hard cider fermenting

Food Project: Hard Apple Cider

In October 2013, I had the fortune to have a lot of extra apples. With only so many apples I could eat, and after dehydrating several trays already, I decided it would be a good idea to have a go at making hard cider. Here are the steps I took to make this happen along with some comments and notes on the process

  1. Wash and quarter apples
  2. Remove stems and seeds.
  3. Cut away any bruises and defects
  4. Place apple quarters in a high speed blender and blend until thick and smooth.
  5. Add some water facilitate fast and efficient blending
  6. Pour pulp into a strainer
  7. Place strained juice into a fermenting vessel
  8. Add yeast (I used champagne yeast)
  9. Wait until fermentation finishes, then rack and bottle

Notes

  1. When removing the stems and seeds, it’s ok if a few remain but try to remove as much as possible. I’m not sure how much this would affect the taste, but I’d imagine too much could impart a woody, bitter, and overly tannic taste
  2. If you add a lot of water to facilitate the blending of the apples, you may end up with less flavourful cider. I tried to use as little water as possible, but enough so that the apple quarters would still blend easily
  3. You can cut the apples into smaller pieces depending on the size of the apple to facilitate blending
  4. When straining a small quantity of cider, a relatively small collecting bowl and strainer can work. I ended up using an old pillowcase (cleaned and washed before using) to catch and collect the excess pulp
  5. After collecting the pulp, I let the pillowcase hang to drip overnight. I rigged up two saw horses and tied the pillowcase to a stick running across each end
  6. You can squeeze out any excess pulp to get as much liquid as possible
  7. Excess pulp can be used in a number of ways such as food for the worm compost or outdoor compost, added as a filler in baked goods like pancakes, breads, cakes, and cookies, as an ingredient in oatmeal, in shakes/smoothies, or dehydrated as apple pulp. The more juice you squeeze out of the pulp, the less sweet and flavourful the pulp will be. Squeeze out all/most of the juice and your pulp will be pretty tasteless.
  8. If you’re impatient, you can drink the cider anytime during fermentation. The longer you wait, the more dry and alcoholic the cider will be.  Taste at regular intervals until it is to your liking

hard cider fermenting

 


masai market nairobi

Random Thoughts on East Africa

Three weeks ago I went on a journey to East Africa to share my knowledge and experiences around urban farming. Over that time, I learned a lot, saw a number of great farming examples, and met lots of great people. Another blog post will focus on the official part of the exchange; this post will feature some of my random thoughts and notes on the culture, food, and other interesting aspects.

One of the first things I noticed was the traffic. Driving in both Kenya and Uganda would be considered chaotic by North American standards, with traffic lights (if there are any) routinely ignored, jaywalking as the only way to cross the street, and cars driving literally bumper to bumper. Add to that the many diesel fumes, dusty roads, large pot holes and large speed bumps, and you’ve got a recipe for chaotic traffic.

Matatus were another interesting part of my Nairobi and East Africa experience. Here, there are central bus stops and loading areas, but it is much more flexible and adaptive than I originally thought. For example, it seems like you can flag down a Matatu if you are walking along one of their routes, and the cost of your ride is partially determined by a tout at the main loading area, the current traffic conditions, and the supply and demand of the passengers and vehicles. When you’re inside, space is very limited, many vehicles feature disco style lights as well as music I can only describe as gaudy.

Food was another interesting part of the experience. For the most part, we ate local Kenyan food, with the staples consisting of rice, chapatti, ugali, beans, and potatoes. Kale is the most popular green and it is usually stir fried, with corn also very popular and mixed with the other staple foods. For meat, the most common meat is chicken. Beef and pork are less common, but can be found. Interestingly, you can also find rabbit meat (we had a whole workshop and a few experts on raising rabbits as part of our exchange), and zebra meat can also be found at a specialty restaurant aptly called Carnivore.

Speaking of food, my favourite meal of my Kenyan trip was to a hole in the wall pork shop. The front of the store served as a butchery, where you can go and order raw cuts of pork. In the middle, there are only a few basic wooden tables and benches, and the only things they serve are pork, ugali, and fries. The pork you can get dry fried or deep fried and despite being only a really small storefront with probably the worst name ever, the locals know that this is the place to get your pork.

Another interesting observation was that people rely heavily on their mobile phones – with most people having “regular” phones and only a few people having smart phones. Despite the limited functionality of the phones, many Kenyans still do a lot with their phone. If you are in a meeting, it will be rare for a few minutes to go by without hearing one or several phones ring. To them, having their phone ring during a meeting is not a rude act, and even interrupting a conversation they are having with someone else to check their phone or answer a ringing phone is not considered rude (that’s what one expat told me). Another interesting note is that Kenyan’s can pay and send money through their phone. They can even send phone credit to someone else as well.

Bargaining is another activity I quite enjoy. While many people find it to be a stressful or a necessary evil of shopping, I find the process quite fun and entertaining. A couple of interesting things I thought they do quite well are the use of anchoring and the technique of commitment and consistency. As part of the Kenyan bargaining style, the vendors use the back of a newspaper or other scrap piece of paper and write down their initial price. Many times, this price is 3x the actual price they will settle on, and sometimes it is even more than that (like 5x-10x the price they are willing to accept). They then get you to write down your opening price (gaining your commitment) and the negotiations continue from there. It is expected that there will be a back and forth exchange (with you expected to be consistent in slowly raising your price), and when I tried one time to stick For my original price, it didn’t seem to work too well (even though my original price was the most I was willing to pay). By treating this whole process as a game, and being willing to walk away from the deal (though interestingly, many vendors I found did not respond in my favor when I used the walk away technique), While many of the crafts and curios are the same across markets, the availability and variety did vary somewhat (based on my two visits to two different markets).

The last thing I’ll comment on is about security. As a result of recent terrorist activities, security has been increased across the country. For cars/vehicles, it is common for a security guard to check not only your trunk and contents inside your vehicle, but also to use a convex mirror to look and do a sweep underneath your car as well. At malls, each person is checked by a security guard of the same sex typically using both a metal detector wand and a quick pat down. They also look inside your bag, though most of the time I found the bag searches to be more of a cursory search rather than a comprehensive search. If you thought that was bad, airport security takes this to a whole new level. Before you even drive into arrive at the airport, your car is searched and you have to walk through a metal detector. You then need to present your passport and ticket to be allowed into the building, at which time you need to go through yet another set of metal detectors and pass your bag through an x-ray scanner. The next step is pretty normal with you receiving your boarding pass (if you haven’t printed it out or checked in online yet) and then having to go through the security screening to get to the departure area of the airport. If those 3 security checks and metal detectors weren’t enough, before you board the plane, you have to go through one, or if you are lucky, two consecutive x-ray machines/metal detectors.  Don’t ask me why you need to go through 4 different security checks to get onto an airplane for your flight. We’ll just call it TIA, or “This Is Africa” to explain the differences in how things work.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading and please share any comments you have below.


Youth Participants in the Urban Farming Exchange

Nairobi Initial Thoughts

In January 2012, Rooftops Canada (www.rooftops.ca/) in partnership with the Mazingira Institute (www.mazinst.org/) hosted a youth exchange in Nairobi, Kenya. As part of my involvement in the local food and urban agriculture movement in Toronto, I was invited, along YUF CSA (www.yufcsa.com) Co-founder Elaine to represent the Toronto delegation. Two youth representatives (Tasco and Kangela) were invited from Cape Town, South Africa, 5 youth (John, James, Shadrack, Eunice, and Harrison) were invited from Nakuru, Kenya and the NACHU organization (http://www.nachu.or.ke/) and about a dozen local Nairobi youth were invited to participate as well.

The goal of the program is for the youth (broadly defined as under 35) to share their ideas and experiences from each of our respective cities on urban agriculture and food security issues.

The program began with an introduction from Mazingira Institute, the host organization for the exchange. Introductions were made, an overview of the purpose and context of the trip was made and the rest of the day was spent with introductory presentations by the majority of the participants.

The main programming got started on the second day with a visit to Ndoso Farm, a peri-urban farm run by an enthusiastic and passionate Ndungi Ngogi. At his farm, he grows a variety of vegetables in greenhouses including some of the best peppers I’ve ever tasted. He also grows other fruit, vegetables, and raises fish on his property as well.

Elaine and I gave a presentation on making compost tea, as well as using worm castings to build the soil. Ndungi does a great job of composting using a variety of methods and that is one of his secrets to the success of his garden. He also gave a presentation on another method of composting using grubs, specifically the grubs/larvae of the black soldier fly.

In the afternoon, we went to another of Ndungi’s farms – this one a livestock farm that raises chickens and pigs. It was incredible to see how healthy the animals were, especially with Ndungi using organic methods for all of his activities.

The third day was spent primarily at Mr Rabbit’s Farm. While that isn’t his actual name, it is a nickname he likes to carry around with him. Before arriving at the farm though, we made two detours. The first was to H-Garden which is located in the second largest slum area in Nairobi. At this location, one of the youth leaders Humphrey “grabbed the land” and setup a garden to work with the youth in this area. The local authorities turned a blind eye because they see his project as benefitting the community, even though they don’t have official papers for the land. It was incredible to see a number of sack gardens, as well as rabbits and pigeons being kept on a tiny piece of land.

chili peppers grown in an upcycled tire
rabbits at H-Town Garden

We also had a short visit and interview with KOCH FM, a local radio station run by youth and broadcasting to just a small area in another ghetto area of Nairobi. The entire operation is run out of an repurposed shipping container, complete with an office and sound-proof studio for their broadcasting. To see this local project in action, essentially using just a computer and a microphone was a humbling experience to see how much can be done with so little.

When we finally got to Mr Rabbit’s farm, we had a tour around his property. We had a chance to see how they make their own compost, how they utilize a farming methodology called moist bed gardening, how to butcher a rabbit, enjoy sucking on fresh sugar cane, and see a larger scale rabbit operation.

Sunday, day 4, was a rest day, and a bunch of us spent some the afternoon at a local swimming pool for some much needed R&R.

On Monday, we continued our farm excursions to two local places. The focus was on value-added products and we first stopped at a local place that manufactured toys using recycled plastic. Using just two small buildings, they sort, melt, and mold recycled plastic into some really nice toys. It looked like they also had a bunch of corn growing in a back lot as well. We finished the day at Esther’s farm which is another peri-urban farm in a new suburb of Nairobi. Here, we had a chance to have a few hands-on demonstrations of how to make yogurt, how to make peanut butter (using either dry roasted peanuts or fried peanuts), and how to make mango jam. The peanut butter and mango jam were some of the best I’ve ever had! Esther has what we would consider to be a cottage industry that takes.

That’s all for this update. Look for more pictures and posts as the exchange continues.


Soupalicious2010

Soupalicious 2010

Soupalicious2010On Saturday October 9th, I went to the 3rd (?) annual Soupalicious event at the Exhibition Place. Put on by Compost Council of Canada along with and many other sponsors including the City of Toronto, this was a chance to enjoy the harvest and  “sip, slurp, and savour” over 40 different soups from a whole variety of participants.

At the event, I had a chance to try about 20 different kinds of soup (talk about soup overload!) as well as participate in a very brief video segment for an upcoming project put on the Green Living Project. Other interesting highlights were an inauguration ceremony by deputy mayor Joe Pantalone (who is also the chair of Exhibition Place) and seeing him followed around by his posse of supporters in matching tshirts, purchasing some delicious homemade pecan butter tarts, and participating in a taste test by Local Food Plus in trying to taste whether one soup was made with locally- and sustainably-grown pears or with conventionally-grown pears.

Despite being souped out by the end of the event, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and tasting notes on the variety of soups on offer for the day. Each soup was presenting in a small biodegradable sample cup. Big enough to get a good tasting, but small enough that you can sample a whole variety of soup without getting too full. So without further ado, onto the soups (in no particular order)

Fire on the East Side
Roasted Tomato Blackbean and Tortilla Soup with Yellow Pepper and White Chocolate Mole
-This was a great tasting soup with the rich flavours coming through of the roasted tomato and blackbeans
-The tortillas added a nice crunch and texture to the soup
-The mole was good, though I couldn’t really taste the white chocolate and I don’t really know what moles usually taste like to give a fair assessment

Greens and Sprout Salad
I don’t know who prepared this, only that it was delicious. One of the volunteers stopped by our table and handed this to us. In addition to some baby lettuce greens, there were almost a dozen kinds of sprouts (alfalfa, clover, broccoli to name a few) that gave it a really nice fresh taste and refreshing texture. After eating several soups, having solid food was a good way to avoid soup overload.

Le Rossignol
Carmelized Onion and Bacon Soup
-This was a very smooth pureed soup
-I couldn’t taste much of the bacon

The Annex HodgePodge
Curried Carrot and Ginger Soup
-A warming and hearty soup with a mild ginger taste coming through towards the end of each sip. It was nicely done
Zucchini and Dill
-The only soup from this stand I didn’t try
Red Velvet (Potato and Beet)
-Full of deep, earthy flavour, this had the right balance of sweetness from the beets and the savoury taste you expect from a soup. Another well done soup

Palucci
Charred Sweet Zucchini with Cumin and White Truffle Oil
-A rich, savoury, and chunk soup full that was very rich in taste – it came recommended by some other tasters and did not disappoint
-I can imagine this being a little to much in a full serving, but in a small sample cup, it was perfect

Crush Wine Bar
Cauliflower Puree with Crispy Pancetta and Brown Butter Cauliflower Florets
-One of my favourite soups, the puree was had a fresh and subtle cauliflower taste (vs. an overpowering and “in your face” taste) that was complimented with the pancetta and extra florets
-I think my favourite soup of the day

St. Jamestown Steak and Chops
Rosemary Vegetable Soup
-I walked by this stand several times until I decided to give it a try towards the end of the day
-It was super tasty, though at first I wasn’t drawn to it because of the simple sounding name. It exceeded all my expectations in terms of how flavourful it was and how rich and chunky it was
-A great example of how if simple soups when done well, they are much more enjoyable than elaborate soups poorly executed.

The Gladstone Hotel
Cauliflower soup with leek compote and a drizzle of curry infused cold preseed soy oil
-Another cauliflower soup and I really liked the infused oil on top, which brought a new dimension to the soup

Advinda’s
Masoor Dal and Carrot Curried Soup
-This soup had a bit of a kick at the end from the spices and showcased the traditional Indian flavours well
-I realized though that I prefer my dal when it is thicker and in a more traditional Indian-style dish, rather than in soup form

Esther Queen of Soups
5 soups on offer her, though the one I tried was: Mulligatawny with Spicy Chicken Noodle
-Wow, my favourite of the rich and chunky homestyle soups on offer

Cruda Cafe
Moroccon Cauliflower Soup
-The only raw soup at the event, garnished with dried eggplant
-A cool soup (not heated since it is a raw soup), it was still very tasty and the crispy dried flakes of eggplant on top sealed the deal for me.
-Something I would definitely have again

Christina’s on the Danforth
Avgolemono
-Thick and chunky chicken soup with a touch of lemon
-Interesting sourness of the lemon coming through towards the end, which was not very expected, but it seemed to work ok

Supermarket
Sumo Miso Soup
-After trying it, I can see why they called it sumo – because of the big chunks of veggies in the soup
-Great miso flavour, interesting to see it jazzed up with all the big pieces of veggies in there
-Another soup that falls into the simple, but well executed category (and I’m happy that I had some after passing it by several times throughout the day)

Southern Accent
Gumbo Z Herbs Ya Ya
-garnished with rice
-this was the last soup I had and was also very tasty

Petit Four
Wild Mushroom Soup (not pictured)
-looked like it was served out of a large coffee urn
-a perfect showcase of how using a few simple and fresh ingredients (along with a skillful cook, of course) can create a delicious soup

Cowbell
Corn Chowder and Bacon

Brick Street Bakery
Iberian Fisherman Soup
-definitely a comfort food kind of soup
-lots going on in terms of ingredients, but held together well by the broth

Le Papillon
French Onion Soup
-a cassic, and well done, though I went a bit too late to get a garnish of what I think was goat cheese on a small cracker

One Love Vegetarian
One Love Corn Soup
-very well done, and not as sweet as other corn soups I’ve had

Final Notes
Overall, I counted 20 soups that I ended up trying at the event! From these soups, I realized a couple things. 

  • Soups taste best when served hot
  • The texture of soup was just as important as the taste of the soup 
  • Soups can be very simple and also very complex. 
  • Garnishes add a nice additional element to most soups
I think this event has inspired me to start making some more soup!

kimchi

How to Make Homemade Kimchi

About a week ago, I got a box full of napa cabbages from my aunt’s farm and was thinking of ways to use them up. Many were given away to friends and family, but a good number of them, I decided to set aside and 5 of them and make some homemade kimchi. It’s actually much easier than I thought and doesn’t take too long either. Here’s the “recipe” that we used, based on Evelyn’s grandmother’s recipe.

  • 5 napa cabbages – halved
  • 2 cups Korean hot red pepper powder
  • 1 cup Korean fish sauce
  • 5 heads garlic
  • 2 bunches green onions
  • 1 large bunch chives
  • 1 lb ginger
  • 3/4 cups salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar

As a side note, these are all estimates as we just started chopping and mixing and tasting the mix as we went. You want a good balance of salty and spicy to go along with the flavours of the other ingredients. Think about kimchi that you eat at various Korean restaurants – what does it taste like? Do you prefer it saltier? Spicier? Use that as a general gauge of how the sauce tastes.

Process:

  1. Slice cabbages in half and soak in a large container/pot/bowl for several hours or overnight. The leaves will start to soften and wilt from the salt. The water should be salty, and mine was almost like sea water salty.
  2. Chop veggies and combine with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix to combine. A  few tips – cut veggies “diagonally”, so you get long thin slices of the green onions and chives. I used a food processor for the garlic and ginger.
  3. Using your hands (get gloves if you don’t want your hands to smell and turn red from the sauce), mix the ingredients together.
  4. Drain cabbage and carefully start rubbing the sauce all over the cabbage halves and in between each of the leaves. You want the sauce to try to coat all surfaces of the cabbage. Squeeze cabbage together and pack tightly in a jar. I used 2 large pickle jars for the cabbages.
  5. Place any leaves that fall off at the top of the jar once all the heads are packed tightly in the jar.
  6. Seal and leave the jar at room temperature overnight, then in a cool refrigerated area.
  7. I found local Ontario garlic at the Korean grocery store, and the napa cabbages were locally grown from my aunt’s farm just north of the city. I can also grow the chives and green onions and chili peppers for a more locally sourced dish – though the fish sauce, salt and sugar I’m not so sure about…..

Notes:

  1. I also threw in a few of my backyard grown and dried cayenne peppers.
  2. I think the Korean red pepper flakes use cayenne peppers judging from the picture on the packaging ,but I’m not sure. This, along with the fish sauce (the ingredients were listed as anchovies and salt) are the secret sauce that give kimchi and a lot of Korean food their distinctive flavour.
  3. Feel free to taste and eat the cabbage as you go to get a sense of how the sauce tastes.
  4. Go to a Korean grocery store for the ingredients – especially the red pepper flakes and fish sauce. I found a whole shelf devoted to fish sauce and soy sauce at mine.
  5. Enjoy – the kimchi should last for several months in the fridge or cool place – I plan on keeping mine in our unheated cold room
  6. When jamming the sauce in between each of the cabbage layers, start from the middle outward. It is much easier than working from the outside in.

And now for some pictures for your viewing pleasure:



mise-en-place (of the raw ingredients at least)


a food processor makes for a great time saver in the kitchen


diagonal cut chives and green onions


round one of the sauce (we ended up making it in 2 batches)


shoving the sauce into all parts of the leaves


hard at work in the kitchen


rubbing that oh-so-delicious kimchi sauce into the cabbage leaves


the final product – two large pickle jars worth with a clementine in the foreground for perspective


CFSClogo

My Review of the 14th Annual Community Food Security Coalition Conference (and New Orleans Food)

It’s been about a month since I arrived back from the CFSC conference down in New Orleans and I’ve finally had a chance to put together some of my notes and thoughts on the experience. Overall it was a fantastic experience and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to go. While it’s difficult to compress all the experiences, notes, thoughts, and impressions down into a short (ok, long) post, here goes:

CSFC Opening Plenary
The opening plenary featured 3 great speakers who I believe collected set the tone and the scene for the rest of the conference. The key points I noted from Brenda’s message is that this is a hopeful and inspirational community out there. Together, we are here to share our ideas, wisdom, knowledge and take it back to our respective communities to make it a better place. Lolis continued on with this theme, talking about food as culture, and sharing a story about the locals who felt most at home with their red beans and rice, even if they had migrated to another State or country. His message reminded me of one of the program’s The Stop put on by growing ethnic food from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Because, if we are to connect and engage all communities, the easiest (and maybe best) way, is to start by understanding their food, their culture, how it is shared, and how people are connected to it. Finally, Pam concluded the panel discussion talking about connecting to people through stories and how food can serve as a tapestry for these stories. Continuing on with this metaphor, she went on to say that the more interconnected and woven together we are, the stronger the bonds and the communities we work in.

One of the things that really resonated with me was this: food security is not about avoiding starvation. It is as much about security – a tangible feeling, a safe environment, or regular access to food – as it is about the actual food itself.

 

The Workshops:
There were so many interesting workshops, it was very difficult to choose. My rationale in choosing which workshop to attend was based on the following criteria and in trying to maximize the net benefit from each session (yes, that’s business school training/thinking at work here). For example, how much of this stuff do I already know or can learn easily through online research? What kinds of networking opportunities will be available with the presenters and other participants?

The first workshop I went to was about credit/capital as a business tool for farmers. The presenters were extremely knowledgeable, and shed insight on the credit system and how it relates to farmers. For example, loans are based on asset value and what the bank can get  in the case of foreclosure. They don’t really care about your cash flow, your reputation, or other issues. It’s about the cold, hard facts. Farming is also very different than your typical desk job. There are many initial production and pre-season costs, and the farmers are at the mercy of many factors such as weather, the global market, and their skill that it is impossible to predict the yields/finances of the farm at the end of the season. Despite that, farmers are critical to the functioning and well-being of our society. And those that are doing things differently (ex. CSA’s, new and emerging markets), are being failed by the current system. It is an extremely difficult industry to be starting out in, and many people are faced with a choice between the lesser of two evils – scale up or get out when it comes to surviving and making a living out on the farm. In this session, I really enjoyed they had a female fisherman come out and talk about the similar challenges facing the fishing industry. I think they have an even harder uphill battle as so many people view fishermen as rapers and pillagers of the sea. And as year-round demand for certain fish rises, we are starting to lose touch with the cycles of the ocean and catching/eating specific fish during different parts of the year. With the advancement of technology, we are no longer limited to how hard and how fast we can row, but rather by the supply and demand of the global market that don’t take into consideration There is so much more that can be discussed (this was the session I took the most amount of notes in), but in the interest of brevity (well my attempt at it anyway), I’ll leave it here for now.

Youth Food Policy Councils: Engaging Youth Within the Food Policy Framework Workshop:
This was the session that Tracy, Michelle, and I were facilitating. The workshop featured a short overview/presentation on food policy councils and the local scene in Toronto before breaking out into small group discussions using a format called Open Space Technology. You can read more about the workshop and participant notes here. We had a total of 32 participants and everyone gave us really positive feedback. In fact, one woman stood up towards the end of the workshop and said something to the extent of “until now, I thought all young people were lazy and not doing anything interesting, but you guys proved me wrong and this has been the best workshop of the conference so far”.

We gave a recap presentation to the TFPC, who helped fund us in going to the conference, and the thing that I mentioned that really resonated with me is that while we’re working away here in Toronto, this conference and this workshop focused on the bigger picture. That is, how can we help, empower, and motivate other young people to go into their communities to start their own youth food policy council, and how can we inspire, collaborate, and support other young people working across the country in other similar and worthwhile initiatives. Well, through this session, the networking, the website, and personal connections that were formed, I think we’re off to a great start so far.

Foraging for Funding: Is Social Enterprise Right for Your Non-Profit Workshop:
During this workshop time slot, I was debating between this session and one on creating healthy soils. I’m happy I ended up at this one because of the chance to experience a new way of group brainstorming and problem solving using the format of the World Cafe, but also in meeting some interesting people and getting some great resources on social enterprises.

Engaging Youth in Food Justice and Community Building Networking Session
This was the second workshop of the first day, and turned out to be quite similar to the session that we were going to be presenting on the third day of the conference. They used the same ice breaker activity (foodie bingo!) as we did, and also used small breakout group discussions to get people talking about different issues.

Emerging Technologies and a Just Food System
This could have been the most informative session of the conference as I knew very little about what is actually going on in the world of bio-tech, genetic engineering, cloning, and nanotechnology. While the presenters only scratched the surface of what is going on, it was a great primer and introductory session to start understanding the facts presented by people passionate about “traditional” food.

Here are some other interesting things I learned. Companies who promote and engage in the above practices do not view protein as living animals – they view it as amino acids, which can be constructed in a lab environment. They use terms like “we’re the FDA, you can trust us” and we have “the best science”, yet look the other way when communities are emptied out, economies suffer, and the environment, workers, and animals get treated like parts of a machine, rather than a dynamic, interconnected ecosystem.

One thing that really shocked me was learning about a new  genetically engineered salmon. The shocking thing is that not that it has genes from a deep sea eel, but the fact that it is labeled as an “animal drug”, which lowers the bar in terms of standards, and allowing the business to without tests/data about the product, and gives the public no input and not official public process to even begin to assess the potential risks/benefits of this new GE salmon.

Another interesting point was brought up about cloned animals (which the government has no way of knowing if it gets into our food system). One audience member suggested that these animals actually really are not “clones”, as they have many more health problems, a significantly shorter life span, and only 5% survive through the birth process. Doesn’t sound like a clone to me if the parent and offspring are so different.

Again, there’s lots more that could be written about these subjects, but we’ll leave it here for now.

Local Business Clusters
The last breakout session I went to was about local business clusters, which gave two case studies about cities rallying around, you guessed it, local business clusters. The argument that was made is that business clusters are like a multiplier, in terms of social connectivity, financial exchange, knowledge sharing, and so much more. In the example of Detroit, they formed the Detroit Market Development Project which has niche processing, innovative distribution, enhanced retailing, and a business incubator that turned a liability (old rundown building), into an asset (local business cluster). Just like the American craft brewery industry has proven a similar initiative to be a success, he hopes to spread this model to other communities.

General Conference Notes:
Overall, the conference featured lots of really cool people doing really interesting things. If there’s one regret that I have during the conference it was that I made just average use of the networking times and opportunities. It would have been nice to connect with more people and learn more about the cool things happening across the country. I gained insight into what makes a good presentation (tell good stores, use slides with lots of pictures and little text, and engage the audience as much as possible), being on both the presenting and listening side of the room. I realized that I got the most out of presentations that were contrary to my existing viewpoint, or on topics that I knew little about (so many of the presentations seemed like they were preaching to the converted).

Finally, while I believe we’re up to some great things in Toronto, I think we need to continue pushing local food initiatives, continue innovating, continue engaging people and getting them involved, and using tools like social media to push the agenda forward on a variety of food issues. It can be tough work sometimes, but it’s important and well worth the efforts.


Some notes on the food from both the conference and around the city
Being a conference about food and more specifically, food security, many people (myself included) went into the conference hoping for something more than your typical conference fare. I’m happy to report that they didn’t disappoint as the conference organizers worked very hard in collaborating with Sodexo such as allowing non-standard items (Ex. organic milk for the tea/coffee) for the event AND with local farmers who planted crops specifically for this event. Talk about dedication and good planning!

For the conference food, some highlights included the opening reception of roast goat and fresh, delicious produce, as well as the vegetable fritata for breakfast the first morning of the conference. And the thing that capped it all off was a party and gumbo competition where such delicious things like duck gumbo, seafood gumbo, and many other gumbos were served.

Outside the conference, New Orleans offers up lots of great food. We tried the obligatory oysters (raw and grilled) at Acme Oyster House, and beignets at Cafe du Monde, which did not disappoint. Po-boy sandwiches, blackened alligator and crab cakes also featured predominantly in our meals in the Big Easy. Other food highlights included fresh pecans/pralines (the freshest and tastiest I’ve ever had), local beer from Abita brewery, jambalaya, and of course more gumbo. I want to include a special mention for the website roadfood.com (with recommendations almost exclusively in the lower 48 States) as their recommendations were spot on. I’ve been meaning to go to a few of their suggestions (road trip to Buffalo anyone?), and have enjoyed their segments on a podcast I listen to called “The Splendid Table

French cuisine and styles are a big influence on the food, and you can see it in the coffee shops, po-boy sandwiches (on French bread), and in all the butter and roux sauces they use in their dishes.

I could go on about more of the food and beverages of the city, but that’s probably a post for another time. Overall, I didn’t feel any hesitation eating the seafood in the city, especially after the oil spill, though that may be because some of it was not from the gulf area. For the rest of this post, I’ll just leave you with a visual treat of some of the food.


pulled pork po-boy sandwich


Mixed plate of jambalaya, red beans and rice, and an etoufee I believe


Deep fried softshell crab


Another mixed plate, with a salad, gumbo, and something else


Beignets at Cafe du monde


Char-grill oysters (and some raw ones too)


Fried turnip greens