On being ... asked

By Ingrid Sapona


How do you feel about surveys? 

Don’t worry, this isn’t a survey. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about this week. 

I started thinking about surveys after hearing a sociologist talk about current views of Ukrainians in a session titled: “Russia’s War onUkraine: Assessing the State of the Conflict Six Months On.” It was part of an on-going series hosted by Northwestern’s Buffett Institute for Global Affairs. 

Tymofii BrikRector and Head of Sociological Research at Kyiv School of Economics, was asked about Ukrainians’ perceptions about the war. In response, he talked about surveys he and other scholars and organization have been doing by phone, on-line, and in-person to learn about how the war might be changing Ukrainian society. I never thought that scholars might use surveys to gauge such things.  

He talked about the trends they’ve observed from the surveys. Apparently 80% of respondents believe in the victory of Ukraine and, based on surveys done in March, April, and this month, they have believed this consistently. The surveys also show increased trust in national institutions – with 60% of those surveyed indicating they trust the military and 45-50% trust the president. The surveys also show there’s been no backlash or disappointment in military or presidential powers, he said. 

Brik also talked about surveys Ukraine’s Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Science has been conducting regarding how people in Ukraine identify themselves. Just before the invasion they asked respondents how they primarily identify themselves. There was a range of labels to choose from: “Ukrainian”, “a dweller of a town or village”, “a person of the global world”, “a Soviet person”, and so on. In February about 60% of respondents primarily identified as Ukrainians and now it is 80%, he said. Brik concluded by saying Ukraine right now is a very solidified, united nation. As a result, he’s quite optimistic because the research demonstrates that Ukrainians are showing strong resilience and adherence to their state and nation and a willingness to support democratic institutions. 

Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but until I reflected on Brik’s work and the conclusions he and others are drawing from it, I tended to think of surveys mainly as tools used in marketing. I certainly never thought of them as serious tools of sociological research, nor have I thought about the role such surveys might play in swaying the global community. (Though there are moral reasons to support Ukraine, evidence of how Ukrainians feel is no doubt important to foreigners’ continued support.) 

With my attention newly focused on surveys, I’ve been surprised at how many domestic news stories mention survey statistics. For example, there was an article last Wednesday about people’s views on inflation. The survey discussed in the article asked people how long they thought inflation might continue. (FYI, 2/3 of Canadians apparently think it’ll continue for at least another year.) The survey also asked people what they thought was causing inflation. (Seems Canadians point to Covid-19 fallout, supply chain problems, the federal government, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the Bank of Canada, with no single culprit standing out.) Then a story in Friday’s paper referenced a survey about whether inflation has changed personal spending habits. The survey results aren’t important here. Instead, what I’d say is that I never thought about surveys as a way to get at the psychological, practical, and emotional impacts of something like inflation. 

And, clearly, surveys are relevant in a wide array of areas. Accompanying a Sunday article on Scotland’s Period Products Law, which guarantees women and girls access to tampons and sanitary pads, was a side bar with results of surveys done by Plan International Canada. The surveys were about affordability of menstrual products and attitudes toward menstruation in Canada. I’m sure these surveys will be sited in the on-going grass roots efforts to get similar legislation passed in Canada. 

And then there was a front-page article in today’s Toronto Star about a new monthly poll by the same firm that did the survey on peoples’ views on inflation. The pollster is calling this new survey the Rage Index and they say it’s to track the mood of Canadians regarding their governments, the economy, and current events. The survey response choices are: “very happy”, “pleased or moderately happy”, “neutral or no emotion, “annoyed or moderately angry”, and “very angry”. But, on the pollster’s website reporting the results, they combine “very angry” and “annoyed or moderately angry” under the generic label of “angry”. That kind of generalization drives me crazy, especially when they’re supposedly gauging peoples’ moods about topics that are ripe for political exploitation. 

I may not have been tuned into surveys to the degree I am now, but I’ve long been wary of polls like the Rage Index, as they seem intended mainly to make headlines. I found it interesting that the Rage Index pollster concluded Canadians are “grumpy” – a label that wasn’t even used in the survey. Of course, a “Rage Index” that measures grumpiness probably wouldn’t land on the front page… 

I generally don’t mind answering surveys. But I have been known to stop mid-survey or to refused to answer if I sense a survey is designed to lead responses in a certain direction. After thinking about the surveys I’ve seen referenced this week, I don’t think my view of surveys has changed all that much. I’ll still cast a skeptical eye on them – wondering who has sponsored them and what they might be used for. But, so long as they’re well crafted and not the only tool used in decision-making, I can see how they provide useful insights into all sorts of things. 

What about you? Where do you stand on surveys? Are you an avid survey answerer? And how do you feel about survey results? Do you put much stock in them? 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona 


On being … beyond expensive

By Ingrid Sapona  

Would you pay $15 for a pint of canned peaches from your local farmer’s market? Me either, inflation or not.  

I love peaches and so does my sister Regina. (I honestly can’t say whether my other sister feels the same.) I came by my love for Niagara peaches from my dad. He kept his boat at Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is pretty much the heart of peach country. Summer weekends we never drove directly to the boat. The trip always included a stop (or two) at Dad’s favourite farmers to get whatever was in season. (Niagara is also renown for its cherries, apricots, pears, and plums – I enjoy all of them, but not as much as peaches.)  

Regina, who lives in the Cincinnati area, loves Niagara peaches so much that earlier in the summer she mentioned she might drive up to visit me in Toronto during peach season. For a variety of reasons, she decided not to come up. (Instead, she made due with ordering peaches from Georgia that something called the Peach Truck delivers in the Cincinnati area in June.)  

When the first peaches hit the local farmer’s market a couple weeks ago, I bought a small basket to see how they were. Naturally, I didn’t mention to Regina that the peaches are out – that would have been cruel. But, I got to thinking about how I might share the bounty with her and the idea of canning came to mind. During Covid a friend gave me a couple jars of peaches she had canned and I remembered what a treat they were.  

I have a vague recollection of canning something once – and I have a canning book, so I probably did try it. Once I made the decision to try canning peaches this year, I bought a dozen mason jars and I picked up a ton of peaches when I was in Niagara. When I told my friend I was planning on canning them, her only question was whether I had a big enough pot. I assured her that my biggest pot was quite big and that I was sure it would do. I mentioned I didn’t have a canning rack for it, but that I do have jar-lifter tongs (further evidence that I must have tried canning once before). She said she wouldn’t can without a rack because she thinks keeping the jars off the bottom of the canning pot helps prevent them from cracking. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have one I could borrow – as it is, she borrows one from her neighbor. Thankfully, Amazon had one that fit my pot and it was here the next day. 

So, one afternoon I set to it. I had the canning pot on the boil, sterilizing the jars. I had another pot with simmering water to briefly pop the peaches in to make them easy to peel. I had a bowl of ice water on the ready to stop the peaches from cooking after being retrieved from the simmering water. After the ice water bath, you peel them and turn them into a bowl with a water/lemon mixture so they don’t discolour. I had a pot on the stove boiling the light syrup and another small pot with water boiling for the lids.  

Once I had the jars filled with the peaches, topped up with the syrup, and the lids in place, the last step was to return the jars to the canning pot and boil for 30 minutes. I gently placed the jars on the submerged rack and topped up the water in the pot. The instructions were very clear – you don’t start the timer until the water returns to a boil. That’s when I discovered that my biggest, deepest pot isn’t really as deep as I thought. The jars are supposed to be covered by at least an inch of water. Turns out, the only way the jars would be sufficiently submerged was if I filled the pot to the VERY brim.  

Having gone to all that work, I wasn’t going to hold back on the water. Naturally, when the water was at full boil, it splashed out all over the place. Undaunted, I stood there for 30 minutes, wiping up the splattered water and adding more to keep the pot topped up. When the timer went off, I gently lifted each jar out onto a towel to let them sit for the required 24 (!) hours. Then I set to work cleaning the mess. That’s when I realized that I had used every pot I owned and a number of large bowls.  

The next day, when I inspected the jars, I was happy to find that they were vacuum sealed. I was proud of my handy work, but not sure it was worth the effort. Did I mention all that was just for four, one-pint jars of peaches? I started laughing when I did a quick calculation: $19 for the jars, $21 for the rack, and $20 for the peaches. Then, if you add on the time it took… Well, the only way to rationalize it was to say the experience was right out of one of those MasterCard commercials – you know, Priceless!  

Mind you, because I still had peaches left over, a few days later I made a second batch. Because I knew what I was doing, it took me a little less time, but it was still a lot to clean up. So now I’ve gotten the marginal cost down to $7.50 a jar. Still more than I imagine I’d pay to buy them, but you know something, in the dead of winter I’m sure Regina and I will both enjoy them and that’s really when the luxury of Niagara peaches will seem… well… priceless.  

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona