J500 Media and the Environment


Revert to Basics by micolea

Everyday, just before the sun rises, my grandmother walks three miles from her home to the open-air food market in her province in Pampanga, Philippines. Once she reaches the market she is greeted warmly by the familiar faces of the farmers and vendors she purchases her food from each day. As she saunters through the market, the vibrant colors and delectable aromas of fresh papaya, guava, mango, avocado and eggplant delight her senses.

Picking and choosing assorted fruits, vegetables and fish has become a daily routine for my grandmother. After a quick conversation with one of the local vendors, she walks the three miles back to her home, with a bag of food in each hand. Once home, she starts cooking, or what she refers to as “nourishment for the soul.” 

My grandmother is ninety-six years old.


Photo by tmcpics/Courtesy Flickr

Living in an era where fast food is the norm, and eating out and take out are an integral part of our society’s culture, it seems awfully difficult to remember a simpler time. For my grandmother’s generation, it was standard for meals to be prepared at home. The moments spent chopping vegetables and simmering stew were savored. 

Surprisingly, or maybe I should say, impressively, my grandmother has never set foot in a Wal-Mart, Target or Kroger. Those stores resemble words of a foreign language to her because she had never heard of them. That, in itself is quite an extraordinary feat. 

Nowadays, food terminology can be like trying to solve the Pythagorean Theorem. Words like sustainable, organic and natural seem to all blend together. So why does it appear that it is about to become more complicated? As multiple cooks enter the kitchen, it is seemly becoming more problematic to agree on coherent definitions of sustainable agriculture.

The debacle about labeling food as “sustainable agriculture” is currently ongoing. While on the surface this looks like an encouraging way to entice food producers to stop using pesticides and genetically modified crops, it may actually do just the opposite. Some parties are advocating for this standard to encompass organic practices from farm to plate, while others want this to only affect one part of its operation and not have to adhere to all environmental regulations. I know exactly what my grandmother would say to all of this. She would declare  “there needs to be a return to nature. We need to feel a connection to food.” My grandmother cherishes her relationship with food and in return, she has been blessed with a life of longevity. 

 The outcome of these discussions is to decide on whether or not to implement a “National Sustainable Agriculture Standard.”  On either side of the issue are General Mills, American Farmland Trust, National Corn Growers Association and the National Resources Defense Council. The Leonardo Academy is mediating the conversation.

Why do I feel as if I am being deceived? Though I realize it is unrealistic to think that we can all buy our food from open air markets and have conversations about the origin of that food with the people who grew it, as a nation of consumers, we deserve to know where our food comes from and the techniques used to grow it. Hopefully, that will be a unifying point for the committee.

Micole Aronowitz



Please, be more vague by Lauren Cunningham

In my recent efforts to become environmentally-friendly, I’ve been searching the App Store on my iPhone for applications that can help me make smarter choices.

This shows a screen capture from my iPhone showing GoodGuide's rating of my Kiwi Strawberry Snapple.

So far, I’ve found GoodGuide. The app gives an overall rating of the product, not based on user ratings, but on a combined score of health, environmental and society ratings. It looks at product quality or safety, unnatural or unhealthy ingredients in the items and environmental impact of the company. It also has a feature that scans the barcode of items to get a sense of how “good” they are.

So after enjoying a Kiwi Strawberry Snapple the other day, I thought I’d check out just how “all-natural” the drink claimed to be. My new app gave the beverage a 3.9 out of 10 rating.

It also gave the drink a zero out of 10 for health, which I found alarming for a product that claimed to be “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth.” I looked at the nutrition facts, and as the label claimed, there were no artificial flavors or preservatives, but I also saw the 51 grams of sugar in the bottle and five percent juice content.

GoodGuide lists information about different aspects of products to help consumers pick the smartest choice.

GoodGuide told me the product contained high fructose corn syrup, a substance found in pretty much everything people eat today. I didn’t see this on the label, so I investigated a little further.

It seemed as though the app’s health rating hadn’t been updated. I found that Snapple recently switched from using high fructose corn syrup to real sugar. a switch that helps its “all-natural” claim.

It makes sense, considering the problems popping up with high fructose corn syrup. GoodGuide even lists high fructose corn syrup as an “ingredient of concern.”

For a juice drink that claims to be all-natural and “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth,” I wonder what Snapple means. The ingredients are recognizable, but it’s a stretch to say my kiwi strawberry drink was all-natural. If Snapple’s implying that fruits are the “best stuff on earth,” they should start putting more fruit in their drinks, instead of making it from “a blend of juices from concentrate with other natural flavors.” They offer some drinks made from 1oo percent juice, so why not make all drinks that way?

I also discovered the company has changed its labels and bottles recently, but only for appearance. GoodGuide gave Snapple a 5.2 out of 10 for its environment rating. Of the three areas the environmental ratings were comprised, two were scored at less than five out of 10: environmental management and resource management.

So as a consumer staring at a drink claiming to be natural and made with “real ingredients,” I’m not impressed. Really, Snapple has just made its ingredients recognizable, which I do appreciate. But to avoid greenwashing, I think they need to re-evaluate other aspects of the company.

GoodGuide is helping me along in my new way of thinking about food and sustainability. But really, I think it takes a more extensive reading of the labels of what I’m consuming.

— Lauren Cunningham



Buying into Food Labels by micolea

As I stroll down the aisle of my local grocery-store, my eyes are suddenly drawn to a box with an appetizing picture of caramel-coated, chocolate popcorn on it. I pick up the package and take a closer look. The box is labeled Smart Food. Intrigued, I scan the package and find in very fine print the words, “naturally flavored.” I must confess, the crafty marketing of this food product hooked me and without thinking anymore about it, I tossed the “naturally flavored” popcorn into my cart.

As I drove home, I began to ponder over what the term “natural” meant. Words like wholesome, healthy and pure came to mind.

Boy, was I in for a surprise!

As a frequent food shopper and someone who tries to buy organic food when I can, I like to consider myself a fairly health-conscious consumer. Yet, still, I am often confused by the terms on food labels. When it comes to food guidelines and standards, what does it mean when a product is labeled as natural? For the consumer, it can be extremely difficult to interpret such labels and attempt to figure out the meaning behind it.

When I see the word natural on a food label, it immediately sends a signal to my brain that this food must be healthy and sans artificial sweeteners. Little did I know, there is no standard definition for natural. Though, there is an exception: meat and poultry. The USDA has defined natural as “not containing any artificial flavorings, coloring ingredients, other artificial or synthetic ingredients or chemical preservatives and is not more than minimally processed.”

Is this definition truly ruling out all artificial additives such as high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils? Most likely, it’s not. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate use of the word natural. Which means processed foods, vegetables and fruits can contain artificial sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Even certain brands of whole grain breads have not escaped the wrath of high fructose corn syrup.

To be sure you are not eating any artificial additives, sweeteners or chemicals, be sure to read the ingredient label meticulously. We have the right, as consumers, to be choosy about what we eat. So the next time I go food shopping and see a label that reads, “all natural,” there will no longer be any confusion. I will be able to differentiate between sly marketing and the truth.

Micole Aronowitz



Benefits of local and organic farming for the tree hugger at heart by amandat09

In my first grade class, we were asked to make a poster of what we would wish for if we were granted three wishes. My list didn’t include ponies or mansions, but this: 1) I wish people would stop polluting the oceans. 2) I wish people would stop hunting animals for their fur. 3) I wish I had 10 more wishes.

The well being of the environment is something that has been on my mind since the beginning. But it goes beyond recycling and turning of lights– the food decisions we make every day have a tremendous impact on the environment, as well.

Source: New York Entertainment

Source: New York Entertainment

It is said that your food travels an average of 1,500 miles from the farm to get to your plate. Monocultures of the big agricultural corporations and the heavy use of chemicals have made food, the most natural thing in the world, into something wholly unnatural– but it doesn’t have to be like that. With the popularity of urban farming booming in the Kansas City area, it’s not necessary to use so much transportation fuel and unnatural means to get your food. You can get organically grown, top-notch quality food from right around the corner. Not only will you support your community farmers, but your footprint on the environment can dramatically shrink.

Most of the bright, shiny, perfectly shaped food you see in the grocery store has been packed with pesticides and chemicals to get it to look its best. This may seem like the normal way to eat food today, but it can really be so much simpler, healthier, environmentally friendlier and meaningful if you dig deep and get back to your roots.

-Amanda Thompson, group 3.



Let Them Eat Cakes by Lauren Keith

cupcakes
photo from cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com

I used to decorate cakes for a living. When I don the chef hat and apron, I always get one of two questions: Why aren’t you obese? or Will you make me a cake?

The verb “make” is the problem. Bakeries today don’t make anything. They bake. It’s not a make-ery.

My job became an assembly line to fill the shelf. The job of a commercial cake decorator is the same as the big question in “Twinkie Deconstructed”: Why can you bake a cake at home with six ingredients, but Twinkies require 39?

Because they don’t keep well.

A Newsweek piece about “Twinkie Deconstructed” starts out with an expected scare tactic. The author of the book, Steve Ettlinger, has apparently found himself entering the eighth gate of hell as he goes in the mine of a baking soda ingredient.

The article wonders “how many other food writers had ever donned hard hats and emergency breathing equipment in pursuit of a story.” More than you think, like maybe those visiting salt mines?

What’s more natural than a cave? We all eat our environment (although some of us to a greater extent than others.)

The article then lists some unheard-of chemical ingredients in processed foods. But just because we don’t have “normal” names for these ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad. You have sucrose, sodium chloride and acetic acid at your house right now. You probably consumed some ascorbic acid for breakfast this morning.

We only have a finite number of elements, so obviously some of those compounds are going to overlap. The article argues, “Corn dextrin, a common thickener, is also the glue on postage stamps and envelopes.”

Does that mean that water is a main ingredient of a common paper-bleaching agent (H2O2)? Or that table salt and an herbicide that is used to control bamboo have a relationship in common that we should be afraid of (NaCl vs. NaClO3)

“Twinkie Deconstructed” distracts from the conversation we should be having.

Why are Americans so afraid of where their food comes from (overseas), but they aren’t concerned about where their clothing comes from (overseas) or where their electronics come from (overseas)?

The subtitle to his book is: “My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats.” Believe me, I eat this stuff up (monthly), but Ettlinger should have focused more on his journey than on the ingredients.

— Lauren Keith



I *HEART* Organic … and I’m poor by shemme
March 3, 2008, 10:49 pm
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I really enjoy organic foods. They have a more vibrant color, more pleasing texture and amazing flavors when compared to their counterparts that are produced in “conventional” ways. I’m also obsessed with organic dairy products and 100% whole wheat foods like bread, pasta, cereal, crackers, etc.; I just can’t get enough.

Yes, organic foods cost more. However, I feel that making the choice to nourish my body (the one and only body that I get for this lifetime) in the best way possible, and limiting its exposure to pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, and other chemicals as best I can is worth it. I don’t want to experience disease and other ailments, that could have been prevented, later in life. Why kick myself later when I can just follow the old “Better safe than sorry” rule right now? Health insurance and medical costs are expensive now; it’s quite likely that they will be just as expensive in the future, if not more so. So, for me, spending a little extra on organic foods is really an investment in my future – kinda like college. I spend $625 per class – I can think of a lot of other things that I could do with this money, but my education is worth it to me.

No, I’m not a kid with wealthy parents who pay for everything. I work 28 hours a week, my annual income is less than $20,000 and I’m just barely above the official “poverty” threshold determined by our government. Despite these things, I’m still convinced that I’m better off forking over the extra dough to purchase organic products. My overall health and well-being today, and 40 years from now, depend on the food choices that I make every day.

I’m not perfect. I do have a few non-organic guilty pleasures and they are Edy’s Slow Churned Rich & Creamy No Sugar Added Vanilla Light Ice Cream, microwave popcorn, Diet Dr. Pepper with Vanilla from Sonic (i.e. high fructose corn syrup), Craisins, and Wasabi Peas. Yes, microwave popcorn is probably the worst thing you can eat – hydrogenated fats, artificial flavors, artificial colors, artificial preservatives, and tons of salt all conveniently packaged at your fingertips. However, I did find Orville Redenbacher’s Natural Buttery Salt & Cracked Pepper to be the most delicious and not as horrible as others. Good old Orville, he even makes an Organic SmartPop Butter popcorn that is 94% fat free. No sign of it in stores around here, though.

So, even though I’m just as poor as the next guy or gal, it’s worth it to me to spend a little extra on the food that I put in my body. I’ll be thanking, rather than kicking, myself later.

~ Sarah H

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