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



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



Reduce, Reuse, Retackle by jmuselmann

image fromgardenmandy.com

Environmentalism nowadays may seem new-fangled and trendy, but recycling, its old-school call to action, has character and appeal in its simplicity. It’s about as ubiquitous as the three Rs are in school, and like reading, writing and ‘rithmatic, it’s thought to be good for everyone. But even this durable cause can get messy, and when it does, it ain’t so wholesome anymore.

A few days ago I spoke with Jeff Joseph of Jeff’s Curbside Recycling, one of the smaller-scale operations in Lawrence, Kan. Well, maybe the smallest: his company consists of a man with a truck. He was driving around the city, tending to his customer’s pre-sorted trash when in two words from across the phone line he casually shattered my perception of the untouchable triad of folded green arrows: Recycling contamination. Can you even put those words together? (It’s when different substances are accidentally recycled into one material.)

Breaking down in the soil to later become a natural reincarnation is one thing, but what about when there are particles of plastic in my recycled milk carton? Not only is that disturbing (move over, BPA), but it’s also expensive. It’s such a problem in the city of Fresno that perpetrators—whether intentional or not—collect fines on the third offense. San Francisco is also trying to bag up the problem because it renders thousands of tons of initially recycled material a waste, suspended in your newspaper or whatever else was in the same recycling facility when it was ground up.

Joseph said “single stream” companies, which pick up all recyclables together to be sorted later, were more prone to commingling sins. The EPA has acknowledged the problem and established guidelines—but we all know what that means (and doesn’t mean in the case of toxic waste, a much scarier implication).

Deffenbaugh, which happens to be Lawrence’s only single-stream pickup and largest recycler, said it made pickup more convenient and minimized the cost because sorting was automated. According to the company, about 4 percent of the total volume received is extracted by hand before the recyclables are sorted. Here’s what that system typically looks like:

But are many companies with green intentions missing the point not in what they are doing but in how they are doing it? Must this movement yield to cheapness and efficiency for its growth? Does the business of recycling need to adopt the corporate world’s devout faith in the ability of machines to undo our laziness, or can we expect people to sort the soda cans from the beer bottles? As the green movement spreads its wings, people are gaining more incentives to be sustainable each day, but the often-clumsy to go green easily arrives at growth is costly—in dollars, the very resources we are trying to renew, and possibly our health. The ends don’t make the means irrelevant, since we are, after all, going in a circle.

—Jacob M.



Meat me in the middle by jmuselmann
Photo courtesy of onsugar.com

Tobacco-less cigarettes. Non-alcoholic beer. Decaf lattes. Low-carb bread. Fat-free desserts. Assuming you haven’t thrown them down halfway through, all of these in the end leave you wanting. Aside from robbing themselves of their fundamental and sought-after components, they render you unsatisfied, a mere shadow of the real thing you were after.  And I suppose this has been my beef with vegetarianism.

I don’t remember quite when, but I even tried it once without telling anybody. There were a couple of reasons for the self-imposed meat fast. I didn’t want colon cancer, and veganism was the sure-fire way into the hip, Nietzsche-reading, artsy subculture in high school, where the coolest parts of “granola hippie,” the college-bound political fact-heads, and the urbane came together. And besides, I had just came to terms with salads as a legit self-contained meal.

Before that time, I had mocked vegetarians for their self-righteous crap about changing the world with their tiny stomachs (and big mouths), and there was always plenty of fodder. I had been a proud meataholic my entire life. But getting on in years, I’ve grown tired of cycling through my meats (turkey for lunch so it’s beef for dinner; ham for lunch, then I guess it’s chicken for dinner) and the dull exhaustion one gets each time after eating animal muscle.

So when I tried cutting meat cold turkey, I fell flat on my figurative face. I lasted only a few days before my energy level became so scant I nearly fainted. This problem isn’t unheard of, (and the reason for it is quite gross) but I felt like a bit of a freak for needing some foreign flesh to sustain my own. Still do.

Now I know how bad meat is for the environment, the desire is welling up in me again. And yes, I know about tofu, and how taste-wise, it’s like dressing up a corpse for a party. If we are to be less meaty as a people, we’re going to need some more viable options to fill that fried chicken-shaped hole in our hearts—and I’ll tell you right now, it’s gonna have to be really, really good.

—Jacob M.



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