When Global Takes Over Your Local

Driving by Zellers the other day I saw their store closing sign.  It made me sad.  In Thunder Bay we had three Zellers stores.  They’ve been bought out or sold or traded or whatever it is that happens in the corporate world.  What I know is that one of the locations is going to become a new Target and the other two are going to become Walmarts.  We need two more Walmarts like we need a hole in the head.  (sorry, a little over the top).  But it’s true.  We already have one giant Walmart, not to mention Canadian Tire (2), Home Depot, Future Shop, etc, etc… and it’s not like Thunder Bay is that big.

As I passed by the Zellers that’s closing, I felt sad because I am familiar with Zellers.  It’s a store that has been in Canada since I was a kid.  And, I have liked shopping there; it was what I was used to.  But as I drove on, I quickly had another thought.  I realized that, like many other stores, Zellers wasn’t Canadian-owned now.  It had been sold in 2008 to a New York-based company, NRDC Equity Partners.

So, really, this new sale wasn’t anything so new.  What was going to be new was the name on the door.  Inside it would still be a foreign owned store selling goods made in some other country other than my own.  At least NRDC Equity Partners kept the existing staff and respected the workers’ bargaining rights in Canada.  It’s not looking like that will be the case given what Target announced about its take over:  “…all Zellers employees – regardless of experience or years of service – will be fired and forced to reapply with everyone else if they want a job in their rebranded workplaces.”  And, at “starting pay“.  Who knows about Walmart?

So Big

It occurred to me that the big corporations in the world are so big now that they have budgets larger than many, many countries.  They have for quite a long time.

To Walmart, Target and any of the big guys whose world is not within their original country’s borders any longer, do national borders really mean much?  We speak this language or that one but increasingly we’re all wearing the same clothing, buying the same computers and cars, stereo devices.  What’s different anymore?  What can a country truly call it’s own?

What is Canadian anymore?  Large stores like Walmart make it exceedingly impossible for small businesses to survive.  Part of what contributes to a country’s culture and identity is all the small businesses that make each town unique.  Now, walk into any mall and you could be anywhere on the North American continent!  Maybe travel agencies should raise a stink because we are losing any need to travel!  Just go to your local mall.

Diversity and choice?

I love the diversity of nationalities and ethnicities that comprise our world.  Diversity, it would seem though, is not good for business.  Mono-cropping, mono-culture and the commodification of everything is where we are headed.  Or maybe we’ve already arrived?

Have we become an assembly line world?  Are our nationalities becoming minor descriptors of what we really are which is consumers in the eyes of big business?  Borders appear nearly meaningless to them.  How about governments?  What role do they really play?

In a world where we are told that we have so much choice, when you think about it, do we really?  It’s going to be a bit more obvious now in Thunder Bay that we don’t, with Walmart signs where there were Zellers signs.  While Target is a new name here, it’s still not Canadian.

So what do we do?

We support the local businesses that are Canadian.  Or whatever they are depending on the country where you live.  We especially should support our local businesses, the ones trying to hang in there and that give each of our communities some of their distinctive character.

Some of the many local and diverse businesses in Thunder Bay:   Ostrom Outdoors, The Green House, Victoria’s Cupboard, The Kitchen Nook, Gratitude Gem Oils, The Urban Bird, FinnportNorthern Woman’s Bookstore, Squitti’s, The True North Community Co-operative, Joyce Seppala DesignsThe Loop, Bare Organics, Boreal Edge Teas, Amos and Andes, Cinevate.

From high-tech filmmaker supplies to organic personal care products, books, clothing and more!  Thunder Bay does have character despite Big Box!

What amazing local businesses do you have where you live?  Please leave a comment below.

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Posted in Culture, Globalization | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dangerous Disposable Devices

I’ve just come back from a half hour walk and I found yet again some items that would seem harmless to humans but can have deadly consequences for animals or birds.  This post is a highly practical one.  We’re heading into fairer weather and summertime activities here in the northern hemisphere and with it comes summer trash.  My purpose in this post is to show you one of the things I’m talking about, why I’m concerned about it and what we can do about it on an individual basis quite easily.

Western Culture seems to have a love affair with disposable and single use items that are used in one grand moment and then are discarded.  They are created for our ease and they do make life a little easier.  The item in today’s post relates to our drinking pleasure!


Exhibit A:  the plastic 6-pack can holder

(dirt and all, as I found it)

Designed for our convenience in carrying 6 cans of beer, pop, or soda (depending on where you live and your drinking pleasure), this little device is pretty nifty.  However, once the cans are removed whoever puts anything back in the holding device?  It has served its purpose in life and is now discarded…often onto the ground and even our beaches and waterways!

This device is torturous and sometimes deadly because animals and even birds have become entangled in its circles that once held the cans.  While I would love to see the end of this ‘holder’ all together, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.  So, we have to do something to protect animals when we are done with it.

Here are a couple examples of the harm I’m talking about:



This heron was not able to be helped and it later drowned according to SeaWeb.


The solution is simple:  cut the circles then recycle the plastic if you can.

(all circles have been cut even though a couple don’t look like it)

Even if the plastic is a type that degrades in sunlight, this can still take a long time so it is still important to cut the circles.  If you don’t have a knife or scissors handy, a key will still accomplish the task.  I did it today myself with the one I found.  Taking a moment to do this may save an animal or bird from a torturous death or an extremely difficult life.

In a future post, I’ll cover another dangerous disposable device.  Please enter your email to receive these posts automatically and leave a comment below!

Posted in Animals, Culture, Disposable planet, waste | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Grocery Store Oddities

It was recently uttered by a big food store CEO that farmer’s markets could threaten our health.  In his words “…one day they’re going to kill some people though.”  This caused outrage and rightly so.  How better to know the source of your food than to buy it from the person who grew it?  In our supermarkets the best you can know is what country it came from.  Mexico, for instance.  A lot of vegetables come from Mexico.  But where in Mexico?  What part of the country?  What farm in that part of the country?  Did they use pesticides?  How can you even find out?  The workers in the grocery stores here don’t know.

Where ever the food comes from, whether Mexico or California or elsewhere, it may be perfectly fine but how many hands did it take to get it to your store shelves?  What were the storage conditions and the shipping conditions?  Who can you ask?  At the Farmer’s Market, you know who to ask.

Packaging can also be misleading.  Just because a product says “Product of Canada” doesn’t have to mean anything more than it was put in that bag in Canada.  The actual item may have come from somewhere else.  We’ve heard this before with all sorts of things like clothing for instance.

I wonder if the CEO got it backwards.  Recent tainted meat scares and veggies with salmonella from central depots were very real and in the case of the meat, killed 23 people.  Add to it that when food is bad, whether literally tainted or some of it is just over ripe, it’s likely that a lot of perfectly fine food gets tossed out too as a precaution because the size of the distributor is so large, it is just more “efficient” to toss all of it.

Some other oddities have been catching my eyes as well when I shop at one of the big stores in town.  Yes I’ll admit it.  I don’t buy everything at my local farmer’s market.

Individually Wrapped…oranges?

Grocery store shelves have all sorts of vegetables in plastic bags now but one that really caught me eye was this one:  oranges individually wrapped in plastic.

I saw them.  Did a bit of a double-take and thought “but they come pre-wrapped as it is!”  Nice orange, dimply skin that you peel back to reveal juicy fruit.  You’ve seen them.  I know you have!  But have you seen them like this?


We’re destroying land and water to get fossil fuels and they are using it to wrap fruit that is already wrapped?  Where is the logic in that?  Does it affect how they ripen?  Have they sprayed anything inside the bags?  How will the oranges compost if they are not eaten?

What will happen to the little plastic wrapping after taking the orange out of it?



Natural Foods aisles

Now you’d think I’d be happy about this next one, and I am…I guess.

But these signs hang over only two aisles.  To be fair, the store does have the organic fruits and veggies in the veggies section but as for the rest of the store….if only these two aisles are ‘natural foods’ what’s in all the rest of the aisles?!

Last one for today:

Vegetable Grain Fed Chickens:  what’s a vegetable grain?  I thought vegetables were vegetables and grains were grains.  I tried to find out about vegetable grains a while ago.  I googled it.  I even emailed a poultry farmer.  They never responded.

I thought I’d take another crack at it before writing this and called another poultry producer.  I talked to a really nice woman who said it’s corn, soybean and wheat.  This particular company is in Quebec and when I asked about the name she speculated that the name on their product had likely come from the French word “végétale” (essentially meaning plant) and they are just using it switched over for the English translation of the ingredients.  She said something to the effect that it’s not completely accurate and may be changed.  That sounds okay, they’re a French company and words do get interchanged.

The thing I still wonder about is the companies that are in English-speaking Canada who are using it on their packaging.  Did it really originate from a French word and they haven’t translated it?  Or are they being creative in how they call their ingredients?  Why not just say ‘corn, soybean, wheat’?

One more thing though is that “vegetable grain” is on the label like it’s a great fact.  I’ve seen it on not just chicken meat packages, for example, but also egg cartons.  I’ve also seen “100% vegetarian” on egg cartons even from free run chickens from large producers.

But chickens aren’t vegetarians.  They’re meat eaters, omnivores.  Are they telling us that the chickens aren’t eating other chickens or cows?  That’s good.  But they should be scratching for bugs, etc, because a diet that includes bugs makes their eggs very healthy and great for cooking.  It’s probably good for the health of the chicken that unfortunately ends up on a plate, too.

Free range chickens that get to scratch in healthy dirt produce nutritionally better eggs than chickens raised in battery cages that are stacked many rows high.   Mother Earth News tested pastured chicken eggs against battery chicken eggs and the results are stunning.  They say that comparing to:

official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs  from hens raised on pasture may contain:

• 1⁄3 less cholesterol

• 1⁄4 less saturated fat

• 2⁄3 more vitamin A

• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids

• 3 times more vitamin E

• 7 times more beta carotene

I think this is another example of small is better.  Chickens getting to be chickens on the ground.  Even with the large producers of free run eggs, I wonder if those chickens are truly scratching in healthy dirt when they’re always inside and with hundreds of other chickens.  For me, it’s hard to imagine how they could.  I am thankful for those eggs as an option to battery chicken eggs when I can’t get to the farmer’s market.  But I have seen small farmers who move their chickens around their property so they get new dirt that’s had time to heal from previous times of use and been rejuvenated naturally by other types of use and those are the eggs I prefer.

Sum Up!

That’s it for now in Grocery Store Oddities!

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Reflections on Time

I saw this fun reflection and wanted to share it with a friend so I grabbed my new mp3 player with built-in camera, snapped a photo, plugged the device into the computer, transferred the photo, attached it to an email and sent it.  Within a minute or so, it had arrived at its destination.  As I contemplate this now, I realize I did it the slow way but I don’t yet know how to email straight from the device even though it does have wi-fi …and I was in range.  But hey!  Less than 2 minutes!

The actions above, while perhaps a ‘mean feat’ for me, are so common-place now that perhaps some of you are rolling your eyes.  But not so long ago, it would have involved film that would take an hour, a day, a week or even a month to get back from the developers.  In fact, photography’s timeline is the reverse of what I just laid out:  it’s gone from taking a month or more to less than 2 minutes in the course of a century.

Advances in photography are only one example of advances everywhere that are compressing time.  Everyone knows we can do more, faster than ever.  So what of it? Increased efficiency is an accomplishment, it would be argued.  Isn’t this human ingenuity at its best?   Possibly.  But are we altering our view of time and inadvertently pulling ourselves out of sync with nature?

Human Impacts

Many creatures affect the place where they live but the damage, if it can be called that, is relatively minor or is left to heal itself in a timely manner.  Many human cultures have lived this way and some continue to do so.  My culture, Western capitalist culture, is altering landscapes drastically and as our efficiency increases, we do it faster and faster.  Usually when we are done with a place—say after a mine has been there—it is not safe for a really long time for humans to live on or grow food.  Nor is it for the animals and birds who once called it home.

Our activities often don’t just affect right where they occur but have downstream consequences, too—even if unintended.  There are so many examples of this:  landslides because of soil erosion (caused by deforestation), algae plumes from chemical run-off, polluted soil and ground water from processing chemicals or extractive methods, acidification of the oceans from atmospheric CO2 that we put there; habitats rendered or becoming inhospitable to life as we know it.  These places are essentially destroyed.

I use the word ‘destroyed’ because in so many cases, it will take many human generations of time before anyone sees the landscape and life return to how it was before we affected it.   And in some cases never.  An example of ‘never’ is the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, East Kentucky, and Tennessee, in particular, since mountaintop coal mining became the method of choice for acquiring coal there.  These mountains took millennia to form and in less than 30 years humans have destroyed over 500 of them.  In this case, no human will see those beautiful mountains and valleys again.

Just like we don’t mind flushing 300+ year old trees down toilets, we seem to not mind putting mountains up smoke stacks.  In the process, what was once life-giving is now toxic, and destroyed are the homes of other people, plants, animals, bugs and birds… ….permanently by the gauge of the human clock.

Take Until It Runs Out

What will humans do when we render the planet inhospitable to human life?  Some might argue this is an extreme question, silly even.  But as I look around, I mostly see us getting more efficient and thus faster at what we can do.  This in combination with Western culture’s track record of ‘take until it runs out’ is a little scary.  And what’s left is either barely able to sustain itself in the case of live creatures (example) or is destroyed habitat also affecting the locals (example) .  From increasingly acidic oceans to abandoned mine sites, we end up with human impacts with longer-than-human timelines to recover.  Many projects can even be seen from space because they are getting bigger, not smaller.

By comparison, the planet’s processes move much more slowly.  And, while sometimes we try to fix the damage we do, in many cases we don’t yet know how.  From the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ website about the Alberta Boreal Forest where conventional wells, pipelines and roads had been:

“If you remove the borrow material (the soil from upland areas that’s  used to build roads or pads in muskeg), you will most likely end up with a black hole of water. We are conducting research to determine if we can bring it back to muskeg,”  

I’m glad they are trying to reclaim the land but the underline above is mine because…..this culture says it’s okay to continue doing the damage whether we can fix it or not.  (….am I the only one hearing “broken planet”?)

Reflections On Us?

Human activities are moving out of sync with nature’s timelines.  Will we become so efficient that we run out of planet?  When future people—who I suspect will struggle because of our present excesses—look back, will it reflect poorly on us that we seemed to value our capitalist culture more than our home and theirs?   Time will tell.

Nothing is ultimately as irrational as rushing with maximum efficiency

in the wrong direction.

Wolfgang Sachs

What are your thoughts?


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One cup, one habit, one planet

It wouldn’t be a New Year without talk of New Year’s resolutions.  Many people contemplate gaining this new habit or losing that one and a lot of time is spent planning and thinking.  Habits—good, bad or otherwise—are our guidance systems and attempt to keep us on track.  Changing that track can be a challenge.  Though…it’s not impossible.

If individually we have habits, so too, do I believe that collectively, we also have habits.  That is to say, our culture has habits.  Truthfully, any culture has habits but it is mine that I have wondered about more recently.  And in wondering about habits, it occurred to me that in some ways, it’s no surprise our society continues to pull resources from dwindling supplies while spewing out waste.  It’s our habit to do this.

Chris Jordan, a compelling visual artist, attempts with his art to show what the scope of individual actions in Western Culture look like when counted together.   I watched him recently in a TED talk and his images demonstrate our culture’s habits rather uniquely.  One that he shared is of paper cups which, as we know, are used mainly for hot beverages—typically coffee.  The number used in a day is so vast at 40 million, that he couldn’t capture it on a canvas.  So, instead, he captured 15 minutes worth of cups—410000.  To understand a day’s worth of cups he took that 15 minute image and combined it with multiples of itself and then provided a scale reference—a couple of people and the Statue of Liberty—all completely dwarfed by cups.  The image is hard to fathom.

It’s an interesting exercise contemplating our collective habits.  One that comes to mind is that, coffee cups aside, most of us recycle.  But I think most of us also still put out some garbage for pick up.  Why would we still have that habit?  As I see it, we continue to have items come into our possession that we deem as garbage (another way put:  items are created that can pretty much only be garbage when we are finished with them).  Secondly, we think it is okay to put garbage out at the curb to be taken away somewhere.     ….well, to be honest, I don’t believe that everyone thinks this is okay.  But as a society we continue to accept single use items or inferior quality through built-in obsolescence.  The result of which is that items quickly become useless.  It wasn’t always this way.

As a group or society, one habit that goes both ways (though mostly one way) is recycled paper.  Despite its availability, as a society, we mostly don’t use recycled paper.  One way I know this is the number of brands of paper that I see that are 100% recycled compared to non-recycled when I walk down store aisles.  It’s the same with paper towel, toilet paper and copy paper.  Off the top of my head, for toilet paper, it’s easily 6 to 1 against.  What does this say about our concerns for forests?  We have an option but as a society or culture, our habit is that most don’t take it.  (Silently, are we therefore agreeing that it’s okay to flush trees down toilets?)

It’s true that the process of recycling paper isn’t without its problems but I’d sooner see us sort that out, or better, go tree-free, than cut all our forests down and then have to figure it out.  With our current practices, once a forest is cut, humans may be able to replant trees (and even that is debatable) but we cannot re-grow a forest.  Those replanted trees become a form of agriculture complete with pesticides, herbicides, other chemicals and neat tidy rows.  This is not the home it once was for the animals and birds, bugs and other plants that once lived there.

Individually as we enter a new year, many of us are planning to make changes in our habits which will, if successful, result in positive changes in our personal lives.  How will we do as a culture?  Will our personal habit changes help to sway our society’s habits towards being less harmful to the planet?  Will you, next time, select an option that someone has endeavoured to provide that is a little more ‘green’?  Will you create a new option that others can use?

Habits are powerful forces in our lives.  They can keep us safe as a seat belt protects us in a car crash.  Or, they can harm us and the other occupants of our home (earth).  When we take into consideration that we are a very large group when counted together, the result of our individual habits can be immense; for bad or for good.

Planning any new ‘green’ habits for 2012?  Please share them with us in the comments below.

Posted in Culture, Disposable planet, waste | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Turning Point

At 1230 am last night, a very subtle event occurred that only occurs once each year.  In the northern hemisphere, which is where I live, the North Pole arrived at the angle of tilt that is furthest from the sun:  23.5 degrees away.  As far as nights go for me, it wasn’t really much different from ones previous to it.  But at the same time I am aware that a cycle of the earth has completed itself on the one hand and another has begun again on the other.  Today is the beginning of increasingly longer days, increasingly more light in the northern hemisphere.  Our neighbors south of the equator are of course at their summer solstice where the earth’s tilt is closest to the sun.

At the moment of the solstice, it appears as if the sun stands still before moving again in the opposite direction.  Many sources explain the origin of the word.  Solstice is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still)1.  It is a pivotal moment.

I find it interesting (one might say ‘emusing’) to be reminded that the solstice is linked to the changing of the seasons2 and I feel a part of that.  I certainly feel the cold (though less so than it’s supposed to be these days).  The cold of winter can be invigorating especially when balanced with the warmth of home.

The solstice has been celebrated and honoured for thousands of years.  How did early peoples figure out exactly when it occurs?  I honour them for their wisdom and knowledge that is so often downplayed.

I didn’t celebrate the solstice this year though it’s in my mind.  I feel reverence for the earth.  It’s my home.  Being able to observe nature just doing what it does fascinates me, captivates me and rejuvenates me.  I can’t quite put my finger on how exactly but it touches me, inside and out.  This blog – launched on the solstice – is one part of my contribution to caring for the earth, to giving back when so much is taken.  It is my way of reaching out to others to share information and some thoughts about it that I hope will resonate with you.  In turn and in your own way, perhaps you will reach out to help the earth to be healthy again for all of its inhabitants.

Short of something actually catastrophic, the earth will continue to go on rotating on its axis as it circles the sun.  Winter and summer solstices will come and go.  A question that comes to my mind is ‘will humans continue to experience it?’.  This planet that I call home is being changed – significantly.  Will it truly continue to be hospitable for life?  What kind of life will be able to survive if we continue on this path?

The solstice is a turning point for the earth.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if this solstice could also be a turning point for the earth’s inhabitants?



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