Read the essay or watch the video.
This is my mission statement - this is why I write this blog.
Use Your Superpower
Food Choices to Change the World
Why I Eat What I Eat
Wait a minute, aren’t you a vegetarian?
Oh so I see you’re eating meat again? When did that start?
Won’t you eat this chicken? It’s organic.
I saw grass-fed beef at the grocery store. You’d eat that, right?
These are the types of questions and statements I get about my food choices. When asked if I’m a vegetarian I generally answer “mostly”. The real answer? I am a conscious omnivore who makes food choices based on ethics.
I eat animals that are raised the way they are supposed to be raised - healthy and with integrity to their species.
So...you’re not a vegetarian? What are you?
(People love to put people in boxes, and get pretty confused when they don’t fit).
So why do I eat the way I eat? Why don't I lie and just tell people I'm vegetarian? Why do I eat what's put in front of me sometimes, but not others? And why, dear reader, should you care?
Well if it helps, I care how YOU eat.
Your food choices impact your world, my world and the world we share.
Choices, Choices, Choices
We all are faced with a plethora of choices about which products to consume (I’ll stick to food for now).
Cheap, gourmet, organic, free-range, antibiotic-free, local, imported, seasonal, frozen, fresh.
I think that’s why a lot of us go for the cheap option and leave it at that. To ponder the other consequences and ramifications of our food choices takes effort and results in conclusions many of us don’t want to face (or don’t think we can face).
I eat what I eat (right now) because of ten years of questioning, reading, researching, tasting, growing, a little farming, consuming, learning and living. And please note my preface of “right now”.
Maslow’s Theory of Evolutionary Hangry-ness (Wait, that’s not it…)
I challenge you to come up with anything more important or significant in our lives than the food we eat. It’s our number one primal need. It comes before shelter or love. Food is the difference between life and death. In Maslow’s “Theory of Human Motivation”, which you may remember as the pyramid of human needs, “needs arrange themselves in hierarchies of pre-potency. That is to say, the appearance of one need usually rests on the prior satisfaction of another, more pre-potent need.” (5-6).
That’s food and water right there at the bottom. Since it’s the foundation of human needs “it is then fair to characterize the whole organism by saying simply that it is hungry, for consciousness is almost completely preempted by hunger.” (Maslow 12). We could say that Maslow is basically proposing a theory of evolutionary hangry-ness. You know, when you suddenly become so hungry that you get angry too (hangry!). That’s because our number one physiological need for homeostasis isn’t being met! And that’s just one hour at the mall.
Imagine true hunger. Could you?
Without food “the urge to write poetry, the desire to acquire an automobile, the interest in American history, the desire for a new pair of shoes are, in the extreme case, forgotten or become of secondary importance” (Maslow 12-13).
And food has somehow become such a mundane and love-less part of our lives.
As a consumer on the quest to become conscious, start with food. We consume it all day everyday - at home, in the car, on the bus, at work, on patios, in bars, on the couch. Eat drink eat drink. It can often being a disturbingly unconscious process.
Stop for a minute and think about that. Our number one human need for life has become unconscious. A non-choice. A nuisance. What a luxurious world we live in! That we don’t have to think about food for every waking second!
But “Women’s Liberation” and $1 Burgers are Great!
This evolution on the industrial food complex has made way for many other pursuits. Getting women out of the kitchen more, allowing us to pursue hobbies, arts, technology and other pleasures...right? Michael Pollan explores feminism and women in the work force in his most recent oeuvre Cooked. Though a reasonable assumption would be “that the entrance of women into the workforce is responsible for the collapse of home cooking (...) the story turns out to be a little more complicated, and fraught” (Pollan 183).
Food has become so cheap that we can feed our families take-out for next to nothing. In many, many ways this “normal” food system has lifted a huge burden off of us. But when it comes to eating, consumption activities have overtaken production activities to a point of absurdity - “there are now millions of people who spend more time watching food being cooked on television than they spend actually cooking themselves” (Pollan 3).
That $1 hamburger.
How is it even fathomable that it should cost so little? Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you never will. But allow me to tell you a story.
Once upon a time there was a bun. Made of? Wheat, sugar, water, yeast, additives. Wheat grown from seed in a 1000 hectare field, sugar grown in the form of corn on an even bigger field. Months of growing, tending, watering, fertilization. Human hours and solar energy transformation (photosynthesis). Harvested, transported (fossil fuels), processed, transported (fossil fuels), sold, reprocessed and added to the sugar that was grown and imported (fossil fuels) and the yeast (cultivated) and the water in a factory. Baked (fossil fuels), packaged and/or frozen (plastics), shipped (fossil fuels), eventually ending up hundreds of miles from where any of the ingredients were grown to the fast-food joint (or hey, maybe the exact same town as the ingredients were grown). Think about the amount of human hours! Farmers, truck drivers, factory workers, more truck drivers, purchasers, cooks and employees. All of that solar energy, fossil fuel energy, man power and labour hours.
And it costs $1?!
(That’s just the bun).
This system is not “normal”.
I write “normal” with quotations marks because this food system is only about 50 years old. (Compared to 10,000+ years). Our “normal” food system was born from the wide-spread industrialization of world war 2 and is now only a few generations old. “Cooking is no longer obligatory, and that marks a shift in human history, one whose full implications we’re just beginning to reckon” (Pollan 128).
What is the true normal human food system?
It’s one of a local, seasonal diet. Not one of exotic ingredients preserved with chemicals compounds.
It’s one of farmers practicing rotational crop farming and one where livestock live in symbiosis. Not one where farms are called “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” (CAFOs).
It’s one where Dairy cows and breeding sows have names, not one where they live their lives in “gestational crates” being impregnated by artificial insemination.
One where food is cooked over a fire, boiled in water, baked in an oven, and made with care by a human - not one where “commodity crops”, “food ingredients” and “additives” are combined by machines in a sterilized factory, before being “cooked” in a microwave oven.
I invite you to rethink “normal”. It’s not normal for a hamburger to cost $1. It’s not normal to buy fresh bananas year round. It’s not normal to spend less time on food preparation than we do watching TV. It’s entirely new. It’s space travel. It’s deep sea exploration.
We are all test subjects in this trial study of nutrition.
I am not going to change this system over night and I’m not naive enough to think that I could. But awareness is the key to change - in our bodies, our homes, our communities and the world we all share. Waking up to the choices around me was my first and most important step. And you know what? It was easy!
I started looking at where produce comes from in the grocery store. I read labels! This was a huge one for me! When I first starting reading labels in the grocery store people walked a past me like I was crazy!
I decided that before I bought a product, even if I knew I was going to buy it, I would read the label.
I became familiar with ingredients. Aware that “food additives”, as classified by the Canadian Food & Drug Act, do not have to be listed in order of content (11). Aware of the omnipresent high fructose syrup (often corn or soy, whatever commodity was cheaper the day they placed the order).
Becoming aware of the food we choose to buy is completely within everyone’s abilities! We are all capable of reading labels and taking an extra few seconds to see where a product has been imported from. If you’re anything like me you will find the label-reading process surprising and enlightening. And you’ll wonder how you ingested these products for years without reading what’s in them.
Go ahead and have the burger. Pay a glorious $1. But be aware.
This journey started ten years ago for me - an enraged 15 year old writing high school zine articles about water depletion by coca-cola. (The first boycott. It garnered more teasing than actual change...although that just fuelled my fire).
It’s led me through boycotts and experiments with cutting out food, led me to Ecuador eating fresh from the farm to St Lawrence Market and places in between, led me to discover what works for my body and what truly does not.
The way I eat (right now) is a sum of those parts.
It’s a conscious love-filled part of my life.
We are all on a journey with the food we eat. Many of us are developing allergies and intolerances or learning what causes us to feel bloated, unwell and gain weight...this is a trend not to be ignored.
I care about what YOU eat and you should too. It literally dictates your world (your body). It impacts my world (my community). And on a macro level it shapes the world we share (our global food system).
Use your naturally ordained superpower of consumer choice.
Change the world in favour of health, ecology, and sustainability.
Read on for examples of how I eat, ie how I vote with my consumer dollars.
Or, skip to the conclusion.
The Way I Eat
Meat (or, the main source of confusion for those around me)
Ethics: I believe animal protein should be consumed only if the animal lived a healthy & humane life. The meat I choose to consume is all of the following:
true free range1
fed what they have evolved to eat
1 There is no national standard or definition of free-range currently (in Canada). That means any advertising can contain claims of “free range” and two different brands can have wildly different standards. When I say true free range I mean raised the way the animal should be raised, representing their natural behaviour and living conditions. This is extremely hard to find and is only attainable through building relationships with butchers and farmers. Personally I would not trust any grocery store meat labeled as “free range” without serious research into production.
2 Organic in Canada includes being raised in an organic environment eating feed that is also certified organic. It also contains loose guidelines for access to outdoor pasture and grazing, which is better than non-organic animals but still not good enough! See Section 6.1.3 of Canadian Organic Production Systems, General Principles and Management Standards:
1) calculated on the basis of dry matter intake, the consumption of grazed forage by ruminants that have reached sexual maturity shall represent a minimum of 30% of the total forage intake; 2) consumption of grazed forage shall rise above 30% during high forage growth periods;
a minimum of 0.13 ha (0.33 ac.)/animal unit shall be devoted to grazing. [One animal unit = one cow or one bull, or two calves, each 102 to 227 kg (225 to 500 lb) or five calves, each less than 102 kg (225 lb), or four ewes and their lambs, or six does and their kids]; b) Other livestock, including poultry, shall have access to the outdoors whenever weather conditions permit; c) Winter-only production of poultry is restricted to operations that are able to comply with land-related requirements for the specific livestock type, regardless of the time of year (see 6.13.9);
We can see that “access” is not specified. It paints a picture of happy chickens lazily walking from barn to field. But there’s no reason that this isn’t a 12x12’ hole in the wall leading to a fenced dirt run. Be aware. Question everything.
Where to Shop: Whiteveen Meat’s, St Lawrence Market
Exceptions: Eating meat at religious/traditional holidays (passover, for example), or as a guest of someone who doesn’t know my food choices. There’s a huge difference between food choices and food tolerances - I am lucky enough to not be allergic to a whole lot, so I will eat what’s put in front of me.
Fish & Seafood
Ethics: I do not eat any fish or seafood as I believe that we are not maintaining or fishing our bodies of water sustainably.
Exceptions: A fish I catch myself at my cottage (with fishing license and in correct season).
Ethics: All below:
free-range or cage-free3
3 Again, there is no legal official definition of these terms. Any eggs with these marketing claims need to be researched. Further reading on Canadian egg production can be found at www.humanefood.ca.
Where to Shop: St Lawrence Farmer’s Market
Exceptions: If I’m in need of protein on the go I sometimes have a breakfast/egg sandwich.
Ethics: I am still working on the dairy of it all! Currently I consume dairy that is
organic AND/OR local & artesanally produced4
milk & cream: Harmony Organic
4 An artisanal cheese from a local cheese maker at the farmer’s market will trump a commercially made organic cheese.
Where to Shop: Anywhere that sells Harmony Organic Dairy products. (www.harmonyorganic.ca). They even use the returnable glass bottles of yesteryear...
Exceptions: Coffee/tea when I'm out. However, Balzac's uses Harmony Organic, so they get my vote whenever I can!
Ethics: I would eat freshly baked bread alone just for the pure ecstasy of flavour. But also:
fresh from bakeries
made without preservatives (with real ingredients)
often cultured (yeast free)
Exceptions: When dining out.
Where to Shop: Brick Street Bakery in the Distillery District (http://www.brickstreetbakery.com)
Ethics: Fruit in Canada is a tricky one. I try to stay in season as much as possible. However that means from september to May we’ve pretty much only got apples. (And canned stuff).
as seasonal as possible - from farmer’s market
as local as possible (see below)
bananas: always organic
out of season fruit: canned (farmer’s market) or frozen from the grocery store
Exceptions: Frozen fruit is one of the few things I buy at the grocery store. If the fruit is out of season and has to be imported no matter what I think it’s better to buy fruit that was picked ripe & in season and then frozen rather than picked early and bathed in chemicals.
Where to Shop: St Lawrence Market Saturday Farmer’s Market (www.stlawrencemarket.com), President's Choice Organic Frozen Fruit
Ethics: Mmmm vegetables. So many more options in Canada!
organic AND/OR local AND/OR not packaged in plastic
as seasonal as possible (farmer’s market)
Exceptions: Organic, local and packaging are all factors that can sway my decision. If there are local tomatoes that are non-organic vs organic tomatoes from Chile wrapped in plastic and styrofoam, I’ll opt for the local ones (for example).
Where to shop: Harbourfront Foods (http://www.stlawrencemarket.com/vendors/vendor_detail/72)
Ethics: Anything outside of these big categories:
I read the label and try to stick to only ingredients I know and recognize
I strive to purchase local
Instead of grocery store products I will buy in bulk (Bulk Barn or StLM)
a plastic-free and/or BPA-free package will generally win me over
And lastly, Everything in Moderation Including Moderation!
I eat out. I splurge. I eat chips. I even drink the occasional Coca-cola product (sorry 15-year-old Amelia). Life is too short to be militaristic. But life is too precious to be unaware.
Where I Eat Out
I keep eating out simple by only ordering vegetarian. And boy did I learn quickly how limiting that is! Quite often there isn’t even a salad that doesn’t contain meat! Tips for eating in conventional restaurants:
ask for a vegetarian menu (I did this at the Keg once and they actually have one!)
if your only options are pasta, side salad and fries, go somewhere else
there are many awesome vegetarian sushi options
ask at asian restaurants about shrimp/fish paste
seek out vegetarian/vegan/customizable restaurants! (Joints where you can customize tacos, salads, sandwiches, etc).
Where I Shop - Selected Vendor List
This new years I made a goal to not buy anything I eat from grocery stores! So far it has been surprisingly easy and with only a few exceptions.
most of what I buy is from St Lawrence Market (South or Farmer’s)
Whitevan’s Meats: http://www.stlawrencemarket.com/vendors/vendor_detail/112 and http://www.witteveenmeats.com
Olympic Cheese: http://www.stlawrencemarket.com/vendors/vendor_detail/84
Harbourfront Foods: http://www.stlawrencemarket.com/vendors/vendor_detail/72)
Kozlik’s: http://www.stlawrencemarket.com/vendors/vendor_detail/105 and http://www.kozliks.com
St Urbain: http://www.stlawrencemarket.com/vendors/vendor_detail/103
Luba’s Coffee Boutique: http://www.stlawrencemarket.com/vendors/vendor_detail/80
Manota’s Organics: http://www.stlawrencemarket.com/vendors/vendor_detail/74
Brick Street Bakery in the Distilleryhttp://www.brickstreetbakery.com
Bulk Barn http://www.bulkbarn.ca/en/Stores
No Frills (for frozen fruit) http://www.presidentschoice.ca/en_CA/products/productlisting.tag@lclonline!Product_Category,Frozen,Foods.html#!tag@lclonline/Brand/PC_Organics
Balzac's Coffee http://www.balzacs.com/
Conclusion- Why You Should Care
You don’t have to care. (Although if you’ve read this far, you probably do. Or you think I’m crazy and curiosity got the better of you). But you should care how I eat, how your family eats, and mostly how you eat.
I care about how you eat because it affects the world we both live in.
Every time you choose ethical animal protein
it’s a vote for sustainability, for animal rights, for a healthy planet and for fairly compensated farmers.
Every time you choose whole, healthy produce
you are putting better fuel in your body and enabling yourself to be a better neighbour and member of my community.
Every time you choose an organic product at the grocery store
you are sending a clear message to their statistics department about what the customer wants.
The loudest voice we have as individual consumers is where we spend our consumer dollars.
This is why I eat the way I eat. This is why I live where I live, cook the way I cook, spend my money the way I spend it.
And this is why I write this blog.
Use your superpower. Vote with your consumer dollars. Change the world.
Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals,“Cage-Free Eggs: A Comparison of Labels”. Web. www.humanefood.ca. May 7 2016
Canadian Food and Drug Regulations, B.01.008. (4) Minister of Justice, Web. http://laws-lois.justice.cg.ca, May 7 2016
Canadian Organic Production Systems, General Principles and Management Standards. Canadian General Standards Board. Web. May 7 2016.
Maslow, A.H., A Theory of Human Motivation. Mansfiled Centre, CT: Martino Publishing, 2014.
Pollan, Michael, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. New York: Penguin Group, 2014.