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A New Appreciation

Yum!  I just finished breakfast and am in a really great mood.  One of the unexpected benefits of this eating local project is that I have come to really appreciate everything I eat.  Over the months, and especially now in deep winter, I have developed a tremendous appreciation and gratitude for the food I consume every meal.  This is in part because I have to ration some things, in part because I am an active participant in procuring my food, and in part because I can picture the faces and know the stories of the people produced who produced it. 

At this time of year, for example, the chickens have slowed their laying, and right now eggs are precious.  The latest batch I purchased from a farmer on one of his rare winter visits to the city.  I met him on a street corner downtown, standing in the cold and bought the eggs (and a few other items) out of the back of his pickup truck.  It almost felt like buying contraband!

Fruit, other than apples, is worth its weight in gold to me right now, and I savour every mouthful of the canned peaches and pears from my pantry while making mental notes to put away far, far more next summer.

Other items are extremely hard to source at any time.  Spices, for example.  There are no spices grown in Ontario – that I know of anyway – and after a long ethical debate with myself, I decided to include fair trade organic versions of staples I cannot easily substitute: pepper, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, ginger, nutmeg.  I’m sure a few others will come up as my pantry stock of conventional luxuries dwindles.

This, of course, is cheating if I want to be absolutely strict with myself.  Only using local items would force me to find local alternatives to these imports, and alter my recipes accordingly.  Certainly the pioneers managed, and to the best of my ability, I am doing the same.  For example, I have found a source of locally made organic sunflower oil and have replaced my staple olive oil.  The sunflower oil has a nice flavour and since I use butter for cooking, I’m not missing the olive oil at all.  That may of course change come salad season. 

But there must be so way to find a sustainable balance in this globalized world.  I can live without year round pineapples or mangos, but there’s nothing that I have come up with that will easily substitute for pepper, chocolate or cinnamon, and life without these items is just less pleasant.  So I buy the fair trade organic versions, and treat them like the rare luxuries that they are. 

 These items are not cheap, and I have had to search high and low to source them.  Chocolate is easy to come by, but the spices are still quite a challenge.  Last week I went to Guelph, which has several stores retailing Equita spices (www.equita.qc.ca/engl/products/spices.htm), the only company I have found that brings fair trade organic spices to Ontario.  And they are only available in Guelph and Toronto.  Since driving to either city just to buy spices seems to defeat the purpose, I had to wait weeks – until I was traveling there already – to restock my spice rack.  And when I finally got there, the store only had cinnamon and nutmeg in stock.  This leaves me continuing to carefully ration my last couple of ounces of black pepper.  Perhaps my trip to Toronto in two weeks will yield better results.

A lot goes through my head when I look at these little bags of spices, now proudly displayed on my spice rack.  As I research the life experience of those who cultivate these and other foods for our almost completely unconscious consumption, I wonder how it is that we have become so divorced from the process of sustaining ourselves.  How has it come to be that I can gorge on exotic fruit mid-winter, yet never stop to appreciate it because I know I can just go out and buy more?  Is this really a good thing?  Of course the main concern is sustainability and ethics, but setting that aside for a moment, does this seemingly endless bounty really add to the quality of my life?  Considering how much pleasure and excitement I am deriving from a simple 30g bag of sustainably and ethically produced cinnamon I waited weeks and traveled hours to get, I would have to seriously question this.  Maybe there’s more to being a hunter gatherer than just gathering.

Over the holidays, while visiting friends, I ate my first orange in at least six months.  I swear I have never tasted anything so wonderful.  I had always thought it strange that, not too many decades ago, children were given oranges at Christmas, a gift they received with great excitement and relish.  Now I understand their simple joy completely.  

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2 Responses

  1. This is a really nice entry and raises so many thoughts, not least about the relationship between food and time and the rituals of eating. Part of the reason why we don’t think about eating is because, well, we don’t think about eating. I never take time for proper lunches, for instance, but eat, hunched over my desk, reading or typing. At night, if tired, we eat in front of the television. Since Sophia, though, we make a point of dinners en famille, with candles and it feels like having recovered some “lost” time with each other. (Do you know Margaret Visser’s Rituals of Dinners, by the way?)

    I am betraying some ignorance here, but what is the difference between the slow food movement and the sort of ethical “locavore” shopping that you’re doing? Is slow food to do with genetically modified food? I suppose I could google it, but I suspect your answer might be better informed…

  2. What is the difference between ‘slow food’ and being a locavore? Good question… I’ll have to think about that for a minute.

    OK, let me take a stab at differentiating. These are very similar concepts but the philosophical emphasis is different. Slow food is a movement that started in Italy in the 1980s. It’s about maintaining local cuisine and culture, about enjoying food, about slowing down, tasting and enjoying, about community and pleasure. So I’d say the focus is as much on cooking and enjoying as anything else. I suspect slow food allows non-local ingredients if that makes the recipe better, but I’m not 100% certain of that. I’ll have to ask some slow food types I know. When I attended a party hosted by the president of the local chapter of the slow food movement, the food was fantastic and based predominantly on locally available items in season. But I’m fairly certain it was not 100% local.

    Being a locavore is more about focusing on where your food comes from than how you prepare it. As I am not much of a chef, I would have to say that I’m much more of a locavore than a slow foodie. I prepare my food based on simplicity and ease, not culture, tradition and creativity. Most slow foodies would probably be horrified by what I do with what is in my fridge and pantry. But it is virtually 100% local, as that is what is important to me.

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