Dr. Seuss cuts to the chase of what’s at stake, as he does in the Lorax, which has become even more popular with the movie.
I have a soft spot for Dr. Seuss (go Big Green!). Like his gabillion and one fans, I never cease to be amazed by his ability to strike at the heart of critical environmental, political, and social issues with a deft hand and a playful heart. He understood that impactful, sustainable change requires people to first pay attention, be open to the message, and to understand the relevance of the issue to their own lives. He also understood that we are all children at heart – and that we are at our best when we can be creative and play (yes, even those of you who declare, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” I don’t believe it, and neither did Dr. Seuss).
The many, MANY studies out there about climate change, obesity, energy consumption are important, but let’s be real. Unless you are being paid to research or read them, you probably aren’t delving too deeply into the footnotes or checking to see the standard deviation of the mean.
Sometimes I feel like we’re preaching to the choir – and the many great news outlets out there that focus on the ever-important issues of environmentalism, food safety, and sustainability probably do too. We may disagree about things, such as the ethics of eating animals or veganism or the benefits of soy, but we are all participating in these discussions. Yet there are still many Americans who do not participate (my family included), not because they don’t care, but because they often don’t see the relevance as a priority of their already super-busy lives.
Yesterday, the New York Times published an interesting article that summarized two studies showing that challenges easily-accepted notions that access to healthy foods is the solution to fighting obesity. Gina Kolata notes poor urban neighborhoods are not always food deserts (places without access to healthy foods), but rather, “food swamps,” places that have an overbundance of food choices. These many food choices, from grocery stores, to fast food chains, to convenience stores, do not automatically lead to healthier food choices because people don’t always choose the healthiest option. Despite the great attention placed on obesity and the many programs out there, obesity rates have not really changed in ten years.
These studies shouldn’t be surprising. Just having access doesn’t mean change.
Just last week, where I live in Durham, NC, a grocery store in a former “food desert” closed. TROSA, a wonderful local nonprofit organization that works with substance abusers, had opened a grocery store two years ago in Northeast Durham to give local residents access to healthy foods. The next closest grocery store is 3 miles away, and on public transportation, that 3 miles can take up to 90 minutes. The grocery store made available fresh fruit and greens, something that “is a rare thing in east Durham” (WRAL, April 13, 2012). According to TROSA, 70% of their customers went by foot.
However, although 70 to 100 customers shopped per day, the average basket size was $5. Without selling tobacco or alcohol, both of which traditionally increase sales at stores, the grocery store just could not survive and is closing with a $100,000 loss (NBC, April 11, 2012).
Or think about it this way: you have limited time, you walk (scratch that, most Americans drive…grrr…see note below about going outside), you drive down the street and need to pick something up quickly. You have been reading about healthy eating, you saw Super Size Me, you’re trying to eat better. You’re not in a food desert, but in a food swamp where there are plenty of food establishments. In front of you is a grocery store that offers some salad options if you park the car – go through the supermarket aisles and get a prepared salad that looks…kinda sad wrapped up in a plastic container – and five five fast food chains that make it easy and inexpensive to fill the belly with hot, seemingly freshly-cooked (if you believe that, you’re on another planet) food.
What do you do? If you are like most people, you make that “exception” and grab a burger and fries. Unfortunately, these exceptions come far too often.
Change, as Dr. Seuss knew, requires awareness, acceptance, and relevancy. Dr. Seuss had this uncanny ability to sneak these issues into everyone’s daily lives, to plant the seed of concern and compassion. So on this Sunday – Earth Day – let’s honor what Dr. Seuss taught us:
- It IS up to each of us to protect the planet and each other (that includes taking control of our food choices);
- Kids instinctively know what is right and what is wrong; and
- People are more willing to learn and adapt behaviors when they are at play and feel ownership of their decisions.
How do we each become responsible to help our planet and our food systems?
- Start with the small stuff that make it fun for you and your family: instead of spending the day going to the mall or playing video games, take one hour to volunteer together at a food bank.
- Find easy ways to save (money, the planet, your health): next week, instead of buying the processed snack bags of chips (which are expensive, not to mention wasteful in packaging and not so good for the body), drop some grapes in an old Ziploc bag.
- Get outside: go outside. Go outside. It is that simple. Walk instead of drive – even if it means walking to the busstop. You don’t need to read studies about climate change, just go outside, and you’ll get why it’s an important issue.*
*Have you ever noticed how eager little kids are to get outside, even if it is to stare at the bug on the sidewalk for ten minutes? We’re NEVER too old to do this. Relax. No one will laugh at you. Even if they, do you care? Kids who are exposed to the natural world generally have a greater appreciation for how we live and eat and a possess a greater love of learning. And since we’re kids at heart, this applies to us, too.
Getting outside not only gives you a chance to breathe (ideally, not outside on a freeway with strip malls, but somewhere with something naturally green), but it also unexpectedly and slowly gives you a greater appreciation for why our Earth needs your help. Being outside also helps you to s-l-o-w down. Believe it or not, being outside also can help you to naturally eat better without reading a whole bunch of studies. I know after an hour outside in the beautiful sun, the last thing I want is a a dried up “burger.” I want a juicy pear. It just happens. Go outside.
Mister! he said with a sawdusty sneeze,
I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.
And I’m asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs–
he was very upset as he shouted and puffed–
What’s that THING you’ve made out of my Truffula tuft?
But now, says the Once-ler,
Now that you’re here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
About play and having fun: who doesn’t love candy? Here’s a healthier way to enjoy something sweet.
Celebrate Earth Day. Go play. Speak for the Trees.
Baked Brie with Candied Pecans and Cranberries
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 8-ounce wheel of Brie
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 TB butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup cranberries
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Roll out puff pastry sheet on a cookie sheet.
3. Melt butter.
4. Add pecans and toast (do not burn) (2-3 minutes).
5. Put Brie wheel in the middle of the puff pastry.
6. Add pecans on top of Brie.
7. Add brown sugar on top of pecan (it will start to melt)
8. Add cranberries on top of brown sugar.
9. Fold puff pastry together and press to seal.
10. Brush with beaten egg.
11. Bake for 15-20 minutes until it is a golden brown.