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Fork in the Road: How Canadian is that?

Indigenous people, locals, pioneers: We’ve got the moxie and methods to face tough times
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Cook what you have—even if it means adding extra fresh ingredients to the recipe so they don’t spoil—then freeze extra portions big-time, like WCSS food bank manager, Gizem Kaya, does to save money.

Waste not, want not. Use what you’ve got. Make do.

Sure, these are age-old adages but they still deliver a very practical, Canadian punch. And what with sky-high inflation, sky-rocketing food costs and more (see my last column), you couldn’t find a better way to mark Canada Day than applying these tried and true maxims. 

Neighbours helping neighbours is another great Canadian concept, so just in time for Canada Day here are some practical suggestions from your Whistler neighbours for coping with today’s food challenges. After all, as Gizem’s cap (above), says, we’re in this “Together.” 

Eating ‘best before’ after

I really like how naturalist Bob Brett reacts after grocery shopping these days. He just gawks at the receipt: A hundred bucks doesn’t buy much these days. 

If you’re feeling the same, there’s one thing the Whistler Community Services Society’s food bank manager, Gizem Kaya, wants you to understand—what best before (BB) and expiry dates really mean. 

“As a society we’ve been educated that best before dates are expiry dates, so the more we can educate people, the more we’ll reduce food waste, and people can continue eating the food they have at home for a longer period of time,” she says. For instance, cultured dairy products, like yogurt, are good up to two weeks past the BB date; meat up to three or four days beyond it.

Gizem has worked for the Whistler Community Services Society for years, but got more involved with the busy food bank as the pandemic set in so she knows what challenges people are facing. “Just to give you an idea of how busy it is, pre-pandemic we served around 2,800 to 3,000 people a year. In 2020, that jumped up to 6,700; then 2021, 9,300 people—and it just keeps going,” she says. 

As for understanding BB dates and how to stretch your food dollars, Gizem recommends these great sources: Food Banks Canada and The Canadian Institute of Food Safety both have excellent guides.

Be mindful 

For the longest time, Mayor Jack Crompton ignored all kinds of pots of water with lentils or beans in them that were around the house. “I didn’t ask myself (or anyone else for that matter) why they were there,” he states via email. “It was almost just part of the decor.”

When Jack cooks, he gravitates toward ingredients that are easy to use, easy to access and, unfortunately, more expensive. He also calls himself a mindless chef—one who never asked if the contents of those pots might work with whatever he was making. Finally, he decided to delve deeper and, suddenly, pots of beans and lentils became a dinner conversation!

He learned his family was saving huge amounts of money by purchasing dried beans or lentils and reconstituting them. 

“When my wife, Carolyn, or son, Van, cook with them, they are delicious and they are cheap. Carolyn and Van are not mindless chefs,” Jack points out. “The moral is, be mindful as you cook and as you shop. Purchase in season, shop with a list—and reconstitute lentils.”

Be organized

Other readers—Maz Esnouf, Cheeying Ho, Kris Shoup, Lee Erickson, even “Max” G.D. Maxwell—also say shop with a list or have a standing online order to avoid expensive impulse buying. Or eat less meat, and more beans and lentils—all cheaper and better for the planet. Or grow as many veggies as you can with Whistler’s cool climate, and pick wild berries, as pioneering locals and Indigenous people have done forever (see below).

Use your freezer, like Gizem does. Cook large; buy large when things are on sale or in season. Pick fruit in Pemberton now; get root veggies in the fall from your favourite farmer. Make cold salads using pasta and grains and homemade pesto with less expensive ingredients, such as pumpkin seeds or walnuts, like Cheeying suggests. Skip the cheese. Try barley risotto. Make big batches of smoothies to use up leftover veggies. Freeze the extras as popsicles. In short, make what you eat, eat what you make, as Max says: “Leftovers are like money in the bank; all you have to do is heat them up.”

Pets? No prob. “Nothing goes to waste with two golden retrievers in the house,” notes Kris. And Lee adds another layer. 

“My husband is the best at using it all!” she writes. (You might know him—Don Schwartz, AKA Schwarty, who came to Whistler for a weekend in 1988 and never left. He’s also the intrepid guy who wore a plastic face mask around town for years after being burned in a nasty helicopter crash.)   

Don buys organic chicken necks and backs from Nesters Market. He roasts the chicken, then picks the meat off for salads. The bones go into the Insta-pot with lots of water for a delicious broth. “Finally he uses a potato masher to crush the pressure-cooked chicken bones and feeds it to our doggie. Absolutely no waste!” notes Lee.

Pointers from pioneers and our Indigenous neighbours

Whistler Museum has some great stories about early locals “making do.” From raising their own pigs and chickens, to building double-walled root cellars, planting huge gardens, and making the wild berries their kids gathered into preserves, they were a practical lot. 

One of the more colourful tales involves the Jardine-Neiland family, who moved to Alta Lake in 1921. Although it was rarely done, getting yourself a “government cow” was code for hunting deer out of season. But sometimes it tasted awful.

As for living off the land and creating dishes that do taste good, we can all draw inspiration from the distinctive cuisines of the 600-plus First Nations across Canada. They’ve long practised “waste not, want not” and using what you have.

Thunderbird Cafe in the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre offers tasty modern twists on timeless Indigenous dishes, including bannock bread based on a recipe from Eva Marie Joe of the Lil’wat Nation. Check out the centre for some dynamic Canada Day insights —admission is free over the holiday weekend. 

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who always enjoys Canada Day. Thanks to everyone who wrote in!