Archive | January 2012

Know Thy Food: Eating “Glocally”

By Tania MacWilliam

*PDF of the original article (no longer accessible via website) can be found here.

Jan. 26, 2012

Chances are you’re not thinking about where the chicken comes from while nibbling on those sauce slathered wings. But you should, say animal cruelty activists.

A California chicken hatchery is facing a lawsuit for animal abuse, according to an article in the Huffington Post. Horrific video footage shows unwanted chicks being drowned in a bucket of waste and shoved down a disposal drain with a stick while still alive. This hatchery supplies chicks to various farms and the meat eventually ends up on a dinner plate.

If the humane treatment of livestock is something you consider when selecting your meat, you might want to get to know where it comes from.

Chef Damian Wills, of Wills & Co. Fine Food Market in Burlington, sources most of his products from local farmers.

“It’s actually quite difficult to source local and naturally raised [livestock],” he said. “They’re small farms and they don’t have the manpower and marketing knowledge to get their names out there.”

Wills does a lot of legwork by researching the web, attending events and networking. Most of his contacts are from word of mouth. For example, he may call up his pig supplier and ask for recommendations for a lamb farmer. His network builds with each connection he makes.

Not only is it important for Wills to know where his product comes from, he wants his patrons to know, too.

Meet your local farmers
Wills & Co.’s pork is supplied by the Boar & Chick, a family run farm located in the hamlet of Troy, Ont.

One Saturday, he brought the owners of the farm, husband and wife team Mark and Tania Veenstra, to dine at his restaurant. They sat among the diners who were served pork from their farm and in turn were available to answer questions.

“It was a real connection from farm to table,” said Wills.

By building a trusting relationship with those who supply your meat, you are able to discern the type of treatment their livestock receives. The Veenstras pride themselves on their transparent operation and frequently welcome visitors to their farm to see how it is run and the living conditions of their livestock.

“We try to put our animals in a position so they’re in their natural environment,” said Tania Veenstra.

The Veenstra’s farm is primarily a pig farm but they do keep sheep, cows and chickens for eggs.

“Our goal is to be more traditional,” she said. “Like how early settlers lived who needed to provide for themselves. They had mixed farms. They had pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, cattle.”

Chatting with hundreds of people at farmers’ markets gives the Veenstras a good idea of what people are looking for in their meat. They say their customers care about where their food comes from, and how it is being raised.

“I find that the trend towards organic is being replaced now by this idea of naturally raising things,” said Mark.

What seems to be the most important to them is that the animals are leading a comfortable existence, Tania says.

“That’s one thing that they like to hear, that we’ve got happy animals,” said Tania. “Our pigs have got space to run around. They’re not in a stressful environment. They’ve always got fresh food, fresh water, good bedding. They’re not overcrowded, for the most part,” said Tania. “In the winter you can’t help but have smaller conditions.”

The barn offers ample space for the pigs and sheep to buckle down for the winter, while the heartier cows and horses are free to brave all seasons outdoors. The chickens are housed in the upper portion of the barn, wandering freely in their enclosure. They will get to peck away outside with the rest of their barn mates once the weather warms up.

How the Boar & Chick operates is not typical of conventional farming practices. You can’t call up a factory farm and ask to see how stressful the animal’s environment is.

The Veenstras are confident that the care they give their livestock provides them with the least possible stress. This includes how the animals are fed.

“Not that we want to slag on conventional pork producers, the reality is that the market is demanding fast, cheap food,” said Mark. “So they really cork the feed to these animals to put the weight on fast enough. Those guys are three months from the day the pig is born to the day it goes to market.”

Unlike conventional farmers, Tania feeds the animals twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. This means it takes two to three times longer to grow their pigs.

“We’re 10 months, 11 months from farrow to finish,” said Mark.

Things to consider before you eat
The humane treatment of animals is not just for personal, ethical reasons. Wills believes that there is a direct connection between animal treatment and the quality of the product.

“The care and attention that the animals are treated with is what makes the product, itself, better,” he said.

Wills does not favour factory farming where living conditions are crowded and antibiotics are unnecessarily given to animals as blanket treatments.

“By having better living conditions to begin with, you don’t have to pretreat a non-sick animal with antibiotics,” he said. “In terms of [antibiotics] affecting the quality of the meat, you’ll never taste a difference. But you’re gonna taste the difference because of the way that they were raised.”

Wills is also concerned with how the growth hormones and antibiotics given to livestock affect consumers of the meat.

“We’re consuming meat that’s already tainted with antibiotic treatment,” he said. “The issue is that the antibiotics remain in the meat.”

“What is really happening to these poor animals?”

Consumers need to think about their health in a different way, Laurie Burrows, a holistic nutritionist and founder of Thyme To Thrive Holistic Nutrition, says. It’s not just about eating too much saturated fat; it’s about finding out what else might be in that cut of meat.

“When you’re constantly giving animals antibiotics because they are living in such poor quarters, we are now becoming antibiotic resistant,” said Burrows.

Burrows, who also works at the Institute for Hormonal Health in Oakville, says that we are taking in everything that goes through the animals and it can have an impact on us. Elevated levels of hormones, like estrogen, are seen in those who consume the meat of animals given growth hormones, she says.

“One of the main things we’re seeing is women especially, and men, coming in with massive hormonal imbalances,” she said. “So now we’ve got this resurgence of breast cancer and prostate cancer which are hormonal cancers and you have to wonder what is going on. It’s gotta be something we’re taking in.”

Then you add cortisol, a hormone released by animals that are being raised in a stressful environment and unethically slaughtered, to the cocktail of what we are ingesting, she says.

“Its about being responsible. What is really happening to these poor animals? Ethically it’s important, but even more-so, looking at what we’re putting in our body and how our body is reacting,” said Burrows.

With every bite we take we are trusting that farmers have treated these animals well, says Burrows.

“What I tell my clients, and I’m adamant about it, is if you’re going to eat meat you’ve got to turn to naturally raised meat,” she said.

“Yes, it’s more expensive, but we don’t eat meat every day so financially it works out perfectly fine. We alternate with fish, vegetarian dishes.

“For me it’s the choice between buying a Coach purse and feeding my family great food and not having to worry about what I’m putting into their bodies. It’s all about choices.”


oneCARD for all

Tania MacWilliam
Jan. 19, 2012

*Link to original article here.

Sheridan has joined the ranks of Ryerson and Laurier universities with the implementation of the oneCARD.

The oneCARD will serve as student and employee identification as well as lend access to various school services.

The all-in-one design means no juggling between access cards, student IDs and credit or debit cards.

“We should have had this card years ago,” said Desmond Irvine, Sheridan’s director of information security and compliance. “Most universities and other colleges have similar programs.”

So why now? Rob Till, dean of student services, says it was just a case of being in the right place at the right time.

“Some of us have been fighting for [oneCARD] a long time,” he said. “I wanted it from the student services point of view, IT wants it for accessibility, security wants it for protection. So we wound up all coming together at the same time and the pilot was developed. From the pilot to the beginning of it took less than six months.”

And he says it was worth the wait.

“We’ve gone from not having it to having probably one of the best cards in the system.”

Efficiency was the overall intention when introducing the oneCARD, which will allow features to be added as they are developed and desired.

“The card is a lot more flexible,” said Irvine. “It gives us the ability to introduce new services and do different things. We’ve already started doing that at the Mississauga Campus, where the pilot program for the card was.”

Currently Sheridan’s oneCARD features only extend as far as accessing classrooms and labs. Which rooms a student can access will depend on the classes they are registered in.

Network printing with the oneCARD is currently only available to Hazel McCallion Campus students, but will expand to other campuses by 2013.

Keeping inline with Sheridan’s sustainability endeavours, there will be less waste with the new printing system.

“Here [Trafalgar] from the classroom you’re in, you can print to any number of printers,” said Irvine. “Sometimes people print inadvertently to the wrong one.”

With the new system, everyone prints to one queue. Then you can go to any printer on campus, tap your card, and all your print jobs print out. If one printer has a line up, you simply move on to the next one.

Other features that Sheridan students can look forward to are access to parking, meal plans and making vending machine purchases.

All features should be available by the 2013/2014 school year.

One of the more important reasons for replacing old student ID cards with the oneCARD, Irvine shares, is for increased security.

“You get a lot of people that wander in that don’t belong here and that can cause problems,” he said.

To help with identification, each card will have an assigned colour and background design, depending on who you are.

Employee cards have an abstract blue design while students have a Sheridan Bruins game scene on their background. Vendors, like food services or the bookstore, are given a green theme. Campus security has a purple theme.

Since the new card comes with a lanyard, the Sheridan community is expected to wear their identification while on campus, said Irvine. Wearing the card will allow everyone to know who you are at a glance.

“We want to know who belongs here at the college,” said Irvine.

Some students may be concerned about having to physically identify themselves. Steven Parfeniuk, Sheridan’s VP of finance, can empathize with students who are apprehensive about having to wear their card and wants to be respectful of how they feel.

“This will not be dictated,” he said. “This will be a partnership that we’ll deal with our student union, and all of our students, to understand what we should be doing and how we should be doing it. We have made no decision in terms of that yet.”

The plan is to work with student leadership and college council to give students options on how to wear the card.

“I wear mine around my neck,” said Stephanie Kam, 27, a member of the HMC board of directors and student in the International Business post-grad program. “I don’t find it inconveniences me or anything. It’s basically like wearing a necklace.”

Discussions will begin sometime mid to late spring and a decision will be made by this time next year, Parfeniuk says.

“That will give students leeway time in terms of the different options they’re going to be given.”

Dollars and sense
Each card costs the college $11.25. The old student ID costs 50 cents, but the oneCARD replaces proximity cards and comes with many more features.

The students won’t pay a dime for the new card. The cost was covered by last year’s $170,000 budget, says Parfeniuk. “Next year in the budget we have just over $200,000.”

This includes all operating and initialization costs as well as equipment purchases to make the oneCARD.

“Yes, it is more expensive than that little white card that just hung out in your wallet,” said Parfeniuk. But student’s won’t have to shell out more cash from student fees to be the proud owner of this high-tech card.

“It is funded by the board’s general budget, our grants from the province and tuition revenue,” said Parfeniuk.

These might sound like large figures, but it isn’t unusual to see costs soar upwards of $250,000 says Till. So how were costs kept reasonable? It was an inside job.

“This is all done internally with our own software technology,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful. Even though we’re late into the game, it was all done internally, which is amazing. ‘Cause there are companies outside that charge a great deal of money to consult and build a card system.”

How to get a oneCARD
New students starting in the winter term, and those returning in the fall 2012-1213 term, can schedule a pick-up appointment through the Access Sheridan website.

And you don’t have to worry about standing in line to “say cheese” a la elementary school picture day either. You can just upload them directly to Sheridan.

“It will have to be verified, authenticated,” said Till. “More or less similar to a passport picture. They will not be able to wear a ball-cap. They wont be able to wear sunglasses.”

Students in their final semester can continue using their student ID cards and separate proximity cards. The cost to replace a lost or damaged oneCARD is $25.

Hazel McCallion Campus students can make their replacement payments and pick up their cards at the Instruction Technology Support Centre (ITSC).

Davis and Trafalgar Campus students will need to make their payment at the Office of the Registrar then head over to their respective ITSC to get the card replaced.

“It will basically replace all other cards at the campus. It will be one card to do everything,” said Till.

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