Five Things I Learned This Week


It’s not Amazon, and it’s ingenious. Some brilliant soul created — a local guide to small businesses in Toronto, Halifax and Calgary. The landing page for the Toronto section says:

“Everyone in here is a very important and very dreamy small business in Toronto and the GTA offering curb-side pickup or shipping during these weirdass times.

Feel free to peruse the full list or shop by category.

I hope this in some way feels like exploring this very great city of ours!

Please submit your favourite small business while you’re here too if you’d like :)))

xo Ali Haberstroh”

Imagine my joy upon finding over 20 bookstores, all in one easy-to-access place. No judgement, especially since I’ll soon be selling my children’s book on Amazon, but shopping locally, supporting small businesses, just feels better.

Big up yuhself, Ali Haberstroh.

2. The Difference Between Soy and Soya

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

While out looking for Textured Vegetable Protein aka TVP, a life-long mystery I’ve been carrying around rose to the surface again: What’s the difference between soy and soya?

Let me backup a bit. TVP is often used as a substitute for meat, especially minced meat, and I was looking for it to recreate a vegan chilli dish a friend had made (no, I’m not vegan, I’m just down to try things). I went looking for TVP in one of our local shops and was pointed in the direction of some product that had “soya” written across the front. Soya? I thought TVP was a soy product. But before telling dude that wasn’t what I was looking for, I Googled it. Turns out, the difference between soy and soya is that “soy” is the term used most commonly in the U.S., and “soya” is more often used in the U.K. That’s it. Since I like to think of Canada as the best of both worlds, I assume we use both terms with the exact same frequency.

3. The Poisoned Antilles

Banana plantation, Martinique. Photo by Jonathan Jean-Baptiste.

In my quest to relearn/properly learn French, I started listening to a few French podcasts, one of which is called Kiffe ta race, hosted by Rokhaya Diallo and Grace Ly. In a recent episode, the topic was The Poisoned Antilles: The Chlordecone Scandal.

Chlordecone, also known as commercially as kepone, is primarily used as an insecticide. Science Direct cites a number of references that outline the harmful consequences of the chemical, and the fact that it’s harmful is the reason why it was banned in many places around the world including France. Curiously, the chemical was still being used in France’s Caribbean territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique into the 1990s. This episode featured Jessica Oublié, illustrator and creator of the graphic novel that documents the effects of chlordecone in the Caribbean, called Tropiques toxiques.

The translation of the French summary on Kiffe ta race’s site says:

“In Guadeloupe and Martinique, 9 out of 10 people are contaminated by chlordecone, a pesticide used for more than 40 years in banana plantations. Presented as a miracle remedy against pests by agricultural science, this molecule has caused an unprecedented environmental and health crisis in these territories. Despite its French ban in 1990, chlordecone was used until 1993 in the West Indies, and even beyond, with the complacency of health agencies and the food industry.”

It just so happens that Guadeloupe and Martinique also have some of the highest rates of prostate cancer in the world.

4. Pero de Buen Rollo

El Chojin

“Buen rollo” in Spanish (from Spain) means something like “good vibes” and it’s at the core of Spanish rapper El Chojin’s new YouTube channel. I met El Chojin in Bogota, Colombia after one of his shows (he was doing a series of smaller meet-and-greet type sessions where the audience was given the chance to ask whatever they wanted). He made himself available to everyone who attended, before and after the event, and he made time for me to interview him for Global Narrative afterwards. El Chojin is one of Spain’s pioneering rappers and also one of the coolest strangers I’ve ever met. What makes his new project so interesting is that he talks to a diverse* group of people about pretty much anything. If you enjoy good conversations and understand Spanish, I suggest you echar un vistazo al canal.

[*I'm sure he plans to get more women on his channel. Soon.]

5. John James Audubon

Painting by John James Audubon

This week, I learned about a man named John James Audubon. Audubon was a scientist and artist whose work, Birds of Nature (which contains 435 life-size images of North American birds), is credited for significant advancements in the field of ornithology (a branch of zoology that deals with birds). Various websites describe him as a lover of nature and birds. says “He is remembered as one of the most important naturalists of his era, and his respect and concern for the natural world clearly marks him as one of the forefathers of the modern conservationism and environmentalism movements.” I mean, talk about hype.

There is one, small, disturbing detail though: Audubon killed the birds in order to paint them. Yes, apparently this is one of the things that made him so notable. Audubon introduced the “innovative” method of using wires to fix his recently killed models in life-like positions. This blog from the National Portrait Gallery says, “He killed thousands of birds and cruelly experimented on many animals, including catfish, a bald eagle, and his very own hunting dog.”

Word on the street is he also enslaved people, so I guess that makes that 2, not-so-small disturbing details.




I’m a writer and teacher from Toronto, with roots abroad and interests everywhere.

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Alison Isaac

Alison Isaac

I’m a writer and teacher from Toronto, with roots abroad and interests everywhere.

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