Hooray for CSA! (Day 198)…

September 14, 2007

bean rows

When I paid a visit to Sunbow Farm last month in Oregon, I learned the real importance of maintaining an organic diet — especially when it comes to squash! (That’s our group in the photo above, by the way, after weeding two rows of Harry’s organic beans)

But when it comes to lessening one’s ecological footprint, it’s usually more important to eat locally than organically. So while I’ve been careful to ensure that all my meat, dairy, eggs and tubers are 100% certified, I’m a little more slack with the rest of my food, so long as it comes from within Canada or the U.S.

(On a related note: I had a dream last night in which I was shopping and found a banana from Florida! I was so excited to put it on my cereal in the morning … then I woke up. No banana.)

I’ll usually head to a farmer’s market on the weekend, and if I’m at a bigger grocery store, I’ll always check the “product of” labels to make sure I’m not eating anything that’s been flown in from Chile or New Zealand.

Now, as I’ve been told by my American readers, there’s a solid trend in the States of community supported agriculture, otherwise known as a CSA. If you belong to one of these groups, you can get locally grown food delivered to your door each week, straight from the farm. I’d been looking for a while for something like this in Toronto to no avail, until I finally lucked out, finding not one, but two of them!

The first was the adorable sounding Chick-a-Biddy Acres. The second was Green Earth Organics. I was originally going to sign up with Chick-a-Biddy because the website was just so darn cute and it was a more official CSA. But then I couldn’t quite figure out when their deliveries would start and exactly how much I’d get. The site for Green Earth was a bit of a navigation nightmare, but in a way that was sort of endearing — I mean, real hippies shouldn’t even know what HTML is, right? (Kidding)

Either way, they sold me on the fact that their food baskets were both organic and local (I checked up on just how local, and it seems at least 80% comes from Ontario, the rest usually from B.C.), and on top of that, 10% of their profits go to various charities around the city.

So I’ve signed up, and am expecting my first delivery this afternoon. If it’s too much food, I can always scale back the number of deliveries, or just share it with friends. And I’ll of course make sure to post a photo of my vegetable cornucopia when it arrives!

You shoes, you lose (Day 154)…

August 1, 2007

shoes on mat

When my parents first moved from England to Canada back in the mid-70s, they were mildly disturbed by a few things: One, yellow butter; two, blizzards in May (at least in Quebec), and three, the custom of taking shoes off at the door. Correct me if I’m wrong, Mum, but I believe your opinion was, and still is, that shoes are part of the outfit and belong on your feet until the rest of your clothes come off.

Now, being a Taurus, I tend to put comfort waaaay above aesthetics. I don’t own any shoes with more than a kitten heel and my most common choice of footwear is either a pair of dilapidated sneakers or dirty flip-flops (the one trend I refuse to endorse no matter how comfortable is the neon Crocs — seriously, those thing are heinous).

Anyway, because I like to be comfy, or maybe just because I’m a Canadian, I’m more than happy to take my kicks off at the door. Sometimes I forget, or sometimes I’ll put a sparkly pair on if I have company, but today my green move will be to enforce the shoes-off policy.

How is this green, you ask? Well, fewer shoes clomping around means less dirt and mud tracked on the floor, which in turn means I need to vacuum less frequently, which, you guessed it, means I’m using less electricity.

Photo courtesy of amazondotcom on Flickr

A dairy-tale ending (Day 142)…

July 20, 2007

love me moo

Now that I’ve pledged to only eat happy meat and free-range eggs, my final installment in the Ethical Eating Trilogy of this challenge will be to limit myself to organic and if possible rennet-free dairy products.

“Rennewhat?” you say. “Don’t tell me there’s another ingredient I’m supposed to be worrying about!”

Unfortunately, there is, unless you’re one of those people who eat veal and can still sleep at night with tortured baby calves on your conscience (in which case, you know what, just leave. Seriously — just go, because this really isn’t going to work out).

While I know approximately nothing about cheese-making other than the fact that it involves words like whey, bacteria and curd, a Wikipedia entry provides this run-down on what exactly rennet is, which in turn explains why a lot of organic cheeses come with the tagline “rennet-free”.

Milk products in general have been getting a bad rap lately, and folks like Meghan will be happy to go on about how we’re not really meant to digest milk in the first place and it’s full of udder pus and our digestive tracts don’t like it and so on. But because I’m Caucasian and my lactase enzyme is in perfect working order, and because if I don’t consume any dairy my body starts telling me to with specific cravings for cheese, ice cream and yogurt, and finally because I believe in the practice of dairy farms, I’m going to continue eating these things (there’s a cute lactose tolerance campaign going on right now with a very funny video, and I’d endorse it wholeheartedly if it weren’t being run by Nesquik).

After browsing around the Dairy Farmers of Ontario website, pretending I was a farmer and looking up all their safety regulations — I had no idea there was such a thing as teat dip, or for that matter teat-dipping cups — I’m reassured that most local, small-scale dairy farms are bovine and human-friendly. But it’s not as though one single farm produces all the milk that ends up in a carton of Sealtest or Beatrice.

The safest, most ethical way to go here, I think, is to make sure all the dairy products I consume are organic, unless I can verify that it comes directly and solely from a good local farm.

Photo above from my personal collection — “Love me tender, love me moo” by Bill Weedmark. The cows are from a farm in Napanee, ON (yes, the birthplace of Avril Lavigne).

Home on the free-range (Day 141)…

July 19, 2007


Of all the ethical food descriptors on the market — organic, natural, hormone-free, grain-fed, etc — the term “free-range” is probably the sketchiest. As readers of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma know, it can often mean nothing but a tiny door in a crammed shed that allows chickens access to the outdoors, and barely any of them ever use it because the food is only offered inside. On top of this, the term in the U.S. is regulated for chickens but not eggs, and in Canada it isn’t regulated at all. Then there’s the question of whether or not there’s a difference between free-range and free-run, and, well, it gets complicated.

To the farmers’ credit, it’s not exactly easy to raise hens and chickens. They poop everywhere and it isn’t very good for the soil, plus they smell pretty bad and kick up a lot of dust. But there’s no excuse for keeping birds in tiny cages and injecting them with antibiotic cocktails, if you ask me.

Unfortunately, as PETA is quick to point out, about 98% of Canada’s 26 million egg-laying hens are kept in battery cages, and even some of the ones raised with alternative methods still kill off the male chicks at birth and send the others to slaughter after two years despite the normal aviary lifespan of about 10 to 12 years.

So from now on, I’m not only going to restrict myself to free-range eggs but make sure that if I actually buy a whole carton I know which farm they come from and have done some further research to ensure they aren’t twisting the term “free-range” into some misleading euphemism. For example, the Karma Food Coop, about a 10-minute bike ride away from me in Toronto, announced in March that they were no longer stocking Rowe’s organic eggs because they were found to be cage-raised. Now, they’re selling Green Valley free-range eggs instead, and as long as I know a grocer is keeping tabs on its suppliers like this, I’ll raise a toast — with some ethical frittata — to them.

Image by Satoshi Oka, originally on this website

Canadian whine (Day 55)…

April 24, 2007

rieslingAt some point in my drinking life — between swigging my last bottle of Zinfandel at university and sipping my first Pinot Noir at some overpriced resto-lounge — my parents gave me some invaluable advice: always abide by the ABC rule of wine: Anything But Chardonnay. Sure enough, the one time I broke the rule and tried a glass, it was so revolting I actually thought it was corked; but no, apparently, it’s supposed to taste like you’re licking mouldy wood chips.

I’ve always thought, however, that the letter “C” in the ABC rule could also stand for Canadian, because our vineyards are pretty much useless, other than maybe for ice wine, which frankly I don’t get — I mean, we already have stuff to pour on our pancakes.

As of late, however, I’ve been tentatively sipping a few here and there with some positive results; enough so that I’m officially ready to restrict my wine intake to what’s grown, produced and cellared here in Ontario.

My personal favourites so far include: For white wine, Cave Spring‘s dry Riesling; for red, 20 Bees Baco Noir or Cab-Merlot; for rosé, the Grange in Prince Edward County is where it’s at, although it requires a special order or a road trip to get; and for sparkling, well, I might be in trouble.

See, my dad splurged on Veuve for our annual Christmas lunch back in December and, ever since, I’ve found the taste of cheaper sparkling wines too artificial (Ed. note: clearly this is all in my head, which is clouded with oenophile pretension; I blame the French), so chances are I’ll abandon the bubbly entirely until my challenge is over, then I can blow all my savings on real champagne.

None of the above wines are certified organic, but most of the ones that are come in Tetra Paks, and although they can apparently be recycled, I’ve read that this isn’t always the case — plus, I’ll take the sound of a cork popping any day over the sound of a cap seal being twisted off an over-sized juice box.

The few organic wines that do come in bottles are usually from Australia or New Zealand, and buying these will weigh me down with too much carbon guilt. Besides, I’ve been to the Niagara region, and I know the vineyards there aren’t being run with some Mondavi-esque, Big Wine mentality — if anything, they’re being run by people with way too many lawn ornaments — so with that in mind, I say, organic shmorganic. Bring on the local!

P.S. Friends, neighbours and coworkers: This does not mean I want any of that homemade wine you have sitting in your basement. I’m not that desperate. Yet.

Just a hops, keg and a pump from home (Day 46)…

April 15, 2007

mill streetI was hoping to put off any green changes involving precious, precious alcohol until later in the game, but because Toronto happens to have two great micro-breweries — Steamwhistle and Mill Street — I’m going to limit my beer intake to these local brands, both within cycling distance of my apartment.

Now, when it comes to which is best, it’s hard to say. Steamwhistle boasts of its natural ingredients, which include “2-row malted barley from Saskatchewan, a selection of three imported German hops and yeast from the Swiss company Herlemann.” But it also trucks in Crystal Springs water every week — would using Toronto’s finest really screw up the flavour that much?

Well, OK, it probably would. But they could surely create some sort of large-scale, in-house water filter to do the trick, no?

Then there’s Mill Street, which obviously takes the lead with their Original Organic Lager, a 100% all-natural brew that contains no pesticides, insecticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers.


But it also uses imported organic Hallertau Hops from New Zealand, which is a lot further from Toronto than Germany, where Steamwhistle gets its hops, and a brewer’s malt from Briess Organics, which is organic, kosher and apparently a “certified woman-owned business,” but is based in the U.S. — it would have been nice to see a Canadian-sourced ingredient somewhere in the mix.

I think the only answer here is to drink both beers, in mass quantities, until I’m too sozzled to care about which hops is tops.

Photos stolen while under the influence from Steamwhistle and Mill Street.

A green double-feature (Day 43)…

April 12, 2007

greendimesToday, I made two green moves. I signed up to both stop the flow of junk mail to my apartment and have a tree planted each month for a year, thanks to one fabulous website called GreenDimes, which finally arrived in Canada — and no, despite the poor exchange rate, they will not have to change their name to Green 11.4 Cents.

For the annual cost of $36, I got “Sapling” status (how cute is that?), which means my name is removed from direct mailing lists and telemarketers’ files. Then, I got to further select specific catalogues from a drop-down menu to block — I clicked on Abercrombie&Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and L.L. Bean, because I really don’t need to look at clothes that are overpriced, bras that have five layers of padding and plaid shirts that only come in useful at the cottage I don’t own.

Plus, a tree gets planted each month for me in North America, Central America, South America, India, Senegal, and Haiti; I can even specify the percentages of my trees that I want in each of these regions — so you better behave, Haiti! On top of all this, they’re also sending me a “no junk mail” sticker to put on my mailbox (I already have one, but clearly it hasn’t been very effective).

As well, my friend Liz pointed out that I could also go to the Canadian Marketers Association and register for the Do Not Contact service there, too. So I did. And my dear blogmate No Impact Man also had some suggestions on his site back in February, although they’re most helpful for those living in the U.S. Finally, my superintendent has placed a recycling bin by all the mailboxes in my building instead of a garbage bin, so at least we can all toss stuff in there as a last resort.