The Omnivore’s Dilemma changed how I think about food.
Until reading the now classic 2006 tome by Michael Pollan, I never noticed the extreme lack of diversity in the modern North American diet due to its evolution since World War II. Events have since conspired to show me the extent that corn, dairy and wheat join salt and sugar to form a significant part of a Canadian diet too. Often we think we are eating one thing and it turns out that we are actually eating something else.
The industrialization of our food system has separated us from natural systems while hurting our health, our planet and our soil. Despite that understanding, reversing the habit has been an ongoing struggle. As Pollan points out in his conclusion, everything in our culture encourages us to rely on the convenient, unemotional and often unrecognizable food-like products offered in bulk by giant industrial companies.
For countless generations eating was something that took place in the steadying context of a family and a culture, where the full consciousness of what was involved did not need to be rehearsed at every meal because it was stored away, like the good silver, in a set of rituals and habits, manners and recipes. I wonder if it isn’t because so much of that context has been lost that I felt the need, this one time, to start again from scratch.” (p 411)
For Pollan, starting again from scratch meant travelling across America to discover the basic ingredients within four meals: a McDonald’ meal eaten in a fast car, a Whole Foods organic dinner, a Polyface Farm meal, and a foraged meal. Pollan takes readers along with him, detailing every element in each meal from start to finish. He brings us with him into industrial food operations, to small and large farms, and into the forest in search of mushrooms and big game to hunt.
In between the descriptions of places and people, Pollan carefully outlines every element within every meal. Often, many of these elements turn out to have the same source.
In his description of his McDonald’s meal, for instance, he described how three people chose 45 different products almost totally made of corn.
It would not be impossible to calculate exactly how much corn Judith, Isaac, and I consumed in our McDonald’s meal. I figure my 4-ounce burger, for instance, represents nearly 2 pounds of corn (based on a cow’s feed conversion rate of 7 pounds for every 1 pound of gain, half of which is edible meat). The nuggets are a little harder to translate into corn, since there’s no telling how much actual chicken goes into a nugget; but if 6 nuggets contain a quarter pound of meat, that would have taken a chicken half a pound of feed corn to grow. A 32-ounce soda contains 86 grams of high-fructose corn syrup (as does a double-thick shake), which can be refined from a third of a pound of corn; so our 3 drinks used another pound. Subtotal: 6 pounds of corn.” (p115)
The Omnivore’s Dilemma also contains a great deal of information about how many societal norms and regulations have radically transformed when it comes to food. Often these changes were due to marketing by various members of the agricultural industry.
Back in the fifties, when the USDA routinely compared the nutritional quality of produce from region to region, it found striking differences: carrots grown in the deep soils of Michigan, for example, commonly had more vitamins than carrots grown in the thin, sandy soils of Florida,” wrote Pollan, on page 178. “Naturally this information discomfited the carrot growers of Florida, which probably explains why the USDA no longer conducts this sort of research. Nowadays U.S. agricultural policy, like the Declaration of Independence, is founded on the principle that all carrots are created equal, even though there’s good reason to believe this isn’t really true.”
In other places, Pollan speculates about the extent that changes to our food system might be creating problems with our health.
One of the most important yet unnoticed changes to the human diet in modern times has been in the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6, the other essential fatty acid in our food. Omega-6 is produced in the seeds of plants; omega-3 in the leaves. As the name indicates, both kinds of fat are essential, but problems arise when they fall out of balance. (In fact, there’s research to suggest that the ratio of these fats in our diet may be more important than the amounts.) Too high a radio of omega-6 to omega-3 can contribute to heart disease, probably because omega-6 helps blood clot, while omega-3 helps it flow. (Omega-6 is an inflammatory; omega-3 an anti-inflammatory.) As our diet—and the diet of the animals we eat—shifted from one based on green plants to one based on grain (from grass to corn), the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 has gone from roughly one to one (in the diet of hunter-gatherers) to more than ten to one.” (p268)
Despite multiple examples of dense information, the overall impression a reader has of Omnivore’s Dilemma is an exploration of America through its food and communities. Pollan aptly outlines his deep concern about deep problems in the food system while demonstrating how caring individuals can change how things are done.
Pollan has nicely captured the hurtful and healing attributes of America’s food system. Omnivore’s Dilemma remains a treasure and a great source of hope.
Reading it may force you to change the way you eat, the way you shop and the way you see your local community as it did for me.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
By Michael Pollan
Hundreds of people spent Sunday afternoon on February 24 talking about the 50- hectare plus Lachine East Development at the Maison du Brasseur.
“Finally we have the developers, government and citizens all in the same room,” said Lachine Mayor Maja Vodanovic. “Now we can create the neighbourhood of our dreams together.”
Montreal’s public consultation office (OCPM) organized the open house and information session as the first part in a process that will continue through April 7. This is the first time that a borough and the city have asked for a public consultation prior to a private development plan submission.
Three commissioners will be in charge of a report due out next summer. Marie Leahey, a coordinator from the Régime de retraite des groupes communautaires et de femmes, leads the commission. She is joined by cultural manager Danielle Sauvage and Les Tourelles Milton Park cofounder Joshua Wolfe.
Hopes remain high for what might be built on the former industrial land over the next twenty years. Several of the organizations that want to be involved in the project staffed tables during the open house.
One of them contained people from a new non-profit association called Imagine Lachine-Est, which wants to ensure that the new Lachine East development becomes an eco-district. More than a hundred citizens have joined so far. UQAM urbanism professor Jean-Francois Lefebvre serves as their president.
“I started working with the group as part of an internship, but I’ve been volunteering with them ever since because I really believe in this project,” said Imagine Lachine-Est coordinator Charles Grenier. “Eco-districts are the hope for the future.”
Grenier handed out pamphlets inviting visitors to the group’s Lachine-East summit. Organizers have added a series of talks in English to make sure that everyone who wants to learn about eco-districts can do so. The summit takes place on Saturday March 9, from 9:15 until 5 at the Guy-Descary culturel complexe, 2901 boul. Saint-Joseph. For more information, visit their website.
At another table were Inass El Adnany and Vincent Eggen from Revitalisation Saint-Pierre. They asked visitors to complete a survey about their vision for a bicycle path to link Lachine and Saint-Pierre through the former industrial area.
Yves Comeau from Villa Nova stood in front of his table to talk to everyone passing by. He said that the company looks forward to continuing to develop its land, despite the clean-up costs, which turned out to be much higher than they once anticipated.
We carted truckloads of contaminated soil from the property,” said Comeau. “There’s going to be a lot of clean-up necessary on the rest of the land as well.”
Tensions between the government and Villa Nova have eased since tests discovered that the land had not been properly decontaminated despite receiving certification from the Quebec Environment Ministry. The borough itself tested the land after Vodanovic raised concerns. City, borough and company discussions got so heated that the company went into bankruptcy protection while the clean-up took place.
During that same period, co-owner Paulo Catania faced fraud charges. They were dropped last May. A month later, Catania made more positive headlines with his announcement that half of the Villa Nova units on the Jenkins property sold within six hours of coming onto the market.
Comeau said the company remains confident they’ll be able to duplicate that success on the rest of their property.
During the information session that followed the open house, residents expressed concern and hope. One resident asked how the borough could protect local heritage if they couldn’t stop the recent Dominion Bridge demolition. How does the city justify building 4,000 units in a sector that has few transportation options? How much community and social housing will be built? What about schools, day cares and grocery stores?
The next sessions during the OCPM consultation may answer some of those questions. Anyone interested can sign up for small group design workshops at two different libraries.
You can also present a written or verbal submission to the commission. Written submissions are due in March. Hearings will take place during the first week of April. To register, go to the website.
Note: This article appeared on pages 1 and 11 of the February 27 issue of the West Island Edition of the Suburban.
There are three senses of confidence, and all three of them define feelings about something.
This essay deals mostly with the last sense of the word. I want to talk about confidence because it’s an important business skill. Actually, it’s a necessary life skill too.
Also, studies show that women tend to have less confidence than men. One of the most impressive of these was conducted by University of California researcher Dr. Wiebke Bleidorn and six co-researchers. After interviewing 985,937 people from 48 different countries over a period of eight years, they showed that men express higher self-esteem than women and both men and women become more self-assured as they age. The results appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2015.
The eight-year study by Bleidorn her co-researchers analyzed data from over 985,000 men and women across 48 countries, from Norway to New Zealand, Kuwait to South Korea, asking them to rate the phrase: “I see myself as someone who has high self-esteem study found that across the board – regardless of culture or country, men have higher self-esteem than women.”
So: where does confidence come from; what influences it; and how can people become more confident?
Thanks to human behavioural tendencies towards imposters’ syndrome, self-doubt and procrastination, confidence is something that has to be continually regenerated.
All of these tendencies stem from a natural human behaviour of narrow framing.
Nobel-prize winner Daniel Kahneman says narrow framing is natural since people face problems one at a time, under circumstances in which the immediate consequences of the choice is so clear that other possibilities might be hidden. That means we make decisions from a more narrow perspective than might be rational. An impending deadline only feels urgent when it is only a week or even a day away. Then we realize that we can’t succeed as we hope to, and our confidence wanes.
The opinion of others can influence confidence, but so can other factors.
In 2018, a group of European scientists reported in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology how stress affects our degree of confidence. Here are their conclusions:
Taking action, changing your body posture and setting and accomplishing goals all lead to confidence.
Frances Bridges summarizes ten ways to generate confidence in an article for Forbes:
Peter Economy focusses more on mindset hacks in his Inc story:
Economy also says: “You might have to fake it at first and merely appear to be self-confident, but eventually you will begin to feel the foundation of self-confidence grow within you.”
My own way of generating self-confidence can be summed up by five elements:
It’s awesome to be able to celebrate Freedom to Read Week, which begins today.See this in video here
Do we still need this kind of celebration? Isn’t censorship dead in Canada?
Not all. Did you know that politician Victor Doerksen and 810 others tried to get John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” banned from all Alberta schools in 1994?
Of Mice and Men sits among 30 works that have been challenged in Canada over the last 35 year of this event. You can read the entire list on the Books and Periodical Council Freedom to Read Week website.
Reading about such things surprises me, but it shouldn’t. People are always trying to impose their taste on others.
Canadian creators, librarians and schools set up Freedom to Read Week events to celebrate and encourage the right to freedom of expression. It has taken place in Canada for the last 35 years.
This year, it begins on February 24 and ends March 2.
Freedom to Read Week operates as a project by a committee set up by the Books and Periodical Council. The Council represents creator associations across Canada, including one I’m in, the Professional Writers Association of Canada.
Freedom of Expression matters a great deal to all of us.
At the same time, we do not condone hate literature, something that is illegal in Canada.
Defining Freedom of Expression can be difficult. The Books and Periodical Council uses a joint statement written in 1997 and reaffirmed in 2017 to do so. Here it is:
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of all Canadians, and freedom to read is part of that precious heritage. Our Committee, representing member organizations and associations of the Book and Periodical Council, reaffirms its support of this vital principle and opposes all efforts to suppress writing and silence writers. Words and images in their myriad configurations are the substance of free expression.
The freedom to choose what we read does not, however, include the freedom to choose for others. We accept that courts alone have the authority to restrict reading material, a prerogative that cannot be delegated or appropriated. Prior restraint demeans individual responsibility; it is anathema to freedom and democracy.
As writers, editors, publishers, book manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and librarians, we abhor arbitrary interpretations of the law and other attempts to limit freedom of expression. We recognize court judgments; otherwise, we oppose the detention, seizure, destruction, or banning of books and periodicals – indeed, any effort to deny, repress, or sanitize. Censorship does not protect society; it smothers creativity and precludes open debate of controversial issues.
The list of challenged works that someone in Canada deemed offensive includes many works. A diversity of cultural expression works about gender identity, multiculturalism and panoply of other politically-sensitive issues appear.
The nonfiction books among them include:
Of Mice and Men fits right in.
The 811 people who signed a petition presented to the Albertan legislature in 1994 claimed that Steinbeck’s classic book “demeans or profanes the name of God and Jesus Christ.”
I can’t argue about the profanity. Consider the following quote from paragraph 62 on Saturday Night.
“I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it.”
Not sure how a quote from a fictional character demeans God though. Nor do I agree that that would be a reason to ban a book anyway.
Steinbeck’s work expresses an intense period in American history. It’s also extraordinarily well-written.
Think I’m going to make a point of reading it to celebrate Freedom to Read.
Or maybe I’ll just read Travels With Charlie again. That’s my favourite non-fiction work of all time. Steinbeck wrote it too.
I had fun interviewing professional genealogist Johanne Gervais for this week’s podcast. Here are some highlights from our conversation.Listen to Unapologetically Canadian Episode 19: Johanne Gervais Helps us Research our Ancestors
Our discussion began with the question “how did you become a genealogist?”
I became interested in genealogy while helping my husband who retired in 2008. He wanted to write a book about his mother’s family for his mother’s 90th birthday. So I was a little hesitant because he wanted me to do the research on his family. He knew nothing about his mother’s mother’s family past his grandmother. So I did all the research for him up to his third great grandparents including were searching for family stories finding the houses his ancestors lived in the actual establishments they worked in. His mom came from England, so researching his ancestors was a really a good excuse for us to take a trip to England. So we did some research there.
We went there to where his mom was born to the little villages where his ancestors lived. We actually knocked on the doors of these houses and asked for tours of the inside of the homes and the grounds outside. And these people were only too happy to show us around. So this type of research was fascinating. For me, it was like wow you know we can actually visit a home that his great grandparents lived in and see what they did.
After her husband retired, Johanne decided to retire too.
So I left the corporate world of information technology and dedicated myself to genealogical research.
Eventually, she founded a new non-profit entity.
My local Geological Society was about an hour’s drive from my home … So I would spend two hours driving. Combined with the time I spent at the society, it was a full day. So that was always a bit of a dilemma for me. And I thought well there must be a better way. The society wasn’t always open when I wanted to do research. So I’m sometimes an early bird and sometimes I like to work late at night. The more I studied my problem, the more I realized that I couldn’t possibly be the only one having difficulty getting into the local society.
Johanne described her theory of “can’ts, won’ts and wants” to describe the ideal clients for the association.
The “can’ts” are those who can’t visit their local society because maybe it is too far away or isn’t open when they’re available.
“Won’ts” are those who won’t visit a society because it’s not really their cup of tea or it doesn’t heir fit their lifestyle.
The “wants” are those who want more than what the physical society can offer them. They want to have their society open when they’re ready to do the research.
So began our discussion about how we might attract younger people to the world of genealogy.
I have four grandchildren, Tracey, and they are all teenagers. A couple of years ago, as I left to go into the to the society or to the archives downtown, my grandchildren would say “Nana why are you going to a library or the Archive Center? Can’t you just do that on your phone? Can’t you do the research through your iPad or your phone?”
This is the next generation that we want to share in our genealogical research. We want them to continue with that philosophy. No other problem was more clear in my mind. Hey wait a minute. There’s got to be a better way.
The Quebec Genealogical Esociety now has members from all over the world. They can access web sites and research their ancestors without leaving the comfort of their homes, and without having to spend hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars to hire a researcher to do it for them.
How many people belong to the Québec Genealogical eSociety and what do they get as members?
As of today, we have 212 members. And right now we have about 43 percent are French speaking. Tthe majority are Anglophone people who come mostly from the United States and from Ontario and the other provinces in Canada who wish to do their research and research on their Quebec ancestors.
I don’t want people to get the wrong impression here of why it created the society because people who live in the province of Quebec are so fortunate because we have such robust databases for birth records marriage records and death records. And most French-speaking communities have a local Geological Society. Almost every French-speaking community or community in the province of Quebec that I know of has a geological society in their community or very close by. So we are extremely fortunate in the province of Quebec. And my main focus was people living outside of the province of Quebec who could not get here because of travel and/or the language barrier.[00:25:21] So we will have a message board soon on our Web site where members can post their brick walls and ask questions to other members. So that’s we’re in the final testing stages right now with our software developer. That’s going to be up any day now hopefully by the end of February. So yeah it’s very exciting because I think for everyone who does genealogical research or our research and their ancestors all of us reach a brick wall somewhere sand they are always asking questions.
What kind of work do you do?
So when I first when I first retired it was like OK OK now what am I going to do? I really like to do geological research. So I applied to various geological large geological firms in them in the United States—Ancestry, Legacy Family Tree and Genealogist.com. Those three companies provide research facilities for people that want to hire them to do to research their families. So this was this was quite interesting because I received a lot of contracts
I still am working as a contractor for these firms but I really want to orient people towards doing their research themselves versus hiring a researcher. If they’re capable of doing the research themselves. So some people are not capable or are not that computer literate or are advanced in their in their senior years and don’t want to do it themselves.
But for the ones that are capable I really do encourage them instead of hiring me or that they’ll hire me for a couple of hours and else I’ll say here’s how you could do it yourself versus you know me spending 20 hours or more research in their tree for them.
We then discussed Johanne’s membership in the Association of Profesional Genealogists, an association that’s based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I joined that association when I first started in 2009 in the early years just so I can learn more about how to professionally and research for a client and how to do my sources and how to write research reports. So I’ve been to Salt Lake City multiple times for the Association of Professional Genealogists conferences to learn more about how to improve my research skills.
Johanne and some of the other members are in the process of creating a Canadian chapter for the Association of Professional Genealogists.
We really don’t have an umbrella group in Canada to help genealogist research or to answer questions. You know if people in the in Nova Scotia have questions about how to research in Nova Scotia or you know British Columbia we don’t have an umbrella organization that can help genealogists in various aspects doing research in different provinces or doing a state researching which is forensic genealogy. That kind of thing. So we’re hoping that we can create an umbrella group for all of Canada where genealogists can join and then we can share our expertise and say okay here in Quebec this is what we do and somebody in Saskatchewan will say well in Saskatchewan you know here’s what we do.
I think first and foremost I consider myself to be a Quebecker. I was born here in Quebec as were my two brothers. My parents were also born here but I haven’t lived in Quebec all my life because my dad was in the Canadian Armed Forces. So we grew up in various places across Canada. Recently my parents retired in Nova Scotia.
Truly I’m a Quebecker, but I do consider myself a Canadian.
Living in various towns across Canada really showed me the expanse of the country and how culturally diverse we are. We’re so open to different walks of life, from religions, politics and interests. Being in these different towns and going into different schools …I had to go to different schools and must have changed schools five or six times. People are so darned friendly to each other no matter what province or town we lived in.
In 2011 or 2012, the couple dedicated a 47-day journey to follow her husband’s father’s footsteps during World War II.
We started from Pier 21 in Halifax where my husband’s dad’s regiment left to go to Europe and he actually didn’t go to Europe right away. The ship went to Iceland. So we went to Iceland we followed. We had researched the regiment in detail as to where they went and we followed exactly where the regiment went all the way throughout World War II. So we went to Iceland we went to Scotland we went to England and France.
His father became a prisoner of war and he spent three years in prisoner of war camp. Johanne and her husband went to Germany and Poland where his father was incarcerated for three years to visit the locations of the prisoner of war camps.
And what I wanted to say here is that in every country we went to once people we met knew we were Canadians. They embraced us as if we were long lost members of their family. It was just so emotional. And by embracing, I mean you know they actually physically hugged us and kissed us and said ‘thank you thank you’ for the role that Canadians played during the war. And they would invite us to their homes. They would show us around their town … it was so very emotional. And I’ve never felt ever so proud to be a Canadian.
Johanne’s husband, Michael John Laekas, wrote a book about his father and his father’s life during World War II. The couple also produced a book about three brothers who served during World War I
Note: This episode was brought to you by Kobo. If you’re a Canadian reader, and you want to join Kobo, you can use my affiliate link and get $5 off while getting me a $10 credit on my account. You can also order Michael’s books via the links below and I’ll get a commission.