J500 Media and the Environment

What National can do for ‘local,’ and everything beyond by jmuselmann

If it’s not completely obvious by now, let me just tell you: The most foolish thing we as humans can do is assume that we are wise enough to solve problems later for our current behavior. If we step back for a moment to think about “local washing,” among the many other terms brandished by environmentalists, we can infer what it might mean. As many of us know, “local” is now in its heyday—it’s popularity has even risen to the ranks of WalMart recognition. Environmentalists meant well in spreading the idea, but its effect, despite all its good intention, has been had some unforeseen effects.

Though commendable, we need to do more in the White House than meekly plant an organic garden.

The biggest criticism has been the lack of focus on a particular aspect of local: produced, grown, sold, what? Which is better? The answer, or course, is that it all depends. Financially, it might be more noble to buy “local” product that are packaged and sold here, which would keep more money in the community in which one lives. To reduce pollution, we might buy “local” foods that were grown closely to where we are. In acknowledging the problematic relativism bound up in the word (and the idea), the “locavore” response has been to just use your noggin to decide for yourself what it means.

But others say that’s not good enough, that the lack of real definition is its undoing. But unfortunately, the debate—no doubt a healthy, well-meaning discussion—is swallowing up the movement whole. As with many hot issues in America (which is what makes them contemporary), the controversy escalates, and the movement, once called it for a reason, comes to a standstill while those intended to be reached become disenchanted or otherwise apathetic amid the clamor.

Education about environmental issues is something we should strive for, but the issues at stake require a more urgent response than can offer the gradual molding of the collective social psyche. Relativity is again a severe functional weakness in gaining consensus—it’s too slow. This is one of those times in the United States where we need to be drug out to the other  side. Most, if not all, of the great and pivotal social movements in our time have had to go through an unpleasant phase of coercion. What we need is compulsion—by law and by a responsible government.

—Jacob Muselmann


Educated Enough or Tricked into Greenwashing? by jackiemcc

When I first heard that Tyson Foods treated their chicken with antibiotics, I didn’t think twice about it. I knew that what happened was wrong, but I didn’t know that it was called greenwashing.

After reading several articles about greenwashing for my Media and the Environment journalism class, I began to notice a trend—many of the articles discussed consumers’ knowledge about greenwashing. This led me to wonder, are consumers educated enough to recognize greenwashing? Or are the companies brain-washing their customers enough, so there is no way of really knowing if they are telling the truth?

To answer this question, we must first know what greenwashing means. Although definitions vary, I would describe greenwashing as misleading customers into believing that a product or company is “green”, when in fact they are not. The seven sins of greenwashing describe the seven ways companies greenwash.

After defining what greenwashing is, and knowing the seven different types, I decided to search for some examples of greenwashing myself. Some other well-known cases of greenwashing have been: Kraft’s post select cereals and its Capri Sun juice boxes, McDonalds in Europe, and Frito Lay potato chips.

Even after all this, I am still not convinced that consumers are educated enough to recognize greenwashing efforts. Sure, they can know signs to identifying greenwashing, but can consumers really know a company’s methods of producing foods? They can make educated guesses, but it’s not until a major accusation against a company, when consumers find out the truth.

On the other hand, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing advises that some companies can be, it means the product has been certified and can be trusted as green.If a product has a reliable third-party certification, like EcoLogo or Green Seal, it usually means the product is certified as green.

If a product has this seal on it, it is certified as green. http://www.torkusa.com/upload/9__Region__US/Environmental/GreenSealLogo.jpg

As I learn more about this subject, I keep going back and forth to both sides of the argument. I understand that consumers need to be more educated on the signs of greenwashing to recognize it, but I also understand the belief that no matter how conscious of the issue consumers are, companies are still going to try to find ways to trick us into greenwashing. I welcome arguments for both sides of issue.

-Jackie McClellan

Localizing Frito-Lays Chips by tesshedrick
February 19, 2010, 4:05 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 5 | Tags: , , ,

I found the article about Frito Lays Chips being locally made by Bruce Horovitz to be very interesting. Frito-Lay is such a huge industry; it is hard to believe that they are trying to “localize” their industry. I stress the quotation marks because I laughed when I read that they were coming out with this new campaign about how their chips are “local.”

The article points out that the brand has always been an American brand. However, because the current trend is to go “local,” I believe Frito-Lay wants to jump on the bandwagon. The article states that Frito-Lay chips have always been produced in the United States. Now, Frito-Lay wants to make it blatant to its consumers that this is so by starting this campaign.

The article talked about a chip tracker on the Frito-Lay website, so I thought I would check it out. The chip tracker is a tech-device that tells what state a person’s specific bag of chips is from.

Currently, consumers want to know where their food is coming from. From a business standpoint, Frito-Lay did an excellent job. I checked out the chip tracker and found that a bag of chips I bought in Kansas could potentially be made in, say, Florida.

I mean, I think it is interesting to know where the chips were made, but then again, Florida is thousands of miles away! When I think of “local” food, I think foods that are produced no farther away than one’s state.

This leads me to believe that Frito-Lay may be trying to “local-wash” its consumers. To me, it seems like the company is tricking its consumers into believing that the chips are indeed local, even though they may actually have been produced across the country.

I believe this is where the ambiguous term of “local” comes into play. It seems like Frito-Lay’s definition of local may be “made in the United States.”

“Going green” has often been thought of as growing crops without any chemicals. However, on the Frito-Lays website, it stresses how many tens of millions of pounds of potatoes are grown in various states. If you click here, you will be able to see a map of the United States and be able to scroll over every state that produces Lays. Personally, this sounds a little fishy to me and too industrialized to be “green.”

I found this video of a farmer for Frito-Lay from Maine on the Frito-Lay website. The farmer appears quite personable in the video and it actually made me sigh with happiness. Then, it occurred to me that this family’s farm is most likely very industrialized and not environmentally friendly.

-Tess H.

Revert to Basics by micolea

Everyday, just before the sun rises, my grandmother walks three miles from her home to the open-air food market in her province in Pampanga, Philippines. Once she reaches the market she is greeted warmly by the familiar faces of the farmers and vendors she purchases her food from each day. As she saunters through the market, the vibrant colors and delectable aromas of fresh papaya, guava, mango, avocado and eggplant delight her senses.

Picking and choosing assorted fruits, vegetables and fish has become a daily routine for my grandmother. After a quick conversation with one of the local vendors, she walks the three miles back to her home, with a bag of food in each hand. Once home, she starts cooking, or what she refers to as “nourishment for the soul.” 

My grandmother is ninety-six years old.

Photo by tmcpics/Courtesy Flickr

Living in an era where fast food is the norm, and eating out and take out are an integral part of our society’s culture, it seems awfully difficult to remember a simpler time. For my grandmother’s generation, it was standard for meals to be prepared at home. The moments spent chopping vegetables and simmering stew were savored. 

Surprisingly, or maybe I should say, impressively, my grandmother has never set foot in a Wal-Mart, Target or Kroger. Those stores resemble words of a foreign language to her because she had never heard of them. That, in itself is quite an extraordinary feat. 

Nowadays, food terminology can be like trying to solve the Pythagorean Theorem. Words like sustainable, organic and natural seem to all blend together. So why does it appear that it is about to become more complicated? As multiple cooks enter the kitchen, it is seemly becoming more problematic to agree on coherent definitions of sustainable agriculture.

The debacle about labeling food as “sustainable agriculture” is currently ongoing. While on the surface this looks like an encouraging way to entice food producers to stop using pesticides and genetically modified crops, it may actually do just the opposite. Some parties are advocating for this standard to encompass organic practices from farm to plate, while others want this to only affect one part of its operation and not have to adhere to all environmental regulations. I know exactly what my grandmother would say to all of this. She would declare  “there needs to be a return to nature. We need to feel a connection to food.” My grandmother cherishes her relationship with food and in return, she has been blessed with a life of longevity. 

 The outcome of these discussions is to decide on whether or not to implement a “National Sustainable Agriculture Standard.”  On either side of the issue are General Mills, American Farmland Trust, National Corn Growers Association and the National Resources Defense Council. The Leonardo Academy is mediating the conversation.

Why do I feel as if I am being deceived? Though I realize it is unrealistic to think that we can all buy our food from open air markets and have conversations about the origin of that food with the people who grew it, as a nation of consumers, we deserve to know where our food comes from and the techniques used to grow it. Hopefully, that will be a unifying point for the committee.

Micole Aronowitz

Looking Into Chipotle by bendcohen

What happens when a company makes a concerted effort to lead the charge in going green AND encouraging local agribusiness?  Sounds great, but probably on a small scale, and this is how I imagine it usually is.  But what if a national company is the one in question?  Chipotle, the fast-food chain that is responsible for preventing starvation amongst most American college students, has proudly advertised their ties to small farms and food producers for years.  If you get a drink at one of their locations, the cup will have a story printed on it about one of their favorite affiliates.  You could hear about cattle farmers who don’t use antibiotics, or the sustainable practices of Tobasco, the giant that supplies them with hot sauce.

I hate for my food to be lazy and dishonest, so this is a relief.

How does this work?  I was curious how a major fast-food chain, even one as beloved as Chipotle, could make good on their claims to support local businesses throughout the country, and was pleasantly surprised at what I found.  The thing that struck me first was that half of the links on the chain’s main page are for things like the benefits of cycling,  information about the movie “Food, Inc.”, and how some of their new locations are being LEED certified.   This was nice to see, but I remained skeptical until locating the “Food” tab, and discovered guides to where they ship all of the foods at their restaurants from, and on the section about meats, a legend indicating how much of their pork, beef, and chicken is naturally raised (tying back to those proud cups mentioned earlier).

Assuming the contents of Chipotle’s website are honest (and I found nothing saying otherwise), they do seem to make a concerted effort at supporting small farms and businesses, and to spread green awareness.  This doesn’t make the burrito mavens perfect, of course.  The site Chipotlefan.com offers a calculator to give you the nutritional information of any combination of ingredients at the restaurant, and I was only mildly shocked to learn that my favorite item, the barbacoa burrito with black beans, served up 890 calories, including 90% of a daily amount of sodium.

So, the lesson learned is a simple one.  The fast-food burrito masters are apparently trying to make good on their claims of sustainability.  Sadly, making them a staple of one’s diet, as I and many of my friends have flirted with at some point or another, would probably not  be good for you.

~Ben C.

Please, be more vague by Lauren Cunningham

In my recent efforts to become environmentally-friendly, I’ve been searching the App Store on my iPhone for applications that can help me make smarter choices.

This shows a screen capture from my iPhone showing GoodGuide's rating of my Kiwi Strawberry Snapple.

So far, I’ve found GoodGuide. The app gives an overall rating of the product, not based on user ratings, but on a combined score of health, environmental and society ratings. It looks at product quality or safety, unnatural or unhealthy ingredients in the items and environmental impact of the company. It also has a feature that scans the barcode of items to get a sense of how “good” they are.

So after enjoying a Kiwi Strawberry Snapple the other day, I thought I’d check out just how “all-natural” the drink claimed to be. My new app gave the beverage a 3.9 out of 10 rating.

It also gave the drink a zero out of 10 for health, which I found alarming for a product that claimed to be “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth.” I looked at the nutrition facts, and as the label claimed, there were no artificial flavors or preservatives, but I also saw the 51 grams of sugar in the bottle and five percent juice content.

GoodGuide lists information about different aspects of products to help consumers pick the smartest choice.

GoodGuide told me the product contained high fructose corn syrup, a substance found in pretty much everything people eat today. I didn’t see this on the label, so I investigated a little further.

It seemed as though the app’s health rating hadn’t been updated. I found that Snapple recently switched from using high fructose corn syrup to real sugar. a switch that helps its “all-natural” claim.

It makes sense, considering the problems popping up with high fructose corn syrup. GoodGuide even lists high fructose corn syrup as an “ingredient of concern.”

For a juice drink that claims to be all-natural and “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth,” I wonder what Snapple means. The ingredients are recognizable, but it’s a stretch to say my kiwi strawberry drink was all-natural. If Snapple’s implying that fruits are the “best stuff on earth,” they should start putting more fruit in their drinks, instead of making it from “a blend of juices from concentrate with other natural flavors.” They offer some drinks made from 1oo percent juice, so why not make all drinks that way?

I also discovered the company has changed its labels and bottles recently, but only for appearance. GoodGuide gave Snapple a 5.2 out of 10 for its environment rating. Of the three areas the environmental ratings were comprised, two were scored at less than five out of 10: environmental management and resource management.

So as a consumer staring at a drink claiming to be natural and made with “real ingredients,” I’m not impressed. Really, Snapple has just made its ingredients recognizable, which I do appreciate. But to avoid greenwashing, I think they need to re-evaluate other aspects of the company.

GoodGuide is helping me along in my new way of thinking about food and sustainability. But really, I think it takes a more extensive reading of the labels of what I’m consuming.

— Lauren Cunningham

Words Matter by bpirotte

Green. Healthy. Organic. Biophilia. Sustainable. “Global warming” or “climate change?” It all seems so overwhelming!

Word choice is important to help understanding of debated issues. http://phsgirard.org/images/calvin-on-scientific-law__word_choice_1_.gif

With the recent trend of the “green movement” and the idea of wanting to have a positive impact on our environment come a lot of words. And they can often be really confusing.

So, how do we begin to define words like these? How do we know these definitions can be trusted? The truth is, one definition almost never suffices, and making sure you’re educated and well-rounded in the sources you use can help.

For example, this week in my Media and the Environment course at the University of Kansas, our class had a guest lecturer from Kansas State University named Ben Champion who heads a sustainability group at the university. We looked past our school’s sports rivalries and had an informative discussion about the definition specifically of sustainability. We wondered if sustainability is even truly definable? However, we came up with a few definitions.

Ben Champion used his own definition: “[a] healthy system composed of relationships that do not damage the integrity of those economic social and environmental relationships.”

Ok, so we are kind of starting to get an understanding of what sustainability means. What about words like “organic?”  Dictionary.com has multiple definitions for organic. But here’s two I picked that seemed to pertain to what is talked about in regard to environmental issues (especially involving food). 1.”pertaining to, involving, or grown with fertilizers or pesticides of animal or vegetable origin, as distinguished from manufactured chemicals: organic farming; organic fruits.” and 2. “developing in a manner analogous to the natural growth and evolution characteristic of living organisms; arising as a natural out growth.” See? Now you know at some basic level what that label on your milk is boasting. Whether or not the company is truly upholding its values is another story. But if you understand the basics, you might be able to do some of your own research to come to your own conclusions on the reliability of companies.

It’s hard when we have so much to already worry about to try and wrap our minds around issues like these. So, it’s important for not only journalists, but people in all fields to use their words wisely. If you’re trying to talk to someone about the problems we face as a planet with the change in the Earth’s overall temperature, do you use “global warming” or “climate change?” What if it’s the coldest winter you ever remember. Would global warming really have an impact then?

With such heated topics as climate change or the green movement, it’s important to choose your words wisely. You never know the impact it can have on someone.