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A better world in a bowl of soup

A large bowl of soup and a thick slice of dark homemade bread usually satisfied the lunch crowd at the Banyan Tree restaurant in Winnipeg.

A large bowl of soup and a thick slice of dark homemade bread usually satisfied the lunch crowd at the Banyan Tree restaurant in Winnipeg. Close enough to the University of Winnipeg, but far enough away from Portage Avenue, the site that this landmark vegetarian restaurant once occupied didn’t command a hefty rent but garnered a loyal, mainly student clientele. This allowed the definitely counter-cultural eatery to make a go of it.

The Banyan Tree tried to serve organic food. This certainly presented a challenge in the 1970s when “organic” referred to a branch of chemistry in most people minds, if anything at all.

A few practitioners of the pre-chemical fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide type of agriculture practiced prior to the 1950s still persisted. Folk like Francis and Becky Anderson of Lowe Farm, Manitoba then still used tried-and-true crop and field rotation methods plus natural fertilizers to manage their 64 hectare family farm.

The Andersons provided the Banyan Tree with their organic wheat, which they ground to flour themselves along with eggs, goat milk and seasonal produce. A small but consciously dedicated network of other producers supplied the honey, beans, root crops and greens that could be grown locally. Finding an organic avocado or pineapple even an apple however was a different matter.

Agassiz Food Co-operative that Eva and I belonged to, struggled as well to knit together a list of organic producers and suppliers to satisfy the needs of the membership. Often “whole” foods rather than “organic” ones had to fill the bill. Agassiz Co-op even got the Osborne Village Motor Hotel, which is now a biker haven I hear, to allow us to take over an adjacent parking lot for a Saturday organic farmer’s market.

This nascent organic networking attempt usually could count on a dozen or so area producers to fill their makeshift stands with the bounty of the land in August and early September. I normally managed to contribute a table of zucchini, crookneck, pattypan and other summer squash from the generous yield of my own 40 some squash hills. They thrived in the Red River gumbo of a large garden in Morris, Manitoba.

The situation today, 30 some years later is certainly different. Organic like other terms such as “fair trade” grace food products even in main stream establishments. How this happened certainly isn’t magic. It was the result of work—hard work—by people seeking alternatives to the dominant corporate, chemicalized model of agriculture that nearly vanquished the family farm in Canada. This system has also turned large swaths of the Global South into plantations exporting crops for the profit of multinationals rather than food for the hungry or development in their own lands.

The slow food movement, the 100-mile diet and local efforts such as those by the Alpine Bakery which will be screening Eating, another in its series of food issue films this evening at 7:30 p.m., continue to prod public consciousness towards visions of an earth sustaining, health-promoting food system. Community-based efforts are essential. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” as Margaret Mead famously said, “can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Food not Bombs, a grassroot movement which shares free vegetarian food with hungry people in a practical protest against poverty and war, will be holding an organizational meeting at the Whitehorse Library on Friday, May 22nd at 7 p.m. For more information on this nearly 30-year-old nonviolent activist network see

Condolences go out to Father David Daws and his family on the death of their mother Florence Daws earlier this week. Her funeral will be this Saturday, May 16th at 11 a.m. at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Namaste Notes

Sunday, May 17—Sixth Sunday of Easter. A suggested reading is John 15: 9-17.

Thursday, May 21—Ascension of Jesus, the bodily “going up” into heaven, is marked by Christians today, 40 days after Easter.

Thursday, May 21—World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development seeks to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity and learning to “live together” better.

Friday, May 22—International Day on Biological Diversity 2009 focuses on invasive alien species as “one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, and to the ecological and economic well-being of society and the planet.”

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact