Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Hundred Dollar Diet

I stopped by the Farmers' Market on the lawn of Pacific Central Station, a magnet for people making an effort to follow the Hundred Mile Diet. I bought an organic Macintosh apple to snack on as I walked home. It was $1.09, an expensive apple it seemed to me. I bit into it, expecting it to taste especially delicious. It tasted like a perfectly ordinary Macintosh apple.

This wasn’t the first time I had been to the Farmers' Market since it set up shop Wednesday evenings in front of the Pacific Central train and bus station, across from the busy Main St. Skytrain station. I had bought corn on the cob there in August. Cobs ran as high as $1.25, depending on the vendor. One vendor offered organic corn for $10 a dozen, or $1 each. I bought a couple of non-organic cobs for 75 cents each from a young Indo-Canadian farmer who had come in from Abbotsford. I liked him because he had his back to me and wasn’t putting pressure on people to buy.

The salsa saleswoman at Momma Nellie’s never missed an opportunity to make eye contact and chat up a potential customer, explaining over and over that she makes the salsa at home in her kitchen then loads it into the trunk of her car and sells it at outdoor markets. She sold me a jar, for $8. I can get a jar of Paul Newman’s salsa out of his cold dead hands for $4.19 at Buy-Low up the street, less when it’s on sale, which it often is. But like the woman said, hers is “fresh”. She gives you little samples and tells you to take note of the crunch in the vegetables. I did. I heard the crunch.

I was on the hundred dollar diet.

"Farmers on 57th”, billed as being “a half acre organic market garden tended by 3 young growers”, was offering bunches of kale for $2 each. I buy kale for $1.18 at Buy Low, but it isn’t organic, and it’s from California.

Shalefield Gardens from Lindell Beach, a lakefront village on Cultus Lake east of Vancouver, had a table at the market selling organic Swiss chard for $2 a bunch. But the bunches were smaller than those I get weekly at Buy Low where it’s also organic but only $1.68. The bad news of course that it’s from California.

Bean Boy was selling assorted spreads, such as Spicy Black Bean or Humous with Curry. The seller explained that his beans were soaked for 16 hours, and cooked in a stainless steel pressure cooker. He charged $5.50 for 200 grams and $9.50 for 400 grams. He was offering samples on small pieces of taco chips.

Hazelmere Valley Beanery was selling Fair Trade Coffee, 3 1bs. for $30.

The Forstbauer Family Farm in Chilliwack had organic raised beef on sale, regularly $11/lb, now $9/1b. And they had certified organic eggs. They had notices up like, “free range”, “organic feed”, “grass feed”.

Nature’s Best Meat had “Range Raised Bison”. You could buy it ground. You could buy it as burger patties. And even as pet food.

A benefit to shopping at a Farmers' Market is that you can talk to the people who grow your food. “You are what you eat. Meet your maker”, is the slogan on the Farmers Market website. A friend strolling with me at the market in August enjoyed schmoozing with the farmers. She talked to a woman selling bacon produced with minimal nitrates. “We use only the smallest amount,” the saleswoman emphasized. My friend brought home the bacon. I later asked her how much she had paid for it. She would say only that it was “expensive”, adding that it was worth it to her. It would be worth it to me too, due to the strong link between colon cancer and nitrates.

A vendor called “Thai Princess” was selling stir fry sauces, vegetarian. Samples in tiny cups were offered to people walking past. I tried two samples, one coconut, one peanut. Both tasty. A 325 ml container of the sauce was selling for $8, three containers for $20.

Golden West Farms in Summerland in the Okanagan was doing a brisk business selling “fresh-picked” organic cherries for $3.49 lb. I bought a small bag. Some of them were a little soft, possibly because it was the end of the season.

At Bad Girl Chocolates, you could get a chocolate bar for $4.

At Knead Some Dough, $5 would get you a loaf of Kamut bread — Kamut is becoming popular since so many people are discovering they have wheat allergies — or multigrain bread.

Blackberry Hill had “cinamun buns, cakes, muffins, squares.” They had a Chocolate & Zucchinni loaf for $5.

I came across a vendor with some of the biggest mushrooms I’d ever seen. His assortment included Shitake and Oyster. A bag of Oyster mushrooms was $10.

At the Farmers' Market, you will find most of the foods, but not the junk, you would find in a supermarket: cheese, honey, low-sugar granola. Even sunflowers, 2 bunches for $5.

There was a jewelry table too.

Even a little politics. ”Hope in the Shadows”, a book with stories and photos from people on the Downtown Eastside was on sale. A portion of the revenue goes to Pivot Legal Society which has worked on such issues as legalizing the sex trade.

There were activities to keep children occupied too: a free bubble blowing machine, a crafts table. And there was a guy playing guitar and singing.

Now that it's fall -- the market runs until Oct. 21 -- there are fewer vendors. The "no spray" blueberries -- 10 lbs for $25 at the Beckmann Family Farm -- have disappeared , and a few small pumpkins have appeared. The rain too has appeared.

I walk by the market every Wednesday on my way home, so I’ll no doubt stop again to pick up a few things, maybe some low-nitrate bacon to make toasted tomato, lettuce, and bacon sandwiches. The hundred mile diet is becoming more convenient.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"A Cruel Tax," Bill Vander Zalm tells Rally today at Canada Place

You would think Bill Vander Zalm was a movie star, the way people reacted to him at this afternoon’s Anti-HST rally at Canada Place in Vancouver, crowding around him afterwards to take his photo or get theirs taken with him. Now in his seventies, the former premier of British Columbia who’s leading-man-looks have faded a little but his charisma not at all, took to the stage three times to encourage the crowd to fight the new Harmonized Sales Tax. The HST being slapped on British Columbians by Premier Gordon Campbell of the Liberal party, a tax which will fuse the current Goods and Services tax with the provincial sales tax, has brought Vander Zalm out of retirement as it will result in more taxes on more things. Vander Zalm told the crowd, which he estimated to be between four and five thousand people, that the HST is “hitting a lot more places than we realized previously.”

Photo: Bill Vander Zalm at today's rally (Sorry, date stamp is incorrect.)

Despite having been head of the right of center Social Credit government, Vander Zalm did not temper his criticism of the ruling right of center Liberal party. ”The HST is a cruel tax. . . . It takes from those that are packing lunch buckets…and it’s giving to big corporations.” The government is “picking your pockets”, Vander Zalm said, emphasizing repeatedly that the money is “all going to the big corporations.” He was starting to sound like a left winger, and there were many of those at the rally too. In fact, Vander Zalm introduced Carole James, leader of the left of center New Democratic Party [”NDP”] , saying she was “doing a great job.”

James was on the same page as Vander Zalm today in criticizing the Liberals for thinking they could impose a harmonized sales tax. ”I think they really thought that they could sneak it in in the summer.” James asked people to contact Liberal Members of the Legislative Assembly and press them to oppose the HST.

Sylvia MacLeay, President of the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations, described seniors as being worried about the planned HST. ”Seniors are really upset.” They are upset about the “process”, MacLeay said, that the Liberal goverment has used in “sneaking in a new tax.” They are upset that the HST will result in “an instant rate of 12%” tax on heating fuel, hydro, some grocery items, and items that have not previously been taxed. MacLeay echoed Vander Zalm’s comments, saying the HST would result in “significant gains to big business”, but for seniors and others, “It’s all bad, there’s no up side, we’re just going to pay more money.”

It was around this point that Vander Zalm asked for money from anyone who "could spare some change or better still a bill.” The organizing effort has overhead, he explained, “signs, a sound system”, so people were being sent through the crowd carrying buckets to collect donations. ”We’re not finished today," he reminded the crowd, "We’re only just starting.”

A central strategy in fighting the HST is a "Citizen's Initiative petition". If a Citizen's Initiative collects signatures of 10% of registered voters in each riding in B.C., a referendum on the GST could be forced.

Bill Tielman, a left wing political commentator on CKNW radio, spoke directly to Premier Campbell from the stage at the rally. “I know you’ll be watching this on television tonight. I know you can’t resist. I have a message for Gordon Campbell. This is what democracy looks like in British Columbia.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Australian Slang Catches on in Canada

Have you noticed the new expression that is as popular with twenty-somethings as a new tattoo?

"No worries."

It's Australian slang, meaning "no problem", but it has caught on in Canada.

Sometimes it doesn't quite ring right. Like when the host of Good Morning America thanked twenty year old Alena Jenkins of Vancouver for agreeing to appear on the show to discuss her brother Ryan Jenkins, who was accused of killing his wife, cutting off her fingertips, yanking out her teeth, and stuffing her into a suitcase, before hanging himself from a coat rack. She responded, "No worries."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Main St. Mystery Store with No Customers

Photo: Aramic store on Main St., 2009 (Ignore the date on the photo; the date stamp on my camera wasn't working.)

What do you do if you have a store with no customers? You expand.

That's what happened at Aramic, a men's wear store that opened on Main St. near National about three years ago. I walked by there everyday and only once saw a customer. I saw a man standing at the cash register.

The locals had been joking about this store since it opened, more about the type of merchandise than the fact that there were no customers buying it. We used to look through the window and laugh about the rows and rows of "pimp shoes" they were selling. Flashy shoes that west coast Canadians just don't wear.

The clothes were odd too. Dress suits, often in a safari style. No sign of the gore-tex rain gear that might actually sell here in the rain forest.

After being in business for about a year and a half, the owners, possibly encouraged by the one customer who had shown up, expanded.

Yes they opened a women's wear store next door. The women's wear outlet has been operating for about a year and a half now. They have odd clothes for women, dated styles, often leaniing toward garish. Nobody will be embarrassing themselves in these clothes any time soon though. I've yet to notice a customer.

There are signs of life in the stores though. Clothes on manequins are changed regularly. Once there was a car accident outside and I saw a staff person standing in the window, looking out at the police and firemen working.

You can bet the locals have been speculating. Maybe these stores are fronts for selling something else. Downtown Eastsiders put up for years with grocery stores with dated merchandise on the shelves while the real thing was sold from under the counter, although the City did start cracking down. If somebody wanted to launder money, buying a cheap load of dated clothing and setting up a web site and storefronts would seem to be one way of going about it.

I'm not saying that's what's going on in these stores with no customers. Maybe they do a good business over the internet. They do have a professional looking website where you can fill up your virtual shopping cart and pay by credit card.

I don't know. But I can't help wondering every time I walk by.