Food Rules

FRDiningTable2Our world must be truly mad that we need a book like this, and yet we do. Though I just stumbled across it the other day, Food Rules by Michael Pollan, illustrated by Maira Kalman, is four years old, published in 2011.  It’s lost none of its bite or relevancy. Pollan is the journalist author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a pioneering look at what we eat and where it comes from, and Maira Kalman is a New Yorker illustrator who has invented her own humorous style of thinking out loud with pictures. Together they bring warmth and humanity back to the food table with a handful of simple rules.

The book asks how food ever got so complicated, so misleading, so contentious? It finds common ground not in pseudo-scientific jargon but in family wisdom and challenging quips. Here are a few samples: Rule 6: “Avoid food products with more than five ingredients.” Rule 13: “Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.” Rule 16: “Go food shopping every week.” Rule 22: “It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.” Rule 25: “Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.” Rule 28: “Eat your colours.” Rule 45: “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” Rule 53: “Pay more, eat less.” Rule 65: “Give some thought to where food comes from.” Rule 75: “No labels on the table.”

While I’m reading this delightful little book, my wife returns home from a “Food Nutrition Education Party,” organized by a friend of a friend. It used to be tupperware parties, than stretch-wear parties, now it’s food education parties. Those attending the event were grappling with feeding their families in the midst of launching careers, tight budgets, busy schedules, and baffling conflicts of information.


I’m reminded of how I come home from meetings at the Ecology Action Centre, frustrated that no one in the room can agree on anything to do with food. Kathleen answers: you know about the latest theories of change, don’t you? You’ve heard of chaos theory? Two people adjust their diets and this has an unexpected effect somewhere else–an organic farmer is able to expand his business, say. A hundred thousand small changes each trigger further changes. None of this can be plotted or predicted. But the cumulative effect is powerful and creates a entirely new way of thinking and doing things.

Pollan and Kalman are among the friendly but chaotic non-plotting agents of change. I sense something changing the minute Pollan asks: “What is going on deep inside the soul of a carrot that makes it so good for us?” Or again when he notes how “seventeen thousand new products show up in the supermarket each year, all vying for your food dollar. But most of these items don’t deserve to be called food–I prefer to call them edible foodlike substances. They’re highly processed concoctions designed by food scientists, consisting mostly of ingredients derived from corn and soy that no normal person keeps in the pantry, and they contain chemical additives with which the human body has not been long acquainted. Today much of the challenge of eating well comes down to choosing real food and avoiding these industrial novelties.” The book advises the reader to avoid  traps set by clever marketers and to rely on simple undisguised whole foods. More than this, to follow a sensible and disciplined approach toward food to enhance quality of life through better health. In the process, a new invigorated  food culture emerges.

FoodRules2Maira Kalman’s illustrations are worth noting. Colourful, painterly, charming, full of wit and attention to detail by an artist who is curious about other people. I especially like the picture of the Eat More Grocery Store with isles labled “despair,” “anxiety,” “sadness” and “anger.” If you like this artist, you might enjoy the personal and idiosyncratic flow of Kalman’s TED talk.

Miso Soup Recipe

MisoSoup6As winter storms pile up, I reach for my recipes books and fresh ingredients. It’s always a challenge this time of year to find creative uses for seasonal vegetables. For the recipe today, I use as many local veggies as I can, with an added dash of Japanese fish powder, seaweed and organic miso. My husband and I make this tasty soup once or twice a week for breakfast.

Ingredients for a serving for two:
1/2 teaspoon Dashi (Bonito-flavoured fish powder)
2 cups water
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 stick of Wakame (dried Japanese seaweed)
1 chopped carrot or 1/4 small squash
1/4 chopped celeriac or fennel
1 tablespoon organic miso

Add 1/2 teaspoon of Dashi to 2 cups of water. Bring to a low boil. Break the dried Wakame stick into small pieces and soak in a small bowl of water. In a few minutes the pieces will expand in size and take on a soft leaf-like shape. Let them continue to soak while you add the rest of the ingredients, 1 chopped carrot, a handful of celeriac (or fennel) chopped into small cube shaped pieces,  to the boiling pot. Add 1/4 cup of chopped onions and 1/3 the length of a leek, as thinly sluiced rings. For variety and a slightly sweeter taste, we sometimes substitute squash in place of the carrot. Gently boil all ingredients in water for 10 minutes. Add the wakame to the soup and remove from heat. Skim off a little of the steaming water into a bowl. Measure 1 generous tablespoon of organic miso and stir it into the bowl of heated water until it becomes a rich colourful paste. Add this dissolved miso to the soup and you are ready to serve.


Baby-steps for NS Carbon Tax

CarbonTax CrowdImagine Nova Scotia having a chance to be a world leader in global warming policy while taking a bite out of poverty! The notion came out on the table, sometimes as calm points gestured, other times as fists flying, when citizens commented, cooperated or clashed at the January 21st public meeting for tax reform. In a large convention style room at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, filled to overflowing, citizens of all ages, backgrounds and lobbyist persuasions, convened  to debate carbon pricing and to listen to finance minister, the Honourable Diana Whalen outline the government’s current status concerning the recent release of the Broten Report on the need for Nova Scotia tax reform.


The introduction to the Broten Report states: “The essence of the tax recommendations would shift more of the burden of taxation toward consumption, and off personal and corporate income; and would tax pollution with the resulting revenue further reducing income taxes and offering income support to Nova Scotians who need it most. The basic rationale for pollution taxation is clear. Pollution imposes costs on society that are not currently borne by the polluter. A tax ensures that the polluter accounts for these costs and, on this basis, reduces pollution…”

The evening was largely an informal meet and greet between policy makers from the finance, environment and various other departments and the public, made up of representatives from such groups as the Ecology Action Centre, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Halifax, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Affordable Energy Coalition, and Mount Saint Vincent Social Science Faculties. Individual citizens representing small business and private household concerns and four MLAs were also present.

nschequeSix citizens from a local chapter of the non-profit international Citizens’ Climate Lobby put their ‘prop cheques’ payable to “Residents of Nova Scotia” and a colourful infographic cartoon strip showing the advantage of a carbon fee and dividend  by the plate of chocolate chip cookies the government provided to the citizens. Citizens depleted both supplies by night’s end. This progressive approach to putting a price on pollution is proving to be sweeter than most as it is, in my opinion, the simplest, least expensive and fairest design, eliminating the need for an expensive bureaucracy; sparing the middle class and protecting lower income households by providing quarterly rebate cheques.

THE CARBON FEE AND DIVIDEND PROPOSAL has been  presented to both the finance and community service departments in recent weeks by Citizens’ Climate Lobby Halifax volunteers enthusiastically pitching to government personnel, including Minister Whalen and community services policy director, Brenda Murray. This plan differs from the B.C. Carbon Tax as it offers more protection to the low income households. Dalhousie University economist, Dr. Lars Osberg in his paper, “The Carbon Tax and Dividend – A Proposal for Sustainability and Fairness” states:

“The whole point of a carbon tax is to increase the incentives, which individuals and firms have to economize on carbon energy use. Starting the tax at a low level, with pre-announced steady increases over time, gives individuals the time to switch, for example, to a car with better fuel mileage or to change their furnace or to insulate more effectively. Because the CTD offsets the average impact of a carbon tax, most families will be better off financially, but whatever the initial impact on family finances, all Nova Scotians will benefit from reducing carbon energy use.”

For more info, see the full story as posted by the Halifax Media Co-op.