Monday, December 20, 2010

What Making the TTC an Essential Service Really Means

Last Thursday, the new Toronto City Council voted on designating the TTC an essential service. Mayor Ford and 27 Councillors voted in favour of this proposal, and the item was officially adopted. While my first reaction was to rejoice at the prospect of never again having to suffer through another transit strike in the city, I eventually started wondering what the true implications of this decision are. I consulted the transit expert: Steve Munro, Toronto's independent transit researcher and activist. If you need to know something about the TTC, he's your source.

Unfortunately I have been plagued with a migraine for almost 24 hours now, so I'm finding it a bit difficult to summarize the main points of Steve's blog post, and even when I'm at my best I can't match his eloquence. I urge you to read his comments and think about how transit service - and therefore transit users - will suffer when higher wage settlements are granted to TTC workers when they no longer have the right to strike.

Steve's blog post can be found here.

Photo credit.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In the News Today

Two water-related stories for you today:

Researchers have found that estrogen levels in drinking water can be traced back mainly to industrial agriculture rather than oral contraceptives. The pill has been blamed for the feminization of fish and other aquatic animals, suggesting human health may be affected in ways we don't yet know. What this study points out - and I can't believe I didn't realize this earlier - is that livestock produce 13 times more solid waste than humans and consume great amounts of synthetic hormones in factory farm operations, providing a source of estrogen far greater than what humans alone can contribute. Additionally, agricultural pesticide runoff can mimic estrogen! Thankfully, water treatment plants can remove most of it, but wild animals continue to drink from or swim in the water we have polluted for them.

Read the full article here.

Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail has written about abnormalities found on fish in rivers near the Alberta tar sands. I'm not surprised that these poor creatures have deformities, lesions, and tumours if that's the kind of habitat they live in, but it's a little shocking that the people in charge of monitoring this issue (the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program, RAMP) are led primarily by petroleum industry representatives. No wonder some scientists have criticized RAMP for being "secretive". In past annual reports, some species have been excluded from the statistics, and averages have been cited while the raw numbers remain private. You don't have to be a scientist to know that this type of monitoring is not credible.

Read the full article here.

Photo credits: oral contraceptive pills and tar sands.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Season's Greetings and Food (but No Gravy) to Mayor Ford

Want to light three candles with one flame? If you can make a donation to Food Forward by tomorrow (sorry for the short notice), a personalized greeting card will be delivered to Rob Ford in your honour, along with a selection of yummy local produce. Not only will you be sharing holiday cheer with Toronto's new mayor, this action also helps support Food Forward's work and advocates for the need to strengthen our local food system. You can also thank a Councillor for advancing the good food movement or encourage one to become more involved. Look up the one serving your ward on the City of Toronto's website.

Full details can be found here.

Photo credit.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Will You Eat Real On No Fast Food Day?

This Friday (December 17th) is No Fast Food Day, also known as Eat Real Day. I hope you will join me in eating healthy food, either prepared at home with ingredients from your local market or grocer, or while dining out at a neighbourhood restaurant. The goal that Food Forward had in mind when creating this day was to stimulate discussion around some of the problems with fast food: environmental destruction, social inequities, health problems, and factory farm conditions.

So take some time on Thursday to plan your day. I promise it's easier than you think: wake up early enough to eat breakfast at home instead of on the go to start the day off right; bring leftovers to work and skip the cafeteria at lunch; grab that afternoon tea/coffee and snack at a local, independent café that makes their baked goods in-house every morning (or better yet, replace the cookie with an apple); and invite your friends over for a home-cooked meal in the evening!

Sign up to count your participation here, and encourage your friends to participate in the challenge, too! Join the discussion by sharing your healthy food ideas and fast food issues by tweeting with the hashtag #eatreal, and sharing on Food Forward's Facebook event page.

Bon appetit!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Buy Nothing Christmas

If you're struggling to find the perfect gift for each person on your list this year, don't worry: it's not you. Maybe the problem is that most of the stuff you can find in the mall is useless, and you're not the kind of person who feels comfortable gifting unwanted things (that will no doubt be thrown out) and spending way too much money doing so. Well, you're not alone!

To help you out, please check out this list of alternatives to avoid purchasing junk for loved ones, brought to you by the nice folks at Buy Nothing Christmas. There you'll find some great ideas, including some of my personal favourites that I've used in recent years: baking a seasonal dessert and presenting it in a tin that previously held store-bought cookies; collecting quotations that remind you of someone and writing them into a blank notebook; and putting together a gift basket filled with edible items you know the recipient loves and will consume.

Happy gifting!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

No Impact Week

Tired of the same old, same old when making new year's resolutions? Disillusioned by previous attempts to adopt a new exercise routine, cut certain foods out of your diet, and stick to a monthly budget? I've got just the thing for you: No Impact Week.

You can think of No Impact Week as a seven-day cleanse... of carbon! That's right, this is a week for experimenting with greener lifestyle choices and challenging yourself to live without certain luxuries you probably take for granted but don't necessarily need. You'll get a chance to take a hard look at your carbon footprint and use those fine-tuned problem solving skills I know you have to reduce or eliminate some of its sources - especially the ones that eat away at your pocketbook without actually contributing to your quality of life!

Once you sign up, you will receive a how-to guide, a short survey about your current lifestyle, and daily challenges, ideas, and resources. There will be many opportunities to share your experiences over the course of the week with blogs, pictures, and discussion forums. Most importantly, you will be connected with other participants to share tips and support.

After the week is up, you'll get a chance to complete the lifestyle survey again and measure the change you've made, and if you're really keen, you can register to become a No Impact Ambassador in your community. Feel free to make a cape and send me pictures!

No Impact Week is the brainchild of Yes! Magazine and Colin Beavan, who lived as No Impact Man for one year in New York City. Watch the video to find out what he accomplished and to get an idea of what the week will be like for you:

The countdown is on... the week kicks off on January 2nd!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Terra Madre Day 2010

This Friday, December 10th, marks the second worldwide Terra Madre Day in support of local food networks. Events will be held around the globe to celebrate food diversity and the right to good, clean, and fair food for all.

Slow Food Toronto and The Stop Community Food Centre have joined forces to present Toronto's 2010 edition of Terra Madre Day festivities at the Artscape Wychwood Barns, where guests will have the chance to visit a wide variety of food stations, sampling local products and meeting the farmers, fishers, and cooks who produced, raised, grew, and prepared this healthy feast. Live music performances will provide a great atmosphere in which to consciously enjoy the food and connect with other supporters of the good food movement.

Tickets are $15, of which $5 will go towards Slow Food's Thousand Gardens in Africa Project, and children under 12 gain free entry.

For more details, a complete listing of food participants and performers, as well as volunteer opportunities, check out the event page.

Photo credit.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

One Small Step Forward for the Environment, One Giant Step Backward for Human Health

I was saddened to read last week that the state of California has decided to in favour of replacing one ozone-depleting pesticide (methyl bromide) with another (methyl iodide) on the basis that the latter is much less destructive to that invisible shield above us that keeps most UV radiation away from our delicate skin. This is an improvement, but only in terms of halting ozone depletion (which, thankfully, has been occurring to a very small degree). If you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, this is what you see: methyl iodide, commonly used to sterilize the soil ahead of planting on industrial strawberry farms, is so carcinogenic that it is used to induce cancer in lab testing.

Since this pesticide does not linger on the berries themselves, it poses no apparent threat to consumers, but what of the farm workers and those living in nearby communities? Are we pausing long enough to think about the people who grow our food and live close to farms? Are we stopping to examine the package of strawberries available in supermarkets in December to find out where they come from? Is it necessary for us to eat fresh fruit out of season in light of our proximity to locally-grown berries in the summer and the existence of freezers in almost every home? Most importantly, where is the social justice in letting others face such enormous health risks when we would never do the same, just to be able to access any food, no matter how exotic, at any time of year?

For more, read Tom Laskawy's and Tom Philpott's articles in Grist.

Photo credit.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Announcing the First Ever "Foodie Drinks"!

I'm pleased to pass on the word that this Wednesday, December 8th, Food Forward is inviting local foodies who want to make Toronto a better place to come to the downstairs room at The Blake House (449 Jarvis between Wellesley and Carlton) between 7 and 10 pm. The first ever Foodie Drinks event is the place to be if you want to network within this growing community, discuss local food politics, and generally have fun! Attendees will also be treated to a presentation on one food business and one local organization working to make a difference. The event is free, but you are encouraged to "buy a drink for Food Forward" if you can make a $10 donation to help support current and future projects.

If you can make it, please let Food Forward know on their event page.

See you there!

The power of networking.

[Photo credit]

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lock Your Bike and Look Cool Doing It

In keeping with the spirit of this blog, I always endeavour to promote environmentally friendly lifestyle choices that keep you in good health. That's why I'm a big fan of cycling and telling you about bike-related news that could convince you to ditch your four-wheeler for your two-wheeler. Remember the inflatable helmet I wrote about in October? If maintaining a perfectly styled head of hair while cycling isn't cool enough for you, check out this new bike lock:

I'm fairly certain the whole process takes longer than 16 seconds, but you have to admit, this is an appealing way to secure your bike. It's also a great conversation starter! But you can't buy it. That is, while searching the Conrad website, I discovered that the lock was created when one of the company's build teams was challenged to design the craziest lock they could come up within a span of two weeks. Now Conrad is asking its customers to see if they can pull off the same feat, with some help: the list of items actually used in construction and a "making of" video. So grab a German-speaking friend and check out the details here.

Thanks to Jonathan Hiskes with Grist for sharing this story.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Transit City Needs You!

Time for a multiple choice question! Are you...

A) interested in creating livable cities
B) worried about the greenhouse effect and global climate change
C) frustrated by traffic congestion
D) concerned about your health
E) all of the above?

If you answered E, or at least a few of the others, and if you live in or will be visiting Toronto on Saturday, then you should come out to help save Transit City! The Transit City plan calls for an extensive, electrically-powered light rail system through areas currently unserviced by rapid transit. New mayor Ford wants to put a halt to the work that is already being done on this project. Actually, his exact words to reporters after a meeting with the TTC were, "Transit City's over. The war on the car is over. All new subway expansion is going underground". In response, Spacing Toronto has organized the first in a series of canvassing events to organize supporters and educate the public on the issue, no doubt including how much of a waste would result from abandoning the work that has already been completed, how much money would be lost from what already went into said projects, and the cost of breaking contracts worth $1.3 billion that have been signed. This is no small issue.

Saturday's canvas will take place in the Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood - that's Ward 16, represented by the new TTC Chair, Councillor Karen Stintz, who remained loyal to the Transit City plan throughout her campaign prior to the municipal election earlier this fall. So, if cutting rapid transit plans is unacceptable to you, check out Spacing Toronto for more details on how to get involved.