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McGill Reporter
October 9, 2003 - Volume 36 Number 03
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In focus

Leah Tivoli: returns to her roots through food

"You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant..."

Leah Tivoli
Owen Egan

Maybe it's her love of cooking, of music, of weaving, of learning, of sharing. Maybe it's her concern for health, defined in the broadest way possible: the well being of people and the environment that supports them.

Maybe it's that she comes from a village in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts not far from the infamous church where the famous song originates.

Maybe it's simply the ambience, sitting with Leah Tivoli in this corner resto on a sunny autumn morning, her rebel locks refusing to stay behind her ears, brown eyes animated, if slightly circled with fatigue, cheeks soft and full as if storing something.

But she evokes the words and tune of "Alice's Restaurant," the Arlo Guthrie song and film, released in the late '60s.

Alice Brock was a high school librarian who, with her husband, welcomed students into her home (a former church) and restaurant for a variety of creative endeavours. But Tivoli has a different venue for sharing food. For one, the issues and the technologies of the day have changed dramatically from the '60s, and Tivoli, a student in her last year at the McGill School of Environment, former president for three years of the McGill Environmental Students' Society (and now candidate for president of the Students' Society of McGill University) has a different clientele. Not only is she trying to reach fellow students, she wants the MSE events to appeal to the general McGill community — and food is a good drawing card.

After last year's Envirofest, Tivoli took upon herself to cook a harvest feast and made enough for 75, "all out of our shoebox kitchen," she laughs. Her idea was to make the festival on environmental concerns interesting to more than the converted. And it worked; "200 people showed up. We filled Gert's," she adds.

That experience inspired the founding of her own catering business, the Roots Kitchen. "I would buy an 80-litre bag of vegetables and make lunch for five professors," says Tivoli. She made the same amount of money as when she worked as a receptionist at Currie Gym, and "it was way more fun."

Her most recent enterprise is the Organic Food Cooperative. Last spring, Tivoli and other MESS executives set up tables in the Leacock building foyer, informing people of the food available, taking orders and signing up folks on the coop's listserv. The food is organic and largely local but Tivoli's wary of making too big a deal of that for fear of alienating those scared of "the hippies."

"I wanted people to know they could get a week's worth of good food on a student budget. Once they see their friends bringing in and sorting out the food, it opens them to the broader aspects of food and community," says Tivoli whose own involvement in the coop prompted her to take a minor in management. "I needed to know more about accounting.

"I don't want to be a manager," she's quick to add, "but what I'm learning is really valuable for anyone running a business."

Tivoli is the sort to initiate and help set up the structure for events or businesses, then bow out once the beast is on its feet. With a 10-member board of directors and numerous volunteers, the food coop, for instance, doesn't take up nearly the time it did at the start. This allows Tivoli time to develop her platform for SSMU president.

Why is she running? "Because I can do this and I'll have a positive impact. SSMU is notoriously ineffective. They don't even make knowledge accessible to students. Whatever board I'm on, I always post the minutes and have the backlog of minutes available."

Aside from assuring the completion of the renovations to the Shatner Building, Tivoli would like students in residence to have their own kiosk. "That way," she says, "they could start their own food coop. I like to help people gain the tools they need, to have access to quality."

Where does Tivoli get her drive to do good? From the rewards: "I get a lot of satisfaction and joy from helping people," she says, noting that her grandfather was a source of inspiration. "He was a very sharp businessman and gave a lot to the community. He was active on every board he could get on."

And her dad made her "strive to be the best." A folk guitarist and "computer guy," Tivoli's father taught her Basic programming while she was learning how to read and write on a computer. He also took Tivoli, who plays violin, to many a folk venue including, as it turns out, Alice's church. "It sits in a pot field," she laughs. "My dad played guitar and Arlo was there on stage with his son and daughter."

It's a new texture in the relationship. Martin can't ignore them. He needs them.

Antonia Maioni, MISC director speaking to the Toronto Star on the Ontario election and Paul Martin. Because both the Ontario and Quebec leaders are now Liberals, the rules of the game have changed.

Grazing on the info commons

In the Middle Ages, the village common was a shared, free-of-charge area where the peasants could graze their cattle and other livestock. Students looking to graze for information of their own have not one, but two new spaces to do so in the Redpath Library.

Students in the new information commons
Claudio Calligaris

The Information Commons and the Info-Café have a combined total of 69 computer stations for student use, and both will be open 24 hours a day.

Trenholme Director of Libraries Frances Groen explained that the project aims to be a flexible response to student needs. Today's students are more computer savvy than ever before.

"This generation of students never knew a world without computers — they were pre-adolescent when the world wide web came about," said Groen.

"The Information Commons is a much overdue development."

The Information Commons on the main floor of the Redpath Library contains 48 computers. Each has full access to the thousands of electronic journals to which the university subscribes, as well as "productivity software" such as word processing programs. In addition, the space has four small group study rooms and three medium-sized ones, each of which is equipped with a jack for laptop computers. The space is also a wireless zone, adding to the potential computing power.

Although neither the Information Commons nor the Café are officially open, the latter facility is already buzzing. Located next to Chartwell's in the Redpath basement, the room has 21 computers, where students can surf the web while sipping a coffee.

"Students always want to bring food in, and we decided if you can't fight them, join them," said Groen, hastening to add that food is still banned from the rest of the library.

The downstairs computers do not come equipped with productivity software, nor are they linked to the electronic journals. Their use is more for quick on-and-off use, much as you would find in a private internet café.

The planning for the project started roughly four years ago, and was declared one of seven university priorities. The need for the project is clear: when Groen and Deputy Building Director Bruna Ceccolini took this reporter to the electronic classroom in McLennan it was already full of working students at 10 am on a Monday.

More work needs to be done. Use of the two facilities will be monitored in order to fine-tune policies and resources, and Ceccolini also pointed out that the Information Café will soon be renovated again, in order to make way for an elevator to improve access.

The Commons project is just one part of a larger trend of consolidating electronic resources in the library. The reserves section will soon be going electronic, in order to save students the cost of photocopying articles for their classes. In addition, the Electronic Data Resources Services (EDRS) is moving next door to the Commons. EDRS provides access to government statistics. Their new space will be equipped with facilities for seminars.

The Information Commons and the Info-Café were built with funds from private donations and from the SSMU, who contributed $300,000. SSMU Vice-President (University Affairs) and Acting-President Vivian Choy is happy to see the new facility in operation.

"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for students to find quiet time and find discussion rooms. It's a brand new learning environment," she said.

The Information Commons and the Information Café officially open on Thursday, October 9, at 3 pm, on the Redpath Library main floor. Reception to follow.

Eating a large meal will have a sedative effect.

Simon Young, Research psychologist talks to Psychology Today on the aftereffects of Thanksgiving dinner. Holiday feasters are prey to the belief that turkey is loaded with the doze-inspiring amino acid tryptophan, but Young calls that a myth.

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