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).

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.

Eating the whole kale

About 3 years ago, I tried kale chips for the first time. A friend had bought a bag of “cheese”-flavoured kale chips at a local health food store and invited me to try one. I’ll admit, the first and the second time I tried kale chips, I just didn’t like them at all.

Then, this summer, kale showed up in our CSA box a few times. We used some in stir fries but we decided to try making kale chips of our own. When my partner first suggested using the kale to make kale chips, I gawked. I hadn’t taken a liking the first two times I’d had them. What made anyone think I would like them the third time around?

Well, I stand corrected. I LOVE kale chips now!! They remind me a bit of the absolutely scrumptious Japanese nori (flavoured seaweed). Anyways, kale chips have won me over. All I do is destem the kale (separating the tough stems from the leaves, though I’ve read of people skipping this step when making their kale chips), chop or rip up the leaves into the desired size, washing them, then tossing in some olive oil (just enough to coat). You can toss with some salt at the same time as the olive oil or you can sprinkle some salt on after you lay out the oiled leaves on a baking sheet. Pop into the oven at 250F, mixing them every so often, until they get crispy (but not burnt!). Delicious!

Kale leaves and stems, separated
Kale leaves and stems, separated
Leaves have been washed and tossed in olive oil and a bit of salt, to taste.
Leaves have been washed and tossed in olive oil and a bit of salt, to taste.

Until last week, the stems of the kale just went into our compost bin. However, convinced that there must be something edible to make using the stems, I did a search online to see what others used kale stems for. I also asked my friends if they had any good recommendations. The smoothie option won out. On the weekend, I finely chopped up the kale stems and threw them in with my usual smoothie mix (soy milk, frozen fruit, bananas).

The stems have been chopped up extra fine and thrown into a smoothie.
The stems have been chopped up extra fine and thrown into a smoothie.
You can see some green bits in the finished smoothie; those are the kale stems.
You can see some green bits in the finished smoothie; those are the kale stems.

The little bits of kale stem were chewy and reminded me of eating broccoli stems. I’m not sure what nutritional value kale stems provide but this was a decent way of using the them. Yay for using the whole kale for the first time!

Stimulating Saturdays: Story of Change

Remember spending a leisurely Saturday morning watching some cartoons on TV? I definitely don’t find myself sitting in front of a TV anymore (helps that we don’t own one) but it was kinda fun having something to watch on Saturday mornings. Now, on weekends, we cook, share nice long delicious meals with family and friends, and on occasion, we go to parties and events where we interact with new and familiar people. Talking about the weather and your job and your family starts to get boring quickly, so you need a conversation topic that’ll get people talking.

Thus, on Saturdays, I’m going to start sharing things that I’ve come across or that have been shared with me. Things that’ll hopefully provoke thoughts and stimulate conversations…hence stimulating Saturdays. Think of it as a less zoned-out adult-version of Saturday morning cartoons. Plus, it’s something to stimulate the juices while preparing breakfast.

The first video I want to share is part of The Story of Stuff Project. The Project was started by Annie Leonard, critic of excessive consumerism and environment supporter, and has released numerous short films and a book on key issues that have an impact on the environment. There are critiques of her and her films (e.g., leftist, anti-capitalist, indoctrinator) but that’s because her animated films and the concepts that she champions are meant to facilitate critical thinking and start conversations on some complicated issues. Her latest film is called The Story of Change.

If you’re interested in the Project, you can read more on their blog.

You already have everything you need

I read a post a few nights ago on no spend days, where the point is to dedicate at least one day per week to spending no money at all. There were a few thoughts running through my head as I read the post:

  • This concept is in no way new to me, as I go days without spending any money. I don’t drink coffee, I bring tea that I made from home with me to work every morning, I drink water for the rest of the day, I pack leftovers for lunch, and we cook dinner at home. We try to concentrate our errand-running to one time slot (either a weekday evening or on the weekend).
  • Hearing about record levels of consumer debt on a regular basis, I’m not too surprised that there are people who spend money, even a little bit (say for a morning coffee or for lunch), every single day. Those little amounts on a regular basis really add up quickly. If I went to Bridgehead, our local coffee shop, every morning for a $3 drink, that would cost me $15 for the work week, $45-60 for a month, and $540-720 for the year! That’s insane!
  • Boxing day just passed and Black Friday wasn’t that long ago either. That’s a lot of people buying a lot of stuff. By contrast, I think movements such as Buy Nothing Day and Shopping Embargos (post-Christmas shopping moratorium) are growing, encouraging consumers to take a step back and really examine their buying habits, and folks are incorporating conscientious decision-making into their lives (think minimalism; I heard these guys speak at the World Domination Summit 2012.
  • I have always been quite prudent with my spending and I lean towards being a saver moreso than a spender. However, we recently moved from relying on credit cards to a cash-based lifestyle. Within the past two months of using mostly only cash in our household, I have really learned how engrained ‘instant gratification’ is in my life and, no matter how disciplined you are with money, just how much easier it is to spend with credit cards. Seeing the finite amount of cash in my wallet (I have a set monthly allowance), I really think about how I want to spend that money each month. I’ve foregone a lot of things that I thought I wanted but decided that I don’t really need…and after thinking about it for a few more hours, it turned out I didn’t really want it after all. It was more of an impulse. Instant gratification. But for what result?

That brings me to: You already have everything you need. I read this phrase on Jenny Blake’s Life After College blog and although she wrote it as inspiration for making things happen in your life, it really resonated with me about life in general. I have my health, my family is relatively healthy, I have a cozy home, I have some really amazing friends, I have a job, I do not have unaffordable debt, I have enough money to grant me freedom (e.g., for travel), and overall, I live a pretty good life. I already have everything I need. Acquiring additional material goods will not enrich my life any more than it already is and after a certain point, I think the constant draw to acquire things starts to detract from life.

This is how I see it in my own mind:

bell curve

I forgot to include axes with the graph; I think the y axis would be something like feeling of happiness, content, or value while the x axis would be volume or amount of stuff. That isn’t to say that I won’t buy things anymore. As with dieting, cutting yourself off from doing something will only make you want to do it more. As with eating, being mindful and making conscientious choices makes all the difference. Instead, I will think about the value that something will bring to my life compared to its costs (not limited to monetary) before buying it. I will also strive to save up for big purchases just as kids are encourage to do, by putting aside some of my monthly allowance until I can afford to buy it.

I already have everything I need.

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.


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!

Three perspectives on food through three films

I visited a library branch that I’d never previously been to; I love randomly combing through the DVD section and I love it even more when I find things I want to watch! At this new-to-me branch, I found 3 documentaries.

Ingredients: the local food movement takes root (a film directed by Robert Bates in 2009)

Pay the doctor or pay the farmer. Simplicity, flavour and quality are the most important. Pay now or pay later (some may say, suffer later). Growing food more naturally makes more sense. As a farmer, you’re producing food, not fuel. Vibrant healthy ecosystem = better colour, better flavour, better quality, better nutritional values. Taste and how the producer takes care of the land are important. We have been taught through the industrial food system that cheap food is better because it is more convenient and cooking is time-consuming drudgery. This is a well-made film featuring chefs, including Alice Waters, and farmers/ranchers that I’d definitely recommend watching.

Escape from Suburbia: Beyond the American Dream (directed by Gregory Greene in 2007)

The film is centered around the concept of peak oil, which is when oil extraction rates peak; after this point, production would decline and what happens thereafter is somewhat speculative.

The timing of when we’ll reach peak oil, or if we’ve already reached it, is also debated, but the one thing that is for sure it that oil is a finite resource that we will not rebuild within our lifetime (let alone many lifetimes). This core concept is simple but the implications are incredibly vast. You can’t have a discussion on peak oil without getting into politics, community dynamics, societal lifestyles and culture, lobbyists and corporations, environment, ownership and stewardship, personal responsibilities, and much more.

As the name of the film implies, connected to the concept of peak oil is the reliance on vehicular transportation based on the suburbia model. The premise isn’t necessarily to decry suburbs but to make suburban developments more self-contained, with services and food sources available within walking distance, and at the same time really considering the environmental toll that development takes, particularly when agricultural land is under consideration. Once the land is paved over, it will be incredibly difficult reclaiming the land for agricultural use. If our reliance on oil continues in the same way, then presumably, demand will surpass supply, costs will rise (prohibitively, I’d guess), and we won’t be able to transport ourselves in the same way that many of us do now: in our own personal cars. At that time, we’d probably want to have food sources nearby…but if we used up agricultural land for housing or other development, how can we supply ourselves with enough food to sustain communities? There are also many food deserts already throughout North America and this would become more apparent if access to cars was limited. Location, location, location!

Those are a few of the issues discussed by the film; you can see the trailer here:

Food Stamped: Is it possible to eat healthy on a food stamp budget? (A film by Shira and Yoav Potash in 2011)

Accessibility of healthy food options can be a barrier for people, particularly if there are socioeconomic factors at play. The film doesn’t get detailed with respect to the issues affecting accessibility but the filmmakers were interested in spending a week living on a food stamp budget (officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). The filmmakers are a young couple living together who had time to pre-plan a weeks’ worth of meals, have access to a supermarket, do not usually live on a fixed income, have no children, and are familiar with how to cook foods. Although I’m wary of projects like this where folks take on a fixed income lifestyle for a very short period of time, I think they’re good if they increase awareness of food accessibility issues (eg. food deserts) and help us examine how our lifestyle choices affect people of all different backgrounds. I recall some Ottawa councillors taking part in a similar endeavour as part of the Living Wage Campaign a few years ago…but I’m not certain how much of an influence the experience had on affecting food policy in the city.

Reusable mugs on airplanes

Have you ever been bothered by the amount of waste you create on an airplane? And then thought about what that equates to when you think about the number of people on your flight times the number of flights per day times the number of days per year?

If I’m flying within the country, I usually take some fruit onboard because have you seen the price of fruit at an airport or on the plane!? Not to mention, where and within what conditions was the fruit grown? I also usually take snacks and a homemade meal – if I’m organized – so that I can pack everything in reusable containers (no waste) and I can save myself some money (excellent). However, I’ve always gotten my drinks in those clear plastic cups…and for a 5 hour flight, they’ll do drink service twice and water service an additional one or two times. That’s FOUR plastic cups just for me on one flight! It’s not that I need four different cups but the flight attendants are just so efficient at taking away all of my garbage as soon as I’m done consuming the content! (kudos to that excellent service)

I usually have a reusable mug on my flight because I carry it around with me everywhere I can. I go through security with my stainless steel mug out separately (because it’s insulated and they need to scan it separately from any bags), then find a water fountain (or bathroom) to fill the mug with water. I’ll still opt to have juice on the plane, so I use up some disposable cups, but I save myself from needing cups for water.

This last time I flew, I had an epiphany. I can NOT use plastic cups by altering my routine a bit. I go through security as usual, with an empty stainless steel mug. Then, I find a water fountain but instead of filling it all the way with water, I just filled it 1/4 to 1/2 full, depending on how thirsty I expected to be while waiting to board my plane. By the time we’re up in the air and they announce that drink service will commence, I finish off the water that was in my mug. When the lovely flight attendant comes by to offer me a drink, I politely inquire whether they could fill my mug with my desired cold liquid drink…and I thank them with a smile for obliging me (because nobody else on my flight does this) and enjoy a whole mug full of cold liquid for the rest of the flight (skipping the need for a second drink service).

The last two flights I took, the flight attendants were super kind. One asked whether I wanted my mug filled all the way or just a bit, and another just filled my mug all the way to the top with ginger ale and ice. I was half afraid that they would tell me that there was some regulation preventing them from fulfilling my request and that I had to absolutely drink from their plastic cups…but that wasn’t the case!

So next time you fly, take a reusable mug and say no to the disposable cups.

REAL DEAL Ginger Ale – super easy!

It has never ever crossed my mind to make my own ginger ale. However, after making my own cranberry juice, it’s really not that far a cry to diversify my homemade drinks repertoire by adding ginger ale!  Not unlike making cranberry juice, it is super duper easy to make ginger ale.

You make the syrup by mixing 1c granulated sugar with 1/2c water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat.
Once the syrup reaches a boil and the sugar dissolves, it becomes clear.
Stir in 1/2c finely chopped (fresh) ginger, then remove the mixture from the heat. Cover and let steep for one hour.
After steeping for one hour, strain out the ginger bits. You’ll be left with a syrup. Stir in 1T freshly squeezed lemon juice. Add the syrup to sparkling water to taste…cool…then enjoy the REAL DEAL.

We took the ginger ale over to a friends’ house and it was a hit!  However, we were left with sugary ginger bits and I thought it would be a huge waste to just toss them into the compost. In the end, there were two ideas: candied ginger or ginger chocolate bark (or chocolate-covered ginger). We ended up going the candied ginger route and that turned out well too. So that way, you don’t waste anything!