"So, Bartosh," somebody was razzing me the other day. "You don't like palm oil. You don't like sugar. You don't like processed stuff. And you don't like meat. What do you like?"
Actually, I do like sugar. In small doses. Likewise meat, but only if it's well-bred, ahem. Palm oil is a definite no-no. As for processed foods—well, I like a few. Very few, for good reason.
You know the old grocery store mantra, shop the outer aisles? We pretty much follow that in our household. When you do venture into the centre aisles where processed foods are, the only way you can do nutritional justice to yourself and your loved ones and justice to the world at large is to be selective. You do that by reading labels.
I've been a label reader for years. They're fascinating: You learn about nutrients. Place and country of origin. Ingredients. Values. And often you even find sweet little moments, like the "Made by Really Nice Canadians" wordmark on Nature Clean products.
Once you stake out a product, you can make your claim with confidence. Just remember to re-check the labels once in a while to make sure the manufacturer is still using ingredients and approaches, like Fair Trade, you believe in. If not, zzzzt—disqualified.
It's not everyone's cup of tea to read labels at the store, but maybe you'll get the habit. To get you started, here are a few of my favourite things. They're all winners, and four out of five are Canadian. I especially love supporting farmers and producers in Western Canada. (You can take the girl out of Alberta but you can't take Alberta out of the girl.)
If you're not an aisle label-reader, you can always DuckDuckGo products later. It's pretty interesting what you can unearth—and what you can affect. As one of many Gerolsteiner fans who emailed the company urging them to return to glass bottles for their sparkling water after they moved to plastic, it felt good when they sent me a note saying they were going "glass" again.
Knowledge is power, power can effect change, and good information is your foundation.
Take a sunny break from processed breakfasts
Leave your sugary "granolas" and chocolate krispies behind. Besides oatmeal, when it comes to a tasty, high-fibre, knock-out porridge, there are two camps this side of the Great Lakes: Sunny Boy from Alberta and Red River from Manitoba. It's like the age-old Edmonton/Calgary rivalry. No one knows when or how it started but the fight goes on.
Personally, I'm a third-generation, born-and-bred Sunny Boy girl because our roots are Albertan. Sunny Boy has been made since 1929 in Camrose, home to some of the richest farmland in Canada and family and friends over the years. It's quick and easy to make and has a delicious flavour due to the lovely whole grains. "Fresh. Smart. Wholesome." is the tagline. Wheat, rye and flax is the ingredient list. That's it. No salt, no sugar, no nada. They've also got an organic version. Find it at Nesters Market, Buy-Low, Save-On and more.
Buck up with Purdy's buckwheat treat
My mom has often remarked that given all the trendy new chocolatiers, Purdy's has kept up with the times. And their new toasted buckwheat white chocolate bar with Himalayan salt and hints of caramel is proof of the pudding. I just about fell off my desk chair when hubby gave me one right after my buckwheat column last month. Mmm-mmm good, with just the right balance of sweet/creamy and crunchy/salty, and they use sustainable cocoa. Canadian-made in Vancouver since 1907.
Your cappuccino will feel its oats
Thanks to the good baristas at Alpine Meadows Cafe for this tip: Pacific Foods Barista series oat "milk." Dairy- and carrageenan-free, this yummy oat beverage is great straight up plus it froths up beautifully for your favourite latte or cappuccino. Made by Pacific Foods out of Oregon, a company with a conscience that supports local farmers and food banks. Available at Olives Community Market and more.
No time to bake? Celebrate!
If you haven't discovered Leclerc's fabulous Célébration chocolate-coated butter cookies, you're in for a treat. These delicious cookies are readily available plus they're palm oil-free—a miracle in today's commercial cookie world. In fact, their ingredients are about as wholesome as homemade, and they're proudly Canadian. Francois Leclerc baked his first cookies in the back of the Quebec City family home in 1905. See the heart on the brandmark? It symbolizes the love the company has for its employees and products.
Quicken the pulse of a pulse farmer
One hot August, we were driving the flatlands of Southern Alberta. Just past a wind farm, I yelled, "Stop!" I'd spotted a mystery crop I totally didn't recognize, and got out to pluck a yellowed pod and figure it out. Chickpeas! Not many Canadians realize Canada is a leading producer and exporter to 120-plus countries of pulses—those powerhouse legumes like chickpeas and lentils that are high in protein and fibre.
I love what they're doing at Three Farmers Foods in Saskatoon, Sask. (shout out to cousins Don and Bev at Turtle Lake!): Churning out pulse snacks that taste fabulous and actually satisfy you. Roasted, never-fried green peas; crunchy little lentils; roasted chickpeas, all with tasty flavours. Find them at London Drugs, Choices and more. BTW, this smart Canadian outfit believes "everyone deserves access to clean, nutritious food." See how uplifting good labels and good products can be?
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who tries to shop mindfully.