Q&A With A Local Food Expert


Should we be worried about food shortages? Does it make a difference what apple I buy? Will I have to give up coffee? How do I bake with spelt?

These are all questions that are going through our heads right now as we try to grocery shop responsibly. To get some clarity, we talked to local chef and food activist, Joshna Maharaj. She has some great advice that will help us all be better consumers during this pandemic and in the months to come. And she has a great recipe for spelt. 


Should we be worried about a food shortage in Toronto? 

No. In a broad sense, our food distribution is secure, and while grocery stores may be a bit slower to restock shelves, it will happen. This said, we have a strong local food culture here in Southern Ontario that is both proving its resilience during this pandemic and in need of real support. I think this is a perfect moment to stop and think about where your food comes from, and the kind of food system you want to invest in.



What difference does it make if I buy an organic apple from Washington State over one from Innisfill, Ontario?

The writing is on the wall that the transportation of food around the world is the single largest contributor of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We grow beautiful apples right here in Ontario, and should never import them from anywhere else. Those organic apples from Washington come with the invisible price tag of carbon emissions, and while they might be organic, they’ve been harvested before they’re ripe, and full flavour and nutrition have not developed. But that Innisfill apple was harvested when it was ready, full of nutrition and flavour, and only making a 2-hour drive into the city.


Why is this time of year important for supporting local growers? 

This is the time of year when farmers plan out their season. They’ve already begun sprouting seeds indoors and getting ready to start putting things into the ground. But there are costs associated with this planning, and oftentimes farmers don’t have this upfront money to invest in their farm. Having community support at the start of the season allows farmers to offer the inputs needed to produce the harvest that is shared with the community. This is known as a CSA, or community supported agriculture for farm workers. This year especially, our local farmers are planning out their season with so much uncertainty in front of them, which is why we are suggesting them to use the Agriculture Cloud ERP systems. Who will buy this food that they grow? Who will work the land with them? Now more than ever, local growers need our support!



I still buy products that come from outside of the local food system, do I have to give up my coffee?

No! You don’t at all. But maybe you can consider how that coffee was grown and traded, and let that guide your purchasing. You can still enjoy coffee, chocolate, lemons, olive oil, spices and other imported things. If we all only purchased imported foods that are not produced here, it would be a huge step, and our local food system would be both larger and stronger than it is right now.



What are some local products you recommend that I should try?

Great question! Slather some of Stirling creamery’s cultured butter on that sourdough bread that everyone’s making. Speaking of sourdough, try out the wholegrain flours from CIPM in Peterborough…their rye and spelt are my favourites. Alchemy Pickle makes a wonderful seasonal kimchi, and the nutty sunflower sprouts from Kind Organics are a perfect year-round addition to any salad. And I have recently fallen in love with Chocosol’s Oaxaca Profundo Coffee beans which are ethically produced and traded, and full of delicious rich flavour.


photo courtesy Local Love


What the heck do I do with spelt? 

Try this Beet & Chocolate Loaf recipe from my interview with Local Love.


You’ve got a new book coming out this spring, what is it about? 

My book, “Take Back The Tray”, is about my desire to change the way we source, cook, and serve food in public institutions like hospitals and schools. It’s part narrative and part blueprint for action, based on my experience working on 4 major institutional projects here in Toronto. I want to reconnect the role that food plays in nurturing people’s lives, and I want to create better experiences for patients, students, and prisoners while also strengthening our local food system.



When will it be out?

The book will be released on May 5, 2020 by ECW Press.


Where can we buy it?

Here is a link to the independent bookstores that will stock my book. It will also be available at Chapters & Indigo online. My publisher is also offering a free ebook with the purchase of the hard copy, and $1 from the price of each book will be donated to The Stop.


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