Sunday, July 15, 2012

Thoughts on Mayonnaise, Paleo and Local Eating

So I decided to make mayonnaise today. I grabbed my blender (a cheapo from Superstore - maybe one day I'll have a really good one, but this will have to do for now), and my printout of Sarah Fragoso's paleo mayonnaise recipe, and off I went. I've made it before and loved it (especially with fresh ginger added!).

Turns out, I didn't have plain olive oil in the house (the extra virgin tastes too strong). But I did have a bottle of local, non-GMO canola oil, left over from the Manitoba Food Bloggers' bake sale. So I decided to give it a try.

Wow, that oil is deep yellow in colour. So is the mayonnaise, as you can see. It tastes fine, except that I think I put in a little too much mustard. But it has me thinking about the whole paleo vs. (and does it need to be versus?) local thing.

I love being a locavore, within reason. I do realise that I live in Manitoba, not California or even Virginia. There's been a lot of chatter recently about this new anti-locavore book, claiming that eating locally means going back to subsistence farming, which is horrible, inefficient and bad for the environment. I think that's a straw man argument - I don't know anybody who claims that people should raise inappropriate crops just to be self-sufficient. Except maybe North Korea and, according to the authors, Quebec. Still, anybody who thinks that everything in modern agriculture is just peachy needs to pull their heads out of the sand. The decision after World War II to turn the munitions factories into fertiliser production plants, sparking the "Green Revolution", has turned out to be a mixed blessing, to say the least. The ability to grow insane amounts of soy and corn was supposed to feed the world. Instead it seems to have led to the current obesity epidemic. But that's maybe another blog post, with serious research links. There are a lot of very smart people out there, with arguments on both sides of the question, and it is worth thinking about what they have to say.

The question that is vexing me right now, however, is embodied in two glass bottles. The paleo movement, which I think is doing great things for the health of North Americans, frowns on the use of seed or vegetable oils, because they are highly refined and processed. In the case of canola, it is also highly likely to be genetically modified, with all the potential health issues that follow. If you want to make paleo mayonnaise, the way to go is with olive oil.

However, there is no way in a million years that olives are ever going to grow anywhere near Manitoba, unless global warming reaches a point where we have much greater problems than what oil to use. If I am going to use olive oil, it has to be imported. I do use a lot of coconut oil without any hesitation, because I believe that the medium-chain triglycerides are good for me and my family. But you can't make mayonnaise with coconut oil.

So if I have a bottle of local, non-GMO canola oil, grown and processed on a farm right here in Manitoba, or a bottle of imported olive oil that I bought at Safeway, which is the lesser evil?

I would love to know what you think.


  1. You ask what I think: Since ships carried trade goods including oils across the ocean in centuries past (ok, not exactly "paleo", but not modern either) and since I personally (well, you want to know what *I* think) become ill if I consume canola oil or feel nauseated if I even walk into a home where someone is cooking with it, I'd definitely say the lesser of the evils is to use olive oil.

    My opinion is, every little bit helps - so, if you cannot be a locavore 100%, as long as you try when you can, that is a good thing and does help. And, your/my personal health needs to come first, so if there is a food that you find contributes to your health in a positive way, and you are able to "import" it from afar, then by all means, do so.

  2. Thanks Ann! That's how I feel (except that I seem OK using canola, and I like supporting this farmer in Erickson ...). If I ever get a chance to invite you over for dinner, I'll be sure to use olive oil ;-).

  3. Hi Hadass
    if you want to be politically correct, use olive oil from the (non)occupied territories where the trees have not been destroyed by settlers.. you can get the "lesser virgin" kind too or dilute to taste

    1. I'm pretty sure the olive oil I buy at Safeway is not from the Middle East, but it is a good point to check out its origins. I'm betting Italy or Spain. I wouldn't know where to find the oil you suggest - any thoughts?

    2. Good discussion! I would cop out and say neither are evil! Sometimes you need to cook with Olive Oil, and since we don't grow it here it's okay to get it from somewhere else. Imagine if we boycotted all imported foods, then global trade would be in trouble. But I say, buy local when you can! And of course Canola Oil is always a good choice, especially if you're cooking at higher heats (just learned that!).

  4. Thanks, Gemma! Curious, though, why is canola oil "always a good choice"? The paleo people say it's really bad for you ... along with other vegetable- (as opposed to fruit-) based oils.

  5. Could you use flax, hemp, or even macadamia oils? If the flax and hemp FLOURS are okay to use (and recipes show they're used frequently), why are the oils so bad when used in a non-heat setting?

    I use a blend of mac oil, olive oil, and flax oil in my salad dressings to please my finicky husband's palate.

  6. It appears to me that the Paleo issue with seed oils is refinement. However, it is possible to get unrefined organic sunflower seed oil produced in more northern climes. I can get it from at least a couple of producers here in VT, and I'll bet you could find Canada-grown as well. It does have a fairly strong sunflower flavor that is imparted to my mayonnaise, but it is more local than olive oil for sure.


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