Friday, August 14, 2009

Food Dichotomies

Everywhere I go now, I find myself faced with food dichotomies - global vs. local, quantity vs. quality, shelf life vs. freshness. I wonder if it's because I'm immersed in researching local food systems, kind of like when you buy a new car and suddenly you seem the same model everywhere. Or maybe it's because there's a movement afoot, maybe, just maybe, people are starting to care more about what they are eating and where it comes from. Two stark food dichotomies I've encountered in the past couple of weeks:


While on PEI, I took pleasure in eating as much seafood as possible and sourcing my produce locally whenever I could. Below is a picture of one of the many meals I enjoyed with my family while on the Island. I prepared the salad, which contains local PEI spinach, feta cheese from NS, raspberries from the U-Pick down the road, pecans from the Bulk Barn, and a blueberry dressing that I made from Tignish blueberries, Rossignol maple wine (from PEI), olive oil and white vinegar. The fish is an Atlantic salmon fillet (more about that in another post, but for now we'll pretend it's relatively local).

Then I had to take a roadtrip. My first sojourn in my newly acquired Toyota Echo. It's been three years since I owned a car and I haven't missed having one, but, ironically, I found myself needing wheels in order to carry out my data collection for my Masters thesis in Environmental Studies. Well, in any event, I had to drive back to Kingston, Ontario from Prince Edward Island, and I was ill prepared foodwise when I hit the road with my driving partner and fabulous friend Jen. We had bananas and cashews, but needed more sustenance for the 16 hour drive. At lunch we stopped for Subway somewhere in northern NB. As fastfood on the road goes, I can handle Subway. At least there's some colour to the meal. Coming on the last leg of the trip, however, we decided we'd better have dinner. The options were not appealing - Mickey D's, KFC, Tim Horton's, DQ. We opted for DQ and I ended up getting a chicken wrap w/o dressing and, for reaons unbeknownst to me, a small fries. Ugh. I can't recall the last time I ate fast food. I abhor it and this time was no different. I don't understand why people eat fastfood on a regular or even semi-regular basis. My meal lacked colour and taste. The best part of it was the ketchup and that's only because I am a ketchup addict.


On Thursday, I started my workshare with Vegetables Unplugged. What does that mean? It means that I am working on a farm for three hours a week (one morning) for the next ten weeks. In return, I receive 20 weeks worth of delicious, fresh vegetables from the farm (more about this type of farm model, called Community Supported Agriculture, in another post). Whatever is ripe and has been harvested ends up in my kitchen that week. I loved my first day on the farm - all we did was pick and pack vegetables for three hours at a pretty leisurely pace. Good conversation was had between everyone as we picked, plucked and plonked. As noon approached, Craig, who runs the CSA operation, announced that we should get a bag and pack up our share of veggies. How wonderful to know when the vegetables in my kitchen were picked and by who and furthermore, to know that they use organic practices and are not farming intensively, but are farming smart. Melanie, one of the other farm workers, kindly posed for a picture with all of her vegetables stuffed into a big, reusable bag.

Then, on the ferry ride back to Kingston (the farm is on Wolfe Island, a 20 minute trip from dock to dock) I noticed a huge truck onboard. It was a Sysco truck, proudly announcing its status as a food marketer of quality food. 'Quality Assured Foodservice Products'. What does that even mean?? I'm not even sure I know what a foodservice product is. And who is assuring it's quality? It occurs to me that businesses are much like people - the ones that feel the need to announce themselves as being the best, the brightest, the strongest or the most durable are most likely to be the ones lacking these very qualities. It's the quietly confident ones that go about doing things based on an internal set of values without tooting their own horns that are much more likely to be trustworthy and worthy of your business. And I, for one, am pretty sure that Vegetables Unplugged has Sysco beat by a mile when it comes to being 'quality assured'.

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