Thursday, August 08, 2013

Just Beet It

It's Week #7 of my CSA with Jen Campbell. It's also August 8th, which freaked me out momentarily today, because that means that today is the beginning of Olde Home Week, which has historically marked The End of Summer.  Then I took a deep breath and reminded myself of the following: a) September =  Fall Flavours, a whole month of food gluttony across PEI, b) I'm heading to the Deep South in a couple of weeks for an awesome, hot roadtripping vacation c) I don't have to go back to school in September since I'm already, technically in school and d) I'm not even half way through my CSA season with Jen! All of these facts made me smile. It also didn't hurt that I spent the majority of today at a sandy, sun-drenched beach.  I hope each of you can also find a list of reasons to not fret about The End of Summer!

When I went to pick up my CSA veggies yesterday, I was accompanied by my wonderful friend, Kate, who was visiting the Maritimes from Ontario. Kate has her own CSA box and also gets organic milk delivered to her house every week (jealous!). When Jen C. tried to hand me a bunch of beets, I turned them down. Well, I tried to turn them down, but Kate protested quite profusely.  She was appalled that I would be turning down this delicious root vegetable.  I informed her that I enjoy beets, I just don't enjoy the amount of work involved in preparing them.  She then volunteered to cook them up herself and insisted that it was easy-peasy to cook new beets.   So, in the end, I came home with a bunch of beets.

Kate went to work in the kitchen, cutting of the greens, which I was instructed to save for inclusion in future beet-infused salad.  She cut off the tops and bottoms and then quartered the beets. I was perplexed, because she hadn't peeled them and I was certain that beets needed to be peeled (and that this was the arduous part of beet cooking that I was adamantly against participating in).  This is when she informed me that I should think of beets just like new potatoes. I hate to admit it, but the potato analogy really hit home with this Islander.  New potatoes can be boiled, roasted, or BBQd and don't need to be peeled. Evidently the same holds true for new beets, although mature beets (i.e. winter beets) should be peeled just liked winter potatoes.

Once the beets had been boiled (just like potatoes), we just popped them into a container and put them in the fridge for consumption today/tomorrow. This evening I had a simple green salad infused with slivers of beet and crumbled feta cheese. Yum. Kate directed me to a friend of hers, Holly, who blogs about food and her kids. I've included a couple of Holly's beet recipes at the bottom of this blog post and linked to her blog, in case you are interested.  FTR: I have no idea how any parent of young children has time to blog about anything, let alone food blogging and including amazing pictures, so kudos to Sally and Sarah, who are blogging food recipes for Jen this summer. 

So, aside from being delicious and 'just like new potatoes', what's so awesome about beets?


1. Beets for Brain Power -  Beets can help increase the flow of blood through your body, which, in turn, increases the supply of oxygen, nutrients and energy to your brain (and other parts of your body too!).  This special beet power is due to the high content of natural nitrates (natural nitrates are good), which is converted into nitric oxide by the body, where it then contributes to expansion of your blood vessels. Yay!

 2. Get Your Groove On, Thanks to Boron - So, along with oysters and other edible delicacies, beets have historically been considered a natural aphrodisiac. There may actually be some validity to this claim, given the above noted blood vessel expanding powers of the beet, as well as its high concentration of boron, which has been linked to increased production of testosterone. So, say Good Morning, Good Morning to a bowlful of beets (this makes sense if you know of the advertisement that I am referring to!).

3. Beat Inflammatory Conditions with Beets - Inflammation is your body's natural response to a foreign substance (e.g. virus, bacteria, etc.), and in these instances inflammation is good. Unfortunately, your body can also respond to stress, undigested food proteins and other non-threatening substance via an inflammatory response. Over the long-term, this can wreak havoc on your body in many ways and contribute to conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer, bronchitis, and heart disease (to name only a few).  The nutrients that give beets their deep red color also happen to serve as a natural anti-inflammatory.

4. Cleanse Yourself...with Beets - Anyone who has explored the world of cleansing has probably consumed beet juice, or at least been advised that beet juice is an  excellent cleanser.  The antioxidants in beets aid with deep cleansing of the body's cells. We can all benefit from regularly ridding ourselves of the toxins that accumulate in our body's.  A beet juice cleanse might be a bit extreme for most people, so just enjoy beets in your salad or as a side and skip the extreme-ness!

5.  Beet Heart-Friendly -  Beets can contribute to cardiovascular health thanks to the betaine contained in beets. It does so by helping reduce the body's concentration of homocysteine, which can be harm the body's blood vessels.

The above are just a few of the many reasons that you should most definitely accept beets with great enthusiasm when they are presented to you by your farmer :)
Image Source

 For those of you that want some quick, easy recipes that include beets, try the ones below from  Stories for My Sister (thanks to Kate for introducing me to Holly's blog!)
Balsamic Glazed n Braised Beets and Greens
Adapted from Peter Berley’s recipe, from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen
1 medium red onion, cut into wedges or crescents
4-5 fresh beets (more if you’re using smaller beets, enough to cover the bottom of your pan in a snug layer) with tops*, roots trimmed, and cut into wedges,
Beet greens,  chopped*.
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

*if you can’t get beets with the tops still on (PIPPA: DON”T USE CANNED BEETS), you could probably substitute other greens such as collards, chard, mustard greens, or, OK, twist my arm: kale – but I wouldn’t use spinach, I don’t think it’s tough enough for this job.

1. In a heavy pan that has a cover, arrange the beet slices and onion so that they fit snugly on the bottom of the pan. Add the vinegar, oil, thyme, and 1/2 tsp salt. Toss and then pour enough water over top to just cover the vegetables, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or so, until the beets are nearly tender, but not quite.
2. Raise the heat and boil, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced to a syrup and the beets are fork-tender.
3. Add the beet greens, reduce the heat again, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Uncover and turn the greens over so they mix with the beets. Add pepper and salt to taste. Simmer for 2 minutes more and serve.

Beet & Green Apple Salad with almond-butter vinaigrette 
Created by me and STOLEN!!! by a famous chef. I first made this salad with wheat berries, which made it more of a hearty lunch-salad that I kept in the fridge and dipped into all week. You can omit the wheat berries and just go with the beets and apples if you want more of a refreshing side-salad. Barley I guess could work as a wheat-berry substitute, but try wheat berries – they’re lovely. If I could get farro here, I think that’d be even lovelier. 

2 cups cooked wheat berries
1 granny smith apple, skin ON, chopped or sliced as your whimsy takes you
1 cup cooked, then grated or chopped beets
1/2 cup toasted pecans (pieces or halves, whatever’s training in your cupboard).
Vinaigrette: (makes about half a cup)
1 tablespoon almond butter
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (wine vinegar if you must, white  de préférence)
2-3 tbsp walnut oil (olive oil would be ok if you don’t have walnut)
1 tsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp powdered ginger (or very, very finely minced fresh ginger)
Water or apple juice to thin to desired consistency
Salt & pepper to taste.
1. In a small jar, combine the vinaigrette ingredients (all except the water or juice). Shake the jar and add water or apple juice to thin the vinaigrette to the desired consistency. Salt to taste.
2. Combine all the salad ingredients except the pecans and toss with the vinaigrette. If you are going to eat it later, save the pecans on the side or they’ll get soggy. Saving a bit of the vinaigrette will freshen it up too as the wheat berries will absorb a lot of the dressing as they sit around.
3. Serve with the pecans sprinkled over top.
Now, with those leftover beets, do you want a recipe for beet muffins????  Cause I got one.
*PITA =  Pain In The Ass

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Why I Buy Local, Organic Food

On Tuesday I received another generous dose of delicious, organic and local vegetables from Jen Campbell, CSA farmer extraordinaire.  This past weekend, I also got my second of seven organic chickens from Sally Bernard as part of her chicken CSA.  I love that I am able to source local, organic food where I live. Not everyone is so fortunate. I recall meeting a lovely woman through the Breakthrough Leaders Program last summer that was from Arkansas. While she could see fields of crops for miles and miles in all directions of the city she lived in, she was want to find a local, heirloom tomato or grass-fed steak anywhere. Places that are best suited to industrial farming are often an abyss for those wanting to farm small-scale or organically.  Sometimes small IS beautiful!

But I digress...on to the subject of this post, which is a bit 'bigger picture' than my vegetable-specific posts as of late.  I just finished reading a book called 'The End of Food' by Thomas Pawlick, as part of my Holistic Nutrition studies. Actually, it a re-read, because this book was one of the first to open my eyes to the realities of our food system and the devastation it is wreaking on our environment and health. That was back in 2008 or so, and since then I've devoured several more books and watched numerous films that have educated me on the perils of the conventional food system. (Sidenote: If you want to encourage a friend or family member to think more about what they are eating and the food system in general, I would recommend they view Food Inc, as I've had several people tell me that was the 'turning point' for them in terms of how they viewed their dinner plate).  These books and documentaries, combined with my own Masters thesis research on the subject of local food systems, are the main reasons that I now participate in CSA programs and try to buy the bulk of my food from local farmers that engage in sustainable and humane farming practices.

I find I can engage most people in a positive conversation about buying food locally. This is what first encouraged me to carry out my research in this arena, because I really couldn't fathom trying to engage people in a cheery conversation about climate change, deforestation or water shortages. Of all the environmental issues facing us, I strongly believe that what we eat and how we choose to spend our food dollars represents the most significant individual impact any of us can have on the future we want to be a part of creating. It's also an issue that everyone can relate to, since we all have to eat!

Sometimes the conversations get a little dicier though. For example, if one is conversing with a person that is a big proponent of free market capitalism and views food as a commodity that is no different than a pair of sneakers.  It can also get a little challenging if the person has determined that the 'buy local and organic' folks are just a bunch of rich, elitist foodies that don't understand the economic hardships facing many grocery shoppers.  Finally, it can get a bit interesting when one is conversing with someone who has read opinion pieces or articles that proclaim there is no nutritional difference between conventionally-grown and organically-grown foods.

While I have stock rebuttals for all of the above arguments, it is the last one that I want to delve a bit deeper into in this post.  It ires me greatly that we have so little knowledge of the nutritional inadequacies that have been created through conventional farming. The tomatoes on the shelves of the grocery store today are most certainly not the same as the tomatoes I get in my CSA box, and they're not even the same as the tomatoes that were on the grocery store shelves 40 years ago.

So here is some food for thought on why, from a nutritional standpoint, we are best off buying local and organic produce, as well as local, grass-fed/free range meat and eggs:

Criteria for Growing

Here's an eye-opener from Pawlick's book, The End of Food. When considering what varieties of tomato to grow, conventional large farms that supply the grocery chains take several criteria into account. They look at which varieties are best suited to traveling thousands of miles under heavy weight (varieties with a thick skin). They also consider the yield the variety will produce, as this is obviously key to the profit-driven model.  Other criteria include the uniformity of the tomatoes (i.e. will they all grow to be the same shape and size?), and whether they will all ripen at the same time (important for most efficient harvesting).  What is most telling when you see the main criteria used by tomato producers is not, however, what is on the list, but what is missing. 

The two key criteria that are not considered important from the conventional, large-scale producers' viewpoint are:  taste and nutritional content.

Kind of crazy isn't it?

Now I don't know what criteria Jen C. uses when choosing the tomato varieties she plants, but I can tell you this - her tomatoes taste like tomatoes and feel like tomatoes should - sweet and juicy and soft.   They are never particularly uniform in colour or size, but that's what makes them fun! Some are suitable for a little solo snack, some are great for a big family salad.  Oh, and did I mention that those tomatoes you get at the grocery store were likely artificially ripened? Yep, that's right, unless they say 'vine-ripened' I'd place bets that they've been gassed with artificial ethylene to make them ripen, which means they were picked pre-ripe (i.e. green and hard).  Personally, I like it when Mother Nature ripens the fruits of her labour (and Jen's), rather than a big ol' gassing machine. 

I'd also like to note that it drives me nuts when people try to cite research that indicates conventionally grown produce has the same nutritional content as organically grown produce.  Gaaaah!!!  OK, two things.  First, the jury is out with respect to that research. Studies are conflicting and suggest that organic produce has more of certain nutrients and less of others when compared to its conventional counterpart.  Secondly, and much more importantly, I would like to argue that the base assumption of these research studies ignores a very, very important fact:  conventional producers and organic producers rarely grow the same varieties!! So if a researcher is looking at a variety of tomato that is typically used in conventional production and compares how this variety will fare under organic production, it's not particularly useful information to the consumer. A much more useful study would be one that selects five random varieties of tomatoes grown by organic farmers and pits them against five varieties most commonly grown by producers (if there are even that many varieties still being produced conventionally). I have a feeling the heriloom, organically-grown varieties would win out on taste and nutritional content.

Avoid/Minimize Chemical Ingestion 

This is the probably the most obvious difference between conventional and organic foods. One is doused with pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, while the other is grown using without the use of chemicals. 

Maybe it doesn't seem like a big deal to be ingesting these chemicals. After all, pesticide residues tend to be pretty miniscule right?  Well, to be honest, it depends on what fruit or vegetable you are talking about - avocados are pretty safe thanks to their hard, tough skin, but tomatoes and strawberries have an absorbent 'skin' and are amongst the most toxic-laden of conventional fruits and vegetables.

And, at least from my perspective, it is a big deal to be ingesting chemicals day in and day out. The more chemicals our body has to process, the harder it is for our systems to perform their normal tasks. The liver, in particular, gets a bad deal. As the toxin clearinghouse of the body,  it's gotta deal with all the bad stuff we eat, drink, smoke and breath.  Since the liver is also responsible for regulating blood, metabolizing fats, proteins, carbs, vitamins and minerals, regulating hormones, and over 100 other functions, the better we treat it, the better our health will be in the long run.

If that's not enough to convince you, consider these findings, as cited in Pawlick's book, The End of Food:

'In 2002, the US Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 2 groups of preschool children in Seattle to see whether eating organic food reduced their exposure to pesticides, such as those belonging to the organophosphorus group, that harm the brain and nervous system of growing organisms. The tests found that children who ate conventionally grown food had concentrations of pesticide residues 6 to 9 times higher than those who ate organic foods. The study's researchers noted that children exposed to high levels of organophosphorus pesticides are at higher risk for bone and brain cancer, and for childhood leukemia.'


For some, this is a controversial topic. It seems like most people are staunchly anti-GMO or staunchly pro-GMO.  Given what I've read and learned about GMOs, most notably the lack of independent studies done on them (FDA and Health Canada rely on studies produced by the companies that make the GMOs as a basis for judging whether to legalize them, which kinda seems like a huge conflict of me crazy), I'd have to say I'm in the anti-GMO camp.  While I recognize the potential application of GMO technology for good, I am not convinced that the companies at the forefront of GMO technology are particularly concerned about human or environmental well-being.  From a human health perspective,  my immediate concern is how these GMO foods might induce immune system attacks, since they are likely to appear to be foreign substances to our immune system. And wreaking havoc on your body with substances that it doesn't recognize is a big deal, trust me. If you want to know why, we should probably get together over an organic beer or two, cause there's much to say on this subject!

Since us consumers are still being left in the dark as to what products in the grocery store contain GMOs, thanks to lax labelling laws in the US and Canada, the best option for those of us that have not yet been convinced of the safety of GMOs is to buy locally, where you can ask the farmer specifically about the seeds s/he plants, and/or organically. Organic produce and meats cannot contain GMOs.  Wooot!!   If you really want to go totally GMO-free, I suggest following Sally Bernard's blog, as she is extremely knowledgeable about the subject and makes suggestions of what you can swap in/out of your pantry and refrigerator to make them GMO-free.  

Fresh is Best

Food enzymes are found in raw fruits and vegetables and are required for the digestive process. They help to digest the particular food that they are found in. If these food enzymes are destroyed by, for example, food processing, cooking or lengthy time between harvest and consumption (why hello California vegetables and South American fruits), then the body will be unable to properly digest these foods and malabsorption of its nutrients will occur. This can result in fatigue, allergic reactions and skin problems as well as digestive disruptions (e.g. bloating, constipation, etc.).

Nutrient content of vegetables and fruits also decreases after being harvested.

So, by buying local foods that have been harvested recently you are ensuring the highest nutrient content AND the highest food enzyme content. If you're eating vegetables and fruit for either the taste or nutritional content, then you best buy them locally whenever you can or you're going to end up paying a little less for foods that have a lot less taste and nutrition.

Healthy Animals = Healthy Meat and Eggs
Most of what I've said about organic vs. conventional foods up to this point has been focused on the plant kingdom, but the same principles stay true for animals and eggs.  Livestock that is raised naturally is going live a healthier, less stressful existence, thus be less likely to require antibiotics or become sick. Furthermore, animals raised on their natural diet and in a habitat that allows them to move around, as animals are want to do, results in meat that is lower in calories, lower in fat, and higher in omega-3 fatty acids (the 'good' fats).

The atrocities that take place in industrial meat production are too extensive and too barbaric for me to share in this blog post.  All I can assure you is that if there were glass walls around the chicken barns, pig barns, cattle feedlots and slaughterhouses, most of us would be demanding much higher standards of animal husbandry or considering vegetarianism. 

For the moment, I remain an omnivore, but I am now more dedicated than ever before to purchasing all of my meat and eggs from local farmers that I know and trust.  Again, I must say we are quite lucky on PEI to have options in this respect. Even the conventional beef, chicken and hog farmers on PEI, to my understanding, tend to provide their livestock with more room to roam and opportunities to forage. This is a rarity amongst North American farmers and can, to some extent, be attributed to the relatively small-scale of conventional farms on PEI compared to other locales.  If you are looking for local meat that has been naturally raised, there are several options including Sally and Mark Bernard (chicken), Ranald MacFarlane (Pleasant Pork - Summerside Farmers Market) and Bluefield Natural Products (beef and Pork). 

The End (Kind of)

Actually, the above post is really just a primer and barely skims the surface of reasons why buying local and organic food is a much, much, much better investment of your money than buying conventional foods.  I figure I've been long-winded enough and that anyone who wants further information can read The End of Food, watch Food Inc., or ask me for other books/films that zero in on particular areas of the food system.

Thanks for reading!  As a final note, I chose the subject of this post entirely on my own. Nobody asked me to compose this rant. It is not intended to rail against conventional farmers, but rather against the corporations, policies, and governments that have created the conditions for such a food system to emerge.  Further, I have noticed that amongst the organic and local farmers that I engage with, there is a great respect for farmers that are still utilizing conventional methods. I, too, respect many of these farmers (particularly ones in places like PEI and Vermont) and realize that many of them have become trapped within a mammoth food system that they are often indentured to through debt and capital asset ownership. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Radishes are Rad!

OK, the titles of my vegetable-inspired posts are getting a little ....erm..corny. Oh my. Did it again!

So until a few weeks ago I had no love for radishes, whatsoever, but then I had the great fortune of winning a place at the Culinary Institute's  Thrills on the Grill bootcamp.  Along with 9 other foodies/chef wannabes, I got to spend a full day at the Culinary Institute receiving instruction from Chef Ilona on how to prepare a number of dishes.  Many of them had tantalizing titles like Grilled Naan Bread, Beer Can Chicken and Mussels Steamed in Curry Maple Sauce, but there was one I was certain I'd not enjoy - Quick Radish and Cucumber Pickles. I have a great dislike for pickles, so I couldn't imagine actually enjoying this dish. Still, I like to be adventurous when it comes to food, so I decided to give it a chance.  So glad I did, because it was delicious and now I want to eat ALL the radishes!

Here is the recipe (I hope Chef Ilona doesn't mind!)

2 bunches of radishes
An English cucumber  (I've never actually included the cucumber when making this recipe)
4 TBSP sugar
4 TBSP vinegar
4 TBSP of salt*

* After receiving a number of questions regarding the salt content, I asked Chef Ilona if the ratio was correct. This was her response:  Yes, it is (the correct ratio). The reason being, I save the liquid (for up to 4 future uses) once I soak radishes for the allotted time. This brine also works well with cucumber, carrots or cauliflower(in italian it is called enslata renforzo). If people prefer to reduce the salt, feel free to take away a tbsp or two if desired, but brine must be discarded after, as bacteria/mold can grow in it.

Thinly slice the radishes and cucumber, place in bowl. Mix in the rest of the ingredients and refrigerate for at least 15 mins (or overnight).

Delicious and, as discussed below, radishes are super healthy!

What's So Rad About Radishes?

Breathe Easier

Radishes are thought to be a natural decongestant, so if you have respiratory problems such as asthma or chronic bronchitis, or just have a stuffed up nose, try taking some radish.

Cleanse Yourself

Radishes act as a natural cleanser for the digestive system by stimulating bile production, which keeps the liver and gallbladder operating efficiently. The liver, of course, is the body's detoxification centre. The importance of efficient detoxification to one's overall health cannot be overemphasized.

So you have a hangover eh? Why not chow down on a bowl of radishes and give your liver a lil 'thank-you' for putting up with your ingestion of alcohol?

Radishes may also help reduce bloating and indigestion.

Help Your Heart and Manage Blood Sugar

The nutrient content in radishes makes them very good for your heart and blood sugar management. They’ve been shown to lower cholesterol, manage diabetes and regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Support Your Kidneys, Prevent UTI

Radishes are cited as one of the most effective foods for preventing Urinary Tract Infections. For those with a UTI, drinking juice that contains radish may help relieve the burning sensation and reduce the duration of the infection.
 No Worries About Your Weight

Radishes are high in nutrients, low in calories, and contain water and fibre, which makes them pretty filling. By these measurements they are a great food for those concerned about their weight.

Those are only some of the many reasons that radishes are rad. Now stop reading this, go to your kitchen and make some delicious radish pickles!

Friday, July 12, 2013


Week 3 of Jen & Derek's CSA brought with it oodles of green-ness. I was admonished by Jen because I only brought one (big) reusable bag for the haul and it was clearly not enough to handle all that she had harvested for us lucky members.  Amongst the jewels that were in this week's share was a big head of something Jen called napa cabbage. When she saw the blank look on my face, she said 'It's Chinese cabbage'.  Oh. I nodded , as if the clarification had helped immensely, even though I still had no idea what to do with this big head of ruffly, pale leaves.

Cabbage has never been tops on my list of favorite veggies, but this particular variety has little resemblance to the big, heavy, round purple heads that most of us are more familiar with.  I figured a wee bit of research into its nutritional benefits might convince me of its merits.  Turns out, napa cabbage is yet another member of the rather large Brassica family (they might even have more family members than the Duggars!).  From my nutrition studies, I already knew that being part of the Brassica family automatically gave this vegetable automatic star status, but I dug a little deeper to find out just what its nutritional claims to fame are.


It's Baby-friendly!

Ladies, if you're planning to get pregnant or are pregnant, this head o' cabbage is for you.  Most moms-to-be know the importance of taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy to help protect against neurological damage to the baby growing inside, but how about enjoying some of that folate goodness from nature as well?   Napa cabbage, it turns out, is an awesome source of folate. So, if you're in pre-pregnancy planning mode or already carrying a little one, make sure you eat lots of cabbage leaves.

It just occurred to me that the napa cabbage leaves could make a pretty decent substitution for a tortilla wrap sandwich. Just bundle veggies and meat in a leaf or two and squeeze on some homemade dressing/sauce. Save the ice cream and pickles for those really hot days ;)

Photo Credit: Two Eat Philly, 2012

It's Not Orange, But It's Got a Lotta Vit. C!

Whenever someone gets sick, inevitably someone lectures them about 'getting their Vitamin C' (confession: I may have been said-lecturer on occasion).  It's good advice, if a little late for the sick person.  This vitamin supercharges your immune system and helps keep you strong and vibrant.  When most of us think of Vitamin C, we immediately think of citrus fruits like oranges, but there are plenty of foods rich in Vitamin C, including our friend, napa cabbage. 100 g of it provides 45% of your RDA. 

So eat your cabbage to help keep your immune system in check.

Eat Cabbage, Stay Strong!

Napa cabbage contains a decent amount of Vitamin K, which may play a role in keeping your bones strong and healthy.  In a nutshell, eating foods with Vitamin K may help delay or prevent osteoporosis and bone injuries.

Combat Cancer and Keep the Heart Healthy with Cabbage!

I have a feeling this is going to be a repetitive refrain throughout the summer, since pretty much every vegetable contains an amazing array of anti-oxidants that can help prevent cancer and also reduce  the risk of heart disease (often by reducing 'bad' cholestrol levels).  Depsite the prevalence of antioxidants in our lovely, organic vegetables, I think it's worth being reminded regularly of just how much what we eat (or don't eat) can help keep us in good health for the long term.  Vegetables are delicious and that should be reason enough to chomp on them every day, but the whole cancer and heart disease-fighting elements are a pretty amazing perk.

Cabbage Consumption Helps You Have Good Poos!
Yep, I bring up poop in a post about vegetables again. Can't be helped, since they're all so full of fiber and we know from those All-Bran ads that fibre keeps you regular (and not in the boring way, but the healthy bowel way!), and staying regular is the key to keeping toxins from sticking around in your body too long. 


As noted at the top of this post, napa cabbage is part of the Brassica family of vegetables, so the same cautions that apply to kale should be taken into consideration with the napa cabbage. That is, anyone with iodine-deficiency hypothyroidism should limit the amount of RAW napa cabbage they eat due to its goitrogenic potential (may block iodine uptake). Again, any sort of steaming or sauteeing will release these goitrogens and eliminate any issues that the food may pose for a person with hypothyroidism.

So, there you go folks, that's the lowdown on napa cabbage.  Enjoy it in abundance and revel in the fact that you are doing all the systems in your body a great service by providing them with foods that are full of valuable nutrients!

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Kudos to Kale

Kale, kale and more kale.  It's an inside joke amongst CSA folk that incites knowing laughter, regardless of who they get their veggie box from.   Sometimes, whilst waiting for the first signs of red and orange in our boxes, we can get a little overwhelmed with all the green goodness. Kale, with its curly green or purple leaves tends to stand out as the mystery vegetable - the one that no one seems quite sure what to do with. For some, the weeks of kale can be a bit daunting (I will note that we are in our second CSA week and kale was in the grab box only, so I may be exaggerating a bit here in terms of the abundance of kale in our boxes),  but isn't that the beauty of a CSA too? An opportunity to flex your kitchen skills and try all sorts of new dishes. This is what seasonal eating is all about!

For all the mystery that shrouds kale (let's face it, no one's Mom was making sandwiches with kale back in the day and Popeye was eating canned spinach, not kale chips), the one thing that everyone seems to know is that kale is a super food. In a classroom full of greens that would get straight As for nutrient content, kale would get A+s.   It's really in a class of its own!

OK, but what makes it a super food? What amazing powers will be bestowed upon my body if I treat it to kale on a regular basis?  Why should I bother with it?

I think of vegetables in the same way some people think about stocks and bonds - they are worth investing in, but you want to do your research first and get to know what it is you're 'investing' in. While I'd have to say that ANY organic vegetable is a wise investment for your current and future health, not to mention your taste buds, I'm the kind of person that wants to know exactly why I should be investing in kale.  I am also the kind of person that wants the nutshell version, not a long explanation that includes citations and reference to various vitamins, minerals and other abstract words. So, for those that are like me, here's  the low down on kale.

Photo Credit:

  • Helps Prevent Cancer - Kale has the broadest range of antioxidants amongst the Brassica family of vegetables, which are generally known for their cancer-fighting abilities. A diet rich in antioxidants is key to reducing the damage done to cells by free radicals.  
  • Guards Against Heart Disease - Kale has been shown to help lower cholestrol and is rich in vitamin K, which is generally recognized as a heart-healthy nutrient.
  • Full of Fiber - Regular poos help with detoxification of your body, which means fewer toxins get to stick around inside you wreaking havoc. 
  • May Help Protect Against Estrogen-Dominant diseases -  Kale contains a nutrient that may affect the way estrogen is metabolized by the body. This is especially important for those concerned about developing diseases such as breast cancer, fibroids, and endometriosis.
  • People with Underactive Thyroid/Hypothryoid Should Eat with Caution -  Raw Brassica family vegetables, including kale, broccoli, bok choy and Brussels sprouts, contain goitrogens which may interfere with your thyroid's ability to use iodine, thus suppressing its ability to regulate your body's metabolism and perform other important body functions.  The good news is that the goitrogens are released when kale is steamed or cooked, so you can still get a lot of the good stuff from kale, while avoiding the potential negative impacts.  Those with a normal functioning thyroid should not be concerned about eating Brassica vegetable in reasonable quantities, although it is probably wise not to overdo consumption of raw kale.
  • Too much raw kale can be rough on the digestion - Unless you're juicing it every day, you're probably not going to eat too much raw kale, but if you are eating it a lot and notice that you are experiencing bloating, gas or other digestive issues you might want to take a break from the raw kale to see if your symptoms subside.   Cooked kale is just fine, eat as much as you desire!

So there you have it folks. Multiple reasons to get creative with kale and show it mucho love for the gift of health it offers with every bite!

For ideas on how to prepare kale, check out the following recipes:

Kale Smoothies (careful not to have too many!)

Superfood Burger with Sweet Potato, Walnuts and Kale

Kale Chips

Kale Strawberry Avocado Salad 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Be A Green Machine!

This past Tuesday was *almost* as exciting as my birthday. It was the first week of our 2013 CSA box with Jen & Derek's farm.  This is my third  season as a CSA member with the Campbells and I consider myself fortunate to be receiving their beautiful, organic vegetables throughout the summer months and into the fall. 

Being healthy has never been easier than with a CSA box full of goodies, but until I began my holistic nutrition studies I never appreciated just how chalk full of medicine each and every box is. As Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine said 'Let thy medicine be thy food, and let thy food be thy medicine.'

This year I will be looking at my CSA box with a whole new perspective.  Obviously we all know that veggies are good for us, it's been drilled into us since we were children. But that's such a broad, unspecific platitude that I think its significance is often lost on people. I think we would be well served to understand how specific foods are good for us. What powers of prevention or healing do various vegetables hold? Why should we be so concerned about 'getting our veggies'?  

I'm a big believer in the power of education.  I think that the more knowledge we have about a particular subject, the more willing and able we are to make informed and inspired choices about our lifestyle or behaviours. I want do my part in this regard by sharing some of the knowledge I am learning about food as it pertains to our health.  I will therefore be blogging weekly or more often during my CSA season about the nutritional benefits of various foods that are in my box.  I promise I will do my best to make each post enjoyable, readable and relevant!    Watch this space for a veggie-inspired post soon!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I Found Burger Love

Yes, it's that time of year again, it's PEI Burger Love for the entire month of April. As if Islanders didn't already have enough reasons to celebrate the start of spring, we can now enjoy the sunshine, longer days and lack of snow while chowing down on monstrous burger creations from 31 restaurants across PEI.  Is it just me, or is 31 a little bit excessive? That's more burgers than there are days in the month! And yet, as I write this, I am certain that I have seen evidence on the Burger Love Facebook page that at least one crazy person (a guy, of course) has completed the burger marathon. 

I'm not going to lie, I was beyond excited about the debut of this year's burgers on April 2nd.  I even tried out for the role of Burger Blogger, which, sadly, I did not get! In retrospect, it was probably a good thing I didn't get chosen, as I'm not sure I could have written love letters (as per the blogger assignment) for most of the burgers I have tried thusfar. For those that are curious, here's a quick roundup of the Burger Love burgers I have tried:

Pilot House (Soul Mates) - In a word: meh.  I might have been slightly more enamoured with this burger if the gouda cheese stuffed into the burger hadn't burnt my tongue. Kind of hard to taste the burger once the taste buds have been singed, but I honestly don't think there were many flavours to be enjoyed anyways.

Daniel B. Brennan Brickhouse (Wall Street Heat) - Spicy and pretty damn good. This is my favorite of the Burger Love burgers I've tried so far. Again, however, my meal was almost ruined before it even began when I bit into the burger topper into my mouth. It was a piece of 'Fire and Ice' dipped in batter.  Ummm, yeah, so I think the name for this sausage comes from the fact that it lights your moth on fire and you have to fill your mouth with ice cubes afterwards. Luckily, I had only taken a small bite of the topper, so was able to salvage my tastebuds and thoroughly enjoyed the flavours of the burger itself.

Crosskeys (Senator Donair) - This is probably one of the most disappointing burgers I've ever eaten in my life...including fast food burgers.  The biggest problem with this burger was the patties themselves - they were extremely compressed, had a rubber texture, were dried out and had no taste. I only ate about a quarter of my burger.

Big Orange Lunchbox (The Ric Flair Donair) - A pretty decent effort by the BOLB. With 13 oz of meat in total, it was a bit over the top (I shared mine with someone else), but the tastes really mingled well together and the bun stayed together (woot!).  The only thing I found weird was that the donair meat was shaped into a patty, instead of shaved as one might expect.

Redwater Rustic Grille (The Butcher's Block) - This*could* have been 'The ONE' if only it had actually arrived at the table hot. Unfortunately, our table of 5 received five cold burgers. Four of us were so ravenously hungry that we just chowed the burgers down instead of sending them back to the kitchen. I enjoyed the chips on the burger and the braised rib meat stuffed into the middle. The flavours of the sauce were also really complementary. As noted above, however, the temperature of the burger made it a non-contender.

So that's been my official Burger Love experience so far. I've got three more dates lined up - The Lucy Maud Dining Room, Mavor's and The Olde Dublin Pub, but the truth is that yesterday I found myself not just one burger love, but two burgers loves. Neither of these true loves were part of the Burger Love campaign, which just goes to show that sometimes you've gotta search far and wide for a keeper.

And how did I come to find my True Love, or should I say Two Loves?

Well, it all started with a lunch date yesterday that was supposed to take place at Mavor's, but ended up being at the Young Folk & Kettle Black, a relatively new cafe on Water St (sidenote to my lunch partner - I checked and it seems that YF has only been in business since early 2012, as I suspected!).  It had been awhile since I'd been there, and there'd been some big changes. Most notably, Chef Robert Pendergast is now in the house!  Chef Pendergast was one of the wonderful chefs that contributed to the success (and deliciousness) of An Island MEAL by offering up his artisan bread for guests to enjoy. It looks like he's got a boulangerie set up at Young Folk, as well as a grill. 

Hamburger was on the menu, with a choice of Cheddar Onion or Jalapeno. To be honest, I wasn't that impressed. My lunch partner had insisted this burger was better than any Burger Love one, but how could that be, since it was basically just a cheese burger? My skepticism was short-lived.  The burger, served with a knife stabbed through the centre, was, quite simply, amazing. The burger itself was a magnificent hunk of juicy Island beef, filled with a flavour all on its own.  It was topped with cheddar and onion, along with a delectable homemade  ketchup that had a little zing to it, and mayo.  To top it off, the burger was encased in the most delicious burger bun ever - clearly an in-house Pendergast creation. I'd not normally rave about a bun, but this one deserves mention for its flavour, denseness and holdability.  This burger is goes above and beyond any expectations I might have had.  And it was $10 to boot (with a  lovely side that I can't quite describe).

My next burger love came only a few hours later. I know, crazy eh?  How could my stomach even manage another burger in the same day? I swear my digestive system's close to martyr status after a month of Burger Love and a dose of norovirus.  But back to my second burger love. As it happened, I'd decided that Wednesday would be 'try a new recipe' night and had my heart set on trying out a quinoa burger recipe. WTF is a quinoa burger you say? Well, it's a burger made with quinoa (basically a protein-rich seed that resembles rice when cooked), along with grated carrot, zuchini, mushrooms, garlic, eggs, cornstarch and cayenne pepper.   Anyways,  I was pretty excited about making the burgers, as I had received the nod of approval from Mr. Wonderful - he was willing to give them a try - a miracle in and of itself!

The burgers were super easy to make and I served them with sweet potato fries (baked, not fried, of course) and a simple green salad.  Charles topped his burger with mayo, and I topped mine with tahini sauce and a slice of tomato.  I was a little later sitting down to eat my meal, and was startled when I looked over at Charles' plate and it was completely clean. Holy shit, not only did he try the quinoa burger, he ate it all.  When I asked him if he liked it, he responded 'I liked it all!' Woot!!  I bit into my own quinoa creation and was delighted with the array of tastes and textures it provided. I'm not going to pretend it's anything like a beef burger, because it's not. That being said, not every burger need be beefy to be tasty.  I'm stoked to have added another delicious, healthy burger recipe to my dinner rotation. It's always a win, when I can stuff a serving or two of veggies into the main part of the meal! And, yeah, the leftover burgers held up well and served as lunch for both myself and Charles (solid evidence he actually did like them!).

For those of you that want to go beyond the beef burger, here's the quinoa burger recipe I used (I used two eggs, as I found just one was not enough to keep the mixture together). 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Practical Guide for Families that Want to Eat Good Food

A disclaimer: I am not a parent and my experience around children is quite limited. I therefore apologize if this work-in-progress guide does not reflect all of the realities that face today's parents, as they seek to feed their families good food, whilst staying solvent and sane.  That being said,  I want to help parents and caretakers in any way I can!  I truly believe what today's children (and tomorrow's) eat will determine, to a large extent, whether our species has the capacity to flourish in the future. I know that sounds kind of dramatic, but realizing that the vast majority of chronic diseases are directly related to our dietary choices, and recognizing the importance of nutrition to early childhood development (of both the body and the brain), has convinced me that each of us, regardless of our non-parent or parent status, need to find a way to bring real food back onto the plates of children (and adults too!)!

A second disclaimer: I am currently a student of holistic nutrition. I am sharing my knowledge and experience, some of which comes from my personal life/studies and some from the program I am enrolled in.  I encourage you to consult a qualified professional for any specific advice.

A Short Introduction

I am at that age where many of my friends are having babies or at least contemplating doing so. I also happen to be Auntie to a 3.5 year-old and a 1 year-old.  The 'aha' inspiration for writing this guide came from a high-school friend who updated her Facebook status with a note that she is trying to figure out what to feed her young (and adorable) twin girls. Having recently watched Food Inc. and Vegecated, this new mom began researching the world of food and came to the conclusion that she doesn't want to feed her children processed food and that there are going to be some changes in the kitchen!  But where to begin?!

It's not as easy as just saying 'OK, that's it, I'm done shopping at the Superstore. From now on we're only getting food at the Farmer's Market. And I'm going to plant a huge garden this spring, and make all the baby food from scratch, and we're never eating out at a restaurant again, and we're going to have to find a daycare where the food fits our criteria, and we're never letting our kids go to a birthday party because there's sure to be candy and if they ever taste candy, they'll never want to eat another green bean.'

Nope, it ain't easy eating green.  But it's not really all that hard either (and it's actually quite delicious)!  It's just the transition that is a bit scary  - that point where you know enough that you can't go back to the processed food-like products you used to eat, but you're not sure how you're going to manage introducing good food into your home. 

I can't say I can totally relate to plight of parents that are at this point, since I'm not a parent. On the other hand, I have been making these changes as a single (and then not-so-single) woman over the past three years or so. And over the past year and half, I've been devouring nutrition books in my quest to complete my degree in Natural Nutrition and become a registered holistic nutritionist.  I yearn to help people who are unsure of where to start on the journey to nutrition or how to continue when faced with challenges.

This blog post (and many more that follow), will serve as excerpts that, when compiled together, make 'A Practical Guide for Families that Want to Eat Good Food.'   My intent with this guide is to provide parents and caretakers with some guidance in their efforts to feed themselves and their children better.  I get the impression from watching and speaking with my sister that being a parent leaves precious little time to do so much as have a shower, let along spends hours upon hours researching the ins and outs of providing your family with good food.  I want to make it easier for parents, grandparents, and other caretakers to make the transition!

I would appreciate any feedback you might have regarding the contents - What am I missing?, What have I got wrong?  What have I got right?  What other questions are you looking for the answers to?

Without Further Adieu, here we go!
This Is A Journey,  Enjoy It

Before we begin, I want you to take a breath, relax and get comfortable with the idea that real change takes time to happen. All change is really a journey and, as such, you shouldn't expect to go from 'here' (the world of processed, unhealthy food) to 'there' (the world of good, nutritious food), overnight.

Just like a good meal takes time to prepare and cook, so too does shifting from one way of eating to another. 

There are going to be challenges along the way, no doubt. Times when Kraft Dinner wins the day or the Big M appears like a beacon in the dark night.  But there will also be triumphs. Like when you three-year old spots you picking up carrots from the local market and starts singing 'I love carrots, I love carrots!' or you find a bargain on duck eggs, pick up half a dozen even though you've never eaten them before, and proceed to discover duck eggs are the most delicious thing you've ever eaten (including chocolate).

So savour every part of the journey and, if you can,  try to bring some friends and family on board.

Many Quick Ways To Get Your Family Eating Good Food (and avoiding the bad stuff!)

Use the following list as your 'crib notes' and follow the hyperlinks (coming soon!) for further elaboration on each of these suggestions.

1. Locate Your Nearest Farmer's Market, Farm Stand or CSA Farmer (and stop there before going to the grocery store)

2. Use that Crockpot You Stored Away in the Basement

3. Invest in a Food Processor 

4. Buy Foods When They Are In-Season Where You Live

5. Don't Buy 'Foods' With More Than Five Ingredients

6. Plan, Plan, Plan (Your Food Budget and Weekly Menu)

7. Make Good Food Fun for Everyone!

8. Find Like-Minded People, Share and Learn From Each Other

9. Encourage Your Friends and Family to Get on the Good Food Bandwagon

10. Avoid the Biggest 'Bad' Guys in Food Town - GMOS, Hydgrogenated Fats, Sugars, and Food Additives/Colourings

End of Excerpt 1

Monday, February 25, 2013

Twenty One Days

Apparently it has been determined that 21 is the magic number. That is to say, it takes 21 days to form a new habit or quit an old one for that matter. If you can make it through those first 21 days, it'll be smooth sailing moving onwards.

To be completely honest, I'm not sure how much credence I give to this 21 theory. I think it makes a certain amount of sense, and I'm sure it's backed by science that demonstrates how the wiring in our brain takes precisely this amount of time to rewire itself to a new habit, but there's gotta be more to it than just 21 days, because I am positive that there are multitudes of people that have quit smoking for a month and then gone back to their old habits, and just as many that have embraced a diet for several weeks only to return to their pre-diet eating habits.  So there's got to be more to the establishment of  a new habit or the breaking of an old one than just the passage of time. Is it a matter of willpower? Perhaps it's genetics? Maybe it's about the level of support the person has from family and friends. Or maybe it has to do with how much the person actually wants to change. Maybe the factors of success vary for every person.

The 21 day theory has been looming large in my life as of late, as I embarked on a 3week elimination diet, as discussed in my last post. As it turns out, today is Day 21. The end is in sight, but according to the 21 day theory I should be ready to embrace all the diet changes I've made for the past three weeks and shed the old chocolate-and-cheese loving ways of days gone by. 

The reality, however, is a bit more complicated. You see, on the one hand, I have been feeling great and my cravings for sugar and dairy have diminished significantly. I've lost 7 pounds (for someone who has maintained the same weight for pretty much the entire past year, this is pretty significant), my digestive system seems to be working better, and I am pretty proud of not poisoning my body with sugar and other nasty stuff.

On the other hand, it is tough work not eating a tonne of the most common food ingredients or drinking social beverages with friends. (As an aside, I provided both amusement and embarrassment for friends recently when I snuck a can of Zevia - a stevia-sweetened pop - into a sports bar and poured it into my empty water glass).   Eating at home is easy, but having such a limited diet really limits one's social engagements.

So I am left uncertain of what tomorrow will bring.  Actually, that's not entirely accurate. I know lunch will involve the opportunity to eat a black-bean brownie (the nutrition students at UPEI put on lunches that the public can attend and tomorrow's lunch is a celiac-friendly one).  And did I mention that I have a few cupcakes leftover in the fridge from National Cupcake Day (fundraiser for the Humane Society)?  The temptations to return to old ways are great.  Still, being 7 lbs lighter and having awesome bowel movements is persuasive.  Not to mention all the other good stuff that's likely going on inside my body that I am unaware of. 

Tell you what, check back here in another 21 days and I'll let you know where I am!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Elimination - Trying to Walk the Walk

On Tuesday, I jumped in the deep end of the pool and started an elimination diet.  This means I am currently abstaining from all foods/beverages that contain the following:  alcohol, white/brown sugar, chocolate, caffeine, artificial sweeteners/flavorings, preservatives, wheat/gluten, cow products, peanuts, yeast, tomatoes, mushrooms and pork.  So far it's been quite an interesting and challenging experience, with ups and downs, cravings and thought of calling it quits. And I'm only on Day 3!!

Let me back up here for  a moment and explain how it is that I arrived at the point where I am willing to give up the foods I love the most ALL at the same time.  It started, of course, with a book. A very convincing book by Dr. John Matsen, called Eating Alive. Dr. Matsen is a practicing ND in Vancouver and has written several books focusing on the role of nutrition in disease/health.  This book is actually part of the curriculum for the nutrition program I am currently taking and is, thusfar, my favorite 'required reading'.   In his book, Dr. Matsen delves into the role and importance of our gut health in relation to disease.  The basic premise is that the foods most of us in the Western world eat and the combinations of foods that we eat at any given meal are destructive to our gut health which, in turn, is destructive to our overall health.  If our gut is not healthy,  it will affect the rest of our health.

There are several ways poor gut health can impact our overall health. For example, if we don't produce enough digestive juices (contrary to popular belief this is a MUCH more common scenario than overproduction of stomach juices) the lack of stomach juices will result in poor absorption of minerals.  Mineral deficiencies can lead to chronic diseases such as osteoporosis and kidney disease (amongst many).   Undersecretion of digestive juices can also hamper the breakdown of proteins, and then partially digested amino acids can be absorbed by the intestinal tract and cause all sorts of issues within the body, including chronic inflammation (truly the beginning of most disease). Finally, the stomach acid is meant to act as a natural antibiotic, if you aren't producing enough then bad microorganisms in the food you've eaten could get absorbed into the body and cause havoc.

The aforementioned list of foods that I am abstaining from have been identified as the foods we are most commonly sensitive to, and thus the ones that aggravate our digestive system the most and cause problems such as underproduction of digestive juices and absorption of partially digested amino acids that then cause inflammation int the body.   There are many additional foods that sometimes turn up as problems for people such as beef, carrots, eggs, pineapple, potatoes, strawberries, etc., but that list is very long and Dr. Matsen only advises eliminating this list of foods if you have a major disease.

Aside from eliminating the 'culprit' foods, there are several other elements to Dr. Matsen's diet. For the purposes of this blog post, I'll only mention one of these other factors, which is food combining. Food combining theorizes that our digestion is positively or negatively impacted by the food combinations we choose to eat at any given time, as some foods require different digestive enzymes to be broken down and if both are present they can neutralize each other. Some foods are also digested quicker, while others need more time to digest. Since the key is to have the most efficient and effective digestion possible, certain food combinations are discouraged. The biggest no-no in food combining is to pair protein with a starchy carbohydrate (think steak and potatoes).  Fruit should always be eaten alone and on an empty stomach (say as a wake-up, light meal). Protein and non-starchy vegetables are fine together (e.g. steak and a green salad), high starch with vegetables (e.g. lentil salad) as  are healthy oils paired with vegetables. Acceptable combination are high starch foods with healthy oils.

The gist of the elimination diet is to give the stomach a break from all the foods that might be aggravating it, and then after it has had time to return to good health and is functioning properly, the foods can be reintroduced one at a time.  The stomach, being in good condition, will be more sensitive to any foods that cause it aggravation and will signal you when it doesn't like a particular food.  As it stands, when most of us are constantly eating aggravating foods (and many of them in any given day), our stomach can't function properly, let alone be in the position to signal to us that it is having problems with a certain food.

So how am I doing so far? Well, as alluded to earlier in this post, it hasn't all be roses so far, but I have certainly noticed some differences in my physical and mental state.  Here's a summary of my experiences so far, including what I have done 'right' and what I've done 'wrong', as well as my physical and mental states at particular points.

Physical State

Going into this diet, I wasn't really suffering from any particularly notable digestive issues, or any major other health problems for that matter. Minor complaints would include my current weight (I want to lose a few pounds!), some moodiness, and some gassiness.

The first three days of the diet I noticed some subtle changes in my physical state. Firstly, I was having intermittent headaches. They weren't terribly bad, but certainly noticeable. I rarely get headaches, on average I'd say once a year,  so I was very cognizant of them.  Additionally I found I wasn't able to concentrate very well.   In terms of my digestive system, I noticed that I wasn't at all gassy, until I made an error and ate fruit shortly after a meal.  Finally, I noted that I was having more (and easier) bowel movements.

Over the past few days, the headaches have disappeared and my concentration is better. The gassiness is still present on occasion, but better than pre-diet, and the bowel movements continue to improve.

A note re: the initial headaches and lack of  concentration - these are classic symptoms of withdrawal from foods that the body is sensitive to. Sounds weird, but it's true! The foods we are most allergic/sensitive to are the ones we tend to be most addicted and whenever we stop eating them, we experience withdrawal symptoms initially (and often we address these by eating more of the addictive and allergy-causing food!).

Mental State

I already touched somewhat on my mental state in the descriptor of my physical state, merely because the two are interrelated and our brains/minds are as sensitive to changes in our diet as other parts of our body.  That being said, I want to share another aspect of my mental state during the past few days and that is with regard to my willpower/motivation.

To be perfectly honest, my motivation has ebbed and flowed. There are many times I've wanted to quit. Especially when I reviewed this list of eliminated foods on my first day and discovered pork and tomatoes amongst the banned foods. How had I missed this before?! Two of my favorite foods and staples in everyone's diet. No tomatoes for my salad, no bacon for an easy lunch salad. Sigh.

It's also hard to find motivation, I think, when one is not suffering from serious health issues at the outset of an elimination diet. If you experience dramatic changes in your health during the first week of an elimination diet, it certainly provides some motivation for continuing. Fortunately, I wasn't in this position of ill-health, but it certainly has made it harder to convince myself that I 'need' to do this and that it's worth the sacrifice.

Thusfar my willpower has stayed quite strong. Despite lapses in motivation, I've done my best to stick to the plan. The only errors I've made were accidental. Oh and that one piece of bacon I couldn't resist eating yesterday.  Ahem.

What I've Done Wrong and Right So Far

I'll start by listing my mistakes, it just makes more sense to me:

  • Didn't do a big shop before starting diet to prepare for changes to my meals
  • Didn't look up recipes that I can use while doing the diet
  • Didn't realize until Day 2 that the almond-coconut milk I was drinking was NOT the unsweetened version
  • Ordered salmon sushi at Mr. Sushi, which turned out to have cream cheese stuffed in it (no description in menu) and then proceeded to eat California sushi roll with soya sauce that contained wheat (lesson learned - no point in eating out during this diet).
  • Didn't consider how I would deal with issues like low motivation, being hungry and offered foods that are no-nos, etc.
  • Forgot to drink water with lemon on the weekend mornings (good for digestion)
  • Ate fruit too soon after/before a meal
  • Did not drink enough water
What I've Done Right So Far
  • Stuck to the diet
  • Told other people that I'm doing this, so they don't offer me foods I can't eat
  • Started looking up recipes and trying new ones (cue lentil burgers and quinoa dishes)

The 'wrong' list is deceivingly longer that the 'right' list, but that's just because it's easier to pinpoint specific errors than it is to list all the times I got it 'right'! 

Anyways, that's where I am right now. Let's see how I get through this week, which brings with it a Valentine's Day potluck and visitor from NB! 

Monday, February 04, 2013

Not Wanted

I must start this post by noting that it is, in many respects, inspired by my dear friend and mentor, Rob Paterson. I am so fortunate that during my years at UPEI, our paths crossed. If it weren't for Rob  quite bluntly advising me not to take a job in the government post-university, I might never have embarked on the travels and adventures that marked my twenties and helped to shape my understanding of the world.  Rob excels at seeing emerging patterns and understanding paradigms, and the underpinnings of them. As of late, he has focused much of his energy on creating a must-read e-book series, which challenges many of our conventional beliefs about everything from employment to health to financial management.  The first in his series, You Don't Need a Job, was published last October and is available for purchase on Amazon.  It is an excellent read and much of what I have written about below represents my own take on some of the things Rob discusses in this book - my vantage point being that of a GenX/Yer (I'm on the cusp!), whilst Rob writes as a baby boomer, who has come to recognize that the world  he grew up in and the one his children were raised in, is disappearing.  I hope that some of you will take the time to read Rob's book as well as my post below.


Societal norms and expectations tend to define the destiny of a generation. For those of us belonging to Gen Y or the Millenia generation, the expectations seem many - we're to go to university, travel the world, get married, buy a house, get a car (or two), have children, look after our parents in their old age, and so on and so forth.  Some of these expectations are ones that have been passed on from our parents' generation (get a house, get married, have kids), while others are relatively new. There is, however, one expectation that is so pervasive it need not be spoken of and that is the expectation that, after schooling is done, one shall get a job.

A job, many would argue, is not a societal expectation, but rather a necessity of life. For how is one to earn an income without a job? ( That is not a rhetorical question, it is one that has an answer.)

And so those of us in our 30s and 20s have been indoctrinated by society (most notably the school system, government and our parents) to believe that we need to get a job. And not only that, we've been raised to believe that if we just work hard, go to post-secondary school and harness our ambition, we'll be rewarded with a 'good', 'secure' job.

There are two problems, in my opinion, with the above noted promise. First - it's no longer the case that a degree of any sort will get you a job. In fact, degree or no degree, the prospects for a decent, secure job have basically been extinguished. Secondly, a 'job' is not really much of a reward.  If we can accept the second proposition, then the first becomes moot.

I don't think I need to spend too much time convincing anyone that getting a decent job is extremely difficult for most young people these days, but let me touch on this briefly for those that care to believe young people are just a bunch of lazy, whiny kids with an inflated sense of entitlement. The fact is, this is an inaccurate portrayal of today's young people. I'm not saying there aren't some lazy folks and some that think they are entitled to certain things, such as a cushy job, but I reckon there have always been these sorts of people throughout history. Heck, one need look no further than a federal government department stacked with grey heads or the tenured faculty at a university to see examples of an over inflated sense of entitlement from the baby boomer generation.

My purely observational analysis, however, is that the large majority of young people will either move to Alberta and get a job totally unrelated to their education or interests, or move back in with their parents (or share a place with roommates) and work whatever job they can manage to get whilst applying on every single decent job posting they see.  These are the underemployed.

Maclean's magazine recently published an article entitled 'The New Underclass' which discusses the challenges facing young people in today's workforce at length.  While the unemployment rate amongst youth hovers around 15%, the article suggests that the bigger issue that this stat doesn't capture is the percentage of young, educated people that are vastly underemployed. I need not look any further than my own workplace, where our summer students boasted 6+ years of post-secondary education and were making less per hour than I was at my co-op work terms 10 years ago, when I had only 3 or 4 years of post-secondary education under my belt! Then there are the friends that have Masters degrees coupled with undergraduate degrees that jump for one short contract job to another, never getting the chance to actually put to use their critical thinking, research, writing or technical skills. And if you think I'm just talking about the folks with degrees in English Lit or Art History, think again. I have several friends with Masters degrees in the Sciences that are struggling to find work. Heck I even know a rocket scientist who can't land a job in the nation's capital and certainly not for lack of trying.  A huge waste of talent and knowledge coupled with discouragement and despair is the real story behind underemployment.

Still don't think it's all that bad out there in the marketplace? Peruse the online career sites and maybe you'll realize just how few jobs there are. A recent browse of Career Beacon and the Job Bank suggests that people with +10 years of managerial experience/technical experience as it relates to a particular job might have some luck. Those that are willing to work shifts at a call centre or fast food restaurant may also 'get lucky'. But for the majority that don't fit into either of these categories, the options are pretty bleak At least for those that have been led to believe that getting 'a job' is the key to a happy, secure life.

And this brings me to my second argument, which is that getting a job is, for most people, the most hazardous, life-depleting thing they could ever try to achieve.  Before I get any further into my argument, let me note that there are some people who love their jobs.  They often have a lot of autonomy over the parts of their job that they are most passionate about and tolerate the parts that they don't have as much autonomy over. For example, some people absolutely love teaching, and their classroom time provides great fulfillment, while administrative tasks are merely tolerated. But, let's face it, most of us don't wake up every morning full of excitement about the prospect of arriving at work (even those of us that have a decent job). So, for the rest of us, is a job really a good way to spend most of one's waking hours?

The short answer, in my opinion, is no, for the following reasons (and others):

1.  You Get Stuck Utilizing One or Two of Your Many Potential Skills 

Almost all job environments now employ the Ford model for mass assembly production.  People and machines, alike, are expected to carry out one or two specific tasks.  This, in theory, will result in higher efficiencies in production due to the lack of complexity involved whilst reducing wage costs (after all, anyone can be trained to do one or two things!).  Now maybe I'm being a bit unfair with this assertion. Certainly, in any given day, a person may be asked to write a briefing about something, respond to client inquiries, attend a meeting, and prepare for a presentation to clients, but by and large most jobs are comprised of one or two main tasks and any other tasks that befall the employee often utilize similar skills.

The problem is that once we've mastered the skills of our job, things get kind of boring.  You reach the point where you can't really improve any more, and the novelty of showing off your skill has worn off completely. People aren't even impressed any more.  It's probably around this time that you start to wonder if, in fact, you actually have any skills beyond the ones that you've been using for your job or if you have the capacity to develop any new skills at this point. And so, you plod on in your job, feeling grateful that your specialized skill is still in demand, while at the same time feeling diminished and defeated.

2. You Spend Money Just to Have a Job

Yes, your job delivers you a salary every second week, but have you ever considered the costs associated with your job? Individual circumstances will determine your 'costs of working' but could include - transportation/commuting costs (bus fare, gas, parking, etc.), costs of work clothes, childcare costs, money spent on lunches that wouldn't otherwise be spent (at one of my jobs in a big insurance company, the only option for hot food was the cafeteria..there were no mircowaves or fridges for employees to use), etc.  These costs can certainly add up.

There are other costs too - costs measured in time.There is, for example, the time you spend commuting to work (add this to the number of hours you work in a week to figure out actual hourly wage after accounting for traveling time). There's the time it takes you to get ready for work, time you need to unwind after work, time you are thinking about work while not at the office, etc. 

All of the above does not even take into account the number of years you've forgone an income in order to get an education so that you'd be qualified for your job and the associated tuition.

So, at the end of the day, on top of the taxes you pay, there are a lot of other costs to having a job. Do the math and figure out how much you're actually making at your job. Here's a helpful link to a book that sets out the calculations., it's called 'Your Money or Your LIfe'. You'll have to scroll down the page until you get to step 2:

3. You Don't Have the Energy or Time to Grow

Looking back on my life, I can see that most of the times I've been able to invest in personal development, try something new (such as training for a half marathon), enhance my education and skills, or truly enjoy doing something I love (writing and reading), I've been jobless. I've either been travelling, which affords great opportunities for self-development and big chunks of free time, or I've been studying, which also allows for a flexible schedule and tends to open one up to a lot of new things, via the classroom as well as new social networks.

I'm not saying that having a job means one is destined to be stuck in a rut forever, but rather that having a job (that you don't love) does tend to deplete your energy levels as well as the time you can devote to other things in your life. Once you factor in spending time with family and friends, doing chores, exercising, eating, and sleeping, there's precious little time to do much else, and rarely are you afforded big chunks of free time.  Aside from your vacation time, of course, but most of us use that time just to recover from the energy-drain of the job we're away from.

Energy comes from doing things that ignite your passion, things that make you smile and might even make you giddy on occasion. I don't believe humans are emotionally or physically built to withstand the day in and day out of working an office or labour job that doesn't energize them.

4. It's Not As Secure As It Seems

The appeal of a job is, I believe, in large part that it offeres stability and security, a predictable routine and assurance that the future will be similar to the present.  Us humans tend to be drawn to security and stability like moths to a flame. The entire agricultural revolution, after all, was founded on the desire to have stocks of food for the future and avoid famine.    There are few that would feel comfortable with the notion of not knowing what their income will be in the next month or the one that follows.  We want a guarantee that the future will not be scary.

Well, I got news for you...except it's not really news, but rather a reality check: today's job environment does not offer even the remotest sense of stability or security.  Gone are the days of company pensions and 'permanent' positions, to be replaced with the offer of a 'flexible' workplace and contract positions.  Although I've not surveyed my friends or fellow grads, a mental review of their current employment statuses, suggests that the majority are working at temporary or contract positions and many of them are underemployed.

Instead of bargaining for better pensions or striking because we want more vacation time, Gen Y and the Millenials tend to repeat the following refrain often: "I'm just grateful to have a job."

Sidenote: It is, in fact, this sentiment which has driven me to write this blog post, as I feel the youth of today deserve better than the leftover scraps that the Babby Boomer generation is willing to offer up by way of entry-level-with-no-chance-of-promotion-and-no-security jobs. Young people have and always will be the greatest source of vitality, optimism and innovation, regardless of the era, and they deserve the opportunity to be heard and accounted for.

5. You Won't Pursue Your Dreams

 I believe that most of us, when we are teenagers or young adults, want to make a mark in the world. We want to contribute to the legacy of humankind, we want to make a discovery, or provide great leadership, write a novel or design spectacular homes. Whatever our dreams may be, it seems to me that far too often they get put on the back burner as time marches on. We convince ourselves that we cannot pursue our dreams until we reach some particular financial status or job status, which we then spend our entire lives in pursuit of just so that we can be 'ready' to carry out our dreams.  Most will either never reach the financial or job status they want to, or will convince themselves once they've reached that goal that they are too old or that they actually should have set their goal higher.  It's not a terrible fate, to be fair, as we can find happiness is the gifts that each day brings, from sunsets to good wine to being with the ones we love. But wouldn't it be fabulous if we could have those sources of happiness AND spend some of our time carving out a legacy? To be sure, the world needs as many dream-weavers as possible today, given the state of the environment, the arts, human rights, health and so on.  A job rarely affords the opportunity to pursue one's dreams, and often they get lost in the mix.

6. It's Unhealthy

I've come to the conclusion that having a job is detrimental both to one's mental and physical health. Now, every job is different, and surely some are health-promoting, such as that of a yoga teacher or perhaps a professional gardener, but by and large our jobs destroy our health through various means.  For those of us that sit all day at a workstation, there's the emerging research that suggests sitting for long periods of time is as detrimental to our health as obesity. There is growing concern that our inactivity as a society may be detrimental to the health of individuals, productivity in the workplace and the overall well-being of society.  Yikes.   It's also well-recognized at this point that stress is one of the greatest contributors to a myriad of Western diseases that afflict us, from haert disease to insomnia to cancer.  Stress can be insidious and, in my own experience, stress tends to  be rooted emotions of discontent and anxiety that one might experience, for example, when not happy with their job or concerned about losing their job.   Workplaces do not tend to encourage healthy eating habits either.  Coffee is the office worker's best friend, and sugary pastries are commonplace sights at morning and afternoon breaks. Often we eat at our desks or while on the road, certainly not a model for encouraging good digestion, as research shows that we digest best when relaxed and in social settings.  There are plenty of other ways a job can be unhealthy for the mind, body and spirit. Each person will be affected differently, depending on their unique circumstances, so perhaps it's worth taking a moment to consider how your job is impacting your health and how your health might be different if you didn't have to go to your job every day.

This Is All to Say...

There are so many reasons that a job should not be the first or only means by which we consider earning a  living.  We must explore options beyond 'The Job'. The Job is a relic of the past. Unfortunately, because it did well by our parents, the Baby Boomers, we have been raised to believe that it is the only path to a secure, good life. But we are not living in the same world. We must turn our attention to the world we are living in today and the world that is being shaped, for this is where our future lies.    If we cling to the idea of getting a 'good job', we will undoubtedly be disappointed and discouraged as we pursue contract after contract and, in the process, lose sight of all the skills and knowledge we have to offer the world. There is nothing more destructive the future than a dis-enchanted generation of young people.

It is, therefore, up to us to embrace the new world that is emerging and accept that our livelihoods will not be tied to a job in the future. We will not have the same security that our parents did. We may not have the same financial stability they did(or we may), but we will have the opportunity to earn an income free from the confines of being a cog in a big machine. We will have more opportunities to create, to innovate, to utilize our skills and continuously develop new ones. Most importantly, we have the unique opportunity to be ourselves and be confident that being authentic is to the new world, what being highly educated was in the old world: an in-demand quality that will take you far.


 But How Do  You Survive Without a Job?

You will survive without a job, because, quite frankly you are unlikely to have any other option. With few to no jobs available, you will have to adapt. But this is not something to fear, this is not a crisis point, rather this is a chance to create a life and livelihood that are in sync with your desires and skills.

But I digress, you want practical answers to the question of how you will pay rent and buy food. A reasonable demand, I daresay. Well, I'll give you a earn your income by selling your skills within a network. There is much more I could write on this, but I will defer to my good friend, Rob Paterson, who sheds much light on the opportunities that await us in his book, You Don't Need a Job. You can also browse his blog, it's full of valuable insights about this and other subjects.

You also learn to live within your means. It's easier to live within your means, when you aren't burnt out from a job that you don't get contentment from.  I lived on very little when I was travelling through Australia. I did a thing called Help Exchange, whereby you exchange your labour for room and board with families.  I'd spend 3 to 5 hours working and be fed three meals and given a warm bed to sleep in.  I stayed at one place for a month and spent less than $60. I had so much free time and I filled it with reading, running, good conversations with the family I was staying with, contemplation, and much more.  I'm not saying you can survive life by dong Help Exchange, rather I am saying that as you move into the New World and accept the conditions of it, you will come to treasure the free time it provides you. You will be less likely to turn to spend money on expensive 'escapisms', on entertainment that would have distracted you from your discontent in 'The Job.'

Not Having A Job = Having Life Energy

Over the past few years, as I have sought to learn more about myself, about the world around me, and as of late, about health and nutrition, I have come to conclude that life energy is an extremely precious resource. We are all  born with an abundance of life energy. Somewhere along the way, that energy starts to dissipate and with each choice we make in our life to follow the path society dictates rather than the one our heart desires, our energy lessens.

 The job is probably the biggest source of energy depletion for most people, and yet we all scramble for jobs and most can't imagine not having a job, which, I must emphasize at this late juncture  in my post, does not equate to not working . Rather, not having a job means having more autonomy over your daily choices as to how you will earn an income, it means being able to utilize various skills to meet the needs of various clients, it means feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment when you complete work and are able to deliver it, it means  not having to deal with poisoned organizational environment and office politics, it means being able to see how your work impacts others' lives, it means feeling good about how you are earning an income, and it means having a great deal of life energy so that you can go out into the world and do great things.  When I look around me, it seems to me that the people I know who are working for themselves, whether by farming, managing musicians, or making pottery, are the ones that smile the most often.

I think we are entering an era where we might be able to break away from the shackles of the industrialized Ford model of work that deplete us of life energy, and instead sustain and even increase our life energy stores by doing various  projects for different clients, by innovating, by creating our own work schedule and our own expectations.  When we feel powerless and uninspired we lose energy, when we have autonomy and are doing something we enjoy, we gain energy. I believe the world would be a better place if more adults had the life energy that we did when we were younger.  And I believe this world is within our grasp, if we only choose to reach out and embrace it.