Thursday, April 12, 2012

Food - and how far we go to get it

Smith A., MacKinnon J.B. 2007. The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. Vintage Canada, Toronto.

After reading the '100 Mile Diet' over the course of a few days, I don't really know what to say or comment on it.  The idea seems brilliant or even novel by today's standards, but from my point of opinion and understanding why should eating locally be such an out there idea.  Admittedly, I get my groceries in Superstore or Save On like most people, but there is a large component of my everyday diet that comes from my yard - either here in Kamloops or from the yard in Lillooet - or from the forests that tower our surrounding areas.

Yearly, bush upon bush of raspberries are patiently picked clean, eaten fresh or frozen for the winter season.  Apricots and grapes for wine or jelly - it's a fun time seeing how both are made.  Tomatoes galore to preserve for sauces or soup preparations.  There's always pickles for pickling.  Plums for drying, and, oddly enough also pickling.  We've got cherry trees, apple trees, a pear tree, and strawberries - all good for jams or to freeze to have for milkshakes in the winter.  There's broccoli, peppers, potatoes, corn, beans, peas, chives, onions, garlic, currants, gooseberries, sunflowers and even Siberian ginseng - though I still can't figure out what to do with that.  For herbs there's dill, sage, basil, and mint - all of which grow like crazy.  Combining the two yards makes a veritable harvest, and it really puts you in your place to see what a small patch of earth can give.  From the forest we get blackberries, raspberries, morels, edible boletus (sorry I only know mushroom names in Polish!), blueberries of two varieties grow in the forest surrounding the Joffrey Glacier (Highway 99 between Lillooet and Pemberton), and nuts (I can't remember which kind) can be found on the sandy shores of Shushwap Lake.


The mushroom I'm holding had a diameter twice that of a soccer ball!  Unfortunately it was infested beyond salvage.

Hunting season, though I've never gone myself, always hails with uncountable grouse - those things pretty much ask to get shot by just standing by the road - every-so-often there's a deer, there's the occasional bear every few years, and there's always local fish, like salmon.

So no, I may not an 'of the land' person as the authors of the '100 Mile Diet' would say, and I may not - scratch that, definitely do not - know all the latin names, or even some of the specific common names of all that I eat; but I do pride myself on the fact that I took the initiative to always help my mother in the garden to see how things grow, and now tend to some plants myself.  Overall, the book did not impact me as such, it didn't make me think that "Oh my god, I eat terribly", but rather it helped me remember all of the plants (and animals) that indeed I get by my own hand and not the hands of strangers from who knows where.

To go off onto a bit of a rant, reading the book I was really frustrated with the fact that they didn't figure out how to get salt until after their official year of dieting ended.  I mean, really, you live in Vancouver - there's a big freaking ocean essentially right on your doorstep (oh, this is a bad pun for anyone living on the Delta).

One thing that I truly enjoyed in this book was the account of the authors' bear encounter - it made me remember all of my bear encounters - reading about it is fun, thinking back on it now is funny, but when it actually happened was the scariest thing ever (scarier even than when I jumped of a bridge this summer in Switzerland).  Imagine camping in the woods, the camp ground essentially deserted, and deciding to sleep in the car (which is parked 200 meters away from your campsite) because you know there's a bear in the region.  You blow out you lamp before realizing that hey, you don't have a flashlight, and you start walking with your dog to the car.  There's a noise coming from the bushes ahead, and the dog growls - growling should mean squirrels as he's too big of a pansy to growl at a bear.  suddenly you hear loud breathing and can just make out a large silhouette sitting less than a meter away from where you are walking.  This is when the dog runs - like a rocket - in the other direction, and the silhouette begins to lumber towards you with a soft growl.  Yelling (or screaming like a girl - I can't remember, and there wasn't anyone there to hear it) was actually enough to startle the bear enough for him to run away, and I ran to get my dog who had run up to a cabin porch on the far edge of the camp ground.  The next morning I found prints all over the beach, and judging by them that bear must have been huge - and I'm glad I didn't actually see him all that well.

Bear prints

Our forests - where we can find so much

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Week 9: Marijuana (ie, BC bliss)

Pollan, Michael. 2002. The Botany of Desire. Random House, Inc., New York; p. 113-179.

Reading between the lines is important - you can then understand the hidden (or not so hidden) messages in words such as 'intoxication' (Pollan, 114) or 'therapist'.

Personally, I cannot understand Pollan's relation between poison and desire.  Coming from a small town where essentially anything goes, many a Friday night has gone by where my neighbourhood was silently smothered by the scent on the breeze.  Knowing its 'forbidden' status does not make me want to pursue it - in fact having to be exposed to it irritates me to no end - I can't understand why anyone one would desire it.

Knowing the context of this week's reading, I'm sure you can all guess what is in the back of the RCMP truck (the worst part of this was that it was parked in front of the church...).

Furthermore, this chapter just destroyed fairytales for me (thanks a lot Pollan).  This is one situation in which I believe that ignorance may have been bliss, and it put a whole new perspective on the saying "flying high",  but really, witches had special 'flying penis's' of their own kind (Pollan 119).

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Week 8: Additional Pictures

Here are some pictures taken by a family friend who just returned from a tour of the many deserts in the Western States.  Enjoy!
 This one isn't of plants I know - its the 'Race Track' in Death Valley - an ancient lake bed on which rocks seem to mysteriously move (even giant boulders)


Week 8: Dessert in the Desert

Nabhan, G.P. 1990. Gathering the desert. University of Arizona Press, p. 3-19.

This reading truly intrigued me.  I've been down to the deserts in Southern California (Death Valley) a few times, but never did I imagine that the plants surrounding me were such big sources of food or cures - the most I got from the desert were cacti through my shoes (ouch!).

Sorry, I couldn't find the picture of me with a cactus in my leg, but here's the lovely barren/desert view of Drumheller anyway ( PS: I'm the little one in hot-pink pants).

It's sad to think that the traditional uses of the plants is becoming vestigial (like our appendixes!) in today's society - they're all still around us, but we won't know how to use 'em.  Truthfully, I'll admit that the only plants I know how to use as a cure are garlic, onions, and sage (and those are very widely used as cures).

NATURE'S CROP CIRCLES!!!   Now this part of the paper I really liked, and upon looking up images of 'King Clone' it really does look like an eerie desert crop circle!

It's crazy to see how they form rings.  When I thought about it I thought that they would form multiple rings, but apparently they grow by allelopathic growth.  This causes them to release chemicals inhibiting growth of any other plants surrounding them - essentially meaning that the creosote bush will keep on growing in an outward ring because they cannot grow where they have already grown.



                                       The Peculiar case in which the fruit is the ‘prize’

“Isn’t ‘Bard on the Beach’ great?” I ask as the car is stuck in Vancouver’s evening traffic.

“Not bad, not bad, “ is my uncle’s reply, “Speaking of Shakespeare, do you know where potatoes originated?”

Transitions like this always take me aback.  “Um, Ireland?”


            Green mountains that reach like towers towards the blue skies, with white clouds
 surrounding the peaks like swirling snakes.  Potatoes – Solanum tuberosum – the tuber
 known to all, originated in the lower Andes of South America some 10,000 years ago. 
 Their introduction to Europe – and subsequent spread to other parts of the globe – was
 only some 400 years ago during the Spanish conquests of the 16th century.

All my life I have been ignorant of these facts, and this ignorance has been quite
 limiting. I have been eating maybe two or three varieties, imagine my surprise at finding
 out that there are one hundred commonly produced varieties worldwide, and over 4000
 varieties in total!

The late spring soil is still a bit hard as I work with a pitchfork to make even rows
 and mounds in the planters.  The sun is shining down, getting hotter by the day, and the
 spuds in the bucket next to me have begun sprouting.  Taking a knife I carefully cut the
 spuds in half, making sure each half has a sprout or two.  I push each spud into the
 shallow trenches, spacing them by six inches, and covering them with a mound of soil. 
 After thoroughly saturating the planters there’s nothing to do but wait.

It doesn’t take long for small, dark green leaves to poke through the tough soil. 
 Once the sunlight hits the leaves it almost seems as though their growth is a race.  Just
 over a month after planting them a canopy of green covers the ground like a thick carpet.

These potatoes are up to my knee – I smile, remembering the first time had
 planted potatoes.  Back then the only planter available was in the darkest corner of the
 yard, and what I got for all my hard work was a wild tangled mess taller than me in

Spring passes, summer wears on, and the last petal drop to the dusty soil below. 

“Hey dad, the potato plants have little green things that look like tomatoes…”

“Don’t eat those!!”

This turns out to be good advice.  For even though the potato and tomato are of
 the same family, the small ‘tomato-like’ fruit of the potato is full of the toxin solanine.

“The fact that there are fruits means that we can soon harvest the potatoes.  Just make
sure to add more soil to the planter, don’t let the potatoes poke through.”


As with the fruit, if the growing potatoes come in contact with sunlight they will
 photosynthesize and simultaneously begin producing solanine.

(only about half-way done, but some insightful comments might be nice)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Introduction to my essay!

“Isn’t ‘Bard on the Beach’ great?,” I ask as the car is stuck in Vancouver’s evening traffic.

“Not bad, not bad, “ is my uncle’s reply, “Speaking of Shakespeare, do you know where potatoes originated?”

Transitions like this always take me aback.  “Um, Ireland?”



- the sad (or maybe funny) thing about this conversation is that it actually happened...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Week 7: Johnny Appleseed Song

Seriously, Disney could not have made it more 'cheesy' - I think the story Pollan tells would have made for a much more entertaining movie!

"The barefoot crank died a wealthy man (Pollan 9)".

Week 7: APPLES

Pollan, Michael. 2002. The Botany of Desire. Random House, Inc., New York; p. 3-58.

Anyway, continuing on with Pollan's chapter on the apple.

More than the topic of the apple themselves I found the history, and politics behind 'changing' the history, of 'Johnny Appleseed' really interesting.  Besides the fact that the only times I've ever heard the name 'Johnny Appleseed' was while volunteering at a camp and kids had to sing the song before getting food, I've never given much thought to the story behind it.

Just as Pollan mentions the chapter, the story most people know - the story I know - is that he planted the apples as a food source; but the story Pollan traces is so much more interesting than that!  Maybe its just me being naive, but I would have never thought that the apples were primarily used for apple cider.

It tickled me pink reading about how, during the years of Prohibition, the 'apple' was essentially a thing over which the people warred over.  That said, John Chapman's (Appleseed) biography is a far cry from the Disney-fied story (which I don't know about the rest of you, but I didn't even know there was a movie).

"Sweetness is a desire that starts on the tongue with the sense of taste (Pollan p.17)."

Maybe I'm just a brat because I plant a lot of fruits and veggies in my yard, but whenever Pollan mentions the details in which plants (and I guess meats too) are changed to become supermarket approved, I really start to think about those foods.  In terms of apples, I've never realized this before - but  after dwelling on it - I realize that, unless I'm forced to, I don't eat fruit bought from the supermarket.

I pig out on fruits during the summer and fall, but rarely do I eat any fruit during the rest of the year (I'm actually surprised I don't have scurvy) - and I say this while eating chocolate rather than the fruit that's in the fruit bowl.  I know that what's in the store is in a way a symbol of our control - the perfect, uniform sizes, the skins waxed and without blemish - but honestly, the only apples I eat are full of worm holes (so I am never without a knife when eating apples), and have bruises (and really, why wouldn't you eat the bruised part? its like eating apple sauce without the effort of having to make it).