December 15, 2015

Goodness Me: A Path to Sustainability...

Where can you feel good about grocery shopping, where “cows don't do drugs”, all produce is organic, and you can sit down for the cheapest fair trade organic coffee in Guelph? Earlier this year I walked into Goodness Me for the first time, the newest sustainability and health focused grocery store near downtown Guelph. Here I write about my experience. Fresh local produce is the first thing you see as you walk in to the store. For the health conscious consumer, Goodness Me's holistic health practitioners are there to show you the various nutritional supplements or recipes. For the vegetarian or vegan consumer, options include vegan ice cream and cheese. There is even a room where cooking classes are held.

In the back of the store, their eatery is a bustling place in the mornings. A middle aged couple sits down to catch up over fair trade organic coffee, while two high school kids grab a wrap and options from the salad bar for lunch.  Parents with young children are also there, picking up food on the run. I sit down to enjoy some very delicious, though a little pricey, pakoras.

Goodness Me offers in their non-produce section, a nice option of either organic or an alternate sustainable option. Having to pay a premium for a more sustainable product does raise the price, however, they do offer a variety of options. For example, Goodness Me charges $15.14 for a whole organic chicken, and $9.52 for a larger non-organic but free range chicken that has been fed no growth hormones. However, is it price that has made the population seem to be largely a mid to older age population with few students?  Goodness Me does try to attract students through their Wednesday 10% student discount, though I wonder if it is working.

Offering a selection based on purely organic and local products may be a trade-off for offering culturally appropriate food. For example, the store offers no halal or kosher meat options. When asked about this, an employee mentions that there had been no demand for these products, though they had been looking into getting halal products. Is this a question of no demand? Perhaps by offering more halal products, they could attract a larger and more diverse customer base.

In this globalized age, it can often be difficult to find out where our food originates. An employee explains to me that their produce is not only organic, but they also try everything they can do to source their food locally, and then they look at affordability. Interestingly, much of their produce in the summer months even comes from their own farm! Goodness Me has a relationship with a farm owned by two brothers, David and Meiring, who produce organic produce solely for the nine Goodness Me stores. I stock up on some great local veggies, and some not as local bananas.

Goodness Me does have some great options, especially for the environmentally and health aware consumer. As a new store, I am sure they are constantly expanding their market base, but who are they targeting? I wonder, is Goodness Me an acceptable space for Refugee-Path-Immigrants?

Samuel Dent, URA, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph.
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September 30, 2015

Can appropriate certification process improve food sovereignty?

In my rihla (journey) across different food landscapes I have discovered that people consume food not necessarily to satisfy hunger but for cultural, religious and social reasons. This is even more pronounced in Canada where people explore and learn from other cultures by including other people’s food in their cuisine. Cultural groups differ in their definition of good or appropriate food. For example, the elite and environmentally conscious believe in organic and/or local, the Jews in kosher, and the Muslims (including Somalis) in halal meat. The challenge with procuring appropriate food labelled organic, local, kosher or halal is the authenticity of the certification process. In some cases, the value chain is well defined and monitored, especially in the case of local organic, but not in the case of halal certification. Although there is Zabiha Halal certification for meat on the shelves of mainstreams stores, most halal consumers in Canada purchase from small stores. Some people have reservations about whether the meats from these stores were processed based on the standards expected of halal products. Halal certification should be based on the Quran, Hadith (practices of prophet Mohammed), Ijma (a consensus of legal opinion), and Qiyas (reasoning by analogy) (Regenstein et al 2003). In other words, it is difficult to ascertain that a small halal store truly sells appropriate meat if the owner did not slaughter the animal.

As desirable as halal meat may be in terms of health implications and taste, this may be compromised when appropriate certification is not in place. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency states that “Halal claims on food labels, packaging or advertising material must now include the name of the certifying body” (CFIA 2014). This is a step in the right direction, especially for traceability, but more must be done in terms of processes and procedures. And how are the people who purchase from small ethnic stores sure of what they are purchasing. The Canadian producers can also benefit from the export market if the process is appropriately certified. This should not be seen as religious observation but a business model that will increase Canada’s international relevance while providing food for Canadians of various backgrounds that want healthy, organic and ecologically friendly products.

Finally, consumers should be protected from business people benefiting by charging a premium from these niche markets without abiding by the required rules and regulations.


Regenstein J. M, Chaudry M. M & C. E. Regenstein (2003) The Kosher and Halal Food Laws. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 2: 111-127.


CFIA (2014) Notice to Industry - Government of Canada improves labelling of halal food products


Bamidele Adekunle, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph, CANADA
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September 25, 2015

Halal: A Preferred cuisine

The nation of Somalia on the eastern horn of Africa has undergone a terrible humanitarian crisis. As of 2013, 1.1 million Somalis had been forced to disperse across the world as refugees [1] in response to a deadly combination of war, drought, corruption, and famine. Many of these people have sought and found sanctuary in Canada. Here, they must face the new challenges of adapting to a foreign climate and culture. Not least among these issues is the question of whether or not traditional eating habits can be maintained in a nation 12,747 kilometres from their homeland.

Somali Food – Overview
Somalia is an Islamic nation, meaning that most people abide by Islamic dietary laws. Meat features prominently within the Somali diet, and is included in all meals if possible. Goat meat is a popular favourite, with beef and chicken also eaten in quantities. Fish is less commonly used in Somali dishes, but does feature more prominently within certain regions of Somalia. Meals often consist of meat and flavoured rice, often with one of Somalia’s many specialized breads accompanying. Injera bread – found in many regions of East Africa – is made using teff and/or sorghum [2], and is used as both foodstuff and utensil in various meals. Pancake-like Malawa bread may be taken with honey. With a high grain and starch content, the traditional Somali diet is rich in carbohydrates, but may be deficient (according to Western standards) in fruit intake. However, the variety of beans, grains, and spices used in cooking lends the traditional Somali diet a healthy vitamin and mineral mix.

Somalia’s Islamic dietary laws declare certain foodstuffs – including (but not limited to) pig meat, blood-based products, and the meat of most carnivores - to be ‘haram’ [2], and forbid them. Furthermore, in order for a meat to be ‘halal’ and thus good to eat, it must be slaughtered in the correct fashion. Given that the Somali diet features meat so very prominently, it is desirable that Somalis in Canada have access to halal meat products. In general, Canada’s halal meat market is robust and wide-ranging [4], allowing Canadian Muslims to purchase and prepare their meals with ease. However, it should be noted that many new arrivals will not be aware of how to negotiate the Canadian halal markets, and (given the dominance of halal food within Somalia) unused to having to check that their food is halal. Things like sweets - which may contain things like gelatin from animals slaughtered in haram fashion – can be a source of confusion and distress.

Cultural and Gendered Considerations
Within Somalia, nutrition and cuisine is the almost-exclusive preserve of women. Few men know much about diet, cookery, and nutrition, and still fewer see any reason to learn such skills. This can cause problems when moving to Western nations, as the Western way of life and cost of living means that many women must get jobs, leaving them less time than they would have in their home nation to cook meals. This can be a source of domestic tension. Somalis within the USA have also expressed great concerns [5] about the diets of their children. Within Somalia, children and adults usually take lunch and dinner together. However, the Western school day prohibits this in most cases. While this is usually accepted within de-patriated Somali communities, many parents nonetheless miss the sense of family unity which comes from sharing at least two important meals a day with their children. Somali parents have also expressed great concern that their children’s school nutrition is not adequate, and that they are not properly prepared for the fact that haram foods hide in many guises within Western schools. Most of all, they are worried that their children will fall prey to Western food disorders such as an addiction to junk food, obesity, diabetes and so on. They also worry that a lack of parental control over their children’s diets and the Western obsession with physical appearance could lead to deadly conditions [6] like anorexia and bulimia.

Food Availability
In general, dispersed Somalis have proven adaptable and willing to compromise upon foods within the bounds of Islamic eating laws. Assuming that halal produce is available, the Somali diet should be able to continue with only a few adjustments. Halal beef and chicken can be substituted for goat, for example. However, it is notable that some traditional dishes will be harder to prepare. Camel and goat’s milk are staples of the Somali diet. While halal cow’s milk may be substituted in some cases, many Somali women feel that it is simply not the same. Canned goat’s milk is also often available in halal stores, and goat’s milk in general is becoming more available within Canada [7] - but people who are used to fresh goat’s milk, straight from the udder, feel that the canned milk is no substitute. Camel’s milk, meanwhile, is not a commodity common to Canada. African herbs and spices are also notably lacking. When these ingredients can be obtained, they are usually a lot more expensive (due often to transport costs) than they would have been back in Somalia. All in all, Canada can generally accommodate the Somali diet, but many traditional dishes may have to be eschewed, and ingredients are generally harder and more expensive to obtain.

[1] Refugees International, “Somalia”
[2] The Science of Cooking, “Ethiopian Ingera
[3] Halal Certification Services, “What is Haram?”
[4] Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Ministry, “Canadian Halal Meat Market Study”
[5] Jennifer Decker, “Eating Habits of Members of the Somali Community: Discussion Summary”, Sisters Of Charity Health System
[6], “Medical Issues From Anorexia, Bulimia, and Other Eating Disorders”
[7] Canadian Grocer, “Canadians flocking to goat milk products”, Oct 2011

Helen Abbott, Guest Contributor, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph, CANADA

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September 11, 2015

Sesame Oil: A Keystone Ingredient

If you cook your own food, you’ll know what I’m talking about: that one ingredient. The one that’s always on your shopping list, always in your pantry. There is no substitute, you can’t seem to get away from using it, and without it your kitchen might as well be closed. I call it a keystone ingredient. Think of your keystone ingredient. Is it a spice blend? A particular cheese? Type of nut? For those preparing Somali food it is sesame oil. Found in a variety of traditional plates ranging from bun (a breakfast dish made of coffee bean soaked in sesame oil) to muufo (a corn bread topped with sesame oil), the sesame plant and accompanying products are easily accessible in Somalia and an indispensable part of Somali food identity.

While conducting a recent focus group aimed at better understanding the food related needs within the Greater Toronto Area’s Somali community, I was invited to reflect upon the impact of barriers to keystone ingredient access. The food enthusiasts participating in the conversation identified frustration with the availability and cost of sesame oil in Canada. Although a variety of ethno-cultural fruits and vegetables are widely available, especially in large urban areas, the limiting factor in food preparation for many comes from barriers to sesame oil. This made me wonder – do keystone ingredients also play a keystone role in the proliferation of ethno-cultural food in Ontario? Can methodology be developed for the identification of keystone ingredients within refugee path immigrant communities in order to prioritize them for local production?

The availability of keystone ingredients within each refugee path immigrants’ community, more so than other ethno-cultural foods, is imperative. When keystone ingredients are accessible, kitchens are open!

In case you’re wondering: my keystone ingredient is lemon juice.

Valencia Gaspard, PhD Student - Rural Studies, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph, CANADA

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September 4, 2015

Understanding Refugee Path Immigrants

In my quest for knowledge, I became confused about concepts such as the whiteness (in terms of race, class and education) of spaces such as the farmers’ market, appropriate definition of a food desert, and the possibility of control over the food consumed by groups such as  refugee path immigrants.  Refugee path immigrants (RPIs) are people who entered their new country through refugee routes (Adekunle et al. 2015). My confusion may have stemmed from my epistemological and ontological inclination that explanation is subjective and our perceptions shape our reality.

As a pluralist, I have come to understand that the only way we can understand a phenomenon is to use different approaches while taking a polyocular view at the prevailing landscape. As a team we have explored the consumption pattern of the three largest cultural groups in the Greater Toronto Area and have made significant impact to the food landscape of Canada as a multicultural society. Going forward, the ECVOntario team will explore the possibility of control over food consumed by vulnerable groups such as the refugee path immigrants in Canada.

Can refugee path immigrants control their food through access to culturally appropriate foods, community shared agriculture, urban gardening, attendance of farmers market, avoidance of processed food, etc.? We will answer this at the end of our new project …

Bamidele Adekunle, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph, CANADA
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May 11, 2015

Teff: “So we can't grow it here…?”

“So we can’t grow it here…?” probably sounded like a fairly silly question to Melku when I was talking to her about Teff at the Guelph Farmers’ Market (but you never know if you don’t ask, right?).

After a few years working on the ECV Ontario project Ive learned that there are certain ethnic foods, vegetables especially, that are able to be grown in Canada.  These ethnic foods include bok choy, okra, napa cabbage, and I’ve even heard of community gardens attempting to grow the cereal sorghum.  When I was given a chance to learn about Teff a thought took root in my mind that maybe, just possibly, we could try growing it in Canada.

I had already asked Melku a few questions about the growing conditions of Teff and she seemed to sense what I was building up to.  As it turns out Teff cannot be grown in Canada because it is a tropical crop, meaning that it grows poorly in cold regions such as Canada. I felt a bit of hope seep out of me.  Though as our conversation continued, the great potential of Teff restored my hope, except this time for farmers around the world.

Melku assured me that wherever Teff is suited to grow it is fairly easy to grow. Teff is said to be a “reliable cereal for an unreliable climate,” and can grow where many other cereals cannot, such as in regions with limited rainfall, but also in waterlogged soils (Gerbremariam, Zarnkow, and Becker, 2014; Small, 2015). It also remains unaffected by many pests and diseases (Small, 2015), or pest storage problems (Gerbremariam, Zarnkow, and Becker, 2014).  It is sometimes planted mid-season to replace a failing crop (Small, 2015), and in some areas Teff can be harvested twice per year.

Currently Teff is mainly produced by small scale farmers (Small, 2015) in the Horn of Africa.   Later Melku provided me with some more information about the growing conditions of Teff. It grows best where there is about 12 hours of sunshine, an annual rainfall of 750-850mm and up to 1200mm in some areas (just to provide a bit of context, Guelph has an average rainfall of about 931mm), where temperatures vary from 10-27 degrees celsius, and with a growing period that can range from 60-180 days (90-130 days is optimal) (from Deckers et al., 2001).  Clearly there is a large variation in the conditions where Teff can grow, showing its potential as a crop that can be adopted by more farmers both in Ethiopia and Eritrea, as well as other tropical areas globally.

Prior to harvesting Teff is extremely delicate when it reaches maturity. Rain and wind can easily cause the light seed to fall since the seeds are only about the size of a pinhead. During the harvest of Teff, the cut stalks are walked on to separate the seed from the straw then mesh is used to separate the grain from the chaff.

Even though Teff seed is mainly harvested in the Horn of Africa, this crop may have a large potential for other tropical regions worldwide with its ability to grow in a wide range of conditions and its growing demand.

Teff has been grown in other areas of the world, including North America, though mainly to feed livestock.  Even though we can’t grow Teff in Canada, it can be grown in some areas of the United States.  Melku herself sources her supply of Teff from a grower in Idaho.  She said that the Teff from North America was different to cook with than Teff from Africa.  To make Injera with the Teff from Idaho that still maintains the same texture as Ethiopian or Eritrean injera, she uses 90% Teff, 5% buckwheat, and 5% millet.

There are several farmers in the United States who are picking up on growing Teff as a grain. For example, the Teff Company ( founded about thirty years ago by Wayne Carlson is in Idaho.  He started growing Teff in the United States after finding similarities in climate and geology in the Snake River Region of Idaho and the East African Rift. The Teff Company mainly sells Teff to Ethiopian and Eritrean communities in North America. Other farmers such as Dave Eckert and John Getto of Nevada (see their story here: learned from Carlson and founded Desert Oasis Teff several years ago. The region is entirely irrigation dependent, and their Teff requires significantly less irrigation than many of the other crops grown in the region.

There is a fairly high demand for Teff right now, especially in North America as it is becoming more widely known as a super grain which is a gluten-free alternative to wheat.  There is not enough production of Teff to meet the demand, making the price of Teff fairly high. This high demand and price of Teff could help farmers and encourage the flow of foreign currency to Ethiopia and Eritrea. However, there is little research and investment in this crop globally and there needs to be improvements (Jeffery, 2015). Farmers need help and support to increase production and make production more efficient.  Melku suggests that farmers could benefit from increased mechanization for clearing land, sowing, harvesting, and packaging Teff. 

Similar to what is happening with Quinoa, there is an in-country shortage of Teff. In the case of Quinoa, the popularity of this super grain caused the local prices in Peru and Bolivia to increase so that local people could no longer afford to buy it (Jeffery, 2015).

Teff is fairly difficult to find due to its popularity.  In Guelph you can find it at the Stone Store and from Melku’s catering business. If you are interested in purchasing Teff or Injera, or learning how to cook Melkus Ethiopian and Eritrean food, you can find her at the Guelph FarmersMarket every Saturday morning or you can visit her at Laza catering 74 Ontario St Guelph ON
Phone: 519-731-2204 & 519-823-8247

Morgan Sage, URA, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph

Sources/ Extra Information:
Deckers, J. A., Yizengaw, T. Negeri, A., Ketema, S. (2001). Teff. In Crop Production in Tropical Africa (pp. 96-101).

Gebremariam, M. M., Zarnkow, M., Becker, T. (2014). Teff (Eragrostis tef) as a raw materia for malting, brewing and manufacturing of gluten-free foods and beverages: A review.  Journal of Food Science Technology, 51(11), 2881-2895. Retrieved from

Jeffery, J. (2015, April 2).  Will Ethiopia’s teff be the next ‘super grain’? Retrieved from

Moon, F. (2013, September 25). Gambling on gluten-free: An Ethiopian grain could mean big bucks for Nevada farmers [web post]. Modern Farmer. Retrieved from

Small, E. (2015). Teff & fonio: Africa’s sustainable cereals. Biodiversity, 16(1), 27-41. Retrieved from

Teff Company. (2015). Ethiopian grain thrives in North America. Retrieved from

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April 14, 2015

Teff: The Rise of a Super Grain

The Farmers Market is the most lively place in Guelph on a Saturday morning. As soon as I stepped in the door the crowd carried me past the stands of meats, cheeses, vegetables, and homemade goods to the stand of Laza Catering where there were containers and heated dishes full of Ethiopian and Eritrean stews. Behind it was the woman I knew to be Melku helping customers who approached her stand.

Soon we get settled in behind her stand so I can ask her some questions about the super grain, and key ingredient in her ethnic food, that is quickly gaining popularity: teff. There are more people becoming aware of teff and its high nutritional value.  Melku has noticed that more people at the Farmers Market are recognizing the word teff as they approach her stand, which she attributes to popular health shows like Dr. Oz and popular articles that are spreading on Facebook and other social media sites.  Her stand offers a place for these curious people to learn more about how teff is used, its nutritional value, what it is, and how it looks. She has a spice jar full of the poppy seed sized unground teff seed ready to show anyone who asks.
            In Ethiopia teff flour is usually only used to make the staple food ingera, a flat bread used as an edible serving plate for stews containing meat or lentils. Ingera also serves as a form of utensil for tasty Ethopian dishes like the spicy chicken stew, Dora Wat, which are placed on the Ingera and eaten by hand.  In order to make Injera you need a starter and to let the dough ferment for about 8-10 hours before adding more flour.  A special skillet is then used to cook the Injera.  The flour can also be used in other ways, such as in baked goods, to thicken stews, added to porridge, or the whole grain can be used in bars and porridges.  Melku herself has started using teff flour to bake banana bread that she sells at her stand.

The people who stop by her stand often recognize that teff is high in nutrients and can also act as a gluten free substitute to wheat flour.  When Melku started up her business in Guelph she did not intend to provide food for specialty diets such as gluten free and vegetarian, but that just happened naturally, because thats just what we eat!. With gluten free cuisine becoming increasingly popular, teff and Injera are also becoming increasingly popular.  Even though Injera can be made in part with wheat (Melku makes some of her Injera with 30% wheat flour and 70% teff flour), Injera is traditionally gluten free with 100% teff flour when made in Ethiopia and Eritrea.  There is a taste difference between the two varieties of Injera, the teff is light and more nutritional compared to the heavy wheat.
            Many people who traditionally eat Injera dont realize teffs high nutritional value. Theyve been eating Injera their entire lives because teff is thier staple bread.  It wasnt until recently when the health-obsessed Western cultures discovered teff that it was recognized as a high nutrient super grain.  Teff has high levels of calcium, protein, magnesium, thiamin and folate, phosphorus, copper, manganese, and fibre. The high fibre content is due to the inability to process the fine grain, resulting in the whole grain being consumed. Depending on the soil nutrients of where it is grown, teff can also be high in iron.  The grain is low in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol.  Teff is also provides a gluten free alternative for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

After my interview with Melku she packaged some Injera, potato and beef stew, green lentil curry, and a salad in a take out box for me to taste, To write about it, you need to try it, and she sent me on my way.  Later, when I opened the box up I ripped off a piece of injera and scooped up some of the stew.  The first thing I noticed about Injera was its spongy texture and its sourdough-like flavour.  It was so delicious that it wasnt until I was halfway through devouring my meal that I even thought to snap a picture. The textures and flavours of the Injera and stews combined made for a meal that will definitely have me coming back for more.
            If you are interested in purchasing or learning how to cook Melkus Ethiopian and Eritrean food, you can find her at the Guelph Farmers Market every Saturday morning or you can visit her at Laza catering 74 Ontario St Guelph ON
Phone: 519-731-2204 & 519-823-8247

Other resources:

For some more information and teff recipes visit

For an instructional video on how to make Injera:

Whole Grains Council. (2013). Teff and millet: November grains of the month. Retrieved from (2015). Teff, cooked. Retrieved from,_cooked_nutritional_value.html

Morgan Sage, URA, ECVOntario-SEDRD, University of Guelph.

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