2/28/2021

On being … unexpectedly uplifting

By Ingrid Sapona 

Over the past year or so, I’ve written columns that have hinted at my lack of hope for the world. Given this, you may think it’s natural I’d be drawn to a book with the phrase Climate Disaster in its title. Well, that’s not really what drew my attention to Bill Gates’s new book – the full title of which is: “How to Avoid Climate Disaster – The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need.” 

I borrowed the (audio) book from the library this week because I don’t know much about climate change other than that it’s real and that it’s bad. I figured maybe it’s time that I bone up on it. Another reason I decided to read it is because it was written by Bill Gates – a geek with a lot of interests. Don’t we all wish we’d have paid more attention to his 2015 warning about the devastating impact of a global pandemic! (By the way, if you haven’t seen his Vancouver TED talk on pandemics, check it out – one of the eeriest things in the video is a black and white photo of a flu virus – an image we’re all too familiar with now.)

Though I’m only three-fourths of the way through the book, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. It’s been interesting for a variety of reasons. Gates is really good at explaining things in concrete terms. It’s not that he dumbs things down – there’s more chemistry and physics than I can ever pretend to understand. But, he uses interesting – and memorable – analogies. For example, he explains that emissions released into the atmosphere is like water filling a bathtub. Cutting back on emissions amounts to slowing the flow of water into the tub. But, even if the water is slowed to a trickle, eventually it will overflow the tub, causing disaster. Getting to zero net emissions is tantamount to pulling the plug on the tub – the only sure way to prevent water from eventually overflowing and the only sure way to prevent a climate change disaster. 

Anyway – this isn’t meant to be a book report or a discussion of climate change. What’s column-worthy to me about the book is how uplifting I’m finding it. Don’t get me wrong – Gates doesn’t sugar coat how important it is that we address climate change, or how hard it will be. And yet, he thinks we can avert disaster. Given that his optimism seems rooted in knowledge and understanding, it’s hard not to be moved by it. One of the things I found especially noteworthy is how often he talks about innovation. Wouldn’t it be cool if more people start talking about innovation? It’s so refreshing to hear someone who is smart and creative directing their energy to innovating rather than to disrupting, as so many tech whizzes seem to. It’s clear that Gates is focused on true problem solving, rather than on innovating simply to make money. 

I understand that as a nerd (as he describes himself), it’s natural for Gates to have a lot of faith in science and scientists. He clearly believes that many intractable problems can be solved if enough smart people work on them. Though I’ve never really assumed scientists have all the answers, I can’t understand science deniers. If anything, the fact that scientists have come up with vaccines to combat Covid-19 in mere months should make us all feel humbled AND should make us science believers. 

What’s also remarkable is that Gates isn’t daunted by the magnitude of the problem of climate change. From the outset he makes it clear that the goal is to go from 51 tonnes of greenhouse gasses being added to the atmosphere every year to zero tonnes. Clearly not a small goal. It’s interesting to see how his business experience informs his problem-solving approach. He breaks down problems into bite-size chunks of the puzzle and systematically applies assumptions and criteria to evaluate them, considering viability, cost, and potential impact. That said, he’s quite careful to not lose sight of the forest for the trees. After analyzing a particular chunk, he circles back to the big picture to calculate what impact each particular puzzle piece may have on the ultimate goad of getting to zero tonnes. 

Gates is uniquely situated to raise awareness about the immediacy of the climate crisis. Having spent the last 20 years on international humanitarian work, he has a unique global outlook that politicians and businesses often overlook or feel they can’t afford to have. He can also serve as a catalyst, bringing movers and shakers – scientists and investors – from around the globe together to work on the many problems we’ll need to solve to get to zero.    

If Gates is right in his analysis of climate change – the way he was about the devastating global impact of a pandemic – the consequences of not achieving net zero emissions are dire and the timeframe within which to act is short. But, Gates makes a persuasive argument that it can be done. As I said, I’ve not finished the book yet. But it’s already got me thinking more about climate change and ways I can adapt my behavior. More than anything, the book has helped me realize that we’re not powerless unless we fail to act.

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona

 


2/15/2021

On being … on the record

By Ingrid Sapona

As I sit here on Valentines Day 2021, I suspect I’m not alone in saying my heart is broken.

A few days ago, as I was thinking about what today’s column might be about, I had a couple different ideas. But the results of the second impeachment trial and Mitch McConnell’s pathetic attempt at saving face by putting on the record his rationale for voting not guilty made me realize that I too want to be on the record about the events of February 13, 2021.

Like House Impeachment Manager Joe Neguse, who admitted in his closing remarks that perhaps he was being naïve in hoping that the necessary 67 Senators would do the right thing, I clung to that same hope. I wanted to believe that at least 2/3 of the senators would realize that – as Lead House Impeachment Manager Jamie Raskin said – the trial wasn’t about who Trump is, it was about who Congress is. I also wanted to believe that every senator would render impartial justice because they realized, as Neguse said, that the stakes could not be any higher. Indeed, I believe nothing less than the fate of the United States of America was on the table. Given the outcome of the trial, I believe the vote on February 13th will prove to be the pivotal moment in U.S. history.

I found it insulting that Mitch McConnell had at the ready a scathing rebuke of Trump that he delivered after the trial vote. It was quite a display of hubris. Of course, few historians will disagree with his assessment of Trump’s “disgraceful dereliction of duty” on January 6th. But I think the dereliction of duty of the senators who voted to acquit Trump on February 13th will cast a shadow that will loom much larger in history.

Having grown up in the U.S. and having studied the Constitution at law school, I was in awe at the system the Founding Fathers put in place. The contingencies they anticipated and tried to mitigate with a brilliant set of checks and balances aimed at ensuring the separation of powers was truly revolutionary. In fact, it lasted for 230+ years.

But any system is only as strong as those who believe in it and who agree to abide by it. The system – the noble experiment – the Founding Fathers put in place had been pushed and pulled in different directions for over 200 years. There have been many dark episodes in U.S. history, but ultimately those in power chose the values of the Constitution over political gain. Sadly, on February 13, 2021, those in power chose to invoke the Constitution in name only, rather than to ensure it applies to all.

I know that many commentators and people who might have been disappointed with the outcome of the trial have chosen to focus on the few positives they see. They herald the seven Republican senators who broke ranks with their party leadership and found Trump guilty. They point to the fact that Trump’s attorneys seemed to have admitted that Trump lost the election. They even point to the fact that McConnell excoriated Trump after the trial as a positive. Sure – let’s take solace in all those things….

But – for the record – I believe that on February 13, 2021 the whole world heard the death knell that rang out for America democracy. Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic about what will rise in its place.

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona

 

1/30/2021

On being ... a needed respite

By Ingrid Sapona

Many have commented that since January 20th they feel as though a weight has been lifted off them. I’ve been feeling the same way. The silence from the Twittersphere and the change in tone of words coming out of the White House is a welcome relief. I guess this is what it feels like when bullying finally stops. Still, it’s sad to think about the damage done to our individual and collective souls over the past four years.

I think much of the world felt reassured – if not relieved – at having witnessed the peaceful transition of power in the U.S. Though such transitions are something Americans had taken for granted for over two centuries, Trump had conditioned many to expect the unthinkable. 

Given that all I really wanted was a day with no violence, I certainly didn’t expect the Inauguration to be memorable beyond seeing Biden and Harris sworn in. But, like many, I was overwhelmed by the words – and wisdom – of National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. 

Over the past few years, I’ve written about my general loss of hope for the future. But seeing and hearing Gorman helped me feel that maybe there is cause for optimism. She made me think that maybe the youth of the world have the energy, enthusiasm, and intelligence necessary to change the world for the better. Maybe they aren’t as tired and weary as me… 

I’ve been pleased that others too have pointed to Ms. Gorman’s poem as a beacon of hope. Here’s a bit of commentary by three Canadian professors who wrote about the inspiring recitation: 

“Gorman moved many in a time of geopolitical uncertainty and a pandemic with the power of critical hope, something that combats hollow positivity. In the words of educator and literary theorist Ira Shor, critical hope asks us to ‘challenge the actual in the name of the possible.’.”  

So yes, over the past few weeks there have been bright spots worth savoring. But let’s not forget that there are still 7,000 National Guard troops in Washington, D.C. and CBS News reports the number will be drawn-down to 5,000 through mid-March. How sad that that many troops will be needed in the U.S. Capitol for at least six more weeks! That says a lot. And if that’s not troubling enough, the other day the Department of Homeland Security issued a threat bulletin due to the ongoing potential for violence, including concerns that Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs) “may be emboldened by the January 6, 2021 breach of the U.S. Capitol Building”. According to the bulletin, the heightened threat environment extends “across the United States”. I want to believe that Gorman is right that there is always light, but I fear danger’s is lurking in the shadows.

And of course, Covid-19 hasn’t taken a breather like the rest of us. If anything, it’s working harder to prevail. Besides the ever climbing number of infections and the staggering death toll*, mutations are preventing public health officials, pharmaceutical companies, and front-line workers from feeling any relief in the pandemic war. 

Though the feeling of being able to breathe easier and sleep better that many of us have felt since the Inauguration is definitely welcome, let’s not mistake it for more than a welcome respite. And, though I hope we can ride this wave of positivity for awhile yet, keep in mind that, by definition, respites are temporary. In the meanwhile, however, let’s use this calm to refill our wells of compassion, patience, and creativity so that we’re strong enough to meet the challenges that lie ahead. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 

*World-wide there have been over 2.2 million deaths to date and the U.S. the death toll has increased 100,000 in the month since I wrote: On being … too much in 2020.

1/15/2021

On being … a roller coaster of emotions

By Ingrid Sapona

Sometimes the deadline for On being… approaches and I’m idealess. Those occasions are a challenge, but they’re useful, as they force me to reflect on my intention for On being…. Then there are other times when I get an idea for the next column pretty much the day after I publish one. That’s what happened this time. So, on January 2nd I decided today’s column was going to be called: On being … in check.

The idea came to me when a friend said to me – very sincerely – “Oh, you must be SO DISAPPOINTED” when I told her that my planned kitchen reno is officially on hold. The reno’s been in the works for awhile and the plan was for it to be done in March or April. I’ve ordered appliances and was getting ready to order the cabinets but, the day after Christmas, Ontario introduced further restrictions to try to control Covid. As a result, my condo board has advised that renovations that hadn’t been started must be put off.  

While it’s frustrating not knowing how long the delay may be (timing of ordering the cupboards was going to be tricky in any event), I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed. After all, it’s just a delay. There was nothing magic about March or April. Besides, other than the fact that my microwave and dishwasher are on the fritz, there’s really nothing wrong with the kitchen so waiting isn’t really even a hardship.

Then, after learning about my reno delay, Covid interfered with another plan I’ve had since this time last year. Friends and I were booked on a January 7th flight for our annual trip to Mexico. We knew from others who winter there that they feel safe thanks to mandatory mask wearing and social distancing restrictions in effect. But, given new restrictions added in Mexico and on our return, days before the flight we decided not to go. Major disappointment… But, hope springs eternal and we re-booked the condo and the flight for late spring.  

Given that 2021 feels it’s pretty much a continuation of 2020, on January 2 I decided to make a (belated) New Year’s resolution to help me cope with the inevitable disappointments that lie ahead. My resolution is to always “check in” with myself to assess whether the basis of a complaint or feeling of disappointment relates to a need or to a want. If it’s because of an unfulfilled need, I’ll give myself permission to be upset – and then I’ll try to figure out another way to fulfill it. If the complaint or disappointment relates to a want, well – what’s that expression about putting on your grownup pants?

So, in my mind, this column was done – I was going to write about being straight with myself about wants versus needs. And then came the events of January 6th. Like so many, I watched in amazement and sadness as the U. S. Capitol was overrun by a mob. I can’t say I was surprised – Trump has been rallying his supporters toward violence since his pre-election rallies in 2016. But still, the fact that the U.S. has descended into mob rule is unfathomable.

The next morning as I read newspaper reports of the events at the U.S. Capitol and the daily tragic news about the pandemic, I found myself overwhelmed with sadness. It seemed each article sent me on an emotional roller coaster with a flood of On being… topics coming fast and furious. As I’ve mentioned before, thinking in terms of On being… is one of my coping mechanisms – a way I sort out emotions. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll share some of the On being … ideas that have struck me these first few days of January:

On being … in denial – The only way the Capitol police could have been surprised by the mob that was carrying out Trump’s wishes is if they were in denial.

On being … allowed – The fact that the mainly white mob was not suppressed with any show of force is pretty clearly a sign of white privilege.

On being … a coward behind bullet proof glass – Convenient that when inciting the crowd at the rally on the 6th, Trump, Don Junior, and Rudy Giuliani were at a podium safely behind bullet proof glass. And then, after urging the mob to march to the Capitol, Trump and his pals were driven in a secret service-protected motorcade back to the White House. And of course, when Trump finally leaves Washington, he’ll be free to continue his ranting, lying, and inciting violence all the while he’s protected for life by the Secret Service. Such a hero…

On being … divisive – How dare the Republicans argue that bringing an impeachment action is divisive rather than healing! Reminiscent of the old pot and kettle adage, don’t you think? How is perpetuating a lie about a stolen election not divisive? And what have those lying Republican legislators who tried to overturn the results in various states done to try to heal the divide?

On being … a fortress – How sad to see Washington, D.C. turned into an armed fortress. While it’s understandable – in light of last week’s events and in light of the upcoming inauguration – it’s still sad. Just think of it, they’ve called in more than 20,000 National Guard troops to prevent Americans from harming Americans…

On being … too soon forgotten – My biggest fear is that in a few weeks people will lose interest. No lessons will be learned and no changes will result. How much you want to bet that by month’s end people will talk more about what Lady Gaga or JLo wore at the inauguration than about how to mend the nation?

What about you? What are you feeling these first few days of the New Year? Any On being … -type topics you’re struggling to come to grips with?

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona

12/30/2020

On being … too much in 2020

By Ingrid Sapona

Since 2011, my December 30th column has been a look back at the year based on the alphabet – you know, A is for…, B is for…, and so on. From about February on I keep a list of news stories and topics I find interesting or unusual. I enjoy the challenge of the alpha look-back because it engages me all year. By the time Christmas rolls around, I usually have only a few letters left to write about.

This year was no different and by December I had all but five letters covered. But the past couple weeks I decided to ditch my alpha review because a look back at 2020 ought to be different. Indeed, I think most would agree that a more fitting year-end review must involve reflecting on – both in sadness and in shock – some of the year’s tragic numbers.

Of course, the most devastating number is the number of people who have died from Covid-19 this year. As of 10 a.m. December 29, 2020, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, there have been 1,778,266 deaths world-wide. Of that total, 335,208 deaths were in the U.S. and 15,202 have been in Canada.

I realize numbers – especially large ones – are an abstraction that can be difficult to understand or relate to. Given that, as I noted in my May 30, 2020 On being… column, I often search for comparisons as a way of providing perspective. CBS Sunday Morning offered a truly mind-blowing perspective on the U.S. death toll this week: they noted that if they did a ONE SECOND tribute for each of the Americans who have died of Covid-19 so far – it would take nearly 4 days. (To be more specific, at 86,400 seconds/day it would take – non-stop – 3.88 days for a one second tribute, which would realistically amount to just flashing a photo or quickly saying the name of each American who has died from Covid-19.)

I can’t understand why the people of a nation as rich and powerful as the United States are not enraged by the death toll. (Or at least they are not enraged enough to demand that their leaders lead.)  What does it say about a society that allows 1 in 1,000 of its citizens to die from a disease rather than come together and do all they can to protect themselves and each other?

But it wasn’t just five and six-digit numbers that I wish more Americans cared about in 2020. Another anguishing statistic relates to the number of federal executions carried out this year. Since July, the U.S. government has executed 10 federal death-row prisoners. While capital punishment proponents might point out that with 17 executed nationwide in 2020 (10 federal prisoners and 7 state prisoners), overall, 2020 saw the lowest number of executions in the U.S. since 1991.While that’s true, the fact is that until this year, there had not been a federal execution since 2003. I find it so troubling that no one seems to be asking why the sudden reinstitution of federal executions? What’s changed?

The year also saw a record-setting 30 Atlantic hurricanes. (That was the most storms since “reliable records” began being kept over 100 years ago.) To those who didn’t suffer the direct impact of any of the 12 storms that made landfall in the U.S., the significance of the storms might not be of particular import. But, failing to believe there’s a relationship to the intensity and frequency of such storms and climate change imperils the world and should be of concern to us all. And yet, there are millions who deny that climate change is real. In a recent YouGov Cambridge Globalism 2020 survey, fully 10% of Americans responding said this statement is definitely true: “The idea of man-made global warming is a hoax that was invented to deceive people”; an additional 17% of Americans polled believe the statement is “probably true”. Even more troubling is that 14% of Americans surveyed believe that climate is changing but that human activity is not responsible at all. (Of the 25 countries included in the survey, the only country with a higher percentage of respondents believing that human activity is not responsible for climate change was Indonesia, with 18% believing that.) 

Huge government expenditures – and therefore huge deficits – also mark 2020 here in Canada (and, I imagine, in other countries). Strict shutdowns, border closures, and stay at home measures brought the economy to a near halt in the spring. So, to help Canadians through the fiscal crisis, the Canadian government made available an array of support payments to help businesses and people. The daily announcements of millions and millions in aid was dizzying and of concern to many taxpayers who feared the government’s seemingly unchecked spending. By the end of November, the Canadian federal government was projecting a $381.6 billion budget deficit for 2020-2021 – up from $39.4 billion for 2019-2020. For a country of just 37.5 million people, $381+ billion is nothing to sneeze at. But, on balance, most Canadians favour temporarily shutting down the economy and offering handouts to help control the pandemic. Still, 2020’s spending will impact us for years to come.

These are just a few examples of the many disturbing numbers that marked 2020 – there are many other shocking numbers we should be concerned about. (The number of lives lost to gun violence in the U.S. has been on my year-end alpha list many, many times and it probably should be mentioned here, as should the number of blacks killed by police. But honestly, I suspect the 2020 figures related to U.S. gun violence and police killing of blacks wasn’t much out of line with what it’s been for a long while.)

My hope for the new year is that 2021 is not marked by horrifying numbers and that at this time next year, we have happier things to reflect on.

Stay well and care for each other now and throughout the New Year.

Thank you for reading On being….

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona

12/15/2020

On being … rekindled

By Ingrid Sapona

When I hear about a book that sounds interesting, I go on the Toronto Public Library website to borrow it or put my name on the waiting list for it. With popular books, the wait is sometimes so long that I forget why I thought it would be an interesting read. My memory lapse, however, often proves magical as some books end up feeling like the embodiment of Lao Tzu’s idea that “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

This week when I got a notification one of my holds was available, I was surprised to learn it was Barack Obama’s new book. I had placed a hold on it when it was released in November, but the waiting list was long. I suspect that the demand was so high, the library probably ended up purchasing additional copies. Anyway, mindful of the fact that e-books with waiting lists can’t be renewed, I downloaded it immediately and later that afternoon I started it.

After pausing to reflect on the dedications and the brief inspirational poems, I dove into the Preface. I didn’t get too far before I was overcome with emotion. On one level, I felt like I was meeting a friend who I’d not seen for awhile. You know that feeling – part wonderment at being able to pick up where you left off and part sudden awareness of things you didn’t even realize you had been missing. By about the third page of the Preface I realized what it was I’ve been missing: the beauty of language. That, in turn, made me aware of my resentment toward how pathetically small our social vocabulary has become over the past four years. The main reason for this is that Trump has the vocabulary and syntax a third grader.

Initially, I think people assumed his word choice was calculating. His use of simple words like stupid, fake, nasty, and loser made him seem relatable, so the argument went. But, after listening to him for four years, it’s obvious that his word choices are a reflection of the limits of his vocabulary. After all, even when talking about things he likes, or when he’s bragging about his tremendous skills and abilities, the only word he can think of is “great”. Well, in fairness, occasionally he throws in a “the likes of which” for emphasis.

Over time, it’s also became clear that Trump’s limited vocabulary is a reflection of the immaturity of his analytical skills. Even when the proverbial chips were down and everything was on the line (in his mind), Trump was unable to describe the Supreme Court’s decision this past week as anything other than a kid in a schoolyard might. For those who may have missed his insightful tweet about it, he characterized the U.S. Supreme Court justices as having “chickened out” when they denied the Texas Attorney General’s motion to block the ballots of voters in various battle-ground states.

Perhaps most concerning about Trump’s limited vocabulary is how true a reflection it is of his morality. After all, when the primary word you use to describe others is stupid, describing members of the military who have died as suckers or losers is hardly a stretch.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that only big words can convey complex, important ideas. Far from it. Simple words can certainly be used to convey nuanced thinking. Here’s an example of Obama’s use of the single syllable word “watch” in the second paragraph of the Preface: “I hoped to give an honest rendering my time in office – not just a historical record of key events that happened on my watch…” Can you imagine Trump talking about himself as watching over the country’s wellbeing? Trump’s more likely to use the temp to garner attention, as in: “Hey – watch me!”

In just the first few pages of Obama’s book I was reminded of all sorts of words that have been sorely absent from public discourse over the past four years – words like humankind, norms, service, and safeguard. I’m sure Trump’s familiar with these words and their definitions, but the absence of them from his vocabulary speaks volumes about how little he cares about the ideas they represent.

Obama’s book has been just the balm I need now to lift my spirits remind me of the possibilities.  So, here’s to reacquainting ourselves with the dictionary in 2021 and to the return of the kind of well-developed vocabulary needed for thoughtful, in-depth analysis, and polite public discourse.

Happy Holidays everyone – look out for yourself AND for each other!

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona

11/30/2020

On being ... out of touch

By Ingrid Sapona

What comes to mind when you read: goat butter? Do you think: “Maybe it’s a quirky invective or interjection – kind of like bollix or fiddle-faddle.” Or maybe you think: “Yum – gotta get me some of that!”

If you fall into the latter category, then perhaps you’ll be pleased to hear that Goat Butter Shortbread is the Number 4 recipe on Epicurious’ list of the "109 Best Cookie Recipes to Make Again and Again." Honestly – Epicurious’ editors think Goat Butter Shortbread “may be the star of your Christmas cookie platter.”

Mind you, if you’ve just used up the last of your goat butter for some other recipe, don’t worry. Of the 109 Best Cookie Recipes, there are other shortbread recipes you might be interested in. For example, Number 24: Blood Orange and Poppy Seed Polenta Shortbread. If you can’t find any fresh blood oranges, that’s ok. The editor’s say you can use bottled blood orange juice and the zest of a navel orange. What’s that? Your grocery store doesn’t have any blood orange juice? Damn – this Covid-thing is really screwing up supply chains, eh? 

But again, no worries: scroll on down to Number 102 for the Whole Grain Shortbread with Einkorn and Rye Flour recipe. Surely you have einkorn flour in your pantry. (And while you’re pulling that out – you’ll also need some rye flour and a bit of rice flour for that particular recipe.)

I’ve always found Epicurious’ lists ridiculous. How can 109 recipes all be “the best”? Heck, the editors couldn’t even agree on THE best shortbread recipe – there are seven on the list! I guess the idea is that with 109 recipes, there’s bound to be something any given reader would want to try. Indeed, the fact that I read through the list is testament to the reality that even absurdly titled lists draw readers in.

Of course, Epicurious’ editors aren’t the only ones who love list-based headlines. Just last week the New York Times’ Cooking newsletter featured “47 Recipes for Thanksgiving Leftovers”. And Food 52 had one called “55 Crock-Pot Recipes to Set & Forget.” Other than being surprised at the sheer number of unique Thanksgiving leftover recipes and crock-pot recipes – I don’t find those headlines nearly as annoying as Epicurious’ 109 Best Cookie headline. Why? Because neither of the other two lists are pretending to be anything more than a cumulation of recipes of a certain type. The Times and Food 52 aren’t touting any of those recipes as being anything more than tried and considered decent enough to pass on – no claims to being “the best”.

As I noted, though I snickered at Epicurious’ absurd title, I figured it was worth a quick scroll through. But, I didn’t get very far into it before I got irritated. The goat butter shortbread recipe was the first that had me shaking my head. Trust me, it’s not because the idea of goat butter grosses me out – after all, how different could it be from chevre, which is also made of goat milk. No, I was annoyed because it seems wrong to feature recipes with obscure ingredients with a damned pandemic going on!

I’m all for trying new recipes – heck – that’s why I subscribe to such newsletters. And I get that many folks are feeling Covid-fatigue and so they’re looking for inspiration and maybe trying a new recipe will help. But showcasing recipes with esoteric ingredients is tantamount to sending folks out on a treasure hunt. Given how rampant the virus is in many places, the editors may as well have added corona virus to the ingredient list. After all, the more stores and places intrepid bakers visit in their search, the more they risk exposure to Covid. And why? To try a new Christmas cookie recipe?

If your thinking that a more appropriate title for this column would have been On being … over the top (given the goat butter and all), you’re right. But the very first thought I had when I saw multiple recipes with hard to find ingredients is that the editors are really out of touch. Out of touch with both the availability of such items and with the realities of the risks related to traipsing around for ingredients during a pandemic.

Post Script: After I finished this column, I decided to see whether any of the major Canadian grocery delivery services (Loblaws, Voila by Sobeys, and Longo’s Grocery Gateway) carry goat butter, blood orange juice, or einkorn flour. Well, it turns out they ALL carry goat butter – but not the juice or flour. So, I guess Canadian bakers interested in trying cookie Number 4 can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they can get out goat butter delivered to their door. Even so, this year I’ll stick to baking a batch of my Mom’s brown sugar shortbread. They’re delicious and comforting – the perfect antidote to Covid-fatigue – not to mention, I always have butter, brown sugar, and all-purpose flour on hand.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona 

11/15/2020

On being ... on edge

By Ingrid Sapona

November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada. It’s a day we honour Canadian forces, particularly those who have died in foreign wars. The date is significant because it marks the date fighting in World War I stopped. Canada lost over 66,000 servicemen and women in WWI – almost one third more than it lost in WWII.

In the U.S., November 11th is Veteran’s Day, which is also to honour vets. As I first noted in an On being … in November 2010, Remembrance Day has a very different feel than Veteran’s Day. Here, for example, at 11a.m. that day most Canadians observe a moment of silence. As well, in the days leading up to the 11th you see a proliferation of red poppy lapel pins. Millions of people wear them on their coats and jackets to honour and support veterans. The pins represent the poppies that emerged from the undisturbed earth of the battlefields and cemeteries of Flanders. Wearing a poppy is a simple gesture but it speaks volumes to Canadians and to those in other Commonwealth countries.

About a week before Remembrance Day a news story broke about Whole Foods employees not being allowed to wear Remembrance Day poppies at work. When asked by media outlets why, the company “explained” that it honours Remembrance Day in other ways, but its dress code prohibits any additions to the company’s standard uniform, other than for items required by law.

The day this story emerged I was running errands. When I heard it on the radio, I was enraged. Alone in my car, I yelled at the radio, railing about the ignorance of the U.S.-based company. How could they do business here and yet be so ignorant of what the poppy means to Canadians? The poppy doesn’t have any political significance, nor is it a symbol of protest. It’s simply a symbol of remembrance. Didn’t they get that? There aren’t many Whole Foods stores here in Canada (only 14 across the country), but from that moment on, I promised myself I’d never shop there again and I planned on urging friends to boycott the store as well.

As the story unfolded, it was clear I wasn’t the only person appalled by Whole Foods’ decision. The most vocal critic was Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford – a bombastic Conservative who I almost never see eye-to-eye with. When Ford heard about Whole Foods’ position, he urged the company to apologize and reverse its decision. And then, when Whole Foods made it clear it would not reverse its policy, he vowed to introduce legislation prohibiting any company from banning the wearing of poppies at work during Remembrance week.

Hearing Ford’s comment I literally cheered him on. Not only that, I relished the thought of what he might name that bill. You see, the Ford government has a penchant for attaching absurd names to bills. Here are just a few examples: “Bill 100, Protecting What Matters Most Act (Budget Measures), 2019; Bill 224, No Time to Waste Act (Plan for Climate Action and Jobs), 2020; Bill 221, Exalting Our Veterans Act, 2020; Bill 171, Building Transit Faster Act, and so on. How about: The FU Whole Foods Act of 2020?

Later that day I mentioned the Whole Foods poppy story to a friend. He hadn’t heard about it. I explained Whole Foods’ tremendous cultural insensitivity, but gleefully noted that Ford would help them see the error of their ways. My friend – a Conservative – agreed that the store’s policy was ridiculous, but he didn’t think we need legislation about it. To be honest, what shocked him the most was my unequivocal support of Ford and his idea of passing a law about wearing poppies. I admitted it was unusual to be on the same side of an issue as Premier Ford, but it was a testament to how angry I was by Whole Foods’ attitude.

After speaking with my friend, I started thinking about why I had such a strong reaction. Was I over-reacting? Was my reaction really all about the poppies? I think it was … but still, perhaps it was stronger than it should have been.

A few days later (Nov. 7th), I got an email from a friend in Scotland. She sent a screen shot of a news alert she had just received on her phone that said the Associated Press called the presidential race in favour of Biden. In the email she commented that she was in the grocery store when the alert came in and that, as she read it, she found herself in tears. Then she added, “I hadn’t realised the fear I was feeling that Trump might win.”

Her words really rang a bell with me. Beyond agreeing with her joy that Biden had finally (albeit unofficially) been declared the winner, we both understood that her uncontrolled tears were a subconscious release of pressure that had been building up. That, in turn, made me wonder whether my (over)reaction to the Whole Foods story was like her tears – a way of venting fears and anxieties I’ve been harbouring about the election and the pandemic.

I decided to write about this because I’m sure there are others out there like me and my friend – folks who are generally coping ok, but who may be caught by surprise by the depth of their reactions. If you find yourself reacting to something in ways that seem unusual, perhaps you’re more on edge than you realize.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona