Tuesday, April 20, 2010

You too can have grandchildren: no children required?

This is one of the reasons I mostly think that the "anything is possible -- follow your dreams" way of thinking is corrosive. Even if you somehow get past the idea that the world has a carrying capacity for circus clowns and trapeze artists and that some people are going to have to do things they don't always want to do if that same world is to function, you still have to contend with things like this:
But it's [56-year-old] Anna DiPede-Sexton's simple dream that stops the lively conversation cold. “I don't know if this is feasible, but I want to be a grandmother. And I don't have children.”
She obviously thinks she hasn't peaked yet.

In dealing with an aging population, I don't think we can simply put baby boomers that haven't planned for retirement out in the street in a shopping cart with their belongings. Somehow, we have to take care of them. But things like the above make me wonder what else we are going to be paying for in funding this massive retirement project and where the boundaries around "non-negotiable" will be found to lie.

When the European Union considers a scheme to fund vacations with taxpayer dollars after declaring travelling to be a "human right", all kinds of other unimaginables don't seem so far-fetched anymore:
The European Union has declared travelling a human right, and is launching a scheme to subsidize vacations with taxpayers' dollars for those too poor to afford their own trips.
And wouldn't that be lovely. But I wonder at what point I would start asking myself why I am working toward improving my situation in a challenging, sometimes-stressful job when the top end of my income from this point forward is going to be taxed at nearly 50% in order to pay for other people to not only sit at home and do nothing or to birth children into unsustainable situations as we already support, but now  to go on holiday as well.

This way of thinking is out of control. Stop this planet spinning because I want to get off!

But, since space programs are under attack, my options are limited about where else I might go. The moon is now off the table, but Obama does apparently intend to mount an asteroid by 2025:
"By 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space," [Obama] said. "We'll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Full disclosure: I am a fan of Jamie Oliver (search my blog if you don't believe me), and I am starting to really dislike Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.

In the space of a few weeks, he seems to have:
  • overcome the "outsiders telling us what to do" sentiment of the southern US
  • solved the school food crisis in Huntington, West Virginia
  • proven his central premise wrong without recognizing it
Having appropriated the "reality TV" format for this series, I am naturally suspicious that we are seeing anything to do with real life whatsoever. And if this really is real then he should immediately get his overweight self over to Israel/Palestine and work on their problems as an immediate next-priority.

How has he proven his central premise wrong? Well, let's identify this central premise first -- which is that children who are not raised on healthy food are setting themselves up for a lifelong distaste for healthy food which will therefore lead to an increased likelihood of being obese and of ill health.

But he went into one of the Huntington high schools, and these are schools which are presumably fed students from the same elementary schools whose own meal plans he is also trying to change. And he offered healthy food to these high school students. And, by his own account, the vast majority of them ate it and preferred it over french fries and pizza on only the second try.

So, where is the recognition that his premise was wrong? Where is the recognition that you can quite clearly feed kids rubbish at an early age and quite rapidly change them over to healthier food when they get older -- that it is not difficult to foster an appetite for healthy food. That we do not need consultants to study how it must be done or to endlessly counterproductively convince people that it is difficult and that you need their special skills to accomplish it.

Of course, this doesn't mean that it's OK to feed unhealthy food to children, but in a rational world the above would be pretty earth-shattering to the world view of people who keep on with this idea that you "have to get them early" that is so profitable for them but so expensive for the rest of us.

It is also quite hard to ignore the fact that the vast majority of students caught on camera are not obese, nor are they lethargic. When he dresses as a podded pea, the elementary school children are energetically chasing him across a field. Very few of them seem sleepy, and very few of them seem hyperactive. The same is true of the high school students.

He has picked out a few large people and scattered them into his vignettes. He has found someone with a sad story about someone in the family who died and was obese. You could find these anywhere.

Jamie Oliver even found time to cry for the camera. In the UK version of this campaign, rather than crying there was all kinds of aggressive effin'-and-jeffin' at his detractors. What changed? The audience? The presentation format?

So, I'm not convinced. I'm not sure this is an honest account of events.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Response to Christian on OSAP food diet budgets

I haven't posted for about a week, but I've received some comments on my OSAP diet post from someone whose Christian name is Christian, and it ended up being a post in itself, so I'll duplicate it here.

Well thats the answer I was expecting. You clearly do not understand-if you did you would not say such a thing. You may very well LIVE on $7.50 a day-but it is not healthy for the body nor mind.

But that isn't the answer I gave you -- it was part of an answer that included the fact that I currently live on a similar food budget myself, and a reference to the Star comments where a number of people said they feed their entire families on less than the amount given to students on OSAP for food.

So why not do some research before you continue to spread false information?

See above. It is not false information. The false information is that students need more than $7.50/day for food. They could eat nicer food if they were allowed more, but it is not necessary. You can turn a pound of ground beef, a can of red kidney beans, and a can of tomatoes into about 4 servings of chili for less than $6 -- that is $1.50 per serving for a pretty substantial meal, and if you find three more just like it then you've only spent $4.50 on your square meals for the day. For 10 cents more, you could add a slice of bread (and you could get more than the 10 cents back by using dried, rather than canned, kidney beans).

Things that are expensive and bad value for money: almost anything that comes in a box, almost all prepared foods, anything baked. These are things we're often told are "the only choice" for people on low incomes, but they are usually much cheaper to make from raw ingredients at home.

Also keep in mind an 18 yr old college student will need more calories than you on general as they are still growing and have a higher metabolic rate.

Calories are not hard to come by. Beans, grains, and sugar are all high in calories.

Everything you said here is correct. However we are talking about OSAP, which is supposed to provide students with enough funding for food and shelter. Try finding AFFORDABLE student housing in the GTA off campus that fall into the OSAP student budget.

I don't know about this so I won't comment. Except for my first year in residence (very expensive for what is offered and, in my case, much of it went to pay extra for unionized labour), I shared a multiple-bedroom place with others and paid between $277-325/mo the rest of the time I was in school.

However why do our student pay so much for a post-secondary education anyways? Many countries PAY students to attend school so they can learn and contribute to society. Quebec, is an excellent example of how offering monetary incentives and subsidiaries for students to continue their education can lead to a better developed & educated culture.

Whether or not they contribute to society depends on what they study, I think. If they study philosophy then it's probably counterproductive. Quebec is a xenophobic museum culture, not a "better developed & educated" one. It is enshrined and allowed to continue thanks to outside funding from other provinces that live in the real world. Though it doesn't hesitate to criticize them, it has Alberta's oil sands to thank in part for its ability to exist as a going concern. One of its main exports is corruption. They get so much from this country, yet they still have massive debt. Whatever education they are partaking in is not working out very well for them.

We wont even LEND students enough money in Ontario to properly support themselves in university. Why is it such a concern to increase the rate? OSAP is a loan, which is paid back....with interest. The goverment MAKES money like this.

If students agree to stop complaining about their debt levels, and if forgiveness over a threshold was removed then I would be OK with it. I doubt the government makes money off these loans -- they are not the ones making the loans, and the programs to administer them that they do run cost money to operate.

Keep in mind also the default rate on OSAP loans is about 3% across all programs. Compared to credit card default rates which are about 9%-3 times as much.

So whats so wrong with lending students more for food????

And that is, I guess, why credit card interest rates are normally northward of 15% and OSAP loan rates are not. It is also easier for OSAP recipients to adjust payments and modify debt scheduling in order to avoid default, and this is facilitated by government programs.

Obviously, OSAP should make allowances for food. But taking on debt to pay for food is generally a very bad idea, so it should be kept to an absolute minimum. Otherwise, you will be paying in 5 years' time for food that you ate in 10 minutes, 5 years ago. People need food, but there are limits to what they need.

If someone suggested that adding their groceries for the week on their credit card balance was a good idea, I'm not sure there are many who would agree. The food would be gone in a week and the credit card bill, with massive interest, would exist well beyond this time period. In this sense, I see OSAP as protecting students from themselves by limiting their food allowance.

Anyone who had a notion of value for money would agree -- it does not make sense to pay interest far into the future on a bill for food that you didn't need.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Quinoa with beef, red pepper, and mushroom

Today, I decided to try and make use of quinoa. I had heard about this wonder-seed in a book I read recently -- it was mentioned particularly for its high quality protein content because it has all of the amino acids the body requires from protein, making it unique and particularly useful for vegetarians. Apparently, if you don't eat meat then it is more challenging to get all of the essential amino acids from your non-meat protein sources.

I bought some quinoa for the first time last week and tried it straightforwardly simmered in water according to the package instructions, except with a bit of salt in the cooking water. It had a taste of its own, quite similar to millet but a bit more robust. It wasn't an overpowering taste.

Since I'm not a vegetarian, I allowed myself to recognize that it had a taste that would go ideally with beef and onion. So, today, I decided to see if that would work.

I think it turned out well.

Here's what you need:
  • 1/3 cup dry quinoa grain: I used Bob's Red Mill organic
  • 1 large sweet red bell pepper
  • 1 small-medium red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 medium-sized white mushrooms: I used 1 creimini and 1 oyster mushroom
  • 1 heaped tbsp. corn starch
  • 1 tsp. beef bouillon: I used the beef "Better Than Boullion"; the package said 1 tsp. was equal to 1 cube of regular bouillon. BTB seems to have fewer mystery ingredients than regular bouillon and tastes as good if not better.
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • water as required below
In a saucepan, add the salt to 2/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. water and bring it to a boil. When boiling, reduce to a simmer, add the quinoa grain, stir, and cover. Cook for 12 minutes. After this time, it should be removed from the heat and left to stand covered for 10 minutes. Try to time this to coincide with the completion of the steps that follow, but a few minutes of extra standing isn't going to hurt.

Slice the red onion and finely slice the garlic clove. Chop the red pepper and the mushrooms.

In a saute or frying pan, heat the olive oil until it starts to smoke and then add the onion and garlic and stir with a spatula to distribute evenly. After a couple of minutes, add the red pepper and mushroom, distribute with spatula and let cook for about 5 minutes, disturbing with the spatula periodically.
Add 1/3 cup water to the saute pan, stir for about 30 seconds, then cover, and reduce heat so that it can simmer for about 3 minutes. At this point, add the bouillon and black pepper and stir it in until dissolved. Return cover and simmer for another 5 minutes.
At this point, the quinoa should almost have finished its 10 minutes of standing.
Mix the corn starch with an equal amount of water in a small cup or bowl until the corn starch is dissolved in the water. Add it to the saute pan and stir. The contents should start to thicken. Cook for about 1 minute.
Add the cooked quinoa to the saute pan and combine it with the saute pan contents and cook for another minute.
That's all!