Student eats

Over the years we’ve all heard urban myths about insane schemes that students concoct to make mealtime as easy and as cheap as possible. There’s the old standard about a house of frat boys from Western (or was it Trent?) who consumed nothing but Kraft Dinner and Coca-Cola for a semester before falling ill with scurvy. Then there’s the one about some dude’s sister’s boyfriend’s pen pal who swears he used to know a guy whose lazy roommate joined NutriSystem—not because he was overweight, but just so he could have meals delivered to him every day. And who could forget that great yarn about the poor kid whose cheap Dad wouldn’t buy him a meal plan but instead sent him to res with 300 cans of tinned dehydrated food he’d bought off some nuclear holocaust survivalist website. The following guide is meant to keep you from becoming an urban legend, and to help you bust out of that meal-plan monotony.

BREAKFAST

Aunties and Uncles – 74 Lippincott St.

Walking into Aunties and Uncles is like taking a step back in time to someone’s kitchen circa 1955. The quaint, eclectically-furnished joint is usually packed with students and blue-collar hipsters (bipsters) who’ve figured out that everything on the menu could define the word delicious. Deserving a special mention is their Dijon-anddill potato salad and their default use of challah bread for toast.

Maggie’s – 400 College St.

Anyone can fry an egg, and at Maggie’s they know that achieving breakfast greatness is all about the context. A standard three-egg breakfast comes surrounded by toast, bacon, their amazing garlic infused French fries (great for yolk-busting), and a generous helping of fresh fruit. All that and cup of coffee will only set you back $8, if you get there before noon.

Insomnia – 563 Bloor St. W.

Four words can describe the prime reason to visit Insomnia in the a.m. hours: Best Hollandaise Sauce Ever. If you’re a fan of eggs Benedict (or any of its permutation like eggs Loraine, eggs Florentine, or eggs Isabelle) this is the place to go. Seriously. Their breakfasts come with a side of scrumptious roast-potato home-fries coated in a blissful BBQ sauce plus a delightful green salad. Oh, and FYI: their pancakes are actually cakes in the literal sense, and despite taking a longish time to make (25 minutes, they warn you) are the perfect birthday- morning treat.

Future Bakery – 483 Bloor St. W.

Hey, you’re a student, so you likely can’t afford to drop mad bills on breakfast everyday, which is why Future’s will hook you up for cheap on weekdays if you flash your student ID. For $3.99 you’ll get a full English fry-up plus coffee, tea or O.J. What inevitably lacks in quality is made up for in quantity, price and prompt service. While not the classiest feast, Future’s still remains an important student mainstay.

LUNCH

Sarah’s Falafel – 487 Bloor St. W.

There are a lot of Falafel joints on Bloor Street, but Sarah’s is by far the best. Their unique process of putting the finished product in a heat press for a few minutes makes the pita bread warm and crunchy. Fresh ingredients including beets and halal meats make for a delicious and religiously permissible falafel or shawarma. Be sure to complement your sandwich with a side samosa, grape leaf wrap, or fruit nectar.

Massimo’s – 302 College St.

The quick walk from campus to College and Robert Street is totally worth it for Toronto’s Best Pizza slice. $3.75 will buy you a massive slice of margherita (tomato sauce, cheese, oregano and oil) or pepperoni pizza. Don’t forget to wash it all down with a can of San Pellegrino’s Aranciata or Limonata.

Roti Palace – 744 Bathurst St.

Nothing cuts through the cold Canadian winter like some spicy island cuisine. If you want the place that does it right, visit Roti Palace, located on the west side of Bathurst, just south of Bloor. Their chicken roti is savory and spicy perfection, but make sure you spend the extra buck or two for their boneless style, and chase it all with a cool bottle of Fanta.

DINNER

Chippy’s – 490 Bloor St. W.

Chippy’s fish batter is so addictive I’ve heard people swear they sprinkle crack on top. This is a lie, the secret ingredient is actually Guinness beer, but the overall point is still valid: Chippy’s kicks ass at fish and chips. On the chips front, their fries are made from hand-cut Yukon Gold potatoes, and go great dipped in their delicious homemade tartar sauce, which is totally worth the extra 75 cents. For the perfect complementary drink, add a Coke that comes in a classic green glass bottle. Score!

Pauper’s Pub – 539 Bloor St. W.

When it’s in season, Pauper’s rooftop patio offers up one of the best views to eat and drink by in the Annex. Take advantage of their afternoon half-price apps, or chow down on any one of their top-of-the-line pubgrub entrées—especially their beer battered chicken fingers.

New Generation Sushi – 493 Bloor St. W.

There are about fifteen sushi restaurants tucked into the Bloor strip between Bathurst and Spadina, and New Generation (“New Gen” to the initiated) is the best of the lot. Sporting both lunch and dinner menus, New Gen offers up tasty tempura, glorious gyoza, marvelous maki (try their yam and avocado roll), and California rolls that will leave you craving more. Plus, all dinners come with complimentary green tea and red bean ice cream.

Fresh by Juice For Life – 326 Bloor St. W.

This corporate looking vegan resto is also a great destination for nonveggies just looking for healthy eats that are still tasty as hell. While their smoothies might be a little on the pricy side, ordering up a fruity “First Kiss” for your beau is sure to impress. The rest of the menu offers lots of tasty tofu bowls and sandwiches. For a nice treat, order their yam fries with mayo dipping sauce.

Red Room – 444 Spadina Ave.

Right off the bat you should be warned: unless you’re the only person in the place you’ll probably need to build a time machine to get prompt service at this notorious student hangout. That being said, when your food finally does arrive it’ll probably be half decent. Their pad thai is probably the best thing they make, but their chicken breast sandwich, and avocado and brie sandwich, (both served with fries) are also decent fare.

Sneaky Dee’s – 431 College St.

No guide to student eats would be complete without a nod to Sneaks. This College Street punk-rock eatery has mastered the art of Tex-Mex and applies it to tasty dishes like their famous nachos, sizzling hot DIY fajitas (half price on Tuesday nights!), and their always satisfying breakfast burrito, the Burro Favorito.

Art Stars

Thanks to UTSU, incoming students got a taste of Canadian indie at the annual Frosh Concert on Friday, August 7 on the UC back field. Toronto’s Hidden Cameras unleashed a set of brightly despondent folk rock, as the 12-member band (with a guest choir of local hipsters) delivered tracks from Awoo and Mississauga Goddamn (no offense UTM) with a shimmering tenacity. Frontman Joel Gibb, looking like Freddie Mercury if he’d joined the Backstreet Boys, unleashed a melodious croon over thin strips of electric guitar and rough undercurrents of strings, French horn, and keyboards by U of T alumna Maggie MacDonald. Tracks like “Doot Doot Ploot” and “Learning the Lie” turned into the church sermon you always wanted, with organ pounding, hand clapping, and yes, matching robes.

After his set U of T alumnus Gibb offered some advice to frosh, “Assigned reading is a joke… Keep yourself busy in oher ways. Make art.”

Next came the romance, from Montreal’s Stars. Amy Milan and Torquil Campbell continued their tortured love affair onstage, singing into the same microphone and harmonizing star-crossed lyrics to hits like “Elevator Love Letter” and “The Night Starts Here”. The crowd was revved, as the dark bass lines and synthesized keys pounded through new material from the just-released In Our Bedroom After The War.

Take back the night

Allan Gardens Community Park after dark does not seem like a very appealing place to be. At the intersection of Sherbourne and Gerrard, the park is a hotbed of unsavory liaisons and activities.

Precisely this, however, is what makes it the perfect venue for Toronto’s 27th annual “Take Back the Night” march.

“The Take Back the Night march is an event organized by feminist, grassroots, anti-violence and anti-oppression activist groups all around the world with a focus on women’s rights and safety for women and children,” explained Grissel Orellana, TRCC/MWAR Outreach and Community Development Coordinator.

The rally before the event saw inspirational speakers and singers moving the crowd. One song in particular, “Lean on Me,” sung by a very warm and outgoing volunteer, seemed to hold the crowd rapt.

“Dignity” vans—taxi cab-like vans, specifically at the event for people who needed safe rides home during or after the march— lined the curbs of the circular area.

At the march on September 8, chants such as, “They say ‘stay home’, we say fight back! ” and, “Who’s the boss of my life? I am!” rang through my ears as I marched amongst a throng of women and children gathered on the grounds.

The University of Toronto’s Centre for Women and Trans People took part in this year’s march as part of its mission to display solidarity against rape and all forms of violence against women.

The march’s mandate of being for women and children only has raised the ire of more than a few. Men are encouraged to participate in some of the activities surrounding the event, such as providing child-care, and are welcome at the community fair and the rally directly preceding the march, but they can’t join the march itself.

“It’s symbolic,” said a CWTP member. “It’s about women reclaiming the night.”

This policy may cause controversy, but organizers defend it, saying abused women in attendance could feel threatened by a strong male presence.

Others simply feel that the entire point of the march is to speak out against violence done to women and children, thus it only makes sense for women and children to do the protesting.

Chris Lea, a former leader of the Green Party of Canada, agrees with the event organizers on the women-and-children-only rule.

“There would be less anger if it were easier for a single mother to balance work and home life and… leave a difficult situation with a more real expectation that they would be able to provide for and nurture their children instead of dooming them to a period of poverty,” Lea said.

As I (cautiously) walk back to the streetcar stop to go home after a long night of empowering chants and peaceful protest, I saw a lone woman steal a glance at the masses of activists. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking, of course, but the moment made me realize the two-sidedness of the situation: that it is not always as clear-cut as being a “supporter” or “detractor” of women’s rights. The movement for gender equality faces a long and arduous process, with no end of complicated issues to resolve, but if a glance opens even some small window of hope, it was well worth it.

Virgin islands

It was 40 years ago, right in the middle of the Summer of Love, that San Francisco played host to the Monterey Pop Festival, an event that would define the hippie era and change the way rock ’n’ roll was presented to huge audiences. The massive success of that weekend laid the foundation for countless other rock festivals that have since become legendary. Just as California has Coachella, Tennessee has Bonnaroo, and upstate New York had Woodstock (until Limp Bizkit inspired mass rape and arson in 1999), Toronto has been fortunate enough to have the Virgin Festival. While music nationalists point out that Broken Social Scene had already done “the big Toronto Island concert” three times before the first V Fest last September, and music socialists are quick to criticize the high ticket price and the nauseating amount of corporate sponsorship, V Fest represents the best chance for Toronto to develop its own legendary music festival. So, while it’s still a far cry from the indie-Mecca of Coachella, this year’s V Fest did sport a solid lineup of local and international talent. Here’s our report from a weekend that was jam-packed with great music.

Day One (Saturday, September 8)

I couldn’t help but notice the positive vibes that were all over the island. From the group stretched out on the grass sharing a bottle of wine, to the no more than ten loyal fans watching the smaller acts get the day rolling, people seemed to be having a blast.

The first act I saw was local hip-hop popster K-OS, who took to the main stage a little after 3 p.m. Ever the rabble-rouser, he displayed his flair for audience flattery by yelling out “All the ugly people be quiet!” Mr. Congeniality he ain’t, but that didn’t matter much once hits like “Crabbuckit,” “Man I Used to Be,” and “Sunday Morning” started to flow.

Next to hit the main stage was Sri Lankan- British rapper and singer M.I.A. Fresh off the release of her amazing new record Kala, this girl came to party. Bouncing around in hot pink sunglasses, M.I.A.’s eclectic mix of grime and dancehall got most of the girls (and a few of the boys) dancing up a storm. The definite highlight was her cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” which turned the main stage at V Fest into a sweaty club, with the sizzling sun as our disco ball, and grass our dance floor.

While the day was by all accounts entirely peaceful, it came closest to a riot when M.I.A. called for audience members to join her on stage. Brothers Enrique and Alfredo Gaudite (both U of T students) were two of the first to jump the barricade.

“M.I.A. said, ‘We’re the only crazy motherfuckers up here!’ and there was a mass rush to the stage,” says Alfredo. Enrique added, “The security guys couldn’t hold me down. It was pure energy and sweat.”

Looking around I caught a glimpse of headliner Björk sitting quietly in the sound booth taking in M.I.A.’s set. Conversation was definitely off-limits however, because she looked like she was seriously “in the zone.”

While I wasn’t ready to jump on stage just yet, I was ready to hate on Bostonian nu-cock-rockers Bang Camaro. That is, until I saw them play. The four guitarists backed by 10 singers (seriously, there are 10 “lead” singers in this band) played to about 40 people and wreaked absolute, glorious havoc. Tack on their drummer, and that’s a cool 15 band members headbanging their way through a set of throwback ’80s hairmetal. Also on the side stage were local Arts & Crafts kids The Most Serene Republic who debuted material from their sophomore album Population, which drops in less than a month.

In case you’ve forgotten, the first Virgin Festival last September was marred by mishaps concerning both headliners: The Flaming Lips had their sound yanked early into their set, and Massive Attack, were forced to drop out after being stopped at the border.

This year, I’m pleased to report that the festival’s organizers managed to avoid any major meltdowns, save for the Saturday 5 p.m. slot on the main stage. After initial act Amy “Overdose” Winehouse checked into rehab (“I won’t go, go, go…” yeah, right), festival organizers made a last-minute phone call to book Montreal DJ and Gorillaz collaborator Kid Koala to fill in. His set seemed to be under control until the blazing sun reportedly melted his vinyl records, causing them to stick to the turntable! Burn.

For me, the day would not have been complete without a healthy dose of raw, guitar-driven indie- rock, and brit blokes Arctic Monkeys and NYC’s Interpol were both on hand to deliver just that. While the lads from Sheffield blazed through a ton of material in their hour-long set, Interpol rotated tunes from their three LPs, closing with the show-stopping combination of “Not Even Jail” off of 2004’s Antics, and “PDA” from their 2002 debut Turn on the Bright Lights.

By nightfall it became clear that everyone was anticipating the day-ending set by Icelandic avant-garde songstress Björk. A collection of tattered red-and-green flags were hoisted up to make the stage resemble a medieval court, and a huge brass band provided an interesting contrast to the futuristic sounds being emitted by a round electronic instrument that screamed out high-pitched frequencies.

While many fans preferred her up-tempo, electronic numbers, I felt that her ballads represented the evening’s most arresting moments. Songs like “Unravel” and “Joga” set the scene for a finale that had the potential for real greatness.

Amazingly, she chose to end the set with the moving “Hyperballad,” which would have been a perfect conclusion had the strings not dropped out of the mix halfway through and been replaced by a pulsating heap of beats that turned her best composition into a disappointing attempt at a club anthem. While Björk didn’t exactly send me home with a tune in my heart, it would be wrong to call her rare appearance anything short of awe inspiring.

Day Two (Sunday September 9)

Regrettably, it was clear from the morning cloud cover that Day 2 would not be the same kind of sun-drenched affair that was Saturday afternoon. When we last heard, Sunday at V Fest was nearly sold out, which was hard to imagine, given the sea of music fans we encountered yesterday.

It was business as usual in the Beer Garden, with legions of “fans” paying more attention to getting wasted and looking cool than actually listening to the music.

London newcomer Jamie T arrived looking a little like Dylan at Newport, and his band the Pacemakers sounded like a grime version of the Clash. Famous for his bedroom recordings that were nominated for the Mercury Prize, Jamie T proved that he rocks both in and out of the house, closing his set with a stellar version of his single “Sheila.”

Not surprisingly, local buzz-band Tokyo Police Club secured a spot on the main stage, leading off a triple-shot of bankable Canadian indie-rock. Breaking down a Tokyo Police Club set leads one to realize that they really are the flag-bearers for the ADD generation, in that each song is two minutes long, ditching epic themes for manic hooks and boundless energy.

On the side stages, New York’s Blonde Redhead made a strong case to be included on the main stage, thanks to their insanely tight rhythms and intricate guitar work. Tastemakers were out in full force for their set at the Future Shop stage, and they’re definitely a band to check out if you haven’t already done so.

Second in the string of local heroes were Stars, who hit the stage and miraculously brought the sun out with them. Singer Torquil Campbell sympathized with fans who came in from Scarborough for the occasion, saying, “I’ve almost been killed 25 times in Scarborough, but it’s okay, you can move away.”

Metric had by far the freshest festival tracks, alternating between unrecorded material that will appear on their next release and a hit parade from their earlier discs.

The crowd actually broke through the barricade in advance of Springsteen wannabes The Killers, which we think could either be a dangerous sign of anarchy or excitement for what was to come.

More drama ensued in the media tent when The Killers banned photographers from snapping at the start of their set, in which the mustachioed ones roared through a set consisting mostly of their Top 40 hits. For those who thrive on celebrity gossip, let it be known, for the record, that Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci is now freshly shaven. Oh—my—gawd!

I really have to hand it to the V Fest organizers this year. It’s an impressive feat to set up an outdoor event for thousands of people and make it run like clockwork. The event was fan-friendly to a surprising extent, with lots of free swag that wasn’t trash (free iTunes downloads!). They even brought back the extremely popular text message ticker, in which fans send text messages to Virgin and have them displayed one by one on a big screen— truly a great way to kill time between sets at the main stage.

My only complaint about the weekend was the food service. Separate tents were set up to purchase and pick up food items, and it would have made more sense to save fans the second 20 minute wait by sending them immediately from one tent to the other.

Come to think of it, getting a meal proved difficult even for those of us lucky enough to have a coveted Media/VIP pass. Organizers gave us media types a free meal ticket that read, “We care about you and don’t want you to go hungry.” However, we did go hungry, because not a single one of the organizers that we spoke to was able to properly direct us to the correct food tent. At one point, we wandered backstage in a starved stupor and came upon a huge spread of grub. Killers bassist Mark Stoermer was led into the tent just as they kicked us out, citing our improper wristband colour. But whatever, it’s noble to suffer for one’s art.

Regardless of what you think of the Smashing Pumpkins’ disappointing reunion album, it’s a thrill to hear their old hits in a live setting. The majority of the crowd couldn’t have been more than 10 years old when the Pumpkins were in their heyday, so it was the first chance for many to see the band play live. Highlights such as “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” “Stand Inside Your Love,” and “Tonight, Tonight” were nothing short of triumphant. The whole original band might not be together, but Billy Corgan has always been a control freak, and they’re his songs anyway, right?

The weekend as a whole was worthy of a festival that is slowly developing its legend. Toronto Island is an under-appreciated gem, and it’s convenient enough that you can take in a world-class music festival and still make it back to your own comfortable bed before midnight. It’s pretty cool that our city can host a festival like this, and the gigantic crowd is evidence that the Virgin Festival was a complete success. Organizers assured the crowd that they will be back next year, and with any luck, I will be too.

Building a better ballot

Maybe you’ve gotten a flyer in the mail or been invited to join a Facebook group. Your student union is pressing pretty hard for it. You can see ads, in 25 languages, explaining how on Oct. 10 Ontario will hold a referendum on switching from our current, “First- Past-the-Post” electoral system to a new “Mixed Member Proportional” one. Are you still confused?

The ads, websites, YouTube videos and the rest, are all part of a $6.8 million public information campaign launched by Elections Ontario to help Ontarians make an informed choice on the referendum slated for the October 10 general provincial election.

As of late June, a poll commissioned by Elections Ontario showed that only 28 per cent of voters even knew of the referendum, never mind its potential consequences.

According to University of Toronto Students Union VP external Dave Scrivener, this ignorance persists. “A lot of people have no idea it’s even happening, which is a pretty massive problem.”

Scrivener points to a recent, wellpublicized referendum on electoral reform that narrowly failed in British Columbia. The Ontario referendum, by comparison, is obscure.

UTSU, and more recently, the Canadian Federation of Students, have both decided to back the “yes” side of the referendum.

Scrivener expressed hope that MMP will put greater emphasis on the popular vote, with less depending on swing ridings and more on issues, including student ones.

Elections Ontario’s website on the referendum (www.yourbigdecision. ca), deals with basic questions like how an MMP ballot would look and work, but leaves the big question, how the new system could change Ontario’s politics, unanswered. Partisan websites are stepping in to fill the gap.

According to Dr. Lawrence LeDuc, professor of political science at U of T, “we’re only guessing what’s going to happen because no one knows with any certainty until the system is in place what it will be like.”

LeDuc is, however, a respected authority on electoral systems, and argues that the best way to guess what MMP might mean for Ontario is through comparative politics: “you can establish some parameters because there are models like this working in other places.”

New Zealand moved recently to MMP from a system like Ontario’s present one. Scotland uses MMP and, like Ontario, is part of a federation. Germany has used MMP longer of any country, and so is a useful indicator of what MMP could bring in the long run. All three countries are dominated by coalition politics, yet all three, LeDuc points out, have stable governments.

LeDuc quick to note that a lot of what could come out of MMP will be determined by circumstance and the political culture that emerges over time—factors that are difficult to predict. Some of that culture could come as responses to actions voters may not like: the formation of surprise coalitions, for example, or short periods of instability when there is a closely divided legislature. Critics of MMP have drawn comparisons between it and the somewhat similar systems used in Italy, which is overrun by small parties, and Israel, with its divisive and fractious politics, for example.

“The system that is being proposed by the citizen’s assembly is not at all like that,” said LeDuc. “So why people even bring it up, I don’t know, but I guess they think they can frighten people with those kinds of references.”

U of T Research Review

Researchers

From U of T’s Department of Geology, lead authour Gopalan Srinivasan et. al.

Method

The subjects of the study were tiny zircon crystals found in volcanically produced meteorites (eucrites). The team used an ion microprobe located at the Swedish National Museum to determine the amount of hafnium-128 that had decayed into tungsten-182 and used the known half-life of 9 million years to infer the age of crystallization of the zircon crystals present. These eucrites were collected in Antarctica and are believed to have originated from Vesta, a sizeable asteroid located in the asteroid belt present between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

Variables

It is thought that Vesta most likely formed in a method similar to Earth. A rapid heating process, caused by a high amount of radiation present, cooked Vesta and caused it to melt into a core made up of metal and silicates. The missing piece of information was the exact point at which this event occurred.

Findings The team concluded that Vesta was melted down less than 10 million years after the solar system’s formation 4.5 billion years ago. The steady and measurable decay of hafnium allowed the team to pinpoint this date of formation rather accurately–especially considering the length of time involved.

Implications

Knowing when an object such as Vesta formed provides us with another event we can place on the time line of our solar system. As well, it provides further information on how and under what conditions planets and smaller space objects form.

Future Steps

Further study of meteorites from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter could corroborate and expand upon the team’s fi ndings. As a vast majority of asteroids in our solar system are found in this ancient scrap yard of space debris, understanding when and how it formed is an important step in fully describing our solar system’s history.

Source

Science 317 (5836): pages 345–347, July 20, 2007

Researchers

Professor Marla Sokolowski and postdoctoral fellow Ken Dawson-Scully of UTM.

Findings

The team discovered that a single genetic pathway could be manipulated to protect fruit fl ies and locusts from neural damage due to extreme heat stress.

Method A gene responsible for foraging behaviour in fruit fl ies also produces a protein known as PKG. The team increased temperature levels by 5 degrees Celsius per minute starting at close to room temperature (22 degrees).

Results The flies that had higher levels of PKG experienced neural problems at lower temperatures compared to flies with lower levels of PKG. Additional work by Gary Armstrong and Mel Robertson of Queen’s University showed that locusts injected with a PKG inhibitor while under rising heat exhibited quickly increased protection of their neural areas.

Implications A fever is the body’s natural and benefi – cial response to some form of infection. A higher temperature makes it diffi cult for invaders to carry out their work and allows the body’s immune system to take care of the threat. In small children, a long-lasting, severe fever (over 42 degrees Celsius) can sometimes result in brain damage. The PKG pathway exists in other organisms besides fl ies and locusts. It is conceivable that this pathway, or a similar one, may function in much the same way in humans. If this is the case, when a child is undergoing a severe fever and risks neurological damage, inhibitors to reduce the proteins created by the pathway may reduce damage like in the fl ies studied.

Source http://www.news.utoronto.ca/ bin6/070827-3364.asp

Outreach fires up support for community

On Friday, U of T’ers gave a little back to the community. Eight-hundred students of all years and programs volunteered at 42 different agencies around Toronto for U of T’s annual community service program Outreach. This was the event’s second year, and the students involved called it a complete success.

I began by visiting the students volunteering at the Mon Sheong Home for the Aged on D’arcy Street. I found students there repainting a fence on the outside deck of the home, and looking forward to working personally with the residents later in the day.

Ahmad Khan, a third year Biophysics major, was enthusiastic about volunteering on the beautiful summer day.

“I guess we spend so much time in the academic realm of things that we should do some social work just to complement our academic experience,” mused Khan, who participated last year as well.

“It’s good to help out the community, to give back something.”

I made my way up McCaul Street to see what was going on at the Salvation Army Hope Shelter. There, students were supposed to serve a barbeque lunch to some 110 men staying at the shelter, but lunchtime came and went without a sign of the outreachers, much to the distress of the shelter staff. “This was going to be the last barbeque, and we were going to hold it over the long weekend, but we decided to take advantage of U of T’s outreach and hold it today,” said shelter chaplain and volunteer coordinator Klaus Dimytruk.

Will this affect relations with U of T in the future?

“No, no. I understand that things happen. I’m not putting the blame on anyone, we’ll make the best of the situation,” he said. At least there were no hard feelings, but why didn’t the students show up?

Dawn Britton, coordinator of Out- reach at the Centre for Community Partnership, said problems like this are part of the challenges of running a volunteer program.

“Some students registered and didn’t follow through,” she said. “ I personally feel quite badly about what happened,” she added.

Aside from that mishap, Britton said she had heard a lot of positive feedback about the program from the students. Well, that makes two of us.

Pop until you drop

An intriguing news story popped up this past week involving that popular snack—and staple of movie- going audiences the world over: popcorn. It is a curious tale involving a man, a blog, and years of popcorn abuse.

In July, a pulmonary specialist at the National Jewish Medical and Research Centre in Denver, Colorado, sent a letter to federal agencies warning of the potential for microwave popcorn to cause lung disease in consumers. Dr. Cecile Rose described the case of a man who developed a potentially fatal disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans (informally called “popcorn lung”) after years of eating microwave popcorn several times a day. The disease is known to occur among popcorn factory workers who are exposed to extremely high doses of the causative agent diacetyl on a regular basis. This documented case of a consumer suffering from the same affliction set off a cascade of concern and immediate action by the companies involved.

The letter was made known to the public via an Internet blog called The Pump Handle. Administered by David Michaels of the George Washington School of Public Health, the story appeared this past Tuesday and made waves right away. The next day, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) issued a statement recommending that “its members who manufacture butter flavors containing diacetyl for use in microwave popcorn consider reducing the diacetyl content of these flavors to the extent possible.” Soon after, ConAgra, makers of the well-known Orville Redenbacher brand of popcorn announced they were going to replace diacetyl with another flavouring agent within a year. Other companies, such as the Weaver Popcorn Company, promised to stop using diacetyl and replace it with other compounds. With all this noise over diacetyl, one might be asking: what exactly is it and where is it found?

As described in FEMA’s statement, “Diacetyl is naturally occurring in a wide variety of foods including butter, milk, cheese, fruits, wine and beer and provides a ‘buttery’ flavor to butter itself and other foods.” After cooking flavored microwave popcorn, that powerful buttery odour you smell is airborne diacetyl. Its official chemical name is 2,3-Butanedione and it is even found as a component of cigarette smoke.

It is highly likely that diacetyl actually poses little risk to consumers. The afflicted man in question, Wayne Watson, is definitely an unusual case. Clearly an avid fan of popcorn, he told doctors that he popped two to three bags of popcorn every day for about ten years. On top of this, he would inhale deeply from the freshly popped bag because he enjoyed the smell so much. When the air levels of diacetyl were tested inside the man’s home, the levels were found to be comparable to areas of a popcorn plant where similarly affected employees worked.

Although approved by the FDA as a flavouring agent, diacetyl has been known to cause health problems in people exposed to high doses. In March of 2004, a former popcorn plant employee won a $20 million lawsuit against International Flavors. The man claims he received permanent lung damage— so bad that he is awaiting a double lung transplant—after only a year of working at the Gilster-Mary Lee plant in Jasper, Missouri. An additional 29 former employees are also taking suit against the company.

The name “popcorn lung” is almost too light-hearted a name for such a serious disease. There is no known cure for bronchiolitis obliterans, besides a double lung transplant. Inflammation and scarring of lung tissue occur in affected patients, with lung capacity being reduced to 16 to 21%. Standard capacity for healthy people is around 80%. What is more, the disease is difficult to identify. Its symptoms, such as dry cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath, could be indicative of any number of respiratory illnesses. The fact that Dr. Rose was able to identify Mr. Watson’s affliction was itself a stroke of luck, as she is one of only dozens of physicians in the US who are familiar with the disease.

Mr Watson’s story spread through mainstream media much like an epidemic. After being first reported on a blog, it spread from one point and was soon found on most news websites, even making the front page of Yahoo. Although stories of lawsuits and worker safety have trickled down the newswire over the past several years, Mr. Watson’s tale effectively broke the story in the mainstream media.

The dark side to the story is that it seems as if civilian casualties are the only way to bring a serious health issue front and centre. Had it not been for Mr. Watson and his popcorn sniffing ways, it may have taken many more years of unpublicized litigation and numerous lawsuits before the companies involved began taking steps to stop using the substance and save their workers from a crippling illness. In 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that a study of the chemicals in popcorn was underway. The results have yet to be released to the public.