Chicks have arrived!

The gals (hopefully) are here. The lovely lady we bought these chicks from is pretty sure we have all hens, but said if one starts cawing that we could bring it back to her farm property. Roosters aren’t allowed in cities as per by-law. A 5 am wake up call wouldn’t be the best way to befriend the neighbours… Speaking of sexing birds — I will be writing a separate page — a more critical look at the poultry industry, particularly what tends to happen to male layers (layer is the type of chicken that lays eggs vs. a broiler which tend to be raised for meat). While we are so happy to welcome these lovely ladies to our small family, we are well aware of the darker side of egg production which has largely served as inspiration for undertaking this adventure in urban agriculture! So here’s presenting: From top to bottom: Dot (standing), Maybel, Lily, and Fries (we’re still working on this name.. ) 2014-07-07 16.29.23 Fries is a bantam, and is 2-3 weeks older than the other three, so she will be the smallest of the 4. Fries is also going through a molt, which is why she has some balding on her back . We can’t wait to get these gals outside so they can start eating all of the delicious earwigs hanging out in the garden!

City Coop

So we’re doing it — we’re going to raise some chickens in our urban backyard. Our our adventure in urban agriculture! The veggie garden was terrific last year, and we are growing again this year, but we thought it was time to add some birds into the mix. We pick up the chicks today, so there will be more posts shortly, but here’s what the coop looks like so far.

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We had allowed for many more birds than we will be getting, but the roomier, the better. Its 4ftx 4ft x4ft, and we insulated it with a range of leftover reno insulation from R-7 – R-22 values (it gets really cold in Southewestern Ontario winters) so it will super cozy for our gals.

We still have some work to do. The chicks will stay in a brooder for a few more weeks until they are strong enough to venture outdoors. Here’s the largely upcycled, urban coop!

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Stay tuned!

Selling us our ‘health’?

It is truly vital that we consider history. Things are the way they are for a reason. Happenstance is rarely the case. The George Weston Company has been a prominent feature in food for decades. Post WWII, the expansion of food retailers as authoritative figures was boomed based on the emergence of supermarket “own brand”  foods., and increasingly processed foods. These are the President’s Choice brands (in Loblaws) or Compliments (in Sobeys). These own brand foods are based off of the success of big brands such as Heinz and Post, which consumer have come to trust and develop a taste for. Own brand development allowed for retailers to create and markets their own products based on this model established by big brands. However, here’s the kicker — these foods circumvented ‘retail price management’ (the price at which manufacturers set product prices) to produce a cheaper, yet comparable quality product. Ever wonder why PC ketchup costs less? logo-pc org westons

These processed foods were a god send to the wave of women who had experienced working during war, and sought to maintain this independence while juggling motherhood. Things that came ready-to-eat in a package were revolutionary on the homefront and for grocery retailer as well. These foods could last longer, be charged a premium for, and demand for these items were jointly created by retailers seeking to assert and market themselves as food authorities and demanded by time-strapped families seeking relief from the drudgery of kitchen work. Sounds familiar right? This might as well be the case today.


Purveyors of … health?:

A subsidiarity of the Empire Company, Sobeys’ recent pairing with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and promotion of the slogan “Better food for all”, Sobeys has entered the health food game. Like Metro Inc.’s ambiguous (and inconstant) smiley face health rating system, and Loblaws’ “Guiding Stars“, these Big Three grocery retailers have now become purveyors of health. While this seems terrific up front, the roots of this trend is much more problematic.

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So here an important distinction is needed — when I say processed foods — what comes to mind? Chips? Those little yellow creme cakes that will apparently withstand the apocalypse? Which by the way — people petitioned to keep this industry going . While these types of processed foods are a problem : they are made from super cheap (artificially cheapened) ingredients, allow for huge profits (we are lucky to get like 1/2 a potato in your standard bag of $4 chips….), and are detrimental to health, there should be little debate that a steady diet of chips and pop are ‘bad’ for you. These foods are promoted to ‘be enjoyed in moderation’. My beef is with those foods that are still made with crappy, cheap, ingredients, that are fortified and enriched to appear healthful.  Are still profitable for retailers, particularly when they are ‘own brands’….

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These ‘healthy’ products allow these same retailers to tell us what is best to eat. What is best to persuade people to eat because they are profitable, and what to eat for one’s health are VASTLY different. People are becoming more and more aware of what they put into their bodies, and retailers are aware of this. They want to be the place we all go to seek health. Sorry – correction — they want to be the place we all go to purchase health (or as I would argue, the illusion of health).

Sobeys Closing… and The Truth about Canadian Grocery Retailing and What Little Choice You Have


The Canadian food retailing scene is particularly concentrated. Very few players largely dictate what we eat. Of these few players, Sobeys and Metro Inc. are leaps and bounds behind the Loblaws Company.

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The Scene: 

While Sobeys CEO Marc Poulin states that the closure of 50 stores will be beneficial long term, the food retailing sector is more complex that this. While a small shareof the food retailing environment, Sobeys store closing will further concentrate corporate ownership within food retailing. Few players = fewer choices. Oligopolies ahoy! Similarities cane be drawn to another prominent feature of the Canadian landscape — telecomm.  What is with Canadians allowing our government to be bed mates with big business? We should all be outraged that there is governmental “reluctance” to regulate these markets, to allow increased competition. Choice of telecomm provider is one thing – choice of what is essentially ‘allowed’ in our bellies is quite another…

So while Sobeys is closing 50 stores, and those employed there will need to find new places to work (another issue for another day…) we should take time to reflect on the larger, more complicated picture of what this means for Canadian consumers. What we eat, and the messy web that gets us to eating should be based on what is best for our health, not the health of retailer portfolios. I am saddened that Sobeys is closing. While pairing with Jamie Oliver was no doubt a marketing move, Jamie’s focus on real ingredients, real food, and the health of children has been inspirational, particularity in the UK. For more on how we are being persuaded to purchase health, please click here.


What can you do ? Share this post with others, think critically about what you purchase and why it is available for purchase in the first place. Share a meal, talk with each other, talk with a farmer — they don’t bite and would love to be acknowledged for their work. I have yet to meet a farmer who doesn’t like chatting…  While retailing environments are becoming increasingly concentrated, we are also to blame. Our knowledge about what we eat, where it comes from and why we are eating it in the first place is at an abysmal low. We need to demand more of our government, but we need to demand more of ourselves. We need to make good choices. But only when our food system reflects true choice, can we do this. People are powerful.

So, now what’s on your dinner plate for tonight?



Fair Trade /Direct Trade Certifications: Pros, Cons, and Unknowns


Much has changed in terms of what we should choose to eat.. just when you thought the toughest decision of your day was between white or whole wheat toast with your breakfast, an entire world of certifications and exotic foods emerged. If you are wondering what a certification is exactly, please see my Food Certifications | Overview page for some more information.

One certification symbol that has boomed recently is Fair Trade. In a nut shell, this certification is meant to display to the consumer/buyer that the item has been acquired fairly – more specifically, that the producer/farmer has received a decent wage, and decent working conditions. But the idea of a ‘decent’ leaves a lot of room for debate.

Continue Reading…

MILK! A super brief ‘history’ of the white stuff in Canada


Hi all!

I am currently reading a book in preparation for one of my exams entitled Nutrition Policy in Canada, 1870-1939  by Aleck Samuel Ostry. It was a decent read, only 125 pages!

One of the most interesting things that stuck out was the history of milk in Canada. Im going to do my best to summarise it here.

Milk – now a staple in many Canadian households, this white liquid gained popularity when many women began to step out from their homes to work in many of the industrial manufacturing jobs that boomed in the 19th century.

This was also a time when discoveries such as the value of vitamins and dietary standards were emerging. As with many of the modern day movements surrounding school food and concern over child obesity, particular attention was paid to children and infants (and their nourishment, especially birth weight). Attention to the ‘next generation’ was important in the early 1900s as it is now due to connection to the ‘future of the nation’ and the ‘health of a country’.

Milk emerged as a “protective” food as it contained many essential vitamins that were shown to maintain an acceptable birth weight –  and for the many women who were unable to breastfeed  their infants due to time constraints (such as working!), milk emerged as a cutting-edge alternative for breast milk. This new food also appealed to women as milk was seen as leading scientific discovery in regards to nutritional science.

In a short time, milk went from a highly adulterated and unclean product that was the culprit for numerous infant deaths and the 1927 thyphoid epidemic in Montreal pre-pasteurization to a wonderfully convenient and scientifically cutting edge food.

This boom for milk was also aided by marketing by the Department of Agriculture, following major changes pre-WWI and the War Measures Act from which a centralised food system emerged… please note that marketing has continued to play a MASSIVE role in food, and milk..  does ‘got milk’ ring any bells? I would have added a photo, but there were too many to choose from seeing as how every notable celebrity or athlete has appeared in this ad campaign..


Final thoughts: I love milk in my tea, but  I don’t like being marketed to. I am actively trying to reduce my milk consumption for this reason. Also, we are the only species that drinks milk past infancy, and across species..



Robots deboning Chicken


An article on Gizmodo describes the efforts to develop a deboning machine that will exceed the current human capacity to do so. A few things struck me here:

1) Most of the comments stated how people were surprised at the fact that many chickens were not already being processed by robots. This speaks volumes about how many people are somewhat aware of how our industrial food system operates, and are OK with it, or at least feel powerless to do anything about it. Dear reader: If you have any comments about how this idea can be challenged, please post your comments! I am so interested to hear what others are thinking!

2)Really .. do we need innovation which REQUIRES uniformity to work? Industrial chicken production is already similar enough to the production of any other commodity (..t-shirts, hair dryers…) that a costly machine will surely emphasize greater uniformity of breed, stock, and weight — monocultured birds!

3) Job cuts…??

This article also feeds nicley into another Gizmodo article which questions how chickens should be raised .. for example: as lobotomized ‘vegetative’ chickens until ‘ripe. Here’s a picture of a model from the article.. definitely check it out!

Jamie Oliver fighting child obesity


Here is a link to a great TED talk given by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver who discusses the huge impact that child obesity is having in America. Once again, he states Britain and the US, but Canada isn’t far off.

One of the most impactful statements is the idea that children of the current generation are statistically going to live shorter lives than their parents or grandparents due to the state of out food system.