because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

What Our Actions Teach Our Kids About The Earth

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image by D. Sharon Pruitt @ flickr.com

Monroe Community College has a new greenhouse on campus and this past school year, more than 850 students enrolled in 11 courses — from botany to business management — with an agricultural component. Some of these classes made use of the greenhouse, where — with state-of-the-art heating and cooling systems — tomatoes potted in soil thrive near micro-greens cultivated hydroponically in nutrient-enriched water.

This summer MCC launched a week-long Agriculture Summer Camp for Kids. And this semester, MCC students — for the first time — are able to take an introduction to agriculture course. Much of the push for MCC’s closer ties to the agricultural community comes from Bob King, who is the founding director of the Agriculture and Life Sciences Institute at MCC, established in January 2007. “People are more and more concerned about sustainability and how to account for their carbon footprint. And what better way to do (that) than through agriculture?” King is quoted as saying.

I try to remain optimistic, but I find myself wondering if our efforts are merely an exercise in too little, too late? As thousands of gallons of oil oozed into the Gulf just off the coast of my beloved former home of Louisiana, I found myself thinking about how the more we try to fix things, the more we muck things up.

We teach our children they can be anything, that they can do anything. Do we teach them to sit quietly and listen to the earth? To appreciate a blade of grass? To understand how we are dependent on the oxygen produced by the plants and trees around us? Are we willing to spend the extra time to tend our own lawns rather than dump funky chemicals onto our properties to make our lawns look like golf-course greens?

My friend, Jennifer Hess, is working to make change in our local school district lunch program: To integrate healthier choices into the kids’ daily fare; after all, that is what the district health curriculum preaches. She has written an amazing blog on the topic of school nutrition. I am behind her 100%. How far are people willing to go to learn about the effects of hormones in meat and milk? About high fructose corn syrup and its relationship to the obesity epidemic? What do you do when you learn that supposedly vitamin packed soft-drinks turn out to be no healthier than sodas? And once you know, how willing are you to change your purchasing and eating habits?

Note to a Twit, I Mean NYS Governor Paterson

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Dear Governor Paterson:

On Tuesday, May 25, 2010, you sent out your plea to your constituents to understand and embrace your “new and improve” modified sugar sweetened beverage tax package of “one cent per ounce excise tax [to] be added to sugary soft-drinks, bottled coffee and tea drinks with added sugar . . .  [while] eliminat[ing] the sales tax for bottled water and low-calorie drinks that have 10 or fewer calories per 8 oz. sugar-sweetened drinks.”

Later that same day,  I sat and watched a morbidly obese woman eating a ginormous bag of potato chips for lunch. And what was she washing those greasy chips down with? A liter of Diet Coke.

I don’t deny that there is an obesity epidemic in this country, but Governor, c’mon.

Photo by Todd Pitt/PictureGroup at Flickr.com

I understand your stated intentions, but who do you think you are kidding here? Truth be told, drinks that contain aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are not any healthier for people than drinks that contain sugar.

Your proposition is doomed to fail because the  premise upon which it rests is that in charging people more, you will somehow teach them to change their behavior. This is just like the cigarette tax. Did it stop people from smoking? Not so much: Nicotine fiends still find the money to get their smokes.

The same is true here. Fat or thin, people with poor eating habits will continue to make the same choices. No one is going to change his or her behavior because their favorite sugary drink costs a few extra nickels and dimes here or there. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: I know plenty of people who feel like because they drink diet soda they are earning “brownie points” – literally. Like the woman eating the bag of chips, I know folks who feel they can eat that extra slice of pie or that extra cookie because they are washing it down with diet soda. By gosh, they’ve earned it.

Oooh, I have an idea! Why don’t you tax items like chips, cookies, cakes, donuts and all fast food items in addition to sugary drinks. Yes, this is a good idea! Why stop with just the drinks? You aren’t thinking broadly enough.

You say that it is necessary to “take steps to help all New Yorkers adopt healthier lifestyles.” I’m all about helping people adopt healthier lifestyles, but a government tax on soda will not make people skinny or healthier; good diet and exercise by individuals will.

Listen, a lot of us are fat. We know. It’s kind of hard to miss. But that isn’t really what this is about, is it? Clearly, the State needs money, right? Why be so underhanded? Just tell the good people of New York that you need to raise taxes, but don’t pretend to care about the obesity problem in the country. Seriously, you don’t think that taxing sugary drinks is the answer, do you? Or . . . do you?

Could adding taxes on sugary drinks help curb obesity?