J500 Media and the Environment


A Fifty-Pound Bag of Rice by jenh
January 20, 2008, 7:04 am
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , ,

The eco footprint quiz is great for raising awareness, and there’s an extended section on taking action based on your results. It also oversimplifies and doesn’t allow you to give nuanced answers. For example, I eat meat once or twice a week, but strive to eat non-CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) meat and eggs, which are often from local, pasture-raised animals. In our house, we compost, we seek out thrift store deals and Dumpster-diving finds, we walk to work (uphill, both ways, in the snow, of course!). We live on local food to the extent that we can in Kansas. Alas, it would take 16 acres to support this lifestyle, which tells me that for all the actions I think make a difference, I still live in a single-family home, drive a fuel-inefficient light pickup, and take the occasional plane trip. And there’s that omnivore’s dilemma.

The added benefit of taking the quiz was it prompted dinner-table talk about the future goals for our household. We are easing into a test year now to determine how much food it takes for us to live on — and how much we want to “live” — as we look toward starting an organic, sustainable farm operation in the Kaw Valley. We hope to come as close as we can to living on what we raise and preserve ourselves, with exceptions for what we cannot for cost or climate reasons. But there are trade-offs for everything. The 50 lb. bag of organic rice we recently purchased traveled from halfway around the globe, gobbling up energy and resources all the way. If it lasts all year, does that ecologically balance out? I don’t know.
– posted by Jen Humphrey

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8 Comments so far
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Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma? I looked at your link and it sounds like it’d be worthwhile to read. I was reading a blog earlier today that addressed the idea of eating locally versus something that’s been shipped here through the example of driving your SUV to the farmer’s market to buy one ingredient. I often wonder about ecological cross-canceling like your bag of rice conundrum. What should we be eating? It’s a tricky question.

Sonya E

Comment by sonyae

For example, I eat meat once or twice a week, but strive to eat non-CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) meat and eggs, which are often from local, pasture-raised animals.

I fall into the same category. There is a considerable difference between CAFO meat and dairy and meat and dairy coming from a local pasture. Among the differences: the use of antibiotics and growth hormones and concerns of them seeping into food, polluted waterways caused by greater concentrations of animal waste, and pollution caused by the shipping of CAFO meat and dairy.

These are major differences and lead to a lot of external sources of pollution, neither of which seem to be accounted for in the quiz.

Bobby Grace

Comment by bobbygrace

The quiz also doesn’t take into account the benefits to the environment smart cattle ranching can produce.
Ranching allows for open spaces for native species of plants and wildlife. In many cases they live harmoniously together and in fact complement each other.
Ranching, when done correctly, creates stream banks where willows can live, they help prevent erosion, and through proper grazing keeps grass species healthy.
Buy needing more land to grow beef, it means that there is all that land for deer, antelope, elk, and moose as well.
Unfortunately environmentalists and ranchers are often at odds with each other, mostly because they are both so stubborn and passionate that they fail to realize the sustainability and productivity that could be reached by working together.

Adam Bowman

Comment by acbowman

Great dialog here, everyone. Adam, your last sentence is telling: “Unfortunately environmentalists and ranchers are often at odds with each other, mostly because they are both so stubborn and passionate that they fail to realize the sustainability and productivity that could be reached by working together.” How can journalists be the bridge to these seemingly disparate parties? In truth, ranchers are some of the biggest, baddest environmentalists out there – they just don’t identify themselves as environmentalists because of the hippy, granola-munching rap that environmentalists once had. Is that changing – or do we need new ways to frame “green”?

Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

I started the linked article from Simran’s comment here and it raises great points– the environment is not an inherently polarizing issue for conservatives and liberals but there appears to be no common ground based on the language with which it is being discussed. We have a lot of reading, but it’s worth a look if you have a spare moment.

Sonya E

Comment by sonyae

I realized I forgot to answer the Omnivore’s Dilemma question, above. Sorry to say that I haven’t read it (yet), but I know from the many “foodies” I associate with that it’s considered well-researched. It’s not as incendiary as a manifesto, but basically instructs about thinking before eating, the slow food movement, etc.

Jen H

Comment by jenh

Regarding Simran’s question, we do need new ways to talk about “green,” especially if we are trying to convince people to care about an issue. We lose credibility among those who disagree with environmental policies when we don’t address their concerns, and language choice can be one of the immediate ways of alienating them. Much of the language of debate in the U.S. sets up an automatic for/against dichotomy. This gets tricky, though, because giving equal time to all sides is not necessarily balanced journalism. The weight of evidence may be very strong on one side, and giving equal time can produce an apples to fruitcake comparison — leading people to think that both ideas merit the same consideration.

Jennifer H

Comment by jenh

I could not have said that better. Thanks, Jen. We’ll do a series of posts on re-envisioning what green means in a few weeks. In the interim, Thomas Friedman sums it up nicely in his radio segment on the Brian Lehrer Show (part of this week’s readings/ listenings). I don’t fully agree with his framing, but it is a powerful start. The most compelling reframe I see is from the business community: green=green.

Simran Sethi

Comment by j500




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