Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘ not so fast, Not So Fast’ edition

Whether you want to eat it or not.
Whether you want to eat it or not.

I heard an interview with Shira McDermott, Chief Founder and Faster at Not So Fast on CBC with Stephen Quinn. The topic of the interview was Vancouver’s first Kale Drive. Based on the premise that there is lots of kale in people’s gardens right now, the plan, if you can call it that, is to have gardeners harvest their kale and bring it to drop off their unused kale between 10-2 on December 1.* Then they plan to turn the kale into a powder to be then used to ‘fortify’ the community meals made in the DTES. Basically they will bake the kale until it is dried, grind it, and incorporate it into the meals made by community organizations. Sounds like a great plan hey? And, as we all know kale is a ‘superfood’ as McDermott told us over and over again. Although, interestingly, she really didn’t know why kale was called a superfood except, and I quote, ‘it is very nutritional’.

On the surface this sounds like a great idea until you start to dig around a little. Just because some group of well-meaning but oppressive folks decide that people in the DTES need something in their diet does not make it right. In fact, it is extremely oppressive. There are so many assumptions built into this premise but the worst one is based on the idea that we know better than them when it comes to nutrition. We think you need this and we are going to force it on you through your community meals. Did they ask people on the DTES if they want to eat kale? I think not. They are operating from their place of mostly white and middle class privilege. The liberal ‘do-gooder’ attitude is infamous for tromping on people’s agency and dignity.

The kale drive and the force-feeding of kale to people in the DTES is just one aspect of their programming. The idea behind this organization is that people abstain from food (fast) for a specified amount of time or meals and then donate the money they saved by not eating to Not So Fast who then distributes it to food security programs. On the surface, I think it is a ridiculous idea. As you read their their vision statement so many of those same assumptions I referenced above are their foundation:

Our goal at Not So Fast is to encourage communities, and our world, to consume less and give more.

No matter what your status is, there will always be someone who has more than you, and someone who has less.

The Not So Fast idea is all about going with (just a little) less to give someone else a little more. You can give up your favourite treat for a day or make some major lifestyle changes – the choice is yours. In turn, the money you would have spent is donated to Not So Fast or the food charity of your choice.

By donating to Not So Fast, your money goes towards one of several of our grassroots initiatives aimed at arming people of all walks of life to source, prepare, and enjoy the very food many of us take for granted everyday.

Because food for all is a basic human right.

The opening sentence is a noble goal however what it belies is the fact that food insecurity is a systemic issue of injustice in our society. If all of our citizens are to have access to appropriate food there will have to be a major change on the governmental level that would put people before profits and well-being above the bottom line. In short, we would need to get serious about ending poverty in our rich country. Asking people to eat a little less is only reifying the idea that charity can do what government should.

The next statement is extremely problematic. The idea that everyone can give regardless of what they have (or don’t have) is oppressive. How does it make sense that everyone should compromise their access to food no matter how little they have? It also attempts to make people feel guilty for not going without so someone else can have more. Is the single mother on income assistance going to fast so that someone else more needy can have her food? Of course they caveat the fasting regimes with groups of people who should not do it.** But what they fail to realize is that some people will do this regardless of their membership into one of these groups. What if young people with eating disorders use this idea as a way to further restrict food? The problems that could arise are endless. Instead of using a medical doctor they are relying on a naturopathic doctor for their medical information. While I recognize that they likely know a lot about nutrition, I think a medical doctor would be a more credible source.

The thing that disturbs me the most is that they have a store where they are selling journals called “The Little Book Of Less,” a journal for fasters to track their ‘good deeds and keep you on the right path.’ You can buy a single book, a pack of 3 books or a starter pack of 1 book, some pins and magnets. So the question now becomes what is their real purpose? Why would they ask people to spend money on their branded stuff instead of you know tracking things in a spreadsheet on their computers? If they were truly committed to their ‘good deeds’*** why would they be selling anything? They could set up journal and excel templates and offer them for free on their website.

I get that people want to make themselves feel better by trying to do something good in the world. Feeding people who don’t have enough to eat is a noble and lofty goal. However, when your need to do be charitable work compromises another person’s agency it is not a good work; it is oppression.

* At first they contemplated going into people’s gardens at night and stealing it.

** “Children under 13, and women who are pregnant should not fast at all. Pretty much everyone can fast safely for at least one meal, providing you are in good general health. Anyone who is diabetic (type 1 or 2), has cardiac risk factors, history of eating disorders, kidney problems, or other known health concerns should consult with a licensed healthcare provider before considering any type of food fast.”

***The right path as defined by the Not So Fast folks no doubt.

CBC’s Marketplace lacks perspective

I watched Marketplace’s assessment of hotel room cleanliness broadcasted on Friday. I was quite interested in this episode as I am immune-compromised and I stay at hotels periodically. This piece traded on scare mongering instead of providing good information for the consumer. The Marketplace piece completely lacked perspective and credibility.

The crew set up hidden cameras in the hotel rooms to determine how the housekeeping staff performs their duties. We saw one cleaner clean the toilet and then wipe the bathroom counter. Now, this is gross. No one really wants to know that there could be toilet germs on the counter where they are putting their toothbrush. We also saw another cleaner use hand soap to clean the drinking glasses. I am always suspect of hotel glasses and quite often I will rinse them out again to make sure they are clean. None of this is new; we have known for a long time that hotel room glasses are not always clean.

A black light was used throughout the rooms, ostensibly to demonstrate colonies of bacteria and bodily fluids. What they do not tell us that any substance that has fluorescence will be lit up by a black light. In one hotel room the black light finds that a liquid substance has been dribbled down a wall. The scientist states it could be a beverage but eventually states it could be urine. The use of the black light was just another way to get sensationalist coverage.

The worst part of this expose was the use of a device that counted numbers of germs/bacteria on surfaces. We are told that anything under 300 is a pass, between 300-900 is a caution and over 1,000 is a fail. They go around the rooms taking swabs of high contact surfaces. Of course most of the swabs fail. Some of the largest readings occur in the bathroom of a high end hotel with readings in excel of 60,000. But they never really tell us what this all means. We are being led to the conclusion that these numbers indicate large proliferations of bacteria.

A lack of context makes these results unreliable. I can remember other studies of germs that showed there are more germs on your average office worker’s desk than on a toilet seat. It would have been more useful if they had tested some home environments to see what was lurking on those toilet seats. I suspect our homes have way more bacteria than your average hotel room.

There was also some straight up misinformation in this piece. The scientist said that someone could pick up a sexually transmitted disease from the toilet seat. Correct me if I am wrong but if the name of the disease states how it is transmitted how can you get it from a toilet seat? Public health professionals have been very clear that you cannot get a sexually transmitted disease from a toilet seat.

Finally, they gathered some bacterial samplings from the room. These samples were then taken back to the lab and cultured. Not surprisingly, they found MRSA and C. Difficile. We have known for a long time that these 2 bacteria have been showing up outside of hospitals for a very long time. Finding them in hotel rooms should not surprise anyone.

Our society has become far too focused on germs and eradicating them. We use antibacterial soaps trying to kill any microorganisms lest they get into our bodies. What we are missing is the understanding that living in a sterile world is bad for us. The rise of autoimmune diseases is showing us the error of our ways.[1] As an immune compromised person the only thing I took away from this episode was to not put my toothbrush down on a bathroom counter in a hotel. Living in fear that there could be bacteria on a toilet seat or something spilled down the wall of my hotel room does not concern me at all.

Marketplace really disappointed me this week. I have come to expect high quality journalism from the CBC not fear mongering.

[1] Check out the hygiene hypothesis.

Chris’s iPod

I think I started this feature some time ago and never really followed up on it. So, without further ado I shall begin with what my friend Joe terms: my musical imperialism!

Matthew Barber

I first heard Matthew Barber on CBC’s On the Coast. Stephen Quinn played ‘I miss you when you’re gone’ and I was hooked. I am not quite sure how to describe Barber. I hear some Dustin Bentall reflected in his music along with that strong Canadian singer-songwriter tradition. Some of his songs are a little alt-country for me. My favourite songs on his self-titled album released this year are ‘Man in a Movie’ and ‘Lexi.’ ‘Man in a Movie’ has excellent, resonating lyrics that I fell in love with the first time I heard it. ‘Lexi’ is a musical triumph. Barber uses guitar and piano to build layers into the song that work really well. I recommend Barber to anyone who loves Canadian singer-songwriter, roots music. You won’t be disappointed.

Natalie Merchant

I love Natalie Merchant’s voice. I have listened to her over the years and just recently added her back into my main playlist. I really enjoy her live stuff like ‘Dust Bowl’ and her cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity.’ I remember first hearing Natalie Merchant when she sang lead vocals for the 10,000 Maniacs. There is a quality to her voice that gives anything she sings a great edge.


What is there to say about Adele? She is absolutely phenomenal. I have never heard an artist with a voice like hers. She also knows how to use it like an instrument. Her new album ‘21’ is great. Her songwriting is very mature for her age. I just hope she doesn’t continue to name her albums based on age!