I’m proud to be part of a groundswell of consumers who are unsatisfied (okay, outraged) with current food standards, and who are pushing for change – with our voices, and by voting with our wallets with what food and drink we purchase and enjoy eating and drinking.
And, while there is still so much to be frustrated by and angry about in the food industry, we are beginning as a culture to ask more questions, and want answers, and we are willing to voice our concerns. This all brings about positive change.
Eating real food is better for our health, our families, our communities, and the environment – being connected to your food will change your entire life. This is not an over-exaggeration. The next wave of demand in food is exciting – choose to be part of these fun, delicious and healthy trends. As you support them, you are not only going to have a deeper appreciation for good food and drink, but you will be influencing a better food system for all – everything from how our food is grown, who makes it and under what conditions, to what gets sold and where, and how it’s packaged.
Take part in the following:
Shop Farmers’ Markets and Indie Grocery Stores (in that order!). Shop the farmers’ market first – Know your farmer, know your food. It’s fun, and a year-round activity – yes, even during the winter in Canada! Here are my tips on what to ask to get the most out of your experience, and your hard-earned dollars (And here is a list of Toronto’s markets). For everything else, shop indie grocery stores and health food stores over the “super”markets. Although it’s not guaranteed that everything on shelf is a good buy, it’s usually a better curated collection of products and brands, and you are supporting your local economy, and small businesses. We have so many great indie grocery stores to choose from in Toronto.
Embrace Ugly Fruit and Vegetables. Up to 40% of produce worldwide is wasted because it doesn’t meet the strict appearance standards of large grocery chains. That’s billions of pounds of good produce being turned away for being the wrong size, shape, and colour. Support organic farmers and indie grocery stores that stock ugly fruit and vegetables – we can divert tons of food waste (and feed more people)! Put eating ugly fruit and vegetables on your to-do list. Trust me, it not only tastes great but can help us solve some issues including waste and hunger! This petition tells retailers we want less-than-perfect produce – sign it to stop massive food waste. Also, follow @UglyFruitAndVeg on Instagram, where they celebrate ugly produce finds!
Buy Organic Juice in Glass Bottles. It’s true: fruit and vegetable juices are packed with nutrients that can be quickly absorbed by our bodies, and a bottle can contain 10 servings of produce. But think: this means that our bodies absorb a lot – including pesticides (and leached-chemicals from plastic) hiding in our juice, just as fast. Juice bars are popping up everywhere in response to customer demand, but not all of them source clean produce, clean their produce well, use processes that leave the nutrients in tact and use healthy packaging. So, a green juice, is not a green juice! When buying juice, ONLY choose those containing organic fruits, vegetables, and superfoods, packaged in glass bottles – or juiced fresh in front of you. There are so many good juiceries as options in Toronto, we are lucky.
Join a Social Food Group or two. Learning about what you eat doesn’t mean having to spend hours in front of your computer or holed off in a library (although I love these books if you’re into that). Between healthy cookbook clubs, cooking classes (if you’re in Toronto here are four great places to take them), and groups that watch a documentary of the month, there are so many ways to get more attentive and informed when it comes to your food – socially! If you can’t find a group, start one yourself. Sharing knowledge and good food makes the world go round.
Try Dairy-free versions of everything. There are so many good reasons to ditch dairy, for your health, for the planet, and for the cows. Luckily for lovers of yogurts, ice creams, sweets, and cheeses, healthy dairy-free options are becoming easier to find – even ones that are made locally! Yoso makes awesome yogurts and spreads, and Sweets From the Earth makes great tasting baked goods without the preservatives and GMOs. Tori’s Bakeshop makes a vegan cheese board, and Miyoko’s makes the BEST nut cheeses ever, in my opinion.
Google Functional Foods. Everyone else is doing it! According to Google, searches for functional, healthy foods are on the rise. With technology at our finger tips (and often right next to our forks), there is no better time to learn about the best foods for our bodies, and how to eat them. Wondering how you can incorporate ingredients like wheatgrass, spirulina, and sprouted seeds into your daily routine? Our free smoothie guide is one of many great online resources for you.
Eat Plant-Based Meals. As Michael Pollan has said repeatedly (and he’s worth listening to), “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Luckily for us, plant-based meals are becoming widely available across the GTA (even at non-vegan restaurants) – and haute vegan cuisine is booming in the States. Veggies are now becoming more than just a side, they’re becoming the main event – and their flavours are finally getting the recognition they deserve. For a night in, cookbooks like Oh She Glows and Thug Kitchen are perfect for simple, accessible, plant-based cooking at home – that everyone will enjoy!
Make Healthy School Lunches. Packing our kids’ first school lunches and snacks are easy. We feed our kids incredible, wholesome, organic food at home, and we are excited to send them off to their first days of school with a shiny, reusable stainless steel container full of whole foods to fuel them during their busy day. But, then something happens that many of us didn’t necessarily anticipate…our children’s exposure to “food products” and their naturally sweetened eyes watching their friends rip open colourful packaging and eat all that we have chosen to not feed to our kids for a myriad of (good) reasons. Thankfully, it’s becoming more mainstream to put care into what goes into your child’s lunches. Here are my tips for packing eco-delicious lunches.
Make-Your-Own or “Bar” Style Meals. Everyone gets to pile up their plates with food they enjoy. We eat every dinner like this: salad bar, soup bar, pasta bar, pizza bar, taco bar, bruschetta bar….one of our favourites is an almost weekly hummus bar for family dinner, featuring (lots of) freshly made hummus with lots of lemon and garlic, parsley, tahini, spinach, lentils, broccoli, red onion, roasted peppers, beets, hot sauces and pestos. Everyone is happy, we all eat together after making our own perfect bowl. Second helpings can feel like a whole new dish, and lunch boxes get packed before dessert. Now that is real fast food.
Try as many Fermented Foods as possible. Fermented foods are natural sources of probiotics, which support a healthy digestive system (and they’re practically a food group in my books). I love pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, vinegars, and kombucha, and there’s no better time than now to try all of the small batches made by local producers and makers (the best ones are at the Farmers’ Markets). You can even learn to make your own at home – keep your eyes open for upcoming workshops with Alchemy Pickle Company.
Eat Real Food. In trying to eat better, vegan isn’t good enough. Whole foods (the kinds that comes with ingredient labels you can actually understand – or better yet, no ingredient labels at all if it’s fresh produce!) are making a comeback, as people start to wise-up to the mystery ingredients in their meals. Rule of thumb: If you don’t recognize the name of a lab-made ingredient in your food, your body won’t either!
Covet Heirloom Produce. Heirloom fruits and vegetables are relics from the “old-world”, from before conventional growing, breeding, and spraying – imagine that! If you’ve had an heirloom tomato before, you already know that these crops have beautiful, intense flavours and colours, that have been untouched for centuries. While finding heirloom crops used to be challenging and for limited time when in season, they’re at our Farmers’ Markets, and you can grow them yourself. Commit to trying some of these funny-looking varieties yourself. Your tastebuds will thank you.
Demand a Right To Know. Read your labels! Reject front-of-label packaging, and check out not only the nutritional panel and ingredients, but the fine print about where the item is made, and by who. Have you checked where your frozen fruit or vegetables have been grown? Manufacturers are getting more truthful in their labeling, but are still legally allowed to use empty buzz words like “natural” and “green”. Look for labels that include third party certifications that you can trust, like Canada Organic or The Non-GMO Project, and support brands that are making their processes transparent. We all have a right to know what’s in our food.
Drink Clean Spirits. Whether you are at home, or at a restaurant, raise a glass to good health! Organic alcohol, made with ingredients grown on organic and sustainable farms, and processed in dedicated distilleries, are free of pesticides, fertilizers, and chemicals from field to fermenting and bottling, found in conventional counterparts. With the organic food industry on the rise, organic alcohol is making its way into many bars (like my minibar!), restaurants and liquor stores. Please ask for it: then we will all have more options, it’s simple supply and demand! This just adds to the obvious reminder to always drink responsibly. You can now get wonderfully-crafted organic beers and wines to enjoy your favourite drink in a way that’s gentle to your health and the environment. There are so many more options in the US, let’s work to bring them here, especially Dulce Vida Tequila (because I really like it and you will too).
Try Wholesome Gluten-Free Foods. Gluten-free options have grown to include coconut flour, chickpea flour, and there are great pastas made from beans and lentils. Even though “gluten-free” is a controversial trend for those who are not celiac and allergic, we could all benefit from not touching processed (and way over-processed) wheat and white carb garbage, and add in more wholesome, whole foods. Always remember to read labels: just because something is gluten-free, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. If you can’t pronounce it, and can’t trace where it came from, don’t eat it. – Common sense.
Support Subsidies for Organic Farmers. While our policies can’t seem to change fast enough, we must continue to ask the same questions (and demand the same answers): Why do organic farmers have to pay for certification? Shouldn’t that be free, while conventional farmers pay a pesticide tax for ruining our food, plus our shared soil, air and water (and health)? Buy organic. By supporting organic farmers and buying organic products, we are voting with our dollars and telling our governments what kind of world we want to live in – and putting more money to the organic farmers who need us (and deserve) us to appreciate them!
Grow Food, Not Lawn. If you’re anything like me, you love eating fresh organic produce, but know nothing about how to grow it. With the help of Young Urban Farmers, we have been able to turn our front lawn into an organic vegetable garden that feeds my family, the Borden Communications team, and the neighbours too! More on this in my piece on Huffington Post from 2012.
Making, tasting, and demanding better food is the best kind of bandwagon to get on. With good food, and good health, we can have it all.