Making Sense of Food Labeling


Natural. Free-range. Cage-free. Grain-fed. Hormone-Free. Antibiotic-Free. These marketing buzz-words mean no than the “miracle” health elixirs sold off the back of wagons in the 1850’s. They are simply suggested terms that imply goodness and make you feel better about what you are consuming to build brand loyalty. Oftentimes manufacturers will do everything they can do to offer the impression that they have your best interest in mind, but actually do the opposite to gain market share and increase profit. A good business model actually, but not great if you are a consumer trying to get to the bottom of what you are actually eating.

Here is a quick example (link) by Michael Pollan showing how we can bypass the maze of the processed and find real food.

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Community Supported Agriculture

Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, referrers to a particular group of individuals who support one or more local farms by sharing in the benefits of their harvest.

Typically, at the beginning of the season, subscriptions are sold by a farm or cooperative for a weekly food box either delivered or to be picked up. Oftentimes, starting in May, and ending around Thanksgiving, members can receive a variety of vegetables, lettuces, meats, eggs or fruit. The price per week can vary from $25 up to $100 and can feed a family for several meals and supplement your visits to the grocery store.

CSA memberships will provide fresh nutrient dense freshly harvested foods in a convenient and accessible way. Here are a few that we recommend:

Kawartha CSA
Stoddart’s Family Farm
Twin Creeks Farm
Everdale Farm
Vicki’s Veggies

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Slow Food. Italy. And We.

Now a worldwide community, Slow Food was created in Italy in the mid 1980’s to promote an alternative to the expanding global community and to focus on preserving “traditional and regional cuisine(s) and encourages farming of plant, seeds, and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.” Every two years in Turin, Italy at the Terra Madre (Mother Earth) Conference, a network of food visionaries will gather to discuss, “innovative concepts in the field of food, gastronomy, globalization, economics.” Preparations are under way for this years conference, which will be held in a few weeks and for the first time will be open to the public. Delegates from over a 150 countries will be represented at the conference introducing untold numbers of flavours and food traditions.

This year we have been selected by Slow Food Canada to share examples of our Slightly Seedy Cracker and Lavender Shortbread Cookie, both made Red Fife wheat. A wheat that was brought from Scotland and was planted in the Peterborough area of southern Ontario in the 1840’s by David Fife. Naturally resistant to certain fungicides it acclimated well to Canada’s farmland and was planted across the prairies as people settled westward. Although renowned for its nutty and robust flavour it went by the wayside for a wheat that harvested earlier and for much of the 20th century was forgotten. Twenty years ago, a small amount of Red Fife seeds were acquired from a Canadian seed bank and planted by Sharon Remple. By the support of Slow Food’s heritage foods advocacy and the Ark of Taste along with several dedicated farmers and artisan bakers, Red Fife wheat is once again being planted from coast to coast.

“The hand that holds the seed controls the food supply. May seed always be in the hands of gardeners and farmers who will save and share this wealth.”

– Sharon Rempel

“David Fife, operator of the first experimental farm in Canada and developer of Red Fife Wheat” (Wikapedia source image)

Take The Whole Grain Challenge

(Photo credit: (c)2016 Edmund Rek/rekfotos.com)

Throughout history, farming has been the cornerstone of many great civilizations. The ability of early societies to store food (mostly domesticated grains) in quantities beyond what they needed changed the how they ate. Efforts needed to do be nomadic and search for food, were now directed to settling and growing their own. Thousands of years later not much has changed, but things are very different.

In North America our lineage of farming has been established by cross-breeding and hybridization. The process has evolved to control crops and animals to maximized production and increased yields. In the 1950’s the population grew and industrialized farming was there to meet the demand. Aided by supermarkets, fast food chains, and interstate highways the food distribution network spread like a crack through ice. Unfortunately, the majority of the farmland was a mono-culture of mostly wheat, corn and soy. Verlyn Klinkenborg explains how, “Large-scale industrial agriculture depends on engineering the land to ensure the absence of natural diversity.” (Learn more  here)

Over the past several years public health and environmental concerns has grown a geater interest in local foods and motivation for farmers and ethical food producers to connect to make the change. Focus on heritage varieties and ancient grains, raising grass-fed & grass-finished beef, wild pigs, free-range chickens and heirloom fruits and vegetables is the goal. Non profits like Slow Food are strong advocates for these endangered varieties and encourage farmers to grow them, chefs to cook them and consumers to eat these diverse foods. (See the Arc of Taste: Canada/US).

Prominent food companies (Unilever/Kraft/General Mills) are supplied by factory farms, who choose shelf life over nutrition to overcome the challenge of a vast distribution network and to meet the consumer demand of close-by convenience. Prior to this, agricultural cooperatives were necessary within smaller communities by sharing seeds, equipment, harvesting, processing, transportation even marketing within a group of farmers that enabled a local commerce that was difficult, or impossible to do so otherwise.

We are seeing the return of the agricultural co-operative with a renewed focus in quality vs quantity. There are several co-ops within the GTA who bring goods from a group of farmers close by to sell at farmers markets and CSA drop-off locations: Quinte Co-op, Hope Eco Farms, 100km Foods, just to name a few. These passionate groups offer us access to more locally grown foods and enable farmers to sell more of what they grow for a fair market price.

Beautiful produce, eggs and fresh meats are not the only benefits from buying farmer coops. Building relationships with growers show transparency into their farming methods and offer insights into heritage foods they are growing. Meeting the families to whom they are feeding is a real inspiration.

At the end of the day, when the consumer is King, better food choices are available to many of us. Big-box-stores such as (Walmart/Cosco/Loblaws) are taking note and offering local and organic foods in addition to conventional staples. These profit driven companies are finding their customers value more ethically produced foods.

For the choices and diversity of good foods to grow and become more available there will need to be challenges and  a few sacrifices. Convenience for one, more time in the kitchen is another, but this can be a reality and it is becoming a reality within micro communities. If you are up for the challenge, one of the ways to participate can be as simple as eliminating white flour from your kitchen and your diet. Harken back to those early civilizations and just use whole grains purchased from a farmer or miller nearby, or someone connected the person who grow the grains. And try this for a month and see what happens. See if it sticks. See if the flavour and and the satisfaction makes a significant impression on you and your family.

Stay tuned for more details about the Evelyn’s Crackers “Whole Grain Challenge”…(continued)

2012 The Rise of the Artisan Cracker

(Evelyns Cheddar Crispies Cracker and Monfortes Buffalo Milk Cheese. Photo Credit ©2012 Edmund Rek/Rekfotos.com)

Looking back fondly on last year (2011) we had tremendous growth partnering with nearly thirty new specialty stores surrounding Toronto and a new account in Nova Scotia and we were contacted by a specialty distributor in New Jersey who supplies New York City. As great as that sounds (say in unison: NEW YORK CITY!) we are going to focus the beginning of this year developing the relationships we have, be present advocating for local food and supporting farmers markets and hopefully inspire others to do the same. A new market like Ottawa, or NYC is something we are strongly considering for 2012. But, as small batch producers who bake our crackers to order, slow and steady growth has been the best way to expand and offer a quality artisan cracker.

2011 also brought us a new cracker and shortbread flavors. Inspired by one of our original crackers the “Salty Oats” the “Oat Cakes” have been very well received at the farmers markets and are starting to be available in a few stores starting this week. A “Rose Cardamom Shortbread,” turned to be the perfect partner in crime with the “Lavender Shortbread” to bring out your inner cookie monster. We look forward to other ideas and opportunities to bring local heritage grains to market. Muesli, granola, a hot cereal and a couple pancake mixes have been our newest inspirations.

We are a chef and baker rooted in the local, organic and good food movements; Evelyn’s Crackers has been a product of that. We also look forward to acting beyond advocators, but also as educators and offer insight to foods, how to prepared them and offer ways for you to participate in your own local community.

As always, we are grateful to our Ontario farmers who share in our commitment to offer wholesome food:

CIPM Farm;
Stoddards Farm;
Franz Seeberger;
Dancing Bees;
Hoovers Maple Syrup.

2011 Feast of Fields: Evelyn’s Crackers

It was a beautifully warm and sunny day at this year’s at Feast of Fields held at the Cold Creek Conservation in the King Township, Ontario. This event has been held annually for the past 25 years in celebration and advocating for organic farming. This year I met Frank Mazzuca who stopped by to chat about Red Fife and other organic grains. Here is Frank’s video diary of the event. Yours truly make an appearance at 13:30 minute mark. Enjoy!

Why Slightly Seedy is Better Than White Bread

While speaking to dozens of people at the farmers market we find there is a huge demand for gluten-free. Interestingly, the majority of people seem to be lacking a genuine gluten intolerance and still choose to avoid it anyway. As a result, there is a flood of gluten-free foods, many of which are quite awful. Quite early on we intended on making a gluten-free cracker, but have hesitated. Partly because gluten protein is vital to the structure and texture of the crackers, but also because it implies that gluten is bad. Well, on Saturday I spoke to someone who helped me put this into perspective.

Rebecca is a nutritionist and also a foodie, so I felt in good hands asking her some questions about gluten. She explained how some people would have issues eating a slice of white bread, for example, and less so with a whole grain cracker. Even though they both have gluten, there is no fiber in the white bread (devoid of anything really) so there is a chance for it to stay in the bowel longer (possibly fermenting), which can cause bloating, which is one of the symptoms. Where as the Slightly Seedy cracker that has the Red Fife whole wheat grain, oats, flax, sesame seeds an pumpkin seeds all of which promote better, and quicker digestion . So it really isn’t a gluten thing for certain people, but rather the quality of the flour that includes the whole grain.

How to Eat a Cracker

First, use your fingers and feel the weight and thickness of the cracker.

Then look closely at the color and texture. Are there seeds, or whole spices. Turn the cracker over. Is it the same on both sides. Hold it close to your nose and take a nice long smell to the point of being able to taste the cracker.

Now take a bite. Hear the crunch on your teeth then listen to the crunching in your head. Is it loud enough to catch someone else’s attention.

Now you have a mouthful of cracker. What does it taste like? Do you sense some acidity in your cheeks? Or spice on your tongue?

Repeat.

Now add cheese, and different types preserves, cured meats and smoked fish. Or not. Some are great on their own.

Most of all: Enjoy!

Eat Only Local Food – Can You Do It?

I met a young woman, Rebecca, who is participating in a school project where she only eats food grown in Ontario for two weeks. She came up to our booth at Riverdale Farmers Market this week and bought a bag of Red Fife Wheat on the first day of this month long sabbatical. I couldn’t temp her with crackers as she was looking only for staples. Being in a farmers market, I told her, she was starting in the right place. I gave her my card and told to her call me if she needed help and that I looked foreword to reading about it in her blog. She looked a little surprised and said she hadn’t thought about doing one but was a good idea.

The next day Rebecca called me sounding a little stressed. She was looking for soy milk (as avoiding dairy), garbanzo beans, oil and chicken. I sent her to St Lawrence Market to Ying Ying Soy Foods who processes organic soy beans grown by Marcus and Jessie in Dashwood Ontario and may have soy milk, but definitely have tofu. (They also participate in the Wychwood and Brickworks Farmers Markets.)

Potts of 4 Life in Kensington Market is a great place to look for local foods and may have a varieties of beans for her. Although, garbanzos may be hard to find. Natures Way Organics (also at Wychwood and Brickworks) has sunflower oil this year and it’s great. they also grow beans and will have them later in the year.

Again, the markets are best place to start and most have meat and chicken vendors. But, due to a provincial standard they are only allowed to sell frozen. (Something to do with transporting perishables.) Not the smartest move. A lot if frozen meat is brought to the market in coolers and put back in the freezer several hours later. This back and forth, partial thaw and freeze, may happen several times. I bet more meat would sell being fresh without this rule to protect us.

Not to taint the meat vendors but I sent her to Sanagan’s Butcher, also in Kensington. In his second year, this young butcher is developing quite a following. Dealing directly with Ontario farmers, oftentimes you can get meat hours old from the abattoirs. Being quite small, he orders a couple times a week and sells out by the weekend.

I look forward to learning more about Rebecca’s new diet. Her roll up your sleeves determination will come in handy. I wonder if she will influence others to join in her adventure, creating a ripple effect of location conscience eaters? Or maybe the opposite may occur and she develops an extra appreciation for the well mechanized and fully-stocked chain grocery store?

I guess her blog will tell.

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>In A Little Town Called Aurora..

>”Hi there,
I came down to Toronto this Saturday to the market with my sister-in-law. I bought your Spicy Dal crackers, and your lavender shortbread crackers (and your red fife flour) this weekend, and just wanted to tell you how much I LOVE the crackers, and cookies. I went right home and made fresh humus to have with your crackers, and they’re awesome!!! I’m just in love with your cookies too. I would have never thought to pair the lavender with the shortbread, but WOW, I’m hooked! Can you tell me if you have any retail outlets near me, I’m from Aurora.

Oh by the way, my little guy is still talking about how sweet your daughter was to him, sharing her treats with him!!

Thank you so much for your delicious treats,

Er**”