Halal food hard to swallow at UTSC

The Muslim Students Association at UTSC has ignited a fierce debate on the particulars of halal food on campus, refusing to support a long-awaited halal option at a Bluff’s, a UTSC campus restaurant.

The result of numerous faculty, staff and student requests, the new menu was introduced to the campus on May 29, making all chicken and beef options certified halal. Despite this, many MSA members say that any establishment that also serves alcohol and plays dance music is an unsuitable environment for their dietary needs.

This disagreement between the MSA and the university is not the first. Halal food has long been a hot topic at UTSC. With its large population of Muslim students and the politically active MSA counting hundreds of members, the issue of proper accommodations for halal food has repeatedly come up as a major point in student elections and public task forces.

Some students said the restaurant, in failing to accommodate those who prefer not to eat at an alcoholic establishment, made more of a negative gesture than a positive one with the menu option.

“This initiative was brought forth solely by Bluff’s without ever consulting the MSA or Muslim students. If this was a deliberate accommodation, it’s kind of offensive in giving us the food in a manner unsuitable to us,” said Ahmad Jaballah, a former MSA executive and current Scarborough Campus Students Union VP students and equity.

Jaballah also argued that patronizing such an establishment is wrong because Muslim students would provide revenue for Bluff’s to purchase alcohol—an action forbidden by hadith, a Prophetic saying.

But Food and Beverages Manager Zalia Conde disagrees, noting that the Bluff’s restaurant serves alcohol under the university’s liquor license, rather than a license of its own. In fact, it is through the university that U of T dining establishments purchases alcohol.

When asked about the controversy, a few students argued that simply paying tuition supports the purchase of alcohol by contributing to the salary of the VP business affairs, who oversees the University Alcohol Policy.

While many Muslim students say they will continue to eat only tuna sandwiches from Subway, halal hot dogs, or vegetarian meals and halal-topped pizza from UTSC’s H-wing cafeteria, and while the MSA has officially stated its lack of support, the new venture at the campus restaurant has seen positive results from the new menu.

“A lot of students choose to eat halal at Bluff’s, and there are definitely enough sales to know it’s viable,” says SCSU president Rob Wulkan. “People seem to like these options.”

Reports from Conde agree with this analysis. While refusing to reveal exact sales numbers, Conde does remark upon the “significant number of orders” she observed during the summer testing period that called for a complete switch in the menu. Conde also noted the multiple inquiries by faculty and staff for including halal food in catering orders, in an effort to be inclusive to all students.

Muzna Siddiqui is one student who disagrees with MSA’s stance and now sees Bluff’s as another inclusive option for her.

“Personally, as a Muslim student, I’m happy the SCSU and UTSC are accommodating us,” she said. “For me, I don’t see how alcohol can contaminate the food like pork does. Unless someone is cooking with it, I don’t see the problem of being in an environment that serves alcohol, because it’s not something directly touching my food.”

Women’s hockey preview: With a talented roster the Blues will be tough to beat in 2007

This Friday, Oct. 5, the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team will take to the ice and kick off the 2007-08 season. Following last year’s bronze medal fi nish in the OUA Championships, the team is gearing up for what they anticipate will be another successful season.

The Blues hope to continue the success they achieved at the end of last year’s campaign. As the 2006- 07 regular season came to a close in February, the team found themselves leapfrogging over the Queen’s Golden Gaels into the second spot in the OUA. Fittingly, it was the Gaels they met in the semi-fi nals, and though the Blues outshot their opponents, Queen’s prevailed 2-1 when the fi nal buzzer rang. Despite their obvious disappointment, the women put forth a valiant effort in the bronze medal game against the Guelph Gryphons and walked away with the hardware, thanks to Emily Patry’s overtime winner.

Karen Hughes, returning bench boss, said that this year’s roster will have a good mix of returning players and fresh faces. Defence appears to be the team’s strength, with a plethora of returning blue-liners that include fifth-year Sarah Poirier, thirdyear Lyndsey Ryan and second-year Ali Foster. Jill Clark, team captain and OUA All-Star, will be the anchor on the back end and the clear leader of the group. New additions Kelly Setter and Bianca Mirabelli will fi t in nicely with the already solid group, said Coach Hughes.

The team’s forward contingent is getting an infusion of youth and energy with Karolina Urban, Lindsay Hill, Amanda Fawns, Brenley Jorgensen, Alanna Komisar and Nayima Neerdaels. The newcomers will not only provide scoring, said Hughes, but will also act as two-way players, a vital component of any winning team. The rookies will compliment the returning forwards Emily Patry, Laura Foster and Annie Del Guidice. And the team is very excited to have Stephanie Lockert back in net.

All in all, although it is a bit early to tell, Hughes is sure that this year’s group seems to be a better skating squad than last year’s, and with the addition of the aforementioned forwards, they will have a better touch around the net. Hughes’ principle concern is specialty teams, which she hopes will improve with practice.

Last season’s achievements can easily add pressure for the team, but Captain Clark said this is not the case.

“As a group we like to think in the present,” she said. “We certainly can learn from last year and build upon it. However, we do not like to compare ourselves to what we were. Rather, we like to focus on what we need to do now to become the best possible athletes we can become.”

Brother, can you spare $2,220?

Faculty Associations has released a report calling for a $1 billion increase in education funding over the next five years—money they said Ontario universities need to keep pace with other Canadian schools.

OCUFA argued that the funding increase was feasible, on the grounds that the provincial government made comparable expenditures on post-secondary education in the 1970s, during another period of undergraduate growth.

The report detailed a $2,220 funding- per-student gap between Ontario and the rest of Canada, calculated using figures gathered from Statistics Canada and a 2005 financial report by the Canadian Association of University Business Officers, an organization representing university management and administrations nationwide.

According to OCUFA, the $6.2 billion in additional post-secondary education funding the provincial government announced in 2005 will amount to only a one per cent increase in per-student funding over the next five years. When the funding was announced, the government estimated post-secondary enrolment in Ontario would grow by 46,000 students by 2009. In their report, OCUFA projects enrolment at 92,000 by that year.

GTA universities have observed the same trend in student enrolments, leading to talk of creating a new, undergraduate- only “feeder” university in Toronto, which would stream graduate students into existing Toronto institutions

Busting the myth of Jesse James

If the title was simply The Assassination of Jesse James, this film probably would not play out any differently than the countless portrayals of the mythical American outlaw that have come before. Yet as the title goes on to proclaim, Jesse James was killed “by the Coward Robert Ford,” which is the first indication that this film seeks to demystify the downfall of the legendary desperado.

Though director Andrew Dominik plays to the mythic air of Jesse James, he delves further to discover a contradictory man whose knack for violence, paranoid demeanor, heroic whimsy and hazy moral standing stood as a reflection of the America that was infatuated by him.

If the murderous and unpredictable Jesse James can pique your curiosity or rack your nerves, it’s because after countless portrayals he’s still a mystery, still a legend, still uncomfortably lingering in popular Western culture. He’s an unknowable being, at times volatile and ready to maim even the innocent, and at others he’s the charming and loving father of two. Queerly straddling the line between heroism and villainy, Jesse James is an ideological conflict that has always been explained away by mythology.

Brad Pitt lends his larger-than-life aura to Jesse, whose own celebrity hauled in no shortage of fans obsessed with his every move. One such fan is the titular Bob Ford, whose eerie and pathetic nature is played to perfection by Casey Affleck. Like us, Bob only knows Jesse as the legend splashed across the pages of his contemporary dime-novels. The amount of time Bob spends with the man behind the myth does nothing to enlighten him; in fact, it perplexes him.

Jesse is all legend now, consumed by his own premature myth and weary of those who wish to profit from it. He has lost touch with the man he once may have been, the one whose adventures his admirers read about. The violence is still in him but any purpose to it, assuming that it existed in the past, has been forgotten, much to the disappointment of Ford.

The only thing left to be done to this legendary figure is to drive a nail in his coffin and elevate him to martyrdom. And Ford is all too ready to be attached to such a deed—to become the man who stopped the legend—regardless of the emotional emptiness at its core.

If the literal assassination of Jesse James serves any purpose, it’s simply to feed the legend with a befitting conclusion. At the core of Dominik’s film there is no martyrdom, just the unnecessary murder of a man who murdered others. This is precisely what may perplex audiences: the lack of a grandstanding ideological purpose or meaning to this death.

If scratching too deep reveals nothing, it’s because nothing is there: the nothingness of legend, myth, and celebrity all in equal measure.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Dir. Andrew Dominik

Rating: VVVVv

Safety with a side of bacon

Going to class with a stomach full of pancake batter is not advisable, but what’s one to do when Campus Police are encouraging it?

“I don’t care what it’s for,” said a man who would only identify himself as John, “I just want some fluffy, sweet pancakes, man.”

John joined hundreds of flapjack lovers in front of Sid Smith on Tuesday morning, as Campus Community Police kicked off Safety Awareness Week.

“It’s really about trying to educate and let people know we’re here as a support on campus,” said special constable Robert Michener.

Events this week aim to raise awareness about violent crime, studying late, theft and fire on campus.

“We want to let new students know about programs like Walk Smarter,” said special constable Noel Hall. The program encourages those walking alone at night to call for volunteers to walk with them.

It’s a program first-year grad student Zhijan Wang, who was just learning that we have our own police service, found reassuring.

“I feel safe on campus, but for walking late at night, especially girls, this is a great idea,” she said, unconcerned about the safety of her pancakes. They were, though highly caloric, safe by all accounts.

On Wednesday, some of those looking to stay in shape by riding their bikes around St. George were subject to a safety blitz.

Donations were collected for the United Way at the breakfast, as they will be at Friday’s main campus barbeque from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Freedom can still triumph in Burma

The recent protests in Burma vividly demonstrate that even in the darkest, most repressive of circumstances, the human spirit is resilient.

On Monday, Sept. 24, tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and other protesters marched through the streets of Rangoon against the ruling military junta, the self-styled State Law and Order Restoration Council, demanding democracy. The protest was the first mass movement in Burma since 1988, when a student uprising, though non-violent, provoked a brutal armed response from the junta and resulted in the deaths of thousands. The recent protests in Burma have inspired dozens of rallies across the world, from Canada to Italy to New Zealand, all aimed at bringing an end to this brutal military regime.

The monks marched together, bonded by common beliefs: their ammunition was not guns, but prayer. The protest, fueled by desperation, was so necessary to the people of Burma that they were willing to lay their lives on the line—and many of them were indeed killed.

It is not difficult to understand why so many Burmese are willing to sacrifice so much for the cause of liberty. Years of colonization under British-Indian rule were hard on Burma. Citizens fought for independence and eventually won it in 1948. But freedom was short-lived. The junta seized power in 1962, renamed the country Myanmar, and has ruled harshly ever since.

Although the National League for Democracy was elected to power by a majority of the population in 1990, the junta refused to step down. Instead it tightened its control over public institutions, took members of the opposition party as political prisoners—including its leader Aung San Suu Kyi—and stifled dissent. Now after years of repression, the junta has reaffirmed its willingness to use deadly violence to silence its people.

A recent article in the New York Times reports that in the days following the initial protest, attendance at temples declined until some were eventually empty. Burma’s rulers have admitted to the death of some protesters but have yet to accept responsibility, owning up to only 10 deaths and inexplicably blaming the disruption in the country on a “neo-liberal conspiracy.” Foreign correspondents and Burmese citizens themselves suggest that the death tolls are much higher and the situation much bleaker than the junta will admit. Many monks remain missing, and the worst is feared.

Coverage of these horrible events was widespread as they unfolded, but where will the Burmese go from here? How ought the international community respond? And are the economic sanctions that the United States proposes to impose on Burma going to have their desired effect?

The junta now claims to have “normalized” the country again. Will protesters’ voices be stifled? Trivialized?

The international community must ensure that they are not. We can do this by continuing to pay attention to the situation in Burma even as the initial excitement of the protest wears off. Cases such as the ongoing atrocities in Sudan have proven that Western countries quickly descend into apathy when progress is not quickly made against oppression.

The international community should also engage directly with Burma and come to the aid of the pro-democracy movement there, or work with NGOs to strengthen the hearts and bodies of Burmese civilians so that they can continue to fight for their own liberation.

Pressure can also be put on China to reign in the Myanmar junta, which depends greatly on political and logistical support from the Asian superpower.

The U.S.-led sanctions currently in place against Burma are likely not enough to bring down this regime, and moreover they run the risk of harming civilians. Past U.S.- led sanctions, such as the ones imposed upon Iraq, have had devastating consequences. As Noam Chomsky argues in his book Failed States, sanctions have had little positive effects in recent decades and have instead “devastated civilian society, strengthened the tyrant, and compelled the population to rely on him for survival.” The international community should think carefully about restricting aid to Burma, even if its intentions are in the interest of civilians.

High-flying Loonie a dangerous bird

It’s time to book your Daytona Beach vacation packages. The Canadian Loonie reached parity with the U.S. dollar two weeks ago for the first time since 1976, so now is your chance to travel on the cheap. And while you’re there, you might want to invest in some real estate. Hell, buy up the whole country for all I care.

Do I sound bitter? Perhaps I should explain.

I hail from south of the border and pay my international tuition with the good ol’ American greenback. When I started studying at U of T three years ago, my quality education was a bargain. Now, it’s safe to assume that my two younger brothers will not be following me to the proverbial greener pastures of the North to pursue their own higher education.

And guess what, my Canadian friends—the new dollar sucks for you guys, too.

Canadian industries like lumber, which rely on the exportation of goods to U.S. customers, are losing money to the weak Yankee coin. I’m guessing that people who live in already-struggling northern lumber towns, which are built around their local mills, are not too excited about this whole parity thing. It’s no secret that when mills shut down, ghost towns multiply.

An estimated 250,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario and Quebec have been cut over the past five years, a loss the Canadian Labour Congress attributes to the decline of the U.S. dollar. This may or may not seem like a terrible thing now, but losing base manufacturing sectors will be catastrophic in the long run.

Even though Canucks seem to love hating on their southern neighbours, the fact remains that my flag-toting brethren were once loyal tourists whose dollars were happily spent bolstering the Canadian economy on jaunts through Toronto, Montreal and beyond. Canadian tourism is already a flagging industry; the loss of potential bargainseeking American tourists is going to hurt.

Then there are the seafood processors of P.E.I. who are unable to raise their prices within the competitive fish industry in order to compensate for falling exchange rates. Not to mention the small Canadian businesses that will collapse from the competition of U.S. border-town bargains. And, of course, there are the television and movie producers who will start bringing their big bucks somewhere other than the once-cheap “Hollywood North.”

Finally, there are those potential U of T students, like my little brothers, who won’t have the option of choosing this fabled institution over the state schools they can actually afford. I wonder how the university will compensate for all those lost international tuition fees? Surely not by raising your tuition.

On the bright side, there’s never been a better time to hit up those outlet malls in western New York. Nautica, anyone?

Persian delight

Welcome back everyone! We are pleased to return to The Varsity as your campus cuisine critics. Our goal is to explore restaurants convenient to the U of T campus, from the unknown to the oft-frequented, and find the best taste and best value without sacrificing quality. We have decided to start off the school year right, with healthy eating in mind, in reviewing a cozy Persian-inspired eatery located one block south of Bloor and east of Yonge Street.

Providing respite from the traffic and culinary congestion of Yonge Street, Camros is a unique cafeteria-style vegan spot featuring homemade organic dishes free of sugar, soy, wheat, and gluten. No hidden harmful ingredients here! What’s more, the Persian influence provides fabulous herb and spice medleys that preserve delicious flavours.

Equally impressive are the modest prices that won’t force you to defaut on your student loans. Offering combos of 2 to 4 items, with the most expensive dish at only $8.99, Camros has restored our faith in eating healthy on a student budget.

The changing menu features select dishes for each day of the week. We were fortunate to show up on “Mixed Vegetable Stew” day, sampling a wonderfully rich taste of apple and cinnamon that, simply put, tastes like fall. Each day also presents a different-coloured rice ball–ours, filled with lentils, was red. We disagreed over the flavour of the basmati —is it subtle or bland?— but concurred that the texture was absolutely satisfying, as only a dense combination of grain can be!

The kale salad also engendered mixed opinion. Kale is a bitter green that is certainly an acquired taste. Again, however, it was well-done, with the homemade dressing adding a lovely compliment if you are a tahinilover (who isn’t!). Quinoa, a nutritious grain that is gradually becoming more popular, is used here in an enticing and refreshing salad and provided a nice contrast to the stew.

For dessert: melt-in-your-mouth homemade cookies. The only difference between these and your mom’s is that they don’t rise. We recommend you stick with the ginger-spice and lemon-poppy—avoid the unsatisfying chocolate, which lacks the richness that most of us love.

The verdict: you get a taste of food that’s healthy—and exotic. The rotating menu and high turnover ensures consistent freshness. Our only complaints were the slightly cramped space and uncomfortably low window seats—minor details , as the atmosphere, friendly service, and good wholesome food more than made up for it. If you’re interested in trying Persian cuisine, this is a wonderful place to start, and you can rest assured that your body is getting exactly what it needs. Camros is definitely an option that deserves more attention from the U of T population.