Sunday, February 22, 2009

California farms lose main water source to drought

California farms lose main water source to drought

Too bad it takes devastation in the US before our country MIGHT wake up and smell the climate change (that I might add, is disproportionately affecting developing countries - see here and here and here). This is yet another reason why it's a bad, bad thing for the rest of the country to be so dependent on produce from California. I hate buying strawberries from the other side of the country - but that's the only thing that's ever sold in the grocery store!

If you haven't done so already, please sign the Food Democracy Now petition. They do good work.

Food Politics, Social Marketing, the Art of Persuasion and People's Values

Food politics. Ever heard of it? Well this video should give you a good idea: The Food Lobby Goes to School.

Here's a recent NY Times story by Alice Waters.
And if that's not enough, read Food Politics by Marion Nestle. And Food Marketing to Children and Youth by the Institute of Medicine.

This is why we need to do something! Children today are expected to be the first generation to die at a younger age than their parents, and obese teenagers are as likely to die prematurely as smokers. THIS IS NOT OKAY. And it seems like conventional public health interventions aren't working. So why don't we give the industry a taste of their own medicine, by using social marketing? Basically, social marketing is taking the strategies of the corporate industry - the one that has successfully brainwashed society into thinking fast food is "in" and that has even brainwashed people in developing countries into seeing fast food as a sign of prosperity (more on that later) - and using their marketing strategies to positively influence public health. It's all about the art of persuasion and knowing how to get to people's core value systems. If you know what people value, you can get them to do what you want. This is particularly helpful if the thing you want them to do is a habit which is good for them, such as successfully getting a village in Ghana to wash their hands with soap with the "Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing With Soap." So as you can see, the art of persuasion and social marketing can be adapted for a variety of public health interventions - understanding people and their value systems doesn't always have to be used for worsening society :)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why you should question authority

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Irshad Manji [see great bio on her Facebook page] speak at NYU, during a conference on social entrepreneurship through Wagner's Bridge group. She is the author of "The Trouble with Islam Today" and has been described as "Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare." How did she become the person she is today? She knows the importance of questioning authority. As a little girl in Canada, where her family escaped as refugees from Uganda, she attended the madressa, where she was taught that women should be subservient to men and not to ask too many questions about her faith. Well, she was expelled, to say the least. Since, she's critically analyzed the Quran and been a strong proponent of ijtihad - Islam's word for the concept of critical thinking. Ever since learning about her, she's become one of my favorite role models. I truly find many parallels between her and Shane Claiborne, author of "The Irresistible Revolution." I've gone through a similar journey of questioning in my own religious upbringing in the Catholic Church, especially after reading Shane's book. As a little girl in the madressa, Irshad Manji had this question: "What if I'm not being educated? What if I'm being indoctrinated?" So, I challenge you to question your own educators.

Barack Obama understands the dangers of not questioning authority. He specifically appointed strong-minded people to his Cabinet to avoid groupthink.

I question the definition of “conservative." What is being conserved? A way of life particular to the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries? With all due respect, in the long history of the world I would not pick this particular time period to conserve. I would conserve the way God made the planet. He gave us food that grows from the ground to eat - food that is whole and protects us from chronic diseases, not chemically modified artificial food in packages. He provided grass for the cows to eat. Water from springs to drink - not from plastic bottles. He gave us an ozone layer to protect us from the sun. Legs to get from place to place instead of burning fossil fuels and letting our muscles waste away and our waists get bigger. He gave us sunlight as solar energy. THOSE are things I would choose to conserve.

My Research Methods textbook agrees with the idea of questioning what you are taught. I've always wondered whether or not I wanted to get a PhD and "do research for the rest of my life." Well, what if the traditional, keeping-your-distance-from-your-subjects way of doing research wasn't the only way to do research? Perhaps community-based participatory research is an even more effective method. When researchers come to the conclusion that the IRB is more than often a bureaucratic barrier than a way to protect people, and the Belmont Report concludes that its guidelines may not be sufficient in dealing with studies of social programs (versus biomedical research), we should indeed question what we are taught. Community-based participatory research allows the researchers to interact with community members. The success of grassroots organizing has always come from involving the stakeholders in the decision process. Why should the research process be any different? If you want to design a program to help the community, for God's sake, involve the community in the program planning!

During Irshad Manji's speech, she mentioned a conversation between Oprah and Will Smith right after Obama one the election. Oprah asked Will Smith his thoughts on Obama. Will Smith replied, "all of our excuses are gone now, Oprah. GONE."

So now I ask, what do you question in your life? Will you be bold enough to be a "social entrepreneur" and do something about it? It only takes one person to make a difference.

US Plan to Tolerate Unapproved GMOs in Crops Draws Concern

US Plan to Tolerate Unapproved GMOs in Crops Draws Concern

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Whether or not it was meant to be, the application process is quite a time of truly defining who you are. Lately I've been struggling with a way to adequately describe to people who I am - my interests, my motivations, my passion. There are so many different ways I can try to frame it, but when it comes down to it, there's really only one explanation: I've given my life to God. You may laugh at this, if you don't know me very well, but it's true. It's the only thing that fully describes why I work so hard at what I do and why I love it so much. God blessed me in so many ways, and he made me somewhat intelligent, and so what else could I do but give my life over to God? It makes so much sense...everything I learn, everything I see in life, can be described through faith. But it just so happens that at some point along the way, "career development counselors" told me to leave religiously-affiliated "stuff" off my resume. And it also just so happens that I began to grow a faith that was more spiritual than bound by the narrow-mindedness of the church. And for these reasons, most of the time, I really don't talk about my faith. "Preach the Gospel at all times...if necessary, use words" was the maxim ingrained in me by the Franciscans. But upon reading my friend David's blogpost, and upon reaching this point in my life where I'm on a quest to make sense of my life for people who can't see inside my mind, this is the only logical explanation I can come up with. Public health teaches me there are disparities in this world. Terrible inequities. That the only way to truly make change is by paying attention to grassroots, bottom-up approaches (in addition to influencing policy through top-down approaches, of course). Through honesty. And dialogue. And integrity. And then, Shane Claiborne preaches of being an "ordinary radical" (keep in mind the root of "radical" means pun intended...ha). Of loving our neighbors. Of having this passion, this fire, that cannot be quenched:

"There is a movement bubbling up that goes beyond cynicism and celebrates a new way of living, a generation that stops complaining about the church it sees and becomes the church it dreams of. And this little revolution is irresistible. It is a contagious revolution that dances, laughs, and loves." ~Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution

Every day I live and learn on this journey is a humbling experience. It makes me feel like my life is purposeful, and that makes me come alive. I am reminded every day of just how much parallel there is between the stuff that works in public health, and Shane Claiborne's irresistible revolution. So next time I'm about to go jogging with my professor on the streets of Puebla in the early hours of a chilly, Mexican morning (theoretically) and she asks me to explain myself, to explain the passion she sees in me, that's all I have to say - I've given my life to God. Screw the political correctness of it all.