The Seattle Globalist http://www.seattleglobalist.com Where Seattle Meets the World Fri, 24 Oct 2014 22:04:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Can student demand transform an abusive apparel industry? http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/24/uw-sweatshop-alta-gracia-apparel-clothing/29978 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/24/uw-sweatshop-alta-gracia-apparel-clothing/29978#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:59:15 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29978 Alta Gracia apparel workers Maritza Vargas (left), and Sobeida Fortuna (right), speak at a UW United Students Against Sweatshops event on Oct 16th, with the help of interpreter Interpreter Rachel Taber. (Photo by Daria Kroupoderova)

Alta Gracia apparel workers Maritza Vargas (left), and Sobeida Fortuna (right), speak at a UW United Students Against Sweatshops event on Oct 16th, with the help of interpreter Interpreter Rachel Taber. (Photo by Daria Kroupoderova)

“I was subjected to all kinds of disrespect on the job — verbal and physical abuse,”

Dominican garment factory worker Sobeida Fortuna describes the eight years she spent working at the BJ&B factory that manufactured hats with university logos for Nike and Reebok.

According to Fortuna, who was in Seattle for an event organized by the UW chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), there was only one exit for 600 workers at the BJ&B factory, no medical leave, and only two bathroom and two water breaks per shift.

When Fortuna was pregnant, she was still required to put in a 12-hour workday, with mandatory overtime hours, which she usually did not receive pay for, if the product quotas were not met.

“If we haven’t hit that production level that the management wanted, then they would just simply lock the doors…and force us to work to whatever hour in the night that was needed to actually complete the production that the management wanted,” she said through an interpreter during her visit to the UW earlier this month.

Maritza Vargas, another BJ&B worker who made the trip to Seattle, echoed similar stories about the BJ&B factory. There was no recourse and no one to go to if an employee had a problem with management. When workers decided to form a union, they were all fired. Following an investigation led by Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and with campaigns by USAS the workers who were fired eventually got their jobs back and had a union for about six years.

But then one day in 2007 Vargas and Fortuna showed up to BJ&B for work to find it was permanently closed. The orders from major brands had been shifted to other factories in Asia, leaving the workers in Dominican Republic jobless. With the help of WRC and USAS, pregnant workers received six months severance pay, while the rest received three months of pay.

Both women now work for Alta Gracia, an alternative apparel brand offering sweatshop-free clothing to universities.

Alta Gracia opened its doors in 2010 and is owned by Knights Apparel, a company stationed in South Carolina. According to a research report from Georgetown University, “Alta Gracia: Four Years and Counting,” released back in August, it’s the only clothing factory in the developing world to pay its workers three times the minimum wage and maintain safety and health standards.

Sales aren’t too shabby either.

“Alta Gracia merchandise has performed well in the college bookstore channel. It registered approximately $11 million of retail sales in 2013 and is projected to produce $16 million in 2014,” the report stated.

Why are college students going for Alta Gracia? It’s a company that treats its workers well, showing students that they have real options in deciding which piece of clothing to buy.

The University Book Store is one of the many university stores across the nation that sell Alta Gracia apparel.

“Alta Gracia merchandise sells well, the designs and quality of the items have been important factors to their success,” said manager Karen Magarelli in an email. “We understand the new line is doing well across the country, so much so that it has caused some production and shipping delays. We’re eager to receive the rest of our order, we hope in time for holiday shopping.”

UW’s USAS, however, is unhappy with the display and amount of Alta Gracia merchandise available at the bookstore.

Sophia Lewis, Sara Parolin, Amalia de la Iglesia, Shannon Long, all members of UW United Students Against Sweatshop, at a protest action pressuring the University Book Store to more prominently display Alta Gracia apparel. (Photo by Daria Kroupoderova)

Sophia Lewis, Sara Parolin, Amalia de la Iglesia, Shannon Long, all members of UW United Students Against Sweatshop, at a protest action pressuring the University Book Store to more prominently display Alta Gracia apparel. (Photo by Daria Kroupoderova)

On Thursday, they held a rally of with about ten people at the University Book Store. They wanted to present a four and a half page letter to the bookstore’s manager stating demanding that the store stop stocking JanSport and VF Imagewear products and have more Alta Gracia apparel. According to the letter, VF Imagewear subcontracts to factories that abuse workers’ rights in Bangladesh.

“I definitely don’t think the UW bookstore is marketing Alta Gracia as well as it could be,” UW USAS member Amalia de la Iglesia said. “There are only a select few Alta Gracia products sold in the store and products made by bigger brands, like Nike and Under Armour, are put on display in the front.”

Walking into the bookstore through the main doors of the Ave, the front display does consist of mostly Nike apparel and some sale merchandise. The Alta Gracia shirts are kept closer to the register, about halfway through the store. There is one rack of two different types of long sleeved shirts costing $24.95 and about ten cubbies with four different styles of short sleeved shirts costing $17.95.

“Customer shopping patterns are our first consideration. Based on that we organize by the first three major categories: men’s, women’s, infant/child/youth,” Magarelli said, explaining how store layout decisions are made. “We include customer demand, design, quality control, and on time shipping/delivery as part of the decision process.”

As with most aspects of business, when deciding how to stock and arrange the University Book Store, it’s all about the bottom line. But Alta Gracia is proving that by appealing to college students’ demand for sweatshop free apparel, there’s plenty of room for living wages and worker’s rights in a profitable supply chain.

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The new ‘coming out’ http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/23/undocumented-immigrant-coming-out-jose-antonio-vargas-seattle/29971 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/23/undocumented-immigrant-coming-out-jose-antonio-vargas-seattle/29971#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 01:34:44 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29971 Jose Antonio Vargas flies the undocumented flag at a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 2012. (Photo courtesy Apo Anak Productions)

Jose Antonio Vargas flies the undocumented flag at a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 2012. (Photo courtesy Apo Anak Productions)

“We mow your lawns, we work in your houses, maybe we’re your doctors, maybe we’re nurses,” says Jose Antonio Vargas in a voice over from his recent film “Documented.”

“We’re not who you think we are.”

It’s a line that could be lifted right out of a Marriage Equality campaign — a message that challenges stereotypes and underscores the everyday ordinariness of an often-politicized group. But Vargas isn’t talking about LGBT rights. He’s talking about America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Vargas famously “outed” himself as undocumented in a 2011 New York Times Magazine article and has gone on to record the “coming out” of many undocumented immigrants through his “Define American” project. As a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, filmmaker and immigration advocate who is both gay and undocumented, the LGBT rights parallel is not lost on Vargas.

“[We] can’t change the politics around this issue unless we change the conversation around this issue,” says Vargas who will be in Seattle this evening for a screening of his movie at the Social Justice Film Festival (The Seattle Globalist is a media sponsor of the screening) “I think part of the change that we’re seeing is that more undocumented people have come out and are coming out.”

Vargas believes that through increasing the visibility of undocumented immigrants Americans will be forced to see the significant, even mainstream, contributions of this often maligned population.

But that decision to make yourself more visible can be agonizing says Jennifer Martinez, a seventeen-year-old Redmond High School student. Especially when you’re outing the rest of your family.

“I was scared of potential legal actions against my parents,” says Martinez who herself is a citizen but whose parents are undocumented. Martinez made news last year when she and a friend confronted House Speaker John Boehner in a Washington D.C. diner about the impacts of deportations on families and children.

“They could be deported, separated from their families, they know they could be putting a target on their back,” says Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica, a Seattle-based immigrant rights organization, explaining the potential dangers of publically revealing your status.

Stolz says it’s still not common for people to come out — the risks are just too great. The ones that do are often “dreamers,” like Martinez, who are the children of undocumented parents and feel a responsibility to advocate on behalf of their family members and communities.

Martinez says she was motivated by a childhood where the specter of her family’s mixed citizenship status loomed everywhere. Like the afternoon when she and fellow neighborhood children were quickly ushered inside to hide from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or when she didn’t sign up for a Redmond Police Department youth program because she was afraid it would endanger her parents.

That was the hardest part about coming out for Martinez. After sixteen years of trying to protect her parents she was putting her family in the spotlight — revealing the very secret they’d all worked so hard to hide.

“[When] I got back to the hotel room [after the confrontation with Boehner] I just called my Dad and burst into tears,” remember Martinez who works as a youth organizer for OneAmerica,  “I said ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was going to be this big.’”

And that burden can’t fall to undocumented people alone says Vargas, who believes that any successful civil rights movement (and he does see immigration reform as a civil rights issue) needs allies.

“Can you imagine the LGBT Rights movement without Gay Alliances?” asks Vargas who would like to see more American citizens “coming out” in support of the undocumented people in their lives — whether they’re family members, employees, neighbors, students or friends.

Martinez says community support was key in the days that followed her decision to “come out,” but that no reaction was more important that of her dad — who she says responded to her tearful phone call that night with, “I’m so proud of you.”

“Documented” will be playing tonight (Friday) at 5:00PM at University Christian Church: 4731 15th Ave NE Seattle 98105 followed by a panel with Jose Antonio Vargas and local immigration leaders. Tickets and details here

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Creating a home away from home on Diwali http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/23/diwali-celebration-india-festival-seattle/29955 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/23/diwali-celebration-india-festival-seattle/29955#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 18:29:32 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29955 Diwali oil lamps in Darjeeling, India. (Photo from Wikipedia by Benoy)

Diwali oil lamps in Darjeeling, India. (Photo from Wikipedia by Benoy)

I have a frenetic week planned: I’m heading to Pike Place Market to buy flowers and fresh ingredients for the four-course meal I’m cooking today, then heading to Redmond to pick up clay lamps and Indian decorations. I’ll also be making a pit stop at the world’s first Nordstrom downtown to buy gold.

I assure you, this is not normal for me. But for this one week every year, I bring a taste of my Indian roots to Seattle, my adopted home. It’s Diwali today, the Hindu festival of lights. I’m among the very few in my circle of friends here who will be celebrating.

But not so long ago, this annual week of celebration was a natural part of my personal and professional life. Growing up in Singapore, where Diwali is observed as a national holiday, celebrations are loud and colorful. My parents’ friends would be discussing the places for the best Diwali shopping and which holiday parties were must-attends (and which to skip), months in advance. From dozens of bright lights at my house entrance, to 21 clay diyas distributed in each room around my house, the festive season was visible everywhere. I would be wished “Happy Diwali” by Indian and non-Indian friends alike. I even regularly attended work holiday parties for Diwali.

As a result, I often took the holiday for granted when I lived in Singapore. Sure, I’d eagerly anticipate my mother’s spiced aloo curry with deep-fried pooris, dahi-vadas and halwa for Diwali dinner. I would love huddling for hours with my family to adorn our floors with intricate Rangoli patterns around the house to symbolically welcome Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth. I would even look forward to the frenzy around Serangoon Road, where Singaporean Indians go to stock up on other festival shopping. But because Diwali was so ubiquitously celebrated — with great gusto across the homes of our friends and family — I never fully appreciated its significance in my life.

That changed dramatically when I moved to the U.S. three years ago. Suddenly, the day that was once so important for me, became just like any other when I moved here. Many of my new friends hadn’t even heard of Diwali. While Diaspora Indians were well-represented in the American cities I’ve lived in: New York, Atlanta and now, Seattle, most of the festivities took place in the suburbs.

A rangoli depicting Ganesh made by the author. This decorative folk art is made by arranging colored rice, flour, sand and other materials on the floor. (Photo by Ruchika Tulshyan)

A rangoli depicting Ganesh made by the author. This decorative folk art is made by arranging colored rice, flour, sand and other materials on the floor. (Photo by Ruchika Tulshyan)

I quickly learned two things: it would be up to me how much — or how little — of the tradition I upheld. But more surprisingly, I realized it really, really mattered to me that my Diwali in Seattle should be as magical as it was back home. And that I would do anything to try and make it that way.

Preserving my tradition even when all the ingredients aren’t easily available has been an adjustment. No doubt, it’s been hard to balance my work schedule, while agonizing over which morning I could wake up early enough to decorate my apartment. It has meant lining up all customary, celebratory, and religious rituals extensively on the weekends ahead of time, so I can head to work like it’s a regular day. It has meant explaining to non-South Asian colleagues and friends that I’m celebrating the “Hindu version of Christmas.” I’ve also had to get used to driving 23.5 miles to get to the Hindu temple. That’s different from the times I could choose from 15 temples within a five-mile radius of my home in Singapore.

To recreate my own version of Diwali, this year I will be adorning my Seattle apartment with simpler Rangoli patterns than the ones I created with my artistic mom and sister in Singapore. My potato curry will never taste like my mother’s, and I’m too scared to attempt cooking dahi-vadas, but there will be Indian home cooking to mark the festival — thank you, Google recipes! I now realize how essential the celebration of Diwali has been to shaping my Singaporean-Indian identity.

At the end of the day, the festival is about celebrating the triumph of overcoming challenges. I may not have overcome a mythical 14-year battle — Hindu mythology suggests this as the reason for celebrating Diwali — but I’ve indulged in much creative maneuvering to celebrate it as authentically and enthusiastically as I did back home.

At its core, celebrating light, love and joy, can be done from anywhere.

Happy Diwali!

This post was originally published in The Aerogram.

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Sub Pop’s music shop an unlikely fit at Sea-Tac http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/23/sub-pop-sea-tac-redefines-airport-gift-shop/29933 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/23/sub-pop-sea-tac-redefines-airport-gift-shop/29933#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:00:55 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29933 The opening ceremony for Sub Pop's new gift shop at Sea-Tac Airport, back in May. (Photo courtesy Sub Pop)

The opening ceremony for Sub Pop’s new gift shop at Sea-Tac Airport, back in May. (Photo courtesy Sub Pop)

Twenty-five years ago, Sub Pop Records released Nirvana’s debut Bleach, igniting the grunge explosion and linking the two forever.

Sub Pop has issued hundreds of albums, singles and compilations since, but there’s still a common misperception among casual fans that it’s a Seattle-only label — or that it died with Kurt Cobain in 1994.

One look at the new-release wall at the new Sub Pop gift shop at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport sets the record straight.

“This is a lot for one year, and not just local bands,” says assistant manager Rachel Rhymes, gesturing at 2014 LPs from Australia’s Luluc, Germany’s Notwist, Finland’s Mirel Wagner and Canada’s Chad VanGaalen.

Overhearing this, shift supervisor Jacob Powers emerges from behind the cash register, joins us in the spacious all-vinyl back area, and pulls an album off the shelf.

“This is Commune by Goat, a psychedelic rock band from Sweden,” he explains. “We just put this out last week. They’re drawing on a ton of different types of music, and the response has been great whenever we play them in the store.”

For a label so closely associated with its home city, Sub Pop isn’t shy about looking far and wide for new talent. Of the 50 bands currently on their roster, at least 14 hail from outside the U.S.

“We try to emphasize the current talent,” Rhymes says, “to let people know Sub Pop never went away… that it didn’t begin and end with Nirvana.”

Things get a little bit weird with Swedish psychedelic band Goat, one of more than a dozen international acts currently signed to Sub Pop. (Courtesy photo)

Things get a little bit weird with Swedish psychedelic band Goat, one of more than a dozen international acts currently signed to Sub Pop. (Courtesy photo)

This is true. Even before Bleach, co-founders Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt had visions of the Northwest as a globally renowned music hub — and themselves as stewards. The label’s longtime motto, “World Domination,” always seemed 49% tongue-in-cheek, 51% sincere.

The airport store, which opened in May, isn’t their first retail foray. Seattle old-timers might remember the Belltown Mega Mart — in reality, a shoebox-sized kiosk — which was revived for last summer’s 25th-anniversary Silver Jubilee in Georgetown.

The pop-up shop only stayed open two months, but that was enough to convince the Port of Seattle of the viability of a Sub Pop presence at Sea-Tac — a no-brainer, really, as the airport speakers have been serenading travelers with homegrown sounds, from Modest Mouse to Macklemore, since 2012.

Rhymes, a Portlander, and Powers, from Aberdeen — Cobain’s hometown — are no strangers to music retail. She founded Record Room, a vinyl shop and venue in Northeast Portland; he managed Silver Platters’ Queen Anne and SoDo branches for seven years.

To the typical shopper at those stores, the black-and-white Sub Pop square is as iconic an emblem as the Nike swoosh. But not everyone’s a connoisseur — and the Sea-Tac staff is learning to find common ground with a clientele that might not know Pissed Jeans from Pearl Jam.

Earlier in the afternoon, while waiting in the TSA line — the store sits on the other side, in the central terminal concourse — Rhymes recalls, with a laugh, how some airport employees and passers-by seemed disappointed that the finished façade in fact read “Sub Pop,” not “Sub Shop.”

Evidently, “it’s a different kind of customer. They’re not necessarily looking to browse records, but they’ll walk by and you can see from far away that they want to know more.”

A wall of LPs at the Sub Pop Airport Store, which currently sells only physical media, no digital downloads. (Courtesy photo)

A wall of LPs at the Sub Pop Airport Store, which currently sells only physical media, no digital downloads. (Courtesy photo)

So far, it’s yielded some interesting insights into the music-buying habits of the masses.

The store doesn’t offer digital downloads directly — physical media only — but has listening stations set up with the entire catalog streaming on demand.

Including download codes with all new LPs and 7”s strikes a happy medium between old and new technology, Rhymes says.

“This dude from Holland did buy like five CDs today, but we sell out of vinyl way more often than we sell out of CDs.”

Powers “spoke to one guy from Japan who bought like ten records, and in his broken English he explained that he’s a Sub Pop DJ… like, over there, he gets hired to do these parties where he only plays ‘90s Seattle stuff.”

Besides music, they also hawk locally-made souvenirs — baseball caps, coffee mugs, greeting cards — plus books like Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad’s ‘80s punk chronicle “Our Band Could Be Your Life,” with chapters on key Sub Pop acts Mudhoney and Beat Happening.

For Rhymes and Powers, these bands are their life — and they’re educators as much as employees.

Sub Pop's Sea-Tac gift shop staff picks, from left: Sarah Cass with "Dreams in the Rat House" by Shannon and the Clams; Rachel Rhymes with "Cool Choices" by S; Jacob Powers with "Bakesale" by Sebadoh and "Commune" by Goat. (Photo by Charlie Zaillian)

Sub Pop’s Sea-Tac gift shop staff picks, from left: Sarah Cass with “Dreams in the Rat House” by Shannon and the Clams; Rachel Rhymes with “Cool Choices” by S; Jacob Powers with “Bakesale” by Sebadoh and “Commune” by Goat. (Photo by Charlie Zaillian)

“We spend a lot of time explaining what Sub Pop is,” Powers says, “but in a minute, people remember where they’d heard of it before. They already knew, but just don’t usually shop by thinking about record labels. We hope we can turn them on to that way of finding out about music, like, ‘if you like this, then maybe you’ll like this.’”

“From my office in the back,” adds Rhymes, “I’m hearing a lot of ‘I have never been this happy in an airport shop in my life.’ I love that. That’s why we’re here.”

Asked if she’s considered installing a map with pushpins for visitors to denote where they came from and what records they left with, the shopkeeper says she hasn’t — but likes the idea.

“Or maybe we’ll start selling sub sandwiches,” she jokes. “Sub Pop Sub Shop.”

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These motivational speakers from Singapore want you to follow your dreams http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/21/dreams-unlimited-motivational-speakers-singapore-seattle/29924 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/21/dreams-unlimited-motivational-speakers-singapore-seattle/29924#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 19:37:09 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29924 Motivational speakers Tay and Val say the Mandarin character for "dream" can be broken down into the words for "forest" and "at the end of the day." So, at the end of the day, their goal with #DreamsUnlimited is to help people plant the seeds to grow their own forests to make their dreams a reality. Did you follow all of that? (Courtesy photo)

Motivational speakers Tay and Val say the Mandarin character for “dream” can be broken down into the words for “forest” and “at the end of the day.” So, at the end of the day, their goal with #DreamsUnlimited is to help people plant the seeds to grow their own forests to make their dreams a reality. Did you follow all of that? (Courtesy photo)

By the time I was in sixth grade, I had amassed binders full of drawings and dreamt of becoming an animator. My dad even designed me a business card that read “Ana S. Knauf – Artist” under a border of purple clipart flowers.

But before long, my lola (that’s grandma to you) thought it was time to break some harsh news. According to her, art was not a real career and would never put food on the table. At 13, it was time I figure out a more realistic career path. My dream had been shattered.

According to two filmmakers from Singapore who’ve captured the hearts of many Seattleites since they moved here last year, I should have never given up my dream of becoming an artist.

Siang Hui Tay and Xinhui Tan, who go by Tay and Val respectively, say that family is one of the main reasons people back out of following their dreams.

Val uses her own experience as an example: like me, she loved creating art as a child. But her parents forced her to focus on a more practical profession, like becoming a doctor. They went so far as to throw out all of her art supplies.

“They didn’t know better. To them, a good dream, a good life was to find a good job, climb up their career, get married, have kids, be secure. It’s just a five-step process,” said Val. “My grandparents are immigrants and worked hard for the equivalent of the American dream so they could put us, the grandchildren through education. Because of that, we feel we have a responsibility to live up to their dreams.”

In 2010, Tay and Val left prestigious jobs in Singapore’s TV industry, and have since been traveling the world to spread their global community film project “I Believe That Dreams Can Come True.”

The project materialized after they traveled to Taiwan and met Luo Pa, an elderly train enthusiast who realized his dream of owning a train. The old man spent his savings on a defunct train, which he then converted into a restaurant and hotel. The filmmakers say meeting Luo Pa inspired them to take a journey around the globe, talking to other people about their dreams.

Since moving to Seattle, the duo has been hosting talks at local universities and in neighborhood libraries. On Sunday, I attended their event called #DreamsUnlimited at the Seattle Central Library.

I’m not going to lie: at first I thought the event was pretty weird. When Tay and Val asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had a dream, I was brought back to grade school – and not necessarily in a good way. It was all a little Disney for me.

#DreamsUnlimited attendees in Bellingham share their dreams by writing them on their hands. (Courtesy photo)

#DreamsUnlimited attendees in Bellingham share their dreams by writing them on their hands. (Courtesy photo)

Although the event started off as something like motivational speaking session, it turned into a community artist showcase. And that, I could get behind.

Between Tay and Val’s presentation points, several spoken-word poets took the stage and detailed their stories as people of color.

Through her poetry, Hodan Hassan talked about her experiences with racism and bullying after immigrating to

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Motivational speakers Tay and Val say the Mandarin character for "dream" can be broken down into the words for "forest" and "at the end of the day." So, at the end of the day, their goal with #DreamsUnlimited is to help people plant the seeds to grow their own forests to make their dreams a reality. Did you follow all of that? (Courtesy photo)

Motivational speakers Tay and Val say the Mandarin character for “dream” can be broken down into the words for “forest” and “at the end of the day.” So, at the end of the day, their goal with #DreamsUnlimited is to help people plant the seeds to grow their own forests to make their dreams a reality. Did you follow all of that? (Courtesy photo)

By the time I was in sixth grade, I had amassed binders full of drawings and dreamt of becoming an animator. My dad even designed me a business card that read “Ana S. Knauf – Artist” under a border of purple clipart flowers.

But before long, my lola (that’s grandma to you) thought it was time to break some harsh news. According to her, art was not a real career and would never put food on the table. At 13, it was time I figure out a more realistic career path. My dream had been shattered.

According to two filmmakers from Singapore who’ve captured the hearts of many Seattleites since they moved here last year, I should have never given up my dream of becoming an artist.

Siang Hui Tay and Xinhui Tan, who go by Tay and Val respectively, say that family is one of the main reasons people back out of following their dreams.

Val uses her own experience as an example: like me, she loved creating art as a child. But her parents forced her to focus on a more practical profession, like becoming a doctor. They went so far as to throw out all of her art supplies.

“They didn’t know better. To them, a good dream, a good life was to find a good job, climb up their career, get married, have kids, be secure. It’s just a five-step process,” said Val. “My grandparents are immigrants and worked hard for the equivalent of the American dream so they could put us, the grandchildren through education. Because of that, we feel we have a responsibility to live up to their dreams.”

In 2010, Tay and Val left prestigious jobs in Singapore’s TV industry, and have since been traveling the world to spread their global community film project “I Believe That Dreams Can Come True.”

The project materialized after they traveled to Taiwan and met Luo Pa, an elderly train enthusiast who realized his dream of owning a train. The old man spent his savings on a defunct train, which he then converted into a restaurant and hotel. The filmmakers say meeting Luo Pa inspired them to take a journey around the globe, talking to other people about their dreams.

Since moving to Seattle, the duo has been hosting talks at local universities and in neighborhood libraries. On Sunday, I attended their event called #DreamsUnlimited at the Seattle Central Library.

I’m not going to lie: at first I thought the event was pretty weird. When Tay and Val asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had a dream, I was brought back to grade school – and not necessarily in a good way. It was all a little Disney for me.

#DreamsUnlimited attendees in Bellingham share their dreams by writing them on their hands. (Courtesy photo)

#DreamsUnlimited attendees in Bellingham share their dreams by writing them on their hands. (Courtesy photo)

Although the event started off as something like motivational speaking session, it turned into a community artist showcase. And that, I could get behind.

Between Tay and Val’s presentation points, several spoken-word poets took the stage and detailed their stories as people of color.

Through her poetry, Hodan Hassan talked about her experiences with racism and bullying after immigrating to the United States from Ethiopia as a child. These were all things she had a to overcome to begin realizing her dream.

“As a person of color and a black person in particular, my dream is to change the world and I figured that out was because … I didn’t like how I was being treated in the classroom [or] the way I was going through life,” she said after the event.

Hassan, a political science major at the University of Washington, plans to go to law school to further her interests as a social justice advocate. Her path might shift, but knowing her dreams keeps her goals present in her mind, she said.

“When people ask me why I [studied] political science, I tell them that my life is political. As people of color, we need to be as visible as possible and not be afraid to be in public spaces and talk about politics,” she said.

In a second poem, Troy Osaki talked about the hardships his grandparents experienced as Asian immigrants in the United States, including his Japanese grandmother’s forced internment and his Filipino grandfather’s being denied a promotion because of his accent. Both incidents, he said, we barriers for his grandparents as they tried to follow their dreams as Asian immigrants in the United States.

“It’s important for people of color to be represented and to be in spaces in which we take up space and can find our voice. A lot of the time, we don’t feel safe doing that. It’s important for us to hold on to [our culture] and to reclaim our voices and identities,” said Osaki after the event.

With the messages of these poems in mind, I started to realized that it’s not weird or even sappy to talk about dreams. It’s actually incredibly important.

For Millennials it’s easy to lose sight of dreams amidst financial barriers like student debt and the soaring cost of living. Barriers like these can make dreams feel impossible — like it’s almost irresponsible to have them in the first place. But talking about our passions reminds us that there is a reason for our struggles. Dreams make our futures feel a little less dark.

Besides, if Tay and Val’s message was resonating with so many creative and interesting people, there was clearly something to it.

As we get older, our dreams can shift and sometimes become more realistic. Although changing plans can be scary, it doesn’t mean losing your dream forever.

I didn’t walk away from Sunday’s event putting together my portfolio or eyeing art school applications. Instead, I’m in pursuit of a new dream — no, it’s not buying an old train and turing it into a restaurant. It’s to become an international reporter. Knowing that I might actually be on my way there makes the future feel brighter.

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How to Divest Your University from Fossil Fuels http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/21/divestment-university-fossil-fuels/29646 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/21/divestment-university-fossil-fuels/29646#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 13:00:48 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29646 Divest UW students, including Alex Lenferna (rightmost), accompany divestment activists from Seattle University in a rally to support University divestment. (Photograph courtesy of Divest UW)

Divest UW students, including Alex Lenferna (right), accompany divestment activists from Seattle University in a rally. (Photograph courtesy of Divest UW)

Last week Glasgow University became the first academic institution in Europe to commit to pulling all investments out of fossil fuels. They will phase out $29 million in investments over the next ten years.

Seattle was the first city in the US to commit to divestment from fossil , and a dozen universities around the country have now signed on to the Fossil Free campaign, created by the activist organization 350.org. But the University of Washington still invests $15 million in fossil fuel companies.

Alex Lenferna is a doctoral student studying the ethics of climate change, and a member of Divest UW, a student-run organization campaigning for the UW to divest from fossil fuels. He has been working with the UW treasury to change policy on their fossil fuel investments. “By investing in fossil fuels, not only are you arguably making a bad economic investment, you’re also betting against climate change action,” Lenferna said.

He explained that fossil fuels are becoming risky investments for a number of reasons. The fuels themselves are becoming more expensive on global markets, making them more unstable, and the value of fossil fuel companies is being falsely inflated. So for a school like Glasgow University or UW, with multiple millions invested in the fossil fuel industry, divesting could be a wise financial decision in the long run.

But the actual process of divesting from fossil fuels can be tricky: there are constraints on how much account holders can move their money around. And some argue that divesting is not the most effective way to have an impact.

“Divestment from fossil fuels would not financially impact the companies,” said Ann Sarna, an associate treasurer at the UW, “and there are other ways for the University to address climate change and contribute to the national dialogue to the issue.”

Last February, Divest UW and the Treasury co-sponsored six Global Climate Change Initiatives which will help UW’s investors avoid economically and ethically questionable fossil fuel investments. The initiatives include using UW’s voice as a shareholder in companies to effect change from within, known as shareholder advocacy.

The UW’s endowment is currently $2.5 billion. At the end of 2013, $15 million was invested in fossil fuel and $12 million was invested in renewable energy. The treasury has pledged to additionally invest up to $25 million in renewable energy.

According to Time magazine, the global divestment movement began years ago on college campuses, but it has gained momentum in the last month, with prominent investors like the Rockefeller Foundation announcing divestment from fossil fuels. The momentum has been fueled by protests and marches worldwide that drew millions of people, particularly in the week leading up to the 2014 UN Climate Summit.

Students and faculty at Glasgow University used the media presence to push the subject with their administration. Student involvement and partnership with vocal advocacy groups were key to bringing this issue before the University’s administration. They also gained the support of American whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is a rector at Glasgow University.

While the Climate Change Initiatives are a step in the right direction, Divest UW members are hoping for more. “Things are moving really fast,” says Lenferna. “Arguably, there needs to be more urgent action…We’re planning on going in front of the board of regents next month to ask for divestment from coal.”

According to Lenferna, coal is one of the most financially unstable and least eco-friendly fossil fuels. Divest UW is hoping to work alongside Stanford University to compile a list of businesses and corporations with large coal assets, in order to divest from them. Lenferna hopes that list could expand to include other types of fossil fuels.

As of the beginning of 2014, UW had $15 million invested in the fossil fuel industry, something which Divest UW students hope to change. (Photograph by Clare McGrane)

As of the beginning of 2014, UW had $15 million invested in the fossil fuel industry, something which Divest UW students hope to change. (Photo by Clare McGrane)

Supporters say that public involvement is key to this movement: student and taxpayer opinions are important to public institutions like UW.

The UW treasury encourages student involvement in its decisions. “Successful student groups establish a framework to continue engagement with the administration,” said Sarna. She urges students to “keep an open mind and read research that supports a view that differs from their own. Recognize it takes both time and effort to make changes in a large institution or company.”

Lenferna believes that climate change action is a moral obligation to our future, as well as an important financial concern for institutions. “We want to make sure that our university is leading the way to addressing climate change,” he said. “It’s important that the university is able to make a statement saying that these are investments that we find to be financially risky, and that we find to be morally problematic.”

Get involved in the Divestment movement at UW:

Teach-In: Learn more about divestment and how to get involved

  • Tuesday October 21st, 5:30pm
  • Savery Hall, Room 139, University of Washington

Rally: Ask UW Board of Regents to divest from coal

  • Thursday November 13th
  • Students can also attend the meeting to see what happens and show the board their support for divestment.

Get Connected

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Shooting to injure: Israeli crowd control tactic crippling young Palestinians http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/20/israel-crowd-control-palestinian-west-bank-ammunition/29697 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/20/israel-crowd-control-palestinian-west-bank-ammunition/29697#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 17:16:01 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29697 Protesters carry a wounded teenager to a waiting stretcher after a protest in Hebron devolved into clashes between stone throwers and Israeli soldiers. (Photo by Tom James)

Protesters carry a wounded teenager to a waiting stretcher after a protest in Hebron devolved into clashes between stone throwers and Israeli soldiers. (Photo by Tom James)

Malek’s mother won’t say whether she knew he was going to the protest, or if he was throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers trying to disperse the crowd there.

It’s easy to see why the family doesn’t want to talk about the protest, or have their last name published. Under Israeli law, throwing stones can bring years in prison and arrests can happen well after the fact. But that’s the least of their worries.

While his mother talks, Malek sleeps, resting after his fourth surgery. At the protest, he was shot. First he was hit in the groin. Then minutes later, as his friends approached to help, he was shot a second time just above his left knee.

“It didn’t just hit the bones,” she says, referring to the second shot. “It smashed them.”

In the surgeries that came after, doctors added screws, then a metal bar, trying to give his leg back some semblance of its shape. Whether he will walk again, or be able to have children (the first bullet struck his genitals) isn’t something they know yet.

In early October the United Nations released a report documenting a surge in shootings like Malek’s. According to witnesses, doctors and rights groups, many come as the result of an extreme crowd control tactic used by the Israeli military, where soldiers are given special rifles to shoot demonstrators in the legs when protests turn violent.

In all, according to the UN figures, at least 757 Palestinians were shot with live ammunition in the West Bank by Israeli forces this summer, as the war raged next door in Gaza.

By comparison, in all of 2013 the UN registered only 161 injuries of civilians from live ammunition in the West Bank.

Often the targets of the shootings were teenagers, almost all participating in the riotous protests that became weekly fixtures during the Gaza war. Some posed clear threats — but others did not, like the 11 year-old boy shot in the back and killed by soldiers in Al Fawar refugee camp, and the 42 year-old father killed in Hebron while he stood, by all accounts empty-handed, in the street.

A boy waves the flag of Palestinian Islamic Jihad while marching in an August 1, 2014 protest in Hebron. The march, rallying opposition to the summer Gaza war, later turned violent and area hospitals treated at least 70 protesters for gunshot wounds. (Photo by Tom James)

A boy waves the flag of Palestinian Islamic Jihad while marching in an August 1, 2014 protest in Hebron. The march, rallying opposition to the summer Gaza war, later turned violent and area hospitals treated at least 70 protesters for gunshot wounds. (Photo by Tom James)

In one protest shortly before the first of the ceasefires that heralded the end of Operation Protective Edge, local media reported more than 90 injured by live ammunition.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) doesn’t deny the tactic. Along with regular military assault rifles, IDF spokeswoman Libby Weiss confirmed in an email that the organization in fact distributes a special .22 caliber weapon specifically for crowd control purposes. According to doctors familiar with its effects, the tactic routinely creates life-threatening injuries, and often leaves survivors with permanent disabilities.

Few of the cases will likely be investigated. According to Weiss, IDF policy calls for automatic investigations of the use of force on civilians only in cases of death, or when the use of force appears to itself to have been a crime. If opened, investigations are handled by the military itself.

Mosa Abu Mashmash, who has worked as an obersever in the West Bank with Israeli human rights organization B’tselem since the start of the second intifiada in 2000, said the recent shootings represent a level of force significantly beyond what was normal in earlier conflicts.

He said that in most cases the shots are fired by soldiers Mashmash describes as snipers, visibly deployed on the rooftops surrounding clashes, and carrying rifles different from the Tavor assault rifles usually carried by soldiers on the ground.

While the Israeli military used live ammunition during the intifadas, he said, the number of shootings in the recent campaign is also a significant break from even that violent norm. Within a month of the start of the recent Gaza military campaign hundreds had been shot in Hebron alone, said Mashmash, whose work includes collecting information on injuries from local hospitals.

“We never had this number [before], not even half of it,” said Mashmash. “There’s no comparison.”

Senior medical staff at two Hebron hospitals independently confirmed Mashmash’s account, portraying a consistent pattern of targets and injuries.

Dr. Hazem Al-Shalaldeh, the general manager of Al Meezan hospital, said staff at his hospital had noted a surge in patients injured by live fire.

The profile, according to Dr. Salah Hashamun, director of Al Ahli hospital: young, often teenaged patients, shot in the legs during protests with bullets that, although small, often do considerable damage.

The main offense of most of those shot, according to data from the UN and human rights organizations who have tracked the violence, has been one that is at once simple and deeply storied in Palestinian history: throwing stones.

For many Palestinians a culturally meaningful gesture, over decades of civil unrest and episodic violence the act of throwing stones has evolved into an affirmation of resistance in the face of the militarily superior Israeli state.

Palestinian youth throwing stones at an Israeli soldiers during a protest in Hebron in August. (Photo by Tom James)

Palestinian youth throwing stones at an Israeli soldiers during a protest in Hebron in August. (Photo by Tom James)

The essentially violent nature of the act, however, complicates the issue, shifting discussion from the appropriate limits of force in dealing with civil unrest to the more subtle issue of proportionality of the response.

Pro-Palestinian activists both in the territory and abroad tend to portray stone-throwing as benign, and throwers themselves as basically unarmed.

The Israeli government takes a different view. Although spokeswoman Weiss wrote that live ammunition from the .22 weapon is intended for use against “the main instigators of riot violence,” it is widely understood that its target is most often stone throwers, who also face two years in prison for the act.

And despite an official position that the Israeli army’s rules of engagement are classified, sections of army rules unearthed during various court proceedings surrounding shootings including in 1993 and during the second intifada treat stone throwers as a mortal danger, to which soldiers may respond with lethal force.

According to Sid Heal, an American expert on policing and civil unrest, thrown stones do pose a real danger, especially when launched from slings, which magnify a projectile’s force and range by allowing a thrower to whirl it in a huge arc before letting fly.

Slings are commonly used in clashes in the West Bank. At a large protest that I witnessed in Hebron in late August, stone-throwing by hand was more common, but the most active throwers — 20 to 30 out of the approximately 100 youths — were easily observed using the simple twine or cord launchers.

Heal, who has advised the US Marine Corps and Department of Defense on non-lethal weapons and crowd control and studied policing tactics in Israel and Northern Ireland, has examined the danger of thrown objects extensively.

While an ordinary person can launch a stone with sufficient force to stun or kill at short range, said Heal in an interview, the same person using a sling can easily throw the same projectile significantly harder — and farther.

That increase in range, Heal said, could be one explanation for the decision to use live ammunition. While non-lethal weapons currently in use have a maximum range of about 150 feet, Heal said, a sling can throw a rock with lethal force more than 180 feet. Viewed in those terms, Heal said, live ammunition from a .22 could be seen as the only way to strike back at attackers without resorting to more powerful standard-duty weapons.

“You can either allow casualties to your own people,” Heal said, “or you can reply in kind.”

The same UN report indicated injuries to at least 48 Israeli soliders or police during the summer, often from stones thrown at protests.

Outnumbered, but better equipped, Israeli soldiers face off against a crowd of Palestinian protesters in Hebron. The soldier on the ground has a rifle fitted to fire rubber bullets. (Photo by Tom James)

Outnumbered, but better equipped, Israeli soldiers face off against a crowd of Palestinian protesters in Hebron. The soldier on the ground has a rifle fitted to fire rubber bullets. (Photo by Tom James)

Use-of-force and police tactics expert Steve Ijames offered an alternative explanation for the outsized response — that the live ammunition might be being used at least partly to send a message that will stick.

Ijames, an American, has served as an instructor on crowd control and non-lethal projectiles for the US Department of Justice in Somalia, Haiti, East Timor and Bosnia-Herzgovena.

“It’s one thing to get hit with a water cannon or a plastic bullet, it’s another thing to get shot in the leg with a twenty-two bullet,” Ijames said. “Common sense tells me, with a lot of policing under my belt, that this would be a significant deterrent for most people.”

However effective the strategy might be, Ijames said, it comes with inherent risks. One is of escalating the situation, where by introducing a new level of violence — in this case by introducing firearms — police create an incentive for demonstrators to do the same.

Another is the seductive ease of using more force to create a peace that is ultimately unsustainable.

Inevitably, Ijames said, government authorities have the weapons and backing to physically win almost any conflict with protesters.

“You can exert your will in almost every case, but that may not always be the most long-term productive thing to do,” said Ijames.

If the result is cementing pervasive mistrust and animosity, the result can be that communities become less stable in the long run, not more. In the end, Ijames said, the wrong tactics can actually set the stage for future conflict.

“That’s not winning,” Ijames said.

For Malek, the question of whether he will personally ever attend another protest would seem a narrow measure of the tactic by which he has been crippled. Instead, if the goal is to create a long-term deterrent, the defining question is of how others will react hearing his story – seeing what happened to Malek, will his friends, nephews, and siblings be more or less likely to follow the same path?

The possibility of peace could be tied to the answer. As lopsided conflicts become more and more wars of narrative, a new kind of risk emerges – that of risk not only to life and limb, but to public image.

While a bullet to the leg may keep a few stone throwers off the front lines, in the long run it risks the opposite: feeding the image of the state as an oppressive occupier. More, it risks galvanizing generation after generation of youth who may not themselves remember the sting of punishment, but for whom the brutality of the state — and the rallying cry of rebellion — is viscerally memorialized in the broken bodies of their brothers, uncles, and fathers.

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Ebola crisis taking a toll on local Liberians http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/17/ebola-crisis-taking-a-toll-on-local-liberians/29615 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/17/ebola-crisis-taking-a-toll-on-local-liberians/29615#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29615 Pastor George Everett (right) speaking to Mercer Island Presbyterian Church about the Ebola outbreak in his home country of Liberia. (Photo by Sarah Stuteville)

Pastor George Everett (right) speaking to Mercer Island Presbyterian Church about the Ebola outbreak in his home country of Liberia. (Photo by Sarah Stuteville)

I was waiting to board a plane when the news broke of Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan’s death in Dallas, Texas. Grainy images of the doomed man passed across the wide screen TV’s and stunned silence turned to fearful chatter.

“That’s it,” said one woman flatly, “It’s here.”

Duncan’s death from Ebola — followed quickly by news that two Dallas hospital workers had become infected — confirmed for many Americans that we’re no longer safe from the virus. But Liberian-Americans in the Pacific Northwest have been living with that inescapable reality for months.

“We get calls daily from Liberia about the situation,” says Pastor George Everett of Transcontinental Christian Ministries, a Kent church with many Liberian-Americans in its congregation, “We hear how much it is deteriorating and how people are dying daily.”

Everett’s own family has been deeply impacted; his wife has already lost her uncle her uncle’s wife and their five children to Ebola. This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 8,997 Ebola cases and 4,493 deathswith Liberia being the hardest hit nation.

“Liberians are dying like chickens,” says Charles Mcgill, President of the Liberian Association of Washington State, “because there is no way to protect against the virus spreading all around.”

Mcgill says he was on the phone Tuesday night with friends in Central Liberia who reported they had no access protective supplies despite recent Ebola deaths in the region.

And local Liberians (there are an estimated 1,000 or so in the Seattle area) are trying to respond to the need — from car washes to raise money for relief to Ebola information packets circulated among the community. Mcgill says he was able to secure a donation of 77 boxes of protective masks from King County Public Health. Everett, with the help of a friend in Liberia and the generous donation of a California emergency medical services company, sent two ambulances to Monrovia to help with the crisis (four more are on their way now).

With more than 4000 cases and 2500 deaths, Liberia has been hardest hit by the outbreak. (Map from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

With more than 4000 cases and 2500 deaths, Liberia has been hardest hit by the outbreak. (Map from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

And then there are all the small, individual efforts. Brooks Collins, also of Transcontinental Ministries, says that many Liberian-Americans use phone calls home as an opportunity to educate relatives and friends — especially in more remote parts of the country — on how to take proper precautions against Ebola.

“We tell them about types of physical contact [that could transmit Ebola]. We say ‘be careful when you get in a taxi and don’t sit close to people,’ explains Collins, “[everyone is] calling the people back home. Trying to educate them and send money.”

But community leaders are now coming together to turn individual contributions into a larger group effort — one that includes fundraising for medical supplies, food (especially for areas under quarantine) and even travel to Liberia to volunteer if needed.

They say they have cultural and regional knowledge, as well as local contacts, that could be valuable in the effort, especially in a city home to such powerful Global Health players as the Gates Foundation.

“I know Seattle is like the center of humanitarian efforts in the United States so there’s so much here,” says Emmanuel Dolo, who studies leadership and organizational studies at Antioch University and would like to see the Liberian community partnered with existing local Ebola-response efforts, “But we know exactly what is happening, we know the communities so we know more about the problems.”

They may have the knowledge, but they don’t have the money, says Everett who visited Mercer Island Presbyterian Church last Sunday in an effort to raise awareness (and dollars) for two containers of medical supplies and food he plans to send back home.

The country had been war ravaged, the health infrastructure broken down, no security, everything is a wreck. And in the middle of this came a disease called Ebola,” he says, a thin black cross stretching upwards on the wall behind him.

A watery autumn sun slants in through venetian blinds behind him as Everett tells his story and asks for help. The room leans forward over paper cups of coffee.

“Remember,” he says in closing “The health of one nation is tied to the health of all nations.”

That’s a lesson we’ve all learned this week.

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How to break our addiction to food waste http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/16/food-waste-addiction-northwest-families/29596 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/16/food-waste-addiction-northwest-families/29596#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:05:44 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29596 A WWII era poster encourages saving food scraps to feed animals. (Photo from National Archives)

Kirkland resident Gina VanLoon hardly has any food waste in her compost bin.

But that isn’t something she could brag about a few months ago. VanLoon knew she had a problem with too much produce rotting before someone in her family of five could eat it.

But she didn’t really know what to do.

The problem stemmed from a change to a whole foods diet after her daughter was diagnosed with allergies, she said. She started buying more fresh fruits and veggies, in particular organic ones.

“I’m buying pears that are $3.99 a pound and throwing half of them away,” she said.

Then she heard from a friend that King County was recruiting households to try a food waste audit and thought it might help her to figure out how to stop wasting food.

Read part 1: Why we’re wasting food in a hungry world

Household waste is the “biggest slice” of the food waste pie, said Ashley Zanolli, an environmental engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regional office in Seattle who led the design of the Food Too Good to Waste tool kit to measure food waste in homes. Piloted by the West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum, the program is being used in communities in seven of the EPA’s 10 regions. Both the city of Seattle and King County have recruited participants for the audits.

The solution is just one way to tackle global food waste in a complex food system. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council report, the U.S. throws away approximately 40 percent of its food supply, wasting energy, water, land and chemicals used for fertilizers and pesticides.

Gina VanLoon (far left) with her Kirkland neighbors who participated in the "Food Too Good To Waste" food audit program. (Photo courtesy King County)

Gina VanLoon (far left) with her Kirkland neighbors who participated in the “Food Too Good To Waste” food audit program. (Photo courtesy King County)

Jina Kim, a solid waste program specialist for the City of Renton, also recently took part in the audit. She said she was aware that her family was wasting food, contributing to a national problem, but didn’t realize how much.

“Many of us take food for granted. But there are people in this world and country who can’t afford or simply do not have access to delicious and nutritious foods,” she said. “Food waste… not only takes away valuable and finite resources that could be better used elsewhere, but also contributes to climate change as food waste in landfills produce greenhouse gases.”

The first week in the program, participants saved all of their waste in a baggie in the freezer.

“I knew I was wasting the veggies. What I did not realize that I was wasting is the takeout and the leftovers, so that was the educational piece for me,” said VanLoon. “I expected to see two apples, a pear, an avocado and a banana… but also a pork chop, chicken teriyaki, pizza, and four slices of bread?”

With food prices higher than ever, throwing away spoiled food can feel like tossing cash in the trash — but it turns out that saving money isn’t the biggest motivator. 

“We found that ‘waste aversion,’ or the psychological reaction people have to the loss of utility of something, was a stronger motivator for people to waste less food than the cost savings or potential health benefits,” explained Zanolli.

VanLoon implemented some suggestions from the kit the second week and measured her waste again. This continued for a month, and over time she was able to consciously change her habits. According to Zanolli, strategies implemented by pilot participants have reduced waste by an average 25 percent, which is almost $150 per month

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A WWII era poster encourages saving food scraps to feed animals. (Photo from National Archives)

Kirkland resident Gina VanLoon hardly has any food waste in her compost bin.

But that isn’t something she could brag about a few months ago. VanLoon knew she had a problem with too much produce rotting before someone in her family of five could eat it.

But she didn’t really know what to do.

The problem stemmed from a change to a whole foods diet after her daughter was diagnosed with allergies, she said. She started buying more fresh fruits and veggies, in particular organic ones.

“I’m buying pears that are $3.99 a pound and throwing half of them away,” she said.

Then she heard from a friend that King County was recruiting households to try a food waste audit and thought it might help her to figure out how to stop wasting food.

Read part 1: Why we’re wasting food in a hungry world

Household waste is the “biggest slice” of the food waste pie, said Ashley Zanolli, an environmental engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regional office in Seattle who led the design of the Food Too Good to Waste tool kit to measure food waste in homes. Piloted by the West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum, the program is being used in communities in seven of the EPA’s 10 regions. Both the city of Seattle and King County have recruited participants for the audits.

The solution is just one way to tackle global food waste in a complex food system. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council report, the U.S. throws away approximately 40 percent of its food supply, wasting energy, water, land and chemicals used for fertilizers and pesticides.

Gina VanLoon (far left) with her Kirkland neighbors who participated in the "Food Too Good To Waste" food audit program. (Photo courtesy King County)

Gina VanLoon (far left) with her Kirkland neighbors who participated in the “Food Too Good To Waste” food audit program. (Photo courtesy King County)

Jina Kim, a solid waste program specialist for the City of Renton, also recently took part in the audit. She said she was aware that her family was wasting food, contributing to a national problem, but didn’t realize how much.

“Many of us take food for granted. But there are people in this world and country who can’t afford or simply do not have access to delicious and nutritious foods,” she said. “Food waste… not only takes away valuable and finite resources that could be better used elsewhere, but also contributes to climate change as food waste in landfills produce greenhouse gases.”

The first week in the program, participants saved all of their waste in a baggie in the freezer.

“I knew I was wasting the veggies. What I did not realize that I was wasting is the takeout and the leftovers, so that was the educational piece for me,” said VanLoon. “I expected to see two apples, a pear, an avocado and a banana… but also a pork chop, chicken teriyaki, pizza, and four slices of bread?”

With food prices higher than ever, throwing away spoiled food can feel like tossing cash in the trash — but it turns out that saving money isn’t the biggest motivator. 

“We found that ‘waste aversion,’ or the psychological reaction people have to the loss of utility of something, was a stronger motivator for people to waste less food than the cost savings or potential health benefits,” explained Zanolli.

VanLoon implemented some suggestions from the kit the second week and measured her waste again. This continued for a month, and over time she was able to consciously change her habits. According to Zanolli, strategies implemented by pilot participants have reduced waste by an average 25 percent, which is almost $150 per month in grocery savings.

While consumer waste toolkits aim to educate individuals at the household level, some activists are putting pressure on grocery stores and businesses further up the food supply chain to change practices in order to reduce food waste.

Dana Gunders, staff scientist  at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, suggests that standardization and clarification of food expiration dates, which can cause consumers to throw away perfectly good food, would help. A UK study estimated that 20 percent of home food waste is due to confusion over expiration dates. This has already led to a revision of standards by the UK government to limit labels to food safety rather than food quality.

It’s standard for grocery stores in the U.S. to pull items off the shelf at least two days before their sell-by date. Most of the time this food is perfectly safe to eat. The designations “sell-by” “use-by” and “best-before” can just be a suggestion of when the food is at peak quality but aren’t meant to indicate food safety.

Activists in Europe are also trying to change perceptions about wonky looking vegetables. Feeding the 5000 runs a global campaign that addresses grocery store cosmetic standards, while Portugal’s Fruta Feia also began highlighting the impact of food waste felt by small local farmers who focus on cultural varieties of produce not up to European Union standards.

Catching on this summer, perhaps the most market-savvy effort to bring attention to the issue is the French supermarket chain Intermarché’s viral Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables campaign starring produce that wouldn’t make it in Hollywood. They sold the produce at a 30 percent discount and sold an average 1.2 tons per store in the first two days, facing the problem of running out.

Dena Hastings, Pacific Northwest regional Green Mission specialist at Whole Foods, explained that there are also other ways grocers can reclaim waste. The supermarket chain donates to food banks, but internally, the bakery or the prepared food department pulls items that are considered unsellable for cosmetic reasons — but are still safe to eat — to use as ingredients in their ready-to-eat products.

Compost is another option if food is no longer safe to eat, said Hastings. Bellevue’s Whole Foods store is currently testing out a new on-site commercial biodigester that will reduce the number of pickups needed for a traditional compost bin. The machine even has a computer program that keeps track of what items are being put into the compost, which Hastings said will hopefully help to refine buying practices and help the store from purchasing too much in the first place.

That’s currently a big problem for grocery stories. If you think it’s hard to gauge how much produce to buy for your family, imagine making those same calculations on a massive scale to stock a grocery store and trying to anticipate the choices of thousands of consumers.

After completing the Food to Good to Waste audit, Gina VanLoon took the advice on King County's website and designated an Eat Now shelf in her refrigerator. It works well, she says, because her kids can easily open the fridge and know exactly what will go bad if not eaten soon. (Photo courtesy Gina VanLoon)

After completing the Food Too Good to Waste audit, Gina VanLoon took the advice on King County’s website and designated an Eat Now shelf in her refrigerator. It works well, she says, because her kids can easily open the fridge and know exactly what will go bad if not eaten soon. (Photo courtesy Gina VanLoon)

VanLoon agreed that grocery stores like Whole Foods should take a leading role in tackling food waste, but in the end, she says, the biggest impact citizens can have is by changing their own habits.

“We’re a foodie area, and most of us who are foodies run out and buy everything on the recipe,” she pointed out. But then you end up with an odd ingredient in your cupboard that you’ll never use again.

Instead, people can be taught how to “shop their pantry” and find acceptable substitutes, such as lemon juice for lime juice, for example. Retailers or other community centers can lead this effort by providing cooking classes geared to addressing food waste, she suggested.

As a result of participating in the food waste audit, VanLoon now has some of her own tips: Since the audit, she has designated one shelf in her refrigerator as an “Eat now” shelf, which helps let her family know which produce will go bad if not eaten. Leftovers can also go on that shelf, though VanLoon has become more creative about what to do with leftovers, incorporating them into other meals throughout the week instead of expecting everyone to eat them the next day for lunch.

She also started throwing fruit on the cusp of overripe into the freezer and making mixed fruit crumbles once she has enough. This has resulted in some new flavor combinations, including blueberry pineapple pear crumble.

Following the audit, Kim emphasized how changing consumer habits can have big impact on retailers:

“By purchasing only the items that we will use, we help stores stock only those items that they can sell and the effect trickles down all the way down to farmers and producers of items that make the food industry go around, leading to wasting less resources and reducing our carbon footprint,” she said “Can you imagine the impact we can have if every household can reduce their food waste by half or even a third?”

Read part 1: Why we’re wasting food in a hungry world

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Why we’re wasting food in a hungry world http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/16/wasting-food-in-a-hungry-world/29586 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/16/wasting-food-in-a-hungry-world/29586#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:00:40 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29586 (Photo from National Archives)

Rummaging through garbage bins behind large upscale grocery stores in Seattle, Justin Phillips, Fred Marshall and their friends find bottled smoothies, gourmet sandwiches, produce and more. Phillips and Marshall, who are both bike messengers, dumpster dive because it cuts down on food expenses.

But they also do it out of conviction.

Phillips said he started to practice a ‘freegan’ lifestyle after working in restaurants and seeing how much goes to waste, as well as working on farms and considering how much energy already went into producing food that won’t get eaten. ‘Freegan’ is a derivation of ‘vegan’ that’s used to describe people who prefer to forage or dumpster dive for their food.

“I see tons of wasted food,” said Marshal, who hits mostly grocery store dumpsters, but also frequents places like pizza parlors and even local food production plants that he’d rather not mention by name. “I know that there are fucking people all over the world that need food. Why is this here? There’s got to be something that we can do so that this isn’t here.”

Marshall shook his head thinking out loud about the complexity of the problem. “There’s too many steps for me to count,” he said.

Phillips attributed the problem to industrial farming, saying that too much is produced in the first place. He also worried about imported food and the potential insecurity it was causing poor farmers in other countries. “Food shipped out of their country to the U.S. while they’re starving. That’s fucked up,” he said.

Read Part 2: How to Break Our Addiction to Food Waste

When concerns are raised about global hunger and how to feed a growing world population, the obvious response is to find ways to produce more food. But some activists argue that we already have enough food to feed all the hungry people. What we’re experiencing is actually a distribution problem, not a production problem.

“When people talk about the need to increase global food production to feed those 9 billion people that are expected on the planet by 2050… the fact is: we have an enormous buffer in rich countries between ourselves and hunger,” said UK-based activist Tristram Stuart in a TED talk. 

Food loss and waste, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), happens all along the supply chain, though the problem is worse at different points for different regions of the world. In the Global North, waste is most prominent at the consumer and retail level. Portions too large to finish at a comfortable family restaurant or bags of salad mix gone bad after being bought in bulk at a big box superstore.

The Global South experiences food loss largely post-harvest, but pre-consumer, often from inadequate storage or transportation. For example, Kenya’s people have suffered food loss from maize contaminated by aflatoxin due to improper storage. Aflatoxin poisoning can result in liver failure and even death.

The reality, however, is that the level of food loss at the farm or food-processing level is relatively similar between the Global North and the Global South. It’s just that the Global North also has a significant amount of food waste by retailers and consumers.

(Source: Food and Agricutlure Organization of the United Nations)

(Source: Food and Agricutlure Organization of the United Nations)

According to an FAO report, post-production loss has much to do with post-harvest crop grading of agricultural products by retailers — essentially choosing which produce will sell best based on appearance or convenience of processing.

Dana Gunders, a staff scientist at the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said that there are no substantial studies on waste in the U.S. that go down to the farm level. Understanding the whole food system — beginning at the farm — is needed to reduce waste, she said.

Nipping the problem at the source would also help reduce wasted energy and water consumption.

As Stuart has pointed out, poor farmers in other countries may actually be growing food for a market in the U.S. or Europe. This means, he’s observed, that bananas can be discarded in Ecuador because they’re the wrong shape or size for U.S. or European grocery retailers. So, in a world connected through supply chains beginning in tropical tree farms and ending in mango smoothies at a nearby shopping mall, how do we tackle food waste?

Solutions are not easy, but a movement has been brewing in Europe, and it’s spreading in the U.S. Stuart’s own organization, Feeding the 5000, runs a number of global campaigns to raise awareness, including hosting dinners cooked from food that would have otherwise been wasted. The dinners are giant communal gatherings of up to 5,000 people in public places like Trafalgar Square in London — basically a super-sized version of a dinner that I went to in Beacon Hill with Phillips, Marshall and friends. The organization has made attempts to expand to the U.S., including a conference on Oct. 16, World Food Day in Oakland, California.

Fred Marshall and Justin Phillips of Beacon Hill share a meal of tomatoes stuffed with pesto and baked tofu, made from ingredients they found unused in dumpsters. (Photo by Rebecca Randall)

Fred Marshall and Justin Phillips of Beacon Hill share a meal of tomatoes stuffed with pesto and baked tofu, made from ingredients they found unused in dumpsters. (Photo by Rebecca Randall)

Stuart, who has spent a fair share of his time talking to farmers and poking around dumpsters behind supermarkets and factories, said in the TED talk, that retail and consumer waste is just the “tip of the iceberg… When you start going up the supply chain, you find where the real waste is happening on a gargantuan scale.”

Back in the U.S., there has been progress made in getting grocery chains to donate more fresh food to food banks. According to Food Safety News, for underprivileged families 15 years ago, a visit to the food bank would only yield canned food or bakery items  — no fresh vegetables or nutritious proteins from fish or meat.

But in 2002, Western Washington’s Food Lifeline helped launch a ‘Grocery Rescue’ program at QFC stores (which are owned by Kroger, the country’s largest supermarket chain) to help establish national food safety standards for grocery stores donating to food banks.

Today Grocery Rescue arranges for the pickup, delivery and safe handling of many of these items that were otherwise being wasted. Food Lifeline estimates that it saves an average of 16 million pounds of food from being wasted in Western Washington each year.

But it’s obvious that there is still a lot of waste — otherwise freegans like Phillips and Marshall wouldn’t be finding so much good stuff to eat. Think of everything that’s thrown away from grocery stores, restaurants, farmers markets, cafeterias and catered events, not to mention our own homes.

Phillips, who started following freegan lifestyle in 2005, said that he has observed a change in the amount of good food he sees discarded… very slowly.

“We still live in a culture of waste,” he said.

Read Part 2: How to Break Our Addiction to Food Waste

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