The Omnivore’s Dilemma changed how I think about food.
Until reading the now classic 2006 tome by Michael Pollan, I never noticed the extreme lack of diversity in the modern North American diet due to its evolution since World War II. Events have since conspired to show me the extent that corn, dairy and wheat join salt and sugar to form a significant part of a Canadian diet too. Often we think we are eating one thing and it turns out that we are actually eating something else.
The industrialization of our food system has separated us from natural systems while hurting our health, our planet and our soil. Despite that understanding, reversing the habit has been an ongoing struggle. As Pollan points out in his conclusion, everything in our culture encourages us to rely on the convenient, unemotional and often unrecognizable food-like products offered in bulk by giant industrial companies.
For countless generations eating was something that took place in the steadying context of a family and a culture, where the full consciousness of what was involved did not need to be rehearsed at every meal because it was stored away, like the good silver, in a set of rituals and habits, manners and recipes. I wonder if it isn’t because so much of that context has been lost that I felt the need, this one time, to start again from scratch.” (p 411)
For Pollan, starting again from scratch meant travelling across America to discover the basic ingredients within four meals: a McDonald’ meal eaten in a fast car, a Whole Foods organic dinner, a Polyface Farm meal, and a foraged meal. Pollan takes readers along with him, detailing every element in each meal from start to finish. He brings us with him into industrial food operations, to small and large farms, and into the forest in search of mushrooms and big game to hunt.
In between the descriptions of places and people, Pollan carefully outlines every element within every meal. Often, many of these elements turn out to have the same source.
In his description of his McDonald’s meal, for instance, he described how three people chose 45 different products almost totally made of corn.
It would not be impossible to calculate exactly how much corn Judith, Isaac, and I consumed in our McDonald’s meal. I figure my 4-ounce burger, for instance, represents nearly 2 pounds of corn (based on a cow’s feed conversion rate of 7 pounds for every 1 pound of gain, half of which is edible meat). The nuggets are a little harder to translate into corn, since there’s no telling how much actual chicken goes into a nugget; but if 6 nuggets contain a quarter pound of meat, that would have taken a chicken half a pound of feed corn to grow. A 32-ounce soda contains 86 grams of high-fructose corn syrup (as does a double-thick shake), which can be refined from a third of a pound of corn; so our 3 drinks used another pound. Subtotal: 6 pounds of corn.” (p115)
The Omnivore’s Dilemma also contains a great deal of information about how many societal norms and regulations have radically transformed when it comes to food. Often these changes were due to marketing by various members of the agricultural industry.
Back in the fifties, when the USDA routinely compared the nutritional quality of produce from region to region, it found striking differences: carrots grown in the deep soils of Michigan, for example, commonly had more vitamins than carrots grown in the thin, sandy soils of Florida,” wrote Pollan, on page 178. “Naturally this information discomfited the carrot growers of Florida, which probably explains why the USDA no longer conducts this sort of research. Nowadays U.S. agricultural policy, like the Declaration of Independence, is founded on the principle that all carrots are created equal, even though there’s good reason to believe this isn’t really true.”
In other places, Pollan speculates about the extent that changes to our food system might be creating problems with our health.
One of the most important yet unnoticed changes to the human diet in modern times has been in the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6, the other essential fatty acid in our food. Omega-6 is produced in the seeds of plants; omega-3 in the leaves. As the name indicates, both kinds of fat are essential, but problems arise when they fall out of balance. (In fact, there’s research to suggest that the ratio of these fats in our diet may be more important than the amounts.) Too high a radio of omega-6 to omega-3 can contribute to heart disease, probably because omega-6 helps blood clot, while omega-3 helps it flow. (Omega-6 is an inflammatory; omega-3 an anti-inflammatory.) As our diet—and the diet of the animals we eat—shifted from one based on green plants to one based on grain (from grass to corn), the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 has gone from roughly one to one (in the diet of hunter-gatherers) to more than ten to one.” (p268)
Despite multiple examples of dense information, the overall impression a reader has of Omnivore’s Dilemma is an exploration of America through its food and communities. Pollan aptly outlines his deep concern about deep problems in the food system while demonstrating how caring individuals can change how things are done.
Pollan has nicely captured the hurtful and healing attributes of America’s food system. Omnivore’s Dilemma remains a treasure and a great source of hope.
Reading it may force you to change the way you eat, the way you shop and the way you see your local community as it did for me.
To order the book, go to:
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission held hearings as part of a comprehensive review of mobile wireless services this week.
I was there to testify on behalf of SafeEMF, also known as EMF Off!
It did not go well.
Commissioners didn’t seem to understand why we want them to consider Canadian health as they regulate the operations of every telecommunications operator in the country. They seemed to think that someone else has that job.
I hope that they were just tired and hungry and that the final report will include measures to protect Canadian health after-all.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised at their disinterest.
Chairperson Ian Scott set up expectations at the beginning of deliberations. In part, he said:
Our objective is to ensure that the regulatory framework enables sustainable competition that provides better prices and innovative services for Canadians, as well as continued investments in high-quality networks across Canada.
The current framework for wholesale mobile wireless services was established in 2015. It requires Bell Mobility, Rogers and Telus to provide wholesale roaming services to competitors at rates set by the CRTC. This regime was to remain in place for a minimum of five years to allow for competition to develop sustainably.
Since then, the CRTC has updated the Wireless Code, taken steps to make lower-cost data only plans widely available to Canadians and finalized wholesale roaming rates – all in an effort to empower consumers and ensure the marketplace continues to meet their needs. We also made access to mobile wireless voice and Internet services part of the universal service objective.
We want Canadians to have access to world-class mobile wireless services, in terms of coverage, quality and price.
Between 2016 and 2018, wireless service providers have invested more than $7 billion in their networks to expand their reach and improve the quality of their service. According to our latest data, 99% of the population has access to LTE coverage, and 95% has access to LTE-A technology. We want to ensure that network investment continues so that the quality and speeds of Canada’s wireless networks are among the best in the world.
In terms of price, there has been progress. Mobile wireless rates decreased by an average of 28% between 2016 and 2018. We remain concerned, however, that these price decreases may not be keeping pace with what is transpiring in other jurisdictions, and we want to see a broader range of affordable options for consumers.
Unfortunately, commissioners didn’t seem to understand why they should care about human health in their efforts to “regulate and supervise broadcasting and telecommunications in the public interest” as they say on their website.
Ian Scott made it clear that they want to approve the 5G roll out as quickly as possible, when he said:
Our goal is to ensure that Canadians have access to a world-class communications system.
After watching submissions and seeing the questions commissioners asked throughout the week, I got the impression that the CRTC cares too much about innovation and has the rest of the possible elements of public interest.
Commissioners seem to be looking for a way to drop prices without regulating, although one commissioner definitely seemed to care a lot about access as well.
Those of us concerned about access, health and privacy were definitely in the minority during this hearing.
Last summer, I got to speak with two of my heroes, Miriam Goldberger and Paul Jenkins, the owners of Wildflower Farm because the couple were passing through Montreal and stopped to visit Grand Potager. We taped it for the Unapologetically Canadian podcast.
Also, Miriam brought me a copy of her extraordinary book, “taming wildflowers,” which I’m now using to figure out what to plant this summer with the coop.
Miriam and Paul are the innovators behind Eco-Lawn, a five-fescue lawn seed product that produces the greenest lawn that needs little mowing and even less water. It grows in sun and shade and pretty much every where that I’ve placed it.
So of course, we began our conversation with a discussion about how they came up with that product.
Paul [00:00:02] And at that time we knew nothing about long grass but somewhat arrogantly we went and collected the seed and tried growing it at our farm. And what we got as a result was exactly what you see in a bush. A little clump here and a little clump there a little come there. They didn’t knit to become a real lawn but with more research we found that number one these are fine fescues and fine fescues are actually native to everywhere in the northern hemisphere of the planet. And yet traditional lines Kentucky blue and all this other stuff, they’re not. They’re all from Europe. So. What we did is at that time as we ended up working with one of the world’s top seed breeders and all of that. Weirdly enough the entire line industry is really based in Oregon.
[00:00:54] Oh really. Or in Oregon. It’s cool and wet there all the time all the Kentucky blue all the perennial rye all the grasses, all the lawn grass seed is there.
[00:01:03] It’s all coming from there. So that’s where the top breeders are. So we’ve worked with Leah Broman.
[00:01:09] And she came up with a few different ideas and we tested them and this formula worked. We trialed it for three years at our farm and at other people’s places. I would call up friends and say “can I rip part of your backyard and try this, because you have shady sandy soil or you have these kind of conditions. And after three years we this works. So reintroduced it to the market at Canada Blooms in 1998 and this has gone ever since. And it’s all over North America now. Everywhere we go in North America, it doesn’t matter where, there are people—homeowners, businesses, municipalities—with Eco-Lawn because it works.
Miriam: What’s fascinating is that agronomists, the people who study growing and grains and the farming industry they know that fine fescues are really the best kept secret in the entire lawn industry because they perform so well and in sun and in shade and in deep shade and they don’t really need to be fertilized. They germinate fast but they grow slowly, all these different factors that if more people knew about it, the traditional shallow-rooted sod lawns would be basically out of business because they are basically chemical companies that are selling all the different chemicals that you need to support a high maintenance shallow rooted sod style lawn.
Paul: Which is where initially in Canada, and still somewhat in the United States, we get resistance from garden centers. They say they look at it and they think it’s cool but then, and we’ve been told this many times “it doesn’t support the chemical fertilizer product program.”
[00:02:58] Oh my God.
Paul: That’s where they make their money. They don’t make money selling grass seed. They make money selling you spring fertilizers, summer lawn care treatments for fertilizers, all that sort of stuff. And then the other factor from the production point of view is where the big companies Scotts and all that sort of stuff is. For the farmers who produce it, fine fescues produce less seed per acre than the other ones do. So therefore it’s more expensive because they’ve got to get the same money as if they were growing Kentucky blue or whatever they’re growing. That’s just the way the plant works. It makes less seeds.
Tracey [00:03:41] Yeah. 1998 was your first year of distributing and how has the business evolved since then? Can you just describe a little bit about the evolution of the business.
Paul [00:04:03] Well it just kept growing and growing. I mean initially, it was not a lot. We were selling a few pallots a year and then it’s grown and grown and grown every year. So it’s many many tractor trailers now. Now it’s nationwide in Canada. We are at our weakest in Quebec. Other than that we are in Home Hardware which operates under different names in Quebec but they are still part of the same group. People can buy it from Home Hardware throughout the country and here in Quebec.
Miriam[00:04:38] It’s been a really interesting process over the many years trying different venues and different approaches and different populations.
[00:04:47] The thing is, in North America people are strangely passionate about lawns.
Tracey: They are really passionate.
Miriam: We really came into the entire lawn industry in a very backward manner. We’re wildflower growers.
[00:05:06] And when we we’re doing a lot of wildflower landscaping for many years.
[00:05:13] We’d have customers that we had installed these beautiful meadows or wildflower gardens for, and that were of course exceptionally low maintenance and attracted butterflies and songbirds and all those those great benefits, but then they would still be faced with these high maintenance lawns.
And the contrast made it even more clear to them that lawns were really a lot to deal with. And so they started asking us “well, can’t you do something about it?”
Paul: [00:05:44] Also when we first started introducing EcoLawn to the market, not being lawn people and coming from that part of the industry, I looked at it really not as a lawn for somebody’s front lawn. It was more to be a fire barrier for your wildflower meadow. If you have a one acre meadow, the best way to have periodic maintenance on it is a controlled burn.
[00:06:13] Well you would want to be able to stop the burn, so something that’s low and green is going to do it. And it was I was doing an installation for a fellow of wildflower meadow at his home. And I said “I want to put a fire barrier around the meadow and pathways through it” because you want to be able to walk through it. It’s really difficult to walk through a four foot tall meadow. I said so I want to use this grass for that. It was a new home that he was building and he said
“well, if you’re going to put that grass over there, why don’t you just put it everywhere.”
And it was like “really?”.
And so that’s where that all sort of began. And then it became lawns everywhere. It’s still used with wildflower meadows. But that’s where it all began. We came into it backwards. I wasn’t thinking this is a great lawn solution I was just looking at the meadow itself.
Tracey [00:07:04] Right. Right. And so you’re starting with what. Well when did you start doing the wildflower part of the business?
Paul: In the late 80s. So, we’ve been doing that for a long time. And that was just another…Miriam is obsessed with flowers. It’s her addiction and it’s a good thing.
[00:07:24] And we quickly learned at our first farm, which was in Schomburg Ontario, the horrible clay soil. We learned that a lot of traditional flowers just don’t work in that horrible clay. And between the two of us, we sort of came into a realization that if you plant native plants the odds are you’re going to be successful.
If you grow something that’s been growing in Canada for a quarter million years or longer, that’s probably going to work for you.
And then you know at that time I was working full time in Toronto while doing this and raising kids and and Miriam was running the garden center and store and she was looking for more low maintenance landscaping solutions to her gardens as well. So we just sort of evolved into native plants and then when we were doing that almost nobody was doing native plants in the late 80s early 90s.
Most people just thought we were, well the term was given to us “citiots.”
[00:08:27] Because you had lived in Toronto before that and because we were doing something that wasn’t normal. With to do with agriculture and with our own land they were just they just scratch their heads.
[00:08:39] Like you guys are just so out of your minds.
[00:08:43] That combined with at the same time the Internet came around in the 90s and we started selling online in 2000. January 2000. And it’s just grown and grown and grown ever since.
Tracey [00:08:55] So basically you found your niche, thanks to having the internet being able to find the people who are interested in each location. OK. And you made it sort of clear that your life partners as well as business partners.
[00:09:10] How long have you been together?
Miriam: like since eighty-three or four.
Paul: We met in eighty three.
Tracey And you were both in Toronto at that time. Yes.
Miriam and Paul:We met in daycare
Tracey What do you mean you met in daycare?
Paul: [00:09:27] At the daycare. We were not in daycare but our kids were OK.
[00:09:33] So we met at the daycare and we’ve been together ever since and now the kids are grown and have their own. We’re grandparents now.
Tracey[00:09:42] Is there anything that you would recommend to other people trying to establish a life together and a business together that would help with all that? What’s helped you motivate that because it’s not that easy to be together in all of your relationships.
Miriam[00:10:04] Well I think when we get asked that question we usually talk about how we had different areas of expertise and different things that aspect of the business that we were each in charge of. There was definitely some overlap. Most of the most of the years we we’ve done quite well.
Paul:[00:10:30] I would say patience and perseverance. And that applies I think to everything in life relationship business. Anything you’re trying to do. It takes time. I don’t believe in overnight success and overnight miracles. But if you really believe in what you’re doing and you just stick to it keep working at it. It often works out.
Miriam Yeah. I mean with what.
Miriam[00:10:55] With the wildflower business. It’s as somebody involved with horticulture you know there’s a huge amount of hard work hard physical work. And you really do have to be passionate about. I mean I used to wake him up in the middle of the night to talk about flowers.
Paul:[00:11:14] Honestly at 2 in the morning sometimes. I used to think, can’t this wait?
Miriam[00:11:21] Yeah. And before he started working with a farm full time he was in an advertising and that’s that’s been a real benefit too. So he understands marketing and graphics and design and we both have an appreciation for aesthetics and environmental issues. So we really do share a lot of interests though our backgrounds initially are very different.
Tracey You were talking about getting into your passion about dance. Yeah. You’re next. Yes. So what do you do in the area of dance.
Miriam[00:11:59] Well I I run a lot of programs that work with a variety of populations particularly people who have Parkinson’s or movement disorders or chronic pain or acquired brain injury.
[00:12:17] A really broad spectrum—basically anybody who has trouble moving and I work closely with a lot of research scientists that they talk about and research the neurological benefits of movement, the cognitive benefits of movement, the physical, the emotional benefits of movement and. Really since my 20s. All right. I. And then I got this huge beautiful distraction of 30 some years of falling in love with horticulture, I believe that there should be expressive therapies centers for different populations on site and off site. Because the arts really make a huge difference.
[00:13:05] And when I was in graduate school one of the things that I was really working on putting forward was to include horticultural therapy in with the expressive therapy academic training.
Tracey [00:13:18] It combines your two.
Miriam Exactly. Exactly. Because because horticulture is an art and it is an expressive art as well as having physical and emotional and spiritual benefits. So it really checks all the boxes that all the other expressive arts center piece do as well.
Tracey[00:13:38] OK. A fascinating endeavor. So what are you doing in that area now.
Miriam[00:13:43] What’s your. I it. I teach a number of programs. I’ve been training other teachers as well.
[00:13:52] And we do programming in a number of cities in central Ontario. And we also do programming in retirement homes and acquired brain injury organizations or many many different applications of this kind of work. And now I’m at the very beginning phase of developing a community-based arts programming in central Ontario and setting up a headquarters for that and working with different stakeholders and creating a hopefully a board and all of these things.
Tracey So you’re in a startup.
Miriam I’m in startup mode at the same time I’m also retired and in a lot of ways in wanting to spend time doing things that I’m happy healthy retired people do.
Paul[00:14:47] Well you’re you’re more or less retired from Wildflower Farm. Yeah you’re really busy with all the other stuff. Yeah it’s not like you’re sitting around.
Miriam [00:14:55] No I don’t. I don’t do this sitting around. Right. Right.
Tracey And so you’re really taking care of the flower farm Wildflower Firm.
Paul [00:15:03] I mean for many many years we operated a native plant nursery. We had a landscaping crew. So there was a lot of staff and we did that for many many 25 years and then seven years ago I just closed I looked at our numbers and said you know 90 percent of our income is online or business to business and 90 percent of our headache is being open seven days a week. Our kids grew up with older friends had summer holidays. They didn’t have a summer holiday. You have a garden centre, you can’t have a summer holiday.
[00:15:37] You take a winter holiday off. I closed down the retail thing seven years ago and made it strictly seeds online and business to business.
[00:15:48] And it made my life a lot calmer and easier. I’m still working but I work 3 or 4 hours a day. So I’m sort of semi retired with full income.
Tracey [00:15:59] So you’re not quite it. Tim Ferriss is four hour workweek but close. No.
Paul [00:16:09] Most time consuming part of what I do is answering people’s questions whether by phone or by email. Right. As we all know different things and some people are just getting into horticulture for the very first time. And as Miriam was saying earlier about lawns, it is an obsession in North America. I mean we sell lawns and I still don’t. To be honest really understand the obsession that I think it’s OK to have a small bed. You know like everyone needs a little bit somewhere.
[00:16:39] But I. And I’m happy to sell it. But I never understand when somebody buys 10 acres of lawn. I just what know it’s a waste of land.
Tracey Yeah. Yeah it’s fascinating.
[00:16:49] So and then as you know my Oh well I should mention you’re on this wonderful trip where you’re going to small towns in between your home and my home and then beyond.
Paul We’re driving through Ontario and through Quebec and then down through Vermont and Massachusetts and then back up and trying to do most of it not on major highways right.
Tracey [00:17:10] Yeah. So very pleasant. This is the kind of trip trip you were saying that retired people do. Yeah. I mean it’s a great trip. What a wonderful idea. But my last question as you know is do you can consider yourself Canadian and if so what does that mean to you and what each one of you that answer it separately. So which one wants to go first.
Paul [00:17:30] Well I Well I’m definitely Canadian. I was born in Canada. My ancestors go back more than 400 years here and go about it. So I’m definitely Canadian. I think Canada is the best place in the world to live. It is cold but everyone else in the world wants to live here. You know it’s it’s a fabulous place. And we’re politically probably the only country left that’s sort of center center liberal. You know we’re not all right wing like the rest of the planet. So.
Tracey[00:18:01] And can you talk a little bit about your. The best place to live. What that means.
Paul [00:18:15] I think in all aspects you know I think we in Canada live a better life and lifestyle than anyone in the history of humanity ever has. I mean we have everything you know so I think this is the best place in the world to be.
Miriam[00:18:32] So we have everything like what’s everything.
[00:18:43] We have everything literally nothing.
[00:18:46] I don’t think of that does not work somewhere else other than look. I’m not a fan of winter.
Tracey[00:18:54] Sort of huddle in winter. Yeah. So how about you Miriam? How do you do you consider yourself a Canadian. Absolutely. And what does that mean to you?
Miriam[00:19:06] It’s become a critical part of my identity and I think about being Canadian quite often when we talk about it a lot.
[00:19:16] True. Guy. Yeah I.
[00:19:18] I became a Canadian citizen I guess about I’m thinking 14 years ago. And I was originally an American and I just feel like I’m so lucky. I ended up here.
[00:19:37] I I I feel that being in Canada is very much reflects the values that I grew up in in the communities I grew up in and the way I was raised as basically a liberal east coaster. And it’s it’s. I like the intelligence of Canada. I like the compassion of Canada. I like the open mindedness of Canada. I like the beauty of Canada. There’s there’s so much here. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. No one’s saying it is but it continues to be a light, a beacon for a lot of people and an inspiration. And I love living here.
Tracey [00:20:30] Well thank you very much. I really appreciate you coming to visit Grand Potager today and I really appreciate you taking time to talk to me for unapologetically Canadian too. Thank you very much.
This morning, I was doing a bit of research to figure out how much food an adult should eat every year. I also wondered how much I might be able to grow, dry and transform myself.
It wasn’t an easy task, as most of the information these days seems targeted to daily consumption.
According the World Health Organization, adults should eat at least 1,200 calories per day, depending on age and activity. Of that, 400g should consist of fruits and vegetables per day. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots do not count within this total. Salt intake should be limited to 5 grams (and not more).1
Most of us in industrialized countries eat more than double what we need, more than 3,000 calories a day.2
I’m definitely among those eating too much these days. Most of my clothes no longer fit.
According to the guidelines, a sedentary woman my age should eat 1,600 calories a day, so I’ve set MyFitness Pal to 1,200 calories per day to ensure warnings as I get close to the target. In an article for Harvard Medical School, Daniel Pendick estimates that a woman of my age and weight should eat roughly 53 grams of protein a day.3
My main goal is to eat a diet that’s less damaging. I want to use local resources and prevent climate change.
As inspiration, I read about Rob Greenfield, who decided to experiment growing and foraging his own food for a year in Orlando Florida. The only challenge for him was protein; fishing didn’t provide enough for him so he relied on eating deer kill.4 Don’t think I’ll try anything that extreme this year, but his projects definitely provide a baseline of what’s possible in warmer climates.
According to a Los Angeles Times article by Deborah Netburn, 37 colleagues from 16 countries around the world published a study in Lancet about a sustainable diet for 2050. That diet limites us to one tablespoon of red meat per day (ie one hamburger per week or one steak per month), one glass of dairy beverage per day, two servings of fish per week, one egg per week and many more whole grains, seeds, nuts and vegetables.5
I did a bit more research about that diet and discovered that it comes from a nonprofit company called EAT, which itself is funded by the Stordalen Foundation, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Wellcome Trust.
According to that diet, we should eat:
at least 125 grams of dry beans, lentils, peas and other nuts or legumes per day; and
no more than 98 grams of red meat (pork, beef or lamb), 203 grams of poultry and 196 grams of fish per week.
Everything else should be fruit and vegetables.6
Most of the resources on that site talk about transforming the industrial food system to become more sustainable, a goal I heartily endorse. I’d also like to grow as much food myself too. When I plugged info about that into Google, however, I got a lot of survival-oriented sites about storing food for a year.
So far, the best resource I found for my needs is a blog, book and podcast series by Melissa K. Norris. Norris writes about pioneering and homesteading. In a recent post, she recommends that each person plant 10 to 20 bean plants for canned and dried beans throughout the year. She also recommends 15 bulbs of garlic, and 5 tomato plants per person, 5 cucumber plants, 3 winter squash plants and 1 summer squash plant.7
Of course, she lives in Washington, so the homegrown season lasts a little longer there than it does here in Montreal, so I’m not sure if her estimates will match what I need.
Guess I’ll have to do a bit of experimenting over the coming year. Stay with me and hopefully, we’ll answer the question by the end of the year.
1https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet, accessed on January 21, 2020.
2https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/3_foodconsumption/en/, accessed on January 21, 2020
3Pendick, Daniel. “How much protein do you need every day,” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, June 18, 2015, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096, accessed on January 21, 2020.
4Greenfield, Rob. “I didn’t buy any food for a year and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been,” The Gardian, December 19, 2019; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/19/i-didnt-buy-any-food-for-a-year-and-im-healthier-than-ive-ever-been, accessed January 21, 2020.
5Netburn, Deborah, “Your Sustainable Diet for the year 2050,” January 19, 2019, Los Angeles Times. https://phys.org/news/2019-01-sustainable-diet-year-nuts-sugar.html, accessed January 21, 2020.
7Norris, Melissa K. “How much to plant for a year’s worth of food,” April 10, 2017, https://melissaknorris.com/how-much-to-plant-for-a-years-worth-of-food/, accessed on January 21, 2020.
Community design, edible landscaping and a human resource catalogue are among the subjects that Douglas Jack and I speak about in Episode 27 of the Unapologetically Canadian Podcast.Listen to Episode 27 of Unapologetically Canadian
Jack also serves as the president of a local non-profit organization called the Sustainable Development Association, which specializes in green design and produced Montreal’s first green map in 1998. (I still use my copy of this map quite often.)
I visited Doug last spring. During our interview, Doug and I spoke about his community design ideas and his plans for a digital community directory. We also toured his property to discover how he uses food and leaf composting to grow fruit, nuts and vegetables that he consumes year-round.
Anyone interested in a seasonal diet in Montreal would benefit from learning about using butternuts and sumac flowers the way Doug does. It’s also inspiring to learn how many fruit trees and vines can fit into a relatively small urban space.
Here’s the transcript of our discussion.
Tracey [00:00:01] Here we are we are at Douglas Jack’s home.
Tracey [00:00:06] We are at the edge of a community near Bergevin and Jean Milot in LaSalle, which is a wonderful community. It used to be called LaSalle Heights and then it was Les Jardins LaSalle. And I don’t know what they’re calling it now. What are they calling it now?
Douglas [00:00:25] I think I should look on my lease or something like that. It just gives the address.
Tracey [00:00:35] Yeah I think they’ve changed it completely. It doesn’t have an entity anymore. Anyway.[00:00:36] And we’re talking about permaculture gardening and some of his passions and the neighborhood and the community that he’s organizing here. So do you want to introduce yourself and talk about what you’re hoping to do.
Douglas [00:00:49] Great. So I’m Doug and I live in this 815 housing units on 40 acres in two properties. One is 33 acres with Turret Realties Inc. The other is a seven-acre HLM—habitations à loyer modique [low income housing].
I’ve been here for 30 years. And my partner here Rebecca, well we’re ex, but we live close by and we have a son who’s 18 years old, Adrian. So this morning I was waking up Adrian at his window.
Douglas [00:01:36] So what’s really nice about this community is there’s about 40 extended families. And so that means that people are connected through grandmothers, grandchildren and just the whole mixture that’s here. And so promoting that connectedness that’s already here is important.
So what we’re doing is a software project which is a community economy software. The way we’re going about it is to on our Web site, we’ll put the software which has a human resource catalog. People go onto the catalog they put on their pictures, their talents, their goods or services, a description of who they are, or maybe their dreams. Then from there, people know about each other a little bit. And, out of curiosity or who lives next door to me. And then they then if they need a babysitter, or they need an electrician, or they need a doctor or they need whatever they’ve got, they’re able to find each other and they’re able to join together.
We figured that a lot of economy will be about bringing together the babysitters and the woodworkers and other people who can share tools and knowledge. We figured that’s the biggest challenge. It’s just that people know each other. We called the project “do we know who we are.”
Tracey [00:03:03] So this is like one of those old-time directories like what they used to have in the 40s and 50s for neighborhoods? Like Lovell’s or some of the other directories? They used these to make sure people actually know each other.
Douglas [00:03:17] Yeah. Oh I didn’t even know about that Lovell’s. But this community here was designed. The CMHC was one of the chief financers and it brought in the architects and engineers. They designed it as a garden city based on Frederick Olmsted’s work. Not by him but based on his work.
What they’ve done is that the roads are peripheral. I’m on the corner of Bergevin and Jean Milot but Bergevin kind of goes in an arc around the community. Normally where there would be lanes between the buildings there aren’t. It’s open green space instead.
But none of Frederick Olmsted’s projects—including Park Mont Royal in Montreal nor Central Park in New York City—were really realized as garden cities.
Tracey [00:04:15] So we’re going to just take a little bit of a tour around outside. Please excuse the wind. We’re not going to be doing this very long.
OK so now we’re just outside and we are next to a cement composter which I’ve been hearing about for a very long time because Doug and I do all sorts of local community stuff together. So tell me what you’re doing here.
Douglas [00:04:42] OK. A lot of fear of composting has to do with rats and mice and a fear of feeding them. So many people don’t compost partially because those populations can grow.
So this is cement board composter. Cement board came out about 30, 40 or 50 years ago and it’s very durable. This one is nine years old and it has no sign of degradation whereas the regular wooden ones that they’re building—and some cities are using—they last about six years before they are unusable. So this one is in perfect condition and it probably could last 60 years or maybe even 100 years.
I’m a designer I’ve worked in design for 50 years and so I thought oh let’s bring together cement board with composting. This one has the aeration on the corners and so it works quite well. I can get three or four harvests out of here a year.
Because it’s cement board, it can handle dampness. I bring out my dishwater and I just pour it in and it cleans the bucket at the same time and it wets down the material. Wet material will decompose three to four times faster than dry materials.
Tracey [00:06:48] Wow.
Douglas [00:06:49] Then in the morning there were about five kind of robins in here and they were they were picking at all the worms. Wildlife are working for us. They’re doing lots of jobs.
This compost has branches on the to hold the leaves. And I’ve done that pretty much all around and against the house because that’s insulating the basement in the wintertime.[00:07:24] So the leaves next to the basement wall are doing two functions they’re decomposing and they’re insulating the base and then over here and so do you remove them in the spring like now or very shortly from now from the side of the house so you leave them there. [00:07:38] I believe I’ll leave those ones there because those are my grape vines there. So the grapes need they need it. They can use some really deep soils. [00:07:48] This here is just a leaf compost. This leaf compost, I put about 60 bags into there and it doesn’t look like it because it gets really big. The kids come in and they jump on here like a trampoline and they pack it down for me.
Tracey [00:08:23] And do you get a lot of fruit?
Douglas We get wonderful fruit. Really it’s really been abundant this year. I’m still eating dried apples from the garden and Sumac that we grow.[00:08:39] Now it’s come to the end of the season and we’ve been harvesting sap from the maple tree maple. We’ve had about three weeks of maple sap now. [00:08:52] The last day was yesterday. And you can see it’s not dripping now anymore but I’ve done the method I’ve used for the first time is a wedge method rather than a drill method.
Tracey [00:09:07] I noticed that that’s interesting now what did you get them in?
Douglas [00:09:15] Well I took an axe and I tapped it in and I don’t know the method exactly but it’s the First Nation method when the Kanienʼkehá꞉ka here, were people of the flint. They were named that mostly because their primary products were maple taps made in the form of wedges going into the tree. OK. The main advantage of the me of the wedge method is that when I take out these from the slit, it will heal within a few weeks.[00:09:53] Whereas I’ve got I could show you on here. [00:09:57] I’m not focusing right now but some holes that I made with the old method and they never heal. Right. And so it damages the trees year after year after year. Whereas the wedge method still I’m still learning about it working it out OK but that’s it that’s with the First Nations approach with which there’s many things that we never learned. [00:10:22] How are we doing for time?
Tracey We’re just about finished the outdoor portion but we only have to do one little section so these are.
Douglas So here we have pears, and cherries and apples.
Tracey Currents are nitrogen fixers so that’s also very good for everything growing around.
Douglas [00:10:47] Here are some sumacs.
Tracey [00:10:48] Yeah. I’m surprised you don’t have sumacs everywhere because sumacs usually spread.
Douglas I eat the sprouts.
Tracey Oh, you do with the sprouts like I do with dandelions. So basically harvest them instead of taking them out.
Douglas [00:11:05] So yeah. So things are coming up here. Different plants will come up here and Himalayan balsam and this is this is a wonderful cherry tree and it does really well. It looks good. You can see how strong it’s doing.
Tracey [00:11:19] What kind of cherry?
Douglas It’s a sour. I like the sour.
Tracey Sour cherries are lovely. They make great pie too.
Douglas Yeah good. So now we can go around to the back.[00:11:38] Under here of course, I’ve insulated. You know that’s part of the basement. I take all the leaves I can get.
Tracey [00:11:47] All right. So we’re finished the outdoor portion and now we’re just going to go back inside.
Douglas OK good.
Tracey So so now we’re back inside so that’s the sound quality is a little bit better.[00:11:58] And now we can actually talk about your history and where even what you’re what you’re trying to accomplish could get so.
Douglas [00:12:08] So we’ve taken the digital approach to community development.[00:12:12] We have two software programmers both have their masters. One in information technology, the other one in communications. And the approach we’re taking is that the human resource catalog will be on the web. Today people are even though I think more disconnected than previously. But through the web, they can get to know each other and find a reason for saying hello and find a reason for using each other’s goods and services.
So in a local walkable community like here—which 40 acres so it means that people can walk from one side to the other typically in two minutes. So getting those economic relations going. Now some people here we have 500 Slavs. I mean that means Russian Polish Ukrainian Yugosalvian. And then there then we have about 500 Arabic speakers and we have about 500 Spanish speakers. Most of the guys working on the grounds here are Spanish speakers. But each one of them bring their incredible traditions. And often these are very indigenous traditions that they’re bringing from different places.
Douglas We have a community garden here that’s 700 meters by 30 meters wide. That community garden, there’s there’s hundreds of people eating off of that garden every year now. So there will be surpluses there that they could trade with each other.
The composting would really help, because the number one ingredient of recycling is composting. Once the compost is taken out nothing else smells. Everything else is clean. So we’ve been trying to get the eco quartier into the program. They’re very interested, but you know they’re on a very low low budget, and most of their budget is around education in the schools. So Lucas Gonzales, he wants to get the compost started here.
So here we have a private corporation that owns a property. I think that they do a pretty good job, except for when they spray Roundup or there’s some things that they’re just not. We’ve had a real problem with them around pesticides and actually we took them to court before Montreal and Quebec passed the no cosmetic pesticides use.[00:15:03] So in the end we won, but we didn’t win in the court case. because the judge of course is up at their college using their pesticides and not believing that there’s anything wrong. So we showed it to them. They’re still using Roundup which is shown to be a carcinogen. Someone just won a 170 million dollar lawsuit that was reduced down to 70 million dollars as a groundskeeper working in a school.
Douglas [00:15:36] So here we are we’re with the do we know who we are project, the concept is that people know each other they trade locally they can earn some of their living. Eventually when it’s well organized that means more and more and more people are involved in knowing each other and more of the local economy can be done locally.[00:15:59] I mean people who are traveling two hours to work you know to go and clean houses or something can do it locally. [00:16:10] So saving four hours a day of traveling is a big lifesaver.
Tracey Yeah it’s a big huge life saver.
Douglas [00:16:18] So our approach to community development is not ideal so much as livelihood based. So how do we make sure that people are earning a living that they’re enjoying to do. And so the catalog helps people to present themselves and present what they like to do. And then as much as possible help people get the jobs that they like to do and to grow spiritually and economically.
Tracey [00:16:49] Right now you’ve created an organization. It’s not actually a nonprofit. [00:16:54] It’s a different kind of work innovation to get some of these together. What kind of organization is it and how many people are involved?
Douglas [00:17:00] Well we are. I’m the president of the Sustainable Development Association which is a Canadian non-profit since 1994. We’re a Canadian corporation. And we have a subgroup called indigene community. So indigene is an old English word but it’s also French and Spanish and Italian and German and most of Europe uses the term indigene instead of indigenous.[00:17:33] And what we’re doing is I’ve been working with First Nations for 55 years and on different projects and been living in and across Canada and different places with First Nations.
Douglas [00:17:48] And so my understanding is that indigenous law, the economic laws that they use, the accounting methods, the governance methods that they used in their communities in their multi- home buildings could be a huge service to people today. Now we didn’t learn those because we came in violently and we immediately replaced what was here with the failure that we brought from Europe. So we were coming as failures. We were coming as refugees from a bad system that had failed. Now the oligarchs paid for our trip to get rid of us. But they had us impose their failure on this new territory because they wanted to milk it for money just like they milk every other place. And so here we are promoting failure in a place that was very successful in terms of ecological abundance and working with rivers and water and trees and plants.[00:19:05] Our goal is to is that we’re all indigenous we’re all originally indigenous from all around the world and the poly-culture orchards of Europe and Africa and Asia and Australia kept these lands humid and productive for thousands of species of animals and huge abundance in food, materials, energy, water etc.
Tracey [00:19:35] So that’s what you’re working on. Are you working on aid projects across Canada with any groups at the moment?
Douglas [00:19:39] We’ll get in touch with old friends from British Columbia where I lived for seven years and then I have First Nation friends from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.[00:19:57] And so we’re corresponding and working in that way.
Tracey [00:20:11] And then I guess those are the questions that I really wanted to talk to you about. Was there anything that you were hoping to mention before I get to my last question.
Douglas [00:20:20] Well, our website which is Indigenecommunity.info has had close to 20,000 different people come and visit it and 25,000 visits and they’ve read 39,500 pages.[00:20:47] So there we have 77 web sections on the website of different questions that people might ask about food production, about governance, about accounting, about all forms of living and so that people might find it useful.
Tracey [00:21:08] Yeah I link to that in show-notes. I know that when I was reading that I mean this is managing abundance for sure. There are several decades of information on that website. So it’s definitely the kind of thing where you need to take your time and just go through it slowly and can you tell me maybe your favorite article on there that you think people should definitely read?
Douglas [00:21:32] Well one of the things I found out from living amongst First Nations and being in First Nation areas and seeing the ancient poly-culture orchards that they grew. So when the Europeans came over they were looking for low plants. So corn made sense to them and beans made sense and squash and potatoes made sense to them.
But way way up 30, 40, 50 meters up in the sky were these trees that were producing huge amounts of nuts and fruit and greens.
And the trees changed the climate. Every tree is a heat pump. If you have a Montreal island with half a billion heat pumps, guess what happens to the climate? It gets warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
So with tree production, the roots are going down tens of metres and pumping water and mining minerals and developing nutrient colonies deep into the ground. The canopy of the tree is photosynthesizing. It’s a combination. When you look at photosynthesis of solar rays and also heat absorption, it’s clear that poly-culture orchards were using 92 to 98 per cent of the solar energy that was shining down in that area.
Tracey [00:23:04] S did they a planting system with trees like the systems that we just talked you the corn and bean and squash. Did they have a typical planting?
Douglas [00:23:13] Yeah, but the oak is core.
Right across the northern hemisphere—even in the southern hemisphere—the oak is a primary human food and it’s one that people don’t develop allergies to. It’s very nutritious. It has the old oak tree roots because they are the roots or are mining minerals they’re putting the foods are very mineralized means that we’re getting the minerals are really key for protein and starches and incorporation into the body and the use of all the cells really need that mineral component.
Tracey So what do you eat off oak?
Douglas The acorn. And so you see, Montreal was known for the wild acorn, the white acorn. You can actually eat it. The red and brown and black acorns, you have to soak those in water. But the white acorn you can eat directly.
Tracey OK so you eat it like a chestnut or something like it.
Douglas Like a nut, it can be cooked. It’s used a lot in Lebanese cooking. The flours are made so they make the pancakes.[00:24:31] So like we harvested 110 kilograms of butternuts last year from a local tree. [00:24:39] And that that came down to just 12 kilograms of nuts in the shell because people would eat the nuts as just nuts and making flour out of that. Yeah. So you can make flour or things but generally very highly nutritious protein and oils oils are excellent. The enzymes are just rich rich foods and so we have jars upon jars of butternuts. A butternut is a walnut. It’s a type of walnut. It’s called the white walnut.
Douglas OK. And so poly-culture orchards are more abundant than other systems.[00:25:26] I’ve done the comparisons. If you had an area the size of this the bottom floor of this townhouse say it’s 50 square meters. [00:25:41] If it was just a little bit longer so that would be about seven metres by seven metres and that could support say one tree and the 150 year old trees that used to be the average age of the oak could produce up to 10 ton of acorns in one mast year. Typically about 2 or 3 tons, but say 10 tons in a mast year. The same area. I also worked in agriculture. So I worked in wheat production. The same area of wheat could only produce 3 kilograms. Well compare three tons or ten tons in a mast year, say once every 7 years. Three kilograms compared to three tons.
Tracey [00:26:32] Now that’s what are you doing with that? That’s not for flour.
Douglas That’s the nut
Tracey With the wheat, we’re producing flour out of it.
Tracey And so what are you producing? Like when you’re saying three times is it just the nut itself three times or what would you produce out of it?
Douglas [00:26:47] Yeah. So the nut would have to be de-husked and the shell taken off but it’s nice because the tree is drying it so it’s a bit drier than the wheat that we’ve got.[00:27:01] The wheat has to be dried to be processed too. It has to be de-husked too. So both of them are being reduced down from the original harvest. But with butternut acorns, say the 3 tons of acorns coming off those old trees. Now you have to feed the tree because you can’t just take from nature. You have to give back.
Tracey So you’re producing a lot of compost pretty much all the stuff you’d take off of that.
Douglas That’s right. So whether you use your husks or the garden waste or kitchen cuttings or whatever you’ve got, you’re feeding that tree and it’s processing materials for you.
So we use the ratio of 100-fold that the poly-culture orchards in the same space, the same ground space, will produce about 100 times more. They will water themselves, they will fertilize themselves. They will handle everything so that there’s no work.
Tracey [00:28:19] Well there’s work to harvest to harvest and to actually produce something out of the nut. Now they like the Black walnut in that they’re really tough to open too. Or are they more like a chestnut where you can just put a hole in it and cook it and then it releases more easily.
Douglas [00:28:36] Yeah it’s more like the. The butternut that I’ve got can be very big and it can be easy, but that’s a matter of breeding and feeding.[00:28:47] So the the butternuts that my Russian neighbours give me from Moldova are rich and succulent and big and fat and actually fatter than our walnuts in the store. That’s because they’ve bred them over a thousand years say or 2000 years.
So all of these nuts whether it’s the Russian ones or the ones that I’ve got here, it would take a culture of people working with them too but they’re certainly delicious in the meantime. They are a little bit harder like the black walnut so it’s more more difficult to open. OK but the black walnut as well can be bred and fed to and serve it just in terms of like that.
Tracey [00:29:38] So you’re not selling the jars of walnuts or anything like that. What are you doing with the actual food?
Douglas [00:29:45] Oh I’m cracking them open with my vice-grips.
Tracey and then just eating them that way.
Douglas Yeah just eating them that way. I just consider it well you know…
Tracey I had to use a sledge hammer on my last black walnut. It was so impossible.
Douglas Vice-grips would be a bit easier.
Tracey I’ll have to try it. The vice-grip might be a bit easier.
Douglas [00:30:10] The problem is that the food from our grocery store is empty. It has practically no minerals.
Tracey Well these were black walnuts from a family farm.
Douglas Yeah yeah. No I mean what to explain why we work with what we’ve got that’s wild. It’s because when we go and buy green vegetables or things from the store, they have very very little to offer us in terms of vitamins, minerals, enzymes. They’re just empty foods. I mean there’s certainly more than packaged fast foods, but there they have very little in them compared with getting plants. Now we can work with those, and get both from them but we will we have to become a responsible people again.
Tracey [00:31:00] Well and that’s what we’re working towards. I know that at Eco2fest, there was an interesting company working on a little machine or a little tool that you could use to open black walnuts. [00:31:12] I’m really hoping that that works. That was really awesome.
All right so the poly-culture orchard that’s the one.
Douglas [00:31:26] You know we put it under orchard food production efficiencies. We’re comparing we’re using it as a comparative place of comparison with agriculture. The word agriculture comes from the Latin adjure. Adjure means field.[00:31:43] So from the Latin. So what we’ve got agriculture and what’s strange is that you know I’ve known many profs from McGill and they just throw up their hands because the agro business has so much control over McDonald College. [00:31:59] They’ve been there for decades and they can’t make a change in teaching. Well, they teach what they know. But all of the marking and all is according to what agribusiness is telling them to do.
Tracey [00:32:18] Well I guess people are looking for jobs too. So it’s those are the ones that are available.
Douglas [00:32:23] So even though even though the poly culture orchards would be 100 times more productive in inherent in any area including in the cities where they grow vertically next to her buildings right. That’s really important if we want to bring food security to to our our city areas are down.
Tracey [00:32:43] So we I was looking for recipes because if you have one recipe that people really want to have then they’re willing to get they’re willing to do a lot. Like for I know many people no longer eat currents but at our market when currents are available there’s a couple of people who come in because they’re making the jam that their grandmother has passed through the family and so just finding a good recipe. So if you have a good recipe for oak in particular or one or the other nuts, let me know and I’ll look specifically to that because I think that’s important.
Douglas [00:33:15] Yeah we can do it we can do that.[00:33:17] Before you go, I’ll crack open a couple of the white butternuts. You’ll see how easy it is with the vice-grips.
Tracey [00:33:31] Perfect. Actually I’ll take a video of you and we can put that in there shown us as well. Yeah awesome. All right. And now you know we get to the last question which I gave you ahead of time so you’ll be able to think about it do you consider yourself a Canadian? [00:33:42] And if so what does that mean to you?
Douglas [00:33:44] Well the word Canada comes from the Kanienʼkehá꞉ka people of the flint and the word Kaná:ta means village.[00:34:04] When Jacques Cartier came and he asked “what’s the name of this country” and they said, maybe not understanding the European concept of states and countries, said well this is Kaná:ta. So “we are people of the village.” [00:34:32] All our indigenous ancestors were whether they were Celtic people from Europe, from Africa, from Australia. from Asia. This was an international system. They were all using string-shell and living in villages. They were all living in hundred-person multi-home dwelling complexes because they considered that the intergenerational interaction between the grandparents and the children and the aunts and uncles and the different families having a critical mass and economies of scale. [00:35:09] What’s interesting today is that 70 per cent of our population’s live in multi-home dwellings. That’s the size that all our indigenous ancestors were looking for. Actually 100 people represents about 32 units. It turns out that the average size of our multi-home buildings is 32 units. So it’s just a very efficient unit. Even capitalism has rebuilt on that model.
So Kaná:ta. I’m a Kaná:tien, which means that I believe in redeveloping these fractals because we’re so dependent on the top so the trillionaire oligarchs at the top who control the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Bank of International Settlements, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—they captured control of the top.[00:36:13] We don’t have that. So they’re just commanding and controlling whole populations. In fact they think that there’s probably about 10 times too many people on earth because they don’t know how to appreciate nature.
If every person just collected their poo and bio-digested their poo in a methonization chamber, we would have gas, we would have fertilizer, we would our trees would grow bigger, our butternuts would grow bigger.[00:36:45] Are all of our food would be very very easy just as it was.
Douglas You know people, researchers like Peter Kropotkin back in the 19th century, and Tolstoy and others, when they were looking at indigenous people they were describing that these people were working one hour per day.[00:37:05] Indigenous people worldwide were working one hour per day instead of ten hours per day.
Tracey [00:37:10] So that’s basically even better than Tim Ferris’ four-hour workweek.
Douglas [00:37:15] It’s based on nature and also human association.
Tracey So getting back to Canada you’re a person of the village
Tracey So what does that mean to you?
Douglas [00:37:28] Well we already live, 70% of us live in village complexes. Some kind of architecture that’s clustered where we’re sharing walls, ceilings, floors but we don’t know how to live together. And so the ancient string-shell, which was time-based accounting, that included the domestic, industrial and commercial work.
Today’s economy only accounts for commercial and industrial and doesn’t account for the domestic. So people who are doing the most important work of taking care of children and elders and looking after our very well-being, their work isn’t accounted for. It’s mostly in women but also some men too. And so redeveloping these economies right where we live already. We don’t have to move to some perfect community just where we are. So the software is designed that people will know each other. Will be able to associate with each other and trade with each other. Everything is accounted for just like it was with the string-shell.
So there were two aspects to indigenous life were the multi home and within the multi home they had the string-shell. The string-shell meant that everything was accounted for. All contributions were recognized. So celebrated and all. And then in time, when issues came up whether positive or negative they had council process so that people would sit down together and within the circle. So the circle was kind of like a recording device, a feedback machine and people would talk with each other with each given equal time according to the traditions. So bringing these two aspects together so that people can live together and work together again.
Tracey [00:39:27] All right well thank you very much I really appreciate your time. Great interview.