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P O L L U T I O N
I S S U E
Environmental pollution is like a bomb exploded chronic.
context March 2010- Issue 0
Table of Contents Letter from the Editor News from the Void Pop Art Culture Vulture Politics Bytes Techie
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Features Guess Who’s Coming as Dinner
Words By Peter Rubin It's not enough anymore to glance at the “antibiotic-free” sticker and dig in. People want to know that their dinner roamed free in a shady pasture, slept on a pillowy bed of hay, lived a happy life, and died a noble death. And then they want to eat. Mirror, Mirror
Words By Andrew Postman Photos By Meredith Jenks Plastic surgery and the temptation of an endless search for perfection. Chasing Zero
Words By Zachary Slobig Photos By Dan Hennessy A group of environmentally concerned friends in San Francisco decided to buy nothing for a year, and unwittingly sparked an international trend. America In The World
author James Surowiecki Photos By Trujillo-Paumier You can't live with us, you can't live without us. And increasingly, we can't live without you. How the world interacts with the last superpower. Sleeping with Strangers
Words By Peter Alsop, Siobhan OConnor Photos By Allison Maletz, Laurie Wilson, Eric Fermin Perez
author Ben Jervey Illustrations By Peter Arkle An Experiment in Environmentalism.
A website is connecting travelers with the couches of gracious hosts around the world. Can CouchSurfing.com put the social back in social networking?
Author Ben jervey
CHASING ZERO CHAZ
An Experiment in Extreme Urban Environmentalism 4
f you were considering towns in which to live the good life-which is to say, the least harmful life-you could be forgiven for leaving New York off your list. Paved in every direction, overrun by traffic, brightly lit even in the darkest hours, it seems an unlikely candidate for environmental distinction. And yet the city is a remarkably low-impact place-due largely to its energy efficiency, per capita the best in the country.
New Yorkers don't drive much, and we live and work in cramped conditions that are powered, heated, and cooled with relatively little energy. New York, it turns out, has one of the smallest per capita "ecological footprints" in the country. Raising the question: if we're already among the most energy efficient of Americans, just how much might our footprints shrink?
In pursuit of an answer, last spring I began a monthlong experiment in extreme urban environmentalism. This was not an act of overzealous deprivation: I ate no wheat grass, I wore no hemp. As much as possible, I wanted to live my normal, happily indulgent New York life, but to do so with as minimal an impact as I could manage. Relying on locally grown foods, renewable energies, basic conservation practices, and autofree transit, I discovered that in New York, as in a growing number of other cities in the United States, the good life is closer than you might think.
Food Local or organic? The question, beaten to death in environmental circles, has an obvious answer: Why not both? Even in New York City, far from the fertile soils of California or the Midwest, one can find food grown both nearby and without all those much-maligned pesticides. Take apples, for instance, a fruit typically awash in chemicals (it has one of the highest pesticide concentrations of any produce). The orchards of the Empire State produce over a hundred varieties of apples-many of them are organic, and all are brought to market free from the oildependent international food chain. Farmers' markets abound here, and the best stocked and most frequent is the Union Square Greenmarket. With nearly a full city block of vegetables, fruit, dairy, poultry, fish, honey, jam, and even wine, it is the crown jewel of New York's 51 farmers' markets, and its ultralocal fare makes neighboring Whole Foods look like a shipping center. Over the course of my month-long experiment, this is where I do the bulk of my food shopping, treating myself regularly to such artisanal delights as organic foccacia, made with whole grains grown and
ground in nearby Ulster County. Pursuant to the "local" food ideal, I set a limit of 150 miles for my food's journey from farm to table. The biggest hurdle in keeping such a diet isn't actually finding the food, but rather planning on when to get it. Food shopping and dining are impulsive acts in New York, but my farmers' market-for all its impressive offeringsisn't an everyday affair. Fortunately, there's no shortage of restaurants serving the green plate special-Applewood, Habana Outpost, and Candle CafĂƒÂŠ are personal favorites. Several times I do succumb to the cheap convenience of a bagel of unknown origins, but for the most part I keep within my radius and, so far as I know, I don't ingest any food touched by pesticide.
Transportation With the most convenient and expansive (if not quite the tidiest) mass transit system in the country, New York's an easy place to travel lightly. The subway should be the solution to my every need, but as I suffer from slight agoraphobia and an aversion to cramped spaces, I loathe the trains and have to default to biking everywhere. Occasionally, I rise above my disabilities to take the subway when the weather is extreme. (Only twice during the month am I forced to use a taxi, once for work and once on the tail end of a long and torrentially wet evening.) Just a small fraction of New Yorkers have reason to own cars, and despite my biking proclivities, I happen to be oneâ€”work requires it. My Subaru usually spends its days parked on the side streets of Brooklyn and even though I buy a TerraPass decal-proclaiming that all carbon emissions from its occasional use have been offset-for the integrity of my experiment (and to assuage my
nagging combustion-engine guilt) I think it best to put the car into hibernation in my parents' garage.
Waste In New York, it's easy to take waste for granted. The garbagemen gather our trash at dawn and cart it off to some distant, unknown land. Fully zero percent of New York's waste resides in landfills within city limits; instead, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio have been kind enough to pile it in their back yards-at a healthy premium. For a month, I pay close attention to my life's refuse. Each day-in an embarrassing display of commitment to this projectâ€”I carry around all the waste I generate, every night adding napkins and spent pens and stubborn packing filler to a cumulative bundle. And I manically hoard all recyclables and compostables, ushering the organics down to my landlady's garden. With some deliberate effort-like carrying a reusable mug and forgoing all the excess packaging when buying, say, an apple tart from a farmer's standâ€” it's pretty simple to limit my waste, and I never wind up schlepping around more trash than my backpack can handle. At month's end, the amassed piles are surprisingly small. For the average American, four weeks of waste might fill an oil drum; mine could pack snugly into a toolbox.
Energy When it comes to electricity, I have the advantage of working in an office building capped by solar panels, which, ten months of the year, provide all necessary power. Unfortunately, my apartment isn't equipped with such smart technology, so when my roommates and I plug in, we're pulling power from the grid. Conservation is key, and in a rented living space like
mine, the lowest hanging fruit 7 is lighting. In ten years, we're going to think it ludicrous that we once used light bulbs that burn 90 percent of their energy as heat. I outfit our apartment with compact fluorescents-an economical, viable alternative to conventional bulbs, albeit one that results in a glow about as charming as a dentist's waiting room. Other energysaving measures are just as easy to adopt: unplugging chargers when not in use saves a few watt hours; turning off computers saves a bundle more; and it's almost too obvious to mention that empty rooms require no illumination. Small steps, medium-sized results. Like many renters, though, I've no control over the temperature in my home; I live at the mercy of my landlord's thermostat. It does feel contradictory to the ambitions of my experiment to have the window open on a brisk 40-degree night, but as my bed lies uncomfortably close to a heater (it's a small room), I've very little choice. And yet, I still managed to lower our daily electrical use by almost a third, from about 15 kilowatthours to 10. The precious few kilowatts we did consume, however, weren't bought from the standard New York City grid, but were purchased from a wind farm upstate, using ConEd Solutions, a program that fills the electric demands of any New Yorker with clean, renewable wind energy.
Beer Living a strict low-impact existence could imply, to sticklers at least, forgoing some of life's more frivolous pleasures-notably carousing. Lucky for me-and, indeed, any conscientious New Yorker with a soft spot for the sauce-right here in town there's a brewery powered by wind energy that even shuttles around its bottles and
kegs with a fleet of biodiesel trucks. If there's one fault to be found with the Brooklyn Brewery, it's that they don't use organic hops-a compromise I'm willing to accept. More than once. This is what I learned after a month of good living: it's not that hard. In four weeks I drastically cut my resource consumption, I shrank my ecological "footprint" to a far more reasonable size, and still I managed to lead a pretty typical, immodestly fun New York life. The truth is that it's easy, and in cities across the countrywith their dense settlement patterns, mass-transit systems, and commonly shared resourcesthe good life is just around the corner.
The Results Food Weekly grocery total (average) for the month: $62.50 Typical weekly grocery total (average): $59.00 Food expenditure, costs above monthly average: %6
Energy Con Ed bill for the month: $58.49 Average Con Ed bill: $87.75 Electricity use (household) for the month: 300 KWhs Average New York state household, per month: 498 KWhs Average American household, per month: 635 KWhs
Transportation Bicycle (approximate): 320 miles, 0lbs CO2 emissions Car: 34 miles, 30.9 lbs CO2 emission Subway (approximate): 130 miles, negligible emission Total carbon emission due to transportation: 30.9 lbs American monthly average: 619 lbs
Waste Total non-recyclable waste produced in the month: 28 lbs Total recycled in the month: 64 lbs Total composted in the month: 14 lbs Total waste generated per day, during the month: 3.5 lbs/day National average: 4.5 lbs/day Miles Manhattan's garbage is carted by diesel trucks annually: 7.8 million
WHAT’S EATING OUR KIDS ? / ABBY ELLIN
SODIUM — that’s what worries Greye Dunn. He thinks about calories, too, and whether he’s getting enough vitamins. But it’s the sodium that really scares him. “Sodium makes your heart beat faster, so it can create something really serious,” said Greye, who is 8 years old and lives in Mays Landing, N.J. Greye’s mother, Beth Dunn, the president of a multimedia company, is proud of her son’s nutritional awareness and encourages it by serving organic food and helping Greye read labels on cereal boxes and cans. “He wants to be healthy,” she says.
Ms. Dunn is among the legions of parents who are vigilant about their children’s consumption of sugar, processed foods and trans fats. Many try to stick to an organic diet. In general, their concern does not stem from a fear of obesity — although that may figure into the equation — but from a desire to protect their families from conditions like hyperactivity, diabetes and heart disease, which they believe can be avoided, or at least managed, by careful eating. While scarcely any expert would criticize parents for paying attention to children’s diets, many doctors, dietitians and eating disorder specialists worry that some parents are becoming overzealous, even obsessive, in efforts to engender good eating habits in children. With the best of intentions, these parents may be creating an unhealthy aura around food. “We’re seeing a lot of anxiety in these kids,” said Cynthia Bulik, the director of the eating disorders program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “They go to birthday parties, and if it’s not a granola cake they feel like they can’t eat it. The culture has led both them and their parents to take the public health messages to an extreme.”
Tiffany Rush-Wilson, an eating disorder counselor in Pepper Pike, Ohio, has seen the same thing. “I have lots of children or adolescent clients or young adults who complain about how their parents micromanage their eating based on their own health standards and beliefs,” she said. “The kids’ eating became very restrictive, and that’s how they came to me.”
ertainly, not all parents who enforce rules about healthy food — or any dietary plan — are setting their children up for an eating disorder. Clinical disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia, which have been diagnosed in increasing numbers of adolescents and young people in the last two decades, are thought by researchers to have a variety of causes — including genetics, the influence of mass media and social pressure. To date, there have been no formal studies on whether parents’ obsession with health food can lead to eating disorders. Some experts say an extreme obsession with health food is merely a symptom, not a cause, of an eating disorder. But even without firm numbers, anecdotal reports from specialists suggest that a preoccupation with avoiding “bad” foods is an issue for many young people who seek help. Dr. James Greenblatt, the chief medical officer at Walden Behavioral Care, a hospital specializing in child and adult eating disorders in Waltham, Mass., estimates that he has recently seen about a 15 percent rise in the number of his young patients who eat only organic foods to avoid pesticides. “A lot of the patients we have seen over the last six years limited refined sugar and high fat foods because of concerns about gaining weight,” he said. “But now, these worries are often expressed in terms of
health concerns.” Lisa Dorfman, a registered dietitian and the director of sports nutrition and performance at the University of Miami, says that she often sees children who are terrified of foods that are deemed “bad” by parents. “It’s almost a fear of dying, a fear of illness, like a delusional view of foods in general,” she said. “I see kids whose parents have hypnotized them. I have 5-yearolds that speak like 40-yearolds. They can’t eat an Oreo cookie without being concerned about trans fats.” Dr. Steven Bratman of Denver has come up with a term to describe people obsessed with health food: orthorexia. Orthorexic patients, he says, are fixated on “righteous eating” (the word stems from the Greek word ortho, meaning straight and correct). “I would tell them, ‘You’re addicted to health food.’ It was my way of having them not take themselves so seriously,” said Dr. Bratman, who published a book on the subject, “Health Food Junkies,” in 2001.
The condition, he says, may begin in homes where there is a preoccupation with “health foods.”
is normal weight, often talks to young girls in schools and churches about the perils of becoming health-food obsessed.
Many eating disorder experts dispute the concept. They say that orthorexia, which is not considered a clinical diagnosis, is merely a form of anorexia nervosa or obsessive compulsive disorder.
Laura Collins, a writer who lives in Virginia, was once a parent who was always “moralizing about good and bad foods,” she said. “We didn’t serve candy, my kids didn’t have soda.” Ms. Collins’s daughter, Olympia, became rigid in her eating, fearing food that she worried would make her unhealthy. By age 14, Olympia developed anorexia, her mother said. To help her recover, the family had to rethink its entire approach to food.
Angelique A. Sallas, a clinical psychologist in Chicago, says the idea of a “health food disorder” is practically meaningless. “I don’t think the symptoms are significantly different enough from bulimia or anorexia that it deserves a special diagnostic category,” Dr. Sallas said. “It’s an obsessive-compulsive problem. The object of the obsession is less relevant than the fact that they are engaging in obsessive behavior.” Dr. David Hahn, the assistant medical director at the Renfrew Center, an eating disorders clinic in Philadelphia, also thinks that orthorexics are anorexics in disguise. “I see many patients that are overly concerned with the quality of their food, and that’s the way they express their eating disorder,” he said. But whatever the behavior is called, those who have lived through a disorder fueled by an obsession with healthful eating say that the experience can be agonizing. Kristie Rutzel, a 26-year-old marketing coordinator in Richmond, Va., began eliminating carbohydrates, meats, refined sugars and processed foods from her diet at 18. She became so fixated on eating only “pure” foods, she said, that she slashed her daily calorie intake to 500. Eventually, her weight fell to 68 pounds and she was repeatedly hospitalized for anorexia. Today Ms. Rutzel, who said she
Some experts are quick to point out that it is not only parents who may contribute to children’s food anxieties. They cite nutritional programs in schools that may go overboard. “I see younger kids who have an eating disorder precipitated by a nutrition lesson in school,” said Dr. Leslie Sanders, medical director of the eating disorders program at Atlantic Health Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J. Over the last five years, Dr. Sanders said, she has seen a rise in the number of children who are fixated on the way they eat: “Some educators categorize food into ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ The kids come home and say ‘Don’t eat French fries’ instead of talking about moderation.” The problem, according to some nutritional experts, is that many teachers don’t understand nutrition well. “We’re driving our kids absolutely crazy,” said Katie Wilson, president of the School Nutrition Association. “All the stuff about preservatives and pesticides. All an 8-year-old kid should know is that he or she should eat a variety of colors, and don’t supersize anything but your water jug.” Nina Planck, author of “Real
ood: What to Eat and Why,” said that it’s a “total cop out” to lay blame on schools and parents for children’s eating disorders. “The eating disorder comes out of a disordered psyche,” she 21 said. “You can’t blame the information for causing the eating disorders.” But Jessica Setnick, a dietitian in Dallas and author of “The Eating Disorders Clinical Pocket Guide,” tells a story that suggests parents’ attitudes can affect children. She recalled a mother who brought in her preteen, apparently bulimic daughter. As Ms. Setnick discovered, the girl was not trying to lose weight. “Her mother only served brown rice, but she didn’t like it,” Ms. Setnick said. “She did like white rice. And while I’m not going to tell anyone what they can bring into their own home, we discussed that when the family went out, it would be O.K. to get white rice.” When the girl told her mother what Ms. Setnick said, the mother was furious, according to Ms. Setnick. “She said, ‘Don’t you know white rice is just like sugar?’ ” “My heart broke for that girl,” Ms. Setnick said. “She was telling her mother what she needed, and the mother wasn’t listening.” Ms. Collins, the author of “Eating with Your Anorexic,” a book about her daughter’s struggle with anorexia, and director of the nonprofit organization Feast (Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders), offers some perspective. “It’s a tragedy that we’ve developed this moralistic, restrictive and unhappy relationship” with eating, she said. “I think it is making kids nutty, it’s sucking the life out of our relationship with food.”