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Why Is Cheese So Expensive in Canada?

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It's a struggle most Canadian dairy lovers are familiar with: Cheese up there is so expensive that a pound of cheddar can end up costing more than a pound of steak. Our neighbors to the north aren’t exaggerating when they complain about steep cheese prices—costs are sometimes three times higher than comparable products sold in the States, and it’s not because the Canadian air makes cows pump out liquid gold. It’s all thanks to a little something called supply management.

Supply management is a blanket term used to describe the policies regulating Canada’s dairy (and egg and poultry) markets. The dairy industry works differently in Canada than it does in other cheese-loving parts of the world. Both the European Union and the United States subsidize their dairy farmers—the Canadian government does not. Instead, they use other ways to get farmers the financial support they need.

Minimum price-setting for domestic dairy products keeps cheese prices above a certain mark, while strict quotas and high taxes on imports keep foreign competition under control. International cheeses account for a tiny fraction of the market, so cheese made in France, Italy, and other places abroad is difficult to find outside specialty shops. The result is more profits for Canadian producers taken straight from the consumers’ pockets come check-out time.

When supply management was introduced to Canada in the 1960s and '70s, it served a clear purpose. The policies were put in place to protect farmers from unpredictable market fluctuations and keep their livelihoods secure. Since then many of the small family farms that were originally protected under the laws have been replaced with factory farms, and the relevance of supply management is now a topic of hot debate.

The laws aren't terribly popular among citizens (even police officers have been known to help smuggle cheese across the border), and it's not just because of the high grocery bills. Opponents argue that the regulations are bad for innovation, free trade negotiations, and restaurateurs. Canadian farmers still insist the benefits outweigh the costs. On the Dairy Farmers of Canada’s web page, they write:

"While farmers around the world face unexpected and inexplicable wild market fluctuations, Canadian farmers sell their milk at constant and stable prices. As a result, Canadian dairy farming is one of the few agricultural sectors that are self-sufficient – providing income security for farmers and requiring no government subsidy. This means Canadian farmers can invest in their farms, communities and Canada."

Because farmers hold significant power in Canadian politics, supply management boasts supporters from every major party. But not all hope is lost for Canadian connoisseurs of affordable cheese. Progress on their front was made last year when a trade deal was signed slightly increasing the quota on foreign dairy imports. Consumers may benefit from the resulting price cuts, while Canadian farmers and processors will receive $4.3 billion from the government over 15 years to make up for the revenue loss. So next time you enjoy a plate of poutine, feel free to be a little less conservative with the cheese curds.

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Big Questions
How Do Aerial Skiers Perfect Their Jumps?
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Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

If you've ever watched an aerial skier in action, you know that some of the maneuvers these athletes pull off are downright jaw-dropping—and you've probably seen more than a few of these skiers land on their rear ends at some point. The jumps are incredible, but they're also so technical that one seemingly insignificant motion can drop a skier on his or her tail.

Given that the skiers can fly up to 60 feet in the air and come down on a 37-degree grade, it seems like just going out and trying a new trick would be a good way to break your neck. That's why you'll need one unexpected piece of equipment if you want to start training for aerials: a towel.

Instead of perfecting their flips and twists over the snow, aerial skiers try out their new maneuvers on ramps that launch them over huge swimming pools. The U.S. national team has facilities in Park City, Utah and Lake Placid, New York that include specially designed pools to help competitors perfect their next big moves. The pools have highly aerated patches of bubbles in their centers that decrease the surface tension to make the water a bit softer for the skiers' landings.

If you're an aspiring aerial skier, expect to get fairly wet. New skiers have to make a minimum of 200 successful jumps into water before they even get their first crack at the snow, and these jumps have to get a thumbs up from coaches in order for the skier to move on.

This sort of meticulous preparation doesn't end once you hit the big-time, either. American Ashley Caldwell, one of the most decorated athletes in the sport, is competing in her third Olympics in Pyeongchang, but failed to advance past the qualifiers on February 15, as she wasn't able to land either one of the two triple-flipping jumps she attempted. Still, it's this very sort of risk-taking that has brought her to the top of her game, and caused friction with more than one of her past coaches.

"Why win with less when you can win with more?" Caldwell said of her competition mentality. “I don’t want to go out there and show the world my easiest trick. I want to show the world my best trick, me putting everything on the line to be the best.”

You can check out some of Team USA's moves in the video below:

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Is There Really Such Thing As 'Muscle Memory'?
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Is there really such a thing as 'muscle memory'? For example, in the sense of your fingers remembering where the keys of the keyboard are?

C Stuart Hardwick:

Yes and no. There is no literal memory in the muscles, but the thing people call “muscle memory” exists, though the name is a misnomer.

A better name might be “subconscious memory,” as the information is stored in the brain, but is most readily accessible—or only accessible—by non-conscious means.

What “non-conscious” refers to here is the brain’s enormous capacity to train up what might almost be called “subroutines,” that exist outside our conscious experience. I like the term for this that at least one researcher in the field uses: “zombie agency.”

Zombie agents are non-conscious, or sub-conscious (in the literal, not the Freudian sense) that can do essentially everything you can do except make value judgments. So, for example, you don’t consciously know how to control your muscles in order to walk —in all likelihood, you wouldn’t know where to begin—but your zombie agents do, and they’ll take you wherever you want to go, dodging curbs and puppies, and “waking you” when appropriate to decide which babies to stop and kiss.

Zombie agents can be rather startling things. When you suddenly become aware that you’ve driven halfway across town in the direction of the office instead of going to the shoe store Saturday morning, you have zombie agents to thank. You “wake” as if from slumber, and with the frightening realization that you’ve been flying down the highway at prodigious speed while your mind was on other things. You feel as if you’ve been asleep, and in a way you have—but a very funny kind of sleep in which it is only the uppermost layer of abstract reason that is disassociated from the rest of conscious experience. Your zombie agents have been driving to work, responding to traffic, adjusting the radio, noting the check engine light, all the things you think of as “you, driving the car,” except the big one: deciding where to go. That part was on automatic pilot (which is another good way to think of this).

This is at the advanced end of the spectrum. Typing your friend’s phone number using “muscle memory” is at the other, but it’s the same phenomenon.

We didn’t evolve to remember phone numbers, so we aren’t very good at it. In fact, we are so bad at it, we invent all sorts of mnemonic devices (memory aids) to help us [in] relating numbers to words or spacial memory, either of which are closer to the hunting and gathering we are evolved for. The illusion of “muscle memory” arises because we are supremely well adapted to manual manipulation and tool-making. We don’t need to invent a memory aid to help us remember what we do with our hands, we only have to practice.

So the conscious mind says “dial Tabby’s number,” and our fingers—or more correctly, the zombie agent which learned that task—do it. Similarly, after sufficient training, we can do the same thing with tasks like “play a major fifth,” "drive to work,” or “pull an Airbus A380 up for a go-around.”

It feels like muscle memory because the conscious mind—the part you experience as being you—is acting like a coach driver, steering the efforts of a team of zombie agents, all harnesses to collective action. But it isn’t muscle memory, it's just memory—though it may be stored (or at least some of it) in the deeper, motor cortex parts of the brain.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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