Confessions of a reluctant foodie

Burnt pizza, anyone?
Burnt pizza, anyone?

Call me a faux foodie. Or maybe I’m no foodie at all.

I love good food. I especially enjoy food that’s tasty, locally sourced and carefully presented.

But I’ve had some dining experiences that make me wonder about Montreal’s foodie scene.

One of the funniest was at a Japanese restaurant downtown. The place is so popular you have to line up to get a table. Inside tables are tiny and diners are cramped together. It’s usually crowded and the staff makes you feel rushed. The prices are ridiculous.

The last time I went there with my boyfriend we ordered a turkey leg to share for $28. When it arrived at our table, I nearly fell down laughing. It was a huge turkey leg, true. It looked like something out of the Flintstones. It was ona huge plate, surrounded by mashed potatoes and gravy and I believe, green onions. But $28? We could have roasted an entire turkey for less.

There wasn’t even enough meat on that turkey drumstick for the two of us. For dessert we ordered homemade ice cream for $5 per serving. It came in these tiny cups and appeared to be melting.

An even funnier adventure happened on Valentine’s Day at a popular pizza eatery in Little Italy. When I think wood-fired oven pizza my mouth waters. I’ve had wonderful experiences eating pizzas from wood-fired ovens. But at this place the pizza was Neapolitan style and it was burnt. I’m not talking a little burning on the edges that gives your pizza a woodsy flavour, the outer third of the pizza had black bits that tasted like charcoal.

We looked around the restaurant and other people were happily chewing their way through very burnt pizzas. When we complained, we were initially told that’s the way they make their pizza. They pointed out we had eaten the pizza. We didn’t back down. Finally we were offered dessert, coffee and tea on the house. Even after coffee and dessert, the burnt taste of that charred pizza lingered in my mouth.

Recently we’ve visited some places that are known for their upscale coffee made with carefully selected and roasted terroir coffee beans. I love caffe lattes. I especially enjoy them when I don’t need to add sugar ( I think the foamed milk adds sweetness). The lattes I’ve drunk at these luxury coffee houses have been strong, bitter and expensive,  a contrast to the great lattes served at a neighbourhood cafe in NDG.

For me the difference between these trendy places with their wine lists and fancy menus and casual dining places in my neighbourhood that serve mediocre meals is that the meh places in my neck of the woods are not pretentious. No one expects them to be great. They don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are.

But when a restaurant or cafe goes to the trouble of featuring famous chefs, nice tableware, wine lists and fancy decor, you expect the food to be mouth watering. When that doesn’t happen, you feel ripped off in a way you never would at a just okay restaurant.

Happily Montreal’s NDG neighbourhood has plenty of affordable restaurants and cafes that serve excellent food and coffee. Many of these places are nicely decorated but they’re not putting on airs. When I stop by I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. I’ll take that over a “foodie” restaurant any day.


Green Living: Montreal Earth Day 2013 happenings

Many Montrealers are marking Earth Day (Jour de la Terre) on April 21st this year even though Earth Day falls on April 22nd.

Organizers of  Sunday’s big Earth Day march in downtown Montreal have put out a cute video (in French) explaining the whys of the march:

From 1-2 p.m. parents and children are invited to let their imaginations go wild as they use sidewalk chalk to draw messages for the Earth at the Place des Festivals, corner Jeanne Mance and Ste. Catherine St. W. (Place-des-Arts metro)

Marchers will leave the Place des Festivals at 2 p.m.

Details available here.

Here are a few other free Earth Day happenings you may not have heard about:

Saturday April 20, 2013

Neighbourhood cleanup and Fête de Quartier

Join Coop Le Milieu and the Éco-Quartier St-Jacques in cleaning up the surrounding neighbourhood (the area bordered by Ontario/Ste-Catherine/Amherst and Visitation).

Then head back to Le Milieu for a neighbourhood party. Festivities include a workshop on making your own seedling pots from recycled materials, music, snacks and even beer!

Where: Coop Le Milieu, 1251 Robin (Beaudry metro, Beaudry & Robin)

When: Gather at the Coop at 1 p.m.

Sunday April 21, 2013

At the Eleanor London Library, 5851 Cavendish, Côte St. Luc

Author Talk – Taras Grescoe

In his book Straphanger Montreal-based Grescoe travels the world to profile public transportation systems. He’ll discuss that experience and chat about environmental issues and urban transit.

When: 11 a.m.


Learn, enjoy a light refreshment, take part in family fun or win a prize at an eco-fair featuring such eco-minded businesses and organizations as A Votre Santé, Alternatives, Dix Mille Villages, Ecollegey, Lufa Farms,  Santropol Coffee and Urban Seedling.

When: 12 noon-5 p.m.

A screening of The Lorax film in English happens at 2 p.m. Registration required, call (514) 485-6900

Earth Day/Buy Nothing Day Party at the Coop La Maison Verte

While the Coop sells all kinds of sustainable merchandise and food, you can’t buy anything at this celebration except seedlings and flowers since it’s an opportunity for people to “reflect on the impact of our behavior on the environment and to recognize the power we all have to minimize our ecological footprint.” The fun will include live music, a sampling table and a crafting corner.

Where: Coop La Maison Verte, 5785 Sherbrooke W. (between Melrose & Wilson)

When: Celebration starts at 10 a.m. If it rains, the event is rescheduled to April 28th

Monday April 22, 2013

BeeGreen Festival in Hampstead

Activities at the Irving L. Adessky Community Centre and in Hampstead Park include flower painting, exhibitions, music, kite flying, a BBQ, chances to adopt a park and buy books at a new “quality used book sale.”

When: 5-8 p.m.

Details available here

Do Something – Speak out for Rehtaeh and Amanda and Other Girls

Rehtaeh Parson’s story has me feeling rattled.

Rehtaeh was a 17-year-old Nova Scotia girl who hanged herself after months of harassment. She died Sunday night after she was taken off life support declared brain dead. Her funeral is today.

Over seventeen months ago she was allegedly raped at a house party by four teenage boys. She was 15 at the time. A photo of her assault was sent to the cell phones of everyone at her high school and circulated online. She was slut shamed repeatedly and forced to change schools. Yet no charges were ever laid against her alleged perpetrators for the rape or for circulating photos of her naked, drunk and vomiting, even through distributing child pornography is a crime in Canada. So is harassment.

I’m hardly a fan of Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. But on Thursday Harper impressed me when he said he was “sickened” by what happened to Rehtaeh and made it clear that Rehtaeh’s experience went way beyond bullying. “I think we’ve got to stop just using just the term bullying to describe some of these things,” Harper is quoted as saying.  “Bullying to me has a connotation of kind of kids misbehaving. What we are dealing with in some of these circumstances is simply criminal activity.”

While their stories don’t match exactly, Rehtaeh’s story mirrors that of a British Columbian teenage girl who hanged herself last October. Amanda Todd was 15. At the time of her death she had already endured years of harassment by an adult online predator and then by peers who saw the screen capture photo of her exposed breasts. In Amanda’s case an adult man she met in a chat room tricked her into flashing her breasts and then used the screen capture image to cyberstalk and harass her. Her stalker posed as a Facebook friend and blackmailed her, saying he would send  the photo around to everyone she knew if she refused to give him a show. He made good on his threat, even setting up a Facebook page with her exposed breasts as the profile photo.

Both girls suffered depression and were hospitalized because of their experiences.  Both turned to drugs to ease the pain. Both undeservedly took on the burden of shame and blame when they were victims of criminal acts and were dehumanized by their tormentors. In Rehtaeh’s case her attackers are known to the Cole Harbour community. Anonymous was threatening to publish their names if police didn’t take legal action but now says it will withhold their names at the request of Parsons’ family and has turned over to police all the information it has gathered. It appears Anonymous’s work has influenced police. The Halifax Regional Police and RCMP say they are reopening the investigation into Rehtaeh’s case. Amanda’s harasser has apparently been identified by Anonymous but police have yet to press any charges against him.

What bothers me the most about these stories is the reaction these girls experienced from peers. Instead of shaming the attackers and supporting the victims, these girls were further victimized. Instead of people standing up for them and against harassers and bullies, cyberstalkers and rapists, these girls suffered condemnation from peers, including other girls. From what I understand girls were just as judgmental of Rehtaeh and Amanda as boys were, perhaps even more so.

And that’s the crux of the problem. When girls bully and harass, it’s usually psychological. The wounds a girl may inflict on another girl through gossip and ostracizing are harder to recover from than physical wounds. When girls abandon and shame other girls, they make it easier for abuse to happen. Instead of attacking the abusers, the victims take on the weight of our culture’s issues with teenage girls and their sexuality (the culture has trouble with sexuality in general but especially demonizes teenage girls). We blame the victims and we make it impossible for them to move on. They stay silent and isolated. In a radio interview, Rehtaeh’s mother, Leah Parsons, said when police closed their year-long investigation into her case and failed to press charges, Rehtaeh said she felt nobody cared.

There’s a storyline in the fictional TV show Veronica Mars where Veronica. a high school student, is drugged and raped at a house party. A classmate, Madison Sinclair, paints ‘SLUT’ on the windshield of Veronica’s car. When Veronica reports the rape to police, the sheriff accuses her of lying about the rape and she later discovers the rapist has given her chlamydia. At the point in the show when she is raped Veronica is already a social outcast at her school and endures constant ridicule. Her father is booted out as sheriff  after he accuses Jake Kane, a popular and prominent citizen of murdering his daughter, Veronica’s best friend, Lily Kane.

Veronica never tells her father about the rape, even when she discovers she’s contracted chlamydia. She decides to solve the mystery of her own rape by herself. Veronica’s reaction to her rape and to being ostracized is to become cynical and edgy and to show disdain for her classmates, especially the well-off 09’ers she used to hang out with. It’s fiction and arguably offers a lousy model of how to handle this sort of situation but at least the show makes it clear that the victim does not deserve to take on the shame.

But a fictional TV show is one thing, reality another.

What struck me about Rehtaeh and Amanda’s stories is that the taunting got so bad both girls had to leave their schools. Where were the school administrators? What happened to the anti-bullying policies and codes of conduct about behaviour towards peers? Why were the bystanders complicit? If they’d had the right kind of support, these girls could have told their harassers to jump in the lake. The victims should have been protected, not forced to go into a teenage witness protection program by having no choice but to change schools, move cities and meet new friends. But there was no safe space for these girls. They didn’t feel they could tell their side of the story at their schools without a backlash. And they felt ashamed.

That sense of shame is familiar to me. It was the same when I was 17. Though I wrote for the student newspaper at my CEGEP (Quebec junior college), there were stories I knew about but never told. A girl I knew was on her way home late one evening when she was raped on a neighbour’s picnic table. She never pressed charges. My locker mate told me she was date raped and caught a sexually transmitted disease from her rapist. But she didn’t dare tell her Korean parents or file a police report. I was date raped but I never told anyone. I too could have gone to the police. Instead I kept my mouth shut and blamed myself. I can’t imagine what I would have done had I also been publicly humiliated, if technology was used to invade my privacy and to defame me.

While I think it’s a good idea to teach children to be kind to one another from a young age and to learn compassion for others and respect for girls and women, laws need to change. It seems in Rehtaeh’s case the underage boys thought they could get away with raping a classmate and bragging about it afterwards. They apparently believed they would be able to hide from public scrutiny because they are underage and laws prevent their names from being revealed. Any teenager who commits a serious crime such as a sexual assault should get the message that they stand a very real chance of being tried as an adult for that crime and they may lose their privacy if they are tried as an adult.  Schools need to adopt zero-tolerance policies on harassment. Using social media and technology to defame, humiliate and ridicule another student should be grounds to expel students and report them to police. Investigations need to happen quickly. There is no excuse for allowing this kind of harassing behaviour to continue for months and years or for letting abusers get away with crimes.

In an emotional blog post about Rehtaeh, her father Glen Canning implored Nova Scotia’s Minister of Justice to: “For the love of God do something.”  We should all do something for Rehtaeh, Amanda and other girls who have suffered or are currently suffering harassment, humiliation and violence.

Update, May 7, 2013

A young woman named Sarelle Sheldon is doing something powerful – she’s speaking out about her sexual assault experience. You’ll find the Montreal Gazette story about her here and the video she did for TVMGill here.

We need open data more than ever

My little/big borough of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce is making headlines again but the news ain’t pretty.

There’s something very sick and sad when you find out the housing development project you never liked in the first place is not only ugly and unwelcome in the neighbourhood but that borough representatives allegedly pulled strings behind the scenes on behalf of a developer and in doing so contributed to the project’s ugliness.

The housing development in question is in the St. Raymond section of NDG, on Harvard and Wilson avenues, just off Upper Lachine Rd. Many find it an eyesore, it lacks green space, the buildings are too high and it does nothing to add to the area. But today’s Montreal Gazette reports that the reason the development’s hydro poles are at street level instead of underground is because borough representatives allegedly intervened on the developer’s behalf to help save him approximately $1-million in costs.

The developer wasn’t just any developer but Tony Magi, a Montreal businessman who has been linked to the Rizzuto crime family.

And if the allegations are true, it wasn’t just anybody intervening. Linda Gyulai reports that Marcel Tremblay, a city councillor at the time, met with an official of the electrical commission to ask whether the city, Hydro Quebec and the provincial government would cover the cost of burying electrical lines.  A borough manager allegedly pressured the electrical commission to overturn its recommendation that the power lines be buried. The borough eventually passed a motion supporting above-ground wires for the housing project.

The thing is Montreal’s current mayor, Michael Applebaum, used to be mayor of the CDN-NDG borough. He denies the borough was ever involved with Magi’s housing development, said the project was a “downtown dossier.” But Linda Gyulai appears to have proof that this is not true. Applebaum has stated that he plans to return as mayor of CDN-NDG and in the interim he appointed Marcel Tremblay to help run the borough. If Tremblay intervened inappropriately then, what right does he have to continue to work for our borough now?

Why Open Data Matters

If all city and borough information were made available as open data, it would be a lot easier to spot corruption and underhandedness. Zoning decisions, in particular, need to be transparent and easily accessible (i.e.  you shouldn’t have to check every little legal notice in your local paper to discover a zoning change). CDN-NDG is just one Montreal borough. All kinds of decisions are being made by civil servants and politicians that affect citizens, yet it isn’t always easy to spot what’s going on.

Local non-profit group Open North has been trying to change this. They recently launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaigns for (Montreal) and are about to wrap up an Indiegogo campaign for MyCity (Toronto) ,Web sites that “collect information made available by the city and make it easy to search, explore, and use.” Ideally these sites will make it easy to keep a watch on what your city politicians are up to and effect decisions at city hall.

The last time I used MaMairie I was able to get a quick overview of all of Montreal’s city and borough councillors, meetings and press releases, contact details and even social media feeds. Imagine the potential this could have if/when more information becomes available.

Donate. It sure beats sitting around feeling mistrustful of politicians and sick to your stomach about corruption.