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So much for Bowmentum. Less than a month after the municipal election in which Brian Bowman was swept into the mayor’s chair with a remarkable mandate, it would appear City Hall has resumed its firmly suburbanist agenda with the initial approval of yet another sprawling residential subdivision. On November 18, the Lord Selkirk—West Kildonan Community Committee approved a plan by Landmark Planning & Design to develop a sizeable parcel of land between Leila Avenue and a future extension of the Chief Peguis Trail known as Precinct E.

Does newly elected, allegedly urbanist mayor Brian Bowman have the temerity to put the brakes on this development? Or will one of the first major acts of his administration be the rubber-stamping of this proposed 1,800-home blight?

Blight, what blight? After all, the proposed subdivision is an “infill development” that will feature lakes, parks, walking trails, multi-family development! Buzzwords that trigger an almost Pavlovian response from the City. Alleged amenities that made Waverley West too good to pass up. The same kinds of things that do nothing to increase density or car-free liveability, but do wonders for developers’ home-building brochures.

Granted, Precinct E, which has yet to receive a coma-inducing name like Sage Creek, is only a fraction of the size of Waverley West. (Whereas that development will ultimately accommodate over 40,000 residents, Precinct E will only house approximately 5,400.) However, Waverley West is nowhere near capacity, which makes the approval of yet another subdivision elsewhere in the city even more puzzling. While the good ship Waverley West has sailed, Precinct E remains dry-docked. Surely it makes more sense to halt any further suburban development until that monstrosity at the city’s southwest axis is completed?

During the campaign, Bowman made a number of ambitious commitments that would suggest he is against the expansion of Winnipeg’s sub-urban and ex-urban communities. He made the revitalization and redevelopment of Winnipeg’s downtown a top priority. He spoke passionately about the importance of public transit and sustainability. He even railed against the antiquated and regressive property tax (which has too often fuelled the city’s reckless suburban expansion), promising instead to negotiate a new revenue-generating arrangement with the Province. Putting the kibosh on the Precinct E proposal would seem like a no-brainer for Winnipeg’s new mayor.

While nowhere near as expensive as Waverley West has been for the city, Precinct E will no doubt cost the city a lot of money, immediately and in perpetuity. Roads, sewers, water lines, street lights, bus shelters, sidewalks; snow-clearing, transit connections, libraries and community centers; police, fire and paramedic coverage. So much money.

Despite that old chestnut from the developers and the construction industry, property tax revenues from said developments will never make up for the capital and maintenance costs the city will ultimately incur. A 2013 report from Ottawa-based think-tank Sustainable Prosperity into the true costs of suburban sprawl found, for example:

  • Across just seventeen of the more than forty new developments underway or planned in Edmonton, net costs have been projected to exceed revenues by nearly $4 billion over sixty years.
  • The City of London, Ontario found that over a fifty-year period sprawling growth would entail capital costs $2.7 billion higher, and operating costs about $1.7 billion higher, than for a compact growth scenario.

In both of those cases and countless others across the country, municipalities continue to miss or ignore the many hidden costs associated with suburban sprawl. Winnipeggers will be paying a hefty price for existing suburban misadventures, Waverley West especially, for decades to come. Why throw good money after bad?

Save for lining the pockets of those individuals and companies that collectively own the lands that comprise Precinct E, there is absolutely no reason for pursuing this suburban development. And so again, will newly-elected Mayor Bowman use his considerable “Bowmentum” to stop this proposal (and others like it), and instead walk the talk of his mayoral campaign?

After all, Bowman could redirect the infrastructure money required to service the subdivision towards his multi-billion-dollar campaign commitment to complete every leg of the city’s rapid transit master plan. Or does the city have money for both? Not likely. Even if it did, the questions remain: why another suburb to further hollow-out the city’s core; to detract from much-needed re-investment in existing, inner-city neighbourhoods?

Simply put, Winnipeg can no longer afford to expand outwards. Already one of the lowest density municipalities in Canada, Winnipeg is woefully and dangerously unsustainable. This must change, and soon. Climate change due to human-induced global warming is already wreaking havoc on the city’s already crippled infrastructure; the city’s ageing population less and less likely to shoulder the costs of the city’s upkeep in the years ahead; the Province’s dire financial situation casting an even darker cloud over the already gloomy fiscal horizon.

Sure, halting Precinct E will do little to solve Winnipeg’s larger, long-term problems, but doing so would serve as a welcome signal that change is coming. And change must come. Is Mayor Bowman the one to bring it?


Sustainable Prosperity’s full report—Suburban Sprawl: Hidden Costs, Identifying Innovations—is available through their website.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

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Why cooking?

In the years since I quit my job in Ottawa, returned to Winnipeg, enrolled in culinary school, embarked on a second career, I’ve been asked this question countless times. Why cooking? It’s a question asked of cooks all the time; between them, too.

Some say it’s the thrill of working a busy line; the adrenaline rush that comes with pounding out a string of bills a mile long. Others say it’s the gratification they receive the instant they put up a finished plate; no lag between output and input, effort and reward.

For some, it’s the promise of living the rock-and-roll lifestyle they read about in Anthony Bourdain’s classic, Kitchen Confidential; for others, the promise of celebrity like they saw on the Food Network.

Heck, even a few get into the game… to make money. 

Then there’s the group who cook because they love food—sourcing it, preparing it, serving it, eating it. And why not? What could be more natural, more instinctual, more primordial? On Maslow’s hierarchy, nourishment is about as basic as it gets.

And for an increasing number, that love has inspired an interest in the how of food: how it was raised and harvested, slaughtered and butchered, packed and transported. The why, too: why seasonal, local, sustainable, ethical.

This is why I cook. For the how, the why, and the love.

Values

In my early twenties, newly graduated from university, I was swept up into the world of capital-P politics. It was an exciting time for me: I was young, living on my own in a new city, on the fringes of the political establishment and in the shadow of the political elites.

For a time, the work was satisfying, challenging in a positive way, worth the mounting number of sacrifices. Somewhere along the line, though, the worm turned. The work was no longer satisfying, challenging in ways that were damn-near toxic; the sacrifices too many to abide. I was spent.

Nevertheless, ten years on, what I learned from my time in Ottawa is this: my work must express a set of values, and those values must align with my own.

What do I value? Honesty. Humility. Hard work. Good humour. Being open to new ideas and unafraid of failure. Respecting the natural environment and our place within it. Just giving a damn. Courage.

What to do to practice those things? How best to showcase them? For me, it was a toss-up: go back to university to become a teacher, or to college to become a cook.

To teach or to cook?

I first fell in love with teaching shortly after graduating high school. At that time, I’d been enlisted to start a speech and debate program at a local private school. And while I had no formal teaching experience—let alone any sort of professional experience—I did have an extensive background in debating and public speaking.

They were a challenging two years, but a spark was ignited and was further fuelled by my work with the World Schools Debating Championships as an international adjudicator and assistant coach to the Canadian team.

Speech and debate will forever be my first love. How could it not be? To be an excellent debater or coach requires hard work, humility, good humour, being open to new ideas and unafraid of failure, giving a damn, and, yes, courage. It’s multi-disciplinary in its approach, requiring a wide base of general knowledge; draws equally upon logic and emotion, critical thinking and theatricality. Above all, it is an art and a science. Like cooking.

So why not teach? Aside from the fact there isn’t really a market for, specialization in, or certification of a dedicated speech and debate teacher, I knew in my heart a school wasn’t for me. Not yet anyway. I’m impatient. Easily irritated. Intolerant of assholes and idiots—and especially idiot assholes.

Yes, I realized that while I’d spent nearly a decade working with young people, coaching and judging them in speech and debate, I’d been privileged enough to work almost exclusively with the best, brightest, maturest and most articulate among them. To be thrown into the proverbial lion’s den with a motley crew of teenagers wouldn’t be a good fit for me, or for them.

More than that, though, I yearned to be my own boss, to set my own course, make my own schedule, do things the way I wanted to do them in the manner in which I thought they should be done. Not exactly the mandate of today’s teacher. Definitely today’s chef, though.

The road ahead

Restaurant kitchens demand honesty, hard work, good humour, courage. Being a good cook takes humility, being unafraid of failure, being open to new ideas. And what better way to demonstrate respect for the natural environment than through food—by what we choose to use, how we choose to use it, and so on.

Sure, I’m not yet a chef, and I have a ways to go before I earn that title. I’m not my own boss yet, either. But I am mindful of those values I hold dear when I put on the apron. And while I can’t tell you where the road ahead will lead me—certainly not at any great distance—for the moment anyway, at least until the next bend, you’ll find me in the kitchen. Cooking.

And so long as what I’m doing and where I’m doing it remains consistent with what I believe and how I believe it should be done, I’ll be a happy camper and the road ahead a smooth one.

Our oceans are in peril.

Overfishing, pollution and climate change are a lethal combination threatening the very existence of our planet’s most diverse ecosystem. Fish stocks are dwindling; life sustaining coral reefs are disappearing at a record pace; oceanic “dead zones” are expanding; certain aquatic species are on the verge of extinction.

It’s no surprise this calamity has touched the foodservice industry.

Ethical diners, demanding chefs, and a network of advocacy organizations (Ocean Wise, an initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada; Sea Choice, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, U.S.A.; the U.K.-based Marine Stewardship Council) are together shifting the foodservice industry towards sustainable seafood in response to increasing concerns about the future of the world’s fisheries.

Just as they are already doing for meat products, diners are also slowly seeking out restaurants that approach their seafood purchases ethically. And for many chefs, while choice may be limited and prices slightly higher, the increased quality of the products makes the move an easy one. Line-caught fish are in much better condition than their net-caught brethren; there is less bruising, scales and overall skeletal structure is in much better shape, they can be held in refrigeration for much longer periods of time.

Of course, finding suppliers that carry sustainable seafood can be a challenge, which is where organizations like Ocean Wise, Sea Choice and the Marine Stewardship Council come in. They work with fisheries to ensure their practices are sustainable, monitor them on their progress, and each run successful labeling and branding programs to aid consumers and chefs alike make their purchases.

So, what is sustainable seafood?  Ocean Wise provides a concise definition:

“Species that are caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem.”

And when assessing a species to determine whether or not it is sustainable, Ocean Wise relies upon four basic criteria, asking:

  1. Is it abundant and resilient to fishing pressures?
  2. Is it well-managed using current research?
  3. Is it harvested in a method that limits by-catch?
  4. Is it harvested in a way that limits damage to marine or aquatic habitats and negative interactions with other species?

Best of all, for Ocean Wise, the answer is as simple as black-and-white: either a species is sustainable or it isn’t – making it that much easier for both the home consumer and for the foodservice industry to make the choice.

I was first introduced to sustainable seafood by the fantastic folks at Ottawa’s Whalesbone Oyster House. (They introduced me to quite a few things, in fact; Sailor Jerry’s spiced rum quickly comes to mind, but that’s a story best left untold!) There, they pride themselves on only serving sustainable seafood — and do so marvellously, thanks in no small measure to a brilliant team of culinary wunderkinds. Better still, the efforts of proprietor Joshua Bishop to promote sustainable fish and shellfish created such demand in the Ottawa region, a few years ago he opened a second, complementary operation: the Whalesbone Sustainable Oyster and Fish Store. Cool, eh?

Anyway, suffice it to say, it is heartening, as an aspiring chef, to see the industry move in this direction. We all, regardless of our profession or vocation, ought to find ways to conduct our businesses more ethically and sustainably. And, making the choice to buy, prepare and serve only sustainably caught or harvested seafood is a small, but important step in the right direction.