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Aid Organization Gives Overseas Hungry Diet Food: Diet Giant Slim-Fast Gets Tax Write-Off For Donating Products

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), December 2-8, 1993

Doling out diet supplements to recipients of food aid may sound bizarre, but that’s what US diet giant Slim-Fast has been doing.

The company’s cans of powder have been distributed to the conflict-ridden former Soviet republic of Georgia and other parts of the collapsed Soviet Union by the aid agency Americares.

Critics say Slim-Fast is far from appropriate and is, at best, in bad taste. New York-based food-aid critic and writer Michael Maren says such contributions are simply the result of agencies being used as dumping grounds for tax write-offs.

As an example, he cites Somalia, where he recenly spent time researching an upcoming book critical of aid programs. Pharmaceutical firms, he charges, are dumping unnecessary drugs in that country.

“If you want to help people, give them what they need, not the crap we have around here. That a so-called aid agency would bring over Slim-Fast is absurd.

“The attitude that they should take any shit we give them – it’s arrogance,” says Maren, who believes many donors have a beggars-can’t-be-choosers attitude to people in need of help.

At Slim-Fast’s corporate headquarters in New York, Adena Pruzansky acknowledges that the donations are tax write-offs, but insists that their product is very nutritious. No one, she says, has complained about their contribution.

Powdered cure

“If you look at our powdered products, there is a lot of nutrition in there. Certainly for people who don’t have food, this is something that could be useful to them.”

A spokesperson for Connecticut-based Americares, which directs surpluses donated by 1,100 firms to relief operations in 80 countries, praises Slim-Fast.

“They are a fine group of humanitarians,” says Elizabeth Close.

“Americares was just written up in Money magazine as the most cost-effective nonprofit agency,” she says of the organization, whose donations consist of overstocked, discontinued or obsolete items.

“We only accept a product for donation when we know we have a home for it. So we are not giving something inappropriate,” she says.

Close provides no details, however, about Slim-Fast’s participation. “Without their permission, I’m not really supposed to go into any further description of what they donated,” she says.

But those who see the devastating effects of eating disorders on women say Americares exercises poor judgement when it accepts such diet supplements.

“I think it’s quite bizarre,” says Merryl Bear of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre. “Many of these diet plans are starvation diets. In many of the diets, the caloric intake is less than or equivalent to what the Nazi concentration camps delivered.”

Slim-Fast’s chocolate drink powder, for instance, is made of skim milk powder, sugar, whey powder, cocoa, fibre, calcium caseinate, corn oil, fructose, lecithin, salt and carrageenan. It relies on mixing with milk to gets its nutrition.

Lynne Martin of the Toronto Hospital’s eating disorder clinic says Americares is encouraging dieting among starving people who need calories first.

“Women need a minimum of 1,800 to 2,100 calories per day – to meet that requirement with Slim-Fast, you would need eight glasses per day,” she says.

Low calories

Martin say the low calories available in the supplement become even lower if recipients don’t have access to milk and try to mix it with water.

“The protein level isn’t given without the milk, so you don’t know how much is in the powder, but certainly the calories would change if one were to mix it with water.”

At food relief agency CARE in Ottawa, program officer Ivan Connoir says what “the hungry need isn’t Slim-Fast but what is called a human daily ration (HDR).

“It is prepared in the United States especially for emergencies. It has no pork, so it can go to any country,” he says. “It is a kind of lentil stew and vegetable soup – just add water and it’s ready to eat. You even find bread in it. It can last for years.

“Of course the best thing is family food parcels that last one month.”

Now Magazine
Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), December 2-8, 1993.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Counter Accusations Split Bathurst Quay Complex: Issues Of Sexual Assault, Racism At Centre Of Local Dispute

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), August 26-September 1, 1993

At the foot of Bathurst where the street disappears into the blue shimmer of Lake Ontario, a complex of apartment dwellers is bitterly divided over issues of public safety in a contest fraught with the tensions of race, class and gender.

Here in the seven-year-old neighbourhood of four co-ops and two municipally funded Cityhome buildings, activist opinion has hardened into factions with widely divergent views on one question – how safe is the Bathurst Quay community?

One group, an ad hoc collection of residents and concerned others is calling for an inquiry to investigate a list of alleged instances of sexual assault and harassment against women going back more than three years. Some of these say they cannot speak publicly for fear of retaliation by a coterie of violence-prone youth in the area.

And they say that they will not release the names of the alleged victims until confidentiality is assured by an independent inquiry.

But neighbourhood youth workers and some residents say this group hasn’t come forward with enough evidence to back their allegations, and that they are playing judge and jury. This collection of individuals, they say, are at best insensitive to the problems of Cityhome youth – many of whom are black – and at worst racist.

Forgotten youth

A year ago, Cityhome management commissioned a consultants report after residents reported the alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old girl, the presence of youth gangs with guns and drugs, and the sexual assault of young girls in the community centre.

The document, concluded in February, argued that the gang had disappeared, but admitted that it couldn’t come to any conclusion as to the validity of the accusations.

Some argue that the list of allegations is an over-reaction to the energies of under-class youth, and that what is essential is keeping communications with them open. Calling the police every time there is a problem, they say, only exacerbates tensions.

“My analysis of the situation is that there are a bunch of adults who have forgotten what it’s like to be youth,” says a community leader who prefers to remain nameless.

“There are youth who are angry, have done stuff, I see a lot of threatening happening, and it’s not by young black youth. It’s by articulate, middle-class white women. It’s sexist, ageist and racist.”

But members of the pro-inquiry group – many of whom belong to the safety committee of the Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood Association (BQNA) – say this point of view, which looks so politically correct, in reality favours young men over young women.

One resident who has been mintoring the situation and who fears physical assault if identified, says it’s important to link racial discrimination and sexual harassment, but women’s fears, she says, shouldn’t be sacrificed to make links with troubled youth.

“Community workers have made choices to privilege male youth,” the resident says. “Racial oppression and sexual oppression are bumping heads, but when young males engage in acts of crime they have to account for their actions. The safety group went many times to the community centre board about abuse in the neighbourhood, but the discussion was repressed. The racism charge is a silencing tool, preventing people from speaking out.”

Three arrested

Another resident of one of the Cityhomes, whose daughter was assaulted in the laundry room over two years ago, says she and other women have to deal constantly with taunting by local youth.

“We are known as the broad squad,” she says. “Three or four of us will defend each other in the courtyard. A lot are afraid to walk at night.”

Three of the youths accused of harassing tenants were arrested Sunday (August 22) for a hat-trick of armed robberies on Bathurst, according to Keith Cowling of 14 Division. Two are residents of Bathurst Quay, while a third, from nearby Maple Leaf Quay, regularly visits the area.

Pro-inquiry forces say they are stung by charges of racial unfairness, and say they want prominent womens’ and black community groups as investigators to ensure, as their pamphlet explains, an “anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-classist” resolution.

“It seems to me that whenever you say something, you are called a ‘racist’,” says Marlene Irwin, chair of BQNA and contact person for the pro-inquiry group.

“I feel we are doing male youth more of a favour (by calling for charges to be laid) than those protecting them for assault, harassment and break and enter,” she says.

Much of the attention of the ad hoc group focuses on the Harbourfront Community Centre (HCC) – a small, portable building, clean, unvandalized and decorated with posters depicting African-Canadian history.

Last month, a former youth worker who left the HCC circulated a hard-hitting document summarizing her experience at the centre. She says in it that there is an “apparent ‘normalizing’ of violence within the youth community that has been supported by various adults living and working in the community.”

She was, she says “physically assaulted at work. There was a general environment of abusiveness that frequently resulted in forceful behaviour.” There was, she says, daily physical, sexual and verbal bullying and manipulation by the young men towards the young women.

Washrooms and the office, she says, were dangerous places for young girls.

But HCC executive director, Leona Rodall, sitting in her office – a small janitor’s closet – with tears rolling down her face, denies that she allowed young women to be abused.

“The BQNA safety committee refused to meet with us,” she says. “We have nothing to hide, but what can we do if we don’t know what the incident is and when? Children’s Aid said there is nothing they can do without names and dates. If safety committee members have information of assaults by minors, they are liable to inform the CAS.”

The problems faced by youth in the community involve racism and poverty, and this means some aren’t Sunday-school types, she says.

Rodall supports an inquiry if it clears the air and investigates the validity of the alleged assaults.

HCC staff believe they are being singled out for blame for the community’s social problems because they are the only service there, and that some residents don’t like the mandate and approach of the HCC, where youth take priority and those charged with criminal acts are not excommunicated.

Youth worker Robin Ulster says some of the residents insult the youth. She argues that the conflict is a two-way street. She says the issue of public safety is being defined much too narrowly by those arguing for an inquiry.

“It should take into consideration the safety of youths who experience racism and poverty,” she says.

“All these incidents of young women being touched, or pushed into the washrooms, I haven’t seen it,” she says.

One black youth worker at the HCC who helps with the girl’s club, Tamara (she prefers not to use her last name), says rather than being harassed, the young women are very independent and confident.

Yuppie attitude

Residents are causing a self-fulfilling prophecy, by backing troubled black male youth against the wall. People who think the easy solution is to rely on police are expressing a “yuppie WASP attitude”, she says.

Black and white youth interviewed at the HCC say they don’t recognize the scenario the complainants paint. One of them, David, a 12-year-old who has lived in the community since its beginning seven years ago, says it is far safer than other Cityhomes he’s lived in, but “Some of them are prejudiced, nosy people.”

Toronto Councillor Liz Amer, who sits on the board of the HCC, says while she has helped women transfer out of the neighbourhood, the numbers have been no worse than in other Cityhomes.

“I know from time to time people do run into problems with neighbours,” says Amer. “The centre is trying to provide recreation services, not police.”

But Francis Gardner, chair of the tenant association at the Bishop Tutu Cityhome says many people are underestimating the menacing impact, particularly for women, of local teenage boys clustered outside the entrance.

“It’s easy to trivialize the loitering. But you have to step over their feet, and this lurking – they give young women the once over.”

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New Student Group Seeks 30 Percent Tuition Hike

Coalition hoping to be the “responsible” campus alternative

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), December 17-23, 1992

While the provincial government’s decision to eliminate most student grants has many students worrying about meeting the increasing costs of higher education, a new student group is lobbying the province to hike tuition.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) is a coalition of executives from student councils at the University of Toronto – the biggest in Canada – as well as Queen’s, Brock, the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier.

Those councils used to be members of the Ontario Federation of Students (OFS), the province’s major student organization, representing more than 200,000 students at 31 colleges and universities.

But there have been disagreements within the OFS over its policy that tuition fees be abolished. The five dissident student councils got together last month and launched OUSA to address what they say is “the worst underfunding crisis in recent memory.”

The group calls for a 30-per-cent increase in tuition over the next three years, an about-face from the stance of most mainstream student organizations, which call for, at the very least, a tuition freeze. Both the OFS and the Canadian Federation of Students have a zero-tuition policy.

“Until now, student groups have been whining, but our approach is reasonable,” says Farrah Jinha, president of U of T’s Students’ Administrative Council, which left OFS a decade ago. “OUSA is setting a limit on how much tuition can increase and with very specific conditions.”

OUSA’s plan calls for the provincial government to match, dollar-for-dollar, any increase in student fees. In conjunction with a 5-per-cent increase in private sector contributions, this would infuse an expected $360 million into higher education, says OUSA.

Political lobbyist Titch Dharamsi – a former vice-president of SAC and high-profile organizer for the Liberal party – has carried over his lobbying duties to OUSA.

Gimme gimme

Dharamsi says OUSA isn’t out to rival OFA and is just being “realistic.” “The public likes our ideas. They are real, workable solutions. We recognize the province’s fiscal problems. It’s not just ‘gimme, gimme’ anymore.”

Jinha says the policy positions of the OFS don’t have much in common with everyday student concerns.

“People felt it wasn’t worth the money,” she says. “Many students across the province were frustrated with OFS taking stands on non-student issues like abortion, decriminalizing marijuana or the Gulf war. We wanted a group which would focus more on issues like teaching quality and accessibility to funding.”

OUSA claims to represent 85,000 students. Staff have been hired and equipment purchased for the group’s unmarked office in the suites of a University Avenue law firm. “We are in this for the long haul,” Dharamsi says.

OUSA has caught the eye of colleges and universities minister Richard Allen, whose party shares a zero-tuition policy with the OFS. But now that the NDP finds itself governing during a recession, Allen’s views sound more like OUSA’s.

“The party policy on tuition is symbolic,” he says. “It says we want to address barriers to post-secondary education.”

Student quits

One student representative on U of T’s Students’ Administrative Council, Jason Zeidenberg, resigned when SAC decided to join OUSA.

“The process hasn’t involved students,” says Zeidenberg. “It is a policy for student politicians, not students. OUSA has no constitution, no financial structure, no mechanism for individual students to bring questions forward. It is an undemocratic, fly-by-night institution.

“Until they justify their expenditures, they are under suspicion of being a front group to legitimize policies like raising tuition.”

OUSA isn’t legally obliged to incorporate itself or provide a constitution or accountable executive. The group operates much like a club, with member council executives making decisions collectively, and funds coming out of member unions’ budgets.

Joining OFS requires a student referendum, but because of OUSA’s quasi-ad-hoc status, no such vote is needed to join the new group.

Dharamsi says this approach is cost-effective and flexible. He says OUSA has spent around $10,000 to date, but can’t offer a fixed budget.

Zeidenberg hs organized several college and faculty student unions at U of T to demand that SAC hold a referendum about membership in OUSA.

Craft doesn’t feel that OUSA is a threat. “I’m not losing sleep over it,” he says. “We’re considered the representatives of students in Ontario.”

Recently, however, the University of Western Ontario pulled out of OFS and is currently negotiating with OUSA about joining. Western’s departure takes another 20,000 students and precious dollars with them, and funding cuts have led OFS to lay off staff.

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Peaceniks Questioning Air-Raid Strategy In Bosnia

Muslims say peaceful alternatives will aid cleansing

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), May 13-19, 1993

While Bosnian Muslims continue to demand either airstrikes against the Serbians or weapons to defend themselves, there is little consensus among Canadian peace groups and political parties that these measures are the key to a long-lasting peace.

The differences are as graphic as those between Washington and Ottawa. While president Bill Clinton is asking European nations to support air strikes, prime minister Brian Mulroney has publicly opposed such bombing raids as an answer to the brutal ethnic cleansing of Muslims being carried out by the Serbs.

“We are still developing our position in terms of support for military intervention,” says Roxanne Dube, assistant to Liberal foreign policy critic Lloyd Axworthy.

Dube says, “We need something more comprehensive than just airstrikes, which alone could jeopardize our troops.”

NDP foreign affairs critic Svend Robinson is more willing to consider military action under UN auspices. But first he wants “a vice-like embargo on Serbia and the establishment of safe havens and humanitarian corridors.

“If the slaughter continues, I personally would not exclude the posibility of further military action,” he says.

“The response of the United Nations, and NATO in particular, has been appallingly inadequate. It has allowed the Bosnian Serbs to consolidate their territorial position. And their latest sabotage of the Vance/Owen proposal has left the international community with no alternative but to isolate Serbia.

“The Bosnian Serbs are just continuing their widespread rape of Muslim women, ethnic cleansing, torture – the world has got to say, stop.”

Among peace groups there is a feeling that military intervention is not a longterm solution.

“We don’t have a position,” says Tamara Storic of Greenpeace Canada, a response echoed by the Toronto Disarmament Network. “We’re in much the same situation as the UN. Nobody knows what to do.”

No position

The Canadian Peace Alliance’s Gideon Forman understands the frustration that fuels calls for bombing, but doesn’t believe it is a longterm solution.

“Those who say go in there and bomb are not all crazy,” he says. “They hear about ethnic cleansing, they hear about rape camps – and they see bombing as a way to stop that. But our position is that a little more restraint has to be shown.”

He advocates a combination of sanctions and diplomacy for a longterm peaceful solution.

Maggie Helwig of ACT for Disarmament says she has little to offer in the short term, pointing out, “Maybe at this point there is little anyone can do.” She is also sympathetic to those who want to arm Bosnian Muslims, but feels it wouldn’t help the situation.

She says, “I believe they are the legitimate government. But providing weapons is not going to contribute to a lasting peace.”

Helwig favours targeted sanctions that would allow opposition organizations in Serbia to receive supplies while the government wouldn’t, combined with international support for peace and opposition groups.

“The only way we can end the Serbian aggression to to support the opposition in Serbia, the peace movement and the women’s movement. The reason they aren’t having much influence is that they aren’t getting any international support.”

Fatima Basic, spokesperson for the Canadian Bosnian refugee groups, says that while she supports Helwig’s plans for helping opposition and women’s groups, she is angry that it is being put out as an alternative to military intervention and air strikes. She says the West “should have done something before we lost half a million people.”

Imam Tajib Pasanbegovic, religious leader of Canadian Bosnian Muslims, says of Helwig’s thoughts, “It’s a ridiculous idea by itself. It will take several years, and by then there will be no Bosnian Muslims left. There is not time. Imagine if we gave this chance to Hitler in the second world war – another 5 million Jews would have disappeared.”

Both he and Basic are bitter that while Clinton seeks European support for bombing, “Prime minister Brian Mulroney is going behind his back telling the world not to interfere.”

Life embargo

Pasanbegovic says if the West will not intervene with at least half the bombing if did in the Gulf War, “They should life the arms embargo and return things to a starting point. If the West is not going to defend us, at least let us defend ourselves.”

However, Carolyn Langdon of Voice of Women, a peace group working with peace and women’s organizations in the former Yugoslav republics, says, “Our position is against intervention, including limited military strikes. We are supporting the civil society groups, the opposition against the nationalism and war policies of their governments.”

Her group sets up rape crisis centres and sponsors women to come to Canada to raise awareness.

David Isenverg, a senior research analyst at the left-leaning Washington-based Center for Defense Information, says sources tell him that the Clinton administration believes air strikes are only a means of levelling the playing field for the Muslims.

He says a Pentagon report released this Wednesday will discredit the claims of air strikes’ accuracy, citing failures during the Gulf War. Clinton will decide on air strikes after Saturday’s referendum in Bosnia, when Serbs will vote on whether to accept a Western peace plan.