Monthly Archives: September 2009

Eco-Angst vs. Eco-Pleasure

Today in a New York Times blog, Daniel Goleman wrote a post called, “The Age of Eco-Angst

He defines it as:

“The moment a new bit of unpleasant ecological information about some product or other plunges us into a moment (or more) of despair at the planet’s condition and the fragility of our place on it.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have felt this Eco-Angst of which Goleman speaks. It seems like the more I learn about the incredible, vast, diverse awesomeness of the earth, I simultaneously learn exponentially more reasons humans are destroying that very “awesomeness” in some way. Educationally speaking, it makes it hard to go about college, “business as usual” when daily I’m faced with ideas of extinction, disrepair, and the literal demise of the earth. It’s hard to enjoy your dinner when you’ve been considering the malnourishment of millions of people all morning.

Anyway, today I gained some insight on how to deal with this dissonance. Allow me to elaborate.

  • First, I think it is important, even though it is hard, to be educated, aware, and prepared. This takes time and often a bit more money, but in the end, I think it’s worth it.
  • Second, I realized how important it is to specialize our efforts and knowledge. While I would love to solve (or simply contribute my help to) all the problems I am presented, that is obviously impossible and my time and mental energy would be wasted in trying. In ecology lab today, our conversation, while stimulating, bounced around from prairie grasses, to recycling, to ocean biodiversity loss… it showed me that the best I can do right now is to become inspired by all these things, but also focus my efforts to becoming an expert in one area and dedicate my time to that. Then, I can try my very best to live sustainably in other areas of my life. (This has been a hard lesson for me since I started learning more about the state of our environment.) The other day I read something that I liked pertaining to this (I wish I knew who said it):

    “Let each mend one, and the world is mended.”

  • Finally, I have found that in order to ward off depression and to be able to get out of bed in the morning, we must learn to fully and daily, enjoy a sense of eco-pleasure. That is, to appreciate the natural environments we’re surrounded by and value the assets the earth has given us. Whether a sunset, shady tree, breeze off the lake, or blue sky, I know even people unconcerned with the environment can have much to say about how great the outdoors is. Today in lab, our group went to the Pheasant Branch Creek Conservatory to learn about natural systems. Although it was a windy, cold, and misty day, I thoroughly enjoyed being in nature and witnessing our grad students, Samuel and Lisa, share their knowledge about the history and environmental importance of the area where we stood. I sometimes find it so hard to sit still in a padded lecture-hall chair in a well-heated building, but I would have stayed out there standing in the cold for hours listening to them. I’m rambling now, but today made me realize that even though there is so much to be scared about pertaining to climate change, it is only through gaining a deeper appreciation and taking the time to notice that I will be motivated to act.

Anyway, on the topic of doing as best as we can in all other aspects of our lives, Goleman focuses on our purchases (which is a fairly encompassing topic). He (and I!) suggests www.goodguide.com to find the most eco-friendly (but also beneficial pertaining to employee treatment, product testing, waste disposal, etc.) products. This is another way to be more aware and make better choices if you have the means to do so. In the article he says:

“It’s not that no one cared — no one really knew. Industrial ecology has only come of age in the last decade or two, and has yet to make its findings widely known. But as ecological transparency comes to the aisles of stores near you and me, it opens an opportunity for us to vote with our dollars with unprecedented precision for better ecological impacts.”

So, here’s to:

-Combating ignorance

-Taking time to take pleasure

and,

-Learning, learning, learning in order to specialize and really do our part (no matter how big or small).

I’m excited.

-Jenny

Tagged , ,

Slow Food in Madison

If Madison had a full name, I think it would be: Madison Slow-Food Wisconsin. (Well, maybe Madison Badger Football Slow-Food Wisconsin. Whatever.)

I became interested in food issues as a way to narrow my environmental focus last fall, but it wasn’t until this year that I realized just how impressive and involved the slow and local food movements are here. I now know how lucky I am to be surrounded by this and I will definitely gain plenty of ideas should I ever want to start similar programs in another city someday.

DSCN0763This morning I volunteered at the Food for Thought Festival where Michael Pollan also came to speak. I was only expecting a few people to stop by after the farmers’ market, so I was surprised when thousands of people stopped by to show support, learn, eat, and make community!

I got to meet many interesting people while I was working at the Buy Fresh, Buy Local cafe and then the info table. I EVEN got to break my no-meat fast with a brat from L’Etoile restaurant which told me all about the farm from which the meat came. It was so good. (SO. GOOD.)

Anyway, the morning made me excited about becoming more involved with food advocacy since it’s such a great way to play an important role in environmental issues and has an appeal to all types of people eating all types of foods. I’m hesitant to focus only on one “issue” group since I know I have a lot more to learn, but this has been really fun so far this year.

I’d love to go on, but I have to get to some homework, so I’ll let some pictures tell the story for themselves.

-Jenny

People learning about REAP and BFBL

People learning about REAP and BFBL

Had to love this after my soils test on Monday!

I had to love this after my soils test on Monday

The BFBL cafe tent where I was. SUCH good food!

The BFBL cafe tent where I was. SUCH good food!

Some local art (of food... surprise) with a view of the capitol

Some local art (of food... surprise) with a view of the capitol

The demonstration tent

The demonstration tent

DSCN0764

Thanks for the food, farmers!

Thanks for the food, farmers!

Pet the chickens!

Petting the chickens

Tons of produce at the Farmers' Market

Tons of produce at the Farmers' Market

My friend Adi buying apples

My friend Adi buying apples

Fall flowers

Fall flowers

Anyway, it was a great morning and congrats on a successful event to REAP Food Group!

Tagged , , ,

What [else] I Learned From Michael Pollan

Just when I start to think college is dumb and an overly-stressful waste of time (see post below), something cool usually happens and I change my mind.

Yesterday, as part of the Go Big Read program on campus, which brought in the book In Defense of Food this year, author Michael Pollan came to speak. College is cool.

While I have thoroughly enjoyed the two of his books that I have read (and hope to read more), I enjoyed listening to him and asking him questions almost as much. As Bill Cronon said in his introduction, Pollan is an, “able translator of complicated ideas,” and because of this, I have come to respect and admire his ability to do good and motivate change through his writing.

DSCN0759_2In his talk last night at the Kohl Center, he outlined a few main points of his book. He reintroduced the idea of the American Paradox – that we’re so concerned about our weight (more so than in many other countries), and yet we have the highest rates of obesity, heart problems and diabetes. In fact, since 1980 Americans have become 17 pounds heavier on average… as a result of our low-fat focused culture? He proposed that in order to change this paradox, we need to alter our whole ideology on food, and start eating food instead of the processed food-like substances that we see in our convenience and grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and sadly, on our shelves.

He gave an overview of how reductionist nutritional science is so difficult to study in humans, mentioned other aspects of our faulty research systems in food, how other cultures eat (e.g. stopping when they feel 80% full), and gave examples of our flawed system of seeing nutrients as either ‘satanic’ or ‘good’ (The idea that when we eat, we feel we are doing one of two things: ruining our health, or, improving our health). This was all very interesting and I highly recommend picking up his book to learn more.

What I was most interested in though, were his views of what better eating can do for our land and communities. His idea that our physical health is as much linked to the health of the soil, environment, economy, animal, and plant as it is to our actual bodies is so refreshing. If we all considered how we eat, where we shop, and how we prepare food to matter just as much as what we actually eat, we would be able to truly understand the idea of a Food Chain and would face many benefits to our lifestyles. When time and money were brought up as a critique, he said it was interesting because with as much as we complain about not having time to cook, the ratings on Food Network cooking shows are still so high. And though we can’t afford more expensive foods, we can afford to pay for our televisions, phones, and water; all of which are commodities that are also readily available for free. So, it is a matter of prioritizing and deciding not to skimp on our health in order to save time or money, and bringing back the idea of eating for pleasure, community, and identity, instead of just for nutrition or necessity.

This morning, I had a chance to meet with Pollan in a smaller setting to ask him questions. While my peers asked clarifying questions on his food talk, I asked him about his career as a writer, his education, and his process of writing on scientific issues as someone who is educated in English, not science. I am thrilled about what he said and am more encouraged to practice and improve my writing and establish my own expertise as a result.

Anyway, I have lots to do today and need to get going, but it was such a good experience to hear from him and I’m excited for what’s to come with this space and my career as a result!

-J

The crowd giving a standing ovation after his speech.

The crowd giving a standing ovation after his speech.

Tagged , ,

Don’t let studying get in the way of your education

This is what Cal DeWitt tells us.

I like this theory, but I’m not sure how to accomplish it when I have this calling my name:

My reading for one semester (not including online readings and handouts)

My reading for one semester.

(And that stack doesn’t include online readings and handouts. Whatever.)

Anyway, this weekend I have a LOT of exciting stuff going on that I’m going to try to accomplish and enjoy despite the hundreds of pages of reading that are calling my name!

Some events include:

-Listening to Michael Pollan’s talk TONIGHT at the Kohl Center on campus

-Creating a spending budget for the rest of the school year

-Applying for jobs/researching online freelance gigs.

-Attending a Michael Pollan meet and greet tomorrow morning for Environmental Studies students. (Pictures to come)

-Training for the race!

-Grocery shopping at the Farmers’ Market

-Making 2 Strawberry pies for a potluck on Wednesday

-Researching jobs/Peace Corps/Other cool things I could do next year  and how to pay for them

-Volunteering at the Food for Thought Festival

-Homework

-Have fun/see my friends/relax? (Maybe?)

-Blog about it all!

Wish me luck.

Off to Pollan’s talk now!

Tagged , , ,

Obama’s Climate Speech

As part of the U.N. Summit on Climate Change, Obama gave a speech before U.N. today.

He said things like:

“Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it—boldly, swiftly, and together—we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.”

“But the journey is long.  The journey is hard.  And we don’t have much time left to make it.  It is a journey that will require each of us to persevere through setback, and fight for every inch of progress, even when it comes in fits and starts.  So let us begin.  For if we are flexible and pragmatic; if we can resolve to work tirelessly in common effort, then we will achieve our common purpose:  a world that is safer, cleaner, and healthier than the one we found; and a future that is worthy of our children.”

and,

“Difficulty is no excuse for complacency.  Unease is no excuse for inaction.”

Here’s a transcript

Or, watch:

Tagged ,

Rainy day in Madison

That’s ok though, I have lots of work to do!

Yesterday in Food class we discussed more about Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, in preparation for his arrival in Madison this Thursday! My classmates commented that they wish Pollan would focus more on the need for political revolution regarding food issues instead of focusing solely on individual habits. While I understand this criticism (which is in line with Julie Guthman’s critique of Pollan, among others), I appreciate Pollan’s “everyone has a place” attitude and find his encouragement and careful explanations adequate. Well, better than adequate. In fact, I highly recommend the book!

One thing he says that I loved was,

“In the eye of the cook or the gardener or the farmer who grew it, this food reveals itself for what it is: no mere thing but a web of relationships among a great many living beings, some of them human, some not, but each of them dependent on the other, and all of them ultimately rooted in soil and nourished by sunlight. I’m thinking of the relationship between the plants and the soil, between the grower and the plants and animals he or she tends, between the cook and the growers who supply the ingredients, and between the cook and the people who will soon come to the table to enjoy the meal. It is a large community to nourish and be nourished by.” (page 201)

ahhhhh….

Anyway, after you all read the book, I’d love to have a discussion on the “eat less, pay more” aspect of his idea. Where does this fit into a college life/budget? Are those who can afford cable TV and cell phones required to pay extra for sustainable/local/organic foods? Is it a preference in flavor/nutrition/image? Does anyone else out there have an internal and emotional BATTLE every time they go to the grocery store?!

Next, I (fittingly) had lab for ecology class at the F.H. King Student Farm where our teacher introduced the “food situation” to students who weren’t up to date, discussed the benefits of growing your own food, and taught us the various beneficial qualities of certain weeds! (Did you know that eating dandelion root detoxifies your liver?… just make sure no one has been spraying it with RoundUp first!) It was a lovely day and I very much enjoyed the conversation (and munching on fresh grapes), even though I knew most of the information. It’s so exciting to see people excited about this. Our TA asked, What did you have from lunch and do you know where the ingredients came from? (Do you?)

But then, the BEST NEWS OF ALL, was that I was pleasantly surprised when I got home from lab to receive an email explaining that Michael Pollan will be doing a meet and greet with Environmental Studies students on Friday morning! Anyone thinking what I’m thinking? Guest blogger anyone? (I wish.)

I’m preparing some questions to ask and I’ll have my camera at hand!

But that was yesterday.

Today is rainy and I have a lot of schoolwork to catch up on before I continue to get more throughout the week. I realized that my money situation is at an all-time low, so I’m also doing some research into personal financial management for college student (I have a feeling that my new budget will leave less room for more expensive co-op shopping? We’ll see.) I have dreams of farming in Peru or traveling elsewhere next year, but none of this will be possible unless I figure out issues of loan deferment, getting my savings back up, and managing my expenses more carefully!

Lots to do.

I hope everyone is having a good Tuesday,

Jenny

Tagged , , , ,

Peat on my Feet

After spending last semester in DC, I wrote off the potential of enjoying learning while in Madison.

I’m glad to say, however, today proved that judgment incorrect.

I actually can’t believe all the things that happened today fit into one day!

8:00 am- I woke up to go for a run. In preparation for my sister’s wedding in June, she and I have dedicated ourselves to doing wonderful things for our bodies to instill greater energy, self confidence, health and… sexiness? Anyway, we set a tentative goal to run a half marathon together sometime in the future (maybe this summer?). So, this morning was the official kickoff to my official training. It was a beautiful morning, so… so far, so good! (Hopefully I’ll be able to say the same for a few more days at least!)

11 am- Had Food, Culture and Society class. Today we discussed the difference between being on a diet, being skinny, and being healthy. We pondered what pleasure means when it pertains to food and if it can be applied to “bad” things such as fast food and gummy worms. Pollan mentions the French Paradox- the fact that the French are much healthier (live longer, less heart disease, less obesity), but eat foods higher in fat and cholesterol and drink more than we. We discussed how this may be and what ways the US may need to rethink eating in order to accomplish a similar environment. (Or healthier, whether alike their eating habits or not.)

1:20 pm- Met in Science Hall to leave for my first Environmental Ecology lab. It was so great! We drove a trusty UW Biodiesel bus to our professor Cal DeWitt‘s house which is stationed on the edge of a huge wetland. We learned about the land, the town, noted various species, enjoyed the BEAUTIFUL day, got our toes and hands dirty, and learned about peat!

Peat is found under wetlands and is carbon-dense, lacks oxygen, and absorbs water. We dug some up (it goes down 100 feet in this location) and the texture reminded me of Play-Dough. I tried to press it into a diamond, but no luck so far.

Anyway, I had a great time on our “field trip” and I’m looking forward to learning a lot in that class. It was nice to take a break from academia and walk through the wetlands barefoot, enjoy some fresh tomatoes and apples from Cal’s yard (and even eat some of his wife’s delicious banana bread), all while being “in class.” Our TA, Samuel, made a very interesting point about calling things Natural or not. He asked if the mowed, straight drumlin we were standing on (which facilitated the functioning of the telephone poles) was natural. We said no since it had to be created and maintained by humans to exist. Then he asked, if we were to see a beaver dam, if that would be considered natural, and we said yes.

He warned about being so quick to judge. He reasoned that humans must consider ourselves merely a species on the earth just as are beavers who create dams. This means the artificial drumlin housing the telephone poles must be considered natural, since it was created by just another species inhabiting the earth. He explained the danger in automatically assuming that humans are an exception to the rule and can somehow be considered “above” other species. He stated his belief that we’re all living together on this planet, so although humans have learned how to use science and tools, we still own the earth in the same way other animals do and have the same ability to affect the land.

Interesting.

4:30 pm- quick stop at home before another class.

6-9 pm- First session of, “Freedom and Belonging: A rhetorical overview of American historical events from the Civil War through WWI.”

One word: INTIMIDATING. Lots of grad students, big words, readings, papers, more readings, and more papers. As I read through the syllabus I bid adieu to the Badger Herald Staff-Writing idea. Sad.

10-11 pm: Made mom’s veggie enchiladas and Spanish rice while the ingredients were still fresh from the farmers’ market!

11:30 pm- Visited with friends and ate enchiladas.  (Way late dinnertime)

and… now I’m exhausted.

Anyway, I’m both excited and overwhelmed by what I’m sure to learn this semester. Should have my work cut out for me though!

Night,

Jenny

Tagged , ,

Madison, Wisconsin

Hello!

So, my boyfriend tells me that I need to keep blogging to make something of this space.

While I love writing, I live in constant fear of boring my readers! But I suppose I’ll give more of a daily life take on my blog for a while and see how it goes. But seriously, ANY feedback would be helpful. I really want to make this space an outlet for good writing, worthwhile ideas, funny stories and sharing of opinions. But I guess that’s tough to do with no new posts! Anyway, and ideas would be great.

MOVING ON.

As the title suggests, I am now moved into Madison for my LAST year of college. I’m torn between being really excited of all the things I’m about to learn this year and also being incredibly over this town and wanting to move onto bigger and better things and more hands-on learning. One day at a time I guess.

Here’s some stuff that’s goin on:

1. I’m taking a really cool class called Food, Culture and Society. It examines “the social relations surrounding the production, distribution, preparation, and consumption of food.” As you can imagine, this class addresses many of my current interests and I feel honored to learn and contribute. On Wednesdays the class gathers to prepare and eat a meal together. It’s just great. I’m excited to share what I learn with you! We’re currently reading Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” in time for him to visit Madison later this month!

I really admire him. I actually wish I was him. What a cool job!

2. I’m also going to be learning a lot more about the scientific aspects of climate change and ecology. This information and these classes are currently quite over my head, but I think translating them into English to be able to post here might be good for me. Currently the processes of oxidation in soil profiles and the presence of infrared rays in layers of the atmosphere are a bit over my head. One day at a time Jenny, one day at a time.

3. Even though I don’t know how I’ll find time, I’m trying to muster up my courage to go into the office for one of Madison’s two student newspapers, The Badger Herald, to apply to write for them. I feel overwhelmed at the thought of doing this on top of trying to succeed (and more importantly, learn) this year while having a life outside of school (read: blogging!). But, I know having published clips will help in job searching next year and I would like to dust off my journalistic abilities. I’m making myself do it THIS WEEK.

There, now I have to.

4. I’ve committed myself to buying local foods since being inIMG_0728 Madison and have reaped the benefits of WONDERFUL Wisconsin cheeses, tomatoes (red, yellow, cherry, grape, striped, green… you never know what you’re gonna get), cucumbers, zucchini-galore, onions, potatoes, fresh jams, artisan breads, spinach, YOU NAME IT! Madison has such an amazing local foods culture that I never knew existed. What a pleasant surprise! I’m excited to make my mom’s veggie-enchilada recipe with all seasonal veggies (to freeze for the dreary winter months) hopefully tomorrow in addition to gathering the ingredients to make a few types of pesto to share with the food class on Wednesday. Yum.

In efforts to stay healthy to get through this year and accomplish all that I want to, I think spending a few extra dollars on these foods are worth it. Hopefully I won’t be biting my tongue in January when I run out of money (don’t worry, I’m applying for jobs)!IMG_0709

5. Socially, I’ve had a blast catching up with old friends, reminiscing about the good memories of my trips to Scottsdale, AZ, the Colorado Rockies and New Orleans, and sitting on the dock in Madison “doing homework” (see left). And, I’m looking forward to a trip to DC next weekend!

6. I’m kicking around the idea of doing the Peace Corps next year or sometime soon. Any thoughts on this?

Ok well, I should go for now. I’m trying to get all my work done tonight so I can enjoy the day on my roommate’s family’s boat tomorrow and soak up the sun while I still can.

Hope you are all well!

-Jenny

PS oh, also. I finally have my own apartment (meaning finally settling in after attending 4 schools!) and I love my roomies 🙂

Tagged , ,