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Local, Farm Fresh Food vs Supermarkets

October 14, 2014

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When I first started thinking about this post, I wanted to look into how accessible farm fresh produce was in Toronto. How prevalent are farmers markets around the city? Well I soon found out that there are a lot more than I thought and they’re in all major hubs of Toronto, from the west end all the way to the east [1].

My initial interest was sparked by the announcement by Whole Foods that their Yorkville location is now open and their 6th Ontario store would be opening up in Ottawa soon. I instantly wondered what made Whole Foods so great? It certainly offers its consumers a healthier alternative for quick easy lunches and dinners, supports local suppliers and markets its food as Organic as much as possible.

As I continued to search through their website there was one major thing I didn’t like. They carry genetically modified foods. Stating that carrying GMO products is almost impossible to avoid in a lot of foods [2]. Genetically modified refers to foods whose genetic make-up has been altered in order to make it resistant to certain types of weather, pesticides, insects and the list goes on.

I wanted to look into the options I (or you) have if I didn’t want to buy foods that have been genetically modified. Maybe the problem is that we don’t necessarily need more large grocery chains moving in and marketing us organic food. Maybe what we need is an increasing interest in actual organic food from farmers markets in the city where the interaction between consumer and producer is much more commonplace. Not only does the interaction mean you can personally ask farmers about their products and inform yourself but you also support your local farm producers upfront instead of through the large grocery chains. Not that I have anything against Whole Foods but it appears to be just as easy in Toronto to find local small-scale farmers markets with foods just as wholesome!

Take a look at these products:

• Canola

• Corn

• Lentils

• Potatoes

• Rice

• Soybeans

• Squash

• Tomatoes

• Wheat [3]

Are any of them a staple in your diet? If you want to avoid GMO products than you can choose to leave them out of your diet altogether or be aware where they are coming from when buying them. It can be as simple as asking farmers at the market how they grow their crops, where and what kinds of seeds they use.

Be particularly aware of processed foods as the David Suzuki Foundation’s website notes “GMO ingredients have made their way into most of the processed foods available on Canadian grocery shelves”[4]. This is what Whole Foods is talking about when they say they can’t avoid GMO products in their stores… So another solution is to avoid processed foods altogether.

Another alternative to this is growing your own food. When buying seeds you can ensure that those seeds are not GMO. Growing your own food requires zero emissions to transport to your table and you know exactly where it’s coming from! Whole foods is a step in the right direction but I think we can take it a step further and support local, organic and GMO free farmers if we continue to inform ourselves. So look up the closest farmers markets to you and go check ‘em out, I promise you won’t regret it!

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/07/why-supermarkets-are-on-the-way-out-aldi-lidl?CMP=fb_gu

[2] http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/product-faq/gmos

[3] http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Food-technology/Biotechnology/Novel-foods/Understanding-Genetically-Modified-Foods.aspx#.VDg_fShpf5b

[4] http://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/queen-of-green/faqs/food/understanding-gmo/

Root Soup Riot

October 3, 2014

Do you know what veggies are in season this fall?

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The growing season is not over yet! There are still tons of vegetables you can grow and buy that harvest in fall. Lettuce, kale, spinach, radish, beets, carrots, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes and rhubarb are all among some of the vegetables still being planted and harvested at the UofT gardens. Look for fall produces such as these at your local Stores to ensure you’re getting the freshest produce of the season. What would you make with these fresh veggies?

Potato-beet-carrot soup!

I know pumpkin spice is all the rage right now but this one is for the beet lovers! As the temperature begins to drop why not try a new soup recipe to warm you up. We like this one that incorporates potatoes, beets, carrots and garlic. It’s fast and easy to make.  Also try roasting the beets in tin foil and then chopping them up to add to any of your favourite salads!

Puréed Beet Soup

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and black pepper

21⁄2 pounds beets, peeled and chopped

1⁄2 pound starchy potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped

6 cups vegetable, chicken, or beef stock

Juice of 1 lemon

Sour cream for garnish (optional)

Chopped fresh dill for garnish (optional)

1. Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion and garlic

and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 5 to 7

minutes. Add the beets, potatoes, and carrot and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes,

then add the stock.

2. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat so the mixture simmers gently. Cook

until the vegetables are fully tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Add the lemon juice and purée

with an immersion blender. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve hot or cold,

garnished with the sour cream and dill, if desired. (Store leftover soup in an airtight

container in the refrigerator for up to several days.)[1]

[1]Puréed Beet Soup

We’re hiring Campus Agriculture Animators for Work Study!

August 23, 2014

Back in school this fall?  Want to deepen your involvement with wholesome campus food?  We want you!:

 

The Campus Agriculture Animator will work collaboratively with Hart House and the Dig In! Campus Agriculture Network (DICAN) to bring visibility to and increase awareness around food security and sustainability. The Animator will assist in the coordination of garden programming and projects as well as identify and assist with outreach projects including:

 

- Liaising with campus and community media

- Contributing to and maintaining the Dig In! website

- Increasing and maintaining the visibility of garden signage and plant identification

- Assisting with garden maintenance

- Working collaboratively on events and event promotion

- Maintaining relationships and seeking out new partnerships with groups on and off campus

Qualifications

This position is suited for students interested in food issues, urban agriculture, and

community-scale environmental policy. The student will learn about the material and human

dimensions of pursuing sustainable change within an institutional environment. Specific qualifications

include:

 

Working knowledge of urban agriculture, food politics, and/or food security

Prior gardening and/or agricultural experience is a definite asset

Computer skills, including MS Suite (word, excel, powerpoint)

Demonstrated ability to assume responsibility and work on own initiative

Motivated, organized, and resourceful

Ability to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing

Demonstrated interpersonal skills; superior planning and facilitation skills

 

To apply, please submit your resume and cover letter to Kate Raycraft at campusagriculture{at}gmail{dot}com by September 12, 2014.

 

Know Your Food

August 20, 2014

The Importance of Understanding Your Food’s History in Human Health

Contributed by reader Jenni Hilton

Given the growing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant diseases, it is of particular importance that we bolster our immune systems as much as possible through diet. The ideal dietary components for immune-boosting, as everyone with even the most basic of nutritional educations is aware, are fruit and vegetables. The Harvard School of Public Health insist that people must “eat plenty every day” [1] in order to remain healthy. However, the situation is not quite as simple as heading into the store and buying a bagful of plants.

Microbial Immunity

The advance of modern medicine has done a lot for us. It has defeated smallpox, polio, tuberculosis. It saves millions of lives every year from infections which may otherwise prove fatal. It continually advances against cancer, and has made it possible for those with HIV to, as STD Panels put it, “to remain in good health and to have a comparable life span to everyone else” [2]. However, such medical wonders – while to be much lauded – have in many ways made us complacent. In the long run, it may prove that people with weakened immune systems like those suffering from HIV may have the edge over us, used as they are to treating their bodies with a degree of respect which many of us lack. The problem is that many diseases are becoming resistant to antibiotics. A report released by the Public Health Authority of Ontario makes the concerning point that “Over time, with overuse and misuse, coupled with the natural mutation abilities of bacteria, antibiotics have become less effective against bacteria” [3]. The situation is unlikely to improve – many scientists are worried that bacterial evolution will shortly reach a point where bacterial infections can override antibiotics and resume their terrible hold over the human race. Unable to rely on antibiotics, therefore, those who wish to have the best chance of beating these ‘superbugs’ would be advised to follow the guidelines given to HIV sufferers – and eat fresh, non-processed, preferably home-grown foods in order to bolster their immune systems.

Healthy Skepticism

To boost the immune system, Harvard University explicitly advises people to “Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fat.” [4] This seems a relatively easy guideline to follow – after all, supermarket shelves are stuffed with enticing natural produce. However, Harvard also warns those in search of an enriched immune system to “be skeptical”. Largely they refer with this advice to vitamin companies selling products like Bell’s “Supreme Immune Booster 90 Capsules” [5] which, while they may do some good, are in no way the catch-all solution they are purported to be. However, the warning also encapsulates the ‘fresh’ produce industry – the products of which are often not quite as ‘fresh’ and ‘healthy’ as they are purported to be.

Nutrition Destruction

That fruit and vegetables are great for the immune system is undeniable. The human body has evolved to utilize the nutrients within plant products, and welcomes natural produce with delight. Such fruit and vegetable foodstuffs enhance the body completely naturally, working with extant bodily processes to strengthen the body’s defenses from within, without reliance upon aid from alien chemicals. However, this being said, industrial fruit and vegetable production leaves much to be desired. Pesticides and growth aids, artificial preservatives and chemical agents designed to make the produce bigger, brighter, more richly colored to appeal to shoppers, all have a detrimental effect. The CDPR warn that “if not used correctly [pesticides] can…harm people or the environment” [6]. Ingestion of these pesticides – even in the trace amounts found in most commercially grown plant foods – necessitates an immune response which may negate the positive immunity effects of the foods themselves. Furthermore, preserving techniques often destroy much of the nutritional value inherent in such things. Vitamin C – described by the Linus Pauling Institute as a massively influential micronutrient which, among other things, “stimulate[s] both the production and function of leukocytes (white blood cells)” [7] – is destroyed incredibly easily through heat. Many preservative techniques involve heat, meaning that any fruit or vegetable product which has taken more than a few days to get to the store (thus necessitating preservative techniques) may well be more deficient than it should be in Vitamin C.

Grow Your Own

Many dubious processes are involved when money is the main motivator. Commercial fruit and vegetable producers are, of necessity, in it for the profit. Unfortunately, those products which sell best are those which look best on the shelves – and bright colors and shiny skins do not necessarily equate to optimal nutritional value. The only way to truly know what has gone into the production of your food, thus optimizing the nutritional value of your plate, is to grow it yourself. Vegetable self-sufficiency is not as difficult as it is often made out to be. All you need is a small patch of land – even a window-box is sufficient to grow plants like tomatoes and chilies – and the right seeds. Vendors like West Coast Seeds sell “certified organic, open pollinated…seeds for organic vegetable growing” [8] , ideal for such purposes. A certain amount of cultivation is required – but the sun and the earth do the majority of the work. Before long, you can be eating your own, home-grown produce, and boosting your immune system safe in the knowledge that nothing is detracting from the pure, unadulterated nutritional value of the plant.

[1] Harvard School of Public Health, “Vegetables and Fruits”

[2] STD Panels, “Coping With HIV Diagnosis”

[3] Healthcare Ontario, “Antibiotic Resistance: Emerging risks and the partnership solution”

[4] Harvard Health Publications, “How to boost your immune system”, Harvard Medical School

[5] Canadian Vitamins, “Bell Supreme Immune Booster 90 Vitamins”

[6] CDPR, “What are the Potential Health Effects of Pesticides”

[7] Linus Pauling Institute, “Nutrition and Immunity” Oregon State University

[8] West Coast Seeds

 

Make Refrigerator Garlic Dill Pickles now!

August 13, 2014

A good pickle is easy to find if you have a favourite brand or something. A great pickle however, is hard to come by. Salty, garlicky and crunchy dill pickles are super awesome by themselves or in a sandwich and are even easier to make! You just have to follow three basic steps and you can have some awesome homemade pickles soon!

Prep!

1. Prepare your spices: For dill pickles, you will need dill seeds that can be found at Whole Food or Bulk Barn. Add some peppercorn or chili flakes and thrown in 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic in there too. Once you’ve created your spice mixture, add it to a jar.

2. Prepare your brine: A pickling brine is very easy to put together. All you need is equal parts cider vinegar, water and  salt. You can play with the amount of salt you want in your pickles.

3. Prepare you cucumbers and jars: You can either cut or pack the cucumbers whole into your jars. Once you’ve added the spices to the bottom, pack the cucumbers tightly and set them aside.

jars_of_dill_pickles

Directions!

- Bring the brine to a rolling boil and fill the jars leaving 1/2 inch from the top of the jar.

- Make sure all the cucumbers are covered in the brine. Tap the bottom of the jar on a table or flat surface to bring all bubbles to the surface.

- Put the lids on and you can process the jars in a bath of hot water for 5 mins if you want to (you don’t have to).

- Once cool, store the jars in the refrigerator and leave for a minimum of 48 hours before consuming.

 

YAY NOW YOU HAVE PICKLES!

Trail Mix recipes anyone?

August 6, 2014

So given that it’s camping/hiking/trekking/canoeing season, there are a lot of things that need to be figured out in advance. If you’re going hiking or camping, you couldn’t possibly forget to carry a sleeping bag, a swiss knife or a torch. The funny thing about all these activities is that you almost always have to ensure that you have enough snacks and food to keep you energized. This food cannot be fussy and cannot take up too much time to put together on site. It is for this reason that trail mix almost always pops up during a camping, trekking or hiking trip!

However, the trail mix that is available at grocery stores may not always taste great or right. So, check out the two trail mix recipes for your next hiking trip and let us know how it turned out!

1. Roasted cocao nibs and pecan Trail Mix

Ingredients

- 1 cup chopped pecans

- 1 cup chopped walnuts

- 1 cup Dried cranberries

- 1 cup Roasted Cocao nibs

Directions

Combine the ingredients in a bowl above for an awesome trail mix!

2. Ellu bella:

Ingredients

- 3 cups peanuts, dehusked and roasted.

- 1 cup dried or roasted coconut.

- 1/2 – 1/4 cup jaggery, cut into small cubes.

- 1/2 cup sesame seeds.

Directions

- In a small skillet, add the peanuts, seasame seeds and coconut and pan roast for 20-30 seconds or until warm.

- Take off the pan and pour into a bowl. Add the jaggery, mix well and enjoy!

 

 

 

Easy Camping Recipes!

July 30, 2014

Camping season is here and we know that at least some of you will head into the great Canadian outdoors. While camping is a fun activity that requires some skills like  fire and tent building, you also kinda have to plan ahead. The question on my mind is… WHAT ARE WE GOING TO EAT?! The common answer is usually grilled meats and smores and don’t get me wrong, I love these camping foods. However, I think some camping food could be better with some new and easy to put together recipes.

Here are three recipes and grilling activities that I found that may be useful on your next camping trip. Enjoy!

1. Grilled Brussel Sprouts with mustard and chilli flakes. 

Ingredients

- 1 lbs, brussel sprouts

- Mustard, whole grain or your preferred choice.

- Chilli Flakes, 2 tbsp.

- Oil, 1 tbsp.

- Salt and pepper to taste.

Directions

- Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and skewer the brussel sprouts.

- Place on a grill to cook for 5 mins and enjoy!

 

2. Tabouleh.

Ingredients

- 1 cup quinoa or bulgar wheat, cooked

- 1/2 cup parsely

- 1/2 cup mint

- 1/2 cup chopped onions

- 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes

- 1/2 cup sliced cucumbers

- 1/4 cup lemon juice

- 1/4 cup olive oil

- Salt and pepper.

Directions

- Combine ingredients in a bowl, mix well and marinade for a minimum of 1 hour.

- Once combined well, enjoy your tabouleh. (Add chilli flakes or powder for some heat if you like).

 

3. Mushroom caps 

Ingredients

- 6 Portobello mushrooms.

- 1 1/2 cup baby spnach.

- 1 cup chopped spring onions.

- 2 minced garlic cloves.

- 1-2 stalks of rosemary.

- 1 tbsp olive oil.

- 1 tsp, chilli flakes.

- 1 lemon, zested and squeezed.

- Salt and pepper to taste.

Directions

- Clean and destalk the mushrooms.  Drizzle some olive oil and lemon over them and set aside.

- Combine every ingredient except the mushrooms in a bowl, mix well and set aside.

- Turn the prepped mushrooms over on their head and stuff the marinade/mixture into the cleaned mushrooms. Serve and enjoy!

 

 

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