an open letter to Maple Leaf Foods and Michael McCain

For those of you who do not live near me and have not been subjected to seeing the man’s face on your television screens about 25 times a night or reading his open letters in all the newspapers, Michael McCain (no relation to the guy south of the border who is running for president, as far as I know) is the President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods.  As such, he is currently busy dodging flak dealing with the fact that several people have died eating meat from the Maple Leaf factory which had been tainted with listeriosis.

Dear Maple Leaf:

I do hope the families who have lost people find your recent messaging about the bacteria crisis which arose at your plant 97B comforting. For my part, I find Mr. McCain’s “heartfelt” expressions of sympathy combined with legal @$$-covering to be disingeneous and… well, rather annoying. A prime example of this new “we’re a corporation but we still care about YOU” trend.

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Given all of the talk in the media that it’s going to cost Maple Leaf at least $20million in reimbursements for product recall and God knows what else hush money for relatives of those who died eating some precooked pot roast other expenses related to this crisis, I was flabbergasted to see on CTV News last evening that experts predict there will be no long-lasting damage to you at Maple Leaf – partly, apparently, because of your crisis-management skills.

Colour me stupid, but I really don’t begin to understand how the world of high finance works. However, I do understand that most Canadians will not be buying anything made by Maple Leaf any time soon because of fears (whether justified or not) of contamination – and so it didn’t make sense to me that Maple Leaf would not take a hit.

Until, that is, I had a look at your website (http://www.mapleleaf.ca/Aboutus/default.aspx) and learned that you have some other holdings.   And – lo and behold! – one of those holdings is J.M. Schneider’s Foods!

If I sound catty, it’s because I detest all those Schneider’s Ads featuring an actor playing long-dead Old Man Schneider yakking on about how really Schneider’s is just like a family business, bla bla bla. However, I had also assumed that Schneider’s was actually your biggest competitor – given that they seem to sell the identical line of meats, bacon, frozen foods, etc. to you guys.  (Oh – and it was also interesting to learn that you own Dempster’s breads – so you’ve really got the baloney sandwich market covered here in Canada, eh?)

But instead, I guess that many of those people who want cold cuts but do not want to buy from Maple Leaf any more will end up changing to Schneider’s instead – especially in smaller centres where they lack the choice of goods that I enjoy here in Toronto.

So – and again, I’m rather daft about things financial – it seems to me that you might well end up with more money in your collective pockets as a result of this food scare at Maple Leaf.  But then again, I’m no economist. 

I am, however, someone with a relatively high bullshit meter.   So, phrases like the following, which I read in Mr. McCain’s open letter to the world his customers this morning, make me see red:

This is the toughest situation we’ve faced in 100 years as a company.  We know this has shaken your confidence in us.  I commit to you that our actions are guided by putting your interests first.

As long as “your interests” involve tossing out everything in the deep freeze from Maple Leaf and replacing it with Schneider’s, I guess, eh?

Well, my interest now officially include never buying anything produced by your various outfits again, quite frankly – not because of the bacteria but because I find your approach to the situation rather cynical and calculated.  This might mean I never get to eat cold cuts or bacon again, given that you seem to control the supply. Given my addiction to fondness for bacon in large quantities, this will be not be easy. But I will survive, I’m sure.

And, I would suggest that you, Mr. McCain, amend your little “open letter” to make the link between you and Schneiders a tad more clear. Something like “Our biggest competitor, whom we own, will be happy to take care of your ongoing food needs” would suffice.

Yours very truly,

Kristina M. Brouhaha

the many solitudes


Canada, apparently, is a cultural mosaic – unlike the United States which is a melting pot.

(Oh, an aside – fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen. It’s going to be a long ride today.)

Or so we were always told in public school… and I never really thought this through until the other day when I decided that I should make my dear friend Robert a special mosaic for Canada Day. He, unlike me, is very patriotic and so is having a Canada Day party to mark the official birthday of our country (in 1867 – I know that much at least).

So, I went searching for the provenance of the term “cultural mosaic”. Here’s what I found, courtesy of the ever-insightful Wikipedia:

The first use of the term mosaic to refer to Canadian society was by John Murray Gibbon, in his 1938 book Canadian Mosaic. Gibbon clearly disapproved of the American melting-pot concept. He saw the melting pot as a process by which immigrants and their descendants were encouraged to cut off ties with their countries and cultures of origin so as to assimilate into the American way of life.

Hmm. This, although interesting to me, did not much help me with planning my mosaic. So, I hit the forest for inspiration, like so many Canadians before me:

…and came up with this:

Unfortunately, the only colour of glass that is lacking in my brobdignanian stash (and if you think my yarn stash is over the top, people, you should see my stash of stained glass!) is… you guessed it, green.

So, I had to make do with another colour:

The glass there is actually pink, by the way. I still really don’t know how to operate this camera.

I started by mapping out the leaf shape on a handy dandy glass frame that I scored from the unofficial dumping station behind my apartment building a couple of years ago:

I then – much like the Fathers of Confederation, I suppose –

(If you’ve visited here before today, you may well recognise Sir John Eh?… he’s the one with his head in the middle of the biggest window. I do get a kick out of how painters through the ages have found very similar ways to point out the important guy in the scene..

…but, as ever, I digress.)

Where was I again? Oh yes. Anyway, much like the Fathers of Confederation, I pieced together a symbol of an emerging country, and ended up with this:

(I will pause officially here to note that I actually tried to consult with Sir John Eh? about this but apparently he had started the Canada Day celebrations a bit earrrrly …

…but as JJ reminds me, Sir John Eh was actually from Glesga Scotland.)

So, I decided it was all guid, and progressed apace. In so doing, let me tell you that I injured myself.

This is partly because, when starting the mosaic, I realised that I had left the top of my trusted tile adhesive and when I went to use it, I was faced with a concrete glue pile. So, having no time to spare, I had to whip out the glue gun, and became careless:

Let it be known that I do suffer for my art. I am a proud Canajan in this regard, but our schizophrenic cultural identity as Canajans (that is, half Brit, half Murcan) leads me to adopt the British part and suffer in (virtual) silence. By the way, Robert, eventual recipient of the mosaic, does not use the internet and so will not be reading this post. So, let’s just keep this our little secret (at least, until he sees me tomorrow and says “Hey girl, what’s up with all those cuts and burns on your hands?!?!?!).

Anyway, despite my mortal wounds, I carried on –

(I include this photo, although it’s rather blurry, because I thought that the headline that was inadvertently captured on the underlying newspaper was spookily Canadian. And, by the way, I would welcome any other Canadians, if you feel otherwise, to post a comment or Email me and tell me so – and why. I won’t bore you with my theories at present).

And, eventually, I ended up with a microcosm of what it must have looked like here when they were building all these vast railways and roadways…

Voila!

Now, it’s time for me to confess something. In working on this “cultural mosaic”, I felt for the first time in years a real love for my country. I have been disillusioned of late, really. Champagne socialist angst, perhaps – although I do realise I live in a wonderful country, bit by bit our standard of living is being eroded, and I have seen big changes in my adult lifetime.

(I’ll note as an aside that to me it is frustrating (although interesting) that Michael Moore, for example, has decided to sell a message about the United States by painting my city and country as a gun-free paradise where everyone leaves their doors and cars unlocked and can just attend at hospital and get whatever treatment they want, without cost. That may have been the case twenty years ago, but it is not today. Sorry, Michiganer (Michiganite? Michigonian? friends. I know that Mike has done a great power of guid – but I’m an unhappy Canajan with his portrayal of the situation here and I’ve written a strong E-mail or two!)

But then, I’ve had to get off my leftie high horse and think about what being a Canadian actually means to me. And so I had to give some thought to why I ended up a Canadian in the first place… because of people like my mother’s father who came here at 14, shipped off from Greece to send money home to his family, and made a good life and prospered. And my mother’s grandparents, who came here similarly and did well.

And then, on the way to work today I saw this freebie magazine which I usually ignore

And then I had to remember how moved I was to be at Pier 21 in Halifax and see a photo of the boat that my father travelled here on for a new life:

So, it was very, very good to have the reminder that people came here for a better life and had it… as a result of which, I get to be a lawyer here with a decent pay and get to whine and rant on my blog about the state of the politics in my country, without censure. And, by the way, I can also afford to live next to a beautiful forest where I can go and stroll and steal a maple leaf to inform my artistic endeavours, such as they are.

And then I had to think about the “cultural mosaic” bit from the writer I quoted at the outset – and it finally makes sense to me. I get to live here, speak and write and read Greek, cook Greek, live with a scottish guy, have him and everyone else respect my heritage and also my lifestyle choices. And still be considered a “Canadian”. This is truly a gift.

So, I must make a deep dark confession – I am, indeed, a proud Canadian. I think that my mosaic for Robert reflects the shifting contours and the uncertainty of this nation. And I’m very happy that Robert is hosting this party, and was so excited about buying Canada Day decorations, which made me think I should make him a special Canada Day present, etc. etc. etc.)

(JJ, himself a new Canadian who loves Canada more than I do, said that the piece reminded him of the Magic Eye contests in the paper… you know the ones, if you cross your eyes you see the true image? The true image of this piece is the maple leaf).

As it happens, to me the mosaic looks abstract – I had originally thought to make the background a blatant contrast colour, then went against this. And I’m happy with this choice (although JJ is not) – I believe it better represents Canada as a place where change and adaptability… and progress…are always possible. I’m calling it “Many Solitudes”.

Happy Canada Day! Off now to cook the stuff I’m bringing to the party and make sure the beer is chilling…