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Equity, Opportunity and Good Health

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A free public lecture from SFU Continuing Studies and The City Program

How Transportation Affects the Essential Qualities of Life In Metro Vancouver
Thursday, 30 April 2015 7:30 PM at SFU Segal School of Business

Transportation connects us to our community, our place of work and our friends and family. The way transportation infrastructure is designed and the modes of transportation that we have access to impact our lifestyle and our health.
The lecture reviewed some of the evidence from other jurisdictions, but focused primarily on the findings from the My Health My Community project that surveyed 28,000 Metro Vancouver residents in 2013/14.
While there are clear dividends in health for active transportation users, current transit infrastructure does not equally benefit all communities in Metro Vancouver. Access to transportation widens opportunity and is a significant equity issue in Metro Vancouver.

This lecture was in collaboration with the 2015 ITE QUAD Conference, May 1-2 at the Pan Pacific Hotel, Vancouver.

It is fortunate that the text and illustrations that were used for this lecture are all available on line. I noticed that several people were trying to photograph the illustrations used, but that turns out to unnecessary too.

The talk was preceded by a presentation by Dale Bracewell, the Manager of Active Transportation at the City of Vancouver. He started by stating that Vancouver now designs its active transportation projects to meet the needs of all ages and abilities. The overarching goals are set by Transportation 2040 but that includes the interim goal of 50% of trips by walk, cycle and transit by 2020. The City has set itself objectives in the fields of Economy, People and Environment. The active transportation program fits within the People category and the Healthy City Strategy, which has a four year Action Plan. Walking and cycling are now the fastest growing transportation mode which reflects Vancouver’s high Walk Score. A panel survey is conducted annually with the City’s Health Partners.

Walking has increased by 19% while the collision rate has fallen by 20%. The collision data also needs to be seen within the context of the City’s Vision Zero. Cycling has increased by 41% while collisions have fallen by 17%. It is clear that the safety in numbers effect is working. Vancouver has installed a series of automated bike counters. He had a set of graphics which I have yet to find but the data is available as a large pdf spreadsheet.

This is the counter at Science World which now has the biggest count – even greater than the Burrard Bridge

Bike Counter

The counters show cycle use growing between 7 and 15% over the last year. The Lion’s Gate Bridge now equals Hornby and Dunsmuir, even before the new safety measures for cyclists have been introduced.


Hornby Street still moves as many vehicle now as it did before, simply because the  two way separated bike lane replaced on street parking. There are still 14,000 cars a day, but cycle traffic has increased 50% to 2,700 per day. At the same time there are 5,000 people on the sidewalk, with pedestrians showing a clear preference for the side with the cyclists rather than the parked cars. The street is now moving more people overall.

He also added a plug for an upcoming conference in Vancouver next year pro walk pro bike pro place  September 12 – 15, 2016

Dr. Jat Sandhu is the regional director of the public health surveillance unit at the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. He stressed that his remarks are his own personal views.

He started by contrasting the experience of driving a car in congested traffic on the Sea to Sky Highway with that of riding a bike on a path next to the North Arm of the Fraser River – the stress of the former versus the relaxation of the latter. He grew up in Hong Kong and described his boyhood commute to school from Stanley to Kowloon: and one and half hour combination of buses and ferry to cover the same distance as the Canada Line from Richmond Brighouse to Waterfront.

He cited the work of Larry Frank at UBC who has published the all embracing literature review on health and transportation, looking at physical activity, air quality, mental health, injuries and equity. “Urban Sprawl and Public Health”. He also pointed to USC study of the Los Angeles to Culver City Exposition LRT which reduced daily vehicle travel by households of between 10 to 12 miles a day which a 30% reduction of CO2 emissions.

It is known that daily physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, reduces the risk of chronic disease and grants a 40% reduction in the risk of premature mortality.  Yet only 40% of the population meet the recommended activity levels. Obesity is now overtaking smoking in the mortality race. Physical inactivity is a large part of the problem as shown by a study of commute time against obesity in Atlanta GA (Am J Prev Med 2004). He also pointed to the lack of transit equity citing the Next Stop Health study in Toronto.

The My Health My Community survey covers the entire area covered by Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health. What makes Canadians sick? 50% of the time “your life”.

The study asked respondents 90 questions about their socio-economic status, health, lifestyle, healthcare access, built environment and community.

The transportation report on Metro Vancouver released last week is the first of a series of reports from this data, intended to inform the discussion of the transportation plebiscite in this region. It draws from the survey responses from residents of the region – which is a subset of the survey mostly conducted on line, but with supplementary paper surveys to ensure adequate coverage of ethnic minorities. It covers only those over 18 years of age. Its target was a 2% sample which may seem small but is much better than the 0.5% sample of the typical transportation survey. Census data to neighborhood level was used to ensure a representative sample. It was a one year process, and results have been weighted to correct for age, gender, education and geography. Of 34,000 respondents, 28,000 live in Metro Vancouver: 80% of those make daily trips for work or education.

55% car driver or passenger

29% transit

10% walk

4% bike

2% other

Only Vancouver, New Westminster, Burnaby and the City of North Vancouver have over the Metro Vancouver average for active transportation modes.

Page 1 Key Messages Graphic

Page 1 Mode of Commute Graphic

I think the two maps are perhaps the most useful representations I have seen especially since they also map the Mayors’ Council’s proposals. What I think would be immensely more useful is a map of the non-active modes with the road projects that have been built in this region in the last ten years or so. While Dr Sandhu points to the goodness of fit of the proposals to correct some of the grosser transit inequities of this region, I think a map of “motordom” showing how the widening of Highway #1 (ongoing) the increase of traffic speeds on the Sea to SkyHighway, the impact of the South Fraser Perimeter road and the increase of capacity along Highway #10 through South Surrey, as well as all the various interchange improvements financed by development (200 St and Highway #1 for instance) as well as the Golden Ears Bridge and the new bridge over the CP yards in Port Coquitlam vastly overshadow anything that might happen as a result of the Mayor’s plan. I do not have the technical competence to produce such a map overlay myself, but I do hope one of you does.

By the way, the originals of these maps are huge: click on them to enlarge and see the details.

Page 4 Active Transport MAP

Page 5 Car use MAP2

Among some of the other results he quoted:

The median commute time is 30 minutes: for car users it is 25 minutes and for transit 45 minutes. He said that reducing travel time for transit users should be a target, though absent the data on distance I am not sure that actually tells us much. To some extent, people choose how long they are willing to travel – and for some, such as West Coast Express users – the travel time will be viewed in a positive light. However, as a selling point for the Yes side in the plebiscite “Less time in your car, more time in your community” works well.

The determinants of transit use include age: the two biggest groups are 18 to 29 and those over 70. In both cases there is often a financial incentive for transit use (UPass, concession fares). 14% of transit users have a chronic health condition which he said points to the need for more HandyDART, which is included in the plan. There is a 50% higher transit usage by ethnic minorities – except for South Asians – with the highest usage among recent immigrants  – who of course are not eligible to vote. Neither, come to that is Dr Sandhu. Only 75% of respondents are Canadian citizens. Transit use decreases with increases in income.

He also produced a graph showing municipalities by commute mode and the incidence of obesity. He said the correlation coefficient (r²) was 0.99 [which as far as I am concerned is unheard of].

He also showed the WalkScore map of the region – which I wish I could find on line. The web page I link to is not exactly what I was looking for!

The current transit infrastructure does not equitably benefit all communities. This is a social justice issue as it impacts access to education and employment. The proposed investments will be positive in this regard. The greatest health legacy of the Olympic Games was [not the creation of his position] the Canada Line. Metro Vancouver is 4th in transit use in North America, only behind the very much larger populations of New York, Montreal and Toronto. We have a relatively small population of 2.5 million and thus “do not have the same tax base”.

Q & A

1.  A question about the aboriginal use of transit which seemed to be explained by lower income and the availability

2.  Some people use different modes for the same trip on different days: walking or cycling in good weather for instance. Or more than one mode during one trip. The reply was that the choice of mode had been “collapsed down” and respondents were asked to pick their primary mode

3.  A technical discussion of the sample compared to household survey which replaced the long form censu  s

4. A question about income which produced the response that the City of Vancouver saw similar levels of active transportation across the city, but immigrants were more economically active than the population in general – a reflection of federal immigration policies.

5. Do people realize how walkable their neighborhood really is? Don’t we need more education?

The study helps the Health Authorities feed information into the OCP and community partners, as well as their interactions with nonprofits and school boards

6. “I have not heard the word Translink used. Is there going to be more bus service?”

7. Eric Doherty pointed out that just increasing bus service shows diminishing returns without a greater commitment to bus priority. He also mentioned feelings of superiority when he rode on a bus to the ferry and passed all those car users stuck in congestion.

I responded that bus priority measures are one of the most cost effective ways of improving the attractiveness of transit, but requires a level of enforcement not so far seen here.


Gordon Price was really impressed by the cycling data. There’s nothing like a few good figures to destroy some long held misbeliefs.

The health study simply confirms what we have long known, but seem reluctant to act on. My own views on this were set out in a post in published earlier this year. I want to acknowledge the recent promotion of that post on Twitter by Brent Toderian which has had a very significant impact on my WordPress statistics.

The talk was in a larger room than usual, and was linked to the ITE Quad conference, but was poorly attended. The discussion was really rather muted.

“On Bicycles” edited by Amy Walker

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On Bicycles cover

It is available at your friendly local book store: there was a discussion and book signing at The People’s Co-op Boosktore on Commercial Drive last night, and I know that they had some copies left. Or you can buy it on Amazon. When I have done here, I will be posting a review there too. Amy Walker is, as I am sure many of you know the cofounder of Momentum magazine and she also has a blog at

I was asked originally to contribute a piece on the environmental impact of cycling: I responded – “That will be the shortest chapter in the book. There isn’t any.” Well, ok that is an exaggeration, but a pardonable one I think. So my piece now carries the unwieldy title “The Environmental Good of Switching from Car to Bike” and it takes 8 pages. Out of 372 – none of which I have had an opportunity to read until I got my copy last night. Readers of this blog can happily skip over my pages, of course, and now I have read a few of my other favourite contributors, I can only say that I wish I had done a much better job. Todd Littman and Amy herself (she wrote 8 chapters out of 50) set a very high standard indeed.

Amy Walker signing books

If you do not have a bicycle and wonder what benefits you might enjoy I would like to present to you what I think will be some of the most compelling reasons: Youth, Sex and Cake. In the spirit of “you learn something every day” I have to acknowledge that Kristen Steele surprised me when she wrote that cycling makes you better in bed – and she has all the correctly cited academic articles to support that. Of course cycling makes you fitter, and you do burn more calories when you substitute a bike for a ride in a car (or even transit), which is why more people really ought to consider commuting by bicycle. And, as Todd Litman demonstrates, that has economic benefits too. But more and better orgasms ….


Does reading a book actually persuade people to switch mode of travel? Obviously the publisher thinks there is a market for this book for they commissioned it, and not only do I hope that they are right, but that there is a follow up volume. For the common thought that occurred to the contributors in last night’s discussion was “that ought to go in to the next book”.

Unoccupied parking space, useful hitching post

Or is this really a handbook for cycling enthusiasts to use in their on-going cycle advocacy? Certainly on the basis of last night’s event, we were preaching to the converted. But it is definitely the book that I had wished had been written when I started looking at cycling as a transportation policy issue. We have come a long way since my boss said “We mustn’t encourage people to cycle, we will only be killing more of them”.

Of course I hope you will buy this book – or at the very least get your local library to get a copy. Richmond has two.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Transportation Strategies for Healthier Communities

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Dr. James Sallis Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University; Director, Active Living Research

The automobile may be close to our heart, but unfortunately that heart has become a lot less healthy as a result. Dr. James Sallis does “Active Living Research,” making the connection between how we move and our physical health. Dr. Sallis shows how a balanced transportation and transit system is critical for our quality of life.

The Path from Health to Transport

Dr Sallis is a Health Psychologist whose current filed is research into active living – the science of how built environment determines health.

Streaming video

He said he was impressed with Vancouver as a walkable city (though it was clear he was only familiar with downtown). It is only in recent years that the health care field has become interested in transportation, so his research is a new field. Formerly health interest in transport was concentrated on air quality but it now extends to the built environment.

The greatest health problems we now face are tobacco use, poor diet and lack of physical activity. “These three risk factors contribute to four major chronic diseases – heart disease, type 2 diabetes, lung disease and many types of cancers – which are responsible for more than 50% of the deaths in the world.”

Two million deaths a year worldwide (200,000 of them in the US) can be attributed to inactivity. This compares to 435,000 attributable to tobacco use. Not so long ago we used to get everywhere by walking. Our work practices have also changed – we now move information electronically rather than move or transform matter. Walking and working served us well for millennia: because we were physically active, obesity was quite rare. Now it is common. Promoting exercise has not worked: he presented the graph below which shows that the amount of reported activity has hardly changed


(Dr Sallis has copies of his presentations on his web page, and I will not copy all of his slides here). The number of minutes of physical activity per day across the age range falls off with age, and only children seem to manage the required minimum of 30 minutes per day. Studies which record the actual amounts of physical activity show not the 25% who self report: we see only 5 to 10% of people getting enough exercise

Twenty years ago in the US10% of all trips were by walking: in the intervening period we have managed to cut that in half. While we have invested huge sums in motorised transportation and have a big health issue, there has only been a minor investment in programs. These have concentrated on psychological and social influences, education and so on. While these programs can be effective they have a limited reach: it is hard to get people in, and the effects are modest and short term. Researchers have tended to blame the people, but the programs were not designed to change the root causes.

Why has physical activity declined? He asked the audience had people changed in recent years or was it the environment? There was a strong consensus that it is the environment but the current programs deal only with psychological and sociological motivations not the built environment in which people find themselves.

He presented an ecological model of health behaviour, which sets the individual into a physical environment and a policy context. It was essential, he said, to change all of the factors: for example in low income neighbourhoods, sources of healthy foods are not available – so while a program tried to give residents the skills to be smart shoppers their environment prevented them from putting thier knowledge into action. Similarly while there are issues of parks and sidewalks, just changing the environment in and of itself is not enough. To achieve transformative change all of the influences must change

The Promise of Built Environment

The root cause of inactivity is that people do not incorporate physical exertion into their daily routines. While behavioural studies are useful, changes to the built environment are permanent, and gone on having an influence for many years. A favourable environment should reinforce changes in personal choices. An activity friendly environment builds upon the SLOTH model (Sleep, Leisure, Occupation, Transport, Home) Each of these domains of activity have their own ecological model.

A summary of the literature shows that adults respond to walkability in their neighbourhoods. The installation of sidewalks means people will walk for recreation and leisure. Walkability has been related to obesity in 11 studies of adults. It is the biggest health challnge in the world. In only 2-3 studies of youth no association could be established.

In the Neighbourhood Quality of Life Study they examined walkability against income in several neighbourhoods. The recorded the activity of 2,000 adults and found that walkability has definite effect and it is permanent and there is a good correlation to both obesity and overweight (JAPA Apl 2006 L Frank et al – Walkability) They also found a 6.5% decrease in VMT therefore walkable neighbourhoods produce less pollution. And this is not just a US phenomenon: there are studies now of 11 countries including Canada. If there are the right conditions people will meet the minimum physical activity guidelines – proximity to shops, a transit stop, sidewalks, bike facilities and access to low cost recreation are all necessary but interestingly fear of crime is not a significant deterrent. One factor alone is not enough but 4 to 6 of these factors will influence activity.

The more VMT the more risk of obesity: this is not just due to inactivity – people tend to eat when they are driving – and often it is junk food since it ios so readily available to drivers. The daily steps of those who commute by train are very good, but are much lower by car. While the presence of sidewalks may look small but it is significant as it accumulates over time. There is a need to quantify the monetary benefits of good walkability: Wang studied four trails in Nebraska and found that while the cost of building and maintaining the trails was $98 per year, per person who used the trails, inactive people have health costs of between $300 to $400 pp pa. Children who live in mixed use area are more likely to be physically active, not just walking to school. It also works for older women, but there is need for walk destinations – shops and other services.

Active Living Research has all of its material available on line including conference papers and a journal.




Bogota has a culture of active learning with car free weekends and where the parks have hourly dance/exercise classes on Sundays


Nick Losito of Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and Dr Don Hunter of the Coalition for Active Living both provided a short summary of what we are doing here.

Dr Hunter said that there are significant differences in the Canadian data. Physical activity has gone up since 1981 –when the federal government started “Participaction” but recently “the feds have vanished”. Obesity is tow thirds of the US but still “far above everybody else”. Women more active in Canada. Act Now BC is the first major physical activity program which is now in 158 BC communities. The BCHLA, UBCM, and the Parks and Recreation Association are now at the same table and approved in 2006 $25m for strategies to tackle tobacco use, healthy eating and physical activity. Walking is the entry point to physical activity for the 35% of people who are totally sedentary in BC.

The alliance is looking at the economics of physical activity including accessibility in low income areas and active transportation. This includes the target officials in government and municipalities and also includes major greenway developments.

Nick Losito started by speaking of his own “health protection bias”. He though that the 2010 Olympic challenge from the Premier that we should be the healthiest host city and also implementing “Clouds of Change” fit well with the greenhouse gas reduction strategy, which will apply equally to HAs, for example as employers. He said that an expected rewrite of Public Health Act will move health authorities more into promotion and prevention activities.

There are inhibitors. The growth of health budget threatens to take over the whole of the available funds in future, and the need to address chronic diseases means that recent gains against tobacco use will be offset by obesity and inactivity. Public health officials will need to “look not just at water and waste” adopt a broader perspective.

The success of the fight against tobacco showed that there are four key success factors –

  1. public support
  2. political champions
  3. partnerships
  4. science

“The guys with white hats are winning”

Larry Frank opened the discussion by pointing out that current and expected investments in transportation are a concern. “We are losing ground South of the Fraser. There is a roaring silence about Gateway, which is so massively wrong. [applause] How can we get the alliance and consortia to engage in the debate?”

Nick Losito said that while they do have a mandate for health advocacy it is awkward for provincial agency to speak against government policy.

Don Hunter noted that there was some mention of with cycling in recent provincial announcements with a figure of $50m mentioned but “there are no firm plans”. Greenways have to start with a comprehensive plan. What was demonstrated in Saanich with the galloping Goose Train was that it needed an overall plan, but it could then be built “in bits – and stick to the plan”.

Larry Frank responded that there was an obvious disconnect between transportation and health. We could do nothing on Active Transportation and just stop the freeway and have the same impact.

Questions and comments from the audience

  • Have you looked at the work by [Mayer] Hillman in UK where fear of the car actually reduced walk and bike to school. He went on to point to the dualling the Sea to Sky for the Olympics but the parallel railway is unused. “The roads have the money and the health and climate change have only words”
  • Mark Allison asked about knowledge transfer. It seems to be a small component but we are not getting to the decision makers. One municipality (not named) has a ratio of expenditure of 1,000 to 1 : roads to sidewalks
    James Salis responded that it is very critical. There is no infrastructure for knwledge transfer and all are disconnected. The advocates don’t talk to each other and we don’t get in the faces of councillors. We need studies on how to promote advocacy
  • At this point I spoke about how we do not have a health system but a sickness system. I may have been less than clear, but I wanted to point out that prevention is much more economically effective than treatment, but diagnosis and treatment is where all the resources are currently going. As a planner at Translink I found I could not even get a meeting with planners at the Health Authorities
    Dr Sallis replied that in Australia all of government had got involved in the issue with cabinet level committees representing all the agencies
  • In Latin America everywhere has plazas and street activity: there are artists and musicians evertywhere who are essential or healthy and happy cities. In contrast we insist on licenses and regulations and move on buskes and pavement artists. He went on that he felt ecodensity would be less safe and that it would tend to encourage people to drive more.
    Larry Frank pointed out that it required a lot more than just density – “its about choice – and density is not an easy sell”
  • An advocate for bike co-ops pointed to the free bike program in Paris which had “changed the whole physiology of the city. North American cities are not as well built.” But when there is no need to haul a bike with you, there is a greater probability that you can use a bike for part of your trip. He said that he felt safer in Paris as there were fewer SUVs there.”Do we need to look at banning Hummers?”
    Larry Frank said that J C Decaux are hoping roll something out in “urban Vancouver”. A proposal from City Cycling Task Force had suggested that vehicle registration costs should increase with ghg emissions
  • Someone said that simply eating less and building less would solve out long term problems
  • An activist from Delta spoke about a new Greenway from Hwy #91 to Centennial Beach and then potentially onto Blaine, WA. This could mean the relocation of the BNSF tracks but that in itself was worthwhile as it would increase capacity for both freight and passenger trains. “There are things happening in community – its individuals not government.” But he also noted that ActNow BC does have cabinet position.
  • A planning student asked how do we get healthy food into low income neighborhoods?
    BHLA (?)– includes healthy foods –
    Nick Losito said that the Health Authority is concerned with communiy food security and the future of urban agriculture
    James Sallis said that Los Angeles city council has looked at a moratorium on fast food places as well as incentives to draw grocrey stores into low income areas. New York City funds fruit and vegtable carts. If we follow smart growth guidelines we will “not suck up all the farmland”.
  • Someone commented that contrary to the presentation there was data on the walk to school of our grandparents’ generation. It was either six miles through three feet of snow or three miles through six feet of snow – and uphill both ways. A study of a “happiness index” in St John NB found that stability in neighbourhoods, the strong connection to the people you see every day was most important and he wondered about the compatibility with current goals of a walkable distance to work, given the number of times people had to change jobs
    James Sallis agreed that we understand the value of stability, but the disconnect is not in smart growth but the lack of commitment to long term employment in companies
    Larry Frank spoke about social capital (and its obverse “bowling alone”) He pointed to the significance of tenure in residence: “walkability does not do much for social capital” but in California your property taxes don’t go up until you move, which encourages social stability.
  • A teacher said that she had experienced a battle to explain urban design to a PE teacher
    James Sallis said that people with a commitment to physical activity need to learn about the policy areas that affect the area
    Don Hunter agreed: “Unless you get out of your gym, you will not change behaviour patterns.”
  • Another teacher trying to get more teachers cycling to school to set a good example asked: “Who is responsible?”He had found that the responsibility currently is simply shuttled between school districts and municipalities.



It has often been said that social science simply records things which we already know. The studies simply reinforce what those of us in planing and transportation have known for a long time.

But there is a complete disconnect in our system of government between engineers and planners on the one hand and health professionals on the other. Only a few people like Fred Bass actually cross over that line. The urban professionals have been convinced for years that what they are doing is “good for us”. After all suburban sprawl was actually planned. There are still professionals in both fields who think that widening a freeway is a Good Idea.

Mayer Hillman was a figure to be reckoned with when I was a planning student. I do not think there is any doubt that he is right, but that does not mean he has ever had the attention of policy makers. And I think when the Transport Minister and the Health Minister in the UK or BC look at each other across the table, they do not realise that they are in the same business. I am sure they regard their colleague as simply a competitor for limited capital spending funds. And “winning” means just having more and bigger projects for your department.

When Richmond Hospital goes out for a fund raiser it is to buy an MRI – not fund healthy community initiatives. The City of Richmond simply refuses to listen to suggestions that the Garden City Lands could be a significant gain in community food security as well as an important opportunity as community gardens for apartment dwellers to work their own plots. You try and find somewhere affordable to live in Richmond where you can grow more than two flower pots of herbs! And in the East End of London, where I come from existing community garden were rudely shoved out of place when the 2012 summer Olympics came along. It was completely unnecessary of course. But not seen as “appropriate”.

Our priorities are all wrong. If only from the standpoint of economics, ensuring that people are happy and healthy must be cheaper than failing to cope with various overwhelming health care crises like adult onset diabetes – and our system doies love to put the blame on individuals. As though how we live and work was within our control and that stress was simply something we create for ourselves.

Despite the evidence of the failure of the free market model to the south of us, that is still the paradigm that out political leaders have in mind. As long as GDP and Olympics are our goals, we will continue to flounder and fail.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 20, 2008 at 11:41 am

An unwilling cook

with 3 comments

What started this was a post on 101 cookbooks. It got so many replies that comments were closed after the first 220!

Why should I, a 60 year old Englishman who has never cooked a meal in his life (I’m not proud of that) be looking at a Cooking site?

I am newly single, and facing having to care for myself. I’ve mastered the big white box (washing machine), discovered that ‘food’ can also go in the beer cold box, that frozen dinners can be made in the little white microwave-box, but…. I have a box left over. I think it’s called a cooker?

My problem is that “Cookbooks” are written by extremely competent, very enthusiastic cooks. This is no good at all to duffers like me, who actually don’t want to cook, but will have to.

And most of the them were explaining how you can start to cook. But the first thing that crossed my mind was “Good grief man, you don’t need to. You live in England. If I lived in England I might never cook again!” I am in a similar situation except that I have cooked since I was 16. I worked on Saturdays in the first Safeway in East London and it had a snack bar. It was always very busy and needed someone to run the dishwasher which was marginally less boring than stacking shelves with tins or packing bags at the checkout, since the waitresses were very chatty. After a while, once I had got done with the dirty dishes, I found people asking me for a cup of tea or a sandwich and it seemed it wasn’t long before one of the ladies was teaching me how to make an omlette. And she knew her stuff too. This was proper cuisine français, mon vieux. Her omlettes were works of art – or technique. Anyway, the grocery manger said if I could cook an omlette like that, I could probably cook anything. So with that boost to my confidence I discovered the joys of cooking.

But for me the main joy of cooking is serving to other people and getting their reactions. Newly single myself most of the time I can’t be arsed. And anyway, most supermarkets sell very little fresh food in single person sizes. Though if you go to Thrifty’s or IGA Market Place you can be surprised. Especially if you ask at the service counters. And I do haunt the greengrocers and bakers (fantastic coupon this week for Cob’s! – free bread!). So mostly I eat those frozen meals for one – the ones that all seem to have the number of calories in large friendly numerals on the box.

Anyway, this was tonight’s effort which will get posted on flickr’s group “I ate this” which I have looked at a lot but not contributed much to. And all I did was buy a cheap stuffed boneless, skinless chicken leg and put it in a 350°F oven until it smelled nice. All supermarkets seem to have things like this on special every so often. (The bigger ones seem to think “cordon bleu” only refers to stuffed chicken breasts.) Throwing a large russet potato into the microwave is about the easiest way I know of to get the carbs and fibre sorted, and then I have one of those bags of pre-cut veg. It says “stir fry”, but these were simply steamed. Again you can easily just pop them in the microwave with a little water in a plastic tub for a couple of minutes. This ain’t cooking – but the meal was tasty, easy to do and balanced nutritionally with either fruit and yogurt or cheese for afters. And the draft Guinness of course. Who needs recipe books?

And the category is weight loss because I doubt this is loads of calories either if you delete the beer (God forbid!) and the Becel on the spud.


Written by Stephen Rees

April 21, 2007 at 5:54 pm

Posted in Weight loss

What no-one is telling you about fat

with 3 comments


As they say “check local listings” but for this area the next broadcast is  Sunday, April 15, 2:00am on cable 27

Of all the people who try to lose weight, most cannot. Of the few that do, hardly any manage to keep it off permanently, and the majority gain that weight back faster than they lost it. If it was a simple matter of calories in being less than calories out then there would be no weight loss problem. But we have been studying and researching weight loss for many years, and there has been almost no progress in that time, except that we now know for certain that it is much more complicated than most people imagine.

For extremely obese people, stomach surgery does seem to hold some hope, but not because the size of the stomach is reduced but because a neural network is interrupted in the course of surgery. Because the truth is that the people who put on vast amounts of weight were convinced against all rational evidence that they were starving. No matter what they ate or how much, they always felt hungry.

I was told that I had type 2 diabetes some years ago. I got a meter and tested my blood regularly. I joined Weight Watchers and achieved lifetime membership. I lost over 40 pounds – about 20% of my body weight. I rode my bike, I ate smaller meals, I avoided the obvious dangers of baked goods and candy bars. I had a bike accident – on a bike path – and broke my wrist, so badly that I self diagnosed osteoporosis. This was later shown to be advanced through a bone density scan. I could not ride a bike with my forearm in a cast. The weight it took me over a year to lose came back in a couple of months. And has stayed. Those fat cells once brought into existence do not leave, at best they lie dormant. Once re-activated the process of weight loss is much harder.

The program concentrates on the misery, and on the science. But oddly none of the people featured seem to have got the linkage between transportation and weight. Obesity increased not just due to the advent of fast food and tv – though they played an important role. As our calorie intake increased, so did the amount of time we spent in cars. The boomer generation was the first that had almost universal motorisation – especially in North America. Look at a video of somewhere like Denmark and you will see lots more people on bikes than anywhere this side of the pond. Most of the exercise we saw last night was people on treadmills and stationary bikes. And usually in their own homes. One problem we all face – we do not like to be seen exercising when we are out of shape. As a fat old man on a bike, moving somewhat more slowly than the tyros in spandex, I felt out of place, and had to deal with some extraordinarily insensitive remarks at my workplace, where (among other things) we were supposedly encouraging self powered transportation.

And we all hate being weighed when we go to the doctor. And most doctors seem to be as bad as mine at dealing with this issue. Mine recently said just two words

“Eat less”

Thanks a lot, doc. That thought had never occurred to me.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 12, 2007 at 10:15 am

Posted in Weight loss