March 29, 2011

Insights from UofG Profs.

The Health Benefits of eating locally grown Ethno-Cultural Vegetables

Dr. Gopi Paliyath, a professor in the department of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph, with research interests on issues such as post-harvest handling of fruits and vegetables was interviewed recently.  Interviewing him reveals his strong position on the consumption of locally produced vegetables. He says that consuming locally grown vegetables does not only lessen the effects of global warming but could also have positive effects on the body. Eating a diet rich in vegetables reduces chances of getting any of the lifespan reducing diseases such as cancers and other diseases derived from our noxious lifestyles.

It can be difficult to obtain locally produced vegetables of high quality because crop production is largely a prisoner to the winter months in Canada. However, even in non-winter months we still find a good sum of vegetables that are imported. Paliyath says that those vegetables that have traveled long distances are lower in quality. A large percentage of these vegetables are Ethno-Cultural Vegetables (ECVs) that can be grown locally. Often these ECVs experience the highest degradation in terms of quality based on distance covered. The fall in quality of the ECV transforms what was a naturally good vegetable into something nutritionally and also tastefully less desirable consequently reducing the curative benefits of eating vegetables.

Parts of the interview of Prof. Paliyath are presented in the video below

Food Hubs and Ethno Cultural Vegetables

Professor Karen Landman teaches at the school of Environmental Design and Rural Development. She is interested in local food systems both in rural and urban spheres. More recently her research has taken her into the realm of Community Food Hubs. She says that food hubs are important and can foster community relations and ties. A common theme in culture is often food, and although the cuisine may change with every culture, crop varieties are often similar. The activities within Food Hubs create positive social externalities that are difficult to measure monetarily, where friendships, life skills and even nutrition are propagated to members of a Community at Food Hubs.

She speaks to highlight the benefits of Community Food Hubs in the Greater Toronto Area as rays of hope that are giving way to an array of social benefits echoing the cosmopolitan nature of Toronto. Ethno-cultural vegetables are taking centre stage in this drama helping people from different cultures to understand and respect each others cultures.

Steven Kangethe


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March 15, 2011

Ethnic Food Market increasing in the US

A new survey developed by a Chicago based market research firm Mintel, claims the US population is increasingly seeking ethnic food. They counted the number of novel food items launched over the past few years in the US and sorted them under various ‘ethnic’ cuisine categories. Based on this data, the most popular cuisines are those of Italian, Mexican and Asian origin. These cuisines have been around for very long and have to some extent, been ‘Americanized’ and mainstreamed and so it is difficult to classify a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce or a taco as ethnic. However, the Mintel report claims that less common cuisines, such as Caribbean, Japanese and Thai foods are rapidly increasing in popularity. As David Lockwoon, a senior analyst at Mintel claims “Thai, Caribbean and Japanese foods are seeing healthy growth, and consumers seem to be getting more comfortable with a wide variety of ethnic flavours.” According to the report, from 2009 to 2010, there has been a 230 percent increase in new ‘Japanese’ food items. ‘Caribbean’ food items increased about 150 percent and ‘Thai’ product launches increased by 68 percent.

The study suggests it is the broad variety of outlets that consumers have to ethnic food that contributes to the large increase of consumer interest in ethnic food. Twenty six percent of people surveyed claim their interest grew in ethnic food after being exposed to it via a popular media outlet, such as television, newspapers or magazines. The second most common response, with 25 percent, was that the diverse community in which they live is what introduced them to ethnic foods. Lockwood states, “Consumers are becoming more interested in trying out complicated ethnic dished at home that would usually be prepared by a chef in a restaurant.” The ECVOntario research study, including this article, creates an outlet for people in Ontario to learn more about the social, political and economical aspects of ethno-cultural vegetables. This will hopefully reduce the fear of introducing ethno-cultural vegetables into the local market and diminish myths that surround ‘ethnic’ food in Canada.

Since more and more people are interested in trying to cook ethnic food at home, they will inescapably be introduced to ethno-cultural vegetables. Large grocery stores currently carry very little ethno-cultural vegetables and if they do, they are of very poor quality. Studies like this confirm that people are becoming more interested in food and open to learning about various types of cultures via food. This demand and interest needs to be corresponded to and incorporated into local production. Many consumers will appreciate fresh and local compared to imported okra, bitter melon and callaloo.

Monika Korzun ( PhD Candidate)
Rural Studies
University of Guelph
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March 4, 2011

Toronto's Vegetable Hub : Ontario Food Terminal

Discovering the ECV market in the GTA
The Ontario food terminal is a veritable micro-city akin to no other. As the electric hand pallet trucks zoom around, one gets the impression that pedestrians are virtually foreign obstacles, hindering the precise and constant race for fresh vegetables and fruit recently in from distribution companies. If you don’t have a push cart or pallet truck, sorry, you’re way out of luck. Spinning in oblivion, you will struggle to grasp your surroundings as the locals purposefully navigate the centre in quasi-automation, pacing up and down the terminal corridors moving tonnes (literally) of fresh cargo brought in from around the province, country and world to meet the local food needs of Ontarians in general. 

Although there are distribution stalls, the real action takes place outside where, even in winter, one feels the warmth generated by the hustle and bustle of vegetable mongers navigating their baggies full of fresh produce into transport trucks, cube vans and the trunks of SUVs, rushing to supply orders at grocery stores, restaurants and eateries around the GTA and beyond. Consequently, the centre takes on the ambiance of an open-air market, not unlike those the general public would associate with more exotic destinations.

It is only once in these surroundings that one begins to appreciate how food reaches the dinner plate- and yes, although you may buy it at a supermarket the value chain involved in this transaction is not limited between you, the consumer, retailers (supermarkets) and farmers. The produce has probably changed ownership numerous times, depending on where it’s coming from, before it sits in your local supermarket’s produce aisle, ripe and tempting. It has been in the care of farmers, distributors, retailers, transporters and finally you, the consumer. It is this fluid relationship that allows box upon box of skids of produce to uniformly sit in trucks, ships and planes in an orderly, timely and well organized fashion. This flow of produce is giving way to hyperkinetic activity within Ontario, where informed farmers are taking advantage of salient opportunities presented to them in the form of ethno-cultural vegetables.

Take Bok Choy, for example. One of the major distributors receives shipments of the vegetable from right here in Ontario.  Local producers in Ontario are targeting Bok Choy, traditionally imported from Asia, in an effort to drastically curb transportation costs- and it’s working. According to Joe DaSilva, Vice President of Ippolito Produce Limited, a major distribution company at the terminal, the only time he doesn’t sell the locally produced greens is during the winter when the frost makes planting impossible. He claims other vegetables are not far behind in the race towards local production and consumption. 

It is this reality that makes ECV Ontario’s research viable- thanks to the Ontario Food Terminal we are able to eat all the fresh vegetables we want all the time, both locally and internationally grown. It is from this logistical marvel that the city of Toronto offers the province with a yearlong salad bar of nutrition and choice.  In time we can only hope that locally grown but currently imported crops get their chance to shine not only in our local supermarket shelves but also in our consumption habits and bellies, please Eat Local, and definitely Taste Global!

Steven Gitu Kangethe & Yasantha Nawaratne
University of Guelph
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