Tag Archives: Vandana Shiva

GMOs summarized

Before we can change behaviours, we need to change thoughts.  In order to change thoughts and subsequently actions, we need to separate hard, uncomfortable truths from rosy lies.


Dear readers of the Deeper Side Blog.

As I was finishing my first book “Wood Storms, Wild Canvas” in the summer of 2014, I started to write a very different book called “This Earth Is Ours”. (Yes – 2014 was a busy year!)  This title of “This Earth Is Ours” is based on a song by my song-writing, organic farming grandfather Rupert who said, “He who knowingly steps on an earthworm, is not a man”. Here he is in the 30s (or 40s?) at the Stephens’ Mountain Valley Farm in Glenora, Vancouver Island:

Mtn Valley Farm & Dad

When I think of all the pesticides and herbicides that go into growing GMOs, I cannot help but think of all the insects including myriad pollinators that are being decimated.  I would think that the word ‘ecocide’ applies. Sad little earthworm below – I think he wants to be in red rich earth, not on gravel:Worm unedited

I was compelled to summarize the real tangible problems with GMOs in the forth-coming book. Several experts read it and provided feedback. I skirted the elephant issue of whether it is ethical to make new species. I will just sum up that conundrum with Vandana Shiva’s quote, “You cannot insert a gene you took from a bacteria and call it life. You haven’t created life, instead you have polluted it.”  Below is a favourite 3 arm-holed “GMO” t-shirt which says, “GMO SHIRTS ARE EASY TO SPOT. GMO FOODS AREN’T”:

Diya GMO 3 hole shirt

If you still are confused about GMOs, or know people who think that GMOs currently grown are doing good for people or planet…. Or if you don’t know why everyone is seeking out non-GMO foods…. Or, if you believe in the promise of GMOs, but are still unaware of the sobering realities, I hope this extract from “This Earth Is Ours” will scatter some seeds that will sprout a new understanding.

To put you in the mood of nature and food, here is a photo I took at the restored prairie at the Morton Arboretum near Chicago:


Extract from “This Earth Is Ours”, forthcoming March 4, 2015



I would like to thank Dr. John Fagan, Dr. Thierry Vrain, Ken Roseboro, Lucy Sharatt and Dag Falck for their valued input into this section.

When I was getting my honors bachelor’s degree in biology and my masters degree in biopsychology at the University of Chicago from 1991 to 1996, the field of biology was buzzing about genetic engineering. Biologists were promising to eliminate pesticide use and create superfoods with this new technology. They would solve world hunger through their cleverness and technology.

I thought it fascinating that under the guise of improving food, scientists were basically unleashing brand new species onto the planet. Many people, including my father, were dead opposed. Initially, I was trying to figure out why. Biologists and shills for the biotech industry made it all sound so rosy. Over the years, I’ve tried hard to understand the pros and cons of this technology. I’ve discovered that, despite the hype and initial promise, there are very few pros. Below, I discuss the major cons — six big problems with the use of genetically modified organisms in our food supply.

Organic farming is a way of incorporating the entire ecology, the ecosystem of a “farm,” promoting pollinators, enriching the soil and looking at the whole system. The premise behind GMOs is to grow unicrops, taking one factor, the gene, and altering the genome, without considering the whole. Biologists were attempting to fix something when nothing was broken to begin with. There is no shortage of food, but rather of distribution.

The first major problem is that GMOs cannot be grown side by side with organic crops. They are not only the furthest thing from natural (think fish DNA in a tomato) but, because they are living and capable of reproducing, they cannot be contained. Pollen from engineered crops is carried everywhere by the wind and by pollinators, including into organic fields, which are then contaminated with genetically engineered genes. My father Arran said in 1996 “there are no walls high enough to keep out GMOs.” You cannot have a field of organic crops right next to a field of GMO crops because the wind and pollinators will spread the GMO pollen to the non-GMO organic plants. Most people have heard about the huge number of lawsuits launched by the big biotech companies against farmers. According to one account, over the last 15 years an average of one lawsuit a week has been launched against a farmer for patent infringement. How can we patent nature?

Farmers affected by GMO crop contamination did not want the GMOs, did not grow them on purpose and didn’t even know of the contamination until they were sued. If someone sprayed toxic paint that disrupted my farm, the sprayer would have to desist and provide restitution. However, in this twisted world of big biotech business, it is the persecuted who lose out.

Secondly, GMOs use a lot of pesticides, which are incompatible with the organic system of agriculture. Most people are shocked to learn that GMOs have not decreased pesticide use despite biotech claims that they do so. In fact, 1.5 million tons of pesticides and herbicides were sprayed on US crops in the mid-1990s. The amount is increasing exponentially. A study by Charles Benbrook, PhD, research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, found that pesticide use has increased by 404million pounds since GM crops were first planted in 1996.

The sad fact is that over 90 percent of North American GMO crops are designed to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (which is also patented as an antibiotic and kills the bacteria that are so important to soil fertility). In private correspondence with me, Dr. Thierry Vrain explained that glyphosate was originally patented as an industrial pipe cleaner. This chemical was discovered to kill bacteria, plants and fungi, and in 1974 it was purchased and patented into the widely used, best-selling herbicide which will not be named. At this time, explains Dr. Vrain, “it was assumed to be completely safe to humans because of its mode of action to kill plants.” But, as Dr. Vrain said in a recent lecture, “imagine a chemical contaminant that would destroy all vitamins in the food. Vitamins are all co-factors of enzyme proteins. Glyphosate does not affect vitamins at all, but it does deplete the food of minerals. Minerals in our food are also cofactors of enzyme proteins.” Glyphosate is now also patented as an antibiotic, which apparently doesn’t attack our “human cells,” but certainly attacks our gut bacteria via the shikimate pathway. We walk about with over 10 times more symbiotic bacterial cells than human cells. The first glyphosate-resistant crops were released in 1996 and, because these crops are sprayed, the resulting foods we consume contain “much higher residues,” says Dr. Vrain. Most GMOs are genetically modified to resist glyphosate or to express a pesticide, such as Bt corn. Genetic engineers from the world’s largest chemical companies have developed strategies in the laboratory to “stack” several traits in one seed so that a single crop will be herbicide resistant in addition to expressing a pesticide. This is extreme agriculture, as far removed from organic or traditional breeding methods as one could conceive.

In recent years, with overuse of pesticides and herbicides (across 395 million acres of GMO production), superweeds and superpests have proliferated to such an alarming extent that, in 2014, the US and Canada permitted resistance to 2,4-D to be genetically engineered into seeds. 2,4-D is a highly toxic component of the infamous herbicide Agent Orange, used as a biowarfare agent during the Vietnam War. According to US Department of Agriculture estimates, the use of 2,4-D could triple by 2020. GMOs have exacerbated the problems of pesticide use, not diminished them.

The third major problem with GMOs is that safety testing is inadequate to protect the health of those who might eat them. The GMO crops grown today were all approved for commercial production without any independent or long-term animal, human or environmental toxicity studies. In Canada and the US, GMO versions of crops are considered to be “substantially equivalent to conventional crops.” If this is true, then why is herbicide-resistant GMO Bt corn registered with the Environmental Protection Agency as a pesticide? And, if they are considered equivalent, why are they patented? By its very definition, a patent is awarded when something is “substantially” different. Every short-term study used to “prove” their safety to regulators has been done by the very same companies selling the GMO seeds and chemicals. Every scientific study that questions or sheds doubt upon the safety of GMOs is immediately subjected to discrediting by scientists who have direct or indirect financial ties to the biotech industry. There is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs.

Related to this third issue is North America’s failure to question biotech’s data and ban GMOs, while other countries have called the same data into question and rejected GMOs. As John Fagan, PhD, writes, “shockingly, no country has done its own research to date. All buy in to the biotech companies’ own data.” In North America, legislators have not questioned the data nor done independent studies on GMOs. As a consequence, we are being force-fed GMOs, without knowledge or consent, based upon studies done by the very companies that are profiting from patenting this technology, selling the seeds and countless tons of pesticides and herbicides. Consistently, over 90 percent of North Americans polled want GMOs labeled. However, lawmakers are not listening. Sixty-four countries around the world either have mandatory labeling of GMOs or ban them altogether.

When I was in my twenties and living in Europe, I was invited to the UK houses of parliament in the 1990s for backroom debates on GMOs. I wasn’t at all impressed with the biotech research they presented. At the time, I had a particularly keen eye for data, having conducted laboratory research myself. Fortunately for the Europeans, they were not impressed with pro-GMO research either. They limited GMO crop trials and instituted mandatory labelling of GMOs. To date in Europe, Spain is the only country where GMO seeds are used to any significant extent, and at least six EU countries forbid any cultivation of GMOs. Other countries have taken a strong stand against GMOs, even when in the midst of a national emergency. Following the Haitian earthquake, a large biotech company provided “aid” in the form of seeds, and instead of planting them, the Haitian people wisely burned those seeds, saying they were “poison.”

Recently, influential countries have taken a critical position regarding GMOs. Russia has banned them, and high-level military officers in the Chinese army have pointed to imported GMO grains as a threat to national security, saying they weaken the local agricultural production capacity. In 2014, China rejected corn exports from the US worth more than $1 billion due to the presence of a GM corn variety that has not been approved in China. With the rest of the world already alerted to the failing GMO crop experiment, only now are North Americans becoming aware of this issue and taking action to implement labeling laws. Today, Canada and the United States are the only two developed nations that do not give their citizens transparency regarding what they are eating, but with the newly enlivened attention to the GMO issue, this blind spot will soon be eliminated.

The fourth major problem is that people are under the misguided impression that GMOs increase yields and consequently are “feeding the world.” In fact, of the major commercially grown GMO crops (corn, soy, canola, sugar, cotton), there have been no intentional genetic modifications for increased yields. In other words, no yield-increasing traits have been inserted through genetic engineering.

A fifth major problem is that of the ethical question of patenting “life,” coupled with the problem of whether gene-splicing technology is inherently safe. I’m going to avoid this discussion for this book. It is such a vast and technical discussion and can be easily researched for those who are interested. What is more concerning on a practical level is that most of the millions of acres of GMOs grown are made by only a small handful of extremely large chemical and seed corporations. These huge multinationals own the GMO seeds, the patents, the technology and the herbicides and pesticides that have to be grown concurrently with the GMOs. These corporations are able to buy and sway public opinion, directly or indirectly fund much of the science driving GMO research and actively lobby the government. In addition, the amount of subsidies given to “conventional” food production is staggering in size compared to organics, where farmers have to pay to be certified. It boils down to a few companies patenting life and nature . . . and it’s all for profit. GMOs were allowed because of the promises of “feeding the world,” reducing pesticide/herbicide use, increasing yield and making “superfoods,” none of which have come to pass.

This brings us to the last major problem with GMOs: they didn’t do what they set out to do. GMOs haven’t alleviated world hunger, they haven’t decreased toxic herbicide and pesticide use, they haven’t improved crop yield and they haven’t produced super-nutritious foods. Owning patents on life is not the same as providing food for the hungry. The problem of hunger is not a question of quantity but of distribution. As United Nations studies consistently report, small scale, sustainable farming is capable of solving the ‘food shortage’ and promoting biodiversity at the same time. In the long run, GMOs are out-performed by organics, especially for smaller farms and during drought conditions.

Let us collectively take the knowledge we have gained over the millennia of crop-breeding. Let’s wisely incorporate modern technologies, like marker-assisted selection, that protect the integrity of nature. By keeping seed biodiversity and trusting in Nature, we can heal the Earth, feed the hungry and breed wonderful new varieties of foods, at the pace of the seasons.

I’ll sign off with xo’s and another photo I took at the restored prairie at the Morton Arboretum:DSC_0346


GMO Mini Summit

The truth will set you free.

aaagmo mini summit vandana shiva

If you want to know more of the truths of GMOs, please take some time between the 25 – 27 (starting this coming Friday) to follow GMO Mini-Summit. http://gmosummit.org/  It’s free and you can tune in on the internet or by phone.  It will be hosted by best-selling authors Jeffrey Smith and John and Ocean Robbins.

aaagmo mini summit rachel parent

aaa andrew kimball aaagmo mini summit thierry vrain aaagmo mini summit aaagmo mini aaagmo robyn obrien

Please tune in and have your loved ones tune in.  This comes from a concerned place of love for you and the planet.  This comes from a desire to educate.  This comes from all that is good and true and just.  This comes from all that is light.

Start of the Moviement

Yesterday’s University of Victoria Campus Screening of GMO OMG was my start of The Moviement.  I first heard this term used by Director Jeremy Seifert, a mix between Movie and Movement.  Kind of simple.  Kind of Brilliant.


Above I’m with Andrew Weaver, Nobel Prize Winner and MLA for Oak Bay Gordon Head.  Note that this was not a premiere.  It was not a special advance screening.  It was for the University campus and for students and influencers.  The date for the Canadian release hasn’t been established.

Below is Murray Rankin, MP for Victoria.  He is an environmental Lawyer with a distinguished career.


Here I am with Nancy Turner, also on the panel.  She is a Distinguished Professor at UVic with over 20 books she has written or co-authored.  Nancy is hands down my favourite Ethnobotanist!aagmo-omg-event-051

UVIC Professor Engineer (who’s an economist, not an Engineer), who has attended many Cinecenta events over the years, said it was the best turnout he’s ever seen.  We had to turn away tons of people. It was chaos finding a seat. Kind of like musical chairs when the music stops…


I was honoured to host the campus screening of the film and Wowie Wow Wow (in the words of Junie B. Jones) we had such an amazing turnout.  On the panel we had Nancy Turner, Distinguished Professor of Ethnobotany (there are only a few Professors at UVIC who are “Distinguished”), Nathalie Chambers organic farmer and Farmland Conservation Advocate, Founder of Chef Survival Challenge that I wrote about recently, and Murray Rankin, Victoria’s very own MP and accomplished Environmental Lawyer.  Special guests included Lana Popham MLA, Andrew Weaver MLA, Adam Olsen, Mayor for North Saanich Alice Finall, and Sandra Anderson, wife of David Anderson former Minister.  Let’s not forget my Uncle Godfrey Stephens!  GMOs are an issue that unites diverse political parties.

Photo op with Andrew Weaver and Nathalie Chambers.  So sorry but I don’t know who the other lady is (help)?  Nathalie mentioned that we have to form ties in our communities with our farmers, with those who grow and provide our food.  She couldn’t be more right and she is living her words.


Adam Olsen Leader of the BC Greens:gmo-omg-event-042

After the screening, Dean Peter Keller of Social Science, Professor Eileen Van Der Flief-Keller geologist, me and their daughter Suzie. aagmo-omg-event-115 (1)

The film blew everyone’s mind – bravo Jeremy!  I was so glad to see at least a dozen kids in the audience.  They really related to the film as my friend Lisa pointed out.  I think for us mom’s and dad’s (like Jeremy) who’ve been struggling to feed our kids food without poisons, this film is a useful tool.  Kids relate to seeing other kids.  And perhaps it’s good to see other kids who are concerned about seeds and GMOs.

Most people stayed for the engaging panel discussion after the film.  Here are some snacks provided by Nature’s Path, the presenting Sponsor.


In my introduction I mentioned how I met Murray Rankin this year at the Oak Bay Tea Party.  I was inspired by Maria Emmer-Aanes telling me that if I’m upset about GMOs then I need to tell my elected representatives.  I thought what can that do?  But I kept quiet….  I was playing on the Beach with my daughters in the balmy Spring Victoria weather when I saw Murray.  I said to myself, “Why not tell my elected representative how I feel about GMOs. Like Maria advised. I suppose it can’t hurt?”  I reasoned silently.  So I went up to Murray, shook his hand (In case you’re wondering, I’m not shy) and said, “Hi I live in Victoria.  Nice to meet you.  I’m very concerned about GMOs.”  Murray didn’t know just how concerned I was or anything else about me except I was just playing in the sand with my kids.  He replied to my unorthodox opener without batting an eye lid, and said, “Well you OUGHT to be concerned.”


We need all politicians and elected officials be aware of GMOs, like Lana Popham, Andrew Weaver, Adam Olsen.  The Honorable David Anderson was at the same inspiring talk by Vandana Shiva in March that inspired this blog.  Mayor Alice Finall, props to you too.   We need all people to understand what is so wrong about GMOs as they are right now being sold in 80% of all N. American processed foods.

Below was an engaging question from Dr. Dionne Laslo-Baker about maternal-fetal toxicology.  Our most vulnerable are exposed in the womb to toxins found in GMO production.  These toxins are found in our urine, our blood and in our unborn babies.  If our goal is to protect our children from the pesticides and herbicides used in GMO production, how can we choose if there isn’t mandatory labelling?  As someone said, “It’s very well for the rich, they can afford to feed their families Organic.  What about the financially challenged, the uneducated, those who are simply unaware?  Is it right that they are fed GMOs unknowingly.”aagmo-omg-event-085

Take home points from the discussion:

1) Certified organic doesn’t allow GMOs and never has.

2) Take Action in Labelling Initiatives.  Flex your citizen Muscle.  You have a choice every day to choose food that benefits the planet and health.  You have the power to effect change through your purchases.

3) Grown your own food using organic seeds.

4) Spread the MOVIEment and the issue.  Talk to your representatives.  They are obliged to listen.  Help get GMO OMG into Canadian Teatres!


PHOTOS by Simon Des Rochers

GMO OMG Film Review

Just because we have the technology to (fill in the blank), does it mean that we should?


Dive, Jeremy Seifert’s first film, was an eye-opener to the practise of dumpster diving.  I was moste intrigued by the promo pictures of Jeremy in a bathing suit speedo and swim goggles diving into… garbage!   Even though most dumpster diving isn’t as extreme, the point Dive got across was that Americans are throwing away tons of perfectly gorgeous food for the wrong reasons.  Dive won 26 awards internationally. It was food for thought indeed. For Jeremy’s second documentary feature, he tackles the heavy issue of GMOs, turning a seriously obscure and convoluted issue into an intelligible one.

GMO OMG stars Jeremy with his young family, trying to figure out what on Earth are GMOs.  He gets his cute, innocent sons to wear these funky glasses he designed from craft-store paraphernalia.  He tells them their glasses would reveal where the GMOs are.  In fact, GMOs are everywhere but invisible – except for their ruinous effects on the health of our planet and every living creature.   Most people have no clue what they are or that they’re eating them.

GMO OMG Jeremy with sons

Jeremy said that he didn’t set out to make an ANTI-GMO film.  He just wanted to help his young son Finn, who featured in Dive, learn about seeds. Food is a political subject.   Especially intriguing is war-torn and earthquake-ravaged Haiti, who with a starving populace burned and destroyed GMO seeds offered to them.  The more Jeremy found out about seeds, the more alarmed he became.  Well after starting the film, he came to Nature’s Path Foods looking for funding as my family has been vocally and vehemently opposed to GMOs since they first came out.  My dad Arran said in the 1990s, “There is no wall high enough to keep out GMOs.”  Jeremy showed dad a few clips and on that basis my family provided funding for him.  This isn’t what Nature’s Path normally does.  Funding a film like this is a first for the Nature’s Path breakfast-cereal family.

natures path

Few other medium – large sized organic companies have stepped up for the consumer’s right to know.  This is because they are owned by big multinational brands that oppose labelling of GMOs.  Most larger organic companies pretend to be independent, quirky, organic brands but they’re not.  Nature’s Path, being truly independent, can stand up to bullies and not worry about their parent companies gagging them.  (David and Goliath?) These same monster multinational companies have lost the battle in 64 other nations around the world who require labelling or outright ban GMOs.  They are terrified of North American consumers finding out what’s in their food. The greatest weapon against GMOs is an informed public.

There is such a campaign of misinformation by monster corporations who stand to gain by GMOs.   Jeremy’s film explains and destroys the arguments of the false promises of GMOs to reduce pesticide use and promises to feed the world.  GMOs are poisoning the planet, killing the bees, poisoning us.  And the truth is that after initial promising yields of GMOs, over time they are outperformed by organic methods of agriculture.

cigarettes aren't harmful

Like the tobacco lobby of the last generation, GMO proponents give “scientific evidence” that their foods are safe.  Well, dozens of countries have done the same long-term studies on GMOs and found that they are not safe for human or animal consumption.  They are not conducive to the well-being of our planet.  Most people are so confused about the science that they cannot actually grasp what is wrong with GMOs that are in our food supply.

Let me summarize the main GMO take home points (as I see them):

1) 64 countries require labelling of GMOs.  The only developed nations not to are… Canada and the Unites States of America

2) GMOs increase pesticide use- in fact pesticide use has gone up about 100 times since GMO were unleashed into our food supply.  Pesticides and Herbicides are harmful to people, they cause hormone disruption, cancers, they are poisons and are toxins.  At high concentrations they kill (farmers drink them to commit suicide).  Pesticides used in GMOs are poisoning the water and soils.  They are killing the bees.  Neonics are the class of pesticide that are used as a treatment on the GMO seeds. They have been banned in Europe

3) GMOs are not proven safe for human consumption.  They were foisted onto N. America after 3 month-long studies on rats.  Every long-term study shows cause for concern.

4) Is it ethical for a company to patent life after inserting one or two toxic genes?  As Dr Vandana Shiva says, they are not creating anything but polluting life.

gmo omg tee cute kids

Jeremy Seifert manages to convey truth about GMOs in a humble, humorous and thoughtful way such that most folks can begin to understand what is so very wrong about them.  Even if people are not so sure on the science, they need to be given a choice whether they want to eat them.  Given what we do know.

Dave Turpin’s Tribute

“Everything he was he pulled upwards”

– Lorna Crozier from the Poem ‘How Do You Measure a Life” dedicated to Dave Turpin

Last night, artists, poets, the governor-general, business leaders and scientists honoured Dave Turpin, the affable, dedicated, and out-going (two meanings) president of the University of Victoria.  Social Science Dean Peter Keller told a story about the young biologist Dave who was submitting an academic paper to an average scientific journal.  Dave bumped into a senior Biology colleague who asked him what he was doing.  Dave said, “Oh I’m going over this manuscript to submit to Journal B”  The colleague said, “Why not make it better and submit it to an A Journal?”  Dave did just that.


Dave Turpin

A lesson we all can learn from Dave in his thirteen years of leadership is: Why settle for average when we can achieve excellence?  The University of Victoria has been setting the standard in areas such as indigenous health, climate change, ageing and fostering world class arts.  Under Dave’s presidency, The University of Victoria recently awarded Vandana Shiva an honorary degree.  The University is doing so many things right.  The evening, titled ‘Celebrating Discovery’ had themed candle lights celebrating various discoveries made in a dozen or so fields.  I shared a table with several accomplished and interesting folks, including Ian McDougall trombonist, Kate Moran and John Evans.  Here are the table lights celebrating music, exploration and who-knows-what.  The gentleman to my left, a Computer Scientist didn’t know what it was either….  (Feel free to comment)


At the podium to recite “How Do You Measure a Life”, Lorna Crozier quipped that she felt like Marilyn Monroe.  Suromitra, Dave’s wife humorously put Lorna in her place.  Those two exchanged hugs afterwards so it was all unscripted fun.  Or wasn’t it?  (I jest – it was all fun).  Here is Suromitra after giving a warm and moving speech:


Suromitra Sanitani after giving a moving speech in tribute to Dave Turpin

I got to meet Ian MacPherson, author of ‘Reaching Outward and Upward”  He signed my book which I can’t wait to open with some “calma.”  I like the title, reminding me of my alma mater’s motto, “Onwards and Upwards.”


Me and Ian MacPherson, trying to spell Gurdeep. I should have just said Deepa (fewer letters to misspell)


Pianist and singer Dr Louise Rose received an honorary Doctorate from UVic in 2001.  We had a hilarious conversation.   I told her my name was Deepa.  She said, “That’s a lovely name.  You know, we must embrace the names given to us by our parents.”  Louise told me that she hated her name until someone called her Weezie.  After that she loved her name Louise. Opening a can of worms (why can’t I just bite my tongue), I explained to Weezie that actually, my given name is Gurdeep.  Her eyes went crazy wide.  She told me I should use Gurdeep, not Deepa.  I told her I did use Gurdeep.  But I also use Deepa.  Louise insisted I use Gurdeep since my parents gave me that name.  I laughed and said that Deepa was the name that they actually used when I was a kid.  She left me brandishing an admonition to use my name.  Perhaps this conversation should be a post in and of itself – I’ve condensed it for brevity’s sake.  Anyway, Dr Louise Rose played beautifully.  Here she is singing some blues and swinging with Joey Smith on the Upright bass.


An Italian friend told me once that he’d never gotten anything easily.  Nothing, at least, that was worth having.  In order to get things worth having, we must strive for what we think is impossible.  We must continuously improve upon our efforts, like young Dr Turpin and his Journal submission.  Celebrating discovery last night, I celebrate Dave Turpin for encouraging and striving for excellence.

Bello Gelato at Bella Gelateria

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food”

– George Bernard Shaw

When we lived in Firenze’s Le Cure neighborhood, we were spoiled rotten for hand-made gelato, from Cavini to Badiani and a few in-between. Taking a post-dinner passeggiata (stroll), we would lazily amble about in the evening sun and eventually turn a corner and then find… Bliss.

Moving back to Canada’s West Coast was bittersweet in general and definitely sour when it came to locally-made ice cream. I had given up even after I had read an article last year about some non-Italian Vancouverite who had won an international prize for gelato. In Florence. In Italy. Hmm.

Today I went to Bella Gelateria run by James Coleridge in downtown Vancouver. Folks had mentioned this Gelateria to me but I had dismissed them – What would Vancouverites know about authentic gelato?


When we lived in Italy, we systematically tried every single artisanal Gelateria (ice cream parlour) in Florence. My husband and I made lists compiled from blogs and locals and tried at least one new Gelateria a week. This resulted in some funny foodie episodes. Once we actually fought with owners of a gelateria in Scarperia who didn’t want to sell us a tub of gelato.  Well, they were happy to sell it to us, until they found out that we were planning to bring it back home to Florence. Although it was packed in a Styrofoam container, they were genuinely worried that their gelato would lose its delicate flavours in the half hour ride back home. That episode is worthy of a short story: “The Gelato Nazis of Scarperia.”

I became such a gelato snob/conoisseur, that for a real treat I would make excuses to take the train to Rome to sh-lurp away at San Crispino (not then found in the travel guides). San Crispino behind the Fontana Di Trevi is usually passed over by the unsuspecting traveler.  They are looking for colorful ubiquitous mounds of frozen delight, gloriously decorated with delectable delicacies.  San Crispino doesn’t display their gelato but covers it up.  So much that is worth waiting for is initially hidden.

The first thing that struck me at the Bella Gelateria was that like Rome’s San Crispino, the gelato was covered, not displayed. This minimizes air exposure and flavour-mixing. I had to admit that I was impressed. Maybe James Coleridge really knew something about gelato.


He does. He is worthy of his title and wins in 2 categories of the International Gelato competition last year. He makes speechlessly-divine gelato. World Class. I asked him this afternoon about it.

James said it’s like David and Goliath. An independent against the industrial machine. I’ve heard my father use the same analogy about making organic breakfast cereal. We inhabit a world where flavour is generally sacrificed for cost. It takes a true artist to attain perfection in the flavour department. Flavour perfection is almost invariably tied to pure ingredients. In this weird world where quantity too often trumps quality, James has distilled pure gelato magic.

His mandate is to bring genuine flavours back into our culinary repertoire. Like fast fashion I’ve written about, fast food is even worse. On a meta level, who cares about how you dress if inside you are full of artificial flavours, artificial colours, GMOs and toxic residues? James is attempting to reconnect us with truth. The maestro uses Avalon milk for goodness sake.

Avalon milk

I needed to post about James’s gelato for a few reasons. My noble goal is to highlight people and systems who are getting it right. By worshipping the good and great, by drawing energy to that, we can’t help but inspire change. James is my hero of the day. First, he makes incomparable gelato. Second, he doesn’t compromise quality. He exemplifies what we all must strive to: independence, pride in our work, love of what we make and what we give to others.

I heard Vandana Shiva say that our greatness should be judged by what we create. I agree.

James Colergidge, alchemist, is transforming gems of nature and augmenting them for our tastebuds. He is creating beauty one cone at a time.

I left James with a “Ciao”, feeling I had met a great man today.

An Isha Moment at the Dr. Vandana Shiva Lecture Part 2

I dream of fearlessness in the path of injustice.  I feel joy for conquering my fear.

“[How do I do it?] Well, it’s always a mystery, because you don’t know why you get depleted or recharged. But this much I know. I do not allow myself to be overcome by hopelessness, no matter how tough the situation. I believe that if you just do your little bit without thinking of the bigness of what you stand against, if you turn to the enlargement of your own capacities, just that itself creates new potential. And I’ve learned from the Bhagavad-Gita and other teachings of our culture to detach myself from the results of what I do, because those are not in my hands. The context is not in your control, but your commitment is yours to make, and you can make the deepest commitment with a total detachment about where it will take you. You want it to lead to a better world, and you shape your actions and take full responsibility for them, but then you have detachment. And that combination of deep passion and deep detachment allows me to take on the next challenge, because I don’t cripple myself, I don’t tie myself in knots. I function like a free being. I think getting that freedom is a social duty because I think we owe it to each not to burden each other with prescription and demands. I think what we owe each other is a celebration of life and to replace fear and hopelessness with fearlessness and joy.”
― Vandana Shiva

So I’m sitting there at the President’s Distinguished lecture Dr Vandana Shiva’s Lecture at UVIC March 27, 2013 with Isha who’s doing her usual squirming about. Fortunately, there are so many people in this hall that one squirming kid will not disrupt things too much. I hope.  But she does move constantly.  She wants to sit with her father, then next to her great Uncle Godfrey, then moi, then change seats with her sister and each of us in turn, the whole lot of us, including Aunty Megan.  I always marvel at kids who sit down and stay down for 5 minutes.  Isha is not like that.

I can’t say that I was *enjoying* the lecture by Dr Vandana Shiva.  This wasn’t entertainment but a trumpet call to rise.  This amazing woman is an Eco-Prophet, a Gandhi for our time, fighting for the inherent right of the seed. For life.  I’m sitting there overcome with the over two hundred and seventy thousand farmer suicides (they drink Monsanto’s pesticides in a field to die), the enslavement of the farmers, the destruction of our soils through agent orange and DDT, the loss of biodiversity, the misinformation put out by the chemical companies profiting from selling pesticides.  For example the majority of GMOs grown are not grown for human food but for biofuel.  But they wrongly convince the public they are ending world hunger because of our rising population.  So on one hand I’m being completely shaken to the core with an over-riding sense of justice and purpose.  On the other hand, my six year old is physically shaking me for attention.  She will not.  Sit. Still.

After standing ovations and tears and fierce applause  I sigh with relief – I got to hear the talk without having to escort a 6 year-old to the washroom.  We sit back for a Question and Answer session. The hall is packed, sold out and must fit at least a thousand or two thousand or so people. Five different mikes have been set up all over the hall on three different levels.

Esther Mujawayo and Vandana Shiva during the S...


The second question was “Dr Shiva, you are as beautiful as the seeds you preserve – and – Can I have a hug?”  Very graciously, Dr Shiva called the woman down for a public hug to much delight and ‘awws’ and applause.
The photo is a shot of Esther Mujawayo and Vandana Shiva during the Save the World Awards 2009 (Zwentendorf Nuclear Power Plant, Lower Austria). Photo credit: Wikipedia.  This photo is not from this lecture, nor was it taken by me.  Unfortunately, my photos were not clear enough.



At that hug-‘question’,  Isha sat up straight and stopped moving – the kid was moved into

stillness.  Then the Social Science Dean Peter Keller limited questions to ‘questions with a

real question’.  Isha, at that point, turned to me.

“Mamma I want to ask a question!” she stage whispered in my ear.

This demand was not a question, and there was no question about it.

I swallowed really hard.

“You do?”

She bobbed her head up and down.

“Uh-huh.  Come-on mom I want to ask a question,” she tugged on my sleeve.

“In front of all these people?” I whispered back “Are you sure?”

I didn’t want to dissuade harshly but I know what she’s capable of.  This was something to gently discourage.  This is the kid who even last year, would stick her finger in the guts  of men with a large abdomens and ask where the baby is.    (Yes, we have explained for years to her that men can’t bear children.)

She grinned a two-front-teeth-missing-kind-of-grin.

“I want to ask my question now.  Over there at the microphone.”  She pointed to it with her little hand.  In case I hadn’t heard her clearly.

I bit my fist.

(To come: Part 3, in which Isha asks her question)