I have decided to quit smoking. Just now, at 9:22 p.m. on Wednesday, June 11, 2014, I have made this decision. Not that I haven’t thought about it every day over the past 3 years since I started smoking. Well, I mean started smoking again. I quit for four years before that. My last cigarette was April 2, 2007. It was just before my first granddaughter was born, and I decided to give her something I never gave my own kids, and that was a smoke free home. Not that it was a walk in the park or anything, but quitting that time wasn’t so bad. In September 2009, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She had several length surgeries to have her jaw removed, and eventually some lymph nodes and other head stuff. Throughout all of her cancer and surgeries, I continued to be smoke free. When she went on hospice I thought I could handle a couple of cigars. On the day she died, June 26, 2011, her 65th birthday, she died, and I immediately smoked a cigarette… and I haven’t stopped since. So, back to now… I just decided I’m ready to quit again. Just now, in the past 30 minutes, I have decided to quit smoking. My daughter is pregnant with my third granddaughter, and I acknowledge that the younger 2 will not have the smoke free grandma that the older one had, if only for awhile. And I’m scared to death. Of failure… or success. But right now, right this second, I want to quit… and that’s all I can do for now.
We learned from The Story Stuff that consumption is the golden arrow of the materials economy; that the primary way our value is measured and demonstrated is by our consumption. According to The Story of Stuff, consumption was the answer to a sluggish economy after World War II. According to analyst Victor Lebow, “Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”
What else happened around 1950? At a time when the government said that “The American economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods,” new technology was introduced in mass in America… the television. At a time when Americans were being encouraged to consume (and thus spend), television, and advertisement, were prevalent in most American households. Think of the commercials we see every day, each one telling us that buying X, Y or Z will make us… happy. Yes, according to every single advertisement our happiness is based upon our buying their product. If that were true, the happiness of Americans would have increased exponentially since the 1950s. If only there were a way too measure happiness to see if that were true…. Oh wait, happiness has been measured through surveys asking, simply, “Are you happy,” and since happiness peaked in 1956, it has steadily declined since. Also declining since the 1950s has been the number of close friends a person has, how likely we are to eat meals with friends, family and neighbors, stewardship, resourcefulness and thrift.
So, what is happiness? Is it really having more? Is it really that he (or she) with the most toys wins? Or is it possible, just possible that we could find happiness in other ways? Through reconnecting with our neighbors and our communities? Through giving back instead of always taking? Through conservation? What if a change in thought on what it means to be “ecological” was less about less and more about more? Or what if “more” really refers to what we give, and thus what we receive in return? What if community reconnection would have a positive impact not only on ecology, but on our overall happiness? Wow, that would be something, wouldn’t it? The problem is, getting people to believe it and to take steps to change it.
The Cradle to Cradle design was created by William McDonough in an effort to change the way people think… rather than concentrate on how humans negatively impact the ecosystem, we should instead concentrate on whether humans can create abundance. Why do we need to do this? Because there was 6 times as much plastic as plankton and the ocean was referred to as “kind of like a giant toilet that doesn’t flush.” Because toys that we allow our children to put in their mouths have warnings of cancer risks. Because the possibilities of change are available and accessible, if humans allow themselves to have a vision.
Humans currently have a cradle to grave mentality. We make it, we buy it, we throw it away. But what if we could envision the concept of cradle to cradle? We make it, we buy it, we recycle it, creating a cycle of sustainability? The concept of Cradle to Cradle looks at biology, which without humans has flourished for millions of years, and follow its lead. This allows humans to continue to take from the earth, but provides a way to take less, to eliminate waste, and to give back.
I found chapters 4 and 5 in The Sustainability Revolution interesting after watching Cradle to Cradle. The principles that have been put in place for industry change by various companies are surface principles. They set out what concerned citizens and grassroots groups want to hear. For example, American Petroleum Institute principles includes a provision to “make safety, health and environmental considerations a priority in our planning and our development of new products and processes.” While certainly a noble sounding goal, what does that even mean? Should that have been a principle to begin with? What if the principles of all of the companies was the same as the goal of Cradle to Cradle… “a delightfully diverse, safe, health and just world, with clean air, water, soil and power – economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed.” Not limitations, but abundance.
As we contemplate our concerns about the many issues in the world, we tend to think of them as separate demons. Food problems, education problems, employment problems, crime problems… the list goes on and on. The problem is that they are not at all separate, but completely interrelated. As I look at the reform proposed by the Oakland Unified School District (the “OUSD”) Feasibility Study (the “Study), I do not see it as a solution to the school lunch problem; I see a solution to a community problem.
Let’s look at Oakland, California. According to the Bay Area Census for 2010, the home ownership rate is 41% compared to 59% rental property. The median household income is $40,000. The poverty rate is 19.4%. Less than half of the population has greater than a high school education. The Uniform Crime Report for 2012 provides that the crime rate in Oakland was 2,018 violent crimes per 100,000 (for some frame of reference, the violent crime rate for Lincoln (population 264,175) was 397 per 100,000 and for Omaha (population 394,487) was 594 per 100,000). According to the Study, the OUSD serves 6.6 million meals per year to students, of which 70% of said students are eligible for free and reduced meals.
So, how do any of these things relate to transformations in school lunch programs? Absolutely everything. If (or, optimistically, when) these reforms become reality, the effects on the community could be life changing. The goals of the Strategic Plan are to develop social, emotional and physical health, ensure high-quality instructional core, and create equitable opportunities for learning. To facilitate these goals, the Study provides for gardens for each school, Central Commissary that would service all 89 kitchens in the OUSD, provide adequate kitchens in each OUSD kitchen, and provide School-Community Kitchens that would serve the students during the day and the community in the evening with hunger alleviation, vocational training, cooking classes and community events.
Food problems are addressed in multiple ways. Healthy food options are provided not only to students, but to entire families who are facing food scarcity. As families learn about and are given access to healthy foods, food changes begin to take place within the home. As families begin to provide healthier food options within the home, children are better able to learn and participate at school. As food problems are addressed within the school, educational problems begin to be addressed as well. The schools these kids attend offer alternative, hands-on methods of learning by incorporating garden upkeep and cooking (which address health, science, math, reading and physical activity) and cooperation and collaboration (which address social relationships). Students who suffer from various behavioral and learning deficits may be better served through these alternative learning opportunities than in conventional classrooms. Access to and education regarding food will provide these students with marketable life skills that are not otherwise learned in conventional classrooms. As these students become healthier, they are better able to learn. As they learn more, they take pride in their school, their community, and themselves. As they become truly excited about learning, they carry that excitement and pride home, potentially expanding family involvement, which will trickle out the community. In addition, they become excited about education itself. As that excitement grows, they set goals to graduate from high school. The number of students graduating rises above the current dismal rate less than fifty percent. Employment problems are addressed for the parents as job opportunities become available within the school system, and later as these students graduate from high school and begin to contribute to the community. As they are now working within their community, they contribute to the economy. As they contribute to the economy, home ownership rises, which has a huge impact on community stability. As home ownership rises, people begin to take pride in their neighborhoods and crime rates decline. As the community begins to stabilize and these students begin to age and have children, they have been provided the tools with which to better care for their children beginning at conception (eating healthy and having the economic means to care for their children).
There are many obstacles that face these programs. These programs often begin in areas with extremely low socio-economic status (such as Oakland), where resources are scarce. In the Oakland Study, the project estimated cost is almost $26 million, which does not include additional staffing costs and ongoing operating expenses. Potential sources for funding, such as local support, grants and philanthropic programs, would help alleviate some of these costs. Even without this funding, the long-term gains within the community far outweigh the costs associated therewith. Some studies suggest a cost-benefit ratio of $7.00 for every $1 spent on early childhood education. While these studies are based on early childhood education, imagine what the return would be for students who receive not only early childhood education, but hands-on, skill-based, social-based curricula that involve not only the children, but the entire community.
To transform school lunch from a problem to be solved, we need to teach these kids that feeding them quickly and cheaply for return to the classroom is not the answer. Rather, we need to teach them that some things take time and money (teaching patience and budgeting) and that the return to a classroom that involves gardens, food, friends, alternative learning methods that level the learning field for students of all learning abilities while still incorporating math, reading, health, science and physical activity, may not be such a bad thing after all.
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In chapter 11 of Hope’s Edge, Lappe and Lappe propose Five Liberating Ideas Helping Us Find Our Way, which include: (1) Scrapping the Scarcity Scare, Realizing Abundance; (2) Laughing at the Caricature, Listening to Ourselves; (3) Putting Tools in Their Place, Tapping the Savvy of Citizens; (4) Discarding Dissection, Solving for Pattern; and (5) Busting Free From “isms,” Creating the Path as We Walk. The purpose of these Liberating Ideas is to “reveal the falsity of its thought traps… giving us something else to believe in” (Lappe & Lappe, 2003, p. 282). The Liberating Idea that I chose to focus on is Scrapping the Scarcity Scare, Realizing Abundance.
As I was reading about What Nature Has to Teach, I came across a sentence that I found quite compelling – “We’re told, for example, that there’s really no nutritional advantage to food grown without chemicals” (p. 287). What???? Food grown WITHOUT chemicals has no nutritional value? In light of the fact that chemicals have only been used for the past 100 years or so (and many not until the 1940s and 1950s), how could anyone believe this to be true? It should not take stories of Iowa farmers whose organically grown corn is more extensive than that of his neighbors, or mice rejecting corn grown with chemicals or Archaea growing in abundance in organic soils for us to realize that this is ridiculous. Rather, we should rely on the fact that people have successfully grown food without chemicals for all but the most recent history. Traditionally, people took what they needed from the earth while respecting the earth from which it came. To travel to the edge of possibility, we need to retrain our thinking to this mentality. We need to realize that not every technological advancement is a good thing. I think about this every time I read one of the ever growing articles/blogs about the correlation between vaccinations and autism. Even though vaccinations have been given for a couple of hundred years, the relative recent occurrence of autism is blamed on vaccinations. Why not on the chemicals which have been used in food production in the past 75 years? In my opinion, this would certainly qualify as a “falsity of thought traps” in that we have been convinced that our food is safe. Thankfully, more and more studies are being done not only on the chemicals, but their impact on food, groundwater, plant and animal life, and people.
I have never been hungry. Well, I have been hungry in the sense that without a clock I can fairly accurately identify when it is around 11:45 most days as my stomach begins growing in anticipation of my noon lunch. But, I have never been any near close to hungry in the sense that I can’t remember the last time I had a decent meal or know when the next time may be. In fact, my husband and I are kind of foodies. We love to try new restaurants and do so often. We splurge on appetizers and desserts. We appreciate and purchase many specialty foods. From our home in Northwest Lincoln we will drive to Trader Joe’s for the English peas that I love, or to Whole Foods for the Cindy’s salad dressing that I can’t seem to live without. We are blessed and, honestly, we take that for granted. We take for granted that we have the means (multiple vehicles and available funds) to drive across town (yes, there is that gas usage again!) for delicious vegetables and salad dressing for the fresh greens that we throw in the cart without a second thought. All of this could likely be for the delicious steaks that we will also eat, which were possibly raised at a corporate farming operation.
So, what is social injustice? Social injustice is the fact that there are children in impoverished communities who simply cannot succeed because they do not have the means to do so. Social injustice is a pregnant woman who herself is not getting proper nutrition. Social injustice is the fact that because she is not properly nourished, neither is her unborn child, which can have severe detrimental effects on the baby. Social injustice is that when the baby is born, the mother may face challenges in breast feeding due to her own continued lack of nourishment, robbing her and her baby of the bonding and attachment associated therewith. Without breast milk, it is necessary to purchase formula for the baby. Although I have not actually researched the topic, it is quite likely that these children are given table food long before physician recommended ages. Social injustice is that as this undernourished baby grows, its development may be affected, resulting in stunted growth, cognitive abilities, and social-emotional development. Social injustice is sending this hungry child to schools that lack the necessary tools (books, equipment, technology, etc.) to encourage the child to thrive. Social injustice is that between the unhealthy food options at home and school, this child, who is considered malnourished, becomes overweight (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one!). Social injustice is that, due to a lack of monetary funds, this child is not involved in extracurricular activities that have the potential to help offset the poor diet. Social injustice is the fact that the government is no help as they decide to eliminate physical education and take funds from one program that helps feed this child in order to fund a different food program. Social injustice is that people who have never faced poverty find it easy to think of poverty as a money problem. They just need to get a job… McDonald’s is always hiring. Social injustice is that parents who have think the parents aren’t doing their jobs. If that mom cared about her kid, that kid wouldn’t be so fat… Social injustice is that people are ignorant enough to believe that all schools have ample learning materials. Poor kids aren’t as smart because their parents don’t care about their education.
Perhaps we need to reconsider poverty not as a money problem, but as a food problem. We need to figure out how to feed these moms so they have healthy kids. We need to make sure all schools have the materials they need to help kids learn, serve healthy lunches and offer physical education. We need to realize that, given a chance, most of these parents would choose better for their kids if they had the knowledge and resources to do so. And, perhaps those of us who have never been hungry should at least take the time to think about how blessed we are as we are driving across town for a Kiku apple just because one sounded good on a Saturday afternoon.
The problem with the concept of democracy is that most people think of democracy as a noun. Even Merriam Webster defines democracy as:
1a: government by the people; especially: rule of the majority;
This definition of democracy as a government (a noun), requires no action. To facilitate change, we need to not only redefine democracy as a verb, but to change the vernacular of American citizens.
My passions in life are the law and families, which is the reason for my major in criminal justice (with plans for law school) and minor in children youth and families. In my opinion, these two components are so interconnected and that change needs to happen at the micro level – in families, homes, schools and communities. For this reason, the examples of living democracy that I find especially powerful are the Edible Schoolyard and Prisoners Plant. According to the Social Ecology Theory in Criminology (which, ironically, was first introduced in plant biology), addressing residential stability, ethnic heterogeneity and poverty has a positive impact on crime and delinquency. The concept of teaching children through a garden program is quite powerful. Through the use of hands-on learning curricula, these kids are learning without even knowing they are doing so. Through the planting of seeds and care of their gardens the children are learning many valuable lessons. They learn of gardening, caring for something, the effects of hard work, the importance of nutrition, cooking skills and cooperation. The gardens provide beautification to often run-down or vacant lots. This type of community involvement at a young age is what will encourage these kids to want to give back as they grow older.
Likewise, the Prisoners Plant is an amazing program. Not only does it provide similar experiences and education for prisons in San Francisco, a related program outside of the prison provides released inmates with a job that pays a living wage, a sense of belonging, and a sense of pride. In one six-month period the garden donated 20,000 pounds of produce in the San Francisco area. Talk about giving back! For those who have been incarcerated for what in my opinion are overly lengthy sentences for non-violent offenders, these types of programs cannot help but have a positive impact. While I am not naïve enough to believe every offender will benefit for these programs, if they have a positive impact on even a fraction of those involved they are working. And this does not even take into consideration the ripple effect on the community around them.
These garden programs are having such a positive effect on children and communities. I am hopeful that these programs continue to grow and get the recognition that they deserve.