Where my Yogurt Comes From

True story: I am shopping with my kids when they spot the Olympic organic yogurt and ask for some. I suggest we try another kind of yogurt that is on sale, because I am cheap like that. They will not hear it. I buy the yogurt. They eat it. All goes well.

olympic dairyOlympic Dairy got its start here in the Vancouver area in 1979, and today it has a 66% market share for organic yogurt sold in British Columbia. I buy it because my kids like it, and because I like going organic when I can. However, I didn’t know anything about it – including those fun facts at the beginning of this paragraph – until last week. One of the good parts of being a blogger is that you occasionally get invited to do cool stuff. Last Thursday I got to do one of those cool things when I toured a local organic dairy farm that sells its milk to the Olympic Dairy, and then tour Olympic Dairy itself.

We arrived on the Brandsema farm in Abbotsford at about 10:00am, which is apparently a full eight hours after milking starts in the morning. That is, if 2:00am can actually be considered the morning, which I contend that it can’t. If one of my kids wakes up at that time I very firmly say, “It is still nighttime, go back to sleep.” I guess cows are not so reasonable, though. The farm manager Ian showed us around. He has been there since the beginning, when the farm got its start in the late 90s with 30 cows. Today it has 200 milking cows, and other, younger cows that are not yet ready for milking.

olympic dairy organic farm baby cow calf

We met the baby calves, we saw the cows grazing in the field, we saw the barn, and we even saw the maternity area where there was a tiny newborn calf with its mother and another pregnant cow clearly ready to pop at any time. We watched some milking, saw what the cows eat, and even bottle-fed some calves. They get raw milk from the herd. I found one very hungry little one who was willing to take an extra meal from me. Needless to say, it was adorable.

brandsema organic dairy farm farmer cows olympic yogurt

Because this is an organic farm, the cows get ready access to outdoor pasture year-round and eat organic feed. Grass grows here about eight months of the year and they graze, but they also eat hay grown on the farm and grain that they buy from Washington State. Like all Canadian cows they are not given any hormones. They can receive antibiotics in the case of illness, but if they do their milk is discarded for 30 days to make sure no medication ends up in your dairy products. The milk is also tested for quality, including antibiotic residue, at the farm and again at the plant.

dairy farm milking

Ian emphasized that as a farmer his goal is to keep the cows healthy. This ranges from breeding practices (apparently he’s really into genetics) to how they decrease milk supply when drying cows off to giving the cows regular foot care that he describes as “pedicures”. He believes that access to the outdoors is helpful, and that the cows like it, although some do opt to stay inside the barn where it’s cooler. Non-organic farms where I live aren’t required to offer access to the outdoors, and many don’t.

dairy farm barn cows

Our tour then moved on to the Olympic Dairy plant in Delta. It’s a small company, with about 80 employees. They make mostly yogurt, but they also produce sour cream, kefir and regular organic liquid milk. Not all of their products are organic – they say they do about 50/50 between organic and conventional. We had to answer health questions before touring, and we wore overalls and head coverings. Once we were suited up we saw where the raw milk comes in and is pasteurized, where it goes for storage and preparation, and where the finished products are made. One thing that was interesting to me is that most of their yogurt is fermented right in the tubs, so it’s still basically milk when it goes in and then it spends about five hours in a room heated to 110 Fahrenheit where it becomes yogurt. It’s that fast.

olympic dairy

All of Olympic’s products – including the non-organic ones – carry the “natural” label. I was under the impression that this was basically meaningless, but their R&D person said that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency actually regulates the “natural” claim, and I did a little digging and found out this was true. This means that they are limited in what they can and cannot use. For instance, they are not free to use stevia as a sweetener at this point, because it’s not yet approved as “natural”.

olympic dairy yogurtThe best part, though, was the tasting. I tried their natural yogurt, which has recently been re-formulated to contain less sugar. I tried their organic yogurt. I also tried their Krema, which is a Greek-style yogurt that was already my personal favourite. I recommend “Honeylicious”. We also got to sample a new Krema flavour, which is slated for release this fall – pumpkin spice. It was yummy, which is no surprise. I also sampled kefir for the first time. It was the strawberry flavour, and I will admit it wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I’m not really into smoothies or drinking yogurt so if you enjoy either of those your mileage may vary. Finally, I tried their chia yogurt, which is just regular yogurt that contains chia seeds. They are soft and not gritty – someone else said they were reminded a little of bubble tea, which is apt.

We had a bit of a Q&A and one of the things I wondered about was the packaging. Yogurt comes in a whole lot of plastic. They said that they opt for easily-recycled, non-leaching plastic. They also switched from foil to plastic film to seal their containers, because it’s a lot thinner. However, they do not have the types of recycling programs some other yogurt makers like Stonyfield offer. They do recycle in-house, and they have taken lots of steps to be energy-efficient. For instance, the heat from the curing room is pumped into the rest of the plant to warm it during the cold months. I feel that they’re trying, but as a smaller manufacturer their abilities may be limited when it comes to large-scale programs aimed at consumers.

So, what did I learn? I learned that organic dairy farms do function differently than conventional dairy farms. I learned what it’s like to bottle feed a baby calf. I learned that milking happens long before anyone should be awake. I learned that Olympic Dairy sources its milk and makes its products locally (to me). I learned that the word “natural” on a label actually means something in Canada. And I learned that I will be running out to buy the pumpkin spice Krema this fall as soon as it’s available.

Sometimes You Just Have to Try Something

Sometimes you have to step out of your shell and try something new. This happened to me yesterday when my husband and I were enjoying a kid-free afternoon in a very trendy neighbourhood. I came across the Commercial Drive Licorice Parlour, which I have visited before because I am a licorice lover. This time, however, I was brought up short by a sign outside advertising ‘snorting chocolate’.

Now, I am a chocolate lover as much as a licorice lover, if not even more so, but I was puzzled. And intrigued. And puzzled. How, and more importantly why, would one snort chocolate?

Once I was inside the store buying dark chocolate-covered Australian black licorice and minty Dutch licorice chalk I had to ask. What’s the deal? Apparently the idea of snorting chocolate was conceived for a party thrown by the Rolling Stones with a chocolate theme. Which struck me as incredibly funny. And I decided that I might as well try it. So I shelled out $2 and opted for the recommended raspberry chocolate flavour. Or scent. Or variety. You know what I mean, right?

It was … not bad. The chocolate scent lingered in my nose, and hence on my palate, for a solid 20 minutes after, which was pleasant. I think I would generally prefer to eat my chocolate, though. Less sneezy, and more satisfying in the end. Fortunately, however, my husband was there to capture this one-off on video. What does it look like to snort chocolate? Watch and see.

FOD-What?

I am one of those people who can eat pretty much anything. That doesn’t mean I like everything. Corn on the cob is not my thing no matter how often other people urge me to give it a try. I have. It doesn’t do much for me. I am somehow managing to live a full and happy life in spite of it. But there are very few things I do enjoy that cause me any digestive issues, especially if I don’t go completely overboard. As in, I can eat Halloween candy, but I can’t eat all the Halloween candy at one sitting.

My husband, on the other hand, has to be careful about what he eats. Certain foods like dairy and tomato sauce have to be approached with caution. He has tried all sorts of different supplements and dietary solutions, from avoiding whole grains to only eating whole grains to going gluten-free. Some seemed to be helpful, others not so much, but in the end living life without pizza is just too sad so we’re not doing it.

Periodically I take to the internet anyway. Recently I did just that for an upcoming guest post I’m writing for another site when I came across the acronym FODMAP. Which stands for a very long term that I can’t even begin to prounounce. Suffice it to say it’s a group of certain kinds of carbs that nobody really digests all that well. However, some people are more irritated by them than others. Eliminating them seems to have helped many people like my husband who have digestive issues, but for whom testing has not produced any obvious cause.

FODMAP gluten celiac digestive issues IBS wheatApparently these FODMAPs may account for the growing number of cases of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. There is a lot of overlap between high FODMAP foods and foods that contain gluten. For instance, corn, potatoes, rice and quinoa are all low FODMAP foods and gluten-free. This may explain why many people who don’t have celiac disease notice that they feel better when they avoid gluten.

You can read more about FODMAPs here, here and here. Here’s what I found interesting: many of the high-FODMAP foods are foods that my husband avoids already because he has found them to cause tummy troubles. The other thing that is positive is that someone who reacts negatively to these carbs doesn’t necessarily need to eliminate them entirely. They can try eliminating all of them for a couple of weeks and then slowly introduce them back into their diet to see which ones, and in what quantity, they can tolerate. For many people having the occasional slice of pizza is fine. And if you have a flare-up you know what the likely culprits are. This isn’t a life sentence, it’s just information.

After doing all that reading I was excited and emailing my husband a bunch of links. Then I talked his ear off over dinner. Then I told my friend all about FODMAPs. My husband has spent a whole lifetime being poked and prodded and experimenting, though, so he was a lot more circumspect. I think he has just seen so many miracle solutions that were far less than miraculous. I understand that.

Food is a funny thing. Human beings, as omnivores, can choose such a varied diet. And in this day and age when pretty much everything is always available at the grocery store, the variety is even greater. Few of us are eating simply to live, or choosing our diets based on what’s available right now. We eat foods because we like them, because they connect us to each other, because of how they make us feel, because of what they cost. Our meals make personal and political statements. For people like me this means that choosing to be a vegan, or go paleo, or avoid sugar and caffeine, is entirely intellectual. We can make pretty much anything work.

When you have a history of having to be very careful, things are different. I’ve only experienced this second-hand, but I’ve seen it all the same. Comfort, nourishment and choice are all weightier things. Acronyms like FODMAPs start to blend together after a while, and it can all just feel like a lot of work. So I will print out the list and refer to it, but I won’t impose it on my husband the next time he just wants a burger. Or, at least, I will try not to.

Have you heard of FODMAPs? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with these tricky little carbs.

Finding Comfort

Yesterday I had a brief meltdown at about 10:00am. I came home from dropping the kids off at school and tackled my to-do list. Then I finished my to-do list. Then I had nothing in particular to do … and it was still only 10:00am. This is a very foreign thing for me.

Sure, I can always find things to do. There are always smudges to clean and books to read and yoga practices to return to. But for several hours, I didn’t have anything I had to do. I’ve been operating in a state of low-level panic for so long, just trying to keep my head above water. When that urgency was gone I felt disquieted. Surely I must be forgetting something. Surely there must be a paper to write or an article to edit or 147 unread emails to tackle? No, no and no.

We live in a world that values busy-ness and productivity. We’re expected to always be striving for results. If you’re in a place in life where you suddenly aren’t busy it can leave you feeling less valuable. Who am I, if I don’t have some accomplishment to point at in order to justify my existence?

Luckily, in the midst of my existential angst I found comfort in two things. First, I read some blogs, which is something I haven’t done in ages. This post from Britt Reints – Why I’m Trying to do More and Get Less Done – really spoke to me. It came at just the right time, and helped talk me down. Second, I made myself a big plate of spaghetti and cheddar cheese.

cheddar cheese
Photo credit – Jamaila Brinkley on Flickr

There’s something about food that is so comforting. This meal, which is fast, easy and cheap, was a staple of my single days. When I was hungry and cooking for one it always hit the spot. Is it healthy? Not particularly – there isn’t anything green in sight. The paleo set would shudder, no doubt. But as I sat down for lunch and ate it I remembered who I was, and who I am now, and how far I’ve come. I made it from 19-year-old engineering student to fully-fledged engineer to wife to mother to writer and editor to aspiring math teacher. I can make it the rest of the way, as long as I have blogs to read and carbs and cheese to ground me.

To comfort!

Organic Grocery Delivery Follow-Up

organic grocery delivery one green thing enviro-mama

With less than a week left in the month, I’ve clearly missed the boat on planning my One Green Thing for November. Ah, well, some months are like that. However, it occurs to me that this means I also haven’t updated you on my One Green Thing for October, which was trying out organic grocery delivery. I wanted to fill you in on how that’s been going.

As you may recall, I reactivated my account with SPUD.ca, a local business that delivers organic and locally-grown and produced food once each week. (Just a note – I am not being compensated in any way for this blog post, I’m just sharing my experience because I think you might be interested.) I had used the service a number of years ago, but stopped it because I found that I was spending too much on groceries. With a weekly commitment on Sundays making it difficult for me to visit my local farmers’ market, I decided to try them out again.

I am a month and a half in now, and it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. The pluses:

  • A weekly standing order means that I never forget the basics like milk, bread, eggs, lettuce and so on.
  • I really don’t have to visit the grocery store nearly as often – I’m averaging about once every three weeks now. Coupled with the fact I’m not frequenting the farmers’ market this means I’m spending very little time grocery shopping.
  • My delivery driver remembered me, even all these years later, and was glad to see me.
  • I know exactly where my food is coming from, because they tell me.
  • They have an iPhone app, so when I finish something in my kitchen (like, say, mayo) I can order it right then and there.
  • Like pretty much any grocery store, they carry some items I can’t find anywhere else, which I’m enjoying.

The minuses:

  • While they carry almost everything I need, there are some things I just can’t get from them, like my husband’s gluten-free bread or certain spices.
  • They definitely are more expensive than shopping at the grocery store, although I’m getting a higher percentage of organic food.
  • Sometimes they mess up my order, or don’t have something in stock. While they work hard to make it right, it still means that I don’t have something I expected to have.
  • They deliver to my house on Thursdays. It would be more convenient for me if I got groceries at the beginning of the week, so that I had more fresh food on hand for my kids’ school lunches.

One the whole, for me, the pluses are currently outweighing the minuses, so I’m keeping it. I’ll let you know if I change my mind again.

Have you tried home grocery delivery? What did you think?

Nourishing Myself

For the longest time, I think I was waiting to get serious about my own health. I was waiting until I felt like it. Until I was less busy. Until after I had the baby. Until after I had the other baby. Until the kids were older. Until after the holidays. Until after this chocolate cake was finished. Recently, however, I’ve realized that there will never be a perfect time. There will always be other things competing for my time and energy. There will always be something else I’d rather be doing.

sarah goodman nourishing goods

Sarah of Nourishing Goods

Right now, today, I am the youngest I will ever be for the rest of my life. By extension, I am in the best place I will ever be to make changes. And right now, today, I see more clearly than I ever have that I deserve to be taken care of. I’d like to set a good example for my kids. I’d like to provide a healthy diet for my family. Most of all, though, I want to nourish and nurture my own health purely for myself. I want to get more sleep, eat less sugar and embrace vegetables because it feels good to me.

This is why, when Sarah Goodman of Nourishing Goods got in touch with me a couple of months ago to offer me a offer me a free holistic nutritional consultation and personal training session, I didn’t think twice before I said yes. The truth is I would pretty much never seek outside advice like this on my own. At the same time, I recognized that she might have suggestions and insight for me that I couldn’t gain for myself. I set about filling out her intake form and logging my food intake over the course of a few days in preparation for our session.

nourishing goods granola

Super Food Granola

Sarah took the information about me and my goals, and reviewed my current diet, before she came to my house. She created a two page print-out with nutritional recommendations, a quick exercise routine I could do in 15 minutes at home, and recipe suggestions. For example, she has a cauliflower crust pizza recipe on her web site that she suggested my family might enjoy based on what we were currently eating. Then she went through her recommendations with me, answering my questions and explaining her reasoning. Finally, she led me in a brief personal training session.

I appreciated that Sarah wasn’t preachy, and that she took into account my family’s preferences in her recommendations and during our conversation. I live with three very picky eaters – we’re not going to adopt an all-kale diet. She also said that it’s okay to eat less-than-healthy comfort foods sometimes, graciously letting me off the hook for my salt and vinegar chip obsession. I also found that the 15 minute workout she led me through really left me sweating. I’ll tell you, my arms were feeling those push-ups.

nourshing goods personal training squatsI learned a few things from Sarah. In particular, she talked about how adding strength training to my routine is helpful if I want to lose weight. She also told me that eating fruit is fine, provided that I pair it with protein so that my blood sugar doesn’t spike.

A few weeks out, though, I have to be honest: I did the workout precisely once, while Sarah was over. I am still struggling to find the energy and motivation to add push-ups to my daily routine. I have found the dietary changes easier to adopt by making small changes. In particular, I’m eating more greens since she visited.

In the end, I think most of us know what we have to do to take better care of ourselves. Other people can help us, but we have to do the work. Whether that means eating more kale, getting out of your chair and doing some squats, or turning off the TV at a reasonable hour and going to sleep, you’ve got to make your well-being a priority if you want to improve it. It may take a while, and a whole lot of baby steps, but that’s what I’m aiming for. I deserve it … and you do, too.

One Green Thing: Organic Grocery Delivery

One Green Thing Strocel.comToday I’m tackling my One Green Thing for September. This month it’s all about shopping online. But first, I’ll talk about turning down my thermostat last month.

The temperature noticeably cooled in the later half of September in Vancouver. While it’s a gorgeous and sunny day today, we’ve had a number of mornings when I’ve felt compelled to dig out my winter coat in the past few weeks. There’s a dusting of snow atop the local mountains, and it’s getting dark earlier. This means that when I turned the thermostat down from 22 Celsius / 72 Fahrenheit to 20 Celsius / 68 Fahrenheit, I definitely felt it. I did a few things to help me adapt. I put a basket filled with blankets by the TV, and I’ve been keeping a blanket on my computer chair. I also bought myself some slippers, and dug out my sweaters. At this point, I’m pretty much acclimatised, and I’m feeling confident I can make this change permanent.

organic food grocery delivery enviro-mama carrots

This month I’m changing the way I grocery shop. I’ve recently taken on a new obligation on Sunday mornings, which is making it difficult for me to get to the farmers’ market regularly. However, I don’t like the idea of buying all my food at the regular grocery store. Instead, I’ve decided to try SPUD.ca, my local organic grocery delivery again. I used their service when Hannah was little, but I was still visiting the grocery store and farmers’ market weekly. Shopping at so many places became too expensive. In the years since I’ve used them their selection has expanded, and my hope is that I’ll be able to skip weekly grocery shopping by using them.

The primary reason I’m making this change is convenience. I am not a fan of grocery shopping. However, it is an eco-friendly change as well. The delivery service ships the groceries in reusable bins. They source local, organic and sustainably-produced products. They purchase carbon offsets for their delivery truck, and recycle a lot of difficult-to-recycle packaging like the plastic bag my daughter’s dried cranberries come in. When you buy something from them, you know exactly where it’s coming from, which is more than I can say for most produce at the grocery store. While I will miss being able to visit the farmers’ market each week, this is the next best thing.

My big questions are how much switching to grocery delivery is going to cost, and whether or not I’ll really be able to skip the grocery store. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’m enjoying being able to shop at home, in my pajamas, whenever I want.

If you’d like to get in on the act and take on One Green Thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’re blogging about it, and spread the enviro-love.

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