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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, …).

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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.
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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:

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To be continued… June 17, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Uncategorized.
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So I got a little bogged down in trying to decide what to include in the December 2009 retrospective – COP15 just had so much hype and media coverage! Besides, I’ll have more exciting things to talk about shortly. So there will be a little hiatus while I travel to the People’s Summit in advance of the G8/G20 meetings in and near Toronto and get ready to start my own local eating challenge.

A Year in Review: November 2009 June 16, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in A Year in Review.
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Wow, I guess life caught up with me and made things a little busy. Part 3 of 8.

– NOVEMBER –

The National Post publishes my letter “Climate change is not a game”, critiquing the NP’s flippant coverage of the protests in Parliament. Coverage in the McGill Daily and the Concordian paints a somewhat different picture. The McGill School of Environment’s Mel Lefebvre interviews me about Power Shift Canada.

Analysis by Jaccard & Associates on behalf of the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation assesses the economic impacts of different greenhouse gas reduction targets . Interpretations of what this means for Canada and best options for policy vary widely; we discuss options in my Economics of Climate Change class. In my Economics of the Environment, Prof Provencher shares this video:

At the Barcelona UN climate change talks (the last before Copenhagen), Canada is already seen as detracting from progress.

Closer to home, my article about the need for greater knowledge of how to adapt to climate change in the arctic is published in the McGill Daily.

SSMU Council passes sustainable seafood motion (props to members of Greenpeace McGill). Climate Mob Mondays come to McGill (see here and here) and to other universities across the country :

McGill undergraduates vote overwhelmingly in favour of the Sustainability Projects Fund and the SSMU Sustainability Ambassadors program builds steam. At the Macdonald campus, CERES runs a highly successful “Green Pledge” campaign. The Montreal Power Shift team morphs into Climate Justice Montreal. Seeking support from Justin Trudeau isn’t as successful as it could have been…

No help from the Conservatives either, as Environment Minister Jim Prentice suggests we shouldn’t expect any climate change legislation for a few years. Canadian are embarrassed by their government’s inaction and prominent scientists and politicians suggest that Canada should be kicked out of the Commonwealth for its (lack of) climate change policies. As international pressure mounts and Obama announces he will attend COP15, Harper changes his mind and decides he’ll go to Copenhagen too.

People for Climate Justice hold a series of sit-ins in Conservative Ministers’ offices across the country.

More and more videos from citizens’ groups and NGOs urge governments to act at the COP15 UN climate talks in Copenhagen. This Moms Against Climate Change is particularly controversial:

Climate Change: Epic Fail? Panel is hosted at McGill. To round out the month, creative actions continue across the country (as we all neglect our schoolwork). In Halifax, young people make the biggest banner of all time.

Climate Justice Montreal starts off the festive season with a “12 Days of Copenhagen” carol (it would have been a little better if we’d picked a key to start with):

A Year in Review: October 2009 May 3, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in A Year in Review.
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It’s hard to believe that all this happened in one month. Part 2 of 8.

– OCTOBER –

October started and ended with time spent with my Millennium friends. The first weekend of October took me to the National Millennium conference, the last of its kind since the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation did not have its funding renewed beyond its initial 10-year mandate, was moved to Markham, ON at the last minute due to looming strikes in Ottawa. The Millennium Network emerged, we played Cranium, drank whiskey and coke, and went to some pretty awesome keynotes and workshops.

"Suddenly the world seems like such a perfect place..."

National Millennium Conference Sing-a-long

Power Shift organizing hit feverpitch, with Thanksgiving offering a brief respite. We spent the weekend rejoicing in local food, using every possible piece of the pumpkin, and being surrounded by friends (if not family). Powerhouse organizer Devon Willis almost single-handedly organized fundraising concert “Zut! Il Fait Chaud” to support McGill students attending Power Shift and her own trip to Copenhagen as part of the Canadian Youth Delegation.

On campus, I start working with Geography Professor James Ford on science communication concerning the impacts of climate change on the Inuit. McGill officially announced it would buy “Big Hanna,” an industrial composter, after several years of pressure by student group Gorilla Composting. McGill received an “A” for student involvement on the College Sustainability Report Card (and a B+ overall). The SSMU General Assembly was anticlimactic, losing quorum after the joke space efficiency motion was defeated. The energy efficiency motion passed, but the styrofoam and sustainable seafood motions were left unaddressed. STOP‘s Green Business Week and McGill’s Rethink Conference (focusing on the intersection of sustainability and education) flew by in the lead up to Power Shift.

The day finally comes, and McGill students piled onto the bus to head to Ottawa for Power Shift Canada. I found it incredibly exciting to finally meet all the amazing organizers I spent several months  working with by conference call and email as participants flow in from coast to coast to coast. From there it’s dance practices, keynotes (Clayton Thomas-Muller, Majora Carter, and Geoff Green, to name a few), thank yous, workshops, marches, and very little sleep. On Saturday we join C-Day: Fill the Hill on Parliament Hill as part of 350.org‘s International Day of Climate Action and perform our flashdance. Filming didn’t go according to plan, but this much got captured on camera:

And the end:

Protests in Parliament on Monday got mass media coverage, but the media preferred to focus on bloody noses instead of the actual issues. I returned to Montreal, exhausted, happy, and frustrated with the CBC, to confront much undone schoolwork and looming midterms.

In the build-up to Copenhagen, social media is used to rapidly spread videos like Avaaz.org‘s “Beds Are Burning”:

The month ended with a fantastic weekend in Mont Tremblant at the final Millennium Regional Conference. I practiced my French, we partied it up at Le Petit Caribou for Halloween, and we created a work of art which raised over $400.

Yes, this piece of "art" raised over $400 at auction...

Millennium Family at Tremblant, displaying our work of art

In other October 2009 enviro news:

Apple resigns from the US Chamber of Commerce over climate policy

Maldives cabinet meets under water

A Year in Review: September 2009 May 2, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in A Year in Review.
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I spent much of today organizing my apartment and sorting and filing assignments, notes, and so on from the academic year (which I finally finished on Thursday). It seems a good time to reflect on the past eight months. Here’s part one of eight.

– SEPTEMBER –

The return to school was hectic, coordinating Power Shift Canada’s Recruitment Team with the lovely and talented Kimia Ghomeshi while settling into my new apartment.  Two lengthy Power Shift calls a week plus full time class made things a little crazy, but working with so many inspiring and dedicated people made it worthwhile. The PSC video contest and photo contest kick off.

How do we ensure that transitioning to localized food economies is done in a way that is affordable and accessible to everyone?

Questioning David Suzuki at Impact!

On campus, the SSMU Environment Committee started with a bang with the Strategic Planning for Sustainability session, complete with tasty eats left over from the McGill Food Systems Project‘s Film & Feast event. I started off a string of frequent weekends away with the Impact! Youth Leaders for Sustainability Conference in Guelph. McGill Residences hosted their first Local Food Day and Journalists for Human Rights McGill held its second successful Human Rights Train-the-Trainer program. And I got cranky with Max Silverman’s column.

At the UN climate change summit in New York, President Nasheed of the Maldives spoke eloquently about the impacts of climate change on his island nation: “Our country will not exist”.

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper opts to skip out on the proceedings of the summit in favour of a photo-op at a donut shop, sparking the campaign Harper Chooses Donuts Over Planet:

Around the world, citizens took part in Avaaz.org‘s Global Climate Wake-Up Call:

In other September 2009 enviro news:

Memorial becomes the second university to ban bottled water

Activists drop a 70ft banner off Niagara Falls to protest Tar Sands oil

Greenpeace blockades tar sands operations

A special edition of the New York Post announces “We’re Screwed

I finally gave in… March 17, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Uncategorized.
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…and got myself a blog. There are various reasons to blog, and Will Vanderbilt could tell you most of them. As for this one, it’ll mostly be my thoughts on the environmental movement, environmental policy, and human rights issues, with some tangents into my inner musings (with any luck I shall avoid the painfully self-indulgent).

Please check out the “get involved” page to, well, find out more and get involved in some of the awesome things I care about.