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Food Advocate Profile: Karen Pinchin of Rain City Chronicles @karenpinchin #foodadvocates

Our mission at Foodtree is to connect people with where their food comes from. With this in mind we’re highlighting individuals and organizations we think do a fantastic job of contributing, promoting, building, and transforming the food system. We call them Food Advocates. Would you like to participate? Fill out our interview here and we’ll follow up!

Today we’re featuring Karen Pinchin, a journalist and the co-founder of Rain City Chronicles and about to embark on adventures in culinary school.

Tell us about yourself:
I grew up in Etobicoke, Ont., the daughter of an environmental businessman and a chemist, working at my grandfather’s apple farm on weekends. For the past decade, I’ve primarily been a journalist. I have particular interest in food, which I inherited from my mother (what other 12 year old knows what chocolate “temper” is?”), along with environment, culture and technology. I currently live in Vancouver, BC, in an urban cabin with my fiancee, a goofy chocolate lab and an overzealous cat.

Tell us about your project/business:
After journalism school, I got my start at some very large and mainstream media publications, but quickly found that my interests and abilities were outstripping opportunities in a perilous journalism job market. So I moved to online editing, freelancing for publications like The Walrus and The Globe and Mail, and otherwise trying to support the digital shift towards quality journalism online. I co-founded the Rain City Chronicles, a periodic community-based storytelling series, back in 2009, and that is still going strong. Most recently, though, I quit my job as an editor to head to professional cooking school full-time in January. After that, I’ll be aiming towards writing and editing around food technology, gastronomy and culture.

Has your relationship with food evolved over time? How?
Everyone’s has, I think. But I suppose working on an apple farm at such a young age had a profound impact on my preconceived notions of what our food system should look like. I took for granted that everyone could eat asparagus out of a garden, or knew how to forage for chanterelles. That kind of cheap self-sufficiency was a practical matter, not just a high-end luxury, so it’s strange for me to think about modern-day gourmand-ism as something that’s only accessible to the very rich. It’s mostly about doing something over buying something, which is something I think we’ve lost touch with as a society.

What is your earliest memory about food?
My earliest food memory is probably from the apple farm. I was probably about thirteen or so, and had taken a break from patrolling the orchard (it was pick-your-own, and many careless people would climb trees and break branches or throw apples). I picked a Jonagold apple, which were quite new at the time, that was nearly as large as my head, and laid back in the thigh-high grass. I remember munching on this huge apple, looking up through the trees, watching the fluffy white clouds drift across a Dutch-blue sky as apple juice ran down my cheeks.

What’s most important to you when it comes to buying food – local, organic, fair trade, GMO-free, etc?
Definitely local, and not factory-farmed. Local is important for changing how our food economy is structured, and supporting local entrepreneurs and farmers. However, good food doesn’t have to be “”organic”” to be good. Our apple farm wasn’t organic, but it was a manageable size, my grandfather practiced careful spraying and tree maintenance, and didn’t depend on irrigation to keep the trees alive.

For things we can’t get locally, I think fair-trade chocolate and coffee should be the default, but unfortunately capitalism doesn’t work that way. This makes the fair-trade label necessary, which is too bad. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could assume that trade was fair?

When it comes to GMOs, I think engineering seeds, animals or otherwise that can’t reproduce or support themselves should be outlawed. It’s a horrible, self-sabotaging practice that’s going to bite society in the butt in the long run.

What is the one thing you’d like to see change about the food system?
I’d love to see more grassroots community action around skills-sharing, like foraging, preserving, curing, cooking and otherwise. Right now cities aren’t doing a great job of supporting these movements through grants, etc., but I also don’t believe they should be expected to do all the heavy lifting. Food economy is really important as well; I’ve had friends tell me that it’s cheaper to eat out than to buy the base ingredients. This means they are either wasting too much, or don’t know how to freeze/save/use leftover food, which is a tragedy, and super wasteful.

What is special about food where you live? What’s one thing you would change?
“I live off Commercial Drive, which has a great new seafood store called The Daily Catch, where everything is 100% Ocean Wise. They’re great.

Also: there’s an amazing proliferation of community and school gardens, which is great for teaching our children basic lessons about food that I think we lost over the past few decades. Most importantly though, I think there’s a certain food mentality that is very progressive, and people are open to be pragmatic but also very idealistic. It’s a nice blend.

Change? I’d change the elitism that comes from eating locally, sustainably, etc. It doesn’t make you a better person. It’s just better.

Also, because so many people live in tiny, overpriced apartments and condos, there isn’t as many opportunities for those people to have gardens, etc. This means outrageous real estate prices are the silent killer when it comes to urban gardens.”

What are your favorite ingredients to use when preparing a meal?
Beans! They’re cheap, easy and delicious, and Rancho Gordo is doing a great job of saving certain beans that are at risk of dying out. I save 10 seeds from every packet I buy, and am planning on starting an heirloom bean garden next year.

That and my homemade bacon. It makes everything taste better, and means I have lots of leftover lard to use in cooking.

Also: chipotles in adobo, which I puree and keep in a small container in my fridge keep forever, and can be added to anything for the easiest flavour burst.

What are your favorite foods?
French fries, Parisian-style composed salads, and my mom’s ribs.

Other than food, what are you particularly excited about right now?
(Rain City Chronicles Website & Twitter)

And charcuterie.

Tell us about a food-related project that has inspired you:
More private community gardens on TOP of buildings.

Where can people find you both online and offline?
You can find me online at or on Twitter @karenpinchin

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