Archive for category 2010 Ecofeminism Unpacked

“I’ll take a side order of rack, rib, rump, and shoulder, hold the obesity, heart disease, and high cholesterol, please”

When Heidi Witmer came to lecture our class on her work with the food justice movement in Carlisle, I found her approach informative and optimistic. She painted a portrait of her growing up in Pennsylvania from her adolescence to her college years that gave insight to how her upbringing inevitably led her down the path of community-building by way of the food justice movement. While her story compelling, my mind seemed to wander away from her narrative and towards her initial question she posed to our class: ‘What’s the difference between nutrition and nourishment?’ (in which she later defined the difference between the two: nutrition is often based solely on what someone’s opinion of “healthy” is whereas nourishment holds a more personal connection and addresses the question of, “does this meet a need for you?”) Prior to Heidi’s distinction between the two, I had used the words synonymously, never aware of the vast discrepancy present. As Heidi continued to talk about how the misinterpretation of nourishment and nutriment play out in the nationwide fight in ending obesity), specifically among children (as seen with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative), I couldn’t help but think of the plethora of families in socioeconomically deprived inner city communities where nourishment often takes precedent over nutrition.

 

 

 

 

Thinking out of a Carlisle context, consider inner city communities that lack the financial and emotional support to gain access to resources to fresh food and are blindsided by the government, who continuously inundates these communities with fixed programs that provide members with short-term, unsatisfactory results rather than options to pursuing long-term, fulfilling results. With a food system concentrated on consumption rather than production, the quality of food has decreased and consequently, community health becomes an issue but often overshadowed by crime and gentrification in these inner city communities. It is especially difficult to voice the dangers of food choices to a community that is more concerned with violence in their neighborhoods and are just grateful to have the means to purchase groceries at the nearby grocery store, never mind organic or ‘sustainable’ produce.
In our fast food nation, because food choices are accepted as temporary and quick, many people are unfamiliar with the long-term effects these ‘practical’ yet impulsive eating choices can have on health. Part of this unknowingness stems from the lack of civic education provided for residents of these communities; thus, they resort to what’s familiar to them, whether that me the dollar menu at the local fast-food joint or the inadequate produce available at the nearby convenience stores or limited-assortment supermarkets.

With all this said, I found myself conflicted with Carol Adams’ argument in “The Feminist Trafficking Animals” on our society’s consumption of animals. Throughout the chapter, Adams argues that eating “meat” cannot be considered a personal choice but rather the mere act becomes a debate between the “political” and the “natural”. While I commend Adams for her firm (but at times frighteningly aggressive) stance on the cycle of oppression animals face by women, I do not think it was in her favor to make general statements about the need for all communities to adapt a vegetarianism lifestyle regardless of finances. Such statements like “vegetarianism has often been the only food option of poor people,” reinstates the ignorance often exuded by those who simply write about the oppressed and have little or no experience of being oppressed. I’m still a bit unclear as to whether Adams identified as an ecofeminist or not, but based on her outright claims and disregard for the deeper socio-economic implications behind why individuals follow certain ‘diets’, I’m gonna go ahead and say negative. But perhaps such a situation is too deeply rooted in the experience of certain individuals within these oppressed groups that an ecofeminist analysis would prove to be irrelevant, vague, and misguided. Perhaps a womanist view would be more appropriate in breaking down the layered intersections of people, nature/environment, and the welfare of human life and planet earth.

In no way am I trying to belittle Adams’ main argument, but my goal with responding to her chapter was to shed light upon the gaps and holes that are overlooked when discussing our meat-eating culture. Education and activism outreach, political engagement, policy-making, assessment of nourishment vs. nutrition are all just a few steps that should be integrated into the building the future of inner city communities in hopes of reducing daily trips to the fast-food corner store among residents and thus, alleviating widespread community health problems.

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Ecofeminism Start to Finish

At the beginning of taking this class, I knew nothing about ecofeminism. The name is pretty self explanatory, so I knew that it must combine some form of feminism with something about the environment. As I have said in my earlier posts, my interaction with the environment was similar to a Subuaru commercial where venturing into the unknown natural world was done from a safe distance, within the confines of a warm and toasty (spider-free) form of transportation. Look, don’t touch was my motto. Over the course of the class, not everything was exactly interesting to me and sometimes I would shake my head and think a lot of it was silly or pushing it to be quite honest. I like to think of myself as my own form of feminist, but never much of an environmentalist so it was hard convincing me of the issues at first. The guest speakers are what really changed my view of ecofeminism and those people didn’t turn up until the end of the course. Seeing real people take on an ecofeminist lifestyle illustrated to me that these were real life problems, within our community and not just ideologies that affected people far far away from me.

The final icing on the cake, again coming at the end of the class, was the connection the class drew between the oppression of animals and women. The parallel was so obvious to me, that I truly believed it was a miracle for not realizing it before. I began to research PETA ads and almost every single one of them featured a naked woman celebrity who was thin and fit the standard of beauty. Although the articles we read related to animals, ecofeminism and women went much more into depth about the parallel and gave more serious examples than PETA ads, it still really struck me about how obviously an animals rights company was in turn choosing to objectify women for their cause.

Ecofeminism and I have had a long journey, but are finally crossing paths in a mutual understanding. I now know what it means to care about the land and am alerted to the fact that there are real issues that are jeopardizing the land and women.

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A Blessing in Disguise

Virginia is home to a large fan-base of hunting clubs because of the ideal landscape that provides for many foxes and other game. Fox hunting has taken a large role in my life because of my passion for horse back riding. Since the age of 4, I have been riding recreationally as well as competitively. One of my favorite events that happens every Thanksgiving is “The Blessing of the Hounds”.  Every year, people from far ranges of the East Coast, sometimes even Great Britain, come to this traditional ceremony at Grace Episcopal Church in Keswick, Virginia to watch the Keswick hunt club bless their fox hounds. Fox hunting is a popular pastime of some of Charlottesville’s oldest citizens. Locally, fox hunting is recognized as a highly regarded sport and many people participate in the weekly hunts that happen between the months of October and February.

The Blessing of the Hounds has been a tradition for decades now and it is something that the Charlottesville community looks forward to. But before I get into detail about the ceremony and the connection it makes to religion and animals, I feel that it is important to outline the objective of the fox hunt. Fox hunting started in the United States when Robert Brooke, a British huntsman, imported his hunting horses and hounds to the United States in 1650. The objective of the hunt originally was to start the hunt and end with a kill of the fox. However, throughout the years, there have been modifications to the tradition because of the Animal Cruelty societies and the objective of the hunt is to now trap, and release the animal without any harm. The way a hunt is structured is that there are three main individuals. There is: the hunt master, who precedes over every individual during the hunt and makes sure that everyone follows the path to the trapping of the fox; there is the “first flight” individuals who choose the paths less taken, which means they go over rough terrain, unsteady jumps, and streams with their horses – this is for the more experienced riders. And lastly, there are the “second flight” individuals who bring up the rear of the hunt pack and travel on the paths that are less rugged. The fox hounds always lead the hunt.

The Blessing of the Hounds ceremony is only performed in 4 established hunt clubs in the United States, and it is usually more common in Great Britain. The idea of the blessing is to pray for a profitable and exciting hunt to begin Thanksgiving and to give appreciation to the fox hounds and the horses of the hunt. I chose to focus on the Blessing of the Hounds for it is a ceremony so highly regarded in my community because it brings the animals onto the same stance as human individuals. Throughout our readings we discussed the dynamic relationship between the oppression of women and animals, and the similarities between the two with: medical and scientific technologies taking advantage of animals for testing, trafficking for commodification, the domestication of animals as a model of oppression, etc. Although we can look at the domestication of the foxhounds and their training as well as the domestication and training of the hunt horses, however, it is important to note that with this religious acceptance into the church, these animals are now on equal par with their domesticators. The priest goes along to each horse, and every hound with a blessing for each one. The morning of the Blessing is very special because this day symbolizes an appreciation for the animals, which eliminates what we defined as “alienation” or speciesism (79, Gruen) through the social roles.

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Is vegetarianism a pseudo-solution for a bigger problem?

For five years I was a vegetarian. My veggie phase lasted from the time I started 4H Camp until my second year of High School. When friends of mine find out I use to be a vegetarian, they always ask me why I am not anymore. I find that this is a hard question to answer without offending them. If I lie and say that I “gave up” then they think less of me for not sticking it out. If I say I disagree with the premise of vegetarianism then they get offended because I’m disagreeing with their life choice.

Chickens kept in close quarters are debeaked to keep them form pecking each other to death.

My issue with vegetarianism is that there are too many “types” and too many reasons why different people pursue this dietary choice. This is the reason why the ethical support of being a vegetarian is hard to obtain. In order to address this I will make the assumption that vegetarians fall under three major groups:  Those who are vegetarian because they don’t like meat, those who are vegetarian because they believe it gives health benefits that omnivory does not, and those who are vegetarian because they believe killing animals is wrong,

I don’t really have an issue with the first two groups. If you really don’t like the way meat tastes more power to you. I have met people like this in the past. For example, my cousin does not like the taste of red meat at all so she just doesn’t eat it. Don’t eat something you don’t enjoy. As for the second category, the potential health benefits of being a vegetarian cannot be ignored. However, research is still being conducted about the pros and cons of vegetarianism. I would encourage anyone thinking of making this choice for health reasons to investigate scholarly sources, and not just take word of mouth or the internet at face value.

However, here are my two cents about this point of view- Most of the health benefits that people believe vegetarianism grants them are really just benefits of eating low cholesterol and unprocessed foods. Online you can search for “health benefits of vegetarianism” and get hundreds if not thousands of websites leading you to articles about how being a vegetarian can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. However, one you start eating the processes vegetarian foods like fake chicken nuggets, the cholesterol levels are pretty much the same. Also, all the chemicals they put into that junk to make it taste like meat is probably much worse for you than just eating some chicken. Instead of going vegetarian to eat healthy, I would encourage people to eat healthy without it first. Proper portion control and understanding your dietary needs would provide pretty much the same benefits of vegetarianism without you having to take supplements for the holes being a vegetarian may leave in your diet.

The last category is the one that I come across most often and the one that I ascribed to while being vegetarian. It is also the one that I disagree with. When I made my choice to become a vegetarian, I was uneducated about physiology, I was young, loved animals, and thought I was doing a great service to the world by choosing not to eat them. However, today I would argue that vegetarianism is a misguided path for those who seek to help the animals we mass consume. The intentions of such vegetarians are admirable and deserve respect, but I feel they are addressing this issue the wrong way. I agree that life is sacred, but I also see that taking it is necessary to preserve balance in our world. It is true that there is great injustice occurring in the food industry. Most of the animals that end up on our dinner table were horribly mistreated before their deaths. They were most likely kept in cages too small for them, pumped full of antibiotics to make their meat safe to eat, and generally disrespected and abused.

No one understands the horror of this more than me. I come from a farming family where we treat out animals well. But because of my background I have also seen the other side up close and personal at farms not far from our own. Before taking charge of our family farm after my great uncle grew too old to manage it by himself, my father’s brother worked for the ASPCA in Boston rescuing abused animals. My uncle Steven is a great man and he taught my cousins and I how we should treat animals, humans, and the land. I grew up knowing that our cattle was well treated, but I know that not all animals are so lucky.

This is why I understand why people believe that being vegetarian is helping animals. However, most people are not truly appalled by eating meat, but instead by the injustices of the food industry as I have explained. Eating meat is natural and should not be considered wrong. Even recently we are learning how many animals we thought to be vegetation are actually omnivores. For example, most people think of deer as cute grass munching fuzzies, however, recent studies have proven that deer will eat songbird hatchlings and eggs from ground nests. Everyone needs protein, and meat is the best way to get it. I would argue that there is nothing wrong with killing other animals for meat as long as those animals are respected.

Therefore, instead of encouraging vegetarianism, I would encourage people to eat local foods from farmers they trust. This is true for every food group. It’s true that local meat is not as accessible as many other foods, but this is why I also would encourage people to speak out against the injustices occurring in the food industry. As I said earlier, I respect the spirit of vegetarianism, but if mistreatment of animals is the reason you are a vegetarian, I encourage you to seek a cure not a treatment. This issue needs a real solution and that won’t come out of a few people swearing off meat for the rest of their lives. The real solution is to end the need for people to be vegetarian by ensuring that the meat that ends up in our kitchens comes from animals that were treated with respect before their deaths.

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Poison Ivy And Ecofeminism

"Britta tries really hard to be relevent. She does her best to act compassionate and kind, but that doesn’t stop her from being selfish. She isn’t an honorable, strong hero, but she WANTS to be." (stickingupforsammy, tumblr)

As someone who enjoys Media I went looking to see if there were any portrayals of Ecofeminism to analyze. How we are reflected in modern pop culture can in turn show how any movement is thought of or what is considered relevant at any particular time; I’ve seen plenty of examples of feminism, straw feminism, animal rights activists, but no one who I could safely classify as an interpretation on Ecofeminism. It’s perfectly understandable, you only have to look at our classes first blogs to realize most people don’t know what Ecofeminism is, but it still bothered me. Could I call Britta Perry from television show Community an Ecofeminist? She’s a vegetarian and self declared feminist but I really couldn’t describe her as an Ecofeminist. She has a leather jacket and in three seasons her biggest eco issue was an oil spill. The Companions on Doctor Who? On a show where people can go to space it is the almost always female Companion who keeps the connection to the Earth. Who keeps the alien Doctor from getting lonely. But that felt like a stretch for a brain trying its hardest to find Media Representation.

Until I found her. My Straw Ecofeminist made by men who were likely unfamiliar with the term itself. Poison Ivy.

Poison Ivy caring for her plants.

Yes, this is going to be a post about cartoons and comic books. But please stay with me on this one. For the purposes of this blog I define “straw” to mean: A character whose feminism/Ecofeminism is drawn only for the purposes of either proving them wrong or ridiculing them. Often made in ignorance of a movement. For the sake of exploring the character as a character and not a cheesecake pinup I will try to avoid including any overly sexualized images. However those are few and far between.

Pamela Isley is generally considered an ecoterrorist supervillain in her superhero world. She’s green, literally, and she uses her intense knowledge of plants and toxicity to destroy the spiraling urban wasteland of Gotham City whenever possible. Her real world origin is out of seductress— the character was created in 1966 but it wasn’t until after the rise of feminism (it was decided Batman needed a less sympathetic foil then thief Catwoman) that she got an origin of her own. In 1988, with little bumps and changes every since, Pamela was given an origin story that strangely suits the ones we’ve heard in class. And then sexism in comic books was gone forever.

… No, just kidding. Poison Ivy is a straw Ecofeminist, remember? She was a botanist who was seduced by a dude, experimented on, and subsequently gained toxins in her blood stream that made her deadly to the touch and immune to all poisons, viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The experiments also allowed her to produce mind-control pheromones that drive men wild at her touch. And infertility so she’d be grouchy about all this. The point being to make her natural but still “less than a women”.

When looking at Poison Ivy again after all this Ecofeminism I’ve been learning I honestly feel like the people who wrote her were listening in to our conversations through a muffled doorway.  So many things we talked about are inherent to her place in Batman mythos: the contrast between man as strong urban city with technology and strong will while women is all things natural, seductive, and planted.  That is essentially what we talked about the first day of class; when we all charted out womanly things and manly things. Poison Ivy sits very happily in the feminine and she’ll still destroy you with ease. Her questions of self worth when she becomes infertile are interesting, as a character she never seems to wonder why she feels less than for being unable to have children, but just like in class she wonders why so much of her worth is defined that way. Pamela no longer considers herself a person but rather an extension of the Earth; like someone was listening to us talk about the spirituality of soil and got an entirely literal idea from it.

She also spends a lot of time holding sharp objects and looking annoyed.

She’s not a good person, supervillian and all, but her style does occasionally indicate a writer who has picked up a copy of feminism 101. A copy of feminism 101 written in the 1970s. Despite (or maybe because she spends so much time) seducing men frequently she has a very low opinion on them. It always makes me think of when I talk to people and they act like being a Feminist means hating men. A lot. “Thoughtless. Worthless. Stupid. Man.” – (Poison Ivy, Batman: Hush) is the sort of quote you read coming out of her word bubbles quickly. When given time to elaborate on her loathing she expresses it in feminist rhetoric with eco inclinations to go with it. “I hate men. Because of what they do. They clip. They prune. They make us remake ourselves into what they want. A Madonna. A whore. A partner. A foe. And we do it. Because we need.” (Poison Ivy, Solo #6)

That quote is what makes her feel like a tragedy to me: because the character is made to be exactly all those things. She was innocent botanist academic; she was turned into temptress, and now she’s a partner to the villains, and simple Batman foe. She’s someone’s attempt at a feminist character in a universe where no one is quite sure what that entails. In the quote above she’s connected to the natural world and she describes it in feminine ways. A central part of Ecofeminism.

Click to enlarge. It's a little gross though.

Oddly enough one could make the argument that she is a terrorist community organizer. She cares about Gotham and about women— frequently growing parks without permission and taking care of Gotham’s large teenage runaway population. In this role she is Mother Earth: vengeful, nasty, but Mother Earth all the same. There are plenty of stories where she uses her powers to rob jewelry stores but those are often followed by ones where she rails against the ridiculously corrupt Gotham City system. In the comic Gotham Central she goes about it in extreme unethical ways, murdering her charges murderer but it’s interesting to note the way she phrases her revenge. First she humanizes the victim, reminds them that she was fifteen, that her name was Dee Dee, and that she loved to read. But when the time comes to destroy her enemy she does the “logical” Ecofeminism thing. She recycles their bodies into the soil!

Which is horrible, but exactly what you’d expect an angry Ecofeminist Supervillian to do.

Pamela is also very clearly in love with Harley.

She’s also one of the only people who consistently speaks out against one of comics most blatantly abusive couples: the Joker and Harley Quinn. For those of you who don’t know The Joker is a sociopath who likes to claim people just “Don’t get the joke.” Less well known is Harley Quinn- his former psychologist turned loving sidekick. She’s very smart, essentially powerless, and though very cheerful her self esteem is almost non existent. While the relationship is acknowledged as abusive by the narrative it is also a frequent form of comic relief. Batman himself seems sympathetic and will occasionally show kindness (he’s usually a bit busy when anywhere near the two of them) but Poison Ivy is the one who is consistently there to show support to Harley as a person. She’s blunt about how bad the situation is but always opens up her home when Harley tries to break the cycle. They fight and they argue and, yes, they rob the city blind, but at the end of it all Pamela consistently says the same thing. “You are a strong woman capable of so much. You are not alone.”  This is where she as a character gets to express values without having them undermined. She’ll never succeed, statue quo is all in comics and Harley Quinn will always revert to her old ways, but the simple message of it suits the character Poison Ivy has the potential to be. For all of the things she fights because she dislikes them there are people it is in her nature to fight for. It’s something positive in all of this.

Ranting about fictional Supervillians can be bad for your health.

Media Matters. While Poison Ivy will never be a good person or a consistently well written character I can see aspects of the Ecofeminist Movement in her. She equates herself to all things in nature, she’s aware of social roles in society, she tries her immoral best to Community Organize, and she’s sympathetic to women in need in her community. Her inherent loathing of men, her tendency to seduce everyone in sight while the artist loving draws in her curves, and her origin story keep her from being a fully fleshed out exploration of Ecofeminist (or Feminist) Issues. Personally I’m still glad that she as a character exists. I love nitpicking at aspects of portrayal in media and the thought that there were no fictional Ecofeminists to be found is inherently depressing. I’d rather find flaws in a portrayal, or reinterpret someone else’s bit of straw, than to discover there was nothing there at all. If nothing else the character gives me hope that the quality of character has great potential and will only improve.

 

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Is this Wasteland really MY Land?

My thoughts about land and my connection to it has changed drastically during the duration of this class because, at the beginning of the course. My first blog entry focused primarily on my flower farm in Virginia and how my family and our employees work with the land and the importance of our impact upon the soil, water dispersal, etc. Throughout the course, our understanding of the importance of keeping our environment safe from toxins and harmful environmental threats has turned into a global movement to free us of threats to our own health. My first blog entry discussed my connection with the earth and how our farm works with nature to create beautiful flowers for my mom to use for her florist business. Our farm steers away from harmful toxins, and we instead turn to our land’s natural cycle to produce flowers. Although we avoid using toxins for the growth of our flowers, we have no background understanding as to why we shouldn’t use these chemicals except for the sole reason of understanding that these toxins in some way impact our health. This may be part of the pitfall of humanity and our struggle to understand our impact on our environment – we think that our land is so stable because we see the vastness of the mountains and the great power of weather, but what we fail to understand is that nature is fragile with the impact of what we place upon the earth. We think that dumping small amounts of trash or toxins from our waste will not do any harm, but what we do not understand is that, although these impacts are small, they still accumulate into larger scale problems through time.Has my impact on my environment affected THIS?

 

In our readings, we have covered the impact of what we have put in our own environment and how it has affected our health with Steingraber’s memoir of her struggle with cancer. This reading was especially interesting because the focus wasn’t completely on how she, herself, struggled with health issues but she brought in case studies for the reader to understand that we globally struggle with the environment and what we put into it. Steingraber’s overall message was for us to wake up and smell the toxin-ridden flowers that we have created for ourselves. This was also the case with Vandana Shiva’s “Soil Not Oil”.

We must change the way we utilize our land before we have any hope for changing the way we live and breath and experience the health benefits of a clean environment. 

 In Shiva’s book, she breaks down the three main conditions from which we suffer from in our society: the food crisis, climate crisis, and the energy crisis. Understanding these effects on our communities on a local level helps us to understand where we can resolve these issues. In the book, Shiva makes all of these crises connect by explaining that where there are pitfalls with one crisis, the effect takes a toll on the remaining 2. I went in search of finding examples of these connections and was enlightened when I read up on an issue that was happening in my own backyard. In my rural community, we rely heavily upon chickens and other fowl for eggs, meat, and fertilizer for our plants. Thus, it was no wonder when one news headline caught my attention:

MARYLAND SET TO BECOME FIRST STATE TO BAN ARSENIC IN CHICKEN FEED

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/maryland-set-to-become-first-state-to-ban-arsenic-in-chicken-feed/2012/04/09/gIQAyyU16S_story.html

My initial reaction was: WHAT?! ARSENIC?! in CHICKENS THAT WE EAT? DISGUSTING.

And upon reading the article I was shocked that some of the largest food corporations in America, such  as Perdue and McDonald’s have had histories of using arsenic-based chicken feed for their chickens. How gross is that? PLUS, not only has it affected those who consumed the chicken, but the arsenic has seeped into the environment in high volumes because of the waste from the chickens and the fertilizer we use in our communities to feed our plants, which we also consume. Thus, it directly relates back to Shiva’s understanding of the connection we have with our environment and how one pitfall of our decisions with the environment, could lead into bigger problems in the long run.

In conclusion, I think that one of the main points I have taken away from our readings and discussions about our environmental impacts have lead me to believe that we have this ability to change our environment if we adopt the open minds of scientists that want to change the way we live our lives. However, it is impossible with the lack of funds and our dependency upon products and additives (such as arsenic with chickens) that allow us to make more money and allow us to progress substantially on the financial end of the spectrum.

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This Land (Ice) is MY Land

I like to think I am connected with nature both at home and at school.  At Dickinson, for example, whenever I walk from the library to the HUB I always choose to take what I call “the nature walk” – instead of walking on the concrete through Britton Plaza, I always choose to take the little mulch path.  No joke!

"Nature walk" trail in Britton Plaza.

At home I like to think I am more connected with nature and the land around me, simply because I am more exposed to the nature.  Whether it be the winter or the summer, my brothers and I are always playing sports outside.  In the winter, I am always playing pond hockey.  Pond hockey is much different than regular hockey in a rink, simply because of the element of nature you add to the game.

My friends and I playing hockey, note the Dickinson jersey.

Personally, I enjoy pond hockey more than playing in a rink; you can breathe the air straight from the atmosphere rather than from inside a rink, the trees tower over you rather than the roof of the arena, and the ice is real not artificial.  There’s just something about playing pond hockey that is much different than “regular hockey” and for that reason everyone should play at least once in their lives.

In the summer, my brothers are always outside playing wiffleball in our backyard.  I almost feel more connected with the land during the summer because we always tend to play wiffleball without our shoes on.  Of course my mom is not happy with us playing without shoes, but for some reason there is a more relaxing, natural feel in playing barefoot.  Much like pond hockey is the most natural way to play hockey, for me playing barefoot is the most natural way to play wiffleball.

I love the land at my home.   Of all the parts of nature, I value the grass, dirt, and the fresh air the most.  After some of the readings we have done thus far in Ecofeminism, I have learned how polluted the air in Carlisle and the Cumberland county is; according to stateoftheair.org some neighboring counties to Carlisle placed in the top 20 most polluted air in the United States.  It took me almost a year and a half at Dickinson to discover how toxic the air we breathe in everyday here in Carlisle really is.  This air toxicity, according to Sandra Steingraber’s in her book Living Downstream, can lead to dangerous cancers such as lung cancer.  Steingraber suggests that with a “five-year survival rate of only 15 percent, lung cancer is so swiftly fatal that we rarely hear stories of its victims” (175).  This statistic scares me because I am exposed to these toxins everyday without even knowing it; whether it be second hand cigarette smoke or the polluted Carlisle air, we are exposed to more toxins than we may be aware of at Dickinson College.

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The Facts are in Front of your Face

Before taking this class, I never really thought about my connection to the land that was around me.  Looking back I realize how important it was to my childhood, most of which was spent outside and on the water.  Growing up, my summers consisted of sailing and going out on Manhasset Bay with all my friends, or spending time with my family in Greece.  I never thought how much I would miss being surrounded by the water, even in thewinter, when I came to Dickinson. I built a strong bond and a high level of respect for the bay, ocean, sea, etc. just because of all the amazing memories that I have from those places.  I was always aware that our environment was in danger, but it was never really a concern that went through my head.

It wasn’t until I read Living Downstream, by Sandra Steingraber, that I realized how the blessing of living on Manhasset Bay could also potentially threaten my health in the future.  Throughout my High School career, I was a member of the Manhasset Crew Team.  We practiced twice every day at Bar Beach, in Port Washington.  Every day, our team would row past a power plant directly on the coast of the beach.  Every time we would row past the plant I would always crack a joke about how healthy that must be for all of us and continue the workout.  After reading about the cancer cluster study done in Long Island and how the exposure to chemical plants has increased the likelihood of breast cancer in many women living in the surrounding area, I have become very concerned what that could mean for me.

Google maps image of Power Plant

Bar Beach, Where I would row every day.

This semester, not only learning how we are exposed to harsh toxins on a daily basis from our class, I did a project about Diesel Idling in Pennsylvania.  We discovered that the diesel fine particulate emitted by the trucks and buses constantly traveling through our town bring forth many short-term and long term-effects to our health and surrounding environment.  Because Carlisle is an area of heavy truck traffic, our air quality is greatly impacted by this.  Thanks to Act 124, a law constructed to reduce excess pollution given off from diesel trucks while they idle, there are ways that we can reduce the amount of pollutants put into our air on a daily basis just by enforcing the law that stops diesel trucks from idling their engines.

The sad reality is that from taking this class, as well as many other things I’ve learned this semester, it is apparent to me that no matter where I go my surrounding environment can be horrible for my health and the health of my peers.  I love where I grew up, I love where I am now, but if we continue to live the way we do our environment as well as our lives are in danger.

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This land is your land, is this land my land?

As a young girl, I never found the outdoors appealing. Perhaps it was my abrupt transition from a concrete jungle lifestyle to the easy-going atmosphere of suburbia living. Perhaps it was my risible and what then I considered disgust towards insects. Or perhaps it was my attraction to jungle gyms, which later on turned into an unrequited love after suffering from many injuries. In any case, as I think back to my childhood, my relationship with land was near to inexistent. Apart from watching my grandmother from afar planting and cultivating her vegetable garden tirelessly for hours on end, I had very little exposure never mind direct interaction with land that surrounded me.

Attending boarding school in a desolate location surrounded by forest, my relationship with nature developed but still tended to fluctuate as I searched for a reason as to why I was interacting with nature. I had friends who would go on ‘nature walks’ just to retract from the hectic school schedules while I found solace in afternoon naps. I mean, I knew the land around me in terms of navigation because of various science courses, but apart from classes, I intentionally limited my exposure to the outdoors because I did not see a ‘point’ in exploring nature. Thus, I graduated from high school without a personal relationship with the land I had been a part of for three years.

 

My high school, Westover School

With all that said, when Professor Bartlow announced a “day with soil,” one could imagine my instant dismay. I could not help but cringe at the thought of senselessly playing with soil for the sake of, well, I wasn’t exactly sure. I had thought that Dickinson’s was well kept especially with the hype around our sustainability initiatives and continuous grooming of the landscape, so what was the purpose of this seemingly invasive task of discovering soil? Well, had it not been for my one-on-one time with a small section of the land on campus, my sentiments towards nature would have been continued to be deeply rooted in the few frivolous encounters I had with land throughout my life. An immediate sense of guilt and shame took hold of me; I immediately began asking myself, “Whose land is this?” “Is this soil natural?” “Do I have the right to dig up flowers and uproot species from their natural habitat for a short-lived moment of ‘self-discovery’?”

PRIVILEGE:The source of my guilt

At that moment, I acknowledged the limitless power of the land beneath my feet. Right then and there, I had the ability to dig up soil that had been a component of the land for years without seeking permission from a higher authority. In David Suzkui’s Made From Soil, Suzki defines land as a “place or context…it means the nation or the region we belong to, as well as the part of it that belongs to us; it is also place of safety” (Suzki, 77). While the land around is a physical support system, the ways in which mankind has taken advantage of this support and exploited the land’s natural resources far outweighs the benefits the land reaps from human involvement. Essentially mankind was never granted access to changing, cultivating, or manipulating nature.

With the rise of industrialized nations over time, humans have been conditioned to view the Earth’s body as empty, barren, and purposeless even though at some point or another during our childhood inhaled and digested the same soil. How is it that some nations around the world are removed from this discourse of ignorance and nature to focus on preserving soil’s sacredness? Our land is entirely too complex and rich in history for us to alter with its roots. “Land is one organism,” (Suzki, 78) says Aldo Leopold. When we land, we risk ending the lives of several thousands of other species inhabiting the land. Instead of taking ownership our land we should be learning to foster the natural reciprocal relationship between man and land.

Forces of patriarchy, oppression, and colonialism surely contribute -and if not fully responsible- for the exploitation of our environment, as Wangari Maathai illustrates with her work on The Greenbelt Movement. Maathai draws upon the connections among people and their roots, God, and the environment within the Kenyan communities. Because standing cultural values were obliterated during the movement of colonization, many Kenyans see the environment degraded to nothing more than a commodity.

Expounding upon this issue of oppression a bit further, an ecofeminist would look at the connections between the violation of nature and the violation of females. One prominent connection is that between the defilement of the earth’s body and the defilement of black women’s bodies. In Delores Williams’ “Sin, Nature, and Black Women’s Bodies,” Williams equates the exhaustion that comes along with strip-mining the earth’s body to the exhaustion of the “practice of breeding female slaves” (Williams, 25). Oppressors continue to oppress both the land and black women’s bodies despite aware of the potential long-term effects.


As a citizen of this earth, I believe each person has an unspoken responsibility to save the earth in his or her own way. Through this process we must remain patient, humble. As Vandana Shiva urges her readers in Soil Not Oil, “we are not an Atlas carrying the world on our shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying us.”

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My Land

How have your thoughts about land and your connection to place changed since the beginning of this course?

I have always either felt strong connections to the land around me or disconnected depending on the location of a certain land. When I find myself thinking about how I felt about the land in Carlisle, I realize there is so much land that is undiscovered for me. Since the beginning of this course, I have only felt strong connections to the Dickinson Farm. It was the only place that I had discovered that really drew me in. When I reflect on how my connections have changed, it seems as if my connections to this land become more angered with the knowledge of understanding ‘our’ soil better.

When we began to read the book Soil Not Oil  by Vandana Shiva and after a presentation by Lindsey, I really began to realize how this “interconnectiveness” of climate change, energy and food are all working together in a way that relies on the other in order to improve the land and this earth. One needs to focus on all aspects before something can actually be changed. I also learned from the beginning of this class that after hearing Lindsey speak about energy and bio-diesel as a solution to help reduce oil dependence, the growing problems and affects of growing corn only for ethanol. It becomes a problem if one is only growing corn to produce ethanol rather than using it for gas, food, etc.

The problem with energy currently on this earth, is that oil is not cheap anymore, it is at it’s peak making it more expensive. We are now drilling for oil in areas that are more dangerous for both the workers and the land/environment around it. This is becoming a huge problem especially with drilling for oil among the Marcellus shale. Oil companies and workers are coming into these small town and destroying their lives and the land surrounding them. Their water is getting contaminated and depleted.

 

Marcellus Shale drilling. When will this stop?

When will this stop? when will people wake up and realize there are so many solutions and pseudo-solutions to help this earth and at the same time benefit the people with food and energy. I have included a picture of what Marcellus Shale drilling looks like on one’s land.

The things that I value about this land are endless. There is so much beauty and enjoy spending countless hours and days within the wilderness and the land around me. I enjoy mostly the beautiful views the land has created due to science and tectonic plates that have formed mountains and volcanoes.

 

I want my land without pesticides but instead with wild grass, beautiful mountains where it has been untouched by large companies and without cities trying to expand. I want natures pure beauty.

 

What I dislike about this land and earth around me is the ways that companies and society has treated it by means of using toxic chemicals that affect not only rodents, water, animals, fish but even people exposed to these pesticides. Everything is a chain and while some may feel that they may never be affected by something because they are eating the right food and doing the right things for the environment. They may be “living downstream” and may not realize until it’s too late to stop their exposure. One has to tackle all sides of the spectrum before one problem can be fixed. What will you do to protect this land?

 

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