Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dear Mr. Haagen-Daas - The Battle of the Bulge, Part 1

Dear Mr. Haagen-Daas,

I regret to inform you that I will no longer be purchasing your fine selection of ice cream products.

Normally a notification like this wouldn't be necessary, but seeing as I'm such a loyal customer, I am fairly certain my abstinence will reflect in your future sales figures, and I wanted to give you a head's up. You should expect to see a decline in the sales of, most notably: chocolate peanut butter, cherry vanilla, and rocky road.

If it's any consolation, the same effects will be felt by the folks at Dairy Queen, Scotsburn, Farmers, Ben & Jerrys, and every student ice cream barn in the Quad County area, to whom this letter has also been forwarded.

Trust me, it's not that I have any desire to stop consuming your delicious creations. Given the opportunity, I would gladly eat nothing but ice cream three meals a day for the rest of my life. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to open my freezer and see a pint of your wonderful diary goodness gazing back at me. To eat it is like a sweet, frozen kiss on the lips, and my taste buds covet every pecan, marshmallow & caramel swirl.

Many a death threat has been uttered to members of my household in an effort to sanctify and sustain your product, and I am both proud and joyless to report that my efforts have been met with much success. My husband isn't a big fan of ice cream, period, so he wasn't a big threat to begin with. My kids love it, but they're easily distracted, and I have been able to tempt them with other treats and keep the majority of the ice cream for myself. While this has been a wonderful reality for me to enjoy, I am now paying the price.

You see, I could have swore your packaging labels read "fat free" or "ideal for diets" or something along those lines, but I guess I was mistaken. And here I was, eating Cherry Garcia almost as if it were going out of style, not giving a second thought to the caloric repercussions of my actions. The result, to put it mildly, is not physically ideal.

First, I noticed my pants were fitting more snugly than usual. Soon after, I found I had a bit of extra padding when I would sit down. Coming on the end, I noticed an extra chin was forming. But the biggest wake up call came the other night, when I was startled at pictures I found; my husband has, at some point, married another woman! Sure, she looks a lot like me, and mysteriously she even wore my wedding dress...and had all the same guests...and was holding my children in a few shots. But that couldn't be me, I don't look like that! I may not have the same pre-babies bod I once did, but I couldn't have changed that much, could I? In any event, since my clothes have recently been rejecting my body, I feel it's in the best interest of everyone involved if I stop eating ice cream and begin a new diet regimen. Especially since, if you listen very closely, you can actually hear my arteries clogging.

So, allow me, if you will, to offer a few suggestions as to how to improve your products and make them more suitable for people like me.

First, each label should include a disclaimer, written in big, bold letters. Your advertising staff should have final copy, but I advise it should say something like, "WARNING: Consumption of this product, while providing instant and powerful gratification, may lead to obesity, with side effects including self-consciousness, denial, guilt, frustration, and lack of clothes-shopping enjoyment. Crying jags, hissy-fits, and temper tantrums are more infrequent, but have been reported in some cases." You may need a bigger container to fit all that, but I think you can afford it, considering you charge over $5 for as much ice cream as one could fit on a single large cone.

As the more expensive, yet more rewarding, alternative, you could invest millions of dollars in the research and development of a fat-free, calorie-free, organic and health-smart ice cream. Imagine being the brain behind that! Your profits would compensate one hundred fold for the initial investment, and you could win back faithful customers like me. Run with it, trust me. You're welcome.

In closing, I want to again express my regret concerning my new-found temperance, and I apologize for any negative effect it might have on your bottom line. Should you happen to take action on that idea we talked about, let me know and I'll be the first in line.

With fond memories & admiration,
A new & improved Gina MacDonald

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Game Over

I heard on the news the other night that 80% of adults in Nova Scotia gamble in some form at least four times per month, whether it be buying lotto tickets or taking a trip to the casino. That's a much higher number than I would have guessed.

I've never been much of a gambler. I never to go bingo, I don't buy lottery tickets, scratch tickets, or pull tickets, and I've only been to a casino twice. Another thing I don't do is play those VLTs.

Don't get me wrong, I have before. I've thrown in a few loonies here and there, but never much more than that. And I've always cashed out if my winnings reached more than ten dollars or so. I've just never been very liberal when it comes to those poker machines. I might walk away with lots of money, but only if I risk losing a great deal of it too, something I'm not willing to chance.

Unfortunately, much the same way as alcoholics have a hard time staying away from alcohol, compulsive gamblers can't stay away from VLTs. Addiction is a powerful thing, it seems. Even in the absence of any ingested chemical, people get addicted to playing poker machines as other people do to hard drugs, and I would venture to say that, in this province, it ruins just as many lives.

We all know someone who, while they can't afford to make their car payment, can be found on payday pumping cash into a machine at the tavern. Or someone who has blown their whole paycheque and now can't afford to buy groceries. Or, even worse, the person who asks you to borrow twenty bucks under the guise of buying diapers, only to blow it in five minutes in an attempt to win more. I feel bad for a great majority of these people, who meet a VLT at every corner, and who have been falsely led to believe that great riches will come their way, if they just put in one more dollar.

Because, you see, that's the problem with VLTs. At bingo, when the night is over, it's over. But with VLTs, the promise of a big jackpot may be just a few dollars away, as indicated on the screen right in front of you. As soon as the "sorry, game over" message flashes, the row of 7s, the straight flush, or whatever the big winner might be, immediately follows it on the screen. It says, even if only subliminally, "you may have lost that time, but look at what could happen if you play again."

Problem gamblers account for more than half of net VLT revenues, according to Statistics Nova Scotia. Those same statistics show that these machines account for 75% of the Atlantic Lotto Corporation's net revenue, and that they have generated more than three hundred million dollars in revenue for the Atlantic provinces. So what is more likely, that the government is going to do all it can to prevent people from developing an addiction to gambling, starting with reducing the number of machines available to these gambling addicts? Or that the government is too dependant on gaming revenues to be proactive in doing anything that discourages people from handing their money over to the coffers? Constituents are gambling their paycheques and their lives away, and the government is not aggressively addressing one of the main problems, the presence of these machines at every turn.

The Nova Scotia government currently licenses over 2300 VLTs to taverns and bars, not including another 500 licensed to First Nations communities, and countless others in the casinos. If this government actually wants problem gambling to decrease, they'll significantly reduce this number, and I mean very significantly. However, I'm not going to hold my breath.

For those of you playing devil's advocate, I agree that a gambling addiction is the responsibility of the person who has it, and not completely the fault of the government. An adult is charged with being accountable and solving personal problems as they arise, without passing blame. But it's not enough to say, "just don't play them" when a person has a physiological compulsion and sees a row of 20 machines while they're having lunch at a local tavern. Occasional gamblers will not take issue with a decrease in the number of available machines, and profits, whether it be to merchants or government, should be a lower priority than the well being of people who live here. A small sticker with the number to a gambling hotline isn't enough, and until opportunity is decreased, problem gambling in Nova Scotia will continue to the same extent as it is today.