Local Food and Cultural Cuisine

The Metro Vancouver region is blessed with a multicultural smorgasbord of excellent food. Our regional cuisine places a high value on fresh ingredients and seasonality. Local chefs have long valued the ingredients provided by local farmers and fishers. Chef’s cooperatives, events like “Meet your Maker”, and even apps for smartphones have connected the people that produce the food with those that prepare it. The cultural diversity in our region has benefited our palates, but it does come with some challenges.

Newcomers to Canada will often seek out foods that are familiar to them, and may be reluctant to try some of these strange foods that are native to our region.  Although shopping at markets is a common experience around the globe, it can be intimidating if the food is unfamiliar. Providing recipes and cooking ideas that feature our local food is one way to break down these barriers.

Many farmers in our region have responded to shifting demands and consumer tastes by increasing the variety of product they grow. Many producers are responding to specific demands for Kosher or Halal products. As these markets grow, we all benefit from the interesting dishes and new flavours as we expand our own dietary horizons. Many crops that are transported great distances to satisfy the desire for ethnic foods, can be grown in Canada.

From a CBC news story: Glen Filson, a professor at the University of Guelph, identified a potential demand for “fresh, locally grown ethnic vegetables could be worth $61 million a month in the greater Toronto area alone.” The Chinese community are looking for bok choi, Chinese broccoli, and eggplant while the South Asian community seeks okra, eggplant and bitter melon. Those in the African-Caribbean community also would look for okra, along with African eggplant, garden eggs and callaloo, also known as smooth amaranth.







According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Lower Mainland’s produces 1.5 million kilograms of Chinese vegetables annually. The MOA web site offers the following description:


Chinese vegetables are vegetables that are associated with oriental cooking. The most popular Chinese greens are bok choy, choy sum, gai choy, sui choy and gai lan. Others include Chinese cabbage, daikon and lotus root. Bok choy is also called Chinese chard. The most common type has thick white stalks with large, dark green, oval-shaped leaves. Chinese cabbage has a long thin, firm head of leaves. The outer leaves are pale green and the inner leaves are almost white with a thick mid-rib. Daikon are also called Chinese turnips or Japanese radish. This is a spherical, oblong or cylindrical root which is available all year. Lotus root resembles flowers when sliced.

These shifting trends in consumer taste provide farmer’s market shoppers an amazing opportunity to experiment with some lesser known exotic vegetables. If you are new to Canada and are missing something from home, talk to the farmers and ask if that product can be grown here. Some farmers love experimenting with new crops and the results are sometimes surprising. The variety of fresh fruits and vegetables continues to grow every year, opening new markets and opportunities for experimentation.

Bok Choy




Traditional First Nations Food

The Poirier Street Farmers Market in Coquitlam is located in Coast Salish territory. The city of Coquitlam’s name is derived from the Kwikwetlem First Nation (KFN) band. The name Kwikwetlem means, “Red fish up the river” and the band’s reserve lands are located alongside the Coquitlam River. The red fish or salmon, has been an integral part of the First Nations’ diet in the coastal regions of British Columbia for several millennia.

When most people learn about BC’s history, it’s in the context of European settlement. Cities, islands, rivers, and other bodies of water bear the names of explorers from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The KFN band offers a historical timeline on their web site that traces the presence of First Nations people in the Mary Hill area to over 6,000 years ago. Archaeologist Valerie Patenaude collected approximately 50,000 artifacts while excavating a spring summer villagebetween 1978 and 1981. “She quoted in the 1995 Tri-City News “These were wealthy people. They had salmon, berries, potatoes, migratory birds, deer, mountain sheep, specialists in art and storytellers.”[1]

The Coast Salish people relied on the ocean as the main source of food. Salmon, halibut, shellfish, smelt, crabs, seaweed, and whale were staples of the coastal diet. While some of the salmon that was caught was eaten fresh, most of it would be dried in smokehouses and stored for later consumption. The dried salmon was often eaten with eulachon oil. Eulachon is a type of smelt that is rich in oil. Many of these traditions remain but a variety of environmental factors have had significant impacts on traditional aboriginal diet.

A First Nations Food Nutrition and Environment study conducted in 2011 found that communities that include traditional foods like salmon, moose, and berries in their diet, enjoy better health. Unfortunately, due to loss of habitat and water pollution these traditional food sources are in decline. In some cases, fish, seafood and other traditional foods contain carcinogenic pollutants. The study continues to establish baseline data and quantify the level of toxins in the food supply.

In response to the World Food Summit Plan of Action, the Canadian government developed Canada’s Action Plan for Food Security in 1998. The following is one of the ten priorities identified:

Priority 5: Traditional food acquisition methods of Aboriginal and coastal communitiesacknowledge the important role that hunting, fishing, gathering, bartering and trading play in the food security of many communities in Canada and abroad. By sharing their awareness of traditional foods and their knowledge of sustainable natural resource practices, indigenous people have an important contribution to make in achieving the World Food Summit’s goal. Actions related to the reduction of environmental contaminants, sustainable management of resources (including fisheries) and appropriate supplementation with high-quality commercial foods, strengthen access to food for these communities.[2]

Lastly, this excerpt from Food Secure Canada underscores the important role that environmental stewardship plays in our relationship with food:

Indigenous stewardship practices and traditional knowledge of the land may help the general Canadian society appreciate its responsibilities to the land. In this time of dynamic change, the traditional Indigenous way of looking at the land may assist Canadian society to understand some of the maxims needed to protect the Earth:

1. The Earth is Our Mother.

2. Cooperation is the way to survive.

3. Knowledge is powerful, only if it is shared.

4. Responsibility is the best practice.

5. Everything is connected to everything.

6. Place is important.

7. The spiritual world is not distant from the Earth.[3]


[1] http://www.kwikwetlem.com/history___culture

[2] http://www.agr.gc.ca/misb/fsec-seca/pdf/action_e.pdf

[3] http://foodsecurecanada.org/sites/foodsecurecanada.org/files/DP1_Indigenous_Food_Sovereignty.pdf


Food and Family

What better day than Father’s Day to consider how important family meals are? According a Vanier Institute article, people’s hurried lives equate to skipped breakfasts, lunches eaten at work stations, and dinners that are subjected to severe time crunches. They found that work schedules and children’s activities make family meal preparation a challenge, with 55% of Canadians preparing dinners in 15 minutes or less.

Family meal patterns can have a direct impact on our health and well-being. AboutKidsHealth is a great source of information on how to get the family involved in meal planning, and by extension, increase everyone’s health outcomes. “Depending on the children’s developmental ages and stages, they may be able to help with: planning the menu calendar; preparing shopping lists; shopping; putting the groceries away; and food preparation and clean-up.” The farmer’s market is an ideal place to practice, and pass along those meal planning skills.

The Nutrition Wise blog from the Mayo Clinic provides a list of benefits to eating at least 3-5 meals per week together as a family.  These include: “a sense of family connectedness, routine and stability; improved school performance; lower risk of substance abuse and delinquency; healthier eating habits; and healthier weight and a reduced risk of obesity and disordered eating.” Beyond shopping, preparing, and consuming food, there are a multitude of other opportunities to connect through food.

Growing food is an excellent way to start raising awareness of where our food comes from, and establishing an appreciation for the work it takes to meet even a small portion of our dietary needs. If you lack the space or time to grow your own food, consider visiting a farm. This is a perfect time of year to visit farms that offers u-pick strawberries. Harvesting berries is hard work, but something that provides a good bonding experience for families. Freezing the berries or making jam will allow you to enjoy the harvest for months to come.


Why Shopping at a Farmer’s Market is Good for the Local Economy

The environmental and social benefits of farmer’s markets are often described as the main reasons to shop there. But what about the economic benefits to the broader community? Direct sales can offer vendors a better return for their efforts. The other important benefit is that local businesses tend to spend more locally. Sometimes described as the multiplier effect, how much money is recirculated into the local economy is determined in a number of ways.

The first consideration in shopping at a farmer’s market is that there is no middle man. Direct sales by farmers, bakers, prepared food vendors, and folks that sell their crafts is free from wholesale, distribution, and retail fees. There are still a multitude of other expenses that vendors incur, but more of that hard earned income goes to the vendor, and the people they employ.

Another consideration is how other businesses are impacted by the presence of a farmer’s market. The first instinct for neighbouring businesses is to resist the presence of farmer’s markets. However, studies in Canada and the United States indicate that local business increases when a farmer’s market is present. Depending on location and other variables, farmer’s market shoppers tend to spend approximately 60% in additional dollars at neighbouring businesses.

The third way is the multiplier effect, and how the dollars that you spend are recirculated into the local economy by those farmers and other vendors. There is the direct impact of the purchases they make in equipment, products, and wages they pay. And there is the impact of the purchasing power of their profits within their local communities.

Author Michael Shuman coined the term LOIS, local ownership and import substitution, in his book The Small-Mart Revolution.  First tracking the devastating effect on small businesses of retail giants like Wal-Mart, Shuman traced the push-back of small independent businesses in communities across the United States. Shuman cited studies by Civic Economics and other sources, showing the economic multiplier effect of local business was two to four times greater than comparable non-local businesses.

The Transition Movement  is another example of how communities around the globe are building their local economies, and increasing their resilience. The transition movement has a strong focus on local food and has gained traction as the effects of climate change and peak oil have become more apparent. Village Vancouver and Village Surrey are two examples of transition organizations in the region. Supporting your local farmer’s market is an excellent way of stimulating the local economy.