Counting Change

It’s been a good number of years since I was in elementary school and since I was last exposed to the curriculum but I’m hoping that those who set curriculums still see the value in teaching kids how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. WITHOUT a calculator.

I bring this up because after recently shifting from using credit cards to using mostly cash for purchases, I’ve made an observation. I’ve noticed that some cashiers are almost dumbfounded when I hand them some paper bills and some coins. As if I had just handed them some pieces of fabric and rocks. They know that they need to count it and add up all of the pieces to figure out what to punch into their cash register…but the pain to watch some of them try to calculate the amount of cash in their hands! The paper bills don’t usually pose much of a problem but the mix of change certainly has, and I should clarify that it’s not as though I’m paying with a lot of coins; I just want to either pay with exact change or get less coins back. For instance, if something is $15.83, I’ll either give them $15 in paper bills and 83 cents (like 3 quarters, 1 nickel, and 3 pennies) or 85 cents (like 3 quarters and 1 dime) in coins. That shouldn’t be too difficult to count, right? But I see cashiers counting and re-counting and re-counting again, always getting lost somewhere in the addition. After half a minute of watching them, I’ll tell them how much change I gave them and they’ll say “that’s what I was thinking” before putting it into their register….

I do admit, sometimes, it brings me a twisted sense of satisfaction to add a cognitive challenge to somebody’s day. But other times, it makes me wonder what is happening to the world if my cashier is having trouble counting some change.

Stimulating Saturdays: Fighting hunger with policy

How do you feed the world’s population while protecting ecosystems, cultures, people’s livelihoods and dignity? How do you democratize food, making fresh, delicious, wholesome foods available to all? How do you address hunger and inequalities? Food policy deals with all of these questions and more. This short video describes how food policy can fight hunger and was produced by the Interational Food Policy Research Institute.

If you’re interested in learning more about the policy direction for food in Ottawa, the organization Just Food, which champions a just and sustainable food system in Ottawa, features the discussion and learning forum, Food for All. The City of Ottawa also publishes the Nutritious Food Basket Survey on an annual basis and commented on the price of eating well in Ottawa in 2011.

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.

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.

What’s the deal with eTextbooks?

One of my 2013 achievements is to complete five Project Management courses. I’ve just signed up for two courses and have learned that both courses include eTextbooks as part of the required learning materials. Fabulous! I can throw it on my tablet and take it around with me more easily than a big textbook.

Then, I went onto the local college bookstore’s website and checked out the prices of the two eTextbooks: almost $200 in total. At this point, I’m having mixed feelings. In my mind, the digital textbook should cost about half of what the physical textbook would cost. Less printing costs, no transportation costs, etc.

A quick search on the internet tells me that eBooks cost so much because the physical production of the book actually only accounts for a smaller chunk of the total cost of a book and nifty technology that does things like prevent piracy add to the cost. At the same time, I’m recalling discussions, or rather, educational moments years ago with my university professors where I learned about publishers wooing professors to use their textbook as the required reading material with free copies of textbooks (the same ones that hundreds of their students would have to pay $$$ for), teaching material, etc. A few of my very conscientious professors refused to buy into the scheme and went without textbooks, to the chagrin of some of the keenest students (“but professor, what will we do if we can’t read ahead of the class?”). So in my mind, all textbooks – digital and print – are already inflated in price.

However, the eTextbooks would still cost about $60 in total less than the two paper textbooks would, not to mention that digital books weigh a lot less, so I’m still semi-onboard with purchasing the eTextbooks.

Next, I’m wondering how eTextbook technology works. Can I read the material on an iPad or do I need a Windows-enabled computer? Can I read it offline or do I have to read it online? Such logistics were soon to be overridden by the content of an email I receive from the college, welcoming me to my two courses and informing me about the required learning materials. Sure enough, there were the two eTextbooks listed. So far, so good. Underneath the title of the book, I find the following note:

Please note purchasing an eTextbook usually means that you are renting the eTextbook or eResource for a certain period of time. When your rental period is over, your eTextbook will become inaccessible.

Excuse me!? Let me get this straight. I am spending $200 on two eTextbooks that I will only have access to for up to 12 months!! Does this make any sense to anyone!? At least with a print copy, I am spending $260 for two textbooks that I will theoretically have infinite access to.

Here is a link to what is supposed to be a helpful infographic on the shift to a digital dorm, as found on the website of the eTextbook provider.

I understand the money savings (my eTextbooks cost $60 less than the print copies), I understand the increased flexibility with the use of digital technology for accessing textbooks, but I do not understand the model of expensive rental eTextbooks. I thought by paying $200 for eTextbooks, I was purchasing access rights to a copy of the book…but not TEMPORARY rights. What am I really paying for?

Rooftop farming is super exciting!

I first heard about Lufa Farms on David Suzuki’s CBC show, The Nature of Things. Lufa Farms is located in Montreal and they do really cool things through rooftop farming. They’re really inspirational and I would love to get involved with them somehow, sometime because what they do is just SO COOL. I was excited to find that the founder, Mohamed, did a TedX talk on how rooftop farming will change how we eat.

Growing food more responsibly. It’s not just about our daily choices around what we eat but how it’s grown and how our choices will affect generations to come.


Three perspectives on food through three films

I visited a library branch that I’d never previously been to; I love randomly combing through the DVD section and I love it even more when I find things I want to watch! At this new-to-me branch, I found 3 documentaries.

Ingredients: the local food movement takes root (a film directed by Robert Bates in 2009)

Pay the doctor or pay the farmer. Simplicity, flavour and quality are the most important. Pay now or pay later (some may say, suffer later). Growing food more naturally makes more sense. As a farmer, you’re producing food, not fuel. Vibrant healthy ecosystem = better colour, better flavour, better quality, better nutritional values. Taste and how the producer takes care of the land are important. We have been taught through the industrial food system that cheap food is better because it is more convenient and cooking is time-consuming drudgery. This is a well-made film featuring chefs, including Alice Waters, and farmers/ranchers that I’d definitely recommend watching.

Escape from Suburbia: Beyond the American Dream (directed by Gregory Greene in 2007)

The film is centered around the concept of peak oil, which is when oil extraction rates peak; after this point, production would decline and what happens thereafter is somewhat speculative.

The timing of when we’ll reach peak oil, or if we’ve already reached it, is also debated, but the one thing that is for sure it that oil is a finite resource that we will not rebuild within our lifetime (let alone many lifetimes). This core concept is simple but the implications are incredibly vast. You can’t have a discussion on peak oil without getting into politics, community dynamics, societal lifestyles and culture, lobbyists and corporations, environment, ownership and stewardship, personal responsibilities, and much more.

As the name of the film implies, connected to the concept of peak oil is the reliance on vehicular transportation based on the suburbia model. The premise isn’t necessarily to decry suburbs but to make suburban developments more self-contained, with services and food sources available within walking distance, and at the same time really considering the environmental toll that development takes, particularly when agricultural land is under consideration. Once the land is paved over, it will be incredibly difficult reclaiming the land for agricultural use. If our reliance on oil continues in the same way, then presumably, demand will surpass supply, costs will rise (prohibitively, I’d guess), and we won’t be able to transport ourselves in the same way that many of us do now: in our own personal cars. At that time, we’d probably want to have food sources nearby…but if we used up agricultural land for housing or other development, how can we supply ourselves with enough food to sustain communities? There are also many food deserts already throughout North America and this would become more apparent if access to cars was limited. Location, location, location!

Those are a few of the issues discussed by the film; you can see the trailer here:

Food Stamped: Is it possible to eat healthy on a food stamp budget? (A film by Shira and Yoav Potash in 2011)

Accessibility of healthy food options can be a barrier for people, particularly if there are socioeconomic factors at play. The film doesn’t get detailed with respect to the issues affecting accessibility but the filmmakers were interested in spending a week living on a food stamp budget (officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). The filmmakers are a young couple living together who had time to pre-plan a weeks’ worth of meals, have access to a supermarket, do not usually live on a fixed income, have no children, and are familiar with how to cook foods. Although I’m wary of projects like this where folks take on a fixed income lifestyle for a very short period of time, I think they’re good if they increase awareness of food accessibility issues (eg. food deserts) and help us examine how our lifestyle choices affect people of all different backgrounds. I recall some Ottawa councillors taking part in a similar endeavour as part of the Living Wage Campaign a few years ago…but I’m not certain how much of an influence the experience had on affecting food policy in the city.

Rebecca’s Wild Farm and Seeds of Freedom: 2 films

I just got wind of the two films that will be screened at the fall Reel Food Film Festival at the Ottawa Main Public Library on Thursday October 18. You can check out the trailers for Rebecca’s Wild Farm and Seeds of Freedom, both from the UK, on the film fest’s website. They both speak to becoming more conscious about food production but from different angles. Looking forward to seeing these. The spring film fest was great!


Is your crop doing too well?

I very recently saw this video, entitled “2 minutes on Monsanto and GMOs”:

…and it reminded me of a documentary film that I saw not too long ago at the local independent cinema called “Big Boys Gone Bananas“. Let me start with a short synopsis of the film (though I highly recommend you go watch this if you can get your hands on it): There’s a swedish filmmaker and his company who film a documentary on the exposure of Nicaraguan banana workers to pesticides sprayed onto the groves while the workers are working; this is his first documentary called Bananas. The film that I saw is the story of what happened to the filmmaker and his company when they tried to screen Bananas at the Los Angeles International Film Festival. A mixture of threats, lawsuits, journalism, and free speech. It’s a thought-provoking film, which is why I recommend it.

Anyways, the first video above reminded of the documentary because it describes the influence of a huge corporation on our food system through the use of chemicals. It also reminded me to always be cognizant of the many faces and hands that worked behind the scenes so that my food could appear on the plate. We often hear about workers’ rights from unions and similar employee-representing organizations but there are many more who may not easily have a united voice or the freedom to share their side of the story.

After watching the documentary film, it really made me think about my love of bananas. I currently purchase my bananas from the supermarket (again, I live in Canada…not a banana-producing climate) and the two choices are regular or organic. I think of fair trade tea or chocolate but why am I not seeking fairly traded bananas? Which leads me to wonder if there are bananas supplied to my city that aren’t from the two major banana corporations? This is an introductory video on Fair Trade.

Not only is it important to consider how your food is grown but it may be worthwhile sometimes to take a further step back and wonder how the choice was made to grow the food that you eat. For instance, is it because the farm subscribes to a proprietary seed that grows in abundance and with few weeds…or does the farm save seeds every year…or do they try to propagate heirloom seeds? Monoculture or diversity? Is it possible for a crop to do too well…with too many pest-control products being applied?