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Dr. Stephen H. Schneider

Copyright Joi Ito. From flickr.

I’m sorry to report that leading climatologist Dr. Stephen H. Schneider has died yesterday. His death, reported by the New York Times, is tragic news for those concerned about global climate change. A long-time advocate on the need for action on climate change, his death is perhaps particularly saddening now, at a time when opposing camps on global climate change (as well as other problems associated with fossil fuel use) appear to be becoming increasingly polarized. (Only earlier this month, Schneider and other climate scientists reported receiving hate mail for their stance on the issue.)

Schneider was the editor of a journal called Climatic Change as well as author and co-author of numerous scientific papers. He was also the writer of several books including Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate. His work attests to his careful observation of the scientific basis for climate change, while at the same time relentless drive to raise the issue in the public sphere.

Schneider is reported to have died of a heart attack. He recently visited the city of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada in May, and had been hoping to return in the fall. The torch now falls to other climatologists to continue the struggle that he undertook. Let us wish them the very best in their efforts.

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Copyright Pam Brophy .

Are you…Concerned about eating in a more environmentally sustainable fashion, but not sure how? Wanting to be a culinary adventurer, but feeling that one must search abroad for tasty delights? Wanting to read a funny, interesting read as well? If this is the case, I strongly recommend that you give Margaret Webb’s book, Apples to Oysters, a try.

Working a zigzagged trail from the east to west of Canada, Webb carefully selects eleven food or drink producers to teach us about how to be kind to our palette and/or health, and the earth all at the same time. What is perhaps even more fascinating is how we find out that producing food in an ecologically sound way often makes good business sense too.

Take as a case in point Johnny Flynn’s farmed Colville Bay oysters from Prince Edward Island (farming being a practice preferable to fishing which in the past has seriously threatened oyster populations in this bay). They are so delectable that at one point, Webb’s partner jokingly asks whether she would go straight, if only to get some more of his oysters. With most of his oysters being choice, he is able to command top price for his produce.

But wait. There’s more. Like the wildly popular, recently discovered Ambrosia apple from British Columbia, which just so happens to be organic. Or the “earthy and sensual” soft cheese from Quebec, produced by the milk of cattle that feed on marsh grass. And last but not least, a Niagara winery committed to minimizing pesticide use (a practice called integrated pest management) that is also the maker of a leading Riesling ice wine.

I could go on, but there are the health matters as well. One that may be of particular interest is the mainly grass-fed beef from Alberta, which has a lovely flavour and much less fat than grain-fed beef. Webb also introduces us to the roasted (and sometimes, due to customer demand, organic) flax seed that, as she phrases it, makes you go “ding ding”, as regular as a “church bell.”

While many food producers in this book seem to be struggling to keep up with customer demand, the author is careful not to paint an entirely rosy picture for farmers considering following a similar path. For instance, we learn about a couple with an organic farm in the Yukon who cannot make mortgage payments after a series of crop failures (they plan to start again, but this time on a smaller scale).

Another caveat provided to readers is to not be hasty when deciding what is “environmentally sustainable”. For example, we are told copper – classified as an organic spray used as a fungicide – is “deadly” poisonous and does not break down. Thus, the owners of the winery, I mentioned earlier, prefer not to use it on their grapes.

The author should be commended for providing an honest portrait of the trials and tribulations of  “ecologically-sensitive” food production, for she has a definite reason to be biased towards such efforts. As readers are told, the decline in health and eventual death of her father may have been caused by the pesticides used on the family farm.

All in all, Webb has written a very worthwhile book, providing valuable information for “foodies” and environmentally conscious consumers alike. However, rather than laying things out in black-and-white, she provides ample (excuse the pun) food-for-thought. So…get a copy of this book and enjoy. Who knows? You might be inspired to take a gastronomic trip of your own!

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