J500 Media and the Environment


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



Local: It’s all the local rage. Locally. by bendcohen

Local agriculture and business are reaching new levels of popularity right now.  Part of the modern sustainability movement is, for a variety of reasons, increasing consumption of local products.  Part of this has to do with reducing the carbon footprint of the agriculture industry, by increasing demand for items that do not have to travel as far to be sold.  Economically, it also supports the efforts of smaller farms and merchants, reducing the stranglehold that large producers and distributors have on the food industry.  And from a health perspective, foods produced with a smaller market in line do not typically have the horrendous amount of preservatives, growth hormones, and other strange things that foods produced for a massive distribution do.

The only major knock against local foods that I give any credence is that they are popular now because it is trendy.  You sound so much healthier and more conscious of the shady practices of major food producing companies, and some people will find that out and use it to feel cool.  That being said, this is one of those cases where I have to say “So what?”

Like any trend, the cultural shift in the favor of local foods (one which is still taking place, slowly but surely), can be exploited not just by those demanding to be cool at all times, but by business interests who know that those same people often have a lot of extra money to shill out for things with words like “local” and “organic” plastered on the packaging.

Also, by whatever diabolical genius grew this guy.

Regardless of the motivations some people have in supporting local food producers, and who finds the easiest way to make a buck off of them, the truths about locally-grown and distributed foods, the benefits mentioned earlier stand.  Economic uncertainty pervades our culture, so knowing that we can help our neighbors succeed is comforting.  Obesity is the great new American stereotype, so finding foods that don’t contribute to that is always exciting.  And then there are people like the contributors to Lawrence’s own Localvores blog whose passion for local food production just makes me feel bad for passing it over sometimes.

So for those reasons, I hold back the cynicism.  Time will tell how much this effects our health, economy, and indeed American culture in the long run.  In the short term, the trend really can’t hurt too much.



Why reusable shopping bags are no panacea. by bryand09
February 6, 2009, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Fashion + Beauty, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,

The problem with trends — like yoyos in fifth grade — is that after six weeks or so people tend to move on, forget about what they use to be excited with, and tune in (or with the with the digital switch, link up) to their televisions to find the next big thing.

Uploaded on February 13, 2008 by vrooooominc

Uploaded to Flickr.com on February 13, 2008 by vrooooominc

We face a serious problem if environmentalism (or locavorism or any environmentally conservative philosophy) is only in for a couple of weeks, because, like yoyos, we might soon find ourselves spinning helplessly at the end of our strings.

There are so many groups and organizations that try to get in on fads and capitalize on their snowballing popularity. The more that latch on, the more diluted the original movement becomes. In terms of the environment, this is less dilution and more pollution.

Why pollution? Big box retailers and major grocery chains have seen the snowball growing and have caught on. They sell reusable bags so that their customers can keep shopping with them while feeling good about “saving” a tree or some fossil fuels. The Wall Street Journal wrote a great piece about the dark side of reusable bags that you can read here. Don’t miss their slideshow here either.

Most trends are settled around a material item that you need to have in order to be trendy, like a cell phone or a pair of jeans or a reusable shopping bag. When you make the environment trendy, however, you stumble upon a major irony. What material item could help save the planet?

The answer: no item, no matter how cool, can. The best way to save the planet is to reduce how much individuals consume, not market to them another “thing” that they probably don’t need (or statistically will use).

Bryan Dykman




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