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!


Preserving my local diet (Day 182)…

August 29, 2007


It’s easy sticking to a local diet now that it’s summer and farmers markets are in full swing, but I know that all these juicy peaches, plums and berries won’t be around come January — they’ll be around in South America, yes, but because I’m restricted to Canada and the U.S. in everything I eat, I thought I’d take a couple hours to make some preserves.

Despite my penchant for all foods Indian, I’m not a big chutney fan, nor do I like the taste of pickled anything, so I’m limiting myself to jams. But wow — and please, excuse the lack of humility here — it just so happens, my jams rock! Of course I can’t take full credit: Miss Crunchy gave me the inspiration with her recipe for Cognac Vanilla Peach Jam, which is basically what I made, just without the booze (I couldn’t find organic cognac and wasn’t sure how my few teetotalling friends would feel about it).

Now, I must admit, I prematurely scrunched my face in panic upon reading through Crunchy’s ingredients list, especially when I came across the word pectin. Pectin? What the heck was that? Sure didn’t sound very natural or green to me … but actually, it is. So once I got over that mental hurdle, I picked up all the other necessities and went about blanching (another term that freaked the bejeebus out of me) my fruit. About halfway through the recipe, I basically started guessing everything, boiling and stirring the globby mixture until it looked like it wouldn’t kill me or make me barf if I ate some of it with a piece of toast.

As I poured it into the sterilized jars (again, my sterilization technique would surely flunk me right out of any medical school), I thought, “All right, it’s OK, it’ll taste like crap, but that’s fine, that’s what experimental cooking is all about.” But then I let it set overnight and tried a tentative spoonful of it the next morning on a rice cake with some almond butter and it actually tasted great! The vanilla beans made a huge difference and the tartness really came through, unlike so many of the over-sweetened commercial brands on the market.

In the end, my Peach, Yellow Plum and Vanilla Bean jam was almost entirely organic, local and stored in reusable mason jars. So as of today, I’ll be preserving whatever I can if it means less time in an 18-wheeler to get here come winter.

Tuber or not tuber (Day 179)…

August 26, 2007


On the recent cycling trip I took through the valleys of Oregon from Portland to Eugene, we stopped along the way at various organic farms. One of the most interesting was Sunbow, owned by Harry MacCormack, located near the university town of Corvallis.

Harry, it turns out, is a bit of a celebrity in the organic farming industry. He wrote The Standards and Guidelines For Organic Agriculture, which became the basis for Tilth certification and other programs in the U.S. and abroad. Now, local farmers will often use Harry’s soil to test out different crops.

On our first night there, he spoke to us for a while about how he became involved in the organic farming business and the current trend of local, sustainable eating. Then it got a bit frightening as he moved on to discuss pesticides and DDT, the latter of which can apparently linger on in the land for decades.

After about an hour or so, Harry had me convinced that pretty much everything that isn’t certified organic will give me cancer. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating, but he definitely persuaded me never to go back to commercial dairy products. Or strawberries.

But I didn’t want to fall asleep that night feeling like I could never eat anything again without an appetizer of anxiety, so I asked him what could be done on a consumer level, and his answer was: Never, ever, EVER buy squash that isn’t organic. In fact, even if it is organic, find out which farm it’s from and whether the soil has been tested.

The reason, he says, is that if there is any DDT in the soil, squash and other members of the tuber family will suck it all up and store it in their flesh. Tomatoes and fruits may get sprayed with toxic stuff, but it seems their skins doesn’t absorb much of it, so it’s not as important health-wise to enforce the organic rule there.

Now, I’m not about to go lurking around Ontario farmland with a chemistry set taking samples of the soil or anything, but I will be making sure that all the tubers I buy from now on are organic. There’s nothing I love more in the winter than a good butternut squash soup, and I’d rather it not be garnished with carcinogens.

Photo courtesy of Mexicanwave on Flickr

Spicing it up, in bulk (Day 165)…

August 12, 2007


There’s nothing that quite warms the soul like a kick-ass organic paneer kofta or a free-range chicken tikka masala. But as anyone who’s ever attempted to cook homemade Indian food knows, there are usually at least 15 different spices in the ingredients list, and once you start running out of all the garam masala and dried fenugreek, it can mean a lot more plastic every time something’s replenished.

But as Carrie so brilliantly pointed out last month, a good eco-friendly option is to head to a marketplace or bazaar where they sell spices in bulk (luckily for me, Toronto has a Little India). Not only will these probably be of higher quality but it also means you can bring your own container to refill, and you’ll definitely get more for your money.

So as of today, I’m walking right past the spice aisle in the grocery store and taking my own containers to the House of Spices just up the street.

Photo of spices in a Chamonix marketplace by Gavin Bell at Flickr

Green treats mean clean teeth (Day 160)…

August 7, 2007


My cat is excrutiatingly particular about her treats, but after the recent pet food scares I’ve been even more particular about which brands I’ll let her have. She’s always liked her Temptations, preferring the crunchy outside and chewy inside to the more uniform consistency of Pounce treats, and one of her all-time favourites was Pup-Peroni, which is meant for dogs but she goes bonkers for anything bacon-flavoured.

But Soph is getting older now — she’s about middle age in cat years — and I wanted to start giving her something healthier.

I stumbled upon these treats called Feline Greenies, and thought their Nantucket Bay Scallop flavour sounded especially posh — not to mention the fact that the ingredients are all natural and they keep teeth nice and clean — so I grabbed the packet and brought it back for her.

At first, she wasn’t so sure what to make of them. Everyone says cats are colour blind but I swear she could tell they were green, which led to a lot more sniffing and head bobbing then usual. Finally, though, she took the plunge and ate one.

Success! She’s officially hooked, and I can breathe a sigh of relief that she won’t end up keeled over at the vets with traces of rat poison in her intestinal tract anytime soon.

There is one problem with this product, however: the packaging. If anyone knows of any stores that sell cat treats in bulk, or at least ones that come in recyclable material, please point me in the right direction!
Image courtesy of this website

It’s like camping! Except more pathetic (Day 145)…

July 23, 2007

fork and pan

Sigh. A true sign that things over here at Thistle headquarters are getting a little desperate: I find myself eating dinner and thinking, yeah, plates are so overrated. Who needs plates? They just mean one more thing to clean, which means all the more water and soap being used.

So my green move today is to make like a university student/camping enthusiast and eat straight out of the frying pan (or the pot, depending on what I’m cooking). I suppose if I invested in a nice cast-iron skillet, it would make for a better culinary canvas. But still, something about eating out of the pot just screams “lazy,” “uncivilized” and “pathetic”.

Photo courtesy of Jasmic on Flickr.

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