#15: Days that Try a Man’s Soul

Since I last wrote in my blog I had a lot of deep thought about what brought me to Taiwan. Yes, I’m here for the experience in and of itself and to work as an English teacher, but why am I really here? Simple, I’m here to travel and gain firsthand experience of a culture much different from my own. Such a simple missive can and was initially forgotten.

When I first arrived I spent a lot of time touring the city and then travelling throughout Japan. Then I got burnt out from constantly pushing myself to explore for 12-16 hours a day and lost sight of things. I settled into a seemingly cozy and secure job and got used to everyday life.

Days became weeks and weeks became months, and soon I found myself questioning why I came here and wondering whether I had made a terrible mistake. Thoughts of returning to Canada to continue my education or to work (under the jurisdiction of Canadian labour laws) flooded my mind and I spent several nights unable to sleep.

Without getting into too much detail (out of respect for some of the people it involves): I was in a bad situation, through little fault of my own, and needed to get out.

Every nerve in my body pushed me toward the exit sign.

In the daze of everything I reached out to some close friends and family and was given guidance. The biggest question of all became “Is it sustainable?”. A few questionable encounters followed by one final “boulder that broke the camel’s back” later, I had my answer.

Now days are much less stressful. Though I currently lack a certain measure of security, the feeling of liberation from a horrible situation is immense. I find renewed purpose in my presence here and have my eye keenly focused on why I’m really here.

Tomorrow I’m off to Hong Kong for five days for a visa run and to get some much needed R&R. The trip is mostly free thanks to AsiaMiles and credit, so I’ll be able to enjoy myself despite the city’s high costs.

Bon Voyage!

Be sure to check out my Instagram for more frequent posts and pictures.

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Glassroots – local food from the heart

This article originally appeared on www.westerngazette.ca

By Ellis Koifman

Glassroots is the newest dining experience to come to Richmond Row. After a hugely successful summer of dinner service, they’re soon opening for lunch with reasonable student prices.

The idea behind Glassroots is its grassroots approach to everything from décor to construction to food. Everything is local; everything comes from the heart.

“We are fiercely local. Almost everything we do comes directly from farmers, directly from local buyers,” says Mike Fish, co-owner and front-of-house manager. “A lot of our cherry tomatoes and our herbs come from our patio. We’ve got 22 planter boxes that surround the patio.”

Located where Veg Out was open for several years, this new restaurant with new owners is entirely vegan. But you won’t find the word “vegan” anywhere in the restaurant. Instead they want to be known for their environmentally friendly and healthy experience.

“For us it was like every other restaurant, the food just happens to be vegan,” says Fish. “We get people in all the time… They’ll leave not having a clue that they just ate at a vegan restaurant. That’s really neat.”

If you check the Glassroots website, you’ll be able to find last week’s menu with items such as the mushroom melt burger and the late summer barbeque bowl. Whereas most restaurants will change their menu quarterly, they have a new one every week. “After the end of one calendar year we’ll have done 50 menus, which would take a restaurant 13 years to do,” says Fish.

Fish shares ownership of the restaurant with Glassroots’ chef Yoda Olinyk. The pair’s lives have always been surrounded by food.

When Olinyk was 18, her parents split up and she was left with the responsibility of cooking a decent meal for her dad and herself. “I bought a cookbook and pretty much since that first meal I made… I just loved it,” says Olinyk. Since then she has worked at several restaurants and ran the first plant-based catering company in southwestern Ontario, often serving at vegetarian and vegan events.

Fish’s story is similar. He discovered a love for food and worked in the food business. At the age of 18, he got into bartending and learned the “artistic mixology experience” at the Whistler Fairmont in British Columbia. He has spent years working as a wine rep and has become known for his drink-mixing skills.

Sitting down for a meal at Glassroots will provide you with more than just a vegan dining experience — you’ll get to join the intimate atmosphere that Fish and Olinyk have created. With their limited hours — only open five days a week — they’re able to prioritize interacting with their patrons.

“That’s why our tagline is ‘A food and wine revolution’ — we really want to change the way people think about food in general,” says Fish. “Everyone can be comfortable here.”

“At the same time, we wanted to have a place where vegans or anyone dabbling in that lifestyle could come in and not just have a kale Caesar,” adds Olinyk. “We’ve got everything from Creole food to Mexican food to Italian food to Asian-inspired dishes.”

On Sept. 30 Glassroots will be opening for lunch. Olinyk emphasizes the value-driven reasonable prices for take out items like fresh soup and salad. If you’re downtown and in the mood for a new experience, Glassroots is the place to try.

Glassroots can be found at 646 Richmond St. and is open from 4:30-11:00 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday (soon opening for lunch).

Trending Alternatives

Vegetarianism

In the month or so since my last post I’ve started following a pescetarian diet. Turns out watching Cowspiracy and doing extensive research into the meat and dairy industry affected me a fair bit.

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed about following this diet (and having a vegan cookbook) is that everything is REALLY cheap. I’m talking spending $30 or less a week while making delicious home-cooked meals kind of cheap. If I had known this when I was in my early years of university I would have adopted a pseudo-vegan diet much earlier on.

Getting sick of eating too many ramen noodle cups might be part of the student experience, but once you get to that stage (it happens pretty damn quickly) you should definitely check out some vegan recipes. I’m not saying go 100% vegan – especially because this would ruin your ability to enjoy pizza (the other big university food), but have one here and there and add some chicken if you feel like it.

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Find a few recipes you really like (the cookbook I linked earlier, Thug Kitchen, is fantastic), go to the bulk food store, pick up most of the ingredients for a ridiculously low price, and enjoy an awesome meal that doesn’t involve dried noodles, flavour packets and a lifetime supply of MSG.

This brings me to the topic of this post (and often the topic of this blog): eating cheaply during and after university. Even if you’re incredibly lazy with food, chances are you’re not willing to spend a ton of money to get that convenience (you’d rather use that excess money to pay back the saddening amount of student debt, or you know, do something fun).

If you look at a couple of the vegan recipes in Thug Kitchen Cookbook or elsewhere you may notice that there can be a ton of ingredients. Don’t get scared away! For the most part when you look more closely it basically says to take all these (easy to prepare/ready-to-cook) ingredients, toss them into a bowl/pan and mix.

At this point you probably want me to stop ranting on and on about vegan recipes, so I will (aren’t you lucky!).

Soylent 2.0

Those of you who know me in person, or who checked out the video I linked on the Facebook page a while back, know that I did a five-day Soylent challenge a while back (or rather attempted one and failed miserably) along with two of my co-editors at the Western Gazette. Soylent is a meal replacement (not to be confused with “meal supplement”) that comes in both powder and liquid form. It is essentially 20% of all your nutritional needs (based on a 2,000 calorie diet) all in a convenient bag/bottle.

When I attempted to switch to Soylent for five days it went downhill pretty quick. The powdered version – Soylent 1.5 – I found to be lumpy, grainy, poor tasting and just generally a terrible experience. But I still liked the idea, even if I had given up on the challenge after two days.

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A couple weeks later I ordered some Soylent 2.0, which differs from its powdered counterpart by being factory-mixed (meaning no grainy/lumpy texture), flavoured with a hint of strawberry (which really just makes it taste like slightly sweet milk) and bottled into convenient.. err.. bottles.

Over the course of about a month I had a bottle of Soylent 2.0 every morning for breakfast and occasionally for lunch or dinner if I was in a rush to go out. The convenience I had hoped for with 1.5 was present with the slightly more expensive 2.0.

Soylent 2.0 is a student’s dream meal when it comes to cost and convenience. Each 400-calorie bottle costs about $3 US including shipping and tax. For those of you who NEED a morning coffee, they recently came out with Coffiest, which kills two birds with one stone by giving you a cheap meal and your morning coffee in one bottle (though I can’t speak to how it tastes as I have yet to try it).

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Whether you’re needing a healthy snack while at the library (that doesn’t involve crunching lettuce on the silent floor), rushing to a morning class, out for a long walk or up late and not wanting to spend time prepping a meal, Soylent 2.0 is the best thing I’ve had. So please put away those ramen noodles once in a while and replace it with one of these (or a vegan/vegetarian meal if that’s your fancy and you’ve got the time).

There are a lot of ways to eat more cheaply but these options allow you to do so while still maintaining a healthy diet. While they may not be the most popular options around that doesn’t mean they aren’t good ones. When it comes to future eating it’s all about looking out for new and upcoming trends and in a few years time (or less), chances are these options will be far more popular than they are today.

Images: Pexels (1), soylent.com (1)

Eating for the Community

Community

The Inuits living in arctic Alaska believe in a subsistence lifestyle, where hunting isn’t just about putting food on the table for yourself or for your family, it’s about sharing with the whole community.

Excess consumption is a critical problem in today’s society. Red meat – something not necessary at all for the human diet – is eaten several times per week by many if not most people. Think of food chains that offer a quick burger to go so you can eat a hunk of meat for your meal without a second thought.

We’re completely disconnected from our food.

By no means do I consider myself a vegetarian or vegan. I eat fish and meat far more than I should. I indulge in chicken fingers from The Spoke at Western University and treat myself to the occasional steak cooked on my cast iron pan. I love going out for duck when I can and never say no to a delicious platter of assorted local meats.

Recently though, I’ve started to question my own indulgences and those of our society.

When we go to the supermarket to buy our weekly groceries, the chicken we purchase comes in a nice clean package – blood, skin and bones removed – with two or more lovely pieces ready to be cooked. We don’t think about it. We just add it to our cart and go on our merry way.

Across the world chickens are cooped up in masses and slaughtered in inhumane conditions. Being raised “organically” doesn’t make much of a difference to the consumer. You let yourself stop feeling guilty because it ate nicer food and lived a nicer life and maybe it’s healthier for you, but all the difference you really see is a slightly different label on the package of chicken from the supermarket. Your eating habits don’t actually change much.

The inuits living in arctic Alaska hunt for the needs of the whole community. They don’t have access to supermarkets that disconnect them from the rest of the world, meaning they aren’t disconnected from the process of hunting for food and preparing it. They understand everything as being connected (nature, animals, humans, climate).

On the flip side, urbanized societies around the world are completely disconnected. When you go to your favourite burger joint you aren’t thinking about how your hunger and your indulgences affect the needs of the community or its ability to access food. Sure, you’ll think of your family when shopping for the week’s groceries, but the buck stops there.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

A couple months back I proposed a scenario to as many friends as possible. Inspired by a Buzzfeed video, I asked people if they would be willing to go to a chicken farm and kill and cook their own chicken, following the common guidelines and with the direct instructions of a farmer (assuming of course the chicken was going to be killed and eaten anyway). Only one friend said yes out of over 30.

That friend grew up in a place where it was common to witness chickens being butchered – their blood running down the street into the drain – as he walked home from school or to see people buying live chickens to butcher and prepare at home. He, unlike most of us, wasn’t born into a society completely detached from the process.

The rest of the people I asked were taken aback, disgusted by the very notion of being so close to a process. Those who briefly considered it said if they did it, they wouldn’t be able to eat chicken ever again. One friend even called me insane for showing interest in doing such a thing.

We’re used to others doing our dirty work. Out of sight, out of mind. Movies that expose the industry for what it is are hard for us to watch. They make us face realities that we have an inkling about, but are too afraid to embrace. Why? It would ruin our enjoyment of our favourite meals.

Sustainability

Does all this matter really matter? Sure, it would be nice if people appreciated where their food came from, but would it really change anything other than adding a little educational note to our meals?

Definitely.

It’s about eating with the whole community in mind.

Cowspiracy, a movie exposing the impact of the meat industry, illustrates how just one burger takes about 660 gallons of water to produce.

One. Burger.

The average American uses about 80 gallons of water per day, meaning over eight days of water goes into that one burger.

According to Cowspiracy individuals eat about 9oz of meat and dairy per day; to be sustainable, that number would have to be about 2oz… Per week.

Who knows, maybe red meat will become the next tobacco and become shunned by the world at large, changing our environment and communities.

But I don’t think that’s going to happen (at least not anytime soon). Nor do I think the solution is to expect everyone to go vegan or vegetarian – an unrealistic expectation given the habits and stubbornness of our generation.

The key here is moderation.

This means instead of having a burger every time we feel like it to having one maybe once a week (or less if possible). It means considering where the meat is coming from (really coming from) and appreciating it as more than just a piece of raw food in a plastic and styrofoam package.

With education and moderation I think we can get a little bit closer to the subsistence lifestyle exemplified by the Inuits living in arctic Alaska.

If each person were to start eating for their community instead of just themselves, it could be another giant leap for mankind.

Images: Cowspiracy (1)