Monday, April 28, 2008

Say cheese

GK Chesterton did, at length, and spawned a memorable quote:
Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
And then there's Clifton Fadiman, who observed:
A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be oversophisticated. Yet it remains cheese, milk’s leap toward immortality.
And if you have feta and parmesan cheeses on hand you might enjoy, as I did recently, some Potato, Artichoke and Feta Cheese Latkes.

Went to a couple of readings lately, which were indeed mysteriously cheeseless. On Friday, Acorn-Plantos winner Christine Smart read with the always excellent Don McKay

at the Red Brick Cafe in Sidney, where we had some very pleasant accordion music to enjoy in the before after and interval periods.

And then on Saturday to the Rona Murray Prize-giving, where we heard from the 8 shortlisted poets. DC Reid was introduced by organiser Peter Such

and Barbara Pelman read,

and so did Patricia Young, whose lizard poem shared the prize with an excellent villanelle by Marlene Grand-Maitre.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Some reading and looking

The Soil Association's recent report that showed crop yields for GM crops are actually no better and often worse than non-GM has coincided with a similar study published in the US, but so far neither report appears to have been found worthy of comment in GM-friendly Canada.

Were you questioning whether organic is really worth it? Here's one writer who finds that organic foods are more nutritious than those raised by industrial methods (and an article of divided opinion, that still thinks they're worth it). (And if you wonder why organic food costs so much, check out these regulations, covering permitted substances and the standards and principles which Canadian organic producers will have to follow from December of this year in order to qualify to use the Canada Organic logo.)

Can't help wondering why this is news: recent headline from the Globe & Mail:
Schools that cut fat and sugar saw dramatic results

I liked Wendell Barry's summation of what to do, what to do in this confusing and frightening world, in the panel discussion I mentioned yesterday (Fast Food World: Perils and Promises of the Global Food Chain):
I think the way to begin is to ask yourself what you know about your own economy, your own food economy. Ask yourself where your food came from and what the cost of production was, what's the ecological cost and the human cost. And I think the result of that exercise is that you don't know very much at all... And I think when you come to that point, when you understand your ignorance of your own economy, you'll understand that the only way to become knowledgeable about it is to exert your economic force in support of local production.
This selfsame Wendell Barry has a sobering article entitled Faustian economics: Hell hath no limits in the most recent issue (May 2008) of Harper's, which you can read excerpts from here.

And (thanks Bonnie) I just saw some amazing work by Seattle-based former corporate lawyer turned artist Chris Jordan. Called Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait, he describes the project this way:
This series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Televisualess, with eggplant

I have been living for a couple of years now without television, which has been freeing; it has, as I'd hoped, freed up more time for reading, cooking and walking. I still watch stuff on tv-like screens, but now I rent movies and watch videos online. I suppose that has narrowed the field from which my media heroes are drawn, but if it has there's one person I'm glad I've been able to see in a number of documentaries. She speaks clearly, simply and - although the message is terrifying - with hope and vision.

Here's an interview with the awesome Vandana Shiva, who has put the plight of Indian farmers into the public spotlight, can explain beautifully the perils of seed patents (covered by Vanity Fair in the May/08 issue!) and biodiesels, has put her money where her mouth is through her foundation, Navdanya, and among her many other activities, now sits on the board of Slow Food International:

And now, if you have a couple of hours to spare, here's Fast Food World: Perils and Promises of the Global Food Chain, a fascinating panel discussion from way back in 2003, featuring just about everyone I admire together on one stage: Vandana Shiva together with Carlo Petrini, poet Wendell Barry, Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and a charming introduction from Alice Waters.

If you're still hungry after that, I wandered into a wonderful website that is all about aubergines, or eggplants, or melanzane. It includes a recipe for Tumbet, which we had in Spain; I tried Rose Elliot's version the other day, which was very good, but I think this is closer to the one I fell in love with.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Snow, sun and BC books & magazines

We had a shock snowfall on Saturday

but were back to normal (aside from snow on them thar hills) the very next day

and now it is just onward chilly spring.

I went to a reading on Sunday by four local writers in celebration of B.C. Book and Magazine Week. David Leach, Kerissa Dickie and John Threlfall were scheduled readers, and we got a surprise poetry boost from John Barton as one other reader couldn't make it. A cold room, sparse audience and much discussed dearth of alcoholic beverages at the bar (it being Sunday, this being Victoria) made it less than cosy, but I reckon there are worse ways to spend a Sunday evening.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Monsanto movietime

Came across this documentary (The World According to Monsanto) which appeared on Arte in France on March 11 of this year. Worth a look if you had any curiosity about what Roundup is, who runs Monsanto, how the company influences decision making in its favour, what effect genetically-modified organisms are having and will have on food and other crops, and on the ability of farmers - particularly in the developing world - to survive the company's economic might.

**April 27 update: mysteriously, the video has disappeared from Google Video, but for now at least catch it while you can, serialised on Youtube; part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10, part 11. What a funny old world. Monsanto exerting influence on public comment? I cannot help but wonder.**

Downloadable iPod version also available. (And you can buy a copy of the dvd (English soundtrack available) from Arte.) I found when I watched it on my laptop, the video kept sticking, but I could prod it along by clicking the play indicator arrow along the bottom of the viewing screen.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Global food & expensive wine

I just stopped myself from cheering when I read a newspaper report about global food and farming in an English paper on the plane ride home. The very next day A Friend (thank you, friend) sent me a link to The Guardian's coverage of the piece. Since the report's release on April 15, it's also been in the New York Times, Le Monde, der Spiegel and many others. But as of Thursday, there does not appear to be any coverage at all of this story in the Canadian press, other than a brief preview on the CBC news site. Perhaps it will break soon.

The report is a 2500 page plan for a global agriculture capable of seeing the world through the next 50 years. The study was the result of five years' work by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD for merciful short) with input from some 400 experts; the organisation is funded by participating countries and by a serious group of international agencies (FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, the World Bank and WHO).

The report concluded that neither genetically-modified crops nor industrial food production are workable ways to feed the world; that the only way forward is to employ methods such as organic and small-scale agriculture. It must surely by now seem obvious to most of us, and is thankfully proposed in this report, that to survive in the world as it now is, we must grow our food sustainably: in ways that are less dependent on fossil fuels; make use of locally available resources, natural fertilizers and traditional seeds; and aim to preserve the soil and water supply. The report is critical of the whole biofuel madness: as we are already seeing, using food crops for biofuels is only going to worsen food shortages and price rises.

It should surprise no one that in light of these findings, Australia, the United States and Canada are the countries questioning some of the language in the report's concerns about biotechnology, especially genetically modified foods. But these are the very countries which must make immediate changes if the world is to feed itself. So.... what happens next?

Summaries of the report are here, on the IAASTD's website , and there is "a faithful summary of the leading scientific report" on GreenFacts. Unesco has some information and there are presentations and documents of all shapes and sizes about the report on the IAASTD's Press Materials page.

Meanwhile, an interesting study of wine-drinking concludes that expensive wines do not bring more pleasure to drinkers unless they know what the price tag says. Although it concedes that educated palates do not find a negative correlation between wine and costliness, this overall trend - that expensive wine is actually less enjoyable if you don't know what it costs - was revealed after more than 6,000 blind tastings were analysed by the American Association of Wine Economists.

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GM labelling in Canada - you can do something!

Canada stands with other GM producing nations (like the US) in refusing to require labelling of GM foods (currently it's voluntary) but also trying to force non-GM enthusiasts into allowing GM products into their markets.

It's a hugely complicated matter, as North America has already travelled so far down the GM road; it can be hard to say what is and is not GM any more. As previously discussed here, more than 90% of Canada's canola crop is deliberately or accidentally now genetically modified. There is no way to prevent contamination of most non-GM crops once their GM neighbours are out there in our fields.

But, happily, GM crop contaminated pollen may not be the only thing on the Canadian wind this spring. Canadians should sharpen their writing utensils and dash off letters to their MPs right this minute, since Bill C-517 is on the table now, this very week. This bill, introduced by Bloc Québecois MP Gilles-A. Perron, calls for mandatory labelling of GM products; the last attempt to pass this legislation in 2001 was defeated in parliament.

Without labelling of GM products, Canadians cannot know for sure what they are eating, and it is worth remembering that GM foods have not been proven safe for long term human consumption; they are also banned from use in Canadian organic food production (but how would an organic producer know, without labelling?). Worth a try, it seems to me.

For more info and how to get your oar in, see the info on the Greenpeace website.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hasta luego London

A flash farewell to London left me time only for a sprint to the Tate, where the trees are quite shockingly beautiful,

and Peter Doig's show was in its best points big and beautiful, particularly, for me, the landscapes and snows that drew on his years in Canada.

A nice box of crayfish salad on a pretty tasty lump of lentils from the Tate's cafeteria gave me the strength to press on.

And a last lovely lunch on Tuesday at La Trompette gave us goujons of lemon sole with a gorgeous tartare sauce

and seared loin of tuna with green bean and caper vinaigrette, tapenade, sauce vierge and quail's eggs in darling little panko jackets

followed by red mullet with shrimp and herb risotto, grilled fennel and bok choy

and glazed shoulder of lamb with chickpeas, aubergine and cumin, pine nuts and panisses

finishing with iced yuzu parfait with mango sorbet and passion fruit,

and (super-yum!!) crème brûlée with rhubarb and ginger compote and warm pistachio madeleines.

Then it was time to take to the skies, waving goodbye to the O2

and hello to Baffin Island. Not quite as cold in Victoria, but not all that warm either, so I haven't missed spring here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

London, briefly

The workshop ended on Friday, after a few more mouthfuls of food and poetry. We had readings several evenings during the week, the first from Tammy who read some of her travel poems; then a reading by all of us; then a reading of poems by others that we wanted to share, which included a few more Elizabeth Bishop poems, including The Moose. I read Maxine Kumin's Custodian, David Cavanagh's Montreal Blues, and Carolyn Forche's For the Stranger.

Thursday lunch featured some of the most exquisite sausages, made by the local butcher (whose shop is, as you might have guessed, the location of the village post office).

On Thursday night, some more of those clever little squiddy things - this time stuffed with meat and cooked in tomato sauce - and a school of big happy sea bass swam our way, with a lucious veggie dish featuring aubergines, peppers and potatoes in a tomato sauce.

One of our number celebrated her fiftieth birthday that night, and there was cake - an ethereal tiramisu that I suspect made all but the celebrant wish it was our birthday too.

On Friday, there were more fab salads and tuna pastries

and a finale dinner of chicken and aubergine and zucchini and some potatoes in cream, followed by fresh fruit with warm custard.

Our last morning was a surprise as those of us who had not already left for the airport before 7.30 am were awakened by drums and flutes and some harmonious singing as the village wound its way to the church, pausing to sing to the saints on the wall plaques on the houses. As we had a plaque, we got a lovely serenade, which receded up the street. The event - the Mare de Deu d'Abril - marks the miraculous end of drought in the village in 1711.

And then before we knew it it was time to leave. A long but mercifully uneventful day hanging about Alicante airport, lunching on more noodle soup

and a bit of tuna

and one last flan,

and then up and away and back to a freshly scrubbed London where the rain had eased off by arrival time. Now readying myself for the journey back to Canada on Wednesday.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Questions of too much food

The week to date has been a blur of eating, drinking, reading, writing, talking, eating, drinking and so on. It's been productive writing time for me, though I feel like every hour is filled, and manage to write only late at night when the muse is just about to fall asleep. We have had a couple of good brisk walks, including one yesterday to our lunch that was two hours there and two hours back. But we are all sensing that even a four hour daily walk might not be enough to counteract the scale of consumption.

Tammy is leading us to consider, poetically, questions of travel. We've spent a lot of time with the delightful book by Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel, and more with the likes of Elizabeth Bishop, whose Arrival at Santos kicked us off, and whose Questions of Travel have given us both the name of the course and a lot of food for thought.

Not as much food as Marisa has been offering, of course - her Valencian suppers are stupendous, and her lunch salads a little too inviting, particularly when augmented with fluffy tortilla or tuna pastries.

Tuesday morning's session was in the orange grove,

with the penetrating perfume of orange blossom and constant buzz of bees, surrounded by lush globes of fruit whose juice we have been consuming at all hours of the day. As we left we discovered almond picking, a recreation I have been obsessively enjoying for two days straight, its rewards exquisite as we discovered on our mountain walk, when a pause and a couple of flat rocks coincided well with a pocketful of booty.

Yesterday was the mid-session break, and we began it with a private view of Relleu's museum, full of interesting and artfully arranged ethnological treasures to do with the history and traditions of the area: old bee-keeping equipment

caught my attention, and some beautiful wooden garden tools.

After our epic walk,

our lunch was a fabulous Paella Valenciana

in the village of Sella,

and we ate so much - including starters of croquetas (bacalau - salt cod, but very understated), champignons and a deliciously simple salad of lettuce, onions and tomatoes in lemon and olive oil - that we all felt the need to walk it off by returning over the mountain,

instead of catching the offered lift back. It rained and shone and gave us wonderful views over the terraced hills, through olive and almond groves, our path formidably bordered by wild flowers.

After a short rest, supper was at a tapas bar in Relleu, where we had some boquerones (but these ones were not anchovies, they told me sadly),

squid rings, pork and liver, some small squid-like/octopus-like critters, tortilla, ribs, bread, anchovy-stuffed olives, and an absurdly delicious coconut flan

(flan is the Spanish version of creme caramel, and it's wonderful) followed by what I'd say is my favourite coffee in the world, cafe cortado, the slightly bigger and bolder Spanish first cousin to caffe macchiato, my other favourite coffee in the world.

And then made our way (phew, downhill) back home.

We are into our final couple of days here, which I've found very useful and pleasant, and of course extremely well catered. I just hope el Cheapo airline does not weigh its passengers for the return journey this weekend...