Category Archives: Save the earth

A new name for spinach?

I’ve just arrived home from California. It’s only 2 hours away by plane, I’ve been there many times, and on the surface the culture seems virtually the same as here. But I was surprised at the differences I noticed in food labelling and packaging (aka marketing) at the local grocery chains.

The example I found most astounding was the labelling of a bag of kale and spinach as “Juicing Greens”! With juicing as one of the latest fads in health and weight loss, someone must be making money by promoting basic greens as so exciting and trendy! And note the yellow box on the label – “Healthy” too? Imagine that.  US GroceriesThis got me reflecting on the food marketing I’ve likely been susceptible to here in Western Canada. I guess we’ve been hit harder with the “Paleo Diet” as a food consumption concept, where in its most simplistic description, animal fat and protein are good and grains are bad*. Conversely in California, I couldn’t even find higher fat table (or coffee) cream, the presumably undesirable homogenized (3.25% fat) milk was disguised with a lack of labeling, and most of the other dairy products were labelled “fat free”, “low fat” or “fat reduced”.  

I often see labels for “Gluten Free” on items that have never contained gluten, but on this trip, I also noticed products labeled “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” on items that likewise wouldn’t have had any sugar anyway.

I appreciate the desire and commitment of the food industry to educate people about what’s in their food, but I question the motivation when grocery shopping seems to be more about marketing promises or the latest buzz words than nourishment. As a lot of our popular culture stems from our southern neighbours, I’m curious when “juicing greens” will show up on the shelves here in Vancouver (where we tend to be a bit righteous about how healthy we are). Is it already in other parts of Canada? A little marketing research anyone?

*This is my own description and perception of the Paleo Diet concept, not backed by any research.

Guest post: It’s about more than saving money

Most people laugh when I tell them I actually save money on food during the summer months because of my garden. I didn’t start gardening to save money initially, nor do I continue it solely for that reason, but it’s been a plausible by-product, so it’s become part of the fun!

If I only bought internationally sourced, non-organic produce, or spent a lot of money building fancy garden beds, I might be able to poke holes in this theory, but when comparing to farmers’ market prices (and quality!) for locally, sustainably grown produce, and my goal is to produce ALL my own produce for at least a month in the summer, it can add up to a significant savings, including the time and money it takes to shop.

A friend and like-minded gal inspired me with her recent post on Facebook indicating that January was a self-imposed “spending freeze” month, and furthermore, that through thrifty “thrifting” throughout the past year, her goal was to purchase ZERO clothing in 2015 for her family of four! So I decided to interview her about how she alters her behaviour throughout the year and what her motivations are.

Facebook post

Meet Sandra. Small business owner by trade, mom/cook/gardener/thrifter/DIY junkie by choice. Our husbands happen to be cousins and spend all their time together either hunting wild game, or hunting zombies on their Xboxes late at night through the ether.
We put in our butcher order together from the “hubby hunt”, share a cow from a local farm once a year, she renders her own lard from the fat, and taught me how to make my own stock from the bones. She’s taught me lots of other stuff too, but I need to get on with this interview, so I guess she’ll be a returning guest!

Me: What was your motivation to begin gardening? And what motivates you to continue with it today?

Sandra: Growing up, I spent my summers with my grandparents, and my grandfather had a garden. I didn’t realize it then, but probably 80% of the produce we ate came from the garden. We snacked on raspberries and peas and baby carrots. Digging potatoes for that night’s dinner was like digging for buried treasure. My husband’s parents and grandparents grew their own food, so it seemed logical to both of us that if you own your own land, you grow some food on it. My motivation is part nostalgia and part common sense  (My parents didn’t garden or do anything remotely traditional or homestead-y, so I guess it skipped a generation).
NB: My rhubarb came from your Grandpa’s garden!

Me: Do you think you actually save any money by gardening?

Sandra: On tomatoes, kale and rhubarb, absolutely.  On everything else, probably not.  We’ve probably spent more on building garden beds and enhancing the soil than we’ve saved on lettuce and green beans.  My garden is very small, so I can’t grow enough variety or volume or feed our family exclusively.

Me: In an age of lack of delayed gratification, “buy it now” buttons and over-consuming, what motivated you the most to implement a family “spending freeze”?

Sandra: Financial necessity. My income varies, so there are some lean months.  Sometimes the budget needs a little tweaking. Priorities need tweaking too.

Me: What’s the single thing you do regularly that gives you the most gratification from either saving money, the environment or just doing right by your family?

Sandra: Cooking at home, from scratch, with whole foods, and eating dinner as a family. It’s a good thing that I enjoy cooking, and my family likes my cooking (stewed rabbit and one overcooked beef roast notwithstanding). Groceries are one area of the budget where we are not overly frugal. Since we don’t get out much, it’s important that the food be high quality, satisfying, and a little bit indulgent.  Leftovers are turned into future dinners or lunches for my husband. Food waste annoys me. Restaurant meals destroy the budget. We simply can not afford to eat out as a family all the time and expect to stay out of debt. And to be honest, when you eat well at home, even expensive restaurant food is less appealing. The rare times that we do eat out, it’s at a specialty or ethnic restaurant, or for a special occasion, so the meal doubles as a social or cultural experience. Another benefit of cooking and eating at home is that my kids recognize and appreciate so many foods from farm to plate – what they look like and what they taste like – and will take that knowledge with them through life.

NB: Our children helped hunt that rabbit on their first trip with aforementioned hubbies, so we didn’t care what it tasted like, and the roast beef was fine!
Thanks Sandra!


The good ‘ole 3-R’s still have it goin’ on

As a food grower and “waste-not-want-not” kind of gal, I use every shred of food that inhabits my yard, down to the final scarlet runner beans growing along the fence until mid October! So not surprisingly, I’m also into other ways to reduce our impact on the environment. Yup, the good old 3 R’s – reducing, reusing and recycling.

Reuse (and let go)Reduce reuse recycle

Our back alley has proven to be the best example of this over the past year. Put anything of any value out there and it’s gone within a day. Put anything returnable out there, and it’s gone in 5 minutes. No joke.

Recently we needed to get rid of a desk, and on its way to the back alley, our tenant had a glint in his eye and decided he wanted it. So he swapped it for his own old desk and took it to the alley. Later that night, we heard some scuffling out back, as a guy was expounding on the merits of this “amazing desk that would fit perfectly in their space”. This warms our hearts and happens regularly. In fact, within two weeks of setting the intention of needing a new office chair, our friend decided he didn’t want his amazing office chair anymore, and boom, ours went out to the alley to be snapped up within 12 hours.

Reduce, then recycle:

Recycling is good too, but ultimately, we want to reduce our use of “stuff” in the first place. So, while we are trying to reduce our use of Ziploc bags for kids’ lunches to 1 per day, we need to find a place to put these things once they’re used, as they are not accepted in our curbside recycling bin. Enter the blue recycling bins at Safeway or London Drugs, among other places. You can recycle your ziplocs (and other clean plastic bags) in there. Now if only they’d start charging (a lot) for plastic bags, we’d be even happier. Five cents ain’t gonna change behaviour.

Let us know your favourite 3-R’s examples from your life.