J500 Media and the Environment


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



I took this class because Simran was on Oprah by Chardonnay
April 29, 2008, 9:24 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I first met Simran at a poetry reading. She was wearing a wig and a smile and mentioned her course on the environment. When she walked away, something happened that I’m sure is far more common than Simran would guess. My girlfriend leaned over to me and said quietly, “She’s been on Oprah.”

At the time, I was fighting to get into an honors course on climate change, but a schedule conflict was holding me back. The “J500” listing was only slightly less intimidating than working with Oprah, once removed, was intriguing. I dropped my Strategic Communication class and enrolled in one of the last spots of J500.

Ironic now, looking back to the class I swapped. In my head, looking at what I learned in this class is like a web of ideas, all interlinked, meta tagged and growing among leafy green vines. When I try to untangle all that and find a single root, I see that my takeaway has a great deal to do with strategic communication.

Each week, I squeezed in to take a seat at the table with some amazing Thinkers. My exposure to you all and your questions and ideas has inspired introspection. Early on, I saw that I’m a lousy critical thinker. What an upsetting discovery! Although our group tendency to question everything could be exhausting at times—

Define Sustainability
Communities living with the future in mind
What do you mean by communities?
And what do we mean by living?
Can we define our “future”
Saying “in mind” isn’t action-oriented enough
Why did you utilize “the” in that definition?
What was the question?
Why do you ask??

— I definitely learned how useful it is. I know I believe that we’re all in this together. What I didn’t let that entail is that we can all be learning as we go. Even the author of a cool article in Rolling Stone (Thanks, Travis). Even Oprah. Even the IPCC. Adam Werbach. NBC. Maybe not Adam Bowman. The strategic communication I learned here was about consuming information. Thinking past what I formerly considered to be the endpoint, a claim from a reliable source.

I’m hating how hyperbolic this is coming off, but I’ll risk it to take the opportunity to let you all (my classmates, Simran) know that I gained something from you that I value very much.

The satisfaction I gained from my weekly “a-ha” moments, the wonderful people I had the pleasure of interacting with, and learning a great deal about environmental issues far far far outweighs my disappointment that Oprah was never a digital visitor.

With love,
Sonya English
We'll always have our shortcomings



About Me: Simran Sethi by j500

The official bio is below, but the reason I’m here on this blog is because I created it. I teach environmental and sustainability communications courses at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. I’m the School’s Lacy C. Haynes Professional-in-Residence, which means I teach, conduct research for my book, and work in the field. I’m also a courtesy faculty with the Environmental Studies department. I’m a freelance journalist the creator of Sundance Channel’s environmental justice series The Good Fight, and the author of an upcoming book on eco-elitism and the power of the prairie. All of these opportunities are amazing, but one of my greatest joys is bringing these experiences back into the classroom at KU.

I never expected to be an environmental story-teller: I have never taken a journalism class and failed the one class I did take on The Earth. I failed it because it focused on the shifting of tectonic plates and bored me to tears. To this day, I only care about tectonic shifts relative to how they impact communities. I saw the impacts of multi-national corporations on poor communities in India (after a long tenure at MTV News, making documentaries in the US, then being asked to join on-air and anchor the news for MTV Asia and create the news department for MTV India) and I knew I wanted to tell those stories. But I didn’t have the language to do it. So I went back to school to get an MBA in sustainable management, looking at the social and environmental impacts of business, and learning how to tell the stories I have the privilege of telling today.

This course is designed to give students the language and literacy required to tell stories about our environment – from how we eat to what we wear, from how we work to how we live. We don’t exist outside of our eco-system, and we all care about our future. In my mind, that makes each of us environmentalists, every day (whether we’re vegan or omnivores, treehugging conservatives or liberal businessfolks, we aren’t just one thing.).

What I hope is that, in this course, we start to see the ways in which we share values and desired outcomes, and we develop the language for bridging divides, inspiring people to action, and ensuring the sustainability of our natural resources for all.

The Official Bio:

Simran Sethi is an Emmy award-winning journalist and the Lacy C. Haynes Visiting Professional Chair at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, where she teaches courses on sustainability and environmental communications. She is currently writing a book on eco-elitism to be published by Harper Collins in March 2010 and is the contributing author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy, winner of the bronze 2008 Axiom Award for Best Business Ethics book. Simran is the founding host/writer of Sundance Channel’s environmental programming The Green and the creator of the Sundance web series The Good Fight, highlighting global environmental justice efforts and grassroots activism.

Named one of the top ten eco-heroes of the planet by the UK’s Independent and lauded as the “environmental messenger” by Vanity Fair, Simran has contributed segments to Nightly News with Brian Williams, Oprah Winfrey Show, Today Show, CNBC, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Martha Stewart Show and the History Channel.  She is committed to a redefinition of environmentalism that includes voices from the prairie, the inner city and the global community.  Simran serves on the Sustainability Advisory Board in Lawrence, Kansas and is the Chair of the City’s working group on climate change policy, education and outreach.

Simran currently blogs about energy policy and life cycle analysis for The Huffington Post and Alternet.  She has been a featured guest on NPR and is the host of the Emmy-award winning PBS documentary, “A School in the Woods.”  She has lectured at institutions ranging from the Commonwealth Club and Cornell University to Lawrence High School and Temple Beth Haverim; keynoted conferences including Bioneers by the Bay, the Green Business Conference, and the North American Association For Environmental Education; and moderated panels for the Clinton Global Initiative University, Demos and the Climate Group.

Simran is an associate fellow at the Asia Society.  She holds an M.B.A. in sustainable business from the Presidio School of Management and graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Sociology and Women’s Studies from Smith College.  She is the 2009 recipient of the Smith College Medal, awarded to alumnae demonstrating extraordinary professional achievements and outstanding service to their communities.

-Simran Sethi