Food has become big in every way. Forbes magazine says that food is the world’s largest single industry.
When you start to think about the size of the food industry globally – the numbers are impossible to quantify and understand. But what is understandable is that there are over seven billion of us on the globe and every single one of us is affected daily, several times over, by the food industry.
From farmers and growers to processors, manufacturers, and advertisers; to transporters, wholesalers and retailers; from celebrity chefs and cooking shows, to food magazines and food blogs; to farm stands, markets, restaurants and speciality stores; from fast food to slow; and from vegans to locavores to flexitarians – food permeates our existence in more ways than ever.
Eating safely, reasonably, and ethically is an increasingly complicated business. There are the junk science and marketing claims about the latest superfoods to wade through. Green coffee beans may be the latest victim here – with manufactured supplements of dubious origin flooding the market at exorbitant prices. There’s the cone of silence surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). And then there are the factory farms and a shrinking number of giant food industries controlling more and more of the global market.
Half the world cannot get enough food while others are drinking Kopi luwak – the most expensive coffee on the planet. Kopi luwak retails at about US $700 a kilogram owing to the fact that it is made from coffee beans fed to and then excreted by Asian Palm civets – a process which endangers the lives of civets – animals that are often kept under horrifying conditions. And then there are the workers whose job it is to harvest the excreted coffee beans.
But it isn’t just Kopi luwak that raises ethical questions about what we eat. Even when you’re attempting to do the right thing – like buying free range eggs from the supermarket – you may need to think again. Chances are they came from a factory farm where the chickens are debeaked, have scant room to move, and are left in squalor in conditions that may be even less humane than the seven-inch cages that their non-free-range counterparts live in.
Then there’s quinoa – the grain revered for its high protein, low-calorie, and gluten-free properties. Western demand has pushed the crop price to the point where many in Peru and Bolivia, primary producers of quinoa, can no longer afford to eat their former staple food source. And while farmers in the Canadian prairies are busy planting quinoa crops –this will do little to help the poor of South America.
Canola oil is another problem child of the food world. Canola is a proud Canadian invention – bred naturally from rapeseed at the University of Manitoba. Canola oil derives its name from Canada and oil. New evidence suggests that up to 90% of all canola may come from genetically modified plants – with nobody understanding the full impact and future implications of GMOs. Consider, for example, that there are currently no commercial GMO crops in England – and that Canadian labelling of GMOs is amongst the most lenient in the world.
Then there are the questions of sustainability – the overfishing of the world’s oceans and the pending collapse of the bee population. In August 2013, Time Magazine ran a cover with the title, “A world without bees: the price we’ll pay if we don’t figure out what’s killing the honeybee.” In a world without bees it’s not just honey that we’ll sacrifice, it’s about one-third of the global food supply which bees currently pollinate.
Yet despite everything, we still need to eat. Food and life are inseparable. And food is so much more than a means to survival. The luxury of eating well is one of the great pleasures of life – an art, a science, a form of love, a means of nourishing body and soul.
Eating simply, seasonally, and locally may be the fastest, easiest way to eat more ethically. It’s easier said than done but if nothing else, eating fewer processed foods and considering the source is a good start. With pumpkin season upon us, I’ll be in my kitchen making a batch or two of these – a veganized version of Starbuck’s fantastic pumpkin scones.
This post is my September Kingston This Week column. And true confessions, I did post this recipe previously but it’s such a favourite of mine – that I’m re-posting.
Starbucks (vegan or not) Pumpkin Scone Clones
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 cup cold vegan margarine (I used Becel Vegan but butter also works beautifully)
1/2 cup pure pumpkin (use canned pure pumpkin or cooked, or cooked, fresh pumpkin, mashed thoroughly)
1/3 cup almond milk (or cream for a non-vegan version)
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp almond milk (or cream)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.
Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices in a large mixing bowl.
Cut in the margarine until reasonably well blended. Mixture should be slightly crumbly.
In a separate bowl combine the pumpkin, almond milk, and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and form dough into a ball. If you need to add more liquid add almond milk by the tablespoonful until you have a slightly wet, but not sopping wet, dough.
Pat out on a lightly floured board, folding the dough over itself two or three times. Shape into a circle about 3/4 inch thick and cut into eighths. Place on prepared cookie sheet.
Bake for about 14 minutes or until the scones are browned. Cool on a wire rack.
Combine glaze ingredients and use a whisk or a fork to drizzle over the scones. Allow to set before serving.