Thursday, September 6, 2007

The fun of seasonal produce

It's the beginning of September and it's grape season -- Okanagan Coronation grapes. I first had them when I came out to visit my wife last year and fell in love with them. They are have a tartness, that combined with the natural sweetness of grapes makes them highly addictive. I can't get enough of them -- it's like Christmas time for grapes.

One of the things that attracted me to Vancouver when I first moved here was the fact that produce seems to be more seasonal, and to an extent, grown locally. September is grapes. There's also peaches and other summer fruit. In Toronto I would always look forward to Fiddlehead season and Asparagus season (white and regular).

I'm still discovering all of the local produce here but it's like Christmas if you're a Foodie. Aside from the environmental benefits of locally grown produce, the anticipation of the new season. And because it's here for only a short time the flavours just seem to be more intense, more pleasurable. Once the summer season is gone, there is still other seasonal produce to look forward to -- Chinese Mandarines and Clementines in the winter. Where these are grown organically, the flavours also seem to be more intense. So here's raising a glass to local farmers and hoping that the organic movement, both here and abroad, gain momentum. My mouth is watering in anticipation. Merry Christmas.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Mattel: A case study in the failure of corporate responsibility.

An interesting editorial from Shih-Fen S. Chen of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario (Don't bash China for the failure of U.S. toy makers). Barring some sort of fraud or other corrupt practices it seems that Mattel chose profits over quality -- which really shouldn't surprise anyone. That is after all a publicly traded corporation's primary role -- to maximize shareholder value.

Manufacturers like Mattel outsource for one reason only -- to increase profits by reducing operating costs (labour arbitrage, lower infrastructure costs, etc.). Their failure to manage quality through the supply chain lies solely with them. Mattel chose to ignore its responsibility and should now quite rightly pay the consequence.

This is where an adequate regulatory framework is needed to ensure that corporations do not abdicate their civic responsibilities through outsourcing. Many U.S. states (and hopefully soon Canadian provinces) have begun imposing stricter environmental regulations. It will be interesting to see if outsourcing enables corporations to avoid these responsibilities as well. Let's hope not.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A journey through East Hastings

Last night we went to a barbeque/birthday party for one of my wife's friends on the east side of Vancouver. On our way there we passed through the notorious East Hasting's area, known for it's open drug use and crime.

Having lived in Vancouver for only a few months, I hadn't had the "pleasure" of visiting East Hastings. It was shocking. The area reminded me of one of those end of civilization science fiction movies, only much much more depressing and horrifying because this isn't fantasy. The street was jammed with people, most of whom looked half-dead -- poorly clothed, skeletal, desperate shells of humanity. There is open drug use and prostitution. You can almost smell death down here. The buildings are boarded up and empty and disintegrating -- an entire neighbourhood in the centre of the most expensive city in Canada lost to these desperate souls. Even the most depressed neighbourhoods in Toronto (Sherbourne between Dundas and Queen, and Parkdale come to mind) can't compare with this.

That the municipal government could let this happen is equally as shocking as the neighbourhood itself. It seems morbidly ironic that this place could exist as Vancouver was ranked the best place to live in the world by the Economist. And for the fifth year in a row no less. I expect the judges weren't given a tour of East Hastings when visiting the city.

With the Olympics coming the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments must come together to find a solution to this problem. Building more affordable housing, addiction treatment centres and other services would be a start. Leaving the area as it is would be an embarrassment to the entire country.