Archive for October, 2009


When discussing the topic of organics there is more than a black and white way to look at it.  Going to the supermarket and choosing foods many people might see the label “organic” and assume it is automatically better for them and the environment.  There are many other factors to consider when making good food choices.  With the term “organic” it mainly contains the notion that there are no chemical pesticides and fertilizers used but the general public often disregards how the employees are treated, if it is growing harmoniously with the environment, or how far it is shipped from its origin.

It is imperative to understand that organics, as it has now been marketed, is not “the answer.”  Rather, the solution lies in fighting systemic process, with groundswell processes.  These processes surround first creating awareness in people, instituting education on sustainable food through school curriculum and public service channels, as well as providing people both opportunities and tools to produce change in developing their own farms, or purchasing food that is environmentally and socially responsible.  It is about bringing the thinking, feeling, and connecting back with food, rather than the knee-jerk purchase reaction.

We need to also consider how organics has been defined, and for whom it has been defined.  It seems that the organics industry has become structured to be commercially accessible; to allow it to be mass produced through what can be seen in the nature of government definition to understand what is and is not organic.

The common perception of organics has changed much since its inception into the mainstream. Being that the definition of ‘organic’ in terms of government certification is still quite new (less than two decades old), ‘organics’ (as a study) is still in its infancy with much room for growth and changing interpretations. Like many other food revolutions, organics will evolve with time. As it evolves, new issues will surface, and with time those issues will be resolved.


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#1 – Find a good location

Avoid Starbucks! It’s often easiest to suggest a centrally located corporate coffee shop but if there is any way you can interview in a place that has some relevance to the story or your subject you’ll have much greater success.

Not only because you’ll gain a further sense of context, people are often more comfortable (and open) when they’re in a familiar place or what feels like “their territory.”

#2 – Prepare Your Goals Ahead

Know what questions you’re going to ask and why you’re going to ask them. Do you want a colorful re-enactment of an event, an on-the-record opinion on the issue you’re covering, or general background?

Go into an interview with twice as many questions than you expect to ask. You want to strike a balance between a conversation (which helps make your subject feel comfortable and aids candor) and getting the job done. As your subject is answering your question, be thinking about what you’ll ask next and why.


#3 – Think about the medium

Interviewing techniques defiantly vary for different mediums. If you’re interviewing for audio or video you want to ask two part questions which encourages subjects to talk for longer blocks of time.

Conversely, when you’re interviewing for print, try and break questions up so you can get shorter and more concise answers (easier for taking notes and for quoting later). You can be more conversational with interviews for print, you can say “yeah,” and “uh-huh,” etc.

Not doing this is one of the biggest challenges when you’re interviewing for audio. Nodding and smiling accomplishes the same sort of conversational encouragement and keeps your tape clean.

Another great trick for audio interviews is to have your subject re-enact the story. It makes for good sound and helps you avoid having too much of your own narration later on.

#4 – Think about who you’re interviewing

To cover a story properly we need to hear all sides of the story. Direct quotes weigh more than ‘gisting’ from a website. If you absolutely cannot contact the other side of the story settle for second-hand information. Subjectivity comes from your use of the quotes. Be sure to hear the voice every stakeholder group on a topic.

#5 – Work them up

Another great question is “Why do you care about this story?” Play the devil’s advocate. “Do you think your work will actually change anything?” This can be an effective way to get a strong and emotional quote about why the topic you’re covering is so important.

You can also ask for the turning point in a story, the moment when everything changed or catalyzed. This can help you shape the narrative of your story as well.

#6 – Bring a buddy

I find having a second person as a note taker and extra set of ears can be very useful.

If you don’t think another person will overwhelm or distract your subject (I find that is pretty rare) it can be a lifesaver to have that second set of notes to check your quotes and information.

#7 – Endure awkward silences

I know this sounds counterintuitive. Ask your question, let them give you the rehearsed and generic answer, then sit there quietly and see what comes next. You’d be amazed how often this technique yields powerful results.

#8 – Ask for what you need

Be blunt, be direct. Don’t beat around the bush. If you’re looking for a particular quote on an aspect of the story, ask for it.

You can say, “Listen, I really need a quote from you encapsulating your feelings on this issue,” or “I really need you to walk me through the chronology of this,” or even, “I really need you to take me to a location that is relevant to this issue so I can set a scene.”

For the most part people want to be helpful and you just need to tell them how they can.

#9 – Be sneaky

Continue taking notes even after the interview is officially over. Sometimes people say the most revealing or intimate things when they feel that they’re out of the “hot seat.” If they don’t say “off the record,” it’s all game.

#10 – Empower them

A great question to ask if you don’t fully understand the perspective of your interviewee is “what is your ideal solution/resolution?” Obviously this only works in certain circumstances, but when appropriate it can help clarify a person’s point of view or opinion.

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Rows of soybeans at a farm in Wisconsin, U.S.A

Soy beans. Cancer causing or cancer preventing? Are there environmental impacts? If so, how large? What is there to do about it if there are?

I now can’t ignore a curiosity I have about one or all of those questions. I certainly would like to know if something I ate caused cancer. Wouldn’t you?

There is a lot of talk about soy products in relation to some of these questions and answers are not being addressed as “world news”. An article was released in the online World News Network that emphasizes benefits of soy. For example they mention that “Americans ate nearly 500 tons of modified soy, and feel just fine.” Many people will read this and feel content with their knowledge and consumption of soy products.

Soy products have become a trendy health food over the past decade or so.  It is emphasized how the protein content of soybeans is so high and thus many people eat them in place of other foods that normally provide the protein content of a “healthy diet”. If you do a search for general information on soy products you will most likely come across something mentioning how “Soybeans are considered a source of complete protein, i.e., protein that contains significant amounts of all the essential amino acids that must be provided to the human body.” (Global Oneness)

Many sites echo these thoughts talking about “soy’s culinary versatility and exceptional health benefits”(The Worlds Healthiest Foods) and how “the amino acid profile of soy protein is nearly equivalent in quality to meat, milk and egg protein” (National Soybean Research Laboratory)

If you were to look up information on soy or ask someone personally, most knowledge is similar to what I mention here.  Being someone who does not know a lot about specifics on nutrition I am pleased to read these facts.

Looking a bit further, I found more information on health related issues with soy products. It turns out that there is plenty of information that opposes general facts and knowledge about soy products. One article notes that,

It is lacking in the sulfur containing amino acid methionine…[which is] particularly important for…proper immune system function, and the body’s production of…one of the most important anti-oxidants…[which] serves to detoxify a variety of harmful compounds such as carcinogens.(Body Building For You)

Another article looks at nutritional value of soybeans and states that “only fermented soy products are safe” which include miso—made into soup—among very few other forms. The article also suggests that “modern soy products including soy milks and artificial meat and dairy products…pose a number of serious problems.”(Concerns Regarding Soybeans)

Soy products and cancer? In the same article it is mentioned that, “some researchers believe the rapid increase in liver and pancreatic cancer in Africa is due to the introduction of soy products there.” Others emphasize cancer preventing facts, “that soy products may be helpful both in preventing cancer and in helping to treat it” (Institute for Traditional Medicine)

Personal health aside, there are also global health issues related to soy. The excitement over this product has put it in high public demand and so cultivation rushes to meet. In an article written by Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) it is articulated that “The most serious problems caused by soy monocultures are linked to their continued expansion” which involves cutting down forests to make room for large crops. The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) agrees that expansion is a huge issue, they also suggest that genetically modified soy would leave a smaller footprint and so there must be a global standard of cultivation in order to limit exploitation.

To counter this, the FOEI explains that,

Because of the sheer size of territory currently used for soy production, even the use of legally permitted agrochemicals leads to massive pollution of the countryside in the producing countries, causing depletion of freshwater resources of Indigenous Peoples and rural communities, biodiversity loss, and numerous health problems amongst the rural population, often with fatal consequences.

As may be deduced from this, there is a lot of conflicting evidence about personal and global health benefits of soy but the reality is that there continues to be a demand for soy products. The information that is accessible to people tends to favour particular perspectives—the pro-soy perspective.

It is important to stay informed on studies and updated information on foods such as soy, as to turn your entire life over to a bean, it would seem logical to explore every aspect of that bean as possible; to be informed on every angle, every perspective. It is our duty as consumers to not take information blindly; personal research is necessary in order to have an informed perspective.

Soybeans mean so much more to me now than a tasty culinary supplement; there are a lot more than proteins packed into that tiny green shell, and it is definately news worthy on a global level.

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by Alex Leckie, Georgia Campbell and Rodrigo Ferrari Nunes

Local Organix?

There has been an emphasis in consumption practices that favor local products over those brought from overseas. Eating ‘local’, in the strictest geographical sense, can be detrimental when power relationships are ignored in our conception of the ‘local’. Not all local food production is socially and environmentally responsible. Not everything produced ‘locally’ and close to ‘home’ is necessarily environmentally feasible, ethical and socially responsible (e.g., mass production of chicken eggs).

The imaginary geography of the nation state overlaps with a distance-based approach to defining if a product is local. Since national borders have been set up arbitrarily, informing our imaginary geographies of the ‘local’, we may believe that distance from the food source is less important than the fact that it comes from within the country. For instance, Vancouver is closer to the Washington state border than it is to Kelowna, yet some might believe that apples from Kelowna are more ‘local’ than apples produced much closer, in Washington.

Another question that has to be critically scrutinized is how the idea of ‘local’ is advertised in the public realm, constructing a marketable sense of responsibility. Such a marketing scheme may cloud a clear understanding of exploitative relations that might be taking place ‘locally’. When a concept of ‘local’ is associated with the notion of ‘environmental friendliness’, exploitative power relationships in the system of production run the risk of being systemically ignored. Organically grown apples might be picked by exploited migrant workers.

The point of being and acting ‘local’ is to strengthen ‘community’ and to break our reliance on global networks of profit-driven capitalism. For instance, fertilizers and animal feeds may be shipped from abroad, with severe environmental and social costs to populations that fall outside of your ‘local’ realm. If you are buying and shopping locally you automatically may think you are doing something good for the environment, for the economy, for the people, and so on. Buying ‘local’ does not necessarily mean that positive change is taking place.


Making consumption a political act is problematic because it places you within a strict realm of an apolitical market. You can’t try to attain a political goal through the market because the market is set up to generate profits and not positive sociopolitical change. What we have to try to uncover are the consequences of our food consumption habits in the wider economic and social spheres. This scrutiny has to be exercised through investigations into the details of the process of production in a product-by-product basis, and not solely on whether the product is advertised as ‘local’. That is, our food consumption practices are more socially and environmentally responsible when they are informed by detailed knowledge of the production process.

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Do I buy organic or local?

You’re in the grocery store with the typical conundrum. Do I buy this organic product or the local one? Buy local. The act supports people AND the environment.

Support of the ‘local’ helps strengthen the health of our community. This keeps money in the area. Buying organic can send valuable dollars abroad thus taking money out of the neighborhood loop. Buying local empowers your community. Maintaining a local capital leaves money available for  community development projects.

Why not pick the organic option? The label itself is questionable as the policy for organic food can vary drastically across country borders. An organic pear grown outside of Canada may have been grown under slightly different standards and so you may not even be buying the organic grade you assume comes with the product. The label comes with many implications as well as assumptions that may not necessarily be accurate; local products may in fact be more “organic” in the end. To see regulations visit Canadian Food Inspection Agency for more information.

Looking at organic grown peppers from Holand vs. not organically grown peppers from Vancouver we can also measure the importance food miles. Buying organic may become redundant when the environmental impacts of the transportation of your food outweigh the environmental and health benefits of ‘organic’. If we look at the mass amounts of fossil fuel and energy that go into transporting our food and the resulting environmental degradation we can see it is a matter of scale. If we look at buying local as a movement towards systemic change, the organic seems to follow suit. By buying local we are reducing the miles that our food has to travel to us. We are decreasing the space between us and our food. Both geographically and geopolitically.

Choosing local over organic is also a power statement; an expresion of concern over how your food is produced. By increasing demand for local products you are becoming a stakeholder in the development of local food policies.  When you choose locally produced foods over the organic but foreign alternative, you support local networks of trade.  Many of our imported foods are produced in socially unethical ways, although they are grown organically.  If you can’t be sure of the conditions in which your food was grown, choose the local option, it’s much easier to investigate!

For those of us living in and around Vancouver, buying local food also represents a strong environmental concern. By increasing  local demand for healthy food products we are also decreasing the spread of urban development. Despite the creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve (1973), which designated 47,000 square kilometers of British Columbia’s public and private green spaces as agricultural, the amount of arable farmland within the lower mainland is still in decline. Contributing to this issue is an increasing taste for cheaper, imported products which in turn decreases the viability of local farms. In this sense, demand for local food also creates demand for the healthy use of our local green spaces. So be democratic about it…eat local.

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In December of 1997, the USDA released the National Organic Program Proposed Rule, an attempt to culminate the legislative process that began in 1990 with the passing of the Organic Foods Production Act. By April of the next year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) received over 300 000 comments on the legislation, more than any in American history.  This shows the extent to which organic agriculture has become a matter of public concern and controversy. The word has entered the vocabulary of popular newsmedia and dinner table conversation seemingly overnight.

Before we go much further, a definition of organic should be given. The USDA defines organic agriculture as an “ecological production management system that promotes and enhance biodiversity, biological activities, and soil biological activity.” This includes attempts to minimize pollution, and “enhance the ecological balance of natural systems,” with the primary goal being to “optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.” I use this definition only as means of providing some sort of official reference point, and varying understanding of the idea of organic will be fleshed out.

Now for a brief history: organic agriculture can be traced back to before the Second World War with famous proponents J. I. Rodale in the United States and Sir Albert Howard and Lady Eve Balfour in Britain, all of whom criticized the industrialization of agriculture and its negative impact on human and environmental health. In the 1960s, a back-to-the-land movement invigorated the organic movement, building on earlier philosophies while developing critiques of the nature of urban life, consumerism, and modern disconnect with nature.

These movements were part of a larger social and environmental movement, inspired by such writers as Leo Marx and Rachel Carson. Marx’s The Machine in the Garden (1964) speaks of a place that is neither urban nor rural, a space of an agrarian ideal where people live and work with nature as a source of life, in contrast to the factory-like rural space of industrial food production. These sentiments continued to drive the organic movement through the rest of the century.[1]

Organic agriculture has grown from negligible levels until the 1980s to approximately 623 000 farms with some 31.5 million ha of organically farmed land in 2006. Worldwide sales of organic products reached US$28 billion in 2004.[2] It is hard to say definitively what has caused this rapid growth, but a general trend of environmental awareness spawning from the movements of the 1960s has much to do with a public demand for organically grown food.

When asked why they had enrolled in the student directed seminar, GEOG 442 “Communications in Food Systems Analysis,” most if not all of my classmates indicated a strong desire to simply “know where there food comes from.” The desire for this knowledge can be closely related to the organic movement as an attempt to reconnect with natural production processes in response to the negative impacts of industrial agriculture on human and environmental well-being.

Unfortunately, the critical evaluations of the ways in which our food is grown and processed have often ignored the social aspects of agricultural production. While the tomatoes I have eaten for lunch may be pesticide and non-GMO, it does not address the abysmal wages that the Mexican worker was paid to pick it, or even the American truck driver who drove it through two countries to get to the grocery store down the street. Movements to eat local, closely associated with organic agriculture under the wide umbrella of ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable food,’ while addressing many important problems, do not expressly deal with the social impacts of food production. For the most part, discussion around local eating focuses on the carbon footprint of a particular product although support for local, small-scale farmers, an important social aspect of the food debate, often closely follows. However, local produce, such as that grown in the Fraser or Okanagan Valley is often picked by low-wage, non-unionized migrant workers from other parts of Canada or outside the country.

This is not to mention the thousands of products from all over the world where labour regulations, wage rates, and working conditions vary widely, or may be virtually uncontrolled by governmental agencies.  In Costa Rica, workers at banana plantations often work ten to eleven hour days, making five to 15 US dollars in this time depending on the yield. Complaints from workers are often met with dismissal and placement on a blacklist restricting the employee from being hired at other banana plantations. Plantation companies have little tolerance for attempts to unionize and are often met with mass firings. It is also worth noting the ugly histories of companies like Dole and Chiquita, the latter of which was found guilty of making payments to international recognized terrorist paramilitary groups.[3]

Fair-trade certification attempts to address these social issues. The program works with farming co-operatives to ensure that a minimum guaranteed price is paid to producers in an attempt to compensate for imbalance trade values. However, fair-trade is still largely limited to cocoa and coffee production, and does not address wider trends of worker mistreatment under larger companies or within wealthier nations.

These examples are used to illustrate the different aspects of food production that can be ignored by a focus on ‘organic.’ Although advocates for organic agriculture have not completely ignored social issues of food production, the official documentation/legislation as well as the current public discourse surrounding organic, focus almost all of its energy on the environmental. It should be hoped that the public continues to question the modes of production of food. However, when we question whether or not the bananas at the market are organic, we should also consider the lives of those who picked them.

[1] Vos, Timothy. “Visions of the middle landscape: Organic farming and the politics of nature.” Agriculture and Human Values 17 (2000): 245-256.

[2] William Lockeretz, Organic farming: An international history, (Cabi: Cambridge, 2007) 1.

[3] Caitlin Kuzila, “Banana plantation employees.” jrscience.com, 18 May 2007 Web. 30 Sept. 2009.

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The following email has been sent on behalf of Joe Stott, Director, UBC Campus + Community Planning:

Here’s the Plan!

On behalf of the University, I invite you to attend one of four open houses about the DRAFT UBC Vancouver Campus Plan.

PHASE 5 | Open House Schedule

Wednesday, Oct. 14, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Life Sciences Centre, Atrium

2350 Health Sciences Mall

Tuesday, Oct. 20, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Michael Smith Laboratories, Room 101

2185 East Mall

Thursday, Oct. 15, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Leon and Thea Koerner University Centre, Penthouse Room

6331 Crescent Road
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Student Union Building, Concourse

6138 Student Union Boulevard

The six phase review of the Campus Plan, which began in 2006, is now in Phase 5 – Here’s the Plan!  UBC’s academic vision is to be one of the world’s leading universities. To support that vision, the Campus Plan will shape physical growth and change on the institutional lands over the next two decades. The draft Campus Plan was developed through a rigorous program of technical research and campus community consultation.

As part of Phase 5, UBC Campus + Community Planning is seeking your feedback and comment on the draft Campus Plan. The draft Campus Plan was developed in consultation with faculty, staff, students, alumni, residents, emeriti and the broader community.

Please drop into one of the open houses or visit the Campus Plan website, www.campusplan.ubc.ca, to learn more. An online feedback form will be available from October 5th to 22nd.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Joe Stott

Director, UBC Campus and Community Planning

Tel: 604-827-5157

Email: joe.stott@ubc.ca

I’m thinking that we should take class to the meeting. We would have to do some prior research so we can contribute but let’s plan on class with joe.

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