Did you watch any of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”? It’s a TV show that was on a couple months ago. Jamie Oliver is a Celebrity Chef. On this show, he went into a school district in the United States to overhaul the menus in the school cafeterias. This city, Huntington, West Virginia, has the reputation of being the “unhealthiest” in all of the United States. When he first began speaking with the people, they were not receptive to his plan and didn’t want to “sit around eating lettuce all day”. One cafeteria cook insisted that a french fry counted as a vegetable.
It was a really good series, where he showed the cafeteria staff, the kids, parents, and communities what healthy eating was all about, and that it didn’t mean “sitting around eating lettuce all day”.
What about “Food Inc”? Ever seen that documentary? All I can say about that one is….Wow. If you haven’t heard of it, click on the above link and watch it. Your eyes will be opened.
At the same time Jamie Oliver’s show was going on, I was reading “The 100 Mile Diet” By Alisa Smith and JB MacKinnon. I wasn’t reading it for any particular reason, other then because I have access to it at work and had heard a lot about it from others.
This book takes you along the journey of the two authors who are living in British Columbia and embark on an experiment to eat only food that has been grown or made within 100 miles of their home. For 1 year. Specifically, every ingredient, in every product they bought, had to come from within 100 miles of their home.
And I’m talking EVERYTHING. If whatever they were eating had sugar or flour in it, that sugar and flour had to have been made within 100 miles of their home. If they drank coffee, it had to have been grown within 100 miles of their home. (Lucky for them, they weren’t coffee drinkers).
One of the very few exceptions they allowed themselves was salt. They had a bag of it from Oregon, and decided that they would ration it out over the year – once they were out, they were out.
Think for a minute about the food you eat on a regular basis…do you have any idea where the majority of it comes from? Especially the prepackaged or processed stuff? Can you even pronounce half of the ingredients listed on the side of the container? If you can’t, you can assume it wasn’t made locally. When the authors did their first grocery shop after agreeing to the experiment they were quickly hit by the reality: no more ice cream, salad dressing, all purpose flour, soup mix, olives, olive oil, ketchup, cheerios, peanut butter, cream cheese, popcorn, creamed corn, Minute Maid orange juice, Eggos, Cola…the list went on and on. For the most part, the “traditional” grocery store was of no use to them anymore…they would have to look elsewhere for their groceries.
Now, at this point many people may say they don’t really care where their food comes from. It tastes good, it’s affordable, the kids will eat it…that’s what matters right? I’m not arguing that. But I will tell you why Smith and MacKinnon decided to undertake this experiment. The following statistics are found in their book and were of interest to me.
“According to the Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, the food we eat now typically travels between 1500 – 3200 miles from farm to plate. That is a distance that has increased by 25% between 1980 – 2001 when the study was published, and it was likely to climb. That means most people are eating foods that travel the distance equivalent from Toronto, Ontario, to Whitehorse, Yukon territory.”
“From Mad Cow disease to E coli bacteria to genetically modified ingredients, many North Americans have begun to fear their daily nourishment; 300 000 Americans are hospitalized each year by the foods they eat, while fully one third of Canadians will suffer some kind of food related illness this year. Even certified organic food is no longer wholly trusted; an $11 billion dollar industry, “organic” foods today can include factory farmed meat and dairy products and even synthetic additives or artificial flavours. Organic vegetables are frequently the end products of intensive production methods, and end up on your plate, after, say, crossing the continent by diesel truck and passing through a plant that washes 26 million servings of lettuce each week”.
As you read through the book and follow their experiences, you see that the authors can trace each ingredient in each meal back to its exact farm, and can remember the faces of those farmers.
“The United States, throughout the 1990s lost more than 2 acres of agricultural land to development every minute. In Canada, where only 5% of the land base is classified as “dependable” for agriculture, cities now cover 50% more farmland than they did thirty years ago.”
“The average US citizen eats the equivalent of three hamburgers and four orders of fries a week. They drink more than twice as much soda than milk. Sweets, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages accounted for almost 25% of all calories consumed in America. Add in salty snacks and fruity drinks and the total reaches one third of calorie intake. They eat half as many vegetables as recommended, and of the vegetables they do eat, 50% of them come from just three foods – iceberg lettuce, potatoes and canned tomatoes.”
“Food begins to lose nutrition as soon as it is harvested. Vegetables that travel shorter distances are more likely to be closer to a maximum of nutrition.”
“In India, 17 107 farmers committed suicide in 2003, the most recent year for which statistics were available. Most had been unable to feed themselves and their families after losing government protection from competing agroindustrial imports and taking on crippling debt to purchase the pesticides, chemical fertilizers and genetically modified seeds needed to “modernize” their farms.”
I found it quite interesting to follow this “year of local eating” experiment, and learn just how and what they ate. There was so much available to them in their own back yards that they had never been aware of until this point.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses – they ate A LOT of potatoes, struggled during the winter months when they first started their experiment, and a contamination into a local river wiped out their source of fresh fish, something they were really counting on.
But they were resourceful. They found almost everything they needed, and more. They learned about foods they never knew existed, and created relationship with farmers who were passionate about their food. They attracted a lot of attention too, as people were curious as to how it was going, how they were feeling, and what they were eating.
By the end of the book, they had even figured out a way to create salt from within their 100 mile borders.
After reading this book, am I going to undertake a similar experiment? No, I’m not. There are way too many things I couldn’t give up. And my husband and kids definitely would not be on board. That’s not why I read the book. I read it purely out of interest.
And I have to say, I am really glad I did read it. I learned a lot and it really opened my eyes. It was fascinating to learn what they learned, to learn what they made to eat out of what they bought, and to learn the stories of the farmers, fishermen and shopkeepers they got to know. It made me realize how easy we have it. Or maybe how lazy we are. Made me think about some things differently, made me more aware.
There's a lot of "buzz" right now about what it is people are eating. "Locavores" are defined as those people who are commited to eating food that is grown locally. A quick internet search brings up plenty of information and support for those interested in this way of eating.
In Huron County there are many initiatives going on right now. The Huron County Health Unit is holding a series of "kitchen table discussions" about the issues county residents face when it comes to eating properly. There is also a blog within the Health Unit website, called Hereonfood, published by a local dietician. In it you will find information and links about healthy eating and nutrition, recipes, and local services available, like the Good Food Box. There's also a new website based in Huron and Perth Counties, which promises to be your "one stop shop" for local food in the area. There are local community gardens, which allow individuals to care for a "plot" in a large garden. They plant their own seeds, do the watering, weeding, everything they would if they had a garden of their own and then reap the benefits at the end of the season. It's a large garden made up of individial plots, for those who, for whatever reason, don't or can't have their own backyard gardens. There is so so much available to us here in Huron County.
Terms like "eating locally" and "from farm to table" are very popular right now. It's almost like it's the "thing" right now, a "trend".
But, it has merit. I think all this awareness is a great thing. Whether you jump on board or not, the education, the exposure for local growers and the awareness gained by the average consumer, are all good things.
So, based on all of that, I have made some goals.
The first one is to take advantage of what I CAN get locally. I am lucky to live in a town with an abundant farmer’s market every weekend. My goal is to go for a walk up there Saturday mornings and see what I can find. If I was going to buy tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, lettuce, etc, at the grocery store anyway, my goal is to buy it at the Farmer’s Market instead. And get to know the vendors and the stories behind their wares. Part of this has been influenced by a coworker of mine, who with her family, runs a very successful business (Hillsview Greenhouse and Market Produce) in the summertime, selling their produce at Farmer’s Markets all over Ontario, including Toronto, London, and Goderich.
Along with Farmers Markets there are Mennonites that sell their wares out of their homes. My grandma visits them regularly and comes home with vegetables, pies, flowers and more. I have done this in the past as well many times and have never been disappointed. There are Mennonites and Farmers Markets all over this county, each offering something unique. I can buy honey locally. And eggs. And herbs. And more. There is a berry farm about 10 minutes from my house, where I can (and have) picked and/or buy my own berries, baked goods and more. They also have an apple orchard, and apple picking there has become a tradition each fall. Across the road is a Pumpkin Patch. You can choose your own pumpkins, squash, gourds, peppers and more. We have an “Apple Park” just outside of our little town, from which I have bought apples, pumpkins, squash and gourds before. They also sell potatoes and honey among other things.
We plant our own small garden each spring and always grow enough tomatoes to make spaghetti sauce to last through the winter. The sauce we make always tastes so much better then the canned sauce from the grocery store. We have experimented with carrots, onions, radishes, cucumbers, zucchini, peas, beans, pumpkins and watermelons in our garden over the years – sometimes with great success, sometimes not. We have produced pumpkins, but have never managed to get a watermelon, despite repeated attempts at Makenna’s request.
And that’s the other thing. By growing a little vegetable garden, or helping with her Grandma’s huge one, by checking out her Aunt Cherie’s Raspberry bushes, by tagging along to pick strawberries, apples and pumpkins, or coming to the Farmer’s Markets and making choices based on what’s available at this time of year… Makenna is learning. So much. She is gaining an understanding of where her food comes from, other than the store. Jack is learning too, and they will both continue to learn as they get older and it becomes routine. They may develop a likeness for a certain food they have the opportunity to sample from one of these vendors, that I never would have exposed them to on my own. This is an area in which you never stop learning. We learn something new each year we plant a garden. I remember a couple years ago, Jeff, his sister and I giggling like children as we helped to dig up the potatoes in Jeff's mom's garden. It had been years since Jeff and his sister had done that, and it was something I had never done before. We had so much fun, it was like digging for buried treasure. I look forward to seeing the looks on my own kids' faces when they get to do it.
I will admit though, we haven’t talked much about what happens to the cows and calves that Makenna and Jack talk to all the time in Grandma and Papa’s barn. You can buy meat locally, from farmers or from butcher shops. We are lucky in that way; as long as I have been with Jeff we have eaten Wormington Beef. I know exactly where it comes from, how the cows are fed and taken are of and how old the meat is. I even know that each cow has a name. And, having been accustomed to it for so long, on the occasions that I do eat beef from the grocery store, I can say that there is absolutely, without a doubt, a difference in taste. So if I know there is a difference in taste in the pasta sauce we make, and the beef we eat, it stands to reason that all local food will taste better than that that has travelled long distances or has been modified to retain its shape, colour, texture, whatever, by the time it reaches the store.
I’m not saying I will be banishing myself from grocery stores if I find I could buy something locally. Because after all, sometimes I don’t have the time to drive to the apiary, and sometimes I don’t have to extra money to spend on something that’s made locally. If I want an orange, I am going to buy it at the store, not drive to Florida. I’m not going to fly to Hawaii to satisfy a pineapple craving. Although that would be nice. I am not going to make everything from scratch, although I have a friend that does, who could write her own blog on the subject, and who is a wealth of information in this area. She is very knowledgeable about all things food, from ingredients to behavioural influences, to side effects. She makes everything from marshmallows to hamburger buns, from scratch. I admire her.
My goal is just to be more aware, and make more of an effort, especially in the summer months when I am surrounded by opportunities to do so. And to have children that know a little bit about where their food comes from.
I have never been one to jump on the “organic” bandwagon and still will not. But I will pay more attention to ingredients. There may be things I do phase out…there will be things I can’t give up.
Doing my meal plans each week helps with limiting heavily processed, “crap foods” so my goal is to keep that up. We will never completely be rid of them – my kids love hotdogs, French fries and cheese slices, and I have a serious chips and pop addiction – but our consumption of them will decrease if I pre plan our meals and stick to it. My friend Julie recently introduced me to a new Canadian meal planning website that plans meals based around what’s on sale in the Canadian Grocery flyers, how many people you are cooking for, whether you are a beginner cook or gourmet, whether you want meals that can be created quickly and easily, if you are on a strict budget, etc etc etc. Through this I have been exposed to new recipes using items and ingredients we don’t usually eat – like mangos, avocadoes, certain pastas, etc. There are also recipes that do feature ingredients I have on hand, and just never would have thought to put together…so I am hoping through this I will broaden our horizons a bit too – expose my kids to different things when they are still young and somewhat impressionable, while eating healthier at the same time. I really like this website.
I'm not going to get concerned about what my kids are eating at other people's homes, or when we eat out, or on vacation or anything like that. My goal is just to be more aware of what it is I am spending MY money on, and to buy what I can locally, especially in the summer, but without creating any unnecessary pressure to do so. To support local families in their businesses. You're always encouraged to shop local at Christmastime, to spend your money in your own community, and so that's what I want to do, on a small scale, when it comes to my food. I want this to be fun, and I want Makenna and Jack to enjoy Saturday mornings at the Farmer's Market, or wherever else we may go. I am looking forward to trying out some new recipes, meeting new people, and learning new things.
Because after all, you're never too old, and it's never too late, to learn something new.
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