Email subject line: Sustainability Dinner. Food made out of by-products, oversupply and biomaterials? Oh geez. I better eat before I leave I thought when my friend asked me if I wanted accompany him to the Ford of Canada Sustainability Feast.
What edible food products might Ford be using to make vehicles? Corn and soya beans were the only vegetables that came to mind. Years ago I learned that you can make plastic out of corn. And I was certain textiles were also being made from corn.
Luckily, I didn’t eat before I went to the dinner because when Ford said “feast,” they meant it. Plate after plate cooked up by chef David Omar of Zinc restaurant at the Art Gallery of Alberta was not only delicious but educational.
First up was a salad of pickled bamboo shoots, dandelion leaves, radishes and beets. For several years now, Ford has been testing dandelion to make rubber products. That white milky substance that oozes out of the dandelion stem and root when you squeeze the plant can be used as a modifier to help strengthen plastics such as cup holders and floor mats.
Next came coconut crusted salmon on a bed of wheat berries in shallot cream and topped algae foam. Our plates were smeared with tomato dust. The sustainability connection was fascinating. A few years ago Heinz and Ford teamed up to develop more plant-based plastics. All those tomato peels and fibre left over from making Heinz ketchup are sent to Ford research facilities where they make in-vehicle storage boxes. While a lot of Ford’s research is still in development, there are some things that are already in some cars. I bet you didn’t know coconut husks are used to make trunk mats for the Ford Focus Electric.
I can’t say that the algae foam tasted like anything but it was a nice way to find out that since about 2010, Ford researchers have been experimenting with algae as a possible biofuel. Algae grows much faster than corn and soybeans, which are plant-based biofuels also being researched.
It wasn’t until the third plate arrived that I was able to quietly brag to my friend, “I told you so.” Corn in a consommé with puffed rice, beef tongue and maple syrup. Corn is already being used in plastics, but Ford researchers have been tasked with making carpeting and upholstery out corn. By the end of the third course, we all cleverly thought we had came up with the phrase “Eat My F-150.” Alberta’s unofficial vehicle is more sustainable than you think. (Unbeknownst to most owners, the F-150 is now made from light-weight aluminum which makes it way more fuel efficient.)
As we slowly ate our way through courses four, five and six, I realized that plastic can be made out of anything. I had thought of sustainability in terms of fuel efficiency and low-emissions only. What I didn’t realize was that even the materials used to make vehicles goes a long way to being earth-conscious.
Most people think that Ford has only been thinking about sustainable materials in the past two decades, but what I learned that night is that Henry Ford had been thinking about sustainability as early as the 1930s.
According to the Ford sustainability recipe book, Henry Ford planted 7,400 acres of soy bean crop in Michigan and later debuted the first Ford “Soybean Car” at Dearborn Days. Sadly during WWII, the auto industry came to a halt and Ford never restarted that early research until 2000. Today, there are more than a than then plants currently being tested or currently used in vehicles.
Pretty neat stuff! Every guest went home with some recipes from Ford and Chef Jason Cournoyer of Actinolite restaurant in Toronto. I was most impressed with the candied birch leaves recipe only because I didn’t know you could eat birch leaves. they are quite bitter so candied is probably the best way to eat them. Chef Cournoyer serves them with roasted pears, cane sugar glaze, chocolate walnut crumb and milk chocolate ice cream. Bon appetite or should I say Eat My F-150!
Candied Birch Leaves
Recipe by Chef Jason Cournoyer of Actinolite restaurant in Toronto
1 cup (250ml) water
1 cup (250ml) water
20 Birch leaves
Bring water and sugar to a boil, about 3-5 minutes.
Place birch leaves in a bowl and bour simple syrup over, soak for 30 minutes.
Allow the leaves to cool in the syrup, then place on a tray in a dehydrator or an oven at the lowest oven temperature.
Serve with ice cream and poached pears