Kristeva Dowling is the author of Chicken Poop for the Soul: In Search of Food Sovereignty. We caught up with her after her appearance on a new TELUS’ documentary, With the Land. We discussed living in Grande Prairie, raising bees and environmental issues with veganism. Enjoy our Q&A below.
Note: conversation has been edited for clarity.
Alison: What inspired you to move up north?
Kristeva: I was born and raised in Vancouver, but after living in New Zealand for six years, I really missed Canada’s wilderness—especially the wildlife. I moved back to Bella Coola Valley. When I was ready to leave, one of my friend’s neighbours had a farm that needed looking after for six weeks near Grande Prairie. After a beautiful summer, I decided to plant roots and start again in Grovedale (21 kilometres south).
Alison: Grande Prairie is cold—I grew up there—and not somewhere I’d think of to “live off the land.” How do you make it work?
Kristeva: The prairies are a great place for bees—Alberta is the honey capital of Canada—because they need dry conditions. I gather berries, hunt deer and make mead.
Alison: When did you start thinking about adopting this lifestyle and why?
Kristeva: In the early 1990s, there was a truck strike in Prince George. It was January and I was standing in the grocery store looking at fairly bare shelves. Seeing the snow come down outside made me realize it would be a long time before I could harvest anything—even if I had a garden. That year, I vowed to start learning how to grow my own food.
Alison: What does a typical day in your life look like?
Kristeva: That really depends on the season. Even then, every day is different. When a bear comes to destroy the honey, it’s never when it’s convenient. But in general, I get up, make a coffee and bring it out to the garden, do some weeding, let the chickens out, feed the dogs… Today I just finished harvesting spruce tips. Next up is dandelion season. As soon as I spot rose petals, I’m already behind. The seasons change fast.
Alison: How would you encourage Canadians looking to reduce their environmental impact?
Kristeva: In terms of our footprint, one of the things you can control is how and what you eat. For example, if you’re vegan, you have millions of food miles on everything you’re putting in your mouth. Vegan is not an environmental choice. If you’re vegan and you think you’re saving animals, you’re very wrong and I would say you’re not educated enough about where that food is coming from and how it’s raised. I grew up a meat eater, and I became vegetarian and eventually vegan because I didn’t want to kill the animals. Then I started learning about how our food is processed. Imagine the vast amounts of forests, savanna and habitats for insects and small mammals that must be destroyed for soybean fields so that the world could be vegan. Many baby animals hide when a combine comes, and they are killed. Veganism isn’t the answer. Soybeans don’t grow in Canada. They're coming from thousands of miles away; the beans are packaged in plastic. Really stop and think through the industrial process of getting tofurkey burgers to Save-On-Foods. It’s a dirty business.
Instead, I practice eating locally. I credit The 100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon for putting that idea on the map. I think the best thing anyone can do for the planet is to eat local. Get to know the farmers in your area and go to the local markets. Then learn to produce some food yourself. Just because you live in the apartment doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. Buy peaches from the Okanagan when they’re ripe, then can them and enjoy preserved peaches all winter. Forage while you hike. Incorporate a little bit of food security into your day-to-day lifestyle.
Watch: With the Land