The hippie food edition

Friday’s Food on Fire conference at New College felt like an industry party for young, urban intellectual do-gooders. As a well-intentioned supermarket shopper who unfortunately can’t afford organic produce, I felt crass, corrupt, and out of place.

“Biofuels, Global Warming and Food Security,” read the conference poster’s earnest marquee, stationed against a tabletop gallery of photos by a miniature collective of Equity Studies students. Comfortably dressed 20-somethings with flawless complexions hobnobbed over their latest urban farming exploits while I nervously topped my travel mug with complimentary coffee and attempted to shove a half-muffin into my face. Naturally, it was at that exact moment that I heard my name called.

My dear friend Liz, a woman wholeheartedly impassioned by food sustainability and the joy of feeding, had shown up out of genuine interest (and not just journalistic curiosity). She did not look pleased.

“Are you writing about this?” she asked me. I told her I was, but that I was also curious.

She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Somewhere in your article, you might want to make a wisecrack about how most of the people running this thing are big, fancy academic men, when women are usually the ones doing the work in the kitchen.” Whether or not my friend’s observation is a provable statistic, her remark brought up an important point: meals embody nourishment, associated with caretakers—frequently women—and the home. This conference, from what I observed, seemed to largely gloss over this fundamental point.

I’m probably being curmudgeonly, but an air of intellectual cronyism seemed to permeate the discussions I attended, rendering them nearly inaccessible. While one might expect this at a university-sponsored conference, for a genuinely curious spectator with no background in food activism, it was thoroughly uninviting. And Liz—my hands-on-experienced, farm shareholding, self-taught chef extraordinaire ally—seemed a bit perturbed.

“You know, ideally I would like to work in ‘The Movement,’” she said, punctuating her last two words with the auditory equivalent of scare quotes. “But I wish the discussions here had more practical applications. None of this stuff applies to me getting involved. Or getting a job. There are no jobs. Forget it, you better get in with the right people right away and volunteer for like three years, or you’re screwed.”

Liz’s frustration struck a chord with me, the outsider convinced that, at any second, someone at the conference would figure out I was a meat-eating hack and kick me to the curb. I might like to get involved with “The Movement,” but I’m not convinced that “The Movement” would be too thrilled to get involved with me.

Conference aims to stimulate environmental activism at U of T

The hot topic of climate change was on everyone’s mind at the recent Climate Catastrophe and Social Justice: Analysis and Action conference held at the U of T. Sponsored by Science for Peace and supported by GSU Student Justice Committee, UTERN, and Students Against Climate Change, it was both a student activist and academic conference featuring many speakers and workshops on climate change topics.

A desire for results was the day’s theme. Cheryl Teelucksingh, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Ryerson University dispelled the myth that “people of colour do not care about the environment” through her discussion about environmental justice and racialization.

Also addressing the topic was 22 year-old Ben Powless, co-founder of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and student at Carlton University. Powless spoke about issues close to home, such as the impacts of the environment on Indigenous peoples and the Arctic. He argued that by framing climate justice within a human rights context, it “gives Indigenous and impacted communities the right to speak for themselves and empower them to participate in debates [about climate change].”

Environment in relation to business was another key issue. Dr. Leslie Jermyn from U of T’s Anthropology Department critiqued capitalism in her speech, as did Dr. Jim Stanford. He discussed the problems of nature regulation under capitalism, providing his own solutions. One suggestion for positive change was “to think about Toronto not as simply a built space or simply a human space, but it is also a natural space… and all its meanings, [and] how we live with nature in cities.”

The climate change conference provided not just analysis, but also action. A panel of speakers providing legal, political, and practical directions for reducing our footprint took the stage in the late afternoon. Theresa McClenghan, a lawyer from the Canadian Environmental Law Association discussed how the public can affect environmental law. Albert Koehl critiqued the transportation system and provided simple, yet powerful advice saying, “If you’re going to deal with global warming, you have to get out of your cars.”

Action took another form through a series of workshops. Each presentation bridged the gap between speakers and audience, allowing for discussion of practical action happening within campus and throughout Toronto.

Those who attended the transportation workshop spoke with members of Bikechain, U of T’s bicycle repair facility and supporter of carbon-free commuting. Another group debated how society could achieve a future richer in green technologies. Representatives from FoodShare and Local Food Plus—organizations that help build sustainable food systems—addressed food’s connection to climate change.

The workshops were a hit with students, “phenomenal” even, as described by Eric Bear, an OCAD student currently studying Integrated Media. He enjoyed the free-form format of the workshops, but wished they had provided more time for discussion.

In a post-conference interview, Paul York, a conference organizer and board member of Science for Peace, articulated several aims of the conference saying, “there was definitely an activist component to…[the conference], aimed at stimulating progressive environmental activism at U of T and encouraging people to get involved who were not involved before.” This activism was addressed in the Climate Camp workshop. Climate camp is active in the U.S., England, and Africa, and will take place in Ottawa in 2009. According to Paul, “The basic idea is that young people get together and live together for a few days[…]in a makeshift camp during which time they have intensive workshops and discussions with experts on climate change and collective resistance to social injustice. Sometimes Climate Camp results in non-violent civil disobedience action[…]to bring media attention to the issue.”

The Climate Catastrophe and Social Justice: Analysis and Action conference was more than just a meeting of minds. It was a call to youth-oriented action against climate change. Based on the success and strong attendance of the October 4 conference, the call was heard.

Editorial: Towards Private Education

The future looks bleak. U of T president David Naylor’s grand ambitions in his Towards 2030 plan, will steer the university towards an Ivy League model. If all goes according to Naylor’s plan, by 2030 the university will be a research-focused institution that relies on endowments, gouges students on tuition and cuts undergrad enrolment.

The plan recognizes that the province is shortchanging universities. Ontario remains the province with the lowest per capita post-secondary education funding—largely a result of massive cutbacks during the Mike Harris days. Naylor would have the university master its fiscal woes by jacking up tuition and lobbying for more corporate cash.

The university, it seems, has given up on affordable higher education. To justify the fee increases, Towards 2030 cites the 50 per cent of university students who leave U of T debt-free. It’s hardly a healthy goal to leave the rest of the graduating population in debt. The focus should be on those that do leave debt-ridden, and on the people who never make it to the university because they fall through the gaps in the financial aid system.

So far, Naylor has refused to join students and community in a combined appeal to the province for increased funding. It’s because students want lower tuition fees, and the president won’t have it.

Governing Council will pass the proposal on October 23, no questions asked. GC’s subsidiary committees—Planning & Budget Committee and Academic Board—have already accepted Towards 2030. GC will refuse to consider concerns of the U of T Faculty Association and student unions: that increased fees and corporate involvement will further compromise university accessibility and integrity.

Did anybody bother to ask the student body or the faculty what they think of the plan? It’s clear that this document serves corporate interests—and corporations have plenty of representatives who get to vote on Thursday. The U of T community has everything to lose—but with a few easy strokes, a powerful few will quash the needs of 70,000 stakeholders. The token eight seats given to students on a 50-member Governing Council supposedly give the student body a voice on the university’s most powerful decision-making body. Too bad the university can so easily turn a deaf ear.

Chemicals That Changed The World: Uranium

Arguably the most controversial element of the 21st century, uranium is responsible for the generation of green energy via its use as a nuclear reactor fuel, and the construction of nuclear weapons.

Uranium is a silvery white metallic substance with the highest atomic weight of all the naturally occurring elements. Discovered in 1789 by German chemist Martin Klaproth, for the first 145 years following its unearthing it was primarily used for tinting glass neon green and yellow.

Subsequent to the creation of the Manhattan Project, it was exploited for its fissionable chain-reaction properties in pursuit of developing the nuclear bomb. Fission is the process by which an atom is split into two, overcoming the strong nuclear force that binds it together. By breaking this bond, a tremendous amount of energy is released, in heat and radiation.

Uranium’s distinctiveness stems from the fact that the neutron byproducts of its fission can instigate fission in other close by uranium atoms, causing a powerful chain reaction. This reaction can be released all at once, as seen when the “Little Boy” atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. It can also be used in a controlled manner, like in the Candu Nuclear Power plant in Pickering, Ontario.

As a nuclear weapon, uranium has no doubt changed the world. However, it has also provided new hope for environmentally-conscious ways of generating electricity, helping confront global warming and reduction of greenhouse gases.

For hire: one world-class university

‘The University has formed some excellent and valuable partnerships with private enterprise in the past. So long as academic freedom is in no way compromised and genuine advantages can be demonstrated in quality or efficiency, the Task Force recommends the expansion of such partnerships in the future.’ —Towards 2030

Who’s voting for corporate partnerships?

Come Oct. 23, Governing Council is bound to vote almost unanimously in favour of more corporate presence at U of T, as outlined in the Towards 2030 plan. The GC vote is the final one needed for the plan to be adopted as the university’s guiding principles.

Perhaps GC’s willingness to give corporations opportunities to fund research at U of T has something to do with the overwhelming corporate presence on the council.

Out of 50 GC members, government appointees, presidential appointees, and alumni make up 26. Government appointees, who are supposed to represent community interest on the council, are selected by the Standing Committee on Government Agencies, comprised almost entirely of Liberal and Conservative MPPs.

This year, as usual, most of them are deeply invested in the corporate world.

Many of the companies represented on GC are already donors at the university. David Asper, of the CanWest family, joined GC this year. Asper gave the university $7.5 million this fall to establish the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights at the Faculty of Law. Asper is also chairperson of the National Post, which is on the President’s Circle list for its donations to the university.

Some alumni governors are also prominent in the corporate world. The Varsity found at least three of the eight alumni on GC are CEOs or directors in large corporations, in addition to two presidents or owners of one or more smaller companies.

Students, staff, and faculty make up 22 elected spots on GC, and while that cannot form a majority, even these members usually don’t challenge decisions.

Why is private/corporate funding a problem?

According to U of T’s administration, private and corporate funding has no effect on the actual research, because there are policies in place to keep donors at arm’s length from the academics.

However, these same policies were in place when a U of T faculty member was found producing reports tailored to suit the needs of its donor in a water purification study in Wiarton, Ontario in 2001. Federal courts said that funding agency NSERC is not responsible for ensuring academic integrity. Nobody at U of T—not even the professor heading the research—was held accountable for the breach. The same professor later plagiarized from the research of his student, Chris Radziminski, and altered his conclusions to his corporate sponsor’s convenience. This case was quietly settled out of court.

In an earlier case, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and U of T fired David Healy after he claimed in a seminar that Prozac, an anti-depressant produced by a CAMH donor Eli Lilly, might cause suicide in certain patients. Naylor, who was dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the time, refused to carry out a complete investigation into the firing, saying Healy had expressed views that were unscientific.

In 1996 U of T was found dancing to the tune of donor Apotex in the university’s most embarrassing academic freedom case. When Nancy Olivieri, Sick Kids’ Hospital doctor and U of T researcher, came across untold side effects of an Apotex drug, neither the university nor the hospital would do anything about it.

Eventually, citing a health risk, Olivieri breached her confidentiality agreement and published her findings—a move that got her fired. She was eventually reinstated in 1999 when a committee from the Canadian Association of University Teachers concluded that her academic freedom had been infringed. Again, Naylor refused to pursue further investigations.

When asked about these cases, U of T spokesperson Rob Steiner said, “There are a lot of people who say a lot of things that actually don’t match up with the reality of it.”

Corporations and individuals attach their names to projects, and often get the right to first refusal on products coming out of the research, but they only pay on average 20 cents to every dollar that goes into these projects. The portrayal of corporate donations as generosity belies these companies’ interests in profiting from the research they fund.

With files from Hilary Barlow

Brain food for the exam time crunch

In the midst of October midterms, it’s difficult to find the time to eat healthy. Though wholesome meal and snack options are usually low on the priority list, it’s important to eat well to maintain optimum energy levels and cognitive performance. Here are some suggestions that will help you ace your exams.

Chocolate: The food least expected to make the list. Studies have indicated that cocoa beans, namely in organic dark chocolate, can improve memory. Unfortunately this doesn’t include vending machine candy and chocolate bars, as they are processed and contain very little cocoa bean.

Fish: Known as an infamous brain food, due to their high omega-3 fatty acid and fish oil content. Omega-3s are believed to promote brain cell growth and neuron communication. They act by strengthening neurons and increase the speed of central nervous system signaling. Omega-3s can also be found in other foods, such as flaxseed, walnuts, eggs, and kiwi.

Water: In addition to hydrating your body, water can reduce stress hormones. In the long term, it can help prevent dehydration-induced neuronal damage. While water is vital to overall health and normal body function, coffee is also believed to be beneficial to the brain. According to a recent Reader’s Digest feature, “Regular coffee consumption has been shown to actually reduce the risk of mental decline and diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s, and has also recently been found to be […] the #1 source of antioxidants in the average American diet.” Coffee is not to be confused with its close counterparts, the café mocha and frappuccino. Only coffee in its purest form, as found in unadulterated espresso, truly provides these benefits. There’s also the added perk of caffeine, which helps sustain wakefulness and gets the brain up and running. Moderation is important as high caffeine doses can result in many unpleasant side effects.

Fruits and vegetables: Canada’s Food Guide recommends seven to eight servings a day, but fruits and veggies are vital to brain health. Blueberries, oranges, red bell peppers, and spinach are all rich sources of antioxidants and consequently decrease oxidative stress. Many contain folic acid, which is important to cognitive functioning. Fruit also contains glucose, the main source of fuel for the brain.

While the next few weeks may entail sleepless nights and long hours at the library, it’s in your best interest to keep hydrated and maintain a healthy diet. “Junk food and fast food negatively affect the brain’s synapses,” says Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, a UCLA neurosurgery and physiological professor. “Brain synapses and several molecules related to learning and memory are adversely affected by unhealthy diets.”

Crafted with love

When I tell people about my craft business, the first question they always ask is, “You make money with…arts and crafts?” It’s surprising even to me, but the answer is yes. A bit of money, anyway. Toronto’s arts and crafts scene is a subset of the “everything local” sustainability movement of recent fame. Crafters, like organic vegetable gardeners, knitters, and homemade moonshine-makers, can be a little earnest, but we’re really making the world a better place. Grassroots production of useful and fanciful wares not only supplies consumers with creative stuff, but it builds community and provides modest earnings to a lot of people. Making arts and crafts for a living isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you love what you do and don’t mind putting in the extra hours, you too could build your own empire, even if it starts in your bedroom.

I’ve been crafty for as long as I can remember. No occasion or birthday passed without a one-of-a-kind handmade card, and school projects took on a whole new meaning when Bristol board was involved. My mother used to show off what I’d made and lament that I couldn’t make cards for a living—little did she know that not ten years later, I would do exactly that. The resurgence of homemade wares is fuelled by a group of like-minded young people who aim to take back the common objects of our lives from the uniformity of corporate production. Our handmade results aren’t necessarily as elegant as fine art, and they may not be as skilled as the work of professional artisans, but they’re still functional, creative, and local—and the demand is definitely there. When I discovered, my life changed for the better.

If you’re unfamiliar with Etsy, it’s a massive online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade, vintage, or otherwise necessary to live a full and happy life (think eBay’s hippie nephew). Everything from Darth Vader tea-towels, to botanically inspired greeting cards, to handmade coffee mugs and a bewildering array of screen-printed clothing can be purchased, or better yet, bartered. Since joining Etsy, I’ve discovered lots of similar operations, like the Toronto-based, or Europe’s, where the majority of business is conducted in German. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that my success (such as it is) was largely fueled by Etsy and the great people that use it. The online arts and crafts markets have enabled a lot of tiny cottage industries to come together into something resembling a powerful movement, with quantifiable economic value and a recognizable common ethic. The online community brings together craft makers located far from a large mass of local production. Etsy has seen huge growth since I joined a couple of years ago, and craft shows are gaining in popularity, even among people outside the scene. While makers of handmade stuff often share an anti-corporate ethic, the aesthetics of the wares are as varied as you can imagine.

The craft revolution doesn’t just exist on the Internet. There are more and more independently-run creative businesses popping up all across Canada and the United States. For first-hand evidence, take a stroll down Queen West and through Parkdale. There are entire stores full of handmade crafts, everything from 1-inch buttons to hand-sewn, found-fabric evening wear. There are co-ops, collectives, and more wholesale and consignment items in everyday stores than ever before. It’s a good time for us arts and crafters—local, handmade, environmentally sustainable wares are becoming increasingly popular, not just among students and artsy-types, but the nine-to-five set as well. Evidently, it seems people other than your garden-variety scenester want to move beyond the banalities of Hallmark cards and frightful mass-produced accessories.

To see into the heart of the community, one needs to go to a craft show. On any given weekend, obscure venues with very little advertising can entice hundreds of patrons out of their beds on a Sunday morning to mingle, shop, and amass gnome collectables. While you may not intend it, you will almost certainly leave with an armful of things you never knew you needed but suddenly can’t live without. As a vendor at such affairs, I’m hard-pressed not to spend all the money I make at other tables. Shopping at malls and supermarkets, it’s easy to forget that many of our neighbors and community members (if not ourselves) are full of creativity and innovation.

I can’t speak for others, but craft shows are my favourite part of what I do. Don’t get me wrong—I love everything from designing my buttons to licking the stamps I put on the envelopes—but there’s no replacement for the feeling of community and inclusiveness these shows promote. There aren’t many opportunities to meet other local artists in their natural habitat, and while I’m always eager to reconnect with old friends, I am constantly surprised by the number of new faces I see at every event as the community grows. It’s a great opportunity to meet customers and trade ideas.

My little operation, Consider Arson, has existed for a little over a year. It’s hard to believe that what started out of a shoe box has since conquered the vast majority of my apartment. In recent months I have expanded the scope of my operations to include over 60 different 1-inch button designs, and after experimenting with online advertising, I can barely meet the demands for large orders.

Making one-of-a-kind crafts is much more fun for the “scissors-and-glue” crafter in me, as customers walk away feeling like they have something special. Balancing the fun aspects of crafting and the business skills necessary to actually make the venture viable is an ongoing learning experience. But after the sticky fingers, innumerable trips to the post office, and supply anxieties are over, walking down Bloor Street and spotting one of my buttons on somebody’s lapel makes it all worthwhile.

You can begin your foray into the world of arts and crafts by checking out Rachel Dian’s work can be found at

How do you like them fees?

Towards 2030, a document that reflects U of T president David Naylor’s vision of the university’s future, will go before Governing Council next Thursday. The plan will likely go through without a hitch and be adopted as guiding principles for the university’s development. This Monday through Wednesday, students, faculty and staff will have their say. The University of Toronto Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Union will hold a plebiscite on the controversial document.

The plan calls for unregulated tuition and non-academic fees, and a decreased undergraduate population in favor of graduate students. The plebiscite will ask members of the university, including students, faculty and staff, whether or not they support deregulation of fees.

The vote is a symbolic one: GC members decide the plan’s fate.

“This is something that we’ve been consulting on around the whole university, very much including students, for over a year,” said Rob Steiner, spokesperson for U of T. Steiner said he does not see the plebiscite as a useful exercise of student discontent.

The administration consulted handpicked task forces in the making of Towards 2030. Student unions claim they were refused presence on these committees. A town hall meeting early on in the process was the extent of open consultations with the larger university community.

Steiner encourages concerned students to contact their representatives on GC with any concerns as changes are made. “And if they can’t find a representative who wants to hear them […] then they should run [for GC office],” he said. Students have eight representatives on the 50-member council.

“I think that it’s a bad precedent that Towards 2030 seems to be suggesting a private institution,” said UTSU president Sandy Hudson. “We fear that other universities will follow suit and the American form of funding higher education will creep up to Canada.”

“And as a result I think we won’t be seeing a university filled with the best and the brightest […] we’ll be seeing a university of the richest.”

While the plebiscite will only put forward the question of deregulating tuition fees, the unions are also concerned about the proposed increase in “industry research partnerships,” or corporate-funded research. Student unions and the U of T Faculty Association have warned that corporatization of research will compromise academic freedom at the university.

Steiner said that U of T is prepared for any ethical quandaries. “We have tons of policy and watchdogs in every faculty that we specifically designed to ensure research ethics, and to ensure the primacy of academic freedom in any research collaboration,” he said.