Winter 2011
Letters to the Editor

Not in our backyard, the politics of eating, and culture and the law


Not in Our Backyard
Janice Stein, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, made an unfortunate choice of words when she referred to Mexico as Canada’s “backyard” – especially when the new school aims, as Peter Munk suggests, to make “Canada’s voice heard” around the world. The derogatory label of Mexico (and Latin America by extension) as the “backyard” of the U.S. goes back to the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine that justified any interference in Latin America’s politics.

Rosa Sarabia
Professor, Spanish and Portuguese University of Toronto

Questioning How We Eat
I was thrilled to see the issue of factory farming addressed in U of T Magazine. Finally, people are beginning to openly question the way we eat. Quite simply, there is no ethical way to eat animals or animal products. No matter how humanely the animal is raised, suffering is involved in transport and slaughter. The meat and dairy industries would like to keep us ignorant of how they mistreat animals. This is why we are not welcome on their farms or in slaughterhouses. Sadly, I feel most humans are too selfish and unwilling to change to give up meat, even if eating it means that the animals are exploited and mistreated. But, as an old Chinese proverb says, “To close one’s eyes will not lessen another’s pain.”

Susan Larson
MEd 1983 OISE
Toronto

No Easy Solution
I found Stacey Gibson’s well-written and well-researched article on factory farming both revealing and disturbing. Now I understand what cruel places factory farms can be – and that the slice of beef or pork on my plate probably came from an animal that was raised under conditions of the most unimaginable horror. The question of cruelty to animals defies easy solution. People are not going to stop eating meat tomorrow. Nor are the owners of factory farms going to stop looking out for the bottom line. However, we all do have the power to modify our eating habits and thus help to bring about the little bit of change that will force a curb on the worst excesses.

John Best
MA 1968
Ottawa

Farmers Are Not the Culprits
Stacey Gibson’s article about industrial agriculture, “This Looks Like a Farm,” cites the farrowing crate as an example of the cruelty that sows experience on an industrial farm. The purpose of the crate is to protect the piglets. Sows will sometimes crush piglets by accidentally lying on them. The crate prevents unnecessary loss of life. More generally, the article seems to suggest that the farmer is the culprit in this “violent” system. Yet the consumer is the driving force. The consumer wants meat at a low cost. Many farmers have gone out of business as a result of the high cost of machinery, working the land and the hundreds of restrictions, laws and inspections that affect their business. Is the consumer willing to pay for the vet to castrate the piglets under anaesthesia? Is the consumer willing to eat meat that has been subject to anaesthesia?

Glen Eagle
BA 1976 VIC, MDiv 1979
Churchill, Ontario

False Hope?
I found your article “A Month in Medicine” about mentorships for high school students very interesting. The idea behind the program, as I understand it, is to encourage African- Canadian and aboriginal students to consider a career in health because they are under-represented in the field. Yet every year, thousands of bright, young medical-school applicants dream of careers as doctors, but are declined because of a lack of available space in medical schools. The problem is not a lack of interest; it’s a lack of funding for medical schools. The unfortunate downside of this mentorship might be that it gives young people hope of gaining entry into a program that will ultimately be denied to them. Perhaps more attention should be given to increasing class sizes rather than generating greater interest in the medical profession.

Maria Orjuela
BASc 2007
Richmond Hill, Ontario

Hot and Cold
What struck me as odd about “Can Our Forests Stand the Heat?” by Kurt Kleiner is that I don’t recall the heat last May as much as I do the snow. I remember a weekend in late May at our family cottage in Highlands East, Ontario, when big, wet snowflakes began to fall. The snow covered the ground and the newly formed leaves, creating a scene that looked more like Christmas than spring. Two weeks later, the leaves began to fall. It would have looked like autumn, except the leaves on the ground were all green. Since then the foliage, especially on the maples, has appeared thin, with the brown tinge that Prof. Sean Thomas spoke of. Even with plenty of rain and sunshine this summer, the trees never seemed to recover from that shock. This fall, instead of turning bright colours, the leaves appear to be simply “rusting” off of the trees. I wonder if that spring snowfall had any bearing on the condition of the trees.

Chris Keir
Toronto

Culture and the Law
As an associate professor who has taught education law at OISE for about 30 years, a U of T alumnus and a family court judge in Toronto, I was fascinated by Alec Scott’s piece on Shelley Saywell. I believe Ontario judges should have the opportunity to see her film In the Name of the Family. I am finding more and more cases involving unfamiliar cultural traditions reaching our courtroom, and, ultimately, we will have to take these customs into account. Culture is highly relevant for legal decision-making; it is often referred to as the theory of enculturation.

Marvin Zuker
BA 1963 UC, MEd 1973
Toronto

The Downside of 360
As a recording engineer and artist, I’ve personally seen that 360 deals, as mentioned in the article about Erika Savage, are terrible for the artist. Artists do not see income from record sales unless they recoup advances. In their early years, artists earn less from album sales than from concerts. With a 360 deal, an artist gives up a greater share of concert revenue. This is how record companies are adapting? I’d call it a desperate attempt to generate greater profit. If the record companies had really been interested in adapting, they would have expanded into digital music 15 years earlier. Instead, they had the Recording Industry Association of America issue subpoenas to citizens for downloading pirated music. I hope Savage will ensure that record labels help truly develop artists by giving them time to establish a brand. This will help them build a loyal fan base and a long career – to the benefit of both artist and label.

Omar Kamran
BSc 2008
Toronto

Broadly Appealing
In past years, I’ve found U of T Magazine to be inward-looking, highlighting on-campus activities and personalities. They were rarely relevant to most of your readers’ everyday lives. However, recent issues have been outstanding. I enjoyed the broad appeal of “Parents – at Last!” (Summer 2010) and “A Year in Mumbai” (Autumn 2010). I find the Leading Edge section stimulating, and I admire the punch of the articles and sidebars. The layout and images are visually attractive. It has the look and feel of a first-class magazine.

Mary Howden
BA 1963 Trinity
Barrie, Ontario

Green Folly
Does David Beattie really believe that if all the participants in U of T’s Alumni Travel Program were to boycott air travel it would alter the world’s environment one iota (Letters, Autumn 2010)? It certainly would not! Beattie reveals a political agenda when he claims that such trips are for “the privileged.” He seems to belong to the movement that more and more often is being referred to as green fascism.

George Varcoe
BMus 1955
Österskär, Sweden


Reader Comments

# 1
Posted by David Beattie BASc%201968 on December 21st, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

To answer George Varcoe’s question (“Green Folly”), I have no precise information about how much the world’s environment would be altered by a boycott of Travel Program air travel. I suspect Mr. Varcoe hasn’t, either, despite his certainty that the effect would be zero. What I do believe is that air travel globally contributes significantly to environmental damage; that the world has to find ways to reduce that damage or suffer dire consequences; and that we all have a part to play. Does Mr Varcoe really believe otherwise?

The attitude that because individual or small-scale actions don’t make a huge difference by themselves, they are therefore not worth taking, is clearly counter-productive. Each one of us can and should make green choices, if we hope to address the global challenge successfully. That’s why what U of T is doing is worth reporting.

My use of the word “privileged” was intended in an economic sense, definitely not a political one, an intention unfortunately distorted by the editing process. It’s unpleasant to be called a fascist, even a green one. I would like to assure Mr. Varcoe that I belong to no such movement.

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