Thursday, March 18, 2010

on coffee cup litter and a new Canadian symbol

I'm feeling pretty Canadian this morning. I've got leftover chili for lunch today, made from moose meat shared with me by one of my grad students who's an aboriginal and a hunter. My wife and I chatted hockey over breakfast (Her view: It's a shame Sidney Crosby get's so much credit for scoring the overtime goal when it was other teammates who carried the load most of the tournament. My view: That's the way it goes. Would anyone know who Paul Henderson was if not for his goal in 1972?*). On getting to the main door of my office building on campus I was greeted by a large, red, discarded roll-up-the-rim-to-win coffee cup from Tim Horton's. Now what gets more Canadian than that?

Our national symbol is a stylized red sugar maple leaf, something you actually see in nature for only a few weeks each fall, and then only in eastern Canada. I'm thinking we should replace it with the red contest Tim Horton's cup, which appears each March for several weeks right across the country, on sidewalks, roadsides, front gardens, schoolyards, and virtually any place you can imagine one being tossed. Once while walking the Bruce Trail from the Niagara River to St Catharines I counted more than a hundred discarded Tim Horton's cups alongside a stretch of secondary road that connects to sections of the trail.

Last year my daughter and I were kayaking on the Rideau River; she called out she spotted a beaver, our other national symbol. But when we paddled closer we were instead greeted by a brown Tim Horton's coffee cup with the lid still attached floating on its side. Reminiscing about that uniquely Canadian moment is inspiring me with new ideas: We can replace the leaf on the flag with the red cup and the beaver on the nickel and souvenir t-shirts with the brown one.

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I like this idea. It's geographically more representative of Canada, and culturally, too. While Canadians like to claim maple syrup and canoeing through hardwood forests as our national icons, reality is that we consume far more artificially maple-flavoured corn syrup than the real thing, and you'll find orders of magnitude more Canadians shopping at US-owned chain big box stores on a sunny autumn Saturday than you will paddling under a red-orange canopy of leaves. For much of it's history, Tim's has been a division of a US-based corporation. Like other corporations that want to sell junk food to Canadians, Tim Horton's sponsors sports events and hockey games, but unlike McDonald's, Arby's, Wendy's and others, Tim Horton's does not need to replace the apostrophe in its name with a little maple leaf to pander to our frosty northern pride. Canadians recognize with pride the name on the paper cup containing their favourite cheap coffee is that of a hockey player and not that of a cartoon clown or a nondescript person whose geographical affiliations are unclear.

I'd like to go on, but it's time to stop for a coffee. And no, it won't be purchased in a red paper cup;** guess I'll have to find other ways to show my patriotism.


*Etched into my childhood memories is how all the kids in our school were led to the gym to squint at a 24" TV set up on the stage so we could all watch the Canada-Russia games from Moscow. The significance of the moment was lost on me; the reason I still remember it is because it was such an unusual disruption from our kindergarten routine. More memorable for me was learning of Tim Horton's death. I had watched him on TV play the night before for the Sabres against the Leafs in Toronto. He crashed his car on the Queen Elizabeth Way after the game.

**This past weekend, for the first time in I-can't-remember-how-long, I bought a cup of coffee in a disposable cup. I have four coffee mugs of various description around my office and several travel mugs at home, so am never without. And yet, last Saturday I wandered over to a sit-down cafe near campus sans-travel-mug only to find it was closed. Nonetheless in urgent need of caffeine, I went to a nearby fast-food coffee seller. Much to my humiliation, the cheerful person behind the counter handed my my paper cup of coffee and said "Hey! You were my 1st year environmental studies prof!". Talk about being caught not practicing what you preach! I am humbled, and lesson learned.

No comments: