J500 Media and the Environment

Alfalfa officially has my hairs on end by jmuselmann
Often the toupee of any veggie sandwich and a common stand-in for lettuce in burgers and wraps, alfalfa is the poster boy for wholesome food from the farm. But lately it has had its genetic wires crossed, possibly becoming the latest addition to a long list of genetically engineered foods.

Let me explain it simply: In 2006, Monsanto, in an unsurprising feat of science, made alfalfa seeds that were able to resist its million-dollar baby, RoundUp. And it took the U.S. Department of Agriculture about as long as it takes to find a pen to approve it. The process was so rushed that no one noticed that the USDA forgot to provide an environmental impact statement before deregulation, which is required by law. In 2007, the Center for Food Safety, farmers, and a few other groups filed suit and successfully halted the baby GMO.

Monsanto has stolen away a few of Mother Nature’s kids, messed with them, and wants to hold them for ransom. These clover-looking leaflets may have run out of luck. The implications are further reaching than simply the occasional sprouts beneath the bun (they were so unpopular at the University of Kansas, where I attend, that they aren’t served anymore)—feeding GMO to our livestock jeopardizes the entire dairy industry’s claim to the “organic” label (and by extension, to ours).

Under this scenario, farmers would be penalized even for inadvertently growing the prize GMO, which, unlike corn, is further pollinated by bees (and bees cannot be sued or controlled by Monsanto, yet).

Much of the business that comes from alfalfa is in exports. In fact, the Pacific Rim countries buy nearly all of their hay from the United States. Even if the new sprouts passed the restrictions, it is doubtful the Japanese would even accept the new, lab-born food. After all, they have been monitoring food chemical and GMO safety since 1991. The USDA has now filed the EIS, and it basically reiterates the initial decision to allow the new seed. Now, the case, Geerston v. Monsanto, faces the Supreme Court on Feb. 16.

But do a few artificially warped genes really matter? In an email to me, Bryce Stephens, a Kansas organic alfalfa farmer, put it this way:

“I have some friends (organic producers) in the bluegrass region of Kentucky where the racetrack horses are bred and grown. The race horse owners buy organic alfalfa because they get better performance and health if the horse eats organic alfalfa. in other words organic alfalfa wins races. It’s a trade secret, they won’t admit it. They also don’t admit buying gmo chemical alfalfa to feed the competitors horse so they get sick and run slow.”

Go here to help nip GMO alfalfa in the bud.

—Jacob Muselmann


Is a sustainable food system realistic? by jackiemcc

Are the poor people going to be able to afford food from your local Whole Foods Market on a monthly basis?

My first experience with local and organic foods was when when my dad brought my sister and me to our local Whole Foods Market soon after my parent’s divorce. Ever since then, my dad has been a healthy eater.

And his healthy eating habits have rubbed off on me. Now I am not saying I am the healthiest eater ever, but his habits have made me think twice about what I eat. Sometimes I am about to eat something I probably shouldn’t, and my conscious will tell me not to, because my dad wouldn’t agree with my choice. I try my best to eat healthy most of the time.

I do think a sustainable local food system is a good idea. Not only does it decrease transportation time and costs, but it also supports local farmers, among other reasons. I believe it would benefit the Lawrence community to eat more local and organic foods.

However, I am skeptical that having a sustainable food system would actually work. I think it would be hard to establish and maintain an entire city based on this system for an indefinite period of time.

When a movement becomes trendy it becomes popular for a short amount of time. During that time, many people want to be associated with it. However, after a while, that item or style is not trendy anymore, and it is soon forgotten. When that happens, that desired item or style is not as popular anymore.

And this is why a sustainable food system would not work. I feel that we are in the Locavore Movement where “going green,” and eating local and organic foods, are popular right now. I don’t think this phase will last forever. Sure, there will still be people who will only eat local and organic foods, but I don’t think everyone will be fixated with it after the movement. It is not something everyone will stay committed to forever.

Another reason I don’t think a sustainable food system would actually work is because of class differences and food costs. This goes back to our discussion in my journalism class a couple of weeks ago about the costs of organic foods. There are always going to be people who won’t be able to afford local and organic foods, which is why fast food is so popular. These people are not going to just become rich overnight. They have to buy what they can afford. Sure, the entire sustainable food system may be cheaper overall for the community, as the Lawrence Journal-World Localvore blog points out, but the individual foods will still be too expensive for some.

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully support a sustainable food system, but I’m realistically evaluating if this is just a trend, or if it is a practical idea. If anyone can provide an alternative explanation to me, I encourage you to.

–Jackie McClellan

Loco for Locavore? by KaylaReg
February 5, 2010, 4:59 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 3 | Tags: , , , , ,

By definition, I am not a locavore, the New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2007 word of the year.  Depending on the source, a ‘locavore,’ (noun, pronounced ˈˈlō-kə-ˌvȯr) is someone who exclusively or primarily eats food that is locally grown or produced (typically within a 100 to 250 mile radius).

I’d like to wake up in time for a Saturday morning farmer’s market, but I just can’t sacrifice the only day I can sleep in (I love sleeping) for food. Although I prefer shopping at stores with a wider organic or local selection, I rationalize that I’m reducing my carbon footprint by driving to closer chain supermarkets. I do make it a priority to save money so I can spend some extra cash on local fresh produce, but I still crave and buy tomatoes every month of the year.

Two of the four items shown are considered local – the honey (made and manufactured in Belton, MO, about 50 miles from Lawrence) and my semi-surviving cilantro plant. Check the Lawrence Farmer’s Market (which is closed in the winter) to see what local produce is in season.

To me, going ’ locavore’ doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. Instead, it’s about finding a balance between the things you want, the things you can afford, and the things that are available.

With the “Iron Chef” White House garden episode, the popular Academy Award nominated documentary “Food, Inc.”, Michelle Obama promoting garden vegetables on “Sesame Street” and countless other examples of media attention, the ‘locavore’ message is indeed more accessible than ever. For $2.99, there’s even an app for that. Locavore, the iPhone application, shows what produce items are in season near you and what farmer’s markets carry them, apparently making buying local easier than ever.

According to the market research firm Packaged Facts, more and more people seem to be  finding their own ‘locavore’ balance. Their latest polling found that 54 percent of respondents favored supporting local farmers, a marked increase from 28 percent in 2006. Local food sales rose from for $4 billion in 2002 to $5 billion in 2007, and are predicted to reach $7 billion in 2011.

Representatives from Lawrence supermarkets such as Sheila Lowrie, Dillons spokesperson, Mike Smith, Checkers store director, and Brett Hansen, assistant manager of Hy-Vee all said they were carrying more locally grown and manufactured products, and demand for those items was increasing. Megan Dudley, manager of natural food store The Community Mercantile, also reported that business was especially good and getting better.

Many feel eating locally is simply a trend that’s popular now, but will soon die down. Locavore was listed in Time Magazine’s 2009 Top 10 iPhone applications , but now, it’s not even in the top 100 most downloaded apps. “Iron Chef” didn’t end up using the produce items they picked from the White House garden, and media outlets from the left and right have deduced eating habits to a subject of political debate. Here in Lawrence, the owners of The Casbah, a locally owned and operated organic market and café, recently announced their doors would soon close.

This Google Trend graph suggests that people were eating locally long before locavore was the word of the year or they saw Michelle Obama on TV. Despite the dips and spikes in the search volume and media tags, public interest in eating locally continues to increase.

Even after the spotlight on local eating turns off, people will, at the very least, remember its message. When society is a pendulum that swings both ways, it’s all a matter of finding your own balance.

-Kayla Regan

Green Awareness by tesshedrick
February 5, 2010, 4:50 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 3 | Tags:

Money, money, money. Shoot, I would do a lot of things for money. It looks like ToysR US had the same idea when they introduced a line of “eco-friendly toys.” Coincidentally, this line will hit stores on Earth Day! For some reason, that just made me laugh. Of course they would release the line on Earth Day! It does seem somewhat strange that businesses are jumping on the bandwagon of green things and whatnot and millions of dollars are being made off of this movement. However, my thinking is that any type of reference to helping the environment is good. I have to admit that I have never been that into doing anything “green.” However, with the help from various media outlets and celebrities endorsing going green, I have become more aware of what I can do to help the environment. Everywhere I turn, I feel like I am faced with some type of ad, commercial, campaign, or what have you about the environment. Because of all these things, I am now aware of the environment and I cannot ignore it. I am curious if the green movement is merely a trend, or if people will be more environmentally friendly long-term. I’m thinking that maybe this needs to start out as a trend to start making people aware and then gradually people will start actively participating in the green movement. I feel like this is the way that I will be successful in doing my “green” part.

-Tess H.

Checking Checkers by bpirotte

It was a weeknight and a couple friends and I had made dinner. It was a relatively healthy meal with some chicken, vegetables, and even got a little fancy with some cous-cous on the side. But a few minutes of conversation about ice cream got us craving some, and therefore spurred a late night trip to the store for some frozen desert.

I had recently attended a meeting for a Food Policy Council meeting here in Douglas County, Kansas where local food growers, business owners, and those interested in eating locally gathered to talk about how the county and surrounding areas could benefit from local food.


A place to eat local!


I noticed one of the members of the council was representing a local grocery store, Checkers. This interested me because I had never really gone to Checkers before, as I am from Wichita, Kansas and I was very used to shopping at Dillons grocery stores. However, after seeing the presence of this grocery store at the meeting, I wondered what sorts of options they had for local or organic foods.

So, when the craving for ice cream arose, the suggested place for purchasing said desert became Checkers. But while my friends were scouring the freezers for the most exciting flavors of their delicious mid-night snack, I ventured off to see what I could find that’s “organic.” I looked in the dairy products, and immediately found milk cartons boasting a “USDA Organic” label. But what does this really mean? I remained somewhat skeptical. After doing some further research, I also found some ads boasting Checkers’ commitment to being “local.” This seems to be a term thrown around often when referring to eating responsibly, but according to this ad, actual local suppliers sell their products at Checkers. Some of these include local milk producer Iwig’s, and beef from M&J Ranch. Who knew?!

Even though there is a lot on our minds today, and we are bombarded with an incessant amount of causes and reasons to care, it looks like eating locally just got a little bit easier.

–Ben P.

Local: It’s all the local rage. Locally. by bendcohen

Local agriculture and business are reaching new levels of popularity right now.  Part of the modern sustainability movement is, for a variety of reasons, increasing consumption of local products.  Part of this has to do with reducing the carbon footprint of the agriculture industry, by increasing demand for items that do not have to travel as far to be sold.  Economically, it also supports the efforts of smaller farms and merchants, reducing the stranglehold that large producers and distributors have on the food industry.  And from a health perspective, foods produced with a smaller market in line do not typically have the horrendous amount of preservatives, growth hormones, and other strange things that foods produced for a massive distribution do.

The only major knock against local foods that I give any credence is that they are popular now because it is trendy.  You sound so much healthier and more conscious of the shady practices of major food producing companies, and some people will find that out and use it to feel cool.  That being said, this is one of those cases where I have to say “So what?”

Like any trend, the cultural shift in the favor of local foods (one which is still taking place, slowly but surely), can be exploited not just by those demanding to be cool at all times, but by business interests who know that those same people often have a lot of extra money to shill out for things with words like “local” and “organic” plastered on the packaging.

Also, by whatever diabolical genius grew this guy.

Regardless of the motivations some people have in supporting local food producers, and who finds the easiest way to make a buck off of them, the truths about locally-grown and distributed foods, the benefits mentioned earlier stand.  Economic uncertainty pervades our culture, so knowing that we can help our neighbors succeed is comforting.  Obesity is the great new American stereotype, so finding foods that don’t contribute to that is always exciting.  And then there are people like the contributors to Lawrence’s own Localvores blog whose passion for local food production just makes me feel bad for passing it over sometimes.

So for those reasons, I hold back the cynicism.  Time will tell how much this effects our health, economy, and indeed American culture in the long run.  In the short term, the trend really can’t hurt too much.

Getting a trend to stick by Lauren Cunningham

Trends are a funny concept to consider.

No one person makes any explicit rules or regulations, yet trends can occur locally, nationally, sometimes even internationally.

I know I jumped on the bandwagon when everyone started to claim to eat organically or eat organic food. To be honest, I don’t know if I could even give the correct definition of “organic.” I know some of the major points — no antibiotics, no herbicides — but I have never really taken the time to do my part when it comes to learning about organic foods. USDA organic label? I’ll take it.

Oh, good. Only 17,500 entries to consider.

It seems as though I’m currently succumbing to another food trend: eating local. After watching Food Inc. for the first time, I couldn’t stop telling my boyfriend things like, “We really should think about where we eat out more,” or “I’ve really got to start looking at what I buy at the grocery store and where that food’s coming from.”

The piece of this puzzle that remains to be solved is if I will really, truly learn about this trend and be able to define what “local” means.

Luckily, our focus in “Media and the Environment” is food, and I’ll have numerous opportunities to read material on local food systems and what being a locavore might really mean. But I’m still worried about how others might react to this food trend.

Of course, the public supporting a local food system would be fantastic. But if uneducated individuals account for the majority of this new trend, no local food system can be upheld in Lawrence.
The local economy-boosting aspect of local food systems excites me, but also concerns me. The obvious upside is that it would make convincing others to beginning a strong local food system easier. The downside: the economy won’t always be terrible, believe it or not, so will people continue to care about the economic benefits even years after a recession?

Fortunately, my guess and my hope is that people will notice how beneficial eating locally can be and will want to work to maintain a system. But education and involvement are key to ensuring this.

As a community, Lawrence needs a strong and easy-to-grasp definition of “local.” “Localvore” on the LJWorld.com can be a great beginning to tools that can educate people in Lawrence and in Douglas County. The blogs provide an easy way to get people talking about the possibilities of eating local in Lawrence, which I think is the best way to generate interest. The newly-formed Douglas County Food Policy Council provides helpful resources on a local food system as well.

I learned valuable information after reading the “Localvore” blogs and from the DCFPC, and I’m proud of myself for already being more informed on the next food trend. Now it’s just a matter of educating others.

— Lauren Cunningham