Tag Archives: environmentalism

Today in News: Aaron Hernandez, Period Pics and Deforestation

31 Mar

I am trying to get back into my old habit of perusing the news in the morning with my coffee. Lately, I have just not been doing that. I used to pride myself in how up-to-date I was on the goings ons of the world but over the last year or so I have really fallen off. It’s depressing, actually. Maybe my mind has been too preoccupied with all the nonsense that has been happening over the past year and change. Or maybe I am just over-tired from my back-and-forth schedule. Or maybe I have just become intellectually lazy. (I really hope that last one isn’t the case because that would suck.) So, in an effort to combat what has been happening I decided that I would do a little bit of internet surfing. This is the result.

1. Aaron Hernandez

So I read this article in the Times about what is going on in the Aaron Hernandez case. You all might remember Hernandez. Former tight end for the New England Patriots who was accused of killing the semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd back in June, 2013. At the time it seemed like an open-and-shut case but apparently now it isn’t. The prosecution has called something like 100 witnesses to the stand, including Hernandez’s fiance Shayanna Jenkins. The night of the murder, Hernandez called Jenkins from jail to ask her to give some money to this guy Ernest Wallace who was eventually also charged with murder. She apparently drove to Rhode Island, met Wallace, pulled out the maximum allowed $500 from her bank account and gave it to him. She never asked questions. So yea, that’s weird. I mean, I would like to think that if I was dating someone and he called me and he was all,

“Hey, babe, drive to another state, pull out a lot of money from your bank account and hand it to this other dude”

I might be like,

“Hey, babe, why don’t you go fuck yourself I’m busy.”

But then again, to me $500 seems like a lot of money but maybe to the fiance of a pro-football player who had just signed a $40 million contract extension, $500 was like chump change. And maybe she has a really nice car that is fun to drive. I don’t have a car and I also don’t have a lot of money so maybe if I had a boyfriend and he called me from jail (?!) and was all,

“Hey, babe, walk to 9th street and give that guy Joe $20 for me”

I’d be like

“Yea, sure, it’s the least I can do since I you are in jail and all, you dumbass.”

All I’m saying is that it’s all relative, really. Maybe Jenkins regularly took inter-state road trips to deliver money to people. Maybe this was all in a day’s work, you know? Then there’s this other thing which is that Hernandez also asked Jenkins to take a box from their house and dispose of it and told her not to look inside. Or maybe he didn’t tell her not to but she didn’t look inside anyway. Either way she is claiming that she didn’t look inside and people are very suspicious of this. But here’s what I am thinking. So my mom always taught us that privacy is really important. So important, in fact, that when junk mail addressed to me gets delivered to my parent’s house, as it does on occasion, my mother will call me and ask if it is okay that she opens the mail so she can appropriately recycle all the different pieces. You could leave your diary open in front of me and I would never read it. So if someone told me to dispose of a box and told me not to look inside, I wouldn’t look inside. And even if they didn’t tell me not to look inside I wouldn’t look inside. None of my business, you know? But maybe Shayanna Jenkins’ mom doesn’t call her to ask her permission before opening her mail. Maybe Shayanna Jenkins would read your diary if you left it open on your kitchen counter and she happened upon it. I don’t know Shayanna Jenkins so I can’t say. But people are very suspicious because she disposed of this box after Hernandez was accused of murder and she still didn’t open it and I’m thinking, not only would I not open it because of privacy, but I also wouldn’t open it because of plausible deniability. I wouldn’t want to know what was in that fucking box. There could be a finger! Or a penis! (It was a small box.) And also, Jenkins had asked Hernandez whether he had killed Lloyd which to the prosecution makes the likelihood that she didn’t look in the box even smaller but to me it makes total sense. Let’s say, hypothetically, that I was dating a dude who was accused of killing someone and I had asked him whether he did it because I actually thought this was a possible scenario. If that dude who I thought was capable of killing someone told me not to look in a box, there is no fucking way I would look in that box. No thank you. I’m not stupid and, it seems to me, neither is Shayanna Jenkins.

2. Instagram Hates Menstruation!

I have to admit that I also hate menstruation. Shit fucking sucks. I mean, I know that it’s natural and necessary and all that jazz but man is it inconvenient! Every single month I get so sad knowing that for at least one night I will have to wake up once, maybe even twice, to change my tampon or risk waking up to a huge mess in the morning. But, whatever, it happens. And guess who it happens to? A lot of people. People that you know, even.

What does this have to do with Instagram? (My current favorite form of social media because I get to post photos of all the people’s drinks that I have dropped Peeps into at work for my own amusement, #YouveBeenPeeped, if you’re curious.) According to an article on Feministing, Instagram banned a photo that spoken word artist Rupi Kaur posted of herself with a period leak because it violated the app’s community guidelines. Kaur posted the following response to her Tumblr (a form of social media that I think is probably neat and would appreciate my “YouveBeenPeeped” series but just hasn’t made it into my normal rotation):

thank you @instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique. you deleted a photo of a woman who is fully covered and menstruating stating that it goes against community guidelines when your guidelines outline that it is nothing but acceptable. the girl is fully clothed. the photo is mine. it is not attacking a certain group. nor is it spam. and because it does not break those guidelines i will repost it again. i will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak. when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified…

So here is the interesting thing about this issue for me. I think that Raur should be able to post this photo of herself and I applaud her for doing so. It is important to normalize menstruation. It is a part of life and of growing up and of the continuation of our species and all that shit. But in knowing this, and being supportive of her actions towards this end, I don’t know that I would be able to post a photo of myself with a period stain. I will talk about it. I will write about it. But would I post photographic evidence? Probably not. Is it because that isn’t what I use my Instagram account for? Or is it because I don’t want to offend the people that follow me, despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing offensive about it?

I’ve been trying to do some self-reflection recently. You know, put into practice the things that I believe. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the way that I, despite knowing better, act in a way that supports the misogynist society that I hate so much. All those societal norms that sink into my head from years of being steeped in them and the ways that I reinforce them through my own behavior. Anyway, something to think about. And no, don’t worry, I won’t be posting a photograph of my bloody underwear any time soon…or ever. Just peeps, cats and road trips.

3. The World is Going to Hell, One Deforested Acre at a Time

According to The Guardian, “Brazil and Indonesia spent over 100 times more in subsidies to industries that cause deforestation than they received in international conservation aid to prevent it.”


According to Will McFarland, one of the author’s of the report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) that published the findings,

“By making the cost of producing these commodities cheaper, subsidies increase their profitability and make them more desirable to investors. That in turn artificially inflates their growth, and threatens the rainforests further. With subsides running at over 100 times that of forest aid, we should be urgently trying to reform this system.”

I mean, I don’t know what you guys all took from biology class but for me it was something along the lines of [trees > not trees]. (Science was never my strong suit.) But in all seriousness, what the fuck is wrong with people? Why are we, as a species, so damn short-sighted? And this is certainly not me blaming Brazil and Indonesia. These subsidies are in large part an effort to continue to support massive over-consumption in the North. I know that things have been hard, economically, for a lot of people especially since the recent financial collapse. A lot of people are drowning in all kinds of debt, most notable for my cohorts student loans that are insanely, and I would even argue criminally, high. But we really have to stop putting a price on the irreplaceable. All of these crazy weather events that a lot of people are talking about are absolutely related to deforestation. And there just has to come a point when we realize that things just can’t be as inexpensive as we would like, and that buying things cheaply does actually come at a cost and just because that cost hasn’t always been monetized doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter. As it turns out, money isn’t the only thing that’s important. We can’t put a price on everything and things that don’t have a price are not necessarily less valuable.

It makes me think about messes. Like, let’s say you hypothetically decide to pour some beans into a cup and then you stupidly leave the cup on your kitchen counter and go for a run and then you come back and your cat has decided it would be REALLY FUN to see what happens if he knocks the cup off the counter and onto the floor. In short, the answer is beans everywhere. So now because you were hypothetically short-sighted, you have to spend like 20 minutes cleaning up the beans, knowing full well that you will be discovering errant beans for the next 6 months. That’s like trees. It takes moments to be a short-sighted asshole and cut trees down, but decades for new trees to come and replace them. And trees are way more important than beans. I mean, beans are delicious but they do not help us breath. (I know that was a piss-poor comparison but I really wanted to complain about my cat.)

Anyway, that’s all I got. But in case you just skimmed over portions of this because you were like what the fuck is she talking about here is a brief summary:

1. Aaron Hernandez probably did kill Odin Lloyd but it’s not actually that surprising that Hernandez’s fiance Shayanna Jenkins followed orders without questioning them;

2. We should be able to post period pics if we want to but also I need to do some self-reflection about my own role in the continued dominance of misogyny within our culture;

3. If we don’t all want to die from massive weather-related events we should probably stop subsidizing large-scale deforestation. Also, recycle.

The Failure of Success

31 May

Okay, so back when I wrote this post about West Virginia that barely anyone read (and really, who can blame you?) I said that because of the nature of my new job, I would be writing a lot more about the environment.  Well, as bad luck has it (2014 is not the Year of the Rebekah as I had hoped) my job fell through.  Well, I don’t know if “fell through” is really the right way to describe it.  Maybe I’ll tell you the story when you’re a little bit older.  The reason that I mention this is that I have decided that, job or no job, I am going to write some stuff about the environment anyway so take that!

Also I am totally avoiding writing about Elliot Rodger and #YesAllWomen because every time I start to write about it (which now is three separate occasions and, likely, counting) I either end up feeling sick to my stomach or crying in the bathroom.  I am clearly not emotionally prepared for that whole thing.

So, right now I am reading Dan Barber’s new book The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food.  I am only about 50 pages in and already it is so good and I pretty much wish it was long enough that I could read it on and on and on for the rest of my life.  Seriously.  Has that ever happened to you?  It’s like, you read this book and it is so enthralling that you just want to read it on a continuous loop or else have it be like a million pages long and still somehow manage to be interesting?  Well, it’s happening to me now and I am really happy about it.  Do you guys know who Dan Barber is?  So he’s a chef and he owns Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  He also was an early advocate for the farm-to-table food movement that has become a central tenet in the whole locavore thing that’s been happening recently.  So the thing that is extra cool about Barber, I think, is that he is one of those people that is always looking to expand his knowledge and improve upon the way that his actions effect the world around him.  If you want to see what I am talking about, and also what got me interested in reading his book in the first place, you should read his New York Times op/ed piece from this past May 17th called “What Farm-toTable Got Wrong.”  It’s actually an excerpt from the book I am reading now! The basic idea of his article, and of the entire book, is that the locavore idea that “eating local can reshape landscapes and drive lasting change” is actually wrong.  Barber says,

“For all its successes, farm-to-table has not, in any fundamental way, reworked the economic and political forces that dictate how our food is grown and raised. Big Food is getting bigger, not smaller. In the last five years, we’ve lost nearly 100,000 farms (mostly midsize ones). Today, 1.1 percent of farms in the United States account for nearly 45 percent of farm revenues. Despite being farm-to-table’s favorite targets, corn and soy account for more than 50 percent of our harvested acres for the first time ever. Between 2006 and 2011, over a million acres of native prairie were plowed up in the so-called Western Corn Belt to make way for these two crops, the most rapid loss of grasslands since we started using tractors to bust sod on the Great Plains in the 1920s.”

What the hell happened?  I mean, obviously there are the social, geographical, economic (etc, etc, etc) constraints that impact most people’s abilities to eat the way they might like to.  And, of course, a lot of people either don’t have access to information, are not interested in making a fundamental change to the way they eat, or do not see a connection between what they buy and what impact that has to the world all around us.  (I know I am totally oversimplifying, and I know there are things that I am not delving into here, but I think maybe I will save that for another day since I think I might be writing about this stuff more often.  Oh, lucky you.)  But the thing that Barber points out is that the way that we engage with the idea to eat more local is fundamentally flawed.  In Barber’s words,

“The larger problem, as I came to see it, is that farm-to-table allows, even celebrates, a kind of cherry-picking of ingredients that are often ecologically demanding and expensive to grow.  Farm-to-table chefs may claim to base their cooking in whatever the farmer’s picked that day…but whatever the farmer has picked that day is really about an expectation of what will be purchased that day.  Which is really about an expected way of eating.  It forces farmers into growing crops like zucchini and tomatoes (requiring lots of real estate and soil nutrients) or into raising enough lambs to sell mostly just the chops, because if they don’t, the chef, or even the enlightened shopper, will simply buy from another farmer.”

So I read that and I had this moment of all these different thoughts.  I will list them here in no particular order:

(1) God damnit.  Seriously, Barber?  Sometimes it feels like no matter what we try to do we are still doing the wrong thing! (At this point I threw a pillow.)

(2) Well, duh, why didn’t I think of this before?  The entire system of everything is based on an understanding of supply and demand and so of course the farmer is going to try and figure out, based off the knowledge of people’s eating habits, what those people are likely to buy and then grow food accordingly.  It makes sense to plant nutritionally-needy plants if that is what people are going to purchase because it is better to actually sell things than to be that asshole farmer* at the farmer’s market with some cow peas or some shit** that no one wants to buy.

(3) What now?!

Luckily for us (or, I guess, right now for me and whoever else is reading this book) Barber does not just complain and act all gloom and doomy.  He (sort of) presents solutions.  The solutions, at least so far, are buried in pieces of information.  What is good for the environment and for agriculture is good for us. But the agriculture that we rely upon now is inherently flawed.  The idea that Barber seems to be espousing is that we work with nature, rather than making it work for us.

So the part of the book that I am reading right now is all about soil.  One of the ways’ that Barber gets into this discussion is a look at the way his own restaurant runs.  He put, over the years, so much energy into trying to run as sustainable and responsible a shop as possible (including eliminating menus and instead telling people of the ingredients available that day) and yet he completely missed thinking about one of the central ingredients in any kitchen:  wheat!  He discovered that every day he was using pounds and pounds of white flour in all manner of food preparation and that white flour has practically nothing in common with actual wheat at all.  It is so bastardized that to eat plain, white flour is practically like eating a handful of chalk.  It’s awful and gluey and flavorless.  But wheat wasn’t always this way!  It used to have its own unique flavor.  And not only that, it used to be perennial and have a super intense root system to match, a root system that more or less allowed the plant to take care of itself.  In its place we planted acres upon acres of the drought resistant “Turkey Red,” an annual with puny roots that need to be fertilized by farmers because the plant cannot feed itself.  Wes Jackson, one of the farmers whose knowledge Barber cites in the book, had this to say upon analyzing a life-sized above and below ground photograph of an old wheat variety versus the Turkey Red:

Pointing to the annual wheat, “Of course, this wheat won out.  Sixty million acres of puny roots that we need to fertilize because it can’t feed itself.  Puny roots that leak nitrogen, that cause erosion and dead zones the size of New Jersey.  This wheat won out, but what you’re looking at is the failure of success.” (Italics mine.)

You guys, that blew my mind.  That line “the failure of success” really summarizes so many of the things I have read about agriculture and the environment over the past 10-15 years.  Sure, we have figured out how to grow more, faster but at what cost?  This idea that, as Barber says, we set out to “conquer rather than to adapt.”  When Europeans came over to North America and violently took the land from those who had lived here for generations, the land they took boasted some of the most fertile soil in the entire world.  Fast-forward to the 1930s and we had one of the biggest environmental disasters in our history:  the Dust Bowl.  That is what happens when we completely denude the soil to the point that there is nothing to hold the topsoil in place.  It simply just blows away.  It’s also what happens when we bend the environment to suit what we perceive as our “needs.”  I am going to quote just this one last thing before I go back to reading the book because I am so incredibly excited to learn more things!  Nature has a way of taking care of itself and yet we fight against it.  We insist on planting monocultures, on developing these insane new weed and pest resistant plants that only, over time, require more and more chemicals to make them grow.  And all the while we ignore what nature is telling us: treat the cause instead of the symptoms.  Don’t spray plants because you see an infestation of beetles, figure out what caused the beetles to come in the first place because pests and “weeds,***” as I learned, tend to attack sick or stressed plants.  If we mother our plants well, they will not attack.  And that requires a certain kind of worldview.

“It helps if your worldview includes the belief that nature knows best.  A plant suffering from an infestation of pests is not a shortcoming of nature; it’s a plant you’re not mothering well.  Either the nutrient balance in the soil is wrong or your crops aren’t being rotated properly or the variety cultivated is wrong for the area — or any one of dozens of other possibilities.  Your job is to figure it out.  Since the chemical farmer has the option of spraying the problem away, he tends not to bother.”

Okay so maybe I am not quite done.  I know I’m not a farmer and I know that it is not an easy life and that figuring out problems and addressing them is difficult and expensive.  I am not judging.  But what I am doing is reading this book and thinking about my life beyond my own purchase of food (which, honestly, I am now feeling is not nearly as responsible as I had previously believed) and to include everything else.  The root cause of so many of our problems is that we are addicted to the quick fix but the thing is that, more often than not, that approach simply causes a higher number of even more complicated problems down the line, problems that we seem to completely ignore, maybe not as individuals but as a species.  Look at what we are experiencing now, environmentally.  The world is actually dying.  Years and years of doing things, and completely ignoring the impacts, have led us to where we are.  Beyond continuing this book, and hopefully writing more posts resulting from what I learned, I don’t really know what to do.  To be honest, I feel very tempted to buy some crazy weird (AKA naturally occurring, unadulterated) variety of wheat and try to make bread.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

*Environmentally speaking probably the smartest farmer of all.

** Cow peas are actually not “some shit” at all but you know what I mean.

*** I learned the actual definition of weed!  Well, according to this one farmer’s Agronomy 101 class: a weed is “anything that grows where you don’t want to it grow.”  Seriously, how ridiculous.