Toxic travel

I just returned from a sudden family visit to St. Catharines. Pleasant enough couple of weeks, and i do enjoy southern Ontario’s summer heat (until the humidex tops 35 degrees). But as with previous visits, i noticed again that whenever i go, i almost instantly compromise almost all the principles i live by, back home in BC.

2015-08-25 22.10.08Life in St. Cath is not set up the same as life in Tofino, and suddenly it’s near impossible to eat organic. Given my family’s tastes and the local restaurant options, vegetarianism is untenable. I don’t go near a bicycle, and i spend way more time in a car than i ever do at home. I frequent big box stores (even Walmart), and everything i eat or buy is packaged and wrapped and carried in plastic. I throw out way more than usual, and because we’re in an apartment block there’s no composting. I spend way more time on the couch in front of the TV.

Even clean air is rare, from the brown layer of smog over the Torontopolis across the lake to the miasma of chain-smoker stink and cleaning product that makes me hold my breath in the building hallway.

2015-08-31 starbucksThe compromises are built in everywhere. My 86-year-old mom has no Internet, so my visit is a continual scrounge for connectivity. My sister does have wi-fi, but she’s a smoker so the choice is offline with breathable air, or online in a smoke-filled room. That dilemma has me hanging out for hours a day in a corporate coffee chain (no name need be mentioned), gorging free wi-fi and guzzling brew from disposable, single-use paper cups with hardly a twinge of conscience.

St. Cath is actually a pleasant little city, with lots of lovely trees and interesting old brick houses and good food from the surrounding farms. But as a former factory town, it’s suburban to the absolute max: house culture and impressive churches on every second corner and kilometres of strip mall and shopping plaza, where car is king. And nobody i meet seems to have an inkling about climate or democracy or any of the big-picture issues that, back in Tofino, are part of the air we breathe.

On the better days, it’s a weird immersion in mainstream consumer culture — enjoyable if i lower my expectations and switch off my environmental conscience.

On the grim days, the place is utterly toxic in attitude and politics and habits.

BC is geographically as far away from ON as possible, and i think there’s a reason for that. It’s similar to the reason i choose to live there. And why i’m glad to be back.

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5 thoughts on “Toxic travel

  1. Greg, I was quite surprised at the hyperbole and though I haven’t been to St. Catherine’s in many years, it’s difficult to believe that it is ‘near impossible’ anywhere to find organic food or that vegetarianism is ‘untenable’. Same goes for cycling and using big box stores. Just out of curiosity I found 10 vegan/vegetarian restaurants in St. Catherine’s including Merge and Rise Above (love the self-righteous moniker) as well as 10 health food/organic groceries such as WellWellWell and Bamboo Natural Food markets. Maybe you were disoriented but I find it relatively easy to find what I need no matter where I happen to find myself (I have been vegetarian since 16 with sporadic bouts of veganism and for most of my adult life I either grow my own food or buy mostly organic.) I understand about the frustration of not getting around on a bike but maybe you could have borrowed one and explored on your own or rented one. (I also travel everywhere by bike). We can choose to visit Walmart or not. In other words, no one was twisting your arm. While I imagine it was a dramatic difference from Tofino, nothing need be compromised.

  2. Completely inderstand how you would feel this way but you did omit any mention of the Shaw Festival just down the road where you would have found plenty of stimulating political discussion. The Pygmalion I worked on is a powerful conversation about class set very convincingly right now.

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