Vegetarians and Voters

April 26, 2011

“What”, you ask, “do vegetarians and voters have to do with each other?”

Well, apart from the obvious – they both start with “V”, the letter of the day for the A-Z Blogging Challenge – they are both about choices and outcomes.

Eating a strictly vegetarian (or vegan – hereafter any reference to vegetarianism can be assumed to include the more restrictive prescriptions of veganism unless otherwise noted) diet is a matter of choice, just as eating meat products is a choice – and there are further choices within the confines of each type of diet which lead to different outcomes: conditions like obesity, malnutrition or heart disease being the result of poor choices.

For example, a poorly planned vegetarian diet can be high in fat, potentially increasing risk of obesity. As well, there are some nutrients like essential amino acids which can’t be synthesized by the body.  These are readily found in meats, as well as dairy products and eggs, but are only found in a handful of plant derived foods – fortunately, the correct combination of foods (beans and rice, for example) in a vegetarian diet can combine to deliver these essential amino acids.  But not understanding this can lead to malnutrition.

There are certainly benefits – both physical and possibly psychological (if you object on moral grounds to eating foods derived from living creatures) – to a well balanced vegetarian diet, and even choosing a “mostly vegetarian” diet can have very beneficial effects on health.

And that brings us to voters – they also have choices, which result in outcomes.  In this case, however, it is often much less easy to determine whether a particular choice in an election will have a positive or negative outcome.  The fear of making the wrong choice often seems to lead voters to throw up their hands and not exercise their franchise, leading to poor turnouts and a government elected without the support of the majority of the population.

In Canada, we are presently in the final few days of an election campaign and there is once again a real possibility that voter turnout will be extremely low.  If you’re eligible to vote in the federal election, I urge you to make the small effort required to get out and vote.  I won’t try to sway you to vote for any particular outcome, but if you don’t vote you will have no say at all in what the results will bring in terms of future policies and the fundamental nature of the country we live in.

If You Love Canada Vote May 2nd, 2011

I’ve already cast my ballot in one of the advanced polls – if you have too, congratulations.  For the rest of you, make sure you get out to vote on May 2nd, 2011.


Omnivore

April 18, 2011

Full disclosure: I am, by and large, a pragmatist. At least in the sense that I recognize that there are situations or circumstances that were not of my making and that are of a scale and level of entrenchment that, whether I think they are A Good Thing or not, the chances of me changing the system is, as they say “Somewhere between slim and nil, and Slim just left town.”

Which is why I am able to deal with the occasional pang of psychic discomfort resulting from the origins of the food I eat – principally related to products of animal origin, but also with regard to the costs to the environment and society from the mass production of all kinds of foods including fruits and vegetables.

So I am an omnivore, but not necessarily proud of it.  Let’s face it, the human race evolved to be omnivorous for a number of survival related reasons – opportunistic reasons, to be sure.  After all, if you can survive on different types of food which vary in availability, you may have an advantage over other creatures which are tied to a highly specific diet – call it the “sole source effect”, to fall back on my experience working with supply chains in business.  If you rely on a sole source of supply for a critical raw material or component used in producing your finished goods, and there’s an interruption to that source… it can get ugly pretty quickly.  Trust me on this.

In fact, the diet that K and I live on tends to include much less animal-source protein than for a lot of North Americans.  And since the time we lived in France – where a culture of using fresh, seasonal ingredients is supported by the existence of neighbourhood farm markets in urban areas, we’ve been eating seasonally as much as possible.

Fresh strawberries in January? Um, no thanks, we’ll wait until they’re in season and become plentiful, not to mention actually tasting like strawberries unlike the ones shipped a gazillion kilometres from a more hospitable climate to The Great White North that is Canada in the winter (or mid-April, sometimes… where we live, this past weekend was punctuated with near white-out conditions at times; fortunately, the snow that fell melted almost immediately on hitting the ground).

Another way we manage to eat locally grown produce in season is by belonging to a CSA (short for “Community Shared Agriculture” in Canada) – ours is the Ignatius Farm CSA, and the farm that it’s part of is certified organic, so the produce we get in our share of the harvest during the growing season is organically produced as well as being local.  A big plus is that you get to know the farmers and the interns (our CSA has a strong internship and education focus).  Supplementing what we get in our weekly share are the vegetables we grow in our rented organic garden plot – the community garden plots are also part of the Ignatius Farm.

Out of season, we have to buy produce from the supermarket – but even then, we try to choose based on what’s in season.

And then there’s the animal protein side of the ledger.  As I said, K and I eat less (probably a lot less) of it than most North Americans – a good 2/3 of our suppers are vegetarian (it’s probably an even higher proportion during the summer while we’re getting the CSA share), and for those meals that do include meat K usually only uses about 300 g (10-ish ounces) in preparing them.  And that’s shared between the two of us, generally with enough left over for me to have as a lunch – from what I’ve seen people put in their cart at the supermarket, I’d say a lot of them think that 300 g of meat would serve just one person and skimpily at that.

While it doesn’t make me especially happy knowing an animal gets killed in order to provide me with that meal, I also don’t dwell on it – that pragmatism thing, you know.  Short of becoming breathairian, I know that something, whether it’s animal or vegetable, has to die in order to provide me with food to sustain my life.  I didn’t make the rules, and so far I’m still pretty attached to the whole “living” thing which means I can, er, live with the knowledge and not lose sleep over it.

There you have it, a post to cover “O” as today’s letter for the A-Z Blogging Challenge.  Funny, all of a sudden, I feel hungry…


Lyon and Lisbon

April 14, 2011

I was very fortunate to have had a job (a while back) which resulted in being seconded to the company’s headquarters in Lyon, France for what ended up being a four year stay, while I was the IT Project Manager on a global software implementation project.

During our stay there, K and I were able to travel to quite a few places in Europe as the distances were relatively short (in comparison to getting to those places from Canada) and there were generally good options for getting to them: networks of excellent high-speed highways connecting major cities, high-speed trains lines and, for the longest trips, air travel, although most of our travelling was done either by car or train.

So Lyon is the first “L” for today’s A-Z Blogging Challenge post, and the second is Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) – one of the places we got to visit on a group trip from Lyon.  A bit of an explanation here: in France, companies over a certain size are required by employment laws (and boy, do they have employment laws in France – lots and lots of them, as befits the country that invented bureaucracy) to have a comité d’entreprise (CE) that is made up of elected representatives of the employees and is funded by the company, based on a percentage of the total payroll (um, to put it in Facebook relationship terms: It’s complicated).

One of the functions of the CE relates to running company subsidized social and cultural events for employees – including organizing group trips, usually planned around the many statutory holiday periods throughout the year.  One such trip that we were able to take advantage of was to the second “L” for today’s post: Lisbon, Portugal.

The trip was organized around the long weekend of Pentecost (lundi de Pentecôte) in May 2002 and we had a wonderful time there.  The Portuguese people were welcoming and friendly, and as many of them speak French (the two languages have many similarities due to their both being Romance languages) it often made communicating easier (er, that’s because K and I both know French – OK, she’s more fluent than I since she studied French literature in university but je me débrouille pas mal).

We were already accustomed to good food from living in Lyon, regarded (by some, anyway, and definitely by the Lyonnais) as the gastronomic capital of France, but Lisbon delivered its fair share of gustatory treats, including pastéis and ginjinha.

There were wonderful sights to see as well: azulejos tilework was everywhere, we made the obligatory visit to the remains of the Roman temple of Évora, and took a leisurely tour of the city on a chartered old fashioned tram (the modern ones are quaintly old fashioned in their own way).  And then there was the sea and seafaring – an integral part of life in Lisbon and Portugal throughout its history.  Pictures are worth more than words, though, so here are a few we took on that trip:

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Would I go back to Lyon or Lisbon, either to visit or to live there?  In a heartbeat:)


Jerk

April 12, 2011

Right off the bat, this is not going to be a rant about any of the many kinds of human jerks we all run across from time to time – I’d say “You know who you are!” but in fact there’d be no point, as one of the defining characteristics of the jerk is that they are immune to the realization that their behaviour is obnoxious and alienating to good folks like you and me*.

The kind of jerk that actually came to mind when I was casting about for a “J” word as the subject for today’s A-Z Blogging Challenge is the one widely used in Jamaican cuisine: jerk spice.

And specifically, I’d like to give a shoutout to Ellison’s Bistro, a Kitchener, Ontario restaurant which features Caribbean cooking and which I can highly recommend.  I’ve had lunch there a couple of times, and had the Jerk burger which the chef and owner, Elvis Ellison, sometimes offers as a lunch special.  It’s terrific! Well, it is if you enjoy spicy food – if not, though, there are lots of other choices on the menu.

It’s been a while since I was last there, so you’ll want to check with the restaurant in advance to find out if it’s on the day’s menu if that’s what you’re interested in having, but whatever you order, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed – the people I’ve been there with ordered a variety of dishes and all were satisfied with their meals.  And you can check out some reviews at Restaurantica, where it gets 4.3/5 stars.

In addition to the wonderful cuisine there, the atmosphere is unique and charming – in large part because the engaging and personable Elvis loves to come out of the kitchen and make his guests feel at home.

So if you happen to be in downtown Kitchener and are looking for a great meal in a cozy setting, I heartily suggest you give Ellison’s Bistro a try.


* Not wanting to be guilty of hubris, I hereby offer a mea culpa to any and all towards whom I may have at some time been a jerk towards.  I don’t believe that’s happened very often (at least I’m hoping that’s so), but then a true jerk never realizes they are one so it’s entirely possible that I am and just don’t know it.


Headlines that make you crave 김치 (kimchi)

July 2, 2009

Better diplomacy through food… saw the following headline on the BBC News website:

Spare rib diplomacy in Pyongyang

Which of course brought to mind Korean Barbecue, and to go with it, naturally, some kimchi on the side.

And speaking of unusual ways to get closer to a notably closed country like North Korea, Jesse Brown interviewed Curtis Melvin on a recent episode of the Search Engine podcast on TVO in which they spoke about how Curtis and a network of contributors has created “the most authoritative map of North Korea on Google Earth


Headlines that make you hungry, after they make you smile

December 14, 2008

OK, this one from BBC News just caught my eye, and it’s just too good to pass up:

US man uses pizza in self-defence

What next, pepperoni spray? :)


IED in the oven

December 18, 2007

Bit of a scare today — while K was making dinner, her trusty Pyrex® baking dish became an IED. Here are a few photos of the aftermath:

Like walkin’ on broken glass (with apologies to Annie Lennox)

Helluva mess.

Box o’ glass.

Here’s what had been roasting in the dish:

carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions.

Sigh… would have been a great dinner, there was a roast chicken from the grocery store to go with the roast veg (you may not be able to tell from the photo, but there were potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and onions) and as well K was baking a lovely acorn squash. More on the squash in a bit…

When I got home, the oven had cooled enough that we could clean up a bit — enough for K to throw together a quickie soup made from slices of the chicken added to some store bought broth with some pucks of Chinese noodles simmered a few minutes to soften them through. A few seasonings and it turned out to be tasty and filling, if not as good as the planned meal would have been.

I decided to Google for “exploding pyrex” just to see if her experience was unusual or not. Judging from the results, apparently not. I looked at one site in particular, ConsumerAffairs.com, which had an article titled “Pyrex Panic” — it certainly had been for K.

The truly amazing thing in the article is the attitude of the VP from the parent company of Pyrex®, who said in a letter to ConsumerAffairs.com:

“We want to assure you that neither PYREX glass bakeware nor other glass bakeware ‘explodes.’ Glass does not explode but it can break. As glass bonds break, people may hear a noise and be surprised.”

Now, remember the squash I mentioned above? It was baking in the oven at the same time as the veg; both were in 9″x13″ baking pans/dishes — the squash, halved, was sitting in a metal pan and, well, you know what the veg were in.

The Pyrex® dish was on the lower rack and the squash in the metal pan were above them on the upper rack. And we had to pitch the squash in the recycle along with all the veg from the broken dish — a complete waste of good food and hard earned grocery money (we’re still getting back on our feet financially after my recently ended bout of unemployment, so wasting money is especially grating; you can read about my Adventures in Job Search Land in the archives).

Oh, and the reason why the squash had to be tossed as well? There was at least one piece of glass in the bottom of the metal baking pan, and no way to tell if there were any more lurking inside the squash. Do ya’ feel lucky, punk? Only wish I’d had the presence of mind to photograph that too… I blame it on the stress (and mine was fairly minimal compared to K’s, who had been steadying the dish with one hand — gotta love those Ove Gloves — while stirring the veg around with a plastic cooking spoon when it broke — it pretty much scared the… <insert your favourite expression for what gets scared out of you at times like these> out of her, and the fingers on the hand that was holding the dish are aching)

So, if Pyrex® doesn’t explode, I’d like that VP to explain to me just exactly when they managed to perfect teleportation


Headlines that make you smile (1st in a series)

May 23, 2007

Genes shed light on fish fingers

That’s the headline for a science article on the BBC’s news website.

Which made me smile, thinking of a couple of guys named Gene coming up with an explanation for a type of pseudo-food….


Women are from Venus; Men are from Duh.

May 13, 2007

Oops. Mea gobble, mea gobble, mea maxima gobble (to paraphrase from the Latin “mea culpa).

We went to the weekly Saturday morning farmers’ market in town and picked up a bunch of the first “local” asparagus — it was from a farm in South Western Ontario somewhere down near Lake Erie, which isn’t strictly local to where we live, but does fall within (or at least within a country mile or so… :) ) the 100 mile (~160 km) criteria (as in “The Hundred Mile Diet) we’ve been trying to stick to as often as possible when shopping these days.

We also bought some organic shiitake mushrooms from Greenfields Farm, which has a stall at the farmers’ market. For dinner, K combined them into this:

Sauté of local asparagus with organic shiitake mushrooms.

A lovely sauté of the local asparagus, first of the season, with the organic shiitake mushrooms. It was delicious…

Now to the oops part (yes, I know it’s hard for you to believe that I’m not perfect… ;) ) — I was cleaning up in the kitchen (which is my usual role in the process of doing dinner, well, apart from eating it that is) afterwards and eventually got to the pot that K had blanched (or parboiled or something like that…) the asparagus in prior to adding it to the sauté. The water that the asparagus had been cooked in was still in the pot; nothing unusual about that, I thought.

So I emptied the pot down the drain before loading it into the dishwasher.

And a little while later, when K comes into the kitchen after I’m pretty much done cleaning up, she looks at the pot-less stove top and cries out “Where’s my asparagus broth?!?!?“.

She explained that she had planned on using the broth as an ingredient for other dinners later in the week. But she had forgotten to mention this to me, and I didn’t even think about asking whether she wanted to keep the cooking water before I pitched it out.

Well, I really felt bad about it — I’m sure that the broth would have been put to good use in livening up the taste of another dish.

You can be sure, though, that from now on, I’ll be asking before I dispose of just about anything when I’m cleaning up in the kitchen.

And that’s why I’ve concluded that women are from Venus and men are from Duh… :)


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