Food & Drink

Best food stories of 2012

10) Five Guys Burgers comes to Manitoba

2012 saw the famous 5 guys burger chain come to Manitoba. First it landed in Brandon. Now there are two stores in Winnipeg and one more on the way. This all begs the question: With so many great locally-owned, independent restaurants, why do Winnipeggers get so excited when a big American chain comes to town?

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9) California bans foie gras

Streams of Foie-refugees are flocking across the border for their hit of duck fat goodness. As of July 1st, 2012 a law enacted in 2004 came into effect banning the production and sale of foie gras in the State of California. Instead of focussing on ridding the state of cruel factory farming practices, the animal rights activists decided to target a tiny, luxury niche market for their political activities.

8) Global bacon shortage threatened

Experts announced that the world faces a global bacon shortage due to rising feed costs and declining pig populations.  Chef Ben Kramer of U of W’s Diversity Foods proposed a solution at this year’s Baconfest. He experimented with making bacon from animals other than pig, such as goat or elk.

7) The Chick-a-fil controversy

The American Chain Chick-a-Fil drew the ire of many americans when the Chief Operating Officer came out publically in opposition of same-sex marriage. “We are all married to our first wives. We give thanks to god for that.” Protests and boycotts plagued the chain and social media had a heyday with it. Counter protests involved over-fed rednecks eating excessive amounts of fried chicken at the stores. Many of Chick-a-Fil’s partners ceased business dealing with the company and the owners eventually backed down. Withdrawing donations to groups which opposed LGBT rights and promising to “treat every person equally, regardless of sexual orientation.” This controversy distracted from the other related controversy: Why would anyone name their restaurant Chick-a-Fil?

6) Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay closes his restaurants

In August, Top Chef Canada winner and talented chef made the painful decision to close his two critically acclaimed Vancouver restaurants. He sighted high downtown Vancouver rents as the main reason for his inability to keep the stores open. Minimum wage increases and the inability to purchase liquor at wholesale prices are also considered factors. Having a creative chef with celebrity status is not enough to make a restaurant viable. This is a tough business and the ones that survive tend to be the better business people.

5) Pink slime

Do we have to talk about this? The very idea repulses me. In 2012, the news that restaurant chains were using “lean finely texture beef” as a filler in their hamburgers. No one is really sure what pink slime is, or why it is bad, but it reminds us of “L’il Lisa’s Patented Animal Slurry.”

4) Buy Manitoba

This food fight happened primarily over Twitter, but chefs such as Ben Kramer and myself started asking why the Manitoba Government sponsored program aimed at increasing awareness for made in Manitoba products was promoting products such as Coke, Pepsi and Monster Energy Drinks. We also questioned why taxpayer dollars were going into supporting a program that was run almost exclusively through American-owned grocery chain Safeway.  Chef Kramer has requested information on who is funding the program and has not been given this information. The meeting Kramer scheduled with the Buy Manitoba People has been indefinitely postponed.

3) U.S. Drought threatens food supply and promises price increases

The United states was hit with the harshest drought in many years. Corn and soy bean production have been greatly effected by this. For the first time production of these crops is less than the demand. This has caused major price increases . Because these crops are also the prime source for feed for livestock in the states, the costs of beef, pork and poultry are going to rise to record levels. This will cause increased U.S. demand for Canadian food products, resulting in price increases north of the border, as well.  It is going to be a challenging few years ahead. (Of course, I question why we are feeding soy and corn to cattle, as ruminants should be eating grass.)

2) XL lakeside packers e.coli outbreak

One of the largest beef producers in the country, XL Foods Lakeside Packers, was forced to recall over a million pounds of beef and temporarily shut down their processing plant. XL Packers is responsible for a third of all the beef produced in Canada.  This shut down has also turned into a politcal scandal when questions arose about the lag in time between when officials first knew about the tainted meat and when the recalls were issued. It also calls into question changes in food inspection policy, which reduced the funding to the CFIA and cut the number of inspectors over a policy shift that asked meat processors to essentially inspect themselves. I wonder why we as citizens accept a food system where a third of the beef produced in our huge nation is produced at one plant?

1) Best food story of the year: No mega quarry

On stage at the Folk Festival Gala dinner, Sarah Harmer, Musician and Activist announced that their would be no Mega quarry. The story started a few years ago when a huge Boston Hedge Fund decided they wanted to buy a huge chunk of real estate on prime Ontario farmland. The plan was to build a mega quarry, the largest open pit mine in Canadian history. The uproar among  the environmentalist community was swift. Not only were we losing thousands acres of food growing land, but the quarry threatened the clean water supply for the region. The David Suzuki foundation took up the challenge, but what really galvanized support for the No Mega Quarry movement was the involvement of iconic Canadian Chef Michael Stadtlander and other chefs and food industry professionals in southern Ontario and across the country. In October 2011, they hosted FoodStock on three farms outside of Toronto. This proved to be the single biggest food event Canada had ever seen. Then in October 2012, Soup Stock was held in Woodbine park in Toronto which saw 200 chefs from across the country serving soup to over 40,000 guests. After soupstock, the proposal to build the mega-quarry was withdrawn. This ragged band of activists and foodies had beaten the huge Multinational corporation. A classic David and Goliath story, where David was a cook. Michael Stadtlander’s newest cause is to fight the use of GMO alfalfa, it will be interesting to see how that unfolds in the new year.

Chefs often find themselves in the position of activist. Whether it is raising funds for SOS or bringing awareness to the importance of sustainable fishery chef’s should continue to be actively involved in the community they serve and the industry in which they work.


Alexander Svenne is the food writer for Spectator Tribune and chef at Bistro 7 1/4. Follow him at @ChefAlex

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