Eco-minded foodies will find much to savour in Vancouver, writes Kristie Kellahan.
Eco-conscious, sustainability focused, ethically minded and driven by a passion for great tasting food: Vancouverites are inspiring the way the rest of the world eats.
Don't be fooled, the mood of the foodies in this exciting part of south-west Canada is rarely sanctimonious. They're simply aware. The bars hum (especially after the Canucks win in ice hockey), the coffee houses are full and dining out is a city-wide passion. From fair-trade coffee to ethically raised beef and organic, eco-friendly wineries, this is a city that thinks long and hard about what it puts on its plate, while still knowing how to party.
The movement towards only eating food sourced or produced locally - proponents of the diet call themselves locavores - has gained traction in recent years as interest in sustainability has grown. Supporters say eating locally is good for our bodies and our communities, providing a viable business model for local farmers, fishermen and artisan food producers. As the need for long-distance transportation is eliminated, food remains fresher, tastier and healthier.
The movement gained an extra push into the limelight when the catchily named 100-Mile Diet hit the headlines. Two Canadians, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, set themselves the challenge of restricting their diet for one year to foods grown within 100 miles (160 kilometres) of their Vancouver home.
Special-occasion dining also takes on an eco-flavour.
Writing first in an online magazine about their experience, and later in a best-selling book, The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, the couple sang the praises of farmers' markets and direct purchases from farms as a superior way of shopping and eating. The book was a hit and spawned a television series, The 100 Mile Challenge, on Food Network Canada.
Along with the rest of the conscious-eating world, Vancouverites took to the movement with gusto but also perhaps a sense of familiarity. Eat fresh and delicious local food sourced from Granville Island farmers' markets? Well, duh. They'd been doing that for years.
Every city should be so lucky as to have a Granville Island. It's an artsy, urban oasis for Vancouver residents, the home of some of the city's best theatres, galleries and cafes.
British Columbia artists sell their original artworks, sculptures and photographs here, in exhibition spaces that double up as performance spaces.
Granville Island is also home to the awesome Public Market, the place where top restaurant chefs shop for local ingredients and would-be home chefs find just the right spice or herb they need to create their own Pacific north-west cuisine masterpiece. The Public Market is open daily; a farmers' market runs every Thursday from June to October.
Here you'll find fresh-killed bison, a hundred ways with salmon, the fruity bounty of local orchards and more. At Origins Organic Coffee, a coffee-roasting demonstration will titillate lovers of joe. Granville Island Brewing liberally hands out samples of house-made beer.
Even those shoppers who are more interested in eating than cooking their dinner will be impressed. There's no better one-stop shop in Vancouver for picking up the ready-made ingredients for a picnic lunch. Grab a punnet of enormous juicy strawberries, a couple of crispy porchetta sourdough rolls, some hot cinnamon doughnuts from Lee's and you're good to go sit by the water's edge.
Special-occasion dining also takes on an eco-flavour in Vancouver. One of the city's perennially popular restaurants, Raincity Grill, has staked its name and reputation on a commitment to ethically sourced food. Even more importantly for some of us, its fare is bloody delicious.
Opening its doors 20 years ago, Raincity Grill was one of the first to highlight the vital importance of serving local foods. Eating all things Vancouver was found to be better for the environment and better for the taste buds.
The 100 Mile tasting menu offered at Raincity Grill is a triumph of chef ingenuity and providore excellence. The Pacific north-west cuisine menu changes regularly to reflect what is available from award-winning local farmers and fishermen, including artisan cheeses by Debra Amrein-Boyes, greens from Hannah Brook Farm and natural, unpasteurised honey from Chilliwack River Valley Natural Honey. The seafood is a standout; cross your fingers that BC salmon will be on the menu and sit back to enjoy the just-caught freshness that packs a punch.
Another acclaimed venue that champions local produce is C Restaurant on Howe Street. Considered to be Vancouver's most progressive seafood restaurant, it is a founding partner of the sustainably focused Ocean Wise program. The restaurant goes straight to local fishermen to source what will end up on diners' plates; in so doing, freshness is assured and the livelihoods of food producers are supported.
The team of chefs running the kitchens at The Fairmont Waterfront hotel have taken the movement into their own hands, literally. A sprawling herb garden on the third floor of the hotel was one of Vancouver's first green roofs when it was introduced in 1991. (Green roofs are all the rage in the city now; the recently completed Vancouver Convention Centre boasts 2½ hectares of green space, 400,000 native plants and hives for 60,000 bees.)
Today, the Fairmont's garden produces a rainbow of vegetables, fruits, herbs and blossoms that ultimately end up on the plates of diners in the hotel's Herons West Coast Kitchen + Bar. A honey bee apiary delivers a sweet harvest of 275 kilograms of honey every year.
Beyond the green credentials, bean counters say the rooftop garden saves the hotel more than $15,000 annually.
Ultimately, Vancouver has emerged as a leader in fresh, sustainable, local, ethical and delicious consuming because its citizens have demanded it and are willing to demonstrate their purchasing power. It's a powerful recipe for change.
The writer travelled with the assistance of Tourism Vancouver.
Air Canada flies from Sydney to Vancouver. aircanada.com.
The Fairmont Waterfront. fairmont.com.
A morning of tastings and foodie exploration on Granville Island. granvilleisland.com.
100 Mile tasting menu at Raincity Grill, 1193 Deman Street, Vancouver. raincitygrill.com.
Granville Island Public Market. granvilleisland.com/public-market/.
Origins Organic Coffee, 1245 Cartwright Street, Vancouver. originscoffee.com.
Granville Island Brewing, 1441 Cartwright Street, Vancouver. gib.ca.
C Restaurant, 1600 Howe Street, Vancouver. crestaurant.com.
The Fairmont Waterfront (Herons West Coast Kitchen + Bar), 900 Canada Place Way, Vancouver. fairmont.com/Waterfront.