J500 Media and the Environment


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



Family Farming to Industrial Agriculture by bpirotte

My grandfather, or “Granddad,” as we call him, grew up on a farm in western Kansas.

My Granddad outside his one-room school house, near the farm he grew up on in western Kansas. Photo by Ben Pirotte

Like most of his generation, he grew up healthy, happy, and with strict values. One of those values: frugality. But why is frugality such an important value of a person who grew up in the Depression? Because they had little to nothing. So, surviving on just a few dollars a week, and only buying the materials necessary to clothe, feed and house your family became what was important.

Just a few years ago, my family and I were able to go visit the land my great-grandfather used to till. Strangely enough, there’s a plaque installed on the property marking the geodetic center of the lower 48 states! Today, it is an “active cornfield,” which goes to show just how important farming is in the makeup of the United States, being right at its heart.

However, much has changed from the days of Granddad’s childhood. What used to be a country of many small farmers that made up 21% of the US workforce, all insistent on making a new life for themselves and their family, has now turned into just a few “desperate” farmers trying to make ends meet, and a few giant business conglomerates.

So, has the nostalgic, pastoral idea of farming died? With the mechanization of farming as an industry, and with yields from farming being more productive than ever, large, mono-crop facilities produce the vast majority of our food at a cheaper price to the consumer. But what about the cost to the environment? Industrial agriculture requires more use of pesticides, and with mono-cropping, soils are depleted through time and eventually need more and more fertilizers to create the same output. There seem to be alternatives to this model–such as buying organic and local. But are these ideas realistic?

While it is clear that we most likely won’t be returning to the days of small farmers in places like western Kansas, there is a need to reform our food system. Industrial agriculture is imposing a problem not only to the quality of our food, but is also a major problem to the health of our environment. Small steps can be made to reforming the system, but until our world as a whole is able to factor in all the costs associated with industrial farming, and not just the cost to grow, produce, harvest and ship a product, we won’t be able to see the necessary change.

–Ben P.



Looking at food pantries as a mirror by Lauren Cunningham

In case you missed it this week, The Associated Press reported that a woman claimed that the fat around her midsection, otherwise known as love handles, saved her life from a gunshot. She was quoted in the story saying, ‘I want to be as big as I can if it’s going to stop a bullet.’

Now, not only did I think her quote was one of the most illogical statements I’ve read in a while, but the story got me thinking about how the types of foods people eat show in appearance or beliefs about nutrition.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always eat what I should. (I don’t think anyone really does.) But since taking time to learn about the importance of healthy, sustainable and local foods, I really try to pick out items in the grocery store that reflect this awareness. Unfortunately, because I am a college student and don’t have a lot of money, I can’t always afford the best foods.

My mom often is my hook-up for healthy, locally-grown food, such as this ground beef from Santa Fe Trail Meats. (Photo taken with my iPhone TiltShiftGen app)

 

I think my food pantry and refrigerator reflects my conflict of “Do I buy all fresh, local or organic food or do I buy cheap junk food?” pretty well. In my kitchen, you can find anything from ground beef from Santa Fe Trail Meats or whole grain bread to Velveeta shells and cheese or off-brand cereal.

Honestly if I can get twice as much cereal in a big off-brand bag for half the price of a cereal like Kashi, I’m going to choose the off-brand bag. Yes, I would love to buy Kashi everytime I buy cereal, but that’s extra money each grocery trip I could use for bills, rent, etc.

For me, primarily focusing on buying higher quality proteins, fruits or vegetables is the best option for the income I have right now. Once I have a steady income, I definitely want to be able to shop primarily at places like The Merc. The reality is that I can’t afford it now. It’s enough for me to try to find fresh or healthy foods, let alone organic or locally-grown foods.

Luckily, I do have healthier opportunities around me even now that I always try to take advantage of. One of our family friends shares the vegetables she grows in her garden with my parents and with me, which I love. As a teacher, my mom also regularly tries to buy local foods from her students’ families or co-workers (hence, my supply of meat from Santa Fe Trail Meats).

No, not all of the foods in my kitchen reflect someone who always chooses the healthiest option of food. But I’m not that person just yet anyway. I think my food selection still shows that I am constantly thinking of the smartest, most sustainable food choices for my budget.

— Lauren Cunningham



What National can do for ‘local,’ and everything beyond by jmuselmann

If it’s not completely obvious by now, let me just tell you: The most foolish thing we as humans can do is assume that we are wise enough to solve problems later for our current behavior. If we step back for a moment to think about “local washing,” among the many other terms brandished by environmentalists, we can infer what it might mean. As many of us know, “local” is now in its heyday—it’s popularity has even risen to the ranks of WalMart recognition. Environmentalists meant well in spreading the idea, but its effect, despite all its good intention, has been had some unforeseen effects.

Though commendable, we need to do more in the White House than meekly plant an organic garden.

The biggest criticism has been the lack of focus on a particular aspect of local: produced, grown, sold, what? Which is better? The answer, or course, is that it all depends. Financially, it might be more noble to buy “local” product that are packaged and sold here, which would keep more money in the community in which one lives. To reduce pollution, we might buy “local” foods that were grown closely to where we are. In acknowledging the problematic relativism bound up in the word (and the idea), the “locavore” response has been to just use your noggin to decide for yourself what it means.

But others say that’s not good enough, that the lack of real definition is its undoing. But unfortunately, the debate—no doubt a healthy, well-meaning discussion—is swallowing up the movement whole. As with many hot issues in America (which is what makes them contemporary), the controversy escalates, and the movement, once called it for a reason, comes to a standstill while those intended to be reached become disenchanted or otherwise apathetic amid the clamor.

Education about environmental issues is something we should strive for, but the issues at stake require a more urgent response than can offer the gradual molding of the collective social psyche. Relativity is again a severe functional weakness in gaining consensus—it’s too slow. This is one of those times in the United States where we need to be drug out to the other  side. Most, if not all, of the great and pivotal social movements in our time have had to go through an unpleasant phase of coercion. What we need is compulsion—by law and by a responsible government.

—Jacob Muselmann



Loco for Locavore? by KaylaReg
February 5, 2010, 4:59 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 3 | Tags: , , , , ,

By definition, I am not a locavore, the New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2007 word of the year.  Depending on the source, a ‘locavore,’ (noun, pronounced ˈˈlō-kə-ˌvȯr) is someone who exclusively or primarily eats food that is locally grown or produced (typically within a 100 to 250 mile radius).

I’d like to wake up in time for a Saturday morning farmer’s market, but I just can’t sacrifice the only day I can sleep in (I love sleeping) for food. Although I prefer shopping at stores with a wider organic or local selection, I rationalize that I’m reducing my carbon footprint by driving to closer chain supermarkets. I do make it a priority to save money so I can spend some extra cash on local fresh produce, but I still crave and buy tomatoes every month of the year.

Two of the four items shown are considered local – the honey (made and manufactured in Belton, MO, about 50 miles from Lawrence) and my semi-surviving cilantro plant. Check the Lawrence Farmer’s Market (which is closed in the winter) to see what local produce is in season.

To me, going ’ locavore’ doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. Instead, it’s about finding a balance between the things you want, the things you can afford, and the things that are available.

With the “Iron Chef” White House garden episode, the popular Academy Award nominated documentary “Food, Inc.”, Michelle Obama promoting garden vegetables on “Sesame Street” and countless other examples of media attention, the ‘locavore’ message is indeed more accessible than ever. For $2.99, there’s even an app for that. Locavore, the iPhone application, shows what produce items are in season near you and what farmer’s markets carry them, apparently making buying local easier than ever.

According to the market research firm Packaged Facts, more and more people seem to be  finding their own ‘locavore’ balance. Their latest polling found that 54 percent of respondents favored supporting local farmers, a marked increase from 28 percent in 2006. Local food sales rose from for $4 billion in 2002 to $5 billion in 2007, and are predicted to reach $7 billion in 2011.

Representatives from Lawrence supermarkets such as Sheila Lowrie, Dillons spokesperson, Mike Smith, Checkers store director, and Brett Hansen, assistant manager of Hy-Vee all said they were carrying more locally grown and manufactured products, and demand for those items was increasing. Megan Dudley, manager of natural food store The Community Mercantile, also reported that business was especially good and getting better.

Many feel eating locally is simply a trend that’s popular now, but will soon die down. Locavore was listed in Time Magazine’s 2009 Top 10 iPhone applications , but now, it’s not even in the top 100 most downloaded apps. “Iron Chef” didn’t end up using the produce items they picked from the White House garden, and media outlets from the left and right have deduced eating habits to a subject of political debate. Here in Lawrence, the owners of The Casbah, a locally owned and operated organic market and café, recently announced their doors would soon close.

This Google Trend graph suggests that people were eating locally long before locavore was the word of the year or they saw Michelle Obama on TV. Despite the dips and spikes in the search volume and media tags, public interest in eating locally continues to increase.

Even after the spotlight on local eating turns off, people will, at the very least, remember its message. When society is a pendulum that swings both ways, it’s all a matter of finding your own balance.

-Kayla Regan



Checking Checkers by bpirotte

It was a weeknight and a couple friends and I had made dinner. It was a relatively healthy meal with some chicken, vegetables, and even got a little fancy with some cous-cous on the side. But a few minutes of conversation about ice cream got us craving some, and therefore spurred a late night trip to the store for some frozen desert.

I had recently attended a meeting for a Food Policy Council meeting here in Douglas County, Kansas where local food growers, business owners, and those interested in eating locally gathered to talk about how the county and surrounding areas could benefit from local food.

 

A place to eat local!

 

I noticed one of the members of the council was representing a local grocery store, Checkers. This interested me because I had never really gone to Checkers before, as I am from Wichita, Kansas and I was very used to shopping at Dillons grocery stores. However, after seeing the presence of this grocery store at the meeting, I wondered what sorts of options they had for local or organic foods.

So, when the craving for ice cream arose, the suggested place for purchasing said desert became Checkers. But while my friends were scouring the freezers for the most exciting flavors of their delicious mid-night snack, I ventured off to see what I could find that’s “organic.” I looked in the dairy products, and immediately found milk cartons boasting a “USDA Organic” label. But what does this really mean? I remained somewhat skeptical. After doing some further research, I also found some ads boasting Checkers’ commitment to being “local.” This seems to be a term thrown around often when referring to eating responsibly, but according to this ad, actual local suppliers sell their products at Checkers. Some of these include local milk producer Iwig’s, and beef from M&J Ranch. Who knew?!

Even though there is a lot on our minds today, and we are bombarded with an incessant amount of causes and reasons to care, it looks like eating locally just got a little bit easier.

–Ben P.