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What is one thing that your mom’s pantry always has?  

We smiled as many shared reminiscently about childhood pantries filled with boxes of fruit roll-ups, packaged dinners, pre-made convenience foods that we all knew.  I thought of the bright yellow powdered chicken stock, dotted with green flecks of something (some dried herb perhaps), that my mom always had.  “It adds umami,” she’d always say, in Chinese.

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Harvest News

It seems that our days are filled with bright colours.  We harvested some intensely red Raxe radishes this week.

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Life is full of hello’s and goodbye’s.  We said hello to bush beans–a humble but nonetheless happy first harvest.  And we said goodbye to beets–we sowed the last beet seeds of the season, a variety called Winter’s Keeper (its name tells much).  Though it will still be a while before we get to harvest and enjoy those baby beets, we were reminded of how fast the season is moving.  Not much more planting to do…

"Hello beans, Goodbye beets," says Hanne.

“Hello beans, Goodbye beets,” says Hanne.

Hands

Hanne, Alicia, and I filled in gaps in the beet beds by hand.  Red Ace, Chioggia, Winter’s Keeper.  Some of the beet seeds from the original planting didn’t germinate; we get to help them out a bit with some new seeds!  First, we mark out planting lines with trowels.  We then drop seeds about an inch apart in the gaps.  Finally, we go back down the row and cover with soil, hands in a pinching motion.

Head

This week we had a unexpected heat wave.  At the end of the day Wednesday, the digital sign across from Van Tech showed that it was 31°C!  It was definitely a battle working in the intense sun.

Having a big group of people to work with makes a huge difference.  On Tuesday afternoon the volunteer crew was larger than usual, and I felt so much more motivated to work!  It’s amazing how many hands can spur each other on.

Come, join us! We can make silly faces together.

Come, join us! We can make silly faces together.

(We’d love to have your hands in the mix too!  Group volunteer sessions are a fun and refreshing way for community building and team bonding.  Bring the office crew, bring the high school reunion, bring the family!  Weeding is a blast when sprinkled with stories and conversation.  And if you’re good, we might even let you use the wheelbarrow, or take a break on the burlap!)

Ahhh... burlap... so soft and comfy...

Ahhh… burlap… so soft and comfy…

Heart

During Monday’s Community Eats, our conversation wandered unto the topic of food “narratives”.  (Thanks, Ilana, for pinpointing this phenomenon; and Marc, for suggesting that I blog about this!)

What is one thing that your mom’s pantry always has?  

We smiled as many shared reminiscently about childhood pantries filled with boxes of fruit roll-ups, packaged dinners, pre-made convenience foods that we all knew.  I thought of the bright yellow powdered chicken stock, dotted with green flecks of something (some dried herb perhaps), that my mom always had.  “It adds umami,” she’d always say, in Chinese.

Now, we were sitting and eating together as a community of people passionate about wholesome, local, clean, sustainably-grown food.  It’s intriguing how our narratives change over time, with learning, experiences, and people we meet.

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“My mom calls me every time she buys something organic.”

Marc’s mom seems to know what her son values in his food, and is genuinely excited to share a moment of connection with him through it.

When I show my family the loaves of organic, sprouted grain bread that I bought on sale on my way home, one of my family members comments, “It meets all of Jenny’s expectations: healthy, organic, affordable…”

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What is the narrative that runs through our heads about what we eat?  what we should/shouldn’t eat?  How does that narrative evolve and change?

Dietary trends, cultural traditions, socialization… there is so much that feeds into each of our Food Narratives.  Granted, this is an extremely expansive topic.  I will share just a few reflections it has inspired.

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To what extent does the food narrative that we weave for ourselves become a part of our identity?

How others know us, how we know ourselves.

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I currently identity as “vegetarian, bordering vegan”.  Others may identify as gluten-free, flexitarian, meat-lover, raw vegan, and (probably my favourite to say) ovo-lacto-vegetarian, etc.

Some families only purchase organic foods, some shop at farmer’s markets, some at Costco, others at the produce store down the street.

Many in Vancouver love and revere the mighty Kale–in smoothies, in salads, as chips; others (like my grandparents) dislike it, one reason being its tough texture–why so much work chewing??

Even as a nation, one of our defining symbols is a food: maple syrup.

Whatever the scale is–individual, family, city, nation–how much and in what ways do we allow our food narrative to define us?

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On my way home from the farm on Monday, I was thinking about the salad I’d make for my dinner.  Kale, arugula, ruby streaks, turnips, beets, lentils…yum.  Having waited for the bus for half an hour, I was going to miss having dinner with everyone.  When I get home, however, my menu plan has involuntarily changed.  Not only had my grandparents saved food for me, they also made an additional tofu stir-fry, just for me, the vegetarian.

The ruby streaks I’d planned to have were on the table too!  Only… they were stir-fried… (We Chinese like to stir-fry everything.)

The salad purist in me laments the “waste” of the tender-leafed mustards.  Stir-fried, the greens are a lot tougher than they are raw.  But something deeper, and perhaps wiser, in me has a different thought.  How much of a gift and privilege it is to come home to dinner, ready-made and waiting for me in a covered pot, kept warm.  That my grandma would wrack her brain trying to think of how to make sure I “got enough protein” as a vegetarian.

Oh, but the abundance of plant-based proteins!  And, oh, those poor ruby streaks, thrown into the hot pan, wilted!  Sometimes I tell my family that I can take care of my own meals, not wanting to burden them with having to worry about it.  But also, to keep what I think to be my Food Identity strong and intact, under my control.  I think briefly of how I often feel the urge to make personal salads when I’m stressed (weird, I know, but true).  A sort of (food) identity-assertion.

My grandparents

My grandparents

I think of how my small experience is a reflection of some of the tensions that exist on a grander scale in regional and global food systems.  We all have different views on food: how to grow food, how to prepare and eat food, how to set standards for what we buy.

Many in the younger generations seem to have broken away from older ways of eating, exploring and establishing new food ways.  Such terms as healthnut, hippie, rawtarian, and even Vancouverite provide some illustration.

How does this impact the connectivity of food between generations?  Of tradition, and heritage, and the passing down of family recipes?

Are we defined by our food?  Or our food by us?

Food as identity.  Is it shared?  Does it bring communities together?  Does it create divisions? Exclusivity? Unfair judgments based on what one buys/eats?  Are lines drawn by age or culture?

While it is inspiring to meet a person who holds solidly true to their beliefs about food, it can also be somewhat intimidating or segregating.  While shared food narratives can strengthen a community’s bonds, it can also narrow the same community’s scope on other ways of understanding food, and of other communities.

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Rigidity and fluidity.  Boundary lines and bridges.

Questions, of messy and complex topics.

Learning to see, appreciate, receive and reciprocate the subtleties of criss-crossing, sometimes head-butting ideologies and approaches to nourishment.

It is ever a dance.

Of advocating for ways that we think make the food system more sustainable, of recognizing different but perhaps not incompatible cultural values/knowledge, of working together for a shared future.

Of tofu and meat.  Of fond memories of mom’s powdered yellow chicken stock, and new recipes with powdered yellow nutritional yeast.

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Delicious Hollyhock nutritional yeast dressing, made by SOYL 2 for Community Eats

It is ever a dance.

Of priorities and intentions, expressions of love and care.

A dance of life that touches and brings together,

Gathers odds and ends from all the various poles of meaning and creation–a co-creation

Of a better world, a cleaner world, and world that learns more of how to listen.

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What is your Food Narrative?  And how will you tell it?

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