We are what we consume

This week my mind has been swirling with thoughts of consumption (no, not TB; please don’t call me “Satine”).

Faced with the super-fun task of crafting a budget to pay down my credit card, I have been seeking ways to reduce my spending without sacrificing the quality of everything I put into and onto my body.

As most of you know—despite my unbreakable sweet tooth—I tend to be rather strict about what I eat and the types of products (personal hygiene, cosmetic, household cleaning, etc.) I use. I try to limit my exposure to harmful chemicals however I can. (Useful resource: the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database)

I am also devoted to raising awareness about climate change (if you are rolling your eyes here, please skip the rest of my blog post and instead check out these informative, accessible webpages from NASA—or, finish reading and then check out the site).

On Wednesday, I tried to watch U.S. President Donald Trump’s first United Nations speech—I had only caught soundbites of it live. About halfway through, I paused, then closed the window on my laptop and decided to find something more productive to do with the remaining time I’d given myself to watch the speech.

Retrospectively, that shift was also reflecting a broader awareness of consumption that I have been gaining this week. The title of this post is “We are what we consume,” inspired by the timeless saying “we are what we eat.” However, in my journey to improve and refine my consumption habits, I am aiming to be mindful of more than just the food I eat and the products I buy; I am also striving to be incredibly mindful of what I am reading and watching daily.

After shutting down the president’s disconcerting speech (I’d already gotten the gist of it from my managing editor’s story; I already knew all I needed to, both as a citizen and a journalist, so watching it after the fact was just torturous), I opted for a few other videos:

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Lauren Singer of Trash is For Tossers | Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pF72px2R3Hg

This isn’t the first of Lauren Singer’s videos I watched, but it’s the one I recommend as a starter. On her blog, Trash is for Tossers, Lauren shares her experiences living a “zero waste” lifestyle. All her trash from the past four years is in that mason jar she’s holding.

From Lauren, I learned about Bea Johnson, whom the New York Times has crowned the “Priestess of Waste-Free Living.” But instead of just reading a Times story, I also explored Bea’s website, Zero Waste Home, and watched her TED Talk:

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Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home | Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSUmo-40pqA

I don’t think I will convert my lifestyle to fully mirror those of Lauren and Bea—at least, not yet. But from them, I am learning about how I can save money and produce less waste—which serves not only my bank account but also the planet. I hope to share some of that journey her as well as on my recently-switched-to-public Instagram account: @jess_corbett.

My first move was to buy food from the bulk section when I stopped at Whole Foods on Wednesday. I opted for their recyclable paper bags because I have not yet invested in the reusable ones, but I felt a sense of excitement when I came home and transferred my organic, unsalted almonds and dried mango slices into my glass containers. Baby steps.

Since I returned home from work last night, I have watched two additional documentaries. While they are not about zero waste living, they do align with my goals of mindfully consuming content, and giving more thought to what I do and do not need.

The first has been on my “to watch” list for ages, and I am so grateful I finally sat down to enjoy it. I watched Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix, as I put DVDs into a giant case and ripped apart their individual cases to recycle the paper parts.

The film stars two men who have made it their mission to launch a minimalist movement in America, and while they don’t overtly state that their goal is to acquire less so they produce less waste, their key points resonated with me. Among them, we are happier when we just invest in high-quality things we actually need, and “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”

This afternoon, as I shredded old bank statements, I watched Netflix’s original documentary called Chasing Coral. Although it is heart-wrenching to see how climate change is impacting coral reefs around the globe, I was riveted. I encourage you to watch it until the end; you’ll be rewarded with an original song from Kristen Bell plus videos of baby sea turtles—and who doesn’t love baby sea turtles?


Chasing Coral is available on Netflix.

The film also was not about living a zero waste lifestyle, but it motivated me to be more mindful of my consumption habits. Although we need to globally overhaul our energy systems to effectively combat climate change, seeing how the warming oceans are killing off massive swaths of beautiful coral reefs brought tears to my eyes. I also felt confident that watching the film fit with my goal of more mindfully consuming media content.

So far, this post has just been a list of suggestions for where you should seek information elsewhere; that’s because while I have tried for the past few years to prioritize mindfulness, this consumption component is still very new for me, and I don’t have too much to say about it just yet. I merely want to share these resources and invite you to send me any related/relevant suggestions.

Thanks for reading, and if you’re not bored of me yet, below I’m including a roundup of my recent articles for Common Dreams. 

xo, Jess

My recent articles—related and not to my comments above (read all my CD articles here)

#StopBetsy trends after our lovely Education Secretary takes a “horrific step back” on Title IX (aka the federal law barring sexual discrimination in schools)

Even all 50 state directors of Medicaid agree that Graham-Cassidy is terrible

EPA forces staff to attend anti-leak classes as Trump wages war on the planet

Two California cities sue Big Oil companies for their contributions to climate change

Surprise! Bill written by two male Republicans sucks for millions of women

Gun stocks surge as Trump pushes to ease export regulations for assault weapons

New poll reveals nearly half of Americans and 2/3rds of Democrats want a single-payer healthcare system implemented in the United States

New research released during UNGA reveals there are more than 40 million modern slaves worldwide—and many of them women and children

Progressive groups and lawmakers mobilize in response to Republicans’ last-ditch attempt to cut off millions of Americans from healthcare 

Conservationists are outrage after Zinke memo reveals the federal government’s unprecedented assault on public lands

Bolstering the case for a single-payer system, a new report shows how for-profit insurers are fueling America’s opioid crisis

“Spitting in the eye of transparency,” the federal government reveals just 22 Mar-a-Lago visitors after promising to release full logs

The EU’s food safety watchdog is under fire for copying and pasting analysis from Monsanto into a Roundup safety report

As the United States reels from several natural disasters, 300+ groups endorse a sweeping climate bill

New research shows 10 percent of global GDP is hidden in tax havens while the world’s poorest people suffer

As Democrats and Trump bicker, Dreamers send a clear message: ‘No deal without us!’

In districts where Trump dominated, these Democrats delivered a stunning blow to the GOP in special elections

Trump gets shit for exploiting storm victims by pushing tax cuts for the wealthy amid disaster recovery

In a “groundbreaking” development, more than a dozen Democratic co-sponsors rush aboard Bernie’s Medicare for All train

After Hurricane Harvey, Texas is left with a toxic soup of shit, spilled fuel, pesticides, and more

16 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Muslims are still central targets in war with no end

If humanity doesn’t turn back from climate abyss, says Pope, “we will go down”

Mueller warns the White House that he plans to interview six Trump aides

Inspired by Standing Rock, First Nations ‘Tiny House Warriors’ protest pipeline project

Citing climate change hoax, Rush Limbaugh downplayed Hurricane Irma, then evacuated

As Scotland vows 100% transition to electric cars, the U.S. caves to the auto industry’s dirty demands

As the planet rages with fires and storms, experts are fed us with murderous climate denialism

Study finds 83% of tap water around the globe tested positive for tiny plastic fibers

Abortion rights are under attack as Kentucky moves to close the state’s last open clinic

“This is about basic decency,” says Obama, denouncing Trump as the DACA decision sparks nationwide protest

“This is evil,” say immigrant rights advocates, blasting Trump’s decision to end DACA

More than 120,000 of “world’s most persecuted people” are fleeing violence in Myanmar

Trump’s ending of DACA will spark protests, lawsuits, and congressional battles

“No more road left” for diplomacy regarding North Korea, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley tells the United Nations Security Council

Analysis reveals Hurricane Harvey triggered the release of nearly a million pounds of toxic air pollutants

An “Impeach Donald Trump Now” Billboard goes up a mile from Mar-a-Lago

Trump warned: “If you end DACA, we will make your life impossible”

The sinister side effect of an amazing new cancer drug: one dose costs nearly $500K

Relief for immigrants as court blocks a “patently unconstitutional” law in Texas

As workers ditch Trump, AFL-CIO president says the White House is full of “racists” and “Wall Streeters”

UN Human Rights chief questions if Trump is fomenting violence against journalists

With a midnight deadline, activists begin a final push to thwart Trump’s attack on net neutrality

“Unprecedented” rainfall and “catastrophic” flooding devastate the Gulf Coast

A Charlottesville coalition will march 10 days to D.C. to confront white supremacy

Thousands of San Franciscans celebrate after a far-right group cancels their rally

Trump’s “pioneering” hurricane news dump fails to prevent controversy

“Law is dead in America”: presidential pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio is widely condemned

Outside Trump’s White House, Dreamers vow to “fight like hell” to #DefendDACA

Defunding clinics, GOP governor “throws women under the bus” in South Carolina

Rightwing protesters to be welcomed in San Francisco… with piles of dog poop

100% renewable roadmaps for 139 nations reveal comprehensive path to fully sustainable system worldwide

Trump-allied firm slammed for $1 billion lawsuit against Standing Rock water protectors

Harvard study confirms #ExxonKnew and misled public about the climate threat for decades

Trump’s hint at pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio denounced as “an official endorsement of racism”

As Trump ramps up the War on Terror, U.S. bombings kill 170+ civilians in a week

Cleveland Browns football players kneel during the national anthem in the largest NFL racial justice protest yet

Treasury secretary’s wife provokes outrage with a classist tirade on Instagram

With Trump, warns Scahill, the “unelected national security apparatus” has been unleashed

Demanding a ban on killer robots, tech experts warn of opening “this pandora’s box”



Corporatism, feminism & the health food movement

Food, Inc. is a documentary released in 2008.

Food, Inc. is a documentary released in 2008.

Last night, I finally got around to watching Food, Inc.

I have been tempted to hit ‘play’ nearly every time I have logged on to Netflix the past few months (which is actually not that many times thanks to my crazy college schedule). Finally, at the beginning of my winter break and still recovering from finals/the nasty cold that’s kept me in bed for a week, I decided to watch this documentary.

I grew excited the moment I saw the name Michael Pollan flash across the bottom of the screen — he’s one of my favorite foodie folks. I discovered him while transcribing an interview for “Food Fight: Feminists and Femivores,” a piece published by In These Times in June 2013.

Food, Inc. (2008) is a few years older than this article, and has been mentioned in conversations, articles and books that explore the health food trend among white middle-class Americans — including Emily Matchar’s “Is Michael Pollan a Sexist Pig?”, which is mentioned in the In These Times piece.

The film achieved a few things: it made me afraid to set foot in a supermarket or fast food restaurant ever again; it showed a rather comprehensive picture of the industrial world of American food and farming; and it reminded me how frequently the public has no idea how most food in the U.S. is produced. It also showed the financial struggles — those of the farmers, beholden to the major corporations, and those of the people shopping for the cheapest deals at supermarkets and fast food establishments.

Now that much of our food is engineered, according to Pollan, our bodies are hardwired to desire three things: salt, fat, and sugar. But talk to any white middle-class 20something or 30something and those are three things we’re taught to fear (at least, that’s been my experience attending a pricey private college in New York State). There is a portion of today’s American society that knows full well not to touch the cookies, canned cranberry sauce, and other ‘conventional’ temptations.

Personally, I try to limit my grocery shopping to the farmers’ market and a nearby co-op; I eat local, organic foods whenever possible. I grew up taking dance classes, and whenever I can work it into my hectic schedule, I attend yoga classes at a studio in town. Whenever I have a spare moment, I peruse a close friend’s food blog and carry my Whole Foods reusable shopping bag to pick up groceries. However, I am deeply intrigued by this recent cultural obsession with health, and how it’s so often contained to young, wealthy white women.

Matchar included a quote in her Salon piece that speaks to this trend:

“The return to domesticity by young, intelligent, educated women like you see around here is a reaction against a broken food system in America,” says Marcie Cohen Ferris, a professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on food culture. “We’ve lost our connection to traditional handmade cuisine, kids could have shorter life spans than their parents [because of obesity and poor diet], there’s global warming. This new food culture is a response to an industrial model that’s not working.”

Matchar’s Salon piece is a fascinating look at feminism and the kitchen, and she makes the notable point that problematic eating habits and processed food entered the “normal” sphere in the U.S. far before feminism — hence her swipe at Pollan with the headline, since he’s been quoted as partly blaming feminism for the families of today eating poorly.

However, Matchar also writes, “The historically inaccurate blaming of feminism for today’s food failings implies that women were, are, and should be responsible for cooking and family health.”

Before I go any further, I should note that I am a rather vocal feminist with one too many horror stories from the kitchen. However, my investment in healthful eating and interest in the health food movement have motivated me to believe strongly that both men and women should understand how to cook healthful meals for themselves and their families. That means women are in part responsible for how they and their families eat. Unfortunately, this belief is often at odds with the financial realities of many Americans, which has led to my interest in how the health food movement so often excludes those with low incomes.

I have recently immersed myself in the concept of food justice and explored some of the activism that accompanies it. Part of my interest came from my work on a capstone class project called Just Ithaca, for which I wrote about holiday season food-related charity; part of my interest came from exposure to a program created by my local co-op of choice, GreenStar (about which I have also written). My more recent interest in how money fits with my convictions has caused me to carefully consider buzzwords, trends and movements, especially those that seem on the surface to align with what I believe. I have been considering what I want for the health food and food justice movements I’ve observed, and in some instances supported.

Yvonne Yen Liu captures my feelings toward it all quite well in the In These Times discussion: “We need a food justice movement that attacks patriarchy, class inequality and corporate control of the food system.”

That’s a movement I’d like to see.

GreenStar to open third Ithaca store as co-ops trend nationally

By Jessica Corbett and Lauren Mazzo

Photo by Lauren Mazzo

GreenStar Co-op has two locations in Ithaca, New York. A new store on College Ave. is set to open sometime in 2016. (Photo by Lauren Mazzo)

GreenStar Co-op announced last week it will open its third store in Ithaca on College Ave. in 2016, reflecting the rise of cooperative businesses across the country.

GreenStar Co-op, a community-owned natural foods market created to provide Ithaca residents with locally-sourced food, has been around for more than four decades. But in the last three years, the number of co-op businesses in the U.S. has grown by a third.

Today, the the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives estimates the nation has about 300 worker cooperatives in various industries, compared to the amount documented by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperatives in April 2011. At that point, the state of New York had 13 co-ops. Today, there are 20 in New York City alone.

In June, the New York City Council approved a $1.2 million grant called the Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative. Eleven worker cooperative support organizations, including the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, received portions of the grant ranging from $35,000 to $230,000, Antoinette Isable-Jones, FPWA communication director, said. The money will be used to develop 28 new co-ops and provide support to 20 existing co-ops.

“Worker-owned cooperatives are known to increase worker wages, provide improved working conditions, but also contribute to sense of pride amongst workers and foster a new era of community entrepreneurs,” Isable-Jones said. “With this first-time-ever grant, we are excited about the opportunity for New York to become a model and national leader in creating a thriving cooperative economy.”

Weavers Way Co-op of Philadelphia, which serves 5,200 households, has seen a 12 percent growth in sales in the last year, General Manager Glenn Bergman said. That growth compares to a national average of 2.4 percent for all grocery stores reported by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

GreenStar and Weavers Way Co-ops are both part of national group of cooperatives called the National Cooperative Grocers Association.

“We share information with other co-ops, and we also work together, and we go to meetings together, and we purchase together to get better pricing,” Bergman said.

Association members share more than just tips and suppliers—they also share values that have proven successful for the cooperative business model.

“I like the fact that the profits go back to the community, the members, or [the] staff,” Bergman said, noting that the co-op also provides health insurance, vacation time and sick time to employees, as well as nonprofit support to the local community.

Joe Romano, marketing manager for GreenStar, said the community-oriented nature of the co-op has been key in GreenStar’s success, ultimately leading to its expansion into catering, a public gathering space, a nonprofit, and now its Collegetown store.

In a community of more than 30,000, GreenStar boasts nearly 10,000 members.

“That tells me very clearly that we’re meeting the needs of the community, which is obvious because the community started the business to meet their needs,” Romano said.

Romano moved to Ithaca and started working in an entry-level receiving position at GreenStar 15 years ago. He said he didn’t care what he was doing—he just wanted to work at the co-op. Today, he said he couldn’t be more proud of his role to better the Ithaca community.

“It’s important because it is part of the community of Ithaca. It’s owned by the community,” Romano said. “There’s no Mr.GreenStar that’s going to get a yacht at the end of the year. If we do well, the community does well.”

Check out our interview with Joe Romano on SoundCloud.

Read this story on Ithaca Week.