My (Food) Role Models

Halfway across my world, millions of people are in danger of dying of starvation. To paint a picture for you, a UN food shipment recently delivered to Somalia resulted in gunfire killing seven people. On top of this, Somali militants are blocking civilian access to food.  Knowing this helps me realize how truly lucky I am. Not only do I get to eat, but I get to choose what I want to eat. Don’t take your opportunity to make knowledgeable and healthy food decisions for granted; take control of what you eat, be genuinely grateful. I believe it is extremely important to truly think and analyze what you are putting into your mouth. What you eat affects your city, your country, and your whole world.

I love food. If you know me, you know that. I won’t even claim to be a foodie. I know a lot about food but the imperative thing is that I have an unconditional love for it. I love the culture surrounding food. I love the role of food in culture. I will travel the world looking for the most delicious food (so far, front runner is the fresh, garlicky, lemony, olive oil drenched cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean).

Anyway, this post is more about the chefs that I admire. I have become extremely passionate about eating right – local, sustainable, ethical, healthy, and green – and have turned to some amazing resources to help me learn more about it.

First and foremost is my absolute favourite, Jamie Oliver. Not only has he established an organization that teaches young underprivileged people to cook, but he has tried valiantly to revolutionize the way British and American people eat (Google: Jamie’s Food Revolution). He shows people how to keep a garden, and how to use it to cook the most delicious looking food in the world.

Second is another great chef from the UK, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. His shows, the River Cottage series, attempt to teach people sustainability and self-reliance, and how to source local eggs, dairy, and meat. Most recently, he has highlighted the problems with our current fishing methods, and has created a campaign to promote sustainable and ethical fishing – Hugh’s Fish Fight.

Last but not least is a chef that resides in New York named Dan Barber. Dan demonstrates perfectly that food tastes better when it is produced in a sustainable and ethical way. He shows that it is in everyone’s self interest (especially chefs) to source ingredients that are grown locally, grown organically, raised properly, and slaughtered properly, because they taste better. The quality is higher. There is integrity in how they are produced and therefore, also in how they taste. His approach is an educational one – his farm shows the link between a local consciousness and an amazing dining experience.

If you love food as much as I do, why not do some exploring of your own? There are some brilliant and inspiring people out there to teach you.

Here are some more links if you find the topic of any interest:

Blue Hill
Sustainable Eating – Scientific American
Chez Panisse – Alice Waters
Slow Food Canada
Hugh’s Chicken Run

Drought in Somalia - http://jubbalandnews.com/?p=596

Drought in Somalia - http://bit.ly/pPCckl

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WWOOF – an interactive travel experience

I had gone my whole life without ever hearing about “WWOOFing” until I met one girl who had – after her, every person I met seemed to have tried it. It made me very curious. As a self-proclaimed go-green gal it seemed like a natural thing to try. For those of you who don’t know, WWOOF stands for “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms,” and is a network of organic farms (in a simple sense) and people interested in helping out. With an expanded definition it can include everything from organic vineyards and olive groves, to boutique hotels and goat farms that make their own cheese. Basically, you help out in whatever way is needed in exchange from room and board. Sounds great, no? It is. And let me say, there are farms almost everywhere you’d like to travel.

Awhile ago I planned on going to Morocco to help out with a small hotel but with the recent problems in north Africa I decided on a much more laid-back and relaxed place, Ireland. I had always wanted to see Ireland, I had some free time (a girl can only do so much shopping and eating pastries in Paris), and I have been very interested and curious about sustainable living in the truest sense of the term. I found two great hosts through a very easy-to-use and simple website (small fee required) and was off to the Emerald Isle.

First impressions of Dublin were: grey, a bit hokey, and expensive. Maybe it’s because I was tired and sad I had left France, but all I was thinking was “Oh Steph, you really need to stop doing things on a whim.” However, my pessimism was quickly erased when I boarded a bus and traveled eight hours across the country to (what must be) one of the most beautiful places in the world – West Cork. I was tired and I was grumpy, but, a wonderful lady Julia was there to pick me up when I stepped off the bus and was extremely welcoming and friendly. I spent three weeks with Mike and Julia at their beautiful bed and breakfast on the Sheepshead Peninsula in West Cork and couldn’t have had a better time. I got to hang out in Irish pubs, hone my Guinness drinking skills, and get my butt bit my a crazy goose on the daily.  I met great people who made me feel like I had been a long time friend and were very quick to show me around, take me out, and include me in their lives.

Fast forward past another eight hour bus ride to Dublin, and back again to West Cork (poor planning on my part), and I was arriving at my second host’s place. But, not before getting on the wrong ferry and having to run off 10 seconds before the one I was supposed to be on took off. Welcome to Sherkin Island. The quietest and quaintest place in the world. I am talking Lord of the Rings style. Picture this: 25 degrees, Stephanie dressed in four layers, wearing boots, wheeling a suitcase, a duffel-bag, and a purse, walking up a dirt-road hill. Half of these people only ever leave the Island to buy groceries (but you can also get them delivered on the ferry), so you can imagine how out of place I looked. Why did I think dressing like a Parisian would be a good thing when you are going to be working in a garden? Don’t worry, I redeemed myself by wearing the same blue fleece and grey sweatpants for three weeks straight. Joe and Fiona had a lovely place, right on the bay, a sailboat, and a very eclectic and interesting life story. I learned about Homeopathy, how to grow zucchinis, how to shovel manure for growing zucchinis, and how to run from bulls (practice for Pamplona?).  Combine this with some very unexpectedly enjoyable evenings at the pub, 34 shades of green everywhere you look, and beautiful walks with the dog to the beach, and we have what is called a great experience.

At the end of the day, the greatest thing about wwoofing is the chance you have to meet some very affecting and enthusiastic people. It is not easy to be an organic farmer, not easy to live in a truly sustainable way, but it is nice to see honest people giving it an honest shot. Inspiring. I can’t wait until I can WOOF again!

Sherkin Island


Anchovies on my pizza please.

I must say, after arriving in Ireland two weeks ago, what a beautiful, green and relaxing place to be. I came here two weeks ago in an attempt to try “wwoofing,” but to be honest, have had a much different experience that I expected. That being said, I am having a great time and I have met some interesting and lovely people.

Seeing the ocean from my room has inspired much reading and research and conversation about fishing, more specifically, sustainable fishing. Small seaside villages  inevitably rely on fishing as food and clean water for leisure and tourism, so, being surrounded by small seaside villages at the moment has allowed me to learn a lot about what the oceans mean in the simplest of ways.

If I were to cut to the chase, I recently read a report published by the University of British Columbia’s Fishery Centre saying that by 2050 there is a good chance that many of the ocean’s large fish species could be extinct. These fishes include some of our favourites – tuna and cod – as well as some sharks and grouper. When large predatory fish such as these are removed from an environment, it allows smaller fish species such as anchovies and sardines to flourish. Unfortunately when there are many small animals in the absence of predators, these populations are much more prone to collapse by disease and massive die-offs; these conditions are then optimal for algae blooms or bacterial growth, resulting in deoxygenated water that is unable to support much life at all. These are called “dead zones.”

The problem is, in the simplest terms, over-fishing and improper use of the oceans resources. Basically, when a large fish population is found, all adults are fished, leaving nothing by way of reproductive individuals to replenish the population successfully. Combined with this is the fact that most of the fishing methods employed are extremely environmentally destructive. One problem, bycatch, is  the unintentional catching of fish not necessarily used for anything which by definition exceeds the amount of target species caught in the process. For example, shrimp trawling results in 20kg of other fish species killed for one kg of shrimp. Well, not even just fish species, but also turtles, sea horses, dolphins, whales, you name it, it somehow makes its way in there.

Farmed fish also comes with its fair share of problems. Animal welfare is just one, but there are also large issues with contamination and damage to local natural ecosystems and habitats. To learn more about fish farms, read here: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/problems/aquaculture/ .

But as with most bad, there is  good. There is always a way the average person can help. In Canada, http://www.seachoice.org/ is an organization that promotes sustainable fishing and seafood consumption. There is a published list of the best seafood choices – what it is, and how it’s caught. But it might also be worth it to try out the little guys that nobody likes! Anchovies, sardines, mackerel are all really delicious and deserve the same attention as your tuna sandwich.

Unfortunately, fishing is an extremely complicated topic and one that I am in no way 100% informed about. However, I am learning, and I think that it is worth my attention. I hope that more people become aware of just how fragile our oceans are. Think about how by the time the next generation grows to be adults they might never even get to try all the delicious things we enjoy today because we are enjoying them too much.

 

My view!

Tuna

 


Meat cont.

*I would like to preface this by saying I was inspired by the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it (he is also the author of my favourite book, Everything is Illuminated).*

In my last post I talked about the cruelty that goes on in factory farms – theres no doubt about it, we all know its bad – but are we all aware of the other negative effects caused by factory farms?

It ranges from air pollution to human rights violations – and everything in between. Take the time to do some research yourself.

In my reading I learned a whole bunch of things:

  • The air around some factory farms is often more polluted than the most polluted U.S. cities. Ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, cyanide are among the chemicals found in the air, contributing to the fact that children raised near factory farms are twice as likely to develop asthma, or just simply living close to a factory farm can increase your risk of heart and respiratory problems.
  1. In addition to poor air quality, the waste produced by that many animals in one place, in combination with poor waste management, has lead to cesspools of salmonella, streptococci, or giardia (plus many more infectious agents)
  2. These cesspools are not only comprised of fecal matter, but also dead animals, dead piglets, dead chicks, blood, vomit, antibiotics, syringes, hair, body parts – you name it, it’s in there.
  • Factory farms have created a breeding ground for zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transferred from non-human animals to humans). Some that might ring a bell include avian bird flu and H1N1.
  1. While this in itself might not be a new thing (there are plenty of other zoonotic diseases that don’t originate from livestock) we are compounding their virulence by the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics are used in every factory farm because animals living in a cramped and dirty place will obviously be susceptible to disease. The more antibiotics are used, the more these pathogens become resistant to them.
  2. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of total antibiotic consumption (humans and non-human animals) is for non-therapeutic use (these animals aren’t sick to begin with) in factory farmed livestock. Sounds like a recipe for a big stewing pot of resistant viruses and bacteria no?
  3. This equals superbug. Scary stuff.
  • Factory farms have created what is considered by Human Rights Watch as conditions that are a violation of human rights. Slaughterhouses are of a particular concern.
  1. Slaughtering animals all day is tiring, dangerous, and mentally exhausting. I don’t know many people who would actually enjoy this, even if the paycheck was out of this world.
  2. Poor training, long hours, and bad equipment lead to such statistics as this : in Nebraska plants, from 1999-2003, about 100 night cleaners lost body parts (by amputation or crushing).
  3. Many companies run on a competitive advantage system – the more meat you carve, the more money you get – this will obviously lead to more people working quickly and unsafely.
  4. Annual turnover in processing plants typically exceeds 100 percent. What does this tell you?

So while factory farming produces meat that is cheap, and tastes “good,” is it worth the cost of human and environmental health? My answer would be no. I could easily give up meat if I knew that we would have a beautiful, healthy planet and population. But obviously, one person isn’t enough. So I am asking you to spread the word, tell your friends, tell your family. It is important to talk about these things – I firmly believe that if people are aware they will make the right choice.

Factory farming is unsustainable. The amount of meat we as a human population eat is unsustainable. Vegetables are good for you.

Eat LESS meat, buy GOOD meat!

Sources:

http://www.environmentalintegrity.org./03_09_2011.php

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Natural-Health/Meat-Poultry-Health-Risk.aspx

http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/usa0105/usa0105.pdf