Eating locally discussion leads to a new coffee find

Hi Slow Foodies,

I was on the CBC’s Wild Rose Country last Friday (Feb 16) talking about the challenges of eating locally in our snow-covered city. It was a fairly basic discussion, but it caused me to revisit the reasons why it is so important that local food has a place in our food budget, ESPECIALLY in northern Alberta where we do have rely rather heavily on other places to provide the variety of foods we all enjoy.

For those of you who emailed me saying you missed it and would have liked to have heard it, I’ve included a rough transcript of the conversation I had with the host. (For those of you who heard it, this was the pre-interview discussion, so the order of the questions were somewhat altered, as were my answers.)

The neatest thing was the feedback. I was called shortly after it aired by one of our local fruit winery producers who REMINDED me that we have an Alberta-grown fruit wine industry (because on the live show I used coffee, tea and wine from other regions as foods I was not willing to live without even though they are not grown locally!).

And Poul Mark of Transcend coffee contacted me. He’s the city’s newest coffee roaster and has a very cool, coffee place at 9869-62 Avenue (nice web site too at www.transcendcoffee.com). They’re maniacs about coffee culture — I mean he’s modified his espresso maker coffee basket so that there’s a millisecond less contact with metal when extracting a shot. He also sells Kerstin’s new line of chocolate bars: Chocophilia. And they sell a nice selection of organic and fair-traded coffees. YUmmm.

So the CBC radio discussion, led to an email, which led to a face-to-face chat in this new coffee bar, which led to a new local food connection. It makes me happy when it works how it’s all supposed to work:)

BILL:
Coming up on our food column today, time to flex our food muscles .. and take on the challenge of eating locally – even in the dead of winter. The editor of the Edible Prairie Journal will join me with some well needed tips on how to make that happen.

INTRO:
Farm fields across Alberta are covered in snow .. harvesting any vegetables or fruits or other crops are now a distant memory – months old.
But we like eating fresh food. So it’s a real challenge to eat local produce at this time of the year.
Jennifer Cockrall-King says it’s not impossible. She’s joined me in our Edmotnon studio to provide us some suggestions of what to eat … and some motivation for why it’s worth doing it in the first place.
Jennifer is well known in Edmonton as the foodgirl – foodgirl dot ca, actually. She also publishes The Edible Prairie Journal, and she joins me now from our Edmonton studio.
Welcome Jennifer.

QUESTIONS:
How strong is the movement here in Alberta to try and eat locally?

• Well, Alberta is an agricultural province and many of us still have a connection to farming or ranching. So I’d say that we’ve always been fairly close to the land so it’s not so much of a stretch to reach back into our memory banks and remember this way of eating.

What are some of the reasons it’s worth it to try and eat locally?

• Quite simply, it’s a more interesting way to eat as far as I’m concerned. When we do our rounds at the large grocery stores, the selection is incredible, but it’s also very predictable. So we gloss over the foods that we’re not accustomed to eating, and we pick up the same dozen or so ingredients – no matter what time of year. Eating locally means we have to eat what’s available in a certain season, which keeps us interested and engaged in food; we’re omnivores and I believe we like selection and variety.

• When you eat locally, generally speaking you’re eating seasonally – so automatically, you get more variety in your diet.
• You’re eating foods at their peak of freshness or ripeness, so they are at their maximum nutritional value.
• The environmental footprint of eating locally is astonishing. There’s a commonly used figure that the average item that we buy in a conventional grocery store has travelled 1500 miles or 2400 kilometres before it makes it into our home. That’s shocking. That’s a lot of wasted energy, pollution and you can bet that that food item has lost a little bit of it’s nutritional value along the way.
• Eating locally, means that we’ll have local farms, and that means more greenspace, which is good for air quality, wildlife and general well being.
• Eating locally is a very important survival tactic. This sounds a bit drastic, but it’s perhaps something that we don’t think about but we’re losing the genetic diversity of our food as it becomes “standardized.” If every item needs one of those supermarket codes, maybe the supermarkets aren’t interested in a all the varieties of say, apples.
• And eating locally supports our family farms, meaning we’ll have people in the future who still have that knowledge of how to grow, raise and produce food in our own community.

But realistically speaking, we face big issues here in Alberta, with such a short growing season, and such a long winter .. What are some of the ways we can eat locally – even in the winter?
• Yes, it’s a bit of a challenge in our northern climate, but many, many generations did it quite successfully before us. My grandmother used to can fruits and vegetables like mad in the summer and fall. We used to eat carrot salad and coleslow quite a bit in the winter. Though now, we do have greenhouses that produce excellent local lettuces in the winter.
• Of course, we have an amazing selection of meats and lentils and beans for protein to keep us going in the winter.
• Our wheat makes excellent breads. We grow barley which transforms very nicely into beer!
• When you look at the number of ingredients we actually produce despite our climate…it doesn’t seem so daunting after all.

4. What are some examples of eating seasonal foods?
• Right now we can be enjoying hearty chilis made with local beef or bison and dried beans, we grow a lot of chickpeas on the prairies, we can make hummus in the winter, root vegetables take on a new perfection if you caramelize their natural sugars by roasting them with a little canola oil and dried herbs…
•Roast chicken is a great winter meal, French onion soup, with Alberta grown onions and local cheese melted on top…Sauerkraut and sausages…carrot cake..
• And it’s not just raw ingredients, we have a very sophisticated processed food industry in Alberta turning Alberta-grown wheat into Alberta-made pasta; excellent condiments like Zinter-Brown preserves, the Jam Lady jams, palette fine food’s jellies and spice rubs
• We even produce some of the best beers and spirits right in Alberta.

5. What are some of the benefits of eating local food products?
• I personally like the idea of being able to meet the person who grows the food my family eats. Or I can call them on the phone and ask questions about how it’s produced. This is important. Farmers want to hear from their customers, customers want to meet the producers. Local food allows this direct connection. If you buy something made by some major food label you may never know where it’s made, or how.

6. Where can you shop for these food items?
• Some Farmers Markets operate year round, specialty grocery stores: Co-ops IGA, Sunterrra and some of the smaller organic stores tend to carry more local products and don’t forget you can get food directly from farmers!
• Ask the grocery manage at your grocery store if they carry local products. Often they’re hidden away with the multinational labels but they’re there. Become a label reader!

7. Is this an all or nothing kind of pursuit?
• Not at all, this is the key thing. No one, and I repeat no one, can source all of their food locally. I’m not willing to give up coffee or tea because we don’t produce it in our province. But if everyone just tried to spend $10 a week on local food the impact would be fantastic. So if you have a choice, reach for a local brand and get involved in building up our food community.

8. What do you think is fair game for us to try and live without during the cold dark winter months?
• Fresh STRAWBERRIES and RASPBERRIES from New Zealand or South America or wherever they are being grown right now. Use locally grown frozen ones in stead if you must. But flying a pint of very fragile berries halfway around the world to me is silly.