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So close and too far away

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

You are what you eat, as the old saying goes, however, most people today don’t know what they are eating or where it came from for that matter. The 100 mile diet is a month by month account of a Vancouver couples struggle to eat foods found within a hundred miles of their home. At the start of their journey they discover, the with the purchase of the ingredients of their first meal, how truly difficult this diet will be. Alisa and James were shocked at the minimal availability of choices to this diet at the local store as well as the astronomical cost. The following months are entwined with creative ways of making meals with foods you may not have heard of, like pumpkin honey, and adventures in finding the foods that they are ravenously craving after months of an overabundance of potatoes. With a growing interest and following of their endeavour they soon become a phenomenon to the public eye.

I enjoyed the writing styles of the two authors and found it interesting to jump back and forth between both of their points of view. They alternated writing chapter to chapter and through humour and their own personal stories the reader gained a clear insight into the couples separate as well as joined lives together. “Then, in the gravelly voice that always reminded me of 1940s movie stars, my grandmother sprung this one on me: “I never liked to cook.”” pg 27.

When I began reading this book I was a little confused by the title of the story being that the authors hailed from Vancouver BC. However after further consideration it dawned on me that the powerful reach of the United States also dominates the food transport industry and production, so of course we would cater to their methods of measurement. ” No region feeds itself any more: we all stand in reference to the same global food system.” pg 32. When Alisa began discussing the availability of the numerous types of apples being so close to the Okanagan I began thinking about when I began working at a grocery store a few years ago when the organic food trend had just begun. I was amazed that people would come into the store and purchase everything organic and would pay three times as much money for 1/3 the quantity of food. I would look at the fruits encased in an outer shell and think what is the point all the pesticides and chemicals would not affect the fruit inside. I have since discovered that this is not the case and will freely pay more for organic bananas, apples and other fruits because the taste is leaps and bounds more tasty than non organic.

I don’t believe I would be physically or metally strong enough accomplish this diet, food is such a huge part of my life and my happiness the thought of sifting through mice crap to acquire a few grains of wheat just would not be possible for me

The Fruits of our Relationship…

My brothers and I set the table with uncontrollable anticipation and excitement plastered all over our faces, as the aromatic sent of roasted turkey is slowly wafted in our direction. My mother diligently checks on the golden brown color that has formed on the crispy skin and passes a sly humorous smile my way as she spots me wiping the drool from my face. It’s thanksgiving again and everyone has gathered from near and far to share stories and company and glorious food. As I sit down in my chair and the playful banter continues back and forth across the table I examine the feast laid out before me and think to myself where would we be without this wonderful food? In my past recollections there has not been a single event not one gathering where food has not been one of the main attractions and in this role has enhanced the experience so much that it has become fused into my memory for all my life. After a short but complete prayer of thanks for this year’s gifts I am finally ready to dig in, and after a slight pause a thought passes through my mind that of all the delicious foods on mom’s fancy china if one were missing I would notice the cranberry sauce the most, besides the turkey of course. That crimson sauce with the sweet yet tart taste, which needs to accompany every bite of turkey that enters my mouth, is what encompasses the feeling of completeness, family and happiness all into one.

As I sit there enjoying my meal, not as slowly as I should be, I ponder the past of this mysterious fruit, surly the cranberries debut was not on a plate at the first thanksgiving. It turns out that sometime later I would get the opportunity to answer this very question and others in the form of a research project on the subject of any plant of my choosing. Only three fruits can trace their roots to North American soil the cranberry being one, along with the concord grape and the blueberry.  From the very beginning of mans relationship with this berry, the cranberries uses were not at all similar to how we use them today. American Indians used cranberries or sassamanash as they called them, as a decorative red dye for clothing and blankets. Cranberries were also used in pemmican, a food vital in the sustainability of the fur trade in the 1700’s, consisting of dried meat pounded into a powder then mixed with animal fat, grains and cranberries for flavor, this dish became essential for any journey of considerable length. Cranberries would eventually travel across the sea and root themselves into European soil but only with the help of a strange twist of fate and some stormy weather, an American ship loaded with crates of cranberries sank along the Dutch coast, and the berries took root and have been cultivated there ever since. From simply sprouting out of the ground to cranberry cultivation modern methods of harvesting have changed the habitation and landscape the cranberry calls home.

In 1816 Captain Henry Hall, a revolutionary war veteran noticed that sand blowing over his cranberry plants caused an increase in their production and after this news was spread the number of cranberry growers increased dramatically. Having only been domesticated in the last 160 years the cranberries of today have evolved little still resembling their wild ancestors. Harvesting on the other hand have evolved, large scale production and export has resulted in the wet harvesting method, where cranberry beds are flooded with water and workers beat the cranberry bushes with special sticks causing cranberries to float to the surface due to a tiny pocket of air inside each berry, then huge monstrous machines suck the berries onto a conveyor belt where they are taken away to be processed. Regardless of how extreme some measures may seem cranberry vines survive indefinitely some on Cape cod are more than 150 years old. The cranberry has been able to change and adapt to be just as important in the modern age of counting calories and healthy living.

In the more recent past the cranberry has been merely a side sauce to most families, complementing a meal once or twice a year, however with new medical discoveries and benefits of this fruit the market has exploded into a cranberry frenzy. Studies have shown that the perfect balance of nutrients in the cranberry fruit as a whole is responsible for its many health benefits. Better known for their ability to prevent urinary tract infections with their proanthocyanidins which prevent bacteria from sticking to tissue walls, the cranberries benefits go far beyond this. These benefits include anti- inflammatory properties, anti-cancer effects on breast, colon lung and prostate cancers. As well as aiding in cholesterol health and stroke recovery they contain antioxidants, which are very popular right now. It seems that this super fruit is equipped with the complete arsenal of weapons required to fight off the major health problems afflicting our society today.

These days the cranberry has made its way more frequently into my weekly meals weather it’s in a scone at breakfast, in a cool delicious glass of cran-grape juice with lunch or sprinkled lightly onto a salad complementing a well-rounded dinner. I feel much better knowing that the cranberry is doing its best to look out for my best interests, my health.  I look back on the memories I have collected and treasure the family moments of birthdays and anniversaries and look forward to the ones I will create with my own growing family including myself, my husband our 21 month old son and the next arrival in September. I take comfort in the fact that of all life’s uncertainties the warmth and comfort of that home cooked meal will be a constant throughout our lives.

Bibliography

The cranberry institute.[Internet]. [cited 2012 Feb 10]. Available from:  http://www.cranberryinstitute.org/

DeBeck Educational Video. 1991. Cranberry Bounce. [Videocassette] Vancouver (BC). 1 videocassette: 30 min, sound, colour.

The kitchen project, How the cranberry became part of our thanksgiving. [Internet]. [cited 2012 Feb 10]. Available from:   http://kitchenproject.com/history/cranberries/CranberryThanksgiving.htm accessed February 10th 2012.

Miguel CS, Giménez D, Krogmann U, Yoon SW. 2012. Impact of land application of cranberry processing residuals, leaves and biosolids pellets on a sandy loam soil. Applied Soil Ecology [Internet]. [cited 2012 Feb 10]; 53: 31. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.tru.ca/science/article/pii/S0929139311002617

Rodriguez-Saona C, Vorsa N, Singh AP, Johnson-Cicalese J, Szendrei Z, Mescher MC, Frost CJ. 2011. Tracing the history of plant traits under domestication in cranberries: potential consequences on anti-herbivore defences. Journal of Experimental Botany [Internet]. [cited 2012 Feb 10]; 62(8): 2633. Available from:  http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org.ezproxy.tru.ca/content/62/8/2633.full

United states department of agriculture, Natural resource conservation service. [Internet]. [cited 2012 Feb 10]. Available from:   http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=VAMA

Upper Canada cranberries, Cranberry history. [Internet]. [cited 2012 Feb 10]. Available from:   http://www.uc-cranberries.com/history.html accessed February 10th 2012.

Wang C, Zuo Y, Vinson JA, Deng Y. 2012.  Absorption and excretion of cranberry-derived phenolics in humans. Food Chemistry [Internet]. [cited 2012 Feb 10]; 132(3): 1420. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.tru.ca/science/article/pii/S0308814611017353

What’s new and beneficial about cranberries, The world’s healthiest foods. [Internet]. [cited 2012 Feb 10]. Available from:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=145

High looking down at the world

Pollan, M. 2001. Chapter 3. Marijuana. pg. 113-179 in The Botany fo Desire: A Plants- Eye View of the World. Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York.

If a man high on LSD was spouting philosophy in the streets in this day and age he would be ignored or hauled away. However a couple thousand years before and you’re considered one of the fathers of modern civilization and thought like Plato and Socrates. Pollan’s chapter on Marijuana is an awesome visual and sensory trip through time and space about the plants role today and more recent dark history, to its place throughout history and religion. Many cultures used cannabis and other psychoactive plants to alter their consciousness, mostly this was refered to as magic. He then continues his journey to Amsterdam where he experiments a little first hand and finds the paranoid feeling he usually has when smoking cannabis not present at all due to the complete legality of the substance in this country. Pollan also dives into the chemical components of the drug and what it does exactly to your brain.

I have had my own experiences with this mind expanding plant as I’m sure any child born in the 80’s has, or even the 90’s and 2000’s for that matter, the bulk of these experiences not necessarily being personal use. Wether it was parties, crazy brothers or even just walking downtown Vancouver you are bound to run into the sweet pungent scent of this weed. Having read Pollan’s account of the cannabis tawdry history it’s not surprising that it is still not completely socially accepted in today’s society. “The fact that witches and sorcerers were the first Europeans to exploit the psychoactive properties of cannabis probably sealed its fate in the West as a drug identified with fear outsiders and cultures conceived in opposition: pagans, Africans hippies.” pg 174. Being deeply rooted in religion in many countries and people arround the world as well made it impossible for the reputation of this plant to heal itself. “The challenge these plants posed to monotheism was profound, for they threatened to divert people’s gaze from the sky, where the new God resided, down to the natural world all around them.” pg 175.

I have no doubt that the cannabis plant will be legal in my lifetime in the last 20- 30 years it has slowly become more and more of an acceptable toxin. The fact that it has been a huge focus by the law enforcement authorities is that it is a huge cash cow they are not reaping the benefits of and just like it did with alcohol they will legalize it and reap the benefits.

A Desert of Possibilities

Nabhan, G. P. 1990. Gathering the desert. pg 3-19. University of Arizona Press 209 pp.

Such an amazing plant greasewood, also known as creosote, can not only cure you of that nasty cough that has been ailing you but take care of the poison from that scorpion bite as well. For years the ancient art and knowledge of native medicines have slowly been disappearing from the world either though the modern advances or loss of traditions. This paper begins in the Sonoran desert of Mexico, and a spry woman’s account that the native plants wich have been curing and feeding the local people for generations have been abandoned for more modern lazy options. “They’d rather waste their time driving to the costly stores in the cities to buy tasteless food then use what is right here arround them.” pg 4. Nabhan goes on to describe the relationship between the people and plants of the desert even stating that without these plants initial life in the desert would not have been possible. The second section of this article is concentrated on one plant alone and its properties and influences this plant being creosote also known as greasewood.

I found this article interesting and easy to read and in particular, enjoyed the first hand accounts by the people living there themselves. I thought the discussion about native peoples reverting to their former diets to help medical ailments such as diabetes, malnutrition and alcoholism to be genius. “It has been suggested that certain food stuffs are high in dietary fiber and have other properties that make them useful in controlling the severity of diabetes and other health problems.” pg 7. However, I’m not sure how this would be applied to this day and age, because whose going to chew on a tree twig when there is a McDonald’s arround the corner? I mean there was certainly a push for organic and health food stores in recent years past, but there has also been a big push on the other end of the spectrum. With ready in 2 minutes microwave dinners you will never have to eat a fresh vegetable again.

I also found very interesting that 1/4 of the desert lands in Mexico, 18 million hectares to be exact, are being used for growing non native plants for export that need 30% more water than the native plants because they have come from a much more humid environment. What is going on instead of using what tasty medically amazing plants that are growing in your back yard they grow plants that have no business being planted in this soil and need extra care in order to survive. That is just plain stupid! Wich is essentially the big picture here, the human race has the ability to do pretty much anything these days and a good majority of the time no one stops to think if they should.

Johnny Apple who?

Pollan, M. 2001. Chapter 1. The Apple. pg. 3-58 in The Botany fo Desire: A Plants- Eye View of the World. Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York.

To be perfectly honest the extent of my knowledge about John Chapman AKA Johnny Appleseed is just that, his name, and in that case I only knew his nickname. Pollan’s literary expertise continue in this account of the life and times of the Apple sorted past. He takes us to the banks of the Ohio River in search of the story of the apple’s usher into the modern world Johnny Appleseed. A curious man, Johnny was well received by settlers and the Natives alike although he prefered nature and almost always prefered sleeping outside in a hollowed out tree. He wore no shoes and travelled the country establishing orchards in the less civilised parts of the country for he disliked the modern living many had come to covet. “Chapman lived everywhere and nowhere. he was constantly on the move, travelling in autumn to Allegheny County to gather seeds, scouting nurseries sites and planting in the spring, repairing fences at old nurseries in summer, and wherever he planted, signing up local agents to keep an eye on and sell his trees, since he was seldom in one place long enough to do that work himself.” pg 26.

Pollan continues his journey through Ohio to Mount Vernon were he joins a John Chapman expert of sorts who gives him an extensive yet skewed look at Johnny’s history in Appleseed country. His guide named Jones has a saintly view of Appleseed omitting his involvement with cider and sparse stories of him having a 10-year-old bride to be, wich Pollen discretely asked him about, however his faith in Johnny would not waver. “John Chapman is just the “exemplary figure” to help our children navigate a treacherous world, “yet no one is telling his story.” “pg 30.

I’m not certain why my knowledge of this man is so limited, perhaps it is due to him being based out of the United States or perhaps historians don’t find him that important as others do although he must be of some significance for Disney to immortalise him on-screen. Johnny Appleseed’s story is just as mysterious as his life was and that was the way he prefered it. The most interesting tidbit I took from this story was the knowledge that apple seeds produce a different tree every time similar to humans in that respect, I  find it absolutely amazing that they are never the same apples and only by grafting or manipulation have we been able to reproduce the sweet ones we desire so much. Pollan’s finale stop was Geneva,  New York were there are 2,500 species of apple trees in an orchard kept to preserve the biological diversity, “I found apples that tasted like bananas, others like pears.” pg 46. Nature continues to flourish no matter how hard we try to change it.

Corn, a fool’s gold

Pollan, M. 2007. Chapter 1-7. Industrial Corn. pg. 15-119 in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: a Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin Books, New York.

I am shocked that something so small can be the root of so many problems, however that seems to be a theme with anything humans can  turn a profit from. Micheal Pollan has an incredible ability to put you in the passenger seat next to him as he recounts his amazing journeys. This time he takes us through the whole shaded voyage of corn from the farmer’s field; to the cow’s stomach, into a happy meal, and finally to the consumer’s hot little hands. 

I was truly fascinated and at some points disgusted by this story mostly because it affects me directly as a consumer. The fact that this product has come to dominate our supermarkets yet by all rights should not have survived in nature to begin with is astounding. “Had maize failed to find favor among the conquerors, it would have risked extinction, because without humans to plant it every spring, corn would have disappeared from the earth in a matter of a few years.” pg 26. Not only has this product had detrimental effects on the farming industry it has change the natural digestive system of our livestock, being so low in cost it has become the feed of choice for the cattle industry, even though these poor animals are designed to eat grass.

I know exactly what Pollan is talking about when he describes the eating habits of the masses albeit he is describing Americans they are not all that different from us. “(For most American children today, it is no longer such a treat: One in three of them eat fast food every single day.)” pg 109. It’s not surprising that obesity and diabetes are becoming such a huge concern these days. I work in a grocery store on the weekends and it baffles me to see 300 plus pound people with their carts filled with chips and cookies, dozens of microwave hungry man dinners and on the bottom, half a dozen 2L bottles of DIET pop. The majority of consumers have no clue what they are eating and they are content in their ignorance. Cheep unhealthy food could be the death of us all.

Following Clip does contain vulgar language…Parental Supervision Advised.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzmorWWkg-8

Farmers vs Hunter- gatherers

Diamond, J. 1999. Chapter 4 Farmer Power, 5 History’s Haves and Have- Nots, 6 To Farm or Not to Farm and 8 Apples or Indians . pg. 114-130 in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. W. W. Norton & Company, New York, London.

There is a battle that has been waging for more than 10,000 years which affects everything on earth, but you won’t find it easily in any history book. In this series of chapters Diamond travels through the journey of the transition of people from a hunter gatherer way of life to that of a food producer. He starts off with a personal account of how he came across this battle first hand working on a farm as a teenager in 1956 and continues the accouter within the following chapters with more of a historical account of the slow and scattered emergence of agriculture arround the world. I found Diamond’s writing very informative however, honestly could not focus while reading chapter 5: History’s Haves and Have-Nots. By the end I felt I could have bypassed the whole chapter and simply read the final paragraph and been better off, “In short, only a few areas of the world developed food production independently, and they did so at widely differing times.” pg 103.

Chapter 6, is an account of the long struggle for the change from hunter- gatherer to agriculture with many explanations as to why it took place in some areas and not in others as well as why it took such a long period of time. During this time no one was getting along, “Similarly throughout human history farmers have tended to despise hunter- gatherers as primitive, hunter- gatherers have despised farmers as ignorant, and herders have despised both.” pg 108. I believe that any change comes slowly and with much adversity from those who don’t understand it or who are simply happy with how their world is working right at that moment. If we today did not have the extensive network of technology and media in order to spread new ideas globally I believe any  change would take considerably longer than it does. In the case of agriculture to me food production was the next step in furthering our species and ensuring our survival in this world. The hunter-gatherer way of life could not sustain itself the wild plants and animals where depleting in number and disease would soon wipe the rest out.

Diamond concludes these chapters with a comparison of agriculture between two extremes the Fertile Crescent, an utopia for agriculture, and New Guinea and the Eastern united states with deficient food production systems. These comparisons conclusively prove that the reason for slowed emergence of agriculture in certain areas and not in others was by the simple availability of plant and animal species in that area. ” Instead, the reason Native Americans did not domesticate apples lay with the entire suite of wild plant and animal species available to Native Americans.” pg 156.