On being … a bit of a joy kill

By Ingrid Sapona

Meal kits are one of the hottest trends in the food world. These kits include “pre-proportioned” ingredients for a meal for two. Meal kit services made a splash in our family a couple years ago when my sister Regina’s friend (I’ll call her Sue) offered her a free meal kit box from one of the first meal kit companies. Regina describes herself as “cooking challenged”, so naturally I thought the idea was ridiculous. But, not wanting to seem ungrateful, Regina accepted Sue’s offer.

To our family’s great surprise, she has really enjoyed the meal kits. They’ve opened her to a world of new ingredients and cooking terminology. And, to prove to us – and to herself – that she can do it, very now and then Regina surprises us with a texted photo of something she’s cooked.

As an avid cook and someone who actually enjoys grocery shopping, I’m not exactly the target market for meal kits. And, though my grocery shopping habits don’t qualify me as a locavore, just thinking about the carbon footprint of boxes being shipped far and wide is enough to send me around the bend.

But, as more-and-more meal kit companies have come on the scene, my curiosity has been piqued. So, last month, I gave into temptation when I got a flier from a Canadian meal kit company offering a deal on my first box. Curious, I went on their website to see how much it cost. The regular price for a box with three meals for two is about $70. Too rich for me. But, the special offer was a box for $20, which was more than reasonable for that many meals.

To take advantage of the deal, I had to register on-line and provide a credit card number. Of course, I can cancel any time but if I forget to, boxes are automatically delivered and I’ll be charged for them. In the process of signing up, I had a question so I used their on-line chat support. While chatting with the rep, she offered me an even better deal: $20/box for two boxes. Given that I intended to cancel after trying it, that offer seemed almost too generous to me. So, I didn’t put the order through right then and there because I needed to think about it.

The next day I decided to take the two-box offer. To allay the guilt I felt for getting 12 meals for $40 (three meals for two people/box X two boxes), I decided that unless the ingredients or meals were terrible, thereafter I would spring for a box at full price and THEN I’d cancel. That seemed fair to me.

I did enjoy the meal kits. They introduced me to a few ingredients, which was fun. (The most unusual was a “finger lime”. When you cut the ends off and squeeze it, out pops “lime caviar” little gems that you use as a tasty garnish. Haven’t found them in the store, but I predict they’ll be THE food fad in 2019.)  None of the recipes were particularly noteworthy, but I loved not having to decide or plan anything. Just open the kit, follow the recipe, and – voila – you have a full, well-balanced, portion-controlled meal.

With the second box came an offer for me to give free boxes to three friends. (I suspect Sue got a similar offer that she passed on to Regina.) This offer posed a bit of an ethical dilemma. I have somewhat of a reputation as a foodie, so did I want to be seen as endorsing this company?

After some reflection, I decided to make the offer to friends who I thought might enjoy trying it. I made clear to them the pros and cons I see with the kits AND I told them of my intention to cancel after I pay full price for one box.

My friends’ reactions were interesting. One friend (I’ll call her Anna) said she was tempted, but that she had a nagging feeling of guilt at the prospect of a freebie. I responded to commiserate. I certainly didn’t make any bones about the fact that one reason I decided to offer the “free” boxes was to relieve some guilt about getting 12 meals for $40. I also explained that I relieved guilt about possibly leading my friends on by being 100% honest with them about my experience, what I paid, and my intention to cancel.

A week later the company emailed me saying Anna had signed up for her free box. Remembering our earlier exchange about the guilt of a freebie, I was glad to see I wasn’t the only one who had overcome it. I immediately emailed her, saying I looked forward to comparing notes. She confessed to second thoughts and said she planned to phone to cancel before receiving the box. She cited a variety of reasons, including her concern about all the packaging ending up in landfill. I could certainly relate to that concern, not to mention feel guilty about it!

I’m old enough to have come up with some coping strategies when it comes to dealing with guilt. But, it still surprises me how much of a role guilt plays in my day-to-day decision-making. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ok with having to struggle with guilt, and I kind of think a bit of guilt can have a positive effect. But sometimes, I gotta say, it’s a bit of a joy kill…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being … like nails on a chalk board

By Ingrid Sapona

The other morning, the bus I was on drove past the sports centre where the Toronto Raptors (the local NBA team) practice. It was pitch dark outside but on the side of the building was a huge, lit billboard emblazoned with the Raptor’s slogan: We the North. I bristled when I read it.

We the North has been the Raptor’s slogan since 2014 and whenever I hear it – or see it – it causes a reaction in me that’s similar to hearing nails on a chalkboard. For starters, it’s grammatically awful. Sports connotes action – would it have killed them to throw in a verb? But beyond that, it just seems so forced. I can’t help think that the ad agency that came up with We the North was trying to channel the creativity behind the most elegant three-word slogan of all time: Nike’s “Just do it”. But, while brainstorming, someone must have mentioned Doug and Bob McKenzie and the Great White North comedy skits of the 80s and the “creative” team couldn’t get past that. So, what three-word winner did they come up with? We the North. Ugh.  

But clearly, I’m in the minority when it comes to hating that catchphrase. In a 2016 business article I read about the slogan, they talk about how popular it is. According to the woman in the Raptors organization who oversees the brand, the slogan’s been “embraced” because of its authenticity. Authentic? Really?

As I mentioned, part of what bugs me about We the North has to do with the grammar. But, there are some slogans that are grammatically or factually flawed that I don’t bother me. For example, I love “squish the fish” – the rallying cry Bills fans chant when their division-rival Miami Dolphins come to town. But, the charm of the rhyme is lost on my oldest sister (a teacher) who cringes as she points out, “but dolphins are mammals, not fish!” I get her point, but the slogan always makes me smile!

There are a number of popular tropes that bug me because I can’t get past a literal interpretation of them. “No worries” is a prime example. Have you noticed how in some contexts, that phrase has basically replaced, “you’re welcome”. If you doubt me, say thank you to some restaurant server sometime and I’ll bet the response you get is “no worries”. But it’s not the fact that no one says “your welcome” anymore that bothers me. It’s that when someone says “no worries” to me, I want to look them in the eye and ask: “how do you know – maybe I’ve got lots of worries!”

I know from chats with my friends that being literal isn’t just a trait that runs in our family. When Trump first rolled out his Make America Great Again slogan, a friend of mine invariably complained that he wished someone would ask Trump WHEN exactly he thought America was great. Point well taken, I thought.

“It is what it is” is another popular saying that really grates on me. I think it’s the defeatism inherent in it that bothers me. Of course something is what it is – but does that mean you have to live with it that way? The implication is yes – only a fool would think or behave otherwise. But, but…

Another popular phrase that I find really irritating is, “Been there, done that”.  I can never tell if the person saying it is bragging or being dismissive. To me it says “I’ve already done that or experienced that and I’ve moved on, but you can go ahead and try it for yourself, if you must.”  I know, I read a LOT into things!

But reading things into an expression isn’t necessarily bad. One of my favourite au currant catchphrases is “You got this”. Sure, it sounds a bit like a daily affirmation that Stuart Smalley (a character portrayed by Al Franken on SNL in the 90s) might have said. But what’s wrong with a using a phrase that boosts confidence or shows support?

What about you? Are there any pop expressions that grate on your nerves? Or any that you especially like? Do tell…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona