J500 Media and the Environment

Cordley students whet their appetites for local food by jmuselmann

Excitement was in the air today at Cordley Elementary. It was the familiar, childlike vigor the comes from trying something new, and it was shared by both adults and kids alike as they filed into the gymnasium — not the cafeteria — for their first-ever locally sourced lunch. The term is “farm-to-school,” and judging from the content faces forking up the lasagna, it hit the spot.

The lunch was the culmination of a week of learning for the students, which spanned teaching about the benefits to local and organic foods to fields trips picking strawberries and gathering eggs from local farms (both of which were popular in the salad bar). In surveying the participants of the grand experiment about the typical lunch fare in the cafeteria, I got a sea of downward thumbs and “baaaad.” Fourth-grader Ainsley Agnew said it was just “grossness,” while on my other side was Pria Jean-Baptiste, also a fourth-grader, giving me a minutely detailed lesson about how to make the pasta from scratch. I should have taken better notes.

But the satisfaction didn’t come just from the good food, which included vegetarian and beef lasagna, bread sticks, salad, Iwig Family Dairy milk and a strawberry rhubarb confection, but also in the hard work to plan for it. Linda Cottin, the event’s organizer, said the meal had been in the works since November.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of community support, and I am happy that there’s a way to do this without all the work and make this an everyday function in the schools,” she said.

Rick Martin, head chef for the event (and at Free State Brewing Co.), agreed, saying that “After having this model, it will be easier” to accomplish in other schools and on a more permanent basis. That indeed was the consensus in the organizers’ post-lunch discussion, noting that Lawrence has the nearby farms and public interest to achieve it.

In a sense, the setting was typical: rambunctious kids at lunchtime, cracking jokes and playing with their food before politely running outside for recess. But it wasn’t. For the grown-ups — smiling volunteers and paparazzi abuzz to capture the moment — it was an accomplishment in the face of convention. Lindsey Kellenbarger, a teacher, also brought her camera for the momentous occasion, knowing the potential impact this seemingly ordinary lunch could have on the students.

“I got a kid to eat a turnip that I didn’t think would. That’s exciting,” she said.

—Jacob M.

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

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

The holiness of hunger by Lauren Cunningham

I’m really not a very religious person. I was raised in a family who maybe went to church for both Christmas and Easter each year.

But if we’re defining religion as Merriam-Webster does, I can easily say that food is the only constant, ritualistic practice in which I believe. Yes, I do have to eat it in order to survive, but for me, and I think for many other people in American society, it serves as more of a connecting and comforting tool to which we can all relate.

from flickr.com

I have a pretty large family, and when we do get to see each other, it’s usually for some religious holiday. And you better believe we can eat. As most grandmothers do, all of my grandmas make the yummiest food, and they always have more than plenty to share. When I eat what they make, I connect to them and to the rest of my family enjoying the meal.

The fulfillment I think others get from their religion, I get from eating with my family. I love having a large family and being close to family members, and I feel closest with them at the dinner table — there’s always good conversation, everyone’s happy (probably because they’re eating good food). I get satisfaction and comfort out of having the reliability of family.

From the meals I’ve shared with family around the holidays, I can understand why food is interwoven with faith and religion. In most religions, food has great significance and symbolism.

The example of this I’m most familiar with comes from the practice of communion. People are taught that the bread is the body of Christ and wine is the blood of Christ in communion. Here, food is more than just something to look forward to on a Sunday morning  — it serves as a way in which to remember Christ.

Among most other religions, food also plays an large role in Judaism — in not just what people can eat, but also in how food is prepared. Some Jewish people only eat kosher food, which is food that is prepared in a certain way, such as animals who have been ritually slaughtered. Certain foods, such as matzoh or maror, symbolize specific parts of the story of Passover. This food provides a richer context of why Passover is celebrated, transforming what’s on the plate to be more than just something for survival purposes.

Especially in religion, food is much more than just a consumption of calories we need to keep alive from day to day. It provides nourishment for needs beyond the physical. It’s the common denominator among everyone. Everyone needs food. And when we share that food with family or with others of the same religion, we bond.

It’s a sacred idea to think that some of the foods we enjoy today are the same as those enjoyed thousands of years ago. Some of those same foods are mentioned in religious texts — the apple in the story of Adam and Eve. Food provides a connection, and in that connection lies comfort.

— Lauren Cunningham

‘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

Focus on Life and Food will Follow by Kelly

I never, ever ate school lunches.  I never asked my parents why, but I’m guessing it was less expensive than the meal plan at school. In addition to sack lunches being cheaper, they were probably healthier than what they served at school.  I’m guessing my homemade lunches are part of what made healthy eating a habit for me. To this day I pack a lunch box, and I’m essentially in the 18th grade.

After watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,  I could kiss my parents a thousand times for packing my lunches while I was growing up.  In the past 20 years the percentage of children who are obese has doubled. Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure, are more at-risk for diabetes, and are more likely to be obese as an adult.

In a testimony to Congress, Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services noted that, as a result of obesity, many children in this generation of children will not outlive their parents.  Many say unhealthy school lunches, with high fat and sugar content, contribute to the epidemic.

from flickr.com, by SpecialKRB

Jamie Oliver’s show is new on ABC and it is tracking Mr. Oliver’s fight to revolutionize American school lunches.

Apart from being appalled and heartbroken by the food those little children were eating, I was struck by something profound. Jamie Oliver is reaching into families, churches, and schools in order to revolutionize the food habits of the city.

There is undeniably a food movement going on in America and there are voices urging us to make food a pillar of our lives.  However, Jamie Oliver’s voice in the food movement is pointing out that it already is.

Food is a constant and important presence in all lives.  Meals are important to families, food affects our bodies and minds, and it is often an integral part of any religion.

But despite food’s importance and omnipresence, somewhere along the line we’ve gotten unfortunately uncomfortable with food.  If you listen to people talk about their food concerns, it becomes evident that a lot of people are uneasy about food, but for a myriad of different reasons.

Some want low fat, some want low salt, some don’t have time, some don’t have money. Some don’t like to cook, others don’t know how. Some people eat too much, others don’t want to eat anything at all.

Considering we encounter food at least three times a day, people face these concerns at least that often. Furthermore, there are messages about what is “good” food everywhere.  Between the TV, internet, radio, newspaper, food packaging, and neighbors, we can’t escape it.

It. is. too. much.

When it comes to food we’ve been informed to our detriment.  All of this information about food has made us think that it’s the food that’s important,  but that’s the thinking that has gotten us in trouble.  Our intense focus on food has distracted us from what we really hold important.

In order to change our relationship with food, we each need to isolate what is important to us and focus on it.  I believe that if you focus on what is important, the food will follow. Of course, each of us will have different priorities, but the results will all be the same: we can solve our problems with food.

If you want more time together as a family, plan to be together for dinner more often. If you need to save money, eat at home more often. If you want a sharper mind, figure out how to eat to help that happen. If you would like a new skill, learn how to cook.

It is time to appreciate that we live with food and that we need it. I urge you to refocus and realize that food is not our primary concern, but is instead woven throughout our higher priorities.  So pick your priority and honor it, and I guarantee better food will follow.


Hooked on Food and Phonics by KaylaReg

Looking back on my childhood, I remember spending weekend afternoons doing Hooked On Phonics, math flashcards and spelling quizzes. No, I wasn’t an especially ambitious student, nor were my parents hoping I’d aspire to be, but as they explained time and time again, I just needed to spend the extra time on things.

No history of malnourishment, food allergies or over exposure to chemicals in food here. According to my mother, a considerable expert in the field, a lot of different factors, likely family history in my case, influence the incidence of learning disabilities.

I began to accept this only after I was diagnosed with dyslexia in middle school and then Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in high school. Although one end of the social spectrum claims ADD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities (which I’ll refer to as LD or LDs) are pretend disorders of a overmedicated, over stimulated generation, I’m fully aware of and comfortable with my learning differences.

What I want to know is how can I make it better?

Right now, many people are saying the answer is in food.

According to a 1975 study by Dr. Ben Feingold, environmental influences, specifically food additives, such as artificial coloring and flavors, affect the incidence of LDs. He found that by eliminating artificial colors and flavors from the diets of children with LDs, in most cases their behavior and overall functioning greatly improved.

Both LDs and concerns over chemicals in food were just starting to be talked about when Feingold conducted the study and he was definitely on to something. A 2005 Environmental Working Group study found the average newborn had 200 chemicals present in the umbilical cord at the moment of birth, a predictor for future cognitive and behavioral impairments, as well as other serious chronic issues.

Feingold’s study also suggests the now popular theory that food allergies manifest in the form of LDs. According to Dr. Ron Hoggan, people with gluten allergies report having some type of LD more frequently than the rest of the population. Research shows that a gluten-free diet can drastically reduce LD related symptoms for those even mildly allergic to the grain.

Besides diet, Feingold additionally attributed LDs to socio-economic status, race and ethnic origin. While he was wrong about that, such factors are correlated to malnourishment, a near guarantee for cognitive impairment.

Research shows that most children diagnosed with LDs are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids, important to the cell membranes vital to brain functioning.  Countless studies find that in most cases, giving Omega-3 supplements such as fish oil to children diagnosed with an LD dramatically improves cognition, anxiety, impulsivity, and other LD related symptoms.

Could a fish oil supplement, elimination or gluten-free diet help me?

To find out, I called my mom, who happens to have a master’s degree in learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. Go ahead and listen to the interview below to hear her long answer, as well as some other personal and general facts on LDs.

The short answer she gave was yes, but only because  a well-balanced diet will improve anyone’s functioning, and that’s more true now than ever.

According to a 2007 a Boston Globe article, 60 percent of Americans are estimated to be deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. Meanwhile, over the past century, consumption of processed foods rich in Omega-6 fatty acids, which actually harm brain functioning, has increased.

Yes, harmful substances like red dye #3 have been banned since Feingold’s study, but 14,000 other chemicals, including aspartame, MSG, and olestra remain in the American food supply.

So, cue my realization.

The food a person does or doesn’t eat, regardless of whether they have an LD, affects their quality of life. Spending a little extra time planning a diet that improves my day-to-day functioning, even if only by a little, is a huge opportunity.

It’s an opportunity I dare say is even greater than being Hooked On Phonics. And that’s saying a lot.

-Kayla R.