Food is the common denominator. It gives us life. It delights and satisfies the senses. It provides an opportunity to share and enjoy with others. It is both pleasurable and good for you. At least it used to be.
There is a lot to be concerned about when thinking about food today: fast food; artificial and unhealthy ingredients; obesity and other eating diseases; lack of support for local farmers; the growth of agri-business; the extent of fossil fuels used to produce and deliver food to markets; the expectation of having seasonal food available to us year long; junk food in schools; the continued growth of food banks; and the erosion of prime agricultural land to build houses.
After years of traveling Vickie and I can tell instantly whether the food we are eating has been made with love. We fondly recall one of the best 'on the road' meals we have ever had – bottled moose (yes moose not mousse), pickled beets, home made biscuits, cloudberry jam and clotted cream in a remote windy Newfoundland outport. We lingered over tea with our hosts for hours. There was no comparison with the high priced meal in one of the trendiest restaurants in Manhattan, we had been treated to a few days before.
Thankfully 'food' is now on the agenda of many groups, individuals and families. One of the major contributors to this increasing awareness is the 'slow food' movement created by Carlo Petrini in 1986. The slow
food movement started as a reaction to fast food restaurants in Italy but evolved into fighting the
industrialization and commodification of food. Leave it to the Italians – the slow food logo, an
escargot, reflects their emphasis on enjoying good food, with each other, around the table, for hours! Smartly just
beneath the surface of a slow food cook book is a compelling manifesto
and call to arms to protect the century old traditions of food
preparation and preservation as well as a way of being with each other. Today they have 100,000 members in 132 countries.
Robert Putnam made the expression 'Bowling Alone' famous a decade ago. His worry: the decline of neighbourliness, associational and family life in North America – he called these connections, social capital. His contention: more and more of us are doing things on our own. The result: less bowling leagues but more people bowling. Thus the title bowling alone.
An even greater concern is the fact more and more of us are eating alone. Indeed eating too much 'fast food' alone. Fast food is an ugly companion to our fast paced lifestyles and the damages it has caused to belonging, and to good times with family and friends.
There are a number of hopeful initiatives when thinking about food
these days. These include: not taking food for granted; farmer's
markets; organic farming; the 100 mile diet; the growth of perma-culture; and city gardens.
Two important new Canadian initiatives are worth highlighting.
On June 15th the progressive Metcalf Foundation released five new reports (Metcalf Food Solutions) that together represent a vision of how we think about, produce and consume food. Click this link to download all five reports. Metcalf President, Sandy Houston is to be commended for his leadership in addressing: the financial crisis of farmers; the disappearance of farm land; the increasing use of food banks and the overall decline in health due to lack of access to nutritional food. I refer you in particular to Menu 2020:
Download Metcalf_Food_Solutions_Menu_2020(2), prepared by Sustain Ontario.
And last week the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor
General of Canada, and her husband Mr. Jean-Daniel Lafond launched the Governor General’s Award in Celebration of the
Nation’s Table to celebrate: outstanding efforts in improving the quality, variety and sustainability of all elements and ingredients of our nation's table. Check out the winners. You will be inspired by their creativity, inventiveness, stewardship, leadership, research, production and vision related to the food to table connection. It is no coincidence both their Excellencies hail from Quebec. Quebec has been alive and alert to the pleasures, flavours, tastes and conviviality of food and drink for so long.
For a reflective and highly readable
overview of the growth of the Food Movement I recommend Michal Pollan's recent
Food Movement Rising in a recent edition of the New York Review of Books.
Links to the Canadian Slow Food Movement are here.
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