Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What can we do?

It was lunch break at school today, and I looked at my Facebook, to see what was new and going on in my friends lives. The first three or four posts I saw were four separate people sharing links to stories about environmental and food related issues. The first one was referencing an item under review with the provincial government where farmed salmon can be classed as organic.(scroll about half way down the article to read the transcript) I almost flew through the ceiling. I am not a fan of farming salmon in ocean pens, and it is not unusual for me to fly off on a rant about the practice. All the things that are controversial about this industry and now trying to pull the wool over consumers eyes about it being "organic" is appalling. The second post linked another issue before the provincial government in which it would over ride the Freedom of Information law banning reporting on farm disease outbreaks. One would face stiff penalties for releasing this information. So would a fish farm worker be potentially jailed for talking to the media about a sea lice outbreak or an investigative blogger fined for reporting about a chicken farm having an outbreak of an illness where the animals have to be destroyed. Shouldn't our food producers be transparent with what is happening at their operation. Do you want to buy sustenance for your family from such a hidden process? I then read about other changes and cuts that the federal government are implementing to Environment Canada and there budget for research and development. This letter from an ex- Environment Canada employee who had lost her job due to budget cuts. It is a great read from someone who has inside information. Finally I read a article prepared on behalf of Elizabeth May, the leader of the federal Green party, as well as the only Green Member of Parliament in Canada. It breaks down the hidden budget changes that are going to reduce the amount of environmental concerns when regarding resource development and extraction. It includes changes to the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act and the Canada Seed Act, which transfers the responsibility from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to a "authorized service providers" eg Monsanto looking to see if any farmers are using their patented G.M.O. seed without buying it (even if the seed has blown or transfered by animal from an adjacent farm)

I lost my mind and I wanted to write this blog, swearing and cursing about what our government is doing to us, supposedly in our best interest. I absolutely do not trust what the government is doing in regards to our food system and our environment. I believe that the two highest levels of government are using the "economic downturn" as leverage towards the interests of multi-national corporations in the name of job creation. Now that the Harper government has a majority, they seem to be systematically wiping out all that stands in the way of "progress" and "economic growth", whether it be a wood duck, cutthroat trout, chinook salmon, humpback whale or sage grouse. Our opinion doesn't matter and any National Energy Board decisions can be reversed by cabinet. I am all for job creation, economic prosperity, good health, debt reduction by a smaller government. I am not is favor of selling out our country, ruining our environment, polluting our water, spending tax dollars subsidizing oil, gas, Big agriculture, and mining.

I decided that a positive spin on this frustration would be more productive. What can we do? How can we change? How can we trust what our elected officials are doing "for" us? I am by no means an expert. I can rant and blog about the "right" way to do things, but I am not living a "no impact" life. I drive, I buy food from around the world, I do not have a large garden. I do wish to use this blog and some of my research to help expose someone who may not know about these issues. I think a lot of people do not know the facts, not because they don't care, they just might not have the time or the venue for such exposure.

I did see a positive link on Twitter today. The city of Richmond is banning G.M.O. crops from being grown in the city limits. G.M.O. crops have been laboratory modified to create plants that have genes that are disease resistant, produce bigger yields or mature faster. These plants also may have unusual proteins that are not digestible to humans and animals, making them less of an actual food. This is a great step, and I wish that more municipalities would adopt this mentality, especially in area rich with agriculture. The Comox Valley should take note.

I would suggest starting small in making changes away from an industrial food system. You can start by reading labels at the grocery store and note the ingredients in the processed foods. Something like 80 percent if all processed foods contain some ingredient derived from corn, not just the whole grain, but something that has been chemically processed and separated form the kernel. High fructose corn syrup has been commonly linked to obesity, and it is used as a sweetener in an amazing amount of products, from soft drinks to salad dressing. The fast food industry has fattened their pockets on the backs of this tax payer subsidized mono-culture farming of corn. Learn about it.

Locally grown food may be limited at certain times of the year, in my area tomatoes, for example, are not readily available in the winter unless they come from Mexico. Local food that is fresh in my area during the winter isn't that exciting looking when shopping at the supermarket. Learning what to do with a cabbage, a turnip, kale, and potatoes can be kind of boring. Try taking one day a week to make a local only meal. It will allow for some research to find a good recipe, a trip to the farmers market, and a wonderful weekend evening meal. Make it a family event.

Plant a garden. A garden doesn't have to be on an acreage, teeming with towering corn plants, squash vines, bean and pea tripods, and vast beds of greens, berries and root vegetables. Just because you can't grow enough to sustain yourself completely doesn't mean you shouldn't grow something. A couple pots of soil on a deck can grow tomato plants and some herbs. A 4X8 raised bed can be filled with your favorite seeds and produce quite well. Put a fruit tree in the back yard. A tree can take a few years to establish good fruiting, but once they get growing, they will perennially produce delicious edibles for eating fresh or preserving. Find out if your municipality will allow one to have a couple of laying hens in the back yard. Fresh eggs are great, and hens are pretty easy to keep. Learn to forage too. Depending on your location, wild berries, shellfish, mushrooms, and greens are available. I forage for stinging nettles in the spring, oysters in the winter, berries in the summer and mushrooms in the fall. If you are not sure of what to pick, find a mentor to show you the ropes, especially with wild mushrooms. Foraging is a satisfying hobby, kids love it and will get your family out into nature and away from the T.V.

Buying meat from anywhere but a local farm should be avoided. The majority of grocery store meat is from C.A.F.O's or confined animal feeding operations , where the animals are fed an un-natural grain based diet, laced with antibiotics to fatten them quickly, kept in confinement standing in the excrement of dozens of other animals. These are horrible places and I have a hard time eating grocery store meat with out picturing these conditions. Even if the package says organic, it doesn't mean it is right.  Again, the farmers market is usually chock full of meat producers all year long. Talk to the farmer, ask questions. Look for words like "grass fed" and "free range" and ask if they do farm gate sales. This would suggest the producer is open to guests and run a transparent operation. Also, commercial fishers are a great source for local, sustainable, healthy wild food. Salmon, halibut, crab, prawns and shellfish are readily available in coastal areas, they are a wonderful ingredient to build a feast around, and have great nutrient and calorie content. I would also class farmed fish in the category of C.A.F.O. animal, and I personally avoid it all together.

When I first got interested in where my food was coming from, I read a pile of books. I will include a list of some of my favorites at the bottom of this blog. I truly believe that self education is essential in figuring out the best way to feed your kin. Based on what the government is pulling, do you really trust what the are telling us to eat? The food industry is a multi-billion dollar lobby to the governments of both Canada and the U.S. I worry about the links between our collectively failing health and what we put in our mouths. But that is not for me to tell you about. I am full of opinion, and while I would be happy to share those, you need to figure out what works for your situation. Eating locally and sustainable can be more expensive than buying your ingredients from a box store, the box store doesn't include the true costs to the environment and the subsidies of your tax dollars to fund a unhealthy food system (which include the oil industry. Read about it). Incorporate a non-fiction book about food into a book club or share one with a family member. The more on board with bucking the corporate trend, the better.

Home preserving is something that I wrote about before, and it is a fulfilling way to keep fast spoiling fruits and vegetables, as well as meats. You can enjoy local homemade apple sauce in January, or summer caught salmon smoked for a Christmas open house. Canning, smoking, and properly freezing is an enjoyable past time. Do it as a group effort, with friends or ask to learn from someone who is more experienced. You could also barter with someone who has the time and equipment to smoke some fish that you purchased, in trade for some of the product. I have done this myself, smoking and canning for family members. It works really well for me, and I want to do more of it.

I hope that I put a more positive, simple way that an individual can make a difference and not to support the things that "the man" is pushing on us. Do your due diligence and learn the fast, make informed decisions, and share with others who may not have been exposed to these issues. Walk, read, talk, share, love, be a good friend and neighbor, leave your car at home once in a while and get involved. Thanks for reading this long blog. I had a lot to say. Enjoy the links at the bottom. (I own several of these book and would be happy to lend out, it interested contact me.)

Omnivores Dilemma by Micheal Pollan.
A perspective from the industrial food system, organic farming and hunter gather. A true must read.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
Explains the rise of the fast food industry and its influence on our food system. Also see the film version

Food Inc by various authors
A compliation of essays from a number of authors, best know from the movie of the same name.

Don't eat this Book by Morgan Spurlock
Spurlock famously ate nothing but McDonalds for 30 days for his documentary "Supersize Me" This is the book of his voyage into unhealthy.

The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith
Lierre Keith was once a vegan for 20 years and her spiral into poor health was reversed once she introduced animal products back into her diet. A great look at how the body utilizes the food we eat and how the government food pyramid isn't necessarily the best way. (nothing against vegetarians or vegans)

The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
Robb Wolf is a proponent of the Paleo diet and he explains how your body uses different proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Similar to Vegetarian Myth, but lighter and easier to read.

The Survival Podcast
covers preparing for system collapse and talks about farming, permaculture, shelter, preserving and alternative fuels. Not for everyone, but I really enjoy it. Catch the Lierre Keith interview.

The Edible Valley
A podcast featuring yours truly and Chef Jonathan Frazier. We cover the food culture of the Comox Valley. Content is limited at this time, but follow along for what the future holds.

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