“In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won’t be able to afford it.” Could you imagine your life without chocolate? I can’t. Yet that’s what John Mason, executive director and founder of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council, declared to The Independent last week.
Whatever you think of Martha Stewart, sometimes she gets things right. Her TV show recently featured a meat-cutting demonstration with Joshua Applestone from Fleisher’s Meats. Stewart and Applestone cut up a half hog while explaining the process.
“We have to know where our meat comes from, what it is eating, how it was raised humanely, how it was killed humanely,” said Stewart at one point.
Watch the video:
Today I’d like to go back over this Guardian article I tweeted about last week, which brings a new perspective on the bee crisis.
You’ve probably heard of the Colony Collapse Disorder, this phenomenon that has been affecting beehives across North America for the past few years, causing the disappearance of millions of bees. The seriousness of the crisis has been underlined by scientists. Indeed, what would become of our crops if we couldn’t rely on these pollinators? Should we expect a major food crisis?
Author Nathanael Johnson, however, asks another question: how does this issue fit into the big picture? And comes up with this subsersive answer: the crisis might not be where we thought.
This is the second part of my two-part series on meat. This post is not intended to criticize vegetarianism or veganism, but rather to analyze a trend that has been developing in North America.
Why limit yourself to the supermarket or the butcher shop to get your meat? A number of communities around the country have taken the CSA model (Community Supported Agriculture) to a new level, allowing its members to team up and buy meat directly from the farmers. In Berkeley, CA, the local Slow Food chapter has turned its meat CSA into a social networking platform where communication between neighbours is facilitated in order to better manage orders.
Meat is back. Of course, it never totally went away. Montrealers still lined up in front of Schwartz’s deli, even in the coldest temperatures, Oprah still indulged on Seattle’s Ezell chicken, and the kitchen still smelled of bacon every Sunday at brunch time. But meat had become a guilty pleasure. By eating it, we were condoning animal cruelty, climate change, food poisoning and chronic health problems exposed and vilified by years of vegetarian activism and investigative journalism. A bunch of smart-ass chefs, butchers and other food-lovers are changing all that by bringing the ethics and pride back to animal foods.
There has been a bit of controversy in the food scene here in Seattle, where I’m writing from. A couple of weeks ago, The Stranger, a local alternative weekly, published a severely critical piece about Bill the Butcher, a beloved local store chain specialized in organic and local meats. The stores aren’t as transparent as they claim, the article argues, and some of the meat isn’t really organic.
Bill, the owner, defends himself. The chain never pretended to be 100% organic, he says, and it doesn’t mean its products don’t meet high standards. “It takes a substantial investment and a period of years to get an organic certification and many local farmers and ranchers just cannot afford to pursue this,” reads an open letter published on the chain’s website.
This is just another episode in the meat saga that is well under way on North America’s West Coast. As the organic and locavore movements grow in popularity, so does the demand for meat coming from animals that have been raised ethically, fed with grass, and slaughtered in decent conditions – all within a reasonable distance. For those who could never bring themselves to vegetarianism, this is salvation. They can eat meat while keeping their conscience intact.
Defiant Imagination is back! After a months-long hiatus, due in part to an international sporting event that took place in Vancouver last month. I hope to be able to write here regularly again.
A little bit of self-promotion: my article on Direct Trade was published in The Warehouse. High-end coffee was just beginning to reach the East Coast when I left Montreal, and I find it definitely easier to have access to good coffee in Vancouver. What a blessing! I will always remember the hour I spent with Jean-François Leduc, owner of Montreal’s Caffè in Gamba. “Isn’t this macchiato delicious!” he exclaimed, after force-feeding me the third cup of dark mixture. (I spent the most energetic hours of my life after this.) Indeed it was, and I have since then been accustomed to this creamy and salty taste.
I’m glad North America is discovering quality coffee. These huge cups of tasteless “sock juce,” as we call it in France, served in non-reusable cardboard cups, are nonsense. Coffee should be savoured during a good conversation with a good friend, or while looking at passers-by, or while reading a good book. Coffee gives you the opportunity to sit back, take a break for a few minutes and enjoy your surroundings. So here’s my article:
It’s early in the afternoon and I’m enjoying one of the last warm days of September, sitting on the terrace of Café Myriade. I’m savouring a cup of thick, black Tanzanian coffee that the barista recommended for the brewing technique I selected.
I just stumbled on this March/April 2009 Mother Jones article discussing the evolution of farmers markets in North America. It explains how many farmers markets bring more diversity into the range of products that are being sold in order to generate more revenue. Street performers, baked goods and restaurants are now commonly seen alongside honey and cheese producers. (My local farmers markets has acoustic bands come to play every week.)
And now Saturday mornings are really jamming, crowds are gathering for the coffee and the banjo player, and some of your core vendors guess accurately that a lot of these folks are more interested in scented candles than in cauliflower. So they gradually switch their product mix, and that, in turn, encourages still more scented-candle buyers.
Market managers end up allowing non-local and non-organic food to be sold so that buyers can be sure that they find all the products they need.
“These markets are a fucking hayride—they aren’t real,” says a prominent Northern California organic farmer who prefers not to be identified. “They don’t offer a real market opportunity for real farmers, but the public would rather be deceived because it’s too complicated.”
I think there needs to be a debate over what we want from our farmers markets and how it’s really suppose to benefit us. Their main goal is to provide us with healthy, local produce, but we all know that in the end it’s all about building a community. Going to your local market is a weekly opportunity to have a chat with your neighbours, meet the farmers who produce the food you eat, and get the latest updates on what’s going on in the community. Going to the market is more than just going grocery shopping, it’s a social experience and a celebration. We bring in street performers and restaurants and scented candles because we want this experience to be as fulfilling as possible.
Going to your weekly farmers market is just like going to church. Both have a primary, functional role and a secondary, social role. Incidentally, my farmers markets takes place every Sunday morning. So I would argue that we should keep the street performers in while holding the market manager more accountable and being less picky about the types of products we want to be able to buy there. If there’s no local asparagus producer, then don’t bring in the giant industrial one.
Wal-Mart announced today the launching of an eco-labelling program that will allow customers to see the environmental footprint of the products they wish to buy. In collaboration with a consortium of universities, the giant retailer will work on issuing an index that will reflect the life cycles of its products.
The news seems to have been perceived as positive among the media and the public.
“Wal-Mart had been the company that the left loved to hate, because it seemed to have too much power and to use it in non socially constructive ways, squeezing suppliers or keeping wages down,” wrote Rosabeth Moss Kanter on Bloomberg.com. “Today Wal-Mart reminds us that a new kind of capitalism is possible in which big companies can use their power constructively, for the good of society and to move on issues that are still largely unaddressed by government.”
Am I the only one to be skeptical? It’s not because Wal-Mart goes green that it should be hailed as a model for a new capitalism. In my opinion, Wal-Mart is still hurting local economies as well as the urban fabric, and the eco-labelling program will not necessarily improve the food industry’s ethics. Even if we know that the food industry has some serious issues to address, we seem to keep our focus on the environmental side. The organic and local movements are so strong right now that it sometimes seems that it’s all that matters. In fact, going organic or making sure that the food was produced in an environmentally-friendly way might not be enough to improve the global food situation.
“Even if you stick an organic label on Walmart, the system remains the same,” wrote Dorothy Woodend in a review of the documentary Food Inc. in The Tyee. ” The same distribution chains, the same scale of practice, the same billions upon billions of Stonyfield plastic yogurt containers shipped around the country, all so that people can buy more shit with a clean conscience.”
When will we be ready to truly change our habits instead of reading a label for a second?
This is an interview I did a couple of months ago with Joe Nasr, Co-coordinator at MetroAg (Alliance for Urban Agriculture) and June Komisar, Associate Professor at Ryerson University’s Department of Architectural Science. They both curated Carrot City, an exhibition that ran in Toronto last Winter and showed how design, architecture and urban planning can facilitate food production in the city.
Is there really an urban agriculture trend?
Joe Nasr: Beyond the general trend, there are specific professions that can contribute each one from their own side. That itself is maybe a trend. Five years ago certainly we would have had a far smaller show, because so many of these projects are brand new.
What is the part of responsibility of professionals and city governments?
JN: Some of the examples that we’re showing cannot happen easily. The Egglu, the urban chicken coop, cannot be used legally in Toronto. You can display it, but you can’t have chicken in it. This is just one of many examples in which governments can shift to becoming an enabler. That reflects on some of the professionals and what they can or cannot do.
In Canada, are city governments usually open to hearing new ideas?
June Komisar: Yes, they are. Toronto has a food policy council, and it has been instrumental in pushing forward certain initiatives. One is to provide access to a larger variety of food in the carts. Different departments work together to try to make certain things happen. The fact that they have a food policy council means that certain initiatives can be brought forward.
JN: In Montreal, the city is well known as an enabler of the community garden movement. In Vancouver, they’ve developed new guidelines to enable or even encourage developers building condominiums to integrate food production in them. Governments are starting to realize how they are often hindering, limiting the development of it, and starting to figure out what they can do about it.
JK: This Artscape Wychwood Barns, this was city property.
JN: Yes, it’s a new city park. But to get to it, it took eight years of planning and a lot of debate. A city councillor was supportive of it and was committed to make it happen, as well as a number of groups. The neighbours were very divided on different visions of what to do with that park, it was a very difficult project to make happen. The city played a crucial role even if most of the funding was private donations.
JK: Cities are looking towards each other for ideas: what has worked in this city, what has worked in that city…