During the cold gray days of February, most of us wouldn’t expect that a whole lot is happening on the local food front. But here at the Ecology Action Centre, the Our Food Team has been busy offering seasonal cooking workshops to its community partner organizations. Our seasonal cooking workshops are part of an attempt to offer a full suite of opportunities for residents to learn how to grow, store and prepare local vegetables.
Seasonality as a concept has become increasingly blurred as the shelves of our major grocery stores over-flow with shiny, uniform veggies, each with more air-miles than a flight attendant. A trip to Sobey’s would suggest that everything is in season. While we benefit from the apparent wealth of food choices through the year, we lose out on the specific knowledge of our land, what it is able to produce and when. Attached to this lost knowledge are food cultures and traditions manifested in recipes our grandparents and their parents before them passed down like heirlooms. Beyond the socio-cultural loss we experience, there are very real environmental costs associated with our far-flung-foods.
I personally don’t promote an absolutist approach to my diet: ONLY LOCAL AND ORGANIC – ALL THE TIME! I prefer a more measured approach, that strives to be delicious, healthy and good for the environment. I try not to feel paralyzed by the guilt of an occasional avocado. With that said, having a greater sense of what is grown here, when, and how to use it, provides us with a different kind of choice – one that is rooted in local tradition and that has less of an impact on Mama Earth.
So far I’ve referenced local tradition more than once – but the reality is that many of the communities we work with are New Canadians who bring with them their own food cultures and traditions (just as Europeans did over the last two centuries). Other food traditions need not be obstacles to local food promotion. We see them as exciting opportunities to share food knowledge and skills across cultures. So while we work to introduce new-comers to local, seasonal foods from the area, we learn from them the agricultural and culinary expertise they bring with them.
We promote local production and consumption, but we also recognize that their significant economic, geographic and cultural barriers to making local food a reality for everyone. One of the goals of the Our Food Project is to make is easier for communities of all incomes and backgrounds to choose locally produced foods. It’s not just about personal responsibility to buy local, it’s also about having the structural conditions in place that allow everyone access to the healthy foods they need – whether that be community gardens, farmers’ markets, CSA drop-offs, bulk purchasing programs, or whatever scheme fits your needs best. Creating those conditions is part of the work we’re doing too!
For our Seasonal Cooking workshops we’ve chosen recipes that are more ‘traditional’ like the Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie. But also more contemporary recipes, like our Black Bean and Roasted Squash Tortillas. The point is we’re helping to build skills and knowledge around what’s in season, and how to use it to make delicious and healthy food. I’ve shared these two recipes below.
Author: Will Fawcett Hill. Community Food Programmer at the Ecology Action Centre.