SO. Last night I went to that talk I was telling you about — thereby braving both the rush hour bike traffic on King West, and the nervous feeling that comes when you show up to something and realize you stick out like a sore thumb. In my case a soft, pasty, meat-eating thumb, slightly tipsy on cider. I don’t think anyone at Patagonia liked my eyelet lace crop top, or my mullet skirt. But in I went.
My earlier hunch about snacks being provided was correct: there were apples and bowls of trail mix on offer. Yay, dinner! I manged away, and the talk began …
First we watched a video about Foodshare, a program that works with schools to teach kids how to feed themselves. Community gardens, cooking classes, food ed … they do all kinds of cool stuff. Then Chef Brad Long began to speak. He was wonderful to listen to, instructive, pragmatic, and calm. He described his upbringing in the 60’s, a time when humans were really divorced from food — where it came from, what it was made of — and believed that cooking was women’s work, and that farming was dirty work. Isn’t it funny how things change? My generation absolutely fetishizes food and farming; we want to know the name of the pig whose belly we’re eating, whose grandmother pickled those peppers, and where that wooden bar top was reclaimed from. To us there’s nothing more noble and worthy than farming, nothing sexier and more glamourous than cooking. That’s why big food corporations now use terms like “hand-crafted,” “homestyle,” “artisanal,” and “natural” to sell the same bullshit processed food Chef Brad was surrounded by in his childhood. Back then, artificial was a good thing, and processed meant safe. Now they’ve got to stretch their marketing muscles to keep us shopping for their products.
But Chef Brad is in no way an alarmist or an extremist. When he said, “You don’t have to stop shopping at Loblaws,” I breathed a sigh of relief. He advocates balance, buying seasonally, forming relationships with farmers/vendors, but also being reasonable. Food is fuel, and sometimes you just have to eat what’s at hand. That is, he reminded us, why fast food was invented.
Next, Debbie Field spoke. She’s the executive director of Foodshare, and comes at things from that perspective. She spoke a lot about the health (read: obsesity) crisis in North America, and made a very salient point which is that as much as we’d all love to live in a food utopia, many people can’t afford to buy organic or free-range anything. Having said that, it’s important to teach kids how to nourish themselves. According to her, she’s just tapping into the excitement about food that kids already have, and that she’s “never met a kid who didn’t like cherry tomatoes.” I found this a bit hard to believe, since my relationship with fresh vegetables essentially began at age 18, but maybe if I’d been gardening at school and had had the chance to taste the veggies of my labour, things would’ve been different.
There was a question period during which this super-annoying girl said she was concerned about buying local because local things are often not organic, and she was worried that even with the organic certification, chemicals might still be getting into her food, especially apples because they’re so thin-skinned, and she was frightened of GM foods … finally Chef Brad looked at her and said, “What are you so afraid of?” I could’ve leapt up and cheered. We live in a dirty, dirty world, and pesticides are pretty low on the list of Things That Are In the World That Will Kill You. Chef also made a great point, which is that if anyone should be concerned about the long-term effects of pesticides, it’s the farmers who breathe them in all day.
The man next to me raised his hand, and told us that he has one of the healthiest diets on earth, and everyone in the world should eat like him. His two superfoods of choice? Chia seeds and grasshoppers. I actually read a feature in the New Yorker last year about how insects could be the solution to global hunger, so the idea of eating bugs isn’t completely foreign to me. However I still had a bit of a giggle as I imagined this guy grinning self-righteously as he ate his delicious daily dose of crickets.
In the end, attending this event reinforced what I already knew, which is that critical thinking and moderation are my BFFs. No one is going to map out the correct route for me, at the grocery store or anywhere else. I left with two good new bits of info, as well. One is Debbie Field’s hearty recommendation of the Dufferin Grove farmer’s market. I live really close to it but have never gone to check it out. I resolve to do so as soon as this abysmal flood abates. The other thing I learned is that there’s a plan afoot to uproot the Ontario Food Terminal in favour of — you guessed it — CONDOS. Come onnnnnn. Can you say short-sighted and money-grubbing?? So I’m going to write a letter to someone. My MP perhaps? I’ll keep ya posted.
Happy happy Friday afternoon to all,