J500 Media and the Environment

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.


My Deep-Fried Happiness by micolea

When I was a youngster, every Saturday was game day. Being a bit of a tomboy as a child, I loved to play sports. So each Saturday, I was in one of two places-on the basketball court or on the soccer field.

However, as much as I looked forward to expending my energy on the basketball court, it was what followed each of my games that made my heart race with excitement. That was knowing my dad would be taking me to McDonald’s.

Photo by mbell1975/Courtesy Flickr

During my adolescence, I had an adoration for eating under the golden arches, or what my dad and I refered to as our “weekly ritual.” I fondly remember stepping through the doors of McDonald’s and immediately having my senses delighted with the aromas of oily fries, greasy cheeseburgers and deep-fried chicken nuggets. As a child, these unhealthy fast foods had become a staple of my diet. I am not completely sure how McDonald’s cuisine (if it can even be described as such) became my comfort food.

Photo by SuellenLemos/Courtesy Flickr

At the ripe age of eight, my palate was accustomed to greasy, fatty foods and as a result, I requested it more often. Coincidentally, there happened to be a McDonald’s conveniently located a few blocks from my elementary school. On the days my mom picked me up from school, we would make a pit-stop at Mickey D’s and pick up my favorite after school snack- an order of large fries. I am a creature of habit and cheeseburgers and fries were my food habit. Being raised in a time when fast food restaurants are abundant and within blocks of one another, it was exceptionally easy for me to obtain. Unfortunately, the news isn’t any better for kids nowadays. Apparently, a new study found children in the United States are getting over a fourth of their daily calories from junk food.

Even more troublesome is a report by USA Today, which said that the beef and chicken supplied to schools is not checked nearly as rigorously as McDonald’s, Burger King and Costco, which cautiously scrutinizes its meat for bacteria and pathogens. When hearing information like this, it makes me cringe. Why aren’t government food inspection standards uniform? Inspection standards should be rigorous when it comes to the quality and safety of food. We place a certain amount of trust in our government to make sure that the food we eat won’t harm our health. So, whether it be a burger from Burger King or ground beef in a school lunch, it should become a habit for it to be examined closely and carefully.

Micole Aronowitz

Not Lovin’ It! by KaylaReg
March 4, 2010, 11:34 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 7 | Tags: , , , , , ,

My favorite childhood restaurant, like so many other people, was McDonald’s. I was a chicken Mcnugget Happy Meal with a Dr. Pepper kind of girl. It came in a cardboard box with fun drawings and games and, of course, you can’t forget the awesome varieties of gender-specific toys that came with it.

He's everyone's favorite red-headed clown, but it's a sad fact of life his happy meals contribute to deforestation, waste, and litter across the United States!

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan remembers the same excitement I got as a child from unwrapping McDonald’s items, as if they were “little presents.” Even though McDonald’s fell out of favor with me,  new Ronald McDonald enthusiasts are born every day, explaining its sales of over $5.97 billion, exceeding the $5.94 billion expected revenue. It’s easy to forget that as fast- food chains continue to grow, the need for wrapping up those “little presents” grows as well.

According to No Free Refills‘ (NFR) 2008 Fast Food Packaging and Production report, the Southern forests in the U.S. are the world’s largest paper-producing region, and the place most fast-food companies get their brand-specific packaging. The report claims 43 million acres of forests have been converted to pine plantations. The U.S. Forest Service states that now, nearly one in five acres of Southern forest are devoted to pine plantation.

Fast-food packaging isn’t only affecting Southern woodlands, though.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that in 2008, 32 percent of all waste came from packaging and containers, the highest contributor of waste accounting for 77 million tons. According to the NFR report, the average American eats fast-food more than 150 times a year and 1.8 million tons of total packaging waste is from fast-food.

To be fair, even NFR verifies that 83 percent of McDonald’s food and beverage packaging is made from some form of recycled paper or wood-fiber material. McDonald’s also reduced its waste by 1,100 tons from 2004 levels simply by making minor adjustments to french fry boxes in 2005. While I don’t mean to belittle such efforts, it seems as if McDonald’s overlooked perhaps the simplest recycling tool used in almost every school, office building and park-recycling bins.

According to a 2009 study conducted in part by Rutgers and Indiana University, the presence of a specialized recycling container reduced waste by 35 percent. So when children find items wrapped in McDonald’s packaging six times more appetizing than identical snacks in plain wrapping, as this 2007 Stanford University study found, it’s obvious what kind of recycling power McDonald’s could have.

Without recycling bins, one of the most recognizable signs of environmental responsbility, McDonald’s mission to be greener than the rest is very much underminded. While McDonald’s has implemented incredibly successful recycling bin programs in Japan, Canada, and Europe, such initiatives are severely lacking in the U.S. I know I’ve never seen a recycling bin in a Lawrence McDonald’s, at least.

The beauty of locally franchised McDonald’s though, is that customers have a lot of input. If local McDonald’s eaters decide they’d rather recycle than throw their paper bag, wax-lined cup, napkins, hamburger wrapper, french fry container and ketchup packets at the end of a meal, let the owners know. We may just find that all our  fast-food friends need is a little nudge.

-Kayla R.


Revert to Basics by micolea

Everyday, just before the sun rises, my grandmother walks three miles from her home to the open-air food market in her province in Pampanga, Philippines. Once she reaches the market she is greeted warmly by the familiar faces of the farmers and vendors she purchases her food from each day. As she saunters through the market, the vibrant colors and delectable aromas of fresh papaya, guava, mango, avocado and eggplant delight her senses.

Picking and choosing assorted fruits, vegetables and fish has become a daily routine for my grandmother. After a quick conversation with one of the local vendors, she walks the three miles back to her home, with a bag of food in each hand. Once home, she starts cooking, or what she refers to as “nourishment for the soul.” 

My grandmother is ninety-six years old.

Photo by tmcpics/Courtesy Flickr

Living in an era where fast food is the norm, and eating out and take out are an integral part of our society’s culture, it seems awfully difficult to remember a simpler time. For my grandmother’s generation, it was standard for meals to be prepared at home. The moments spent chopping vegetables and simmering stew were savored. 

Surprisingly, or maybe I should say, impressively, my grandmother has never set foot in a Wal-Mart, Target or Kroger. Those stores resemble words of a foreign language to her because she had never heard of them. That, in itself is quite an extraordinary feat. 

Nowadays, food terminology can be like trying to solve the Pythagorean Theorem. Words like sustainable, organic and natural seem to all blend together. So why does it appear that it is about to become more complicated? As multiple cooks enter the kitchen, it is seemly becoming more problematic to agree on coherent definitions of sustainable agriculture.

The debacle about labeling food as “sustainable agriculture” is currently ongoing. While on the surface this looks like an encouraging way to entice food producers to stop using pesticides and genetically modified crops, it may actually do just the opposite. Some parties are advocating for this standard to encompass organic practices from farm to plate, while others want this to only affect one part of its operation and not have to adhere to all environmental regulations. I know exactly what my grandmother would say to all of this. She would declare  “there needs to be a return to nature. We need to feel a connection to food.” My grandmother cherishes her relationship with food and in return, she has been blessed with a life of longevity. 

 The outcome of these discussions is to decide on whether or not to implement a “National Sustainable Agriculture Standard.”  On either side of the issue are General Mills, American Farmland Trust, National Corn Growers Association and the National Resources Defense Council. The Leonardo Academy is mediating the conversation.

Why do I feel as if I am being deceived? Though I realize it is unrealistic to think that we can all buy our food from open air markets and have conversations about the origin of that food with the people who grew it, as a nation of consumers, we deserve to know where our food comes from and the techniques used to grow it. Hopefully, that will be a unifying point for the committee.

Micole Aronowitz

Convenience Culture by bpirotte
January 29, 2010, 4:56 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, J500 Week 2, Society + Media | Tags: , , , , ,

I’m hungry.

But I’m also busy.

I go into my kitchen, open the fridge, and find nothing appealing. There’s some cheese, yogurt, fruit, and juices, but I’m not in the mood for something like that. I want something with more “substance.”

So, I open up the freezer. Right there, in the front, is a giant bag of frozen chicken breasts.

It seems to be staring at me, imposing a feeling of guilt over me. It’s seems to be pleading, “Don’t you remember? You JUST watched a documentary called Food, Inc. telling you about the evils of processed chicken. And Tyson was SPECIFICALLY mentioned!”

My stomach’s voice seems to overpower that of my head. I get out the bag, stick a couple on a skillet, and in just a few minutes, I’m eating chicken. How convenient.

But isn’t that our problem? We, as citizens of the modern world, have an obsession with convenience. We want to be able to eat pleasant-tasting food in a very little time. Think of fast food–you don’t care what’s in your burger. It tastes good, doesn’t it? And you got it in less than five minutes. You probably didn’t even get out of your car.

I’ve been astounded in the past few weeks hearing commercials that now boast having 100% beef in a hamburger, or 100% cheese on a pizza. WHAT HAVE I BEEN EATING?!The sad thing is, though, on that late night on my way home, I will probably stop at McDonald’s for a double cheeseburger, or order that pizza from Domino’s.

So will we be able to change our habitual want for convenience? When food advocates stress the importance on spending a few extra dollars to help the current problem, I think their emphasis should be more on what can be done to change our want/need for convenience, or cater to that convenience through healthy, unprocessed, and natural foods. Is this a possibility? I think we’re moving forward. Look at McDonald’s newer healthier choices. But the want has to start somewhere for companies to change, and we, as habitual, convenience-seeking consumers, have to be the ones to initiate.

Ben P.

Forming a Stronger Relationship with the Food We Eat by micolea

I admit it. I was a child of the fast-food and processed food generation. When I was younger I never bothered to look at the ingredients listed on the label of a Hostess cupcake or a bag of Doritos before I devoured it. I also didn’t concern myself with finding out where the beef in my quarter-pounder came from or what toxins that meat would be putting in my body. It is only when I opened my eyes and looked closely at the ingredient label that I realized what I was really consuming.

Photo by foodcore/Courtesy Flickr

I agree with the statement, “ignorance is bliss”, because throughout my childhood and teenage years, I was completely unaware of what unnatural ingredients, harmful chemicals and pesticides are contained in processed foods. Which is why I continued to eat processed and fast food until I learned the truth about the science behind how these foods are made (and made to last on grocery-store shelves).

It was astonishing for me to discover that a Twinkie contained ingredients which are also used to kill weeds and make cardboard. For Steve Ettlinger, author of “Twinkie, Deconstructed”, to uncover these additives that manufacturers insert in processed foods is a true eye opener. An interesting point made by Ettlinger, in Anne Underwood’s article, “MMM, Tasty Chemicals”, is about why these chemical ingredients are added to Twinkies. “To stay fresh on a grocery-store shelf, Twinkies can’t contain anything that might spoil, like milk, cream or butter.” As consumers, it is up to us to scrutinize food labels in order to be aware of what we are putting in our mouth. In Michael Pollan’s new book, “Food Rules”, one of his rules is, “avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.” By educating ourselves about where our food comes from and how it is made, we can begin to improve our relationship with food.

Though it is not common to use the words fast food and natural ingredients in the same sentence, in the case of Chipotle, these words create a perfect harmony. According to Chipotle’s Web site, its food has no artificial colors or flavorings. More so, Chipotle is the largest restaurant buyer of naturally raised meats in the country. Hopefully, soon, more restaurants and manufacturers will follow in the footsteps of restaurants like Chipotle and realize the important relationship we all share with food.

Micole Aronowitz

KCCUA: Nourishing the American Body and Soul by brennad87

There is an entire series of books entitled Chicken Soup for the Soul and it is true that food has the power to nourish more than just our bodies. Food often brings a community together—over PTA suppers or ice cream socials, in the making of a regional dish or in the celebration of a local harvest. But these days, Americans

Evangeline, daughter of KCCUA's farm manager Alicia, watches over her stomping ground from the top of the hay bales.

Evangeline, daughter of KCCUA's farm manager Alicia, watches over her stomping ground from the top of the hay bales.

often miss out on that type of nourishment. It was food writer Michael Pollan who alerted me to the lack of a food culture in America—an epidemic so severe he called it our national eating disorder. Harassed and harried, Americans are more likely than ever to rush through a drive-thru or pick up a frozen entrée. There is no nourishment in this act- it causes a hunger not just for the body, but too for the soul.

But at Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, both the body and soul are nourished: the production of food and the fostering of community are at the core of business. I visited the farm three times throughout the semester and saw this flowering of community each time. This business takes pride in what they produce. They involve people at every level of production. I saw interactions between people of all ages and backgrounds. In the greenhouse, a Hmong

The greenhouses at KCCUA are full of interesting people and budding, green plants.

The greenhouses at KCCUA are full of interesting people and budding, green plants.

refugee watered her emerald-green buds next to two inner city teenagers. The day before market day, an elderly African-American man who looked as old and as wise as time washed red radishes in icy cold water while 6-year-old Evangeline Ellingsworth, the daughter of the farm manager, played at his feet. Everyone was sharing stories and smiles… and working together in the production of food. In these interactions, I saw hope for a food culture of America. That hope danced in my heart and on my tongue as I tasted the spicy watercress that was given to me on my first visit. I took a bite and realized it was just too good not to share.

-Brenna Daldorph