J500 Media and the Environment

Media, the Environment, Food and ME by bpirotte
April 30, 2010, 10:12 am
Filed under: J500 Week 14, Local Events + Action, Society + Media

Thinking about the environment through the lens of food. Source: http://www.gamestown2010.ca/

If I’m being honest, I’ll have to admit I had no idea what I was getting into in this Media and the Environment class.

I had heard it being promoted before, but assumed the topics covered would be about sustainable practices, wind energy, solar panels, climate change, or even biodiversity. But, food? I had never even thought of our environment through the lens of food before, and had no idea the amount of issues that impact our daily lives through food.

If I’m still being honest, it took me quite a while to start caring. Toward the beginning of the semester, I thought that all this talk of vegetarianism, organically grown foods, and cage-free chicken ranges was a lot of something I didn’t really care about or take much interest in. But when I realized that when I left the class to go eat dinner, my fridge was full (or lacking) of what we had talked about in class, and I began to realize it actually affected me.

Without this class, I never would understand what it means for food to be local. Organic. Hormone-free. But now, I can be a responsible shopper, and have even started participating in the growth of a local movement! Not only am I doing so through the purchases I make each time I visit the grocery store, but I am able to participate in the beginning of what I know will be something great: the Douglas County Food Policy Council, or DCFPC. By participating in a Service Learning project to help start a local food system for Lawrence, KS and the surrounding areas in Douglas County, I am truly giving back to society and helping the environmental movement where I live.

So what did I gain from a semester of JOUR 500: Media and the Environment at the University of Kansas? A new way to see, understand, and help my community–and the world.

–Ben P.


Learning Through Service by micolea
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

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

Coursework in the Community by beccan

Have you ever heard the saying that Lawrence is the next Boulder, Colorado?

Personally, I love Colorado and think that there is just such a great respect for the environment in the state. Every time I land at Denver International Airport and step off of the plane, I can’t help but give a sigh of relief. The feeling is like no other; it’s fresh, crisp and pure air invades your lungs, unlike stepping off of the plane in any other airport. Being the next Boulder is such an amazing complement and I have learned that Lawrence is making an effort to add truth to that saying.

Beautiful Kansas

Kansas, courtesy of flickr.com


This class has opened my eyes to information that I had never taken the time to investigate and has truly changed the way I think about food and the environment. I honestly did not even know that food is such an environmental issue that affected everyone. Before this class food was strictly something that helped sustain me, period. If I was hungry then I’d eat and if I wasn’t hungry then I wouldn’t and it was that simple– until fourteen weeks ago. Now, every time I think about food, I not only think about calories, as any woman does, but I think about what my food is made with and how it was made. I would have never thought that a class, lasting a mere fourteen weeks, could change me and help change the community. I was wrong.

The Douglas County Food Policy Council has been a great addition to this class, giving us the opportunity to help create a change in Lawrence that will last for years to come and positively affect so many people in the community. Creating a local food system is a difficult task, but is more easily attained with the help of students. Engaging one class full of students in the issue of local food and the environment is a step in the right direction. Lawrence is setting the bar in this important matter and soon people will be saying that their town is the next Lawrence, Kansas.

Becca N.

Service + Learning by Kelly
April 28, 2010, 9:50 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 14, Society + Media

I never knew how much could be learned in four months. Wow, seriously? Four months?! This is sincere disbelief. I hadn’t realized that this semester was only 4 months long until just now.

My homemade pot pie, foreshadowing how happy all my food will be.

Okay, so I really never knew how much could be learned in four months, and I am someone who actively seeks out learning. Anyway, I learned more about the environment, our food, and our water in this semester than I have, well, ever. And I found it all fascinating.

Mostly we learned about food and what it will take to make our food better. I paid attention to what I ate before, but now I understand my food beyond my fridge. I understand what it means to be organic and why it’s important. I read labels, I seek out locally grown food, and I am more likely to go to a restaurant that serves humanely raised-livestock.

More importantly, I realize that paying attention to these things will make a difference.  Working with this class was a semester-long service learning project for the Douglas County Food Policy Council.  DCFPC is working towards a local food economy for Douglas County, and by working for them, I have slowly been able to see the start of something profound. We started with a class who informed a council who will change the community.

I love Lawrence and I’ve always believed it to be part of cutting-edge issues.  The Food Policy Council is no exception.  Lawrence is a culturally and ideologically fertile  place to instigate this project. The community is receptive and there is an endless stream of eager-minded students to facilitate in the effort. I believe that a local food system is imperative and important, and that many community’s world wide will soon follow suit.

I intend to follow the Council’s progress over the next few years, and eat locally and slow for the rest of my life, realizing in all situations that food is a solution.


Laugh and They’ll Laugh With You (Hopefully) by KaylaReg

I lived with the female version of Ras Trent for two years of college.

She was completely unmoved by what her brain was like on drugs or how she too could kill her younger sibling while driving under the influence.

Only one anti-drug campaign I know of ever made her stop and think, simply because it was so funny that she didn’t know what she was watching.

Like it or not, we live in a world of multiple and sometimes conflicting truths, where reality is often different for each person. In such a world, laughter can be the best tool for putting all of its complexities in perspective.

William McDougall, one of the theorists discussed in Dr. Jim Lyttle’s research on humor, claims that laughter gives us a sort of release from the stresses of living in a conflicted society. It’s why we laugh at the satiric hyperbole of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. We understand the absurdity of the movie because we see very real reflections of it every day, like Atrazine in our water and fast-food being likened to cocaine. When we can find humor in even what seems to be the most desperate of dilemmas, the situation can’t paralyze us in fear and we can still work to fix it.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure whether people are seeing much humor in things these days.

Consider this video telling us that if we don’t shape up immediately, global warming will kill our daughters and we will be responsible.

Buzzkill, right?

This is my very basic illustration of the paths of humor. Laughing at an out-group will set a norm for exclusion. Self deprecation will allow members of an out-group feel comfortable. Shared laughter creates a bond and sense of community between groups.

Such advertisements are just begging for parody from Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and John C. Reilly’s Green Team and the psychotic earth day spokesman. At least these videos make environmentalism look better than the “tree people” of this Ali G Show episode and it couldn’t hurt environmentalists to take a little ownership over such self-deprecation. It works for politicians, and few things are more political today than Mother Earth.

Since the political polarizing of environmentalism, the saviors and enemies of our planet are seen in terms of left and right, Democrat and Republican and who signed what legislation and who worked against it. Such absolutes construct artificial dividers of people based on opinions and affiliations, undermining the whole “we’re in this together” idea of the environment.

According to Lyttle, anthropomorphic and sociological studies have repeatedly shown that shared laughter creates a sense of community among diverse populations and reflects tolerance, acceptance and sympathy towards others. Remember what The Cosby Show did for defusing stereotypes and empowering the black community?

We can bash the Monsantos of the world all day and night, but it won’t get the average farmer to stop using its products. If anything, demonizing Monsanto products (that frankly help many farmers support their family) only excludes its customers from the conversation, throwing away any knowledge the group could have offered.

If environmental leaders want people to jump on the bandwagon, they might want to take a hint from the Huxtables and stop taking everything so seriously.

Green Police, a Super Bowl advertisement for a hybrid car, is a great example of how environmentalism can poke a little fun at itself and still reinforce a positive, progressive message. Jack Black’s Earth to America promotion encouraged me to be part of a movement towards progress, not a frenzy to stop a speeding train. I wanted to learn more about coal and clean air after I giggled at the Cohen Brothers’ This is Reality video.

Ultimately, laughter influences our attitudes, understanding, and brings people together better than any amount of finger-pointing or doomsday warnings ever will.

Swami Beyondananda argues that by embracing societal conflicts with humor, we’re better able to process its paradoxes and see solutions that fall outside of our normal thinking. No better example exists than America’s greatest humorist Mark Twain. By making us laugh at the often complicated and multiple truths of humanity, he completely changed American perception of slavery and racism.

So even though Ed Begley wants you to know that “there’s nothing funny about climate change,” I’m going to respectfully disagree. I’m sure we can find plenty of humor in climate change as well as everything else in life, and it’s something to be embraced.

Lighten up, principal Begley. It’s time to have some laughs.

-Kayla R.

Organic Pet Food? by Sean T.
  • Wysong offers organic cat food in a bag that preserves freshness. SOURCE- Sean Tokarz
  • Organic product sales are rising. Out of the people I know who buy organic, only a few are willing to spend extra for organic pet food. Why is that, I ask them? Some say they never thought of it. Some people say jokingly that their pets don’t mind the taste. Almost all agree that it’s because they think the costs outweigh the benefits.

    My cat Bootsy was out of food so I decided to get some organic cat food. I tried Wysong‘s Vitality Feline Diet. It costs more per pound than Bootsy’s old Purina but the pieces seemed heartier. I looked at the ingredients and it contained less animal by-product and corn substance. It also contained more chicken and looked grainier. Bootsy was in love with it, but I wasn’t convinced yet.

    I called Wysong’s customer service line to ask if their product was better. Betty, the representative, said that she thought it was better because it had more nutrients and less chemicals than conventional pet food. She said that just as I felt peppier after eating organic food, so do pets notice small changes. A shinier coat and more energy are things she specifically noted.

    Since Wysong’s feed doesn’t have preservatives it means that less foreign chemicals enter the animal’s body. This is important because chemical preservatives can hurt pets–especially when combined with pesticide residue. Betty also mentioned less “filler.” Filler is the term for non-protein matter in pet food, mostly corn-based. She closed with saying that organic food was worth trying to see how a pet responds.

    In fairness, I called Purina‘s customer representative. Bootsy has eaten their kitten chow for most of his life so I was interested to hear their opinion. The service representative assured me that the food had “complete 100% nutrition” because of its balance of protein and carbohydrates. The second-most ingredient is corn meal, which seemed unnatural to me. The representative said that cats needed this for carbohydrate energy.

    I asked about animal by-products. Were they safe? Why don’t humans eat them? The representative said animal by-products were a natural choice for pets because they are hunters. When they catch something, he said, they eat the whole thing–livers and intestines included. So even though eating chemical-treated gizzards regularly is harmful for humans, our pets should be okay.

    To round out the representatives’ biases I talked to a local veterinarian. Dr. Matt Coles at the Animal Hospital of Lawrence said that dietary needs vary from pet to pet.

    He said that better quality food does make animals feel better. But he also said that pets have very adjustable stomachs. If a pet is sensitive and has an “inflammatory condition” a certain diet may agitate cancer. If the pet is not sensitive, the quality of food is not as important.

    According to Dr. Coles, dental disease and obesity are the worst health conditions for cats. Dental disease comes from too much sugar in a diet (whether from wet food or…too much corn!). Obesity stems mostly from overfeeding pets, not the actual pet food.

    Dr. Coles said that once cats are a year old they should be fed a certain amount each day. When they’re allowed to eat freely is when Dr. Coles sees “cats that are 20 pounds and have diabetes.”

    So, if you want your cat to feel rejuvenated spend extra money on organic feed. You don’t have to do it every time but everybody likes a treat. Just don’t treat them too much or you’ll be spending extra for Diabetic Cat Chow in a few years.

    Dr. Matt Coles said sugar content and amount fed are bigger factors with cat food than whether it's organic or not. SOURCE - photopost.com

    Sean T.