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Breaking the Diet (Celebrations and A Little Cheating) July 31, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Une diète pour La Belle Province.
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We figure we’d better come clean: we cheated a little. Well, perhaps we didn’t really cheat, we just gave into our “social life clause” loophole. As I reflected in our “Top Ten Tips for Local Eating in Montréal”, balancing local eating with any kind of normal social life can become difficult (particularly in a city where cafés, restaurants, and bars are such a huge part of the culture). We had hoped to stick to our local diet throughout the month, but left ourselves an escape clause about crossing the social life bridge when it came to it.

Warm veggie salad and aloo gobi from our finale potluck

So, we used the social life clause three times. Firstly, at a friend’s potluck where, in addition to the local cidre, strawberries, and whipped cream we bought and the local sausages she provided, we indulged in some pretzels, stir fry, and a delicious green Thai curry (this spurred into acceptability by the fact we’d originally gone to her old apartment, not realizing that she’d moved, and consequently had walked around in heavy summer rain for quite a while, getting hungrier and hungrier); still, we contributed good local food and all the other food we ate was cooked from scratch, most of it as we sat around the kitchen table. Secondly, we decided that two visiting friends from Victoria needed to experience the True Montréal Experience of a tasty microbrew at Dieu du Ciel followed by a jaunt for fresh, warm bagels from Fairmount Bagels (open 24 hours a day) a few blocks away; still, while some of the ingredients weren’t from Québec, we were enjoying the results of two vibrant local businesses, both of whom produce their goods on site (and we also took both guests on a shopping trip to Marché Jean Talon). Thirdly, after taking one of these guests on a tour of McGill (made longer by running into almost everyone I know who’s in Montréal for the summer), I caved and took her for one of my favourite desserts (brownie and ice cream at Lola Rosa); I don’t have a good excuse for this, except that catching up on three years of girl-talk with an old friend is significantly enhanced by chocolate. And fourthly, some friends-of-friends were in town briefly and we took them to Café Santropol (another True Montréal Experience), another local business which does source many of its ingredients locally; it was a delightful conversation and they ended up coming to our local eating finale potluck the next day.

So there you have it. We cheated, a little. But not too excitingly–sorry, folks, this isn’t a confession of secret midnight runs to Dairy Queen or McDonalds (by midnight we were usually too full of delicious localness to contemplate running anywhere).

Spicy veggie soup (near the end of the night at our local eating potluck)

More excitingly, when our month was up, we had a grand local feast with many of our friends. We made massive amounts of local pizza (some of it vegan), spicy veggie soup (containing all the slightly sad veg left in our fridge) and two strawberry-rhubarb pies. Our guests brought us cheese, bread, a warm veggie salad, aloo gobi, berries, honey wine, and a huge zucchini lasagna. One friend, at our invitation, brought (organic, fair trade) chocolate which we greatly enjoyed when we broke our local diet at midnight. It was all delicious–as one friend remarked as she finished a bite of pie topped with blueberries and whipped cream, “Darn, it’s just such a hard life eating local, isn’t it?”

Yet another delicious local pizza

Strawberry-rhubarb pie topped with berries and whipped cream



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.
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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.


Baking Bread, Making Mayonnaise, and What To Do When Things Go Bad July 17, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Une diète pour La Belle Province.
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Normally I would feel a little guilty about not posting for a while, but in this case I actually like the story it tells: local eating is becoming normal for us.  This week we’ve put less effort into our food but have still been eating well.

It’s been a good week for baking, however. Nat made another batch of tasty local bread, so we’re back to bread-based tastiness for breakfast and often lunch. We even had club sandwiches for dinner last night, sitting on our balcony in the warm summer breeze. The sandwich experience was enhanced by the fact that Nat, having bemoaned the absence of “the White Queen of Condiments” from our diet, made his own mayonnaise (egg yolks, oil, mustard, pepper, apple cider vinegar, and a few drops of lime juice from the bottle in our fridge). It’s tasty and seems to be keeping well in a jar in the fridge.

Nat's two loaves of bread from this week's batch (which also included a tray's worth of buns)

Many things do not keep that well, however. Or at least not as long as conventional store-bought produce, likely because the food we have been buying from the markets is not primarily grown for its ability to survive long-distance transport and have a long shelf life. As many local food writers discuss, selecting species for their resilience to transport means sacrificing other attributes, including what are, for me, the most important: flavour and nutrition. (Isn’t the point of eating primarily to nourish our bodies  and secondarily to enjoy the experience?) Then there’s the fact that many of the farmers (particularly at the smaller markets) don’t use pesticides that kill every other living thing, so there is probably a little more residual microbial activity left on the produce. (While many of the smaller farmers use “organic practices”, many choose not to go through the expensive organic certification process. If organic is important to you, just talk to the vendor and they can tell you how the food is grown.)

On a day when we'd run out of a lot of things, this was dinner. Veggie scrambled eggs (mainly onions and asparagus) with steamed green beans in lots of butter.

The upshot of this is that now and then things start to go bad in our fridge. There are two main solutions: boil or bake (cut the bad bits out first, of course). It’s surprising how many people just throw food out when it starts to go off, when most of it is still fine and you just need to remove the bad parts (an old roommate and I used to talk about veg that could be “salvaged”, which often led to Salvage Soup).

Step 1 of many veggie-salvaging endeavours: put in sink, wash thoroughly.


New Isolation, New Community July 11, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Une diète pour La Belle Province.
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We set out to see if local eating was possible for your standard 20-something, apartment-dwelling student couple. We don’t have the farm that helped sustain Barbara Kingsolver and her family, or the budget of two working professionals like James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith, or access to a car (which makes trips directly to the farm to buy bulk amounts of tasty things more feasible). We don’t have a good ability to store a large amount of food–we have a small fridge and a tiny freezer. What we do have are the decent amounts of time and flexibility that come from having no dependents (well, unless you count the family of cats we are fostering from the SPCA) and doing research work from home, and the bonus of being fairly healthy, strong young people with no mobility problems (allowing us to haul back silly amounts of produce). We’re lucky to live in a large city well-supplied with permanent farmers’ markets and in a neighbourhood that is home to two pocket markets a week.

Foster kitten Beatrice lying in the (now empty) strawberry pannier

Eating locally has brought about significant changes in what we emphasize in the way we’re living. We’re spending more time in the kitchen, cooking together. We’re more creative about what we cook and put more thought into combinations of flavours. Sometimes I think that narrowing your choices actually helps expand your diet–instead of feeling overwhelmed at the literally hundreds of possible answers to “What should we have for dinner?” (which Michael Pollan discusses in The Omnivore’s Dilemma), there is a smaller set of ingredients from which to choose, but all are tasty, fresh, and at their best in their own particular season. I find that rather than concocting local substitutes for old hat dishes I’m perusing my recipe books and the internet for recipes featuring the ingredients I have.

We’ve found our dependence on bread diminishing. For breakfast on a normal day we might have yogurt and stewed rhubarb or rhubarb muffins or on the weekend a feast of hashbrowns, sautéed onions, and scrambled eggs (with oregano). For lunch we’re likely to have salad, or whatever suitable leftovers are taking up space in our fridge. For dinner, we often experiment, although tonight we’re making pizza for the fourth time during our diet –it’s just so darn good. Dessert, which we’re eating more often because berries don’t keep for too long and we keep succumbing to their seduction at the market, is often some combination of berries and whipped cream. (Nat has astonished various friends by happily whipping cream the old fashioned way with a whisk and a bowl. Adding in maple syrup is a delicious variation.)

Fresh greens topped with a mix of cucumber, yogurt, chives, and garlic

Of course it’s not all strawberries and whipped cream. In fact, limiting yourself to a local diet can be very isolating when we’re outside of our apartment. Walking down a main street in Montréal, there used to be dozens of cafés, restaurants, and bars where we could grab a drink or a bite to eat. Now most of these venues are no longer an option, and the ones that are are difficult to find (while awareness of local food issues is increasing, your average waitress is still unlikely to know where all the ingredients in a meal come from).  It makes for a strange sense of isolation walking through streets teeming with people celebrating summer.

One meal we didn't need to adapt: baker potatoes with their insides mixed with garlic, chives and sour cream.


New Discoveries and Crafty Substitutes July 4, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Une diète pour La Belle Province.

When I first moved away from home, I couldn’t afford to eat out or buy a lot of premade or packaged food, so I quickly gained confidence at cooking from scratch (alongside the housemates I cooked with). Mostly, however, I stuck to recipes from the book of favourites my mother made for me as a leaving home present. A few years later, I still rely heavily on those favourites, although I’ve picked up some others along the way. Part of my hope for this experiment was that it would challenge me to try new recipes and new tastes, partly by needing to find substitutes for things that are no longer options, and partly by spending more time and energy on exploring the local foodscape. A week and a half in, I figure it’s time to talk about the things we miss most, the substitutes we’ve found for ingredients we’re used to using, and the new tastes we’re trying out.


Tea (with my British upbringing, this is my standard way of starting my day)

Beer (most missed on hot days or when wanting to celebrate with friends)

Coffee (mostly for its social place in meeting up with friends in coffee shops)

Peanut butter (delicious, and a staple of our spicy peanut butter stirfry)

Rice (also a staple of stirfry…)

Pasta (easy, tasty bed for whatever delicious veg or sauce we prepare)

Chocolate (not too bad so far, given the availability of sweet treats such as strawberries)



Unlike some people, we still got to feast during the G20 July 1, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Une diète pour La Belle Province.
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With all the G20 craziness that’s been going on, I haven’t taken the time to write about how la diète pour La Belle Province is going. The answer, simply put, is “well”. (Fortunately our fridge was crammed to bursting following Saturday’s trip to the market, so grocery shopping hasn’t been needed while I’ve been media tracking…)

If a picture is worth a thousand words then tasty samples must be worth a million, but since this medium doesn’t allow for that, here are some photos of what we’ve been eating.

Sunday's Dinner

Sunday dinner: Pizza

Nat made the dough (with a new recipe he says was very easy), and I made a delicious (if I do say so myself) sauce out of onions, garlic, and stewed tomatoes (leftover in our freezer from our former roommate Anna’s time – I can’t promise that they were all from Quebec, but they were likely dumpstered, possibly without actually experiencing the dumpster stage). We topped our pizzas with red and yellow bell peppers (which were looking peaky in our fridge’s crisper), fresh spinach from the market, fresh tomatoes, and cheddar. Since we only have one pizza pan, we also made use of a frying pan and Nat’s “pi” plate (you can’t see the bottom with the letter pi here, but the numbers around the rim should give you a hint). It was delicious, probably the best pizza I’ve had in ages. (But then, I’ve always preferred my pizzas on the less greasy side.) We polished off the big one for dinner on Sunday and were able to eat the other two for lunch and dinner the next day.

Monday breakfast: Strawberry-rhubarb crumble

Strawberry rhubarb crumble and apple juice for breakfast (I can't recall the rationale for the wine glass)


Strawberry Fields Forever June 27, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Une diète pour La Belle Province.
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I spent most of yesterday evening tracking the increasingly violent interactions between police and protestors on the streets of Toronto, and this morning we are seeing more of the same. It seems a strange duality to be happily blogging about the deliciousness of local food when I have disturbing reports from peaceful protesters coming in, but a hopeful story also needs to be told (I will avoid adding “in these dark times” for the sake of avoiding melodrama, but that’s more or less how I feel at this moment). And it will do my soul good to think on happier things for a few minutes.

Yesterday Nat came down with a cold, so I set out to Marché Jean Talon solo. Going to the market is one of my favourite things about living in Montréal. This is my favourite stall, perhaps because it’s cramped and full of a diversity of produce, perhaps because the man I hand my money to has dirt ingrained in his hands and can tell me where exactly most of his produce comes from:

I bought three bunches of young asparagus, brown mushrooms, radishes, and broccoli here, for $9.75, and later came back for a 5lb bag of sweet young carrots ($3.75). A claim often made against locavorism is that it is something only middle class well-off yuppies can afford to do. While both Nat and I have university-educated parents, we’re also living on student budgets and are no longer supported by the Bank of Mom and Dad. So we’ll try to keep track of how much we spend during the course of our diet. We have a niggling suspicion that we’ll at least break even, and possibly save money, in part because we won’t be dropping money on processed food or coffee shop drinks (upon thinking that a change of scene would be helpful for our work, we tried to think what we could actually order in a coffee shop…steamed milk?).

It’s strawberry season in Québec, and, having dutifully refused to buy California-imported strawberries all winter, we are excited to indulge. We’re also feeling a little sad about the lack of beer (I have now hidden away the four bottles of Unibroue Honey Pilsner that were languishing in the bottom of our fridge, having determined that, while brewed near Montréal in Chambly, they use hops from goodness knows where). I did, however, indulge in a $10 bottle of Christian Maele’s Bouqet Printanier Hydromel, a honey-wine based in Mirabel, and a $12 bottle of the William 2008 red from St-Eustache. I bought a panier of strawberries from l’Ile d’Orleans (which I visited in May) and then caved and bought another flat of them when I was about to leave (make jam while the sun shines! Or pie, or cake, …). Here are the luxuries of the day:

Strawberries $16, Honey wine $10, Red wine $12

Of course we also needed the staples. Here’s the bounty of my market findings:

Two 2kg bags of Québec flour from Premiere Moisson ($5 each),  a large bag of spinach ($1.50), a big bunch of mint because I am missing my morning tea and my little mint plant won’t provide enough ($2), a huge bag of rhubarb (mostly hidden; $4), celery ($1.75), and the aforementioned asparagus, mushrooms, radishes, broccoli, and carrots. Ok, that’s not quite it. I goofed and bought my favourite yogurt of all time without checking the label and seeing that it’s produced in St. Eugene, ON (about 10km across the border). Perhaps I’ve been living in Québec for too long (how could something that good possibly come from Ontario? I jest, I jest, …).


The Comfort of Simple Pleasures (and Home-baked Bread!) June 25, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Une diète pour La Belle Province.
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Dinner didn’t happen until late today. Partly, we didn’t start making our locally-sourced bread until after work, and partly I was distracted by media tracking of the G20 protest today and reacting to news of the new regulation under the Public Works Protection Act that designates large areas of downtown Toronto as “public works”, which allows police to arrest anyone within 5m of the fence who refuses to identify themselves and state their purpose. (For a legal analysis, look here. You might also be interested in the Oppose the PWPA petition and Facebook group.)

Part of making change is starting at home. My thoughts are with my friends and colleagues and their friends and colleagues and neighbours who marched in the streets of Toronto today, and with those who will march again tomorrow. I hope that they will be safe and that things do not get too crazy. I will continue to do what I can from afar, helping to spread news from mainstream and alternative media, as well as from friends on the ground. But this evening I am taking comfort in the simple pleasures of simple food.

I am reminded of the first full day of Power Shift Canada last October. The hundreds of youth from across the country had arrived the day before and programming was well underway. We lead coordinators were surviving on varying levels of sleep deprivation and caffeine and were attempting to get everyone together to touch base. Then somebody’s friend (and I wish very much I could remember his name) arrived with fruit and veg and hummus and home-cooked nourishment, and we remembered that we needed to eat, and that many of us had forgotten about lunch. For a moment or two we forgot that we were running a massive youth climate conference and were just a bunch of young, passionate people, laughing and sharing delicious food and giving each other back massages. That moment of shared food was a short moment of calm and friendship and joy in a whirlwind of a weekend.

So tonight we enjoyed fresh-baked bread, local cheddar and brie, butter, tomato-and-basil salad with the leftover dressing from last night, and local apple juice. The bread (an adaptation from my mother’s recipe in which Nat substituted honey and maple syrup for sugar) is better than anything I’ve ever had from a store, and the basil was picked about 5 minutes before we started eating it. I wish that we had been able to welcome all our friends from the G20 march today to a similar simple feast (I know when I was at the People’s Summit last weekend there were a lot of organizers running around on little sleep and little food). OK, we would need more basil plants and a quadruple recipe of our bread, but I would like to give that moment of friendship and nourishment back to others–this time they are on the front lines and I am not.

This is the beauty of food. Community organizers don’t like potlucks just because there’s some hippie code they need to live by. We like potlucks because they bring people together. Having trouble retaining your volunteers? Have a potluck. Want to catch up with some friends you haven’t seen since high school but afraid it might be awkward? Have a potluck. Need to deal with some tough organizational choices? Have a potluck, then get down to business. Food doesn’t just nourish us physically. Making food together brings you closer to your fellow cooks. Eating together is at the heart of creating community. Breaking bread together is a sign of trust.

This evening we saw photos from journalists inside the G20 fence telling us that there were great snacks and an open bar. Maybe before the summit ends we’ll see sharing of food across the fence. Would the police arrest people on the inside if they were catapulting loaves of bread over the barrier?

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: