In the not-too-distant future, chocolate will become a rarefied luxury, as expensive as caviar.

John Mason, a Canadian expert on cocoa, first made this prophecy six years ago from his base in West Africa, the epicentre of production. He was confident enough to repeat it, over and over, to the directors of the biggest chocolate companies in the world.

“Sometimes they were rude. Sometimes they were polite,” he said. “Behind me, they were sort of snickering.”

Today they treat him like a guru. 


The democratization of caviar is under way.

The hotbed of this revolution is Pennfield, N.B., home to the world’s only company licensed to produce and sell an ultra-exclusive variety of caviar. Extracted from the shortnose sturgeon – an endangered, dinosaur-era fish known as acipenser brevirostrum  it’s a delicacy made from the salted roe of a breed with just one population in the Canadian wild. The species is so imperiled that international trade regulators have blocked commercial sales for more than 30 years.


As crime sagas go, a scheme rigged by a sophisticated cartel of global traders has all the right blockbuster elements: clandestine movements of illegal substances through a network of co-operatives in Asia, a German conglomerate, jet-setting executives, doctored laboratory reports, high-profile takedowns and fearful turncoats.

What makes this worldwide drama unusual, other than being regarded as part of the largest food fraud in U.S. history, is the fact that honey, nature’s benign golden sweetener, is the lucrative contraband.


A few kilometres down a gravel road that cuts through the golden sprawl of endless wheat fields, 10 acres of Saskatoon berry trees unfurl in an unexpected burst of green.

The neat rows, which droop with purplish berries for two weeks every summer, are the nerve centre of an ambitious effort led by new-age farmer Sandra Purdy. A retired telecom worker, she is toiling to transform the humble berry into a worldwide sensation as Canada’s first indigenous superfruit, a much-hyped category that includes blueberries, pomegranates and the Amazonian açai and has grown into a $9-billion industry.


Inside a handful of innovative schools across the country, students sit down to made-from-scratch lunches: whole wheat bread with rosemary, eggplant parmesan, burritos with local beans, sautéed kale with garlic and chilies.

At most of the country’s schools, though, the brown bag still reigns. Canada is globally unique in its relaxed approach to school food. It is the only G8 country with full day classes and no national school meals program, the often fraught system that nonetheless ensures grade school children from the United States to Japan have access to some form of sustenance – either free or at subsidized prices – during each day of study.


A cure for the common hospital meal

The Globe and Mail
June 2011

In the bowels of an east Toronto hospital lined with aquamarine tile and vintage Garland ovens, a star chef has begun a year-long experiment to revolutionize the most mocked and inedible of institutional foods.

Joshna Maharaj built her reputation whipping up healthy feasts at disparate venues, from a food bank to a high-end cooking school. The challenge of restoring palatability to in-patient food is her most daunting yet – and whether she succeeds is likely to influence the future of hospital food across the country.


Farmers’ fields outside the western Afghanistan city of Herat are about to blossom into a purple form of gold.

Once rife with poppy, the lucrative spring crop used to produce heroin, these plots are now seeded with saffron flowers. They yield the burnt orange granules that trade as the most expensive spice in the world. At its highest quality, saffron sells for between $2,000 and $4,000 per kilogram in global markets, enticing farmers to switch their allegiance from opium, which sells as little as a tenth as much.

Besides offering a panacea for opium cultivation – the Afghan government and its allies have struggled for years to stamp out poppies, a source of Taliban revenue – saffron has the potential to revitalize Afghanistan’s participation in world agriculture markets. It could also provide a rare passageway for growers, many of whom are women, into more lucrative trading jobs traditionally reserved for men.


Feed a student, feed the future

The Globe and Mail
October 2011

When a teen was shot to death in the halls of a Toronto high school in 2007, it sparked a hunger among educators in the troubled neighbourhood for new ways to stem violence and offer a better future to their students.

Instead of putting in metal detectors in the area’s schools, they came up with a unique, softer approach to reducing aggression and improving concentration in the classroom: food.

“The administrators wanted a nutrition program – they wanted to make sure every kid was fed,” said Mena Paternostro, co-ordinator of student nutrition with the Toronto District School Board. “They came out loud and clear and told us a hungry kid was an angry kid.”