Stimulating Saturdays: Big picture on health

A lot of attention is always on health care and, in particular, health care costs. This is particularly true in this time of so-called fiscal restraint. However, health care shouldn’t be limited to diagnostic and reactive care. Preventative health care is crucial.

To show love or to lust after ‘things’

Ah Valentine’s Day. We either love it or hate it or simply pass it by as just another day. I am a firm believer in 365 days of love, not 1 day. Especially when that 1 day revolves around consumption.

Anyways, today, I’m linking to a post on a blog that I really enjoy reading, The Simple Dollar; titled The Day of Love, the post talks about remembering the true meaning of February 14 and finding ways to express and celebrate love without feeling the need to buy buy buy.

What’s in a (personal) brand?

In a world full of brands and constant chatter about branding, have you ever sat down to think about what your brand is? I think that a personal brand is a convergence. A handful of traits that you and those who circle you (friends, colleagues, family, acquaintances, mentors) agree on. Your brand would be your reputation and your logo is you.

It has been a while since I’ve started re-thinking who I am and what I am contributing to the world around me. What are my strengths? What are my key skills? What are my interests? What are my hobbies? I’ve honestly sat down thinking about what my hobbies are; at some earlier point in my life, I had clearer ideas of what my hobbies are but now, I’m finding that I’m not even sure what I enjoy doing! In all fairness, I think it’s more the challenge of articulating my hobbies or interests than not having any.

I think I’m not alone when I say that, more often than not, I look to my search engine for some guidance on a topic. I decided to read up on what advice others had given on personal brands.

First off, I found a great site called DIY Business Assocation. On the site, Dixie wrote about the 20/10/4 exercise for identifying key traits that can help you hone in on your brand. You start by thinking of 20 (or more) words that you would use to describe yourself. Next, you narrow down the list to 10 words. The best bet for doing this is likely a combination of going with your gut feelings (words that you are drawn towards) and eliminating redundant ideas. And if you thought narrowing the list down to 10 was hard, the next step is to narrow down to 4 words!

My shortlist: reliable, curious, collaborative, perceptive.

So now I’d identified some words that really resonate with me and that I feel describe the essence of me. I read Dixie’s article about how the words can come together but I wasn’t sure how to connect my words together into a coherent concept.

Next, I read about authentic personal brands on Miboso and it suggested that I use the personal values (my shortlist of words) that I had identified as the base of my brand messages. Interesting…except that I haven’t a clue what this really means. Reading through the site a bit more, I found a Venn diagram on the website that shows what a brand is: the convergence of ideals, values, and strengths, playing on talent, passion, and experience. A brand draws on your past experience and helps you clearly define who you are and where you want to be.

After reading through a few other sites, I’ve realized that a personal brand is not just your reputation but also a road map. A tool that reflects both who I am and where I’ve been, are, and want to go. I still haven’t figured out how to connect my shortlisted words together to help me map out the “where I want to go” path but I like having this concrete list to lean on as I try to create a vision for my coming years.

Have you ever thought about articulating your personal brand?

Love documentaries?

I am increasingly finding that I enjoy documentaries and was quite excited when a friend told me about Top Documentary Films, a website where you can watch documentaries for free. There are a variety of genres (health, art, sexuality, politics, history, etc.) to suit whatever mood or interest you may have.

I’ve been slowly trying to declutter my life and my living spaces (work and home). This means really evaluating what something means to me in my life at the moment and assessing whether it should stay in my life or not. Of course, it only makes sense that at the same time, I’m also trying to be very conscious about things that I bring into my life. It isn’t about getting rid of things just because they’re old or ratty or unwanted anymore and replacing them with new, shiny things. Rather, it’s about keeping the things that matter and acknowledging things that may have meant something at one point but don’t anymore. I donate what I think is acceptable for donating, recycle as much of the remainder, and throw any leftover things away (really trying to avoid this last option).

What this has to do with documentaries is the concept of living in a tiny space and focusing on good design coupled with conscientious living. I watched the film, We the Tiny House People, and felt pretty inspired to have less material things in my life. More space means more opportunity for accumulation of stuff, which means more cleaning and more resources spent maintaining the stuff, not to mention all the stuff that doesn’t get used because you have so much stuff! I don’t think I’d want to live in a 100sq ft house but I think I’d be happy in a 900sq ft house (typical 1950’s home), which is a bit smaller than what I currently live in. I certainly don’t want a 2200sq ft house, which I’ve heard is the typical desirable size home at the moment.

Shaping the future Ottawa: Open House Jan 29

If you’re interested in city and community planning, the City of Ottawa has an open house and presentation in the evening on Tuesday January 29 for its Building a Liveable Ottawa Plan. This is the start of their strategic review of planning, development, and transportation policies and priorities. Straight from their website, the city has identified 12 planning issues:

  1. Intensification: smart development
  2. Urban Land Issues: building in or building out
  3. Rural Components: protecting and preserving Ottawa’s countryside – most of the city of Ottawa is actual rural land use
  4. Urban Design: creating people-friendly environments
  5. Transit Oriented Development: living and working around transit stations
  6. Employment Land Review: protecting and diversifying the economy
  7. Infrastructure Needs: providing the services required for growth
  8. Public Transit: moving people when and where they need to go
  9. Complete Streets: making room for all transportation choices
  10. Active Transportation: promoting healthy lifestyles
  11. Sustainable Transportation: developing travel options to reduce car dependency
  12. Affordability: realizing development within our financial means

I like what I’m seeing so far, with a decreasing emphasis on cars and more thought being put to how to make it easier for people on foot, bikes, and public transportation to get from point A to B in an efficient, safe manner. So far, so good.

Stimulating Saturdays: Lemonade stand 2.0

Following up with my first Stimulating Saturdays post, here is the next short video I’d like to share.

I think a lot about conscious capitalism but I’ve recently heard about connected capitalism, where you really think about how one can leverage interactions and connections with the surrounding community (local or global) to make the most positive impact possible. I randomly found a short animated film produced by the Changers of Commerce to illustrate connected capitalism. I call it, the Lemonade Stand 2.0.

As a side note, the Attawapiskat First Nation has been mentioned fairly often by the media since Member of Parliament Charlie Angus presented the state of this remote reserve last year (or the year before?). I wanted to mention a documentary that I recently watched on this First Nation community, the National Film Board’s The People of the Kattawapiskak River; it gives a good visual of some of the conditions within which the people live. Because I don’t have an intimate understanding of the First Nation issues, I find myself unsure of how to appropriately assess the information that is presented by the mass media. What is truth, what is sensationalism, what is being twisted, what is being omitted, and what is being misrepresented? I found myself watching the documentary and thinking, “so that’s what Charlie Angus looks like” (remember I only listen to the news, I don’t watch it). I appreciated seeing a completely different angle of the reserve from what mass media has told me and thinking more about the challenges that they face in trying to maintain quite a remote community. Definitely an interesting film.

Stimulating Saturdays: Story of Change

Remember spending a leisurely Saturday morning watching some cartoons on TV? I definitely don’t find myself sitting in front of a TV anymore (helps that we don’t own one) but it was kinda fun having something to watch on Saturday mornings. Now, on weekends, we cook, share nice long delicious meals with family and friends, and on occasion, we go to parties and events where we interact with new and familiar people. Talking about the weather and your job and your family starts to get boring quickly, so you need a conversation topic that’ll get people talking.

Thus, on Saturdays, I’m going to start sharing things that I’ve come across or that have been shared with me. Things that’ll hopefully provoke thoughts and stimulate conversations…hence stimulating Saturdays. Think of it as a less zoned-out adult-version of Saturday morning cartoons. Plus, it’s something to stimulate the juices while preparing breakfast.

The first video I want to share is part of The Story of Stuff Project. The Project was started by Annie Leonard, critic of excessive consumerism and environment supporter, and has released numerous short films and a book on key issues that have an impact on the environment. There are critiques of her and her films (e.g., leftist, anti-capitalist, indoctrinator) but that’s because her animated films and the concepts that she champions are meant to facilitate critical thinking and start conversations on some complicated issues. Her latest film is called The Story of Change.

If you’re interested in the Project, you can read more on their blog.

I’ve saved…now what?

I’m posting a few links to posts that I really enjoyed on The Simple Dollar. I think I’m pretty on top of my finances but I also love to read about what other people are doing or recommending. Hey, I never know when I can pick up a great tip to incorporate into my own life!

As I mentioned very briefly here, moving to a cash diet has made it THAT MUCH MORE obvious to me how easy it was to treat myself to something when I made most purchases on credit cards. It was really timely to read Living Below Your Means is a Challenge for Everyone; I think we’re at a point in our lives where we’re really trying to shift more towards living below our means so that we can both save up more (emergency funds, retirement savings, vacation funds, paying down the mortgage) and reprioritize aspects of our lives. You know, stop buying stuff, enjoy the stuff that we already have, maybe get rid of stuff (donate, recycle) that we don’t really need, and create more memories and enjoy more experiences together.

I’m not sure if this is actually plausible but I think I was born with a saving instinct; my mom tells me that she would give me a snack when I was a wee toddler and she would find me munching on something a few days later…yes…I had hid part of the snack away so that I could eat more of it later. It’s a bit gross when I think about it now but I swear, that was the beginning of the story of where I am today. I came out of university with no debt (yay good paying university jobs that also taught me solid life skills), have a solid emergency fund, don’t live out of my means, and feel pretty comfortable with my financial situation. I do, however, feel internally conflicted about where I should be channeling my financial attention. Should I focus on saving for retirement, which – if the conventional age for retirement is between 55 and 65 – is many years away but with inflation and longer expected lifespans, could cost a substantial amount? Should I spend more on travel, which I love to do? Should we pay down the mortgage as quickly as possible? Should we use more of it now or save more of it for later, hoping that we will live to see a ‘later’? Reading Investing with Indirect (or No) Financial Returns makes me think more about what our financial priorities should be for the moment. I want to be prepared for what may happen tomorrow or ten years from now but I also want to make the most of my life today since I have no idea what may or may not happen tomorrow. How do we reconcile those two thoughts?

Taste, Process, and the Hypocrite

I don’t think it’s very uncommon these days to find people whose unintended but self-fulfilling mantra seems to be “I don’t have enough time to do anything”. In my attempt to realign my life according to my values and priorities, I have been spending my lunch hours at work reading books that I previously “didn’t have enough time to read”. I picked up Alissa Hamilton’s Squeezed off my bookshelf and decided to put a more concerted effort into reading it. It also helps that in the one year plus since my last attempted read through her book, I’ve done a lot of questioning, discussing, and learning around food and feel that I’m coming back to her book with broadened horizons, so to say. In essence, I’m that much more interested in finding out how food is produced, why it is produced a certain way, and what the driving forces are behind the foods I see at the supermarket today.

Alissa’s book recounts the US Food and Drug Administration’s “trial” on orange juice back in the 1960’s. It wasn’t really called a trial but it involved examinations and cross examinations of industry and a very select number of consumer representatives around the definition of a standard of identity for orange juice. I hadn’t heard about standards of identity until reading her book; these are essentially descriptions of what must be in something to constitute <insert name of food here>. For example, what should be in an orange-coloured fluid for it to be called orange juice?

Processed Products Regulations, Schedule II, Standards of identity for specified fruit and vegetable products (don’t skip over this just because these are Regulations; it’s actually quite interesting scrolling through)

Food and Drug Administration, 21 CFR 146.135 – Orange juice

The rhetoric and questions that were brought forth as part of this “trial” were quite interesting and are making me think about food production from yet another perspective. For example, as a consumer, does the final taste of the product you purchase trump how the product came to be? In other words, does taste trump process? No…right!? I thought about it some more and if the taste isn’t what you were expecting, then you question the process, but if the taste is just as you expect and are accustomed to, then do you question the process?

Several years ago, I don’t think I would’ve questioned the process nearly to the same extent that I do today, especially if the product always tasted the same every single time I consumed it. I don’t expect I’m alone in stating this. Maybe you question what ingredients went into your food, how it was processed, and where your food is coming from when you hear about the newest dietary fad (e.g., reduce sodium, ingest more omega 3’s, MSG is bad), you get food poisoning, or someone you are feeding has a dietary restriction…but I’m sure that most folks don’t question every single time they come in contact with a food item. And I’m not even talking about nutritional content, which I think many people are relatively concerned about these days.

After some pondering, I’ve realized that I question the food that I see around me, whether it be raw ingredients or processed foods, but to differing extents. For me, I think it boils down to the question of the level of control that I feel I have over the food item:

  • For chocolate, there are a huge variety of options commonly available in Canada: Locally produced, bean-to-bar, foreign-produced, exotic flavours, fair trade, organic, dark, white, milk, and so on. Therefore, I question where the cacao beans were grown, who picked them, how were they processed, what the ingredients are, and who (and what) am I supporting if I buy chocolate bar A over chocolate bar B, C, D, E, F. And my choices reflect my values. The process is just as important as the taste and without both being acceptable in my mind, I don’t think it’s worth buying or eating.
  • For bananas, there is less variety in options commonly available in Canada compared to chocolate. There is one main eating variety (the Cavendish), most bananas are under a limited number of multinational brands (Dole, Del Monte, or Chiquita), and most bananas are produced in a handful of countries that support the ideal growth conditions. The treatment of the people who work on banana plantations is of concern to me and I’ve learned that fair trade bananas exist but the issue is that they aren’t commonly available in Canada. There isn’t even an option on the degree of ripeness, just what is available on the store display that day…although banana ripening post-picking sounds rather disappointing and one day I hope to eat a banana that has ripened on the tree and not after being sprayed with ethylene gas. Realistically, when I want to eat a banana, the only usual option is organic or not organic. That isn’t to say that there are just as many ethical issues as there are with chocolate but the options just aren’t as vast…so I question but my choices don’t necessarily reflect my values.
  • For some common Japanese food ingredients which I grew up eating, such as mirin, furikake, and kamaboko, I can only provide a vague description of what they are and I have only a vague notion into how they are produced, mostly guessed upon the characteristics of the final product. These were ingredients that my mother always bought at the Japanese food store (bless Vancouver) and the variety in options within these product types was typically limited to the brand. There really wasn’t much choice, I haven’t been exposed to any other way of obtaining these ingredients except at an ethnic store, so I seem to complacently consume them. Taste has been the driving factor with these types of products, not the process.

I admit, my own analysis reveals that I’m a hypocrite but this concept of taste versus process isn’t as clear cut as I thought.

Learning about Food at School

I recently finished reading French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. This is a story about Karen and her family and their one year living in a small village in France (they now live in Vancouver). Moreover, Karen focusses on le gastronomie, the food culture in France, learning as much through her children’s experiences as her own. It isn’t just about what they eat but how, when, and why they eat. Karen also discusses the cantines in French schools, where three or four course lunches are prepared for children from a very early age. This is an opportunity for children to learn about different types of foods, about table manners, and experimentation under the watchful eyes of their peers. The lunch is typically a starter salad, a main dish, a fresh baguette with cheese, and a dessert (usually fruit, with a sweet dessert once a week). Perhaps I would’ve learned to like grated carrot salad if I had been fed it from an early age…not to say that I’m beyond hope.

I like visuals so here are posts one, two, and three with pictures of various school lunches from around the world. This will get your salivary glands going!

So anyways, while I was reading this book, memories of my lunch room experience in Japan came back to me. When I was in Grade 3, during a trip to Japan, I spent one week going to school there. I fondly look back on the experience now – how fortunate I was! – but I had mixed feelings about it when I was 8 years old.

The school lunch program in Japan is called kyushoku and it really is a remarkable thing when I think about it now. There are industrial-sized kitchens in schools (or there is a centralized kitchen that serves a few schools), where people come to cook lunch every day. That was already a strange sight for me; my school in Canada did not have a kitchen and a warm lunch was a rarity. The students take turns on kyushoku-toban (lunch duty), where they might help with final preparations of the food, fetching the food from the kitchen and carrying it to the classroom, passing the lunch trays around, then cleaning up after everyone has eaten. In the classroom, the desks are moved into groups of about 6 and everyone eats together, including the teacher. Everyone socializes together, making jokes, encouraging each other to eat things we might not like, and sharing stories and ideas.  That was a strange experience for me as my teacher in Canada didn’t usually sit with the students at lunchtime. It’s actually pretty neat because you have an opportunity to interact with your teacher on a whole different level. Everyone also eats the same thing that is on the menu, which changes every day.

I have to mention that milk in Japan tastes very different from milk that I’ve tasted in North America. A different flavour and a different feeling in your mouth. I have never gotten used to it, despite having visited Japan many times (apparently I was just a few months old the first time I visited). Therefore, I distinctly remember the dreaded box of milk showing up with my kyushoku every single day. The popular milk to drink in Japan has about 3.25%MF, which for my skim-milk loving body was quite the difference; skim milk is largely seen as being for folks with dietary restrictions. I can’t remember if I drank my milk boxes. I do remember the teacher trying to convince me to finish everything on my tray, including the milk, and I also remember all of the other students around me drinking their milk…nothing like peer pressure to change your habits. The “I’m a foreigner” card might’ve been pulled to get out of drinking the milk but after reading Karen’s book, I appreciate the persistence required to teach children to eat something that they don’t like the taste or texture of.

The hankachi, or handkerchief, is an important item in Japan. For one, it’s a necessity if you’re using public washrooms as many do not offer paper towels. People carry a hankachi around with them wherever they go and they’re sold everywhere, from the dollar shop to high-end department stores. Students would use the hankachi as a napkin at their meal. I remember having pizza or hot dog day at my school in Canada and we went through a lot of paper towels on those days….

The school that I attended also had a little garden and coop on the school grounds where kids took care of the vegetables or the chickens/hens. This was one of the school chores that rotated amongst the classes. Again, this was a foreign concept to me as my school in Canada didn’t have a garden and it most certainly didn’t have animals kept on the grounds. Now that I’ve read a lot about the values of teaching kids where food comes from, how to grow food, and know when to harvest food, I don’t understand why all schools don’t have at least an edible garden!

In the end, I can’t recall what was served at each meal except that there was usually rice or bread (but not both!) and a bowl of miso soup, but I’m fairly confident that the meals would have been well-balanced to meet the nutritional needs of growing kids. I do recall there being things that I don’t like to eat, such as okra, and I remember refusing to eat it. Again, thinking about this now, I appreciate what a wholesome school lunch program can provide: an education on food that is hard to parallel outside of the school environment. My refusal to eat certain foods might have been barely passable as a temporary student in the classroom but it certainly would not have been okay if I had been a regular student. I think it’s great that students are taught to eat foods that they are not used to, even if they don’t enjoy it the first few times, and that they are taught to eat the same foods as everyone around them, instilling a sense of community.

Thinking about my lunch time experience in Japan and in Canada, the stories of Karen’s kids in her book, and the documentaries about the American school lunch program, I’m convinced that it is beneficial for students to actively participate in a school lunch program but I also appreciate that this is a complex issue. In France, there is a strong food culture that has engrained beliefs and habits that support their school lunch program structure. When I think of the same thing being applied in North America, I can just imagine the uproar about having one set menu per day. The mainstream values within the countries are quite different and either encourage or hinder the possibilities. Karen was forced to confront her core belief that choice is a good thing, a right in many North American minds, when her daughter was presented with a set weekly menu for the school cantine, and after self-reflection and discussions with those around her, concluded that having too much choice can be detrimental. She was also asked why there needed to be choice if the children were being served only delicious food? It’s a good point and we could learn something by applying that in our lives. North American cafeterias offer choice because we – as a society – value choice, but is it really offering us anything of value?