Daughter begged me for a drive to school today. She attends a downtown high school that is adjacent to Toronto's Koreatown. She is heading into the final few months of high school so I'm an easy and melancholic target these days.
While in New York City I discovered a delicious snack food in one of the many stores and shops that are scattered throughout their subway system: wasabi flavoured seaweed. I have done a half hearted search here in Canada (unsuccessfully) so this morning I thought I'd check out the large Korean grocery store up the street from her school (P.A.T. Central, serving the community since 1972).
I have spent a few mornings in the last few years perusing this store after dropping Daughter off at school. I enjoy the dizzying array of foreign goods. I have purchased a few interesting fresh and packaged goods...including ingredients to make my own (delicious) Kim Chi from scratch. Today I was there before they opened so I pulled into the parking lot in order to wait. For such a large store they have a very small set of receiving doors. As I waited, I watched two receivers negotiate 4 pallets of wonder bread and then a taller shipment of two litre coca cola bottles into the store.
As a rule, I rarely drink soda pop and after hearing Dr. Vandana Shiva talk at York University this week I don't think I'll ever look at soda pop the same way. We all know, or should know, that soda pop and it's wide-scale deployment is contributing significantly to the diabetes and obesity epidemic.
But did you know that besides the pillaging of our bodies, the manufacturing process for soda pop involves huge amounts of water which is contributing to the pillaging of precious water resources in communities that have very limited water resources?
Dr. Shiva told the story of one village in India that had the 'good economic fortune' of having a coca cola plant move in. Jobs. Prosperity. We all know the spiel. The tar sands are being touted in a similar manner.
After a few years, the women in this town staged repeated protests and finally had the plant shut down. The reason? The opening of this plant, with it's huge water requirements, had led to the eradication of the local water supply and these women were fed up with having to walk miles and miles in order to obtain and carry back water for their families.
I think of this story as I watch the coca cola and the wonder bread get pushed through the doors of this long running Korean grocery store.
I again saw these same pallets when I went inside, prominently placed next to the more traditional items. I wondered how many 1st generation immigrant Korean children are facing their own diabetes diagnosis after being brought up in Canadian households with parents who shopped in Koreatown and bought North American 'treats' like coca cola and wonder bread. And then these same children go on to feed themselves at college/university with cheap processed food. The stage is then set for an adulthood of 'convenience' foods that might fill the stomach but leave our entire body starving for quality food. These processed foods have a basic nutritional deficit since synthetic additives are known to harm our bodies.
This sad immigrant tale can be applied to many of the new cultures brought to Canada after the 1967 change in immigration rules that allowed multiculturalism to blossom here. Unfortunately, these new immigrants were also working long hours, often with both parents doing so, and they were simultaneously gobsmacked by the sudden access to cheap convenient foods. My Irish born and raised mother tells me about how she couldn't get over the size and variety of ice cream products in 1967 Toronto grocery stores - the year my parents emigrated/escaped, pregnant with me. Back in Ireland, ice cream was only commercially available in two forms in 1967. Fresh whipped cones (that tasted deliciously fresh due to the fresh cream and eggs used) and plain white slabs that were purchased on an as needed basis from the corner grocer since freezers were not in people's homes at that point in Ireland, even in the larger cities.
And speaking of additives, I left the store without my wasabi flavored seaweed. All of the brands they carried had far too many additives. I have dried wasabi powder at home and nori seaweed so I'll try making some myself. But I didn't leave empty handed! The contents of my bags contained very few preservatives and no mysterious sounding chemical additives. I look forward to exploring a few more dishes with the products I purchased.