a peek inside the fishbowl

26 May, 2009

Talking about talking about eating local

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Yaktivism

I’m not sure how to structure this post because I want to cover a few things about my recent bloggy/media jaunt weekend in Toronto and open up a discussion about local food. The two are related in kind of an interesting way, so if you’re keen, grab a coffee and read on!

I was contacted some time ago by a PR firm called Harbinger, who asked me whether I was interested in participating in a weekend-long conversation about local foods hosted by Hellman’s. After a few emails back and forth I decided I would attend. After all, food/health/local/etc are all topics very close to my heart, so why not?

My inner sceptic (which I have great difficulty quashing) wondered whether Hellman’s was really serious about its pledge to support the local food industry or whether this was just a bunch of PR/marketing hoopla solely designed to position Hellman’s as a company that cares. I also wondered whether I was being brought in so someone could show me how I could use Hellman’s to improve my life through homemade mayonaise facials and tuna salads. (Thankfully, the tuna salad wasn’t brought out until Sunday and even then I’m not sure if Hellman’s had anything to do with it.)

* (Before I continue I want to make it clear that the bill for my flight, limo, hotel, meals and MANY MANY BEVERAGES consumed during this jaunt was picked up by Hellman’s and/or the PR firm representing Hellman’s. And for absolutely full disclosure you should know that I also brought home some amazing cookies and a small box of chocolates. I am under no obligation to write about Hellman’s.)

I was one of eight foodies from across Canada flown in for this event. Food was the thing that tied everyone together but I was the only one who can be classified as a generalist, or if you must, a mom blogger (tho’ I really dislike the term I guess it describes some of what I write). The people I was with (and that includes PR peeps) made some great company.

The bunch of us spent a lot of time in the board room at Pantages Hotel, talking about local foods and issues pertaining to eating locally.

When smoke wasn’t billowing from our brains from overuse we were wined and dined in the most amazing way. I tried to take photos but only managed to get a lot of this:

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(I really should do a menu breakdown because it was all divine. Remind me to tell you about the bacon donuts and bacon brittle!)

Anyway, yes, it was interesting to get an insider view of a PR campaign of this magnitude … the planning process, the legal issues, management vs. creative, and also how they’re appealing to the web community to spread the word. Some of it felt a teeny bit focus groupy. (Haven’t they already figured out why moms might find it challenging to increase the amount of local food they’re eating? So why are they asking me?) I also found it odd that Hellman’s has put their own spin on what “local” means for this campaign. FYI: their eat local campaign really means choose Canadian.

Semantics aside, there are many good reasons to eat locally (my own definition of local would include anything within a 100 km radius of my house), reducing the number of imports, as well as increasing the amount of whole foods we eat as a society.

I found the discussion pretty interesting. (Sadly, I had a cold and spent much of the weekend heavily medicated and/or coughing up a lung in the ladies washroom.) When I wasn’t scrounging around my purse for a throat lozenge I was busy learning that a recent poll showed that almost nine out of ten Canadians (86 per cent) indicate that they prefer to eat locally sourced foods and that:

“In addition to eating more locally sourced foods, Canadians also say they are willing to pay more in order to do so, with 77 per cent of respondents saying that they are willing to spend more on a locally produced item versus something similar that’s been imported from another country.”

Clearly, this is an issue that resonates with people, but we all still have a long way to go. e.g. Why do I still find it so hard to find Ontario garlic?

The gist of the weekend was this: Hellman’s has kickstarted a national conversation about local eating, and part of this is a pledge to give money to Evergreen, a national charity that works to make our cities more green by funding community gardens, facilitating outdoor classrooms, and collecting monies for said projects from corporate donors. ;)

You can poke around the new Eat Real Eat Local website here.

Note that for every “action” taken (both on the site and in the blogosphere), Evergreen gets some cash. There are a variety of ways you can make your action count, and that includes tweeting or even blogging about eating locally using the hashtag #REALFOOD. Even if you comment on this post and include the term “#REALFOOD” it means that more money will get to Evergreen. So please comment!

Hellman’s wants to sell more mayonnaise, no one disputes that, but even my inner cynic can recognize that the cause is a good one. Their goal of collecting 100,000 actions (which translates into donation of $25,000 for Evergreen) is pretty cool no matter how you slice it.

Here’s a question… the Eat Local campaign will help Evergreen, but will it generate enough buzz to truly make a difference in consumers minds? Will it inspire people to look a little closer at where their food is coming from? And do you think that some people might be jaded when they see notice a big brand name attached to something that’s already happening on a grassroots level?

Eating locally – however you may define it – is something we need to start doing more often, not just for ourselves, but for our local economy and our environment.

What about you? Do you ever think about how far your food has to travel before it gets into your hands? How much local food are you planning on buying this summer?

ETA: a few other peeps who came out for the conference have been blogging about this as well. Check out:


27 Responses to "Talking about talking about eating local"

1 | Judy

May 26th, 2009 at 3:22 pm

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Interesting post… I love what Evergreen does!
#REALFOOD

We used to be heavily involved in community gardens when we rented and lived downtown. It truly made a difference. Last summer a friend had a CSA going that we bought food from.

This year I think we will do more farmers markets. We love to shop local when we can.

However, even when I go to the big grocery stores I check packages. Why do my frozen veggies need to come from China when the same are grown in the Canada or the USA? It doesn’t add too much time to flip the package over and read the origin.

We don’t eat much processed food (except for the occasional box of KD that is needed) so we don’t feed the baby much processed food and make most of it ourselves. This also forces us to slow down and look at where the food is coming from.

Sounds like you had a great weekend! (Except for the cold)

2 | susan

May 26th, 2009 at 3:26 pm

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The reason that you can’t by Ontario garlic at this time of year is that it is not in season. Try buying braids of it in the summer/fall when it is local and store it in a cool, dry spot in your house.

3 | andrea

May 26th, 2009 at 3:40 pm

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susan: I know it’s out of season right now, but at the height of the season it’s never available at any “big” store. That’s what I was trying to get at. :)

p.s. Please don’t forget to type #REALFOOD in your comments! Let’s make some cash for Evergreen.

4 | Jennifer

May 26th, 2009 at 3:47 pm

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OK – only site I’ll check while on holiday!! Didn’t get to read the entire post because there is a beach chair with my name on it waiting for me. Might also be a margarita calling, but that’s another story.

Local does matter for so many reasons. I will always choose local products over others, regardless of price. If it is really costly we’ll simply eat less. Garden in the summer, eat seasonally. Buy from local organic markets. We are going to be using Veggie Patch this summer. Even at restaurants if the meals use local ingredients, I’ll order these before others.

5 | Erica

May 26th, 2009 at 4:13 pm

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I noticed your tweet on this #REALFOOD thing and checked out the site for myself soon after. I try to eat locally (signing up with a CSA every year, checking out farmers’ markets, paying attention to whether the produce at those markets is legitimately ‘local’, etc.), but I confess to finding it difficult when I’m already going to Costco to buy non-food items or bulk quantities and Loblaws for canned/frozen/unseasonal stuff.

If the market around the corner sold local foods instead of brand name chips and cookies, I’d be a frequent customer. If there was a bakery in Barrhaven (!!!), I’d support it the same way I support our local butcher shop. Until those things happen, though, it’s really hard to find more time to devote to grocery shopping.

6 | katerina

May 26th, 2009 at 4:18 pm

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Great post. I am still digesting this past weekend as well. I think ultimately, yes Hellman’s wants to sell mayonnaise but if they are also sponsoring a good discussion then great.

Ever since I have gotten back I have been looking at labels more and more and we really don’t have that much choice for Canadian products. I was just at WholeFoods and they have 5 kinds of tomatoes – one from BC, and no local turnips or beets. Everything seemed to come from California. For a store that prides itself on an organic and community message I was pretty shocked.

Oh, and you weren’t too snotty. Hope you are feeling better.

#REALFOOD

7 | Mad

May 26th, 2009 at 4:53 pm

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#REALFOOD
I tweeted this on the weekend, but I’ll repeat it here for the sake of fundraising. I live in the Maritimes and I made my annual batch of Fiddlehead soup on the weekend with Fiddleheads from the river that runs through my town. Yum.

8 | Val

May 26th, 2009 at 6:16 pm

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#REALFOOD
We are about to embark on a 100 mile diet and am always looking for local food. If you look hard enough you can find SO much, if not from 100 miles, from Ontario.

9 | Lynn

May 26th, 2009 at 7:48 pm

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#REALFOOD
Where do you shop when you want to buy local?

10 | Erin

May 26th, 2009 at 8:24 pm

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#REALFOOD

We’ve been trying for about a year to eat more local foods. The biggest help was actually my grandma’s victory garden cookbook. Armed with some recipes, I was able to incorporate a lot more local produce into our meals, especially some of the winter/root vegetables which are usually easy to find.

11 | Krista

May 27th, 2009 at 6:14 am

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#REALFOOD

We try to shop local, but it’s difficult to do in the Loblaws we frequent. I will pay more for local or Ontario or Canadian produce than on a less expensive import.

We do shop weekly at Shouldice Farm in Bells Corners when it is open through the summer – a great local source for strawberries, peppers, corn, tomatoes etc.

12 | Chantal

May 27th, 2009 at 8:25 am

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#REALFOOD

I do try to buy local. I will compromise with American produce and usually wont go past that. This week the superstore had a sale where they were selling a pound of Chinese garlic for a buck. I didn’t buy any, but really, how can Canadian produce compete with that! I plant a garden in my back yard so that is my biggest investment in the 100mile diet. I really should do more farmers market stuff. I will try that this summer. I am finding that I have to compromise my organic desires for local. Initially I was torn about that but I think I should just get over it. Local is more important.

13 | Don

May 27th, 2009 at 8:38 am

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#REALFOOD

A discussion about local food in Ottawa needs to mention Savour Ottawa (http://www.ottawatourism.ca/savourottawa/). When you go to outdoor markets, producers and retailers who show their Savour Ottawa posters demonstrate that they have been audited by a third party organization to either produce local products or employ local food in their products. The poster provides a level of assurance that you are supporting local farms or businesses that support local farms.

Some outdoor markets for example sell produce that is no different than that of the larger grocery stores. Clearly, bananas are not grown locally. With respect to garlic (as is stated above) and onions, they are also not in season. However, wild garlic is and some producers are also bringing green onions to market.

As an avid foodie, I try to eat, not only locally, but also seasonally, and support restaurants that do the same. Look for those that have seasonal menus (menus that change often – monthly, weekly). Many openly support local farms. Atelier on Rochester (http://www.atelierrestaurant.ca), for instance, is again modifying their menu because forage-able spruce tips are quickly going out of season.

Andrea, feel free to remove the following link if you feel it is inappropriate. It links to my blog and new ways I’ve discovered to enjoy local asparagus and fiddleheads, simple and delicious.
http://www.foodieprints.com/item/1552

14 | andrea

May 27th, 2009 at 9:05 am

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#REALFOOD
Thanks for your feedback so far! I’m glad we’re moving this discussion ahead.

A couple things I want to mention:

1) A great place to get local food is at the Farmer’s Market at Lansdowne Park.

2) Don, you made a great point about Savour Ottawa. YES! If you want to shop local you need to look for the signs and ask questions.

3) Chantal brings up an interesting point about organic vs. local. Which do you choose?

15 | Mom on the Go

May 27th, 2009 at 9:38 am

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I grew up on a farm near Windsor, Ontario, where stands at the side of the road sell fruit and vegetables at the side of the road on an honour system. Often the produce is too ripe for the trip to the Toronto warehouse (but just right for supper that night) or the cucumbers have a curve in them and that sort of “flaw”. In Ottawa, I go to the farmer’s market and we have a garden. Each year we go to pick your own places for berries. We’ll can some food this year. I didn’t want to raise a city kid who thought food comes from grocery stores or doesn’t know the connection between a cucumber and a dill pickle.

I would choose local produce over organic that has travelled a long way. I think of the overall environmental impact. Also, I would rather suppport a smaller organic farm than a factory farm that is organic. But I forgot to sign up for a CSA until it was too late and so I can’t criticize any choice.

#REALFOOD

16 | susan

May 27th, 2009 at 10:11 am

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#REALFOOD
I try to buy local unless it is really expensive. If the local option is too expensive, I often won’t buy any at all. I choose local over organic. I grow some of my own stuff (including garlic – really easy) and support the Ottawa Farmer’s market when possible (and affordable).

I read the 100 mile diet book around a year ago and got a bit annoyed at some of the choices they were making (e.g. no pepper because it was not local) and the fact that they were living in Vancouver where it is much, much easier to eat local given the climate, size of population, growing season, etc.

I came across this link which looks as though it would be helpful for consumers looking to source local food – unfortunately it is only in the US right now and in Beta:

https://www.farmsreach.com/welcome/

17 | BeachMama

May 27th, 2009 at 12:20 pm

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J’s school has received Grants from Evergreen to green up their school yard, which was disgustingly bare for a suburban school until two years ago.

#REALFOOD

As for eating locally, I will be the first to say, I would love to do it, but and yes there is a but, I have a family that does not enjoy fresh food as much as I do, so I would be basically shopping for me and shopping for them. If anyone can show me how to convert my process food lovers, I am all ears and willing to participate. If I don’t buy it, Hubby stops on the way home and stocks up, two fold. And I would also be cooking three meals, one for me, one for J and one for Hubby, Apple will eat anything so she’s not an issue.

18 | andrea

May 27th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

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I feel your pain BeachMama. I wish my family ate more veggies too. BUT there are things they do eat and I’m going to try to tap into that and do my best to make sure those things are local when the season rolls around.

Foodland Ontario has a local availability guide on their website. Surely we can all find something there. i.e. We are big consumers of strawberries, apples, carrots, corn, lettuce, peas, peaches, peppers, radishes, tomatoes etc.

19 | Loukia

May 27th, 2009 at 1:34 pm

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#REALFOOD

I agree that eating locally is great. I hate that Loblaws only sells garlic from CHINA.

20 | LO

May 27th, 2009 at 1:51 pm

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#REALFOOD
As one who travels a lot to places with fresh markets, I am always comparing when I get home. our climate here limits our fresh markets but once May hits I try to go to our market every SAturday morning to buy some stuff for the week but the ultimate goal is to buy from there to furnish the entire weekend’s meals. CARP Market -it’s awesome!

21 | Annie

May 28th, 2009 at 3:25 am

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#REALFOOD

(I am too tired to make an intelligent sounding comment, so I will just do my part to raise funds for Evergreen!).

22 | In Season « TurtleHead

May 28th, 2009 at 12:29 pm

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[…] 28, 2009 Just wanted to share a link — as part of a discussion about eating locally over at Andrea’s blog, she pointed me to this chart at Foodland Ontario. It shows which fruits and vegetables are in […]

23 | Redheadedmama

May 28th, 2009 at 11:02 pm

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#REALFOOD

Ahh, another big dilemma of mine . . . local food. Great idea if you live in California, but much more impractical if you live in Canada. We did Bryson Farms (a local organic grower who delivers fresh veggies) for a year and we got really tired of beets. We also grow our own veggies in our little urban garden, but again, every summer I get really sick of zucchini when I have it growing out of my ears. The problem with eating in season and local to Ottawa is that it significantly reduces variety in your diet. I now opt for local and in season where possible, but I don’t drive myself crazy. I just ate an organic mango this morning, and it definitely didn’t come from anywhere close to home. It is all about balance.

That being said, I am a big foodie and strong supporter of eating whole foods and local foods as much as possible. When someone asked me at which supermarket I regularly shop I didn’t have an answer, because we really try to avoid the supermarkets as much as possible. We have our veggies and fruits delivered or we buy them from Parkdale Market (or other Farmers’ Market) and we hit the local butcher and fishmonger (new favourite is Whalesbone for sustainable fish) and bakeries for the add-ons. The person who asked me was so surprised, as they did most of their shopping at giant box stores and couldn’t comprehend that I don’t. It really opened my eyes and made me think about (a) how much where we live affects our ability to access nutritious and local food and (b) how much where we are conditioned to shop affects our diet. I happened to be in costco today and the rows upon rows of imported boxed produce sold in the same place where you can buy your patio furniture just seemed so strange and a bit sad. I definitely want to make a point of making sure my “city kid” grows up with a connection from farm to table.

24 | andrea

May 29th, 2009 at 8:17 am

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Gack! I was shopping at our local Metro last night and for a moment I thought I’d actually found Ontario Garlic.

There was a display of garlic in a basket with a Foodland Ontario wrapper. I picked up the package of garlic and saw the address/info of a Canadian farm on one side, and “PRODUCT OF CHINA” on the other. WTH?

Here’s a pic.

#REALFOOD

25 | DaniGirl

May 29th, 2009 at 10:35 am

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#REALFOOD!

How interesting! I just saw the new Hellmans commercial last night, and was wondering exactly how committed they are to this “eat local”/eat Canadian idea. It appealed to me, and I wanted to check further to see if they were being genuine or just capitalizing on the buzz. From what you’ve written, sounds like they’re on the right track in a monolithic corporate sort of way.

Thanks for this, and I think they made a great choice in getting you involved with this campaign.

27 | The Pestoblog - SOSCuisine» Blog Archive » Eat real. Eat local.

July 28th, 2009 at 11:33 am

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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