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Soul Food

In the ragged hills of Andalucia, by whitewashed villages and ancient trails that wind from Africa to Spain, old Tomás was known as the ‘cabrero’, which roughly translates to ‘man who cares for goats’. On foot and horseback, he shepherded hundreds of goats around these mountains. He was guardian, midwife, nurse, milkmaid, cheese and sausage-maker. He was like a goat himself, nimble despite his advanced age, energetic and mischievous. He worked long, hard hours, providing a variety of staple foods to the inhabitants of this area, as generations of cabreros before him had done. What he managed was the antithesis of the modern ‘factory’ farm. It was agriculture as it has been practiced for thousands of years.

What Tomás and his family produced was real food. From the goats came milk, fresh and aged cheeses, chorizo and more. The locals washed this down with plenty of wine and olive oil, tomato and garlic, and oranges that were at the fullest stage of ripe. Rarely did any of this food travel more than a few kilometers to reach the plate. Some of it was maybe too real to appeal to the broad western palate, often unpasteurized and in an active bacterial state. Think of chorizo sitting on the shelf, preserved in a jar of it’s rendered fat, or very fresh goat cheese that was only one sieve away from it’s source. It was food close to land, primitive, tasty, healthy and sustainable.

I got to thinking about Tomás and goats and food in general (well to be honest I think about food a lot) with news that the US Food and Drug Administration would approve of the sale of milk and meat from cloned cows, pigs, and yes, goats. Safe? Of course it is, at least according to Barbara Glenn, managing director of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington. She cited decades of research behind the FDA’s decision, which was an odd comment, given that the world’s first cloned mammal was only born in 1996. Dolly the sheep was euthanized at the age of six, an age well short of a sheep’s expected lifespan, after developing progressive lung disease.

To aggravate matters the FDA, in it’s benevolent wisdom (and with a little prodding from the farm and biotech lobbies in Washington), does not see the need to label food that will eventually be produced from cloned animals. Why they say, if the product is genetically identical to the parent? Besides aren’t you, weary consumer, already dazed and confused with labels on your food touting fat-free this and natural that? This all reminds me of that quirky little sci-fi movie from the 70’s, set in the year 2022 when there are huge food supply problems in New York City. The Soylent Green Company has created a new food product that the masses can’t get enough of, but it’s all hush-hush about the secret recipe…

Issues surrounding our food supply can be found everywhere you look, and the lines in this battle have been well defined for many years now. On the one side you find vast agribusiness, monoculture, chemicals and now clones – on the other – natural, seasonal and local. From an investment perspective, there are more and more alternatives to the Monsantos, Cargills and other McCompanies that strive to dominate global food supplies (and have quite likely found their way into your RRSPs). You may look to publicly traded companies like SunOpta (TSX: SOY), a Canadian firm that sources and produces non-GMO soya goods; Hain Celestial (Nasdaq: HAIN), a leading natural and organic food and personal care products company; or Whole Foods Markets (Nasdaq: WFMI), the hugely successful natural and organic foods retailer.

Fair trade can also be supported through RRSP-eligible investments. La Siembra Co-op, the supplier of Cocoa Camino chocolate and coffee products, offers the opportunity to earn a 5% dividend through their public share offering. Anyone who is interested in purchasing La Siembra shares should obtain a copy of their Offering Memorandum (I have a few available), which outlines important details that include the Co-op’s audited financial statements, risk and liquidity factors, rights and restrictions, etc. It is essential reading for prospective investors.

I used to spend a lot of time with Tomás el Cabrero. Friends and I would meet him on a Saturday afternoon at the corral where his goats were kept after a day grazing the Andalucian hills. We would help him sweep up and bag the goat droppings, which were used to fertilize our trees and gardens. After the work party was over it was time to picnic – vino tinto, which came in super-sized 16-litre glass ‘garrafas’, and tapas of cheese, sausage, tomatoes, and often a ‘tortilla espanol’, which in Andalucia was made from eggs and potatoes. This food was so completely and wonderfully authentic that many years later, the memory of it still lingers in my senses.

We are so fortunate here in the Comox Valley to have an opportunity to help sustain the small farm tradition. There are thriving markets in which to find a great variety of locally produced foods. Get out there on a Saturday morning and have a look for it, if you haven’t already. Real food that is tied into a way of life I hope will never disappear.

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