Monday, July 12, 2010

Plenty Epicurean Pantry, Victoria, BC

Valuing Community above Consumption

Try on one of the finger puppets from Peru – I really liked the fish, but the octopus and blue jay are fun too. Or feast your eyes on the chocolate counter at the back of the store. There are spices in small handwoven grass boxes, balsamic vinegar from Venturi Schulzi Winery in the Cowichan Valley, a chocolate wine sauce by Hot Chicks Spice Co. and traditional Scottish oat cakes from Sidney. Mingling with the food products are art cards, woven baskets, a stylized buffalo head, and plant drawings.

Plenty is only a few blocks away from the mall in downtown Victoria, but it is light years away from the chain stores selling identical, mass-produced goods. Pick up any object in Plenty, and Trevor Walker and his staff will refer to the producers by name and tell you the story of their product. For example, a woman in Powell River made wonderful old-fashioned pickles and preserves. When she retired, she sold her recipes to the Powell River High School. The students are now making Mountain Ash Preserves, and a culinary heritage has been passed on to the next generation.

Four years ago, after completing his Master’s thesis in Environmental Education, Trevor wanted to get reconnected with people. He visited some wonderful little stores on a trip to California and decided to open his own store, incorporating food and art.

There is so much variety in the store that it’s hard to identify a common theme. But, like all the small-scale food producers that I’ve been visiting, Trevor has a set of principles that guide his purchases:
     Biodegradable (decompose into ingredients that will enrich the soil)
     Clean (produced using alternative energy sources)
     Diverse (spices from around the world provide cultural and sensory diversity)
     Efficient (minimizing waste and conserving energy in the production, transport or use)
     Recycled (the shelves and counters are made from compressed wheat shaft)
     Social (building community – e.g. crafts from developing countries)
     Timeless (craftsmanship and beauty that will stand the test of time)

There’s a lot of flexibility because no one product can meet all the principles, but it’s a set of values that shows respect for the producer, the consumer and the earth.

Trevor also belongs to the Green Collective, a group of environmentally-friendly local businesses, and he coordinates a monthly educational series for consumers – Table Talk.

Visit Plenty if you have a curious mind, if you respect creativity, if you value community above consumption, or if you believe that food is art and art is food. And be sure to tell Trevor if you’re from Saskatchewan. His grandparents farmed near Plenty, and he went to high school in Saskatoon, and I think he’s just a little bit homesick for the Prairies.

Plenty is located at 1034 Fort Street, and it’s wonderful. My thanks to Trevor for welcoming me to his store and for sharing his story.

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