J500 Media and the Environment


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



Earth Day: yer doin’ it wrong. by bendcohen

Earth Day is great.  For one day a year, even the non-environmentalists can get together and say “You know what, I kind of like the planet.”  For forty years now, Earth Day has provided people a brief respite from being called tree huggers (at least in a derogatory way).  The problem is, when a lot of people only pay attention to sustainability on special occasions, they can get it wrong.

I first thought about this point a few years ago when the story came out that Sir Paul McCartney, an avid environmentalist when not busy being the guy who wrote “Hey Jude”, had some kind of especially green automobile delivered to him in England from Japan.  Now, no matter how it was transferred, getting a car from east Asia to the (for them) far end of Europe would take a lot of money and a lot of energy.  Apparently the plan was that the car, a Lexus L600H, would be transported by boat.  Sadly, the news broke quickly that this didn’t happen, and it was delivered by airplane. The estimate given for how much this increased the carbon footprint of the car: about 100 times.

"Know what gets great mileage? My yellow subma-" "Don't even start, Ringo."

I roll my eyes when celebrities try to take up a cause and occasionally fail miserably, because no matter how insignificant they are supposed to be to a movement, inevitably the media will focus on them, and the ironic situations that frequently arise from the attempted mixing of two different kinds of green lifestyles.  One of those is the kind of “green” that traditionally gets the label, that of somebody who tries to lead a sustainable life, in The Cute One’s case by buying an awesome, really expensive hybrid car.

I am reminded by the occasional poor attempts at encouraging the right thing on Earth Day this year.  During an Earth Day celebration at KU’s Kansas Union, where different environmental groups passed out literature and hosted educational games, there was one booth that got my attention.  After picking up a reusable water bottle from them, I noticed that they were the source of a t-shirt I had seen with some frequency that day.  It was green, and read on the front “My shirt is green.  Are you?”

While a little condescending, my biggest problem with the shirt wasn’t what it was, but how people acquired it.  You see, the whole Earth Day fair was sponsored by Coca-Cola, which has a corporate partnership with the University.  Needless to say, they liked having their name on something positive, and also wanted a good way to make money off of it, which I don’t begrudge them.  Back to the t-shirts: you got one by buying two bottles of soda.  Buy more of an unhealthy product packaged in a non-biodegradable object, and get a free t-shirt (made of organic cotton!), without even a note to be sure to recycle those bottles.  In related news, authorities still have not located Irony’s body, though have assured us that they will continue searching around the clock.

In fairness, I later asked somebody working at the fair who assured me that the exchange was a mix-up.  The plan was that the t-shirts would be a new line made out of recycled plastic, but this fell through, and they hoped using organic cotton would be sufficient for people.  For me, it wasn’t.  For everyone I mentioned it to, it wasn’t.  There’s a difference between supporting sustainability, and giving it lip-service on a holiday, and this was cleanly the latter.



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.



My Environmental Awakening by micolea

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



American Consumption Addiction by beccan

Growing up, my mom and dad made sure I knew the difference between needs and wants. We would go shopping and when I picked something up to show my mom she would ask, “Now, do you really need that or do you want it?” and I would hesitantly say, “want it” without any argument as to why I should get it. I just knew that it wasn’t going home with me. 

Photo courtesy of flickr.com

Needs v. Wants

 

As much as I dreaded that question as a kid, I now realize why my mother drilled that concept of needs and wants into my head. In the United States, we account for 5% of the world’s population yet account for 30% of the world’s resources. If everyone consumed like we do, we would need three to five planets to contain all of the waste.

For some strange reason, the idea that when we throw something away it simply disappears into thin air, has been engraved in our minds and is starting to affect our planet. We buy, buy, buy and do not see the damage that is being done or the consequences to our wastefulness. Our ignorance is killing our home and it is going to take a lifestyle overhaul to change it.

Having the newest phone, car, computer, you-name-it, is so important to us as Americans. The stuff that we have determines our social status and that status is so important in the American culture. Just think, when the U.S. was deep in the recession people freaked out, because they were not going to be able to consume mindlessly anymore. It made people crabby, because they couldn’t have all of the new stuff they wanted.

The internet has also made it easier to consume. We do not even have to get out of our chairs to buy new stuff anymore; it is delivered to our doorsteps. Advertisers tell us that to be “cool” in society we need to have the latest gadgets, styles and trends, which means we throw our barely-used stuff in the landfill to replace it with a new version of the same thing. This lifestyle has started to spin out of control. 

 There has been a consistent increase in the amount that Americans waste each year and the question is: can this be stopped or are we too far into our consumption addiction to turn it around? 

Becca N.



Curbing Disposable Coffee Cup Waste by micolea

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



SunChips Turn Compostable by jackiemcc

When I was growing up, my dad always had a composting pile in the backyard; so I’ve always been interested in the concept of composting. When my friend told me about the green efforts Frito-Lay is doing with their SunChips, I was intrigued to learn more. I found out that I support what they are doing, and I think their green efforts are going pay off in the long run.

The new SunChips compostable bags will be released on Earth Day of 2010. Photo Courtesy of: http://www.greenr.ca

Just recently, SunChips announced that they will be introducing eco-friendly compostable chip bags. These bags will be made from plants, so it will be completely compostable. When placed in a compost pile, the bags will break down in 14 weeks.

The bags are made from plant-based polylactic acid (PLA). And because of this, the results are earth-friendly. Not only will they reduce the waste in landfills, but less fossil fuels will be used to make the bag.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Maybe. The only discouraging part to the new bags is that they produce a louder sound when handling them. SunChips said that is because of the materials used to make the bag. The plant-based products in the bags have different sound properties than the old bags.

Despite the louder noise, I still think these compostable bags are a smart idea. They help protect the Earth, and save on unnecessary waste. It doesn’t take that long to eat a bag of chips, so the amount of time spent holding the bag is significantly less than the benefits that will be gained. This may just be a start, but it’s a huge step at least. Maybe after SunChips’ efforts, other chip companies will follow.

-Jackie McClellan