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Toad Lane Theme: 2010-2011

March 14, 2011

We’ve just had a house meeting where we have updated our theme, and even changed it’s name! The new theme will appear under the “Charter” tab, but for safekeeping we are putting the 2010-2011 theme here in a post, in case people want to compare the differences over the years:
1. What is your house’s theme?

Friendly Vegans for Social Justice

2. Briefly describe this theme:

Veganism is a form of nonviolent direct action which takes seriously the interests of animals to avoid the suffering inherent in their exploitation. It looks forward to a future where liberation struggles such as anti-racism and anti-sexism are realized, but also where the underlying principles of justice are applied consistently to other patterns of oppression. We oppose speciesism, which is the assignment of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species.

Veganism also has demonstrated health and environmental benefits, which contribute to its role in social justice. We do not endorse forms of veganism based on celebrity trends, weight-loss fads, or personal purity. Veganism doesn’t mean you should fit a stereotype.

What does it mean to live in our house? Members of the house are expected to abstain from bringing “new” animal exploitation products into the house. The question of “old” leather and wool, or dumpster-recovered items is less a question of ethics, but more a debate of strategy and consistency, open at this time.

Veganism is about social justice.

3. What is the history and evolution behind this theme?

Toad Lane has been a student cooperative since the early 1970s. In the mid-nineties, Toad Lane was acquired by CCRI. Around this time, it became a vegetarian house. Activism was a long-standing tradition, evident in the newspaper articles featuring its residents, hundreds of books about social issues in the library, and dozens of pieces of artwork in every corner of the house. We have evolved into a vibrant vegan community, hosting potlucks, fundraisers, and other events. While we disagree with one another on many things, we are always willing engage each other (especially over tea and fair trade vegan chocolate cookies!).

B) What has been accomplished?

This year, we have succeeded in increasing our potluck outreach within the CCRI community, both via posters and personal invitation. We’ve hosted several “Theme House Open Houses” where we have endeavoured to spread the idea of “theme houses” within CCRI. We have also hosted various theme-related events, including presentations by residential school survivors, a gathering place for activists. We also hosted a fundraiser for Haiti, and are hosting a conference entitled “Free Food: Perceptions, Choice and Progress in the Liberation of our Food Supply”. We also fielded a contestant for the Kensington Market Chili Cook-Off, who sadly failed to place.

4. What does your house hope to accomplish within the household over the coming year?

Begin the Canadian Centre for Excellence in Legumology

S

Continue to improve our rooftop garden

Art Party

Communal Food Purchasing

Improve the spelling and grammar of our house members

A Cook-Off

5. What does your house hope to accomplish beyond the household over the coming year?

Friendly Vegans for Social Justice is a link to many other social and ecological justice issues. We hope to extend our philosophy of non-harming through cooperation within the house, and through outreach beyond our house to other co-op members, and the community at large.

-Reach out to the community and open up our doors as a place for public forum on various topics.

-Start a series of cross talks to get different activists talking about each other about synergy

-start a social enterprise in the house – invest in an industrial oven to bake bread OR start a brewery OR a soup company

-start trade economy beyond the house, inspired by the no-buy holiday stockings which were done in the past

6. In what ways does your house plan to reach out to other houses in the coop community?

We will support other theme houses in their infancy. We will also spread the word about our good work and our events in a friendly manner through posters, facebook, but not the intranet.

7. What key values are central to your theme?

1. Friendliness

2. Veganism

3. Social Justice

Also, “non-harming”, “living a low-impact lifestyle”, “cooperation”, “developing a healthy relationship with our food supply” and “fostering the future we want to see through community engagement”.

8. In what ways do these key values support one or more of the Roshdale 7 principles of cooperation?

Education, training, and information (“fostering the future we want to see through community engagement”.)
Cooperation among cooperatives (Friendliness, “fostering the future we want to see through community engagement”.)
Concern for community ( “cooperation”, “developing a healthy relationship with our food supply”, “fostering the future we want to see through community engagement”.)

9. If your home has previously been a theme house, what helpful advice can your house offer to coop houses which are similarly planning to become future theme houses?

We recommend an intentional community based on principles or values that translate to tangible activities which are better worked upon cooperatively than individually.

10. Synopsis

Toad Lane has been a student cooperative since the early 1970s, and a part of CCRI since the 1990s. Activism has been a long-standing tradition, evident in the newspaper articles featuring its residents, hundreds of books about social issues in the library, and dozens of pieces of artwork in every corner of the house. We have evolved into a vibrant vegan community, hosting weekly potlucks, fundraisers, and frequent informal discussions about social justice.

Veganism is a form of nonviolent direct action which takes seriously the interests of animals to avoid the suffering inherent in their exploitation. It looks forward to a future where liberation struggles such as anti-racism and anti-sexism are realized, but also where the underlying principles of justice are applied consistently to other patterns of oppression. We oppose speciesism, which is the assignment of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species.

Veganism also has demonstrated health and environmental benefits, which contribute to its role in social justice. We do not endorse forms of veganism based on celebrity trends, weight-loss fads, or personal purity. Veganism doesn’t mean you should fit a stereotype.

What does it mean to live in our house?

We do not have a meal plan, but sometimes we make meals collectively.
We host open vegan potlucks every thursday attended by 10-30 people.
Cleanliness and weekly house chores are taken seriously and we strive to continually improve our home with art, plants, and renovation projects.
We regularly host couch surfers and use our house as meeting place for community groups.
House meetings are held on a monthly basis, and often involve communally prepared food.
We are very LGBTQ positive.
Members of the house are expected to abstain from bringing new animal exploitation products into the house. The question of old leather and wool, or dumpster-recovered items is less a question of ethics, but more a debate of strategy and consistency, open at this time.

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Mardi c’est diner en francais!

October 20, 2010

Just by chance, this year every member of Toad Lane has some ability to converse in French. We therefore hatched the idea of becoming a French Immersion house. This, however, failed. Instead, we’ve decided to have French Immersion dinners every Tuesday at 7pm. These are entirely distinct from the Vegan pot luck (although they are also vegan, since they are in this vegan house).

Today we had our first French Immersion dinner, and although I was nervous no one would attend, we had a good turnout and it was a success. The president of CCRI even showed up, a Francophone himself.

Sometimes difficulty with verb tenses made expressing ourselves difficult, and it was apparent that we were working at different levels skill at expression, but I think on the whole everyone was able to express themselves and understand others. Hopefully by continuing to practice our French we will at least be able to re-attain previous competences in the French language which we may have lost, and depending on how often we can get Francophones to attend, really improve our French aswell.

Fall 2010 – New People, New Weekly Events

October 6, 2010

It’s been too long since our last post. Things have been going well in the house (although the G20 was a difficult period with our house being raided). The fall is treating us well – and I think I can safely say that our three new housemates are all happy to have moved into the toad lane domain.

This year is the year of events! We are planning fundraisers, another conference – and our week now has 4 repeating events!

Mondays: 9:16 Noise Band Practice: “We’re Getting the Band back Together”. A new housemate started a jam night at a previous residence every Sunday at 8:16pm – and held it every Sunday for 9 months. We’re trying a similar project here. The night is a musical safe space – so bring your instruments and your insecurities and we’ll make some sounds together!

Tuesdays/Mardi: 6:30pm Diner en Francais – nous avons decide que, parce que par chance tous les membres de Toad Lane parlent Francais, la maison sera une maison d’immersion francaise de lundi a mecredi (main non pas durant le band-practice). Le diner sur mardi sera ouvert aux francophone et aux anglophone a tous ceux qui voudraient pratiquer. Meme si vous parlez tres peux le francais, si vous etes prete a essaiyer de vous s’exprimer en Francais et d’ecouter les autres en Francais – vous etes bienvenues! Le diner sera pot-luck, et vegetalian, mais la politique vegetalien n’est pas the but primaire de cette evenement.

(French pot luck dinner – just randomly it turns out that our entire house speaks French – so we’ve decided to be an immersion house mondays to Wednesdays – and host a French pot luck dinner on tuesdays at 6:30pm. You don’t have to speak much french, or even be able to read the above invitation in French – you just have to be willing to learn, to attempt to express yourself in french, and attempt to understand others!)

Wednesday – “Yuppy Wednesday” and Crazy Strings at the Silver Dollar. 3$ cover, 10$ pitchers, and bluegrass music!

Thursday – Good ‘ol vegan pot-luck night! 8pm – bring your friend, bring your politics, leave your animal food at home!

Howard Adelman visits Toad Lane

April 18, 2010

Last Thursday our weekly pot luck was graced by the presence of renowned scholar and former CCRI summer manager Howard Adelman. Adelman is an interesting character: he is personally responsible for helping found almost every student co-op in Ontario, as well as numerous other co-ops here and around the world.  His insights into the co-operative structure are vast, although sometimes potentially outdated since he changed his research focus away from co-operatives many years ago. Currently his main concern is violence, so he spends most of his time working on how to reduce conflicts in Africa. He’s been instrumental in setting up an Early Warning System (an interview about this can be read here) which led to the arrest of Charles Taylor.

Adelman’s approach very progressive, but unlike the majority of the left it is characterized by not being anti-capitalist. Rather than “smash capitalism”, Adelman emphasizes the sense in which capitalism is a game, is fun, is a system which you can figure out and move in it the right way. (Although I didn’t ask him, his approach might be similar to the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze). He is able to operate “freely” in capitalism by rejecting many everyday truisms which effectively control people, prevent them from using capitalism in their own favour. One of these is the idea that we can’t afford things. Adelman rejects the idea that anyone “doesn’t have money”, and that getting money is simply a matter of figuring out what assets you have, how you can leverage them, and how you can get the stream of income to cover the cost of the debt.

This approach, which grasps money as a vector or flow rather than as a static entity which you have or do not have, is incredibly enabling if you are skilled enough to practice it effectively. Adelman did exactly this when CCRI hired him as a summer manager in 1957 – at this point the co-op had paid of its debts, but was running continual deficits – without a new plan CCRI might have failed in only a few more years. Adelman raised CCRI’s debt to GDP ratio from almost nil to over 70%, and in the process acquired many new houses. In short order, the co-op grew from 5 houses to 30. Money was also used to renovate the houses – which were still using ice boxes in 1957!

This state of the co-op: under debted, and under renovated, stuck in the past, is incredibly similar to the situation we find ourselves in today. We have very little debt, but we are unwilling to spend money to increase our revenue stream – instead the logic employed is first we must find ways to increase our revenue stream, and then that money can be used to borrow money. This is simply insane, because it forces one to ignore the increased revenue stream which spending the money itself can bring in. In other words, we are being too conservative.

Adelman actually believes that conservatism is an inherent problem in the co-operative model, and maybe in any genuine democracy: because everyone’s viewpoint must be considered, there is a tendency against change. This is certainly a problem we run into currently: for instance, when my committee recommended that 84 Lowther be converted into a graduate theme house, the board rejected the proposal because it is not an organic, member driven decision – and it would require moving 3 people from 84 Lowther into a different house. However, in order to preserve the benefit of allowing the 3 members to live in the house next year, CCRI is giving up the possibility to attract many graduate students who would live in CCRI through the summer – which could significantly combat our main demon right now – summer vacancy loss. This kind of failure of foresight is depressing. This is where another virtue of Adelman’s approach becomes clear: his incessant positivity. He insists that debating is fun, that life is fun, and that you should get on with it.

I think there is some truth in Adelman’s critique of the sense of difficulty we have about everything. This sense is itself a major obstacle to success – re-inventing CCRI is not hard, we just need to get on with it. Rather than telling people what they should like about the co-op, we need to find out what people like about it, and what they don’t, and spend money to give them more of what they like and less of what they don’t.

Perhaps the most radical (and true) idea that Adelman expressed was that no one moves into co-op because it is a co-op – selling the co-op on cooperative values (i.e. the Rochedale principles) is simply a bad idea. People move into co-op because it’s a desirable place to live, and because it’s a communal living situation – this is what we should emphasize, not the democratic structure. I think he’s right about this – the board tends to criticize other members for not being as involved as them, but this actually a bad idea – we should take people as they are, and if they decide to involve themselves in the democratic structure, that’s great. And, they will do it on their own if they see it as involving their own interests.

Adelman has offered to speak at both CCRI’s 75th anniversary next year, and at the upcoming OSCA conference. I think his presence, his “it’s not so difficult, get on with it” attitude is a breath of fresh air in a stifled system which comes to see everything as an unfathomable disaster.

Free Food! A Success!

March 21, 2010

The conference was a success! We had good attendance (15-30 people varying throughout the day), and all of the presentations went off well. The intention of the conference was to bring together different rigorous work on the relationship between ethics and food for the sake of moving the discourse forward, and I think, in our own little way, we accomplished this.

Some of the conference will be available on youtube after the video is extracted. Unfortunately, the good camera had to leave halfway through, and my digi cam did not have powerful enough batteries to film an entire talk.

We learned a lot about running conferences – for one, people need more than 20 minutes to present. Another thing – when dealing seriously with issues surrounding ethics that obligate us to act, dealing with the work is itself an emotionally demanding practice. Also, cooking while a talk is going on can be distracting and potentially rude.

I think we will attempt to have another conference, perhaps in the summer or fall, and on a different topic.

Spring is here! House Projects!

March 17, 2010

This is a house awash in projects. I thought I would devote a post to talking a little about each of them. The people living here are just so darned creative and driven!

1) The House Conference: “Free Food!”.  This has been in the works since October. It came originally out of a conversation Ketan and I had about the way we discuss food related issues, and a common desire to do so in the most constructive and forward moving manner possible. We’ve got a wonderful line of presentations lined up, and it looks like it will be well attended. Check back for an update on this after it happens!

2) The Soup Company. David has an idea of starting a soup delivery company, on the model of a subscription newspaper, which would involve delivering fresh soup to houses in the Annex on a weekly or bi weekly basis. While this would be a lot of work, we’ve done the math and it seems to work out. If this happens, we will get started either this spring or summer.

3) The Brewery. Scott and I have started brewing beer in the house for the personal enjoyment of the house and our friends. Our first batch was an Australian Dark Beer – and it’s actually quite good! We’ve also bought several “Big Easy” brewing kits from our local wine making shop. These are especially interesting because we’ve devised a way to re-use the yeast from the making of the beer to make various forms of grogg. Our best recipe so far seems to be boiled sugar and tea – it comes out tasting like cider!

4) “Get on the Bus”. David is planning to run a trip to Burning Man this year, which will involve a school bus (which I may be driving), and 10-20 excited participants. The theme for Burning Man this year is “metropolis” – so the theme of the trip will be Cities. The idea is to take a significant amount of time travelling both to and from Burning Man, stopping at Co-operatives, and other forward-looking things happening our contemporary cities. This may be combined with (3) because my idea is that our contribution to burning man could be serving beer we brew on the bus, on the way to Burning Man (this is eminently possible to do in large water tanks).

5) Five is a secret. It’s an idea for an amazing thing that might happen this summer, but I can’t tell you about it until the end of the week. Check back!

Conference Poster Released!

March 2, 2010