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.

Whitecaps FC Community Asset Review – Part 5

Editors’ note: Kurt and John are firm believers that Vancouver can and should be the Canadian epicenter for growing the sport and culture of soccer football soccer. This is a self-described healthy community. We can play outside year-round, as fields are rarely closed due to snow and/or freezing. And, most importantly, Vancouver is the place to expertly develop the sport of soccer because our city’s team, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, shares this goal and so demonstrates this vision through its Club Structure and the Whitecaps Foundation, which aims to create the fittest generation of BC Youth by 2020.

As Vancouver Whitecaps FC season ticket holders, Kurt and John are well-positioned to evaluate how the franchise showcases its commitment to “be a significant community asset” – so, following every match we will reflect on this commitment by answering two questions, which are below. Sometimes we bring friends and/or family-members to the game. And sometimes those awesome friends and/or family-members write awesome blog posts about the experience.

Yesterday’s match was a 3-1 victory for Vancouver Whitecaps FC.


Vancouver Whitecaps FC embraces the diversity of its community. The club fields players from 17 different countries, which is the most in the MLS (Seattle Sounders FC are second best, with players from 15 countries) – in fact, the ‘Caps might be the most culturally diverse team in professional sports in the world. The The Vancouver Sun’s Yvonne Zacharias wrote a great piece about the challenges of executing high level soccer performance when such a multicultural team is asked to communicate effectively with each other in the seven different languages that the players speak.

Diversity makes the club a significant community asset because it’s a rare thing for professional sports teams to reflect the community in which they play – sure, it’s not an exact reflection, but you get the idea. Our world is going to become more, not less, diverse in the years to come, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC is already showing how effectively diverse communities work to achieve goals.

Speaking of goals, yesterday the ‘Caps scored three goals and Houston Dynamo only scored one goal.

One of the many possible Whitecap Fusion dishes / vxla’s photostream on Flickr


With such a diverse team made up of players from so many countries and cultures I immediately thought of food – I’m also hungry, but this doesn’t make my idea any less awesome.

In order to be an even more significant community asset, Vancouver Whitecaps FC should serve – at games or via a superawesome Whitecaps Food Truck (©Copyright John Horn 2012) – dishes from players’ home countries. Not only would this idea celebrate the club’s diversity, but it would also be very, very tasty, especially if some of the city’s best culinary minds explore how to deliciously fuse some of the dishes (e.g. salt fish kimchi crepes?!) into amazingly unique Whitecaps creations.

moriza’s photostream on Flickr

Here are some of the potential menu items:

So there it is. My latest idea regarding how Vancouver Whitecaps FC can be an even more significant community asset. No need to thank me, Bob, John, Tom, et al – I share these gems because I’m a fan. And, for the record, I would absolutely eat a haggis empanada with some fufu poutine any day of the week…

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

A Hunch about Lunch

One of the most important communities in daily life is the work community. What do I look for in a workplace community? Well, there are a few key factors, but the latest to be added to my wish list is ‘a place where people eat lunch”.

Sharing a meal is one of the most powerful ways to build community and being “a place where people eat lunch” can benefit a workplace both culturally and in terms of productivity. Unfortunately, I have been noticing a major absence of shared meals in my working life and have heard this same thing echoed among many of my peers. I’m starting to think I’m going to have to move to Europe to locate this appreciation for the mid-day meal.

North American Culture prides itself on hard work and ambition. Michael Pollan, in his book, In Defense of Food; An Eater’s Manifesto, suggests that as an effect of this ideology, North American’s view food as merely utilitarian fuel rather than something to be enjoyed for it’s own sake. He brings up several examples of the stark difference between North American attitudes to food as compared to European attitudes the most striking example given is a comparison where American and French people are shown a picture of a piece of chocolate cake and asked what word it brings to mind. The most common American reaction is “guilt” while the most common French reaction is “celebration”!

Perhaps it can be chalked up to the fact that I was raised with a European attitude towards food, but I do not believe that eating a protein bar at my desk can be classified as lunch. Nor do I believe that it can have any long-term benefits to my employer or my career. I can see some very real and lasting benefits however, in taking a ½ hour to share a meal with my co-workers.

Sharing a meal is the fastest way to establish shared experiences, which are the building blocks of community. With strong community comes creativity because two heads really are better than one (and all heads are significantly more powerful when they receive more than just caffeine as a stimulus).  Creativity can invigorate a workplace and make its entire workforce more productive and motivated in all of their working hours.

Each of these outcomes produces more powerful benefits than that extra ½ hour in front of the computer and these are just a few of the benefits to be had when you turn your work place into a place where people eat lunch. If you aren’t lucky enough to work in one of these places already, why don’t you try something new for lunch today?

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

The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is in Full Bloom!

Images by Allison Blake

I first learned about the Japanese tradition of Cherry Blossom festivals, or Hanami, during an undergraduate course in the philosophy of aesthetics. I heard about how everyone would take time out from their busy schedules to sit under the trees and immerse themselves in the beauty of the pink blossoms. We discussed how the beauty of the blossoms has as much to do with their fleeting presence as to do with their exquisite appearance. This awareness of the transience of the blossoms themselves and the happiness we derive from their splendor is described in the Japanese aesthetic term “Mono no aware” or “an empathy toward things”. This is an enduring concept in Japanese cultural and aesthetic traditions.

I have always looked forward to and admired the Cherry Blossom season, which is particularly rich in Vancouver thanks to many trees received as gifts from Japan. My parents have a cherry blossom tree that for years served as an exceptional climbing tree and a fortress of sorts. I remember climbing it while it was in bloom, and how I could be completely concealed within the cloud of soft blossoms. Now, every year the first budding cherry trees fill me with anticipation for when warmer, sunnier days will slowly but steadily start to beat back the gray damp walks to and from the Skytrain on my daily commute. I know that the cherry trees will only bloom for a short time, and by the time they are gone, I will be enjoying the warmth of the sun on my skin once again!

Until I learned about the Japanese traditions surrounding this season, I had never really considered how brief a time we really have to enjoy these particularly pretty trees in the span of a year. Learning more about the aesthetic and philosophical traditions surrounding the trees deepened my appreciation of these natural art forms. I can’t help but consider how their slow emergence, or sometimes sudden appearance, transform a familiar landscape much the same way a piece of public art can change the experience of a familiar place.

The fluffy blossoms spanning every shade between fuchsia and white are even more moving when grouped together. There are countless streets lined with the blossoms and the VCBF website has 900 suggestions of places to visit and walks to take to appreciate the blossoms in all their glory. They even include updates of when a particularly popular area is no longer in bloom so that you don’t end up disappointed.

My particular favourite  spot is one I visit 5 times a week, twice a day. The entrance to Burrard Sky Train station is a tiered garden lined with rows of cherry blossoms and Magnolias. On nice days, the sun shines through the blossoms illuminating them like a forest of lights! As the buds continue to multiply, so do the number of people who stop to take photos, or simply to sit beneath them and bask in their magnificence for a while. I highly suggest you do the same. It is simply breathtaking. It is one of the best art shows of the year.

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.

A Vancouver Food Tour

When I travel, I visit vegetarian restaurants.  In Toronto, I go to Fresh.  In Victoria, I go to Rebar.  I was in Calgary recently and checked out The Coup (awesome).  I love finding my way to a new place, trying delicious food and soaking up the vibe.  Vegetarian restaurants are like a home away from home and I visit them like other travellers visit cultural sites.  For me, a vegetarian restaurant is the epicentre of the culture that I want to experience in a new city.

We’re fortunate in Vancouver to have plenty of dining-out choices, including places that appeal to people like me. Here’s a quick overview of my favourite vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver.

I used to live in Kits and split my time between The Naam, Nevermind (now kaput) and The Hollywood Theatre (also kaput – sad).  I like that The Naam has not changed since I started eating there in the 90’s.  And it probably hadn’t changed in the 30 years it existed before that.  I like how cozy it is there in the winter.  And I love their miso gravy and rice pudding.  What I don’t love is the bland menu, spotty service and inconsistent food quality.  After giving The Naam a wide berth for the past couple of years, I had lunch there last week and had a great time.  The menu was the same, the service was weird, and there were burnt potato wedges in my Gold Dragon Bowl.  All of that didn’t matter though, because it felt like home.

I live in Mount Pleasant now and am within walking distance of lots of amazing food choices.  I was happy when The Foundation came onto the scene and I’ve dropped a fair bit of dough there, mostly on nachos and beer.  I like the goofily named vegetarian basics on the menu and the nutritious options.  I don’t go there much anymore though because the loud music and prickly service makes for a decidedly un-kid-friendly environment.  I still give it two thumbs up though.

On The Drive, my top picks are Café Deux Soleils for their super awesome breakfasts, kid-friendly space, and fun evening events, and Sweet Cherubim for their tasty organic menu, low-key vibe, and affordable groceries.

Radha, in Chinatown, was my favourite but it closed in May last year.  The food was so good and I loved it there.  Their creative vegan menu was outstanding.  The space is still open as a yoga studio and their former head-chef continues to offer vegan cooking classes.

Gorilla Food downtown is a good alternative to Radha as it offers organic, local and seasonal deliciousness.  It’s menu caters exclusively to the raw vegan set and it’s interesting, creative and filling.  I’ve taken die-hard meat-eaters there and they were impressed.  The service can be flakey, but whatever.  You get that in this scene.

Rounding out this entirely subjective list is my personal fave, The Rhizome.  The food is basic and reliable, the service is friendly, the owners are lovely and the place is a hub for the socially-minded.  The Rhizome has been around for five years and it’s an oasis of calm across from the Kingsgate Mall on East Broadway.  The restaurant is a community space, with a variety of events hosted there through the week.  The Rhizome is all things that I love about vegetarian restaurants.  It’s my favourite place in Vancouver and I hope you check it out.  Perhaps you’ll love it as much as I do!

Lessons in Culinary Community Building

Picture a long festive table decked with candles and lined with  a dozen smiling faces. Surely, all the ingredients for sharing of food, laughter and good conversation? Well, not so much.

As I sat down excited to spend the evening catching up with everyone, I realized a good third of the long table was out of earshot and I was confined to chatting only with my immediate neighbour. Others dishes were also out of tasting/sharing range. By the end of the evening, I left for home feeling unfulfilled -  increasingly convinced  that other cultures, particularly in Asia, but, oddly, as close as Switzerland, know where it’s at when it comes to shared dining. Here’s why:

Circle Sitting:

Rectangular tables are recipes for isolation and are basically retrograde – some sort of throwback to medieval banqueting. They’re also hierarchical when you think about it. Why do we need a “Head of the table”, for example? Sitting in a circle does away with all that and facilitates a shared social and culinary experience. Chinese Dim-sum restaurants have got it right.

Cooking (!) the food at the table:

Last year’s Christmas highlight was having endless Swiss Raclette with my family. A stack of cheese and a two little propane fired pans set up around our coffee table was all it took to have an interactive, collaborative and leisurely meal.

Japanese 'Hot Potting'


This year, the highlight was my first Japanese Hot Pot experience with six friends. Again, we relaxed around two bubbling cookers, working together to keep the pots full of pre-prepared seafood, mushrooms, kim-chi and other delicacies.

Admittedly my international experience is limited and hence my examples are too. But I feel it’s safe to say the West has a lot to learn. Sure – we’re good around a campfire with wieners and marshmallows, but it’d be great to bring that communal experience more regularly into our homes. Chopping the corners off all tables square is good start!




Food Charters: building a food community

As part of my work I get to be involved in some really interesting projects.  One of the latest is the development of a food charter.  A food charter is a statement of values and principles to guide a community’s food policy. People from a broad spectrum of community interests and organizations meet and discuss their concerns and desires around food and agriculture policy in order to come up with a common vision and set of principles. These form the basis of a unique, local, community food charter.

Food Charters are still fairly new.  Toronto has had one since 2000, Sudbury since 2004, and Vancouver since 2007.  In the past three years at least half a dozen other communities have adopted them and even more are starting to work on them.  When a food charter is adopted by a municipal council it becomes a public document to guide decision-making.  It also can be endorsed by other organizations and form the basis of partnerships to work toward common goals.  In many ways, the food charters adopted so far look fairly similar.  I imagine the small steering committee that I’m on could sit down and write it over an afternoon and it wouldn’t look that different from what we are likely to end up with.  But while having a statement of shared values might be the obvious outcome that we want to achieve, an even more important outcome is the relationships that the process of co-developing a Food Charter will forge.

One of the things that I like most about the Food Charter process so far is it has been a tool to bring together stakeholders from a range of different backgrounds, including health, agriculture, environment, tourism, processing, retail, transportation, local, regional and provincial government, social equity, poverty, waste management, and education.  Individuals and organizations that have never been in the same room before have come together to discuss the Food Charter.  To me, this means that even in the main goal of getting a Food Charter adopted doesn’t happen right away that’s OK.  The relationship building that is occurring during the process of meetings and community engagement is already incubating new projects.  Even after one public meeting an action plan to go along with the charter started to emerge and at the top of that list was the need to collaborate, cooperate, network and share.  A new food community is budding and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.