Local food advocates — the group increasingly referred to as localvores or locavores — have a new constitution in "Anita Stewart's Canada" (Harper Collins). The beautiful 322-page tome, released in Toronto last week, takes local food, and the book's Elora-based author, to a new position of prominence in Canadian food circles.
Subtitled The Food, The Recipes, The Stories, "Anita Stewart's Canada" goes way beyond the normal parameters of a cookbook, even though it's chock full of recipes. In fact, anyone trying to convince the public that order-in and takeout food is the wave of the future would brand it the culinary "Catcher In The Rye," and want it banned for glorifying the carnal pleasures of local food.
That's because the sensuality in "Anita Stewart's Canada" is explicit and overt. There's not a naked person in the pages, but there's sure a lot of temptation. The rich photography is excellent, with Elora's Stewart putting at least as much importance on depicting the people and their communities behind the food, as she does in glamour shots of the amazingly prepared dishes therein.
Local foodies can hang their hats on Stewart's take-home message: local food comes from farms, and farms are run by people. They're not run by corporations, and even on that odd occasion when they are (which in Canada is seldom — only about five per cent of Canadian farms are "corporate" farms), the corporations usually consist of family members who have formed the entity for business purposes.
Local food needs support from local people, including local grocers to sell it. Local restaurants that serve it need support from local farmers to grow it, and patronage from local diners to consume it. And local food writers such as Stewart likewise need to be championed, so they can continue to spread these fantastic food stories.
Stewart, who holds a master's degree in gastronomy, knows new and improved varieties come through a commitment to research and discovery, which sparks a multitude of local stories in her new book. Potatoes, soy, poultry and a plethora of other commodities developed primarily at the University of Guelph have a prominent place in "Anita Stewart's Canada," as do the research teams responsible for them.
And that all meant the stars were well aligned for Ontario food, in particular, when coincidentally, a few days after Stewart's book was launched, the Ontario government announced a $300-million, five-year renewed commitment to its long-standing agriculture and food research partnership with the University of Guelph.
Leona Dombrowsky, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, put her mark on the future of food and farming in Ontario with the support, a significant renewal of the partnership that has driven new variety development in Ontario for decades.
The timing for both the release of Stewart's book and the provincial funding announcement was perfect. Spring planting is upon us, crop farmers are finally getting decent prices for their harvests, and food is becoming front-page, lead-story material everywhere you turn. Some of those stories describe extremely tough situations abroad, and they reverberate everywhere. Hope for resolving the problems of food, feed and fuel are directly related to research, and politics.
I saw a screaming headline last week stemming from a new Harris/Decima poll, saying consumers are moving toward order-in and takeout food. It turns out the headline was only part right — research did indeed show about half of consumers buy takeout meals or order-in meals, but they only do so once a week. Boomers and others may not cook as much as they did once, but they still want decent, local food.
We need more Anita Stewarts and Leona Dombrowskys to make sure that happens.