“Responsibility” – May, 2019

two new residents!

      “They are just the sweetest,” Denman Islander Cheryl Henkelman exclaimed, a few days after welcoming three new pot-bellied pigs to her Island Pacifica Animal Sanctuary. These particular animals are indeed lucky to have finally arrived somewhere safe. A domestic violence situation in another community had involved threats to their lives. And ironically, one of the pigs had been previously rescued from a farm where she survived a bear attack that others did not! Eventually, all three of these gentle characters will be introduced to Lincoln – another pot-bellied pig recently arrived at the sanctuary, in his case by way of the Comox Valley SPCA. Unlike Molly, the pet pig who was killed and eaten last year in Duncan only a month after she was adopted from the Cowichan branch (much to the horror of SPCA staff there), Lincoln and the other pigs at Island Pacifica will be afforded the opportunity to live out their natural life spans under the protection of a truly devoted caregiver.

Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 3.15.44 PM
Camille Labchuck, barrister

      Society at large seems to remain conflicted about which animals deserve to keep their lives, and which do not. Under Canadian law, animals are still considered mere property. It dictates that there is no difference between a pig bred to be sold as a pet, or one deliberately raised to be slaughtered for meat. As Animal Justice executive director Camille Labchuck explained to press at the time of the public outcry over Molly’s demise, “The law doesn’t protect animals from being killed, it doesn’t give them the right to their own lives. It just protects them from being tortured, harmed or from suffering.”

      At least it’s supposed to. The undercover video surveillance showing pigs clearly suffering both alarming physical and mental distress at Abbotsford’s Excelsior Hog Farm recently has prompted an investigation by the BC SPCA. But without activist intervention how would the general public have learned what really goes on behind those barn doors? More revealing still is the fact that a veterinary inspector who visits this Abbotsford farm claims that the owners operate within the guidelines of industry standards. In fact, he has referred to them as “industry leaders.” But this is hardly surprising. Spokespeople for animal agribusiness routinely claim that violations documented by animal activists are rare, paint a biased picture of the industry and victimize good people. While exposing the worst abuses can force industry ‘review’ (criminal convictions for animal cruelty involving farmed animals are few and far between), the fact remains that here in Canada millions of mothers continue to suffer from ‘standard practices’ that are nothing short of depraved. Still held in cramped gestation and farrowing crates for extended periods, for example, sows are prevented

standard industry practice, Exelsior Hog Farm, Abbotsford, BC

not only from tender engagement with their infants but from even turning around. It is for all of these reasons that within days of the undercover surveillance video from Excelsior going public, 200 peaceful demonstrators descended on the Abbotsford farm to commit the largest act of civil disobedience on behalf of animals in Canadian history. As one protest sign read: If You’re Not Outraged, You’re Not Paying Attention.

      Dressed appropriately in white hazmat suits, the activists wore black t-shirts on top with the name (and purpose) of their international group clearly visible – “Meat the Victims.” On the back of the shirts were words that can be credited to a letter written by Martin Luther King, Jr. from a Birmingham jail in 1963: “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” King not only believed that it is normal and healthy to channel discontent through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action, he knew that doing so risks being dismissed as ‘extremist.’ In that famous letter he also stated: “The question is Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 6.30.49 PM copynot whether we will be extremists but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

      The 50-65 vegan activists who chose to break the law by entering the hog barn and staying put until their immediate demands were met, know what side of history they want to be counted on and are prepared to accept the consequences for their actions. Contrary to some news reports, they vacated on their own free will once mainstream media was allowed in to observe the operation first hand as requested – some six hours in to the occupation. According to numerous videos and heart-felt testimonials shared to social

photo by Devan, Abbotsford, 04/28/19

media, the experience of spending that length of time in the facility – surrounded by the reality of what these highly intelligent and aware animals are forced to endure for the entirety of their short lives – was heart-breaking, literally gut-wrenching and life-changing for many of the action’s participants. Besides the protective clothing (including gloves, boots and hats to avoid introducing contaminants to the facility), care was taken not to touch the animals. How incredibly difficult that must have been.

      Denman Islander Debbie Winkler reminded me recently just how deeply the desire to touch is connected to our human capacity for empathy. On a visit to Island Pacifica Animal Sanctuary she had a profound connection with a pot-bellied pig by the name of Tinkerbell. Reaching out to rest her hand on the animal’s body, she experienced Tink’s life force and instScreen Shot 2019-05-01 at 7.14.08 PMantly knew that she could never eat pork again. Shortly thereafter, she and her partner made the decision to embrace a vegan lifestyle. Tink passed away on the eve of the Chinese New Year of the Pig, but will be forever remembered. ❤


Transition Kitchen throwback:
Love pigs as much as I do? Here are a few more of my articles featuring these wonderful animals:

‘Personhood’, 2017

‘Holding Court’, 2016

‘Empathy’, 2015

Yummy Vegan Mayo (a very short recipe for the month of May!)

If you love mayonnaise, you’ll be thrilled to find how easy it is to make your own healthy dairy and egg free version!


1/2 Cup of plan soy milk, unsweetened           Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 7.07.12 PM

2 tsp maple syrup

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. salt

1 Cup organic sunflower oil

1 tsp. lemon juice

Chilling the wet ingredients in advance is a good idea. Place all, except oil & lemon juice in an immersion blender cup (or use a regular blender). Mix by slowly drizzling the oil in to create an emulsion. When the mixture begins to thicken, add your lemon juice. You can always add more oil if necessary. Enjoy!



“Scapegoats” – April 2019


     My first exposure to a ‘seal bomb’, or ‘bear banger’, may have happened while checking for messages on my home answering machine. I had been engaged in rallying opposition to a proposed seal cull on the Puntledge River, so assumed that the anonymous caller had recorded a gunshot. Having also found a discarded balaclava with an unidentified animal body part in my yard, I thought it might be a good idea to file a police report. I never found out whether or not these incidents were directly related, but to my complete surprise the RCMP managed to trace that call to a fishing boat.

6 across seal-small-1000x700

     Two decades later, the use of incendiary devices by fisherfolk determined to discourage other species from predating on the fish they want for themselves appear to be as popular as ever. In spite of the public outrage generated by a video intentionally showing a bear banger being tossed into a raft of seals and sea lions just prior to the herring fishery near Hornby Island last month, the perpetrator and his supporters remain completely unrepentant. Claims that such actions are not meant to cause harm are difficult to believe. According to UBC marine mammal researcher Andrew Trites, an explosion from one of these devices near an animal’s head can easily destroy an eye or blow out eardrums. Thanks to social media, it’s no secret that many regional fishers advocating for a large scale commercial ‘harvest’ of pinnipeds (which they say would be conducted ‘humanely’), refer to seals and sea lions as ‘vermin’ deserving nothing more than eradication. While harassment of marine mammals is indeed illegal, Leri Davies, a spokesperson for DFO, was only able to confirm for me today that the bear banger incident mentioned remains “under investigation,” along with the discovery of a seal that washed up on Hornby Island with a gunshot wound to the head. 

comments on the ‘Pacific Balance Pinniped Society’ FB page

    The propensity to scapegoat and then aim to eliminate wild animals perceived as a threat to existing commercial enterprise is nothing new of course. Whales, too, have been blamed for the decline in mean trophic levels of fisheries catch – conveniently distracting debate from human causation. But changing social mores that recognize Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 6.21.36 PMother species as having fundamental rights of their own to survive and thrive are gaining momentum. Kudos to the 54 animal and environmental protection groups that recently banded together to ask the BC government to put an end to ‘wildlife killing‘ contests. Promoted by various hunting groups offering prize money in return for the slaughter of predators (from raccoons and coyotes to cougars and wolves) these tournaments are typically promoted as ‘conservation’ related in spite of the fact that their competitive nature fosters irreverence and blood lust. 

Protection of livestock is one justification employed, although the introduction of what are essentially invasive species to a BC ecosystem (cattle, sheep, chickens, etc.) is akin to ‘baiting’ indigenous fauna that have evolved in place over millennia. Even in the shadow
of so-called ‘wolf whacking’ contests, however, the BC government is itself committed to continuing the slaughter of wolves as part of its endangered caribou recovery strategy – and there are hunters who lean heavily on that excuse to keep killing them too. 

It would be a mistake to think that our government’s use of cruel aerial hunting and strychnine poisoning to reduce wolf numbers isn’t tied indirectly to protecting commercial interests. Last year a leaked audit of oil and gas practices in northeastern BC revealed that rules intended “to reduce the impact of industry on caribou habitat are being routinely ignored.” More recently, independent biologist and consultant Jonah Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 7.02.52 PMKeim has suggested that reducing encounters between wolves and caribou can be done “without reducing the number of wolves.” He has studied the effect of making it difficult for wolves, deer and moose to follow cutline and forestry roads into caribou habitat and found a 70% drop in the use of pathways intentionally blocked with tree debris…. corridors that wouldn’t exist in the first place if the environment hadn’t been so heavily altered by human activity. Unfortunately, restoring damaged habitat and protecting what’s left is not the priority our current government would have us believe it is. According to Wilderness Committee campaigner Charlotte Dawe, 314 new cut blocks in the critical habitat of southern mountain caribou have been approved across the province since November.     

      Neither wolves nor seals are the real problem here in BC. The sooner we come to terms with the fact that it is our own species who are ‘out of control’, the better. As Canada continues to heat up twice as fast as the rest of the world (thanks to human caused climate breakdown), survival for all species is only going to get a whole lot more complicated. 


Meanwhile, thank you month of April for your forest violets – perfect for decorating my chocolate cake. This is still a recipe column, after all (with food for though) –bon appetit!

Fireweed’s Vegan Fair Trade Chocolate Cake Supreme 


2 C. all purpose unbleached organic flour
1 C. organic whole wheat pastry flour (or you could just use 3 cups all purpose flour)

2 and 3/4 cups organic coconut sugar (or Sucanat)

3/4 C. Cocoa Camino fair trade organic cocoa powder

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

1 C. sunflower oil

2 C. water

1/4 cup vinegar 

2 tsp. vanilla

2 medium (or 1 large), ripe banana


Lightly oil two round cake pans and flour the sides to avoid sticking. Turn oven on to 350 degrees F. Mix all dry ingredients well (making sure to break up any sugar lumps). Combine your bananas, water, oil, vinegar and vanilla in a blender. Secure lid and blend until smooth. Add this mixture to your dry ingredients and fold all together gently with a spatula, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. Avoid over mixing. Divide the batter between your two prepared cake pans, and place both on the same rack in your pre-heated oven. Bake for thirty minutes before testing with a toothpick (or a sharp knife.) If it doesn’t come out clean, give the cake another 5 minutes and test again. It should spring back to the touch. Cool before decorating with  chocolate frosting. I make mine with unbleached organic sugar ground to a fine powder in my Vitamix. Add  organic coconut butter, a dash of vanilla and melted Cocoa Camino unsweetened chocolate in your food processor, and thin with a little almond or soy milk as needed. Delicious!


“Sanctuary”- March, 2019

     It is apt that the word ‘sanctuary’ tends to evoke a sense of sacred space. It has religious roots and is widely understood to mean a place of peace. Today of course, a sanctuary may be anywhere in the world where the vulnerable are provided refuge from preventable harm. And as empathy for the plight of those who suffer injustice expands beyond our own species,  sanctuaries for animals are on the rise!

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 10.40.17 AM

     Port Moody-based activist Sarien Savert, co-founder of PEACE (People Ensuring Animal Care Exists), told me recently that she knows of at least 16 farmed animal sanctuaries in British Columbia now. She and her partner, Hugo (photo on the left), have formed their own non-profit to provide assistance to this growing arena of animal advocacy and recently helped facilitate the arrival of a couple of very lucky turkeys to Island Pacifica Animal Sanctuary here on Denman Island. ‘Greta’ and ‘Genesis,’ named after two widely celebrated vegan youths agitating for action on behalf of our climate crisis and the nonhuman animals impacted by our dietary choices, are reportedly settling in nicely. Although spared from human slaughter  by their previous caregivers, the turkeys were in immediate danger of falling prey to natural predators that had already killed other members of their former flock. Now they are in the company of new feathered friends where sanctuary owner Cheryl Henkelman can care for them safely.

Sensitive, social, intelligent

   Island Pacifica Animal Sanctuary is 53 acres of agricultural land that is currently home also to 4 horses, 4 roosters, 9 hens, 12 ducks, 3 cats and 3 dogs. Nine of these animals actually joined Cheryl very recently, following the realization of her longtime dream of operating the farm as a larger scale sanctuary. With over 40 years of experience rescuing neglected and/or abused animals with no other place to go, Cheryl knows that Island Pacifica will need ongoing community

Cheryl with Summer & Candy @ Island Pacifica Animal Sanctuary on Denman Island

support in order to succeed. There are no other farmed animal sanctuaries north of RASTA (Rescue And Sanctuary for Threatened Animals) in Chemainus on Vancouver Island, and she has had to turn needy animals away due to lack of sufficient housing and other important resources. Such tasks as re-building the hay barn, pig pen, duck and chicken runs are high on the priority list of infrastructure improvements needed. Vet bills and food costs are a constant, of course, as they are for all animal sanctuaries.

^Dinger lives at the Sanctuary

     As RASTA founder Lucie Cerny states in a recent video, “sanctuaries are not the solution to the animal exploitation crisis and over-population crisis.” She emphasizes that they are an important piece, but that it is education that is key. Part and parcel of that education is unlearning the myths that we have been taught about animals raised as food. Each one values their own life every bit as much as those we already cherish as companion animals. And in a sanctuary setting, animals normally slaughtered at a very young age are allowed to live out their natural lifespans, maintain relationships with family members whenever possible and become known and appreciated as the unique individuals they truly are. The goal is certainly not to encourage the proliferation of animals that no longer have any kind of natural niche in an ecosystem, but to reject the notion that animals are ours to exploit simply because we can. Rescuing and providing refuge to farmed animals, who are utterly dependent on the mercy of human beings, signals that all Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 3.21.06 PManimals are worthy of respect and that one very important way for people with the privilege of choice to help build a more compassionate world where biodiversity has a chance to flourish is to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Young people like animal activist Genesis Butler, and Greta Thunberg who was instrumental in inspiring this month’s massive intercontinental School Strike 4 Climate Action, have certainly made the connection.

On Sunday, March 31st at 6:00 pm, a delicious vegan lasagna dinner is scheduled to take place in the Denman Community Hall in support of Island Pacifica Animal Sanctuary, and the chef will be yours truly! The cost is $20-$30 per person (sliding scale) including dessert, with limited seating available. Besides making dinner reservations for the fundraiser, donations can be made through the sanctuary’s GoFundMe page: https:www.gofundme.com/islandpacificaanimalsanctuary, or via e-transfer to Dorkyhorse@gmail.com. Cash donations are welcome too, although tax receipts cannot be offered at this time. A receipt and regular updates on where funds are spent will be provided upon request. Visit Island Pacifica Animal Sanctuary on Facebook (no website yet) or contact Cheryl Henkelman directly for additional details about her project. To reserve seats for the Denman Dine-Out on March 31st, please call 250-335-1209!

No Bake Carrot Cake with Cashew Cream Frosting

I don’t think I’ve ever shared a raw dessert recipe in this column, but having recently acquired a massive supply of gorgeous organic carrots I’ve been experimenting like mad. Carrots are rich in antioxidants and other nutrients, great for our skin and eyesight. Enjoy!


Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 3.50.50 PM
photo credit: Gimme Some Oven


2 cups organic cashews, well soaked 

1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice

2 Tablespoons liquid coconut oil

1/3 cup maple syrup

water, as needed


2 large carrots, peeled

1.5 cups oat flour or buckwheat flour

1 cup dates

1 cup dried pineapple (or more dates)

1/2 cup dried coconut

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Instructions –

Blend all frosting ingredients together until smooth, adding as little water as possible. Set aside. Cut carrots into small chunks, then add them to your food processor with the other cake ingredients and pulse until it’s all in really small pieces and sticks together. Press into the bottom of a six inch spring-form pan. Spread on about 1/3rd of the frosting. Freeze until hard, then press on the rest of the cake mix. Set in fridge overnight, then frost the whole thing (or you can do it right away). Remove from pan, use the remaining frosting and decorate as desired. Options: pistachios, walnuts, spring pansies, etc. Bon appetit!

“Changes” – Feb., 2019

fruit-and-veg_1050x600      Canada’s brand new Food Guide has stirred up a bit of dust. It’s a radical departure from business as usual – a timely beacon pointing us in the right direction! For once, industry lobbyists have been prevented from exerting undue influence over Health Canada’s recommendations. Commercial interests are still vying to massage new labelling and marketing regulations yet to be finalized – including those directed at children. But by simply encouraging greater intake of whole plant foods and a significant decrease in animal product consumption (along with sugar and heavily processed foods), our new science-based food guidelines already have the potential to help reduce lifestyle diseases and improve the well-being of millions of Canadians. Gone is the long-standing category of dairy as a necessary ‘food group.’ And meat is no longer centred as an optimal protein choice when plant-based sources are available. In this way the guide inadvertently aligns with a major study released just last month by the Lancet Medical Journal. A collaborative effort involving 37 scientific experts from 16 countries over three years, the EAT-Lancet Commission concluded that our existing food systems are “a major contributor to climate change, leaving civilization in crisis.” It calls for a “dramatic reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy and a sharp increase in plant-based foods.”

Screen Shot 2019-02-01 at 2.18.19 PM
Greta Thurnberg

      16 year old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thurnberg, who has captivated the world with her unfettered call to action in the face of adult apathy, knows that reducing fossil fuel use simply isn’t enough. Practising a vegan diet is an integral part of her response to our climate emergency. So far, millennials have been credited with driving the shift towards 100% plant-based food choices noted by market analysts, but with influencers like Greta inspiring school climate strikes around the globe, perhaps Generation Z will be the one that takes meat and dairy off the table altogether wherever the option exists to do so. In the meantime, Canada’s new food guidelines can be used to help motivate the widespread dietary changes leading scientists recognize as not only advantageous to personal health but necessary for our collective survival. Crucial to advancing healthy food choices, of course, is accessibility. We must tackle poverty and inequality in this country in order to ensure that no one has to choose between paying the rent and acquiring sufficient nutrition for themselves and their family!

Screen Shot 2019-02-01 at 2.07.13 PM
Student Climate Strike for Action, Sydney, Australia 11/18

     Canada’s new Food Guide also highlights the value of both preparing healthier meals at home and sharing food with others. Restaurants, cafes and other food venues are an important part of the social fabric too, so for those able to afford the privilege of eating out once in a while, supporting 100% plant-based eateries can certainly help encourage more to follow. In addition to Cafe La Vie (Duncan), Powerhouse Living Foods (Nanaimo) and Rawthentic Eatery (Courtenay) are three new vegan restaurants to check out north of Victoria –  Plantitude ( scheduled to open this month in Ladysmith), Fresh Start (Campbell River) and Eve Olive (Nanaimo). Vegetarian restaurants Rawmbas (Nanaimo), Bravocados (Tofino) and Whole Glow Cafe (Cumberland) specialize primarily in 100% plant-based cuisine. Baby Salsa Mexican Restaurant and Coach & Horses (both popular dining establishments in Nanaimo) now offer their customers a fully vegan menu in addition to their traditional fare. Mudsharks in Courtenay is currently experimenting with daily vegan menu items as well; now would be the perfect time to drop by, enjoy a tasty meal and offer some welcome feedback!

Screen Shot 2019-02-01 at 1.25.17 PM
Eve Olive is a gem, and the first fully vegan, licensed restaurant on Vancouver Island. www.eveolive.com

     Drop by  Denman Island’s Virtual Vegan Potluck Series on Facebook for lots of tasty new 100% plant-based recipe ideas (and more) to experiment with affordably in your own home kitchen. ❤   


Climate change may be responsible for fooling the fruit trees already blossoming on Vancouver Island, but it’s still the middle of winter here in the Pacific Northwest and the soup is on!

Hearty Winter Lentil Soup

Ingredients (all organic if at all possible): Screen Shot 2019-02-01 at 1.42.18 PM
2 T. water (or sub 1 T. olive oil)

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 small shallots (or 1/2 medium onion, diced)   

4 big carrots, thinly sliced

4 stalks celery, thinly sliced

1/4 tsp. each, sea salt and black pepper

3 C. yellow or red baby potatoes (roughly chopped)

4 C. vegetable broth (I use organic Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base )

2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme

1 C. uncooked green or brown lentils, rinsed

2 C. uncooked chopped greens (kale or collard)


1. Heat large pot over medium heat. Add water (or oil), garlic, shallots/onion, carrots and celery. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and stir. 2. Saute veggies on low heat for 4-5 minutes or until slightly tender. Be careful not to burn the garlic. 3. Add potatoes and season with a bit more salt and pepper. Stir and cook for 2 more minutes. 4. Add veggie broth (made with 2 T. of Better than Bouillon), rosemary and thyme; now increase the heat to medium high. Bring to a rolling simmer, add lentils and stir. Once simmering again turn the heat back down to low and continue to simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes – or until lentils and potatoes are tender (but not mushy!) 5. Add your leafy greens, stir and cover. Cook for 3-4 minutes to wilt. Taste broth, and adjust flavour as needed. Add more vegetable broth if mixture becomes too thick. 6. Enjoy as is, or serve with rice, flatbread or roll. Garnish with chopped parsley (optional). 7. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to one month. Reheat on the stovetop and add more vegetable broth to rehydrate as needed. Enjoy!

“In a Nutshell” – Dec., 2018

     Given what we know about the role certain dietary choices play in exacerbating climate change, the menu offered to those attending the UN Climate Conference in Poland right now COP 24doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. An analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity, Farm Forward and Brighter Green (2/12/18) has exposed that if all 30,000 visitors were to choose meat-based dishes during the 12 day conference, “COP 24 could contribute more than 4,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases to the climate crisis.” There are reportedly twice as many meat-based options available to participants as plant-based ones, generating four times the GHG emissions and requiring nine times more land and nearly twice as much water as the plant-based fare on offer.

     Many more plant foods certainly could have been included by COP 24’s menu planners in place of the carbon emissions heavy ingredients actually prioritized. “Food is not a matter only of personal choice, but an essential factor in solving the climate crisis,” states Caroline Wimberly of Brighter Green. “We know that we cannot meet the Paris Agreement goals, or the 1.5 C target, with business as usual.” Waiting for so-called world leaders to actually model the important changes required in response to our global emergency doesn’t seem like a very good idea.

     Fortunately, for those of us with the privilege of choice also determined to be more pro-active, it needn’t be difficult to reduce our carbon footprints and meet all of our nutrition requirements on a diverse whole foods plant-based diet. Nuts are one of many excellent sources of plant-based protein that we could benefit from eating more of. Today, both homemade and commercially produced nut and seed milks are growiwhoiswastingcaliforniaswater-lgng in popularity as tasty alternatives to traditional dairy products. Even water-guzzling almonds are a far superior choice to dairy when it comes to cutting carbon emissions. But it’s important to educate ourselves about how these foods (and others) are grown, harvested and/or commercially processed if our choices are to truly reflect our concerns for the environment and social justice.

     It’s always going to be a good idea to stick to certified organic nuts as much as possible, and yes, those are generally more expensive. However, in the form of dairy alternatives, nut milks can be blended with those made from more affordable ingredients like oatmeal, rice or soybeans, flax and other seeds. And adding nut meat in small quantities to dishes in place of animal meat (it isn’t necessary to feature nutrient dense nuts as a main ingredient) can boost healthy calorie counts along with flavor in a budget conscious way.

     cashewCashews are one of the most popular nuts in demand today, but definitely best avoided unless you can afford to purchase them from a certified organic fair trade source. They are difficult to process, and the majority come from India and Vietnam. Workers have been documented suffering permanent damage from the toxic liquid released from shucking the tough shell layers of the fruit. Time Magazine coined the term ‘blood cashew’ after an expose on the Vietnamese cashew industry uncovered forced labour associated with drug addiction.

     Brazil nuts, highly prized among Amazonian people, grow on trees that produce for hundreds of years. They are dependent upon insects that will only pollinate them growing in the wild. Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 6.06.42 PMSince they cannot be cultivated, the Brazil nut industry actually helps to preserve patches of vital rainforest and support farmers that care for the trees. Considered a superfood by many (they are also an excellent source of selenium) Brazil nuts have gone up in price recently thanks to both increased demand and limited availability due to drought that global climate change has no doubt played a part in. Consumed judiciously they remain an ethical choice, but of course the surest way to maintain a low carbon footprint when it comes to sustainably produced nuts is to purchase varieties that grow in our own climate zones.

     Walnuts and edible chestnuts are great choices that do well here in the pacific northwest, but hazelnuts are my personal favourite. They require little water, minimal upkeep and thrive in harsh soils where other plants would fail. Hazelnut trees are drought resistant, can survive harsh weather conditions, have a high yield per plant, and help prevent soil erosion. They also boast a massive root system and remove a huge amount of carbon from the atmosphere.

    All whole nuts are an excellent source of dietary fibre, protein, Vitamin E, and unsaturated fatty acids like Omega-3s. Most are high in calories though, so remember that many ‘treats’ made with nuts, including plant-based cheeses (watch out for palm oil in commercial varieties), are best consumed in moderation. Here is a simple, heart healthy dish featuring locally grown ingredients that is perfect for holiday feasting!

Fireweed’s Stuffed Acorn Squashsquash

Ingredients for squash:

– 2 acorn squash

– 1 T. (approx.) olive oil

– salt and pepper

and for the filling:

– 2 T. (approx.) vegan butter

– 1 cup minced onion

– 1.5 cups of diced apple

– 2 T. dried currants or cranberries

– 3/4 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts

– 1 tsp. dried sage

– 1/2 tsp. sea salt

– 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

– 1/4 cup (approx.) maple syrup

– 1 cup of brown rice or quinoa (optional)


Preheat oven to 400 F. Split squash and rub with olive oil. Place cut side up on baking sheet. Roast for 30-40 minutes or until flesh is soft and golden. Meanwhile, prepare rice or quinoa if you choose to include one of these optional ingredients. Melt vegan butter in a separate pan, add onion and saute until soft. Add apples and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add currants, nuts and seasonings. Toss to combine. Add syrup and allow mixture to cool while squash continues baking. Fold in cooked rice or quinoa. Mound stuffing on your squash bowls and gently reheat all before serving. Top with a sprinkle of chopped parsley, and enjoy!

“The Twelve Year Diet” – Nov., 2018

     In an emergency meeting in Ottawa last month, following the release of the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, federal leader of the Green Party of Canada Elizabeth May made an impassioned plea for action to her colleagues in the House.

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 6.28.36 PM
Elizabeth May

She led with the following quote: “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only, to global nuclear war.” Those words, May explained, were the opening sentence of the consensus scientific report from the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in June of 1988. “The warnings from science were clear then,” she added, “and they remain crystal clear now.”

     It is certainly fair to say that the writing has been on the wall for a very long time. In 1992 the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, signed by around 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, reiterated the message that, “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.” Governments were well-apprised of the consequences to be expected from not taking that wake-up call seriously enough. As May has suggested, short term memory must be our downfall. Twenty-five years later The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: Second Notice (2017) revealed that we have essentially failed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, phase out fossil fuels, reduce deforestation, and halt the trend of collapsing biodiversity. The only information that’s really new in the most recent IPCC report is the twelve year window estimated as all the time we have left to reverse our current trajectory and avoid an intolerable global temperature rise over 1.5 C. That, and the fact that another two billion people have joined us on the planet over the past quarter of a century.

     Finally, however, the crucial role dietary choices and agricultural practices must play in reducing GHG emissions can no longer be overshadowed by the need to eliminate fossil fuel dependency. The new IPCC report underscores the urgency with which we must also improve farming practices and “limit demand for greenhouse gas intensive foods through shifts to healthier and more sustainable diets.” Ten billion people are expected to inhabit the planet by 2050. According to the World Resources Institute, “even when accounting for future improvements in agriculture and reductions in food waste, shifting the diets of higher-income consumers toward plant-based foods will remain essential for meeting climate targets.” Without a major reduction in foods with “out-sized climate impacts” (such as meat and dairy), researchers predict agriculture alone could eat up the majority of our limited emissions budget.

     With no more time to waste, where is the political will? Within a week of the IPCC report’s release, for example, UK climate minister Claire Perry told BBC News that it’s not theCarbonFootpritbyDiet government’s job to advise people on a climate-friendly diet. Unwilling to risk offending local livestock farmers, she wouldn’t even say publicly whether or not she herself would eat less meat. Friends of the Earth called out Perry for “dereliction of duty.” The government could launch information campaigns, change diets in schools and hospitals, or offer financial incentives, suggested a spokesperson for the group. Indeed, what is needed more than ever is the kind of bold leadership more in alignment with the likes of former Irish president Mary Robinson. Now operating a climate justice foundation in her name, Robinson was backlashed after the Youth Summit she addressed in Ottawa two years ago where she suggested that we must think more about what we eat, consume less meat and even consider adopting a plant-based diet. She refused to comply with a formal request from farmers on her local council in County Mayo to redact her statement. “The point is we do have to take a stand and make our voices heard”, she told attendees at the One Young World summit in the Hague last month. Robinson believes that when people take action themselves they are “more likely to use their vote and their power to change what government policies are doing.”


Easy and Delicious: Vegan Shepherd’s Pie! 

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 6.34.19 PM

– 8-10 potatoes peeled

– 2 medium onions

– 2 large carrots

– 10 button mushrooms (or equivalent)

– 4 stalks of celery

– 2 garlic cloves

– 200 g brown or green lentils (dry)

– 2 T. fresh parsley

– 1 big tsp. of mixed herbs (use more if you wish)

– ½ – 1 tsp. of cinnamon

– 1 T. plain flour

– 1 T. soya butter

– 1 T. tomato puree

– 1 T. vegetable bouillon paste

– 1 T. balsamic vinegar

– 500 ml boiling water

– salt and pepper


1) Soak lentils for 2 to 3 hours. 2) Peel, wash and boil potatoes. 3) Finely dice onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms. 4) Crush garlic. 5) Melt vegan butter in casserole pot over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic till soft. 6) Add remaining veggies and stir for about 10 minutes. 7) Add flour to coat. 8) Stir in salt, pepper, cinnamon, mixed herbs, parsley. 9) In a separate pot make 500 ml of stock using water and bouillon paste. 10) Mix in the tomato puree. 11) Add stock to veggie mix in stages, stirring until slightly thickened each time. 12) Drain lentils and add to the casserole. Dilute with additional water as necessary. Add more bouillon paste if required. 13) Set to simmer, covered, for 40-45 minutes on low heat to avoid burning on the bottom. Check and stir often. 14) Stir in one T. of balsamic vinegar at the end of the cooking process. 15) Transfer the finished lentil/veggie mixture into a greased baking dish. 16) Mash potatoes with vegan butter and a bit of dairy-free milk. Spread them over top of the lentil mix and smooth with a fork. 17) Sprinkle with vegan cheese shreds (optional). Bake in a hot oven until the potatoes brown (approx. 20-30 minutes). 18) Top finished dish with chopped parsley and serve. Slainte!



“Resistance is Fertile” – Oct. 2018

photo credit: Fireweed

     Participating in the ‘Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice’ march last month in San Francisco was an exhilarating experience! Scheduled just days ahead of California Governor Jerry Brown’s “Global Climate Action Summit,” the event brought together over 30,000 people and at least 300 organizations demanding an end to corporate profiteering over real solutions to our climate emergency. Indigenous women led the way. In solidarity with other marches happening simultaneously around the world, environmental and climate justice groups, labor organizations, communities of faith, immigrant justice organizations, youth and others let it be known that the time for action is NOW.

      “I’m here from North Dakota where the oil industry continues polluting our water, air, and land,” stated Candi Mossett-White of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “The people are dying. Who will speak on our behalf if not us? We want a just transition to small, distributed solar power, and a return to sustainable, local food and water.”

I come from where the forests, rivers, and mountains have life,” said Mirian Cisneros, president of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, Ecuador. “Our community has fought against oil drilling in the Amazon rain forest for years. We want the world to know that our communities have innovative solutions to climate change, like our proposal to provide permanent protection to all forests and life.”

photo credit: Fireweed

    The urgent need to protect  biodiversity was a dominant theme. Stilt walkers dressed as fantastical trees towered above the crowds. Along with an end to fossil fuel extraction came the call for an end to dependency on animal agribusiness – the lesser recognized, yet second biggest cause of global GHG emissions and a driving force behind ocean dead zones, deforestation and species loss. Demonstrators with the Climate Friendly Agriculture Alliance, Seed the Commons and Plant-powered Planet Protectors drew attention to a new study (published in July by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and NGO Grain) revealing that the five largest meat and dairy corporations (JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America and Fonterra) are already responsible for more annual greenhouse gas emissions than ExxonMobil, Shell and BP. A twenty-foot high inflatable cow named Methane Molly loomed large! ‘Climate justice street theatre’ actors nearby focused on the plight of both wild and domesticated animals impacted by conventional food production. And in an historic first, farmers from near and far who have turned away from animal-based agricultural systems in favor of stock-free growing methods marched together in support of the message on Seed the Commons’ street-wide banner: “Veganic Farming for a Cooler Planet.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 2.27.00 AM
photo credit: Seed the Commons

      Dedicated to defending our food systems from corporate monopoly and fostering alternatives that are truly sustainable, Seed the Commons’ co-founder Nassim Nobari told the crowds that it is time to reject false solutions to climate change like tech fixes and animal-based farming and start rebuilding our food systems based on agroecological, plant-based farming principles. She knows that this admonishment runs counter to interest in the U.S. and beyond in producing more beef from cattle raised in exclusively pasture-based systems rather than in grain-finishing feedlots, and that 41% of U.S. Land is already used for livestock. This is exactly why alternatives to animal-centric farming must be heard, seen and understood. Environmental researchers have determined that a nationwide shift to pasture-raised cattle in the U.S. would require increasing the number of animals by 30% in order to produce the same quantity of beef as the present-day system! We need a drastic decrease in meat consumption worldwide, not just a moderate reduction involving animals raised under less inhumane conditions.

      As I’ve noted previously in this column, the idea that cattle are beneficial to carbon sequestration and therefore vital to the healing of damaged ecosystems has been challenged COWBOY ON THE RANGEby some very thorough studies. And veganic growers around the world are proving that it is simply untrue that regenerative agriculture with farmed animals is the only alternative to conventional farming based on fossil fuels. But romanticized notions about the necessity of farmed animals in sustainable food production run deep. At a conference hosted by Seed the Commons the day after the people’s climate action march, speakers addressed the pervasive influence of meat and dairy interests on today’s food movement as an extension of colonial history.

      Missing from much mainstream environmental dialogue is the understanding that sustainable food production without the use of animal byproducts like manure is not only possible, it is hardly new. Chema Hernandez Gil explained how prior to colonization and the European introduction of non-indigenous species to Mesoamerica, his ancestors and others thrived in large numbers on the ‘milpa‘ system for millenia. Planted together, the ‘three sisters’ (corn, beans and squash) are environmentally complimentary. At well-managed levels crops grown in a milpa constitute a nutritionally balanced, self-sustaining food system. Eurocentric bias is responsible for the erasure of much indigenous agricultural wisdom and practice.


    However we choose to celebrate the harvest season, decolonizing our diets can be a step in the right direction. A team of researchers from four American universities have determined that if Americans ate beans instead of beef, for example, the U.S. would reach 50-75% of its GHG reductions targets for the year 2020.


Vegan Black Bean and Squash Chili Recipe (with thanks to Yasmin Fahr)


2 T. olive oil

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 6.23.35 AM.png

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 onion, chopped

1 yellow and 1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 T. ground cumin

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 medium cloves garlic, minced

3.5 ounces (1/2 small can) chipotle chilies in adobo

2 Cups veggie broth (I use Herbal Bouillon)

2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed

4 scallions, chopped

1 cup shredded vegan cheese (optional)

1 ripe avocado

  • Directions: Heat oil in skillet, add squash, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until lightly browned. Add onions, peppers, and cook until soft. Add cumin, oregano and garlic. Stir. Add your chipotle, veggie stalk and beans and cook for another ten minutes or so. Mash beans gently with a wooden spoon to help thicken the dish. Season to taste, and serve with chopped scallions, vegan cheese shreds and avocado. Buen provecho!


“The New Normal” – Sept., 2018

    It was shocking to learn that the poor air quality in BC this summer rivaled that of heavily polluted Beijing. Over the course of this Province’s worst wildfire season on record, as many as 400 fires are suspected to have been caused directly by humans. Four times that many can be attributed to lightning strikes however – a phenomenon Screen Shot 2018-10-12 at 4.18.27 AMrecognized as increasing in frequency due to global climate change. According to fire ecologists, the scale of wildfire emergencies experienced here over the last couple of years wasn’t predicted to be classified as ‘average’ for another three decades! And yet now we are being told to expect smoke-filled skies (and the accompanying breathing difficulties so many humans and non-humans will suffer) as ‘the new norm’. ‘Natural’ disasters involving devastating fires and drought, or hurricanes and excessive flooding, are obviously on the rise. Common sense tells those of us not in denial about climate change that there is no time to waste in doing all we can to reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Less obvious it seems, is the reality that a shift away from animal-centered diets and food production is every bit as important as ending our dependence on fossil fuels.

     Screen Shot 2018-10-12 at 4.51.17 AM.pngFarmed animals take up nearly 80% of global agricultural land, yet produce less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories. Conservative estimates currently hold livestock accountable for between 14.5 and 18% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions – higher than all transportation combined. Beef and dairy cows are responsible for about 65% of the total and it is the methane such ruminants produce that is particularly worrisome. Methane is far more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, although it doesn’t linger as long in the atmosphere as CO2. In fact, scientists calculate that over a hundred year period the “global-warming potential” of methane is 28 times greater than for carbon dioxide. There are currently 1.5 billion cattle on our finite planet, also accounting for around 23% of all global water use in agriculture.

     In spite of their enormous ecological footprints, the dominant narrative in many environmental circles today is not rejection of meat and dairy for people with the privilege of choice, but a push for free-ranging animals and what is commonly called rotational grazing or ‘Holistic Management’ (HM). This method is extolled as a humane alternative to the massive factory farms that grow 97% of beef cattle in the USA, for example. But the animals raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) reach slaughter weight sooner on the grains they are fed, emitting significantly less methane over the course of their short lives than their grass-fed counterparts. The potential for some carbon sequestration in very carefully orchestrated grazing systems is at best short term. And according to an overview of HM in Volume 2014 of the International Journal of Biodiversity, “the scientific evidence is that global greenhouse gas emissions are vastly larger than the capacity of worldwide grasslands and deserts to store the carbon emitted each year.” A two year study released last year concluded that “even in a best case scenario, grazing livestock are net contributors to the climate problem, as are all livestock. Good grazing management cannot offset its own emissions, VEGANIC FARMINGlet alone those arising from other systems of animal production.”


I’ll have much more to share on this topic after I return from the People’s Climate March this month in San Francisco where veganic farmers will be gathering to expose the false dichotomy between livestock-based regenerative agriculture and agricultural systems run on fossil fuels. The stock-free farming movement is alive and well – stay tuned!

     In the meantime, one of the very best things we can all do for our climate and future generations is to grow more trees, and now is the perfect time to plant food-bearing varieties. The following simple recipe is one of my favorite ways to enjoy an abundance of tasty fall plums. Enjoy!

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 5.44.47 PM

Fireweed’s Autumn Plum Cake

·  13 fresh plums
Ingredients for the vanilla batter:
·  1 1/3 cup organic all-purpose flour
·  1/2 cup unbleached organic sugar
·  1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
·  1/2 teaspoon baking soda
·  1 tablespoon organic coconut oil , liquid
·  1/2 teaspoon vinegar
·  1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
·  3/4 cup lukewarm water
Ingredients for the cinnamon streusel:
·  1/2 stick cold vegan butter 
·  2/3 cup all-purpose flour
·  1/4 cup unbleached organic sugar
·  1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1. Wash the plums, half them and remove the seed.
2. For the simple one-bowl VANILLA BATTER: Preheat the oven to 360°F. Place all the dry ingredients for the cake base in a mixing bowl and combine, add the wet ingredients and whisk until it’s a smooth batter.
3. For the STREUSEL: Put the cold butter, all-purpose flour, cinnamon powder and sugar in a bowl, mix and knead with your hands until crumbly.
4. ASSEMBLE and BAKE: Oil the baking pan lightly (10 x 8 inches works well) and pour in the cake batter, place the plum halves on the cake batter and press them down a bit. Sprinkle the crumble on top. Bake it in the oven for about 25 minutes. When the crumble is nice and golden, your cake should be ready. Test with a sharp knife to see if it is baked all the way through. Bon appetit!


“Umami” – July, 2018

    toms on purple Nothing symbolizes summertime bliss quite like homegrown tomatoes. For at least two hundred years however, this member of the nightshade family was regarded as potentially lethal and grown strictly as an ornamental. The stalks and leaves are indeed toxic. But the untimely deaths of wealthy people once attributed to consumption of the tomato were caused not by the plant itself but by the lead in pewter serving dishes that tended to leach upon contact with the highly acidic fruit! Thank goodness we know today that the berries of Solanum lycopersicum are to be celebrated rather than feared. Tomatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin C, potassium, folate, Vitamin K and the antioxidant lycopene (linked to many health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.) To top it all off this beautiful food is also bursting with ‘umami’.

      The word ‘umami’ is a derivative of the Japanese term for deliciousness. Commonly referred to as the ‘fifth taste’ (following sweet, sour, bitter and salty) umami results from the high glutamate content in certain foods. It makes them savoury and deeply flavorful. Besides tomatoes (and mushrooms, red wine, fermented vegetables, nutritional yeast,discoverveganumami-lg soy sauce, potatoes and more in the realm of plant foods) umami is also associated with many animal products. So for folks transitioning to a plant-based diet it’s helpful to understand that perceived ‘cravings’ for meat and cheese have nothing to do with a physical need to ingest those items. They may, however, have everything to do with missing the flavour experience umami provides through specialized receptor cells on the tongue. Introducing more plant-sourced umami into one’s daily diet can indeed help satiate such cravings.

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 5.11.52 AM      The riper or more concentrated tomatoes are, the deeper their flavour profile. I could happily survive on toasted wholegrain sandwiches of garden-fresh slices with just an added pinch of sea salt and a dash of ground black pepper all season long. But my absolute favourite method of preserving the fruit for later enjoyment is through roasting slowly in a low temperature oven with lots of garlic, and a drizzle of olive oil. Simply dehydrating tomatoes is another obvious way to concentrate their appeal. Whether you grow your own garden variety, or purchase sun-dried tomatoes from the store that can be easily reconstituted, the following snack packs a highly nutritious umami punch just as popular with kids as it is with adults!

Umami Kale Chipsadapted from an original recipe in ‘Oh She Glows’!


1 or 2 large bunches of kale, ribs removed
30 grams organic sun-dried (soaked) or 15 grams roasted tomatoes
1 C. raw organic cashews (soaked) OR sunflower seeds
1/4 of a whole organic red pepper
2 large cloves of garlic
2 tsp. olive oil (*unless using tomatoes already packed in oil)
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 C. of the soaking water if used for reconstituting dried tomatoes
2 – 4 T. fresh chopped basil
2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. nutritional yeast (more to taste)
3/4 tsp. sea salt


1.) In one bowl, soak your tomatoes if necessary (roasted or sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil won’t require soaking), and in another bowl soak your cashews – both for at least 1.5 hours.

2.) After soaking, reserve the tomato soaking water and set aside.

3.) Drain and rinse the cashews (or sunflower seeds)

4.) In a food processor, with the machine running, drop in the garlic and process until minced.

5.) Add in the rest of the ingredients except the salt. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as required.

6.) Add salt slowly to taste.

7.) Wash the kale leaves and tear into pieces, discarding the stems.

8.) Dry the leaves in a salad spinner or pat dry with a dish towel. It is important to remove as much moisture as possible or your seasoning mix won’t adhere well to the leaves.

9.) Pour the sauce over the kale, stir well, and massage in any excess until well coated.

10.) Season once again with sea salt as necessary.

11.) Spread the leaves carefully on your trays and dry in a dehydrator for at least 12 hours at approximately 110 F. If you use cookie trays and an oven rather than a dehydrator line your trays with parchment paper, and check more often to make sure that you remove leaves that have already become adequately crisp. Start this process in the morning with the oven on the lowest temperature possible with the door cracked, and they may be done in a very short period of time… so keep your eye on them. Sometimes moving them around or flipping is helpful for even drying. Cool briefly and secure right away in an airtight container (if you can resist eating them all at once that is!) 

“Strawberry Fields” – June, 2018

    Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 4.43.14 AM.png I wait impatiently for the strawberries to ripen in my shady garden each spring. Did you know that the ruby red “fruit” isn’t really a fruit at all? The fleshy edible part of this member of the rose family is actually the enlarged receptacle of the flower. Rich in antioxidants, it contains more Vitamin C ounce for ounce than oranges or grapefruit. Over the centuries strawberry hasn’t only been popular as a delicious food however. The ancient Romans used it to treat everything from melancholy to kidney stones. Madame

Madame Tallien
Madame Tallien

Tallien, a fascinating figure who lived during the reign of Emperor Napoleon, was famous for bathing in strawberry juice. Legend has it that this particular component of her beauty regimen involved over 22 pounds of the fresh fruit!

     The common garden variety we enjoy today is a hybrid, but wild strawberries are native to temperate regions all over the world. On this continent the roots and leaves have long been used in traditional herbal medicine, and in some tribes the fragrant plant continues to play an important ceremonial role. Strawberry is considered one of the sacred life medicines of the Navajo, for example. The Kashaya Pomo, indigenous to the area we now know as California, still hold a Strawberry Dance celebrating the renewal of life each spring.

     A staggering one billion pounds of commercially grown strawberries are picked every year in California today, making up at least 75% of the American market alone. According to a factoid from the University of Illinois, if every one of those strawberries were laid berry to berry they would circle the planet 15 times! The extended growing season south of our Canadian border makes importation attractive to those of us who would rather not wait for the availability of local produce. But there are other reasons for California’s stunning productivity well worth taking into consideration.

     Conventional strawberry farmers have relied on huge volumes of poisonous gases to sterilize their fields before planting to ward off any threat of fungal disease that could compromise crop yields. For yeSTEVE HOLTars after the nerve gas methyl bromide was banned by the ‘Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer’, its use as a soil fumigant continued under a ‘critical use exemption’. Certified organic growers don’t fumigate, but these powerful chemicals are still employed in California nurseries that produce plants for both conventional and organic growers. Toxic alternatives to methyl bromide have also been dangerously problematic, still requiring significant buffer zones between applications to protect nearby buildings and people from exposure on standard farms.

     The nonpartisan, nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) ranks pesticide contamination annually in 47 popular fruits and vegetables grown in the USA. Testing involves washing or peeling foods first – just as a consumer would be expected to do. For the third year is a row, strawberries are at the top of their ‘Dirty Dozen’ list. Not surprisingly, industry argues that trace amounts of pesticide residue falling within the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommended guidelines for safe consumption are nothing to worry about. But the EWG states that the EPA’s tolerance levels “are too lenient to protect public health.” New research shows that toxic chemicals can indeed be harmful in small doses, and particularly when people are exposed to combinations. One strawberry sample in the most recent EWG report was contaminated with residue from “22 different pesticides and breakdown products.”    

Swanton Berry Farm

     The EWG advises consumers to always buy organically grown berries. They make the same recommendation for the rest of the fruits and veggies on their Dirty Dozen list. Organic practices favour soil health, biodiversity, and crop rotation over mono-cropping and egregious pesticide use (which also impacts wildlife, and puts farm labourers at risk of chronic health complications from asthma to cancer.) This means organic farming can be more labour intensive and require more land to grow produce in rotation with other crops in a more ecologically sustainable manner. Extra costs transfer to the conscientious consumers willing and able to support better farming practises. And leaders in the shift to organic production in California (like Swanton Berry Farm owner Jim Cochran) may also prioritize for a living wage for the workers in their employ. Migrant farm labourers in California (and beyond, including here in Canada) are well known to be overworked and underpaid on some large farms. It behooves all of us with the luxury of choice to be aware of the folks our grocery dollars may or may not be fairly compensating.Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 4.35.26 AM

     Of course now that strawberry season is upon us right here at home, it’s easy to resist the temptation of imports altogether. We can seek out certified organic growers at regional farmers’ markets and support their dedicated efforts directly. I’m thrilled to have a few plants of my own to enjoy for now, and here’s one way I plan to use them!

Vegan Strawberry Shortcakeshortcake-480x307

for the berry topping…
2 cups fresh sliced strawberries
1/3 C. evaporated cane sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice, plus grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp. vanilla

for the shortcake…
2 C. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1 T egg replacer, dry
1 T. evaporated cane sugar
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 C. non-dairy butter
3/4 C unsweetened almond or soy milk
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar (added to milk to curdle)
2 T. maple syrup, for brushing

for the whipped topping…
1 14 ounce can regular coconut milk (not light), refrigerated
2 tsp. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Mix berry ingredients together and set aside. Preheat oven to 425 F. Combine dry ingredients for cake, add ‘butter’ with a pastry cutter. When mix is coarse and crumbly add curdled milk and stir until just combined. Roll dough on floured surface, cut biscuit rounds, brush with syrup and bake on parchment paper for 17-20 minutes. Serve at room temperature with whipped coconut and berries. Bon appetit!