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Staying nourished and balanced at Cornucopia

Scoby to the left of the kombucha. 

A new addition to Whistler's Cornucopia festival this year was a series of "Nourish" seminars and yoga/meditation classes. While one may wonder what this has to do with a food and wine festival where indulgence seems to be the highest priority, it is the balance it creates that is key.

At Last year's Cornucopia I attended ten events in three days - that's a lot of food and libations with very little down-time. At the end of it I was exhausted, sluggish and had a daunting amount of work ahead of me. This year, while I still attended a plethora of events, I ensured that I maintained my energy levels and tended to my well-being by participating in activities that didn't involve alcohol, high heels or an endless supply of food.

My first "Nourish" seminar was on the topic of fermented beverages. As someone who's preference is beer or wine, it was interesting to learn about the health properties of other fermented beverages such as kombucha. Kombucha is not alien to me or anyone else in Vancouver as there are a slew of different flavours lining at least one shelf in Whole Foods, Choices, Capers etc. I think it's overpriced and often contains too much sugar to consider it a health product. However, like any "good-for-you" product, you have to filter out the bad options in order to find the good ones; or you can make it at home so you control the ingredients. 

Our host Astrid (shown above, right) taught us the process of making kombucha. Kombucha starts with scoby (symbiotic combination of bacteria and yeast, aka the "mother culture") which can be used to create beverages with many variations purity and intensity. Astrid brought in her scoby to show us what it looked like and to explain how to take care of it. "Wash it, the scoby likes it; keep it clean, keep it still and keep it covered. You can also talk to it," explained Astrid. "Bacteria responds to light, air and energy, and the scoby doesn't like movement or a change of temperature."

As we sipped on the different kombuchas, some containing spirulina and others containing fruit juices or chia seeds, a few attendees claimed the beverage gives them the sensation of being “drunk”. I found their effervescence, natural sugars and health properties energizing but I didn’t feel the same "drunk" sensation they did. Individual reactions to kombucha are often determined by the body digests the product. Digestion, in turn, is related to an individual's fitness level, the amount of toxins in the body and alkaline/acidic levels (pH balance).  Whether you’re seeking a beverage that gives you a natural buzz or you’re looking for the most nutritious one, the choice ultimately comes down to taste. "If you don’t like one fermented food or drink, try another,” advised Astrid. “Not a fan of kombucha? Try kefir.”

My second seminar of the festival was on Paleo cuisine. I’ve never been on a diet before and being a food writer would make it difficult for me to maintain one longer than a week. That aside, it doesn’t hurt to learn about different diets and to hear why people believe they are a “logical and rational” way of eating.

 

Kara Thornton and Travis McMaster (shown above), the brains and power behind Caveman Grocer, led the seminar. They explained the different elements of the diet including what should and shouldn't be eaten. The Paleo diet consists of high fat, high protein foods combined with lots of produce. No gluten, dairy, soy or refined sugars are allowed. On the Paleo diet you are eating like a caveman. Did a caveman have pasta or bread? No. Could a caveman make nanaimo bars? Definitely not.

We were told that breakfast is often the hardest aspect of maintaining the Paleo diet because many “go-to” breakfast foods (cereal, granola, pastries, toast etc) contain gluten. Kara’s advice? “Don’t be afraid to eat dinner for breakfast. Leftovers are a imperative component of the Paleo diet because they save you from those moments of utter hunger when the easiest thing to make doesn’t fall within the scope of foods that are allowed.”

While we ate our meal of pork tenderloin with apple sauce, cauliflower mash and sautéed green beans, I didn't miss the gluten or refined sugars at all. I also appreciated the fact that we could still have dessert, even if it wasn't as sweet and decadent as I usually opt for. Kara prepared a platter of lemon coconut butter bites, a recipe that she created that day.

 

In addition to the seminars that I attended, I took a yoga class, went for a run on the beautiful Valley Trail and spent an evening at Scandinave Spa where I amped up my circulation with hot and cold baths, saunas and a visit to the steam room. The latter was a relaxing finish to a long day and allowed me to sweat out some of the toxins I had just put in my body. 

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