Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Social Learning Summit 2011: Going Green on the Social Web

This past weekend, The Social Media Club of American University hosted a profoundly educational event on my (alma mater, American University’s) campus, the Social Learning Summit. It was the first of its kind to take place at a university and ended up being hugely successful, in my opinion.

When Alex Priest reached out a few months back to see if I would be interested in speaking, I was honored. I joined a panel focused essentially on the question, “How can social media be used to communicate science with the public?” or…simply put,  “How can social media make science cool?”

Fellow panelists and I (@ProfRubega, @GreenAU, @starfocus, @JLVernonPHD) ended up touching on some fantastic points, from the non-profit perspective, to the professor’s perspective to the agency perspective.

While jotting down some notes during the panel, I found the following to be the most interesting which stood out to me as the ways different groups/organizations/individuals best utilize social media in their communications around science :

  • The viral nature of the Internet: Good vs. evil – The ability for things to go “viral” on the web is exactly what some companies are looking for, particularly nonprofits that don’t often have the means for the paid media to get messages out there. But for some, particularly pharmaceutical companies, this can have a negative edge in that in can keep companies from engaging with certain groups, e.g, if a biopharma company doesn’t want to put out a message that could be misconstrued by investors, so they end up avoiding all outreach with advocacy groups in general, for fear that one message might spread very quickly, to the wrong audiences.
  • Just try it and see if it works vs. baby-step approach – It should be obvious where pharmaceutical communicators fall more often than not: definitely in the baby-step approach category. But for (some) nonprofits and most educators, the idea of diving right in and trying a novel way of using social media to get students engaged (Professor Rubega actually assigned her students to “tweet about the birds around them” and ended up encouraging them to connect dots and explore their environment in ways she had never seen before), is actually the best way to get over the hurdle of fear and see faster results. Sometimes success can come in a sprint, and sometimes in a marathon.
There are definitely some ways that nonprofits, agencies and educators alike can all learn from one another. For example, all science-based organizations, from biotechs to nonprofits advocacy groups to universities, need to use approaches that make the science more personal and relatable. They also should remember that at the end of the day, the earned media that can often result from social media outreach is outstanding from an economic standpoint. However I thought the points above were important reminders that the reality is, the blanket approach cannot and will probably never work if you really want to accomplish your intended educational or communications-related goals.
In the meantime though, it’s inspirational to learn from each other, because perhaps it’s just the kind of insight we need to overcome our own stumbling blocks in the future.

*tap tap* Is this thing on?

This blog was created during my senior year of college at American University, as part of an independent study on sustainable food production. I intended for it to be a place I would discuss insight and developments with regard to agribusiness, aquaculture, water, small and big organic and nutrition as it relates to “real” food. Ultimately, it transformed into an extended ‘thesis’ of sorts on sustainable food production, for a study I undertook with the guidance of my professor, Terry Sankar.

After graduating, life gets even busier. I found myself working full-time for a local tech start-up company (Hy.ly) while also job hunting. Local Foodie Fight took a back burner–and then faded away. To be honest, I didn’t want to blog much while applying to jobs, out of fear I might say the wrong thing–might I insult a client of an agency I was applying at? Might I come across as ‘too much of a hippie’? (I know, that sounds silly, but it crossed my mind.)

In September 2010, I started working as a digital associate at Spectrum Science Communications, a PR agency in Washington, D.C. I guess there’s something about starting a new job that compels you to thrust yourself into it and avoid all possible distractions or time-sucks. And that’s where my head has been for the past six months–trying to avoid the time-suck. But I think I’ve passed that fearful stage.

I had been noodling over starting to foodie-blog again, on the heels of my new Arganica membership and the prospect of our backyard garden blooming. But, I’m not going to lie—the final push to get me back on here, typing away at 5am on a Tuesday when I have an 8+ hour workday starting in 3 hours: I’ve humbly and excitedly accepted the chance to speak on a panel at the upcoming Social Learning Summit at American University, called “Going Green on the Social Web.” I am pretty jazzed about this opportunity, mostly because I’ve never spoken on a panel before, and it’s a personal goal of mine not to sound like a bumbling idiot at some point in my life while I am doing so.

Hopefully, now, blogging will feel less like a burden and more like a source of happiness that challenges me and hopefully offers value to others. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve also discovered because of the ‘traction’ this here blog got “in its hey-day,” I still get about 50 hits/day from search and blog rolls alone, even though before now, I hadn’t updated in over six months. And that isn’t bad in my book.

I hate to write one of those “Oh hey I took a hiatus and here I am promising that won’t ever happen again—back and better than ever!!!1” posts…but…well, there, I just did.

We graduate in eight hours.

I have a lot to say and announce and express gratitude about on here.

But right now I need to sleep, because tomorrow at 9am, a whole bunch of talented, amazing, intelligent friends of mine and I are graduating from American University—and my roomie and I decided sleeping through the ceremony might be funny to us, but wouldn’t be to the 20-odd relatives who travelled thousands of collective miles to see us wrap up our college careers.

Wrap up, though? See, I never understood why they call it a “commencement” ceremony. Never made sense to me. Doesn’t “commence” mean to “start?,” I always thought. “Shouldn’t they call it a ‘Culmination ceremony’ or something?”

Not until right about now did it make sense. “Commencement” isn’t a misnomer remotely. It’s so entirely appropriate. Nothing’s ending tomorrow really, it’s just beginning.

I think that’s fabulous.

“Congraduations,” everyone.  🙂

What many environmentalists haven’t learned: economics says personal action drives change

Lester Brown, if you ever read this, it is not meant to be a personal attack. I find you to be an exceptionally influential person in the field I care so deeply about. However, I felt compelled to use what I noticed about your visit to AU to talk about an issue that I have wanted to express for a while, and that is the importance of personal responsibility and individual action and how those coincide with one’s future aspirations.

I wrote this blog entry a couple weeks ago

…but never posted it because I wanted to cool down and look back on what I wrote a little later to see if I was just fired up or if I was maybe on to something.

And I think I was on to something.

The purpose of the following entry is not to bash the Baby Boomer generation, although it does hint at that in places. It is not to say, “Hey! You got us into this mess! You help us figure it out!” Far from this, it is meant to serve as a way to empower members of my generation, it is meant to help us understand that we each, in our own lives, hold more power than any corporation and any politician does. We have a wallet, we have knowledge, we have the freedom to use both as we wish. But most important of all, and forgive me for sounding trite, but we have each other.

As Barbara Kingsolver said in her commencement address to Duke in 2008, during what I consider the greatest piece of advice that someone could give our generation:

“You can be as earnest and ridiculous as you need to be, if you don’t attempt it in isolation. The ridiculously earnest are known to travel in groups. And they are known to change the world.”

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And so this a variation of what I had written that night, when I came home downtrodden and–I’ll admit, almost near tears (OK, maybe I was just having a rough week…):

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Lester Brown and the Dasani bottle and why I got so mad

Last night, I heard Lester Brown speak on campus. For those of you who don’t know who he is (I didn’t until the event) he’s the author of over 50 books on global environmental issues, he’s the founder of the Worldwatch Institute, the Earth Policy Institute, and basically the inventor of the term “sustainable development,” (evidently, a legacy he wishes to renounce, saying that we have a “language problem” in this movement and instead should use the phrase, “saving civilization.”)

And guess what? He’s 86 years old, which is pretty impressive.

But here’s a couple other things about his talk:

  1. He drank from a McDonald’s cup during the first half of the presentation.
  2. He drank from a Dasani bottle the second half.
  3. He quietly slipped away to take a cab home (he lives in D.C.) after answering three questions out of swarms of students who were dying just to shake his hand.
  4. He appeared to have done so partly because his books, which were meant to be at the reception after for people to buy, never arrived. (Which appeared to have been some sort of dealbreaker?)

(First, let me just say he isn’t the first environmental activist who I have seen speak who does all of these things, so I’m not singling him out. I am merely using him to make a point. And yes, I am sure he was just given the Dasani by someone at KPU or whoever. But if you were speaking on such a topic, wouldn’t you have said, “Sorry, I have my own bottle–mind refilling it at that water fountain?”)

These four seemingly innocuous actions stood out to me more than anything he said throughout the hour he spoke.

We, (and by we I mean the younger generations, say, everyone under forty or so)—we, the ones born into the “Age of Irony,” are the ones that quite literally must change things. We must pick up the pieces of the broken systems our grandparents left us with. Our lives, and most certainly our children’s lives, depend on it, according to statistics. A couple such statistics:

“By 2025, there will be no glaciers left in Glacier National Park.”

“Our population may only stabilize before 10 billion people because at that point the mortality rate will begin rising steadily due rising levels of hunger.”

I could rattle off others, but you’ve heard them all before.

Brown raised a point in his talk about how economists need to learn ecology. He said, “The World Bank uses all kinds of economic models to predict and explain trends. Why haven’t they looked at our growing population and asked, ‘How will we feed these people?'”

I don’t disagree, but there are also way too many ecologists out there who don’t understand basic economics. And I mean, basic. They might understand advanced economic theories. But they don’t seem to understand the concept that communities bound by solid belief systems, even just one, can change things. Living by a principle, when that principle is shared by a group, can change things. We’re currently seeing an example of this in one New Jersey community who is setting a precedent with a group of businesses who are pledging to stop selling and using products that have the endocrine-disrupting chemical triclosan in them (OK, maybe I used this for-instance because I wrote the press release and pitched the press conference that announced this to the media…) But, this is just one for-instance. There are countless others.

We can use a basic law of economics to create social change and influence more environmentally beneficial behaviors. It’s quite simple:

  1. people refuse to buy products that harm the environment
  2. they tell their friends
  3. issue campaigns promote education even further
  4. companies must create products that don’t harm the environment
  5. those that fail to evolve based on consumer demand can’t keep up in the marketplace.

The environmentally-conscious companies thrive, the environment thrives, humans thrive. It’s basic economics and it’s basic environmental morality.

If you participate in the easily avoidable actions that are driving our problems (ahem, drinking bottled water), you are subscribing to the idea that your actions don’t mean as much as some other person’s. In reality, it is the sum of our individual actions that drive change.

It’s easy for people like Lester Brown to stand before an audience of twenty-somethings and say to them, “Look at these problems which were set on course over a hundred years ago! They must be fixed! Here is this puzzle, please solve it and while you do, I am going to tell you about all the statistics of this dire situation.”

And yet, with a Coca-Cola bottle in hand. Talk about taking Ghandi’s everlasting, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and just tossing it right in the garbage.

How can the leaders of this movement expect to inspire us to change if they are still doing the same old messy things? And perhaps more importantly, how can we expect the people who scream, “You’re a crazy fascist for threatening to take away my bottled water” to take this movement seriously when its leaders are drinking bottled water as they speak before us, preaching principles of conservation?

Final point: This wasn’t all just about a Dasani bottle. If you thought that it was, I apologize for not having been able to make my point clearer through this extended metaphor of sorts.

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My take-away message

I submitted a speech to AU’s School of Communication for our commencement ceremony a couple months back. I wasn’t chosen but they seemed to like mine and a couple others enough to have our messages up as runners-up (take a look if you love that mushy stuff…self-promo #2…reaching my limit, aren’t I?).

But, here is what my advice would’ve been more like if my speech didn’t need to be SOC-oriented:

“Don’t think about thirty years from now in terms of where you will be career-wise. Don’t think about which organization you will be working at, trying to fix our broken world. Instead, think of the organizations that will have wrapped up their work because there is no longer a need for them. Dream up a world where there is no Worldwatch Institute, because our commonly held beliefs finally came to unite us, so we were compelled to take up different efforts on our own, to watch out for the world and each other in our own lives, no longer requiring an institute to facilitate. Imagine a world where we don’t need organizations to rattle off statistics. Imagine there were no statistics to report.

Even better, imagine living out these statistics…

  • living modestly, in a neighborhood where you grow most of your food within a few miles
  • being part of a community that is self-sustaining because that is what makes people happiest and because that is what makes the most sense
  • having a child who learns about what your generation endured and how it was able to turn things around
  • writing a book, and then having it available online (or whatever the current technology called for! On the current “iPads”?)
  • being part of a generation, a community, that was constantly learning to evolve.

And imagine how much better life would be.”

I know we’re not there yet, remotely, but these “far-fetched” dreams are important. They keep us positive and positivity restores our faith that what we do, here and now, actually matters. It all matters.

How positively overwhelming that is. How positively empowering, too, right?

Fun with food processor-ing

Woo! So, this is the final homestretch for school. I have one more final paper for *this* class that I am going to finish up tonight and get turned in and then, I’m done! It’a going to be hard to put all I have learned from this blog into a 2-page paper. How am I going to do that? Wish me luck!

I took this weekend off, quite literally–I slept until 4:30 on Sunday. Who does that? Consequently, I was awake rather late playing with my food processor. And I may have proud mother syndrome but I am going to say, she’s the best, ever. Literally, the best hummus I have ever had. The best almond butter I’ve ever had. Not the best cookies I have ever had–but that’s only because I should have added the chips last…and then would have retained the chip-ness. Instead I got CHOCOLATE COOKIES. Yummy but not what I intended. Also, I made them vegan! Yeah! I have a problem eating regular chocolate because of the dairy content. So these ones didn’t give me…issues.

Jen thinks I could land a husband with this hummus.

“Recipe” – Yummus Hummus

  • 1 can of chickpeas (15 oz.)
  • juice of 2 smallish lemons (keep seeds out!…obviously!)
  • like a couple tsp. of olive oil
  • a couple dashes of salt
  • 1 1/2 T. sesame tahini
  • 1-3 cloves of garlic depending on how much you love garlic and the size of the clove

Put it all in a food processor, zooshzoosh… and you’re done!

OK, I bought all of this because it was on sale 4/$9. and it will last me lunches for a couple weeks.

Dinner! Hummus on a pita with tofurkey = the best.

Chocolate chips that don’t make me feel sick! Yay!

Vegan CHOCOLATE (chip?) and peanut butter cookies

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • cinnamon, a hefty dash or five
  • vegan chocolate chips
  • 1/3 c. white sugar
  • 2/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 Earth Balance butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 T. peanut butter because I wanted to get rid of it so I had a jar to store my almond butter in

Basically you put the dry stuff in the food processor with the dough attachment, and in a separate bowl mix the softened butter with the sugar. Add the vanilla last. If you want them to look like mine, put the chips in at the beginning, but if you want them to come out like real chocolate chip cookies, put the in at the end.

This literally was just almonds (one lb. bag for $4.49 at Whole Foods made enough to fill an old PB jar. Meaning making almond butter at home is cost-effective. AND SO MUCH FUN. TRY IT. )

Another amazing thing I did over the weekend: bought a new computer! My old one has been kernel panicking lately (just turns off sporadically), so I decided to splurge and spend some hard-earned babysitting dough.

OK enough messing around. Off to write my paper!

PS: Got any great food processor ideas? Drop me a line 🙂

Maqluba, hummus, falafel, baba ghanoush, baklava…

Yum. My professors rock, that’s all I have to say.

So last night being our final exam block for my Theories & Methods of Nonviolence class, our professors had us over to one of their homes to hand in our final papers and enjoy some fine home cooking. The professor whose home it was, was born in Palestine, so the food was mostly of that Mediterranean variety. It was all so delicious and it was a really cute night. And I took pictures this time because the food was just presented so wonderfully and tasted so great.

This is maqluba. It is basically a rice casserole and in this picture it is the one with chicken and cauliflower I believe. But the vegetarian one that I ate had eggplant and tomato. It was divine. And they flip it over so it’s like one of those upside-down pineapple cakes, only, it’s a casserole.

Salad.

HOMEMADE hummus and baba ghanoush. Which tastes infinitely better than out of a tub at the grocery store and now that I have a food processor and more time on my hands I can’t wait to make my own.

Falafel! I’ve only had falafel once before this, in Brisbane. It’s really popular in Australia for whatever reason…and my professor’s was awesome.

SO much good food.

PISTACHIO BAKLAVA. ‘Nuff said.

Oh, I also tried Arabic coffee. Not a fan. It’s really thick and gritty-like! Anyone ever tried it?

I think the best part of the meal is that it was so made-with-love tasting. It felt like being home for a holiday or something, and not just because we were out in Suburbia (which was totally weird, to see a vast backyard and homes so far apart from each other…) but because he and his wife cooked it all for us. They even set out ziploc bags after and made us take as much as we could home for leftovers. How awesome is that?

I went into this class knowing next to nothing about international relations and conflict resolution and all of that, but I still found it to be really interesting. It was way over my head in terms of being able to contribute to class discussion in a room full of many people who have actually been to the countries and seen things first-hand. But, I did get to learn a lot of new stuff and it was good to be out of my element.

All in all, if you’re an AU student and looking for an elective to take, I’d go for this class. Plus, there’s an awesome dinner at the end. =)

Thank Earth for the beautiful weather this weekend.

This weekend was fun. Friday night I went out with friends and celebrated my birthday. Got to see people who I haven’t been able to see all semester due to jam-packed schedules. It was a good time.

Then Sunday, quite the contrary to the forecasted weather, the sun came out! In fact, it never even drizzled until about 10pm when I was finally arriving home at the end of the night. Which was awesome. So the plans for Sunday went off without a hitch and I was able to make it to the Climate Rally on the mall, hosted by Earth Day Network, and the BBQ my professor threw at Gangplank Marina in southwest D.C.

I had one major complaint about the rally, other than the fact that they didn’t follow their schedule remotely. Which was that they had basically no vegetarian options at the event. Not that I planned to get food there, but it still irritated me. I tweeted about this, and had a lot of people agreeing it was pretty ridiculous. Be the change you want to see in the world, people. It was great to see bands like Passion Pit though. And Jimmy Cliff. Didn’t stay for The Roots but I bet they were great too.

Afterward, we went to the marina for the BBQ. It was really funny and indicative of the “type” of people in my class, but I would say more than half of us were vegetarians. There were plenty of veggie burgers and smart dogs to go around =)  Not to mention all the other delicious goodies that I didn’t really photograph because I’m still getting used to being  “that girl” that takes pictures of all the food (don’t mind doing this in front of friends and family but since I didn’t really know everyone that well…) I think Brad was particularly shocked by the vegetarianism because in Australia, “vego’s” aren’t nearly as common as they are here. They aren’t unheard of, but it’s still seen as a bit weird if you don’t eat meat. But BBQ’s, now those are as Aussie as it gets. So Brad manned the grill much of the time.

I also met Sarah, sister-in-law of Katie from Health for the Whole Self! I love the small world we live in.

The following pictures show the houseboat Eve lives on (the BBQ was on the marina’s “party boat”). She was recently interviewed by Politico about her “green lifestyle.” She’s kind of a big deal. But in all seriousness, she openly confesses that she does all of this stuff not just because she’s is an environmental goddess, as the article paints her as, but because they allow her to live frugally (houseboats are less expensive to live on than a waterfront house on land) and live “lazily” (why would she want to continuously have to refill the boat’s water tank when she could just take shorter showers?)

Worm composting! Yeah, we’re a bunch of eco-dorks. Whatevs.

Look how puffy/tired my eyes look. Totally exhausted from the eco-weekend. Oh also, Brad leaves to explore his next adventure in America/Canada tomorrow. Everyone wish him luck on his journey! I’m jealous. I want to travel…

Before I head off to work on my 8-pg paper on non-violence that I have yet to begin…I wanted to say something.

I guess the one thing that gets on my nerves slightly about Earth Day is the general rhetoric surrounding it. It’s not really about saving the Earth. The Earth isn’t going anywhere. However, certain species are dying and are being threatened, including the human species. The environmental movement should be encompass all people and be about changing our behaviors so that we pollute less, emit less CO2 and contribute less to global warming, sustain our soil nutrition, water, and bio-diversity, and all of the things that contribute to our survival, as humans. In a sense, it’s not really about saving the Earth, it’s about saving ourselves. Or rather, it’s about saving our children and grandchildren. I don’t know if that message would hit home harder for people or not though. And when it comes down it, maybe it’s just an argument over semantics. But I figured I would make that point here and now.

When it comes down to it, in my opinion (there are others who disagree), “saving the planet” is primarily a selfish endeavor. And isn’t that what nature is largely about after all? Survival of the fittest? What do you think? I’m not saying it’s bad to think of it in this sense, I am just saying it could maybe help us to frame the movement in a new way.

I have a few more entries coming up before the end of the semester, one of which is about the importance of our individual responsibilities/possibilities as a species evolving to live in a world where technology exists in harmony with nature, instead of pitted against it. I have written it already for another class, but it’s a bit long so I am going to parse it down so my message isn’t lost.

And, I’m off! Good luck with finals to those who are students and have a great week to everyone else, catch you on the flip side.