Celebrity chefs inspire adoring foodie fans

I spent this past weekend at the Seasons Christmas Show at the International Centre in Toronto. No, not shopping for Christmas decorations, gifts and baking. I was working at the Egg Farmers of Ontario‘s booth where we were giving out recipes for holiday baking and entertaining, and selling microwave egg cookers. (The cookers make excellent poached eggs, not to mention great stocking stuffers!) I’ll admit I did slip away from the booth a couple times to check out the show, but most of the time, it was work, work, work….

Our booth was located across the aisle from the Toronto Star Theatre, one of the presentation stages at the Show. Occasionally there was a lull in the activity in front of our booth; when no one was picking up recipes or asking a question about the nutritional value of eggs, I and the staff at our booth were entertained by the demonstrations on the cooking stage.

The presenters, who included Food Network‘s Chefs Anna Olson and Anthony Sedlak from FoodTV, as well as Elizabeth Baird, Executive Food Editor for Canadian Living magazine and Chef James Smith from George Brown College, attracted large crowds. As the weekend progressed, I made a few mental observations about the crowds and the high-profile cooks.

* Lots of talk, but not so much cooking! Most of the cooking dems went on for nearly an hour, but some presenters spent much of that time talking, not cooking. The crowds seemed content to sit and listen to cooking tips and techniques, food facts, and stories about what happens behind-the-scenes of a televized cooking show, despite witnessing a minimal amount of chopping, stirring and actual cooking.

* It tastes great – or so we’ve been told! Once the demonstration was over, samples of the finished dish were not typically provided for the gathered crowd to taste. Having done quite a few cooking demonstrations in my life, I know from experience that it can be a challenge to find a recipe to demonstrate for a large group of people that can also be easily sampled by the crowd. The problem is neatly solved by simply demonstrating the recipe but not offering samples of the finished product. This seemed to be the solution for a number of the presentations at the Toronto Star Theatre. I did notice that over at Canadian Living magazine’s stage, there appeared to be samples at each of the cooking dems.

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100 Mile-Diet Authors to visit Kitchener

Who hasn’t heard of the 100-mile diet, the eating regime that encourages consuming a diet of foods grown within a 100-mile (or 160 km) radius of where one lives?

This “diet” has recently been made popular by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon who lived the 100-mile diet for a year in Vancouver, then documented their experience in a book appropriately titled The 100-Mile Diet (Random House, 2007). There is also a blog, www.100milediet.org, which provides inspiration and recipes for eating locally.

Smith and MacKinnon will be visiting Kitchener on September 17 to talk about their book and their experience buying and eating locally. (More details follow.)

Eating close to the land – choosing to eat local foods as they come into season – is hardly a new way of thinking about shopping, cooking and eating food. In fact, this is the philosophy by which much of the world has eaten for a long time. In the global village we live in, where cultures readily mix and assimilate, travel is relatively easy (although it used to be a little cheaper!), and transport systems have made it possible to bring in foods from far-away places, it has become possible, in fact the norm, for at least some of the world’s population to eat a stunning variety of foods from around the globe. Although this broadens the options at meal time, it also means many of us have become quite removed from those who produce our food and the source of food in its original state. Sadly, if questioned as to where a particular food comes from (e.g. milk, beef), some of us would respond with a quizzical stare and uncertainty. “Uh…the store?” (It’s true. I’ve seen it happen.)

While Smith and MacKinnon can and should take much credit for popularizing the notion of eating locally, we shouldn’t overlook the many food/land/agriculture/environment-conscious individuals who have purchased, cooked and eaten in this manner long before it became fashionable. This short list is a sampling of some of those people:

  • California-based Alice Waters and Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy are chefs who have promoted local dining in their restaurants for many years.
  • Food writers Anita Stewart and Elizabeth Baird are among the many cookbook authors and magazine writers who, for years, have promoted the joys of eating the rich bounty of foods produced close to home.
  • In 1995, my friend and fellow home economist Pat Hughes published Savour the Seasons, a cookbook written with her colleague Eleanor Cameron. It contained menus and recipes that reflected foods available seasonally. There are a host of similar cookbooks on bookstore shelves these days.
  • There are many consumers who consistently shop at their local farmers’ market or purchase locally grown foods at their neighbourhood grocery store, grow vegetables in their garden (freezing or canning the surplus), and consciously attempt to eat according to the seasons.

I’m all for eating locally grown and produced foods as much as possible. I will admit, however, that I couldn’t live only on foods grown within 100 miles of Kitchener. There would be too many favourite foods I’d miss eating – bananas, mangoes, chocolate, oranges and olives, to name a few. But there are important benefits to buying Ontario-grown or produced foods as often as possible and enjoying foods as they come into season.

Here are a few reasons to eat locally. (You’ll find 13 reasons to eat locally at www.100milediet.org.)

  1. It helps support the local economy and our Ontario farmers.
  2. The food you consume will not have travelled a long distance and therefore should be fresh and flavourful.
  3. The fewer miles food has to travel, the lower the fuel costs and the less strain there is on the environment.

I’m fortunate that Kitchener-Waterloo is a small enough community that within minutes I can be beyond city borders and into the country where farm land is plentiful. It is easy to enjoy what rural and urban lifestyles have to offer, including the smell of manure that has wafted into our neighbourhood several times in the past few weeks. I try to consider the aroma a reminder that my agricultural cousins are busy doing their job to ensure we all have food on our tables.

I truly hope the “eat local” movement is not a passing trend. In an article written by Julia Aitken in the Toronto Star on June 18, 2008, manager Alison Fryer of The Cookbook Store in Toronto included the 100-mile diet as one of the top 10 worst trends she has witnessed in her 25 years selling cookbooks. Just one person’s opinion, of course!

If you live in Waterloo Region and would like to meet Smith and MacKinnon, they will be in our area on September 17 for One Book One Community events. You will find them at Your Kitchener Market from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. where they will be signing copies of The 100-Mile Diet. There will be a 100-Mile Mini Market at the market that day as well. Copies of the The 100-Mile Diet will be for sale along with produce grown within 100 miles of the market. Exhibits will showcase the benefits of eating locally produced food.

Smith and MacKinnon will be reading from their book at 7 p.m. on September 17 at the Kitchener Public Library.