Monday, November 23, 2009

small is beautiful

Everyone is talking about the ethics of eating. Should we eat organic? Biodynamic? Vegetarian? Vegan? Buy local? Eat within 100 miles from home? Free range? pasture fed? Humanely raised? Sustainable?

All these things are good, but anyone who has been in earshot of one of my rants, will know I have concerns with all these categories. Recently I have been thinking of the importance of the small.
Small is beautiful.

Last week I was given a cd of music by Corin Raymond ( The title of the cd is "there will always be a small time". In the title song he talks about how the big time music industry will often let you down, and is falling on hard times. But the small time music industry, playing in clubs and parlours, will endure. The only thing that won't change, he sings, is "that folks like us will sing songs for folks like you". Music, he says, "is coming home again".

I was listening to this, and thinking about small, and realized that food needs to come back home again. Restaurants need to stop buying from big multinational suppliers and buy from small local growers, farmers, grocers, butchers and bakers. Home owners should shift their buying from the big chains to the local corner stores and markets. Diners need to move away from the big chain restaurants and start frequenting the mom and pops. We need to move away from buying meat raised in huge ranches, fed in overcrowded feed lots and slaughtered in the monolithic meat packing facilities and start buying meat raised in pastures on family farms. We need to move away from the intensive hog barn operation where the pigs never see the sun and find a local supplier buying his pigs from a family farmer. Stop buying produce shipped from California or further when we can find beautiful vegetables at our nearest market gardener.

The prevailing theme here, is small. Small time producers can't afford all the pesticides, hormones and antibiotics that the big guys use. Small producers also need less of these. All the big lysteria or salmonella outbreaks have happened in the huge production facilities. Do you remember when we couldn't eat spinach? This was because all the spinach was coming from a small number of huge corporations. If we sourced our spinach from hundreds of small farms, we wouldn't need to worry if one of these suppliers developed a problem with salmonella.

When we lived in Italy, we had a small fridge. It was a bar sized fridge for a family of 5. In it we kept milk, water and a few beer for papa. The small size could be a problem, but created an opportunity for a lovely new way of life. Instead of driving to a big supermarket every week, loading a cart full of groceries, and filling a big fridge and an equally large freezer with food for the week; we would walk, every day, to the market. We would visit our favourite (small) tomato guy, our lettuce guy, our mushroom guy; we would buy meat from the butcher or fish from the fish monger. We would grab some bread from the baker and of course a selection of cheeses. And we would do this every day. Always fresh, always tasty.

I have a small restaurant, so come eat at my place. But enjoy other small places as well. We were at the Falafel Place the other day, and loved it. Check out the Underground Cafe or Eat! Bistro. Go visit Scott at Pizzeria Gusto, say hi to Fern at In Ferno's. And there are many more little places to choose from. And if you are craving Earls' calamari, go for it. But the next time, try that little diner down the road from you.

I am not suggesting that you give up the superstore's and costco's of the world. I was just at costco today and bought a lifetime supply of herbes de provence. But I am encouraging you to shop at Vic's Fruit Market. Buy your meat from Marcello's, or Denny's or the Ellice Meat market; wherever your local butcher is. Don't eat wonder bread. Buy real bread from Tall Grass or Le Croissant. Go online and look up to find out about the harvest moon farmers co-op and their "know your farmer" philosophy. Support your local small businesses whenever possible. They need you. They will appreciate your 20 bucks more than the CEO of FacelessFoodCorp Inc. In return, you will be rewarded with better food and better service. And you will develop a real relationship with your food and the people who produce it.

And as you look around the food world, and see all the problems with sustainability, BSE, swine flu, lysteria outbreaks in luncheon meats, salmonella outbreaks in spinach, or tomatoes, or sprouts, GMO products, overuse of antibiotics and hormones, trans-fats, food additives, the dominance of high-fructose corn syrup everywhere...

...remember, there will always be a small time.

Small is beautiful.

Small recipes:

I wanted to add some small recipes. I was going to do sliders, mini-burgers, but I am writing an article on sliders for the spring issue of flavours magazine. So I didn't want to scoop my own story. So I decided to include recipes for devilled eggs. With the entertaining season upon us, we are always looking for tasty, easy appetizers that can be made ahead. And who doesn't like this retro favourite.

The method is simple. Boil the eggs and cool them down. Peel the eggs and cut them in half. Scoop the yolk out. mush the yolk with the other ingredients, and return to the hollow of the egg. You can spoon the yolk back in, make perfect balls with a small ice cream scoop or pipe a rosette in with a star tipped piping bag. Traditionally, the eggs are sprinkled with paprika. I am including three variations, but beyond that, let your imagination run wild.

A few tips for boiling the eggs. Start with good eggs. I like natures farm eggs, sold as Vita Eggs. If you can get eggs from a local farmer, even better. Look for free-run, or organic eggs. But be warned, just cause it says "farm" on the package, doesn't mean the chickens haven't been raised in a wearhouse building near the airport. When I boil the eggs, I put a lot of salt in the water. This helps the egg peel easily and won't effect the taste. The most full proof method I know for hard boiled eggs, is to put them in a pot of cold water. bring them to a boil. Then I put a lid on the pot and turn the heat off. As the water cools, the eggs will cook, and then stop cooking usually at just the perfect state of doneness. I find them easiest to peel, if you crack the eggs, then run them under cold water. Water will get inside the shell, separating the white from the shell.

Lobster Devilled Eggs

6 eggs
4 oz chopped lobster meat (canned or from cooked lobster tails)
1 tbsp finely diced red pepper
1 tbsp finely diced green pepper
1 tsp finely diced chive
1 tsp finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup mayonaise
1/2 tsp paprika (and some to sprinkle)
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper to taste

1.)mush eggs, mix all ingredients together, return to egg.

Bacon Devilled Eggs

6 eggs
4 slices of bacon
1/4 cup mayonaise
1/2 tsp paprika
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper to taste.

1. cook bacon until crisp, drain and reserve the fat.
2. cut 12 thin slivers of bacon for garnish. finely mince the rest of it.
3. combine egg yolks, bacon and seaonings with mayo and 1 tbsp of reserved bacon fat
4. return to egg whites and garnish with bacon slivers

Curried Devilled Egg

6 eggs
1/4 cup yogurt
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp slivered almonds
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp raisins
1 tbsp cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

1. combine all ingredients. return to egg


  1. 'Restraunts need to stop buying from big multinational suppliers and buy from small local growers, farmers, ...' Thats of coure great but considering availablitly of local lamb, which is plentiful, does 71/4 still use all the way form the other hemisphere lamb?

  2. Purple Potato (if that is your real name),
    The short answer is yes, I am still using lamb from "the other hemisphere". I never said i was perfect, this is a journey for all of us.

    Manitoba lamb is available but it is expensive and production of it is limited. Most of the lamb raised in Manitoba is shipped out of province to be processed. When it returns, the price is prohibitive. In the past when I have used Canadian lamb, I have had customers complain either about the price or the portion size. The average customer compares my lamb price to the price of the new zealand lamb they can by at the supermarket.

    The main problem with buying local lamb is supply. Generally, in restaurants we feature one cut of lamb on the menu. Currently we are doing lamb shank, each lamb has only 2 shanks. To keep up to my demand, I would need to find someone slaughtering 25 to 30 sheep a week. I don't know anyone doing that kind of volume, and anyone supplying me with shanks would have to find a market for the rest of the meat.

    This is one of the motivations for my blog. i want to encourage people to buy from small producers. If more people were demanding local lamb (for example) then the producers would be able to sell more of the cuts of lamb making lamb production more profitable for them. And then I would be able to buy my shanks locally.

    In the meantime, I have been trying to think of ways in which I could buy whole lambs. This is the best and most cost-effective way to use local product. If i could say on my menu, Lamb, which cut you get TBA, then i could use whole animals. I have also been talking to local lamb producers about how i could be using their lamb on my menu, we just haven't figured it out yet.

    However, I think you miss the point of the article. I am trying to do to things. One, I am proposing a shift in the categories we use. Instead of local vs import or organic vs conventional, i propose small vs big. I would rather buy my lettuce from a family farmer who can't afford certification but is trying hard, than from a huge conglomerate lettuce company. And the small time is more appealing than the big time. Second, my blog is meant to be motivational. For myself and for others. If we, collectively, shift our buying patterns from big corporations to small producers, this will benefit local economies and we'll wind up with better and healthier food. And a healthier planet.

    But it is motivational. I am not there yet. This is a journey for all of us. What I propose is a shift. The more we do the better, but we will never be free of the general mills of the world. And I am not proposing we should be. I am not looking for a new food puritanism, but a movement towards a more sustainable food economy.

    Thank you, Mr. Potato, for your comment. The conversation continues.

  3. Be careful, then Alex, to keep the 'small' in your restaurant as well. It wouldn't be the same if it grew, or multiplied.

  4. Hi Alex. I really like this post. I know you wrote it ages ago but I just came across it and wanted to comment. As I'm sure you know from my sister, I wrestle with issues of where my food comes from. The other day I had brunch at a cafe down the street and got a slice of lemon on my plate. They'd left the sticker on it and guess where it came from ... California! But I have a lemon tree in my backyard! I kind of figured that, living in Australia with it's almost year round growing season, I would be able to find local produce all the time. Obviously this is an issue around the globe, not just in wintery Canada.

    This morning I went to the Slow Food Market in Melbourne. At this market I bought 5 varieties of heirloom tomatoes from the tomato woman (she also had heirloom carrots and some herbs), a couple bottles of biodynamic red wine from another vendor, a range of local olives, soft blue cheese, turnip greens, 3 varieties of eggplant. Amazing!

    I'm with you that we need to create demand for local and small.

  5. We love Vic's. And Bistro! :)