in.gredients to Me: “Because” (Guest Post)

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Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

Carolyne Kauser-Abbott has a corporate real estate and financial background, but now is happily soaking up the slow life in France and Calgary. You can follow her travels on her own blog, Ginger and Nutmeg (she’s “Nutmeg”), or her monthly articles on My French Life, where she’s a contributor.

“Because – make no mistake – good meat is expensive. Especially if you buy the premium cuts. The French know that. The Italians, too. And the Spanish, Mexicans. In fact, anyone with a strong food culture. But in Britain, as in America, we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Raising the Steaks by Tom Parker Bowles, Esquire, June 2011, p. 118

An interesting quote to start a guest blog post – a clear gauge of modern society’s ills. My husband and I live in Alberta, Canada, a place of undeniable beauty. There are majestic mountains, big open skies, and expansive rolling foothills, which lend themselves to enormous ranches that are home to free range cattle and wildlife. However, the city we live in – its culture and the seemingly endless land gobbled up – has led to a vast urban sprawl, and (shamefully) a society that’s tied to their cars.

I grew up in Eastern Canada, in Montréal, and my family spent many years in the beautiful state of Vermont. My mother was dedicated to recycling long before it was fashionable. We spent many a Saturday morning at the Stowe dump sorting out our plastic waste based on the tiny number in the triangle. She made her own granola to avoid packaging and preservatives. There was even a period when we had sourdough brewing in the kitchen. I think my brother may have “killed” it after one too many sourdough muffins.

My belief is that Tom Parker Bowles has it right. In North America, culturally, we allow ourselves to take the easy route way too often, without processing the impact. Yes, we can buy prepared packed dinners, leaving immeasurable amounts of protective packaging waste and horribly deficient nutritional value. We can purchase raspberries from Chile in January. Lettuce is available all year long thanks to the fields in California, and the transport trucks that bring it north. But at what expense?

While spending twelve glorious months in the south of France, my husband and I have visited numerous food markets and monuments, and made some fantastic new friends. However, the most enlightening thing for the two of us is being closer to the food we eat. Fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats are grown outside our back door, with local farms supplying fresh food markets daily.

We had no idea what a “Dover Sole” fish (it’s perhaps not the friendliest of sea creatures) really looked like before it arrived on our plate with lemon butter sauce. We consciously bought only the fruit and vegetables that were in season. We sampled fresh figs and walnuts directly from the trees. Our choices were mainly based on where the food came from – in France, everything’s labeled to tell you where it originated.

However, our food purchasing priorities have changed during our sojourn: we now look to what is the freshest, and what the merchant recommends as being local and top quality. We’ve come to realize the French people will not tolerate inferior quality food, and demand food that consistently tastes good!

The French are immensely proud of their Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC), originally started for winemakers in 1935, to control the quality of product. Today, there are AOCs in France for everything from chestnuts to lentils, with good reason the quality is superior. From the markets to grocery stores, food is expected to be of exceptional grade and ready for the table.

It’s with somewhat heavy hearts that we return to Canada for the start of winter. However, we’ve made a conscious decision to continue to reduce the “global footprint” in our food choices and, where possible, avoid or minimize packaging. Personally, I’m thrilled by the concept of in.gredients‘ zero-waste grocery store. Not only is it possible – it makes sense, and I can hardly wait until there’s one in Calgary. In the meantime, we’ll be shopping with the same idea in mind. Because!

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