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.



Discerning service learning by jmuselmann

Sula Teller, food manager at The Merc, just after our interview.

Up until recently, it was difficult to put the scope of my involvement with the Douglas County Food Policy Council in perspective. Our class, Media & the Environment, has been a fusion of journalism and environmental studies departments, and each week we have been blogging about food as a way of getting our feet wet  with both these issues.

But a big part of our class was also to work for the newly formed food council as an interlocutor, surveying different stakeholders in the community as well as Lawrence residents to report back our findings — along with some research — to the council. The goal was to the “What,” the “Why” and the “How” of a local food system for Lawrence. Our group tackled the “Why” aspect.

In going out and interviewing local stakeholders as well as residents, I really started to realize how much of an impact the DCFPC could have, and how important these issues are to everyone, whether they take the time to think about it or not. Simply the act of putting everything else on hold and sitting down to talk about everyday things that most people don’t pay much attention to made me realize the pervasiveness of food attitudes that permeate other aspects of life. Calling attention to these seemingly mundane details about their work, food, and sustainability helped me see the importance of the DCFPC, and also why I had initially written it off as something bureaucratic whose goals I already had the gist of.

Wrong! It’s now apparent to me that the DCFPC is striving to be as vital as the issues it is fighting for. It really hit home when I spent a day in the Section 8 affordable housing district in north Lawrence. There I got to see and hear about how food accessibility (or rather the lack thereof) is directly affecting the lives of entire families. Hearing about families’ struggles made abstract goals of the DCFPC become very real, pertinent and necessary.

All in all, I’ve loved working for the Douglas County Food Policy Council. Working in small groups with a specific goal was rewarding. It felt good to know that we were making a difference and doing work for a task force that really needed our help. That kind of learning and satisfaction transcends earning grades in a grade book — it is immersive, substantial and can meaningfully affect the lives of many people for the better.

—Jacob Muselmann



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



Green is the new Blackle by jmuselmann

Last week wasn’t particularly different from any other week. I was on the internet, somewhere in between doing work and wasting time, when I realized how much time I spend on a screen framed in a Web browser. I prefer not to dwell on that. But I did pause to acknowledge just how invariably ugly they’ve all become (Safari, Firefox, Explorer, et al. ). Light gray is apparently the industry standard, with big playschool-like back, refresh and home buttons. It’s insultingly novice, and how dare anyone question my extensive experience online. I was ready for something stylish, something chic, and something, perhaps, that was  dark.

So I tweeted my newfound desire, knowing that if anyone knew about some obscure solution, it would be fellow online junkies, the tweeters. And lo and behold, someone delivered. It was blackle.com, and it was bewildering at first. That’s because it’s using less mega wattage by skipping out on the blaring white screen part. So for all of you who have Google as your homepage, try “Blackling” something instead. It could just catch on, and if the juggernaut Google took note, it could really add up, both in reducing energy and money. No, it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but it is a nifty way to save energy (and perhaps your tired eyes). And who knows? Maybe it will catch on, maybe my dream browser is out there, and maybe we could one day choose to invert any website we come upon into a more seductive and eco-friendly format. Anything could happen—it’s the Internet.

This may seem small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but then again, so does everything else you try to do for the planet. And let’s face it, there are a lot of really bad ideas for going green that are put forth every day. It’s hard to imagine harmful and unintended consequences in changing our homepage.

So when you’re frustrated and wanting something different from what you already have, try looking to see if it’s offered in a shade of green. Or a really, really dark green.

—Jacob Muselmann



When local isn’t close by by jmuselmann
Source: sustainable-gardening-tips.com

When Mom decided to splurge, everyone was always thankful. As kids, the best barometer for us was a Boboli pizza crust sticking out of the grocery bags she brought home. Don’t ask me why, but we loved it. It must have been something about assembling it at home — I will always remember waxing on the pouched sauce with a wooden spoon. And then there were the times without, the times when Mom prudently decided to go somewhere else for groceries, somewhere the Boboli wasn’t. I never asked why, but I always assumed it was something related to money — or lack thereof — one of those things my kiddie-brain had just enough suspicious grasp of to know not to ask. The point is, I appreciated her going out of her way, for whatever reason, for good food (hey, I was 7).

There has been some flack given to people who drive long distances to support their local farmers markets. The carbon footprint created, they say, makes your good intentions go up in smoke as you tut across the highway. But there’s more to consider than arriving from point a to b, a new billow of fumes, and that foregone picturesque stroll to the village market.

1. Everyone has the right to make choices about their personal nutrition. Locally grown and produced foods generally have less additives, preservatives, and other-worldly chemicals that extend shelf life. And it’s almost conventional knowledge that the taste of fresh local produce is superior to far-away alternatives (which basically get a spray-and-dye job at the salon). And who knows — that could be the only reason some buy local foods. And it’s just as valid a reason as any other.

2. Now more than ever, dollar votes matter for the food industry. We are in the midst of a pivotal time for the food sector right now: Huge companies are seeking to monopolize the food they grow, own the technology they use to do it, and manipulate the people involved all to get the cheapest cost, in what has warped into a hell-bent fervor to undercut everyone else and an insatiable lust for making money. Local food systems need our help. Why should it matter who buys it?

3. Finally, with a greater pull, farmers markets can have a farther-reaching influence on their communities. Let’s stop and think for a moment. Suburbs are notorious for being insular, and yet when suburbanites branch out,  they are often greeted with the same attitude and a bitter smile. Food and the environmental issues do not belong to one particular group of people or party, and if we are really sincere about the cause, we will encourage their support, as annoying as their cars or kids might be.

Lawrence has addressed this issue and is making it easier for west Lawrence beginning May 6 (the other two, which fall on Saturday and Tuesday, remain near downtown). Though the market has made strides in making local food more accessible, Lawrence — any community — can always do more (just look at the comments in the links). We as individuals have to do our part to facilitate openness and community. After all, supporting movements, making a change and doing what’s right always involve going out of one’s way, and that’s exactly what many are trying to do. So let’s support them.

—Jacob Muselmann



A new kind of green beer by Lauren Cunningham

I’ve always wanted to have a green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, and with this being my first Patty’s Day as a 21-year-old, I’ve been getting excited to enjoy one.

I guess I get a small thrill from drinking an unnatural-colored beverage for the wow factor. But the concept of green-colored beer got me wondering about the other type of green beer — beer brewed in a sustainable way. Green, or sustainable, beer can include anything from organic beer to beer brewed in breweries that use solar energy or use waste to help fuel the process.

When I went to Brooklyn Brewery this summer, I didn't even know it was a top green brewery in the U.S. (Huffington Post). I had a local beer with New York honey and orange peel.

I’ve heard my parents or my friends say they like local beers more than generic beers, and I agree. Until recently, I had been under the impression that it was a matter of taste. I’ve tried both beers from local breweries (Ad Astra Ale from Free State Brewery being my favorite) and beer, such as Budweiser, Miller, etc., and I definitely notice a difference in quality.

But drinking local means so much more than just quality or taste. Because beer is made from ingredients that are grown outside of where it’s brewed, local breweries are likely to get most of beer’s necessary ingredients from local areas. Of course, this means less emissions because less travel goes into getting those ingredients to a brewery.

I spoke with executive chef at Free State Brewery Rick Martin about the beer at Free State Brewery. He said although the beer at Free State isn’t organic it’s still a natural product because of its ingredients.

Martin also said their beer is almost a zero-waste product because leftover grain from the brewing process at Free State Brewery is sent to local farms to serve as feed for animals.

Until now, I just thought there were local beers and generic beers. Maybe it’s because I’m relatively new to the drinking scene, but I didn’t even consider that there would be such a thing as organic beer. I’m always quick to assume that the word “organic” always applies to food when it really can be applied to items from clothing to beauty products.

Like any other organic item, organic beer’s ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides. Brewing organic beer even produces a clearer beer and a faster fermentation, which I know people like my uncle (who brews his own beer) are always looking for.

There are even green breweries around the U.S. that brew in a sustainable way, using wind energy or recycling waste products.

Thinking about drinking green-colored beer now kind of freaks me out. Most green beer is made by adding food coloring, which is made of food and color additives, to beer.

Not that I’ll now only be drinking organic beer, but I have found ways in which to make smarter beer choices.

— Lauren Cunningham



Warm feelings for an icy chest by jmuselmann

Once upon a time last week, I decided to start making a change. I guess it was what is languidly referred to by communications and philosophy people as “cognitive dissonance” that finally caught up with me. I started staring at all those paper latte cups I had with me every day and thought, god, this is ridiculous. The sheer amount of cups and lids I use was not only a green atrocity, but also shed light on how much of a caffeine goon I am. So I finally drug my thermos and my computer around for a day to try on my sustainability hat.

All went well—I saved the lives of at least two cups, only to be used by the people in line behind me, and spared a few spiraled pages for another day. But guess what? That evening I found my computer charger—among other things—dowsed in my spoiled latte swill from eight hours ago. And I suddenly remembered why I had previously stopped lugging the adult sippy cups. Charger defunct. Spirits again tarnished.

Every time I attempt things like this, they end in folly, I often think. Then I look in my fridge and wonder how I was surprised. It is a sick sight: food wrappers I somehow couldn’t take out of the fridge; half a can of soup saved in vain; condiments that have been rifled through with messy hands halfway through a meal (likely the Ramen “needed something”); my prized thick, pulpy orange juice; yogurt, for those creamy personal moments I need after a long day; and most recently, evidence of my new-found appreciation for Kraft Singles, as articulated by an old friend. And in the thick of a terrible winter, my new way of storing groceries (wherein refrigerated items are extracted while the rest is left in bags on the floor until time of use) points to the subtle, horrifying laziness I am capable of. How is it again that I can stab at sustainability when my own lifestyle is so… dilapidated? Can a messy person make the world cleaner?

Indeed, to present oneself as sustainable suggests a certain degree of organization, say not virtue for those that can seem to pull it off—and that’s why it  makes everyone feel terrible; it’s like self-righteous in-laws (by Mother Nature) with a political fervor to fuss until everyone feels bad, even for trying. But sustainability is also an idea—and a motivation—that emerges in odd, unexpected new shapes every day, and we should be open to them. Though we continue to discover dazzling complexities of nature each day, models to help the planet don’t have to be. Nor does someone  have to trod weightless on the planet to recognize how ornate and delicate it is. And I thought lugging the thermos was too tedious.

Somehow, something wells up in me—call it guilt, call it sporadic moral compunction, call it optimism—to try new ways to render myself less abrasive for the environment, and, when they end in disaster, to try another way.

—Jacob Muselmann