Doing the right thing

When I was a kid, I thought I had a good idea about what it meant to do the right thing. When you are a child the world is black and white, full of absolutes. Then as we grow older, there are shades of grey. At least that is how it has happened for me.

I have so many things that I would like to pay attention to, it becomes hard to prioritize. Take grocery shopping for example. Should the food be:

  • organic
  • fresh, (not frozen or canned)
  • local
  • within my budget

If I focus on all 4 of these criteria, grocery shopping would be an impossible task. Life is about compromise. So I have to decide which of these 2 are going to be my main target. Usually fresh and budget win out and if I can add either of the other 2 it is a bonus.

When I discover a tool that lends me a helping hand I get pretty excited. Someone, or even groups of people have done all the legwork to make my life easier. Here are a few that come to mind:

Eat for Healthy Oceans

The David Suzuki Foundation has created this page and included videos, recipes and information about sustainability.

From the book Beneath Cold Seas: the Underwater Wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, © 2011, text and photography by David Hall.

From the book Beneath Cold Seas: the Underwater Wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, © 2011, text and photography by David Hall.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

The author and her family take you on a year of living sustainably. The book is full of inspiration, techniques and guidance. Take as little or as much as you like. This poster shows you what is fresh, during which month of the year.

avm-poster

Eat Local – British Columbia, Canada

Edible Communities

These wonderful magazines are an inspiration of content, beautiful photography and rich resources. Seek them out if they are available for your city.

Canadian Organic Growers

Vancouver Farmer’s Markets

Too much

Tuesday night I saw a movie called “Forks Over Knives”. I am not one to blindly accept what I see on TV, but if the facts being presented in this movie are true, (I will research more to determine my thoughts on that), then my family and I need to examine our intake of animal protein and processed foods.

My husband likes to point out that humans are omnivores. We are meant to eat both plants and animals, but the actual definition of the word is more than that.

Omnivores (from Latin: omni, meaning “all, everything”; vorare, “to devour”) are species that eat both plants and animal material as their primary food source. They often are opportunistic, general feeders not specifically adapted to eating and digesting either meat or plant material primarily. Many depend on a suitable mix of animal and plant food for long-term good health and reproduction.

Opportunistic is a word I like here. To me that means variety. We are not meant to eat either plants or animals primarily. Now let’s look at the definition of whole foods:

Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed. Whole foods typically do not contain added ingredients, such as salt, carbohydrates, or fat. Examples of whole foods include unpolished grains, beans, fruits, vegetables and non-homogenized dairy products. Originally all human food was whole food.

If you ask our collective common sense, and seek the wisdom of our ancestors, the answer will surely be that the current Western diet has way too much processed food and way too many animal products. So, if you want to link our current health problems to this highly processed, high animal protein diet, I can’t imagine too many people would disagree.

But we are really talking about too much. Do we need to eliminate animal products completely, if their consumption provides a sense of joy and happiness? Or should we limit the total quantity?

Should we eliminate all processed food? (I personally think yes), but that is not realistic either. It is not possible for the most wonderful tasting French croissant to be made without a great deal of high fat content butter and refined flour. Occasionally, a warm bakery treat is pure joy.

So why do we collectively find it so difficult to limit ourselves? In the movie, Dr. Douglas Lisle’s research and conclusions were presented:

The Motivational Triad: the pursuit of pleasure; the avoidance of pain; and the conservation of energy. Unfortunately, in present day America’s convenience-centric, excess-oriented culture where fast food, recreational drugs, and sedentary shopping have become the norm, these basic instincts that once successfully insured the survival and reproduction of man many millennia ago, no longer serve us well.  In fact, it’s our unknowing enslavement to this internal, biological force embedded in the collective memory of our species that is undermining our health and happiness today.

The movie explains this hard-wired concept further by showing pictures of a human stomach and the receptors that tell our brain “I am full”.

  1. With a large, (volume) meal of plant-based whole food that is say 900 calories, the stomach is full and all the receptors communicate that to the brain.
  2. But if you change the meal to be more than half of the calories to be animal protein, (a typical meal) the stomach will not be full and the signal will be a feeling of dissatisfaction.
  3. If you consumed 900 calories of pure fat, the stomach would be so empty it would feel like you only drank a glass of water. (We all know how drinking a glass of water does very little to make us feel full, despite what our mothers told us.)

The solution then, is amazingly simple. Go back to the Canada Food Guide if you need a reminder. For women aged 19 to 50 it recommends servings per day:

  • Vegetables & Fruit – 7 to 8
  • Grain – 6 to 7
  • Milk and alternatives – 2
  • Meat and alternatives – 2, (a serving of meat is considered 2.5 ounces or 125 ml)
  • 30 – 45 mL (2 to 3 Tbsp) of unsaturated oils and fats

If you eat one restaurant meal per day, you would be eating far more than your allowable meat and fat content for the whole day, in one sitting. It is safe to say that most of us are eating too much of the stuff we should be limiting and not nearly enough of the good stuff.

It helps every now and then to say these things out loud.

Lessons from the Colorado Rockies

Getting out of bed at 4am is never fun for me, no matter what the reason is. But arriving at my destination without spending a whole day traveling makes that sleep sacrifice worth it.

This was my first time to fly into the Vail airport. It is a nice little airport for being tucked away in the high mountains. The opulence of the terminal really speaks to the wealth in the Roaring Fork Valley.

It is misleading to look around at the peaks without the knowledge of the elevation. At over 8,000 feet the Rockies do not tower over the area with the same look as they do in Banff. And if it were your first time at that elevation, you might be concerned more by the low thud of a headache and shortness of breath.

Truffle Fries

There is no lack of excellent food choices and even the most ordinary items have been elevated to a new level of decadence. Good old fries are coated with parmesan and truffle oil, mac’ and cheese is made with truffles and the most decadent cheeses. Even the most unassuming establishments have had to raise their game to attract the highly discerning tastes of this consumer.

The same goes for hotels. Our first night was at The Osprey in Beavercreek. Every need is taken care of by the staff with a friendly smile. The rooms feature the most modern, high-end convenience a person could dream of and the beds are fit for royalty. It is a truly fantastic perk to be able to stay at one of these Rock Resort properties.

In the village there is an ice rink that is kept covered from the heat of the sun to allow summer ice skating. Everywhere you look there is another treat for the eyes. If the sights provided by mother nature are not enough, there is extensive landscaping and highly ornate architecture to please.

A short drive down the Interstate took us to the town of Aspen. In the summer one might think that the off-season would keep everyone away and the emphasis on guests would be relaxed. Of course that is not the case in this resort. The walking streets are spilling over with places to sit and relax with food and drink. Music is heard wafting through the air ranging from live instruments to popular recordings. Fountains of water erupt from the ground in amazing sequences, as if choreographed by a musician.

Aspen is a great escape from reality. There is no evidence of all the modern social problems usually present when groups of people live close together. That makes for a pleasing break from reality, but one always feels as if something is missing. It almost seems to be a computer generated reality that has stripped out every possible detail of unpleasantness. Of course that is not possible. There was a board covering a store front and upon questioning it was revealed that a person was thrown through the window a few nights before during a drunken bar fight that spilled out into the street. Stuff like that happens, even in Aspen.

All in all, either one of these communities would be a great place to live and enjoy the best of mother nature and most times, the best of human nature. Unfortunately, very few of us will ever visit, let alone live there. Downtown living in Aspen and Vail require financial resources that are the privilege of very few.

An interesting experiment in community planning would be to take some of the greatness of these towns and apply it to communities with a lower-income base. A few ideas spring to mind:

  • What would it take to remove wasted front lawns and have flowers, vegetables and fruit trees?
  • Can some back lanes or even streets be converted to walking only?
  • In communities with speed limits of 50km or less allow neighbourhood electric vehicles?
  • Why not allow special licenses to sell fresh foods in communities, right in the middle of the walking streets?
  • What about the resurgence of the old English pubs where everyone walks instead of driving cars?

Reflecting about this trip on the flight back to YVR, it would be nice to take some learnings from the Colorado Rockies and re-create a little bit of that charm, here at home.

The new frontier

When I learned about Will Allen in the movie “Fresh“, it was one of those moments where you ask yourself, am I finding this kind of stuff because I am more aware, or is it all new? In this case, as in many others, these efforts and ideas are relatively new. Yet they are part of a new frontier of sorts. What attracts me are the ideas around, not only  changing the old rules, but changing the game entirely.

WHO • WILL ALLEN, 61

MISSION • To promote urban gardening, particularly in low-income neighborhoods where people might not otherwise have access to fresh and healthy food. “I want to be part of the revolution that changes how we grow, distribute and eat food so that the process is healthier for people and the planet,” Allen says. He started Growing Power—a greenhouse complex that cultivates organic food and teaches people how to produce their own—in Milwaukee in 1993. He also operates farms in Chicago and rural Merton, Wisconsin, and has teamed with Michelle Obama’s program to fight childhood obesity.

Essentially what Will Allen has done is create a way to produce a large amount of food in a very small space, (2 acres), employ people who need work in a very fulfilling and rewarding way, and extend himself to teach as many people as possible how to do the same.

For me, Will Allen is one of my heroes. And I am teaching my kids that these kind of people should be treated with the respect and admiration that is normally reserved for rock stars.

Fresh: the movie

Every now and then a movie, or a book or a news report comes along and just rocks you. I have watched this movie twice and I keep it active on my iPad, just in case. It is one of those pieces of work that seems to have been made just for me.

Instead of a movie with complete shock value of how bad the world is, there are examples of everyday people making the world better. Really inspiring stuff.

The director of the film, Ana Joanes has a list of 10 easy ways that you can live a more sustainable lifestyle!

  1. Buy local products when possible, otherwise, buy organic and fair-trade products. Ask your grocer or favorite restaurant what local food they carry and try to influence their purchasing decisions. You will support your local economy and small farmers, reduce your exposure to harmful pesticides, improve the taste and quality of your food, and protect the environment from fertilizer and pesticide run-offs.
  2. Shop at your local farmers market, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and get weekly deliveries of the season’s harvest, and by buy from local grocers and co-ops committed to stocking local foods.
  3. Support restaurants and food vendors that buy locally produced food. When at a restaurant, ask (nicely!) your waiter where the meat and fish comes from. Eventually, as more and more customers ask the same question, they’ll get the message!
  4. Avoid GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)! When buying processed food (anything packaged) buy organic to avoid GMO. (Since almost all the soy, corn, and canola in the US is genetically modified, over 70% of all processed food contain GMOs from by-products of these grains.)
  5. COOK, CAN, DRY & FREEZE! Our culture has forgotten some of the most basic joys of cooking. Not only is cooking at home better for you and more economical, but it’s an invaluable skill to pass on to your children.
  6. Drink plenty of water, but avoid bottled water when you can. Water bottles pollute the environment and bottled water is often mere tap water. Plastic is harmful to your health and to the environment. Buy a reusable water bottle and invest in a good water filter.
  7. Grow a garden, visit a farm, volunteer in your community garden, teach a child how to garden. GET DIRTY! Have fun!
  8. Volunteer and/or financially support an organization dedicated to promoting a sustainable food system. Stay informed by joining the mailing list of the advocacy groups you trust.
  9. Get involved in your community! Influence what your child eats by engaging the school board, effect city policies by learning about zoning and attending city council meetings, learn about the federal policies that affect your food choice and let your congress person know what you think.
  10. SHARE your passion! Talk to your friends and family about why our food choice matters.
Fresh: The Movie – check out the trailer.