Tag Archives: Education

The Scientific Age vs Food Culture

Words cannot express how good it feels to finally type away at my laptop, stringing words together to make sentences, which in turn fill a post up with an idea. It has been pretty hectic in Farrah-land, but I have gotten better at maximizing all the small tid-bits of time amidst the bustle.

So, what have I been squeezing into these time gaps you ask? A book that I have been itching to read for quite awhile now: “Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products” by Jeannie Marshall. This was definitely one of those eye-openers at the North American Food Culture compared to the cultures that exist all around the world. Now, I could write about everything I had originally planned on writing about, but it would be at the risk of writing a lengthy post about Marshall’s entire book – yes, that is how informative of a read it really was. Decisions, decisions! To be quite honest, it was a tough decision to choose one set topic as they all flowed quite nicely into each other like rivers into the ocean, but I settled on the concept of science and food culture.

©Farrah Merza: Outside The Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products by Jeannie Marshall
©Farrah Merza: Outside The Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products by Jeannie Marshall

Marshall (2012) talks about how North American culture is nutrient-specific, which means that instead of focusing on the meal, we focus on our nutrient intake (p. 63).  I was blown away! I mean, I have never thought about my motivation behind eating… who does! But it is so true. I catch myself saying “oh, I need to include some protein in my dinner”, when I really should know better and enjoy food. Thank both the German chemist Justus Von Liebig and his research into the “essential elements in food that sustained us”, and American chemist Stephen Babcock for continuing that line of research in collaboration with dairy famers (Marshall, 2012, p. 61). Liebig discovered the “percentages of protein, fat, and carbohydrates that he thought were needed in a healthy diet” (Marshall, 2012, p. 61). However, it was Babcock who found the vitamin link when he devised his experiment of controlling what certain groups of cows ate: one group was limited to corn, one to wheat, one to oats, and the last group to a mixture of all three grains (Marshall, 2012, p. 62). All four groups were not allowed to graze on the farmer-recommended plants they usually graze on (Marshall, 2012, p. 62). The cows fared okay, but when it came time for breeding, the real results were more than evident in their calves: The calves born from corn-fed group were -for the most part- fine, but the calves begot from the other three groups were a different story; they were weak and sick, and the wheat-fed group’s offspring were blind (Marshall, 2012, p. 62). Interesting eh! However, it is important to note that the famers knew that the cow’s varied plant-based, grazing diet was the best without any research; they knew from their agrarian culture, which was passed down from their forefathers. It was a shame that culture was never really credited for their vast knowledge of locally produced food. Unfortunately, research and nutrients was the game, which later skyrocketed when certain diseases (i.e. rickets, linked with vitamin D deficiency; and scurvy, linked to a vitamin C deficiency) were attributed to a deficiency in certain nutrients.

Now please do not get me wrong, I am not against science by any means! However, the research conducted on food has turned on us, the public. Food companies use this research to convince us to buy packaged junk by fortifying them with nutrients or getting rid of the high sodium/sugar levels that are usually present (Marshal, 2012, p. 67). That’s all I ever see stacked on the grocery store shelves. It’s a sad sight, and we need to smarten up. And yet, and the same time, how can we? There’s no time to cook, no consistent, warm climate to grow gardens, no emphasis on locally grown produce with all the exports we’re all exposed to, and no one set food culture because of our diverse demographics. Furthermore, ever since I can remember, I have been drilled with the North American food chart outlining the allotted daily grain, protein, dairy, and fruit and vegetable servings; however, never about local produce, their cycles, and how to use our Canadian soil (aka, never about a healthy, Canadian food culture). But, times are changing as now because thanks to Toronto’s non-profit group called FoodShare, there are schools who pride themselves on their green gardens, which are maintained by students (Marshall, 2012, p. 133). Marshall (2012) talks about Bendale, a technical high school located in Scarborough, which, with the help of FoodShare, created their own food gardens (p. 133). [NOTE: If you clicked the Bendale link, you will be able to see that their specialized skills will include horticulture and landscaping (p. 3). They also have a “Blooms and Bargains” market place open to the community (p. 5)] I was overjoyed reading this segment; my eyes were dewy for the first time with hope for a healthy food culture in Canada. It is a safe bet to say that this is where the shift has to start, from our youth. I actually wrote about educating our youth for the post carbon era last year in Part 2: Educating the Masses (click and read if you have not read it!), which ties quite nicely into this post as I touched on greenhouses and gardens in schools.

So yes, the scientific age versus food culture… but why should it be versus? Why can’t we, the consumers, strip this incessant, profit-based food culture we are saturated in so we can focus on rebuilding a healthy, food culture with the knowledge researchers have amassed? It is about respecting food culture (more importantly the local food culture), but tending to our scientific endeavours as well without our knowledge being abused.

Ripples

Fact: Starting October 2012, Sheridan college is starting to charge 3 dollars to park after 3:00 pm for those part-time students who do not have permits (Parking Policies). It has been free for all this while… so why change it now?

Well, to answer that question, let me ask you this one: Are higher education establishments becoming money-grabbing institutions? I mean, you have to admit that the cost of pursuing higher education (either via College or University) is ridiculously expensive, like for instance investing in textbooks that will become obsolete in under a year.

Now what does this have to do with “ripples” you ask? Well remember that it only takes a drop of water to cause ripples in a vast body of water… so maybe it will only take a cumulation of small changes like this to start off the vehicle of change. What do you think? Have we, the masses, become mindless drones so overwhelmed with the regular bustle of life that we fail to think critically? Critically enough to push for changes?

You tell me.

Suits, Ties, and Higher Education

I’ve been watching Suits after some extreme nudging from those around me and I’m not going to lie, it’s an amazing show. I mean, what’s not to love! The music is great, the characters are believable, and the fashion is incredible… but it’s the premise of the show that really got to me. Mike Ross, one of the main characters, never went to Harvard and yet he landed an associate position with an extremely popular corporate lawyer Harvey Specter all because of his wit and his gift of memorizing and understanding everything he reads. Aka, he gets a chance to make a lot of money without the education to back him up. But, of course, this is illegal. VERY illegal.

*lightbulb*

This got me thinking about real life. There are brilliant people like Mike Ross out there and yet, they don’t reach their full potential because they lack the higher education. It’s a bold statement to say, but unfortunately it is true. They say that this is the era for opportunities which are readily available to all those who seek it… but is it really? Higher education is expensive and with the economy in such bad shape, why should people spend so much money on degree after degree when the promise of a lucrative job available upon graduation is non-existent? Furthermore, for some families, scrounging up the money for higher education seems like a burden, so some people are deprived of the vital support and funds.

Granted that there are some fields where higher education is needed like, for instance, the medical field. Personally, I would feel a whole lot better being treated by someone who has their credentials. But in that being said, getting the essential education shouldn’t be so hard. Solution? What if obtaining higher education wasn’t so expensive? What if it were, dare I say, free? I’m sure you’d agree with me when I say that that would tap into a wealth of brilliant, disadvantaged people. Then, this would truly be the era of opportunities.

Part 2: Educating the Masses

Disclaimer: Please be aware that citations were not used as most of the ideas were used from Part 14, more specifically the ideas of Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow.

The post carbon world is almost upon us, am I right? … or have you learnt nothing from Part One?  Well it is, and like I said before, there is nothing we can do to stop it.  With the last post I talked about the sacrifices we will all face in this new era, but now I want to talk about how we, as a collective, have to inform ourselves and the others around us.  The problem is that not everyone will pick up books or essays, nor will research statistics on how our beloved earth is spiraling downwards.  We have our own personal and social problems that are being dealt with on a regular basis, so who really has the time?  However, part 14 of the book “The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises” has come up with a solution and a pretty good one at that.  The book suggests that we start at the root of the community with the youth, as they really are the future. Instead of being confined to a stuffy classroom while learning about nature through textbooks, why not take a walk around the neighbourhood or go on hikes?  Being outdoors is abundant with more learning opportunities than one might think.  There needs to be an appreciation for nature instilled in the youth so that they can make conscientious decisions with the environmental impacts in mind.

“This generation will require leaders and citizens who can think ecologically, understand the interconnectedness of human and natural systems, and have the will, ability, and courage to act.” (©Stone and Barlow: pg. 410)

How can we ensure that this and the next generation develop this understanding?  Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow, the authors of this segment, suggest that the current educational curriculum needs to be revised to incorporate a more eco-friendly outlook.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of cons that present themselves in the initial stages.  Most schools might not be able to afford the renovations required because it will be a costly endeavour.  Another obstacle are the notorious corporations that are at the forefront of supplying foods to schools; it will be hard to make the shift from soft drinks and chips to the healthier options that could be made available by neighbouring farms because these multi-billion dollar corporations have a stake in it. However, the long-term effects are just too beautiful and ideal to ignore.  Imagine a more sustainable community with greener buildings and facilities equipped with solar panels, lush gardens, and greenhouses nearby to house fruit and vegetable plants, all because of the collective’s cooperation.  More and more students will stick to local schools (community colleges), thus slowly reducing the use of cars as a form of transportation because of the need to commute.

So what is it about the youth that makes them so special?  Why the need to target them when we have adults in powerful places in local, provincial, and federal government bodies that could lobby against the use of chemicals, the over-use of resources, etc?  Well have you noticed that there is a noticeable difference in the youth’s mentality towards life versus the adult’s? The youth have a “Does it have to be this way?” attitude instead of “It is what it is” and it is because of this reason that they can make a world of difference. In Vermont, the Sustainable Schools Project (SSP) that was implemented in the ill-reputable Lawrence Barnes Elementary School turned that school into a shiny pearl.  The key element was that the students were imbued by the civic engagement created by this project.  Without that, this project would have failed.  The children needed to understand the human and natural systems and their interconnectedness, apply this to their surroundings, and then realize that they could make a difference.  This approach worked on so many levels as the children pointed out major flaws around the neighbourhood like poorly light parks and the lack of street signs.  As the authors stated, as a result, the children’s test scores and attendance increased.  SSP worked.

Now, I bet you might be asking where I am going with this and what does this have to do with the environment. Well I’m just about to get to it.  With this generation and the next realizing that they can make a difference by being engaged in their community, they can push for more environmentally friendly facilities that could boost their knowledge with the understanding that these new facilities would take into account the human and natural systems, almost like balancing the scales if you will.  Take for instance the installation of greenhouses on school property.  Both pupils and their teachers can learn hands on about plant growth and gardening while also having a source of fresh and organic foods readily available, thus reinforcing the benefits of an eco-friendly institution.  The new curriculum has to start integrating better conservation, recycling, and eco-friendly habits through hands on education of the children and teachers, which will then influence nearby institutions, and local governments.  We have to target the youth in order to make a successful transition, thus enabling them to survive in what seems to be, a completely different way of life that the Post Carbon Era will usher in.

Source:

Barlow Z. and Stone K. M. “The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises”.  (part 14: pg 410 – 420). ©2010 by Post Carbon Institute. Watershed Media, California.

The Plight that is Teaching

I finally did finish that yoga book.  Finally right!?  Upon completion, I realized that I didn’t learn who my true self was because I already knew who I was.  Needless to say, I definitely came up with a few conclusions of my own.  However, instead of boring you to death with my epiphanies or “A HA” moments, I’d rather talk about the following quote which hit me like a ton of bricks.  Well, at least that’s what it felt like.

“As soon as we begin idealizing our teachers, craving their powers, wishing to participate in the glow of their sidhus**, it wont be too many months or years until we begin to devalue them.  If we make them into gods, we will eventually see them as devils.”  (©Stephen Cope: pg. 294)

The fact of the matter is that this underlying truth resides within the yoga world and in the real one.  Think about it, how many of us instantly devalue someone on top because of a simple and small mistake? It’s mostly people in power and, to most of us, these authority figures are our teachers.  Let me clarify what I mean when I say “teacher”.  Our teachers aren’t just the ones found in a classroom. Oh heavens no. In fact, they reside in the most obvious places like our very homes or just down the street.  You see, learning doesn’t JUST happen in a school, but with those who share in the experiences we have while living.  Therefore, teachers could be anyone who we learnt something from.  Kind of a “duh” definition isn’t it.

The problem arises when we start to idolize them, putting them on a pedestal because of their apparent “perfection”.  I’m sure that everyone’s heard the saying “no one’s perfect”, and yet we tend to think that way regardless of how many times that expression is drilled into our heads. It’s the scariest thing when you suddenly realize that, hey, everyone has his or her own flaws.  You want to know what I think?  I know you do.  I honestly believe that we want to emulate that “perfect teacher” in our lives because we strive to be that picture of perfection.  The sad part is that when that picture crumbles, when that teacher fails us, we completely rip them away from us.  That is when they get the worst press, their lives dragged through the mud because of a terrible blunder on their part.  It’s like they say, those who are at the top usually fall harder.

The trick here is to not equate them to gods, to not put them on a pedestal.  They will err, they will trip and fall, but the important thing is that we learnt something important from them.  The lesson needs to stand on its own, personified and separated from the teacher in order to learn.  If we start associating one with the other and as a result idealize that teacher, there presents that risk of turning our once admired teachers into little devils.

**In yoga terminology, sidhu powers are achieved once the mind is focused on elevating oneself on the chakra ladder so to speak.