Over at the redesigned Canadian Business, I interview CEO Bill Baker of Consonant about his career move, from advertising exec to non-toxic skincare guru.
I am now, and always have been, a nail-biter. I am also pretty deficient at anything that requires combining patience with fine motor coordination. As such, I got into the habit of getting my nails done. And I am cheap frugal, so I got in the habit of getting them done at cheapie nail shops.
It’s pretty obvious upon entering most places that offer $15 manicures that it’s far from a great job. Even if the owners are fair, and nice, sloughing off other people’s dead foot skin for minimum wage has got to suck. It’s also pretty obvious that most of the people working in these nail shops are young, immigrant women for whom English is a second language.
A year or two ago, the mother of a friend of mine developed pneumonia. She’s Vietnamese, and she worked in a nail shop for decades. Her doctor thought she was a chain-smoker, because of the condition of her lungs.
There was only so long that I could ignore that getting my nails done in these places very likely made me a first-world jerk. So, I finally grew some ovaries and wrote this story for the Globe on all the really terrible health risks faced by nail salon workers.
I’m trying to learn to do my own nails. I pretty much suck at it.
That week of 30-degree weather in March was nice, but it means there won’t be any apples this fall. A gloomy update from the Leslieville Farmer’s Market, for Open File.
For Open File, I visited the Aboriginal Youth Community Kitchen run by the TDSB and FoodShare. During the four-week after-school program, high school students learn to make tasty, healthy meals, and also get scared out of eating junk food by gross things like the weirdly preserved McDonald’s meal seen here, which is two years old and has never been refrigerated.
Alright, so here’s my two cents on Toronto Life’s current exodus to the suburbs story. A few notes before I begin:
I write for TL a fair bit (including a story in this very issue! About insomnia! Don’t sleep on it!), and I’m not going to trash the mag in favour of some mythical Toronto publication that gets it all right (more on this later). I’m also friends with Philip Preville, so aside from this—PHILIP, YOU LITTER? GROSS!—I’m not going to trash him either.
Others have already done a good job exploring the rather obvious point that the story has a packaging problem. I agree that it’s not about the suburbs, but small towns that are becoming exurbs whether they like it or not. So I’ll stay away from that, too. I’m going to focus on two things: economics and demographics.
Let’s start with the money bit. I don’t care if suburbanites/exurbanites don’t want to live here, but it’s ridiculous that we let them sneer at the overcrowdedness of the TTC and then turn around and take the money that we need to fix the TTC up to Uxbridge. What the story reinforced for me is that if people need Toronto to fund their gorgeous new Annex-mansions-in-Dundas, Toronto needs to stand up for itself. Most (all?) of the families interviewed have at least one partner who is relying on Toronto for a salary; meanwhile the city is suffering from years of provincial downloading and federal derision. Whether it’s via road tolls, or disincentives for companies with offices in the 416 to hire outside the city, or something else, it’s time for this financial engine to demand some cash money respect.
I also wondered about the effect of flush Torontonians buying up the nicest Victorians in Cobourg’s Rosedale on the current residents of the small towns in question. (Ok, I’ll say it: the focus on gorgeous real estate is sooooooo Toronto Life. It’s hilarious that the one family that lives in a typical nouveau salmon-brick suburban house is shown in their backyard.) Funding a 705 lifestyle with 416 money would seem to replicate awful Vancouver-y real estate markets. That kind of sucks for the original 705-ers. I can’t figure out if I think The New Exurbanites are contributing to sprawl. I suppose if they buy up the old houses, then people who work at lower-salaried jobs are left with new builds, but that’s pretty indirect. I’m still musing on this one.
Random thought unrelated to my points of focus: it’s my understanding that parenting is a fraught and paranoid practice everywhere, and I highly doubt, Philip, that you’re trusting your kids with random friendly small-towners. I was in Kingston this past weekend (itself a lovely town where a four-bedroom, 150-year-old, heartbreakingly gorgeous stone house was $539,000, sheesh) and shuddered when passing the penitentiary. Paul Bernardo’s worst crimes happened in St. Catharine’s, remember? Evil and goodness are not location specific.
On to demographics: There’s no mention of diversity at all, except for a weird comment about the Toronto-ditchers missing the food here. As far as I’m concerned, every single piece of journalism that claims to be about any meaningful shift in Toronto’s demographics has to tackle ethnicity head on. Otherwise, the half has never been told. And it’s fine for the commenters at Spacing to insult TL for white blindness, but let me take this opportunity to say that I don’t think any publication in this city consistently parses GTA diversity in any quality way. Good thing the Ethnic Aisle is planning a Suburbs vs. Downtown issue for September.
Months ago, a (white) friend told me that he and his (white) fiancée figure they’ll eventually move out of Toronto. They want the space and the quiet and all of that. A number of my white friends have talked to me about their desire to leave the city, for the usual reasons, from lower house prices to less road rage. During one of these convos, last spring, my reaction was visceral, i.e. rude: I blurted “well, enjoy life among all white people.” I apologized afterward, but I’m still bothered. I just can’t escape this nagging feeling that when people say they like the “simplicity” of the exurbs (or cottage country), it’s at least partially a code word for “homogeneity.” Everyone loves udon and dosas, but dealing with all that language-barrier stuff at your kid’s public school is so complicated. On Metro Morning, Philip said that his research shows that it isn’t just white people that are moving out of the city. The omission of that info from the actual article is a major flaw. If Toronto’s weaknesses are leading the entire region to self-segregate, that’s something to be obsessing over, not ignored.
Did I say anything new here? I dunno. When I was writing this, I kept humming LCD Soundsystem. Toronto’s having a hard time right now, and sure, it gets me down. But you know what? This is my hometown and I love it. I want to fix it, not flee.
I was into avocados before they were cool.
I have loved their creamy, subtle flesh since I learned to pick the fruit from the tree in my aunt’s backyard in San Fernando. The Trinidadian world for avocado is “zaboca,” and I was well known to be a zaboca freak—obliging aunties coming to Canada would smuggle newspaper-wrapped booty in their giant suitcases. When guacamole came onto the food scene during my teen years, I adopted a tired, worldly attitude, informing everyone that “avocados” were nothing new. In reality, the appearance of $1 zabocas was a cause for celebration: I no longer had to convince my parents to stop by Nicey’s and shell out.
The little pear isn’t an exotic ingredient anymore. Since I was born with a guilty conscience, it weighs on me that my favourite food is now easy pickings. Zabocas have evolved from an occasional treat to an everyday food, one that’s in cheap sushi and expensive sandwiches, and one that’s impossible to grow within 100 (or 1,000) miles from my house. Each bite is a carbon sin. I used to be a second-gen kid longing for a taste of my childhood. Now, I’m just North American scum.
The lines connecting “ethnic” to “green” food are twisty. There are butchers trying to educate kosher eaters about avoiding factory farms, and there is halal vanilla made with propylene glycol, a known carcinogen. I once knew a born-and-raised Jain who had never eaten animal flesh, and had no urge to: he very regularly had cravings for his version of a Big Mac, which was basically bread, pickles and special sauce (McD’s charged him full price). The year-old FoodShare market at Jane and Finch sells bok choy and mangos as well as local blueberries. Oyster mushrooms look cool, but the reason Ontario farmers grow them is because they sell. Local is lovely and we’d all eat more organic if we could afford it, but catering to real appetites is the bottom line. Recently, I had a bang-up avant-Asian meal at Rocky Raccoon in Owen Sound, where a Nepalese chef using Grey County ingredients offered house-made naan topped with local butter, maple syrup and subcontinental spices. That meal help convinced me that giving up familiar tastes doesn’t always mean a loss. Sometimes, like in a yellow dahl soup made earthy and intensely oniony with wild leeks, it means a real, delicious gain.
I ate vegetarian for three years, and once asked my mother to find and buy me a chayote. I had no idea what it would taste like, but the fancy vegetarian cookbook I was reading told me I should be stuffing one. She came back from the store with three chayotes, and informed me that they cost $7. “When I was vegetarian, it was because I was poor,” opined my father, who grew up on a farm, walked to school without shoes, only ate meat at weddings, etc. I’ve noticed that lots of immigrants, regardless of birthplace, consider eating copious amounts of animal one sign that they’ve achieved the Canadian Dream. A cousin once made me a quick dish of curried potatoes when a family potluck turned out not to have one meat-free offering. One of my uncles couldn’t stop shoveling it back. “I’ve always loved aloo,” he said between mouthfuls, as if someone had been preventing him from eating it. In the rush to prove that he could eat meat, he had forgotten to consider whether he wanted to.
My zaboca consumption has stayed steady through recent price increases. I can’t imagine the dollar value that would make me swear off for good (though bananas are apparently now $9 a pound in Australia–global food definitely has a tipping point). I promise, though, that I’ll pause before my next purchase, and think about whether, just this one time, I can nourish myself another way.
This post is part of the Ethnic Aisle blogging project. If you’re interested in race, ethnicity, diversity and the GTA, check it out.
From the Globe, a visit to two organic farms in Grey County, which produces five per cent of Ontario’s food.
In Open File, a story about some “very ethnic” Torontonians who telling the Harper government to Beat It.
In the Star, a piece on local aficionados of the classic English cooker, the AGA. I could use one in my chilly office today.
The book is a DIY-guide to civic activism, lending inspiration to those colouring both inside and outside the lines. There’s a handy, accessible guide to navigating the red tape of City Hall; a piece on how citizens could participate in allocating the city budget; and many, many heart-warming stories of regular people who helped clean up neighbourhood parks, start farmers’ markets, install public art, build skate ramps, and generally make Toronto the kind of place I want to live.
My piece is about looking beyond the sometimes saddening homogeneity of elected bodies, to see the real diversity that’s on the ground, everyday. And, just to toot my own blog here, someone just told me that none other than Matt Galloway said, live and on air, that my essay was his favourite. I’m going to put that one in my back pocket and pull it out when I need a pick-me-up. But really, I found the whole book really optimistic and an excellent kickstart: the day after I got my hands on a hard copy, I signed up to volunteer in the after-school snack program at my local community centre. It’s hard for a hungry kid to grow up to be mayor, after all.