Thursday, October 6, 2011

Organic in Edmonton: Cheap! Readily Available Local Food Sources & Natural Cleaners

One of the local stores I count on for retail supplies.

I am often asked how we can afford to eat so organically on about $50 per person per week, or $800 a month for a family of four.  (With purchased lunches and the occasional pizza delivery, it's a bit closer to $1000, but those do add up...)  As a Global Peasant, it is not only possible, but we eat like kings!  As it were..

Though the list of suppliers and individual foods in the second half of this post was written specifically with Edmonton in mind, there are many immediate actions you can do every day to increase the quality and nutrition of your food, while still lowering the cost. I go into just a few here.

Pre-prepared foods are of course the most expensive with all their value added.  If you have little time during the week, learning how to prepare meals yourself to store for later consumption will save you up to half your food budget, depending on how much you rely on them.  So most of the items suggested here will be fresh, frozen, canned or prepared organic food that you can use as ingredients in meals to store for the rest of the week.

For a refresher course on what third party organically certified means, what you should be looking for, and why, see my blog post on the subject.

Don't forget:  In Europe, and many other places in the world, food shopping is done throughout the week, not twice a month for a $500 bill.  More frequent, less expensive, small bundle shopping means that you can take your bike or walk, rather than stuff your car to bursting.  It also means that you can get fresher food more often, instead of prepared foods that can survive a month's storage.  Shopping more often can lead to a smaller food bill, fresher food, and more exercise.  It's really worth changing habits for, and far more in the spirit of the Global Peasant.

You may notice a lack of candies, desserts, snacks, prepared meals, organic and fair trade teas, or spices in my listings here.  That's not because we don't use them; it's because we make so many things in the Abbey StillRoom ourselves!  And often what we can't make, we order wholesale.  We are always expanding our operation, our sources, and what products we can order. Yes, we are always happy to include extra for others, and we are now have our own direct-to-home wholesale organic co-op.

You'll also notice a lack of meat and dairy products.  Peasants the world over have rarely eaten flesh, except for feast days.  Meat is expensive!  Even the cheap cuts. Which is only fair when a creature sacrifices its life and the lives of all its future descendants for your consumption.  It costs alot to raise those animals, you know, and after you kill them, they don't make any more.  So it's rather wasteful. You'll find that you can reduce your food budget sometimes by half if you limit or cut out your meat consumption.  And then when you do purchase it, you can afford to get the very best organically grown food for yourself and your family.  The animals lead better lives, and you don't get hormones and antibiotics, with the added bonus of a far superior flavour.  It will also help you appreciate it more.

Organic food does not in fact have to be more expensive. It is a myth perpetuated by some health food or whole food stores, and other kinds of grocers; sometimes to gouge their customers, sometimes to discourage or discredit organics, sometimes just because the people bringing them in don't know how to price grocery items. (Here's a hint: basic food stuffs shouldn't have the same markup as supplements and clothing.) For those of you who want to increase your organic consumption and help support the rise of organic foods, practices, and sustainability, as well as decrease your food spending, here are some ways to do it in Edmonton.

Old Strathcona and Downtown Farmer's Markets:

Only open on Saturdays from 8 AM to 3 PM, these are some of the largest gatherings for local and inexpensive food.  I don't feel like we have fresh food in the house if we don't go to visit them every week.  We are totally car-free, but we get our bikes, panniers, and trailers down there as a matter of course for our weekly food supply.  In winter, it's a bit more of a trial, but that's what backpacks are made for... From the lowly potato to free range meat and eggs to unusual eggplant, fresh honey and exotic mushrooms, fresh and local food abounds.  Not every vendor is organic, though, so do check.  (The hydroponic people aren't technically organic, since hydroponic can't be, but they are as close as you can get, and their produce is exquisite!) There really is a very palatable difference in farm fresh, grain fed, free range eggs from the ones in the supermarket.  Not only are they better for you, they are better for the chickens themselves.  So come early.  They sell out fast...


A division of Overwaitea Foods out of BC, they came naturally to the integrated organic scene early, and have many organic foods hidden amongst their conventional offerings.  Though each Save-on can order any of the items that any other does, it is a choice of the mangers to bring certain products in.  Soy sauce, organic chocolate, tinned organic tomato paste... Your best best is to check the bulk bins first.  I love the organic popcorn, cashews, and fair trade organic chocolate coated almonds.  Remember: prepared foods and treats are always more expensive, so purchase sparingly.  But be sure to look for the organic broccoli, tofu, and even organic tortellini, burritos, and rice cream in the frozen section.  Since each Save-on is different, check with your local store and ask to have your favourites included.  My local Save-on is the source of this current list. Save-on is one of the retailers that boosts the price on organic foodstuffs for no good reason that I can see, other than to perpetuate the myth that it has to cost more, or to discourage consumption.  I know this because I have a pretty good idea how much they are paying wholesale for those items, and there is no need for them to retail for that much, especially when small health food stores sell the exact same items for less.  So watch what you buy!  Spectrum oils, which I love, are about 25% more expensive at Save-on than Safeway, so don't do all your shopping in one place!  They draw you in with the great organic taco chips, salsa and snacks, but get you with the oil and soya sauce.


Again, my local Safeway is the one I source. Your mileage may vary in your neighbourhood. It still pisses me off, though.  The latest trend of Safeway is to create their own third party certified organic line, the "O" brand certified by QAI, which is comparable in price to conventional.  In some cases, cheaper! However, each Safeway manager still chooses what customers they want, and my local Safeway has decided that our neighbourhood doesn't want that uppity stuff, and they are slowly removing organic from my shelves.  So I have to complain to the national phone line again, soon...  Organic pasta, oils, and other staples are some of the cheapest in the city, but like Save-on, you have to watch the prices and select only those items that are worth it to get from this retailer.  They will often have fresh produce, but at my local Safeway, their "always fresh" guarantee doesn't apply to organic.  Rummaging through the piles of rotting food to get to the new ones at the bottom makes me feel like an organic raccoon.  I'm sure they are hoping that we all just go away...

Earth's General Store:

Since the demise of giant version of Organic Roots, this is the best place to get all of the items you couldn't find anywhere else.  He's expanded, and now has a much bigger store on the other side of Calgary Trail.  And so convenient!  You can see the store first thing as you come out of the bike trail in the Mill Creek Ravine!  His food staples tend to be on the pricey side, so we usually just get our treats there, but it's our main source of toiletries and cleaners, so we still visit at least once a month.  Be prepared to stay for the literature and community connections!  You'll go in for organic ginger but hang out for the sustainable housing lecture...

Polar Bear Health:

One of my other stops for vital toiletries and cleaners, Polar Bear offers all it's products, including sale items, for 10% off to members. They never gouge, even on their supplements. Not really large enough for everyday food and beverage (sigh), they have a good selection of cosmetics, soaps, and other necessities that, including the discount, are the cheapest retail in the city.  Start talking to the friendly, wise staff and you may never get out of there!  One of the few independent health food stores left in the city, they value and invest in knowledge, and are certainly worth the trip.

Italian Centre:

Limited selection, but they are bringing in more organic food locally and from Europe all the time, and it's the cheapest of its kind in the city.  Tomato paste and sauces, vinegars, olive and speciality oils, pastas, and many are gluten free!  Independently owned, they are far more responsive to order requests than more grocers, so let them know what you need.

Our Organic Shopping List:

To give you some idea of how this all works and how we can take such good care of our family on such little money, here's most of our organic staples, presented according to type, with sources in abbreviation, and general frequency.  I won't include the prices, unless they are off the top of my head, 'cause that seems like way too much like work.


potatoes - FM, EGS if we miss the FM that week
sweet peppers - FM, Safeway has them every few months but from Mexico.  I usually pass...
eggplant - FM.  I'm surprised how much a staple this has become.  I never used to like it, but we have at least one eggplant dish a week now.  No eggplant in the fridge makes me sad...
tofu - Safeway, Save-On. Safeway only has the organic in pressed, which isn't our preference.  Save-On often has the softer version.  If you can't find organic tofu, make do without.  Soybeans are notorious for GMO contamination, and there is much to indicate that even small amounts are hazardous to your health. Organic Roots used to have fresh, locally made organic tofu.  Sigh...
onions, green onions - FM, Safeway.  I need them for nearly everything I cook.
apple juice - Safeway, frozen at Save-On. We still dilute this for our 3yo, which is great, because he goes though alot of it...
garlic - Safeway, FM.  Fresh. Though they are rarely at the Market..
mushrooms - Downtown FM for exotics, Safeway for local button, white, portabella.  The mushroom guy downtown is my husband's new best friend...
carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery - Safeway, Save-On, FM in season.

Monthly necessities or indulgences:

organic, fair trade coffee - Safeway, Save-On, EGS.  It's everywhere these days, so there really is no excuse not to look for it.  There is almost no difference in price, but do watch out for greenwashing with less-than-credible labels like Rainforest Alliance.  EGS freshly roasts it own organic, fair trade coffee, so I occasionally splurge...
soya milk - Safeway.  So Nice is one of the only brands that is certified organic, and therefore GMO free, but there are others.  Yes, I do have organic soya milk lattes every morning, thank you, and at about 10% of the price at a coffee bar...
cane sugar - Safeway, Save-On, EGS.  Save-On carries the organic, fair trade from Cocoa Camino in the bulk bins and in bags, but if you must, Safeway has two organic brands, though not fair trade...  When organic, cane sugar is a whole food, so don't be shy with it!
olive oil - Safeway.  Save-On also carries Spectrum oils, my personal favourite, since they are organic and cold-pressed, but they are much more expensive there. Now that Safeway's O brand is comparable in price with conventional, I usually just get that one.
basmati and jasmine rice - Safeway, cheapest in the bulk bins at Save-On.  I still can't get into brown rice, but there is nothing to compete with the smell of organic rice. Like organic flour, organic rice needs more moisture to cook properly, so don't forget to compensate.  Lundberg's Nutru-Farmed used to be the best you could get at both those stores, but now the true certified organics are in.  However, my husband picked this one up instead of our usual Lundberg, and I admit that I have had a conversion.  Safeway's O brand is literally the best basmati I have ever worked with.  The. Best. Ever.  It's obviously a very specific species, with a nutty smell, and each grain just falls apart from all the others.  My cooking has gone to the next level with this one...
hot peppers - FM.  I just don't bother anywhere else.  They aren't fresh or local enough...
eggs - FM, Safeway, Save-On.  Organic, free range. My husband loves them, and tries to get to Strathcona as soon as he can to get them, since they sell out so fast.  I still use them very rarely in baking and cooking that I just can't substitute for, but they kind of ooge me out.
tamari/soya sauce - Save-on, EGS. If you can't find a real, traditional brewed tamari or soya sauce, Asian Family will do in a pinch.  Why they don't make it more prominent on the label is beyond me, but their Light and Dark Soya sauces are made with organic soybeans.
dried pasta - Safeway, Save-On, EGS, IC.  Almost the same price as conventional, and so easy to find.
cream - Save-On.  My husband has to have cream for his tea, and organic makes me feel so much better about it...
peanut butter - Safeway, Save-On.  They have organic brands, but all have sea salt added, which isn't to our taste.  I'm not too worried about GMO's with peanuts so we get the "natural" kinds, which are just ground peanuts.
spinach - Safeway, FM.  Fresh in baby spinach leaves and frozen in chopped form.  Great for so many dishes!
peas - Safeway, frozen.  Shelled.
ketchup - Safeway, Save-On.  The latter doesn't carry the Muir Glen anymore, which is the next best thing to homemade, but the other house brands will do, even if they are a bit sweet...
edemame - Safeway, frozen. Soy beans in their shells.  Steam without defrosting, and shell as you eat them similar to fresh peas. Mmm...
taco chips, salsa - Save-On. Their in-house brand or my favourite from Que Pasa (BC.) Corn, like soy, is particularly contaminated with GMO, so if you can't find certified organic corn snacks, go without.  The risk just isn't worth it.
sesame oil - Safeway. Unrefined, low heat, from Spectrum.
canned chickpeas, kidney, and other beans - Safeway, Save-on.  It's terribly lazy, but soaking beans overnight means that you have to cook them the next day, and I just don't plan well enough for that.  Even if you can find dried organic beans to soak...  These are all ready to go, and cook in minutes! 
bananas - Safeway.  Bananas are one of the Dirty Dozen: a fruit that is highly contaminated with pesticides and herbicides when conventionally grown, so we don't get them unless we can buy organic.  We will often pick them up if Safeway is carrying them when we pop by...
strawberries, grapes, apples - Safeway, Save-On.  Usually in much nastier shape than their conventional counterparts, they are still worth the effort to sort through for the value of the extra vits and minerals, not to mention not ingesting the undesirable chemicals..
cheese - Safeway.  Since there are ethical parameters for animals required in organic certifications, I feel better supporting organic cheese.  But I sometimes wish I didn't like it so much...
corn flakes, corn pops - Safeway.  Not really, of course. Those are Kellogg's brand names.  The organic versions from Nature's Path are much tastier, more nutritious, and don't give you the cuts on the top of your mouth.  We all fight over 'em...
chocolate - EGS, Save-On.  Fair trade, organic. Eatin' and bakin'.  My husband has standing orders to get it whenever he stops in places that carry it.  The baking chocolate I use to make vegan truffles.  When it lasts long enough...
cocoa - Save-On, EGS. Fair trade, organic. Cocoa Camino, naturally.  Remember that you will need less of this in your recipes than conventional cocoa, since it's much richer and stronger.
chocolate chips - Save-On, Safeway, EGS.  Cocoa Camino makes great fair trade, organic, dairy free chocolate chips, but if I can't get there, the organic ones from Safeway will do...
icing sugar, light / dark brown sugar - EGS, Save-On.  Fair trade, organic.  Cocoa Camino makes everything...
tomatoes - FM. Hydroponic.  Almost as cheap as wholesale.  The only limit is how much you can carry!
honey - FM. It's so cheap by the pound, we can cook with it!  And make mead! Many of the local apiaries will even fill up your old containers for a bit off the price.  Don't forget to put some into a smaller container for daily use, and remember that it crystallizes after awhile.  Just reheat in small batches and it melts back to liquid. 3 pounds is about $20.
popcorn - microwave bags at Safeway, bulk bins at Save-On.  I prefer the loose in bulk bins, of course, for my old fashioned hot air popper.  It's so cheap!  You'll get used to making it every night again. Get lots.
tomato paste, tomato sauce, canned chopped tomatoes- Save-On, IC.  I'm making lots of my own pasta sauces now, and the cans make it much more convenient.  But I still buy pre-made pasta sauce in jars, in case I'm really short on time.  And I can re-use the jars...
pasta sauce - Safeway, Save-On, IC.  Local Prairie Harvest is so tasty, and there is no place cheaper for it than the Italian Centre.  Just wish they'd carry more of these organic pastas again...
wheat flour - Safeway (Sunny Boy: unbleached and whole grain, from Alberta), FM.  Organic wheat flour, even white, needs more water than conventional in recipes, possibly due to the higher mineral and vitamin content, so keep that in mind when you use it.
grape juice - Safeway, frozen at Save-On.  It's so strong that we dilute it for everyone in the house.  Lasts a week.
lemon concentrate - Safeway, Save-On, EGS.  From Santa Cruz.  You can use less, since it's extra potent, but with none of that weird aftertaste..
ginger - EGS. Fresh.
oatmeal - Save-On bulk bins.  Regular and instant.  Cheap as dirt.  Cheaper, these days...
maple syrup - Safeway, Save-On, Strathcona FM.
balsamic vinegar - Safeway, IC.
fresh pasta - Strathcona FM. Not many organic selections, but still fresh and locally made.
chocolate syrup - EGS.  When I don't make it myself, this is very nice to have on hand.  One of my favourites from Santa Cruz.
pearl barley, lentils - Save-On bulk bins, PB
mung beans - PB.  For growing your own organic bean sprouts!

Infrequent or In-Season Purchases:

coconut - PB. Shredded, non-sulfured.
molasses, rice syrup - EGS
vanilla extract - EGS.  Fair trade, organic. Giant bottle for $24.
baking powder - Save-On. Also has no alum.
rice wine vinegar - EGS. Really what our Asian sauces was missing.  No substitute.
peas, corn, turnips - FM. Fresh, in shell or in husk.  Nothing like it.
waffles - Save-On. Frozen. When I don't make them to freeze myself, we'll occasionally treat ourselves to these ones. But not too often, because of the gougy retail price. Again, from Nature's Path.
crackers - Save-On. My kids still love those things, and although the price is too high for where they are selling them, I will still pick them up sometimes.
cashews - Save-On bulk bins. Roasted or non-, whole or in pieces.  Still too pricey, but my husband loves them, especially in mushroom dishes.
licorice - Save-On, PB. Sticks or pieces.  The best licorice candy you will ever put in your mouth. Ever. I need to learn how to make it this good, but until I do, I'll just have to lust after Panda...
yogurt - Safeway. Nearly all store bought yogurt is just a tasty pudding, and doesn't you any good at all.  Organic contains live bacterial cultures, so I can use it for leavening, esp. in naan.
sour cream - Safeway, Save-On. Since organic has ethical standards for animal treatment, it's worth the few extra pennies to help them out, while also not consuming antibiotics and hormones...
sesame butter - Save-On, EGS. Main ingredient for tahini sauce, can also usually be used just like peanut butter for those with peanut allergies, and very high in calcium!
Patel's Indian prepared pouches - Save-on.  I admit it.  This is one of the only prepared meals I indulge in, but I really have to stop myself buying as many or as often as I want.  Microwavable in 2 min, stove for 3-5. No refrigeration needed. Even their conventional versions just contain... food.  Real spices.  No soyabean oil. No preservatives.  And tastes better than most restaurants!  Prepared foods always cost more than we think, though, so you'll have to exert some discipline to keep them only for emergencies, or you'll be tempted to live on them.  I use them when guests come over and I don't have time to make more than a few dishes, or with some pita bread after a hard day and I can't cook, or traveling and can't find food easily...  Things like that.  Mmmmm.... I know you`re looking at me, Channa Masala. Oh, yes you are...

Natural Cleaners, Toiletries:

Toilet paper - Safeway, Save-on.  Save-on has it's own brand of recycled, unbleached, and Safeway carries two.  Woohoo!  Unless it says recycled, it's not. It's virgin wood cut down just for fibre just to make paper products like your TP.  There is absolutely no excuse for not using recycled paper, and you can't possibly bitch about forest destruction if you use anything else.  Since you are wiping your ass with virgin rainforest...
Borax - Safeway, EGS. I can't clean if there isn't any borax in the house.  It disinfects with very hot water as well as bleach, without the nastiness; it softens water for whiter laundry, deodorises, and kills any bugs or eggs like fleas, tics, bedbugs, and there is no better scratchless cleanser for tubs, porcelain and chrome.  I use it in my handwashing to disinfect my wood utensils. Only dissolves in warm or hot water, so don't use it in your cold wash!
White wine vinegar - Handy Bakery, Superstore. Not organic. I don't encourage the use of the lab-created vinegars for so many reasons, so even in cleaning, I'll use only the real brewed vinegars.  Less harsh, too.
Hydrogen peroxide - PB. Not the woosy, expensive, small version you get at pharmacies, this industrial strength version (over 30%) is lab quality.  It will kill just about anything, and bubble like mad doing it.  And the bugs don't build up a resistance, either!  It's so much fun!  I put it in my delicate laundry to disinfect and deodorize, I dilute it and add it to the orange cleanser to make a truly fine cleaning cocktail that disinfects, degreases, whitens, and is completely non-toxic.  Don't let that fool you into complacency, though.  Strong H202 will eat through your skin, so always dilute, wear gloves, and rinse or wipe the surface thoroughly after cleaning.  Left-over residue can be potent enough to irritate the skin.
orange cleaner - EGS, though some Save-Ons might still have it.  It's concentrated, so it will last you awhile.  Cleans and smells great, with no fumes or allergens.  Doesn't smell like orange: it IS orange, made from the rind.  I wouldn't recommend eating it, though...
Big jug of Dr. Bronner's liquid soap - PB, refillable at EGS.  Organic, all natural, biodegradable. You can dilute it for hand soap, making it anti-bac with the addition of a small amount of GSE, you can use it for shaving soap or laundry or washing floors in a pinch...  It's highly recommended for your delicates, wools and silks!  Exactly the same stuff as those "speciality" soaps, only less toxic. It's an all in one cleaner, and buying the big jug means I don't purchase soap for about six months. ~ $70 for the largest jug.  Smaller quantities are much less and can last months.
GSE - PB.  Organic grapefruit seed extract.  Anti-bac, anti-viral, anti-fungal, preservative. Highly concentrated, it has some advantages over tea tree oil.  I use it in my liquid hand soap mix for disinfecting as well as keeping it available for pimples, boils, and other hard-to-cure skin conditions.
Shampoo, conditioner - EGS, PB.  I can't make either of those myself yet, so I still just pick them up.  Avalon is my current favourite, despite the smear campaign that USDA Organic tried to create about their organic certification.
oral hygiene products - PB, EGS.  Fluoride free, sugar free, SLS free toothpaste; natural bristle, biodegradable, or changeable head toothbrushes...  There are far more choices available to you than the same boxes, different names you see at your pharmacy...
Laundry detergent, dishwasher powder, dish soap - EGS, Vitamin Farm downtown in an emergency. All from Biovert (Quebec) or Ecover.  They clean better than all conventional chemical products I've tried, and they are both biodegradable, sustainably made, non-toxic, hypo-allergenic, phosphate-free, and mostly organic.  The Seventh Generation and NatureClean versions I won't use now even when I'm desperate.  They just don't work very well.
toilet cleaner, BBQ cleaner - EGS.  The first goes without saying.  The second works great on baked-on carbon and grease on stoves, without the fumes or toxins.  For those, I will use the NatureClean versions, but only because I haven't been able to find another brand locally.

This is not even close to everything that's available in Edmonton, since it's just our family's usual organic purchases, but it does give you some idea of how you can fit your personal preferences into the inexpensive, organic life.  If you're still not sure, or if you're really keen and want to save more on your budget while eating better than you ever have before, we offer very reasonable classes on the subject, or the slightly more expensive one-on-one personal expertise, helping you relearn how to shop the organic and healthy way.  It will save you so much money in long run, you'll wonder what to do with it all.  Or why you ever spent that much on that other stuff in the first place...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Certified Organic: There IS a Difference- List of CO Agencies

Research agrees on the fundamentals: that organics have more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients than conventionally grown, without adding more calories or fat.  The only disagreement stems from how much more?  45-85% seems to be range, depending on the product or the circumstances (how long it's been out of the field, how much processing, etc.).  So it's obvious that, even with the slightly higher prices, organics are far better for your family and even taste superior to conventional.

But that's only the most directly noticeable reason to insist on certified organic. The widesweeping attempt at Greenwashing, especially by transnationals, have done their very best to give the impression that 'natural', 'organic', 'wholesome', 'whole food' and other glittering generalities offer the same benefits as certified organically grown. They have also made inroads on persuading the public that the designation really doesn't mean much, so they don't have to work to achieve it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Certified organic means, like ISO and other third party standards, that a separate organization, often a not-for-profit or government agency, has been invited in to audit the company, product, and policies. They look at the paper trails, tour the facilities, and extensively test the products, soils, and other on-site components. Only after thorough investigation, and years after the conversion from conventional, does a company or product earn a third party certified organic designation. Although each organization has different qualifications, some agreed upon requirements are universal. Products must be GMO-free, contaminants must be minimal at most, practices must be sustainable and usually have to include soil generation and increase of future use, no pharmaceutical or chemical use, and often include labour, animal rights and other ethical standards.

To certify a farm, the farmer is typically required to engage in a number of new activities, in addition to normal farming operations:
Study the organic standards, which cover in specific detail what is and is not allowed for every aspect of farming, including storage, transport and sale.
Compliance — farm facilities and production methods must comply with the standards, which may involve modifying facilities, sourcing and changing suppliers, etc.
Documentation — extensive paperwork is required, detailing farm history and current set-up, and usually including results of soil and water tests.
Planning — a written annual production plan must be submitted, detailing everything from seed to sale: seed sources, field and crop locations, fertilization and pest control activities, harvest methods, storage locations, etc.
Inspection — annual on-farm inspections are required, with a physical tour, examination of records, and an oral interview.
Fee — an annual inspection/certification fee (currently starting at $400–$2,000/year, in the US and Canada, depending on the agency and the size of the operation).
Record-keeping — written, day-to-day farming and marketing records, covering all activities, must be available for inspection at any time.
In addition, short-notice or surprise inspections can be made, and specific tests (e.g. soil, water, plant tissue) may be requested."

When you insist on and buy third party certified organic, it encourages healthy, sustainable practices, keeps farmers off GMO's and chemicals, and recompenses the growers and companies for going to all the bother and expensive of maintaining those high standards. It is clearly superior to simply locally grown, which might be entirely chemical, isn't examined for ethics or sustainability, and doesn't necessarily encourage good practices. But not all third party certification is created equal. With the deliberate increase in confusion created by the transnationals and other greenwashers, how do you know which third party certification to look for on your favourite produce and products?

Beware of imitations! Many logos are now dressed up to imply a reputable certifier without actually being one. And price is no indicator. Organic, despite the increased cost to certify, can create more yield, less waste, and therefore can often be offered at a comparable price to conventional. It is a myth that organic has to cost more, especially *that* much more. Many grocers, particularly those who are less interested in increasing the market for organic, will often gouge their customers to perpetuate the "high price of organics" illusion, as well as make much more of a profit on those prepared to pay more for better. And some merchants just don't know how to price food properly.

For an idea of how to eat organic in Edmonton, the list is here.

List of Logos to look for:


 California Certified Organic Farmers:

Originally known as California Organic Food Act Certified, this non-profit group is one of the first third party certifiers in North America, forming much of the basis for many new certifiers and government standards.

From their website: "CCOF was founded in 1973 as a mutual assistance and certification organization for organic farmers and was one the first organizations to perform organic certification in North America. Since then, the CCOF seal has been your assurance of certification with integrity. Today, CCOF maintains one of the most consumer recognized and trusted seals in the organic marketplace. CCOF remains one of the oldest and largest organic certification and trade associations in North America, with more than 2,000 certified members throughout the farm and processing community and more than 350 supporting members."

BC Certified Organic:

One of my personal favourites.  Around since at least the early 90's, it's local, non-profit, volunteer, co-op like, but with very high standards. It also tries to integrate growers, markets, and promote organic practices overall. 

Oregon Tilth:

Another one of the oldest and most trusted names in North America organic certification. From their website: "Oregon Tilth is a nonprofit research and education membership organization dedicated to biologically sound and socially equitable agriculture".  It's used in many places in North America and is an international standard.

OCIA - Organic Crop Improvement Association logo

OCIA - Organic Crop Improvement Association Canada

"OCIA International is one of the world's oldest, largest and most trusted leaders in the organic certification industry. A nonprofit, member-owned, agricultural organization, OCIA is dedicated to providing the highest quality organic certification services and access to global organic markets. "


Pro-Cert provides organic certification and verification services beyond the farm gate for client producers and processors in Canada and the USA.  From their website: "Pro-Cert resulted from the merger in 1999 of two very similar organic certification agencies:  •Organic Crop Producers & Processors (OCPP) of Ontario, Canada, •Pro-Cert Organic Systems (Pro-Cert) of Saskatchewan, Canada...Pro-Cert certifies some 1,700 organic producers, processors, handlers and traders in Canada and the US. "

Bio Siegel :

From Wiki: "In Germany the national label was introduced in September 2001 following in the footsteps of the political campaign of "Agrarwende" (agricultural major shift) led by minister Renate Künast of the Greens party. This campaign was started after the mad-cow disease epidemic in 2000. The effects on farming are still challenged by other political parties. The national "Bio"-label in its hexagon green-black-white shape has gained wide popularity - in 2007 there were 2431 companies having certified 41708 products. The popularity of the label is extending to neighbouring countries like Austria, Switzerland and France."


From Wiki: "The European organic food label has been mandatory throughout the EU since July 2010. Originally it was planned to replace the old national organic labels but it was finally decided to allow for a transition period where both the EU label and the national labels may be used to mark organic food. .. Unlike earlier labels no words are presented on the label lifting the requirement for translations referring to organic food certification."


One of the world's oldest and highest standards of certified organic. "Demeter International is the largest certification organization for biodynamic agriculture, and is one of three predominant organic certifiers....The Demeter certification program was established in 1928, and as such was the first ecological label for organically produced foods.  The certification is the oldest traditional organic certification in Europe and is regarded as the highest grade of organic farming in the world. Certification is difficult to come by and must be renewed annually. Demeter’s “biodynamic” certification requires biodiversity and ecosystem preservation, soil husbandry, livestock integration, prohibition of genetically engineered organisms and viewing the farm as a living “holistic organism”. The certification verifies the standards on behalf of the farmers, which in turn guarantees high quality food products to the consumers."


France based, it's one of the older and trusted certifications from before the EU, and considered to be a higher standard.  Ecocert has been recognized and trusted in health food and whole food stores in North America for decades.  According to Ecocert Canada: "Ecocert issues certifications for organic farming products, natural and organic cosmetics, organic textiles, fair trade, etc."

Nature et Progres:

Another French based, trusted and older brand,  its very high standards are no longer considered legally "organic" in Europe.  Their cosmetic version in particular is known to be very strict.  However, many producers are turning to other third party certifiers as well to be able to be considered CO.  I personally like their requirements because they prohibit so many petrochemicals from inclusion, and with its peer and consumer review process, are able to certify other products that are not usually included as "organic", such as traditional French farmed salt.  One of my personal favourites...

Quality Assurance International:

Known and trusted in health and whole food stores since 1989, they are starting to make me nervous now.  I'm seeing it on all the Safeway "O" organics products, and part of me is suspicious that, rather than Safeway rising to the standards of QAI, that instead that certification has been lowered to meet those of Safeway.  Or maybe I'm just paranoid.  Maybe Safeway really has stepped up to be as organic and sustainable as QAI is usually known for.  But for some reason, only on those products and not the rest of their food...

usda organic

USDA Organic:

Now used in much of Canada as well, I only go with this one when I can't find any better. It's one of the lowest standards but is still recognized as "organic".   For example, "small farms and food facilities can label their products organic as long as their sales don't exceed $5,000 in a year", things like that.  In fact, I suspect that USDA Organic is doing it's very best to water down "organic" standards in general, making it easier for companies to get "organic" labeling while not changing their practices significantly. [Pesticides in (USDA) Organic Strawberry Plants] Though it's still superior to conventional.  They are also trying to make themselves the only standard so watch out for claims that if it's not USDA Organic, it's not CO.  That's simply not true, and it's nearly bankrupting other products that already adhere to a much higher standard.


Although not organic per se, the Transfair or Fairtrade logo is also extremely important to look for in all your purchases.  From the Canadian website: "Fair Trade is a different way of doing business. It's about making principles of fairness and decency mean something in the marketplace. It seeks to change the terms of trade for the products we buy - to ensure the farmers and artisans behind those products get a better deal. Most often this is understood to mean better prices for producers, but it often means longer-term and more meaningful trading relationships as well."

Logos to watch out for!

Fair Trade USA: 

As of January, 2012, Fair Trade USA has split from FairTrade International, largely to support the certification of large corporate plantations instead of small farmers or co-operatives.  FairTrade Canada, one of the founding members of FairTrade International, strenuously disagrees and will still be maintaining the original standards and logo.  Don't be fooled! Specifically favouring large producers crowds out the small, independant farmers that FairTrade was in part established to protect in the first place.  It's not just about giving the workers a fair wage. It's about local control of land, economy, and by extention, power.  Fair Trade USA is, in my opinion, a disgrace to the name and meaning of the concept and should be heartily slapped back into the age of colonization and slavery where it belongs.

Rainforest Alliance and Forest Stewardship.

Funded by the US Agency for International Development and a number of private agencies, it's a great example of Classic Greenwashing.  Popping up on a huge variety of products in 2008, their website offers services to certify just about everything!  I've never seen such whoremongering for a logo.  Just look at all the big name companies already on their certification list!  And so quickly, too, with such a high end website, integrated business services, and Kids Corner.  Companies whose Coffee is RA certified in Canada:

7-Eleven Canada
Second Cup
Shell Canada

Yep, I associate all those companies with sustainable business practices, good labour relations, and saving the rainforest, and always have.  I'm so glad that the good people at the Rainforest Alliance have eased all of my doubts... 

From Wiki: "Rainforest Alliance agricultural certification has been criticized by a range of academics and media sources. The Manchester Evening News notes that critics have dubbed the Rainforest Alliance "Fairtrade lite" therefore offering companies such as Chiquita and Kraft a cheap way to tap into the ethical consumer market. This is known as greenwashing, as it allows companies and products to appear more ethical and environmentally friendly without actually being either. Alex Nicholls, professor of social entrepreneurship at Oxford University, called Rainforest Alliance certification "an easy option for companies looking for a "flash in the pan at a cheap price"....Rainforest Alliance certification has been criticized for allowing the use of the seal on coffee containing a minimum of 30% of certified coffee beans. According to Michael Conroy, chairman of the board for TransFair USA, this use of the seal is the "most damaging dimension" of [Rainforest Alliance's] agricultural certification program and "a serious blow to the integrity of certification": ...On an episode of Britain's Really Disgusting Food presented by Alex Riley, the comedian questioned the Alliance about its seal of approval for Galaxy chocolate, from 2010, since the product uses palm oil that is sourced through methods destructive of rainforests. The spokesperson replied that the seal of approval was for the cacao used in the product. Critics maintain that the seal will look to consumers like an endorsement of the bar, and not solely the cacao used in its production."

FSC does NOT mean that the paper product comes from recycled trees, though one might get that impression from the way they go on about sustainability and climate and such.  In fact, it means the very opposite.  It is from virgin wood fibre.  From their website: "The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo is your guarantee that the wood and paper products you purchase come from healthy forests and strong communities."  Well, in fact, most trees used for wood and paper come from healthy forests and strong communities. The difference is neither remain as such after you log the place out. A tree farm is not a forest, and planting monospecies that mostly fail after you stick them in the clear cut ground doesn't count as a return to healthy forest. It doesn't keep the soil intact, the ecosystem vibrant, and the communities themselves disintegrate when the plants close up after 30 years of decimation.  I particularly hate this logo.  My father was a tree killer, and we lived in logging towns for most of my young life.  I remember distinctly 2 1/2 of the three lumber mills closed down in one of my hometowns, and a once thriving hub of activity in Northern Sask. was almost abandoned overnight.  Meanwhile, at the same time, those *exact* same companies were publicly applying pressure for major concessions from the BC government to open six new plants there, citing "jobs, jobs, jobs"....  They didn't mention that all those jobs came at the expense of the people in the Saskatchewan communities they had just pulled out of, as well as the environmental devastation that is finally more well-known...

I don't know how these people sleep at night, quite frankly.  They tout "legal" sources, but legal doesn't mean ethical.  It just means compliance from governments. From the Guardian: "[T]he Ugandan government evicted...thousands... from the Mubende and Kiboga districts to make way for the UK-based New Forests Company to plant trees, to earn carbon credits and ultimately to sell the timber....The FSC concluded that 'officials consider Namwasa one of their most peaceful and successful experiences in encouraging illegal encroachers to voluntarily leave central forestry reserves and would like to use the model for controversial areas in the future'."  That's healthy communities and sustainable forests in action, folks.  Or is it the other way around?

If you care at all about extensive logging in Canada and around the world, don't use FSC products if you can find recycled or reused wood and paper products. Me, I avoid new wood at nearly all costs, and I never buy into "carbon credits".

Certified Sustainable Seafood MSC

Another hugely greenwashed label, more used in the States than Canada.  Like Forestry Stewardship, it's the fine print that will get you.  "The MSC — Marine Stewardship Council — says that the "sustainable" label means that fishermen caught the seafood with methods that don't deplete its supply, and help protect the environment in the waters where it was caught... The MSC system has certified most fisheries with "conditions." ..But they have years to comply with those conditions after the fisheries have already been certified sustainable."  Don't just look for third party certified.  Look for a third party certified label you can TRUST.  Any company can make up a shell label and stick it on their products, or pay someone to do so.  Look at their websites, and see what they aren't saying.  If they aren't specifically addressing an issue, it's not usually because they haven't thought about it  They are just hoping you haven't.

Okay, this post kind of got away on me here. There are so many more agencies and logos, but I focused on ones that fellow Canadians and North Americans would most easily spot when shopping. Feel free to let me know of any others you think should be included.  I might even add more myself as I remember or find them...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Public / Private Health Care

Instead of podcasting my speech, I put it on YouTube with pics from the event for visual interest.

I was invited as a rep from the Green Party to the political panel of the forum on public health care on Sept. 18, 2011. None of the other invited parties attended, so the panel was cancelled. This topic, however, is one of my specialties, and the Greens are committed to an increase in democracy and public participation, so I spent my Sunday afternoon helping out anyway. I even worked the PowerPoint presentation of the keynote speaker, Diana Gibson, Research Director from the Parkland Institute.

Private health care already exists and always has in Canada. We are talking about two different public processes here, and the governments, both federal and provincial, deliberately obfuscate the two whenever they are trying to cut more funding in pursuit of their agenda and "free market" fantasies. 1) One is the creation, equipping, staffing, maintenance, and funding of public facilities like most hospitals, some clinics and even fewer research areas. 2) The other is the direct paying of taxpayer bills for medical care: i.e. public insurance. Everything else is privately owned. Everything. So whenever the Right starts talking about two tier or private health care, pretending we should have that conversation, it's only to decrease public and increase private further. There are therefore two ways they can do that, and usually do. One is to decrease the funding of the public facilities, like closing hospitals, public clinics, reducing staff and increasing hours, like any employer who wants to cut costs, and decreasing maintenance, letting equipment get older before replacing it for example. The other is to "de-list" services that are covered by the province's public insurance.

Ralph Klein, Premier of Alberta, did both. He closed and actually blew up hospitals, turned brand new hospitals into "extended care clinics", cut staff across the board, increased hours, and shut down nearly every mental health facility in the province. So naturally, those professionals fled to seek employment elsewhere if they could. Some went to other provinces, some switched to private practice, and some went to the States. As for public insurance, every so often, a new list came out that took away more and more services that used to be covered under public health insurance. We used to be able to get an eye exam every year, then every two, and now it's not covered at all. Same with certain surgeries, then even ambulance trips. If you don't want to have to pay for those out of your own pocket, now you have to pay separately for private insurance to cover those expenses, on top of the premiums he forced us all to pay for public insurance, despite the fact that it's illegal under the Canada Health Act, since it affects universal accessibility and portability. But people still need those services, and to pay for them. So many more private clinics opened up all over the province. Soon they were getting permission to do procedures they never were allowed to do before and which were originally under the purveyance of the government public facilities, but we have such long waiting lists in those places, doncha know, and this will help open up beds for those who really need it. So now these clinics are doing day surgery for knees and hip replacements. Or cataracts. I mean, it's crazy. And the public insurance of the province pays for it, since it medically necessary and they can't get it done in a timely manner in the public hospitals, so the private company pockets the money. And it costs twice as much! According the Parkland Institute, Albertans already pay the highest out of pocket cost for health care services in the country! So the province and its citizens are still paying, and paying more than anyone else, but the illusion is created that government can't afford to maintain the public facilities, and that private can do it better, offering "choice". Like we're shopping for a new heart like we need a new pair of shoes.

Private ownership and profit has always been a part of health care in this country, operating in conjunction with the public facilities the government maintains, the public insurance owned by the provinces, and private insurance. Family doctors, dentists, orthodontists, cosmetic specialists... They are all private companies, usually owned by the doctors themselves or in partnership. The labs used to be government owned in Alberta until Klein privatized them, too. So when you go to your family doctor, if you can find one, or a clinic or need lab work, the province pays for the visit to the private company, unless that visit is no longer covered for some reason. Then your private insurer pays. Unless you don't have one. Then you pay out of pocket.

Current practice is that the public health insurance plan pays for any procedure that is medically necessary and can't be done in a reasonably accessible public hospital or clinic. If you can't get the heart surgery you need in your province, the government will pay to ship you somewhere else in the country and then pay for the procedure. So the more cuts to public health care, the more private takes over. So instead they get the government money for the procedures. With increased procedures in private, it helps make the argument for more cuts to public, since we don't want duplication of services or anything... And the wheel goes on. That's how it's worked in all the countries that have toyed with a public/private system, and most are switching back to a more public balance.

With the long waiting lists and public facilities shutting down all over the country, to get treatment in a timely manner, some patients are going to where they can get their treatment, paying the bills, and asking to be reimbursed later. That sometimes doesn't happen, if the government don't agree that you needed to go *there* to get *that*. These aren't the rich, either. Just people who hold BBQ's or put up their houses for collateral so they or their families can get treatment. It's already happening here. Creating an even greater system where this can degrade further is the tide we have to stem. Renewing our commitment to care, facilities, staff, equipment, and patients means giving back the funding to public health care, removing the muscling in of private in those areas, and the balance will again shift to an efficient, sustainable, equitable system across the entire country, and that used to be the envy of the world.

The rich will always head to Mexico to get their valves massaged or whatever. It's a status symbol. They always have. But before the cuts to public health care, all the treatments they actually needed were available in a timely manner, by professional, caring, healthy staff, in the finest of facilities with the best of equipment. So they were seen as a bit of nutters and weren't recompensed. They certainly didn't have to fly to the States for basic heart surgery...

The States have already tried for-profit health care. Not only is it an abomination and a complete failure, they have some of the highest costs and worst care per capita in the developed world. 60% of all bankruptcies in the States are directly related to medical bills.

Investors, not doctors, suddenly make the calls about patient care, equipment, staff, and facilities. The brightest and the best of medical practitioners leave for private practice because they can get better pay. We saw that happen in Alberta with the Klein Kuts. Hundreds of practitioners fled, leaving only the most dedicated or those who had difficulty getting jobs elsewhere staying here in the public system, with pay cuts and huge hour increases. Expensive diagnostic machines cease to be lifesavers and become moneymakers. After all, ya gotta pay for 'em... So they are used on those who can afford them, whether they need the procedure or not, and those who need it but can't afford it can wait for the charity of a public system. This isn't "House", you know, where he doesn't seem to care who pays... You think increasing private care will help take the strain off the public system? Not a chance. Since there are so many new clinics making money off people's pain and desperation and suffering, it's just all the more reason to cut it further, leaving public health care a desiccated husk that even rats won't gnaw on.

None of this has anything to do with "standards", of course. Those are different regulations that all facilities, public or private, have to follow according to the law, both federal and provincial. There's alot of leeway, though, and many things aren't covered that should be. The doctors and other professionals are licensed by the provincial government, but on the advice of the independent College of Physicians and Surgeons or other professional groups whose job they have taken it upon themselves to decree what is required for their profession. Usually those are in conjunction, and the government doesn't deviate from those recommendations unless it has an agenda it wants to follow. It certainly didn't hear a thing when it de-listed from public insurance many of the services that the College considered "vital", like ambulance rides, and it ignored pleas for the children's hospital, which took more than 20 years to build and is now a charity hospital linked to a University hospital that's gets much of its funding through raffles.

We have always had a public/private system. We always will have one. There have been fat farms and other clinics operating outside the public system. It's a matter of degree. Allowing more private, even regulated and having a "base standard of care", means a degradation of those same services in the public system. In this new myth of "private can do better", or "private costs us less", the new private clinics and services suck the talent and patients away from the crumbling public system, leaving a dangerous, intolerable mess that can only be cured by, you guessed it, more private health care.

Injecting money back into the public system means less staff attrition, more recruitment, better facilities, and less tax revenues flowing to States. There is no possible way a facility that is required to make a profit can provide services as cheaply as a government. They can't buy in the same bulk, they can't actually outbid a government on wages if that government actually cares to pay their people enough, it can't get the same deals on equipment, and a government isn't even required to break even, much less make a profit. In a government system, services can be provided at a much greater efficiency, with greater safety, and with only patient care and workplace security in mind. In for-profits, just imagine the mishmash of insurance providers, coverage, and the hundreds of staff required just for processing all that paperwork. In the public system, mistakes or problems that happen in one centre can quickly be dealt with and new regulations and procedures passed on all across the country in days, rather than going unnoticed in an avalanche of private facilities. It all comes down to who is going to get paid, and who is doing the paying. Someone is going to provide the drugs, the procedures, the facilities, and the staff. It's all a matter of who do you want to get the money. Private for-profit companies, who are designed to make money specifically off of their patient's suffering, not necessarily relieving it, or diverting that money directly back into the public purse and a government who at least theoretically is more concerned with getting the citizenry productive again?

It's gone beyond an obscene and flagrant disregard for the Canada Health Act, universality and public health care. We've always had a two tier system, and now they are just getting out the bone cutter to start hacking the corpse of public health care to more easily transportable bits. Easier to smoke on the BBQ, doncha know...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

ECOS Demo at the U of A - Aug. 13, 2011

"Interested in learning about native Albertan plant species? Want to know what ECOS' Naturalization Project is all about?

We'll have an informative talk about native Albertan plants by Cherry Dodd of the Edmonton Naturalization Group while we enjoy tea made from native plants and vegan pastry treats!

Following the tour by Cherry Dodd, we will be joined by Gifts Of Nature who will be doing demos on how to utilize native plants to create our own oils, salves etc."

For more information about ECOS' Naturalization Project

We donated our time so this event was free for the participants.

I have to practice recording these more.  We rode bike there, it was +30 out, and I didn't mike up.  So the sound sucks, and I'm roasting.  However, there might be some merit to these anyway.

Next time, I'm getting one of those clappers from the movie producers.  Any more like this and I'll have my nerd card revoked for low quality tech and content.

Part One

Part Two - After everyone has created their infusions

Tech and sound by my journeywoman.  She makes a better alchemist.  Heh.  But it was much appreciated, or I wouldn't have this at all.

When I was talking about olive oils, I oversimplified a bit.  Expeller pressed is squeezing.  Cold pressed is squeezing at low temps.

My 9 year old daughter said she had a hard time with the magpie cawing in the background. It's very...natural.  But if someone wanted to help me subtitle it in future, it might prove more useful.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Baking Soda - Appropriate (and Cheap!) Eco -Technology - 60's Era Ephemera

I do hope I'm not breaching any copyrights by publishing this, but it's just too dreamy...  To take the curse off it, I'll break my usually infallible rule of no advertising to include the brand name of my little baking soda book.

I love this book.  My cakes never come out as good as the one in the picture, mostly because I'm not prepared to go to the effort to make the right traditional frostings just yet, but it's what I aspire to.  Despite the proliferation of ready made deserts and instant cake mixes, a domestic cake made by an expert, like the one in the picture, is a marvel of simple equipment, no special ovens, and completely scratch ingredients that we just don't appreciate anymore!

The purpose of this post, however, is to do a service by publishing this wonderful piece of 1960's North American vintage literature for your edification. It's valuable for students of costume and design, anthropologists of recent eras, and of course, lists all the many things you can do with baking soda that most of us have forgotten. I mean, who uses the perfectly good word "dentifrice" anymore? The silver polish magic alone is worth the price of admission. And who lets that baby stay in the bath with a toothbrush in it's mouth? The scarf protecting our housewife's coif is darling enough, but my favourite image has to be the gloved hands snuffing out cigarettes in the giant car ashtray!

My sceptical mom still recommends soda baths for hives and irriations!
This is a 1969 pamphlette with lovely recipes that tries to encourage the use of soda in baking in particular, just as it was going out of fashion in favour of baking powder.  And why not?  The acid shift required to create the chemical reaction for soda makes it more difficult to use it for cakes and cookies, while baking powder acts with mere water.

The diapers on this baby are cloth and were left to soak between use and laundering.
I remember this being in my mother's collection, so it may have been in our family since it's date of publishing. Or maybe I picked it up at a thrift store. I've had it for so long, I'm sure I've forgotten by now... I use many of the recipes in this book, as well as many other vintage books, for the simple reason that most of them are far better than the ones in most modern books. The recipes assume some competency and skill with cookery, they don't usually cut corners, and they go into detail on presentation and technique. The results are almost always superior to comparable modern recipes, and learning the basics of what you are doing as well as why can help one become a better artist. It's only with the vintage recipe books that I have been able to reCreate so many traditional candies, pastries, beverages, and other edibles that make up our Stillroom and Global Peasant repertoire.

If anyone has any vintage caramel toffee or other great traditional recipes, I'd love to see 'em.  One of my future projects is petite fours!