Author Archives: Winnipeg foodie

North End shuttle program designed to combat food deserts

Back in 2009 I blogged an article in the Winnipeg Free Press on food deserts in Winnipeg. The most problematic areas in Winnipeg are the North End in general and Point Douglas specifically.

Like apples and oranges.

This week the CBC ran a piece on a joint program between the Public Health Agency of Canada and the North End Food Security Network that provides a shuttle service to residents. The free shuttle takes the residents to a grocery store (the article specifically mentioned the Sobey’s Cash and Carry near Arlington) and them brings them and their purchases home.

Giving low-income and limited-mobility people a chance to get good, healthy groceries is vital to combating diet-related problems such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Residents who take the bus to a grocery store face not only a long trip (and sometimes a difficult one in deep snow), but are limited to what they can carry. With limited mobility or other health problems, a person can only carry so much. Taking the taxi is not an option for many others, as a round trip can cost as much as $20-30.

The shuttle service will run until March, when a decision will be made whether to continue the shuttle. Hopefully this valuable service for area residents will continue.

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Red Thai Curry Chicken

I admit that when I first moved to Canada my palate was pretty limited. Exotic meant Chinese, and Chinese meant chow mein and chicken balls. Japanese food was looked upon in suspicion because it sounded like it would be all fish, and Indian food was out of the question – too hot!

Fortunately, I married a man whose tastes were wide and varied, and I let him cook for me. Over time, he got me to eat a lot of different foods that I never would have considered before. One of the dishes that he made for me was his red Thai curry chicken.

Thai Curry Chicken

He’d been making this dish for a few years when I realized that I was slowly being conditioned. It is a spicy dish, but the spiciness can be altered based on how much curry paste you put into the sauce. When he started making the curry, he’d only put a smattering of curry paste in it. Gradually he increased the “dosage” until it was at full strength. Sure enough, I’d been habituated to eat much spicier food than I had been willing to try when we got married.

I’d sort of like to call this dish “Bachelor Thai Curry Chicken.” It’s not authentic by any stretch of the imagination, and a lot of the ingredients come out of a can. On the other hand, it’s quick (super quick if you do all the chopping the night before) and a bit of a crowd-pleaser. My instructions below are to serve the curry over couscous, which makes a really creamy base for the curry, but basmati rice or quinoa would work just as well.

You will need:

  • 1 pound of skinless, boneless chicken (I like breasts but you can use thighs, too)
  • 2 400ml (13.5 fl oz) cans coconut milk
  • 2 284g (10 fl oz) cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 227g (8oz) cans sliced bamboo
  • 1 227g (8oz) can sliced water chestnuts (optional)
  • 3 sweet bell peppers (we like using one each red, orange and yellow)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp curry paste (this amount makes a curry with medium to high heat; increase or decrease the amount of curry paste to your taste)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 cups instant couscous

A note about the curry paste: you may need to do some experimentation to find a type you like that’s available in your area. In Winnipeg, all the major grocery stores carry the Thai Kitchen brand curry paste, which is what we use.

Seed the bell peppers and slice them into thin strips. Set aside.

Dice the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink inside.

Add mushroom soup and most of the coconut milk (retain about 1/2 cup). Stir to combine.

Mix the curry paste with the retained coconut milk. Mix it well and break up any lumps. (Even small lumps of curry paste can be a nasty surprise.) Add the curry and coconut milk mixture to the pan and stir.

Heat the chicken and sauce until the sauce is well combined and no longer lumpy. Stir in the sugar and fish sauce.

Add the sweet pepper strips and bamboo (and water chestnuts and baby corn, if using) to the pan. Stir.

Bring sauce to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Let cook until hot.

While the curry is heating through, bring two cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. When the water is boiling, add the instant couscous to the water. Remove from heat and cover. The couscous will be ready in about five minutes. Note: This makes a slightly dry couscous, which allows it to absorb some of the moisture and flavour from the curry sauce. If you’d rather have your couscous on the side, use two and a half cups of water, and let the couscous sit for 10 minutes.

To serve, place a scoop of couscous in a bowl and cover with the chicken curry. Let sit for a few minutes to cool, and to allow the couscous to absorb some of the sauce.

This is also fantastic the next day, reheated for lunch.

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New Years’ Resolution: Waste Not, Want Not (Part 2)

Yesterday, I presented my New Year’s foodie resolution – to stop wasting food. We do pretty good, since we already buy things with a plan and create strategies to use food before it goes off. We’re not always successful, as you can see in this photo, but we try our best! And in the new year, we hope to do better.

Sprouted potato.

Here are four more things that you (and we!) can do to stop wasting food.

Inventory your pantry before running to the store.
This is one that I am bad for not doing, and explains how we once ended up with four unopened bottles of Worcestershire sauce. After you’ve made your menu, check your pantry to make sure you’re not buying things that you already have.

Also, look for opportunities to substitute things! For example, if your recipe calls for sweet potatoes but you have a butternut squash sitting around, try substituting the squash for the sweet potatoes. This way you use the squash and save money by not buying sweet potatoes this week.

Exercise restraint.
I am my mother’s daughter, no matter how hard I try to deny it. So when I see a fantastic deal on something at the grocery store or the market, I want to grab it. Instead, I make myself pause and consider what else we already have.

A 10 pound bag of potatoes might be on sale for a great price, but if we already have 4 pounds of potatoes that we haven’t used yet, will the ten pound bag get used before the potatoes go off? This is why I’m so leery of shopping at a warehouse store like Costco. It’s easy to get sucked into a great deal (“Wow! Five gallons of mayonnaise!”) but if you’re not going to use it all before it goes bad, it might not be a good deal! One thing you can do, though, is break down large quantities of stuff like meats and freeze them in sensible, individually-wrapped packages. Which brings me to…

Freeze surpluses.
The world certainly changed when we got our chest freezer. No longer were we limited by the tiny over-fridge freezer. By the time the farmers’ market closed and my garden was put away for the winter, our freezer was filled to bursting with frozen beans, corn, shredded zucchini, peas, grass-fed ground beef, broccoli, pierogies, strawberries, raspberries, sausage, bacon, and an assortment of baked goods. Basically, if there wasn’t an immediate use for it, I froze it. This let me save a lot more of our garden produce this year than I was able to last year, which was a very good thing. This year my bean plants produced about 100 pounds of beans over the course of the summer, far more than we could eat on our own. (I’ll be doing a post later on in 2011 on how to save fresh vegetables by freezing them.)

My goal is to have the freezer mostly emptied by the time spring rolls around, so lots of our dinners right now have a “freezer dive” component to them. (Speaking of which, we have a giant bag of pierogies that we should start using…)

Use everything.
Recipes that encourage waste really irritate me. For example, I’ve run across lots of recipes that call for egg whites, and very often the recipe will encourage the cook to “discard the yolks.” Or a recipe for wilted swiss chard will direct the cook to cut out the swiss chard’s ribs and toss them, when they’re perfectly edible. The yolks can be kept in the fridge and added to an omelet tomorrow for breakfast. The chard ribs can be chopped and used like celery in a stir fry. There’s no excuse for using a tablespoon of tomato paste and leaving the rest in the fridge to slowly mold over.

So when I find a recipe that calls for one of these wasteful actions, I will add a meal later on in the same week that will use whatever the first recipe called to have discarded. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction knowing that you’ve just used your brain and saved yourself some money in the process.

Reducing our food waste is one of my resolutions for this year. What are your foodie resolutions?

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New Years’ Resolution: Waste Not, Want Not (Part 1)

I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Years! I’m not one for making a list of resolutions, but the beginning of the year is a natural time to think about things you want to change.

Happy New Year.

I never took economics in college, but I think it’s a no-brainer to say that the economic climate plays a role in what people think about. And journalists, who are always striving to find something of interest to their readers, tend to write about things that their readers are thinking about.

Thus, this year and last we have seen many articles about food waste. For example, this article from MacLeans in 2009 states that in Canada, almost 40% of all food produced is waste; it’s either destroyed or rots just after production, during transit, at the store, or once it reaches the consumer. Everyone with a crisper in their refrigerator has experienced the horror of realizing that the leafy green in the drawer might be a bit older than you thought, or digging through the freezer to find a lump of an unidentified meat-like substance freezer-burned beyond all recognition. Cleaning liquefied vegetables out of the fridge or tossing icy brown masses of food is no fun, and represents wasted food and money. And for people with gardens, it also represents wasted time and effort.

Besides just making sure to eat things before they go off, there are some things you can do to prevent wasting food.

Make a menu plan and a shopping list every week.
We’ve tried hard to minimize the amount of food we waste by planning out our meals, making shopping lists based on those meals, and then only buying what’s on our shopping list. (Even the best laid plans go astray, of course. We tend to make a lot of spontaneous purchases at the farmers’ market, since we never know what we’re going to find.) We leave some flex room if we find something intriguing that we’d like to try – for example, when we ran across dragonfruit for the first time. When we do find something neat, though, we’ll just buy enough to try it – not the big value size. In the end, making the menu, preparing the shopping list, and sticking to our plan makes sure that we’re only buying what we need.

Have a plan for the leftovers, too.
Over time, you come to learn which meals will typically have leftovers. As you create your dinner menu for the week, make another plan for the leftovers. One of the easiest things to do with leftovers is to take them to work the next day as your lunch. Not all things make good leftovers, of course, but many pastas, casseroles, curries, and one-dish meals make fantastic lunches. You can also keep things to incorporate into dinners later in the week. For example, leftover rice can be turned into fried rice. Leftover pasta sauce can be used as a sauce for a sandwich. Leftover chicken can be turned into chicken ala king or chicken salad. And salad greens that do not have dressing on them can go back into the fridge for tomorrow night’s dinner.

Tomorrow I’ll have four more ideas for you (and me!) to help stop wasting food that we buy.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope that everyone is having a great, safe, and delicious Thanksgiving this year! We had our dinner yesterday, so today I have time to relax and tell you all about it!

Pre-dinner.

We decided to invite several friends over this year, and did a (mostly) 100-mile dinner. (“Mostly” because there was a demand for cranberry sauce, so I relented there. Also, the wine was not local, but I have an explanation for that. Most everything else came from the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market, so when I say “the market” in this post, that’s what I mean.

The menu I dreamt up was big. We had a LOT of food, but that way we made sure that no one went home hungry.

Turkey
Our turkey was from Silver Bridge Farm in Landmark, MB. We ordered it back in August so that we would commit to actually doing Thanksgiving. When I put our name down, we specified a “medium” turkey. When we arrived at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market on Saturday to pick up our turkey, they had a sign asking everyone to get as large a turkey as your roaster would fit. Our roaster could hold up to 22lbs, so we ended up with a 21.88lb turkey. I’m not sure how to show scale on this thing, but here it was before it went into the oven:

Turkey

I stuffed it with onions, sage and oregano from the market, and rosemary and parsley from our garden. That’s it. No salt, no brining, no butter under the skin… All I did was roast it upside down, breast down. It was in a 425F oven for 30 minutes, then a 325F oven for another three hours.

Now, all the calculators I’d seen said that a bird this size should take about 5 hours. But after three and a half hours it was done. Like, DONE. We called everyone in a panic and got them here quickly while the turkey rested, covered in foil and towels. When we sliced the bird, the breast meat was incredibly juicy. I am converted: turkeys go into the oven upside down from now on!

Stuffing
I made homemade stuffing. I got wild rice bread from the Bread Lady on Saturday, and chopped it up into cubes to dry overnight. Other than that, it was a basic dressing: celery and onions from the market in lots of butter, broth made from the turkey neck, some sauteed sage from the market, and parsley from the garden. It all went into a buttered casserole dish and was baked, covered, at 400F for about 40 minutes.

Potatoes
There seems to be a problem with local potatoes this year! Despite looking and looking, we could not find sweet potatoes at the market. I also wanted to do my lavender-coloured mashed potatoes just for the colourful interest, but we couldn’t find the blue potatoes either! *sigh* So, I made smashed red potatoes, which worked just fine.

Green Bean Casserole
This dish worried me, since my standard, classic green-bean casserole involves cans of cream of mushroom soup. Well, Alton Brown to the rescue! I made Alton’s from-scratch green-bean casserole with green beans from my garden, onions from the market, and mushrooms from Loveday. It was a huge success, and my husband has already requested that I make it this way from now on.

Veggies
Our veggies were corn from the market that I’d frozen earlier in the summer, and honey-glazed carrots. Both the carrots and the honey were from the market. (I used this super-simple recipe.)

Rolls and Cranberry sauce
The rolls were butterhorns from Mum’s Country Bakery in Landmark. (Incidentally, if you’ve never tried their cinnamon buns, you must!) I got both regular and multigrain, and they were both great.

The cranberry sauce… *sigh* Well, the cranberries were from Safeway. I was going to do a tart raspberry sauce using frozen raspberries from a friend’s garden this summer, but there was pouting and whining. In the interests of peace, I conceded on the sauce. My husband made a nice lemon-scented cranberry sauce with a touch of allspice.

Wine
Now, I could have gotten local wine. Manitoba has some very nice fruit wines that we could have used. But while we were back home visiting my family earlier this year, we picked up a bottle of Pink Catawba from Heineman’s Winery in Put-in-Bay, Ohio. It was a bit sweeter than I like, but everyone else seemed to like it.

Pumpkin Pie
I am blessed with a husband who makes the most amazing pumpkin pie. He starts with a sugar pumpkin, roasts it, purees it, makes the crust, and bakes them all together. Mmm.

Pie

So, that was our dinner! We have an obscene amount of leftovers (including 8lbs of turkey – we weighed it!), so tomorrow I think I’ll be making some turkey pot pies to freeze.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Garden Retrospective, 2010

We’re still getting days in the high 20s, and the humidex has been bringing the “feel like” temperature well into the 30s, but summer is ending. You can feel it on the wind, and smell it in the air. The trees are still mostly green, but a few are starting to take on their fall yellow cast. The lady at The Preferred Perch was on CJOB’s The Gardener a few weeks ago, and said that she thinks fall will be early this year because the birds are starting to migrate already.

Beans.

Oh well. I can’t complain too loudly, since this year has been head and shoulders better for gardening than last year. We’ve already harvested more tomatoes this year than we got all of last year. My poor tomato cages are being crushed beneath the weight of the vines this year, and I have my eye on a few monster tomatoes that are starting to ripen. I also have a gigantic bowl of cherry tomatoes already. A good number of those are destined for the freezer to liven up our winter pastas.

The beans are the real story in my garden this year. I think I’ve frozen about 10 pounds of beans so far, and they’re still going! We didn’t do a very good job last year of keeping them picked, so we’re trying to stay on top of it this year.

Also, the zucchini are producing baseball bats. Bleah. I prefer my zucchini smaller, because they taste better and don’t have as many seeds. But I think I tried to pack too many plants into a small area this year, and the zucchini are being hidden until they’re ginormous. I’m going to have to retool where everything is planted for next year.

Onions.

And finally, this year I got onions. Starting them from seed is for suckers – I’m doing sets from now on! The onions are a good size, and taste good. They also look like they’ll keep rather well, so I did something else that I’ve never done before. After the sugar snap peas were done, I turned over the bed and replanted it to try and get a late crop of peas, lettuce and onions. I figure that even if we get an early fall, they can take a mild cold snap and still produce well. We’ll see how that goes.

Overall I’m pleased with how everything came out this year. I’m doing my best to save as much as we can (since the two of us can only eat so much produce before surrendering!) and have been making great use of our new freezer. I’ll try to do a post soon about some of the things I’m doing to save the harvest for the coming winter.

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Cucumber and Bacon Sandwich

Up until this week, the hot, humid weather we’ve been having has created a bit of a boom in our garden. Most vegetable plants love hot weather – the hotter, the better. So long as you keep everything watered, the plants are in heaven.

Bacon and cucumber sandwich.

One of our plants that has done better than expected is the cucumber. I planted one – ONE! – cucumber plant on a whim to fill in an empty spot. It’s now growing in a very weedy patch, and thriving. I think we’ve picked about 10 cucumbers from it so far this summer, from one plant.

What to do with all these cucumbers? Last night I had a bit of a brain storm, and came up with this idea: cucumber and bacon. Add in some lettuce for filler. It’s a BLC instead of a BLT! My husband made his a BLCT, so you could do that, too. This is dead simple, but if you want to make your own, you will need:

* cucumber, sliced about 1/2″ thick (about four slices per sandwich)
* lettuce (one or two leaves per sandwich)
* bacon (about two slices her sandwich)
* bread (we used whole-grain oatmeal bread)
* fresh ground pepper
* mayonnaise
* Optional: tomato slices

Toast your bread. Cook your bacon to the desired crispiness (I like mine crispy but not burnt).

Spread a thin layer of mayo on the toast. Assemble the sandwich: lettuce, bacon, cucumber, pepper, and tomato if you want. (I didn’t add salt because bacon is salty enough).

Eat.

An interesting conundrum came up with this meal: how do you photograph a sandwich and make it look good? I tried several different ways before finally just holding the sandwich up in front of me and snapping a photo. I love the website Scanwiches, where they scan the cut edge of a sandwich using a flatbed scanner, but I didn’t feel like digging out our scanner, plugging it in, finding drivers, etc etc. Anyway, I think this worked!

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Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

If there’s one thing that I love, it’s ice cream.

I think I learned my love for ice cream from my dad. I remember going for ice cream in the summer. We’d all get cones, and he would always finish his first… And then selflessly volunteer to “help” us with ours. (I did sometimes let him help a bit, especially if it was a hot day and the ice cream was melting faster than I could eat it.) These days, though, I’m perfectly capable of finishing my ice cream all by myself. A little too capable, actually.

Chocolate ice cream.

A while ago we decided to get an ice cream maker. This was a surprisingly hard task. We found one at Sears that was really tiny. I also liked the idea of the ice cream maker bowl and paddle for our Kitchen Aid mixer, but the price was a bit steep.

We eventually stumbled upon a huge cache of ice cream makers at Home Outfitters. We bought the Deni Ice Cream Maker (with candy crusher!) and brought it home to try out right away.

20100709

It took some trial and error to find a recipe that we liked. I didn’t want to have to bother with recipes with eggs (and besides, that’s not ice cream – it’s frozen custard), so we set about figuring out the best combo of ingredients for our tastes. One recipe was too crunchy – it was more frozen milk than ice cream. Another tasted like sugary butter – very, very rich, and not really to my tastes.

Finally my husband broke out an Excel spreadsheet to figure out the optimal percent of butterfat that our mixture should have (gotta love being married to a geek!) The resulting flavours and mouthfeel are just perfect. Now that we have a good base down, we’re set to experiment!

To make my husband’s vanilla bean ice cream, you will need:

* 1 whole vanilla bean (look in a gourmet food store or the baking section of a well-stocked supermarket)
* 1 1/2 cup whole milk (3.25%)
* 1 1/2 cup whipping cream (35%)
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 pinch salt

Mix the milk, cream, sugar and salt in a saucepan over low-ish heat. You want to be able to control what temperature the milk gets to, and if it heats too quickly it may scald.

Split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the center and flatten it out. With the back of the knife, scrape the inside of the vanilla bean out. (You’ll get lots of seeds and pulp. It’s good, good stuff.) Put the seeds and pulp into the milk mixture as it heats. Toss the emptied vanilla bean husk in too, why not!

Carefully heat the milk mixture to 170°F. My husband uses his handy-dandy touchless IR thermometer from Think Geek, but you can also use a candy thermometer. Constantly stir the milk so that no hot patches form in the liquid. As soon as the milk mixture reaches 170°F, remove it from the heat.

Allow the milk mixture to cool a bit, then pour it into a container with a lid. Store it in the fridge overnight to let the mixture chill completely and the flavours mature.

When you’re ready to make ice cream, remove the ice cream maker bowl from the freezer (you did remember to freeze it overnight, right?) and assemble the appliance. Remove the vanilla bean husk from the milk mixture. Turn the machine on and slowly pour the milk mixture into the machine.

It usually takes about 20-25 minutes for the ice cream to reach soft-serve consistency. Using a spatula, pour the ice cream into a freezer container. Freeze the ice cream for a few more hours to give it a more firm texture.

Scoop and enjoy.

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Eggs now available at the St. Norbert Farmers' Market

Ok ok ok ok ok! I’m back! School is over, the requisite trip back home has taken place, job has been secured. I am crossing my fingers that I will have more time for blogging, now that I don’t have homework and other issues hanging over me!

In case it passed your notice, the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market is now open. The market is open every Saturday 8:00am-3:00pm. It will also be open on Canada Day (8:00am-3:00pm), and starting in July it will be open Wednesday afternoons noon – 6:00pm.

Saturday haul.

We’ve gone every weekend that the market has been open so far, and it’s been even better than last year. The produce stands are awash in asparagus and spring greens, and we’re even starting to see carrots and tomatoes. (And of course, Wenkai Liu is back with his wealth of greenhouse-grown Oriental veggies.) Our favourite vendors are back, and there are some new ones.

One of the most exciting additions has been Nature’s Farm eggs from Steinbach. The market was really lacking in two areas: eggs and dairy products. I suspect this is because of the tight grip that marketing boards have on producers, so I am thrilled to see these eggs available directly from the producer. The colour of these eggs is amazing. The chickens are fed with flax, which gives their yolks an amazing orangy-yellow colour. Nature’s Farm also makes a variety of pastas that I’ve written about before.

I’m looking forward to another summer of exploring our local foodshed via the Market. Hopefully, the addition of Nature’s Farm means that there are even more good surprises in store in the years ahead.

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Lazy journalism: BC salmon farm spin

I love salmon, but one of the things that I keep in mind when purchasing salmon is the effects that farmed salmon have on the environment and on wild salmon populations. SeaChoice has marked farmed salmon as “Avoid,” due to its use of resources (having to catch wild fish to feed to the farmed fish), the possibility of farmed fish escaping, disease, parasites, and the risk of pollution.

This morning I was glancing through my news and came across an article titled “Salmon farm opposition ‘threatens many jobs'”. But when I read it, I thought it sounded very much like a press release. So, out of curiosity, I went to the BC Salmon Farmers Association website, and found a press release on the same subject.

And would you look at that. The “news” article from Canwest is basically the press release, word-for-word. All the “journalist” did was add a brief note about the anti-fish farm walk on Vancouver Island.

This is lazy journalism at its finest/worst. In March, an Australian group did a study looking at news in that country, and found that nearly 55% of news stories originated as press releases or some other form of public relations. In other words, companies were driving the news, rather than journalists going out and finding the news. No similar study has been done in Canada that I’m aware of, but I would not be surprised to find a similar situation here.

In this Canwest article, there is a lot missing. The journalist did not talk to anyone about the environmental effects of fish farms, but only quoted the press release to say:

Studies showed that Pacific salmon had developed a natural ability to resist sea lice damage and even shed them once they reached a certain size, she argued.

Reports also showed that sea lice numbers on wild salmon in areas away from farms were about the same, and sometimes more, than on wild fish in areas with farms, she noted.

What studies? Who did these studies, and – more importantly – who paid for them? I hunted around for these studies, and couldn’t find them. Granted, it was not an exhaustive search, but if they were published in a peer-reviewed journal I should have found some trace of them. However, in my 10-minute search, I did find a bunch of other studies that seemed to make opposite claims to the unnamed studies:

* Declining Wild Salmon Populations in Relation to Parasites from Farm Salmon in Science (2007)
* Sea Louse Infestation in Wild Juvenile Salmon and Pacific Herring Associated with Fish Farms off the East-Central Coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia in North American Journal of Fisheries Management (2008)
* How sea lice from salmon farms may cause wild salmonid declines in Europe and North America and be a threat to fishes elsewhere in Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology (2009)

Anyway, I’m taking this as a personal reminder that news is not always news; sometimes it’s just a regurgitated press release.

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