Author forages in McLeese Lake. Photo: LeRae Haynes
Author forages in McLeese Lake. Photo: LeRae Haynes

 

By Christina Mustard –

We’ve all been affected by the increase in produce prices in British Columbia. From January 2015 to January 2016, the cost of fresh vegetables in BC rose 26 per cent, compared with only a 4.6 per cent increase for food in general, because most vegetables are imported from the US against a low Canadian dollar. When the most nutritious foods become prohibitively expensive, choosing natural and healthy options becomes impossible for those already struggling to provide food for their families.

More than 12 per cent of Canadians live in a state of food insecurity, lacking access to adequate amounts of safe and healthy food. It’s misleading to picture emaciated children in developing countries; that’s not what food insecurity looks like in North America. Here, where processed food products are cheap and abundant, the effect of our inability to afford nutritious food is not starvation, but obesity and diabetes. More than a third of Canadians are overweight and another quarter obese. It’s not that we’re not getting enough to eat; it’s that not enough of what we’re eating is food.

Follow me on this. The price of organic meat and produce reflect the “true” cost of food production, because the cost of non-organic foods is kept artificially low with the use of chemicals, pesticides, and practices that this article won’t cover in detail. Let’s say, then, that the cost of organic food is the true cost of food, and that if you can’t afford organic meat and produce every day, then you can’t afford food. Think about what that means.

Green onions, carrots, and radishes, "recycled" from kitchen scraps. Photo: Christa Mustard
Green onions, carrots, and radishes, “recycled” from kitchen scraps. Photo: Christa Mustard

I was furious to realize that as a hardworking, healthy adult in one of the world’s richest countries, with a full-time job and no family to support, I couldn’t afford food and probably never would. Luckily, I’m far too stubborn to sacrifice either cost or nutrition, so I’d like to share four of the easiest ways I’ve found for peasants to eat like royalty.

1. Forage. Many wild plants contain more vitamins, minerals, and protein than commercial produce. I’ve lived on wild mustard, dock, and stinging nettles across Canada. Here in the Cariboo, I’ve gathered and eaten dandelion, lamb’s quarters, pineapple weed, and peppergrass so far this spring. I would love to hear your success stories or share my recipes.

2. Recycle your food into more food. You can regrow most vegetables by throwing the scrap ends that you’re not going to eat anyway into a bucket of dirt on your windowsill. Unfortunately, you can’t regrow a steak (I’ve tried), but here’s what I have successfully regrown:

  • Green onions, chives: Cut off the bottoms an inch from the root and plant root-down. Once the tops start growing, you can start eating them and they’ll just keep growing. I once ate the same bunch of green onions for almost six years.
  • Potatoes: Cut off eyes and plant eye-up. The eyes will shoot up into vines, and you’ll get little tiny potatoes to dig up.
  • Celery, bok choy, lettuce: Cut off the crown an inch from the base and plant base-down. New leaves will start growing from between the old ones as the old base shrivels up.
  • Turnips, beets, radishes, carrots: Cut off the tops and plant green-up. The roots won’t grow back into what you’d recognize as a vegetable, but the nutritious greens will.

3. Get more value out of food by using all of the edible parts.

  • Do you peel your carrots or apples? Most of the nutrients are in the skin. If you absolutely must (to appease picky eaters, for example), you can save the carrot peels for soup, or bake the apple peels with some cinnamon for a dessert.
  • Broccoli, radishes, turnips, and others have very nutritious leaves that can be chopped finely into any dish for colour or added to your breakfast smoothie for protein.
  • Squash “guts” may look unappetizing, but they’re delicious and completely edible with a light, crispy texture once cooked. Try baking them together with the seeds.

4. When you do shop, choose to invest in good food. We know the $15 it takes to satisfy our appetite tastes better than the $15 it takes to satisfy our daily nutritional requirements, but consider buying smaller amounts of whole foods rather than larger amounts of processed, chemically treated groceries. Dark leafy greens like kale, arugula, and bok choy are among the best sources of protein, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, fibre, and other nutrients. A bunch of local, organic spinach from a farmers’ market contains more vitamins, minerals, and protein than most processed foods for the same price.

I know this way of life sounds a little strange and anachronistic, like your grandparents’ Depression-era stories or the history of early Canadian settlers. However, the fact that you are here means it works. And they survived hard times without causing an obesity epidemic.

 

Christa Mustard is a nomadic advocate for a subsistence-level peasant lifestyle. She’s passionate about foraging, recycling, and the barter system, and will welcome any comments you’d like to send to christa.mustard@gmail.com.

 

 

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