Category Archives: News

Hopes for 2013

I hope everyone had a safe and lovely holiday season! We had a great time, and I was finally able to take a breather from what has been a tremendous flurry of craziness at work.

The next step after New Year’s – resolutions – represents a chance for everyone to voice what they hope will come to pass this year: lose some weight, save some money, declutter the house, what have you. Rather than doing my typical navel-gazing, I’m turning the resolution thing around for this post and will list what I hope to see happen in the Winnipeg food world in 2013.

Framed.

There’s already been one huge announcement: the owner of Hermano’s announced today that he is in negotiations to reopen the revolving restaurant at Fort Garry Place. Better yet, the restaurant – which will be appropriately called Prairie 360 – will focus on locally-grown, Manitoba-inspired food. I am so thrilled about this, and am sending all the good vibes I can at this venture. They hope to open the new restaurant this fall.

I have a few other things that I’m hoping for this year, as well:

Backyard chickens and bees. First, I would like the city of Winnipeg to come to a sane and progressive decision about allowing residents to keep backyard chickens and bees. To be honest, I think the chicken people are sort of their own worst enemy (really? taking a chicken to a council meeting? That’s step 2 in “how to alienate your audience”…), but I’m hoping that their report is well-received. Having clear suggestions on how to limit the impact of backyard chickens and bees is a great step, and I’m looking forward to seeing how council responds.

More food trucks. Last year, Bartley Kives of the Winnipeg Free Press did a great piece on the state of food trucks and other street eats in Winnipeg. He detailed why there weren’t many (oppressive regulations) and explained what the city was doing to actively discourage them (shutting down stands operated by established eateries). On the other hand, other cities, like Toronto and Vancouver, have been actively encouraging food trucks with festivals and a expansion of licenses issued. We saw some growth this past summer, with new entries like Pimp My Rice, Stuff It and Little Bones. I’d love to see this continue in 2013.

More accessible restaurant inspection reports. This is a topic I’ve been advocating for a while, so I’m not holding my breath on seeing any action on it anytime soon. Basically, I’d like to see a more consumer-friendly way to tell how well your favourite eatery has done on its last inspection. My gold standard is the way Toronto does it: colour-coded cards that must be displayed near the front entrance, showing a green, yellow or red card based on their inspection. (The Toronto site also explains, in plain English, the difference between a minor infraction and a major infraction. Manitoba doesn’t make that clear at all.)

However, the province recently took over the inspections for the city of Winnipeg, and they are now in charge of reporting closures and convictions. They do seem to be keeping up with it a bit better than the city did, but I would also like to see if the diner down the street passed with flying green colours. The ball is in their court on this one, and 2013 would be a great year to make this change.

Those are my big three. There are a few others, but I’m interesting in what you think. What would you like to see this year?

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Get Your Half Pints at the Flatlander’s Beer Festival

I totally admit to not being much of a wine person. Instead, my Midwestern upbringing has made me a beer person. I don’t dislike wine, but when given the choice I prefer malt and hops to grapes. This has led to some interesting encounters; for example, a waiter at Sydney’s once said “Aren’t you cute!” when I asked for a pre-dinner beer instead of a cocktail. Fortunately, the rising popularity of craft brews is allowing us beer people a lot more variety and choice when it comes to our beer.

One of the rising stars on the Canadian craft brew scene, of course, is Winnipeg’s very own Half Pints. They just got some national attention from Jordon St. John when he profiled them for the Sun. As far as I’m concerned, they deserve the positive attention. In his column, he mentioned one of their recent seasonal brews, Noche De Los Alebrijes.

Noche De Los Alebrijes

Noche De Los Alebrijes is a dunkle lager. I am normally not a fan of darker-coloured beers, but this one has really won me over. It has a really rich flavour that manages to not be overwhelming, and fades into an intriguing chocolate aftertaste. I like this beer. I really, really like this beer, and I’m going to be very sad when we’re gone through our hoard and we can’t get anymore. (We went to the Ellice Street MLCC and just about bought them out of stock a few days ago.)

My husband is a fan of the Humulus Ludicrous, a ridiculously bitter IPA that Half Pints put out at the same time as Noche De Los Alebrijes. I’m not a fan of the extreme hoppy taste, but that just leaves more for him.

Half Pints is going to be at the Flatlander’s Beer Festival tonight and tomorrow. They will have Humulus Ludicrous available to sample, along with a cask of a vanilla stout, which I am very interesting in trying.

We went to the beer festival last year and had a fantastic time. (And thank you, Winnipeg Transit, for the ride home.) With your admission you receive five tasting tickets, and you can buy additional tasting tickets at the event.

You also receive a guidebook with space for you to take notes about the beers you’ve tasted. After the event you can peruse your notes, and go to the MLCC to find your favourites from the evening. Last year I added a few more beers to my favourites, including something that I consider a “dessert beer,” St. Louis Kriek. It tastes more like a cherry fruit cooler than a beer, but I can see it taking the same place as an ice wine on a dinner menu.

The Flatlander’s Beer Festival is on September 13-14, from 7:00pm-10:00pm at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Tickets are available at all MLCCs, or from Ticketmaster. See you there!

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Manitoba Food Bloggers (minus 1): Get Your Goodies Bake Sale

Tomorrow, May 18th, the Manitoba Food Bloggers will be having a bake sale from 10am to 2pm at Aqua Books to support Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Jamie Oliver is the adorable British celebrity chef who has taken on childhood obesity and food ignorance as his favourite cause. Jamie was the 2010 TED Prize winner; you can watch his prize speech here. May 19, 2012 has been designated Food Revolution Day, on which people are urged to teach people about food, food issues, healthier lifestyles and better nutrition. Funds raised at Food Revolution Day events will go towards food education projects run by the Jamie Oliver Foundation, such as the Food Education Box (you can a check out a sample lesson).

Chocolate Chip Cookies

In addition to the fundraiser, participating bloggers will have their eligible goodies judged as part of the Big Bake Off, sponsored by Manitoba Canola Growers. Fabulous prizes!

So, head on over to Aqua Books (still open in its Garry Street location) on Friday, May 18 to sample some goodies baked by people who know what they’re talking about, and support a good cause at the same time!

(No, I’m not participating in the bake sale. First, I’m not a baker. I have no trouble subjecting my family and even coworkers to my rather mediocre baking, but the thought of offering it up to strangers – for money, no less! – just seems like so much hubris. And secondly, I’m burningly shy around new people, and have yet to make it to any of the Manitoba Food Blogger events that have happened. I’ll go to one eventually, I’m sure, but I just haven’t been able to work up the nerve yet. Meanwhile, I’ll just feign dead over here… after I eat my cookies from the bake sale, of course.)

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We’re Digging In

This summer, Dig In Manitoba, an initiative of Food Matters Manitoba, is showing Manitoba families that eating local can be easy.

The Dig In Challenge dares local families to discover the local food possibilities this summer. Challenge participants pledge to shift at least $10 of their weekly food budget towards, try at least two new Dig In Challenge activities a month, and (optionally) to attend Dig In workshops. Also, workshop participants will be eligible to win prizes!

Three Sisters

Families who already make an effort to eat locally can participate in Dig Deeper. Dig Deeper participants are limited to only 100 families, but as the name suggests, they will delve deeper into the local food scene by growing their own vegetables, participating in seed-starting and seed-saving workshops, and doing more activities each month.

The Dig In Challenge kick-off is this Saturday, April 21, in the Centre Court at The Forks Market, hosted by Janet Stewart. To sign up for the challenge for free, just visit the pledge page on the Dig In Challenge website.

We will be participating in the Dig In Challenge this summer as well! Because our summer is going to be a bit busy we can’t commit to the Dig Deeper Challenge, but I’m happy to be participating even in a small way.

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Urban Bees… for the Birds?

I’m experiencing a wave of déjà vu.

Back in 2010, the city turned down a request from residents to study allowing backyard chicken coops (and chickens!) within city limits. Despite chickens being legal (within stated limitations) in several US cities, Canadian cities have balked at allowing residents to keep a small number of hens.

Today, Winnipeg city council’s protection and community services committee voted to review the bylaw that prevents residents from keeping honeybees within city limits. At least this time, the idea has gotten further than the chicken proposal did.

Juneau Bee

However, I’m feeling rather pessimistic about the whole thing. To being with, the NIMBYs (or rather, the NIMNBYs – Not In My Neighbours’ Backyards) are already crying. They (or their kid) are incredibly allergic to bee stings. They want to be able to continue to use their backyard without getting invaded by their neighbours’ bees. If their neighbours get bees, they’re getting a can of Raid… and so on.

These are very similar to the pre-emptive complaints leveled against the backyard chicken proposal. Unknowledgeable opponents alleged that chickens are loud, smelly and unsanitary. However, if they’d actually read the proposal, they would have seen that the limitations and regulations proposed along with the by-law change would have mitigated a lot of those concerns. The proposal to allow beekeeping has similar provisions, but I expect those provisions to get shoved aside as people who assume rather than research rant and rave their way to City Hall… And end up getting their way.

First, we’re talking about honeybees here, not wasps. The aggressive wasps that invade your backyard picnic in the late summer are not bees. Honeybees tend to keep to themselves, and only get angry if you pester them or mess with their hive. Honeybees are looking for nectar, not your burger. They will typically sting only as a last resort, because if they sting you they will die.

Wasps, specifically yellow jackets, on the other hand, are predators. They are after your burger because it tastes good to them. They are aggressive, and will sting with little provocation. They can also sting multiple times, since using their stinger will not kill them. Wikipedia has a nice table on the differences between different types of bees and wasps to make it even more clear. I think most of the fear of honeybees is actually misplaced fear of wasps. Wasps don’t produce honey, so no one will voluntarily be keeping those anyway!

Charles Polcyn, the president of the Red River Apiarist Association and the origin of the request to the city, also had several ideas that would make any urban beekeeper a better neighbour. These restrictions included certification of the beekeeper, fresh water located on the property for the bees, a minimum lot size of at least 50′ by 100′, and a six-foot barrier around the hives (such as a shrub), which would force the bees to fly up to look for nectar rather than through a neighbour’s yard.

Right now, chickens and bees are both included in Winnipeg’s Exotic Animal By-Law, even though they are hardly exotic. With some forethought and care, both can be just as good neighbours – if not better – than the neighbor with the large, loud, but perfectly legal dog… And put Winnipeg alongside cities that allow apiaries, such as Vancouver or Calgary.

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Thinking Thanksgiving

Today in the United States, it’s Thanksgiving Day. All across the country, people are sitting down with their families to enjoy food and togetherness in a way that they simply don’t do at any other time of the year. I’ve often told people here in Canada that Thanksgiving in the US is “bigger than Christmas,” since the only real tenet of the holiday is giving thanks for what you have. It doesn’t matter what religion (if any) you follow – everyone has something that they can be thankful for.

To combat the homesickness that I inevitably feel on this day, I’m being thankful for what I have. I have a loving husband, a wealth of friends and family, and three great cats. I have a roof over my head, reliable transportation, a (mostly) sound mind and body, and a good job. I also have access to clean air, clean water, and enough food to eat.

Farmers' Market Haul, Sept 3 2011

But as everyone knows, not everyone in the world has enough to eat, including too many people here in Winnipeg. So as the holiday season approaches, please consider giving generously to the charities in the Winnipeg area that help those who struggle to feed themselves and their children every day. Here are just three local charities for you to consider giving to.

Winnipeg Harvest is the main food bank for Winnipeg and the surrounding area. They accept food donations at their main warehouse on Winnipeg Avenue, or at many grocery stores around the city. They maintain a list of their top ten most wanted food items on their website if you need help figuring out what food to donate. You can also donate financially at their office, on their website via CanadaHelps.org, or over the phone. As Christmas draws near, you can expect a lot of food and donation drives for Winnipeg Harvest; you can find a calendar of them on their website.

Agape Table is a secular, community-based organization that runs a number of services for the community, including free emergency meals, low-cost breakfasts and bagged lunches, and a low-cost grocery store. Agape Table does all this without receiving any money from any level of government. Instead, it relies wholly on donations. You can donate to them through their website , over the phone, or through the mail.

If you work in an office in Winnipeg, you’ve probably heard of the Christmas Cheer Board. Every year since 1919, groups around the city get together and put together a Christmas hamper for needy families. If your workplace is not sponsoring a hamper of its own, you can donate groceries and toys at a variety of sites, or make a financial donation.

As the holiday season ramps up, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to consider those who may not have as much as you. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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Food Policies Make an Appearance on Election Platforms – Finally!

It was with a great deal of excitement – and a healthy dose of cynicism – that I read that all of the major parties have included food and agriculture concerns as part of their platforms.

Lettuce.

Food is such an incredibly important part of everyone’s lives and community, and I’m heartened that the parties are finally taking note of this. However, I also agree with Rod MacRae, who was quoted in the Globe and Mail on why these issues are finally getting some attention:

On Monday, the parties will hash out their respective policies at a debate in Ottawa. But one food policy critic said none of the platforms are detailed enough to take seriously.

“None of them really link the food story to health care that well, or to social-policy reform,” said Rod MacRae, a professor at York University who is one of Canada’s foremost experts on the subject. “What they’ve done is pick the low-hanging fruit – the things that are more part of the public consciousness right now.”

And really, when you look at the details of the platforms and plans, that’s really all we see: the superficial issues surrounding Canada’s food policy – or rather, it’s lack thereof. Over the past several years, people have become more and more aware of where their food comes from, and they are starting to see the problems in the current food system. All the political parties have done is grab what big issues have gotten the most traction, and wiggled them into their platforms.

The Globe article has a summary of each of the major parties’ platforms, or you can go to each party’s website and read their full platform for yourself. It’s a lot of good stuff, although each party has areas where they’re a bit weak. For example, the Greens have a lot of good ideas, but seem to be missing some of the “big picture” stuff like the challenges of feeding a growing nation with a dwindling number of farms, while the Conservatives seem to be focused on “big agriculture” while ignoring the needs of the consumers who want choice.

Here’s what I’d like to see addressed in more detail:

Education components for food strategies. While the Liberals and the NDP talk about educating students on healthy food choices, no party goes into much detail about education for all Canadians, not just the young. While I agree that the basis for change is best approached through young people, food issues are complicated and people have a difficult time understanding the issues involved. Federal assistance in the development of local food policy councils, such as those in Vancouver and Toronto, would assist people in understanding the issues that local farmers, producers and consumers are facing.

Consumer choice. The boondoggle with Peak of the Market and Manitoba’s potato growers last spring and the ongoing fight for raw milk producers shows that consumers want to be able to choose and eat the foods that they want. In some cases, the government steps in and tells them, “No, you can’t.” A little less nanny-state and a little more flexibility for non-mainstream foods (like raw milk and cheese) would be nice. I’m also not fond of the condescension that is sometimes leveled at consumers when it comes to food safety.

Food safety. This ties in nicely with my previous points. An educated consumer is a safe consumer, because they are able to make smart decisions about their food choices. But at the same time, food needs to be produced in a safe manner. I was highly irritated during the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak in 2008 when it seemed that the CFIA and Health Canada were turning around the problem onto consumers with their trotted out tag lines that listeria can be killed by heating the food. We saw the same thing when E.coli cropped up in spinach in 2006. I don’t know about you, but I typically don’t microwave my deli meat or thoroughly cook my spinach salad before eating it. Letting large food corporations monitor their own food safety alone (or having announced inspections, which might as well mean no inspections at all) strikes me as silly. The Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc all promise more funds for the CFIA.

But again, my cynicism is showing – no matter who is elected, I doubt there will be any substantive change. It’ll remain up to each individual to do their research and make smart decisions about what they eat, at least until government really gets it.

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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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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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