Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Eat Alberta 2012: Your Real Food Survival Guide

Eat Alberta 2012: Your Real Food Survival Guide was a conference that already had big shoes to fill. The inaugural Eat Alberta in 2011, A Celebration of Our Local Food Heroes, was a resounding success and left attendees just buzzing and eager for more. Albertan foodies bookmarked the website, diarized reminders, and were poised and ready to jump at the first word of the sequel. It was like Harry Potter meets the saute pan. 

While we waited impatiently, I can only imagine the fervour and frenzy behind the scenes as the organizers pieced together this next event and satiate the foodie masses.

Well, a few short weeks ago, the email announcement for Eat Alberta 2012 went out. In a panic, I got online and secured my spot in my sessions of choice (though I struggled immensely in deciding on just four). Then... I waited... April 14th received a big red circle on the calendar and the kids counted down to foodie Christmas. 

I was enrolled in... Mushroom Foraging, Macaron Basics, Artisan Cheese Making, and Sourdough 101. And I was ecstatic. 

The day started with our first keynote session... Life on the Back 40 featuring Albertan farmers, Shannon and Danny Ruzicka, of Nature's Green Acres. I loved Shannon's opening line... "You are what your food eats." It's such a true statement, yet we don't always think of it like that. We need to remember and reinforce a healthy circle of life in how our food animals interact with their food, the plants and their relationship to our soil and its health, and so on and so forth. 

Another point that resonated for me was the discussion about their children and their contributions to life on the farm. Their kids, unlike so many others, understand the circle of life and, thus, respect the life of that animal that much more. "You take care of that animal as that animal is going to take care of you." It's not gruesome and unfeeling. It's actually the antithesis of that. It is so much more worldly and caring to respect the life of that animal, to appreciate the contribution that it is going to make to your life and health, and to do your best to ensure that its contribution is felt... and truly valued. 

We have become so disconnected from the reality of food and what we perceive as the ugliness of slaughter. We don't like to think about that part of it. We envision happy frolicking animals. Then, we fast-forward to pretty little packages of cryo-sealed meat in a grocer's cooler. We would rather not think about the in between.

But ignoring the in between is what allows us to ignore the mass production and everything that comes with it. Unhealthy and inappropriate feed, cramped quarters, sick animals... all combated with chemicals, shortened life spans, genetic modifications, and other things that we really really would rather not think about. 

We have removed ourselves from the process... and thus the connection to our food. We've anthropomorphized our food, which makes it so much harder to reconcile the slaughter... and all of this is to our own detriment. 

I've bought the box store meat. I feel the pennies pinch. I'm just trying to reframe how I think of things too. I go to such pains to feed my pets well, clean my house with natural products, to try to grow my own produce (and buy from farmer's where I can't), to eat lovely healthy flavourful meals... why or when did I forget about the importance of quality, healthy meat? 

We were left to think about this and the real importance of the work that is being done by these and other artisan and craft farmers. They are taking real pride in the work that they do, so that we can trust and take pride in the meals that we set before ourselves and our families.

Environment suffers.
Farmers suffer.
Animals suffer.
Health suffers.

Valerie of A Canadian Foodie leapt at the opportunity to add in a very poignant point... "Your palate will also tell you what is good for your body." So, really, we just need to listen to ourselves? How often has that been the final message? Maybe we actually need to listen.

From here, we went off into the wonderful world of conference sessions and prepared our brains to learn! These are going to be included as separate posts... as I need time and definitely more space to give these sessions their due care and attention. 

Our closing keynote was entitled, How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse. After a very full day of being excited about food and rethinking our food philosophies, we were faced with the very frightening question of... what would we do if it were all gone? If all of our traditional food supply systems were to disappear, how would we survive and sustain ourselves?

There are many advocates of the local and in-season food movements. Not because of trend but because it really does make sense... asparagus from the local farmer in May and June is going to taste infinitely better than the asparagus that is planed-trained-and-automobiled to you from the far reaches. It is being eaten when it should be. It is going to take less time from the day that it is harvested to the day that it reaches your table. It is going to feel good to support your local economy and community. It's a whole lotta win. 

Beyond that, the panel discussion wanted us to think about what we could do on our own. Rather than buying, how far could we get on our own sweat equity? Kevin Kossowan has an annual seed budget of $100 and manages to produce enough vegetables and other items to feed his family of four for an entire year. Amy Beaith of Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton reminded us of how much viable but also incredible fruit and veg is abundant in this city and is, literally, just rotting away. Beyond that, a few simple preservation methods and you can find yourself enjoying those Evans cherries well into December. Shannon Ruzicka encouraged us to just try... they tried bees, to fantastic story telling doom. They tried chickens and learned their lessons. They have tried, learned, changed course, and found success. How can you succeed if you never tried? Jeff Senger also took a giant leap of faith and moved his young family to a farm outside of Edmonton... some chickens, a cow, then a meat packing operation purchase later, Jeff went from big city to big food producer in a very short time. 

Jeff made another comment that really resonated... he said that, 
"Everyone should be a producer.
Then, together, become a community of producers."

If you're good at growing apples, then share those apples with someone who is good at growing tomatoes. Focus in on a few things that you can do well and that work well within your environment, then share. A grassroots economy is where the communities start. 

Dammit, Jeff. I'm waaaaay more far gone than wanting backyard chickens (though I sure do want those). I want a cow now.

I want to extend a huge and heartfelt that you to the wonderful team, volunteers, presenters, teachers,  and sponsors behind Eat Alberta. A great idea has become a tremendous event and a mainstay in the Alberta food scene. I look forward to next year... and every other year that I am so fortunate enough to be a part of. Thank you. 

There was also beautiful food, that we didn't make, woven throughout our day... thank you to the team at NAIT and their culinary program, and to those sponsors and volunteers who also contributed to the many tastes of the day. From breakfast to lunch to the Wine Down, we ate and learned well that day.

I really liked this honey mead from Birds & Bees Organic Winery and Meadery. One worth checking out!

As the official photographer for the event, here are Maki B's photos of Eat Alberta. More blogs and posts to be shared as they are discovered and collected!

3 thought(s):

Anonymous said...

nice post! love your summary and hilite of the important and profound statements - and the pics of the tasting boards are awesome!
su :)

A Canadian Foodie said...

What a gift (the Eat Alberta gift that keeps on giving)! To read your thoughtful and passionate words is so gratifying! You got it! Here is the evidence. That means others did, too! And now, your readers will, too.
Thank you so very much for making and taking the time to publish your reflections of this day. It is the inspiration that keeps us working toward another year.
And to come all the way from Calgary! Next year, Calgary needs a bus!
Can't wait to read the remainder of your posts about EA2012.

Laura said...

Next year I am for sure going to be there!

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