WEEKLY VIEWS, REVIEWS & NEWS FROM THE OKANAGAN INSTITUTE
Wake Up & Scare Somebody
NUMBER 148llFOR THE WEEK OF OCTOBER 27 - NOVEMBER 2, 2014
Tricks & Treats of the Candyman
It's pretty common for little ghosts and witches to amass more lollipops and petite chocolate bars in one night of trick-or-treating than they can or should eat. We down about 4 percent of their annual candy intake on Halloween - 15 times as much as on a typical day.
Mindful of the growing scourge of childhood obesity and the damage sticky sweets can do to a child's teeth, many of us chuck piles of Halloween candy in the trash. Others give it away to food banks and other charity organizations.
One reason we waste so much chocolate every time this holiday comes around is that it's too cheap. A market correction is long overdue.
What if consumers kept spending $20 billion a year on chocolate and bought a smaller quantity of higher quality? We might hand out smaller morsels too good to throw away.
Here's the best reason for higher prices: child labor. Despite years of activist pressure on chocolate companies, thousands of kids under 14 are still doing the tough work of harvesting cocoa beans. Most of the raw material required for chocolate comes from West Africa, the problem's epicenter.
The cost of cocoa beans spiked this year, driven partly by the Ebola outbreak, yet prices for the commodity remain around the same levels seen back in 1980.
Corrected for inflation, cocoa bean prices have fallen sharply since the time when the parents of today's trick-or-treaters were disguised as Princess Leia or Luke Skywalker. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of what we spend on chocolate goes back to cocoa growers, down from 16 percent 35 years ago. Those meager returns for growers give them an incentive to cut costs by any means possible - even making kids slice open cocoa pods with machetes when they should be learning or playing.
Actually, we already do pay more for chocolate. Premium sales are growing three times faster than the overall market, spurred partly by growing belief that the dark kind is good for our health.
It's such a booming business that the Hershey company acquired the fancy Scharffen Berger label several years ago. Responding to consumer outrage, the gourmet line became certified "sustainable" in 2013. Among other things, that designation means the cocoa beans aren't tainted by child labor.
It's time for the candy industry to clean up its act, so no kids are harvesting cocoa beans in the fields, and so ours can collect righteous mini chocalate bars, ball and bags from our neighbours.
The Rise & Fall of Coffee Culture
Possibly the cradle of mankind, the ancient land of Abyssinia, now called Ethiopia, is the birthplace of coffee. Situated at the conjunction of the African and Arab worlds known as the Horn of Africa, the mountainous country has a biblical quality.
And little wonder. Across the nearby Red Sea, further to the north, Moses led his people to freedom. The Queen of Sheba later descended from the Ethiopian mountains to join King Solomon in Jerusalem, and, according to legend, she founded the Axum dynasty that established its rule in the first century AD, a monarchy that continued, with a hiatus between 572 and 1270, until 1974, when Haile Selassie was deposed.
Always relatively poor, the Abyssinians were nonetheless a proud, independent people, most of them adopting a cloistered, orthodox form of Christianity when no other African indigenous people held that faith. "Encompassed on all sides by the enemies of their religion," the historian Gibbon noted, "the Ethiopians slept near a thousand years, forgetful of the world by whom they were forgotten." Likewise forgotten - or not yet discovered - was the beverage we now call coffee.
We do not know exactly when or by whom coffee was discovered. Of the various Ethiopian and Arab legends, the most appealing involves dancing goats. A goatherd named Kaldi, a poet by nature, loved following the wandering paths made by his goats as they combed the mountainsides for food. The job required little of him, so he was free to make up songs and to play his pipe. One day he found the goats dancing on their hind legs, and bleating excitedly. As he watched, one goat after another chewed off the glossy green leaves and red berries of a tree he had never seen before. Soon Kaldi was frisking with his goats. Poetry and song spilled out of him. He felt that he would never be tired or grouchy again. Kaldi told his father about the magical trees, the word spread, and soon coffee became an integral part of Ethiopian culture. By the time Rhazes, an Arabian physician, first mentioned coffee in print in the tenth century, it probably had been deliberately cultivated for hundreds of years.
It is likely that, as in the legend, the beans and leaves of bunn, as coffee was called, at first were simply chewed, but the inventive Ethiopians quickly graduated to more palatable ways of getting their caffeine fix. In the sixteenth century, someone roasted the beans, ground them, and made an infusion. Coffee as we know it came into being.
It was only a matter of time until the drink spread through trade with the Arabs across the narrow band of the Red Sea. They began cultivating the trees, complete with irrigation ditches, in the nearby mountains, calling it qahwa, an Arab word for wine, from which the name coffee derives.
Arab Sufi monks adopted coffee as a drink that would allow them to stay awake for midnight prayers more easily. While coffee was first considered a medicine or religious aid, it soon enough slipped into everyday use. Wealthy people had a coffee room in their homes, reserved only for ceremonial imbibing. For those who did not have such private largesse, coffee houses sprang up. By the end of the fifteenth century, Muslim pilgrims had introduced coffee throughout the Islamic world. From there, it spread around the world, and became the ubiquitous, addictive drug now consumed almost everywhere on the planet.
"Coffee causes an excessive state of brain-excitation which becomes manifest by a remarkable loquaciousness sometimes accompanied by accelerated association of ideas. It may also be observed in coffee house politicians who drink cup after cup and by this abuse are inspired to profound wisdom on all earthly events." - Lewis Lewin, Phantastica: Narcotic and Stimulating Drugs, 1931.
Today, global warming is putting the cultivation of coffee in Ethiopia at risk, to the point where the indigenous coffee plant, Coffea arabica, could go extinct within 70 years. That's no laughing matter, especially if you consider that the country remains an epicenter of coffee production. That's the depressing and perhaps motivating upshot of the otherwise artfully-produced short film by the Royal Botanic Gardens in England.
IDEAS WORTH CONSIDERING
The Cooperatives & the Brands
Corporations are generally focused very narrowly on delivering returns to their shareholders, and often neglect long term planning or the needs of other stakeholders, such as local communities or the environment. There are lots of alternative models, and the cooperative is one of the best known.
Some companies are well known cooperatives and trade on that basis, like the Co-operators insurance company, and the Co-op supermarkets common in western Canada. Others have a cooperative behind the scenes in the production chain. There are a variety of ways that coops function in some of the commonly known food brands.
One of the most direct ways for farmers and producers to get a fair deal is to set up a brand that will market their products. Danish dairy farmers did this in 1901 when they created Lurpak. The brand set a quality standard for Danish butter, and the company now sells products in 80 countries. It is owned by 8000 dairy farmers in Denmark, Sweden and Germany. There's also a cooperative brand for grape products, Welch's, owned by the National Grape Cooperative Association.
Ocean Spray is a brand specialising in cranberry products, and is owned by 600 cranberry growers across the US and Canada. In 2004 they voted down a take-over bid from PepsiCo.
Another way to safeguard local producers is to control the product designation rather than the brand. This is often done for local specialities, such as Parmesan. You can't call your cheese Parmigiano-Reggiano unless its actually from the specific region of Italy around Parma, a tradition closely guarded by the artisan producers of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano. Champagne is produced in a similar fashion. Like Parmesan, around 90% of Champagne is produced by cooperatives.
Many small successful brands are coveted by major corporations. Sometimes new owners source their ingredients internationally to try and increase profits, as is the case with local juice maker SunRype, which used to be part of a local cooperative. Other times the traditional supply chains remain intact. Colman's mustard is an interesting example. The Mustard Seed Growers Cooperative has supplied Colman's with seed since the brand was created in 1814. Unilever now owns the company, but the historical relationship with the growers is still in place.
THE PROSPECT OF PROOF IS INTERGENERATIVE
The Creative Calculus
Creative activity is often viewed as a discretionary element in our regional economy, rather like icing on a cake of industry, finance and basic services. The economic impact of the creative sector has generally been gauged by totaling up the amounts that patrons spend on performances and restaurant meals, parking and shopping in districts around theatres and galleries.
The occupation "artist" conjures up dual images of a few star painters, filmmakers and musicians who land the prestigious grants and the many aspiring actors, dancers and writers waiting tables to underwrite creative time in pathetic basement rooms.
This is an impoverished view of the creative sector and its role in our regional economy. It treats the arts as a consequence of, even a parasite on, a successful business economy. On the contrary, artistic activity is a major and varied contributor to economic vitality.
The productivity of and earnings in a regional economy rise as the incidence of artists within its boundaries increases, because artists' creativity and specialized skills enhance the design, production and marketing of products and services in other sectors. They also help firms recruit top-rate employees and generate income through direct exports of artistic work out of the region.
Many artists are entrepreneurial - they are not starving, working menial jobs or waiting for the next grant, commission or role but actively seeking diverse markets and venues for their work. Many artists directly "export" their work to customers, firms and patrons elsewhere, enabling them to live in the region, to contract work from others and to generate work for and prompt innovation among suppliers. Creative networks, enhanced by spaces for working and gathering, can help spread entrepreneurial ideas and practices both within and outside the region.
This "creative dividend" is a product of long term commitments by patrons and the public sector to creative education and to artists. The importance of amenities, quality of life and an active and nurturing creative community is critical in attracting and retaining creative people.
Most people don't realize that in Canada the number of cultural workers is over two-and-a-half times larger than the labour force in real estate, and about double the labour force on farms. Which should be especially instructive in the Okanagan.
Creative activity is a significant contributor to our regional economy, and it needs nurturing. In comparison to the very modest amounts they devote to the creative sector, our governments pour millions of dollars into downtown revitalization, new plant attraction, marinas and even big box developments. Large physical performing and visual arts spaces receive the lion's share of public and patron support while the labour side of the equation is under-nourished.
Creative spaces, studios, new or renovated live/work spaces and dedicated gathering venues for creatives surely deserve public and patron support. Also needed is public support to help creative individuals, groups and businesses position themselves to enhance their market potential.
We are now fully engaged with our grand notion of Proof, a creative and learning centre that will enable good - if not great - things to happen. We have our building, and anticipate opening the doors early in the new year to great fanfare and delicious artisanal fare. We invite creatives to join us on the journey of discovery.
Memberships invitations and requests for comment will be sent out soon. Not signed up? Go to www.proofclub.ca.
If I could have any information from our future, I would want to know not what they're doing but what they think about us. Because what we think about Victorians is nothing like what the Victorians thought about themselves. It would be a nightmare for them. Everything they thought they were, we think is a joke. And everything that we think was cool about them, they weren't even aware of. I'm sure that the future will view us in exactly that way. - William Gibson
The most recent issue of the Okanagan Institute journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude is online at www.sageing.ca
A volunteer publication of the Okanagan Institute, intended as an initiative for collaboration and sharing, the journal presents the opportunity for the free exchange of wisdom gleaned from creative engagement, and is focused on honouring the transformational power of creativity. We hope that your perspective on the arts and creative engagement might also change as you read stories of Okanagan artists, experienced and emerging, who engage in art for the joy of stimulating personal and community wisdom and well-being.
A JOURNAL OF THE ARTS & AGING
"One of the strengths that sages possess, regardless of age, is a willingness to be educated by all things. Curiosity leads them to learn from all they encounter. They do not judge people or situations. When one relaxes into just being, everything can nourish and stimulate. For those who embrace life as a sage-ing experience, things come to them from the world and from the events in their lives. By taking time and giving attention to creatively respond to what might at first seem ordinary and not deserving of notice, life ripens with significance and meaning."