J500 Media and the Environment

Learning Through Service
April 30, 2010, 1:53 am
Filed under: J500 Week 14, Society + Media | Tags: , ,

I am astounded by the vast amount of knowledge I have acquired from this course. When I enrolled in this class, I expected to come away having learned about various ways to be environmentally conscious and knowing definitions of environmental terms. What I didn’t expect to happen was to gain valuable insight on issues ranging from factory farms to food labels to the cleanliness of water.    

From day one of this class, I discovered that environmental issues are also human issues. Before, I thought of it as completely separate concerns-one having nothing to do with the other. I was under the impression that environmental issues didn’t affect me; which made me, in part, disconnected from my surroundings. I assumed that my daily routines and practices were too minuscule to have an effect on others or the world around me.  

I was mistaken.  

Throughout the course I started to see and understand the importance of the connection between people and the planet. My point of view began to change. By using food and agriculture as our lenses through which we viewed environmental matters, it brought about the realization that environmental issues are also day-to-day concerns such as, purchasing produce sprayed with pesticides, pumping gasoline into our cars and discovering the by products in drinking water.   

Photo by Only Sequel/Courtesy Flickr


This class was made all the more rewarding by getting the opportunity to give back to our community through service learning with the Douglas County Food Policy Council. The aim of the DCFPC is to attain a local, sustainable food system for Douglas County. To me, the best way to learn is through active learning. Getting the chance to speak with people in our community and to be an influential part of creating a local food system for our county, for this generation and future generations, took learning to an extraordinary level.  

All in all, this class gave me a new-found respect for the world which I inhabit. I learned life lessons that I will carry with my throughout my existence. This four-month journey has taught me that even though change takes time, it is forthcoming. To be a part of that change towards a more sustainable environment is breathtaking. 

Micole Aronowitz


My Environmental Awakening

Photo by paul david/Courtesy Flickr

When it comes to helping conserve the environment, my mom practices what she preaches. Long before I was even aware of our planet’s perils, my mom was doing her part and setting an admirable example for me to follow.   

Conserving water: It is a part of my mother’s daily routine to always turns off the faucet when she is brushing her teeth, and when showering she also turns off the water in between shampooing and conditioning her hair. Plus, when washing the dishes, instead of letting a constant stream of water run, she just fills the sink with the water needed. To understand why my mom is stringent about the issue of water is to acknowledge her childhood. My mom came from a country where water was often rationed. In some of the provinces in the Philippines water was only available for certain times during the day. After those hours, the water companies would simply turn the water off. This was a normal, everyday occurence.

Curtailing food waste: In my mom’s eyes the only thing worst than wasting water is wasting food. At dinner time, I was reminded regularly to only take the amount I could eat. Likewise, we would always eat leftovers. My mom was determined not to throw away any food that was “still perfectly fine,” as she would say. I recall one of the first and most astonishing cultural experiences I had regarding food waste. I was nine years old and my mom, aunt and myself were dining at a buffet in Manila, Philippines. Being young, and considering that my eyes were often bigger than my stomach, I was unable to finish all of the food on my plate. When the waiter came to collect our plates and he saw the remnants of uneaten food still left on mine, he sternly informed my mom that there would be an extra charge for the wasted food. At that age, I did not understand the gravity of wasted food, but now, in retrospect, I realize the relevance of that experience.   

My mom grew up in a country where water was scarce and access to food was, at times, limited. Her upbringing and her surroundings are what engrained in her an appreciation and respect for the environment and its natural resources. We all come from different walks of life and our cultures and the society’s we live in shape our experiences and attitudes about the environment.   

It was and still is my mom’s continuous example of being aware and caring about the world around her that inspired me to reevaluate my daily routines. I began to incorporate my mom’s environmental habits into my collegiate lifestyle. It wasn’t an overnight change, but a gradual adjustment in recognizing that in order to make tomorrow better, I have to start today. We are all in this together. Each action we make, no matter how big or small, affects us all. Each of us, as individuals, can take small steps to improve the health of our planet.   

Micole Aronowitz

Curbing Disposable Coffee Cup Waste

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I look forward to is having a cup of coffee. Over the past year, coffee has become one of my indulgences; I consume an average of three cups a day. Surprisingly, what makes drinking coffee so delectable for me is sipping it from my favorite red, reusable coffee mug.

By scrufus/Courtesy Flickr

I was astounded to learn that 58 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown away each year, according to Betacup. What is even more staggering is The Coalition for Resource Recovery tells us that “if all paper cups in the US were recycled, 645,000 tons of waste would be diverted from the landfill.”

Photo by Toban Black/Courtesy Flickr  

Yes, I have contributed to this waste. In the past, I’ve purchased my grande cup of joe from coffee shops whose only option is serving coffee in a paper cup. I didn’t think twice about tossing those paper cups into the trash nor did I consider the abundant amount of trees, time and energy used to make and manufacture disposable coffee cups.

However, now that I am aware, I can no longer turn a blind-eye to this predicament. This is why I choose to drink my coffee out of a reusable coffee mug. In some small way I feel as though I am giving back to Mother Earth and making up for all of those paper cups I threw away.  

We live in a society where convenience is highly valued. It is more convenient to carry a light weight paper cup than it is to lug around a heavy reusable mug. Betacup is an organization aiming to curb the amount of waste generated by paper cup usage. They are calling on coffee drinkers and non coffee drinkers alike to submit their ideas and designs for a more desirable option to the reusable coffee mug. Through this contest, Betacup hopes it will result in a collaborative effort from people all over the globe sharing and giving feedback on ideas to come up with a supreme alternative.  

Habits are hard to break. Though, we can learn to embrace new ones. Generating conversations and ideas about how to conserve our environment and its resources is a great first step.

After all, the solution is in our hands.

Micole Aronowitz

Does water wash away pesticides?

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

Creating Rain Because Of Climate Change

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  

My Deep-Fried Happiness

When I was a youngster, every Saturday was game day. Being a bit of a tomboy as a child, I loved to play sports. So each Saturday, I was in one of two places-on the basketball court or on the soccer field.

However, as much as I looked forward to expending my energy on the basketball court, it was what followed each of my games that made my heart race with excitement. That was knowing my dad would be taking me to McDonald’s.

Photo by mbell1975/Courtesy Flickr

During my adolescence, I had an adoration for eating under the golden arches, or what my dad and I refered to as our “weekly ritual.” I fondly remember stepping through the doors of McDonald’s and immediately having my senses delighted with the aromas of oily fries, greasy cheeseburgers and deep-fried chicken nuggets. As a child, these unhealthy fast foods had become a staple of my diet. I am not completely sure how McDonald’s cuisine (if it can even be described as such) became my comfort food.

Photo by SuellenLemos/Courtesy Flickr

At the ripe age of eight, my palate was accustomed to greasy, fatty foods and as a result, I requested it more often. Coincidentally, there happened to be a McDonald’s conveniently located a few blocks from my elementary school. On the days my mom picked me up from school, we would make a pit-stop at Mickey D’s and pick up my favorite after school snack- an order of large fries. I am a creature of habit and cheeseburgers and fries were my food habit. Being raised in a time when fast food restaurants are abundant and within blocks of one another, it was exceptionally easy for me to obtain. Unfortunately, the news isn’t any better for kids nowadays. Apparently, a new study found children in the United States are getting over a fourth of their daily calories from junk food.

Even more troublesome is a report by USA Today, which said that the beef and chicken supplied to schools is not checked nearly as rigorously as McDonald’s, Burger King and Costco, which cautiously scrutinizes its meat for bacteria and pathogens. When hearing information like this, it makes me cringe. Why aren’t government food inspection standards uniform? Inspection standards should be rigorous when it comes to the quality and safety of food. We place a certain amount of trust in our government to make sure that the food we eat won’t harm our health. So, whether it be a burger from Burger King or ground beef in a school lunch, it should become a habit for it to be examined closely and carefully.

Micole Aronowitz

Uncovering the ‘Meat’ of the Issue

I grew up in a family of meat-lovers. It was guaranteed that the centerpiece of each dinner dish was a slab of protein. You name it- beef, pork, chicken, lamb- and my family and I ate it. As you can imagine, being brought up at a young age on an eating plan that made meat mandatory but fresh fruits and colorful vegetables voluntary, my eating habits were not very healthy.

When I was in high school, the Atkins diet became popular. It appealed to me (and my insatiable appetite for beef), so I decided to try it. I was in meat lover’s paradise. On this eating regimen I was able to consume all the bacon, steak and pork chops my stomach (and arteries) could handle. Now, as not to make too bad of an impression, I also grazed on vegetables. My side dishes consisted of leafy greens, including asparagus, broccoli and spinach. In hindsight, chowing down on a diet of meat everyday was not great for my body or mind, but at the time, I thought otherwise. I ignored the fact that meat contained a lot of saturated fat. My reasoning for eating meat and poultry was because it provided my body with sustenance and likewise, it filled me up. Protein kept me feeling full for hours, whereas, carbohydrates did not sustain my hunger for very long.

I continued the Atkins diet for a year. I was completely unaware that the processed meats I was ingesting were composed of pesticides and preservatives such as sodium nitrate. Never did I expect that eating a slice of honey-cured ham would expose me to many toxic chemicals and additives. These meats come from animals raised on factory farms controlled by manufacturing corporations. The conditions under which factory raised animals are kept are inhumane, to say the very least. In these factory farms, the animals are packed together in small spaces, have their DNA altered, and are injected with hormones and antibiotics and at times wallow in their own feces. 

Photo by Farm Sanctuary/Courtesy Flickr

There are some that argue that factory farms will never completely disappear, and because of that, they are conceiving a method to lessen the pain these animals are forced to endure. Adam Shriver, a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis, is one of those people. His article in the New York Times suggests genetically engineering animals in slaughterhouses, therefore minimizing their pain. Though the idea is novel, it doesn’t conclusively alter the animals living circumstances. 

These days, I maintain an eating plan that balances vegetables, fruits, whole grains and meat. There is an alternative to factory farm meat- choosing to eat organic, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. Now that I am conscious of the reality of the happenings in factory farms I will try as often as possible to support organic farming practices.

Micole Aronowitz