Luxury of morning hikes

It is such a luxury to – instead of sitting at a computer in an office cubicle – be able to go for light hikes in the morning through beautiful forest of coniferous trees and rivers. Hearing birds talking. Feeling the dirt trail beneath your feet. Smelling the fruity air, thanks to the ripening berries on the bushes.

Ah the beauty of a vacation in beautiful British Columbia!

You may have heard of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which is a very popular (paid) tourist attraction in North Vancouver. However, there is a little gem in the Lynn Valley neighbourhood of North Vancouver called the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge. It isn’t as long as the Capilano bridge but it feels less touristy, is still quite impressive and well-maintained, has a good network of trails surrounding it, and is free!

Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge
Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge
Ready to cross the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge? Watch out - it sways!
Ready to cross the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge? Watch out – it sways!
Beautifully clear water
Beautifully clear water
Such serenity, listening to the water pass by and wind through the trees!
Such serenity, listening to the water pass by and wind through the trees!

Just north of the Capilano Suspension Bridge is Cleveland Dam and the salmon hatchery. The Capilano Pacific Trail is one of the major trails linking all 3 places; you can actually walk all the way from Ambleside Park (by Lions Gate Bridge) in West Vancouver via this trail all the way north to Cleveland Dam near the base of Grouse Mountain.

A view of Capilano Lake, from the dam
A view of Capilano Lake, from the dam
The Capilano Dam
The Capilano Dam

If you walk on the east side of the Capilano River, either down from the Capilano Dam or up from the Capilano Suspension Bridge, you can visit the Salmon Hatchery. I remember going here on school field trips to learn about the lifecycle of fish and it’s still well-maintained years later.

The Hatchery
The Hatchery
Baby fish at the hatchery
Baby fish at the hatchery
Another view of the hatchery and surrounding beauty
Another view of the hatchery and surrounding beauty
Another view of the hatchery
Another view of the hatchery

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.

A film fest, a food market and some permaculture

A few interesting things happening around town over the next 2 weeks:

The biannual Reel Food Film Fest is happening on Thursday March 14 starting at 6:30pm at the Main Ottawa Public Library. This time, they will be screening a short on Tim Baker’s Visit to Honduras and a feature-length film called Tapped. I’ve been to the Reel Food Film Fest for the past 3 offerings (see here, for example) and have really enjoyed seeing different films on various aspects of food.

Trailer: http://youtu.be/_vyu07JM78M

After a bit of a dead time in markets, there will be a Westboro Easter Food Market (@taste_of_ottawa) on Saturday March 23 from 10am to 3:30pm in Westboro. Admission is free and there will be a number of local vendors, including some of my faves Hummingbird Chocolate and Koko Chocolates. Relish, the food truck, will also be on-site…a great warm-up for what will prove to be an exciting summer of food truck fare in Ottawa. We’re also about two months away from the farmers’ markets opening around town!

Lastly, if you’ve been curious about permaculture or an urban food forest, there is a two-day event happening on March 23 to 24 from 9:15am to 4:30pm in central Ottawa. It’s called the Eastern Ontario Permaculture Convergence and they have multiple workshops on what permaculture is and how it can be applied to food production. Admission is a suggested donation of $10 per day.

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.

Crispy Crunchy Bruce Pit

Our first snowshoeing adventure for this season (and for 2 years really, since we didn’t go at all last year due to the unusually mild weather) was to Bruce Pit in Ottawa. This is a remediated sand/gravel pit that is now a huge off-leash dog park and provides cross-country trails and toboggan hills in the winter. We snowshoed around the perimeter of the Pit making for a fairly easy, flat 5K loop. It felt great being back on snowshoes!

Bruce Pit Bruce Pit Bruce Pit Bruce Pit Bruce Pit Bruce Pit Bruce Pit

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.

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.

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.

Rooftop farming is super exciting!

I first heard about Lufa Farms on David Suzuki’s CBC show, The Nature of Things. Lufa Farms is located in Montreal and they do really cool things through rooftop farming. They’re really inspirational and I would love to get involved with them somehow, sometime because what they do is just SO COOL. I was excited to find that the founder, Mohamed, did a TedX talk on how rooftop farming will change how we eat.

Growing food more responsibly. It’s not just about our daily choices around what we eat but how it’s grown and how our choices will affect generations to come.