Renewable Energy in Canada

As I mentioned in a previous post I am currently enrolled in a renewable energy program offered online through Lakeland College, an Albertan post-secondary institute. I am just wrapping up my first two courses, and let me tell you – what an incredible amount of information I’ve had filtered through my brain these last couple of months!

One of the methods of learning we participate in includes writing posts for our online discussions page on a variety of topics, and responding to the posts of others with our own opinions, ideas, etc. Normally nobody comments on my posts because they’re pretty straightforward and entirely lacking in controversy! I’m excited, though, because our last topic – on the particular challenges Canadians are confronting when trying to integrate renewable streams of energy – has a few responses on it from other students!

I’m including my post here in case you are interested in what my thoughts are at this point in my education on this particular issue. Keep in mind I am not a scientist, an engineer, or even an individual conversant with technology – this is just a melange of opinions on a topic I’m just starting to delve deeper in to.

bc

It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw, not because she is Canada but because she’s something sublime that you were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of. - Emily Carr

Regardless of exactly where in Canada you were brough into life, chances are you feel a particular kinship with that particular corner of the country you initially called home. I have never met a Newfoundlander who was glad to be away from the rocky, windblown land they came from; nor a British Columbian who was entirely at peace in another province, away from the glorious green forests and untouched niches of pristine beauty found only in B.C. We are all rooted in the varied soils of our country, and that gives us an inherent passion for unearthing new and novel ways of building Canada into something wonderful. I feel that the best way to ensure a safe and environmentally sound world for our children’s children is to increase the use of renewable resources; I believe integrating renewable energy into our everyday lives will not only stave off further destruction of our natural environment, but could potentially (optimistically) undo the damage we have already done.

Renewable energy in its current incarnation is flawed. In the assignments for the two initial courses of Lakeland College’s Renewable Energy program, I have learned of so much potential and so much innovation when it comes to using renewable energy to heat our homes and power our machines. What I have also learned is that no matter what aspect of renewable technology we are discussing, everything seems to boil down (no pun intended) to efficiency, or the lack thereof. Yes, Canada is composed of varied landscapes that each offers its own particular challenges when planning for the use of renewables; but the lack of efficiency in renewable technology is a global issue. I believe that if overall efficiencies improved substantially, we would see an immediate surge in the use of renewable technologies.

A crucial aspect of efficiency that is especially important to Canadians is the amount of reliable energy we require to heat our homes in those coldest months of the year, the months of snow and ice that far outnumber those of sunshine and blooming buds. Not only do we require enough heat to keep our homes and the infrastructure within them from succumbing to freezing temperatures, we require even more heat due to the amounts that are lost every second due to lack of appropriate insulation, lackluster building quality, or even simply homeowner ignorance. North Americans are decried for the amounts of resources we waste every day – I think it is time we change that, starting with making simple decisions like choosing energy-efficient windows, using digital thermostats that monitor the home’s temperature needs down to the nth degree, and using higher-efficiency insulators when possible.  

The next essential component of transforming our civilization from oil-dependent to ecologically self-sufficient is to change the standards for new home builds. A common theme in our reading has been that retrofitting a home to be powered by eco-friendly energies is far too expensive for the average homeowner to undertake without large subsidies from already financially strapped (or so they say) governments. Nobody is as skilled as a contractor is at finding the least-expensive way of getting a job done; why not make the installation of renewable energy technology in the building of new homes the rule? This would give an entirely new industry incentive to participate in green energy innovations, while removing the cost of retrofitting entirely. 

Next, while our mountains are impossibly large, so are our fields. As has been noted by other students, we in Canada have the privilege of space – a much sought after commodity in other parts of the world. Here in the prairies we have the room for wind farms populated with enough horizontal-axis turbines to produce amounts of power substantial enough to lessen significantly our oil-and-gas-related dependence. On the flipside of that, unfortunately, is that our prairie provinces are land-locked; but for our coastal provinces, wave power is a promising venture. I am not a supporter of damming projects, despite the proposed environmental benefits. I feel that the damage done to the ecospheres affected by damming far outweighs the benefits that damming offers. Wave power, on the other hand, does not interfere with the biosphere in the same harmful ways; the creation of efficient wave technologies could supply coastal provinces with abundant energy, harness-able for communities hundreds of kilometres from the shoreline.

As for solar energy, our beloved country is not well positioned to take advantage of the sun’s bounty. We do not get much opportunity for sunshine, especially here in Alberta, and we never seem to keep Mr. Sun around for very long periods. Still, I am – maybe a bit naively – optimistic when it comes to this particular topic. I think there are ideas out there in the solar industry that, if properly developed, could make it possible for those of us in the northern hemisphere (and especially those of us above the 60th parallel) to not only collect, but to also store, enough solar power to ease our need for other energy sources year-round. Maybe someone from this very program will be the one to uncover a genius way to collect the sun’s rays when they are plentiful and store them for those days when there is barely enough natural light to see a foot in front of our faces. 

Ultimately, I think that when it comes to Canada, geographically we are blessed more than hindered. I believe that we have the space and the resources to change our energy future; and, most importantly, I believe that we have the heart. All we need is the technology – but don’t look at me for that just yet… I’m still learning!

Thank You

I followed a link that a friend posted on Facebook that took me to a Buzzfeed video called “How to Make Vegan Junk Food.” I watched it and think the recipes look delicious; honestly, seeing how simple they were to throw together made me want to follow chef Leslie Durso (of http://lesliedurso.com/) right over a cliff and into a huge ocean of tasty yummy bad-but-good foodiness that just happens to be vegan.

Unfortunately, the comment section of the video seemed to have devolved into nothing more than a foul-name-spouting, insult-swinging battleground. I know, I know – reading comments on an internet video is enjoyable in the same way picking a scab is: it doesn’t exactly feel good, but there’s something appealing about the sensation; then, afterwards, when you’re left with a big gaping sore, all you feel is regret. But, my attention was drawn to the length of heated discourse that had sprung from what was essentially an inoffensive and completely benign video intended to spread an individual’s own tips for eating healthier (and, yes, vegan).

Something that breaks my heart that I’ve come across in all of the vegan groups I participate in online is that it seems like discussions about veganism seem to incite serious bullying. The occasions where people post about positive conversations they have had with meat-eaters do appear, but they seem to be a lot rarer than those tales of vegans who have been ridiculed for their beliefs. And I’m not saying that vegan people are perfect, because there’s more than a few who can be preachy and holier-than-thou. We’re all flawed; nobody is perfect. But there’s no excuse for bullying of any kind.

I just want to say thank you to all of my friends. Thank you for not posting offensive comments on my Facebook when I write about veganism, or when I share petitions, or when I re-share meat-free recipes that I think look delicious. Thank you for not insulting me or my choices, for not starting fights with me about our differences in opinion on certain topics, for not saying things that are supposed to be funny but that are actually hurtful. Thank you for letting me express myself without fear of reprisal.

Transitioning to veganism is turning out to be a lengthy process for me, and it is really lonely at times; I can’t imagine how it would be if I didn’t have the love and understanding of you all. .

If you’re interested in watching the mouth-watering video and picking up a few easy snack night ideas, just click here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/abefg/how-to-make-vegan-junk-food#2oyf0pd.

Good to Grill!

I’ve been planning this post for a few days, so it is purely coincidental that on a day when I’d like to talk a bit about outdoor grilling it happens to be raining heavily! Honestly, I can’t complain about the weather where I live. People joke about how Edmontonians only have two seasons – winter and construction – but this year we’ve been blessed. Much to my city’s delight, we have enjoyed a distinct spring, summer, and are in the throes of fall as I speak. Another aspect of our good fortune, at least temperature wise, is that we’ve had an early fall warm-up, reaching plus 24 degrees (celsius) a few times. This makes for some fantastic evenings outdoors around the barbecue, enjoying the changing of the leaves, the light fall breezes, and the smell of fresh-grilled foods.

Barbecue season can be tough for vegans. I’ll admit it – I’m not at that place yet where the smell of grilling meat makes me sick. SEEING it can, but the smell of seared steak sets of an instinctive hunger. I’ve heard this will pass, but in the mean time, walking through my neighbourhood the past few months has been occasionally difficult. Fortunately, while the aromas are different, putting colorful veggies on the barbecue has helped negate that undesired hunger for flesh while at the same time satisfying my gusto for the grill.

I’m including a link that has been an amazing resource for me as a beginner cook; this article and its gorgeous infographics gave me some great tips and techniques, and even a few simple recipes. Check out Robyn Medlin Lindars’ super helpful information here: http://www.fix.com/blog/how-to-grill-vegetables/. A couple of the recipes contain cheese as an ingredient but you can easily replace those with non-dairy cheeses to make them vegan, or omit the cheese altogether (which is what I prefer- a like just a dusting of nutritional yeast over the finished product).

asparagus-grill

Also, here is a link to a fantastic recipe for grilled asparagus http://carpeseason.com/grilled-asparagus-with-lemon-chive-vinaigrette/. The image above belongs to Liz @ Carpe Season, as does the recipe for Grilled Asparagus With Lemon Chive Vinaigrette. Enjoy!

Back in School

This blog post isn’t exactly about veganism, per se. More of just an update.

In September I started two courses that are part of a program offered at a college in Vermilion, Alberta. The program is called Renewable Energy and Conservation and my first two classes (taken online) are Principles of Energy and Energy and Environment. The Principles of Energy class has my brain melting with math and science – two areas where I have never excelled. I doubt anyone who knows me understands why I’m taking this course, and part of me feels the same way – why would I take a program that requires a strong knowledge of those subjects I did so miserably at in high school? You know, biology, physics, chemistry, trigonometry, calculus, etc.? If someone were to ask me ‘why’? I don’t know if I could provide an answer, other than that the realm of renewable energy interests me. I hope that one day the renewable industry will be the headliner of the show, and not just the warm-up act (so to speak).

The other class, Energy and Environment, focuses on the earth and its cycles, and how human interference has changed our ecosystems and structures and the bio- and geological processes which have made our world run so smoothly (well, until we came along). I was just learning about the carbon cycle, and I’m sorry to say that at the advanced age of 33 years, I only know understand exactly what the greenhouse effect is, and how it is causing global warming. Don’t judge- like I mentioned above, I’ve never been a science-y girl; the lack of confidence I have always had in the logical and computational abilities of my brain has kept me from thinking too hard about a lot of things. But ignorance in this case is certainly not bliss. So, now that I *get* what is happening in the atmosphere above us, I am more concerned about how we humans are contributing to the problem. Agriculture is so damaging to the earth. It scares me that while vegan and vegetarianism is growing as a movement, we are still so vastly outnumbered. I’m worried that the future of the environment is dependent on the majority, who seem mostly content with the current status quo.

I am not perfect, and I don’t even consider myself vegan yet. I am ashamed to admit that I have eaten meat in the last month, so I can’t preach to anyone. But every day I try to make the right choices, and I do my best to choose compassionately. Some days, my mind is preoccupied with selfish needs and I fail to uphold the values I aspire to. But fortunately for me so far, there’s been a next day, and that next day, I try again. That’s all I can do. If everyone in the world just TRIED, then we could make so much difference in the future of the planet.  If you’re reading this, please comment with some of the things you do in your life to make less of a negative impact on our environment.

100-Year-Old Life Hacks

There are so many ways that we, as a society, could live much simpler lives. I’ve been trying to pare down my lifestyle this year. I am much more conscious of the water I use (and potentially reuse); I do not buy as many consumer goods as I used to; I check labels and try to direct my dollars to those products that are manufactured locally, or at least in North America; I tried my hand at gardening for the first time this summer; and, I’m transitioning to living a fully vegan lifestyle.

But living simple doesn’t have to include making substantial changes to the who/what/where/when/whys of your life. I saw a list posted on Facebook (I believe by George Takei) of simple and effective tips on disentangling one’s self from different life situations and after clicking on the link was charmed by the vintage artwork and delightful content. While numbers eight and ten aren’t really up my alley, I found the remaining collection of life hacks pulled from an advertisement campaign in the 1900s to be surprisingly on-target, and let out a few “aaaahaaaa’s!” while I read. I’m especially excited to try the following tips: “How to Extract a Splinter,” “How to Light a Match in the Wind,” and “How to Make a Water Filter.” 

I think there are so many things we could learn from those that came before us – here is but a small sample!

http://guff.com/100-year-old-life-hacks-that-still-work-today/how-to-make-a-water-filter

Just disregard the fact that these hints were printed by a cigarette company and keep them tucked away in the back of your mind for whenever the opportunity to try them out arises!

Eggplant, Onion, & Tomato Stew

So, remember in my other post how I treasure one-pot meals? Here is the newest one I’ve tried.

This was my first time using eggplant in a recipe, though not the first time I’ve ever had it in my kitchen. I bought an eggplant once before (this was years ago) and had NO IDEA what to do with it. Sorry to say I likely tossed it out in frustration after cutting it open and being at a loss. I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice – not only is wasting good food a crime against nature, it’s also a crime against a person’s wallet. 

Armed with another excellent recipe from One Green Planet I arranged all my ingredients on the counter alongside my trusty cutting board and set to work. Chopping vegetables is almost meditative for me – is that weird? With music playing and the house to myself I can easily get lost in the repetitive motions of slicing and dicing. If I was a prep cook in an actual restaurant, though, I doubt the novelty would last as long. But back to the recipe! While I had to make a special effort to pick up the eggplant from the grocery store, everything else in the recipe was already on hand. I didn’t have pink Himalayansalt so I substituted kosher salt and that seemed to work just fine. I also didn’t bother with purified water – not sure if this made any kind of difference, but I was willing to take that chance. Lastly, I added extra shallots because I like them and had some leftover from a different recipe – waste not want not!

stew2

stew 

I served the stew over plain white rice with some finely ground black pepper. Yum! 

The only thing I would change? I would definitely cut the eggplant into smaller pieces, and simmer them a little longer. Some of the chunks were still a touch stringy and tough. This made me question how interested I would be in using eggplant again, but to be fair, I will try this recipe at least once more with that little revision, to give it a fair shot. Also, next time I might consider throwing in some zucchini as well, just for a little more veggie power. 

You can find the recipe here: Eggplant Onion and Tomato Stew.

 

Light Summer Saute

I am a HUGE fan of one-pot meals. If a recipe has less than ten ingredients and can be cooked in just one pan or skillet or pot, sign me up! I like the absence of dishes to do when the cooking part is over. And, since starting my transition to veganism, cooking one-pot recipes has allowed me to flex my culinary muscles just the slightest bit and broaden my taste buds, trying out some new vegetables and spices. 

This summer, I’ve been super keen on working with asparagus. I know nothing about the vegetable, and up until this year, could not describe its smell, its taste, or its texture. Then, thanks to One Green Planet’s newsletter (a wonderful source of earth-friendly stories and information) I was provided with one of my new favourite recipes: Early Summer Light Veggie Saute. If you think the name is a mouthful, wait until you taste it!

So, not only does this recipe have asparagus, it also has my new favourite veggie zucchini (which I’d also never tried before this year). And, with only nine ingredients, the recipe fits all of my criteria. The steps are so clear and easy, there was no way I could screw this up! Okay, so maybe I did just a little… I may have overcooked (or over-sauteed, if you will) the vegetables just a touch, but that wasn’t enough to diminish the fresh, light-tasting meal that resulted. The only picture I took is of the finished product, with a side of plain white rice, packed up for my lunch. Perfection! Well, it might not look like perfection – everything is a little more brown that it probably should be – but it tasted fantastic! 

Veggie Saute

 

You can find the actual recipe (and a much more attractive image of the end result) here: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-recipe/early-light-summer-veggie-saute/

Mongolie Grill

One of my favourite restaurants as a budding vegan is the very veggie-friendly eatery  Mongolie Grill.

The way that Mongolie works is simple: after offering you your choice of soup (wonton, hot & sour, or curry lentil), the server gives you a large bowl; you take your bowl up to the ingredient bar, which borders the large round cooking surface where a group of chefs are busy at work, and you fill your bowl with whatever fresh ingredients you’d like! There is so much to choose from – tons of veggies, noodles, a variety of meats, seafood, peanuts and occasionally tofu.

Next, you add scoops of whichever mixture of sauces you desire (there are about twenty different sauce options) and then a chef takes your bowl, weighs it, and stir-fries your custom meal. The stir-fry is then served to you with your choice of rices (jasmine, coconut, plain white) or, a recent addition, rice noodles. Rice wraps are also offered to you at your table. The cost of the meal is determined by weight, so if it is your first time visiting Mongolie you might want to be a little more conservative with what and how much you fill your bowl. As an added bonus, if your bowl is veggie or vegan you receive a discount!

I visited Mongolie yesterday with my good friend Lisa and in my stir-fry I had baby corn, kale, red onions, a mountain of chickpeas, pineapple, some dried cranberries, broccoli, and mushrooms. For sauces I mixed three scoops of teriyaki sauce with one scoop of Korean peppercorn sauce and one scoop of something else that I have completely forgotten!! All the sauces I chose were fully vegan. There is a chart at the sauce station that lets you know which sauces are vegan, vegetarian, spicy, etc.I used to ask for the steamed white rice to accompany my stir-fry but the last few times I’ve switched to coconut rice and I love it! Coconut rice seems much more moist and flavorful.

Mongolie Grill stir-fry

Mongolie Grill vegan stir-fry

While I’m not sure what the full nutritional information is for my meal (who cares how many calories or how many grams of fat) I know that what I am eating is completely cruelty free and that I don’t need to worry about hidden substances in my food. I also like that there is a small reward for keeping your meal meat-less. I heartily recommend visiting a Mongolie Grill if you are lucky enough to live near one – you won’t be disappointed.