J500 Media and the Environment


Cordley students whet their appetites for local food by jmuselmann

Excitement was in the air today at Cordley Elementary. It was the familiar, childlike vigor the comes from trying something new, and it was shared by both adults and kids alike as they filed into the gymnasium — not the cafeteria — for their first-ever locally sourced lunch. The term is “farm-to-school,” and judging from the content faces forking up the lasagna, it hit the spot.

The lunch was the culmination of a week of learning for the students, which spanned teaching about the benefits to local and organic foods to fields trips picking strawberries and gathering eggs from local farms (both of which were popular in the salad bar). In surveying the participants of the grand experiment about the typical lunch fare in the cafeteria, I got a sea of downward thumbs and “baaaad.” Fourth-grader Ainsley Agnew said it was just “grossness,” while on my other side was Pria Jean-Baptiste, also a fourth-grader, giving me a minutely detailed lesson about how to make the pasta from scratch. I should have taken better notes.

But the satisfaction didn’t come just from the good food, which included vegetarian and beef lasagna, bread sticks, salad, Iwig Family Dairy milk and a strawberry rhubarb confection, but also in the hard work to plan for it. Linda Cottin, the event’s organizer, said the meal had been in the works since November.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of community support, and I am happy that there’s a way to do this without all the work and make this an everyday function in the schools,” she said.

Rick Martin, head chef for the event (and at Free State Brewing Co.), agreed, saying that “After having this model, it will be easier” to accomplish in other schools and on a more permanent basis. That indeed was the consensus in the organizers’ post-lunch discussion, noting that Lawrence has the nearby farms and public interest to achieve it.

In a sense, the setting was typical: rambunctious kids at lunchtime, cracking jokes and playing with their food before politely running outside for recess. But it wasn’t. For the grown-ups — smiling volunteers and paparazzi abuzz to capture the moment — it was an accomplishment in the face of convention. Lindsey Kellenbarger, a teacher, also brought her camera for the momentous occasion, knowing the potential impact this seemingly ordinary lunch could have on the students.

“I got a kid to eat a turnip that I didn’t think would. That’s exciting,” she said.

—Jacob M.



Discerning service learning by jmuselmann

Sula Teller, food manager at The Merc, just after our interview.

Up until recently, it was difficult to put the scope of my involvement with the Douglas County Food Policy Council in perspective. Our class, Media & the Environment, has been a fusion of journalism and environmental studies departments, and each week we have been blogging about food as a way of getting our feet wet  with both these issues.

But a big part of our class was also to work for the newly formed food council as an interlocutor, surveying different stakeholders in the community as well as Lawrence residents to report back our findings — along with some research — to the council. The goal was to the “What,” the “Why” and the “How” of a local food system for Lawrence. Our group tackled the “Why” aspect.

In going out and interviewing local stakeholders as well as residents, I really started to realize how much of an impact the DCFPC could have, and how important these issues are to everyone, whether they take the time to think about it or not. Simply the act of putting everything else on hold and sitting down to talk about everyday things that most people don’t pay much attention to made me realize the pervasiveness of food attitudes that permeate other aspects of life. Calling attention to these seemingly mundane details about their work, food, and sustainability helped me see the importance of the DCFPC, and also why I had initially written it off as something bureaucratic whose goals I already had the gist of.

Wrong! It’s now apparent to me that the DCFPC is striving to be as vital as the issues it is fighting for. It really hit home when I spent a day in the Section 8 affordable housing district in north Lawrence. There I got to see and hear about how food accessibility (or rather the lack thereof) is directly affecting the lives of entire families. Hearing about families’ struggles made abstract goals of the DCFPC become very real, pertinent and necessary.

All in all, I’ve loved working for the Douglas County Food Policy Council. Working in small groups with a specific goal was rewarding. It felt good to know that we were making a difference and doing work for a task force that really needed our help. That kind of learning and satisfaction transcends earning grades in a grade book — it is immersive, substantial and can meaningfully affect the lives of many people for the better.

—Jacob Muselmann



Satisfaction Through Learning by jackiemcc

What I expected to learn, and what I did learn in this course, couldn’t have been more different. I came into this course expecting to learn about ways in which we can be more environmentally responsible, like recycling. In fact, we didn’t learn much about that at all. We discussed how food impacts the environment. Not only did we learn about general knowledge of environmental food issues, like the difference between “local” and “organic,” but we contributed to the community as well.

This semester we were able to work the newly-formed Douglas County Food Policy Council for our service learning project. For me, this was the best part of the class. I am in another service learning course this semester, and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone in the community while learning, is tremendous. When you are able to have a hands-on experience, you learn so much more than you could by reading a book. Hands-on experiences help you connect and see how things work and impact your life.

Through this experience, I was able to learn about the impact of local foods to many local farmers and KU students. I didn’t realize its impact on so many people. Before this class, local foods didn’t really cross my mind. I knew they existed, but I didn’t realize they were that big of an issue. I thought eating them was something people did nonchalantly. From this experience, I realize it’s larger than that; for some people, it is their life.

Through my interviews, I also learned about and toured a hoop house. A hoop house is a plastic-roofed greenhouse. Photo Courtesy of: http://www.growingformarket.com.

This experience impacted me the most because of our involvement with the community though. After all is said and done, I feel satisfied knowing that I contributed to the community, and that all my hard work will pay off for someone else too, not just me (as compared to a non-service learning course where I’m just earning a grade for myself). It makes me feel good that I am helping someone else out.

-Jackie McClellan



Reflections on the semester: The whole enchilada by jmuselmann

Food is at the fiber of our very being. It is passed around piping hot with potholders, it is handed to us, self-contained, through the car door in paper sacks and divvied accordingly. It’s what we eat because our family does, our friends have tried, our mothers can afford. We throw it away, and we raise it high above our heads for to honor a friend or deity as an intentional sacrifice. Boxed up, it is heaved and flown across the world, passing some to bless others.

One way or another, people get their hands on food. And then we all have the decision of what to do with it. Some have the luxury of waiting to eat it, others use it as currency or a positioning of power, while for many others, who have not been able to make the decision in quite some time, it is always this: Put it into the holes in our faces in time to prolong death.

Of course by this point, we know we aren’t just talking about food. But rather, how food passes and intersects with our needs for a healthy environment and body whole. The need for change is dire and yet lingers on. The idea of going green is gaining unprecedented momentum, and yet, in many ways, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. People can easily eat their organic cake and not recycle, and we let them. But even within the green universe, there lies a wad of inconsistencies and tradeoffs to be sifted through and decided upon. It’s a voyage that has caused more than one breakdown in the grocery store, where I’m stunned into inaction, clutching my wallet in front of the onions, biting my lip at the global repercussions. Often I leave almost empty-handed. Pressure too great.

People say, “the choice is up to us” as consumers, but it sure is hard. Without good legislative infrastructure to guide food ways, it shouldn’t be surprising that it veers toward the same reckless trajectory as other things in this country, trailing irreversible damage in the wake of progress and profit.

Take me, for example: At least in some point in my life, I have recycled. I have also littered. Oh, and I have been the one calling into report the tags of those I see throw things out of their cars while driving: approximate time of infringement, rough location, type of violation, what kind of model and the company make. I guess this class has shown me that maybe I don’t need a number in my glove box to bring about change, I need only open my fridge instead.

—Jacob Muselmann



After all’s said and done by bendcohen

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when beginning a class on Media and the Environment.  Those are two very broad things that obviously have a relationship, but finding an interesting way to discuss that relationship in a semester-long college course could be difficult.  In order to really understand the way that mass media  and the environment are connected, the right way to do it in such a time frame is to focus on a specific area, and as I quickly discovered, that is what we were doing.  Admittedly, it is not one which I considered myself well-versed in.

I always hear about the importance of buying local, for the economic reasons if nothing else.  Buy local food, and you support people in your community, while reducing the power and influence of corporate giants like Wal-Mart.  Having once won $50 for making a poster making fun of Wal-Mart (their smiley-face logo had dollar signs for eyes, and the slogan became “Everyday Low Morals”), I’m obviously quite enthusiastic about this.  What I got a grasp on from reading about the various aspects of local foods was that there are many more affects to take pride in, beyond simply malicious joy at harming a chain store.

Local food systems provide the potential for work, community bonding, and healthy diets in places they otherwise would not be.  Food producers with a smaller market to worry about do not need to take such a concern with mass-production, and thus have less problems with animal cruelty, overuse of pesticides and antibiotics, and disruption of nearby communities.  I found it strangely appropriate that the Pitch, a Kansas City-based free magazine, published a story about  a major pork-producer in Missouri losing a court case regarding how the smell from its plant disrupted the lives of the people living nearby right after we discussed major meat producers in class.

That brings us to the “Media” aspect of this class.  While the focus of in-class discussions was often on local food itself, everything was prompted by an article either on a blog or a major media outlet.  Having briefly flirted with becoming a Journalism major early in my college career (I happily went with Political Science instead), the role the media plays as a gatekeeper in any subject interests me.  The semester previous to this one, I took a class on Media and Politics, and got to examine how media outlets, both big and small, portray people and issues.  I started this class curious about the kinds of rhetoric I’d hear regarding the environment within mass media, though my attention sort of shifted to simply WHO was covering food systems.  I mentioned the Pitch, a decidedly alternative publication before, and have noticed that most places which give food the time of day are also smaller, “alternative” sources.  When a major outlet like NPR or the New York Times pays attention, it is in the form of a special interest story, or a response to something else (like a critical NPR review of “Food, Inc.”, from somebody who soon learned had yet to actually see that film).

The sole promotional image from my short-lived campaign for Governor of Kansas.

As a small player in the news media myself, I’m going to be looking with more interest having taken this class at how food is portrayed from here on.  And as a wannabe politician, maybe I’ll get to have a say in the things that make the news someday.  Time will tell.

~Ben C.



Eating better, thinking better by Lauren Cunningham

When I first started this class in January, I couldn’t really define “organic”. Like many others, I’ve always been told by my mother to eat always eat my veggies and try to eat healthy in general. But until I took this class, I never really stopped to look at the food I was putting in my body.

— from flickr.com

I certainly had no idea what “local food” meant either, but the idea never really seemed that foreign of a concept. Growing up I’ve eaten vegetables grown in my grandpa’s garden or meat from family’s friend’s farms. I think, in general, Kansans don’t see local food so much as a food movement as they see it as common sense because of the agricultural setting in which we live. Yet despite where we live and the food-growing opportunities surrounding us, we still don’t know where most of the food we eat comes from. This idea is what I liked learning about and exploring most in class.

Because both of my parents are teachers, I can appreciate when what I learn in the classroom is applied to the “real world.” And especially in a service learning class, I was able to apply information to what we’ve been working on in our group projects.

I think it comes naturally as a journalism student to enjoy meeting and interviewing people in the community in which I live. But it was particularly rewarding to listen to people like Rick Martin, the executive chef at Free State Brewing Co., or Patty Metzler, a medical dietitian at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, talk about and confirm the importance of local food in Lawrence. I’m most inspired by others who are passionate and love what they do, and by being able to talk to people who get what it means to grow food and to know where food comes from, it really has influenced me to ask more questions about my food. It also felt really good to help the Douglas County Food Policy Council learn more ways in which they can evolve within Lawrence and hopefully develop a local food system.

This class more than anything has really helped me to mature both as a consumer and as a writer. Writing a blog post each week has shown me how to truly invite others to conversations rather than shutting them out of talking about important issues. With all of the information that has been thrown at us, I also tend to question things more and look at where certain information comes from. I’m definitely not completely eco-friendly or “green” all of the time, but I’m constantly thinking about these things each time I buy something.

Most importantly, I’m not as afraid to really examine why I do what I do or why I spend my money on certain things and not others. I now take a harsher look at what I do, which at first, was hard to do. But I’ve grown to like being more critical of my decision-making. By continually looking at what I choose to spend my time, money and energy on, I can keep myself in check with how I want others to see me.

— Lauren Cunningham



Portions in restaurants need to “SuperShrink” by bpirotte

“Are you gonna eat that?”–the question that always seems to come up after a meal shared with friends. And it usually comes from me.

You might be thinking I’m just an incredibly hungry, insatiable 20 year old male, but the truth is, I ask to help finish people’s plates because I hate waste so much.

Growing up, I was always taught the idea of a “happy plate.” Finish all that you were served, no matter if it was meat, potatoes, vegetables or pudding, time at the table wasn’t done until everything was eaten up. And this didn’t seem to be a challenge for my sister and I as children, one because we were decent eaters and not particularly picky, but also because Mom never over served us, making sure we had just the right of food on our plates.

While it wasn’t until later I ever heard the threat of “there are starving kids in Africa, eat your food!”, I just knew it was my duty to finish what I was given, and that value has stuck with me ever since.

In a culture where restaurants serve way too much,

A 30 oz steak? How many meals could you make from that? Restaurants need to lower portion sizes. Photo from Flickr by TheMuuj

it’s hard not to waste. It’s not always practical (or possible) to ask for that doggy bag, but when possible, dinner the night before often makes a great lunch the next day. In reality, though, restaurants really should be making portions smaller to avoid such blatant waste. I don’t think customers would complain really, either. How many times has a waiter come to your table to ask about dessert and you have to deny them on the basis of your stomach already being at carrying capacity? No wonder obesity is such an issue.

With eating out being something Americans just don’t seem to want to give up, restaurants should respond by offering healthier, smaller portions of their food at least an option. The restaurants would save money, and the consumers could save some pounds.

–Ben P.