J500 Media and the Environment

School House Rap
April 30, 2010, 5:25 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 14, Society + Media

A very long time ago, I read an article in Rolling Stone about Liberia and thought to myself “I have to do something.” That was when I first realized the true power of words and decided I wanted to be a journalist. `Now, despite all of the issues facing the world and criticism of mainstream media, I still think journalism can help, but we have to be creative. This is something media and the environment made me realize.

No longer can we get the public concerned by simply writing an article about the pork industry. We have to interact with the issue and see it from all sides. We have to collaborate with the public, not just preach to it. Working with the Douglas County Food Policy Council was a great opportunity, in that we were able to discuss the needs of the community with a diverse group of people who really cared, not just talk about the various issues affecting our society in the classroom. This allowed us to see how various solutions can be applied and put human faces behind the issue of food justice.

While doing research for my weekly blog posts, I’d come across fact after fact telling me the world is going to hell and taking us with it.

When so many things seem to be working against us, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, fatalistic and cynical. I know I can get that way sometimes, as there’s always a little voice in my head asking “what’s the point if our doom is already set in place?” While this class certainly opened my eyes to the severity of the issues facing food justice, it was also a source of hope. Every Tuesday, a group of students would meet to talk about the problems with food and how we can face them. We were only one small part of a much bigger discussion, and that makes me so optimistic. As my favorite late night talk show host said on his last night of the Tonight Show, “I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere… But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

Now, nearly two months away from receiving my bachelors of science in journalism and mass communications, I think this sentiment reflects the most important thing I learned in class. As a journalist, I cannot stoop to cynicism. I have to continue to work hard for causes I believe in and I have to do my best to involve everyone in this fight.

Finally, whenever someone says “be creative,” my first response is to write a poem/rap. So, here’s a rap about the class. Recite to the tune of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Now this is a poem all about how

My food got flipped, turned upside down

It’s posted on this blog so read if you care

And I’ll tell you bout how I learned our food just isn’t fair

In Wichita Kansas, born and raised

Now the newsrooms where I spend most of my days

Stauffer Flint had me actin’ like a fool

But j500 was my favorite part of school

Learning bout media what they shouldn’t do and should

and workin’ with the food in our neighborhood

we posted blogs each week and sometimes I got scared

cuz the environment is something that I really do care

But the class taught me that there’s no need to fear

and working with the DCFP made that crystal clear

If anything I could say that this class is rare

Try buyin local, organic, food traded fair

You know there’s more to food than the price or it’s taste?

We can preach it in every home, Christmas, and Seder

media, environment, a crucial pair

affecting us all, from Lawrence to Bel-Air.

-Kayla R.


Laugh and They’ll Laugh With You (Hopefully)

I lived with the female version of Ras Trent for two years of college.

She was completely unmoved by what her brain was like on drugs or how she too could kill her younger sibling while driving under the influence.

Only one anti-drug campaign I know of ever made her stop and think, simply because it was so funny that she didn’t know what she was watching.

Like it or not, we live in a world of multiple and sometimes conflicting truths, where reality is often different for each person. In such a world, laughter can be the best tool for putting all of its complexities in perspective.

William McDougall, one of the theorists discussed in Dr. Jim Lyttle’s research on humor, claims that laughter gives us a sort of release from the stresses of living in a conflicted society. It’s why we laugh at the satiric hyperbole of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. We understand the absurdity of the movie because we see very real reflections of it every day, like Atrazine in our water and fast-food being likened to cocaine. When we can find humor in even what seems to be the most desperate of dilemmas, the situation can’t paralyze us in fear and we can still work to fix it.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure whether people are seeing much humor in things these days.

Consider this video telling us that if we don’t shape up immediately, global warming will kill our daughters and we will be responsible.

Buzzkill, right?

This is my very basic illustration of the paths of humor. Laughing at an out-group will set a norm for exclusion. Self deprecation will allow members of an out-group feel comfortable. Shared laughter creates a bond and sense of community between groups.

Such advertisements are just begging for parody from Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and John C. Reilly’s Green Team and the psychotic earth day spokesman. At least these videos make environmentalism look better than the “tree people” of this Ali G Show episode and it couldn’t hurt environmentalists to take a little ownership over such self-deprecation. It works for politicians, and few things are more political today than Mother Earth.

Since the political polarizing of environmentalism, the saviors and enemies of our planet are seen in terms of left and right, Democrat and Republican and who signed what legislation and who worked against it. Such absolutes construct artificial dividers of people based on opinions and affiliations, undermining the whole “we’re in this together” idea of the environment.

According to Lyttle, anthropomorphic and sociological studies have repeatedly shown that shared laughter creates a sense of community among diverse populations and reflects tolerance, acceptance and sympathy towards others. Remember what The Cosby Show did for defusing stereotypes and empowering the black community?

We can bash the Monsantos of the world all day and night, but it won’t get the average farmer to stop using its products. If anything, demonizing Monsanto products (that frankly help many farmers support their family) only excludes its customers from the conversation, throwing away any knowledge the group could have offered.

If environmental leaders want people to jump on the bandwagon, they might want to take a hint from the Huxtables and stop taking everything so seriously.

Green Police, a Super Bowl advertisement for a hybrid car, is a great example of how environmentalism can poke a little fun at itself and still reinforce a positive, progressive message. Jack Black’s Earth to America promotion encouraged me to be part of a movement towards progress, not a frenzy to stop a speeding train. I wanted to learn more about coal and clean air after I giggled at the Cohen Brothers’ This is Reality video.

Ultimately, laughter influences our attitudes, understanding, and brings people together better than any amount of finger-pointing or doomsday warnings ever will.

Swami Beyondananda argues that by embracing societal conflicts with humor, we’re better able to process its paradoxes and see solutions that fall outside of our normal thinking. No better example exists than America’s greatest humorist Mark Twain. By making us laugh at the often complicated and multiple truths of humanity, he completely changed American perception of slavery and racism.

So even though Ed Begley wants you to know that “there’s nothing funny about climate change,” I’m going to respectfully disagree. I’m sure we can find plenty of humor in climate change as well as everything else in life, and it’s something to be embraced.

Lighten up, principal Begley. It’s time to have some laughs.

-Kayla R.

Lawrence Grocery Prices
April 22, 2010, 3:39 am
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: ,

Here’s a link to the story I did about grocery store prices for the UDK in March 2009.  I could only find the price lists in PDF, so sorry for any inconvenience, but you can find it on page 8A.


Costs were calculated “In three visits to each store between Feb. 14 and March 8, the lowest prices for seven common items… were averaged and compared to determine where students can find the best deals.” (page 1A)

Enjoy and happy shopping!

Kayla R.

High Price for Personal Choice

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.

Hooked on Food and Phonics

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.

Not Lovin’ It!
March 4, 2010, 11:34 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 7 | Tags: , , , , , ,

My favorite childhood restaurant, like so many other people, was McDonald’s. I was a chicken Mcnugget Happy Meal with a Dr. Pepper kind of girl. It came in a cardboard box with fun drawings and games and, of course, you can’t forget the awesome varieties of gender-specific toys that came with it.

He's everyone's favorite red-headed clown, but it's a sad fact of life his happy meals contribute to deforestation, waste, and litter across the United States!

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan remembers the same excitement I got as a child from unwrapping McDonald’s items, as if they were “little presents.” Even though McDonald’s fell out of favor with me,  new Ronald McDonald enthusiasts are born every day, explaining its sales of over $5.97 billion, exceeding the $5.94 billion expected revenue. It’s easy to forget that as fast- food chains continue to grow, the need for wrapping up those “little presents” grows as well.

According to No Free Refills‘ (NFR) 2008 Fast Food Packaging and Production report, the Southern forests in the U.S. are the world’s largest paper-producing region, and the place most fast-food companies get their brand-specific packaging. The report claims 43 million acres of forests have been converted to pine plantations. The U.S. Forest Service states that now, nearly one in five acres of Southern forest are devoted to pine plantation.

Fast-food packaging isn’t only affecting Southern woodlands, though.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that in 2008, 32 percent of all waste came from packaging and containers, the highest contributor of waste accounting for 77 million tons. According to the NFR report, the average American eats fast-food more than 150 times a year and 1.8 million tons of total packaging waste is from fast-food.

To be fair, even NFR verifies that 83 percent of McDonald’s food and beverage packaging is made from some form of recycled paper or wood-fiber material. McDonald’s also reduced its waste by 1,100 tons from 2004 levels simply by making minor adjustments to french fry boxes in 2005. While I don’t mean to belittle such efforts, it seems as if McDonald’s overlooked perhaps the simplest recycling tool used in almost every school, office building and park-recycling bins.

According to a 2009 study conducted in part by Rutgers and Indiana University, the presence of a specialized recycling container reduced waste by 35 percent. So when children find items wrapped in McDonald’s packaging six times more appetizing than identical snacks in plain wrapping, as this 2007 Stanford University study found, it’s obvious what kind of recycling power McDonald’s could have.

Without recycling bins, one of the most recognizable signs of environmental responsbility, McDonald’s mission to be greener than the rest is very much underminded. While McDonald’s has implemented incredibly successful recycling bin programs in Japan, Canada, and Europe, such initiatives are severely lacking in the U.S. I know I’ve never seen a recycling bin in a Lawrence McDonald’s, at least.

The beauty of locally franchised McDonald’s though, is that customers have a lot of input. If local McDonald’s eaters decide they’d rather recycle than throw their paper bag, wax-lined cup, napkins, hamburger wrapper, french fry container and ketchup packets at the end of a meal, let the owners know. We may just find that all our  fast-food friends need is a little nudge.

-Kayla R.


When Good Things Go Bad

Nope, nothing good in here.

One of my favorite lines in every reality dating show is “This year, I’m putting love first.” It’s so cliché, but it recently made me reflect on the things I’ve been putting first in my own life. Health is certainly towards the bottom, as seen by what I ate today:

One grilled Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and mustard sandwich (315 calories)

A half a cup of low fat Cheez-Its (70 calories)

One medium sized orange (85 calories)

10ish peanut M&Ms (about 103 calories)

One slice of Farm Fresh pizza from Pizza Shuttle (about 300 calories)

Three-fourths a cup of macaroni and cheese (300 calories)

Although approximately 900 calories less than the expected daily intake (for the record, I am not trying to starve myself, I’m just more of a snacker than a big meal eater), it’s 1,173 calories of mostly hydrogenated fat and sodium. This is about average for me and I’m not proud of it.

Yes, I have fresh fruits and vegetables, soy meat substitutes and a wild salmon filet in the freezer. Whenever I do my big grocery runs, I make sure to buy as many healthy all-natural foods as possible, and I usually succeed in making a few good meals a week. But what happens is the leftovers sit in the fridge, my milk gets spoiled and my eggs go bad long before I’ve eaten my guilty purchases like chips and macaroni.

Better, but still not great.

According to research by the National Academy of Sciences, the beauty of my processed food items and my genetically engineered tomato is that they last forever.

What won’t last forever though is my health. In the independent documentary Localize Me, fast-food junkie Daniel Fisher only eats food from Lawrence’s Local Burger for 30 days. He can eat whatever he wants from the all-natural and local menu and he eats a lot. It’s expected that Fisher will lose weight, as eliminating fast food from any diet can only improve one’s health, but the results are truly shocking. He went from 295 to 272 pounds over the month and his cholesterol dropped from 285 to 166.

Fisher’s story is inspiring, and not only because swimsuit season is approaching. Diabetes and heart problems run in both sides of my family, an unfortunately more and more common occurrence in the United States.

It’s so easy to blame my unhealthier choices on a stressful, busy lifestyle, but I don’t foresee it getting any easier in the near future. So, I think it’s time to change this cycle. I probably won’t stick to a 100 percent all-natural, local, and organic diet. In accordance with the ‘finite pool of worry,’ I don’t think I could do the amount of research on food items required to make sure my grocery list lived up to such standards. What I can do is strike the chips and macaroni from the list and find other, actually healthy items on which to “veg.”

Because 57 days into this year, I decided to put health first.

-Kayla R.