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Une diète pour La Belle Province kicks off… June 24, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Une diète pour La Belle Province.

Today, to celebrate St Jean Baptiste Day, also known as la Fête nationale, Nat and I are starting on a little food adventure. For a month, we’re going to eat food only from Québec.

We started off this morning with scrambled eggs (with herbs from my bookshelf of plants) and the end of a loaf of bread a friend brought as his contribution to dinner last night. This evening, it was a skillet of potatoes, onions, and whole garlic cloves with parsley (again from my little apartment garden) and a salad of Québec romaine with a dressing of sunflower oil, fresh oregano, apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup.

By now, locavorism has joined the list of trendy environmental virtues, along the same lines as using reusable shopping bags and riding your bike to work. We’re not setting out on our own little locavore adventure (and you could make a fair argument that “Québec” isn’t really all that local, anyway) under any pretence of originality or of saving the world. We’re eating les produits du Québec to celebrate staying in Montréal for the summer for the first time during our studies at McGill, to revel in the relative calm of working 9-5 that leaves us more time to experiment in the kitchen (compared to student madness), and to learn more about the seasons and flavours that come from the landscape that surrounds our home. We’re eating locally because we believe in the importance of food security and in supporting local farmers. And because, under many circumstances, eating locally decreases the carbon footprint of your food.

We’re both from the West Coast of British Columbia, home of the 100-Mile Diet, so the food landscape surrounding Montréal is one we’ll need to do more research on. We’ve lived her during the academic year for four years (Nat) and three years (me), but most of that time coincides with the Great Canadian Winter. Growing up on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, I had lettuce out of my stepmom’s garden year round (thanks in part to a greenhouse with a heater just in case it went below freezing).  While we’ve revelled in autumnal feasts and tried to continue to eat local root vegetables and avoid tropical fruits, eating local has felt like more of a chore than a celebration.

The McGill 100 Mile Diet that Greening McGill organized in the fall of my second year was a good learning experience for me. While I didn’t join the fearless dieters, I learned some useful tips that made eating locally less daunting. (For instance, you can get local sunflower oil at Le Frigo Vert.) I also designed a handy-dandy “What’s In Season” chart showing what foods are in season when in Montréal. A recent project on local eating for a GIS course added to my knowledge of local food sources.

It seems odd to be starting something that feels exciting and nourishing and wholesome when much of the environmental movement–and many other citizens’ movements–are gearing up for the G20 and associated protests in Toronto. But la Fête nationale felt like a good day to finally get the project–our own celebration of the bounty of La Belle Province–up and running, and, as Barbara Kingsolver commented in her own exploration of local eating, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, you have to start sometime.

“Why Québec?” you might ask. Montréal is at the southwest edge of Québec, and many local farms (including the one that supplies McGill’s Organic Campus) are just over the border in Ontario. Our 100-Mile circle would include Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke, and the outskirts of Ottawa, as well as a big section of Vermont. Firstly, it just comes down to practicalities: even at bountiful farmers’ markets such as Marché Jean Talon, it can be hard to find produce that comes from a specific location within the province (although it’s easier on the weekends when many of the smaller producers are there). When it comes to dairy products, it’s often impossible to track the milk source to a specific region or community (let’s face it: we’re students–we won’t be living off artisanal cheeses every day). Secondly, we know that our diet isn’t going to change the world by itself and that environmental fanaticism isn’t what we’re going for. This is at least as much about embracing the unique flavour (not only literally) of Canada’s nation within a nation and attempting to connect properly to our surroundings. (I even hold out hope that needing to talk more carefully to farmers will force me to improve my French…)

Every locavore diet sets its own rules. Here are ours:

Everything we eat has to come from Québec, with a few exceptions:

  • Seasonings we already have. Spices are light and we don’t use much at a time. Besides, unlike 100 Mile Dieters on the West Coast, we’re not close to salt water (particularly a clean bit of salt water).
  • Leavening agents. We’re lucky enough to have a good source of Québec wheat and would like to be able to make tasty things with it, so, on similar grounds that it’s not heavy to transport and we don’t need much of it at any one time, we’ll allow ourselves baking powder, baking soda, and yeast.
  • Perishables we already have in the house. While the pasta, rice, and lentil supplies will outlast our month, there’s no sense in wasting the half a loaf of bread, half a red pepper, and a couple tupperwares of leftovers we have lying around.

We haven’t come to a firm conclusion about “the social life clause” that caused such a ruckus on this episode of the reality TV show The 100 Mile Challenge (which coincidentally is based in Nat’s hometown in the Fraser Valley). I think we’ll explain ourselves to our friends (who, after all, already know we’re a bit nuts) and deal with any more difficult cases as they come up.

We’ll write later about what we miss most and any exciting new food discoveries. For now, we’re off to eat dessert: rhubarb-apple sauce drizzled over yogurt.



1. Orion - June 24, 2010

I love this. Beautifully written, Maggie.

The concept is larger than environmental – it challenges us to re-member where we are and the context of our being and living. We take so much for granted; this will require thoughtfulness, mindfulness, creativity, and adventurousness.

May all go well! Look forward to reading more.

2. Carol - June 25, 2010

Great project, Maggie! Living in Quebec in the 70’s, it was such a delight to go to Atwater Market, and shop our way through it. You will find less expensive cheeses that are also made in Quebec; in fact, I think Quebec could be one of the best provinces for your project because its local agriculture is supported so well by the government.There should be some apples left from last fall’s crop, and frozen blueberries….keep an eye out for my son Gordon and his partner Dave at Jean Talon Market: they live on the Plateau.

3. David Millar - June 25, 2010

3. Go Maggie and Nat! I hope you will tell Claire so she can post the blog address to the rest of our meeting. Maybe MMM can take on new meaning….

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