Thursday, December 08, 2011

An Edible Walk In The 'Hood

Occasionally, I'll talk about foraging for wild food, this can be done in the city as well as the country, one just needs to be a little more choosy. You want to first be 100% sure that what your harvesting is edible, and NOT in someone's garden or on their lawn. I used to see elderly Italian ladies harvesting dandelions from lawns, and I always wondered why they would break their backs for a weed. Of course, NOW I know differently! So if you see a yard full of dandelions in the spring, it's to your benefit to knock on the door, introduce yourself and find out if your neighbor will let you take care of their dandelion "problem". This assumes, of course, that they don't spray their lawn with a chemical cocktail.

Here's some more flowers that you might find in your neighborhood that are edible:
Clover: good in tea or salad (I have a dog who would eat white clover heads by the handful as a puppy!)
Rose: syrups and waters
Dill: salads, eggs, potatoes
Viola/Pansy: this one is a good garnish, or frozen into ice cubes for a little bit of summer
Daylily/Tigerlily: Chop into salads, fry or pickle
Rosemary: infusion for the face, put in salads and Italian dishes.

This is one skill that's worth a trip to the library, or maybe take in an evening class if you can find one.
Happy foraging!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Future Belongs To Those Who Prepare For It

"Do your best to change the world, Do your best to be ready for changes in the world"
~Chinese proverb~

When was the last time you had a power outage that lasted for more than three hours? Has your neighborhood ever flooded or come through a landslide? Have you ever been laid off and unsure where grocery money was going to come from? Has wildfire ever threatened your home? Have you ever been suddenly thrust into an unsafe situation?

The world as we know it is different for everyone. The many ways our world can, and is, changing is staggering. So a radical change to our world as we know it can be anything to suddenly being without power for days (which happens to more people than you may realize), to a massive flood (been there, done that), to an unforeseen job loss, nearby chemical spill (which yours truly has lived through) ... you get the idea. Even in a minor power outage, we cannot pump gas, pay for anything electronically, and eating out if there's no power at home is likely not an option either. You will not be able to cool your home by either A/C or fan in a power outage, you won't want to be looking in the fridge every 15 min, and what about flushing the toilet? Let's not forget food shortages brought on by a massive snowstorm, or being cut off without transportation after a flood or snowstorm (been there, done that too). So, the number of ways our world can change radically is staggering. But we don't have to wring our hands and moan, we can do something, lots in fact.

I am well known for having back-up plans on top of back-up plans. Once, it was only for childcare, but as the kids grew, having a Plan B, and Plan C, and so on, spread throughout my life. In these challenging times, we can plan for many life surprises, and not only end up in control of our lives but also change our mindset. Think about it, if you can plan for a sudden lay-off, your attitude changes. Let's say one day, you and 150 of your co-workers are informed your factory is closing next month. This has happened to so many people, I can't count that high. So, how do you plan for this BEFORE it actually happens to you? Times are hard financially and you're only living two paychecks ahead of panic, so investing $200 in stocks isn't going to happen anytime soon. But let's set aside the investing, money security for a minute. Let's think about something more basic. Food.

If you're laid off and you have some food put by, your attitude towards this crisis will be different than the outlook of someone who has not planned for just such an occasion. It will still be a huge upset, but you won't have to wonder how you'll feed the spouse, two kids and the family dog. I've been there, and I can tell you that visiting a pawn shop to trade in jewelry so I can feed the kids isn't fun. So, when you go grocery shopping, make a list. If your grocery list calls for three cans of kernel corn, buy four cans. If you were going to get two pounds of ground beef, and you can afford it, get three. I know you might not be able to do this all the time, very few people can. Every time you go shopping, look realistically at your list. One week get a couple extra cans of vegetables, the next shopping trip, get a bit of extra meat. The next shopping trip, consider getting a home first-aid kit, or improving on one you may already have.

The next thing you need to do is keep track of these extras. I work in retail, and we have a system of rotation that is summarized by FIFO. "First In, First Out". If it's easier for your family, get a permanent black magic marker and write on the can or box the date you bought it. Meat can be wrapped and sealed in a freezer bag. Be sure and write the date purchased on the bag before the meat goes in. If someone in your house bakes, consider buying an extra bag of flour. (TIP: if you can, freeze it for a few days before putting it in a storage container. That way you won't be unpleasantly surprised by small, black, wriggling things. We found this out the hard way)

Using this method of buying a few extras as we could, we've been able to set aside large tubs of coffee, drink crystals, peanut butter, meats of all kinds, yeast for baked goods, pasta, a variety of sauces, and the list goes on. Now, I'm employed, but it's been less than a decade since I had to visit the pawn shop before the grocery store. I remember all too well that feeling of fear, depression and hopelessness. I also remember living in Northern Ontario and being snowed in with my spouse-at-the-time being gone already for a few days. I didn't drive, but I had a toddler to feed. Again, having food stores made all the difference in my attitude and outlook.

The wisdom of food storage cannot be overstated. Everyone, regardless of income level, tax bracket, location or age should consider doing what they can to put some food by. The more, the better. Give careful thought to storage, record keeping and how all that can be achieved cheaply. Next post, we'll look at some creative ways to store food supplies, and discuss how to cook with that stored food of yours.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Food Lies and Assumptions

We've all heard that homemade is better. Especially when food is the topic. But what if we're home tired from a long day, or too sick to do more than microwave a can of chicken soup? We grab the nearest can. I know there is a growing movement of soup enthusiasts who consume more soup than anything else, believing this diet to be better for their bodies than a traditional dinner. All that is well and good, but now there is growing evidence that says homemade soup, of any kind, is better than anything from a can.

Recently, the Harvard School of Public Health studied participants in a trial of people who consumed canned soup products
Participants who consumed one can a day for five days in a row showed an increase of more than 1,221% in urine BPA (bisphenol-A), versus participants who consumed the same amount of freshly made soup. BPA is mainly found in the lining material of cans, certain hard plastics, some types of baby-bottles, some children's toys and even register receipts! So why is BPA bad? Because it's linked to neurological disorders, birth defects, ADD and even certain types of cancer.
It's bad enough that our vegetables aren't the nutrient vehicles we've been told they are, and it's even worse that we support international farmers before our own, but now this? So why are there alarming levels of BPA in the things we trust to not make us sick? It all comes down to the mighty dollar. The lining in cans and other types of food packaging are supposed to increase the shelf life of our food. The longer we can, in theory, keep food without spoilage, the more trust we're supposed to have in food manufacturers. But if that very food we're eating or drinking is slowly poisoning us, then what?
Then it is up to us to find out what's in our food, in the packages, where the food has come from, and to do something about it. But not everyone can. A large part of a population cannot afford to speak with their dollar when it comes to their food. The poor of any country, Canada, the U.S or Mexico, cannot afford to drive to a produce stand, pay a fair price for organic squash, tomatoes or apples and then preserve these in a way that the family is not dependant on a grocery store.

Not fair, but an uncomfortable fact.

In the meantime, food manufacturers are processing away nutrients, adding all kinds of nasty additives that are changing us on a molecular level and poisoning our kids with chemicals we can't even pronounce. And many of us are none the wiser.

But don't give up hope. We can make a difference. The first step is education. We need to find out what is in our food, and why it's there. What purpose does it serve? Then we need to make a stand and demand the removal of these compounds that are poisoning us, opening us up to cancer and food allergies and changing our bodies against our will.
Today, tomorrow, this week, make a pledge to feed your family more homecooked meals. The more vegetables you fit in there, the better. Yes, they may not be packed with nutrients like we've assumed all these years, but a homemade vegetable soup or stew will still be healthier than the canned version. Start there, one step at a time. Go to your local library, go to the internet, to the bookstore, however you get information...start researching food additives, food security, read as much as you can on corporate farming, find out how our modern food is preserved before it hits your local grocery store, find out how a can of corn can have a year long shelf life.

Read, learn, and start changing what you can in your own life, as you can.
Even if it all starts with replacing one can of soup with a steaming pot of homemade.