J500 Media and the Environment


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



Keep an Eye Out On Comfort Foods by jackiemcc

When I was growing up, I loved pasta. That was my favorite food to eat, and I ate quite a bit of it. After I came to college and was on my own, I started to notice a trend—I unintentionally didn’t eat as much pasta as I used to.  Our ‘comfort foods’ have strong roots to our past (memories, people, or feelings); I think this connection is an important element to have in our lives. While I think this aspect is important, I think we need to watch how much we rely on these foods.

Some of the most popular comfort foods in the country include: pie, cake, ice cream, burgers, macaroni and cheese, pizza, chips, and candy, among others. From the http://www.epicurious.com website.

When we were kids, we all had certain foods our parents fed us quite often. And the ones we liked became our ‘comfort foods’. I think this really shapes who we are. When we move out and live on our own, these comfort foods are still a part of us and our diet, intentionally or unintentionally. The frequency might differ, but it will still be present in our lives.

We return to this comfort food because it reminds us our childhood. We long to return to a part our past, so we eat familiar foods that bring us back there. I think this comfort food is important for us to have, so we can go back to our childhood when we feel the need. If we are in an uncomfortable or stressed situation, that food will remind us of home, and make us feel more comfortable.

The ability to return to familiar surroundings is important in the psychology of one’s mind. If one feels very uncomfortable or stressed, they could go into a depression. It is important to have these options available, because it can prevent these feelings.

However, comfort food can also negatively affect one’s mood as well. It is quite common for people who are stressed or sad to eat more and less healthy comfort foods than those who are happy. We could go overboard on how much of that food we eat, which could result in weight gain and guilt.

To avoid these negative effects, there are many ways to control the urges of comfort foods. To control these urges you can: practice patience before eating comfort foods, limit your intake and surroundings of comfort foods, work alongside a friend who is facing the same dilemma, and limit, or eliminate completely, the amount of money you will spend on comfort foods.

So while comfort foods could return us to happy place in time, we need to be careful of how much of it we eat. Because we are sad or uncomfortable, we could eat too much of that comfort food, and be right back where we started.

-Jackie McClellan



Learning what to pass over during Passover by bendcohen

"Hey Timmy, I'll trade you my pudding for your shank-bone!". From, ironically, the evangelical blog Dwelling in the Word.

When I was little, I dreaded the holiday of Passover.  Being Jewish, I was required for a week every year to cut out breads and any leavened foods (generally interpreted as anything with yeast, and any pastas).  I thought it would be impossible to survive without cookies, pizza, sandwiches, and all the other basic components of a grade-schooler’s diet.  The school cafeteria certainly wasn’t accommodating, leaving me to regularly bring a lunch-bag with matzoh, some macaroons, perhaps some fruit, generally stuff that my friends weren’t going to touch when they could have the rectangular globs of ingredients we were told was pizza.

Over the years, eating during Passover has gotten significantly easier, both as I’ve learned that one can survive without PB&J for a week (unpleasant as it may be), and as I’ve discovered how many other options there are to consume in general.  As a kid, I knew little about variety in my diet because two of the three meals I’d eat a day became standard very quickly.  Cereal in the morning, something frozen and from a plastic bag for lunch at school (along with the requisite tiny carton of chocolate milk or half-cup of condensed orange juice).

Generally, breaking out of a dietary routine at that age is impossible.  A few kinds of cheap, processed foods are going to be regular sights at public school lunches, and there is little that will last in a paper sack in a kid’s locker for four hours before they eat that is actually healthier than the aformentioned pizza blobs I ate in my early years.  With government funding to public schools being cut on a regular basis, they really can’t splurge on nicer products, and even the awareness raised by a few well-meaning projects like British television chef Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” isn’t going to do more than raise eyebrows and get a few kids a few better lunches.  I really admire the mission statement that “every child in America has the right to fresh, nutritious school meals, and that every family deserves real, honest, wholesome food”, but culturally, I have to look at what factors have brought about the epidemic of poor nutrition which Oliver is concerned with.

I’ll go far enough, cynical as I tend to be, to disagree with another British TV star, Ricky Gervais, who criticized Oliver’s campaign by saying that American children “know why they’re fat, and they like it.”  The problem has been increasingly recognized, and the USDA is becoming more involved in fighting the problem, but parents without the time and schools without the money aren’t going to change how they feed their children.

So, while I now shop for myself, and went to a Seder this year that, to my surprise, served baba ghanoush, somewhere there is a Jewish kid, probably growing up in the Midwest like I did, who dreaded the beginning of Passover this year because they don’t know how easy it is to cut a few things out for a week.

~Ben C.



More Atrazine Please! by Sean T.
April 2, 2010, 2:39 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 10 | Tags: , , , , ,

Scrolling through the Lawrence Public Works Department’s water quality report I found one item frightening. Levels of atrazine in Lawrence are halfway to the legal limit. Some pollutants might not affect our health but I’ve found that atrazine is best avoided.

Atrazine is the most widely-used pesticide in the world. Source – plantersproducts.com

The EPA sets the Maximum Contamination Levels (MCLs) for pollutants in our drinking water. Ideally, the MCL is the most a person can daily consume of a pollutant without suffering “adverse health impacts.” The EPA can enforce the MCL legally if it is breached. Atrazine’s MCL is 3 parts per billion; the highest level found in Lawrence is 1.4 ppb.

Syngenta, the company that makes atrazine, denies any negative health effects. It says the benefits of atrazine are “clear and substantial.” It is the most widely-used pesticide in the world. The EPA’s reports have found no glaring dangers but the agency are in the midst of redoing test work.

Not all agree. Environmental Health Services reported that atrazine disrupts reproduction abilities in rats. The chemical lets off a stress signal that interrupts ovulation in females. When ovulation stops, reproduction can’t happen.

Now, think of all of the women that live near farms (or within range of farm run-off). If they are constantly barraged with atrazine  in their soil or drinking water the same stress signals will be activated. The signals are not as intense as the rats’ but enough to complicate reproduction.

As reproduction complications continue, cancer can develop. Prostate and breast cancer are cited as results of atrazine. Following the atrazine ban in the European Union, some Americans are taking steps to eradicate it from our agricultural diet.

Charlie Novogradac doesn’t use pesticides on his chestnut trees. As co-owner and operator of Chestnut Charlie’s, Novogradac refuses to use chemicals like atrazine. He says he won’t use them because he knows it would hurt his soil and because he doesn’t want to expose himself. Novogradac mentioned that tree crops like chestnuts require less pesticides. He thinks tree crops serve as an alternative to chemical-laden corn or soybeans.

Since atrazine has a carbon bond it persists in our environment. A new product could degrade active compounds in the soil. It’s an option for local government to consider if it wants to clean up the local water system. A local ban on atrazine might work but, because of it popularity the chances going statewide are not good.

In the meantime, getting a clean source of water is important. Buying filtered water or buying a new water filter that works against atrazine are essential steps. Hopefully all farmers will say no to atrazine soon, but until then it’s up to us to  stay out of its path.

Sean T.



Water: the liquid of our lives by bpirotte

1 in 8 people don't have access to clean drinking water. Photo by Wespionage on Flickr

I hear cars sloshing around the puddles that fill the unnaturally high amount of potholes that spot Lawrence streets outside my window.

I take a sip of the Brita-filtered water that fills my glass next to my computer.

I hear the flow of the water through the pipes of the incredibly thin walls of my apartment building while my roommate takes a shower.

But do I actually sit back and think about where this water is coming from? Do I realize that 1 in 8 people has to live without clean drinking water? I take for granted that when I turn on my sink, clean, drinkable water will flow. I even complain when it takes too long to achieve that perfect temperature.

With World Water Day just a few days ago, it seems relevant to talk about one of the most important issues that plagues our planet today. While we in developed countries take it for granted that our government will take care of our water, and with the taxes we pay, give us the cleanest, safest, and best access to water wherever we are, many developing countries throughout the world are not given that luxury. As Americans, on average, we consume about 400 liters of water per day. In desert cities like Phoenix, Arizona, their consumption increases up to about 1,000 liters to keep their lawns looking like they live in Ireland. Comparatively, in third world countries such as Mozambique, the average use is just 10 liters. And that 10 liters probably isn’t even safe to drink.

So, how are we, as a world of only 2.5% freshwater, going to deal with world water shortages, and give access to those who don’t already have clean drinking water? There are many solutions out there, but there are some you can do at home that will help you and the whole world.

Conserve your own water. While you probably don’t think you’ll be able to make that trip to Mozambique to help install a well for a poor area in the bush anytime soon, you can conserve your own water usage by doing a few things:

  • Take a shorter shower.
  • Fill the sink to wash your dishes instead of individually rinsing them.
  • Keep a pitcher of water in your fridge. That way, you won’t have to wait impatiently for the sink to make ice-cold water.
  • If you live in a climate that can’t naturally support an English garden, maybe it’s time you gave up that green lawn. Places like Phoenix and Los Angeles were never meant to look like Seattle. Maybe designing a desert garden could be a good alternative.
  • Learn about your world. Without access to clean, safe, drinking water, many of those you share this big planet with are actually dying. Understanding their plight could help motivate you to stop running the faucet while brushing your teeth.
  • Never think you can’t make a difference.

–Ben P.



Do “good” and “bad” foods really exist? by tesshedrick

I absolutely love brownies, especially when they are soft and gooey.  Man, they are delicious!  Even though I love brownies, I consider them more-or-less a “bad” food.  I tend to do this with a lot of different foods, that is labeling them either “good” or “bad.”  In my mind, I think of bad foods as offering no nutritional value.  I think of “good” foods as those that give way to a full feeling without packing on calories.

Because I have this mindset, I tend to stay away from foods that I have labeled as “bad” foods.  However, slip ups are inevitable.  You always want what you can’t have and in my case, these are “bad” foods.  I can only say no so many times to pizza, cookies, brownies, you know name it.  But then, it comes too much.  I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but When I want to eat something so bad, but I know I shouldn’t, that one food begins to take over my mind.  That forbidden food is my only thought.

Instead of allowing myself a little piece of brownie, or what have you, when I want one, I may eat 2 or 3 after so many times of saying I won’t allow myself to have any.  The aftermath of eating a few brownies as opposed to one is uncomfortableness and sometimes guilt.

I can recall some early morning shows that blatantly say that “this” food is good and “that” food is bad.  The “good” food category in my head has been easier and “safer” to eat than my “bad” food category of food.  I am also a fan of Cosmopolitan Magazine, but I was not a fan of this article called “13 Healthy Foods That Make You Fat.” They failed to acknowledge that you can still eat these foods in moderation.

The categories of “good” and “bad” foods began to take a tole on my everyday life.  These two categories began to consume my everyday thoughts.

There is too much of life going on for food to be the only thing controlling a person’s life.  I finally realized that I needed to dramatically change my thinking, which would then change the way I lived my life.

I found out the tools I needed to start on my journey of a different thought process.  I started seeing a nutritionist whom at first I was reluctant to believe anything she was saying.  She made me write down a list of “good” foods and “bad” foods.  She then proceeded to tell me that there are no such thing as “bad”  or “good” foods.  My first thought was, “This is a conspiracy!”

However, after more sessions with my nutritionist, I began to see that there was no difference between “good” and “bad” foods.  No one should have to deny themselves a food that they like.  I learned that having a few bites of something that you are hungry for will prevent a major craving for in the future.

Since going through this experience, I have thought about the way I ate when I was a little kid.  I realized that no one really taught us in school how to eat.  For me, I think it would have been very beneficial to have some sort of nutrition class once a week in elementary schools.  The way I would see it bringing in a nutritionist or dietician and teaching kids how to get the nutrition they need as well as how to eat the foods they like in moderation.

I have totally transformed the way  I think and feel about food and can now enjoy the foods that I choose to eat.  It has definitely been a learning experience, but I think it has been the most rewarding and positive journey I have taken thus far.  I highly suggest to set up an appointment with a nutritionist or a dietician.  I think you will find that your eyes, and mouth, will be opened.

-Tess H.