food / love / safety


Saliva etches itself into memory, a poem in invisible ink.

In my life it has penned a salty calligraphy, a script slathered with grease and good intentions. After the divorce (I was five) there were fast-food burgers (six to ten) and sandwiches smothered with processed cheese food and the pale flabby pinkness of deli-sliced ham. There were pizzas drowning in mozza and discus slices of sausage. There were cheap steaks at the diner, and everything bacon.

It made me happy, when little else did.

As people do, I grew up and moved out and chased after happy. Mostly, I found it in paper bags stamped with logos and heavy with cheap meat and industrialized cheese. Most days, I parked my car under trees and cranked up the heat, and savoured the Eat. It felt safe. It felt like someone (who?) was taking care of me. Always McSame. Always going to never McLeave.

No, I was never very happy, but at least I had meat.


He is a small and slender man. He is a slender, pale and gentle man, creeping towards thirty but the uncultivated whiskers that sprout from his cheek read more like twenty-three. When he tells me his real age, I exhale lightly. He’s just this guy. I think he likes me.

Ooh, a guy hey?

“Yeah, doubt it goes anywhere though. He’s so quiet.”

An inventory of him: he takes pictures. He gleefully Tweets jabs at the Prime Minister. He has a tattoo of crossbone carrots slashing one narrow aspen arm, but there is a lump of broccoli where a skull would be. He has a way of opening his mouth as if to speak, then tripping on his tongue when he looks at me.

So yeah, he seems sweet.

We are in the dying throes of another backlit Canadian winter. We are in IKEA and I am shopping for a dresser. We are somewhere between the Ektorps and the Klippans when I press him about the ethos behind his vegan Jolly Roger.

“What’s your take on honey?”

These words slip out of my lips and I taste the bitter bile of their obnoxiousness, I am hunting for a reason to strike him off my list. “Too reactionary,” I’d say maybe, or too much a purist to handle life with the awkward angles and multitude hypocrisies of me —

But he is not — he is — oh, he shrugs. “I get why people disagree on that,” he says. “I just think, what gives us the right?”

This is not quite the answer I am expecting, having known men already, men who gripped my thigh too tightly as they spoke about animals and purity. And so, in those five short words he exposed me.

Who has the right / where do we stand

My rights end where yours begin

I do not know it yet, but this is the moment I fall in love with him.


My feminism is a conversation.

I speak it in a language indigenous to my place and this time, and yet it spans generations. My feminism is a discussion about how — not what — to think about power and gender, power and race, power and sexuality. How to think about economic policy and health, about violence and safety. How to think about bodies.

Yes, yes, our bodies.

The conversation spills from the center of our bodies, outlining, defending, defining. Bodies as products and bodies as objects, bodies as commodities. Always fighting the ways that those who declare themselves strong, declare their entitlement to the bodies of those they declare weak.

Oh, there it is —

Whispering between the silhouettes of silenced bodies, I hear how the language of my feminism speaks across species. Our species has sorted us into hierarchies: some bodies as tools, some bodies as trash. Some bodies pressed into service in ways living bodies can’t stand, so they’re shot full of drugs and crammed into shapes that balance sheets find pleasing.

This is not lost on advertisers, who have long used women’s flesh and animals’ flesh interchangeably, understanding that both can be painted as something to be devoured, dominated and consumed.

And women —

We’ve been forced to use the language of oppression to outline the boundaries of our humanity: “what you do to the animals,” we cry, “do not do to me.”

This is just survival.

“I felt like a piece of meat,” a rape survivor says, and entwined in that tapestry of sadness is the fact that every morsel of meat lived and died the same way. (And yet, even some purported pro-animal organizations regularly revisit this violence, putting women on a plate.)

Whether or not animals have a soul, I couldn’t say, it’s not something a person can prove. Believe it or not, as is best understood by you, but there’s no question they are imbued with an arrangement of neurons that allows them an experience of this world that we share. An experience lit by the sun, cooled by the breeze, and defined between birth and death by the desire to live free.

And so, they cling to survival, until their blood paints the slaughterhouse floor. They howl and they squawk and they roar, their tongues crying out a terror that only ever ends one way. Their only witnesses are slaughterhouse workers, often drawn from the poor, often men and women of colour pressed into work stained by exploitation and abuse.

I do not know whether a vegan society would be a more just one. I do know this: the same lie that asserts men are entitled to the bodies of women, that the wealthy are entitled to the bodies and labour of the poor, that white bodies can dominate bodies of colour — that is the same lie that allows industrialized meat and dairy production to exist.

What gives us the right, he said -

My rights end where yours begin.


On a crisp night in August, we corralled my two cats into laundry baskets and left the cold and lonely condo that had been for seven years my house, if never really a home. I followed him to an apartment on a raggedy street about a kilometer away or so.

He is the safest place I have ever known.

“Thing is,” he says cautiously, sipping cocktails on a patio the night I stuff my shoes into his closet, “I can’t have a fridge full of dairy.”

I know this, and so never buy any.

Instead, he takes charge of our eating, all of it plant-based and full and amazing. He transforms food into feasts and we eat joyfully: oh, so many things on the menu. Chickpea curry and potatoes roasted with parsnips and garlic. Rib-sticking stews and macaroni rolling in rich sauces. In the mornings, he toasts savoury pizza bagels. At night, we sip wine and devour a gooey apple crumble.

We laugh a lot, when we’re eating.

He is clever, I ache for nothing, there is never a moment where I wish there was animal flesh or secretions on anything. He broils eggplant slices with soy sauce and liquid smoke and it sizzles like bacon. He has a way of frying up tofu to be as fluffy as a perfectly scrambled egg, even though it never saw any side of a chicken.

We talk about books while we eat, about books and ideas and politics, and he never talks over me. He never speaks louder than me.

At night, we fall into bed with glowing bellies and curl up tight like fiddleheads before their full flowering. Our lips wrap around life and our tongues write new memories. The war machines hum demolition ditties just outside our doorstep, but in here there is no cruelty.

In here, there is no —

My God, I am a raw and hurting thing. I am a ragged, raw and mewling thing,  but his arms hold open space for me to breathe. He slips out no hidden sighs, seeks no dominion over me.

Love, life and safety —

In here, there is no cruelty.


I will never be a model of purity.

Food is not a destination but a journey, and the veil lifts for me in pieces as my world tilts and shifts. Sometimes I go a week without consuming anything that once belonged to an animal, sometimes a month. Then sometimes, I still slip back into those old memories, into the lonely habit of eating whatever dead and meaty thing is put in front of me.

Those days come less often, lately. Less often with each passing week. Threads are being severed; old habits, unlearned.

We are creatures of privilege. We have a kitchen to cook in and implements to cook with, and the time and energy to put them to use at least a few nights a week. We have access to a wide range of grocery options, and the Fresh Box delivery we get once a week thrills us, fills us with the excitement of what it could be. We are lucky people, to have choices.

So there is that.

Understand: this is a call for choices. The choice depends on affordability, on accessibility, on ensuring that food deserts are watered with healthy produce. And the choice depends on punching up, not punching down: on challenging industrialized Euro-settler animal agriculture, not abusing Inuit women who post pictures of seal skins on Twitter.

And for me —

Cauliflower korma is bubbling on the stove. My love is tending it while I wrestle with these words that I wrote. I press “post,” and retreat to another night where my eyes wince with no cruelty.

Food / love / and safety.

Recommended resources:


The Sexual Politics of Meat

 Dylan Powell: Veganism In The Occupied Territories


On New Year’s Eve

Bookends, I like bookends, hard shapes to frame the stories that we made.

I like bookends, these long hard shapes to say: here, you wrote a sentence, a lyric, a love song and a year. I like forgetting where I am to live forever in how I got here. Usually, it involves a yawn and a ketchup stain, salted cheeks and a cat purring the refrain — life goes on, so life it goes on.

Two-thousand-thirteen began in a wasteland for me.

Bookend on the last side, what now lies behind, is the devastation of last winter. Jobless, hopeless, mouth filled up with bitter bile and the thought that things very well might never get better — feeling aging, old, feeling hollow and cold, a scarecrow perched on a sagging couch to warn the young away.

Then there was this day —

The second day of March, and everything changed —

This is what happened on that day, two separate items so long awaited and only coincidence birthing them the same: I went back to work, and I first held my love. He found me in a pile of wreckage, he found me in a junkyard, he dusted me off and picked me up and saw we were the same.

I stood (and stand) on slight and trembling legs.

But would you believe, that after all the destruction of how it began, the right bookend of 2013 upholds the most beautiful moment of my life at its end. I did a lot of things. Cleaned up, stood up straight, started working, fell in love, moved into a space I can finally call home, laughed a lot, wrote a lot, struggled to stay afloat. But still. But still.

I like bookends to remind that things to change, in fits and starts.

So on the shelf I now file all the people and places that sheltered this fractured heart. Some gratitude is due.

To the sports writing crew, who welcomed me and propped me up when I was too scared, or shy, and made me feel like I may yet carve out a niche somewhere in the middle of this sportswriter life: among others, Darrin Bauming, Patrick Williams, Gary Lawless, Steve Lyons, Paul Friesen, Kirk Penton, Ken Wiebe, Paul Wiecek, Ed Tait, Jim Toth, Scott Billeck and all the others I will leave to ellipses but most assuredly have not forgot.

To Josh, my forever best friend, my buzzy bee and the light of my life.

To Lao Thai green curry, and to Lucky Penny white wine, and to The Sexual Politics of Meat. To the Tall Pines lodge in the Whiteshell where I threw my worries into the lake, and to the Rundlestone Lodge in Banff where I hurled them again into the mountains.

To Twitter and every Tweeter who comes there to play with me, our little Twitterpond made me laugh far more than was right. Taught me things too, but you’d be amazed how often our little Twitter comedies would pull me out of a funk and into a hot bath and a comforting night light.

And above all, to Greg, upon whose smile my words always trip and slip away. It’s something to still be left speechless when you share one bedroom and a bathroom with a person. But I am tongue-tied by him every day — my love, my partner in crime, and the finest man I can imagine.

This year, 2013, began in devastation, and ends now in delight. It was a good ‘er. Hopefully the next will continue on so right.


Metric, the music writer, and the leering grip of the male gaze

Emily Haines — the singer, the rocker, the songwriter, the woman — is a real person in this world, a real person with form and voice.

Yet it is not her voice, but her absence that defines Ben Kaplan’s oily National Post article on Haines and her band, Metric. In 800-odd uncomfortable words, Kaplan draws us the shape of her career. But it is not one that fans of the band would recognize, because she is not in it, not really.

Instead, Kaplan replaces her with a proxy, with a fantasy woman outlined only by the searing eye of his male gaze.

“One of the distinct pleasures of being a male Canadian music journalist is the opportunity every few years to interview Emily Haines,” Kaplan writes, but Haines promptly disappears from his view. In the real world, she retreated to a side room of the band’s Toronto recording studio, while Kaplan contented himself with interviewing Metric guitarist Jimmy Shaw instead. Haines is Shaw’s “muse,” Kaplan writes; but what Shaw describes is something more akin to an equal creative partnership.

Why Haines retreated from this conversation is hers to know; Haines, in my professional experience, has never been quick to engage the media. Perhaps it was just that. Or perhaps, Kaplan says, she avoided him “out of fear she’d be the recipient of another unwanted hug,” after an event years earlier where Kaplan breathlessly reports he was “even” able to hug her, albeit “awkwardly.”

In a world unmarred by privilege, women have another word for “unwanted” hugs from leering men.

An “unwanted hug” may be the most physical way that Kaplan has invaded Haines’ space. But in this article, he commits a kind of invasion again and again, smothering her artistic voice with his lust. In the process, he removes from her (and women like her) agency, achievement and identity.

Haines, he writes, is “the closest thing Canadian music has to a smart sex symbol since Buffy Sainte-Marie took to the stage.”

He says this as if he cannot even simply call her both smart and sexy; she is just “the closest thing” to being both in decades.

He says this as if the last 40 years of Canadian music has not produced women such as Sarah Slean, Jann Arden, k.d. lang, Holly Cole, Diana Krall, Tegan Quin, Sara Quin and Leslie Feist, women who have found their art through a marriage of their brilliance and their human sensuality.

Most of all, Kaplan says this as if oblivious to the fact that, while many men and women artists find sexuality a conduit to beauty, it is only women who are outlined as “sex symbols” because of it. (Hawksley Workman’s early work was sinuously, sometimes even luridly sexual; he was never widely called a “sex symbol.” See also: Leonard Cohen.)

It is only women whose sexual viability is deemed contingent on public approval, only women whose bodies are routinely allowed to be treated as a “symbol” or a cultural shorthand for sex — or, specifically, for the kind of sex that men like Kaplan want to have with women who are diminished to a vessel for their desire. He has done this before, too.

Emily Haines “attracts male journalists like free booze,” Kaplan writes.

Key difference: free booze is there for the taking. It’s there to be consumed.

A woman’s body is not.

Originally, I sat down to deconstruct here all the ways Kaplan’s article drips with sexism, ownership and enforcement of women as objects of display for the heterosexual male gaze. The task quickly became overwhelming, primarily because it was so basic: if you respect women, you should at least feel what’s wrong with this article, even if you lack the words.

You should feel what’s wrong when Kaplan turns an unwitting publicist into an accessory for his tale: she was “lovely, and very pregnant” he wrote, as if either of those details were relevant to a story about the band Metric. But of course, in the way this story unfolds, they are relevant: Kaplan was greeted at the door by the stated object of his desire, but then “gathered” by a woman who, in the final stages of a pregnancy, is likely sexually unavailable to him.

And we should definitely see what’s wrong when Kaplan, after admitting to the “unwanted hug,” and after describing how Haines walked away from his interview and would not be “harangued” into joining it, makes the largely-absent Haines what is surely then an unwanted promise.

“I’ll see you in another few years, Emily,” he writes. “Hopefully after you’ve been on the cover of Rolling Stone.”

In a culture where somewhere between one in three and one in six women are sexually assaulted in their lives, and where almost every woman has at least once been a victim of stalking, sexual harassment, street harassment, or invasions of their consent and autonomy of all kinds, that last line isn’t cute, it isn’t funny and it certainly isn’t clever. It’s just really chilling, an echo of all of the times we’ve heard such promises from men who felt entitled to our bodies, and our time.

So since all that stuff is so incredibly clear — and since it’s been covered before — let me simplify this blog post down to a more bite-sized mission statement.

Ben Kaplan is my archnemesis.

This is the part where I, like Kaplan, insert myself into the story.

When I was 17, I tumbled into music journalism in the most awkward of ways. It was a fitting entrance for the most awkward of teens, and in my fall I found myself a home. So I cut off my hair and dyed it black and purple, and wore six-inch boots and lots of black leather. Or rather, pleather — freelance music journalism didn’t pay so well, back then.

I was still wearing all that when I was 20, leaning against the bar at a greasy dark dive while the metal bands raged and the night came alive, and this man sidled up to me and said — “You write for the Free Press, right? So what made you get into music writing?”

Because my mouth sometimes floods over with feeling, I dove into the question and told him everything: I told him about storytelling and the music, about the music and the words; I told him about the rush of the deadline. I even told him about how a misfit girl found herself a misfit’s home. I told him how in this world I could dance through the crowds and feel, finally, not so very alone.

“Nah,” he said. And he poked his fingers into my ribs and winked, like we were sharing a secret that I had yet to be told. “I know why you do this. You do this so you can meet the guys in bands.”

And I looked down at my body, at my boots and my pleather, and felt the hot flush of shame. After that, I smiled less, crossed my arms more. I kept my distance. I retreated from the men I had to interview.

Success, our culture never fails to remind us, is defined by men’s access to women. Even women’s success.

“One of the distinct pleasures of being a male Canadian music journalist is the opportunity every few years…”

“I’ll see you in another few years, Emily…”

No, Ben Kaplan. It doesn’t work like that. Being a music writer does not guarantee you access to Emily Haines, or her “lovely” publicist, or Norah Jones’ bedroom, or any other object of your lust.

And until you understand that, until you really and truly understand that, you will be my archnemesis.


+ My colleague Jen Zoratti at Winnipeg’s own Uptown Magazine did a blog on the topic too! Check out another voice from a rad music writer.

+ And another one! Natalie Zina Walschots, who I’ll just call @NatalieZed cause we met via this mess when we were totes ogling each other from across the Twitte, carries the dialogue forward in the Toronto Standard on how we need to do better. With everything. I agree! Let’s do that.

ETA: Well holy crap, I didn’t expect this to make its way around as much as it has. Thanks and cheers to those who enjoyed it, and to those who didn’t — that’s cool too. Thanks for dropping by and considering it, even if we don’t agree.

I have to close comments now because there’s a zillion in the queue, and half of them are blatant trolling. So as much as I’d normally enjoy further discussion, I frankly don’t have the time to wade through them by my lonesome. At least, not on a workday.