Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Questing in locavore land

I'm back from Vancouver, B.C., where I participated in the conference of the Association of Anglican Deacons of Canada.

It seemed like a good thing to pay attention to the food (as though I wouldn't anyway) and stimulate some conversations about it.

The venue where we met was something of a mixed bag. I appreciated the fact that no one was pushing bottled water - there was a filtered tap in the cafeteria where one could refill one's water bottle - and there was not much of the individual packaging one sometimes finds in such contexts. But the lack of a vegetarian option at dinner and the dearth of local seasonal fruit was a big disappointment. When I skipped the business meeting Saturday afternoon to go to the UBC anthropology musuem I managed to find a patch of blackberries - the invasive Himalayan kind, but still blackberries - on my wandering way back to my room. (There was an area roped off for habitat restoration behind the museum where the blackberries were invading over the far fence.)

The other thing which surprised me at the conference were the quantities of meat which many people seemed to be putting away. One woman did comment that at home it's porridge or muesli and fruit for breakfast, so bacon and sausages were an away from home treat. Perhaps this was the dynamic.

It was fun talking with people about their gardens, farms and local food adventures in the various provinces. One woman lives on a sixteen acre farm - range fed beef in inland B.C. Another, I think from southern Ontario, reported having a meal with ten different veg from her garden a few days before leaving for the conference. And I could taste the berries of the maritimes just hearing about them. The saddest story was from a woman whose Ontario town is being converted from dairy farms to suburban tracts. And the most fun was drinking the homemade wine women from the Diocese of Kootenay (inland B.C.) had made - though it was from purchased Lodi grapes!

The wine and cheese at Vancouver School of Theology on our first evening included some Ontonagon Valley wines - as well as Napa! There was also a good local cheddar among the cheeses. The Saturday evening buffet banquet included wild salmon, potato salad, and a golden beet salad which were big hits with me. Local beer and more Ontonagon wine were available at the cash bar.

On Sunday after the closing Eucharist, I should have gone to Granville Market, but was too tired for a major adventure. We walked way too far to a neighborhood bordering the university lands and wandered into an eatery identified as a diner, but really a fish and chips place. It felt like slipping throught the looking glass into a Monty Python routine. I met my need for some 100 mile fruit at an Asian grocer nearby where they had huge local cherries for $2.99 a pound. Then back to the same neighborhood that evening for a trendier meal. The British influence caught up with us again though - we Americans puzzled over what "upside down pudding" was. What is the difference between upside down and right side up pudding? Of course, it was an individual steamed pudding - and I, with a grandmother who was the queen of puddings (yes - I know - there is such a dish - bread pudding dolled up with jelly and meringue) should have guessed that.

Perhaps the best eating surprise was the fact that food vendors at the airport charge no more than they do at locations outside the airport. Coffee and a bun at Tim Horton's (Dunkin Donut equivalent) costs the same in the city and at the airport. "We have an anti-gouging law," offered the woman in front of me in line.

The locavore impulse is never pure, of course, and rarely as influential as one would like. There are always cultural and economic influences on what is possible in honoring the seasonal, local and sustainable. But it's fun to explore them.

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