J500 Media and the Environment

SunChips Turn Compostable by jackiemcc

When I was growing up, my dad always had a composting pile in the backyard; so I’ve always been interested in the concept of composting. When my friend told me about the green efforts Frito-Lay is doing with their SunChips, I was intrigued to learn more. I found out that I support what they are doing, and I think their green efforts are going pay off in the long run.

The new SunChips compostable bags will be released on Earth Day of 2010. Photo Courtesy of: http://www.greenr.ca

Just recently, SunChips announced that they will be introducing eco-friendly compostable chip bags. These bags will be made from plants, so it will be completely compostable. When placed in a compost pile, the bags will break down in 14 weeks.

The bags are made from plant-based polylactic acid (PLA). And because of this, the results are earth-friendly. Not only will they reduce the waste in landfills, but less fossil fuels will be used to make the bag.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Maybe. The only discouraging part to the new bags is that they produce a louder sound when handling them. SunChips said that is because of the materials used to make the bag. The plant-based products in the bags have different sound properties than the old bags.

Despite the louder noise, I still think these compostable bags are a smart idea. They help protect the Earth, and save on unnecessary waste. It doesn’t take that long to eat a bag of chips, so the amount of time spent holding the bag is significantly less than the benefits that will be gained. This may just be a start, but it’s a huge step at least. Maybe after SunChips’ efforts, other chip companies will follow.

-Jackie McClellan

eat to live or live to eat? by beccan

I run my life on a rewards system, it’s strange, but it is how I function. If I tell myself that the only way I can have desert is if I run three miles that day, then I’ll run those three miles. If I tell myself that I can go out for a drink if I finish my essay, then I will finish that essay in no time.

After an interview this week I decided that I had worked hard and should be rewarded, and the prime reward: a Sonic happy hour drink. I went to Sonic for a Shirley Temple and my reasoning for consuming this oversized soda was that I did something productive and I deserved a reward. I’ve noticed that more often than not, some sort of beverage or food serves as my reward. I am starting to realize how this reward system has made my relationship with food one that is not always healthy.

Sonic Drink, courtesy of flickr.com



I think that the media has some responsibility for the way in which society sees food.  It seems that everywhere I look there is some reminder of health and the idea that we need to be skinny to be accepted. People who are overweight are looked down upon and deemed lazy. Therefore, I fear being overweight. I tell myself that I am eating healthy and exercising so I can live a long and happy life and that’s true, but in reality it’s partially because I don’t want to be deemed a fat, lazy American.

There is definitely a gender difference in the way we think about weight as well. I find that women have a difficult time with feeling pretty and accepted by society more than men. The well-known Dove True Beauty campaign was one that really brought attention to the fact that women can be beautiful even if they don’t have a model bone structure and aren’t a size 2 like most of the women we see in advertisements. It has been shown that 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance and that is due in part to the way that the media portrays women. 

Food is so complex. It is something that we form a relationship with, whether that be a healthy or unhealthy one. As Socrates said “Thou shouldst eat to live; not live to eat” and it’s true, but it is also easier said than done. Eating has become a part of our social life and as social beings we thrive on relationships with other people and food, too. Food and friends go hand-in-hand in the United States and that could be contributing to our obesity epidemic.

Just a little food for thought. 

Becca N.

Faucets, Swimming Pools and Stomachaches by Sean T.

“Don’t drink the water!” The only time I’ve heard those words were near a swimming pool. After an early experiment with trying to drink pool water I learned its truth. Whether it’s the little kids or the chlorine, pool water makes you sick.

After looking into the Lawrence Public Works’ 2009 Water Quality Report I found that atrazine can cause reproductive cancer.  As I scrolled through the list of other contaminants in Lawrence water I wondered which might be dangerous. Nothing caught my attention until  I noticed our chlorine levels are .2 parts per million (ppm) more than the legal limit.

This is frightening because according to the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality, “Cancer risk among those drinking chlorinated water is 93% higher than among those whose water does not contain chlorine.”

The EPA set the legal limit (Maximum Contamination Level) for chlorine at 4 ppm. Any level above that is illegal. At 3.8 ppm, we have more chlorine in our water than almost any other chemical.  Clean pool water can upset the stomach and a swimming pool‘s levels are usually only 2-3 ppm.

Masks like these were used against chlorine attacks during World War I. SOURCE – M17mask.com

In World War I chlorine was the first poison gas used in warfare. It attacked soldiers’ respiratory systems and killed thousands within minutes. Such concentrated doses were rarely used since then but chlorine stayed around.

Governments favored chlorine as a water disinfectant. With its help people stopped the persistence of typhoid and cholera. But they did so with risk.

When the element enters a water system it breaks down into trihalomethanes, which are Class B carcinogens. Class B carcinogens are labeled such because they are known to cause cancer in animals, but not humans. (However, this doesn’t mean that a study was ever conducted on humans so to me it’s still possible.)

A 1994 EPA study listed chlorine as “especially harmful” to soil and and marine life. It is intended to kill microorganisms; side-effects are expected. Rumored side-effects include skin irritation, colon cancer and other gastrointestinal complications. Chlorine seems to be most dangerous during its application, when workers are in direct contact with the substance.

Why does Lawrence need so much chlorine in its water? Aurora Shields, Lawrence Water Quality Manager, said that though 3.8 ppm was the highest level Lawrence contamination averaged closer to 3 ppm. That is 3 milligrams of chlorine in every liter of water.

Shields said the city used a safer ammonia-based hydrochlorite option instead of pure chlorine. The levels weren’t dangerous, she said, because they could be legally higher. Because of our utility infrastructure, Shields thinks chlorine is the only viable option for current water disinfection. She said that she feels safe drinking Lawrence tap water regularly.

Chlorine manufacturers seem to be aware of their product’s negative light. Most chlorine mishaps happen en route to the water system so they focus on transportation safety. Compared with a direct leak of the chemical, chlorine contamination in water is negligible. I wonder if it’s this sort of relative situation (“At least it’s not a spill”) that keeps us satisfied with chlorine levels.

Though chlorine protected us from cholera I don’t think we should use it because of past practice. Just as cholera is a former disease so should chlorination should be an former practice. Now we can clean our water with ozone filters and UV light. This would clean our water better and leave it healthier for future generations.

Sean T.

Chlorine is a deadly chemical that we expose ourselves to in small doses. Source- flikr.com

When local isn’t close by by jmuselmann
Source: sustainable-gardening-tips.com

When Mom decided to splurge, everyone was always thankful. As kids, the best barometer for us was a Boboli pizza crust sticking out of the grocery bags she brought home. Don’t ask me why, but we loved it. It must have been something about assembling it at home — I will always remember waxing on the pouched sauce with a wooden spoon. And then there were the times without, the times when Mom prudently decided to go somewhere else for groceries, somewhere the Boboli wasn’t. I never asked why, but I always assumed it was something related to money — or lack thereof — one of those things my kiddie-brain had just enough suspicious grasp of to know not to ask. The point is, I appreciated her going out of her way, for whatever reason, for good food (hey, I was 7).

There has been some flack given to people who drive long distances to support their local farmers markets. The carbon footprint created, they say, makes your good intentions go up in smoke as you tut across the highway. But there’s more to consider than arriving from point a to b, a new billow of fumes, and that foregone picturesque stroll to the village market.

1. Everyone has the right to make choices about their personal nutrition. Locally grown and produced foods generally have less additives, preservatives, and other-worldly chemicals that extend shelf life. And it’s almost conventional knowledge that the taste of fresh local produce is superior to far-away alternatives (which basically get a spray-and-dye job at the salon). And who knows — that could be the only reason some buy local foods. And it’s just as valid a reason as any other.

2. Now more than ever, dollar votes matter for the food industry. We are in the midst of a pivotal time for the food sector right now: Huge companies are seeking to monopolize the food they grow, own the technology they use to do it, and manipulate the people involved all to get the cheapest cost, in what has warped into a hell-bent fervor to undercut everyone else and an insatiable lust for making money. Local food systems need our help. Why should it matter who buys it?

3. Finally, with a greater pull, farmers markets can have a farther-reaching influence on their communities. Let’s stop and think for a moment. Suburbs are notorious for being insular, and yet when suburbanites branch out,  they are often greeted with the same attitude and a bitter smile. Food and the environmental issues do not belong to one particular group of people or party, and if we are really sincere about the cause, we will encourage their support, as annoying as their cars or kids might be.

Lawrence has addressed this issue and is making it easier for west Lawrence beginning May 6 (the other two, which fall on Saturday and Tuesday, remain near downtown). Though the market has made strides in making local food more accessible, Lawrence — any community — can always do more (just look at the comments in the links). We as individuals have to do our part to facilitate openness and community. After all, supporting movements, making a change and doing what’s right always involve going out of one’s way, and that’s exactly what many are trying to do. So let’s support them.

—Jacob Muselmann

‘Eat your lawn’ by Lauren Cunningham

I continually see it pop up in my News Feed on Facebook: “______ found some rare eggs to share with their friends!” or ” ______  just harvested their chicken coop. ”

Those aren’t my friends’ status updates. They’re recent actions in a game made popular by Facebook called FarmVille.

In FarmVille, there's always enough land to grow food, and usually all, if not most, of it is used. (Photo from flickr.com)

Basically FarmVille allows people to grow and harvest crops, raise animals and keep gardens on a farm. I often wonder how much the game has inspired its players to start growing food in real life.

In the game, players usually use every plot of land they have for something — growing, raising animals or building sheds, barns, etc.  I think this part of the game actually can translate well to a recent food movement: eat your lawn or food, not lawns.

No, this isn’t to suggest we all graze like cows in our neighborhoods, but it does question our society’s obsession with having nice lawns and using resources to grow grass when those resources could be used to grow food.

The movement came after Heather C. Flores wrote Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community. The book reflects Heather’s idea that people could connect to each other and to their community through growing food together.

Most gardens I’ve seen at friends’ or family’s homes take up a small section of the backyard, which is nice for growing a few vegetables. But for someone who values variety and having plenty to eat, I can understand why people would want to actually use their lawns for more than just decorative purposes.

Plus, there are benefits to growing a garden (not a digital garden on Farmville. It can be cheaper to grow produce than to buy it from a store. It releases stress and improves muscle tone.

One family in Lawrence, Jeremy and Amber Lehrman, started their own version of “food, not lawns” about four years ago and to both use and sell what they grow. Amber said when she and her husband started to expand their garden to cover more of their yard, it was because they wanted locally-grown food rather than because they had heard about the “food, not lawns” idea. They also realized they could help lessen the impact of food that travels hundreds of miles.

“We wanted to eat farmers’ market food but couldn’t afford farmers’ market food,” she said.

The Lehrmans started with a 4-by-12-foot garden. Amber said each year the garden seemed to double. Now they’re out of room to keep expanding. For the last two years, Jeremy and Amber’s garden has produced more than 1,400 pounds each year. They’re hoping for 2,000 pounds this year.

I can only imagine what would be possible if more Lawrencians caught on to the movement. There might be more of a selection at the farmers’ market, there would be more locally-grown produce restaurants could use and more people in Lawrence could engage with their community. I think the most rewarding aspect behind “food, not lawns” isn’t  the food. People in communities are given a common interest and have common activities, like seed exchanges, in which they can interact with each other.

It’s easy to say, “If only Lawrence had an infinite amount of land.” But maybe we do have enough land here to grow as much of what we want. We’re just not seeing what is really right in front of us.

— Lauren Cunningham

Food Pantry brings hope in a world of problems by bpirotte

Catherine Keeton, coordinator at Just Food Food Bank in Lawrence, Kansas, helps bring "justice for all" to struggling families. Her medium of choice: food. Photo by Ben Pirotte

On a visit around the Lawrence community to try and find those most connected with food and how it is used to solve problems, I came across Just Food Food Bank.

Just Food Food Bank is a food pantry that provides food for those in need from around the Lawrence community. The pantry is open from Monday to Friday from 9 am-12 pm and 1-4 pm. The organization also provides what they call a “mobile food pantry” distribution once a month. This past Monday, the mobile food pantry distribution was able to stock the shelves of 197 households in the Lawrence community, providing sustenance for those going through some difficult times.

Catherine Keeton, the organization’s coordinator, has a lot of faith in her organization. “Food is what we do. We take it very seriously,” she said. “I think [food] is the most direct way you can help somebody.”

The pantry provides for many families throughout the community on a daily basis. But to Keeton, one story seems to illustrate best what the organization is all about.

A single mother of four children was literally on her last $10. With nowhere else to turn to feed her family, she came to Just Food. With the help of the pantry, she was able to feed her family for just the amount of time it took her to get a job. Feeling especially grateful, she now gives an “anonymous” donation to Just Food once a month, sneaking into the warehouse and leaving the bag of groceries. “She really felt like she had been taken care of by her community,” Keeton said.

Keeton believes that providing food is the basis of solving so many problems faced with our community today. “By providing an adequate, nutritious, regular source of food, people can focus on other things,” she said. Sometimes, those other things could be a critical step in security for a family, like the case of the single mother. Without the help of the food pantry, she might never have had the chance to get back on her feet.

Charles, a long-time volunteer at the pantry since 1972, showed me around the warehouse. Photo by Ben Pirotte

Community involvement is something the organization stresses. Without the support of faithful volunteers like Charles, a carpenter by trade and father of 9, the pantry would not survive. Charles has been volunteering since 1972, unloading and reorganizing the many donations that come from generous organizations from around the community.

This tall man guided me through the pantry, pointing to each box and describing its contents, and even took me into the freezer. “You should take an ice cream!” he said, “they really are pretty tasty.” While I decided to pass up the cold treat, I was not able to pass up the warm vibe the generous people at the food pantry were sending my way.

It’s people like this that give me hope in my world.

–Ben P.

A story about a guy who doesn’t believe in recycling by bendcohen
April 9, 2010, 2:37 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 11, Society + Media, Waste + Recycling | Tags: , ,

“Recycling is a lie”, said somebody in my Scientific Principles of Environmental Studies class about a month ago.  While the rest of the class, and the GTA who was leading the discussion in place of our absent professor, raised eyebrows and uttered a collective “Seriously?”, this person explained that recycling centers did not actually dispose of waste, but rather shipped it all off to China to be burned or thrown into landfills.  This was in reaction to a video we had just watched depicting this very thing happening with e-waste.  At least one recycling center was shown to have merely sent its recycled phones and old computers to a dump in China, where parts were either stripped off or destroyed.

I have turned over the comment that “recycling is a lie” this video elicited ever since.  I thoroughly disagreed with the assessment then, and continue to do so, but it got to me in that I realized how easily somebody was swayed by one video of an unethical business.  The point of the feature was not to criticize the practice of recycling so much as it was an expose on how the exportation of e-waste is handled, both domestically (a recycling center which ships its waste abroad), and internationally (entire communities in China portrayed as being based around e-waste dumps).

Levels of waste are going up constantly, with one report estimating that e-waste just from cell phones will increase in China sevenfold by 2020 (from 2007 levels).  If you take the tons of space taken up by all of the waste in the country, and then factor in gas from all the melting plastic, you get… filth.  It’s probably not the most scientific calculation ever devised, but then I also don’t have a calculator on hand.

But, with all that in mind, my classmate’s reaction wasn’t “They are abusing the practice of recycling for money all over the world”.  It was “recycling is a lie”.  Different studies have come up with different results for how many people in America actually recycle.  A Harris poll in 2007 cited by Jasmin Malik Chua of treehugger.com stated that 23% of Americans did not recycle.  Honestly, when I saw this number, I thought it was encouraging, given all the people I’ve known who think not throwing an empty aluminum can in the trash is something hippies do.

And they'll come after you if they find out you're not doing it. From rowthree.com

Another report, this time from 2008, stated that around 40-50 percent of Americans recycle all the time, and one taken shortly before that had 25% of the country not recycling at all.

I’m not great with numbers, but that last one is not a number I have a hard time wrapping my head around.  Somewhere around a quarter of the country’s population either agrees with my classmate that recycling is a “lie”, or they are just apathetic to it.  I’m not actually interested in preaching the values of recycling right now.  Those kinds of rants are so common they are almost cliche.  Rather, I’d just like to dwell on the the fact that so many people are desensitized to said rants.  Some think it’s a lie, some don’t understand it, some just don’t care.  That crying Native American from the old commercials would be sad.

~Ben C.

Does water wash away pesticides? by micolea

I enjoy eating fruit. I would even go so far as to declare myself a fruit lover. Often, I find myself nibbling on slices of mango, crunching into an apple and noshing on pieces of a pear.

Photo by mbgrigby/Courtesy Flickr

Recently, I have found myself consistently craving the sweet and slightly tart flavor of apples. So much so, that for the past two weeks I have eaten an apple every day. I always rinse fruit before I consume it. Usually, this routine consists of me holding the fruit under a stream of water for about 10 seconds. Normally, this would appease me, but now that I have discovered that apples rank second in terms of fruits and vegetables containing pesticides, it leaves me with a sour feeling in my stomach.

I try to be a conscious consumer and like to purchase organic when my monetary budget allows for it. The Environmental Working Group’s publication of the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of 12 vegetables and fruits with the highest pesticide residue and the “Clean 15”, those produce with the lowest amount of pesticides, provides useful information about which produce should be purchased organically. The majority of the fruits and vegetables that are considerably pesticide laden are those with a thin outer skin.

There are varying opinions about how to clean produce in order to get rid of bacteria and pesticides. Some advise that water and a scrub brush is all that is needed to wash away unwanted waxes and pesticides from produce. While others think using a fruit and vegetable cleaner is the best and safest bet. Washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating reduces the amount of pesticides, but does not completely eliminate them.

A peer-reviewed study released in 2008, found vast amounts of pesticides in children who ate an assortment of conventional foods. Consequently, when these same children substituted organically grown fruits and vegetables into their diets, no traces of pesticides were found. Scientists who study the effects of peoples continual low-level exposure to pesticides are still investigating how will it affect our health in the long-term.

Nevertheless, the decision is still ours.

No, not all of the food I eat is organic, and I’m sure that there will still be times when I eat a conventionally grown apple. However, I will be more inclined to purchase peaches, apples and strawberries from a co-op rather than a commercial foods store. It’s a compromise; but now I know which produce items to compromise on and which ones are worth the splurge.  

Micole Aronowitz

High Price for Personal Choice by KaylaReg

One of the favorite pastimes of my father, an avid hunter and meat enthusiast, is making fun of my veggie burgers and tofu dogs. It’s actually kind of funny as he announces to his friends while tending the grill that, “now, it’s time to put on Kayla’s VEGGIE dog. More like CARDBOARD dog!” and the laughs ensue.

For a time, I took the joking pretty personally and it really bothered me. Then I realized how he must have felt when I quit the whole “meat” thing. Whether he’d like to admit it or not, a small part of him must have taken it personally, as food, for anyone, is incredibly personal.

Like it or not, our diets reflect who we are and where we come from. When I studied abroad in Ireland, one of my coworkers believed everyone in America ate Twinkies and fried Snickers. I assured her time and time again that nobody really ate those, but is what we really eat as a culture much better? According to what I could find, hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, French fries and fried chicken are the foods defining the American diet.

I’m all for comfort food, but as more and more evidence surfaces over the risks of our junk food diet, it seems all the more reason to question what we’re eating. Of course, such evidence could cause us to do exactly the opposite.

As you can probably guess, one of these healthy meals is more than twice as expensive as the other. All together, the salmon dish came in around $20 while the lettuce wrap cost under $8. Both provided tons of left overs for other healthy meals though, so what, I wonder, is the real price of healthy food?

According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, when presented with information that threatens my self-esteem, like the foods I’ve been eating are unhealthy, I’ll take one of three actions. I’ll either change my diet to be consistent with the new information, reject the information and maintain my current diet, or I can justify my diet by believing something that reconciles the conflict like “I can’t change my diet because I don’t have the money.”

With food being so personal to us, it’s understandable why many vehemently, and sometimes irrationally defend their eating habits. It’s why organic food is seen as elitist, even dangerous to some. It’s why a middle school English teacher was ordered to cease and desist teaching nutrition and selling fresh fruits and healthy snacks to students. It’s why even under the scrutiny of the camera, the school Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution focused on met the celebrity chef with scrutiny and even hostility.

Perhaps the resistance to healthy food is a question of rearranging priorities, but it’s also just as much one of accessibility. If we don’t have the same access to healthy foods, how can anyone really challenge the quality of another person’s diet? Until healthy food is made equally accessible, I don’t think we can.

What we can do though, is get educated and in turn, educate each other. That can mean everything from having friends over to make fruit pizzas, to grilling hamburgers with family, to even searching for recipes to use up that left over red pepper in the fridge.

Without my father’s support, I wouldn’t have been able to make the food decisions I wanted and more importantly, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the same family meals or backyard barbeques as I always had. Food is both a powerful personal and social experience. When we have a good one, especially one we’re proud of, we’ll be sure to go back to it again.

-Kayla R.