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Our Last Day: Top Ten Tips for Local Eating in Montréal July 24, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Resources, Une diète pour La Belle Province.

Today is the last day of our local diet, so it seems a good time to condense our somewhat expanded “wisdom” on eating locally in Montréal.

1. Think about why you want to eat locally. Is it for the sake of eating fresher, tastier food? To support the local economy? For the environment? This will influence the kind of food you are interested in buying and eating, and, if your convictions are strong, they can help you through patches of candy or caffeine cravings. For a discussion of some of the many reasons for eating local (and a counter-argument to the typical arguments against local eating which rely on efficiency and comparative advantage), please check out my friend Tim’s blog.

2. Decide if you want to have rules, or if you just want to try to eat locally as possible. If you do want rules, make sure that they are feasible for you. For instance, if you’ve never made anything from scratch before, you might want to spend some time getting comfortable in your kitchen before you begin. If you’re vegan, you probably want to spend extra time making sure you can source appropriate protein before you start. If you have a severe caffeine addiction and a high-stress job, going cold turkey into a local-drinks-only diet could make life take a significant turn for the worse. Keep in mind that the more specific you are about where your food can come from, the more time you will have to spend asking questions (and sometimes nobody will know the answers). Make sure you know how much you can afford and that you keep track of your budget (most farmers’ markets don’t give you receipts, so take along a pen and paper). Depending on how much packaged food you usually buy and how much you usually eat out, you could either save money or spend significantly more. There are lots of local luxuries that will come at a higher cost (berries, wines, cheese) – know how feasible it is for you to splurge and plan accordingly.

We added some luxury to our homely (but delicious!) meal of sautéed onions, rainbow chard, celery, garlic, and leftover green beans with some delicious local honey wine.

3. Expand your horizons in the kitchen. This is mostly about making it fun, instead of a more laborious copy of what you usually cook. During our month I’ve learned dozens of new recipes, particularly featuring rhubarb, asparagus, eggplant, and zucchini. There are some great cookbooks on local and seasonal eating, but you can also find great recipes for pretty much every type of food on the web (if you’re willing to sift through all the ones that won’t fit your local aspirations).

A delicious variation on eggplant parmesan which included yellow zucchinis as well as eggplant and substituted mozzarella for parmesan.

4. Talk to other folks who eat locally and get their advice on where to source food. Highlights for us included local sunflower oil from Le Frigo Vert, local flour from Première Moisson, and fresh produce from Marché Jean Talon and Marché Fermier. You can find out more about neighbourhood farmers’markets here and check out a “Local Food for McGill Students” map I started as part of a GIS course and have now handed over to the McGill Food Systems Project.

5. Try to find substitutes early for the things you think you’ll most miss. For us, that was tea (we substituted mint tea made from fresh and then dried mint leaves) and beer (apple cider has a similar degree of fizz and alcohol). This means you won’t be as likely to cave.



Where This All Started… And Where It Could Start For You July 19, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Resources, Une diète pour La Belle Province.
1 comment so far

Recently people have been asking me where I got my love of food and cooking in general and my interest in sustainable food systems in particular. They also ask what the best ways to learn more are. So here you go, a short summary of where this all started (for me) and where you could look to get into this sustainable food feast yourself.

I have to attribute much of my love of food and cooking to my mum. An accomplished cook who, as a single parent, consistently produced delicious and nutritious dishes, my mum loves to create tasty meals and to enjoy them with friends and neighbours. While I didn’t cook much in her kitchen before I left home, I learned from her that cooking doesn’t have to be done by the recipe, that the kitchen should be a space of creativity and experimentation, and that community is best enjoyed over a good meal.  When I left home, my mum’s going-away present to me was a handwritten cookbook of many of my favourite recipes, complete with humorous cartoons, witticisms, and inside jokes. While I already knew the essentials of cooking, this book guided me through my first months of university cooking (happily explored in collaboration with my floormates in our MORE House) and remains the source of many of my favourite staples.

I wasn’t much of a gardener in my teens (to the chagrin of both my mother and my stepmom, I believe), but I appreciated the fresh produce that came out of the gardens and spent time with West Coast foodies who dedicated their time to community gardens and local feasts. During my first year at McGill, I bought Nat The 100-Mile Diet for Christmas (I confess to having read several chapters before wrapping it up–with the book opened to the least extent possible to avoid cracking the spine, of course ). I borrowed it back from Nat a while later once he’d read it. While the book didn’t teach me too much that I didn’t already know about food in terms of facts and figures, its lyrical style made me fall in love with falling in love with my food–and it spoke of the landscapes I’d grown up in and was isolated from across the continent in the full glory of the true Canadian winter.

While Nat had his own apartment, he spent more and more time at my rez, cooking with us and baking us bread (and making us cookies when we had midterms!). When we (and a roommate) officially moved in together in my second year, cooking became an even bigger part of what we did together and part of the way we cared for one another. Our basement apartment didn’t provide enough sunlight to grow plants, but we shopped at the McGill Farmers’ Market and at Organic Campus, and tried to get to Marché Jean Talon now and then. Through Greening McGill, I learned more about sustainable farming and local initiatives (and hosted a screening of “The World According to Monsanto” in our apartment), watched fellow students attempt a McGill 100-Mile Diet in November, and helped as Environment Commissioner of the Students’ Society of McGill University with the founding of the McGill Food Systems Project.

Last Fall, while in McGill’s Environmental Management 1 class, I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (which had been given to me as a farewell gift by my colleague at the Habitat Acquisition Trust at the end of the summer, and which I had been meaning to properly read for ages). Our Environmental Management group project worked with the McGill Food Systems Project to look at the challenges and opportunities of institutionalizing sustainable purchasing practices into McGill’s food system. In our final report (which you can read here), we recommended the hiring of an additional staff person to manage the amount of information necessary to make sustainable choices in institution purchasing. Thanks to funding through McGill’s new Sustainability Projects Fund and the dedication of several McGill students and staff, this position is now in the hiring phase (if you’re interested, check out the job description here–applications are due July 21st).

Since then, I’ve also read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which again made the case for local eating in an engaging and personal fashion. She charmingly discusses the joys of hunting for morels (mushrooms) in the forest, the epic endeavour of never-ending tomato canning, and even turkey sex (her heirloom breeds of turkey could actually reproduce by themselves, unlike the species that makes up most of the turkey meat market). While I haven’t read it yet, I’ll soon be diving into Sarah Elton’s Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields To Rooftop Gardens, How Canadians Are Changing the Way We Eat (you can see her opinions on locavorism without giving up on trade goods like spices here).

For folks looking for more resources on local food and the importance of genetic diversity in our food crops, I’d recommend the various writings of Vandana Shiva and the publications of the Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. For shock value there’s also Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Morgan Spurlock’s documentary “Supersize Me” (which you can view for free here). While I haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet, “Food Inc” is also changing people’s minds about how they eat. Slow Food International (and Slow Food Canada) lay out the case for an aesthetic appreciation of our daily nourishment. Food Secure Canada works on food security issues across the country.