Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Going to the dogs

It's going to the dogs, decreed NYC heiress Leona Hemsley.

More precisely, according to a statement that Helmsley signed on March 1, 2004, a trust whose estimated worth is US$8B is all to be spent on “purposes related to the provision of care for dogs.”

Read on, at the New Yorker.

Outrageous, you might say, especially given that an earlier draft made provision for indigent children. A modern-day malady.

(And yet, in NYC and elsewhere, animal abuse received legal recognition and became a philanthropic cause decades before child abuse.)

When interviewed on the impact of income disparities on quality of life across Alberta, where I live, social worker Jake Kuiken said,

"I did a little check a while ago just out of idle curiosity. If I had a German Shepherd dog and I needed to put him or her in a kennel for a month, it would cost me somewhere around $700 or $800. If you are a single person in this province, you get $402 a month for food, clothing and shelter and transportation. There is a sense of values that are, in my mind, not particularly well-aligned. There is no decency."

But to the extent that the CAD$4B pet care business provides people with a livelihood, and to the extent that pets may contribute directly and indirectly to people's health, perhaps we need to put a fresh spin on the disparity question.

It's one thing to say that social assistance rates should be higher; it's another to say that people spend too much on their dogs, because that money circulates rather than evaporating. How dog owners treat the people who care for their pets, on a paid basis, is the real question. "Treating someone like a dog" has come to mean "like a person," and so one should expect that people in the pet care industry can make ends meet.

Shouldn't everyone be able to afford to keep a dog, if they want one and are prepared to make that commitment?

And what should we make of a growing body of research suggests that dogs promote physical activity and social interaction among their owners, keeping in mind that dogs are more likely than not to reside in households with higher incomes?

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Nowadays, we don't need to go fishing to feed ourselves

«De nos jours, on a plus besoin de pecher pour se nourrir. »

That's according to the director of a community centre based in Montreal, as quoted in the 1 September issue of L'Actualite. The news item draws attention the enduring popularity of angling in the Belle Province, and highlights the involvement of second-generation immigrant youth who practice cath-and-release.

In contrast, social worker Jake Kuiken reports on the shock of learning that a lone mother in Calgary had resorted to fishing in the Bow River to feed herself and her family.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Milk-less mac and cheese story shows up state-side

Thanks to, debate regarding our "Discomforting comfort foods" paper has spilled across the 49th parallel. To date, 94 comments have been posted, mostly from people based in the United States.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Milk, Meat, Veggies, and Kraft Dinner: Public discussion continues at

The 137th response appeared on August 31st, and so the lively discussion sparked by our "Discomforting comfort foods" paper on seemed to have slowed to a stop (see: Mac and cheese study reveals Canada's social inequality) .

But this evening, I learned that Andree Lau at posted a separate account on September 2nd.

Andree Lau writes,
"[Kraft Dinner] was obviously not part of my Chinese family's traditional diet, but thanks to TV commercials and such, KD seemed fun and sure to be tasty....But once I had tasted KD, I realized it wasn't really the macaroni and cheese I wanted; it was the idea of having something novel and Westernized that I coveted. I learned last week that Canadians' memories and perceptions of KD are astonishingly varied."

She then provides lucid account of our research project and key results, before asking, "What's your relationship with Kraft Dinner?"

The most recent response appeared today.

(Minor correction to Lau's fine commentary: As you can see from the CV linked under my photo, I'm an assistant professor.)

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Animal-sourced foods and food security

Sitting in my in-box this morning was a list of media reports on the "Discomforting comfort foods" study, which brought to my attention two reports that I hadn't seen.

Embedded in Metro's coverage is a video clip that aired on CityTV.

In that clip, Calgary Food Bank CEO James McAra highlights the importance of offering clients animal-sourced foods such as meat, milk, eggs, butter.

He also underscores that while food banks cannot resolve food insecurity, until we redress the societal roots of this public health emergency, food banks do provide an essential service.