The Purposeful Pantry: Eating & Living with Intention
Island Word September 2002
By Jeanie duGal
It all begins with the food. Food arouses passion like little else. Much more than just stuff to put in your belly, food is love, comfort, succulence, nostalgia, the warmth of home after a hard day, the feeling of contentment after a good meal.
Food touches everything, from gardening, farming, recipes and cooking, to globalization, corporate control, worker's rights, animal rights, spirituality, tradition, culture, women, children, families, nutrition, pesticides, poverty, health, environment, community, and more... all the way down to the genetic mutilation of food right there on your supermarket shelf.
There are connections to be made between food and the health of ourselves and our community.
You can have a positive impact on it allby eating well and paying attention.
The best diet is one that connects us to our humanity and helps us feel grateful for the gift of life" ~ John Robbins
First some definitions: Food Security & Human Rights Food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to nutritious, safe, personally acceptable and culturally appropriate foods, produced in ways that are environmentally sound and socially just.
The 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers to basic needs as a human right: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond the individual’s control.
And a reminder: They who control the food control everything.
A food system is the deliberate organization of the growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, distribution, marketing, selection and consumption of food.
The dominant food system in North America is industrial: it emphasizes mechanical over organic and a capital-intensive rather than labour-intensive production, processing and distribution methods. It is oriented toward global trade rather than the fulfillment of local needs, and is controlled by a handful of large transnational corporations.
Community Food Systems & Community Food Security
(from the BC Food Systems Network)
· everyone has assured access to good food in a way that does not damage self respect;
· people are able to earn a living wage by growing, producing, processing, handling, retailing and serving food;
· the quality of land, air and water are maintained and enhanced for future generations;
· food is celebrated as central to community and cultural integrity
The long-term goal is to work with local farmers to anticipate and fill the need for a reasonably priced, year-round supply of fresh produce- planning for winter storage crops, cool season vegetables and greenhouse growing. In turn it would encourage the use of land that is now lying fallow, and the creation of jobs in the agricultural sector, using sustainable, organic farming practices, including the saving of seeds.
(From the Greater Vancouver Regional District)
Sustainability is about recognizing the link between the environment, economy, and quality of life now and for the future.
Balancing the three legs of a stool is often used to describe the concept of sustainability. In sustainable development, the stool's three legs are of equal length. If one or two of the legs are missing, or too short, the balance will be upset.
The three legs of the "sustainability stool":
Environmental Integrity: A project that conserves and recycles resources, reduces wastes, or helps ensure that local environmental carrying capacities are respected.
Social Well-being: A project that supports community development by facilitating local self-reliance, providing safe and secure communities, helping those in need, increasing community participation, assisting the voluntary sector, and advancing arts, culture, and recreation.
Economic Prosperity: A project that sustains and maximizes economic growth without negatively impacting community well-being or environmental integrity.
What is Food Policy?
(BC Food Net, again)
Policy is the framework within which decisions are made. Our current food policy supports the industrial food system through regulation, subsidies, and a host of initiatives from local removals of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve to federal agreements on trade and genetic engineering.
Why put food first in all policy decisions?
· Because public as well as personal health depends on access to good food
· Because the only secure access to food is local
· Because we can only have real control of the quality, integrity and safety of food produced here
· Because no-one has the right to experiment on the public or jeopardize our food supply
· Because honest cost-accounting shows that local, small-scale and ecological agriculture is cost-effective
· Because in principle we should preserve capacity (land, water, seeds), skills, and tools (including infrastructure such as processors) to feed ourselves
· Because everyone has the right to food
· Because we don't want to take advantage of people in other countries.
Eating Seasonally and Locally
In the global food system, where food is imported from other continents and you have the ability to buy ingredients for just about any dish year round, the connection to seasonal change, to local flavours and traditions, gets lost on a highway somewhere south of town. When you eat locally-produced food you gain an understanding and connection to how seasonally grown food adapts to the peculiarities of our climate. You also gain a better understanding of the challenges farmers face when growing food in this unique region. Sometimes there are treats, too, perishable short season specialties unavailable in the major retail outlets.
To support local, community-based food systems is to choose foods that are grown on nearby farms, processed in our area, and marketed through the Farmer’s Market and local food stores. Food choices based on the local food and agriculture system would vary by season according to availability of the crops, and vary by the form in which foods are consumed - fresh, stored, canned, frozen, or dried. Seasonally varied, locally-based diets create a new way of looking at food. The transition from one season to another would be marked by changes on our dinner table.
When and if the supply stops
Scary stuff, but we are in a war after all, and what at harvest time looks like enough to feed the hordes of the Valley, really isn’t. After the blush of autumn fades, we’re good for potatoes, sprouts, root crops and cabbage for a while, but most of our food is grown or processed elsewhere. We don’t know which way terrorism is going to go, and we don’t know what kind, if any, disruptions of the food or fuel supply will occur. Large centralized food distribution and processing centers are potential targets for bio-terrorists and poisoning with chemical or biological agents. The safety and availability of fresh food shipped from thousands of miles away may be jeopardized. So here in Canada, where much of our food is grown in California, Florida, or Mexico and then shipped across borders, a significant component of food security should be the capacity to grow and process food at a regional level.
We’ve seen wartime rationing before While looking through a box of old photographs, I came across some World War Two ration books- I have two from the U.S., and four from Canada. They are surprisingly similar in content and tone, including the threats of fines and/or imprisonment for miss-use. You needed a ration coupon to purchase coffee, sugar, butter, gasoline and meat. The coupons are about the size of a postage stamp and were to be torn off the perforated sheet in the presence of the storekeeper. What strikes me as so different from today is the emphasis on frugality.
from Ration Book 3 (1943) issued by the Ration Administration-
Wartime Prices and Trade Board, Canada
In wartime, goods are rationed because they are in short supply, or to prevent “short supply” caused by the selfish or unnecessary over-buying by some at the expense of others’ essential needs.
The utmost conservation of all supplies is necessary. You should regard this ration book as a permit to buy rationed goods if you NEED them- not otherwise. It does not entitle you to purchase rationed commodities for the use of someone else unless he resides in your household.
from War Ration Book no. 3 (1943) issued by
United States Office of Price Administration
Rationing is a vital part of your country’s war effort. Any attempt to violate the rules is an effort to deny someone his share and will create hardship and help the enemy.
This book is your Government’s assurance of your right to buy your fair share of certain goods made scarce by war. Price ceilings have also been established for your protection. Dealers must post these prices conspicuously. Don’t pay more.
Give your whole support to rationing and thereby conserve our vital goods. Be guided by the rule:
“If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT.”
IMPORTANT: When you have used your ration, salvage the TIN CANS and WASTE FATS. They are needed to make munitions for our fighting men. Cooperate with your local Salvage Committee.
Grandma's Wartime Kitchen: World War II and the Way We Cooked by Joanne Lamb Hayes, Jean Anderson
Ten rules for Wartime Eating
· keep a list of the seven basic food groups in your kitchen and purse. Follow it when you plan and when you buy. Substitute within groups
· don’t plan to serve meat, fish, poultry, eggs and cheese all the same day
· start the day off right with a breakfast that counts as a real meal. Make cereal with milk the “main dish”
· make a hearty soup, or cereal with fruit and milk, your main dish at lunch or supper at least twice a week.
· don’t waste. Try foods new to you. Eat fresh foods first. Conserve canned supplies. Use bread crumbs in stuffing, bones in soup, remnants of meat or vegetables in stews. Cook potatoes in skins.
· help your grocer cut down waste. Don’t pitch fruits. Don’t toss over vegetables.
· start a clean-plate club in your home. Serve smaller portions. Eat it all.
· save fats by serving fewer fried foods and rich pastries.
· spread the load. Include different protein foods in weekly meal plans.
· don’t buy food with ration stamps just for the sake of using up the stamps. Don’t trade stamps with your neighbor.
About Poverty & Hunger Right now, today, in the midst of all this harvest-time abundance, some of our neighbors are going hungry, or experiencing the sad empty numbness of filling up on stale giveaway poverty doughnuts. The reason they are hungry is not because they are stupid or lazy but because they do not have enough money to buy food. They do not have enough money because there are not enough living-wage jobs to go around. Also because social assistance changes have drastically cut what small income they may previously have received to top up their merger earnings. Some hungry people are mothers who go without food in order that their children have something to eat. Others are seniors and elders who do not have enough money to buy what they need, like food and medicine. Also people who are sick or have disabilities and have a hard time fending for themselves. And people with problems who are unemployable. The list is longer than this, a longer list of Comox Valley people for whom food is not a source of joy and celebration but anxiety, worry and stress.
In the short term we must provide emergency food for people who don't have food. But by concentrating on strengthening our local Food Systems we can see reinvestment of capital, local job creation, fair trade, strong community institutions, and, dare we hope, a place for all in the local economy.
· They don't want to know what's happening- The people who are getting rich can't imagine that the world is not a better place.
· Once you've seen certain things, you can't un-see them, and seeing nothing is as political an act as seeing something.
-Arundhati Roy, author The God of Small Things
The Unripe Tomato from Thrifty Foods I was drawn to it, I hardly know why. My garden tomatoes were not yet ripe, but I had already eaten some from the Farmer’s Market: red, ripe, juicy, with that unique fresh from the vine tang. But there I was, with the display of on-sale, slightly green, Okanagan tomatoes; I couldn’t help myself, I took two home.
Later, cutting them for a salad, I slipped a slice into my mouth and Whoop, there I was knee deep in memory, experiencing once again the semi-ripe texture of the mechanically picked, long-distance trucked tomatoes of my childhood. I thought of my long-dead mother, of the salads that even way-back-when came in a bag, of Minute Rice and Campbell’s soup, of boxes, packages and jars. We didn’t can back then; “Food security” meant freezing some steaks bought on sale and a couple of quarts of chicken soup.
Those who are used to a cage will weep for a cage. --Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Russian poet
You can stick with what’s familiar, or make changes. You can hang on to what feels normal or intentionally create new lifestyle patterns.
It’s your choice.
But perhaps you don’t think it’s as serious as this, perhaps it all strikes you as a bunch of hooey and the available abundance you find in the stores today you fully expect to continue to find in a long, luscious and bounteous future. For you I offer, as food for thought, if not for dessert, THE ALTERNATIVE to locally grown, secure & sustainable basic food:
The Non-Sustainable Perverse Trifle also known as:
TWINKIE PUDDING CAKE
1 box Twinkies
3 to 4 bananas
1 lg. can crushed pineapple
1 pkg. vanilla pudding
1 (12 oz.) container of Cool Whip
Slice Twinkies lengthwise and line the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch pan. Slice bananas over Twinkies, followed by pineapple with juice. Prepare pudding as directed on package and layer over bananas and pineapple. Spread Cool Whip on top. Refrigerate.
(I also have a recipe for “mock cool whip”, several recipes actually, using powdered milk, or evaporated milk, even one using soy milk. I might point out that at one time this recipe had been entitled “mock whipped cream” but times change and now we require fake versions of fake versions of real food.)
Twinkies and Cool Whip are factory foods, no mistaking that. Bananas & pineapples are real foods, but we don’t grow them here. Vanilla is a new world food, the pod of a tropical vine, but not a Canadian crop either. We’d be okay for the flour, sugar (if from sugar beets) the dairy components, canola oil and cornstarch for thickening the pudding.
Under our current global food system, we can have this num-num anytime we wish. Breakfast-lunch-dinner, Christmas, birthdays, whenever. People starving a few blocks away, and across the world, but we’re truckin’ in the fixin’s. Is this a big deal? Does the karma of the entire Gaia structure hinge on our choosing to eat Twinkie Pudding Cake or not? Probably. But don’t go by me, I’ve always been cursed by idealism.
We will always have trade in food. Rice, olive oil, chocolate, coffee, tea…..80% of our peanuts come from the US…there’s a long list of central foods that have been traded for centuries and will continue to be a part of our lives. But if we make the basis of our diet the foods we can grow and process ourselves, we’ll have a greater chance at food security and sustainability (another word for responsibility).
How about, by making a few changes, we turn the pudding cake into a local delicacy?
Buy from a local baker, or bake yourself, an angel food cake for the base, have local peaches & kiwis for the fruit layer, flavour the pudding with Canadian maple, and top with real whipped cream (or a homemade soy version if you don’t eat dairy).
Where does your food come from?
Think of everything you ate yesterday, and everything you expect to eat today- where did the ingredients originate?
What is your personal food policy? We all have one- even if we've never thought of it in those terms.
What do you eat? Not only likes and dislikes- but what cultural, religious or ethical issues shape your diet?
What about food allergies or sensitivities?
What do you eat when you are too tired or too busy to cook? How much a part of your daily diet is fast food, take-out, pizza or deli food, or convenience foods in cans, boxes or frozen?
What are your comfort foods?
Are you feeding kids? Seniors? Other family members? How often do you entertain? Who else do you feed on a regular bases- your children's friends? Tea with your neighbor?
How do you acquire your food?
Do you buy all your food from supermarkets? From farmers markets? From farm stands?
How do you get the food to your home?
What if your car broke down, or you were unable to buy gas? What if the transport trucks couldn't get through and the store shelves were empty?
Do you produce any of your food? Do you grow a garden? Hunt or fish?
Do you know/use any of the edible wild plants in the Valley?
How often do you cook from scratch?
Do you make bread, soup, grow sprouts?
Do you make jam, can or freeze in season?,
If the power went out, what would you eat?
What if the can opener broke?
What if the microwave broke?
What if the freezer defrosted?
We also need to think about our food on a community level. We need a Comox Valley Food Policy Council. Such a group would advocate to create and fund programs to ensure that all people in the area receive adequate nutrition. It would link other important issues such as farmer development and food distribution; create policies and systems to support existing and new farms. It would sit on a balanced “sustainability stool” to encourage fair trade and social justice, for a local food system that is cooperative rather than competitive, that pays living wages, that provides job training, while incorporating social and environmental responsibility.
The Council would put Food First in all planning and development decisions.
· Support a base of family farms that use integrated agricultural practices to enhance environmental quality, rely as much as possible on local resources, and reduce dependence on agri-chemicals and fossil fuels.
· Promote the non-timber value of forests, grasslands and streams for sustainably-harvested, wild-crafted foods, mushroom picking, salal, and herbs.
· Create opportunities for small entrepreneurs to build businesses that enhance the local economy such as community commercial kitchens for processed products.
· Advocate for farm subsidies for transition-to-organics.
Several Elements of a Community Food System
(Count how many we already have in the Valley)
· Farmers markets
· Community gardens
· Community supported agriculture (CSA) - a group of people buy shares in the eventual harvest of a farm before the crops are planted. In exchange they receive fresh produce on a weekly basis throughout the harvest season. CSA members share part of the financial risks associated with farming. The farmer receives a portion of the cost of production at a time when it is most needed.
· U-Pick operations and roadside farm stands providing access to fresh produce directly from the farmer who grew it.
· Community kitchens and Cooking Groups, where foods are cooked, shared and enjoyed by a group of people.
· Seed Saving projects
· Alternative food distribution like food box programs and co-ops
With a Food Policy in place we might also see:
· Children’s school gardens & gardening classes
· Fruit & nut trees and edible plants on public boulevards and in the parks
· Edible landscaping for public buildings
· Garden plots & composters for townhouse & apartment complexes
· Family-size community garden plots
· Gleaning & other sharing projects
· A public transit system that moves people conveniently from residential areas to farmers markets and food stores
· Locally produced food not only in the stores, but in the schools and hospital
· Market gardens and farms as green space
· Comfortable places for mothers to breast-feed
· No one going hungry
"Every day we do things, we are things, that have to do with peace. If we are aware of our lifestyle, our way of consuming, our way of looking at things, we will know how to make peace right in the moment we are alive."
Thich Nhat Hanh