Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Weight A Minute Mr. Postman

So I've not been vigilant with my writing as of late. Truth be told, I've not been particularly vigilant about a lot of things as of late. I'm not going to list the excuses, nor make apologies. I'm not sure what the point would be, and I'm quite sure no one but me would be interested in considering the reasons for my lack of vigilance in writing, eating, studying, etc.  Luckily for me (and for all of us), the past is past and life is a process of creation. This means every morning brings with it a chance to start anew.

Maybe I should be sharing with you what I've been up to for the last month. Or perhaps I should use this space to rant about the election results. Or maybe should I be telling you all that I have learned thusfar in graduate studies.  But I'm not going to. Instead I am going to rant, possibly rave and maybe say something worth thinking about, but that's a big maybe considering the late hour and the fact that I'm suffering from both back and head aches.

So today I paid $63 to have my willpower managed by a large corporate entity that makes Billions of dollars repackaging the Canadian Food Guide and selling it to people who want to lose weight, and want support in doing so. Yes folks, that's right, I joined Weight Watchers.

Now, you might think me rather cynical based on the tone above, but I'm not. I simply find it fascinating that we are willing to fork over $15 a week to step on a scale and let someone else see the number that appears! And we're quite happy to take the time to Point our foods so we don't eat in excess, but actually going to the local farmer's market to buy decent food (i.e. the kind of food that if eaten in proper portions would ensure weight was never an issue) is not worth the time or money. 

What gives? Why are we spending so much money and time on a system that is available to us at no cost via the Canadian Government's food guide? Or heck, if you don't trust the government, simply follow the tenants of Michael Pollan's book 'In Defense of Food'. This book truly is the prescription to a healthy diet: eat food (and Pollan's definition of food excludes all imitation foods such as margarine, hydrogenated thingies, low-fat/no-fat substitutes, etc.),  eat mostly leafs (yay spinach!), and don't eat too much. 

Oh, but let's face it, it's not that simple. We've surely gotten ourselves into a wee mess of a diet and lifestyle here in the Western world. How did we manage to get rid of basically everything good in our diet, while simultaneously replacing it with basically everything bad for our body? Not to mention our physical activity..or lack thereof. Well, in any case it seems we've forgotten something that, to every other species on the planet, is purely intuitive. We forgot how to eat.  

And now we are bombarded with messages every day telling us how to eat, telling us that we can eat whatever we want and lose weight, telling us it's the Omega 3s or the antioxidants that matter. Right.  When did food get so complicated? Or, more precisely, when did we decide to make food so complicated?  I daresay it was right around the same time we, as a society, decided to make everything else in our lives complicated by embracing economies of scale and the miracles of laboratory science. 

Last week I was at a conference (this is what they make us do at grad school !), and the focus was on 'Functional food and Natural Health Products'. So I listened to the speakers (most of them corporate reps or researchers) talk about soybeans, GMOs, the whole gambit. And all I could think was how amazingly effective we've become at repackaging and marketing nature's goods at premium prices.  Hmmm. The two things that bothered me the most (and trust me, there is a long list) were the following comments by speakers: 

1. 'We have to become more efficient at growing food because the population is increasing'.

THis from the the GMO advocate. OK, fair enough, the population on planet Earth is growing. But the question to ask is: why is the population growing? The very simple answer - because we are feeding it.  Yes, that's right, an amazing concept: feeding life begets more life.  And if you look at a graph of human population over the centuries you'll notice a remarkable thing - the population never reached more than  1 billion....until the last agricultural revolution. You know, the one where we became more efficient at growing food.  So yes, our efficiency has resulted in a population explosion. Some would argue there is nothing wrong with this as growth begets growth (of human innovation and evolution). But then you've got a wee problem called the ecosystem, upon which our survival as a species is totally dependent. ANd this ecosystem is built to accommodate species that follow a normal peak-ebb in population numbers. The ecosystem is NOT built for sustained growth of ANY species, particularly the one at the top of the food chain.  The more of us there are, the fewer there are of everything else on this planet and eventually...that will translate into fewer of us.  My point being this: we don't need more food production. 

2. 'FOr the first time in recorded history of ten thousand years our children will not outlive us. They will die at a younger age than their parents due to the health issues that they are experiencing - heart disease, diabetes, child obesity'.

What? Really? Has it really only taken two generations for the Western diet and lifestyle to wreak havoc on a generation of children born in 'times of plenty'? What does this mean for the health care system? What about the future of our workforce? What about China, India and all the other fast-developing countries that are adopting western diets and ways of life? What kind of legacy are we passing on to these nations that are steeped in eons of traditional culture and richly unique diets?  How did this happen and what can we do about it?  Who's to blame? And who's responsible for addressing this problem? 

OK, enough for now. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I'm Cheating..Kind Of

Well, I promised to write more often now that I'm settled in Kingston and apparently have loads of time to watch TLC's What Not to Wear, and discover the delights of indpendent shops in Kingston such as Cooke's Fine Foods, which provides a much appreciated venue for alleviating ALL withdrawal symptoms experienced since leaving Scotland. So, yes, I should have time to write a blog post, but as I'm sitting in front of a computer at the university, I feel inclined to actually do some know....for my degree. So, instead of repeating what I wrote in an email to some of the folks back home, I thought I'd just copy and paste, then maybe add a few more here's what I wrote:

Well, here I am settled into Kingston and my new life as a grad student and an entire month has already passed by! I do apologise for not writing sooner, although I will blame it partially on Toshiba as they decided to build a lemon of a laptop and I was the unlucky purchaser. Well, I'm very happy now, having upgraded from my Lemon to a wonderful Apple I like to call Mac.

One month into life as a Masters student at Queens and I am loving it! I haven't for one moment regretted or second guessed my decision although, admittedly, I have of occasionally questioned my ability to return to studious ways. I have classes twice a week - Monday afternoon and Friday morning. Ha. I'm taking two courses (we only have to take four during the entire program): Ecological Assessment and my core course - Methodologies and Concepts blah blah blah. The name of that course does not do it justice - it's actually bee quite fun to date - the central theme for this year is Wind Energy, because it just happens that there's a HUGE wind farm being built on Wolfe Island, which is only a short ferry ride away. So we went on a field trip in a bona fide orange school bus. I thought those days were long gone. We even had to sign a safety waiver (one of hte profs had actually been run over on the ferry a couple of years ago!).

Righto - so of course I'm here to do research right? OK, so I learn during my first week that my supervisor is leaving the university to head up some interesting project at Dal, but I've secured a new one and everyone seems very excited about the prospect of working in collaboration with a faculty member from the School of Business - I'm happy to be the guinea pig. Anyways, I've been spending some time trying to figure out exactly what it is I want to research and it looks like I'll be doing a compare & contrast of alternative/local food networks at varying stages of development. Right now, my thoughts are to study Prince Edward Island, Prince Edward County (an area just south of Kingston where they've revitalized the rural economy with a focus on local food and wineries) and either some place in Europe or Cuba. We'll see.

As for life in Kingston - I love it. It's a beautiful town, with quite a bit of history so if I drink enough whisky in a pub downtown I can pretend I'm back in Scotland. There are plenty of fun, independent shops to explore and a vibrant farmer's market. My house is great, as are my roommates and making friends has not been difficult in the least. I've joined the International Food Appreciation Team and am planning to take Swing Dance lessons. Being in a 'university town' definitely makes for a big change from Charlottetown. I now find myself surrounded now by 'young things', and am now on the OTHER side of the median age. It's strange - I meet PhD students that are younger than me!

Now Mollie, I know what you're wondering.....and maybe others are too. Well, just a note on that - I'm here to get my MES (Masters in Env. Studies), but I'm not opposed to seeking my MRS as well (but planning on making it a PhD length endeavour) and have been scouting prospects :) Anyways, that's all from Kingston for now. I'll be home in December and will hopefully have a chance to see everyone then. I hope you are all doing well and enjoying the fall colours! Always love to hear news from PEI/UPEI, so please send some my way.

And that's what I wrote last night. Additional notes that may be of interest:

I refer to Prince Edward County above - this is a gorgeous, rural area South-West of Kingston about an hour. One of the main towns is a very quaint place called Picton. Last weekend, myself and three friends went to a Taste Celebration at the town's Crystal Palace. This was an all-day sampling event where local wineries, restaurants and purveyors of fine food offered up delectable and delicious tastes of the best they had to offer. Mmmmmm.. It was DELICIOUS. Amongst the most memorable tastes were Ice Cider, Apple Fritters, Elk Burger, Chocolate Bark, and Artisan Cheeses. We also sat in on a wine seminar and had a taste of 7 different kinds of Chardonnay (why could it not be Riesling?).

I'm headed to Ottawa this weekend - quite looking forward to seeing some friends and also doing some shopping. I miss Ottawa on occassion, such great memories from when I lived there, although I daresay that was due namely to the company kept at the Blair House. Well, in any case, I'm looking forward to the Market and Oh So Good.....

Ooh - I've got a canine friend named Kopka - she's a Canadian Eskimo/Husky cross and a retired sled dog. She belongs to my friend, Anna. Last week I took her for a jog (Kopka, not Anna!), and had a blast - dog-jogging rules!

Hmmm... my fellow classmates are a great group of very diverse people. I've joined the social committee and we've been planning up activities for the fall. Of course, I'm all for the idea that they should be focussed around food :)

OK, I have to get back to research.