Heather Hunter

How to Reduce Your Grocery Bill      May 2022

I love saving money. It must be my Scottish heritage. Call me cheap. I take it as a compliment. As food prices rise, I see it as a challenge.

Saving starts with not wasting. Old food gets shoved to the back of the fridge, forgotten until it takes on a life of its own. Then it is chucked out. Everybody goes for the newest, assuming the old is stale. If this is happening in your house, you are buying too much.

Food lasts longer kept in the fridge rather than on the counter, especially baked goods and fruit. To have enough fridge space, buy smaller amounts and don’t replace food until the old is used up. Use up leftovers. What was made fresh one day becomes a ready-made meal a few days later, or you can freeze it and eat it a week later.

Prices at the bargain food chains are lower than higher end stores where you are paying for greater choice (50 kinds of the same thing). Store brands are a good value, basically the same as name brands.

Meat is the most expensive food and we don’t need to consume so much. It is healthier to eat smaller portions. Half a pound of minced beef will suffice instead of a pound to flavours stews, casseroles, sauces and soups. Serve small portions of meat and fill the plate with vegetables and grains. Protein and fiber rich legumes are cheaper and healthier than meat.

There is nothing wrong with the meat reduced for quick sale. “Best before” doesn’t mean rotten after. This meat can be frozen, so stock up. I haven’t poisoned my family yet.

Boxed broth is a real rip off – flavoured, coloured water full of chemicals and salt. Simmer old vegetables or cheap cuts of meat in water, strain and kept the broth in plastic containers in the fridge or freezer. The fat rises to the top and can be removed making it low fat. Frozen, it defrosts in minutes in the microwave. The water you pour off of cooked vegetables is chock full of vitamins and flavour and shouldn’t be dumped down the drain.

Rummaging through the reduced rack of produce is an adventure. Don’t be embarrassed if your neighbour sees you. A bruise can be cut out of an apple. Spotted bananas and oranges are perfect inside. Slightly wizened green peppers work great in soups and sauces. ‘Imperfect’ fruits and vegetables are perfect.

Day-old bakery goods freshen up in the microwave or toaster. The day after you shop, everything becomes day-old.

Food coupons are free gifts. Put the ones you will use in your wallet so you will remember them.

Look for the weekly specials and stock up. Deals rotate so eventually you will have some of everything in the freezer. Energy efficient freezers are worth their weight in steaks. Mine has paid for itself over and over.

Working together in the kitchen making dinner and cleaning up is quality time when family members reconnect at the end of the school or work day. Carrots and potatoes, cheap staples, can be washed with a brush instead of peeled, reducing work and increasing vitamin content.

Frozen vegetables, flash frozen right after picking, are equal to or better than fresh both in vitamins and flavour. Frozen diced onions and green peppers are economical time savers.

Grow you own vegetables. A small strip of land on the sunny side of a building will produce incredible amount of food which can be frozen for winter. Tending your garden is a great hobby and educational for kids, even inspiring as you watch the miracles unfold from shoot to ripened tomatoes, beans, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers etc.

I am not a nutritionist or professional chef, just a mom with a reputation as a good cook and money manager. I learned from my mother, who was raised in the Depression Era, who learned from her mom. So, pass on your wisdom and leave this article in plain sight of your adult children (for whom it was intended).

Doctors Advise Us To Keep Masks On!      May 2022

As some people rejoiced that masks could come off, others were filled with trepidation. A sixth wave of COVID-19 is upon us. The disease is making an aggressive comeback and doctors are sounding the alarm, telling us in no uncertain terms that we should continue wearing masks. Government officials have recommended we wear them in public settings. However, after having had a taste of freedom from masks, will people follow recommendations which are not mandates?

Many now believe that getting the Omicron virus is like having the flu… no big deal. However, rapidly mounting cases and hospital admissions attest to the fact that isn’t quite true. The risks are higher for seniors and those with co-morbidities, but even fully vaccinated, young, healthy adults and children may require hospitalization. Some patients experience life-altering, long-haul symptoms not linked to age or health conditions. The stealthy VA2 Omicron variant is more transmissible and unpredictable than ever, and reinfections are happening.

We are getting mixed messages. Dr. Kieran Moore (Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer) strongly recommends it, but does not require us to wear masks in public and in schools. He believes that with high immunization and the anti-viral treatment, Paxlovid, the health care system is protected. In news conferences, Premier Ford echoes Moore’s comments. Nevertheless, ICU numbers are expected to reach 600 which means that surgeries will be postponed. Clearly frustrated, Dr. Michael Warner (Critical Care, MGH) responded: “It doesn’t make sense. There should be access to hospital for all patients.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch (Infectious Disease Specialist) stated unequivocally, “To lower the risks and create a safer indoor space for all, we should clearly be wearing masks.” The World Health Organization simply stated: “Get vaccinated and continue to wear your masks.” Teresa Tam (Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer) is predicting a surge in the fall and winter of 2022. “People’s behaviour will determine the scope of the wave.” Dr. Peter Juni, (Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and Director of the Science Advisory Table) believes that the rise in cases is due to the sudden change in our behaviour. “We got ahead of ourselves.” He wants us to continue to “mask up.”

Should public safety be in the hands of Canadians themselves, politicians, or health care specialists? In April, the Ontario government removed most restrictions leaving the option to wear a mask up to the individual. Premier Ford insisted, “We do have capacity in our hospitals and ICU’s. We can manage this.” Health Minister Elliot (not a doctor) stated, “There is no need to panic. We can handle it.” Dr. Moore admitted we “will see a rise in admissions, but we have the tools to mitigate that.” But who wants to end up in the hospital? Are they downplaying the risks, looking at the situation through a political and economic, rather than a scientific lens?

Dr. Sharkawy (Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease Specialist, UHN) believes the ministers’ statements are inaccurate due to attrition in the health care sector. Dr. Michael Warner insisted, “Masks should be put back on! We need to avoid infection.” Dr. Irene De Villa, Toronto’s top doc, said that “We should expect from time to time to adjust our behaviour,” and return to stricter protocols when necessary.

True, with three and four doses of the vaccine the population has a fair degree of protection (which diminishes after 4 months). The antiviral treatment, Paxlovid, gives us a better chance of surviving the disease if it is administered within 5 days of developing symptoms. To be prepared, it is up to us to contact our family doctors in advance of getting sick to establish our risk factors and treatment strategies. Will busy doctors dealing with very ill patients have the time for conferences with patients who are not even sick?

We must not only assess our own risks, but also the risks to those around us. Household outbreaks are more common than ever. School age and adult children are bringing the virus home to their parents and grandparents. Toronto’s school boards, seeing a record number of teacher and student absences, asked the government to reinstate the mask mandate for schools, but were denied because there has been “no significant rise of children in intensive care units,” as reported by Dr. Moore. Dr. De Villa is pushing for indoor mask use. “Children have been hit with a wide range of mental and physical health issues,” thus excessive school absences and disruptions should be avoided.

With the arrival of warm weather, we can gather safely in parks, backyards and patios. Is it such a hardship to mask up when indoors, especially with older friends and family? As one passerby said to a TV reporter: “It’s an easy thing to do–not a big ask!”

Learning to live with the virus doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind and ditching simple protective measures. The VA2 Omicron variant is a wild card. We cannot become complacent.

Relaxing health mandates gave us a false sense of security and a feeling that the pandemic is basically over, but Dr. Bogoch told us “We are not there yet.” Doctors at all levels are literally begging us to continue wearing masks. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes; you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Post-Pandemic Canada: A House Divided ~ Opinion      April 2022

The protest in Ottawa was all but forgotten in the news cycle when it became busy reporting on the next horror story, the war in the Ukraine. Hopefully, the people who called Prime Minister Trudeau a tyrant have had their eyes opened to what a true dictator looks like personified by Vladimir Putin. The leaders of the occupation have been let out of jail and the truckers quietly given back their keys. However, all is not well. Canada’s population is more polarized than before the pandemic.

Conservatives and liberals in Canada display animosity similar to that of republicans and democrats in the United States. People have divided into camps, “unfriending” each other based on who are vaxxed or unvaxxed and whether they were for or against the anti-mandate protests. Our polite tolerance of each other’s different views has waned.

Populism is a political approach that appeals to ordinary people who feel their concerns have been disregarded by the established elite. In a democracy, people have the legal right to demonstrate peacefully. However, the truckers’ “Freedom Convoy” was hijacked and exploited by far-right extremists. The populace who may have had real grievances were drowned out by extreme social conservatives. The police, the politicians and mainstream media were vilified by prominent protesters.

Right-wing conservatism opposes pluralism and advocates a return to an idealized traditional society. White nationalists blame minorities and prey on the fears of people angered by wealth inequity who are seeing their lifestyles eroded by rampant inflation. Visible minorities were conspicuously absent from the protest in Ottawa. Were they afraid of the underlying racist element? Or, are immigrants more grateful to Canada because they were not born with a sense of entitlement and do not take their new, peaceful lives in a democracy for granted? Some who have fled war were dumbfounded to see protesters, people who have never experienced war, playing war games, building barricades and shouting “Hold the line”. Yet they were not among the brave Canadians who joined Ukraine’s foreign legion in an actual fight for freedom.

Across Canada, people were glued to their televisions, shaking their heads in disbelief, waiting to see how the protest would end. But has it ended? Anti-mandate advocates were subdued for the time being when most Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. However, like the stealthy virus, they lie in wait, ready to erupt again if rules are reinstated due to a surge from a new variant.

What did our youth learn by example from the illegal protest in Ottawa? If they don’t want to do what their teachers say, do they now believe they have the God-given right to protest loudly, disrupt the whole class and disrespect authority figures with impunity? Anti-Semitism has been rearing its ugly head in TDSB elementary schools of late. Were racists emboldened by the swastikas amidst the inverted Canadian flags, so uncomprehending children feel that it is okay to mock their Jewish teachers with a Nazi salute?

At the beginning of the pandemic, people seemed to have increased empathy for one another having a “We’re all in this together” attitude. Health workers were hailed as heroes. As people started to lose patience, the mood soured. Individual freedom started to matter more than collective rights. Exhausted nurses and doctors found themselves maligned, heckled and threatened. An “us versus them” attitude emerged.

Tribalism, a fervent loyalty to one’s own social group, is widening the gap between Canadians of different persuasions. We pay lip service to the great Canadian ideals, diversity and inclusion, but anger and hatred against “the other” is rampant on social media and increasingly evident in our society. Alas, Canada is losing its innocence.

Rights and Freedoms in a Democracy ~ Opinion      March 2022

The “protest” in Ottawa resembled a massive block party complete with bouncy castles, barbeques, drinking and blaring music. Letting off steam after two years of Covid restrictions, the protesters seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their moment of fame. However, out of sight of the cameras, a more radical faction strove to embolden the “movement”.

In their “Memorandum of Understanding”, the self-appointed leaders of the “protest” turned “occupation” in Ottawa, initially advocated the overthrow of our democratically elected federal government. How could such extremism attract throngs of normally law-abiding citizens? Believing they were in a noble fight for “freedom” against “tyranny” and on the right side of history, the truckers disrupted the lives of their own families and the communities they invaded. They vowed to remain until all their poorly thought-out, diverse demands were met. No compromise would satisfy them.

Their one clear message was the slogan plastered on every vehicle, “Freedom”. According to Wikipedia, “Freedom” is “a total lack of restraint, the ability to fulfill one’s individual desires.” “Liberty”, on the other hand, “entails responsible use of freedom under the rule of law without depriving anyone else of rights and freedom.” The protesters were, in fact, severely interfering with the civil liberties of other Canadians entitled to live and work peacefully and unimpeded in Ottawa. Are the “freedom fighters” gravely misinformed about the nature of democracy, buoyed up by their social media community?

Demanding “freedom for all”, even though the vast majority of the population do not identify with or support their cause, one young trucker summed up his beliefs: “It’s about choice… to do what we want”. Do they actually want to see a “free-for-all”, to live in a society where “every man (is acting) for himself”, heedless of the toll on others?

We are not islands unto ourselves; our actions have a ripple effect. In all societies including democracies, individual rights are necessarily curtailed to ensure basic rights for all, the greater good. Laws are safeguards against anarchy. Without government controls, countries like Haiti become failed, lawless states and no one is safe. Under a totalitarian regime where freedom really is denied, demonstrations are outlawed and government critics are imprisoned or disappear.

Our political leaders have an obligation to protect the collective rights of the majority by basing their decisions on the advice of legitimate authorities, not special interest groups or vocal minorities. If crowds of belligerent protesters were able to bully politicians into changing laws, we would have mob rule, not rule of law.

In a democracy, non-violent, peaceful protests are a right, but harassing, tormenting and infringing on the rights of others is not! The situation in Ottawa was not a peaceful protest, but a siege, an illegal occupation, a form of domestic terrorism. Police were outnumbered and obstructed from doing their duty. Heedless of the inherent dangers, demonstrators flagrantly broke the laws by blasting horns, blocking streets, stock piling jerry cans of diesel fuel and propane tanks and having bonfires. 25% of the protesters brought their children who breathed air polluted by diesel exhaust four times the safe limit. Honking of horns reached decibel levels dangerous to their ears. Did child protective services have a duty to step in given the unpredictable nature of the situation? Were children in essence serving as human shields to prevent police from using greater force?

According to Professor Colin Rose of Brock University, social unrest and civil disobedience accompany times of natural disaster, so the demonstration was predictable even if the scope was not.

A segment of our population seems to have a deep distrust of authority: scientists, doctors, main stream media and government officials, bordering on paranoia. “They’ve all been bought” shouted one protester. Some even believe that nurses and doctors were paid to lie about the severity of the disease, hence the intimidation of hospital workers.

On alternate media, anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers have been contradicting health care professionals throughout the pandemic. Do they expect and deserve to receive good medical care from exhausted hospital staff working in an over-burdened health care system? Is it fair that patients needing surgery have had to wait and suffer because the ICU’s were filled with the unvaccinated? Calling the illness “viral pneumonia” instead of Covid-19 will not make the disease less lethal. Does their right to circulate freely in society exceed their responsibility to avoid spreading the infection thereby prolonging the pandemic and the restrictions on everyone? How do they propose we deal with a surge in new strains of the virus or future pandemics?

In Windsor, the border blockade at the Ambassador Bridge had enormous national consequences. Supply lines at the busiest land access point between Canada and the US were cut off. Working truckers and other essential workers were prevented from freely doing their jobs. Business leaders predicted that, with Canada’s reputation tarnished by the disruptions at border crossings, damage to international trade relationships could be long-lasting. Protesters seemed not to care about the economic impact on fellow Canadians. Drew Dilkins, the exasperated Mayor of Windsor lamented, “We are not working with rational actors.”

A few people were seen carrying American flags (even Confederate) in our nation’s capital. Donald Trump and Republican governors Ron DeSantis and Ted Cruz publically proclaimed their support for the “Freedom Convoy”. 57 % of the crowd funding support for the protesters came from the United States, clearly foreign interference in our domestic affairs. Is the “Americanization” of Canada altering the fabric of our democracy and our very identity?

We are all fed up, bored and frustrated with the pandemic, but the virus doesn’t care. Demanding that all mandates immediately be lifted will not make it magically go away. Ultimately, this unprecedented period in our lifetime is a test of our patience, rationality and maturity, a measure of our commitment to each other and Canada.