J500 Media and the Environment

Focus on Life and Food will Follow by Kelly

I never, ever ate school lunches.  I never asked my parents why, but I’m guessing it was less expensive than the meal plan at school. In addition to sack lunches being cheaper, they were probably healthier than what they served at school.  I’m guessing my homemade lunches are part of what made healthy eating a habit for me. To this day I pack a lunch box, and I’m essentially in the 18th grade.

After watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,  I could kiss my parents a thousand times for packing my lunches while I was growing up.  In the past 20 years the percentage of children who are obese has doubled. Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure, are more at-risk for diabetes, and are more likely to be obese as an adult.

In a testimony to Congress, Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services noted that, as a result of obesity, many children in this generation of children will not outlive their parents.  Many say unhealthy school lunches, with high fat and sugar content, contribute to the epidemic.

from flickr.com, by SpecialKRB

Jamie Oliver’s show is new on ABC and it is tracking Mr. Oliver’s fight to revolutionize American school lunches.

Apart from being appalled and heartbroken by the food those little children were eating, I was struck by something profound. Jamie Oliver is reaching into families, churches, and schools in order to revolutionize the food habits of the city.

There is undeniably a food movement going on in America and there are voices urging us to make food a pillar of our lives.  However, Jamie Oliver’s voice in the food movement is pointing out that it already is.

Food is a constant and important presence in all lives.  Meals are important to families, food affects our bodies and minds, and it is often an integral part of any religion.

But despite food’s importance and omnipresence, somewhere along the line we’ve gotten unfortunately uncomfortable with food.  If you listen to people talk about their food concerns, it becomes evident that a lot of people are uneasy about food, but for a myriad of different reasons.

Some want low fat, some want low salt, some don’t have time, some don’t have money. Some don’t like to cook, others don’t know how. Some people eat too much, others don’t want to eat anything at all.

Considering we encounter food at least three times a day, people face these concerns at least that often. Furthermore, there are messages about what is “good” food everywhere.  Between the TV, internet, radio, newspaper, food packaging, and neighbors, we can’t escape it.

It. is. too. much.

When it comes to food we’ve been informed to our detriment.  All of this information about food has made us think that it’s the food that’s important,  but that’s the thinking that has gotten us in trouble.  Our intense focus on food has distracted us from what we really hold important.

In order to change our relationship with food, we each need to isolate what is important to us and focus on it.  I believe that if you focus on what is important, the food will follow. Of course, each of us will have different priorities, but the results will all be the same: we can solve our problems with food.

If you want more time together as a family, plan to be together for dinner more often. If you need to save money, eat at home more often. If you want a sharper mind, figure out how to eat to help that happen. If you would like a new skill, learn how to cook.

It is time to appreciate that we live with food and that we need it. I urge you to refocus and realize that food is not our primary concern, but is instead woven throughout our higher priorities.  So pick your priority and honor it, and I guarantee better food will follow.


Hooked on Food and Phonics by KaylaReg

Looking back on my childhood, I remember spending weekend afternoons doing Hooked On Phonics, math flashcards and spelling quizzes. No, I wasn’t an especially ambitious student, nor were my parents hoping I’d aspire to be, but as they explained time and time again, I just needed to spend the extra time on things.

No history of malnourishment, food allergies or over exposure to chemicals in food here. According to my mother, a considerable expert in the field, a lot of different factors, likely family history in my case, influence the incidence of learning disabilities.

I began to accept this only after I was diagnosed with dyslexia in middle school and then Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in high school. Although one end of the social spectrum claims ADD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities (which I’ll refer to as LD or LDs) are pretend disorders of a overmedicated, over stimulated generation, I’m fully aware of and comfortable with my learning differences.

What I want to know is how can I make it better?

Right now, many people are saying the answer is in food.

According to a 1975 study by Dr. Ben Feingold, environmental influences, specifically food additives, such as artificial coloring and flavors, affect the incidence of LDs. He found that by eliminating artificial colors and flavors from the diets of children with LDs, in most cases their behavior and overall functioning greatly improved.

Both LDs and concerns over chemicals in food were just starting to be talked about when Feingold conducted the study and he was definitely on to something. A 2005 Environmental Working Group study found the average newborn had 200 chemicals present in the umbilical cord at the moment of birth, a predictor for future cognitive and behavioral impairments, as well as other serious chronic issues.

Feingold’s study also suggests the now popular theory that food allergies manifest in the form of LDs. According to Dr. Ron Hoggan, people with gluten allergies report having some type of LD more frequently than the rest of the population. Research shows that a gluten-free diet can drastically reduce LD related symptoms for those even mildly allergic to the grain.

Besides diet, Feingold additionally attributed LDs to socio-economic status, race and ethnic origin. While he was wrong about that, such factors are correlated to malnourishment, a near guarantee for cognitive impairment.

Research shows that most children diagnosed with LDs are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids, important to the cell membranes vital to brain functioning.  Countless studies find that in most cases, giving Omega-3 supplements such as fish oil to children diagnosed with an LD dramatically improves cognition, anxiety, impulsivity, and other LD related symptoms.

Could a fish oil supplement, elimination or gluten-free diet help me?

To find out, I called my mom, who happens to have a master’s degree in learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. Go ahead and listen to the interview below to hear her long answer, as well as some other personal and general facts on LDs.

The short answer she gave was yes, but only because  a well-balanced diet will improve anyone’s functioning, and that’s more true now than ever.

According to a 2007 a Boston Globe article, 60 percent of Americans are estimated to be deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. Meanwhile, over the past century, consumption of processed foods rich in Omega-6 fatty acids, which actually harm brain functioning, has increased.

Yes, harmful substances like red dye #3 have been banned since Feingold’s study, but 14,000 other chemicals, including aspartame, MSG, and olestra remain in the American food supply.

So, cue my realization.

The food a person does or doesn’t eat, regardless of whether they have an LD, affects their quality of life. Spending a little extra time planning a diet that improves my day-to-day functioning, even if only by a little, is a huge opportunity.

It’s an opportunity I dare say is even greater than being Hooked On Phonics. And that’s saying a lot.

-Kayla R.

A new kind of green beer by Lauren Cunningham

I’ve always wanted to have a green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, and with this being my first Patty’s Day as a 21-year-old, I’ve been getting excited to enjoy one.

I guess I get a small thrill from drinking an unnatural-colored beverage for the wow factor. But the concept of green-colored beer got me wondering about the other type of green beer — beer brewed in a sustainable way. Green, or sustainable, beer can include anything from organic beer to beer brewed in breweries that use solar energy or use waste to help fuel the process.

When I went to Brooklyn Brewery this summer, I didn't even know it was a top green brewery in the U.S. (Huffington Post). I had a local beer with New York honey and orange peel.

I’ve heard my parents or my friends say they like local beers more than generic beers, and I agree. Until recently, I had been under the impression that it was a matter of taste. I’ve tried both beers from local breweries (Ad Astra Ale from Free State Brewery being my favorite) and beer, such as Budweiser, Miller, etc., and I definitely notice a difference in quality.

But drinking local means so much more than just quality or taste. Because beer is made from ingredients that are grown outside of where it’s brewed, local breweries are likely to get most of beer’s necessary ingredients from local areas. Of course, this means less emissions because less travel goes into getting those ingredients to a brewery.

I spoke with executive chef at Free State Brewery Rick Martin about the beer at Free State Brewery. He said although the beer at Free State isn’t organic it’s still a natural product because of its ingredients.

Martin also said their beer is almost a zero-waste product because leftover grain from the brewing process at Free State Brewery is sent to local farms to serve as feed for animals.

Until now, I just thought there were local beers and generic beers. Maybe it’s because I’m relatively new to the drinking scene, but I didn’t even consider that there would be such a thing as organic beer. I’m always quick to assume that the word “organic” always applies to food when it really can be applied to items from clothing to beauty products.

Like any other organic item, organic beer’s ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides. Brewing organic beer even produces a clearer beer and a faster fermentation, which I know people like my uncle (who brews his own beer) are always looking for.

There are even green breweries around the U.S. that brew in a sustainable way, using wind energy or recycling waste products.

Thinking about drinking green-colored beer now kind of freaks me out. Most green beer is made by adding food coloring, which is made of food and color additives, to beer.

Not that I’ll now only be drinking organic beer, but I have found ways in which to make smarter beer choices.

— Lauren Cunningham

Third World Countries Being Sustainable? by jackiemcc

As I sit here in a Bahaman internet café, I recall a conversation we had last night on my dad’s sailboat about The Bahamas being sustainable. He was telling us about how he had been talking to someone who had said that what the Bahamans needed to do is be sustainable instead of continually using their resources.Third world countires like The Bahamas are not fit to become a sustainable country.

Third world countires like The Bahamas are not fit to become a sustainable country.

When I heard this, I thought it would interesting to investigate this further. At first I thought this was a good idea, but then I began to wonder how plausible it is in a third world country to be sustainable. After further investigation, I have concluded that the Bahamas, or any other third world country for that matter, is not fit to be sustainable.

I say this because I believe it is out of reach for them. With the limited resources they do have, it can be hard for them to think about being sustainable, let alone keep the resources available for future generations.

Not only that, but many people in The Bahamas probably don’t care or worry about this problem. This article discusses what sustainability is like in third world countries. They are more worried about fulfilling their basic needs, like food, not of the future.

I did find it interesting that The Bahamans as a whole are trying to be sustainable though. In June of 2006 they held a conference on tourism and sustainable development. As this Bahaman discusses, they were not fit to host this; they held it in the most expensive hotel in the area. I don’t think they completely understand what it takes to be sustainable. She also discusses that the country is not sustainable because their tourism industry is revolving around the tourists, not involving what the Bahamans want.

I also found an article that talks about how The College of the Bahamas has started promoting sustainability. They go around to other schools and encourage others to be sustainable. They also intend to start a Small Island Sustainable program in the college, where students can earn a degree in related programs.

There are others who are suggesting ways in which Bahamans can be sustainable.

While the small progress and intent of sustainability of the Bahamans is great, I don’t think it is a plausible idea for them. They don’t have the resources available that can help them carry out a full-on sustainable country. I do applaud their efforts, but I think they are in over their heads. I also think they need to be more educated on the issue before they beginning implementing such a large program.

-Jackie McClellan

Costa Rica: a small country with a big environmental impact by bpirotte

To fight the harsh Kansas winter, my family decided to pack up and leave for sunny, warm Costa Rica. Known around the world as an eco-paradise, this tiny, Central American country has a lot to protect.

Papaya and cocktail shrimp--a meal of local flavor.

Fresh food, especially fruit, is an important part of Costa Rican’s “Pura” lifestyle. At the hotel, shrimp cocktail fills a papaya bowl. The shrimp was caught off Costa Rica’s coast, and the papaya was also grown nearby. Talk about eating local! As a plus for living in this tropical environment, locals pay significantly less for their products. A pound of bananas at a local market only cost 19 colones  (that’s only 3 cents!), compared to the cost in the US of an average around 30-40 cents.  However,  is that the true cost of a banana? Unsustainable practices in Costa Rica’s banana industry include heavy use of pesticides, deforestation, and improper treatment of many banana harvesters.

Tourism is booming in Costa Rica, which claims to be one of the most eco-friendly tourist destinations in the world. However, places like Costa Rica’s North Pacific coast, in the state of Guanacaste, are sometimes trading tourist dollars for safe environmental practices, as resorts and the winter homes of rich migratory North American retirees flood the landscape.

Hotels and resorts in the Guanacaste region could threaten Costa Rica's eco-attitude.

Biodiversity is an incredibly important part of Costa Rica.

A howler monkey hides in a tree in Costa Rica’s rainforest.

Tree root forms interesting shapes in the Costa Rican rainforest.

Comparable to the size of West Virginia, this small tropical country contains five percent of all of earth’s species. However, pressures from population growth and development from tourism are a constant threat to Costa Rica’s abundant wildlife.

An aloe plant blooms in the rainforest.

While there, I learned this tiny country is a big player in environmental sustainability, despite its miniscule size. However, no country is perfect, and Costa Rica is no exception. With the tourism industry booming, and a global desire for a tasty banana, this Central American country has to deal with some difficult choices.

Hopefully the sun isn't setting on Costa Rica's eco-friendly practices.

Photos and text by Ben Pirotte

Finding Truth Behind the American Obesity Problem Can be Trying by beccan

Feeling a little under the weather, I rented the movie “The Invention of Lying”, which portrays a world with people who do not know how to tell a lie.

I pictured myself pushing my cart through the grocery store in this mythical town, with these mythical people.

Do the boxes of cookies lining the snack aisle claim to be “the most fattening cookie” and the “cookie that has no fat, and no taste either”? How many items on the shelves of that grocery store would have boxes with “organic” or “all natural” written on them? My guess is very few.

Advertisers would have it easy, they would only have to be honest

I consider myself to be healthy; I take vitamins, workout consistently and watch what I eat, but this doesn’t even seem like enough after learning that what I think I am eating isn’t really what I am eating. If I only lived in a world without lies…

These “what-if” questions also led me to wonder if consumers would change their eating habits even if they knew the truth. It seems that in the American culture, taste trumps health benefits. I know how bad an Oreo is for me and I even know from experience that eating just one is nearly impossible, but that doesn’t stop me from my Oreo indulgence. The combination of deceitful advertising and Americans’ unhealthy relationship with food may just be the culpret in the growing obesity problem in our country.

Courtesy of flickr.com


            Studies show that obesity-related diseases account for ten percent of medical spending in the United States (an estimated $147 billion a year). The problem is directly related to the foods we, as Americans, eat. We have adapted to an on-the-go lifestyle and it is killing us faster than ever. The United States is one of the most progressive and wealthy countries in the world, but you would never know from looking at our diet. We have technologically advanced to a point where we can produce foods that last longer and can be produced in mass quantities, but with these advances come a loss of nutritional benefits of food, or the food part of food.

The scary part is that it is affecting our children. Children are exposed to approximately 10,000 food advertisements a day, most of which are advertising unhealthy foods.

I recently saw a commercial for Smart Balance margarine that warned consumers that sometimes 0g of fat does not mean 0. If zero doesn’t mean zero, then I don’t know what consumers are supposed to think. The commercial seems like honest advertising, but who can tell anymore? It is certainly difficult to tell. I guess I realized that a person has to inform themselves about what they are eating, because we really cannot rely on marketing and advertising.

Smart Balance

Smart Balance courtesy of flickr images


I am not feeling any better after this, maybe I’ll go have some chicken broth…after investigating the label for an hour or so and then researching the unpronounceable words on the label.

At least we can trust ourselves. 

Becca N.

Reduce, Reuse, Retackle by jmuselmann

image fromgardenmandy.com

Environmentalism nowadays may seem new-fangled and trendy, but recycling, its old-school call to action, has character and appeal in its simplicity. It’s about as ubiquitous as the three Rs are in school, and like reading, writing and ‘rithmatic, it’s thought to be good for everyone. But even this durable cause can get messy, and when it does, it ain’t so wholesome anymore.

A few days ago I spoke with Jeff Joseph of Jeff’s Curbside Recycling, one of the smaller-scale operations in Lawrence, Kan. Well, maybe the smallest: his company consists of a man with a truck. He was driving around the city, tending to his customer’s pre-sorted trash when in two words from across the phone line he casually shattered my perception of the untouchable triad of folded green arrows: Recycling contamination. Can you even put those words together? (It’s when different substances are accidentally recycled into one material.)

Breaking down in the soil to later become a natural reincarnation is one thing, but what about when there are particles of plastic in my recycled milk carton? Not only is that disturbing (move over, BPA), but it’s also expensive. It’s such a problem in the city of Fresno that perpetrators—whether intentional or not—collect fines on the third offense. San Francisco is also trying to bag up the problem because it renders thousands of tons of initially recycled material a waste, suspended in your newspaper or whatever else was in the same recycling facility when it was ground up.

Joseph said “single stream” companies, which pick up all recyclables together to be sorted later, were more prone to commingling sins. The EPA has acknowledged the problem and established guidelines—but we all know what that means (and doesn’t mean in the case of toxic waste, a much scarier implication).

Deffenbaugh, which happens to be Lawrence’s only single-stream pickup and largest recycler, said it made pickup more convenient and minimized the cost because sorting was automated. According to the company, about 4 percent of the total volume received is extracted by hand before the recyclables are sorted. Here’s what that system typically looks like:

But are many companies with green intentions missing the point not in what they are doing but in how they are doing it? Must this movement yield to cheapness and efficiency for its growth? Does the business of recycling need to adopt the corporate world’s devout faith in the ability of machines to undo our laziness, or can we expect people to sort the soda cans from the beer bottles? As the green movement spreads its wings, people are gaining more incentives to be sustainable each day, but the often-clumsy to go green easily arrives at growth is costly—in dollars, the very resources we are trying to renew, and possibly our health. The ends don’t make the means irrelevant, since we are, after all, going in a circle.

—Jacob M.

Creating Rain Because Of Climate Change by micolea

It turns out rain can be induced after all.   

It was reported last month that a cloud seeding operation brought rain to provinces in Bicol, Philippines.  

To combat the rain and water shortage and aid farmers in saving their farms, the Philippine Department of Agriculture has distributed funding for cloud seeding. From airplanes, either salt crystals or dry ice are released into the clouds. The desired outcome of this process is to cause precipitation in clouds that will eventually lead to the formation of rain.  

Photo by barto/Courtesy Flickr


While the Philippine Islands is accustomed to experiencing mild droughts every year, this year is an exception. 

 The El Nino phenomenon has caused massive droughts for many regions in the Philippines, particularly in Luzon and Mindanao. This climate pattern is linked with droughts, floods and other turbulent weather. Typically, the countries most affected by the El Nino phenomenon are those surrounding the Pacific Ocean. The current dry spell has been plaguing the Philippine Islands and its farmers by causing crops to dwindle and diminish because of the lack of rain.  

Photo by Greenpeace Southeast Asia/Courtesy Flickr

 I never knew a concept like artificial rain even existed. While on one hand, I think that this is a beneficial scientific process, which, in the Philippine’s case helped to restore peoples’ livelihood, I also believe that with innovation comes consequences. Rain is a natural circumstance. Artificial rain is not. So if rain continues to be created, it might end up contributing to the effects of climate change instead of resisting it. But is cloud seeding made valid if it is saving the lives and livelihoods of an entire country?  

Although the effects of cloud seeding can yield desired results like bringing much-needed rain to arid areas or in other cases halting rain, it can also produce undesired weather effects. For instance, the concentration of rainfall in one sector can lead to the reduction of rain in another. Other side effects include hail and even a decline in rainfall.  

My mother, who grew up in the Philippines, always tells me stories of her childhood. I distinctly remember a story she told me about how her family would make efforts to conserve water. For example, when taking a shower, she would turn off the water in between shampooing and conditioning her hair. Recently, in an effort to preserve water in larger, overpopulated Philippine cities, water is rationed on a daily basis. This means that at certain times of the day, for hours at a time, people do not have access to running water.   

Water is such a precious resource.  It flows throughout various aspects of our lives: we need it to keep us hydrated, to cleanse our bodies and to grow and harvest crops.  We need it for our survival. So while I am aware of the troublesome effects of cloud seeding, I support its use because of the potential it has to save many peoples’ means of subsistence.   

Micole Aronowitz  

Sustain a Change by Kelly

When I consider organics and the development of a sustainable food system, my opinions are always rooted in the same priority: people.

flickr.com, by Masahiro Ihara

With more than 300 million people in the United States alone, farmers are responsible for feeding an ever-increasing population.

Many believe that meeting the market demand of so many people requires large scale farming operations. However,  while the system we have now provides for us today, it is jeopardizing our security for the future.

Immediately overhauling our current agricultural system is impractical. However, starting the gradual process toward sustainable agriculture is not.

It is easy to dismiss those who encourage us to eat local and buy organic as people disillusioned by a yearning for the pastoral life of yesteryear, but that is a simplistic response to a demand for sustainable agriculture. There are positive environmental, economical, and political implications behind the demand for a sustainable food system.

A common complaint about organic food is that it is too expensive. This is understandable considering organic food can cost anywhere from 20% to 100% more than its non-organic equivalent.  However, as noted in a recent Washington Post article, the organic food industry is growing and, with that growth, the food prices are coming down.  Additionally, organic food can be found at traditional supermarkets such as WalMart, which has specifically stated its intent to make organic food affordable.

Another common question surrounding the sustainable food movement is whether a sustainable food system can feed a rapidly expanding world population. A study comparing conventional and organic crop production concluded that organic farming can match the industrial yield of conventional practices. Another study from the University of Michigan concluded that, not only can sustainable agriculture provide enough food, but it may even result in an increased yield.

In addition, it is important to note that a reversion to sustainable farming doesn’t disregard or ignore the agricultural progress we have made. It supplements it. We have made invaluable technological progress over the past century and we know more about our environment and about ourselves than ever before. With all of the information and experience we have, we are in a dynamic position to change our food system for the better.

We don’t all need to be farmers or gardeners to appreciate and respect the importance of agriculture. I wouldn’t be able to focus so intently on food policy if the quality of our food didn’t effect us as individuals, as families, and as communities.  People have a profound connection to food, which is why we have a right to question our food sources and demand that they be stable enough to provide for us in the future.

K. Cochran

Farming Practices Transition Over Time by jackiemcc

I have relatives who have farms in Iowa. They have always been a part of our family’s traditions. It was a tradition for me, my sister and my cousin to go visit one of the farms, and spend a weekend riding horses. On the other farm, we always used to have family reunions down there. It has been an important part of my family, almost like a bonding experience. It is a way for us to all come together.

My first instinct of the quote “Farming is for the rich and the desperate” was that it was untrue. I say this because farming, from my experiences at least, seems to be more like a family practice. A lot of the farmers I know have been farmers because the farm has been in the family for awhile, and they want to keep it going. They do it because they want to, and it’s something they enjoy. They are average-day citizens, and many of them don’t have a ton of money.

It also didn’t make sense to me that rich people would farm because they are desperate; I don’t even know what they would be desperate for. If they are desperate to say they grow their own food, I think they would opt out for paying someone else to grow their own food for them.

The transformation of farming.

However, after thinking about it for awhile, I realize that my philosophy is old fashioned. As technology has improved, big corporations are starting to take over the farming industry, and now own a majority of the industry. As a result, many of the family farms are going out of business.

I can understand how now the trend is that “farming IS for the rich and the desperate.”  The only thing the corporations care about are the profits, so they produce much more than the average family farmer does. And because of this, their profits do increase, but at what expense? Farm Sanctuary says that the industrial farming techniques harm animals, humans, and the environment.

So is it too late to change these practices? Some think the only way to produce enough for everybody is through industrial/corporation farming. Others think that the local food trend is just starting to take off, and it will become strong enough to save family farming. The Sustainable Table website I mentioned earlier describes these beliefs. They mention ways in which you can help save these family farms.

Personally, I don’t think family farms can last much longer. The farming corporations obviously have a large impact on the farming industry, and I think they will eventually take it all over, or almost all of it. People are concerned about money these days, and I think the major corporations will do whatever it takes to get that. In addition, I don’t think the amount of food family farms can produce is enough to feed everyone. Unfortunately it’s sad, but it’s reality.

-Jackie McClellan