~ by Rozi

Literally, you are what you eat. Your body uses the nutrients it derives from our food sources to provide the building blocks and energy required to live our lives in balance and harmony. Nature already provides these balances in food, but we mess with the mix and create imbalance by removing much of the nutrition from the food we eat in order to have it sit on shelves in grocery stores. If the food you choose does not have a balance of the nutrients your body needs, you are malnourished.

One of the questions we were asked to think about in relation to The Omnivores Dilemma is how our diet affects our health. We may think that the information so readily available now would make it easier to keep healthy, especially for our younger generation. According to Statistics Canada, almost nine out of ten Canadians ranked healthy foods as their most important determiner when it comes to deciding what to eat and where. The truth is though, that is just not how the majority are spending their dollars and choosing their foods. There is a disconnect between what we know to be good for us and what we actually eat. The intention may be there, but the action is not.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is the cause of a national health crisis in Canada and the United States of being overfed while remaining undernourished on a diet consisting of highly processed refined food, saturated with unhealthy types of fat, overwhelmed by food additives and lacking dietary fiber and nutrients. Many people eat meals in transit (very bad for digestion) with no actual diversity. We have become aware of the serious consequences of a poor diet that threatens our ability to live longer, healthier lives. Recent Health Canada statistics reports fifty percent of Canadian adults are overweight. Further statistics indicate a steady increase of obesity in Canadian children over the last twenty years. Diabetes, Heart and Cardiovascular problems and Cancer are ever increasing.

Probably most concerning is the increase in health problems in young Canadians. “Over the past 15 years, Canada has seen significant increases in overweight and obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. It used to be thought that like heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, were ‘diseases of aging.’” From:

A Perfect Storm: 2010 heart and Stroke Foundation Annual Report on Canadians’ Health:

The Standard American Diet (SAD) has earned the dubious distinction of being composed of more than 50 percent refined and over processed foods. According to the National Centre for Health Statistics, it is estimated that Canadians now consume nine pounds of chemical additives per year in the form of preservatives, artificial colouring and flavouring and texture agents. The “sad” truth is, we in North America have access to some of the best food on the planet and in the largest quantities, and yet many people suffer from some of the same fundamental issues as third world countries where people go days and weeks without eating and often die of starvation and undernourishment. The difference is, we have a choice.



I never grew my own fruits and vegetables; I grew up with my parents always having something growing in the backyard garden. We always had tomatoes in the garden and they had to be planted at the right time. They also grew carrots, onions, garlic, zucchini, eggplant, green beans, radicchio, a variety of coloured peppers, herbs and sometimes butternut squash and some species of pumpkin. There was also fruit trees grown that include cherry, apple, pear, nectarine, mulberry, plum, fig, and a grape vine.  There was also a large patch of grass that my family and I played on. My father was always experimenting on growing new vegetables, fruits, and even legumes every year.  All these plants and trees required time and a lot of care. My parents are always out in the garden from the moment the weather allows you to start planting until the frost.  There was always some type of vegetable or fruit from the garden on our table in the summer.  Because of the diversity of the garden, my parents rarely used any form of pesticide. The only real threat that we’ve ever had to deal with is Mother Nature.  One spring, when the cherry tree was in full bloom, with all its pretty white blossoms, there was a freak hail storm.  The storm damaged most of the blossoms.  When the cherries began to grow, later on in the season, only very few grew. We did not eat that many cherries that year.  There was also a time when the frost got the tomato plants.  We ended up buying most of the tomatoes for our summer tomato salads.

Whenever it came time to have to buy a fruit or vegetable that we typically grow in our garden, you could taste the difference.  The tomatoes from the garden taste better and sweeter and they even taste healthier.  They have more flavour. I have learned to appreciate them more because I have seen the work that has been done to get them ripe.

Looking back on it now for this assignment, thinking about seeing all that work over the years, makes me appreciate eating.  It inspires me to have my own garden when I am older.

~ S. Marrelli

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan is a book written about the natural history of four meals.  Pollen includes a chapter on Grass.  He discusses the true meaning of sustainable, organic and natural when it comes to farming.  What do these words mean and what do they mean to the federal government?  Pollan states that,

“Polyface Farm is technically not an organic farm, though by any standard it is more ‘sustainable’ than virtually any organic farm.  Its example forces you to think a lot harder about what these words sustainable, organic, natural really mean.”

I agree with his realization that what this farm is considered by technical legal terms is not what they are by definition.  Even the farm itself states that,

“We never call ourselves organic—we call ourselves ‘beyond organic.’”

They are deemed organic because of their practices and their biological diversity and what “machines” (pesticides and the like) they don’t use.  The industry and grocery stores shelve product after product that is deemed “organic”…but by who and what standards?  Are their standards truly organic?  By their own standards, Polyface Farm prides themselves to be ‘beyond organic’.  What considers them so?  Can I just print the word “organic” on a box of cereal and deem it organic without regulation, but because I believe it to have been grown and manufactured organically?  No.  There are standards with regulations that have to be met to be able to use the word organic.  These standards are not as stringent as they should be with the growing popularity/desire for ‘organic’ product.

In conclusion, I agree with Pollan that you have to think deeper about the words that governments and associations and boards are applying standards to, to form their measureable definition of the word.  It definitely makes me think twice about what it truly means to be sustainable, organic or natural.

enjoy this video below

~ S. Marrelli

Let me ask you a question.

What is a reasonable price for a dozen eggs?

Two, three, four, would you go as high as five dollars?

Well let’s qualify this.  Exactly what kind of eggs are we talking about here?
Chicken, for sure.  But even then, the spectrum ranges:  battery, cage-free, organic, free run, free range, farm fresh… The choices are overwhelming!

To make the situation even more complicated, how can we be sure that we are truly getting what is advertised to us?  How do we as the consumer avoid buying the “organic free-range” eggs from chickens who are only fed organic corn by-products and never see the sun?

After reading Michael Pollan’s Ominvore’s Dilemma I felt really inspired.  I felt I needed to make at least a small positive change.  As the principal grocery buyer in my house, this was something I could have control over; I could make the decision to buy better.  I felt more enlightened to the living conditions of chickens, I realized direct correlation between what the chickens are fed, how they are housed and what goes into the egg (or meat) and then into me!

So the very next time I was at my favourite farmers’ market I did what any inspired omnivore would do, I bought farm fresh eggs!  Was I ever excited!  The sign at the Mennonite farmer’s stall even claimed that these eggs came from “very happy chickens”!  Well, let me tell you, my excitement lasted until I got my change back.  Only $4 return from a ten?  Were these Willy Wonka’s Golden Eggs?  Boy did I feel like a sucker.

This exchange prompted me to do short survey of egg prices in Toronto

  • Average grocery store price for large, grade A, battery eggs – $2.69 – $2.89 / doz
  • Average grocery store price for large, grade A Organic eggs – $5.17 – $5.99 / doz
  • Toronto Farmers market price for “happy farm fresh” eggs – $6 / doz

Ok seeing those numbers, I didn’t feel so bad, maybe $6 wasn’t so far of what I should expect.

The next weekend, I went to visit my parents who live just outside of Cambridge, Ontario.  My Mum couldn’t stop talking about these great farm-fresh eggs she had bought the week before!  We decided to drive up to the farm and get some more.   This is the part where I got laughed at…

  • Rural South-Western ON Farm price for farm fresh eggs  – $2.50/doz (!!)

So how is it that a dozen eggs – Super fresh and  beautiful, a mix of white, brown, green(!) albeit ungraded eggs on a farm where the chickens roam freely and eat grass and kitchen scraps are less than half the price of Toronto eggs?

Sure you can make the arguments that they are cheaper because I paid to get myself there, the eggs were not graded, nor is the land in Cambridge as expensive as around Toronto, but still!

To me this presents a problem.

As much as I love the idea of farmers’ markets (as per my earlier post) the fresh produce, dairy, eggs etc.  However, the reality is that they are trendy, they attract a certain niche portion of the population and the prices tend to be a bit higher than elsewhere.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to deny farmers a living wage.  Yet these facts lead to another truth: they are not accessible to everyone.


Shouldn’t healthy food be available and accessible to everyone, regardless of their income bracket?  Why should the ‘truly’ healthy food be reserved for those with a higher wage?

GOOD FOOD FOR ALL

This is the basic message of The Stop Community Food Centre.  It is also the title of one of their cookbooks .

Officially The Stop “strives to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds community and challenges inequality.”  Unofficially The Stop is an amazing community hub that offers dozens of programs where healthy food is the star.  It’s also the home to the hands-on after-school children’s program where I have been volunteering for the past year.  We get kids aged 8-12 into the kitchen, handling knives, cooking learning about nutrition and generally getting excited about food. I love it there.

Well this is a long post, and has definitely taken off in unexpected directions. (Ah the beauty of a blog!)
I’d love to continue the conversation, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought!

Cheers,
Suzi

I think many will agree when I say that this was an extremely interesting and insightful section! My mom grew up not on a farm, but with lots of cousins who lived on farms. Almost everything her and her family ate came from the farm! Beef, chicken, eggs, fruits, vegetables, you name it! I wish I could have experienced what she did. I’m not saying i grew up eating horribly, but fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, sounds a lot better than what can come out of some grocery stores!

I recently moved away from home to go to culinary school. Instead of my mom buying the groceries, it was my turn. To be honest, I never really looked at what she was purchasing when I went grocery shopping with her! She didn’t do a bad job by any means, but looking back I noticed a few things. There wasn’t a lot of organic food coming into the house, and vegetables and fruits that were out of season were still purchased. I’d be a liar if i said I wasn’t doing the same thing now! After reading this section of the book, I think a little more about what goes in the shopping cart, and what stays out! I don’t want to be eating fruits and vegetables that are pumped with chemicals to make them bigger, the colour pop, none of it! I want an all natural, farm grown, hand picked piece of fruit or vegetable going into what I’m eating!!

I can definitely say I was very impressed with Joel Salatin and his “grass-farming” ways! I wish more farms were like that! This was the first time I’ve ever heard of a grass farmer. To me it’s inspiring, he’s letting mother nature take its course, by just guiding the animals to do their jobs.  The cows are rotated throughout the fields based on the cycle of the grass itself, then following the cows are the chickens. Thechickens sanitize the fields by picking all of the larvae out of the cows’ manure,  as they add their own nitrogen-rich wastes to the fields. The chickens will help remove possible disease, and also reduce flies while they themselves turning into high-protein meat.  In the end, it’s better for the ground, the animals, the consumers, and the grass! It’s a perfect and efficient system!

In the book Salatin explains that supermarket food systems depends on us not knowing where our food comes from. If we could see into a corporate slaughterhouse the way we can observe Joel’s operation, maybe we would choose to never eat meat again. Oddly enough, we are willing to pay extra for high-quality products, but when it comes to what we put into our bodies, we seem to be hesitant to pay a greater cost.

This has been my thoughts, now what are YOURS!

-K.Desjarlais

An open letter addressed to Anthony Bourdain from Hannah Haynes, daughter of one of the Cargill, Inc. top management, responding to his latest best seller, Medium Raw. In the book, he outlines some of the ‘nasty’ procedures (antibiotic, pH adjusting, cleansing) that meat processing companies (I believe, the ammonia process only applies to BPI, not Cargill) do to ground beef trimming at the plants.

http://www.voxmagazine.com/stories/2010/11/11/essay-open-letter-anthony-bourdain-chef-who-hates-/

And here is the follow up letter from Anthony Bourdain,
http://blog.travelchannel.com/anthony-bourdain/read/dear-hannah/

-Husin

There is currently a decline in new American farmers. There has been a 20% drop in new farmers under 25 according to this interview conducted by NPR. Is similar trend happening in Canada as well?

http://www.npr.org/2011/02/27/134103432/Americas-Future-Farmers-Already-Dropping-Away

–Husin

For years I have been a fan of grass fed beef. I prefer Argentinean or Brazilian steakhouses over the more traditional steakhouses, as they usually use grass fed beef. From the nutritional/health point of view, grass fed beef definitely is winning. The meat usually has more Omega-3 (as opposed to the unhealthy Omega-6 in grain fed beef), less in saturated fat, and more of vitamin A and E, plus Beta Carotene. It also has more Conjugated Linoleic Acid, which is helpful in weight loss by increasing one’s metabolism and lowering insulin resistance and cholesterol. In addition to the nutritional benefits, grass fed beef also has a minimum risk of being contaminated with deadly food infections, such as Mad Cow and Foot and Mouth disease, and E-coli O157:H7 infection.

So why most people preferred grain fed beef these days? Could it be because grain fed beef has more fat, and fat equals flavor? It is true to a certain point, as you definitely need fat to camouflage the blandness of the meat. Alas, most North Americans these days have no idea what beef should taste like anymore. If you ask Europeans and South Americans, those who were raised on grass fed beef, most would tell you that grain fed beef has no flavor. Grass fed beef has the richer, fuller flavor of what beef should taste like.

Now, one can argue that grass fed beef is expensive. It is true, no denying there. However, if certain customers are willing to purchase the more expensive organic grain fed beef, why don’t they buy the grass fed beef? Could it be because they are unaware of the benefits of grass fed beef? Is this where the education part need to come in?

Regardless of one’s preference, we can all agree that grass fed beef is better for the environment. Michael Pollan’s Omnivore Dilemma explained to us the evils of the grain fed cattle farming to the environment. The energy and cost that are needed to raise one single cow is extremely outrageous, just so that it would be healthy enough for us to consume. This brought me to another thought, why one needs to consume so much protein. The North American diet definitely putting its emphasis on protein, especially animal sourced proteins.  Thus, before we get too busy trying to reorganize and regulate our complicated food industry, wouldn’t it be a good idea too to change the way we eat?

Recently I had a minor health scare issue regarding the result of my blood test. The doctor found a trace of albumin in my urine, indicating that my kidney is not functioning properly. Possible cause could be because of years of my high protein diet. Since then, I have been trying to change the way I eat. Gone are the days when my meal is consisted of one big chicken breast, or pork chop, or rib eye, with tiny amount of side dishes. I still eat them once in awhile, but not daily as I used to. I might splurge on weekends, but that is okay.

So, what is the point of my ramblings? Eat less meat, and if you are craving for one, make sure it is grass fed. It would be worth it for your body and for the environment.

 

Here are some links for places where you could find grass fed beef in Toronto area:

http://www.twincreeksfarm.ca

http://www.cumbraes.com (occasionally they would have them available at their stores)

http://www.stoddart.ca

One of the questions we were asked to consider for this project was:
Do you agree or disagree with Michael Pollan?

One of Michael Pollan’s points that I agree with is that consumers are becoming more aware that their food has a ‘history’ and more interested in knowing the stories behind their food. He talks about walking through Whole Foods as an experience similar to walking through Chapters: reading the labels of chicken, pork and vegetables as stories.  He uses the labels as a starting point to contemplate the life it had prior to arriving on that store shelf.

So ok, Wholefoods exists in Canada, but is primarily an American chain.  Is this sort of story-telling catching on here?  For a Canadian example look to Loblaws!  Loblaws has developed their own line of “President’s Choice Free From” antibiotic/hormone free products.  These meats include various cuts of chicken, pork, beef and processed products such as sausages.  These packages tell us that the animals are vegetable grain fed, contain no animal by-products and have been raised without the use of hormones and antibiotics.  They even come with a picture of their farmer right on the label!  No disrespect to Rosie the chicken, but it seems the only thing missing is the name of the animal itself!  Loblaws has definitely tapped into the idea the customers are looking to know more about their food, and of course to pay more for that privilege.

But then again, do we trust such a huge corporation to truly look out for our best interests when it comes to our food?  Loblaws is after all a business, a large business whose ultimate goal at the end of the day is to make money!   Why not go directly to the source?  Over the past several years the rise in popularity of farmers markets means that consumers have much more access to their food’s life story – direct from the farmer.  Not only that, but this means the farmers have direct access to feedback from their customers and the money makes its way directly into the farmers’ pockets instead of passing through the corporate middleman.

I consider myself quite lucky; I have a year-round farmers’ market within a 10-minute walk of my apartment!  I find myself at the Green Barn Market most Saturday mornings.  This has got to be one of Toronto’s fastest growing farmers markets.  There are always new and interesting vendors selling fantastic local and organic produce.  The stories that these farmers have to tell are amazing and give you a real feeling of connection to your food.

Did you know that Toronto hosts Farmers’ Markets every single day of the week?
For a list of year-round and seasonal farmers markets in Toronto click here:

Toronto Farmers’ Market Network

I encourage you to get out there and learn a bit more about where your food comes from.  Make an informed choice, and as Michael advocates: vote with your dollars!

On the flipside – can we go too far with this?  Have a look at this silly ‘Portlandia’ skit and you tell me.

Enjoy,

Suzi

Hello omnivorous readers!

Do you like what you’re seeing here?  Are you getting into this whole Omnivore’s Dilemma thing?  Are you really starting to think and ask questions about your food?

Do you want a second (and third) point of view?

Well lucky for you, our fellow aspiring-chef-classmates are also blogging their responses to Michael Pollan’s book.  Take a few minutes to digest their views, ruminate over the concepts, and cook up some comments!  🙂

Have a look here:

http://theomnivoresdilemmaproject.blogspot.com/

and here:

http://gbgrassgroup.blogspot.com/

Happy reading!
Suzi