With our final West End Market date being cancelled due to the impending storm and our resident summer market in Mt. Pleasant concluding last Sunday, I find myself with a surprising amount of free time this weekend. Now, Sunday morning is already booked with breakfast plans, where I will unabashedly be introducing new friends to the magic that is our Honey Lemon Thyme pork sausages. However, the remainder of my time will be spent appreciating the warmth and dryness that comes with being under a blanket rather than a market tent and catching up on reading (well, also a bit of climbing, but that’s off-topic).
Looking back, reading is what initially stirred my interest food. Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma was my first introduction to the concept of a food system, inspiring a vested interest that led me to study sustainable food systems in university and ultimately to my position here at Digs. And still, even with all the hands-on work that I do, reading continues to be one of the main ways I am expanding my knowledge in the area of food, whether it be through books, news articles, certification guidelines, or Julia’s weekly musings. Heavily inspired by this and the weather, I’ve decided to share a list with all of you, hopefully introducing a few new texts, books, and lines related to to all things food, farming, and animal welfare. Stay dry and enjoy!
Food Labels & Certifications
This part of the list is inspired by the questions I receive at the farmer’s markets, each and every week. While most of you only see me standing behind a table slinging meat, I too am a consumer and struggle to navigate the confusing and often deceiving labels and certification stickers that crowd food packaging. And boy, do I get it.
Now, you’ve heard the Urban Digs spiel on labels and certifications countless times – they have their limitations and should be conversations starters rather than killers. Take a typical farmer’s market example regarding our eggs. The eggs that we sell come from Rehoboth Farm, the closest thing we have to a "sibling"; we’ve raised some of John and Willy’s cows, they’ve raised some of our pigs, you get the idea. Now, as some of you may know, these eggs are BC SCPCA certified. The most rigorous animal welfare-oriented certification currently available in BC, the SPCA standards for egg-laying hens come in two tiers, free-run (raised indoors) and free-range (raised outside). However, the sticker advertising the certification is identical. When a customer gawks at our eggs for $7 a dozen after seeing another vendor selling SPCA certified eggs for almost 2 dollars less, the only way for that customer to know the difference between the eggs that were laid by chickens that had outdoor access for a minimum of 180 days each year to the chickens that were raised in a barn, is to initiate that conversation. My main takeaway: talk to your farmers and primary producers. Figure out the animal welfare issues that are important to you and ask relevant questions. Second, I encourage each and every one of you to research the certifications you are seeing. Animal welfare is a hot topic that has become easy to cash in on through the use of vague terminology and lackluster certifications that when tested, often require very low quality animal welfare. To learn more about the different certifications in BC, check out Animal Welfare Standards at a Glance, a comprehensive comparison but forth by the SPCA. And, if you’re really feeling keen and are willing to delve into the murky waters of egg-laying hen certification, click here.
Animal Welfare & All Things Food
While Michael Pollan was my first introduction into critical thinking around food, reading Temple Grandin was first exposure to the discipline of animal welfare. Arguably the most prolific and influential name in animal welfare and livestock handling in North America, her book Animals in Translation outlines how her personal experience and knowledge of autism has enabled her to better understand and influence the lives of livestock. It is must-read for anyone new to the topic of livestock welfare. Dr. Grandin has revolutionized the livestock industry in North America making vast contributions to the betterment of slaughterhouse design, animal handling, and animal welfare. If you are interested in learning more, Temple Grandin’s website has a plethora of information, where you can find many of her published essays openly accessible. May I suggest: Animals are Not Things and Animal Welfare and Society Concerns finding the missing link.
If the history and theory of food is more your thing, I highly recommend On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. Arguably the most referenced book on my shelf, this great read outlines everything from the science behind cooking to the history of livestock domestication. If you’re interested in something a bit more hefty and reference-like, I suggest the Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson. This massive book (I’m not kidding, it weighs 3kg) contains more than 2,000 alphabetized food-related entries, covering the topics of theory, regional cooking, traditions, habits, holidays, and more.
Speaking with our butcher Filipe today, I thought I’d include a few of his top-picks as well. The first book Filipe read when learning about butchery was The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat by Joshua Applestone from Fleisher’s Meats in NYC. Flash forward, well into his career, and he still swears by it. His honorable mentions include: Whole Beast Butchery by Ryan Farr and Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork by Adam Danforth.
The Mad Farmer Poems, Wendell Berry - An ode to the codergly bucolic soul in all of us
Germs, Guns, and Steel, Jarod Diamond – History, environmental determinism, and the role food played in the shaping of civilization
Between Grass & Sky, Recitations by three renowned cowboy poets—Joel Nelson and Andy Hedges from Texas, and Jerry Brooks from Utah—are woven together against a backdrop of dramatic Western landscapes to create a collective recitation of the prologue of the widely-celebrated poem Grass—written by legendary Texas poet Buck Ramsey.
Vancouver Food Policy Council – Keep up to date with their meeting minutes OR even attend a monthly meeting to learn more about food policy in Vancouver
Happy Reading! Please leave your reading list in the comments below!
Share this post