Wow, I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since I last posted anything on this blog. It’s been insanely busy at Casa Nostra, which is what it should be in the last few months before finishing a dissertation. I finished the last of my marking at the end of April, beginning of May. Since then I have applied for a post-doc, have got back to working on my dissertation, and have been finishing a paper for the CHA conference in Montreal at the end of the month. I’m also really excited about participating of THATCamp Toronto in a few weeks. The little time I have on weekends, I spend with Alan cycling, walking, enjoying the sunshine and cooking. I’m also planning to move this site to my own host and organizing the space a bit better. Categories and Tags are a total mess so once I move the site, I’ll need to tackle those. This might become a post-dissertation project though. Meanwhile, I’m trying to balance not letting the dissertation take over completely with actually getting it done. And it’s spring in Toronto, temperatures are up, I’m back on my bike, and the farmers’ markets are back in full swing. Life is good. I leave you with this very cool idea:


Slow life for slow food?

I apologize in advance. This post will probably come out a bit on the rambling side. I’m currently reading Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini. I was reading the book when I was at Camros last Friday and the cover caught the eye of another customer, a woman who turned to me as I was leaving and half jokingly said “you need a slow life to be able to eat slow food.” All I was able to say then was “not really.” I could also have said, “but you are having slow food right now”. I could have tried to define it better. I could have blurted out what Petrini means by slow food – food that is good (healthful and delicious), clean (produced in sustainable ways), and fair (for both consumers and producers). In other words, rediscovering real food. But the comment got me thinking of a common misconception about food. That cooking and eating better food is somehow restricted to those who have time and money. Depending of the context, this assessment is not completely off the mark. In Food Inc, Robert Kenner follows a working class latino family in the US that has to rely on fast food of the worst quality to be able to make do with the little they have. We follow them into a grocery store where one of the children is denied a request for fruits because they cost too much. They buy soft drinks instead. None of it is done out of ignorance. The father is ill with diabetes, the mother knows that their diet might have been the cause but she feels powerless to change. They feel that fresh fruits and home cooked meals are out of their reach. Sensitive to the plight of families like that, victims of the large subsidies that benefit the fast food industry, some organizations began to call for the creation of urban vegetable gardens in particularly vulnerable neighbourhoods. I’ve recently heard of one such group in California that will plant a vegetable garden in someone’s backyard, providing all the tools and training in the first year for a family to grow their own vegetables. They start out with vegetables that are easy to grow and need little care and eventually the family becomes responsible for the garden.

But although there are many issues regarding access of real food in North America and increasingly in other parts of the industrialized world, most of the people I hear making the argument that they have neither time nor money to be able to eat better are middle class, often young professionals. People like the woman at Camros. And before I go on a rant on how it isn’t true, that I can do it on my student income, and that I have no time either, and that most of the meals I make are made from scratch in less the half an hour, I just wanted to reflect on what statements such as “you need a slow life to eat slow food” can tell us about how far we have come from our roots.

One of the saddest effects of the popularization of fast food and the aggressive marketing of industrialized food as more convenient is how quickly the average person has lost touch with real food – i.e. the whole ingredients that make any food culture – but also the basic skills to transform those whole ingredients into a meal. Despite the recent success of cooking shows, making a meal from scratch is now considered a feat reserved to particularly talented individuals. That’s sad. Particularly when cooking simple meals can be a lifesaver, particularly among those who have to eat on a budget. Yes, because bulk food such as rice, beans, cornmeal, seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as other grains and legumes, are not the staples around the world for no reason – no only are they healthful but also cheap. Processed food is “value-added food”, i.e. not as cheap as it may seem. For the price of a McDonald’s meal – and also the time that it would take us to walk out, order, sit, and eat the meal – I can make enough rice with lentils to feed Alan and I for at least 2 meals, possibly more. That’s why I find programs like The Edible Schoolyard so important. It teaches kids life-saving skills. Being able to not only grow your own food if need be but also how to use simple ingredients to feed yourself is a crucial skill. It will mean that they won’t have to choose food that they know is making their families sick just because they can’t see another option.

On the relationship between hunger & obesity, see this article from the NYT from today, March 15th.

Discovering new cafes

I love spending time in cafes. There’s something about the smell of roasted beans and the hustle and bustle of a good cafe that makes me feel at home. Every saturday Alan and I go to either Louie’s at Kensington Market or Manic Coffee. We never fail to meet interesting people in both places and love it they although we only go there once a week, the staff knows what we like and we know them by name. Although I enjoy going back to my favourite places, I also particularly enjoy discovering new places so every once in a while we’ll check out a new cafe. Yesterday we ended up at Te Aro, a new place in Leslieville, at the recommendation of Thiago, the Brazilian barista that used to work at La Merceria (Sam James, one of the most famous baristas in Toronto told us to go check out Thiago’s work at La Merceria) and who now is learning roasting at Te Aro. If you are around Leslieville, you should definitely check it out! Click on the picture below to see a slideshow. And in addition to the official site linked above, check out Te Aro’s own blog.

Te Aro (5)

Having fun with film

I have recently started playing with my film cameras again and decided to do some cross processing. The idea is to shoot a particular kind of film and have it developed using the process for developing a very different kind of film. The most common option is to use slide film and have it developed normally – i.e. as colour negative film. This is what I did. The results can be quite unpredictable – colours are usually hard to predict and it can be quite fun. This is what I got from my first roll (click on the picture to see slideshow):



The terrible tragedy of the earthquake that hit Haiti has touched us all, all over the world and people everywhere is donating the little they have or volunteering to help. The disaster hit very close to home for me. My younger brother has been in Haiti as part of the UN peacekeeping force since last summer and was scheduled to go back to Brazil this past weekend. After the earthquake hit, we didn’t hear from him for over 12 hours. Something deep inside assured me he was ok and I was relieved to hear from his wife that he had called and assured he was safe and sound. But it was only on Friday that I was able to talk to him on skype and hear from him what happened. That’s when he told me that the building where he lived collapsed. It was a three-story building and he was on the second floor, walking along a hallway when everything started shaking. He ran to the stairs but they collapsed in front of him. He saw a door open, ran through it, saw a balcony and jumped without thinking. He hit the ground at the same time as the rest of the building. He didn’t have a scratch on him but the ordeal had only began. The ground continued to shake for hours afterward. Tsunami alerts were issued and he felt they were all going to die since they were near shore and had nowhere to go. There was also the issue of all those who were not so lucky and remained trapped under the rubble. For the next seven hours he and others talked to one of his close friends, who had been on the ground floor and was now trapped under the building. They were finally able to get him out alive, but he died as soon as they took him out. He was a close friend and my brother is still shaken up by it. He is scheduled to go back to Brazil in the next couple of weeks, but meanwhile he helps in any way he can. During the past two days his unit has distributed 55 tons of water and food. They have also managed to get about 60 people from the rubble and have been busy collecting and burying bodies. He says there are still many people alive under collapsed buildings. They can hear people asking for help. And that’s the most difficult part. Seeing someone asking for help and not being able to help everybody. At least he will be able to go home. Others are not so lucky.

This is where my brother lived:

My brother, celebrating Christmas with some of the locals that work at his base:

The building after the earthquake:

Here in Canada, the disaster has affected many. The Haitian community in Canada is quite large and our own Governor General is from Haiti and still has many family and friends in the place. Her televised announcement is heartbreaking. And she is right. This is not about her, or me, or my brother. This is about the people of Haiti. My heart goes out to them.