Organic Labeling: USDA Stickers

I used to work at Sprout’s Farmers Market. Unfortunately, although expanding, these stores have not reached Virginia. However, it was in their 5 year plan as of July 2015. Sprout’s Farmers Market as a company prided itself in being “organic” and “sustainable”. Yet, in reality the staff coined the phrase “Welcome to Sprout’s – Where your food may or may not be organic!”. In this job, staff had to learn about Organic Labeling to be able to help customers who didn’t understand it. What I’ve found is that not many people truly do understand it at all – wether self-proclaimed health nuts or sustainable shoppers . That’s why today I am going to go over it. One of the lowest forms of Organic labeling is “Made with Organic Products”. You can usually find this in the ingredient labels as it is not usually something that companies boast about. This means that in all of the ingredients used, only the items labeled as such are actually organic. Usually about 70-94% of this product is actually organic. These products often do not bear the USDA symbol.  The next level up in organic labeling is the term “organic”. Usually this is listed in the name like “organic crackers” or “organic watermelons”. These products are allowed to use the USDA label. However, not even this product is entirely organic. Usually “organic” products have 95-99% organic ingredients. The only way to know you are eating 100% organic food is if it says it on the front. This is the highest level or organic labeling. However, this type of food may use the USDA symbol just like “organic watermelons” may use the symbol only being 95% organic. Or on the contrary, just because the food is organic does not mean that the company must label it as such. Further, the USDA sticker has enough corruption in distributing the labels that even the symbol is under scrutiny. At the end of the day, what is important is that you should know what is going into you body. Labels can’t always do that for you. I think in this day and age, it is truly important to do you homework and know what the labels actually mean.


Sustainability in the Media

This last Friday, I went to go see The Jungle Book. Before you ask, yes, it was a good movie and, yes, you should probably see it. I also had the pleasure of watching all the previews before the actual movie. As most of the floor knows, I really love pangolins, an endangered animal which looks like a cross between an armadillo and an anteater. Pangolins are going extinct, mostly from disproportionate human consumption in India and China. However, in an upcoming movie which I saw the advertisement for in The Jungle Book preview, (I believe it to be called Wild Thing) a pangolin stars as one of the main characters. Further, even in The Jungle Book, there is about a five minute scene which features a pangolin. Why are Pangolins in the media a big deal? It marks the beginning of media deciding that this-endangered species, sustainability, the world we live in today-is an important topic. Important enough that they are now forcing a low-key interest on the subject by having it appear in minor roles in the media. A five minute scene is a notable step down from Avatar which seemed to be a 4 hour reminder of how callous we are to the environment. However,  Avatar was created with the adult audience in mind. The new Jungle Book, due to its high suspense and graphic nature, has an audience base of preteens and teenagers. Yet, Wild Thing, that’s aiming straight at the youngsters. Just like in other major films such as Walle, this is a big deal because we are now forcing children into the conversation of how we are going to treat the environment for years to come. Question is: Is it too late for our kids to fix our mistakes?

Trash really can be a Treasure

As many of you know, I’m from Texas. About the only good thing to do in Texas is to go to San Antonio, which is a 7 hour drive from where I live. That was one of the very reasons I decided to come to Mason. It’s right beside D.C. and there is so much to do! With work and school, it is hard to go on a mini vacation and map a day out in D.C., but it always ends up being worth it. A few weeks ago I went to visit the National Gallery of Art for my Art Philosophy class. I eventually slipped away from the group and went to visit the Hirshorn Modern Museum of Art. There, I discovered one of my coveted items of my youth was on display. Remember the early 2000’s trend of having a bag entirely made of reflective circles? Well, I loved that fad. And apparently so did the artist Nick Cave. My childhood purse was now a modern art sculpture! That opened my eyes to the idea of recycling in art. Now, this is by no means a new concept. To me, it just seemed like an abstract one. I was under the impression that you can only really use things like soda cans for art. The idea that only certain items can be reused is incorrect, especially in terms of modern art. I also think that it is important to note that there is probably more effective means of reusing than turning it into art. However, I do think that as odd as it is, it can take some waste from the cycle.

Sewage Processing Plants

When I was in 12th Grade, the entire Environmental Science class was required to go not only to a dump, but a sewage processing plant. Although at the time watching my friends puke at the smell was not worth what I was learning, I now advise every one to go on a tour and even suggest it as a Field Trip for this class. I think it is important to know that although working with a sewage plant is a dirty job, it is really important. Of course, the director of the plant (our tour guide) did not end up there by choice, and as a matter of fact he was a biology major. But, unlike most people, he realized the importance of water processing. Did you know, for example, that at the beginning of the process cities, companies, and individuals are legally allowed to track what ends up getting flushed out of our toilet?  Although seemingly disgusting, this collection is important marking the consumption of humans. Years from now, it will be important to document how people of each city were eating to suggest the income of city, the terrain of the city, even the health of the inhabitants. They can even calculate the percentage of the population which has HIV based on samples and well conducted algorithms. Did you also know that to clean the water, the sewage processing plant has a huge pool of live microorganisms which are strong enough to consume an entire human body, bones and all, in three hours? Or that the sewage processing plant has one of the highest level security of any of the city buildings due to this fact? I suggest this as a field trip because I have no knowledge about how this cities sewer system works. In fact, I don’t even know if the school itself has its own sewage processing plant. However, I think it’s important for the sake of accountability for the sewage processing plant company to have visitor’s every once in a while as misguidance of even the smallest detail may have dramatic effects for the environment downstream, as well as the people.

Environment and Politics

Typically, I am not the one to speak on politics, yet I feel that this topic never gets discussed. Environmental Policy has slowly creeped into U.S. Politics, however, it has yet to make a “breakthrough” in many liberals eyes. After all, people still claim global warming does not exist. However, I challenge us to look further. I find that the U.S. loves to stick its head in the world’s problems. We often see ourselves as the “watchdog” of the world as we peg ourselves as having the best economy and, therefore, ultimate power. Yet, I believe that the U.S. often doesn’t help in the most beneficial way. The U.S. typically operates in its own interest, a per the capitalist way. Yet, for those of us who care about the environment, we know that the environment is a worldwide problem. And as globalization forces industrialization out of the U.S. and to developing countries, the problems that once plagued us is now inflicted on others. Yet, the U.S. offers no advice or incentives to keep environmental problems at bay. Environmental problems aren’t in our face, so they are no longer our problem. The Political leaders which are running the countries taking on industrialization do not have the environment on their political agenda. In fact, they often align with the contrastive notion that global warming doesn’t exist. But how could you blame them? As leaders, they have to care about their people first. And while environmental problems do harm their people, it is a long-term worry. What the developing countries leaders worry about is primarily keeping their nation alive, healthy, and with food on the table. I think the best way the U.S. could help, while not becoming too involved, as well as carry their interest in the environment, would be to establish a sort of loan which would force these governments to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices, while supporting their growth in the economy. And with a growth in their economy, comes food on the table.

“Devastation came from Agriculture”

Although this clip is based on human consumption rather than on agriculture, I believe it is extremely fitting. Ever since I have viewed the movie Food Inc., I have been extremely picky with what I eat. To me, it’s hard to imagine that people do not understand where their food truly comes from. I suppose that it is easier to pick up the pack of chicken breast at Walmart thinking it was once a happy chick that frolicked in pastures. In reality, however, most of U.S. food now derives from Agribusiness. Agribusiness is defined as per google as “agriculture conducted on commercial principles, especially using advanced technology”. If you’ve ever gotten me started on the topic, I have extremely mixed feelings about how technology affects society. Particularly in the case of agribusiness, I believe that these “commercial principals” harm the ecosystem larger than we give it credit for. Let’s go back to the image of the frolicking chick. In reality, this baby chicken will mature in 18 days thanks to modern hormones. The chicken, most likely never even touching the ground with its feet, will live its entire life in a cage small than the size of most mailboxs stacked on other caged chickens. It might be better for the chicken that it can’t touch  the ground with its feet as the chicken, once again thanks to modern hormones, will develop breasts so big that it will be unable to stand. All of the chicken growth in the 18 days will go to the breasts, causing the legs to remain almost exactly the same size they were as chicks, unable to support the full weight of the chicken. After 18 days of living in it’s and others fecal matter, the chicken will then be transferred to a different part of the plant. The chicken will be hosed down and killed. Increasingly, the animals which we are eat killed inhumanly. Due to it’s graphic nature I will not discuss that topic. Further, because the Agribusiness is labeled as “farming” there are very few limitations on how clean the food must be and what types of hormones or other artificial things can be put in the food. After the chicken is killed, I will be picked apart by mostly illegal immigrants on an assembly line. Here, the immigrants are treated almost as poorly as the animals. Would you still pick up that package of chicken at Walmart? The truth is, just like globalization, there is no stopping Agribusiness. With the world population growing constantly, and an increasingly urban population, there is no other way to produce enough food without the technologies used in Agriculture. What we can do, however, it prompt change in the brutality of the Agribusiness. The best way to do this is by protesting with our money. I encourage anyone who takes the time to read tis article to start looking at the labels on each item they eat. Look at where the item was made, and how it was made. If neither of the two are mentioned, it is guaranteed that product is a product of the Agribusiness.

Trash in Throw-Away Society

Yesterday, I was making my way to class and got interrupted by these folks handing out fliers. The fliers were about saving animals by becoming vegetarian. However, this got me thinking. First off, these fliers are forced unto people. This means, in reality, that they go in the trash. So, saving the animals may help with problems of overgrazing, yet it introduces more trash. This was further interesting to me because I came across an article yesterday about how the United States alone has more than doubled the expected amount of trash which was estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency. This, in turn causes the expected amount of greenhouse gases to increase, which then affects the rate at which global warming is expected that have its largest impact. Further, this is concerning because, undoubtedly, the United States is not alone in this miscalculation. Especially with the shift of globalization, new and rising world powers like India and China are beginning to run into the same problems with waste disposal as the United States is. Yet, their problems are even worse. Their government typically does not bother with the ideas of proper waste disposal or sustainability. Especially in developing nations, this is a problem because the nation’s people depend on their environment. Yet, to the government money spent of saving the world is taking away from their economy flourishing. This is not seen in the United States because it is largely a service based economy. Secondly, there is a vastly larger population in these regions which are typically confined into small, high density cities.  With all this estimation and changing world powers due to globalization, it will be interesting to see just how rapidly the world’s climate begins to change and how the world powers are going to fix it- if it is fixable at that point. What I find most baffling of all is that the United States has been a world superpower for quite sometime now. We have a stable government and, generally speaking, a stable economy. So why hasn’t the government found out a better method to control waste and promote sustainability? Further, why hasn’t the United States begun intervention in these rising nations to teach them of our own failures? The answer to these questions have many parts and also feature many other new arguments in politics and sociology. This biggest one I would like to focus on is the fact that the United States has cultivated a throw-away society. A society which does not find fault in getting rid of the old to trade up for the new, even if nothing is wrong with the old product. In a way, this is what makes our economy successful- constantly new products being bought. Yet, in the scheme of long-term effects, is it worth it to have that new IPhone 6 if your Razor still works just to be “cool”?