This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix on Nov 19, 2007.
It’s getting more and more complicated to invite friends for dinner. That’s because no dinner invitation can be made these days without asking the question: Are there any food restrictions I need to know about?
Awhile back, we invited two friends for dinner – he was vegetarian; she was lactose and gluten intolerant. So, that ruled out anything with meat, dairy or flour. That’s almost my entire repertoire. If I recall correctly, I served a lentil and vegetable stew with cold cuts and bread on the side, and for dessert, meringue with berries. Fortunately, the vegetarian wasn’t vegan or the eggs (for meringue) would have been verboten, too.
We have a good friend who is allergic to nuts. Another can’t eat zucchini and a couple must avoid seafood. These restrictions are easier to accommodate and, when it’s a matter of life and death, no means no.
When I’m asked that question, I assure my host that I can and will eat anything, blessed as I am to be free of allergies and intolerances. Although… now that you’re asking, I don’t like eggs over easy or mashed potatoes. I once had tripe accidentally in a restaurant in Poland and didn’t like it. And I’m not crazy about pickles. But that leaves a lot to work with.
Next time, I might just venture to mention that, while it’s not a matter of life and death, I do prefer local food. My husband and I eat almost 90% Saskatchewan-produced food at home, so if I could be said to have a “special” diet, that would be it. I suspect there are a whole lot of folks in Saskatoon serving local meals these days based on the popularity of the recent Good Food Fair, when dozens of people took a pledge to eat local food for two weeks. (Including Lori Coolican and Jason Warwick, two celebrity challengers from the Star Phoenix.)
The local food challenge was issued jointly by Oxfam, Beyond Factory Farming and the Saskatoon Food Coalition (of which I’m a member), in order to shed light on the issues surrounding the production and distribution of food. For instance, Saskatchewan produces less than 10% of our fresh vegetables (excluding potatoes) while Alberta and Manitoba produce 33% and 57% respectively. Saskatchewan is one of the world’s major producers of lentils, mustard and durum wheat for pasta, and yet those products are almost entirely processed somewhere else and shipped back to us. Where can we buy locally-made butter? Why are there no Saskatchewan apples in the grocery stores? Why is it easier to buy Alberta beef or New Zealand lamb than beef and lamb raised right here?
The transportation of food, particularly refrigerated food, is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions: in the absence of Canadian data, food accounts for about 20% of goods transported around the United States and 30% in the European Union. What’s more, food from “away” is more likely to be picked unripe, stored a long time and treated with preservatives or other agents that give it the appearance of freshness.
At the Good Food Fair, Robert Fox of Oxfam Canada related how, in Nicaragua, butter from Denmark was less expensive than the butter produced right there. That’s because dairy farmers in Denmark are paid subsidies, which encourages over production, and the surplus is shipped in refrigerated cargo to Nicaragua. Is that insane, or what?
Personally, I would never impose my Saskatchewan diet on my friends; the important thing is not so much to eat locally every day, but to become informed consumers in the global marketplace.
For more on the local food challenge, go to SaskatchewanFoodChallenge.blogspot.com. You’ll find recipes like this one from Michelle Beveridge of the local Oxfam.
Michelle's Feather-Light Hot Cakes
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
2 tbsp canola oil
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup frozen Sask. fruit such as raspberries, strawberries, saskatoons or apples.
Combine all ingredients except fruit and beat just until smooth. Stir in the fruit. Bake like pancakes on a hot greased griddle or frying pan. Serve with saskatoon berry syrup and more fruit. Yield: 6-8 hot cakes.