faced egg salad sandwich with bacon, cheese, and heirloom tomato.
Town’s fun vintage-y display. Town teamed with Saffire Farms for a cold potato leek soup with citrus-cured salmon and pickled green beans, which was Delicious (with a capital D).
Pulled duck sandwich from Funny Duck Farms, who teamed with Allium.
A delectable duck confit sandwich by Les Fougères on Art-is-in bread featuring mixed sprouts from Aliments Magic Food Sprouts. Johanne and Claude started their sprout business just one year ago and have grown it significantly since then. I’m hoping to visit their sprout operation really soon!
Bottom right is beef tongue taco; to its left is wild bean patty with heirloom tomato sauce and kefir; top is fried cauliflower and sage greens with pickled onions, beets, and watermelon and tabouleh.
Paul from Grazing Days and Gongfu Project teamed up to make steamed buns topped with corned beef and pickled daikon.
Another beef tongue taco that was absolutely delicious…but I can’t remember which farmer/chef team made it! This one had good flavour and some kick.
George Bushel has been producing up to 12 varieties of watermelons in his community garden plot near Blackburn Hamlet every year for the past 20+ years! He brought 5 varieties of watermelons for a taste test. I enjoyed the Sangria!
Emile Péloquin of Emile Péloquin Fruits et légumes biologiques provided juices and teas – fabulous for a day in the sun! I tried this Rosehip tea.
Sitting on hay bales, listening to live music while sampling a variety of dishes while soaking in the sun. Nothing to complain about!

Is your crop doing too well?

I very recently saw this video, entitled “2 minutes on Monsanto and GMOs”:

…and it reminded me of a documentary film that I saw not too long ago at the local independent cinema called “Big Boys Gone Bananas“. Let me start with a short synopsis of the film (though I highly recommend you go watch this if you can get your hands on it): There’s a swedish filmmaker and his company who film a documentary on the exposure of Nicaraguan banana workers to pesticides sprayed onto the groves while the workers are working; this is his first documentary called Bananas. The film that I saw is the story of what happened to the filmmaker and his company when they tried to screen Bananas at the Los Angeles International Film Festival. A mixture of threats, lawsuits, journalism, and free speech. It’s a thought-provoking film, which is why I recommend it.

Anyways, the first video above reminded of the documentary because it describes the influence of a huge corporation on our food system through the use of chemicals. It also reminded me to always be cognizant of the many faces and hands that worked behind the scenes so that my food could appear on the plate. We often hear about workers’ rights from unions and similar employee-representing organizations but there are many more who may not easily have a united voice or the freedom to share their side of the story.

After watching the documentary film, it really made me think about my love of bananas. I currently purchase my bananas from the supermarket (again, I live in Canada…not a banana-producing climate) and the two choices are regular or organic. I think of fair trade tea or chocolate but why am I not seeking fairly traded bananas? Which leads me to wonder if there are bananas supplied to my city that aren’t from the two major banana corporations? This is an introductory video on Fair Trade.

Not only is it important to consider how your food is grown but it may be worthwhile sometimes to take a further step back and wonder how the choice was made to grow the food that you eat. For instance, is it because the farm subscribes to a proprietary seed that grows in abundance and with few weeds…or does the farm save seeds every year…or do they try to propagate heirloom seeds? Monoculture or diversity? Is it possible for a crop to do too well…with too many pest-control products being applied?