Sustainable ceramics (Day 199)…

September 15, 2007

pottery

Aside from my mom and my friend Sarah K., there probably isn’t a more devoted Thistle readership than that of the Telpner family — Meghan, Ron and Patsy (there’s also her brother Michael, but he likes to suggest that we combat global warming by cranking our air conditioners and opening the windows). As a case in point, I was at their house recently for a Rosh Hashanah dinner and they were not only thoughtful enough to provide a healthy organic meal but also made sure that my place card — which said “Thistle” with a cute little drawing — was on recycled paper.

Over dessert, Patsy was telling me about the various aspects of ceramics and how most potters just throw out their excess clay. She, however, always recycles it, despite the fact that this can be a bit of a hassle. It occurred to me that this could make for a perfect green change: from now on, I’ll only buy ceramics if they’re made by as conscientious and eco-friendly (not to mention talented) an artist as Patsy. I already have one of her cups, a bowl and a platter — they’re beautiful, timeless and work perfectly with any décor, so check out her work!

Photo courtesy of Patsy Telpner

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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!


Bye-bye, K-Y (Day 188)…

September 4, 2007

Please excuse the shortest Thistle post ever. I’m sorry, but for the sake of my reputation, not to mention the fact that my parents, colleagues and ex-boyfriends are probably reading this, I simply cannot say more than:

This, instead of this.


Preserving my local diet (Day 182)…

August 29, 2007

jams

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

squash

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


Pleather before leather (Day 156)…

August 3, 2007

bracelet

Alina raised an interesting question on her blog the other day: Where is the organic leather? There’s so much talk of beef that’s organic, grass-fed and hormone-free, but where do our belts, shoes and handbags come from? I remember, not so long ago, Roots began selling these Stop Global Warming bracelets (above) that were made from leather scraps swept off their cutting room floor, and as Alina mentioned there’s this online store, too, but there really aren’t many companies out there making any sort of eco claim to their leather goods.

So because, in this challenge, I’m trying to create a demand only for ethically raised cows, I’m going to stop buying leather from now on unless I know it came from a happy animal on a good farm — and I’m guessing this will never happen. I’ll buy leather products if they’re used, however, and will continue to wear the purses and shoes I already have — mostly, in the latter case, because like my fellow closet environmentalist, my feet don’t smell so pretty after a long summer day in synthetic material.


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).