Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Grocery Store Politics

Last winter when I was visiting Sim for reading week, we got an e-mail from Mom. She had a dilemma, and wanted our advice – she’d gone to the store to buy tomatoes (in Walkerton, in winter). Usually, mom likes to buy local produce, and in the winter purchases hothouse tomatoes that are grown hydroponically using leftover warm water from the power plant. However, this week, the hothouse tomatoes were packaged in those plastic clam shells that very few recycling systems actually take. So – her options were – buy the tomatoes that have come from Mexico, burning fossil fuel and polluting to get them to us millions of miles away in Walkerton, or buy the tomatoes from down the street that come in packaging that will sit in a landfill for thousands of years (and then likely leach cancer-causing chemicals into the groundwater when it finally does break down).

In my early days in Ottawa, we got an organic food basket. For a set price, we’d get a selection of fruit and veggies for the week. However, we began to feel weird about going down to the market every week to get our vegetables, passing the local farmers to pick up our oranges in the middle of July. So, now we try to buy our produce from the market (carefully reading the signs in each stall, because some of the vendors are wholesalers, rather than local producers).

And the list of ethical dilemmas that occur somewhere between “man I’m hungry” and getting something on the plate goes on and on – Here’s another one – farmed or wild fish? Fish farms were supposed to be the answer to over-fishing, but have led to sea lice and all kinds of problems. And wild salmon is so expensive (so then the selfish consideration/reality comes into it too – we have the same problem with organic meat).

Today another food warning has been announced (listeria in ham and turkey) – in the past months there’s been a myriad of contaminated food cases in North America. Something is broken in our food system, and we need to look at our habits and assumptions, and the systems they support, if it’s going to get fixed. I have no answers, but I think that realizing the questions need to be asked, and considering the “externalities” that go into the prices at your grocery store, is a first step.

Just Food

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Christ Climbed Down

Just wanted to post one of my favourite poems, that I discovered in my teens in a book that Mom had. It is apropos of my last post:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
and German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest of
Second Comings

PS - check out Buy Nothing Christmas

Have yourself a sustainable little Christmas

I thought I would post the guide for sustainable gift-giving that I made to go along with some workshops that we’re running at Ecclesiax, because I am quite proud of this little document. I don’t know if I am going to do quite as well this year at sustainable giving, because time is quickly passing, and compared to last year when I had a easy Christmas exam period, I am barely around. I’m trying, though – knitting, sewing, beading and granolaing. Here’s a dilemma, though – what do you do when you want to give sustainably, but family exchange lists . . . because I want to give people what they want, but if it’s all things that appear at the mall . . . then we end up back into that corporate-driven feeding frenzy. We are trying to do a mixture of make and buy – but I still wonder if I should be doing more.

Guide to Sustainable Gift-Giving

Reasons to Give Sustainably . . .

It’s light on the earth.
The impetus behind giving sustainably is to share in gift-giving without buying a lot of over-packaged plasticized products. By making your own gifts or recycling, you are reducing landfill waste and eliminating packaging. By giving consumable gifts, experiences, or donations, you are reducing the clutter in the lives of your recipients.

It’s light on the soul.
By spending less time at the mall, and escaping the consumer-insanity that characterizes Western Christmas, you can reduce stress. Sustainable gifts can also be highly personal, and the thought and time that you put into making something for someone on your list heightens the role of gift-giving as an opportunity to honour a person we care about. The gift of time can strengthen relationships, and build new memories. Giving a fair trade gift or a donation can make you feel better about sharing your wealth and good fortune with strangers in need too.

It’s light on the wallet.
The financial strain of Christmas can detract from the real reason for the holiday, and cause general stress. By making your own gifts, recycling, or giving a gift of time, you will spend more time, but less money, preparing your Christmas gifts.

To give nice sustainable gifts, you do not have to be a master-artist. Most of these take a bit of effort, and you need to be organized to start a bit early, but there are definitely lots of ideas that people with a wide variety of interests and artistic abilities can carry off. Below are some general categories, with a few ideas in each category, to get your brain brimming with ideas for the perfect sustainable gift for you to give. If you have any other good ideas, we’d love to hear them!

Edible Gifts
Canned goods. If you have a garden, you can make jam, pickles, relish, hot pepper jelly, or chutney from your own produce. If you don’t have a garden, you can buy produce from local farmers at the market. This is one gift that you want to get started on early, since local produce is only available in season.

Baking. Everyone likes Christmas baking!

Other Treats. Things like nuts and bolts and granola can be made in big batches a month or so in advance. Since you don’t need sealer jars like you do for jams, you can save up peanut butter/salsa/etc. jars for packaging.

Home-Made Crafty Gifts

Knitting. If you make small projects, such as hats and scarves, you can turn them out pretty quickly. Often yarn can be bought for almost nothing at stores like Value Village, or it will sometimes come up for free on Freecycle ( Once you have the knack of knitting, it’s great because you can do it while you’re chatting with friends or watching TV.

Sewing. This one is a bit harder if you don’t have a machine, but can still be done by hand if you have patience. Like knitting, if you aim for smaller projects, you can make quite a few gifts in a short amount of time. Purses/totes, heat bags (stuffed with soft wheat kernel, these are heated in the mircrowave to put on sore muscles), and cloth napkins (which have the added advantage of encouraging your recipient to reduce paper consumption) are all quick and easy projects. You can recycle old clothing, and fabric can also be found on Freecycle ( or in the “remnant bin” in fabric stores like Bouclair.

Beading. With a bit of wire and some beads, you can make beautiful and professional-looking gifts. Look for out-dated strings of beads at Value Village and garage sales that can be cut apart for salvage, or visit your local beading store if you have a bit more money to spend. Some of these stores offer evening classes.

Candles or Soap. Make candles or soap, and give a consumable gift that someone will enjoy using. The supplies can come from a craft store, and you can colour candle wax with old crayons.

Home-Made non-Crafty Gifts
Recipe Book. Share your favourite recipes with your friends or family. Or, gather recipes together from different sources for someone. This is an especially good idea for someone who is moving out on their own for the first time. You can also make a binder with dividers for someone to organize their own recipes, and “seed” it with your own favourites.

Personal Photos. Find an old photo that your recipient may have never even seen, or pick a recent photo, get it printed and frame it in an inexpensive frame. You can look for used frames, or make one out of a variety of materials if you want to personalize further.

Experiential Gifts
Gift Certificates. For the movies, a restaurant, the theatre, a massage, a day at the spa, classes in something… whatever it is that your recipient likes doing – this gift lets someone do something that might be a bit of a luxury.

Time together. Promise someone a day going to the museum, or a picnic, or whatever you would both enjoy. Have your closest friends over for a dinner party, or invite them on a camping weekend so you can all hang out together.

Chores. This gift works best if it’s something the person would really like you to do for them. I.e. – if you hate your sister’s messy kitchen, but it doesn’t bother her, then offering to organize it is not the best gift, but if it drives her insane and she’s just never got time – go for it (or babysit the kids so she can do it herself).

Phone Calls. For someone living overseas, the best gift you can give may be a call – buy a phone card and have a good uninterrupted chat.

Recycled/Re-used Gifts
Books, CDs, and Movies. While some people might be offended by used gifts, many will just want to read the book, and not care if someone else has done so before them. This is both cheaper and more environmentally friendly than buying new. You can also compile a CD of your favourite music.

Furniture. Pick up a cool end table or chair at Freecycle or a garage sale. Recover it, mosaic its surface (use old plates from the same sources), paint or “antique” it.

Responsibly Bought Gifts
Craft Sales. Go to sales by local artisans to pick up unique gifts that come straight from the producer. Two especially good shows in the Ottawa area are the Ottawa Potters Guild annual sale (usually early or mid-November) - and Ladyfest (late September, early October) -

Support Indies. If you’ve seen a band and liked it, consider supporting the artist and getting their album as a gift for someone with similar music tastes to yourself.

Fundraisers. Many organizations make cookbooks, or sell note-cards, for example. You can support the local school and get that perfect something for your Mom!

Fair Trade. Consider making an effort to buy fair trade gifts. This way, you know that the people who’ve produced your gifts are being paid a fair wage, and benefiting from your purchase. Ten Thousand Villages is one of the best places to shop fair trade in Ottawa – This is also a great way to spread the word about fair trade to your family members or friends who may not know about it.

For the person who has everything, give a donation in their name. This can work well to raise awareness with kids, especially if the charity is something like Sleeping Child Around the World ( where the recipient will receive a photo of the child who received their gift. There are many charities out there doing good works, and it shouldn’t be hard to find something that will match your recipient – animal shelter for the animal lover, local library for the reader etc.

The Packaging
Wrap your gifts sustainably too. Reuse wrapping paper and gift bags, or use old calendars as paper. Sew some bags, and start a new tradition with your family of using them every year. Hang smaller gifts from the tree with a ribbon around them, and skip out on the paper altogether.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Wal-Mart and priorities

Not so much a rant - but this is the type of news that makes me think the world is going to Hell in a Handbasket. There are many reasons to boycott Wal-Mart. The sweatshop labour, the part-time status of many employees, the destruction of downtown cores, the soul-sucking sameness of any big chain. (Don't take my word for it - check out or - I'm new to this, I'll get my live links figured out eventually).

Ok, so Christians are called to look after the poor, stand up for the marginalized. Jesus talked about this a lot. So did the Old Testament prophets. But - this is why they are willing to boycott Wal-Mart.

(ok, just a baby rant . . . here's the article)

November 22, 2006

Conservatives plan protests over Wal-Mart's outreach to gay groups
David Crary, The Associated Press

Christian conservatives are asking shoppers to boycott Wal-Mart's (NYSE:WMT) post-Thanksgiving sales because of its outreach to some gay-rights organizations.

The American Family Association is asking supporters to stay away from the huge retailer Friday and Saturday - two of the busiest shopping days of the year. Another group, Operation Save America, plans prayer rallies outside many Wal-Mart stores Friday.

The corporate actions that triggered the protests were little different from those taken by scores of major companies in recent years - Wal-Mart paid US$25,000 this summer to become a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and donated $60,000 to Out and Equal, which promotes gay-rights advances in the workplace.

Conservative leaders saw these actions as a betrayal of Wal-Mart's traditions, which have included efforts to remove magazines with racy covers and CDs with explicit lyrics.

''This has been Christian families' favourite store - and now they're giving in, sliding down the slippery slope so many other corporations have gone down,'' said Rev. Flip Benham of Operation Save America. ''They're all being extorted by the radical homosexual agenda.''

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. spokesman David Tovar said the company's outreach to the gay-rights groups was part of a broader effort to best serve its diverse customer base.

''We take pride that we treat every customer, every supplier, every member of our communities fairly and equally,'' Tovar said Tuesday. ''We do not have a position on same-sex marriage. ... What we do have is a strong commitment to diversity. We're against discrimination everywhere.''

Justin Nelson, president of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, said conservative activists had misrepresented his business-oriented group as a leading advocate of gay marriage in order to tarnish Wal-Mart.

''Their campaign has not been to educate, but to mislead,'' he said. Wal-Mart ranks in the middle among companies rated by the Human Rights Campaign, a major gay-rights group, for workplace policies toward gays. Scores of companies now have a perfect 100 rating, while Wal-Mart's rating has risen from 14 in 2002 to 65 this year as it added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination code and offered some domestic-partner benefits.

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said he spoke with a Wal-Mart executive Tuesday and came away confident the company would continue efforts to promote workplace equality for gays.

Tim Wildmon, the American Family Association's president, said he and his allies had not ruled out extending the boycott against Wal-Mart, depending on how the company responded to the weekend protests.

''They are so gigantic, it's hard to make a dent,'' he said. ''We're just trying to see if there's some measurable effect this weekend, see if we can get their attention.''


One of the toughest decisions when Paul and I got married was what we would call ourselves. We wanted to have the same last name, as a recognition that we were becoming a new family together. I wasn't quite comfortable just taking on him name, though . . . So, we considered him taking my name - an option, but we weren't sure we were quite radical enough to put up with the shocked expressions (and ribbing that he was whipped) that we would probably have to deal with on a regular basis.

So, the solution is hyphenating - and the Elliott-Magwood family was born. Paul still faces a lot of surprise (but most of it approving) when people find out that he has hyphenated his name, but over two years into the marriage we're getting pretty used to it - and I like that we are the only Elliott-Magwoods there are. It symbolizes that we have come from different families, and have brought our histories and traditions together to make a new family that is a combination of us both.

People ask us what our children will do when they get married - but it seems to me that if we have children, they probably won't be getting married for at leat 30 years, and who knows what people will do by then. Besides, we had to do what was best for us, and I really appreciated our parents supporting us in that when we picked our name. I hope that if I am a parent I can do the same - and if my child makes a choice that involves keeping Paul's half of the name, or taking her or his partner's name, that I will respect that decision and let my child have the freedom to chose a name that represents her new family in whatever way works best for her.