Why must I be a doctor or lawyer to live comfortably? I am a chef. I work hard and enjoy what I do. I love the newfound excitement in the culinary arts. That credit goes to Emeril, Bobby Flay and all the other celebrity chefs.

There is a misconception that this field has the potential to bring great riches, though. It does not, by any means, and this is unfortunate.

We pay huge money for health-related issues, legal advice, even hair care and personal trainers. Yet we have no issues shoveling food made by untrained kids paid $8 per hour into our mouths. Business owners see cooks as expendable, because they are, and therefore never pay what the job is actually worth. I blame this on the owners themselves.

They hire green so they can pay the minimum. There is no job security or motivation to perform in most cases. No passionate chef to lead or train technique. Just an assembly line of leftover baked potatoes turned into potato skins, unwashed hands and bagged soup. Mmmm — just like Grandma used to make!

Think about that next time you sit at a big-box restaurant or local pub. Who’s making my food?

Yep, that 20-year-old who just walked into the bathroom with his apron on. Then ask, “Why?”

Because he’ll work for cheap, that’s why. There are culinary arts graduates with $50,000 loans out there to pay, but they won’t be hired here because they want $12 an hour, barely enough to live and pay off loans. Owners should be ashamed and consumers should beware, or at least be aware.

Matthew Crate

Portland

Maine workers suffer from free trade agreements

This year several new free trade agreements were passed with the nations of Columbia, Korea and Panama. These free trade agreements are just the beginning. President Obama is in negotiations with as many as a dozen countries to hammer out a deal on a Pacific Area Free Trade Agreement.

Maine people are all too familiar with the effects of free trade. Since NAFTA passed in the 1990s, Maine has lost thousands of jobs. This latest attempt at expanding free trade to countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Chile and Peru, is an even greater threat to Maine.

New free trade agreements contain language that allows corporations to challenge laws that have an adverse effect on their profit. For instance, Maine is a leader among states that have passed chemical regulations aimed at preventing exposure to toxic chemicals in consumer products. Due to free trade agreements, these laws can be challenged by foreign corporations that want to sell toxic toys containing BPA.

PAFTA goes a step further by explicitly limiting governments’ abilities to regulate banks, hedge funds and insurance companies. It also has provisions to strengthen monopolies on prescription drugs and make it harder to regulate drug prices. This will mean higher prices and less access to medicine.

I want to live in a community that is free of toxic chemicals and that provides quality health care for all its people. Maine has made great strides on both of these issues. I fear that the gains Maine has made and the potential for further progress could be undone by free trade and the greed of multinational corporations.

I encourage my fellow readers to join me in contacting Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Ask them to oppose PAFTA and to support our state’s right to pass ground-breaking chemical policy and other reforms.

Anthony Zeli

Portland

Maine trooper got special treatment in OUI stop

So the supervising trooper charged with OUI wants “to be treated like everyone else.” I wonder how many Down Easters, stopped for operating under the influence, have been given a ticket and sent home.

I seem to remember, as a youth growing up in Maine, that not one friend of mine was ever “ticketed and released.” I don’t seem to remember that we were treated like undersized lobsters and tossed back in.

Has the adjudication of justice changed that dramatically these past decades?

John K. McManamy

Venice Beach, Calif.

Cutting energy use is best response to loss of aid

Gov. LePage’s plan to use winterization funds for low-income energy assistance seems to be a temporary fix. Considering that the Maine Housing Authority is doing what it can to help low-income families and Efficiency Maine is going in so many directions, has anyone thought of planning for many more cold Maine winters?

Any and all Maine homes should be as efficient as possible. To this end, many of us could benefit from a home inspection. Tell me where and what kind of insulation I need to make my home more efficient, and I’ll do it. Who wouldn’t want to save energy and fuel? It is obvious this will be a problem year after year.

I have looked into getting an inspection, but the money ($85 an hour or more) only tells me what the problem is. Then I need to spend for materials and possibly a contractor.

Hopefully these suggestions can be helpful.

1. Train unemployed workers willing to learn to do home assessments. Not to take away from trained people — they could teach classes, then a cadre of people could fill the need of homeowners requesting inspections.

2. Lower the cost of inspections (perhaps to $25 an hour). Fully qualified inspectors could be compensated by teaching classes, and/or the difference could be offset by the state savings from the unemployed returning to work. The difference could be spent on materials needed.

The major difference here is that those who can afford to winterize (and have enough interest to apply) would lower consumption of energy for many years to come.

Many may think this is oversimplification of a complex problem. It is my hope that we will think outside of the box, plan for the future and all work together for a model state program.

Richard Roberge

Saco