When freedom tastes of reality 

Best food trend of 2017: The 'free from' movement

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If you're of a certain generation, I bet you can hear in your head The Who's rockin' 1969 hit "I'm Free" at the very mention of the lyrics. (Warning: once it's there, it's one giant piece of sticky music!) I'm free, it goes, I'm free. And freedom tastes of reality.

You couldn't ask for a better theme song for the one of the best food trends of 2017, one that continues the "local" and "healthy" themes that have informed mainstream food culture for a while. I say "mainstream" because there's always been a certain demographic that's hunted for local, healthy, even organic food and drink going back to time immemorial. But as a popular trend, it had its first contemporary awakening in the '60s — the same time that Who song hit the charts.

Food and drink that was free from additives, chemicals and the heavy politics of "Big Brother" corporations and profiteering was a touchstone of those '60s halcyon hippie heydays — something that definitely expressed itself in Whistler's counterculture roots and continues to today.

With more and more people cutting everything from sugar to wheat and dairy from their diets, the 2017 trend has been rightly dubbed the "free from" movement.

Now it's found new footing with the neohippies of the current generation and the larger population in general, but with a new twist: Things have to taste really good, too! That's where "freedom tastes of reality" — as a rule, "free from" food and drink tastes fabulously real!

We want organic iced tea free from caffeine, breads free from gluten, and candies and cookies certainly free from added glucose and even sugar itself. We want baby foods free from additives (Whistler's own Love Child Organics to the rescue!), milk free from milk and ice cream free from cream. We even want traditionally alcoholic drinks free from alcohol! And if we have certain allergies, it's not a matter of wanting — we must have our treats and morning granola free from things like peanuts or soy. And all of it has to be delicious.

One big trend that grew even bigger in 2017 is the demand for meats and meat products free from antibiotics, something you've no doubt noticed over the past year in marketing campaigns for fast food outlets like A&W that are making waves. (Actually, A&W takes "free from" one step further: Not only are the chickens they use free from antibiotics. They're also raised on a grain-based vegetarian diet free from all animal by-products! As for their beef, it's free from steroids, hormones or medicated feed additives.)

The "free-from" movement has "Canada" stamped all over it. Fortunately, the use of antibiotics in animals here has been regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for decades.

Have you seen those catchy ads at your local movie house for the Chicken Squad guys protecting B.C. consumers from chickens from south of the border? They're fun spoofs riffing on crime investigators, giving CSI a whole new meaning — Chicken Squad Investigators! But the point is serious and worth considering next time you check where your chicken is coming from or drive across the border for supposedly cheaper meat from the U.S.

Another important "free-from" trend is we also want our meat and dairy products free from steroids and growth hormones. In Canada, we're doubly lucky because using hormones and steroids in the production of chicken is illegal, and has been since the 1960s. As for beef cattle in Canada, growth hormones are allowed, but, like the E.U. and in contrast to the U.S., their use has been prohibited in cows used for milk production for decades.

Like so many things added to our food and drink, bovine growth hormone, or bovine somatotropin (abbreviated to BGH and BST or bST, respectively) is a natural chemical, in this case a peptide hormone produced by a cow's pituitary gland. However, the dairy industry has discovered that giving it to cows makes them mature faster and produce more milk.

In the U.S. recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) — the man-made form of the hormone — has been used by American dairy farmers since its use was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1993. The link between rBGH in milk and human health still isn't completely clear but the American Cancer Society warns there may be a link to cancer as it enhances cell division. So this is definitely a case you want to be "free from" when sourcing your milk and dairy products.

Finally, given how much we want to be "free" in our eating and drinking, one of the best things to happen to the local food scene in 2017, tracks right along these lines.

Congrats to Grant and Hilarie Cousar of Whistler Cooks — one of the resort's fave caterers for the past 20 years — on the launch of their first restaurant venture, Hunter Gather. It's located on Main Street, where so many local businesses are setting up a cozy strip "free from" franchises!

From the look and vibe of Hunter Gather to the delicious "free from" offerings, it's definitely a Whistler winner that will grow to become a "best of" classic over the years.

Enjoy your holiday season freely!

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who loves the freedom to choose.

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