J500 Media and the Environment

What’s up with the Kaw? by amandat09

I was in the Cayman Islands with my family a few years ago when a cab driver asked us where we were from. When we told him Kansas, his reaction surprised us. He starting rattling tales of how he loved the idea of wide open land and sprawling space with fresh rivers. He said he would trade the perfectly sculpted beaches and salty waters in a heartbeat for a fresh river or two. In an attempt not to dash his grandeur vision of Kansas, I withheld my negative comments on what our rivers can be like…

Last year, my best friend’s roommate started complaining about a rash on her arms and back. Big red welts starting showing up on her skin, and her doctor gave her a pretty good guess as to the reason: she’s on the KU rowing team, and contaminants from the Kansas River were most likely the cause. It went away after she took three different prescriptions, but the idea that a river the produces about 50% of the water for Lawrence residents can produce itchy welts when it comes in contact with skin makes me cringe.

Have you ever gone swimming in the Kaw?

Have you ever gone swimming in the Kaw?

I’ve worked with Debbie Baker at the Kansas Biological Survey as a story source a few times during my journalism career here at KU. I’ve taken an interest in water issues with the rivers around Kansas, and she’s told me about a lot of its issues. And….it can be gross.  Runoff from agriculture around Lawrence can result in larger-than-normal amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous in the Kaw. If you ever notice your tap water tasting or smelling a bit off, agriculture is the reason why. These are also responsible for eutrofication of our rivers, which is why they can look so…..dead.

I’ve lived in Kansas my whole life, and have yet to find these beautiful clear rivers that our cab driver had so nostalgically ingrained in his mind.

-Amanda Thompson

Does New Zealand have a new idea for the meat industry? by tylerw09
February 27, 2009, 3:45 pm
Filed under: Food + Health

The more I learn about the food I eat, the more I realize it is much bigger than I thought.

According to an article about Slaughterhouse Blues most people do not know much about the food they eat or the conditions that food is processed in.Pig

“When all the social costs are tallied, our cheap meat is much more expensive than we can afford,”  Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation writes in the foreword.

“Slaughterhouses are now located in rural areas that rarely get much attention from the national media. … Most Americans live in cities or suburbs and have little idea where their food comes from.”

I have little idea where most of my food comes from, and I live in the Midwest, America’s farm.

I never thought of the dangerous work conditions of meat processing plants, including repetitive stress injury, and the wages of the workers.

I mean, you can even get sick by just being around these places, according to an article in Rolling Stone about the Pork Industry.

However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel in the way New Zealand is dealing with meat.

According to the Meat Industry Association of New Zealand, one of their goals is to

“be at the forefront of international food safety and the environmental sustainability of agricultural production thereby maintaining competitive advantage.”

The 07-08 Meat Industry Profile highlights food safety, animal welfare and environmental concerns. New Zealand is working with the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium.

New Zealand is fighting for better conditions, I hope America is watching and listening.

– Tyler Waugh

Thanks to Farm Sanctuary and Flickr for the for photo

The Cheese Stands Alone by justinlev7
February 27, 2009, 3:38 pm
Filed under: Business + Politics, Food + Health, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,

When I stayed with a family in France, I had two roommates: Chris, from Kansas, and Victoria, from Ukraine. Chris hoped to be a museum curator, I hoped to be a journalist, and Victoria hoped to be… a cheese-maker.

Up until then I had not known any cheese-makers. A whole field, completely alien to me.  The only thing it brought to my mind was the Monty Python bit: “Did Jesus just say, ‘Blessed are the cheese-makers?'”


Worldwide Dairy Exports

I couldn’t imagine devoting the rest of my life to cheese-craft, of all things. “Doesn’t she have goals?” I thought to myself. “Is that what she dreamed of as a child? Seperating the curds from the whey, watching over vats of cream as it curdles into tomorrow’s Swiss, Gouda and Provolone? This will be her career? The fruit of all her labor will be  sandwich toppings?”

In fact, my cheese-ist prejudice was purely cultural. After all, France has a long, storied tradition of cheese-making. Victoria was learning French in preperation for a selective training program sponsored by a manufacturing company that had been in the cheese business for centuries.

Fast-forward to later on: I was at a party talking with this guy , and I asked what line of work he was in. “Les dindes,” he said. I didn’t have the best French, so I didn’t immediately believe what my brain was telling me he meant. Couldn’t be. “The bird?” I asked in French. “Like the chicken, only bigger?” “Oui,” he said. This man was a turkey breeder! His job was to make sure turkey bloodlines continued to improve. I couldn’t believe it!

In the context of European culture, this should not have been surprising. There is no shame involved in working for the food industry. Victoria worked and studied as hard as I did, and her aspirations were as valid as mine. It was ignorant of me to presuppose that because my parents are academics, only academic careers can be honorable (all around the world, no less). And realistically, she will likely make a good deal more money than I will. The turkey guy already does!

For me, working hard and making a difference in the world did not go hand-in-hand with food production. In fact, simply thinking about the subject brought unpleasant connotations to my mind, from the image of overcrowded slaughterhouses to the putrid smell of cow pastures back home in Illinois.

Wait a moment… that’s strictly meat production… Hmmm…

Where did my unfounded prejudice come from? Why isn’t the business of producing humanity’s food more respected in American society? I think the answer lies in our culture, and begins with our modern reluctance to go outside, get our hands dirty, and labor for our dinner.

Justin Leverett’s cheese is nacho cheese.

Battle Banana by Janie
February 27, 2009, 3:33 pm
Filed under: Energy + Climate, Food + Health | Tags: , ,

A new war front has been brewing at my house. 

On one side: my environmentally-conscious sister.  On the other: my hungry father.  The battleground: bananas.

The livelihood of these yellow, potassium rich favorites of monkeys and fathers alike is currently under threat in the Chen household.  Could we actually experience a banana prohibition?

My sister argues that bananas, with their international travel from Ecuadorian farms to Kansas tables, is a contributor of greenhouse gases.  She actually wants to stop buying bananas.  My father, on the other hand, fights back by pointing out that bananas are a good source of potassium and vitamins.  He thinks she’s crazy.  This food fight is one that many of us who care about the environment struggle with on a daily basis.  How do we reconcile our dual desires to support sustainable agriculture and enjoy the diverse cornucopia of available foods? While we try to eat more locally, what do we do when something is simply locally unattainable?

It’s enough to drive one bananas.

While eating locally is a wonderful alternative to the food industry we currently have in place, the idea of eating only local is unfortunately only a Utopian dream for many of us.  I admire those who can give up their bananas, and many times, that admiration is coupled with personal guilt.  If I can’t only eat local, does that make me a food fraud?  My answer is no and I find that outlook both defeating and unproductive.

Becoming a locavore just be a dream for now, but that shouldn’t stop you or I from doing what we can to promote sustainable food.  Of the many needs we have as humans, food is one that we not only have to have, but want to have.  It is where necessity and pleasure meet.  We must find encouragement in that passion to adopt better eating habits, become more conscious consumers, and inspire others to do the same.

Janie Chen

image credit

Fighting Fast Food with Cute Cows by brennad87

“We are going to talk about cows today!” I said cheerily to the bunch of bright faces assembled. 

It was a Sunday morning and I was with the group of children I have babysat for two years.  Fresh from watching a You Tube video of Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, I was keenly aware that the kids around me were right in the middle of their most formative years. Fast food knows this too. With the pull of good taste and good advertising, children get hooked into bad eating habits young.

Eating habits start young. Sadly, those habits usually stick.

Eating habits start young. Sadly, those habits usually stick.

In an interview with CBS, Schlosser explains, “It started innocently enough, giving a toy with the meal, playgrounds, there are good things about it. But these are very, very crucial years. If you look at the ingredients of the fast food meals that are being heavily marketed to children, they’re extremely high in fat, and high in sugar, and high in salt.”

So this morning, I decided, I would do some counter-advertising. We were going to learn about sustainable agriculture.

The kids began by envisioning that they owned cow farms (“Mine is named Blackberry farm,” said Bella).   I then explained to them the consolidation of buyers for milk and why that was hard for small farms (“Why would a group selling milk to Dillons want to buy from a place with lots of cows?” “It’s easier for them,” said Li, who I was quickly realizing was the cold hearted capitalist amongst us.)

“So, if you buy more cows,” I continued, “how can you afford that?”

Less trips to the vet, cheaper food… they understood.

“And what if you want to stay small? So you can afford the good stuff for your cows?”

“The buyers won’t buy from you,” said Li, “They can’t make money.”

“So how can you survive?”

Shatto Milk Company welcomes young visitors to their farm. Lessons like that stick too!

Shatto Milk Company welcomes young visitors to their farm. Lessons like that stick too!

With remarkable ease, the imaginative kids solved the problem just like the ace advertisers hired by Shatto Milk Company, a local sustainable and successful farm. Bella produced a drawing of a funky looking bottle to sell the milk in (Something Shatto already does). Li admitted she would rather buy from people (and cows!) she knew (Shatto makes a point to involve themselves in the community). They brainstormed different kinds of milk—“Coconut!” and “Mint!” (Shatto is famous for Root Beer Milk.)

At the end of the lesson, I told them about Shatto farms and the kids were entranced that the whimsical farm existed. They left after an hour, still chatting about Farmer Shatto’s horn that moos instead of honks, and as I called “Tell your parents about the stuff you learned,” I hoped I had made a difference.

— Brenna Daldorph


— photos at http://www.fox4kc.com/media/photo/2008-12/ShattoMilk082.jpg, http://vivirlatino.com/i/2008/07/mcdonalds-kid.jpg


the pork industry: eating like a pig by jessicasb
February 27, 2009, 2:07 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, Society + Media, Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , ,

Meat has been a staple in my diet since I can remember. My mother always enjoyed making juicy hamburgers on the grill, and it’s kind of hard for me to imagine eating out without ordering something with chicken.

Becoming a vegetarian is almost unimaginable for me, and though that might disappoint some of my classmates, I still represent more than 90% of the U.S. population.
natalie dee
Smithfield Foods is the largest pork processor in the world, but its process of raising and slaughtering pigs is far from pretty. “Boss Hog” goes on to describe its methods: Pigs spend time in pens so small they can’t move around and often trample themselves to death. Excrement from pigs — including piglets, insecticides and antibiotic syringes — make their way through slatted floors below the pens. This waste makes it way to holding ponds.

When much of your food is made this way, it’s easy to feel helpless about what you’re eating — or at least concerned about where you can get sustainable meat (The Atlantic has a great story about sustainable meat-raising practices).

One answer? Demand sustainable results come to you. As consumers, we are powerful.

Two years ago, Burger King started to buy eggs and pork from suppliers that did not confine their animals to cages and crates. Quiznos announced a couple weeks ago that by 2012, they plan on having 15% of their pork products coming from crate-free environments.

Sustainable businesses are finding it tough to break even. Can idealist food companies survive? Should we start to back big companies that can afford to make the (small) plunge, like those mentioned above?

Vegetarianism may be the ideal answer, but I’m not sure I can ever make that promise, and I know many others who couldn’t either. So, in a country of carnivores — what’s the second best answer for mainstream sustainable meat?

— Jessica Sain-Baird

Thanks to Natalie Dee for the image.

To Eat Or Not To Eat…The Other White Meat by mstinawood

People of the world face food dilemmas everyday. Today, I face an ethical one. After reading about and seeing the grotesque conditions factory raised pigs are forced to endure, my initial reaction is to never eat pork again.  In addition, salmonella outbreaks, milk contaminations, and other scares are contributing to a new food consciousness for me and many others. As more people are becoming concerned with where and how their food is produced a new league of ‘ethical omnivores‘ is being formed.

I’ve talked to meat eating friends and family to find out how they feel about the (literally) shitty conditions of the pork industry. As soon as I begin explaining the deplorable conditions I am stopped in my tracks, “Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know!” I completely understand this sentiment. Most of us are accustomed to eating meat and knowing the truth makes us feel guilty and disgusted. Rather than force feed the daunting realities of mass produced pig products down peoples throats, I offer up solutions. Of course one option is to give pork up completely, but for those who can’t imagine living a fulfilled life without bacon and eggs or pork chops and mashed potatoes there are options for you too. Depending where you live you may find locally raised, free-range pork at neighborhood farmers markets. In the Lawrence area there are no ethically run pig farms, but don’t fret! The Merc offers pork raised drug and cage free brought in from Colorado. Whole Foods in the Kansas City area offers all-natural, free-range pork from Iowa.

There are answers to this dilemma that are easy to swallow. All natural pork is more expensive, but Americans typically eat too much meat in the first place. If your pork intake is lower quantity and higher quality you’re better off in both mind and body.

Tina Wood

Photo Credit