Recall These Thoughts
Inanity from Scott Lougheed, PhD

My regular reader will have noticed recent change to the appearance of Recall These Thoughts. For the second time in one year I’ve changed blog platforms. You, dear reader, will likely remember the move away from Squarespace over to Wordpress. This was motivated as both a cost-saving measure and a way to gain a bit of additional flexibility. I love Squarespace, but a big part of having a blog for me is having a little toy to tinker with. Wordpress offered a bit more of that type of freedom.

But Wordpress has its downsides. For one, it was very difficult to modify templates. The CSS was was already condensed and extremely complex – thus largely inscrutable. This made some template modifications difficult to make. Moreover, if you neglected to make a child template prior to making all of your changes (as I did) and an update is issued to your template, you’re in for a world of hurt.

I also found the backend to be “weighty”. There was a lot of stuff back there, a lot of things I didn’t need. The editor was a bit fussy, it didn’t always handle markdown very well, and it really just offered more than I needed.

Overall Wordpress was just too much and not really that fun to play with. It is a powerful and popular platform, but it didn’t offer me the type of tinkering I really yearned for. I wanted something a little simpler, a little faster, a little more fun to play with for this amateur coder.

I had tried to install Jekyll about a year ago. Jekyll is a Ruby and Liquid based static website generator. Having no familiarity with Ruby and only the most basic competence with the command line, I got hung up and frustrated with Jekyll.

Fast forward about a year. During an evening of being unable to sleep I poked around and worked on installing Jekyll once more. Sure enough I was able to get it installed, located a template that would make a good foundation for my site, and off I went learning and tweaking. At this point things moved quickly. While unfamiliar with SASS as a styling language, it’s a lot like CSS with which I am extremely familiar. I found my way around the single CSS file quickly and learned with little trouble the classes that were used in the various layout files.

I also got the hang of the Liquid variables that Jekyll uses, making theme modification even easier. I even went ahead and created a few conditional loops to auto-detect when I make a “linked list” style post and have it format that correctly and offer a permalink.

I used Ben Balter’s Jekyll Exporter Wordpress plugin to export my posts from Wordpress, which it did with amazing accuracy. There were a few things that needed tidying that got a bit messed up converting from HTML to markdown, but most of that could be accomplished using find and replace. Beyond that I had all my old posts locked and loaded, my theme thoroughly customized, and was ready to pull the trigger. I synced the built site from my development directory to my host, and the new site launched with only a couple hitches.

So what is the payoff? The biggest payoff is, perhaps, that the site loads about 4X faster and is about 1/8th the size. This is important for me because I have extremely cheap hosting, and I value the experience of my one regular reader.

The other payoff is portability. My posts are written in markdown and live in a directory on my computer. They are not in an SQL database with a bunch of auto-generated HTML. While there are ways to write and backup posts for Wordpress, Jekyll’s workflow has easy writing, local storage, and portability built into the process.

There is still work to be done, for sure. I have to migrate some more content over, fix a few posts that broke way back during the Squarespace migration, and I have a lot of little styling tweaks. But overall I’m very pleased with Jekyll and I look forward to making lots more content to enjoy.

Jesse Jackson, Centre for Food Safety writes:

In a letter sent directly to the president the renowned civil rights activist called attention to the “serious inequities [in the] GMO labeling legislation.” The bill would allow companies to use QR codes in place of on-package labeling to disclose product information. In the letter Jackson points out the discriminatory nature of such a labeling system;

“100,000,000 Americans, most of them poor, people of color and elderly either do not own a smart phone or an iPhone to scan the QR code or live in an area of poor internet connectivity….There are serious questions of discrimination presented here and unresolved matters of equal protection of the law. I am asking you to veto this bill and to send it back to Congress with instructions to correct this fatal flaw.”

There are so many issues with using QR codes to convey something a logo can do in the same space. The obvious classism, racism, and ageism are just the start. I’m a young, white, educated iPhone owner and I can’t be troubled to pull my phone out and scan every QR code on the shelf.

I think the emerging technology around QR codes on products to facilitate supply chain transparency, country of origin, and other detailed information about the product is a valuable pursuit and is very different from GMO disclosure. In most cases the information provided to the consumer by scanning these QR codes is considerably more detailed, including, as is the case of VG Meats sold at Longos in Toronto, measures of tenderness, recipes, and information about the specific cut of meat. This information is valuable to interested consumers and far exceeds what can be put on a table.

A GMO label, in contrast, is intended to allow the consumer to know whether that product contains GMO ingredients or not, just like the irradiation labelling that is mandatory on all irradiated products.

Yes, GMO and irradiation are complex, and the nuance can’t easily or accurately be conveyed by a mere indicator label. The reality is many people have already formed strong opinions about GMOs and even the well-crafted marketing that would inevitably be linked to by those QR codes is unlikely to change a consumer’s mind.

Of course, the real issue is a fear among manufacturers that explicit GMO labels will deter consumers from purchasing those products, opting instead for those without GMO labels (where an non-GMO alternative exists). This is a very real concern, but I don’t think hiding behind QR codes is the right approach No matter how you slice it this is a weasel tactic that is deceitful and ultimately undermines everything GMO labeling is supposed to facilitate. Just label it properly.

Health Canada recently announced a regulatory initiative which would allow beef processors to sell irradiated ground beef. I was invited to speak to Calgary’s Kingkade and Breakenridge on NewsTalk 770 about what this initiative might mean. The interview went well, and Rob and Roger are both thoughtful and insightful radio hosts, but there was a lot that didn’t get covered. I’ll expand on some of those thoughts here.

In 2002 Health Canada (not for the first time) put forward an initiative to allow for the sale of irradiated ground beef, but that was abandoned as a result of resounding negative feedback (from consumers, the public, or “activists” depending on your perspective). Between then and now, a considerable amount has changed. Landmark food safety events such as the deadly Maple Leaf Listeriosis outbreak in 2008 and XL Foods E. coli beef recall in 2012, which remains Canada’s largest – among numerous other high-profile recalls and outbreaks – have coincided with a growing public awareness of food safety and other issues related to food safety and provenance. More than ever, consumers want to know about where their food comes from, how it’s made, and most importantly that it is safe (e.g., Lockie 2002; Busa and Garder 2014). Indeed, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is confident that the public (or at least those outspoken members of the public) have changed course. Regardless of the changes in the last 15 years, there is doubt about whether or not Health Canada’s proposal will be successful. Putting aside the perceived risks, the court of public opinion is often a hard sell, and understandably so. The circumstances in which we encounter radiation are almost universally negative: cancer treatment, x-rays, air travel, nuclear disasters, and World War II to name a few.

Despite what critics say, the scientific evidence suggests that nutrient loss and toxics production is limited or non-existent, which is considerably less than what cooking itself would introduce. Moreover, consumers also seem to forget that their pre-washed salads, sprouts, and peeled carrots are treated with chlorine, while other products are treated with ammonia (let’s also not forget the many instances in which lye is used in very traditional foods like hominy, bagels, and pretzels).

Even if we accept that there is a small health risk associated with consuming irradiated beef, as many have pointed out, the risk from foodborne pathogens is far greater and far more immediate. As I said in my interview, if you want to avoid toxins and carcinogens, you’d best stop eating cooked meat altogether.

Health Canada will require beef producers to label irradiated products. I think this is a critical part of the proposal that is non-optional. Absolutely consumers should have the ability to identify irradiated food, and anything that enhances transparency in the food system more generally should be pursued. However, this will be hard for industry who have to convince consumers to buy the meat with the irradiated label, which may well be sitting next to a tray of meat that was not irradiated. It’s a difficult set of choices from a consumer’s standpoint: did something happen to the meat that required it to be irradiated? The non-irradiated stuff is fine as long as I cook it correctly (where’s my meat thermometer again?). Evidence of this consumer ambivalence is demonstrated by Costco in the US, where irradiated beef has not sold well. As Craig Wilson, Costco Food Safety Chief suggests of irradiated beef: “Mom wouldn’t buy it”, even if the risk from foodborne illness is in fact higher, and more dire.

Ultimately, while industry is one of the primary supporters of irradiation, I am not sure how quickly it will be taken up without a coordinated, industry-wide effort. Who in industry will have the guts to be the first on the shelf with the new irradiation label? How will industry and the Canadian government ensure there isn’t an “irradiated ghetto”? How do we prevent competition and marketing based on (non-)irradiation, such as the development of a premium niche of non-irradiated beef? I suspect we’ll see either an irradiated ghetto as demonstrated by Costco in the US, or a non-irradiated premium niche. Either way the beef industry has a marketing challenge on its hands here, should irradiation be permitted in Canada.

The industry challenges aside, I look critically, though not dismissively, on the prospect of irradiation. Numerous commentators, including Rick Holley, food scientist at University of Winnipeg suggests that we’ve run out of regulatory power and that because “pathogen contamination in processing plants cannot be prevented…if we really want to prevent outbreaks, we have to look at expanded use of irradiation”. However, he also suggests that irradiation will not protect against industry incompetence. I don’t entirely disagree with Holley and other commentators who seem to suggest that XL Foods is a shining example of why we need irradiation, that it might have prevented or limited the (already rather small) outbreak, but there’s a lapse in logic. A major contributing factor to the XL Foods recall was a “weak food safety culture” and that ultimately “it was all preventable”. The company failed to clean its equipment, maintain its plant, respond to CFIA corrective action requests, and actively practice its recall plan.

The conclusion of the independent reviewers of the XL Foods incident runs contrary to many commentators’ primary arguments in favour of radiation, using precisely the same case as evidence. I don’t buy the idea that we’ve run out of regulatory tricks to reduce foodborne pathogens upstream. The XL Foods recall didn’t take place because we’re at the end of our regulatory rope; it happened because both the CFIA and XL Foods dropped the ball. Based on the commentary from supporters like Holley, irradiation would have either done nothing at all (being incapable of overcoming industry incompetence, as he argues), or it would have allowed one or both to get away with a (rather protracted) moment of weakness, potentially leaving the profligate issues at the XL Foods plant to remain unresolved.

I hesitate to outright reject irradiation of ground beef and other products. Foodborne illness is a significant burden on the public health system of Canada and can profoundly impact the lives of victims. In line with my own research on food waste, it is also a non-trivial source of food waste. XL Foods alone resulted in over 5.5 million kilograms of beef being landfilled, which is equivalent to approximately 12,000 cattle. Just this week, General Mills announced that it is recalling over 10 million pounds of flour in the US due to potential E. coli contamination. There are over 300 recalls per year in Canada and over 1000 per year in the United States. If irradiation could prevent even a few of these recalls, it would be a significant improvement in terms of public health and food waste. For example, as Holley suggests (alas, we do not disagree on everything!), irradiating poultry alone would reduce foodborne illness in Canada by 25% and an inestimable quantity of recalled food from being destroyed.

Taken together, I don’t buy the popular criticisms of irradiation, but I think we need proceed with caution. I think irradiation is a reasonable compliment to a holistic farm to fork food safety system that includes regulators with teeth and clout working with competent food producers and processors who feel those teeth when they step out of line. It was the absence of this dynamic that contributed to the XL Foods recall, which has become the poster child for supporters of irradiation. As Health Canada moves forward with the public consultation over irradiating ground beef, let’s take a reasoned and critical approach without knee-jerk reactions that dismiss science, or conversely dismiss the concerns of the public (or activists therein). Most importantly, let’s take this as an opportunity to examine how irradiation can fit in to a comprehensive food safety system while we make the system as a whole stronger, because there’s plenty of room to improve.

Okay, so perhaps not precisely the month of May, but starting in late April there’s been a spat of recalls attributable to Listeria in Canada and the United States. Looking at the CFIA recall listings for the first 10 days of May:

And if we look into the last week of April we also get:

Needless to say, for the last two weeks Listeria has had a field day in Canada. The United States is not exempt! In what Juska et al (2003) refer to as the “amplification” of food safety threats, or what Stericycle call the “multiplier effect”, listeria contamination from SunOpta Inc., a sunflower seed supplier has resulted in a massive cascade of recalls across the United States.

This series of recalls includes Sunflower Seed Snacks, trail mix, protein bars, Brown and Haley Chocolate snacks, and perhaps most stunningly 17 tons of Trader Joe’s salad.

Similarly, frozen vegetables from CRF Foods in Pasco Washington were recalled on April 23rd and subsequently expanded on May 2 to include over 42 brands and 358 products (notably, just in time for Listeria Month!)

It is rather stunning how far an error at a single supplier can reach in the contemporary food system. It almost seems as if we are reaching a level of consolidation and concentration in which the industry is too big to fail. The last two weeks has seen tens of tons of food pulled from the market and destroyed as a result of mistakes made by only a few companies… and this is only the beginning of Listeria Month!

As I wrap up a semester of teaching a third year university class and I prepare to present at the American Association of Geographers conference next week, I’ve been thinking about presentations, presentations, presentations. We’ve all seen it, or perhaps been there ourselves: The previously well-composed presenter now desperately trying to wake their computer up so we can move to the next slide, or scrambling to close embarrassing browser tabs and email messages only to then fish through a slew of personal files to locate the presentation file. It’s unpleasant to experience this from either side of the podium. It can disrupt the flow of our presentation, undo the polished public persona we work hard to cultivate, or reveal information we might prefer kept private. I have seen veteran academics, part of whose job is to regularly give presentations, melt into an embarrassed and frustrated mess. This has always been surprising for me. It is the things we do on a regular basis in our jobs that we should have mastered, the kinks long-ago ironed out. For some reason when it comes to technology this seems not to be the case. The beautiful thing is you can stop embarrassing yourself when you make presentations with very little effort, and you’ll thank yourself every time you need to present. I will walk you through my setup for giving presentations without embarrassing technological gaffs. It’ll take you $0 and about 20 minutes to have yourself set up the same. The added bonus is that you’ll never have to fear for your security if you’re sharing your computer at conferences, too. In this post I guide you through the process of setting up a computer user account dedicated to giving presentations.

Create a new user account

We want to make a little presentation “silo”, a secure enclave sterilized of your personal information. We don’t want cutesy desktop wallpapers, sensitive email notifications, and personal information in this silo; it needs to be as generic as possible. This allows us to hand off our computer to fellow presenters knowing that they won’t be rooting around our personal files. It also means we can set up the account to try and prevent technical issues. The best way to do this is to create a new user account without administrative privileges. This is fairly straightforward in Mac OS X. This is a good time to make sure you have a password enabled for your own user account, and that your computer is not set to auto log-in. Make sure the password for your personal user account is strong too, because that’s just common sense. It is critically important that you have your personal user account well-protected. Your personal account is likely an administrative account, so you want to make sure that only you know the password to allow administration-level changes to your computer. This prevents anyone using the Presentation account from accessing your personal files and making changes to the software. You’ll want to password protect your dedicated presentation account so I do recommend a password, but make it easy. If you are sharing your computer with other presenters you want them to be able to troubleshoot their own problems, and allowing them to restart the machine and log back into the presentation account without bother you is important. An easy to communicate and remember password is helpful here.

Configure your new user account

Now you have a generic user account that cannot access any of your personal files or make changes to your system. Now we need to configure this account. It will be tailor-made for giving presentations and to make the process as smooth as possible for you or your guest presenter. Make external drives easy to find

Make all the small tweaks

Since this is a vanilla user account, we’ll need to go in and tweak all the little OS X settings to our liking. I want to see my disk drives on the desktop, I want the sidebar text to be set to “small”, I want tap-to-click on my trackpad as well as two-finger-right-clicking. Take a moment and set things up to be comfortable. Most importantly: Make sure Finder is configured to show external drives on the desktop. If your guest presenter is loading a file from a thumb drive you want that drive to be dead-easy to find.

Don’t log into anything

This is key. No iCloud, no email, no iMessages, no Google, no anything. Don’t do it. Do not sync your contacts, calendars, bookmarks, nothing. You don’t need any of that in this account and you don’t want a co-presenter to be wading through that crap either. The one exception is Dropbox, and I’ll explain why below.

Clear the dock

Regardless of how you like it with your personal account, make the dock visible, and perhaps a little larger than you’d normally like it. Now remove everything from the dock except the essential presentation-giving items. My presentation dock looks like this:

Minimal presentation dock.

You want to have only the essential tools at hand. You aren’t going to be checking your email on this user account, so why have Mail in the dock, right? You’ll notice that I’ve included System Preferences. I don’t normally have this in my dock on my main account, but here, it’s nice to have it immediately at hand should something go awry and you need to change a setting on the fly. ### Set your defaults {#set-your-defaults} I don’t have Flash installed on my computer and I use Safari as my default browser. Since Google Chrome has Flash built into the browser I keep it around just in case I encounter a site that, god help me, requires Flash. If I encounter a site in Safari, I just quickly switch to Chrome for that short while. Having Chrome as the default here means that if I click any links, I know they’ll open in a Flash-Friendly browser. But remember, you aren’t the only one using this Presentation account, and your guest presenters may not be as tech savvy as you. You also can’t anticipate what kind of content your guest presenters might be displaying. Having Chrome as the default ensures that if you or your guest presenter needs flash, you aren’t doing the browser-juggle just to get things right.

A little amphetamine goes a long way

Avoid having your display fall asleep in the middle of a presentation by installing a small and free utility called Amphetamine (Mac App Store link). This menu bar utility prevents your computer’s display from falling asleep regardless of what your system preferences settings are. In my presentation account I have Amphetamine set up to launch at log-in and to be enabled by default (I also use Amphetamine on my main user account but not in this way). This means you never have to think about your display settings when giving a presentation. As soon as you or your co-presenter logs into the presentation account, Amphetamine is enabled.

Default Amphetamine Settings in Presentation Account

You can, of course, simply adjust the “Energy Saver” settings for this user account to set the display to “never sleep”, but I appreciate that Amphetamine offers a visual indicator of it’s current status. Another advantage is that, should I need to, I can make an adjustment a bit more easily compared to the Energy Saver settings. Also, since I run Amphetamine on my main user account (though in a much different way), I have it installed anyway, so why not use it?

Share only the right files, only the right way.

You won’t be doing any actual presentation-building in the presentation account, in fact you’ll spend almost no time in this account aside from actually delivering the presentation! That means you’ll need a way of getting your presentations from your main user account to your presentation account. I have several mechanisms in place to facilitate this: Dropbox Selective Sync and /Users/Shared folder. They serve different purposes.

A dedicated sharing folder

In the /Users/Shared folder, I created a folder called “Presentations”. This /Shared folder is accessible to all user accounts on the computer, regardless of their administrative status. This means anything you put in where while logged into your main account is accessible to your Presentation account. In my presentation account I created a desktop shortcut to this folder too, again, to make things as obvious and accessible as possible for myself or anyone else who might be presenting from my computer. This system works very well in situations where I am emailed a presentation in advance from a co-presenter, or for when I do one-off presentations such as at conferences. Once the slides are finalized or received by email, while logged into my main user account I place a copy of the presentation in /Users/Shared/Presentations and I know it will be accessible from the Presentation user account. This folder is also only modifiable by an administrative user, which means that in order to delete or add a file when logged into the presentation account you’ll have to enter the admin user name and password. This protects against any guest presenters doing unwanted modifications to contents of this folder. Of course, the cloud is nearly ubiquitous these days, but we are setting things up to use a minimum number of logged-in accounts, so minimizing the number of services in use is ideal. Also, as we’ve all experienced, some venues can have little or no wireless internet access. We don’t want our system to be brought to its knees because it relied on an internet connection.


Dropbox is the only exception to the “Log Into Nothing” rule. Most of my work is stored in Dropbox, but only a small amount of that work is actual presentation files, so I don’t want all of it to be accessible to the presentation account, nor do I want it all duplicated on my hard drive. Since I give presentations in my course lectures every week, I don’t want to manually move files into and out of /Users/Shared/Presentations; doing so on a regular basis is error-prone and it can be a bit frustrating if last-minute course announcements need to be added to lecture slides. It is therefore ideal to be able to have lecture material live in only one place. To do this I set up Dropbox on the Presentation account to sync only the folder that contains those presentations, and nothing else. This prevents all that other Dropbox data from being accessible from your Presentation account and occupying space on your computer. This strategy is best for content that you will be accessing on a very regular basis and for long stretches of time. Courses are 4 months long and occur every week, so this is the ideal situation to set up selective sync for that content rather than moving one or more lecture presentations into and out of /Users/Shared/Presentation multiple times a week.

Thumb Drives

This is, of course, the easiest. On presentation day, your co-presenters can just plug a thumb drive in and be ready to rock and roll. You’ve already indicated in the Finder’s preferences that external drives should show up on the desktop so there should be no difficulty in locating the file! ### Open everything for the first time In order to ensure a nice smooth presentation, you’ll want to take a moment right now to open every application that you expect might be used: your web browsers, your presentation software, insert a thumb drive, and so on. Just take each program for a spin. If you will be on an institutional wireless network such as the one at your university, be prepared to re-login to that with this new user account (remember, no iCloud Keychain to pass along your credentials!). By going through this process now instead of on presentation day, you’ll deal with all those one-time-only first-launch dialogue boxes that all applications inevitably display. You may also find you need to re-authorize your Office 365 credentials if you are using any Microsoft software. Better to do that now, rather than scrambling moments before you or a guest presents! ### Take advantage of Fast User Switching

Fast User Switching in OS X

OS X offers the ability to have multiple users logged into the computer at one time. This means you can easily switch between your main user account and your presentation account without needing to close applications or log out (Though you might want to remember to close any file you plan to open on the other account!). ### A word about Windows {#a-word-about-windows} If you’re reading thing and work on a Windows machine, all of these principles are transferable, the steps may just be a bit different.

You’re now a presentation ninja

This seems like a rather daunting list of steps, but in reality you should be up and running in 20-30 minutes and you’ll never have to do it again. You can now enjoy your secure little presentation silo, free from embarrassing notifications and narcoleptic computer displays.

In an earlier piece I challenged the notion that the defect-to-donation model is a way of solving food waste and food security issues. Essentially I argued that stocking food bank shelves should never be considered a move towards resolving food security. It is not. The very existed of food banks, and their shelves, points to the pervasiveness and persistence of food insecurity. Moreover, the growing trend towards diverting food from landfill to food banks for quality or safety defects isn’t a solution to food waste, it’s a clear indicator of excess and the inflation of standards to match. It’s hubris. It is dehumanizing. It is opportunistic.

We do not want our food banks to exist. We look forward to a time when they disappear. We do not want to get too comfortable. We must resist the temptation to expand. I do not think having a food bank on every street corner is a way for our society to go. Foodbanks must do their best to remain ‘unusual’.

Nigel Webster, food bank manager, quoted in The Guardian UK

A recent article in the Guardian UK reasserts the well-known trend that indicates food bank use has become routine for a growing number of people. What’s troubling for the various people interviewed is the absence of any mechanism to lift people out of food bank-reliance. Indeed, the absence of an “exit strategy” is further evidence of the extent to which the state (of the UK, of Canada, or the US; the situation isn’t terribly different) is already failing to address the root causes of food insecurity. Initiatives such as those developed between the USDA and industry to divert food from landfill to charities, detailed in my previous post, furthers the tendency towards state-non-involvement and reaffirms the sloughing off of responsibility for social welfare to industry and civil society. Though none of this comes as a surprise, it aligns well with the political trends of the last 30 years, it is nevertheless disappointing.

This could have disastrous consequences.

Transport Canada

On this, the day Doc and Marty arrive in the future, the Canadian federal government has a sense of humour. Don’t worry though, Doc Brown’s got a fix. 

The Swiss Network for International Studies has been doing work on food consumption in various regions around the world under the Food Consumption project. They’ve recently released two short films about Eating In and Food Waste in Bangalore and Eating Out and Food Waste in Metro Manila

While the videos are quite short, and offer only quick glimpses into people’s food prep and consumption tendencies, I thoroughly enjoyed these videos for a number of reasons. The broader cultural differences in shopping, preparation, and domestic roles is rather compelling, and is important to remember when we think about our own tendencies. 

I was also interested in some of the recent shifts that have taken place to change food dynamics, such as the increased tendency for both parents to work outside of the house, the availability of domestic help, and the growing prevalence of supermarkets. 

Finally, I appreciated the little glimpses of household cooking areas. I’m always fascinated by people’s kitchens, the differences and similarities between them, and what they can accomplish in those spaces. 

While these are just bitesized little videos, I encourage you to take a peek. 

The United States government wants to reduce their food waste by half by 2030:

the U.S. federal government will be forming a new partnership with a group of charitable and faith-based organizations, private sector organizations, and local, state and tribal governments. It’s expected that the efforts stemming from this partnership will greatly improve overall food security and help conserve the U.S.’s natural resources.

Food In Canada

These government-industry partnerships have existed before in less formal contexts, such as that between General Mills and the USDA in 2013.

On the face of it, this seems like a doubly-benevolent strategy that simultaneously reduces food waste—a serious problem in the global food system—and food insecurity, an equally nefarious issue of social justice. There are two major issues with these schemes, as I see it. The first is that it reifies social inequalities. The second is that it justifies inaction in actually addressing the causes of food insecurity. 

As I have argued in the past, the implication of these types of initiatives is that there is class of food-secure people for whom this food is not suitable, but another class for whom it is. This type of class-making behaviour is harmful and dehumanizing to those whom it marginalizes. The act of donating product overruns (arbitrarily defined by marketing), out-of-spec, or near-expiry food to those who are food-insecure reinforces an understanding of those experiencing food insecurity as an underclass who can be treated as a depository for our detritus. This food is waste according to we who are not food-insecure as we expect a standard that doesn’t apply to the underclass who are food-insecure. 

In reality, if the food is good enough for those who experience food-insecurity, then there is absolutely no reason it shouldn’t be good enough for us. Put another way: arbitrary distinctions in quality should not decide what and when we donate food. We—or more importantly, processors and retailers— should re-think what is perceived as acceptable, and moreover, if we assume that donating food is a meaningful solution to food insecurity, we should be donating food that comes from this now-broadened category of what is acceptable for consumption by all people regardless of their social standing. Food-insecure people should never be the depositories for our rejecta. We need to question every instance where something is deemed unacceptable for the market, but acceptable for some other class of citizenry. 

We should ensure that our “donations” are not just a form of disposal. Donations should take place in response to need and demand, and not when there is a glut of out-of-spec cereal or mis-labeled cheese

The scheduling of donations around defects and excess leads to my second point: schemes such as this justify political inaction in dealing with hunger. These schemes do not “greatly improve overall food security”, as the proponents claim. There is growing demand for food banks in most parts of the world, including here in Canada, according to the FAO. Filling the supply/demand gap for products at food banks by donating more does not resolve food-insecurity. Reducing the need for food banks, reducing the number of visits to food banks, and reducing the inequalities that reproduce this need does reduce food insecurity.

These schemes perpetuate and reproduce the structural issues that result in food-insecurity. Recalling Reagan-era voluntarism, and emblematic of broader neoliberal politics that pervades most developed countries, food banks and other such schemes offload responsibility for food insecurity to civic groups, industry, and the food insecure themselves. The fact that the scheme discussed in the quoted article is a government-industry partnership to support non-profit/civic groups makes plain the neoliberal politics behind the scheme. Offloading responsibility to industry and civic groups ultimately absolves government from taking direct action in addressing food insecurity and inequality in general. 

More donations, more industry participation, more food banks are neither the solution to the waste problem, nor the food security issue. We need to re-think how food is produced in the globalized food system and hospitality sectors such that so much waste is produced. We need to question the arbitrary quality standards throughout production, retail, and consumption that produce food fit only for a second-class. We need to rethink marketing strategies that mean overruns of seasonal products constitute a waste that needs avoiding in the first place. We need to target inequality directly and not use a donation bandaid to fulfill corporate social responsibility obligations and support government claims to mitigating food insecurity. 

Last post we left off with how Evernote and DEVONthink handle data a bit differently. This week we begin with a very useful feature in both applications, but with slight differences in their implementation, which lead to very different possibilities.

Evernote allows you to create links to notes

“Note Links” are great for a few reasons. Note links are hyperlinks (like you see on any website), but they take you to specific Evernote notes. You can use links within Evernote to connect one Evernote note to another, or even use a link outside of Evernote to bring you to that specific note.

Here’s an example of using note links within Evernote. You might, for example, collect some travel documents for an upcoming trip: Hotel Confirmation email, flight itinerary, your airport shuttle ticket, and some interesting sights near your hotel. They live in your Travel notebook and perhaps you tag them “italy1014” (my tagging scheme involves the place name, followed by a MMYY suffix so, Italy October 2014 in the case of this example). You might also make a “Table of Contents” note by selecting all of these notes and choosing “Create Table of Contents”. You then end up with a nice single note that has links to all the itinerary items like this one:

An example of a travel itinerary Table of Contents in Evernote

An example of a travel itinerary Table of Contents in Evernote is pictured above. Now you can put this table of contents note in your Evernote shortcuts for easy access to ALL of your tip documents, instead of putting every travel document in your shortcuts which would cluttering things up!

An event with an Evernote link in a shared calendar

An example of using note links outside of Evernote: My partner and I have a collection of recipes in a shared notebook that we add to regularly. We also share a household calendar. We plan our dinners out for each week (well, most of the time we at least try to do that) and create calendar events for each dinner. In the URL section for each event, if the recipe is stored in Evernote, we’ll put a note link to that recipe. This way, no matter who happens to be home that day to cook, she and I both have access to the recipe easily from our Mac or iOS device (Yes, the links even work for Calendar and Evernote in iOS even if you set up the link on the Mac!). The same goes for task managers. I use OmniFocus and regularly use note links to surface important documents associated with an action in Omnifocus.

DEVONthink allows you to create links to any document or file

You can make links to any file in DEVONthink, just as you can in Evernote, and you can also make Table of Contents notes. The major difference with DEVONthink is that you can link directly to any file imported to, or indexed by, DEVONthink, not just a note containing an attachment. This is a bit more elegant in some respects.

With PDFs you can go one step further and make links to specific PDF pages. One of the major benefits of this is discussed in my previous post Summarizing Academic Literature with OmniOutliner and DEVONthink. As with Evernote, I also use links to DEVONthink documents in Calendar and OmniFocus to surface important files related to events or actions. DEVONthink can even (automatically) make wiki-like links between files in your DEVONthink database, which is pretty special, but perhaps deserving of its own post.

Evernote has a web clipper

It is dead simple and works well almost all of the time.

DEVONthink has a web clipper

It is more complicated but a great deal more flexible, and works well once you figure out which combination of settings works for your needs.

Evernote shows me three notes (and external content) related to my current note

Evernote has a feature called “Context” (formerly “Related Notes”). This feature shows a few related notes, LinkedIn contacts, or articles from select news publications related to the content of the note you are viewing. I have never found this immensely useful for surfacing things I desperately need, but it is an interesting feature (which can be disabled). The idea is to connect you to related things to what you are reading. I’ve never found it immensely successful.

DEVONthink shows me where to put my files, and suggests dozens of related files as well

DEVONthink has what they refer to as an “Artificial Intelligence” engine that, among other things, serves two functions. One, “Classify”: It analyzes the contents of the currently open database and suggests which folders the selected file belongs in. For me, this is especially helpful when I have just added a whole pile of new journal articles to my database of academic literature. Instead of dwelling on where to put each one, the AI makes some suggestions that, in general are solid fits. One stroke of the keyboard shortcut and that article is filed away in the appropriate folder in DEVONthink.

The right hand drawer shows suggestions for where this article should be sorted. The lower half of the drawer suggests related content

Second, “See Also”: DEVONthink suggests other files that might be related to the one you currently have selected, as shown in the above image. When you have a large library of PDFs like I do, it can be very nice to have DEVONthink suggest a slew of related articles, allowing you to easily go down a bit of a literature-reviewing rabbit hole. More about how this set of features works can be found on DEVONtechnologies’ write up.


  • Both applications can be controlled with automator/applescripts, but DEVONthink is a bit more capable waaaaayyy more capable in this regard.

  • DEVONthink (Pro Office, the top tier version) allows you to use a plugin to add mail messages or mailboxes to DEVONthink. Evernote requires you to forward messages to an special email address (and sometimes the results aren’t perfect).
  • DEVONthink (Pro Office, the top tier version) allows you to turn scans of text into selectable, searchable text with extremely good accuracy (Using ABBYY’s OCR package). Evernote has no such function, but Evernote will make images of text, including handwriting searchable (but NOT selectable), with a surprisingly high level of accuracy.
  • Evernote imposes “upload” limits on some subscription levels, and also various other seemingly arbitrary usage limits. DEVONthink has no limits except for your computer’s resources.
  • DEVONthink’s documentation is detailed, accurate, and up-to-date. Evernote’s documentation lacks detail, is frequently out of date, and is not centralized (this is, in part, a reflection of the level of complexity of the two applications. DEVONthink needs detailed documentation even to get a handle on the basic, Evernote is slightly more straightforward, at least at a basic level).
  • Both applications offer robust search capabilities. Evernote’s search is syntax driven, which makes it easy to generate good search terms if you remember the syntax. DEVONthink’s searching is perhaps more powerful on the whole, but it is not fully syntax-driven and thus, generating a search term can be a bit more of a chore.


    As you can see the two programs serve very different sets of needs, and this only scratches the surface of what both applications are capable of. I hope that this set of contrasts helps you to understand that it is not a matter of deciding between DEVONthink and Evernote, but rather it is about how each one may or may not suit your needs in various contexts. This post is intended to be a set of broad strokes to showcase some of the similarities and differences between the applications. It was not intended to be instructional or a comprehensive guide to features. I’ll be making more posts dedicated to specific features and workflows in the future. If you haven’t already, do check out my workflow for summarizing documents in DEVONthink and OmniOutliner. If you are curious about any specific details contact me on twitter or comment below and if its something I am knowledgable about, I’ll reply or perhaps even dedicate a post to answering the question.

    I’d also strongly encourage you to check out Christopher Mayo’s great post about Getting Started with DEVONthink, and explore his other DEVONthink posts.