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Photo: The Guardian
North America’s first pay-what-you-can grocer is located in Toronto and aims to keep overstocked but perfectly good food from going to a landfill.

I love stories about efforts to get surplus fresh food into the hands of people who might be going hungry otherwise. And keeping food out of landfills at the same time means killing two birds with one stone. But true confession: I am wasteful. I use the yummy inner parts of celery and lettuce first, and when I get around to the outer parts, they don’t look worth saving. Do I put on my thinking cap and make these leftovers into soup or something? I do not. Sometimes I compost them. I’d be interested in your ideas.

In Canada, a grocery store may have the best solution yet for food that is still good to eat but overstocked.

As Ashifa Kassam writes at the Guardian, “In a bright, airy Toronto market, the shelves are laden with everything from organic produce to pre-made meals and pet food. What shoppers won’t find, however, is price tags. In what is believed to be a North American first, everything in this grocery store is pay-what-you-can.

“The new store aims to tackle food insecurity and wastage by pitting the two issues against each other, said Jagger Gordon, the Toronto chef who launched the venture earlier this month.

“Every provision is donated by a network of partners across the region, and many of them – from blemished or misshapen produce to staples that are nearing their expiry date – would have otherwise ended up in landfills. …

“The store, which also includes a pay-what-you-can bakery and cafe, is the latest initiative to emerge from his non-profit firm, Feed It Forward. The roots of the organisation trace back to 2014, borne out of Gordon’s frustration at the C$31bn (£17.6bn) worth of food that ends up in Canadian landfills and compost sites each year while one in eight Toronto households struggles to put food on the table. …

“Prices are entirely up to the customer. ‘If you can afford to pay more, go right ahead,’ said Gordon. ‘If you can’t pay for what you have, then don’t.

“ ‘What I have noticed is people look into the baskets, try to calculate what it is and then say, “is this acceptable?” And I just say, “are you kidding me? Whatever you can give is fine, but if you are unable to make a donation, we won’t let anyone go hungry.” ‘ …

“Any profits are poured back into the store, covering costs such as rent and the transport of provisions. More than 600 volunteers help to staff the store and Gordon supplements its income with fundraising events, donations and revenue from his catering business. …

“As the store nears its closing time, Gordon surveys its largely empty shelves. ‘I’m a little disappointed that I have food left. … We’re going to the streets and hand it all out. We won’t stop until our food is gone.’ …

“Many have welcomed the initiative, but others question the sustainability of its business model. Gordon is quick to brush aside such concerns, pointing to pay-what-you-can initiatives that have been successful in Europe and noting that his soup bar managed to pay for itself.”

More at the Guardian, here.

 

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Photo: West End Phoenix
Journalists at other outlets love the idea of this hyperlocal, print-only newspaper and are tapping their inner paper boy to help out.

There’s nostalgia in this story but also a hint of things to come. As entertained as I am by the image of journalists helping out a pal by delivering newspapers (visions of my husband’s long ago paper route), I’m really counting on the idea of high-quality, hyperlocal, print-only papers sprouting up everywhere. When giants falter, something new fills the vacuum.

Kristen Hare writes at Poynter, “Almost six months ago, a Canadian rock star started a community paper. Amazingly, that’s the least interesting thing about West End Phoenix.

“It’s non-profit and ad-free. It comes out every five weeks. It’s created by a staff of six. Subscriptions cost $75 for the year. It covers Toronto’s West End. And it’s not online. …

“It’s been almost a year since Dave Bidini, the rocker/author/founder, first decided to start a print-only community newspaper. … He’s learned a lot in the past year about the power of patronage (ahem Margaret Atwood), how hard it is to get to subscription goals (they’re at 2,100 and figure 3,200 gets them to sustainability) and what’s possible when people believe in what you’re doing.

West End Phoenix offers home delivery thanks to 50 volunteers. Among them are three journalists who don’t work as journalists for West End Phoenix. Instead, they’re paper … men.

“Brendan Kennedy is an investigative reporter for the Toronto Star. Josh Visser is managing editor of Vice Canada. And Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter at The Globe and Mail. All three know Bidini.

“Visser worked with him at the National Post, he said in an email, ‘and felt guilted into helping him. That’s the truth, but I also live in the community, work in journalism and think the Phoenix is a really cool initiative and wanted to help out. I could also use the exercise.’ …

“Wheeler was an early subscriber, and when his copy wasn’t making it up to his second-floor apartment, he sent a complain-y email and asked if they needed people to help deliver. After he sent that email, Wheeler worried that he sounded snarky, ‘but sure enough, they did need people and they gave me a route that was fairly near my place.’ He now delivers in the Riverdale neighborhood.

“And Kennedy, a fan of Bidini’s band, Rheostatics, interviewed Bidini as a college journalist. They stayed in touch, and when the call went out for people willing to deliver papers, Kennedy signed up. …

“ ‘The idea of riding around my neighborhood on my bike and delivering this paper, it just felt kind of romantic to me.’ …

“That sense of nostalgia appealed to Wheeler, too. He was a paperboy and said that his first delivery day felt like Christmas morning.

“ ‘And then that first hill took all the romance out of it.’

“Wheeler thinks the Phoenix’s appeal has something to do with a yearning for things that are more tangible and less corporate. …

“People want something real and honest, he added. ‘Honest’s a good word for what Dave’s doing.’

“But honest does not pay salaries. Newspapers in Canada, like the U.S., are evaporating. West End Phoenix is the only newspaper to have started in the country last year, Bidini said. …

“Growing subscribers will be key, [Visser] said, along with support from patrons. …

“ ‘It’s all uphill,’ Wheeler said. ‘I don’t know what I got myself in for here.’ ”

More at Poynter.

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Photo: Jason Rosewell
No one’s singing is hopeless, says a Toronto voice teacher.

I know many people who say they can’t sing, but a teacher in Toronto begs to differ. Anyone can sing, she says. People just need a little help.

Anya Wassenberg writes at Ludwig van Toronto, ” ‘I’m tone deaf. I can’t sing.’ It’s usually accompanied by a smile or laugh, but the message is both clear and absolute. And wrong.

“Lorna MacDonald is Professor of Voice Studies and Vocal Pedagogy at the University of Toronto, and she puts it even more strongly. ‘That’s a blatant lie.’

“Of all creative endeavours, singing is perhaps the most poorly understood. To the chagrin of vocal teachers everywhere, singing is the one pursuit where you will be told, you can’t sing, so don’t bother. Parents will readily pony up the resources for acting lessons, or soccer, but when it comes to the ability to sing, many people are still under the impression that it’s something magical – you either have it, or you don’t. …

“Sean Hutchins is the Director of Research at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. His lab looks into how music affects the mind, and how the mind affects music, in essence. …

“He points out that in older generations, in particular, the sole emphasis was on performance. When school children who couldn’t naturally hit the right notes, rather than training them, they would simply be told to mouth the words, and not sing at all. ‘There’s no better way to make sure someone is bad at something than to tell them they can’t do it.’ …

“Lorna MacDonald cites breath, posture, and vowels as the essential elements that are integral to vocal training for anyone. ‘It’s very much a physical process,’ she explains. ‘Our larynx isn’t necessarily made to create those beautiful sounds, any more than our legs were designed to kick soccer balls.’ …

“[MacDonald] suggests that thinking about what styles and genres you’d like to sing, and your ultimate goals as a singer are a good place to start. ‘It’s so important that it comes from a place of communication — not to be famous.’ …

“In reality, people with congenital amusia, or the innate inability to hear pitch properly, form a very small percentage of the population. The study of amusia is still quite recent, but estimates put it at no more than 1.5 to 4 percent. …

“In essence, amusia testing looks for evidence of faulty pitch perception. That’s the difference. Someone with clinical amusia actually can’t hear variations in pitch. …

“In extreme cases, a little delusional thinking can help. Florence Foster Jenkins was a Manhattan heiress in the early 1920s to 1940s who dreamed of being an opera singer, and was somehow entirely convinced of her talent. There are a smattering of Youtube videos that attest to the fact that she was, let’s say, entirely lacking in training. Still, she went on to become a cult favourite of the NYC music scene. …

“So why sing, in the end? Professor MacDonald puts it best. ‘You contribute beauty to the world,’ she says.” And pleasure to yourself, I’d add.

More here, at Ludwig van Toronto.

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Could food delivery by bicycle be the wave of the future? Wayne Roberts, Canadian bicycle delivery maven from grade 7 to grade 12, thinks so.  Here’s what he wrote recently at the Torontoist.

“Bicycles never used to be thought of as central to the food system, but the Internet has allowed this particular wheel to be reinvented as a prime tool for localizing food systems while reducing traffic jams, cutting global warming emissions, and providing jobs.

“This innovation comes to light on account of Uber’s recent decision to reduce the fee it provides to UberEats bicycle couriers,” which has caused  controversy.

“But there’s another issue that got revealed here, which is the transportation system best suited to strong neighbourhoods and a vibrant and resilient food system. …

“The trip that’s a real killer from a space, energy, and hassle point of view — even worse than the short trip from the local warehouse to the local retailer — is the brief car trip from the customer’s residence to the retailer and then back home again. …

“If you want to calculate the embodied energy involved in moving food, the energy to move a two-ton car four miles to bring back 10 pounds of groceries is by far the most polluting trip any grocery item from anywhere has ever been on. …

“Putting food stores and restaurants back on main streets that are walking distance from densely populated neighbourhoods could be good for many reasons: good for fitness, getting to know neighbours, and building neighbourhood cohesion, which in turn is good for child safety and local response to emergencies. …

“To be resilient, cities need to localize as many services as possible to make them independent of outside control when it comes to the basics of life. Getting access to food is one of the basics, and the means of doing that should be as localized as the food and companies that get it customer-ready.

“The last mile needs to be in the hands of the people who live there.”

More at Torontoist, here.

Photo: Kat Northern Lights Man from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

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When I first read about the discovery of a snug getaway in a Toronto tunnel, I thought, of course, of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. You remember the black man who finally gave up hope of being treated like a regular human and, realizing he was already invisible to most people, established a hidden pied sous terre, lavishly draining off electric power to light his home underground.

The Toronto story turned out a bit different.

The NY Times had the first episode. “It was a baffling discovery,” Ian Austen wrote, “a hand-dug tunnel just over 33 feet long, tall enough for an adult to stand inside, fed with electricity, drained by a water pump and expertly reinforced with lumber and plywood. It started in dense woods near a tennis stadium — and it did not lead anywhere.

“After more than a month of investigation by the Toronto police, the identities and motives of whoever built the tunnel remain as mysterious as they were the day it was found. So … the police turned to the public for help. …

“The news of the tunnel prompted swift speculation on cable television that it might be part of a plan for a terrorist attack on the Pan American Games, which will be held in Canada this summer. The stadium, located on the York University campus, is scheduled to host tennis for the games. But [Deputy Chief Mark] Saunders said repeatedly … that there was no evidence to support that theory or to indicate that the tunnel was intended for anything illicit at all.

“ ‘There’s no criminal offense for digging a hole,’ he said. …

“Chief Saunders said that the tunnel was equipped with ‘a moisture-resistant lighting system’ and that, despite the bitter January weather, ‘it was very comfortable inside,’ with a temperature between 70 and 75 degrees. A 12-foot aluminum step ladder gave access to the tunnel, and a small pit near the entrance held a Honda generator and an air compressor. The pit was lined with thick foam, apparently meant to muffle the sound of the machinery.” More.

A US News & World Report follow-up story is here. Can you guess? It was nothing nefarious — just a comfy man cave that a couple buddies built to get away from it all.

Photo: USNews.com
Toronto’s Deputy Police Chief Mark Saunders explains evidence photos as he speaks to the media about solving the tunnel mystery.

 

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Maria Popova at Brain Pickings has wide-ranging interests, and one of her special strengths is finding charming children’s books. In a recent post, she wrote about an alphabet book you can get at the library.

“I was instantly taken with Work: An Occupational ABC (public library) by Toronto-based illustrator and designer Kellen Hatanaka — a compendium of imaginative, uncommon, stereotype-defying answers to the essential what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up question.

“With a sensibility between mid-century children’s books and Blexbolex [a French graphic artist described here], Hatanaka weaves bold graphics and soft shades into a tapestry of tender vignettes about people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. There is the K-9 officer (female) training her trusty dog on an obstacle course; the Butcher (heavy-set) chasing after a mischievous raccoon that got away with the sausage; the Naval Architect (female) oversees the construction of a large ship near the shore as the Oceanographer (female, dark-skinned) explores the marine world below the surface.”

Canadian independent children’s-book publisher Groundwood Books is to be commended for this little treasure. You can see most of the pictures in Popova’s blog post, here. They are completely delightful.

Art: Kellen Hatanaka
Vibraphonist from Work: An Occupational ABC

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Someone tweeted this today, and I thought you would like it.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has created a nighttime art installation made of bicycles all lit up.

On October 5, says Alice at the website My Modern Met, “Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei presented a new version of his incredible Forever Bicycles installation. As the centerpiece of this year’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, the all-night contemporary art event that takes over city streets, 3,144 bicycles, the most Weiwei has used of this work to date, were stacked 100 feet in length and 30 feet in height and depth in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. This was the first time the installation has been displayed in an open air, public space. Since this was a night-time festival, it was spectacularly lit up with pink and blue lights.”

Check My Modern Met for a stunning array of photos, here.

Photo: http://www.mymodernmet.com

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