The Introvert’s Guide to Killing Media Clutter

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How much media clutter do you experience each day? A few months back, that old guesstimate that we each see around 5000 pieces of advertising each day was revised to be around 300, which makes more sense but is still way too much. Turns out our brains only absorb about half of that… but what if you could make your life almost “media clutter” free?

As a curmudgeonly introvert, I don’t want to see ads, especially for stuff I have no interest in. I don’t want to deal with flyers, catalogues or emails with suggestions of stuff I might like. I know what I like, thanks, and can usually use the old Googlebox to find it for myself.

Eradicating media clutter not only has environmental benefits, but with so much less “noise” coming in, it allows for a more tranquil life.

Working from home, the only time I now encounter advertising I have not intentionally sought out is when I’m on the street (billboards, bus shelters) or when I ride transit. I love, love, love not being inundated with ads for crap I don’t want or need. Here’s how I did it…


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Up The Women – Lady-Positive TV


A few days ago, I came across an article on Bust that made me terribly sad. The article was about how women are mostly left out of Superbowl programming and the best we can hope for, if we don’t like football, is a selection of assorted oddities on other channels, including a marathon of Law & Order SVU (really, on Superbowl Sunday, you want to watch multiple shows about sex and violence and rape and other triggering stuff?), Downton Abbey on PBS, and – the saddest thing I’ve ever read on the Internet ever – that “Ghost will play multiple times on E!”

Ghost? The worst movie of all time is the best that someone could come up with on a day when women are relegated to the small TV in the bedroom? What is your problem, American TV programmers?


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Book Review – Stitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion

stitchedup_coverStitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion
Tansy E. Hoskins
Pluto Press © 2014

Many books over the past few years have detailed the myriad wrongs of the fashion industry. Sweatshops, environmental damage, classism, racism, sizism, misogyny, not to mention the overall affect of rampant consumerism and debt on Western culture – all of these things come up time and again. And we read them, feel bad and then sooth our bad feelings by going shopping.

Tansy E. Hoskins’ Stitched Up looks at all of these and more, complete with extensively researched statistics and facts that will make anyone stop and revisit the idea of buying new clothes ever again. Hoskins examines the ownership of high-end fashion companies and the profits they make – given most high-end brands are made in the same sweatshops as fast fashion items, the corporate (and personal profit) can be astronomical. This is on the backs of underpaid workers, using processes that destroy water supplies, or using lethal chemicals (the exposure to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas in Bhopal, India in 1984 occurred when the chemical – which had been used on cotton crops – was left in unmaintained tanks when Union Carbide abandoned their factory). Hoskins’ account of the process to slaughter crocodiles for Hermes bags is shocking and horrific.

The overall theme of corporations creating demand to influence consumers to buy things they don’t need plays out in other chapters as well, as Hoskins’ demonstrates the way that women are made to feel too fat, not pretty enough, or even the wrong skin colour in order to sell merchandise. Fashion companies need to continually sell new goods; many chain stores now put out new “collections” every week instead or 2 or 4 times a year; everything plays to our insecurities, even if women of colour or larger sizes are not represented on the pages of magazines.


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The 2-Song Rule (aka. Turn Your Goddamned Phone Off and Watch the Show!)


In 1991, I stood in the middle of the Guvernment nightclub, house lights blazing, the crowd so silent you could hear a pin drop, as Blixa Bargeld, lead singer of the German Industrial band Einturzende Neubauten screamed at an audience member for filming the performance. Back then, pre-Internet and pre-Smartphones, bands had a genuine fear of people filming and bootlegging their shows for profit.

The guy in question was technically filming the show “for profit”; he was John Dubiel, a local videographer and curator of the infamous Industrial Video Show, a monthly event that showed, well, industrial videos, from official band videos, to old Irving Klaw S&M footage, to blazing robot wars, to the concert footage that Dubiel would film himself as he travelled around North America to attend concerts.

In some cases, he was performing a public service, filming and showing bands that wouldn’t or couldn’t come to Canada. I once travelled with Dubiel to Detroit to see Foetus, an artist who refused to come to Canada because of Customs issues. Other than the few of us from Toronto, hunkered in the balcony of St. Andrew’s Hall in downtown Detroit, keeping Dubiel out of view of security, Toronto Foetus fans would have to make due with the footage Dubiel shot that night. It would be their only chance, in that era anyway, to see Foetus “live”.


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She Works Hard for the Money

In my last post (really? August 24th? Whoops.) I ranted on about how bloggers shouldn’t solicit or accept payment for endorsed posts on their own blogs. And I still firmly believe that. But there is a way for bloggers, especially those with a specific area of expertise, to work with companies and corporations, and that is as a consultant. The oft-touted theory of “I deserve to be paid for my time and effort” doesn’t ring true when you’re being paid to say nice things about a product on your own blog, but when a company comes to you, asking for your help with something they’re producing, you most absolutely deserve to be paid a fair price for your work.

I bring this up now because I have been contacted, yet again, by a corporate entity that expected me to “help” them for free.

The person in question represented a very well-known show on the Food Network. The host of this show has a product line and endorsement deals. Their show is aired internationally. It is safe to presume that the major players involved are making a decent amount of money.

The request I received was for me to call the show’s researcher (long distance) and advise on some places in the Toronto area that would be appropriate for the show to visit on an upcoming trip here. I am familiar with the show only peripherally; I watched part of an episode once and didn’t much care for it, and since we cancelled our cable about six months ago, I haven’t watched anything on the Food Network at all. So I calculated how much research I would have to do to learn about the show and the types of places they covered, as well as how much work I’d have to do to come up with a short list of places that would be appropriate, and I replied via email stating a rate for my consulting services.


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Blogging 101 – Do You Need to Make Money at Blogging?

Allow me to direct your attention to my sidebar momentarily. What do you see there? Your standard archives, search option, a link to my Twitter account and one single solitary ad, for my own publishing company. What don’t you see? Ads for anything else. And that’s because this blog is not a business. I do it for fun, and to promote my own writing and other projects. I don’t expect to make money at it.

For many years, I ran a professional, blog-based website that was a business. It was done with the intention of making money. We ran paid ads in the sidebar. It was registered as a business; we paid business taxes, we had a business account at the bank. But this site, my personal blog, is not something I expect to make money on.

I point out this difference because I think it gets lost on a lot of bloggers. The project that they started out for fun, as a hobby, suddenly becomes something they feel they must make money at. They see a few high-profile bloggers get book deals or report massive traffic and high ad earnings and suddenly doing it for fun doesn’t cut it anymore. They attend blogging conferences where so-called “experts” give seminars on how to “monetize” their sites and all of a sudden they feel entitled to be paid for their time and effort.


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Me, I Disconnect From You, Part 2

The film God.Bless.America played last year at the Toronto International Film Festival. I didn’t see it there – too many people. I hate crowds. But I did get a chance to see it recently, and despite a few flaws, it’s probably in my current Top 5 movies of all time. Because who hasn’t dreamed of picking off stupid people with an automatic weapon?

Okay, maybe some of you don’t have that fantasy. Maybe some of you aren’t misanthropic curmudgeons. But I know quite a few people who, given the right circumstances (such as a series of life disasters and a terminal illness) might just say to themselves, “Why the hell not?”

This is not actually a post about who I’d take out if I were in the same situation as Frank, the lead character in Bobcat Goldthwait’s movie. (The husband and I discussed it, though – he’d go after specific celebrities, whereas I’d just stand on the street corner and take down people who text while driving or ride their bikes on the sidewalk), but rather a discussion about the changes in society that lead Frank to snap.


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Me, I Disconnect From You

My husband is a huge Louis C. K. fan. When it was announced that C.K. would headline the JFL42 Festival taking place in Toronto in September, Greg’s brain near exploded with glee. More so when it was announced that another major act would be comedian Patton Oswald. But then we started looking at the ticketing system. Besides a whole bar code thing that prevents people from selling or passing on tickets to events if they can’t use them, it turns out that the only way to order tickets to JFL42 was via Facebook.

Too bad for me then that I’ve deactivated my Facebook account and have no plans at present to use it again.

I get that the festival organizers are trying to be hip or wired in or something, but the whole thing is incredibly illogical, particularly the part requiring attendees to use a particular social media platform to take part.

Over the past few months, while I’ve still been online in some capacity and still check a pared down Twitter feed every day, I’ve been using social media a lot less. At first, this was so that I could concentrate on getting my book written. Most of my previous writing gigs had required that I be tuned in to the local restaurant scene and it was actually a relief to stop worrying about who was opening what where, and which chefs were leaving to open their own businesses, etc.


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The Tactile Experience in the Digital Age

Yesterday, Rosie DiManno wrote a column for the Toronto Star bemoaning the move from newsprint to digital media. And while I agree with a lot of her points, there are others that just don’t jibe.

DiManno equates the move to a digital platform over newsprint with a dumbing down of the news. That’s fair enough, to an extent, and yes, there is plenty of fluff out there. As someone who writes what would likely be considered “fluff” for the Star (face it, restaurant news is seldom hard-hitting journalism), I’ll go so far as to agree with that sentiment (can we get over all the celebrity crap, please?). But let’s not equate lack of quality writing with the topic of the articles.

When Greg and I ran TasteTO, we made every attempt to emulate a mainstream publication, even though our publication was online. Articles were were fact-checked and edited and we had a strict ethical policy. We regularly refused to run articles by other writers because they didn’t meet our level of quality. This left us with a few pissed-off writers, but we couldn’t with good conscience run these pieces.


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The Restaurant Website – What the Hell Are You Doing?

I just rebooted my computer.

Who cares, you might ask. But I had to reboot my system because I was visiting the website of a local restaurant and the PDF file of their menu caused my operating system to freeze. This would be mildly annoying if it was the only time I ever encountered it, but it actually happens on a regular basis. Between the PDFs, the crap flash websites and sites that are just never updated, restaurants make my job of writing about them like pulling teeth, only with a lot more tears and crying.

Look, I get the fact that not everybody is good at (or interested in) everything. Cooks wanna cook, they don’t want to waste their time mucking around with computer stuff or marketing campaigns or anything that isn’t, well, cooking. I get it. Just about everybody who works in a creative field, making things to sell to other people, feels the same way. Farmers hate dragging their produce to market, craftspeople hate dragging their wares to shows, authors hate doing book tours, and chefs hate taking time out of the kitchen to deal with paperwork.

But it’s a reality of life.

One that more restaurants should embrace, because your website is the most important tool you have in marketing your business. It’s a 24-hour-a-day business card that can make people want to try your food or never set foot in your place ever. More than Twitter, Facebook or any other online social networking site, their own website is where restaurants need to be concentrating their efforts.


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On Professional Food Blogging

There’s an interesting piece on the Guardian’s food blog today about “professional food bloggers”, that is, people who started blogging and then went on to get book deals or paid writing gigs. The piece mostly looks at the realm of recipe bloggers and cook books, comparing the fresh voices of bloggers with the work of celebrity chefs.

I suspect that anybody who writes, dreams – even secretly – of doing it professionally. I kind of don’t buy the whole “I started a blog to share recipes with my friends and family” thing. Maybe, to start with, but if that was the case, why not just use email or Facebook?

Mind you, I also don’t get the whole idea of “community” and the assumption that everyone who has a food blog therefore automatically has something in common with every other food blogger on the planet. On the basest level we do, but that doesn’t create a community per se. Most of us also wear shoes but that doesn’t mean we all want to go shoe shopping together.


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Square Pegs, Round Holes

It’s a cliche to say that the internet has changed the world, but in many cases it’s an important issue, because in terms of business, so many industries still haven’t caught up. In the writing/journalism/news industry, it used to be that the majority of writers headed to work every day, sat at a desk for an 8-hour shift, and generally answered to a boss of some sort.

With more and more publications moving online though, that is no longer the case. Whole publications are run from home offices, and newspapers and magazines realized that it was a heck of a lot cheaper in terms of benefits and overhead to just hire freelance writers as needed. From the perspective of the publication this is considerably more efficient, but when it comes to interacting with other industries, in this case, public relations firms, the old status quo no longer works.

Someone has to change how they do business. But who?


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Stupid PR Tricks – Pay Attention and Read What’s in Front of You

One of the flaws of the Internet is that, despite the great amounts of information out there available to make our lives easier, we don’t really read all of it before taking action. We have become a society of skimmers and at TasteTO we regularly get comments from readers that make us shake our heads. After a month on hiatus where we spent a bit of time cleaning up some back end stuff, I made a post about the changes we had made. We got a pile of comments complimenting us on “our new look”. But – we never changed the look of the site at all. Same layout. Exactly.

One of the things we did change was the manner in which people can contact us. Previously we had a variety of email addresses that were listed all over the site. And we got a lot of spam as bots hit the site and spewed out junk. We also got a lot of unsolicited press releases and attachments for stuff we couldn’t or didn’t want to cover. So we put in a contact form so the emails addresses aren’t out there.

Except that people don’t like contact forms. Especially people who want to send attachments. We could sense their frustration in the message “I need an email address to send you information about a new beverage product.” “Please provide contact info so we can send you a press release about an upcoming food event.”


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Buried Treasure – The Hidden Gems of the Food Network and Why You Can’t Find Them

It’s no secret that I would rather watch UK food shows than anything made in Canada or the US. Chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver, Valentine Warner and even Gordon Ramsay do a lot of good work for Channel 4 and the BBC when it comes to promoting seasonal, local, sustainable foodways. For years, Greg and I have had no choice but to download these from online file-sharing sites (shhh!!) because they seldom get shown here and there’s few, if any, domestic equivalents.

Except, bit by bit, Food Network Canada has been picking these shows up. Heston Blumenthal’s Big Chef Takes on Little Chef series that ran last year recently got aired here. Likewise his feasts series in which he recreates (with his own twists, of course) historic meals. Jamie Oliver is a big commodity on this side of the pond, so most of his stuff eventually shows up, but sometimes up to a year after its original air date.

This delay is annoying enough, but makes sense – Channel 4 wants to rerun these shows before selling the rights to anyone else. My frustration is that when Food Network Canada finally gets them, they do very little to promote them.


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Picking and Choosing

I had an interesting conversation the other night with two different people involved with small independent bookstores. The conversation touched on how customers come into their respective stores and get upset when they don’t have something in stock. But as a small indie shop, they don’t have the space or budget to carry every single title in the genres in which they specialize. So they have to make a decision as to what makes the cut. And their customers mostly have to trust that judgment.

The art of curating (or editing) – it takes place all the time, in every industry, on every level. It’s somebody’s job to decide what products make it onto shelves and racks in various stores, what artwork is included in a show, what stories make it to the pages of magazines and book anthologies.

There’s a certain unfairness to it, of course – depending on the topic or product there might be 5 or 20 or 100 things that don’t make the cut for every 1 that does. This also comes with a lot of responsibility – woe be to the fashion buyer who chooses incorrectly and sticks her store with something that doesn’t sell – especially if it was ordered in the hundred – or thousands.


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You Can’t Fool the Children of the Revolution

Back in January, I posted a rant on TasteTO, asking where were the Canadian chefs, activists, TV shows and documentaries that would advocate for better food in our country, as is the case with chefs in the UK such as Jamie Oliver. I specifically called out CBC, suggesting that they should start running food-related documentaries, especially related to various political issues.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email advising me that CBC would be running a 4-part documentary series called The Great Food Revolution. The first two episodes ran last night, and the final two will run next week.

Now I know these docs had to have been in the works well before I posted my rant (part of the second episode was filmed at an event I attended in November – my chest makes a cameo appearance), so I really can’t bitch too much about the fact that they don’t exactly address the issues I mentioned. But part of the problem is, they don’t exactly address much of anything – and what they do address is kind of scattered and incomplete.


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Watching the Clock With Martha

I’ve got to admit that I’m not a regular reader of Martha Stewart Living. I don’t buy very many “women’s” magazines at all, so this may very well be a trend that has been on the go for some time now. But yesterday I was in a magazine shop flipping through stuff and the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living was especially disturbing. A visit to the website reveals the same. Almost all of the food photographs have been taken from above. The “clock shot” has reared its ugly head.

From its very inception MSL broke new ground when it came to food photography. Stewart’s whole schtick was clean, tidy, and organized paired with rich yet classic elements. This was not only obvious in the magazine’s recipes but in the photographs of the food. MSL set the standard for many, many years in terms of how magazines styled and shot their food articles. It was the MSL photographers who turned on their macro settings and got us in there to see the crumb of a cake, the glistening crispy skin of a roast chicken, the grain of a slice of roast beef or the detail work of a spectacularly decorated cookie. “Food porn” originated in the MSL studios where they managed to make food look sexy well before anyone else ever thought of it that way.

MSL was the inspiration not only for every other food magazine, cooking show and blog that followed in its footsteps, but it made us all strive to not only become better cooks, but better food photographers.

Which is why the shot from above place setting is so disturbing.


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My Invisible Children

There’s nothing more disconcerting than to be flipping through a glossy print magazine while riding the streetcar across town and to come across your own name mentioned in an article where you’d never expect to see yourself included.

In this month’s Toronto Life, writer Katrina Onstad looks at the issue of hipsters with babies. About halfway through the article, I come across this…

Sheryl Kirby, the editor of foodie web site Taste T.O., has kids herself, but even she’s posted about “self-involved” parents in restaurants. “I was at a brunch place recently where a toddler made it out the door and onto the front sidewalk because his parents and their dining companions were too busy comparing tattoos to keep an eye on him.”

Nevermind that that’s NOT the exact quote, which, best as I can tell was lifted and rearranged from a brunch review I did of a place in my neighbourhood. But the writer never bothered to contact me. Not to get a quote, and not to confirm whether or not I had kids.

Dear Toronto Life,

It’s a good thing my mother doesn’t read your magazine, otherwise I would be inundated with phone calls as she demanded to see her non-existant grandchildren.

While I found Katrina Onstad’s article on hipsters with babies to be informative, interesting and well-balanced, I must admit to wondering where she got her information.

While I greatly appreciate the mention of my website Taste T.O. in her article, and recognize the quote she uses as part of a review I did recently on Parkdale restaurant Mitzi’s Sister, she is incorrect in stating that I have children of my own. I am, in fact, QUITE adamantly child-free.

What I don’t understand is why Onstad or a Toronto Life fact-checker didn’t contact me personally to confirm the information included in the article. It’s not as if it’s difficult to contact me online.

If my relatives track down a copy of your magazine and start sending me booties, onesies, and Tickle-Me-Elmo dolls, it’s on all of your heads.

Sheryl Kirby

Dunno if that will do any good, at best it will get published in the letters section or garner a retraction. But sheesh – people complain about bloggers not checking facts – how about the high-profile, high-paid journalists?

UPDATE – Apparently the fact-checker at Toronto Life misread some comments on a post to TasteTO and blended my comment with that of a previous poster who mentioned having 4 kids. Apologies were offered, but both Greg and I are now getting emails from friends and acquaintances who “never knew you guys had kids”. I suspect this will go on long past the point of being funny. In the meantime, we plan to enjoy our status as new parents and have named the four invisible children Larry, Curly, Mo and Shemp. We are excitedly looking forward to the birth of their little brother Joe.

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I’ll See Your Organic Free-Range Chicken and Raise You a Tin of Lamb Mince

While the name Delia Smith is familiar to me, I’ll have to admit that I’m not especially familiar with her cookbooks. Given the recent fuss about her newest cookbook How To Cheat at Cooking, I sort of assumed she was one of those slack-assed Rachel Ray types with the canned goods and bagged greens, teaching fans how to spread salmonella in three easy steps.

But it turns out that Smith is more well-known for being the UK’s answer to Martha Stewart. She spent years teaching Britons how to cook real food, teaching them basic cookery techniques and classical dishes. How to Cheat at Cooking is apparently a rewrite of her first book published in 1971, but from there, her work was all about cooking with real, fresh ingredients.

Any new book sells better with a wave of press, and there is some speculation that Smith’s recent public comments about Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign against battery chickens might simply be desperate publicity spin. Smith claims that her recipes are designed to feed the poor, especially the chyllldrunnn (who will think of them?), but even poor kids are likely to turn up their noses at some of the stuff in her new book.


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Ladies, Please

When we started TasteTO last year, I subscribed to a bunch of Canadian women’s magazines because I thought they might be useful references for stories. They haven’t been especially, as they’re not Toronto-specific enough, and they also run to seriously mainstream tastes and trends – generally enough that I find something about every issue that annoys and frustrates me.

The most recent issue of Canadian Living is billed on the cover as their “Go Green Issue” with a whole lot of lip-service paid to the recent trend of eco-activism without any real commitment required on the part of the reader/consumer *or* the magazine. There’s your typical spread of eco-friendly shopping bags, tips on eco-friendly laundering, and generally a whole lot of articles on how we can all be good little consumers yet still save the earth. (ie. Don’t stop buying *stuff* just buy environmentally-friendly stuff!) I saw no mention of important actions like hey – get out of your fucking car! Or – stop taking the annual family trip to Disneyworld! Just a lot of suggestions of how to renovate your house with beach stone tiles or stuff that *looks* like it’s from nature (ie, plastic photo frame that looks like logs).


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