How to Stay on Your Sustainability Diet During the Holidays

artbanidto’s photostream / Flickr Creative Commons

Many of us use the holidays or vacations as an excuse to disregard what we would normally do in everyday life. We eat and drink too much, indulge in the excesses of the season and then spend our New Year’s resolutions trying to make up for it. We give ourselves permission to let go of the rules that we live by most of the year.

But does the same apply to our values? Do the things we believe in and fight for all year get put to the side during the holidays, using the holiday excuse to dismiss any guilt we might feel?

Cheating on your Eco-Diet

For many, environmental consciousness is like a diet, something that we work hard at most of the year – avoiding plastics, reducing fossil fuel consumption, trimming our environmental waistline. But this culture of indulging at the holidays can have a long-term impact on the environment, increasing our waste and carbon footprint in ways that can’t be negated by a New Year’s eco-diet. The locavore’s diet might give way to the temptations of imported mandarin oranges and wines, the vegetarian to the factory-farmed turkey and stuffing, the minimalist to the gift-giving expectations, and the eco-warrior knuckles under the pressure not to “talk about that stuff during the holidays.” In the same way of the dieter, we try to ignore our own guilt, saying it’s the holidays, and we’ll get back to our normal routine in the new year.

But our values shape the way that we see the world, and the guilt is sometimes much more difficult to shake off.

macwagen’s photostream / Flickr Creative Commons

Leading Change

Solutions may take many years to implement, because it is often not just about changing yourself, but also changing those around you, and as any eco-warrior will tell you, hounding your family members during the holidays about their bad eco-habits will get you nowhere. Holidays often have a family focus, and without any change from others, it can be difficult to maintain change for yourself. But there are some simple things that you can do to start towards a more eco-friendly, and less guilty, holiday season:

  • Request no wrapping paper. Simple, and usually relatively easy for everyone to get on board. Instead, wrap items in recycled materials like newspaper or home-decorated recycled paper, or in usable items like tea towels and shopping bags. Consider having a set of gift bags that are used each year.
  • Suggest that family gifts be consumable or experience-based, because most people will appreciate good wine, cheese, homemade goods, or tickets to a local concert, game or event.
  • Buy the kind of food you want to eat, don’t rely on what others provide. If you want a free-range, organic turkey on the table (even if you’re not going to eat it!), buy it yourself. Offer to make locally sourced desserts like apple or pumpkin (from an actual pumpkin) pie. Bring fair trade, organic chocolates and coffee. Support local businesses with local wines and beers.
  • Plan Boxing Day activities, to encourage alternatives to excessive consumerism. A day full of food and fun will often be more tempting that battling the crowds at the mall.
  • Offer to wash dishes so the host does not need to use paper plates and plastic forks, and as the host, don’t feel pressured to clean up too quickly – a disappeared glass just means someone will use another one, which then needs to be washed.
  • Give back. Many charities depend on donations received during the holidays, so consider donating to a favourite charity on someone’s behalf (choose their favourite charity, not yours). This works  as a stocking stuffer, host/ess gift, office secret santa, or any other kind of gift.

Taking a much needed break during the holidays doesn’t mean you need to take a break from your values. Find ways to infuse them into your traditions, and by making changes manageable over time, you may find others changing too.

Adapting to a New Food Order

Food. Everyone can relate to food in some way, whether you eat to live, or live to eat. Through our choices around food, we can have significant impact on our environment. Since there are so many ways that food impacts sustainability, there are many ways people can make change.

A Broken System

Let’s face it. Our food system is broken. I could tell you how, but Oxfam sums it pretty well. We cannot continue on this path of destruction, as climate change makes itself more apparent, oil prices continue to rise and our agricultural land continues to be destroyed by both unsustainable farming practices and developed into high rises. People in developed countries cannot deny that much of this destruction is being caused by our society’s insatiable demand for avocados in Canada, strawberries in December and mountains of pre-packaged, highly processed, “convenience” foods. When does it make sense that a package of food amalgamated from ingredients from all over the world, processed in a factory, packaged in plastic, and shipped to the grocery store is cheaper than a head of lettuce bought from a farmer growing across town? Something isn’t working. The economics of our food systems simply are not sustainable.

Leading from Within

As an introverted and often shy person, I sometimes have a hard time identifying with “leadership” . I am not the type to go out there and start my own non-profit, write a book on food or create a blog with thousands of followers. It is difficult for me to see how I can make change about something I am so passionate about, but without the kind of outgoing people skills that push so many others out in front. But I realize that if everyone was that kind of leader, we would have a lot of people talking, but not enough people taking action. The world is full of countless quiet leaders, people out there doing the work, leading by example and making small changes in their communities and neighbourhoods.

Leading by Involvement

Change in the realm of food is happening everywhere. Throughout Vancouver, there are food policy councils and food security networks, engaging in discussion and driving change. Food security collaboratives are working to provide local, affordable and fresh food to neighbourhoods that are otherwise unable to access these things. Pocket markets and community kitchens exist all around the city. They are widespread and yet invisible to those who aren’t paying attention. There are many kinds of food related events going on all the time, promoting food that is organic, local, vegetarian, accessible and sustainable. Organizations like Village Vancouver bring people together over food on a regular basis, and often offer information and workshops on things like cheese making, canning and food production. And it is really easy and oh, so much fun to get your hands dirty on an urban farm or in your own garden plot. I have come to appreciate the simplicity and complexity of growing food, and have gained a solid understanding of everything that goes into the food that I eat, from the dirt that it grows in, the bees that pollinate it, and the effort required to keep it alive until it’s ready to end up on my plate.

Over my last 4 months of food immersion, I continue to learn a great deal, and I share that knowledge through conversation and action. Because it’s food, everyone can relate on some level. It’s not the huge, daunting, and divisive subject of climate change or politics or saving a world that very desperately needs saving. After all it’s all about what we eat. And the way to the heart of a non-environmentalist is through their stomachs.

Photos courtesy of Karly Pinch and Kitsilano Neighbourhood House

Livable Laneways Paths to Plazas Event

A few weeks ago, Australia Bureau Chief Jilly Charlwood contributed a fantastic article about Laneway Learning – below is some information about what Vancouver is doing to showcase some unique, behind-the-scenes communities – and potential – of its re-imagined and hyper-creative laneways. Enjoy!

- John Horn

For the second year, Vancouver City laneways are being re-imagined, and public events are taking place in the bustling lane at Broadway and Main bringing musicians, local business operators, artists, urban farmers and producers, residents, and visitors to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Livable Laneways Night Markets is a VIVA Vancouver initiative supported by the City of Vancouver. Coordinated by Livable Laneways, a non-profit organization, Paths to Plazas is an example of how they are dedicated to transforming the overlooked laneways and alleys of Vancouver into pedestrianfriendly zones. It is a collaboration that includes Blim, The Beaumont Studios the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Area, as well as special guests, Mount Pleasant Victory Market, StudioCAMP and Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN).

The events take place on July 21st, 28th and August 4th from 5-10pm.

For more information on the vendors and participants, please see the list below
for website details:

Masthead photo from ecstaticist’s photostream on Flickr

Main Street’s Coffee Block

In Vancouver it isn’t uncommon to see a coffee shop juxtaposed to a coffee shop juxtaposed to a coffee shop across the street from a coffee shop, especially in my neighbourhood, Mount Pleasant.

And yesterday things in my community just got a bit darker, frothier and sweeter, as Forty Ninth Parallel Coffee Roasters opened their newest location at the corner of 13th – wait… Thirteenth – and Main. Now, this wouldn’t be a big deal under regularly caffeinated circumstances; however, at the other end of the block sits perennial coffee powerhouse, Starbucks, and across the street from the Seattle-based coffee company’s 423rd most popular location beams JJ Bean, which is the unofficial epicenter of Hipsterism in Vancouver.

Ladies and gentlemen, we may or may not have a coffee market share death match on our hands.

Here are some observations and semi-judgments I’ve made of these three fine businesses that might help you choose which one to visit.

JJ Bean

Coffee and Food: Their food is made every day at their Railtown location and their baked goods (I prefer the cheddar chive scone) are made fresh every day in their cafes. They have Single Origin Coffees and Blends. I like dark roast coffee – black, no sugar – and there brew is of fine quality.

People and Service: The nicest pierced and tattooed hipsters you’ll ever meet. Though I can’t determine if, when things come quickly, the staff is just being ironic…

Interesting Advantage: A Viva Vancouver project has transformed a space (parking spots) into a people place right in front of JJ Bean, which has tripled their outdoor patio space. Now, I’m no conspiracy theorist, but it’s a bit weird how the Viva project perfectly matches JJ Bean’s colour scheme.


Coffee and Food: Their food not only “tastes better” but it “is better”, says Starbucks. They even make it with real ingredients. I’m not a huge fan of their coffee, as it’s bitter and not always Fair Trade – my awesome colleague, Aleasha, however, loves their lattes and I trust her judgment. And, thanks to fantastic training processes, you can get the same venti low fat soy double foam cinnamon latte at Main & 14th, in New York City, Seattle, Paris, or Buenos Aires (I have no idea if Starbucks has locations in any of these cities).

People and Service: Well trained, uniformed, but a bit alienating for people who don’t speak American Interpretation of The Italian Coffee House – luckily, the well trained staff at Starbucks understand “medium” and “pointing to the cup you want”.

Interesting Advantage: Vancouver Police Officers love to begin/end their shift at this Starbucks. They also have free WIFI.

Forty Ninth Parallel

Coffee and Food: Delicious. This morning I had a nice, rich dark roast coffee and a tasty doughnut – no, this is not a highly recommended way to start one’s day, but I needed to do some sampling before signing off on the deliciousness of Forty Ninth’s creatively roasted coffee and Lucky’s homemade doughnuts.

People and Service: While it’s too early to make a full-on judgment, I can safely say that Forty Ninth blends Main Street Hipsterism with Vancouver’s style of Businessified Caffeinery (e.g. everything in the shop is branded and for sale) with pretty great results.

Interesting Advantage: See above comment about Lucky’s doughnut shop. Also, the motif makes me feel like I’m in at the intersection of Hipsterism and cowboys … in the future. Truly, this winning combination of seemingly incongruent things/ideas achieves what Stephen King couldn’t with his The Gunslinger experiment.

So, when you visit Main Street between East 13th and 14th Avenue, how will you decide where to spend your coffee break?

Here We Go A Waffling

waf·fle 1 (wfl)n.A light crisp battercake baked in a waffle iron.
waf·fle 2  (wfl) Informalv. waf·fled, waf·fling, waf· - To speak, write, or act evasively about.

Something strange happens as you walk along Robson St approaching Denman in downtown Vancouver. It may take a moment to detect the conspicuous absence, but as you walk past the McDonalds on the corner of Robson and Bidwell, the smell that overtakes your senses is not that familiar greasy fry.  By some miracle, the tiny Nero Belgian Waffle Bar located next door has eclipsed that ubiquitous aroma with the sweet sugary scent of their delightful delicacies.  And if the smell alone isn’t enough to lure you inside the small but very pleasant interior, the friendly Belgian owners and their incredible talent for making their most famous national dish should convince you.

The first time we stumbled upon this I myself was not convinced. I didn’t even order a waffle. You see, I don’t consider myself a waffle lover by any stretch. In days gone by, I would have voted pancake every time – hands down. But I have been converted and I have now visited Nero for breakfast every weekend for the past three weeks. I have tried the Savoury Brussels waffle with Bocconcini, cherry tomatoes, cucumber salsa, olive oil and lemon zest, the Parisienne waffle with brie cheese, walnuts, honey, and added strawberries, the sweet and chewy Liege with Belgian chocolate, and the light and crispy Brussels waffle with ice cream and strawberries.

I quickly put aside the notion that this is something I could create myself by procuring a waffle iron of my own. These guys do it so well, that I am happy to return again and again rather than try in vain to recreate the perfection they seem to achieve unfailingly. And as an added bonus, the espresso and atmosphere make it a great choice for a coffee stop! There’s nothing to waffle about here! I will bring everyone I can to this cozy little wooden sided secret spot. I’m even inviting you right now!

Visit Nero at 1703 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC.

Masthead photo courtesy of digiyesica’s photostream on Flickr

Head to Main this Wednesday to Eat for Education

Photo courtesy of CanadaPenguin

Vancouver diners are invited to help take a bite out of the public school funding crunch at the second annual Eat for Education evening taking place this Wednesday (May 2). Launched last year with one school and nine restaurants, the event has grown to include four schools and 21 restaurants (and counting). The majority of restaurants are based on Main Street with a few also participating in North Vancouver.

Here’s how it works: Local restaurants will donate a percentage of Wednesday’s food profits directly to participating schools in their area. Each school controls how the funds are used, and so far updating technology for students has been a focus. This year, VSB schools Mount Pleasant Elementary, Florence Nightingale Elementary and Simon Fraser Elementary stand to benefit from diners.

“We are delighted that some local restaurants in this area are committed to supporting education. Their willingness to get involved is amazing,” says Sue Stevenson, Vice Principal at Mount Pleasant Elementary. “As an Inner City school we believe that it takes a village to raise a child. This fundraiser will support our school initiative to increase access to technology and provide these children with outdoor educational experiences.”

The idea for Eat for Education was born at a Mount Pleasant Elementary Parent Advisory Council meeting in 2010. The first event was held in 2011 and most of $2,100 raised was used to buy the school a SMART Board. Remaining funds helped with travel costs for outdoor educational experiences.

Organizers say they hope to raise even more money this year.

Restaurants are still being encouraged to join. The whole event is being organized by

This year’s Eat for Education restaurants in Vancouver are:

8 1/2 Restaurant and Lounge - 151 East 8 Avenue (604) 568-2703

Latitude - 3250 Main Street (604) 875-6246

Hyde - 2960 Main Street (604) 709-6215

Habit Lounge - 2610 Main St (604) 877-8582

The Cascade Room - 2616 Main Street (604) 709-8650

Elysian Coffee - 590 West Broadway (604) 874 5909

Che Baba - 603 Kingsway (604) 558 1519

Slickity Jim’s Chat n Chew - 3475 Main Street (604) 873 6760

Grub Restaurant - 4328 Main Street (604) 876-8671

The Five Point - 3124 Main Street (604) 876-5810

Locus Lounge - 4121 Main Street (604) 708 4121

Portland Craft (formerly Coppertank) – 3835 Main Street (604) 569 2494

Mavericks (in Howard Johnson Hotel) – 395 Kingsway (604) 872-5252

BierCraft - 3305 Cambie Street (604) 874-6900

Pizzeria Barbarella - 654 East Broadway (604) 210-6111

Vera’s Burger Shack - 2922 Main Street, (604) 709-8372

The Whip Restaurant - 6th and Main 604.874.4687

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

My cookbook reading group ventured into a classic this past week – “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” paired with “My Life in France”.   Compared to cookbooks being published now, MtAoFC doesn’t stand out.  It has a simple cover, lots of text and a few illustrations rather than large photographs of every recipe that can sometimes be best described as “food porn”.  But this was the book that when published in 1961 reignited interest in cooking in North America when every other trend was toward easy and processed convenience foods.  It was the book that dared to say that meals can take a long time and can be hard work, but the results are worth the effort for an authentic French meal.

I didn’t know much about Julia Child before this month.  I recognized her name and image because even in rural Nova Scotia, with only three TV channels in the 80s and 90s, she was a celebrity chef.  But other than recognition, I didn’t know much else.  And perhaps many 30-something’s wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for the books “My Life in France” and ”Julie and Julia”, which in the last few years have introduced MtAoFC to a new generation.  Both of these books were featured in the movie, “Julie and Julie” (that I still haven’t seen), reaching an even wider audience.    If you only have time for one book, I recommend “My Life in France” as the better book (Julie Powell’s crises of turning 30 grew tiring after the first hundred pages).  “My Life in France” was coauthored by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme (her grand nephew).  It tells Julia’s pretty incredible story of arriving in France, discovering French cooking, ingredients and markets, going to cooking school, starting her own cooking school and the gruelling process (which she totally loved) of putting together a comprehensive cookbook for an American audience.

If you have never cooked from MtAoFC I recommend giving a couple of recipes a try.  It is easily found at libraries or used bookstores.  I imagine that many of the recipes are even available on the internet.   I made a garlic soup (way better than it sounds), scalloped potatoes, and a spinach soufflé, and they all turned out wonderfully thanks to the meticulously detailed directions offered by Julia Child.  And any meal with as much butter, cheese, egg yolks and heavy cream is guaranteed to be good (unless it is liver – the consensus of our cookbook group was that if the rich sauces in MtAoFC can’t make liver good, nothing can).  And with more calories on offer from a recipe or two than any one or two people should consume alone, it an ideal cookbook to use when cooking with members of your community.

Bringing Compost Inside

a big worm courtesy of pfly / flickr

In my apartment there are two Rubbermaid bins. Often they are tucked away under a table or bathroom counter. Every once and a while a visitor will notice them and ask why they have holes drilled into their sides. After I respond, the reactions vary from disgust and sometimes edging away from the bin to excitement and asking to have a look inside. In my 5 years of vermicomposting I’ve gotten used to the range of reactions that those bins can generate.

Not everyone is comfortable with worms or composting, and in our overly sanitized and convenient world it isn’t surprising. Why not send your kitchen waste to the curb and then drive to a big box store to buy pre-made compost? Well, first of all it costs money. Tax dollars to pick up, ship and process all that food waste and then your money to buy the compost. Second, food waste is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, including the shipping and processing if you live in a place that has curbside composting and methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times as potent as carbon dioxide, when food waste forced to undergo anaerobic composting (without air since it is sealed up in a trash bag and often buried).

Living in an apartment or condo without a backyard limits composting options. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t join the composting community. If you are flush with money and have a space for a new appliance, there is the Red Dragon electric indoor composter.  The main issue with this product is energy use, which is 60 kwhr per month or 720 kwhr per year.  If you live in a place where the energy mix Is mostly renewables (like BC) and are willing to take the financial hit, this might be a great option.  It is really fast and takes a very wide range of organic waste.

The other main option for indoor composting is vermicomposting or composting with worms, which is cheaper and more space efficient. Once set up the worms are pretty low maintenance, they need to be fed once a week and a couple of times a year the compost (or worm poo) needs to be harvested. They don’t smell, they don’t try to escape and they don’t attract pests, unless you do something really wrong. Once I got the hang of knowing how much, often and what to feed them they’ve not smelled like anything other than great compost (not rotting food). The only time they tried to escape the bin was during a heat wave one summer when the temperature felt like +40 with humidex, which had made me escape the city already. And by rinsing or freezing all food before giving it to the worm, fruit flies and other pests haven’t been an issue. If you are interested in getting into vermicomposting, there are a lot of great resources and if you know someone already doing it, odds are you can pick up some free worms from them.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Fight Arrives in Oz

Australians have known for a long time that we have a bit of a problem with food. As a population we’re not the healthiest eaters, which our national dish of meat pies with chips and beer is a pretty good indication of. But over the past five years, our little problem with food has grown into a big national issue.

A bit over 17 million Australians are overweight or obese, a figure that has more than doubled in the past ten years. If we continue to gain weight at the current levels, by 2020 we’re going to be a country where 80 per cent of adults and one third of all children are overweight or obese.

Obviously, this is going to lead to some epic issues if something isn’t done about it soon. Financially, there will be the enormous increase in healthcare costs as the Australian population succumbs to the inevitable health problems that come with being overweight. Then there’s the fact that on the basis of present trends we can predict that by the time they reach the age of 20, our kids will be the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than earlier generations, simply because of obesity.

So how is the government dealing with this problem? Well, judging by today’s announcement, by bringing in the culinary big gun himself – Jamie Oliver.

Jamie Oliver and Victorian Health Minister David Davis (who incidentally, has not let a ridiculous name stand in the way of his political career) announced today that Jamie’s Ministry of Food would be implemented to Victoria in an attempt to solve the state’s substantial obesity problem.

Jamie’s Ministry of Food is a community-focused program that teaches basic cooking skills and good nutrition to non-cooks, regardless of age, demographic or ethnicity, to improve their quality of life and health. It’s very much a grass-roots program that’s based on empowering people to think differently about food by equipping them with simple cooking skills and knowledge.

In the food guru’s own words: “The Ministry of Food is so simple in what it does: it’s about celebrating great food with guidance, love, care and attention. It’s for anyone over the age of 12, from any background and it really does change lives.”

Judging by the comments on today’s Ministry of Food announcement, opinion is split fifty-fifty amongst Victorians about whether this program is the right way to tackle the obesity problem. About half of the comments were applauding both Jamie and the government for attempting to provide a solution to this issue, and the other half were lambasting the government for getting a ‘foreign celebrity chef’ involved in our domestic health issues.

It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how it all pans out, and if a community-based program really can change the way all Australians think about food.

Masthead photo from this photostream, body photo from this photostream. Both used with the permission of a Creative Commons license.

Grow What You Eat!

Grow what you eat on Friday, March 2nd from 7 – 11pm at Nelson the Seagull, 315 Carall Street, Gastown.

Victory Gardens, an urban farming business from Vancouver BC, is pleased to announce the launch of their first growing season with a silent auction and fundraiser, featuring generous donations from a host of the community’s finest, including: Nelson the Seagull, Collage Collage, Raincity Chronicles, Pickershack, Gravity Pope, Lark, Regional Assembly of Text, Beth Richards, Heartbreaker Salon, Rocklore, Dace, Back-yard Buzz, Humble Roots Wellness, Community Vintage, Instinct Training, Ystava and more!

Lisa Giroday, Sam Philips and Sandra Lopuch have come together to form the urban farming business, Victory Gardens. With varying backgrounds and interests in food production, sustainable development and environmental activism, Victory Gardens embodies many of the principles in which they were born, but with a fresh perspective. The team at Victory Gardens looks forward to working with the community; transforming front yards for food production, facilitating dynamic workshops, such as: “Grow Your Own Pizza”, providing education and planning tools for the new urban farmer to grow what they eat and much more.

The term Victory Gardens speaks to WWI and WWII era campaigns instigated by American, Canadian, German and British governments intending to reduce the pressure on public food supply. However; more than that, Victory Gardens served as symbols of comradery and support, unifying the masses to promote sustainability, efficient land use, innovative economic models and to unite families in a passive war effort for victory. British Columbia and Vancouver were no exception to this push for city farming, and in early 1943, The Vancouver News Herald reported, “If all the Victory Gardens in British Columbia were lumped together, they would occupy a space approximately three times the size of Vancouver’s great Stanley Park.” At that time, the paper said, there were 1425 gardens on city-owned lots.” (

Not much has changed in the way a Victory Garden can benefit the community today, so we’re delighted to provide the tools to make that connection!

Masthead photo courtesy of Rob Holland