J500 Media and the Environment

Sustainable is Obtainable
February 10, 2010, 10:35 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , ,

Every time I hear talk of sustainability, I think, “ah, wouldn’t that be utopia?”  The picture in my head is all green and sunshine, warm and busy. There we are, wasting not, wanting not, and all of our food is bright and delicious.

Unfortunately, I think most people believe that the idea of sustainability is more akin to a perpetual motion machine than an actual possibility. A community-wide agricultural system that supports the local ecology, biosphere, and human population? Please. I can barely sustain my Wednesdays.

There is no doubt that the idea of developing such a system is daunting. But even though I may I say utopia, I don’t mean to flippantly disregard the idea as fictional.  Quite the opposite, in fact.


Defining a sustainable food system helps us see  just how possible, and desirable, a sustainable food system really is. Of all the definitions of I’ve seen, I like the American Public Health Association’s definition the best.  Let’s consider my favorite elements of that definition.

A sustainable food system:

Provides healthy food today: Let’s admit it, we need better food. We’re a nation plagued with obesity and diabetes. There may even be a connection between our food and our moods. And we don’t need that food tomorrow, we need it today.

Ensures  food for generations to come: A sustainable food system helps us take care of people tomorrow by what we do today. Isn’t it a comfort to realize that with some care and effort, we can keep ourselves from leaving the next generation hungry and struggling?

Makes nutritious food available, accessible, and affordable to all: The socio-economic disparity in food choices today is upsetting. A sustainable food system can help balance our food resources and give people access to their human right to healthy food.

Is humane and just, protecting farmers and other workers, consumers, and communities: This is my favorite part. A sustainable food system is humane and helps us help ourselves. It strengthens our communities, provides jobs, and protects farmers‘ livelihoods.

Has a minimal negative impact to the environment: We need to start taking better care of the earth if we expect it to take care of us.  We need to start avoiding pollution and soil erosion before there is an irreversible impact on our environment.

I see no reason why a sustainable food system cannot succeed. I believe it can and, with inspiration and motivation, will. A system of efficient balance takes time, planning, and dedication. An agricultural system that provides the environmental and human health that we need is too invaluable to dismiss as a dreamland.


Trend Today, Trite Tomorrow

I love a good ad slogan.  They’re catchy, creative and stick in your head.  Really good ones actually affect behavior. For instance, I check myself before I wreck myself and  I occasionally enjoy an incredible, edible egg. I’ve also gone green.

I don’t use disposable lunch bags or water bottles, I recycle, I take my own bags to the grocery store and I buy organic fairly often. I even make a special effort at the gym to use those machines that generate their own electricity.

A well-crafted slogan is a great public relations tool and it can do big things for movements like environmentalism. It has the power to raise money, spread awareness and inspire action.  With the help of a good slogan, a movement like environmentalism becomes the crusade du jour.

Unfortunately, there is the inevitable effect of time on trendiness. Once a phrase has lost its momentum it becomes trite and  lifeless, unlikely to surface again except for maybe on a novelty t-shirt. But while the the slogan may have died, the issue is still an issue. And, my apologies to advertisers and wordsmiths worldwide, the issue is what’s really important.

If someone asks me why I buy organic, I’m not going to throw them a slogan and say I’m going green. If someone wants to know why I recycle, I don’t say I give a hoot and don’t pollute. How does that answer their question? That answer is too vague and leaves you sounding uninformed or, worse, insincere.

Instead, I tell them about minimizing waste and pollution. I explain that organic food keeps pesticides out of the ground and out of our bodies. I inform them about the issue. Anything less and you’ll end up like Woodsy Owl,  motivating people to do hardly more than shake their heads and smile at your silliness.

While my love for slogans is strong, my love for the environment is stronger, so I pay attention to what it means to go green. Now, I’m better at recognizing when something is environmentally friendly without the help of  a “go green” label.

Slogans help start a movement, but it’s people that keep it going. If a slogan catches your attention, research the underlying issue. Get educated about a movement or a cause. Save the slogan from itself by turning the trend into a habit, because information will outlive any ad campaign.


Glycerol in my Grocery Bag

Ah, food. I love it.  I love seeing it, smelling it, cooking it, reading about it, shopping for it,  eating it, and sharing it.  Because I love it, I pay attention to what’s in it. A few years ago, I stopped buying anything made with high fructose corn syrup. I thought that ridding my diet of the processed sweetener may give me more energy. Recently, I decided to choose foods with familiar ingredients. Whatever it is goes right back on the shelf when I see a word like, “carrageenan.” If it’s an ingredient I can’t put in my own pantry, I try to avoid it.

Unfortunately, reading labels still doesn’t mean you know what you’re eating. Twinkie Deconstructed, by Steve Ettlinger, answers questions about processed food that a lot of people didn’t know needed to be asked. What are we eating, really?  When you look into it like Ettlinger did, you may find out that, if you are what you eat, you’re increasingly becoming drywall.

What's on your grocery list? photo credit: K.Cochran

We need to start asking questions about our food. Knowledge helps us make decisions about what we will, and will not, put in our bodies.  It’s one thing to use food as fuel, but using fuel as food? We deserve better.

Knowing what’s in our food gives us control. Will companies keep making foods that we simply won’t buy? Of course not. Take my personal boycott against high fructose corn syrup. Two years ago when I started, I was very limited in the foods I could buy. Today, I have many  more options.

It seems that enough people started avoiding high fructose corn syrup, so companies stopped using it. Imagine that effect on a larger scale. Little Kelly in Lawrence, Kansas couldn’t have had that impact on her own. People need to buy better food before companies will give us better food to eat. They will feed us what we’re willing to be fed.

Start making decisions about your food.  You can do what I did and choose one ingredient to avoid, and build on that list over time.  Go organic if you can.  Find your local farmer’s market for healthy produce grown close by.

Bottom line: food is important.  If I wanted to eat wood chips, I’d gnaw on my floorboards. But I don’t, and I can’t imagine too many people do. Do some research and make some changes. I love my food, and it’s time it loved me back.

K. Cochran

About Me: Kelly Cochran
January 18, 2010, 12:18 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 1 | Tags: , ,

I am a first- year graduate student in the journalism school.  However,  I am enrolled in the university’s joint degree program which means I am also a second- year law student.  The result of these two degrees is a certification in Media Law and Policy.

I graduated from KU in 2008 with degrees in journalism and French.  I became aware in undergrad how much the journalism industry was changing.  Every aspect of journalism seemed to be in flux. Print newspapers were disappearing, citizen journalism was exploding, and everything was going digital. Importantly, these industry changes would inevitably bring about changes in the law. I decided that, in order to be truly excellent at what I did, I needed to become familiar with media’s legal landscape.

While I got closer and closer to graduation, I knew that I needed a deeper understanding of media as both a skill and a business.  In order to do that,  I decided I needed to keep writing and producing as a journalist. But I also wanted to learn about the architecture and rules of the information business. It seemed almost too perfect that the university had an option to stay connected to journalism through  graduate school while also giving me the chance to become an attorney.

I’m interested in the environment and environmental law for the same reason: the emphasis on change. In the past few years there has been a lot of attention given to environmental concerns and we as a public have more information than ever before on environmental issues. More importantly, there seems to be more information on how people can play a part in helping our environment.

I am eager to learn about environmental issues and, in the context of this class, the interaction of media and the environment.  I believe it is highly relevant and important and I am looking forward to the semester.

Kelly Cochran