Food Matters – Notes from California

California coastline south of San Francisco

California coastline south of San Francisco

When I go on vacation I never really forget about the food systems I like to study as part of my work. So it’s not surprising that last week while on a short vacation to California I came across some interesting observations about sustainability.

This time of year we are getting an awful lot of our food from California. Our local farmers have been getting some early greens that they’ve been growing under cover out to the farmers’ markets, but I certainly saw many thousands if not hundreds of thousands of acres of monocultured crops either being harvested or close to harvest when I drove north from Santa Barbara to San Francisco on Highway 101. Strawberries, kale, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, all grown in what is essentially desert-like land, which needs to be constantly irrigated, especially in this time of drought that large parts of California are suffering.

The curious part of driving past the fields is that they all looked very green and lush, I saw some sprinklers working and evidence of a lot of drip irrigation. So water is still being used. But the water issue has trickled right down to the restaurant level in some of the towns closer to the coast. In the town of Cambria, where my wife and I stopped for lunch at a very nice restaurant called Indigo Moon Café, we were served bottled water instead of tap water, in plastic glasses. I asked our waitress about that…she said that at a town hall type of meeting, business owners discussed how to conserve water, and the restaurant owners decided to serve bottled water brought in from outside the area at cost, so our 500-mil bottle was 30 cents, and the plastic glass was to avoid having to use water to wash real glass water vessels. And every toilet I used anywhere during our stay was definitely a low-flow toilet. But in the larger cities not so close to farmland there didn’t seem to be a lot of fuss made about water conservation.

Feeding time at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Feeding time at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Further down the coast: For a long time I’ve wanted to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This was really the first facility to come up with a Seafood Watch program to help people make sustainable choices when eating seafood, and the message about sustaining ocean life is still very strong there, a running theme even as we watched a diver do a feeding in the huge live tank that is one of the showcases at the Aquarium. And I was able to pick up a couple of updated wallet cards that list the best choices for regular seafood and even the sustainable choices for dining at sushi restaurants.

Bronwen Hanna-Korpi and the butchers at Belcampo Meats in Santa Barbara

Bronwen Hanna-Korpi and the butchers at Belcampo Meats in Santa Barbara

In Santa Barbara,  I was pleased to learn that a classmate I studied food culture with in Italy is now part of the management group at Belcampo Meat Company. This is a northern Californian firm that owns a ranch, its own slaughterhouse and processing facility designed by animal rights activist Temple Grandin, and a growing chain of specialty butcher shop-restaurant combinations. Their beef is all grass-fed and grass-finished and organic, and they also raise organic pork and poultry. My classmate, Bronwen Hanna-Korpi, was in Santa Barbara to open the latest of these butcher shops in the Santa Barbara Public Market, and we chatted a bit about how the demand for the kind of products Belcampo is producing is growing by leaps and bounds. But the drought is affecting Belcampo as well. They need more feed for their cattle than they can grow on their land under these drought conditions, and they have trouble sourcing organic hay, and when they can find it, it’s very expensive. They ARE after the clientele that can afford to pay more for their products, but they really need to get some relief from the drought to make sure their animals are properly fed.

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Deep-fried broccolini and fries

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Meatball sandwich

Belcampo Cheeseburger

Belcampo Cheeseburger

My wife and I shared some very tasty food at Belcampo. A cheeseburger full of that grass-fed beef flavour. A meatball (pork and beef) sandwich with tomato sauce that tastes like homemade, crispy fries and fantastic deep-fried broccolini with hot pepper flakes. A winning combination that made us nice and full for the drive back to San Francisco.

Artichokes Everywhere!

Artichokes Everywhere!

Some other notes: Did you know that California is the artichoke capital of North America? We drove by fields and fields of artichokes and saw them for sale in all shapes and sizes at very affordable prices.

 

 

 

 

Artichoke Soup

Artichoke Soup

Deep-fried artichokes

Deep-fried artichokes

Too bad we couldn’t bring any back! But we had deep-fried artichokes and artichoke soup in one of the towns where we stopped in for lunch. And avocados! Everywhere!

 

Zebras

Zebras

Elephant Seals

Elephant Seals

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zebras and Elephant Seals: You can see both along the California coast. The seals haul themselves up on the sandy beaches to sun themselves, while the zebras are the last remnants of a herd that was once kept in the Hearst Castle Zoo. Now they roam part of the 90 thousand-acre Hearst Ranch.

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Free Food Artisans Recipe Demo – April 16th

Mussels Saganaki

Mussels Saganaki

Please join me on Wednesday, April 16th at 1pm at the Victoria Public Market as I talk about my new book, Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, and demonstrate a couple of dishes featuring recipes from the book, Mussels Saganaki and Voodoo Spot Prawns. My book reveals the stories behind many of the top food and beverage artisans in this region and acts as your guide to discovering delicious, locally-produced ingredients. Copies of the book will be for sale at Whisk and I will be available to sign your book following the cooking demo. Hope to see you there!

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Food Matters – Foraging Cookbook and Artisan Alley

The Deerholme Foraging Book

The Deerholme Foraging Book

Spring has definitely sprung on Vancouver island, and the sunny weather we had earlier this week has really contributed to a growth spurt in the pantry available to us in the great outdoors. On this week’s edition of Food Matters, I talked about a new cookbook designed to help you make the most of your foraging.

Gathering, and a lesser extent, hunting for your own food is becoming another trend in the way we eat. It’s not new for people in BC to go out into their environment for food. Certainly our First Nations have been doing it for thousands of years, and even today it’s not unusual to find people out picking berries and mushrooms when they are in season, but the foraging movement is now going beyond those common items to a larger realm of edible plants and shore-based seaweeds and seafoods.

Chef Bill Jones, who has been using these ingredients in his dinners at Deerholme Farm near Duncan for years, has put together much of his knowledge in the Deerholme Foraging Book, published just in time for springtime foraging. We went for a walk on and near his farm this week, and I asked him where all the latest interest in our wild edible environment came from:  “A lot of the credit goes to a restaurant called Noma in Copenhagen, which was named the best restaurant in the world for two or three years running, blending foraged food with a new Scandinavian cuisine, and that has in turn been picked up by chefs all around the world and become very popular in places like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Monteal, Toronto, Vancouver. The chefs have realized, and their clientele, that these foraged foods are a purer source of food.” 

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle

Bill’s book gets people out of restaurants and into the wild. He hasn’t intended this book as a field guide, but he does include a great chapter that acts as a primer to help people find and recognize some of the most commonly available and tasty foraged foods out there. I’d say we walked no further than 20 minutes in total on his five-acre property and then onto the adjoining Trans-Canada Trail and found lots of great edibles, especially the green veggie that is growing in popularity every year, the stinging nettle.

I have a little stinging nettle on my property, but there’s a large patch about five minutes down the block where I did some harvesting yesterday, and then made Bill’s recipe for stinging nettle hummus. Nearby I found some new shoots of grand fir, which are great for making tea, or infusing vodka or even olive oil to use in salad dressing. And some sheep’s sorrel leaves as well, which look like arugula leaves but are more lemony in flavour.

Parts of this skunk cabbage are edible!

Parts of this skunk cabbage are edible!

Even if you’re not an outdoorsy person, it is still worth getting a cookbook based on foraged ingredients. Bill is very cognizant of the fact that not everyone is going to be able to get their hands on these things, or have the time to go foraging, but he still wants you to get the sense of what you can do. For one thing, he keeps all the recipes fairly simple, and he also suggests substitutes for almost all of the foraged ingredients in the book. So you can use farmed mushrooms instead of wild, kale instead of stinging nettle.

 

 

But it is great to be able to get outdoors and discover more about your environment, which is exactly one of Bill’s purposes in creating this book…it’s not just a collection of recipes, it’s designed to get you thinking, as well: “You really have to be aware of your environment to find the best foraged foods, to get away from the contamination of people and realize what’s going on with our lands and waters, and I think only good can come from that.”

My First Book!

My First Book!

Listen to my entire fascinating walk with Bill Jones, where we discover other edible wild foods. Bill Jones will be with me at another great event coming up in a few weeks. I have published my first book, Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, published by TouchWood Editions, and I wanted give people a chance to taste the products of some of these artisans all in one place on Thursday evening, April 24th at the Victoria Public Market.

It’s a ticketed event called Artisan Alley, which includes a copy of my book, which I will gladly sign at the event, a cooking demo from Bill, and tastings from many of the people featured in the book, including Salt Spring Island Cheese, Vancouver Island Salt Company, Organic Fair, Olive the Senses, Golda’s Pesto, Tree Island Yogurt, and on the beverage side you will be able to taste offerings from Merridale Estate Cidery, Venturi Schulze wines and their amazing balsamic vinegar, Sea Cider from Saanich and vinegars, beers and drinking vinegars (also called shrubs) from Spinnakers, and a special ‘Don Genova Roast’ from the folks at Drumroaster Coffee who will be serving espressos and macchiatos. Jo-Ann Roberts of All Points West will be emceeing, and early birds receive a limited edition Bean to Bar Chocolate Bar from Organic Fair. Hope to see you there!

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Book Launch – Food Artisans of Vancouver Island & the Gulf Islands

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Food Matters – Buttering You Up

 

CBC Radio host Khalil Aktar trying butters during my Food Matters segment

CBC Radio host Khalil Aktar trying butters during my Food Matters segment

A study published a couple of weeks ago has renewed the debate on what kind of fat humans should eat to stay healthy. The study suggested that consumption of saturated fats, like those found in butter and red meat, is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease. People who love butter are celebrating, but no one is suggesting you start eating it buy the pound (or kilo).

There are good things in butter. Many things that are generally recognized as healthy by the nutrition community:

Vitamins: a rich source of easily absorbed vitamin A, and other fat-soluble vitamins (D, E and K2), which are often lacking in our modern industrial diet.

Minerals: rich in important trace minerals, including manganese, chromium, zinc, copper and selenium, and even iodine.

Fatty Acids… and balanced omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

Then there is Conjugated Linoleic Acid… When butter comes from cows eating green grass, it contains high levels of CLA, a compound that is supposed to give you protection against cancer and also helps your body build muscle rather than store fat.

How do we know if the butter we’re eating comes from cows that eat green grass? That is a question that ranks number one right now of the queries coming in to the Quality Assurance department at the Paradise Island dairy in Nanaimo. People want butter from grass-fed cows. But cows in Canada, even those on Vancouver Island, don’t have a steady diet of just grass year round, our climate doesn’t support that. They eat silage and grains in a diet balanced to produce the greatest volume of milk possible.

Butters I made from Avalon and Island Farms whipping cream.

Butters I made from Avalon and Island Farms whipping cream.

There isn’t really even any truly local butter production on more than a tiny scale, especially if your definition of local is Vancouver Island. Paradise Island organic butter actually comes from Quebec. Island Farms is now owned by Quebec-based conglomerate Agropur. When I called their consumer line today I was told that milk for Island Farms products can come from any farmer in BC who sells milk to the BC Milk Marketing Board, and that Island Farm products can be produced either at the facility here in Victoria or one Agropur runs in Chilliwack. So Island Farms is now just a nice name, instead of meaning that all the milk comes from a co-op of dairy farmers here on the Island, like it used to. I heard from a listener that Natural Pastures in Courtenay is making butter on a small scale but I haven’t confirmed that with the dairy. Avalon Dairy from Vancouver makes an organic butter, the L’Ancêtre brand you will find in some grocery stores is also organic, also made in Quebec. And if you can get your hands on some very expensive European-made butter, you will find the fat content is actually higher than Canadian butter, sometimes 84 percent versus 80 percent, which bakers and foodies love because it creates a richer, flakier pastry dough.

Whipping Cream separated into butter and buttermilk by Thermomix!

Whipping Cream separated into butter and buttermilk by Thermomix!

 And, resourceful people could make their own butter, with that sought-after higher fat content, using equipment as simple as shaking the cream in a mason jar to as complex as a food processor or Thermomix, my preferred method. You have choices in creams, your base ingredient…Island Farms whipping cream is 33% milk fat. Avalon Organic is 36% milk fat. I made butter from both of those. When I called Hilary Abbott at The Creamery at Cheese Pointe Farm to talk butter, by a complete coincidence he was just pasteurizing some cream to try making butter with an eye towards a future product. I threw my Thermomix in the car and went over and made some butter there as well.

Butter, after squeezing out as much water as possible.

Butter, after squeezing out as much water as possible.

The key is to squeeze out as much water as you can once you’ve rinsed off the buttermilk.  Out of about 620 grams of cream I got 110 grams of butter, and the rest is buttermilk, (use it in baking!) so you can see why butter can be expensive. But it’s fun to make at home, and much fresher than what you get in grocery stores, which may have been frozen for months, actually.

After all that experimentation I have a lot of butter in the fridge. So my wife sent me this link from Bon Appetit magazine: 14 Butter Recipes to Consume with Wild Abandon. Happy cooking!

 

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Food Matters – Sugarboy Bakery

Creating a new food product takes creativity and skill. But it’s also a matter of timing, and market research, and labeling. This week on Food Matters, I told the story of a pastry chef who is finding that elusive sweet spot for his products.

Sugarboy Cake featured on EAT cover

Sugarboy Cake featured on EAT cover

It helps to be making a product that is pretty much universally loved…and everyone who has even a little bit of a sweet tooth would love D’Arcy Ladret’s products. He is the owner of Sugarboy Bakery in Victoria, producing a line of pastries and desserts and candies he sells to restaurants, some retailers and the public through farmers’ markets and private orders. No storefront, yet, but his already rising reputation got a nice boost by having one of his beautiful cakes show up as the main image on the cover of the most recent issue of EAT Magazine. The timing of Sugarboy came about at an accelerated rate. D’Arcy was working as the executive chef at a Victoria hotel that went into receivership, and he knew he was going to be out of a job. So the plan to some day open a bakery went into high gear, and that’s where the good timing came in: “I called up a friend to see if he knew anyone who was renting a commercial kitchen and he said, ‘I have a kitchen and it’s available. Right now.’ So we came up with a plan and moved into the kitchen and it’s great, more than I need.”

The friend was longtime Victoria caterer and gourmet food product manufacturer David Feys. It turns out he is also a longtime friend of D’Arcy’s and is proving to be a valuable mentor: “I met him when I was 15 years old when I was washing dishes at Sooke Harbour House. He was cooking there, Peter Zambri, Edward Tuson, it was a great breeding ground for chefs, I learned so much there. And I stayed friends with David all these years. He’s still around in the kitchen, he makes his crackers there, I help him with those sometimes, and we talk about running a business, new products, he’s been awesome.”

Handmade Marshmallows

Sugarboy is trying to stand out from all the other cake and dessert makers in Victoria and the Lower Mainland with candy making. D’Arcy had been experimenting with making caramels, and has gone on from there: “After I had figured the caramels out, I started infusing them with different kinds of flavours, now I’m making lollipops, pillow mints, and marshmallows. I’ve been able to sell these items to retailers, but that means I’ve had to learn about labeling, packaging, nutrition information, best before dates, stuff I never had to deal with before when I was working in a restaurant, it’s been a lot of learning.”

The experimentation has resulted in concepts like Earl Grey and Rosewater flavoured marshmallows, fresh bay leaf tinged caramels, and pillow mints. He’s tried to think outside the traditional candy box by using some flavours from nature, sourced locally, instead of the artificial flavours and colours you find in most commercially produced candies. So he also has scented geranium and lemon verbena caramels, flavours he learned about when working at Sooke Harbour House.

Expansion Plans: If the right place came around where he could have a kitchen facility and storefront together, that would be great. There are certain pieces of equipment that would really help with the candy business. In the meantime, he will continue to build the brand by selling wholesale amounts to area retailers, and he’s very proud to point out that his wife has had the major hand in developing all the packaging and labeling for Sugarboy.  So it’s all those things that have to come together to be a success…timing, branding, marketing and of course, a good product.

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Food Matters – FoodWorx Portland 2014

foodworxWhile new technologies and techniques of manipulating food ingredients abound, the latest thinking in the world of food involves going back to the past to get us into the future. This was the theme I picked up on after my second time attending FoodWorx, which is an annual TED-Talks style day of 10 speakers taking about 20 minutes each to comment on their roles in the world of food. Culinary tourism, food security and sustainable agriculture are usually the hot topics, and while I’m not going to give you a rundown of don’t have time to tell you about all the speakers today, I do want to talk about a couple of speakers that kind of urged a look into your past in order to help guide the way in which we might want to think about the food we eat in the future.  So dear readers, I want you to get ready to revive a food memory. I want you to click on short audio clip, and then close your eyes. Your guide is Stormy Sweitzer, a writer and publisher who runs a website called Maoomba.com, she is all about food, learning and exploration. Here we go..Stormy1! (and then come back to the blog)

Now listen to Stormy’s memorable experience with food, for some context, she’s 11 years old, was growing up in a tiny agricultural town in Utah, her grandmother takes on a trip to Eastern Europe, the first time she’s ever left her town of 800 people, and she’s having dinner at the hotel on her first night: Stormy2

Stormy Sweitzer

Stormy Sweitzer

Stormy’s key messages are all about curiosity, consumption, wonder: Can we cultivate curiosity and wonder while we are consuming? How do we make sense of what we have just experienced? And when we start to think about what we’ve sensed, if it does leave us with a sense of wonder it can help connect us to food AND drive consumer awareness. I know that in my own lifetime of tasting I have become both more experimental, but also more cautious and discerning about what it is that I eat, but it was great to be reminded of that through her exercise.

 

Lisa Schroeder

Lisa Schroeder

Another speaker took me into to the past to get me to the future, a local restaurant owner who has a large contingent of regulars, it seemed like many of them were at FoodWorx to support her talk. Her name is Lisa Schroeder, and her restaurant in Portland is called Mother’s Bistro. This is a real comfort food kind of place, the kind of one-pot, slow-cooked food that many people of today’s generation have never learned how to cook. Her presentation was all about Mother Food. Here’s her definition: Mother Food

Lisa was quick to point out that you don’t actually have to be a mother to cook mother food, but she also spent quite a bit of time telling the audience how we got away from cooking this kind of food…which pretty much started with the industrial revolution, when we learned how to put veggies in cans, transport fresh foods from all over the world to North America, and developed so many more processed foods, fast foods, home meal replacement. And that cooking has become a spectator sport…because we’re all foodies. Cooking is entertainment, she says when foodies cook at home, they’re doing it to entertain themselves and others. But mostly, people in America eat out a lot, a 94% increase in the money spent eating out since 1970. Close to 700 billion dollars a year. But there are some bright lights on the horizon. People are getting back to the old ways, there are more community gardens, more backyard chicken coops, more gatherings to share the knowledge of that old time ‘mother’ food. Here’s Lisa to explain.

Remember:

M – melded flavours from slow cooking methods

O – One pot, saves energy

T – Tasty food results

H – Healthy

E – Economical, use all the beast

R – Reheating

Dana Gunders

Dana Gunders

Now, imagine buying three bags of groceries at the supermarket, dropping one in the parking lot, and not even bothering to pick it up. Now imagine being surrounded by all kinds of retail outlets, but not being able to buy affordable, nutritious food at any of them. Both of these scenarios are reality in North America. Dana Gunders is a staff scientist with America’s Natural Resources Defense Council and the author of Wasted. She’s also known as the Food Waste Warrior. She wasn’t always a waste warrior, but some years ago she was working on a project for the fruit and vegetable industry. Please listen to this short audio clip about her experience there.

 

The statistics don’t stop there, Dana says billions of pounds of food never even make it off the farm. Doesn’t even get harvested. A peach farmer she talked to says that for 8 of every 10 of his peaches that get rejected by buyers, you wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between the ‘good peach’ and the ‘bad peach’. Food waste is the third largest ‘country’ in terms of greenhouse gas emissions after USA and China. But while 1 in 6 people in America are ‘food insecure’, just one third of the calories wasted in America could actually cure food insecurity.

But Dana Gunter is actually full of optimism. She says where food waste is concerned, we already have all the tools to battle it. Listen to this example of one area closer to home where food is wasted.

The solution in that case? Get those kitchens back in operation…and I do know of one instance in Vancouver, a story I did several years ago, in which our provincial health regulations allowed this kind of food she’s talking about to be donated to the Quest Food Exchange, which used a grant from VanCity to build a big kitchen so they could process any large quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables they received into things like tomato sauce, which could then be stored and used when needed to feed people who are food insecure.

Amelia Pape and the MyStreetGrocery crew

Amelia Pape and the MyStreetGrocery crew

Which leads us to the other topic of today, food deserts… These are regions, typically in the inner city or perhaps in large suburbs that are only car-friendly, where either there aren’t any shops that actually sell good food, or the population simply doesn’t have the means to travel long distances to get to the source. It’s all about barriers to access. Could be something as simple as a major highway being a physical barrier to people of low mobility. You might have to walk miles before you could safely cross that highway to get to a market that was only a few minutes away as the crow flies. The speaker on this topic was Amelia Pape, who runs a social enterprise, as in creating a business to solve a social problem, called My Street Grocery, in Portland. She and her employees drive into underserved communities with an old repurposed bread truck, and have available for sale, lots of produce, eggs, milk, and other types of groceries. But just making the food accessible isn’t enough. What if people don’t know how to cook it, or how to make up a budget to get the most for their money, or know what the best foods are for their nutrition. That’s where a travelling truck comes in as Amelia explains.

It’s a really simple idea, with really good results. And that goes back to what the Waste Warrior, Dana Gunders, was saying. The solutions are here. They’re not that difficult. What it takes is some innovative people who have a vision, some of them working as a private business, like My Street Grocery, and some degree of involvement from funding agencies and governments who can see how these plans can work, and suddenly you’ve got a formula for success, and I came out of FoodWorx, inspired and hopeful.

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Food Matters – March is Nutrition Month

Health Canada illustration

Health Canada illustration

March is Nutrition Month in Canada. That means a lot of messaging being sent out encouraging Canadians to eat healthy, and even a contest designed to help families come up with award-winning nutritious recipes. But does the messaging work? Are we changing our eating habits?

This month, eating healthy can result in fabulous prizes. That’s one way Health Canada and the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation are encouraging healthy eating with the Eat Well Recipe Contest. You can submit a favourite family recipe to win prizes, and the grand prize is a family cooking session with Chef Christine Cushing, and you get a two-minute segment of fame with a video made of the grand prize family cooking session. Deadline is Saturday, March 8th at midnight, so enter soon!

What I do like in this year’s message is the emphasis on family activities and education surrounding food. Here are some Health Canada suggestions: Plan meals together. That can help with valuable life skills such as organizing and budgeting. Kids can check flyers for healthy foods on sale, help write the grocery list, or put together a folder of favourite recipes.

Turn grocery shopping into a family field trip, I like that, especially if it includes going to a farmers’ market.

And, Get your kids into the kitchen. Younger kids can measure ingredients, mix, pour and stir. Have a pizza night where everyone makes their own mini pizzas, of course with health toppings.

All great suggestions but I think it’s going at the concept in the wrong direction. These suggestions have the parents imparting the knowledge of healthy food to the kids. What if the parents don’t have the knowledge to begin with? And I would suggest that in our current demographics it’s younger people who may actually have more knowledge of what a healthy food is than their parents do.  We’re within a couple of generations of parents who didn’t necessarily learn how to cook, what healthy eating really is, and how to spend their money in the best way to give their kids a healthy diet. All you have to do is look at our supermarkets and all the processed food that ends up in our shopping carts.

Is the food shopping driven by the parents, or by the demands of their children? That is the $64 question. Kids who are actually learning about nutrition at school will modify their parents shopping choices in one way, while parents may be driven by convenience needed in a busy life, OR their kids may be influencing by advertising, there are many more commercials on TV for frozen pizzas and fast food chains than there are for broccoli and potatoes. I know in my own family that when my niece was younger and learning about nutrition, she was constantly criticizing my poor sister and her shopping choices, because my niece was the one reading all the labels. I really do believe that it’s the younger generation that will make the difference here, as they have done with reusing and recycling, for example.

Healthy Harvest Tomato and Basil Sauce

Healthy Harvest Tomato and Basil Sauce

I try not to give into convenience too much, but that’s where label reading comes in handy. This week I bought some fresh roasted chicken tortelloni from Safeway’s Open Nature brand, and a jar of Healthy Harvest pasta sauce. Both with good flavour, a very short list of ingredients, no artificial ingredients, and the sauce makers claim the tomatoes are put into the jar within 48 hours of being harvested. While the water was boiling and the sauce warming, I made a salad from fresh greens and veggies, dressed it with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. That’s it. Dinner made in less time that it would take to drive to a fast food restaurant, wait in the drive-through and drive home.

What about when you are dining out? Should restaurants be ordered to put calorie counts on their menus, as has happened in some jurisdictions and is being considered in Ontario right now? I’m in favour of the voluntary posting of calories, or the idea of checking online with an app or website. Mandatory posting seems to be a little draconian…where do you draw the line? Fast food restaurants only? Mid-range chains? You probably don’t want to know how many calories are in that cream sauce you love at your favourite French restaurant. Here in BC the government implemented the Informed Dining program in 2011. It’s a voluntary program where restaurants taking part put an Informed Dining logo on their menu and then you can request the nutrition info, which could be a brochure, a poster, or an insert in the menu, along with info on how many calories you should actually be consuming in a day and how much sodium, so you get some perspective.

Ken Stefanson 1937-2014

Ken Stefanson 1937-2014

RIP Ken Stefanson.  Some of you will remember Ken Stefanson, the Gabriola Gourmet Garlic guy, he passed away during heart surgery last week. I have featured him on my radio show and in this space a few times over the years, and many people would have known him as a very warm and gregarious vendor at many farmers’ markets on Vancouver Island over the years. Ken was my garlic mentor who advised me that in order to get the best harvest, I needed to plant my garlic by the light of the full moon, in mid-October, buck naked. I would always stop and have a chat with him at the Duncan Farmers’ Market, I purchased my seed garlic from him every year and the garlic I’m eating right now is the crop I harvested last summer from his seed. He will be sorely missed on Gabriola and of course at the farmers’ markets. My sympathies go out to his family.

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Food Matters – This Little Piggy Didn’t Go To Market

Photo courtesy BC Pork

Photo courtesy BC Pork

This little piggy didn’t get to market. (I’m not talking about the one in the photo) Over the past few weeks, pork producers in Ontario have been dealing with four confirmed outbreaks of porcine epidemic diarrhoea. It’s a virus that is almost always fatal to very young piglets that get it, and the outbreaks have BC pork producers worried in case they start to spread across Canada.

This virus is very bad news. Apparently it has a 95 to 100 percent fatality rate in piglets, and we are talking very young piglets, just 2 to 5 days old. This virus started showing up in the U-S in late spring and early summer last year, and has decimated herds there, with hundreds of fatalities in Ontario already. Once the piglets are two to three weeks old they build up a natural immunity to the disease. But it is very contagious, and can be spread quite easily through feces, saliva, and can even be transmitted by humans who might get it on their clothes. But I should also say that this disease poses no threat to humans at all, or to other species, and there is also no food safety concerns to worry about with this particular disease.

Here in BC, I started with the provincial ministry of agriculture, and their communications department sent me some relevant information, such as the fact that there have not been any cases of PED diagnosed here. When the ministry got wind of the U-S outbreaks last year, it started developing greater testing facilities here, and can now offer a 24-hour turnaround time on diagnostic samples, and since PED was diagnosed in Ontario, the Animal Health Centre in Abbottsford is offering PED testing to pork producers at no charge. Ministry staff is working with other provincial and federal agencies and producers, and here’s a key point: The Ministry also has committed to support the active surveillance of B.C. abattoirs that receive pigs from outside of B.C., by providing testing at no charge.

That’s important, because if you don’t have PED here to begin with, it could be brought in on pigs coming here to be processed from other jurisdictions. We get a LOT of our pork from Alberta, it is one of the provinces that would be hit hardest by an epidemic. Geraldine Auston at BC Pork told me that she has been arranging lots of conference calls with pork producers here, and especially in Alberta because of the amount of pork that is shipped here from there, and that all of her registered producers are implementing heightened bio-security measures.

Part of those measures means being very careful about who or what comes onto your farm, monitoring the source of the feed you may bring onto the farm, and being extra careful with sanitation when you are delivering pigs to the abattoir or picking up what you’ve had processed, because even a speck of infected manure could transfer from the yard of the abattoir to the wheels of your truck, for example. I also spoke with Allen McWilliam of Tannadice Farms up in Courtenay, who has a complete change of clothing ready to go when he finishes his business at the abattoir. He says pork producers here on the Island always feel a little isolated from what happens on the mainland, but that they can’t get complacent. He’s taking part in a webinar tomorrow morning during which he expects to learn a lot more about PED…and while he thinks he may learn more, he may also be more scared by the end of the session.

It almost sounds like what many of the poultry producers went through with the avian flu outbreak a few years ago, except that in this case, humans can’t get sick from PED, but yes, preventing the spread is very important. Allen McWilliams was telling me that sometimes people would call him to say his pigs were loose, out of their barn, but he knew it wasn’t true, so he would just go back to doing whatever he was doing. Now, when he gets those calls he goes out to look for those pigs, to make sure some unknowing neighbour doesn’t decide to do him a favour and put pigs that aren’t actually his, into his barn, introducing who knows what. Both Allen and Geraldine Auston from BC Pork raised their worries about smaller pig farms not having as stringent bio-security measures that could increase the risk of disease spreading through abattoirs, but Tom Henry sees it in a slightly different light. He’s a pork producer in Metchosin who says for some smaller farmers, really rigorous biosecurity is almost not possible. He relies a lot on gleaning, using food that would otherwise be wasted in the food service or grocery industry to feed his pigs to keep costs down, so it’s hard to monitor all the food sources. All the same, he’s not going to be buying pigs from other farms to raise on his farm for a while, and will really carefully monitor the health of his piglets so they can get to that natural immunity stage.

I know this sounds weird, but there could be an upside to Vancouver Island pork producers. This kind of story helps drive more people toward purchasing local pork. Tom Henry says he is now wholesaling his pigs to local butcher shops and charcuteries and grocery stores like the Red Barn Markets, Village Butcher, Whole Beast Salumeria, Choux Choux Charcuterie, and Heather McWilliam of Tannadice Farms says they are developing new lines of pork products like wieners and liverwurst to use up all the parts of their animals, and there are more people out there willing to pay a little bit more for a local product. It’s been very difficult for BC pork produces to make a living in the shadow of much cheaper product coming in from the Prairies and the United States. Geraldine Auston told me they have pretty much hit bottom with the number of farms and farmers out of the business, but if the current farms can stay healthy, there might be a bit of a rebound.

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Food Matters – Cooking with Coconut Oil

Trends in cooking come and go. Whether a style of cooking or a particular ingredient has staying power often depends on its perceived health benefits and almost certainly on its flavour. Today on Food Matters, I looked into coconut oil through a cookbook published by a local author.

Cooking with Coconut Oil

Cooking with Coconut Oil

Coconut oil hasn’t really been on my radar, but Vikram Vij did mention it as a growing trend he loves when he was here in Victoria a couple of weeks ago, and I did know that a food blogger and photographer I know from Sidney, Elizabeth Nyland, was working on a cookbook featuring coconut oil, so as soon as it came out I asked her to get me a copy and here it is, Cooking with Coconut Oil.

For Elizabeth it’s an oil she’s actually been using for years, and when her publisher approached her to do a cookbook on it she happily agreed. When we chatted yesterday, she told me that a few decades ago, coconut oil was seen as an evil oil.

Elizabeth Nyland

Elizabeth Nyland

“In the 80’s saturated fats were really vilified from a health standpoint, but they were everywhere, even your popcorn in movie theatres was popped in coconut oil, but with the vilification the use of coconut oil just dropped away, even though it has been used for thousands of years for a variety of purposes in other parts of the world. Finally a few years ago, and I don’t know who started promoting it, maybe the coconut oil companies, ha ha, but it’s come back, especially since we’ve learned that saturated fat from coconut isn’t as evil as they said it was.”

The health benefits ascribed to coconut oil are many and varied, and Elizabeth describes one concoction I’d really like to try instead of breakfast one morning in which you add coconut oil and butter made from milk from grass-fed cows to coffee for something called ‘bulletproof coffee’. It’s a big fat and caffeine bomb that is supposed to give you a lot of get up and go. Not everyone agrees, but I encourage you to do your own research on the benefits of coconut oil, which include anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. You might also be interested in this comparison of olive oil and coconut oil.

About the flavour: To me the flavour of the coconut oil is very neutral, and if you are really into coconut you can use coconut flour, which is a gluten-free product, and I should mention that all the recipes in Cooking with Coconut Oil are gluten-free and paleo friendly. Coconut butter, which Elizabeth also uses in some of her recipes, is made from dried coconut fibre, and definitely has a coconut flavour. I was able to take the dried coconut in my pantry, whizz it in my Thermomix for about 3 minutes with a little bit of heat and I had coconut butter.

Coconut flour, oil and butter.

Coconut flour, oil and butter

When I started shopping for coconut oil I was surprised to see a number of different brands in the supermarkets I looked in, so I asked Elizabeth what to look for: “I recommend organic coconut oil to stay away from pesticides, and you should make sure the oil is unrefined and virgin. Virgin means the oil is pressed from coconut, but the term is used because people are familiar with the idea of virgin olive oil. You don’t want refined oil because it may have been refined using hexane gas, and it doesn’t have to be labeled that way.”

Maple Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

Maple Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

The first thing I made with coconut oil was a veggie stir-fry. It has a high smoking point, so it’s pretty good with high heat, but I ate all of that, sorry! But I did bake a recipe from Elizabeth’s cookbook, and they are her maple-bacon chocolate chip cookies, so delicious I had to put them away soon after they came out of the oven or I may have eaten them all at once! To purchase Elizabeth’s cookbook, which is full of savoury and sweet recipes using coconut oil, just click here to get to amazon.ca and save 28% off the cover price.

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