StarPhoenix Review - Prairie Feast

Reviewed by: Bill Robertson

Anyone who has followed Amy Jo Ehman's voice on the CBC or columns in The StarPhoenix knows she's a celebrant of eating locally. That is, of dining on ``fresh, natural, locally produced food rather than gorging on the cornucopia of worldly excess offered up in the grocery stores.''In Prairie Feast, Ehman takes us on a cheerful journey through the seasons and through Saskatchewan as she makes good on a pledge she made a few years ago to eat nothing but locally produced food for one year. That's harder than it sounds, when you think of how thoroughly certain foods - bananas, chocolate, sugar, canned tuna - have become part of our daily fare. She also allowed herself to cheat a Part of the fun of Ehman's book is to watch her go on a detective mission, traipsing around the province, by phone, computer, and car, to track down food grown right here, in one of the major food-producing places on the planet. That should be easy, but it's not. According to Ehman's research, Saskatchewan produces most of the world's mustard and lentils, but take a look at a jar of mustard next time you're in the store and see if you can find where those mustard seeds were grown. Ehman got on the phone with a woman from a dairy company asking about locally produced products and was told they didn't give out ``that information. '' And why not? ``We don't want consumers to be shopping that way.'' In other words, all the raw milk goes into one central vat, is processed and shipped across the country - never mind where it comes from. Well, Ehman found out where it comes from, and that's the real heart of this book. On the one hand, she's quite the warrior and throws down the gauntlet early: a local diet is ``good for the environment if it cuts the mileage and the expenditure of fossil fuels. There's less wasted food and packaging for the landfill. It's easier to source food produced without pharmaceuticals, preservatives and other adulterations that maintain the illusion of quality, freshness and taste. It's better for your health because local produce is usually picked at its peak, so the nutrients are not depleted by under-ripening and long months in storage. It's good for the community because your grocery dollars stay in the local economy, sustaining smaller farms and processors.'' On the other hand, she immediately breaks some of her own rules about mileage - and she's conscious of this - by heading to La Ronge to look for mushrooms, and Bruno to the Cherry Festival, and St. Walburg to the Wild Blueberry Festival, and Humboldt, Allan, and Biggar, looking for mustard, a fall/fowl supper, and some birds on the wing. Sure, she's got some great recipes here that show readers how to cook locally, and she's got her own testimonials to the success or failure of her attempts at growing and cooking local fare, but it's her trips into Saskatchewan and her discoveries of the people and their culture that make this book really sing. Whether she's facing off against some bread makers in Weyburn, visiting Pulvermachers' butcher and grocery store in Bruno, or picking saskatoons with her father out near the family farm by Findlater, Prairie Feast is really a love song to Saskatchewan and its cuisine, imported, original, and improvised. Robertson is a Saskatoon freelance writer.

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