[Penguin Books, 272 pages]
Travel writer Margaret Webb recounts a two-year journey across Canada in her latest book, Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Guide to Canadian Farms. She toured from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the U.S. border to the Arctic, searching for the best, the most passionate, the most active and the most influential in Canadian producers.
Prompted by the vibrant taste of a fresh Annapolis Valley carrot, Webb’s journey was spurred both by her need to know and the desire to reconnect with her roots as an Ontario farmer’s daughter. Along the way, she prompts readers to reconsider their own relationship with food and consumption. As consumers, our main concern is that our food tastes good, that it fills our bellies and feeds our bodies, but how often do we stop to consider the people who have brought the produce to our plates?
Twelve unique stories make up the book, a chapter for each province and territory to feature their own specialty food. Each chapter centres around an individual producer, like Nova Scotia scallop farmer Duncan Bates. Most often, the producers take a liking to Webb and provide insight not only into their work, but into their lives, happily sending her home with some of their finest produce.
In Nova Scotia, she meets a chef who convinces her that a great dish starts with great ingredients. “He buys from suppliers who raise food the way he cooks—with love, on an intimate scale, and with passion,” she writes.
A bit of a foodie herself, Webb takes great joy in experimenting with the foods she finds. Each chapter closes with a couple of recipes borrowed from those she meets on her journey or concocted in her own kitchen by her or her partner, the “seafood goddess,” Nancy.
Apples to Oysters finds that industrial farming replaces the taste of our food with chemicals, gives us widely available food but robs it of its freshness, gives us low prices but costs us our environment and takes the humanity right out of farming. Webb discovers that the humane and considerate approach to natural processes in farming translate right through to the food. She finds time and time again that it is tastier, fresher and more satisfying than its industrial counterpart.