Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Picnic for the Planet

News that 250+ media organizations have pledged to do a week of climate change coverage in the lead-in to the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23 has made me vow to pull up my socks and make a point of including an environmental article as often as possible. (It’s a feature I call “And now a word from your planet” and I’ve not been as dedicated to it as I had hoped to be.)

But for today, let me just share some images coming in from the Climate Strike, which has people all over the world pouring into the streets:

(That’s Kampala, Uganda, apparently.)

And let you know about an event planned for Sydney:




Canadian Dynasties

I have already told you about Commons, the podcast from Canadaland that began life as a sort of primer on the Canadian political system but has morphed into something much more interesting.

Not to knock the notion of a podcast focused on improving political literacy, I think that was a valuable service, just not one I felt I needed. (And now someone will come up to me in the street and ask me to explain the role of the Clerk of the Privy Council at which point I will do what a colleague at VIA Rail once advised me to do if I was asked to book a berth for a passenger traveling from Matapédia to Moncton: pretend to faint.)

But I digress.

Commons, now hosted by Arshy Mann, picks one topic each series for what can actually be described as a “deep dive.” Its first target was corruption, Canadian style; next came Crude, about Canada as a petro-state; and now it’s launched its third series, Commons: Dynasties, which focuses on “the powerful families that run this country.”

The first episode features a dynasty with a Cape Breton connection — the Stronachs — and it’s fascinating. (Did you know Frank Stronach once opened a disco? Did you know this was one of his less weird projects?)

What I especially like about Commons is that it relies heavily on the work of other reporters but it gives these reporters full credit — they are frequently invited to appear on the podcast to discuss their stories, Commons always links to their work and the effect is that rather than simply stealing other people’s work, Commons highlights it and — I suspect — wins it a new audience.

File this under: highly recommended.


Beyond ‘Beyond Meat’

I just read that Tim Hortons will no longer offer its Beyond Meat products in Nova Scotia (or any province other than B.C. — Canada’s vegan capital — and Ontario — Canada’s vegetarian capital).

I didn’t actually buy any of these products while they were available, partly because back when I ate meat, it would never have occurred to me to go to Tim Hortons for a hamburger, so why would I go there for a faux hamburger? But mostly because I am one of those delightful people who not only don’t eat meat, they can’t eat wheat. (I made the decision not to eat meat myself; my immune system — which insists on viewing gluten as an enemy that must be destroyed at all costs — made the decision not to eat wheat for me. I am still annoyed with it.)

I have eaten Beyond Meat burgers and found them to be okay, but I actually prefer non-meat burgers that don’t masquerade as meat. (A friend used to make chickpea-based burgers so good that if I didn’t get to his BBQs on time, the carnivores would have eaten them all.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about food allergies and dietary needs this summer because I eat out more than usual in summer and I hate having my dietary restrictions become an issue when I’m with a big group of people (usually family). By the same token, I have great sympathy for restaurants trying to cater to everyone’s needs — providing gluten-free options alone is complicated, and means separate frying and grilling surfaces, in addition to separate ingredients.

That said, my problems inevitably happen when I’m on the road, not when I’m eating out around the CBRM — I find local restaurants are really good at catering to the gluten-free, vegetarian (and increasingly, to the vegan) crowd and I am very grateful for this.

Basically, what I’m saying is — I’m hungry.



Continuing on the subject of food (I really am hungry), it’s Gravenstein season!

My favorite apple appears in the produce aisles for about 10 minutes every fall but what a happy 10 minutes they are. You can keep your Royal Galas and Honeycrisps and Red Deliciouses (?), I prefer an apple so tart it makes me sit up straighter when I eat it.

I had never understood why the Gravenstein was so rare and the Red Delicious, my least favorite apple, so ubiquitous in local supermarkets until I read this 2011 New Yorker article by John Seabrook, who explained all:

In the twenties and thirties, refrigerated railcars allowed growers to transport apples over great distances, and, thanks to cold-storage warehouses, wholesalers and retailers could keep them for long periods of time. As regional markets gave way to supermarket chains, the number of available apple varieties shrank, and those which endured shed their regional associations. By the nineteen-sixties, most supermarkets carried three types of apple: McIntosh, a small, tart apple that John McIntosh had found growing on his farm in Ontario, Canada, in 1811; Red Delicious, originally the Hawkeye, a sweet apple discovered on a farm in Iowa in the eighteen-seventies; and Golden Delicious, found in a hay field in West Virginia in the eighteen-nineties. Apple breeders tweaked these apples, to enhance their industrial potential—they had to be durable, long-lasting, and attractive—generally at the expense of texture and taste (unlike many fruits, apples can look wonderful and taste terrible, and so they lend themselves to horticultural sleight of hand). Price, rather than quality, became the determining factor, as growers and retailers engaged in a headlong race to see who could produce the largest yields and the lowest prices. By the sixties, the apple industry had managed to turn the perfect convenience food—a tasty, healthy, portable, durable snack wrapped in an edible peel—into the insipid and cottony hardball that soured several generations of children on apples. Today, the average American eats less than half as many apples in a year as the average European eats.

Seabrook even gave me the adjective I’d long sought to describe the texture of a Red Delicious apple (“mealy”), although he didn’t have much to say about the Gravenstein, mentioning it only as one of two varieties, the other being the Yellow Newtown Pippin, grown in the American West.

Luckily my research (i.e. my googling) led me to the Orange Pippin website where I discovered that the Gravenstein was first described in 1797, that its origins are “uncertain,” that it is “most closely associated with Denmark” (which declared it its national apple in 2005), that it is “well-known in the USA and northern Europe” and that it is “still grown commercially on a small-scale.” The author of the Orange Pippin article continues:

The real problem with Gravenstein is that it is prone to many diseases and therefore has never achieved the popularity it deserves. As so often in the world of apples, it seems that the apples with the best flavor are often the most difficult to grow.

Which makes me all the more determined to buy and consume as many Gravensteins as I can this fall. It is good to have goals.



I saw Lucinda Williams in concert last Sunday night at the Rebecca Cohen Auditorium in Halifax.

As the guy (originally from New Waterford) sitting next to me said, there are only two reactions to that news: people either say, “How’d you get that ticket?” or “Who’s Lucinda Williams?”

Whatever camp you fall into, this is for you (she’s playing with the same band she brought to the Cohen):


Tech Shy to Tech Savvy

Zareason laptopThe McConnell Library in Sydney is offering free computer classes, beginning this fall on Thursday, October 3 and Friday October 4.

Here’s what the press release said:

Tech Shy to Tech Savvy is a series of free basic computer classes being offered monthly through CBRL and provided by Digital Nova Scotia.

These first two sessions on October 3rd and 4th will cover how computers affect our lives and help us connect, and use of the internet (browsers, search engines and tools to navigate the web).

Future sessions will cover use of programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, file sharing, social media, email, blogging and cloud storage, cyber security, privacy and pirating, as well as emerging technologies. Watch for information.

Laptops and mobile devices will be provided to work on.

Registration is required. Sign up at the McConnell Library or call (902) 562-3161 to register. Space is limited.

I think I am safe in assuming that the courses on “pirating” involve warning you that it’s illegal, not teaching you how to do it. On the other hand, perhaps it’s an actual Swashbuckling 101 class — cutlasses and eye patches provided. (Guess who was recently in St. Peter’s during Pirate Days?)