The end of civilization will be Grāpe® flavoured.

The Clean Bin movie was great. Well attended, and a well-shot and entertaining movie with surprisingly high production value and humour. The filmmakers were friendly and engaging, and had a nice Q&A session after. It was a good evening.

A few people wondered how the film topic (reducing trash) meshed with the food security ideals of a local Farmers Market. In the film the link became obvious. Through trying to reduce excess and non-recyclable packaging, the filmmakers ended up buying more food at the local Farmers Market, while being exacerbated by trying to purchase food at the local SupraMarket without packaging. They also found themselves eating better and saving money, as whole foods replaced processed food in their diet.

Which brought me to think about a book I read a few years ago, ”The End of Food” by Thomas Pawlick. The book begins with his description of the modern tomato, closer to a tennis ball than it is to the tomato that previous generations loved. Due to selective breeding for characteristics like shelf life, durability for shipping, predictable ripening time, and size, the consumer tomato has undergone evolutionary change. Unfortunately, flavour and nutrition are not two things that are selectively bred towards. Therefore, tomatoes are puffed-up, bland, tough, nasty brutes compared to the Tomatoes of our parent’s youth. Worse, according to the USDA’s own reports, the modern tomato contains significantly less vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, potassium and protein than they did 50 years ago. They do, however have 65% more fat, and more than twice as much sodium as they did in the 1960s.

There is no doubt that factory food production and delivery has made more kinds of food available to more people. Unfortunately, the actual food is commonly less healthful than it once was.

That said, I am not a big believer in the “organic food” movement. The term “organic” is so fuzzy as to be meaningless, and too often people shut off their critical thinking and assume “organic” means it is good for you or more ethical, in the same way we have (still do?) with “whole grain” or “Fat Free”. If there is any diet idea I can agree with, it is Michael Pollen’s “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. As such, I spend most of my time in the grocery store around the outside walls, where the veggies, meat, and other food is, and away from those inner aisles where the food-inventions in boxes-in-foil and foil-in-boxes are shelved. As long as we have produce, we won’t starve.

Until I saw the Grapple® at my local Cave-in Foods. There, in the fruit section, between BC and Washington state apples of various variety, is a plastic-packaged 4-pack of apples. Intrigued by the wasteful packaging choice, I was horrified to read what the product really was.

An artificially flavoured apple…

Apples are, hands down, my favourite food. I eat one every day if I have access. Hate apple juice, like apple pie, can give or take dried apples, but absolutely love a fresh, crisp apple. Granny Smith (when crisp), Macintosh (when you can get them from the fruitstand in Keremeos) or Fuji are my favourites. It never occurred to me that impregnating an apple with artificial grape flavour would be an improvement.

Don’t get me wrong: I like grapes. Grapes are great in all their forms, except the form of an apple, a banana, a grapefruit.. any other form of fruit.

Artificial Grape Flavour is great for getting children to take cough medicine, but an asinine way to get a kid to eat an apple. It is like mixing single malt scotch with Grape Tang, I don’t care if you like it better that way, it is wrong to the core.

What does this say about our society? That we add artificial flavour to fruit in the produce section? Or that people are actually shelling out $5 for a plastic-clamshell 4-pack of apples with artificial flavour when they can get 6 apples and a pound of grapes for $5?

I wept for mankind.

On Farmers Markets and Clean Bins

The Royal City Farmers Market is one of the Jewels in the crown of the revitalized Royal City, and it is just the kind of grass-roots community building organization that the NWEP exists to support. The RCFM has grown and prospered to such a scale that it hardly resembles the nascent organization that appeared only a couple of years ago. Current RCFM President Andrew Murray and a core team of volunteers and staff have made the Market a weekly ritual for Queens Park, Downtown and Brow residents, while attracting customers and hangers-on from Sapperton the West End, and other parts of the City.

The introduction of monthly indoor Winter Markets last year was rewarded with great crowds, as the combination of preserves, prepared foods, crafts made up for the lack of variety of farm-fresh local veggies and fruit we are used to in the summer.

Last year’s Fundraiser at the Heritage Grill was most memorable for the apologies the staff and volunteers were handing out for the overwhelming response. The place was so crowded, that it took longer than usual to get drinks or the meals prepared. But no-one was complaining as the music and the company were great, as was the charity auction.

This year, the RCFM folks have decided to spice up their Societies-Act -mandated Annual General Meeting with a screening of the film “The Clean Bin Project”. I haven’t seen the film, but am aware of the filmmakers and their project to go without producing waste for one year, as the Glenbrook North Zero Waste Challenge folks were all over the story.

Apparently the movie is inspirational and refreshing in that the do-gooders in the central role don’t take themselves to seriously, or even try to suggest this is a viable option for most people. It is just intended to be an eye-opener to a subject that we all take for granted:

The Clean Bin Project – Trailer from Grant Baldwin Videography on Vimeo.

So, go to the RCFM AGM, and see what a dedicated group of community activists can create.

See the Clean Bin Movie screening, and see what a couple of dedicated local activists can achieve.

Support the next RCFM Winter Market, on February 12th.

Force of Nature Review

I am not a movie reviewer (I think Machete might be the best movie I saw in 2010, but I was real tired at the time), but here goes.

The movie was, much like its subject, interesting as much for its flaws as its message.

The film combined footage from Suzuki’s “Legacy Lecture” tour stop in Vancouver with biographical vignettes, which blended archival photos and film with footage of Suzuki visiting those places most important in his 75-year life.

And it is interesting to see the things that influenced his development into the Icon we all recognize. He begins with the bombing of Pearl Harbour when he was 5, which he describes as the pivotal moment in his life, as it set the course of his 1942 internment, his 1946 relocation across the Rockies, and his growing up as an outsider in a small Ontario town, and the complex relationship with his home that he in part inherited from his father. He discusses his introduction to research science, benefiting from the “Sputnik Moment” recently referenced in Obama’s State of the Union address (and hilariously bungled in Sarah Palin’s rebuttal), and he eventual disillusionment with research while immersed in the counter-culture of late 1960 Vancouver. We see his introduction to broadcasting, and his discovery of the huge range his voice could have, and how he leveraged this into activism, most notably in the preservation of pristine watersheds in the Haida Gwaii.

It is an interesting journey, and he has had a remarkable life. But there is no attempt here to sugar coat his history, or his person. His dedication to research and inability to give his wife and children the attention they needed cost him a marriage. The film also didn’t shy away from showing the now silly-looking pot-philosophy trip he was groovin’ in the 60s. To a scientist, his arguments around the responsibility of research scientists in a world where all science shares ideas and one could not control how one’s research is used are intellectually weak. It also seems to be an argument that belies his current ideas about how we need, as a species, to learn. But few of us would like to be judged by the ideas we formulated in our 20s while under the influence of premium Mexican sensimilla.

Which brings me to one of the problems I have always had with Suzuki as a spokesperson for science. He too often gets his science mixed up with his spirituality. He does this here again with his blending of the real science of the Big Bang (which he irritatingly calls an “explosion”, when it is nothing of the sort) and the formation of matter with “love” as an attractive force on par with gravity. Philosophers can use science, and scientists can have philosophies, but muddying them up like that in the guise of science education does a disservice to both, and unfairly lumps too much pseudo-science in with true insight.

The same complaints cannot be used when he talks about sustainability, though. His message is not in the least bit muddied there. We are using resources faster then they can be replaced, and we are the last generation that will (for example) have a Bluefin Tuna Auction. Humans do not exist outside of, or apart from, the environment, we are immersed in it so intimately that the exhaust from our cars goes into our lungs and mixes with our cells. We become the exhaust from our cars, the neurotoxins in our pesticides, the plastic in our seas.

The filmmakers made some interesting choices. They didn’t interview anyone about Suzuki, other than Suzuki (with the sole exception of a 10-second sound bite from his current wife). Some of the people around him are completely absent, including his “best friend” (who is briefly mentioned but not seen), or his political allies and detractors. This sometimes gives it the vibe of a vanity project, and does little to dispel the common idea that Suzuki suffers from in inflated self-image, They also insisted on using a strange fast-zoom-in technique, presumably to create emphasis that may have been lacking from Suzuki’s relatively unexpressive visage during an important part of a discussion, or maybe it was to try to make him look like Batman. Regardless, it was distracting at first, irritating the 20th time.

Overall, the movie was effective. Suzuki is an interesting character, whose flaws as a person or as a scientist do not take away from the essential truth of his message: the planet has limited carrying capacity, and the way we measure value in our economy is not the way we measure value in our lives. It is this disconnect on the definition of “value” that is resulting in the destruction of the very biosphere that sustains us.