Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Writers Block

I've been wanting to update this, as I'm trying to stick to my blogging once a week theory.

It's just not happening though. Whenever I try to write about anything politics related, I get the feeling of being the man yelling at the freight train running him over.

So for now, this blog will be unoccupied again. Until I can muster up the courage to lose my discouragement about the future.

Friday, 9 March 2012

All This Talk About Food Is Making Me Hungry!

The last 48 hours of my life have been a crash course in a broken food system. 

This is not to say I didn't care about food issues previously. My love has made me quite aware of some of the challenges facing our current food consumption style from the day we met. Since then I've been frequenting farmers markets and trying to ensure as much of my food dollar goes to the people producing it as possible. Supporting local farmers for my meat and veggies along with any other sustenance available has quickly become a part of my lifestyle. On top of this, I've tried to severely limit the amount of money that I'm spending at fast food. This scene from Food Inc can best describe why I haven't eaten a nugget in at least a month. 

I sat in at the PEI Adapt Conference yesterday and learned a great deal. I brought my notebook with me, as I tend to do everywhere. In the last three months I've scribbled about six pages of random notes about random things as I wandered the Atlantic Provinces. Yesterday's conference quickly saw an additional six pages of notes added. This post is my attempt to pass on what I've learned in the last 48 hours: 

Do You Know What  CSA Is? If So, Why Don't You Have One?  

CSA stands for Community Supported (or shared) Agriculture. 

With a CSA you give your farmer X dollars at the beginning of the season. "X" will change depending on what you're buying. Obviously, a meat CSA is more expensive than a veggie CSA (per pound). With the money that you give the farmer, they use it for their operating costs. Seeds/livestock, tractors, etc. Many of these farmers even have greenhouses to help them produce some of the more sought after veggies like tomatoes and peppers. After that, at different intervals (some go weekly, some biweekly, others as one time returns) you get a box of food from your farmer. Most farmers just have a set box that has a mix of items. In the early part of the season it's usually greener - but as the season goes on you'll see more carrots and other colorful items crop up* as they come to harvest. Other farmers (like presenter Jen) will have something where you have a mostly set box, but can grab other items as wanted. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone likes broccoli. 

More often than not these are coming from small family farms that are using organic production standards and not the industrialized food model. My love and I will be participating in at least two this year, and I'd encourage you to do so. 

We Can Learn From The South

Dr. Av Singh's discussion outlined lessons that can be learned in the north from our neighbors to the far south.

In our culture we've redefined innovation as being something new and often technological, and fallen away from appreciating innovative ideas. For something to be an innovative idea, it does not need to be the most cutting edge technology. In fact, the most innovative ideas right now are those going against the trend of technology. As Monsanto is suing farmers for saving seeds, and actively trying to destroy the practice so new seeds can be sold yearly one of the most innovative things a farmer can do right now is save their seeds for the next season. 

Innovation can take the form of where you seek your advice too. In Africa, there was nearly an entire generation of farmers killed by AIDS. So the new generation is having to go back two generations for knowledge in this regard. I fear that in our western culture we'd seek scientists and consultants, whereas there's this beauty in farmers that so many are willing to freely share knowledge and information. 

I found this quote Dr.Singh shared form National Geographic was quite profound: 

Still, storing seeds in banks to bail us out of future calamities is only a halfway measure. Equally worthy of saving is the hard-earned wisdom of the world's farmers, generations of whom crafted the seeds and breeds we now so covet. Perhaps the most precious and endangered resource is the knowledge stored in farmers' minds.

Land was briefly discussed, and it was noted that in the south there's significant land acquisition taking place. This acquisition is mostly for the purpose of carbon credits and sprawl. The soil quality doesn't contain any currency, much like our culture. The land is only worth as much as you can exploit it for. 

There were two stats from Asia that I found particularly interesting: 
  • In China and India there are 200,000,000 rice farmers. (Close to 6x the population of Canada) 
  • In India, 70% of their milk comes from farms that have 1 or 2 cows. 
As CBC reported (or sensationalized depending on your viewpoint), another part of the discussion was that we need to see a shift in our culture to spend more on food. When I asked him how we move people from where we are currently (most don't visit farmers markets, for example) he said two things that stood out to me: 
  • "Food can also be part of our entertainment" 
  • "We need to challenge Sobeys and Superstore and let them know that we want real food"
We should reevaluate the money that we're spending on our entertainment budget (movies, video games, vacations etc) and shift some of that into the food pile. If we do that in conjunction with increasing our social activities over food (dinner parties, pot lucks, etc) we could have a significant positive impact on our farmers, our culture, and our health. 

The Little Hippies That Could

Jeff and Debra Moore kicked things off after a delicious lunch from Papa Joe's. They founded Just Us Coffee Roasters Cooperative.   

Jeff first outlined how the quality of coffee dropped significantly during the 80's as the big players raced for the bottom in price. Once that happened, people started shifting to other carbonated beverages, namely colas.  

They started a fair trade coffee company. As they put it, they wanted to have a coffee producer that was "...not subsidized by economic and social injustice." They started by traveling around to local food stores and other retailers that would have them giving out samples to anyone interested. People were impressed by the quality of their product, and success was not far behind. 

"The worse industrial food becomes, the more large the opening for local producers"  

They then outlined how small producers have started to lose control over fair trade. As people started to demand fair trade products (thanks, Coldplay), corporations wanted to look responsible and join on part of this. Nestle famously had under 1% of its purchases as fair trade, but chose to market its fair trade coffee heavily to give the impression it was a fair trade company. As part of this influx of corporations, the fair trade price stayed stagnant for almost 20 years. Furthermore, multi-nationals would use this minimum price (per pound of coffee) as THE price, whereas smaller roasters like Just Us would use this price as the minimum. 

With all that said, Just Us products are now featured in Atlantic Superstores and business is booming with expansions planned. How did they break into the Superstores? "It only takes a couple of people to say something" said Debra. She explained how as few as one or two people would ask at their local store, and sure enough they'd get a call seeking product.  

This couple also had my two favorite quotes of the day: 
  • "Never trust a man who says he's the boss, because you don't know what else he'll lie to you about." 
  • "There's a lot of awareness but not a lot of solutions"  

What Did You Learn At School Today? 

We need to make better choices with our food. Not only that, but we need to hold our retailers accountable for what they're stocking the shelves with too. If your grocer isn't giving you healthy choices, talk to them! The much better option is to talk to a farmer though. Sure it might be slightly less convenient, but the positives for our culture, your health, and society as a whole are immeasurable. 

*Sorry, I can't resist puns sometimes.

Friday, 2 March 2012


At some point in my tweenage years a grown man punched me in the face. My friends and I were playing road hockey outside of his house. While I was in "the penalty box" (aka, the steps of my friends house) this man asked me "What's the matter with you, huh?" as I didn't run away when he came storming out of his home. When my friends saw this cranky man leave his home and come toward us, they instinctively ran. Apparently this "man" had a history of being the neighborhood crank - essentially the local Mr.Wilson. He left his home to shoo us off, I stayed on the steps as the egg timer on my penalty hadn't finished, he felt disrespected, and he punched me in the face.

I ran to my friends house crying with a bloody lip, and the police were called. The man was arrested, and put in the back of a police car. While in the back seat, he laid on his back and kicked the windows, eventually popping one out of place. Months later, an officer arrived at my home and delivered a subpoena to appear in court. The mere delivery of this summons sent tween me back into tears as I apparently hadn't resolved whatever issues I had around the incident. 

In the court room it was explained to the judge that the mans wife had recently had a dental procedure, that the man had drank much of a bottle of wine, and that otherwise he was an upstanding citizen. The Crown wanted a fine (a little over $1000 if memory serves me correctly). The defense wanted community service. The judge didn't even appear to take any time to think about the two options, and provided the man with ~100 hours of community service. I was shaken again. How does a grown man punch a child in the face, and only have to pick up a bit of garbage as a result? This was the day that whatever innocence I had left from parents divorce died.  

My friends and family were all aware of this and many of them found it to be absurd. A grown man punches a boy in the face and only has to pick up a bit of trash as a result? Outrageous. "In America, this would never happen. They'd throw this asshole in jail right away." This was a thought that I heard in some form on multiple occasions. Essentially that the Canadian justice system was broken if something like this could happen. 

I am nowhere near naive enough to think that mine is somehow a unique story. A story like this must happen almost every day in Canada, and six degrees of separation would tell us that everyone knows someone (or someone who knows someone) who's been through a similar incident. Perhaps not the grotesqueness of a man hitting a child, but of perceived injustice in our criminal system. Depending on the immediacy of relation they may even have completely emotional view of it. For example, "My brother was hit by a car, has to take pain medication for years, and the guy who did it is running around fancy free." 

So now we're faced with new crime legislation in Canada, that will soon become law. This story, and many like it, can serve to show that there is need for some reform of our criminal justice system. The Conservatives know this and have promised change for many years. 

The only problem with the changes they're proposing, is that they'll only make the situation worse. As outlined by the university of Ottawa, the CCLU, and the Canadian BAR association - the legislation which passed in December has many provisions that won't actually keep Canadians safer, but instead create more criminals. The bill follows the American blue print, which as their neighbors to the north we've seen fail over and over again. 

This is not a unique Americanization, however. Character assassinations have been frequent from Conservatives toward the last two Liberal leaders. Of course, when Vic Towes was called out for proclaiming family values while being a convicted criminal and adulterer, attacks on character were decried as inappropriate. When I try to think of political candidates promoting family values, only to act in the very nature they decry, I again think of our neighbors to the south. 

Recently, the robocalls scandal has been the flavor of the month. A conservative affiliated robocall company has been accused of making robocalls to Canadians misdirecting them from their voting locaton. Since this issue has become public, Elections Canada has indicated that it's received 31,000 contacts in regards to the issue. A few years ago I read a book by Allen Raymond called, "How To Rig An Election." In it, he took actions to try to stop people in liberal households from voting. They did this by targeting the campaigns though, not the voters directly. Conservatives, it seems, found a way to improve his methods.   

When bill C-30 was first discussed in the house of commons, Vic Towes channeled George W Bush, and proclaimed that people can either stand with the government, or with child pornographers.  

In another Bushism, scientists are being muzzled by the government. Remarkably as Nature journal points out, America has actually been improving in this regard while we're declining toward bush-era scientific regulations. 

I wrote a blog during election season where I noted that the conservatives were trying to convince us that a duck was actually a moose, and that I wasn't buying it. In that light, I'll start calling our country Camerica, as our government has clearly adopted many of the most unsavory themes from American style politics. These aren't just politics as usual in Canada, this is a systematic attack on how our democracy operates.

Camerica is a place where anecdotal evidence outweighs real evidence, where misdirection outweighs integrity, and the public service needs to be cut back - in every area but communications.  

When I was a tweenager hit in the face by an adult, I lost my innocence about humanity. The Harper Government has now taken away my innocence about governance. The first made me question the public's intentions, the latter has made me question their intelligence.