The SUV Diet

So, as my immigrant family adjusts to living in Canada, one of the challenges was finding the foods we missed back home. We sought for replacements, alternatives, or sometimes simply just try re-adjusting our diets. My dilemma to stay healthy and eat locally has been difficult. I live at home, a lot of the grocery choices are not made by me alone. Fortunately for my mother and unfortunately for advocates of the 100 Mile Diet, “ethnic” foods imported from abroad have been readily available in most markets for the past couple of years. You have monster T&T supermarket chains to the smaller quaint Italian and Polish outlets found on East Hastings.

When the average North American sits down to eat, each ingredient has typically travelled at least 1,500 miles—call it “the SUV diet.”

You bet your ass I’m on the SUV diet and I am 100% guilty of it. There is just no way out. My preferences as well as my family’s are for produce and spices cultivated literally thousands of miles away from Vancouver, BC. At home, we eat a type of Chinese pickle called ja choy which is made from stems of a plant called brassica juncea. The chopped up pieces are then salted, pressed, dried and rubbed in chili paste before fermenting. It looks something like this:

The closest place that actually grows this type of plant is in Alberta, according to a quick Google search. I tried looking for a packaging plant nearby in Vancouver but no such place exists. The harvested stems are most likely shipped abroad where they are processed and then exported back to Canada for sale. Using a quick calculator, the distance between Chengdu (a city in Sichuan province, origin place of ja choy) is 9949 kilometers. 9949 kilometers, times two…. that’s math beyond what I can do with my Arts degree. Just purchasing a small package of ja choy my family has grossly violated the rules behind the 100 Mile Diet. And we’re just talking about an ingredient and side snack here. Add on all the other vegetables, fruits and snacks we buy every week: our mileage count is off the radar.

While I figure things out on my side, feel free to browse through local food guides in case you wanted to stay away from Chinese pickles and stick to the 100 Mile Diet.

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Vivian is always a proud Hong Konger but true to Vancouver at heart. She has just about three months left at UBC and intends on making the best out of it. Besides International Relations and French, she mostly busies herself with traveling, food and everything about it. Be her e-Friend, s'il vous plait.

2 Responses to “The SUV Diet”

  1. Arzeena


    Brassica juncea is a very large family of plants. We grow these “mustard greens” at our farm in Richmond. The variety we grow here is a purple-leafed one called Giant Red. I know they also come in green.

    I would suggest, if these pickles are really important to you, that you ask a farmer to grow them for you (UBC Farm or go to the Winter Farmer’s Market). The wonderful thing about most Chinese greens is that they WILL grow here. They just won’t be as cheap since our cost of production is much higher than China. Still, we use far fewer pesticides.

  2. Vivian

    Wow thank you! That’s amazing because I had no idea about local farms in the city growing “Chinese” greens. Though I’ll get to find a recipe making our own pickles. Thanks for enlightening me about the species! It’s totally not in my field of expertise.

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