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What My Tattoo Means

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Introduction.

I had my first tattoo done on January 10th, 2019 at the Tattoo Temple in New Orleans, Louisiana. I had been thinking about this concept for about a year before I made any moves to actually have it done. Since it is getting (really) hot outside now, I have been wearing short-sleeve shirts instead of long-sleeve (duh). But I have had a lot of people comment on my tattoo lately, thinking that I must have gotten it done very recently. It has just been covered up all winter and it is just now getting to make its’ big debut!

If you know me personally, you know that I am passionate about coffee. I have worked in coffee for almost 3 years now, and have been drinking it consistently for about 6 years. I am currently the general manager of a third-wave, specialty coffee shop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I work for the same company that I initially fell in love with coffee over – Reve Coffee Roasters. Reve means “dream” in French. This company was born out of true passion and a dream, which is something that I have always adored about the company. One core principle of the company has always been the creation of community, and it is one that has become so very important within my own life.

Community.

I found a real community in and through coffee. For whatever reason, people who work in coffee are just the best. I have made some of the most genuine friends in this industry. I have found some of the hardest working, and most efficient human beings in coffee shops. And I find it interesting that within the coffee community, there are endless sub-communities. So many people love coffee, but they also love other things. I love how it can connect the most unlikely people.

Connection.

I truly learned how to connect with other humans over drinking a cup. Me and my mom started going on coffee dates during my junior year of high school. I would get an almond milk latte, and she would get a mocha.

I have never been a good conversationalist until very recently (and I still struggle with verbal communication), but I seemed to open up after a good cup. My mom and I made a great friend who was the main barista at our favorite shop (Reve Coffee Roasters). Little did I know that this barista friend that we made, would later offer me a job as his assistant manager of a new shop opening in Baton Rouge.

Before Reve, I got my very first job as a barista at my churches’ cafe. This was by no means a third-wave shop, but it was here that I developed the ability to communicate well and become efficient in concocting drinks. This is also where I learned how to come out of my introvert shell (when needed).

Growth.

I have recently become very intrigued by plant growth and production. As with any other plant, coffee plants require a lot of things in order to grow and be fruitful. It requires a very specific environment, appropriate soil properties, sunlight (but not too much), etc. Like so many plants, it is made up of many complex chemical mechanisms and reactions. And like all plants, we can find similarities in our own human growth cycle.

My tattoo is a reminder of the many seasons of growth that we endure has human beings. Some seasons are very fruitful, while some may wipe out the entire crop.

My tattoo also reminds me to always keep learning. Because the day we cannot grow plants, is the day that we go hungry. This is why I chose to include some of the parts of the coffee plant that make it work and reproduce, within my tattoo piece.

Sustainability.

Working in the third-wave coffee world has shown me how production of coffee needs to change if we are to have coffee available over the next few decades. Even third-wave coffee production (which has very strict sustainability standards) can definitely be improved. Sustainability (in every aspect of life) has become something that is extremely important to me. Whether it be our food systems, fashion, lifestyle, and coffee – I believe that keeping sustainability at the forefront is the only way to ensure a promising future.

Pleasure.

When it comes down to it, drinking coffee to me has a lot to do with pleasure. It is about an experience. It is about a comfort that I haven’t found in any other food or beverage. I have never been one to reach for a cup of coffee purely for the caffeine. In my mind, that is almost an abuse of coffee. I strive to drink only enough coffee so that I can focus (although I am not always perfect at this).

Honestly, I have fallen in love with the taste of coffee. I don’t drink almond milk lattes anymore, but instead reach for a pour-over as my drink of choice. I love picking out flavor notes, assessing the roast profile, and examining the mouthfeel that all comes with taking a sip.

Conclusion.

Coffee reminds me to slow down, although so many people look to it for speeding things up. Coffee is a craft. From field, to cup – coffee should be respected. The people who harvest, process, and brew it – should be respected. It should be made with care and precision. And I believe that for optimum enjoyment, it should be consumed in a ceremonial type manner. Coffee deserves it. You deserve it.

And some people may hate coffee – the taste, the smell, even the thought of it. Maybe coffee is “too much” for some people. And some people may hate tattoos. But I see this tattoo piece as an art form. I am NOT just another “hipster” barista who wanted a coffee tattoo (not that there is anything wrong with falling into this category, I just truly do not believe that I am that cool).

I have this tattoo as a reminder to me, every day – to embrace community and connection, to love the growth process, to think about sustainably often, to slow down, and enjoy the small things (like a good cup of coffee).

Three Places, Five Years

Introduction

The last five years of my life have been truly enlightening. What astounds me is that the biggest lessons that I have learned have not been in the classroom, but rather a result of real life problems and experiences. I also cannot forget to mention all of the amazing teachers, mentors, and friends that I have met over the course of my college career. I also cannot proceed without mentioning the unrelenting support of my family. None of my successes could have happened without the guidance and wisdom that my parents passed on to me.

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I feel very privileged to have attended a public university to obtain my Bachelor of Science. If I could have gotten the credentials that I need to become a Registered Dietitian without attending university, I most certainly would have. I have never been a fan of how the school system works, and how everyone’s is expected to learn and test the same exact way. I firmly believe that each individual has a unique way in which they learn best, and it simply isn’t fair to hold everyone to the same standards. But I knew that I would have to jump through some hoops to get where I wanted to go. This is just how the world works, I have come to accept that. It most certainly is not fair – what it takes to become “successful” and build a career in today’s society. The system is corrupt, and it will take a lot of dismantling to see real change.

In light of the recent racial injustices that have been amplified recently, I want to fully acknowledge my white privilege and admit that it has played a huge role in my educational achievements. Before I move into the details of my previous educational experiences, I want to state that I plan to fight for justice and equality, for all, for the rest of my life. I plan to use my platform, my career, and my privilege to amplify voices who have been previously forced into silence. I have a lot of work to do in regard to becoming a better ally (I think that all white people do), but I am more than motivated to do this work. I’m in it for the long haul.

I also feel that it is important for me to document that the last 3 months of my last semester of my undergraduate program was greatly interrupted by COVID-19. The added stress that this pandemic brought on during such a crucial time in my life will never be forgotten. This is a shout out to all of the people who graduated in Spring 2020. I am so proud of us. Let’s do great things.

That being said – here is a tribute to the three places that I have learned the most over the last five years.

 

1. Louisiana State University

I attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. Coming from a small private high school, I honestly didn’t know what to expect coming into such a large, public university. Despite warnings, I can honestly say that I was never majorly intimidated and the LSU Campus Life staff does a great job at helping students find their community while attending. I quickly fell in love with the huge oak trees and other native plants that covered the campus.

After orientation, I was actually motivated to create an on-campus student organization called “The Plant-Based Society” as a way for vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians to connect with people who were like-minded. I served as president all five years that I attended LSU, and this organization of people brought so much joy and hope to my otherwise overwhelming life. I learned so many important lessons in leadership being involved in the Plant-Based Society. I learned things that my professors could never articulate within a classroom. I encourage anyone who is still in undergraduate school to get involved in student organizations and leadership! More and more, employers/graduate programs value experience and volunteer work just as much/more than GPA.

I majored in Nutrition and Food Sciences with a focus in Dietetics. This is required for anyone aiming to become a registered dietitian. A Registered Dietitian (RD for short) is essentially the highest form of a nutritional professional and is a legally regulated term. RD’s are required to complete 4 years of undergraduate/graduate course work, 1200 hours of a supervised internship, and must sit for and pass the RD exam in order to obtain a license to practice. It is an insanely rigorous process. I knew nutrition was my passion, and I wanted the most credibility that I could get. This was the only way.

Halfway through college I began to struggle in one of my chemistry classes, and I ended up getting behind since some of the required nutrition classes were only available during the spring semesters. Since I knew that I would have to be there an extra year, I decided to add on a minor so that I could remain full-time with classes. I chose Horticulture as my minor because I had taken up a huge interest in growing food. I knew that I would want to incorporate growing food, local food systems, and sustainable agriculture into my practice as an RD someday so this seemed like a logical route. Which leads me into the next place that I felt like I learned abundantly.

 

2. Fullness Farm

It all started when I spotted their beautiful produce at the Red Stick farmers market during my sophomore year at LSU. The more often that I went to the farmers market, the more I became intrigued by the idea of growing food. I joined the newly formed Sustainable Agriculture Club at LSU just out of curiosity and that really exposed me to a whole new world. I fell in love with not only growing food, but doing so in a sustainable manner.

During my junior year I decided to add on a minor of Horticulture to my degree program. I wanted to be able to not only recommend eating more fruits and vegetables to my future clients’ diets, but I also wanted to be able to aid them in growing it for themselves so that it was more easily accessible. I was able to get credit for horticulture class by interning at Fullness Farm.

Fullness is a small-scale, sustainable, and organic farm located in Baton Rouge, LA. Interning and eventually working part-time at Fullness over the last two and a half years has opened my eyes and deepened my respect for where food comes from. Farming is HARD work. Not only is the physical labor intensive (especially on a small organic farm where little machinery/equipment is used to aid the processes) but mentally a large toll is taken on farmers when it comes to crop planning, revenue, and balancing time with family/friends.

While working here, I learned:

  • How to prep beds for planting (raking, hoeing, fertilizing, compost, etc.)
  • How to plant by transplant and by seed
  • How to prep trays for seeding transplants
  • How to properly take care of germinating seedlings
  • Field maintenance
  • Harvesting techniques
  • Cut flower production
  • Washing and packing fruits/vegetables for market
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.

The list could go on. There are so many small details that go into running a farm. The greatest take-away from my experience at the farm has to be my deepened understanding of food production. Many people don’t realize what goes on in order to produce their food. We take it for granted. It’s so easy for us to run over to the grocery store to grab what we need. What we don’t see at the grocery store is the months/years of planning, preparation, maintenance, harvesting, processing, and transport of our food.

Thank you to Grant and Allison, for all that you and your beautiful farm has taught me.

3. Reve Coffee Roasters

This business has been dear to my heart for about 7 years now. I remember going on coffee dates with my mom at the old location off of W Pinhook road in Lafayette, LA. I had wanted to work for them during my high school years, but I knew that I would make much better money working as a server in the restaurant industry. Once I moved to Baton Rouge for school, I worked at a few local businesses there before I was offered a job as the assistant manager for a new Reve location that was under construction. I gladly left my other job to help establish a name for Reve here in Baton Rouge.

I believe that I thrived in a managerial role mostly because of my organizational skills, and my previous leadership experience with student organizations. I found out that I really was capable of leading a team well, which is certainly an important skill for a future dietitian to have.  I eventually moved into the general manager position while still being enrolled as a full-time student and working a few hours per week at Fullness. I learned the hard way – how very important delegation is. I was busy all of the time, but I absolutely loved being able to fill my time with things that I was passionate about.

The science of coffee is something that I will always be intrigued by, and I do not plan to stop learning. Although my time working in the specialty coffee world came to an abrupt close due to the COVID-19 pandemic that exploded this past March – I will always be so grateful for the people that I was able to meet and work with during the almost two years that our Baton Rouge location was open.

Working in coffee has led me to making life-long friends. I say this all of the time, but specialty coffee shops really do attract the best people. For my friends reading this (you know who you are) who I’ve met through Reve: I love you! You are all so completely creative, passionate, inspiring, and talented in your own unique ways. I’m grateful to have crossed paths with you all! #TeamReve forever.

Conclusion

I still have a lot of learning to do. This is definitely not the end of my educational career. However, I wanted to commemorate the last five years somehow (since I didn’t get a proper graduation ceremony, thanks COVID) and writing is the best way that I know how. In just a few weeks I will be starting a combined program to complete my dietetic internship and my Masters of Nutritional Science. I am so looking forward to this next stage of life, and all of the new places and people that I will get to learn from.

Big shoutout to my good friend Brennon Fain for taking these incredible senior pictures for me. You captured who I have been for the last five years so incredibly well, they are everything that I could have wanted. ❤

A New War: Fighting Climate Change

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert in environmentalism. I am simply someone who cares deeply about these issues, and have been researching issues concerning climate change for 5+ years now. I hope to come back to this blog post soon and add more to it + provide more resources. Thanks for reading!

What is climate change?

Simply put, climate change refers to a change in global climate patterns. We have seen large changes due to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels. Despite all of the scientific evidence backing it up, some people still argue that humans could not possibly contribute to climate change.

But here is a snippet from the recent IPCC report that was published in 2018: “A.1. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming5 above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. (high confidence)”1

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So, the most distinguished bodies in science are telling us that:

a) climate change IS real

b) it is happening now, and is predicted to worsen

and

c) it CAN be affected by human activities.

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Why is it important?

This may sound basic, but we only have one earth. We are already seeing incredible changes in the climate. We are seeing increased rain and flooding in many parts of the world, and it is projected to worsen if we stay on this path. We are seeing increased numbers of forest fires. We are seeing costal erosion. Polar ice caps are melting, which increases not only the sea level but also the temperature of the water.

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And you may be thinking: “Yeah, but all of that crazy stuff is happening far away from me.” Wrong. If you are reading this you are probably a Louisiana native. And Louisiana’s coast is fading away quickly. 

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Enter a Southeast Louisiana, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico, as it is often depicted on maps. 

 

 

 

 

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What maps would look like if they showed only solid land. The light blue indicates swamps, marshes, and wetlands.

 

The maps above come from a recent New Yorker article titled “Louisiana’s Disappearing Coast.” Give it a read, especially if you live here.

What might the world look like if we don’t do anything about it?

Not only will we see the destruction of the environment itself, but human kind is also at stake. We could potentially be setting ourselves up for excessive rain/flooding, abnormal occurrences of hurricanes/tornados/cyclones, crop destruction, massive land loss, ocean warming, war, etc. It is hard to actually visualize what this all might be like, however.

The fiction novel American War really helped to put this all into perspective to me. As someone who has been very aware of climate change for years, it is easy to get caught up in the numbers and the statistics. This book helps to connect the dots between human activity and climate change. It also presents a pretty scary possibility of a second Civil War happening here in America, essentially rising up as a result of the South being unwilling to change their destructive ways.

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Much like the maps shown in the earlier section from the New Yorker, this fictional map found in American War shows the massive costal erosion that had occurred at the time the story was taking place. Not only was Louisiana affected, but you can see that almost all of Florida is gone.

What can we actually do about it?

We can vote for politicians who believe in and care about climate change. Because they are the ones who are making/signing off on bills and laws, and can push for carbon taxes.

We can decrease/eliminate our consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs. Because animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of greenhouse emissions, and it has been for years.

We can decrease/eliminate our consumption of palm oil containing products. Because palm oil production is one of the largest contributors to deforestation.

We can decrease/eliminate our use of single use plastics. Because plastic does not decompose. It will either end up in a landfill or an ocean. In a landfill it could take thousands of years to even somewhat degrade, and then the fragments will contaminate our soils. and water.

We can aim to recycle and compost. Because sometimes we can’t avoid plastic. But recycling is not the solution.

We can aim to reduce/eliminate our use of automobiles and walk/bike instead. Automobiles, trains, planes all contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but again sometimes these are unavoidable. But if you are able, try walking or public transit!

I could go on. There are so many small things that we can do, that really do add up. But I cannot control what other people do at the end of the day. We cannot always force people to do something even if it is the “right” thing to do. We can only control what we vote, for, consume, and promote. And for the sake of the future earth, I can only hope that everyone will take a stand along with me.

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References:

1. IPCC, 2018: Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press. (https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/)

2. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/01/louisianas-disappearing-coast

Why We Should Eat Local

INTRODUCTION

Most of us have heard the phrase “shop small” — but what does that really mean anyways? Shopping “small” means not supporting big industry and big agriculture. There are many definitions for eating local that revolve around multiple factors such as: freshness, quality, politics, sustainability, geography, and economics. Geographically there is not very much agreement. Some definitions may suggest a 100-mile radius, but really there is no set-in-stone definition. For me personally, I refer to food grown in Louisiana as local food. Super local to me would be food grown in Baton Rouge because that is the city in which I live. But everyone can set their own parameters and standards as they wish.

Organic and local go hand-in-hand. Local food is a lot of the time organic, even when it is not labeled as such. Organic certification costs farmers a lot of money and time spent in paper work so a lot of them opt out, although a large majority still follow organic practices. You can always ask the farmers about whether or not they follow organic practices if it’s not labeled organic – most will welcome questions! I have done some research into whether or not we should care about whether our produce is organic or not – because it is all the buzz right now. There seems to be quite a few benefits to organic farming when compared to conventional. A few benefits include environmental, economic, social, health, and nutritional benefits.

HEALTH & NUTRITION

 

You simply cannot find fresher food when you are buying local. Farmers usually have to harvest the day before, or the day of, to ensure quality produce for farmers market. Fresh is almost always best! Studies show that local food may be superior to non-local food as long as the food has not been stored for days/weeks before consumption.4 This is why it is important to attend your local farmers market or sign up for a CSA program – this way, you can ensure that you are consuming freshly harvested food.

Some health and nutrition benefits include: dietary diversity, less chemical residues, lower nitrate concentrations, lesser chance of farmers being exposed to chemical pesticides, higher mineral and anti-oxidant levels found in organic plant products, and lower amounts of heavy metals. The health benefits of organic products are the main reason for the increasing demand. As people are becoming a lot more aware of how food is produced, the more people are drawn to the transparency of organics.1

ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY

The environmental benefits include: protecting biodiversity, better quality of soil, water, air, and also energy efficiency.Environmental degradation is of concern to any farmer. The amazing thing about organic soil management practices is that they are capable of actually restoring degraded land and prevent further degradation.

Some of these restorative practices include low/no tillage, cover crop usage, mulching, and agroforestry.1As the earth’s population continues to rise, so does the need for food. However, the conventional practices that we have adopted are proving to become detrimental and no longer a sustainable option. Conventional farming contributes to global warming, air pollution, water contamination, and eutrophication, and biodiversity reduction.2 Soil is becoming depleted of vital nutrients. Carbon emissions continue to increase as large-scale animal agriculture tries to meet the demands of nations that are consuming far too much meat, eggs, and dairy. Organic farming is much kinder to our earth. It can be re-generative, sustainable, and more efficient. It protects nature, while conventional does mostly harm. Organic farming may even help to mitigate climate change.3 And climate change is arguably the one of the most important problems that we have at hand. Not to mention, organic farmers have better lives and increased food security.1

Energy balance and energy use-efficiency are very important factors to consider when comparing the effectiveness of organic versus conventional farming. Studies show that higher energy input is needed for conventional farming versus organic due to the use of mineral nitrogen and pesticides.2 Although organic production uses less energy, less yield is a result most of the time. Conventional practices have been specifically formulated to increase yields and they are extremely effective.

Another issue that comes up when considering the effectiveness of organic farming to conventional is: transportation. Large scale, conventional farms are indeed producing high yields and transporting extremely long-distances. One advantage to the small scale, organic farms is that they stay mostly local with sales and not much transportation is required. The connection between transportation and organic farming suggests that the environmental harm of transportation output associated with organic food production may be too negligible to outweigh the environmental benefits of organic farming.3

ECONOMICS

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An economic benefit of organic farming is that the organic industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the food market. The price premiums for organic food is another economic benefit. On top of that, farmers get 44-50% of the premiums which ensures that farmers are being properly compensated for their hard work.1 When buying directly from the farmers, your money goes directly into local economy vs. national/international markets.

I personally find the farmer’s market very affordable. I can always walk away with a big bundle of produce for no more (most of the time less!) than the amount that I would spend at any other grocery store.

SOCIAL & ETHICS

Some of the social benefits include: improvement of social capacity, increases in social capital, increase in employment, empowerment for woman farmers. Most people do not realize the social impacts of farming. The quality of life for farmers can be improved greatly when working on an organic farm versus conventional.1

When you buy from a small farm, you can rest assured that you are paying your farmer a fair wage. When you buy from big companies, you can never be sure as to how the workers who picked/processed your food was paid fairly. Big companies may not be paying farmers, line workers, factory workers fairly. There are still so many unethical practices happening in this world and we can vote for justice with our dollars. It is everyone’s responsibility to fight for these worker rights. Not to mention some of the terrible work conditions that workers may be exposed to.

WHERE TO SHOP:

  • FARMERS MARKETS
  • SIGN UP FOR A CSA
  • WHOLE FOODS MARKET
  • LOCAL PRODUCE MARKETS & GROCERY STORES
  • MOM & POP/LOCALLY OWNED RESTURANTS
  • FARM-TO-TABLE RESTURANTS

CONCLUSION

There are of course, some challenges with organic farming that include: the potential of lower yields, nutrient management, certification, market, and the need for more education and research.1 Low yields are mostly due to: insufficient nutrients in soil, limited options to enrich the soil, poor management of disease, pests, and weeds. Nutrient management can be tricky when growing organically. Crop rotation and cover crops are very important but cannot replace certain methods such as nitrogen fertilization. There are two different types of organic farming: certified production with premium prices which can lead to the bigger organic market, and non-certified which stay within local markets. Getting certified organic is very expensive and time consuming, so a lot of small scale farmers choose to just stay local with their sales. Another thing that could hinder organic farming success is market accessibility. Some farmers may live hours from the nearest market, and it may not even be worth it to travel so far. Plus, expensive equipment may be needed to transport the food. Education and research may not be widely available for farmers who are in developing areas, which creates another challenge. And while many argue that the world could not be fed by organically produced foods, there are many social, political, and economic factors playing into this regard.

No one should be suggesting that the whole world switch over to using only organic practices, as of right now. It would be extremely hard (and maybe not possible) to feed the entire world with only organic products. However, there definitely should be a shift towards growing mostly organics. Not only for the high demand, but also the future of the earth. One study states that a one percent increase in organic farming acreage could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 0.049%.If we continue on the path we are on currently, future generations are sure to run into major problems with food production. We cannot afford to continue depleting our soil and expecting it to magically replenish itself. Organic practices such as composting, low-till, and cover crops can all help to regenerate healthy soil. There has been a revolution on the horizon for the local/slow food movement for quite some time now. More and more people are choosing to shop at their local farmer’s markets and support small local businesses. If we can encourage people to eat as locally as possible and decrease the demands of conventional products – that could make a huge difference. Most people know now, that they can vote with their dollars. That being said, there is room for both conventional agriculture and organic agriculture. Arguably, both are very much needed in order to grow the amounts of food needed to sustain the people of earth. But as a consumer, it is our responsibility to tell the growers what we want. Let’s tell them that we want great health, environmental sustainability, fair pay for their work, economic growth on a local scale, and social empowerment – lets choose organic and local food.

References

  1. Z Jouzi, H Azadi, F Taheri, K Zarafshani, K Gebrehiwot, S Passel, P Lebailly. “Organic Farming and Small-Scale Farmers: Main Opportunities and Challenges.” Ecological Economics132 (2017) 144–154.
  2. H Lin, J Huber, G Gerl, K Hülsbergen. “Effects of changing farm management and farm structure on energy balance and energy-use efficiency—A case study of organic and conventional farming systems in southern Germany.” J. Agronomy.82 (2017) 242–253.
  3. J Squalli, G Adamkiewicz. “Organic farming and greenhouse gas emissions: A longitudinal U.S. state-level study.” Journal of Cleaner Production. 192 (2018) 30-42.
  4. Gareth Edwards-Jones. “Symposium on ‘Food supply and quality in a climate-changed world’ Does eating local food reduce the environmental impact of food production and enhance consumer health?” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 69 (2010) 582–591

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Health

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INTRODUCTION:

What you are about to read, is my personal journey in finding true health. It has been a long journey thus far. It’s been a rollercoaster actually. Although, I know that this is only the beginning.  I have learned that health cannot be measured, quantified, or even truly defined. Health relates to the mind and spirit, just as much as it relates to the physical body. My hope for sharing this story is that even just one person may learn from my mistakes, and hopefully find encouragement in my successes. This journey has been ongoing for five years, and it continues every single day. And just to clarify: I am in no way certified to tell anyone what to eat or not to eat. My dietary choices of past and present were decided after months/years of research.

THE BEGINNING: Year 1

My personal health journey started at a fairly young age. I was eating a standard American diet until I was about 16, and one day – I decided that I wanted to be healthier. I wanted to be better at sports. Maybe slim down a bit, even though I was not necessarily overweight by any means. Not unlike most normal teenage girls, I suppose. I started researching online, reading books, watching YouTube videos. Trying to find the most credible sources when searching for the healthiest diet for a human being. I started learning about the negative effects that dairy, eggs, and meat have on our bodies. Of course, I had no clue that those were unhealthy things to consume because I grew up in an environment that promoted them to be absolutely necessary for healthy human growth & development. I double checked everything, and decided to slowly cut out these things, starting with dairy. Next came eggs. Giving up meat came last, and that was definitely the hardest thing to give up culturally. At first it was hard to convince my family that this was in fact a healthy thing, that I was doing. They all thought that I would wither away, and they really weren’t completely wrong in thinking that.

STARVING: Year 2

I cut those animal products out of my diet. Dairy, eggs, and meat are all very calorie dense and full of fat and protein (and a lot of terrible things that most people don’t know about such as: cholesterol, carcinogens, growth hormones, etc). So, when I cut these things out and didn’t replace those calories- naturally I did lose weight. I was also starting to exercise every day. Whether it was sprints down my street, at home workout videos, or weight lifting on our patio gym- I was burning loads of calories and not putting enough in. I didn’t realize this though. The excess weight that I had on my body took about a year to come off. I was feeling really great for most of that first year. At first, my energy levels were amazingly high.

A year of eating extremely clean plant-based foods (but not enough of them) did create a problem however. I was starting to develop OCD tendencies around what I ate. Later I found out that there was a term for a branch of an eating disorder that seemed to match all of my symptoms – “orthorexia.” I basically wanted to eat a perfect diet and I would obsess about food for so many hours of the day. I wouldn’t even go out to eat sushi with my family at the local Chinese restaurant because they only had white rice for their rolls. I eventually started feeling very tired and weak. I was starting to get comments from friends and family. They questioned the vegan diet from the very beginning, but my withering away contributed to even more frustration for them. I was getting so many comments and not understanding why. When I looked at myself in the mirror or in photos, I liked what I saw. I never thought that I was getting too tiny. I always saw room for improvements in my appearance, and that didn’t mean losing weight to me. I wanted to be muscular, toned, and fit physically. That’s all that I wanted. But a 5’ 3” me weighing in at 90 pounds dripping wet, was just not completely healthy. I had also lost my period for a whole year at this point, which obviously resulted in and correlated with some hormonal problems. I simply didn’t have enough fat on my body to sustain me for much longer.

CARING WHAT PEOPLE SAID: Year 3

All of the comments eventually pushed me into action. I was sick and tired of people telling me that I was tiny and weak. I wanted to be strong. So, I put conscious effort into eating. I knew that I had to eat more than I was comfortable with. I knew that it would take time for my stomach to expand, but I slowly pushed my caloric intake up. And the funny thing is, when I eventually gained 15-30 pounds people definitely commented on my weight just as much as they did before.

One of the biggest lessons that I have learned from my health journey is that: you can never please everyone, and you should never try to. First, I was too skinny. Now I am “filled out.” Unfortunately, that is how most people in this world think. We are either skinny or fat, black or white. The uniqueness of the human race is all too often- not acknowledged.  Here I am, just trying to be “healthy.” The word healthy can mean so many things.

UNCOMFORTABLE: Year 3

My body had been starving for so long, that when it began to feel nourishment – it HELD on. It held on to the food and weight. I would find myself not being able to control myself when it came to food. And I was so terrified of that. Food and my weight was something that I had easily controlled for so long. During this period, I would eat half of a jar of peanut butter at one sitting and wonder why I had just done that. I could have never done that before. I realize now that my body was just trying to recover.

Our bodies crave nourishment. When we are lacking in something, our bodies do a great job of telling us what that thing is. We just have to listen closely enough and follow our instincts. I want to clarify that I did not have a severe case of binge eating, nor was I ever diagnosed with a binging disorder. But the word “binge” is the best word to describe the relationship that I had with food at the time.

GAINING WEIGHT: Year 4

When I started noticing that I was gaining some weight, I panicked. I had grown accustomed to my small and petite figure. The fact that I couldn’t fit into my favorite pair of shorts any more made me want to cry. But at some point – I realized that I wasn’t fat. I was gaining a healthy amount of weight. I was starting to have a monthly period again (which was so encouraging but of course annoying at the same time). No one likes gaining weight. No one likes feeling “fat.” We as humans naturally want to feel comfortable and light in our own skin. But there are unrealistic ideals about how a girl should look in this society. Just because we are not rail thin, does not mean that we can’t be beautiful or feel beautiful. Weight is not the sole dictator of health or beauty.

FAD DIETS: Year 4

After I noticed that I was starting to gain some weight, I immediately felt like it was too much and that I would have to lose some of the weight if I was going to feel good in my body. At the time, I was following a bunch of vegan “YouTubers” who all seemed extremely fit and lean. A large portion of these vegan internet sensations were eating a “high carb, low fat” vegan diet. Which was such a contrast to the ever growing Paleo and Ketogenic diets which were blowing up at the time. Some were even doing “Raw Till 4” which meant that they were eating only raw fruits and veggies throughout the day, and then feasting on a ton of cooked starches at night. Like I said- these people appeared very lean and they all swore by this diet. So, I tried out this new diet. It was one of abundance. Which was a refreshing idea for someone recovering from Orthorexia. The idea that someone could eat almost endlessly all day and not really gain weight because they were eating “clean” foods, sounded great. But this diet only worsened my binging habits. And I definitely didn’t lose any weight on this diet, I only gained more. During this time, I hated my body. I hated being in pictures. I hated looking at myself. Not to say that some people can lose weight following those diets. And not to say that those diets were not healthy for those individuals that I was following. A healthy diet is different for each person. I just had not found my healthy diet yet, and this experience left me feeling so confused.

DEPRESSION & ANXIETY: Year 4

I have already shared a little bit about my depression and anxiety in a post titled “Restoration.” But I haven’t really mentioned the fact that I believe that my diet and lifestyle choices played a significant role in that chapter of my life. After eating a “high carb, low fat” diet for almost a full year, my body was completely starved of vital nutrients. I had believed that fat was the devil and it would only make me more fat. I now know and believe that healthy, plant-based fats are crucial – especially for brain & hormonal health.

Another thing that was contributing to my depression was the fact that I had gained a lot of weight, and because I felt fat – I didn’t exercise. For almost a whole year, I wasn’t exercising regularly. And that whole year, I had never felt so tired. It was really just a terrible cycle. I felt tired, so I didn’t exercise, and then I felt even more tired/lethargic. I seemed to keep on gaining weight, and so I still didn’t want to go to the gym. Of course, I was working 2 jobs, trying to do well in college, and also keep up a long-distance relationship. So, I had very little time even if I had felt like working out. But that break from exercise taught me a whole lot about my body, and how it functions best.

NOW: Year 5

I now eat a well-balanced diet. I eat for my health, not my weight. I am exercising almost every day again, and my energy levels have picked up significantly. Honestly, I am always learning and implementing new things into my diet because the truth is – nutrition is an ever expanding and evolving field. That is what fascinates me about it. That is why I am pursuing a career in it.

I hope that my story can shed light on some facts: You can either gain or lose weight on a vegan diet. You can be healthy or unhealthy on a vegan diet. The choice is up to you. There is no perfect diet for every single human being. We all have different genes, blood types, preferences, gut microbiomes, food availabilities, etc. I will always believe that a mostly whole food, plant-based diet is the optimum diet for any human. There is too much evidence backing that up. But there are exceptions.

I have found my health. My own, personal definition of health. I believe that each of us has our own version of health that we must find. You may have to find it through trial and error (like I did), or maybe it comes to you effortlessly. I encourage you to experiment. And remember that the term health is more than diet. Take care of your mental and emotional health too. Do research. Learn about your body and how it functions. Change your diet up a bit. Eat more plants. Move your body. Get out of your comfort zone. Find what makes you feel amazing.  I am learning to love my body, the way that it is, at this moment. It is not always easy, but it is beyond worth it.

My Thoughts On You

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February 2018:

This is scary.

Because, so all of a sudden,

It hit me.

Feelings that I didn’t think

That I would be able to feel

Again.

Or at least,

Not for a very long time.

You’ve helped to open

The most hidden away parts

Of myself.

At first

I could not fathom

Sharing my whole life

With a different human.

The thought of

Being someone else’s

Was overwhelming,

To say the least.

To know someone

Takes so much

Time, commitment, and desire.

And yet you know me,

Almost as well

As he did.

And in even less time.

And you have spoken to me,

In my primary love language-

Quality time.

And without me asking for it.

You make

Time for me.

You go out of your way,

For me.

And that is all that I could ever ask for.

Time.

Although, I’m not saying

That I’m ready

To go all in.

But I think

That I am ready to go

Somewhere

With you.

March 2018:

You showed me

More effort,

Care,

And sweetness,

In just a few weeks’ time

Than my last relationship

That lasted for years.

It hasn’t been

Much time

But maybe

During the last year

Of friendship

I have been falling

For you.

Slowly, but steadily.

Until my heart

Was ready

And open enough

To hold you.

And maybe

You are exactly

What I needed

When I didn’t know that

I needed anything at all.

So, I surrender.

To the thought of us,

Being each other’s.

April 2018:

We’re never really ready.

Are we?

We are stubborn

And think that

We know what

Is best

For ourselves.

But sometimes

The best things

Come

When we are least

Wanting.

And I tried

Pushing you

Away.

I pushed the thought

Of you

Away.

I wasn’t “ready.”

But are we ever

Really ready?

And now

You’re more than

What I want.

And you are everything

That I could need.

May 2018:

You are the biggest goofball

That I know.

But sometimes

You take your own life

Too seriously.

I hope that I can help you to learn

How to be easy one yourself.

Because I learned how to

Be easy on myself

The hard way.

I hope that I can always

Be here for you

When life seems overwhelming

And the future seems uncertain.

Because you deserve

A hand to hold.

You deserve all of the support

Encouragement

And love

That this world has to offer.

I hope that I am

The person that you look to.

So I met this boy working at a local café. Our first interaction consisted of him rushing into the kitchen and nearly toppling over all of the food that I was bringing out. I said “Woah slow down there.” with some sass & then probably rolled my eyes. Little did I know that I needed his energy in my life. I needed his charisma and boldness. I needed his persistent spirit. His intense energy balances out with my mellow energy. He’s rubbed off on my quite a bit, luckily. I’ve opened up to him like I have done with only a couple of other people. We worked together for over a year but then left that company & went our separate ways. We stayed in touch but we were both pretty busy. We were both getting over hurt from past relationships. But this guy pursued friendship with me, even when I would hardly give him the time of day. He pursued me. He respected me. And I eventually developed a crush on him. We went to a concert back in February and I almost couldn’t even focus on the concert because of how badly I wanted to hold his hand.

Happy birthday Connor Raiford. Thank you for being my best friend, and the most caring boyfriend in the world. Twenty-three spins around the sun. I would feel so honored & hope to be by your side for the rest of your years to come. Thank you for taking the time to know me. Thank you for all of the many laughs.  Thank you for being patient with me, and encouraging me every single day. I really do not know what I was doing without you all of this time.

Restoration

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Restoration.

It is a new

State of being.

And one to celebrate.

I wake up,

And actually feel

Fully alive.

I feel

Rested.

Nothing feels

As extraordinary

As the peace

That comes with

Waking up.

To wake up in the morning

And to feel

Refreshed.

Not fatigued,

Drowsy,

Or still utterly exhausted.

To feel restored.

And having not felt

This energized

In so long –

I cannot help

But want to do

Everything.

Last year I was experiencing symptoms of fatigue and depression. I was not clinically diagnosed, but I knew what my body was telling me. It was screaming “slow down.” I would sleep for 12 hours per night, and then wake up feeling even more tired than I did before going to sleep. And for a whole year, I have been healing. But for months, it seemed like I was making no progress at all.

But I kept on, taking care of myself. I made sure to cut back on extra stressful activities such as intense exercise. Which was extremely hard for me because running is one of my favorite things to do. I continued to sleep for at least 8-9 hours per night. I made sure that my diet was well balanced and made some macronutrient adjustments. I implemented a regular practice of yoga. I drank herbal teas every night. Lots of lavender essential oil.

Most importantly- I opened my heart. I was so closed for almost a whole year and I hadn’t realized that this was contributing to my fatigue and depression until I had come out of it. I told myself and everyone around me, that I was OK. I pretended like nothing was wrong for so long, until everything that I was suppressing inside became all too heavy to handle.

I was under emotional stress and fatigue just as much as I was under physical stresses. I was confused, and broken-hearted. And I allowed myself to be confused and broken-hearted for almost 8 full months, which makes me sad to think about now. Obviously, I couldn’t sustain that and I eventually had to just let go.  Letting go was my savior but it did not come easily. I had to let go of a physical person and our relationship completely. And I had let go of mental ideals about the way that I thought that I should look. So I let go, but I still told myself that I would not open up to anyone for a long, long time. However, letting go allowed me to open fully.

Looking back on this time, I can still be thankful. When I wake up now – and with so much ease, might I add – I feel so blessed. The human body amazes me. My body truly amazes me. I was beating myself into the ground, and I felt so stuck. As humans we beat ourselves down, down, down- every single day. We tell ourselves that we need to do this, eat that, or act this certain way in order to be accepted. We have the highest expectations for our lives.

Everything is fleeting.

Expectations cage us.

Free yourself.

Let go.

My energy has been restored, and I can do the things that I love with passion again. I have been able to dive into so many amazing projects lately, and they have all presented themselves to me in perfect timing and alignment.

I don’t think that anyone can be immune to the grips of fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Unfortunately, this world’s environment is conducive to these things. These are to be fought against each and every day. But it is our choice to fight. There will be dark times that cannot be prevented, but the brighter times will shine even more so because of those dark times.

Choose energy.

I have learned that when the heart and mind are open, options are limitless. You are limitless. Never let one label, relationship, or assumption keep you trapped. Do not let those things steal your life. Know that you are capable of so much more than you could fathom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Farewell & Welcoming

To 2017:

I felt the need

To say goodbye

To one the hardest year of my life, thus far.

But I cannot say farewell,

Until I have to expressed

How completely thankful that I am, for this year and all of the growth that has occurred  because of it.

I have learned an unimaginable amount of knowledge about my true self.

I have pushed myself to the limit, in everything.

I have never worked harder.

I have also never felt so much. I have felt every feeling to its extreme.

I have felt love, loneliness, depression, anxiety, determination, fatigue, and contentment at their deepest levels.

I felt God

When I felt like

I had, no one else.

I felt him

In the crisp fall air,

In the slightest breeze,

In the rustling of the leaves.

He is Warmth.

I have learned to see and appreciate

The beauty and uniqueness

That every person around me

Has to offer.

I have learned to embrace my introversion and independence.

I have truly learned how to adore the simplest things that life has to offer.

Like the crackling of a fire.

The warmth of a cup of black coffee.

Like a good conversation, with a genuine person.

To 2018:

I would like to welcome 2018, with the most open arms.

I have no clue

What is in store

And it is so exciting.

So many opportunities have already presented themselves.

My only hope is that

I will laugh

So much more.

And that

The only tears

To fall

Will be tears of

Happiness

And not of pain.

I hope to continue, to be true to myself.

To be easier

On myself.

But even if this year

Is just as

Difficult

As the last-

Grateful,

I will remain.

Protect Your Time

It may be the most precious and valuable of all commodities.

It might also be the hardest concept to understand.

But the ways in which we spend it,

Are of the greatest importance.

If you aren’t doing something today that is driving you closer to the person that you want to be or the things that you are passionate to accomplish – then what ARE you doing? I truly believe that each one of us has a specific calling on our lives.

Some of us may not know for certain what that calling or passion is yet, but that’s OK. However, if you know what your passion is, then run with it. Embrace it in every way. Do whatever it takes to reach your fullest potential within that calling. But if you feel like you are in a place that is not right – whether it be a job, school, or relationship – I urge you to take action.

If your job environment is creating excessive amounts of stress to your life, consider getting out of there. If school doesn’t feel like the right path for you to take in order to fulfill your calling, don’t do it. If you have close relationships with people who only promote negativity, walk away.

I recently walked away from a job because it left me feeling more anxious and paranoid than any part time job should. I am blessed to have been given another job opportunity with a great company who is appreciative of my time and efforts.

I have also considered, re-considered, and post-considered – whether-or-not I want to continue my college education. I have questioned whether it is the best use of my time and money in order to fulfill my calling. I have concluded (to my dismay) that a degree is the right thing for me to pursue, and I am confident that I will not regret my time spent earning it.

I am extremely conclusive with the people that I allow into my life. Not because I am above anyone or because I am a snob. Only because I am conscious of my time. I want to surround myself with the most uplifting, positive, and kind people that I can find. I cannot stand to be around complainers, negativity, or rudeness. I have the right to keep these types of people in or out of my life.

It is our right, in every way.

Do not feel guilty for doing what is best for you.

For your health.

You have the right to spend your time as you choose. You do not need to feel obligated to do things that are only for the sake of other people’s pleasure. You do not have to do anything that you do not feel up to doing. Have the self-awareness to know when your time is being spent in all of the wrong places. If you’re are feeling drained, empty, unhappy – you are most likely having a time management issue.

And it is so easy to lose sight of our calling.

We get so wrapped up in pleasing other people.

In making money to survive.

In being “successful.”

Success is not something that we should strive for, it is something that comes automatically when we are fulfilling our true purpose.

Success is already within each of us.

Yes, we should always strive for excellence in everything that we do, but let excellence be the catalyst into success.

And keep in mind that —

Everyone and everything is fighting for your time,

but you should be fighting the hardest.

Time is strange.

Some days, months, and years fly by in an instant.

Some days, months, and years drag by in the worst ways.

Doors will close.

A new one will open.

A better one.

Allow yourself the gift of time.

Time to do the things that you love.

Time to discover your calling.

Time to take care of yourself.

Protect your energy,

You only have so much.

Be selfish

With your time.

Be greedy

With your time.

Protect your time, it is irreplaceable.

 

 

Our Plans, Are Less Than

 

We think that we have got it all figured out, don’t we?

Then something doesn’t go according to our plan, and our whole world seems to come crashing down.

This kind of thing happens all of the time

Everything that we thought should happen, cannot happen anymore.

Our expectations, all too high.

Our thoughts, often overtaken by our selfish nature.

We are human.

Life is just not “fair.”

As humans, we start planning from a young age. We are pushed into a strictly scheduled life with school and extra-curricular activities. Later in life we buy daily planner notebooks and make sure that all of the time slots get filled. We plan where we would like to go to college, what kind of job we think would be the best fit, and even the type of person whom we think that we should spend the rest of our lives with.

We begin to pursue these plans. A lot of times, things are going smoothly at first. Maybe some of these things are truly meant to be. And most of us are super passionate about what we (think that we) want and what we want to do. But passion can only get us so far. And our plans are prone to fail us.

Things do not always work out the way that we plan.

We may fail a class in college. We may not land our dream job right away. We may lose the person who we thought was “the one.”

What do we do now? These things were supposed to go our way, right?

WRONG.

Our plans are less than His.

And that is the only thing that we can trust. His plans, are the only ones that are bullet proof. God has shown this concept to me in such a clear way over the last few months. I felt like one thing after another kept happening, eventually leading to the destruction of my plans.

I thought that I knew my capabilities.

I thought that I knew my limits.

But this year so far has shown me that my plans can fall through in an instant.

I was not prepared. It has been a brutal process. But a very necessary one.

I have learned the truth, and that is that I know NOTHING. I am learning to accept that ultimately, I cannot control my life. And as hard and messy as life can get, practicing gratefulness in all situations has been such a game changer. Gratefulness can create a more positive atmosphere. Gratefulness keeps us grounded. Gratefulness helps the healing along.

Knowledge and wisdom will bloom from these little seeds of gratefulness.

I know without a doubt, that all of these trials and hard times are for a great purpose.

I know that every aspect of life contains lessons to be learned.

Yes, our plans will fall through.

But His will not.

Sometimes these fallen plans may shatter our hearts.

I now know what it feels like to be truly and deeply brokenhearted, but I also know how powerful true and deep healing can feel. Some of us may feel completely crippled by the thought of this concept, at first. However, realizing that we have so little control is essential. The sooner we embrace this concept, the easier the trials will become. 2017 has been the most humbling year of my life (scroll down to see my last post entitled “Seasons”) but I honestly would not have it any other way.

Losing things is not always a loss.

Losing someone is not the end.

A plan not going our way, may be the best way.