Is Radical Homemaking the New Feminism?

  • Author Shannon Hayes says raising chickens and growing veggies is a new route for women who consider themselves feminists. (Photo courtesy of Nathan & Jenny CC-2.0)

Women who consider themselves feminists might be shocked to hear what some are calling the new wave of feminism: women heading back to the kitchen – and the garden. Julie Grant reports:

Transcript

Women who consider themselves feminists might be shocked to hear what some are calling the new wave of feminism: women heading back to the kitchen – and the garden. Julie Grant reports:

When Shannon Hayes was finishing her PhD, she made a list of all the female professors she’d ever had. There wasn’t one who had tenure who was also married with children. Hayes wanted a husband and family, and realized that if she wanted a big university job…

“I was not going to have these things. And they were as important to me as having a career. In fact, in truth they were more important to me.”

So, much to the dismay of her PhD committee members, she headed back to the northern foothills of the Appalachian mountains near the family farm where she grew up. She bought a teeny house with her husband. People whispered. What had gone wrong?

Once there, Hayes couldn’t even get a job interview. To make things worse, her husband lost his job two weeks after buying the house. So, they fell back on their domestic skills.

“Well, if something broke, we fixed it. If something ripped, we mended it. I was very good at canning, so any food we didn’t grow on the farm or didn’t grow in our gardens I wold go to the local farmers when it was in peak season and I would can it, freeze it, lacto-ferment it.”

Hayes says her idea of success changed. Spending time with her parents and children, cooking family meals – those are her successes.

And she’s found that more people are realizing the power of homemaking.

Hayes has now written a book called Radical Homemakers – which profiles twenty families that are saying “no” to regular jobs, and are instead raising chickens and growing veggies.

Hayes says homemaking is a new route for women who consider themselves feminists.

“I think that a lot of feminists are realizing that the family home life is extremely important. I do think that this is part of the next wave of feminism.”

One feminist blogger asked with disgust:
Are you telling women to get back in the kitchen?

Traditional feminists don’t like the sound of this one bit.

Brittany Shoot is another feminist blogger. She’s concerned with calling homemaking feminism. Shoot writes about eco-feminist issues for Bitch Media and The Women’s International Perspective. She says just because some women are doing it, does NOT make it feminism. She says Hayes’ message could be considered a step backward for women.

“I can’t imagine saying to my grandmother, ‘I’m going to stay home and just hang out.'”

Shoot says her grandmother struggled to attend university, and didn’t have nearly the choices Brittany has for a career. She would want Brittany to make the most of her opportunities.

“We’ve come so far. Why would you make this decision when you have the ability to have a career that may not only be lucrative, but fulfilling.”

But Shannon Hayes says we’ve been conditioned to want the money and status of a big job and that’s proving to be as empty for many women as it is for many men.

Hayes says being a housewife in the ‘50s and 60s was limiting. Back then, when Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, women were depressed by their role as homemakers. Women were losing their own identities to serve their husbands and children. But Hayes says women today are losing their identities to the workplace. She also says corporations have largely taken over in the home.
She says when women left the kitchen to join the workforce, that’s when everyone started eating processed, unhealthy foods.

“I think everybody should get back in the kitchen, not just women. But that’s because I don’t think you should be buying processed foods, and I don’t think you should be supporting industrial agriculture, and don’t think that you should be supporting food traveling thousands of miles.”

Hayes says becoming a homemaker isn’t abandoning feminism, it’s redefining it on her own terms. She’s sharing homemaking with her husband… and both are finding more balance between home life and work.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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Fights Over Parkland

  • Ken Cheyne says trash piles like this one are evidence that the city of Detroit has abandoned Eliza Howell Park. (Photo by Sarah Hulett)

Have you ever given someone a
gift, only to have that person
break it, mistreat it, or take
it for granted? Well, the grandson
of a man who gave a big chunk
of land for a city park says
that’s exactly what’s happened
to his family’s gift. So he’s
going to court to get the land
back. Sarah Hulett has this story about the dispute –
which highlights a problem facing
many cities:

Transcript

Have you ever given someone a
gift, only to have that person
break it, mistreat it, or take
it for granted? Well, the grandson
of a man who gave a big chunk
of land for a city park says
that’s exactly what’s happened
to his family’s gift. So he’s
going to court to get the land
back. Sarah Hulett has this story about the dispute –
which highlights a problem facing
many cities:

Eliza Howell Park is an oasis from the blight, traffic, and hard-knocks neighborhoods that surround it. At almost 140 acres, it’s one of Detroit’s biggest parks. It has woods, and trails, and a pair of rivers that come together at the south end.

But it’s also got some problems.

“Those little red posts, that’s actually a picnic table. It’s all gone, people have stolen, broken everything. All the sewer grates in the park have been stolen. They maintain nothing.”

That’s Ken Cheyne. It’s his grandfather who deeded this park to the city more than 70 years ago, with the requirement that it be used “for park and recreation purposes.” Now, he says, the city has virtually abandoned it.

“There’s been burned out cars in here. On the south end there was a boat for over two years. Just this old, awful, derelict, broken boat.”

The city has also barricaded the park’s entrances at times. Cheyne says that also signals abandonment. But it’s open to traffic today. As Cheyne drives around the park, he’s got to steer around huge potholes in washed-out parts of the road. People have dumped trash in the park. And the grass is waist-high.

Cheyne says all this adds up to neglect. So he’s asking a judge to give the land back to the family. And Cheyne, who’s a developer, says, if that happens, he wants to build new retail stores on the land. He also says he’ll keep part of it a park that the public can use. But he says he’ll pay to have it maintained so it’s much more attractive than it is now.

“It’s a land grab.”

That’s Larry Quarles. He’s the head of a group formed to help fight Cheyne’s effort.

“It’s pure and simple. If the land goes back to him, he’s going to develop it and this park is gone forever. Kids from now on will never have a chance to play in this park. It’s the wrong thing to do just because this city has fallen on hard times.”

And Detroit is not the only city struggling to keep up its obligations when it comes to maintaining parks and vacant land.

“It’s happening all over.”

Robin Boyle is a professor of urban planning at Wayne State University.

“Many of these cities are facing similar problems. Nothing quite to the scale of Detroit. The story of what’s happening in places like Flint in Michigan, or Youngstown in Ohio – and these are just the poster children for this challenge.”

Last summer, the mayor of Toledo, Ohio asked residents to bring their lawnmowers to city parks, and spent several Saturdays cutting park lawns himself.

A recent audit of Milwaukee County’s park system suggests selling some parkland to help deal with a maintenance backlog.

And just two years ago, Detroit’s former mayor pitched a failed plan to sell 92 city parks to help close a budget deficit.

Detroit’s attorneys are trying to hold onto Eliza Howell Park. They say even if a park is barricaded to vehicles, or the grass isn’t mowed, it’s still a park.

George Bezenar agrees. He comes to the park with his dogs several times a week.

“Just because the lawn isn’t mowed all the time, that doesn’t matter to me because, to me, it represents more like a natural preserve, where you see birds, you see deer, you see fox. You see everything here.”

Including things you’d rather not see in nature, like bags of garbage, and rusted playground equipment.

Neighbors like Bezenar say they hope Detroit will someday have the money to properly maintain this park.

A judge is expected to decide this spring whether the city gets to keep the parkland.

For The Environment Report, I’m Sarah Hulett.

Related Links

Heart Health and Family Environment

  • Debbie Joy, a participant in the University of Ottawa Heart Institute's prevention program for family members. (Photo by Karen Kelly)

Every year, more than one million
Americans have a heart attack.
The majority survive, thanks
in part to advances in modern
medicine. But Karen Kelly reports
on a program that’s shifting
its focus from miraculous cures
to persuasion – getting the family
of patients with heart disease
to change the ways they live:

Transcript

Every year, more than one million
Americans have a heart attack.
The majority survive, thanks
in part to advances in modern
medicine. But Karen Kelly reports
on a program that’s shifting
its focus from miraculous cures
to persuasion – getting the family
of patients with heart disease
to change the ways they live:

(sound of aerobics class)

It’s a frigid January night in Ottawa, Canada. Most people are curled up on the couch. Debbie Joy is doing push-ups, lifting weights, even hula-hooping.

“After long day – I get up at 5:30, I get to the office at 7:30, I don’t leave there until 4:30, quarter to five. It takes a lot for me to go out and exercise. You just have to be motivated and do it.”

A couple of years ago, Joy didn’t have that motivation. But she did worry.
Both of her parents had died young of heart disease and, in the back of her mind, she knew what she should be doing to take care of herself.

Then she saw an article about a study at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute for the family members of current and former patients.
Bob Reid is directing the study.

He says research has found that family members of patients have a 30 percent chance of contracting heart disease themselves within 10 years.
But there’s been very little focus on this group.
Reid says he and his colleagues realized that if they wanted to focus on prevention, they had a major high-risk group already coming through the door.

“I think anybody who’s practiced in a hospital for any length of time recognizes that sometimes our patients of tomorrow are the family members of our patients today. Families tend to have very similar smoking habits, very similar eating habits, very similar activity habits. This really is a group that can benefit from fairly close attention.”

Close attention is the key to the heart institute’s program.
Family members work with a dietician, a nurse, and personal trainers to set up a new lifestyle. Then, they keep working with them.
Participants keep close track of exercise and their diet. The professionals track blood lipids, weight, and cholesterol levels.

Debbie Joy says it worked.

“The fact that you were watched, you were called every week, it made you follow the program. Then they got you into a routine. So they called you every week for 6 months, then it was dropped to once a month. At that point, you were in a routine and it was easier to follow.”


After three months, Joy’s weight and cholesterol levels dropped – and stayed there. One year later, she’s still exercising four days a week and eating well. It’s a part of her life now – she’s made friends at the gym and her family has adjusted to her new cooking methods.

The ultimate goal for the heart institute is to demonstrate that this works, and to justify funding the family prevention programs full-time.

The ultimate goal for Debbie Joy is quite simply, to live longer.

“You know, I have two kids and I want to be around for my grandchildren. So, it’s never too late.”

For The Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.

Related Links

Trying for a Healthier Holiday

  • Linda Barberic's partner Keith helps her prepare a healthy meal, using olive oil instead of butter. (Photo by Julie Grant)

With so many Americans facing diabetes,
heart disease, and other health problems,
the Thanksgiving meal has become a battleground
in some families. Some family members want
to make it a healthy meal, others want to
stick with their traditional family dishes.
Julie Grant reports:

Transcript

With so many Americans facing diabetes,
heart disease, and other health problems,
the Thanksgiving meal has become a battleground
in some families. Some family members want
to make it a healthy meal, others want to
stick with their traditional family dishes.
Julie Grant reports:

Four years ago, Linda Barberic gave her left kidney to her sister. The surgery went well. But since then, there have been a lot of other health problems in the family.

“We’ve had a few strokes in the family, we’ve got diabetes, we’ve got high blood pressure, we’ve got some other heart conditions, a few heart attacks.”

That’s some serious stuff. Linda thinks a lot of it has to do with the way her family eats: lots of salt, fat and sweets. She is hosting everyone for Thanksgiving dinner. And thought this might be a good time to get them all on board with healthier eating.

So she sent out a mass email to the family.

“So I thought this year, why not give everyone a challenge and make it a healthy Thanksgiving. Really – no fats, no butters, no salts, no heavy creams.”

Linda even suggested some recipes: steamed green beans with lemon zest, fingerling potatoes roasted with fresh garlic and thyme.

The resounding response: No salt, no fat, no fun.

Someone even said they wouldn’t come. They wanted the turkey with gravy, green bean casserole with crispy onions on top, and Mom’s dumplings with lots of butter.

Her brother-in-law Matt Previte is one of those with a heart condition. He and Linda’s sister, Sandy Previte, appreciate Linda’s thought, but…

Matt: “For one meal, for one day, one special occasion – it’s not worth it.”

Sandy: “How often do we eat gravy? Twice a year. So I’m like, let’s do the traditional. Why not? Let’s just stick with what it’s about – people getting together to have good food.”

So Sandy says why not have the gravy, have the butter?
But her sister Linda says it’s not one or two days a year. Her family, like many, eats fatty, salty foods all the time.
That’s one big reason why two-thirds of American adults are considered overweight or obese. And diabetes has become an epidemic.

So, why do we keep going back for more – when we know it’s making us sick?
Linda Spurlock is director of human health at the Museum of Natural History in Cleveland.
She says we’re hard-wired to crave sugar, fat and salt.

“If you did not have the inherited yearning for fat or for sugar and grab it anytime you could get your hands on it, you probably would not live to reproduce back 2- or 3- million years ago.”

But while our ancestors had to smash open bones to get to the marrow – so they could get the fat they needed – we can just pull up to the drive through and order whatever we want to eat.

Spurlock says the original Thanksgiving meal was probably a small, lean turkey, squirrel, raccoon, and roasted root vegetables.

“And how it got bigger and bigger and bigger –
I have a feeling that it wasn’t until quite recently that people had the expectation of several kinds of pie for dessert and yes giblet gravy and mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes.”

Spurlock says Americans can start eating healthier by training themselves to enjoy the simple taste of vegetables. But she says Thanksgiving probably isn’t the time for it.

Linda Barberic has come to the same conclusion.

“ I kind of just backed off on it. And said, ‘do what you’re going to do.’ Thanksgiving is about family. I’m grateful that everyone is healthy this year and everyone is here. So, I’m just grateful to have Thanksgiving. But, I have a feeling there will be some fat. (laughs)”

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

The Future of McMansions (Part Two)

  • The study found that differences in architectural style stuck out most, but after that, height. (Photo source: Brendel at Wikimedia Commons)

There are some ugly terms used
to describe big, grandiose homes.
Critics call them “Garage Mahals,”
“starter castles,” or “McMansions.”
These insults are flung around
in towns where people worry big
houses are sapping the character
out of neighborhoods full of smaller,
older homes. Shawn Allee
met a researcher who hopes to tamp
down the heated rhetoric:

Transcript

There are some ugly terms used
to describe big, grandiose homes.
Critics call them “Garage Mahals,”
“starter castles,” or “McMansions.”
These insults are flung around
in towns where people worry big
houses are sapping the character
out of neighborhoods full of smaller,
older homes. Shawn Allee
met a researcher who hopes to tamp
down the heated rhetoric:

Jack Nasar studies city planning at Ohio State University.

He got interested in the term “McMansion” because it was used in his own neighorhood in Columbus.

“A realestate agent was befriending older people so that when they died she’d be able to get their properties, tear down the house, and then build a much larger house. I started to wonder whether this was happening elsewhere.”

Nasar says teardowns, and the insults used to describe them, are common in many towns. And some local governments are restricting how big these homes get or even what they look like.

Nasar says, with governments stepping in to the debate, there’s more at stake than just name-calling.

“You’re talking about controlling what goes on on somebody’s private property. So, you would want to have good evidence to use as a basis for that decision.”

Nasar recently studied just what it takes for a house to get big enough or different enough for people to say, “yuck” or hurl an insult like “McMansion.” Nasar and a research partner created computer models of streets with rows of houses.

For each test, they made most houses normal, but changed up something about one of them – stuff like the architectural style, the height, or maybe distance between the house and the street. Then, they showed these models to people.

“We had them rate these streets in terms of compatibility, we had them rate them in terms of visual quality or preference.”

Differences in architectural style stuck out most, but after that, height.

“The effect started to be most noticeable when the in-fill house was twice as large as the stuff around it. So, in terms of regulations, it suggests maybe a community could get by saying, ‘you could do a tear-down replacement that’s twice as big as what’s around it,’ but you wouldn’t let it get any larger than that.”

This is a controversial finding.

Some communities keep height range much lower than “twice as big” figure and sometimes they restrict width, too – something Nasar found doesn’t matter so much.

I thought I’d bounce some of his findings off someone involved in the teardown issue.

“This also was a demolition of a small home.”

Catherine Czerniak drives me around Lake Forest, a Chicago suburb. She’s the community development director, and she gets the praise or blame about how teardowns get done.

Czerniak says Nasar’s findings make sense, especially the idea that style matters most.

“We often say height and size aren’t necessarily the key roles -it’s how the design is done.”

But for Czerniak, there’s a hot-button issue Nasar did not measure.

Lake Forest has lots of tree-lined streets and people like how the trees obscure the houses.

“And really, the landscaping really defines the character of the community. Even the estates on the east side, were not there to shout from the street, here I am, look at me.”

To make the point she drives past a mix of old homes and replacements.

I can hardly tell which is which.

“As we go down the street, take note that even though there are some big homes back here, you still feel you’re in a country lane.”

Czerniak says Nasar’s research might quiet down some debates but people will always fight over specific details. After all, Nasar’s test subjects gave quick judgements on computer models.

She says, in the real world, critics spend years nit-picking every little thing they hate about a teardown replacement home and whether it’s going to ruin their neighborhood.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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Smaller Homes Being Built

  • A national survey of home builders found 59% are already building smaller homes or planning to build smaller homes in the near future. (Photo courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

This week, the US Department
of Commerce announced new
construction for single-family
homes increased 1.7% since June. Lester Graham
reports… what the announcement
didn’t say is that, on average,
those new homes are smaller:

Transcript

This week, the US Department
of Commerce announced new
construction for single-family
homes increased 1.7% since June. Lester Graham
reports… what the announcement
didn’t say is that, on average,
those new homes are smaller:

For the past 35 years, houses have gotten bigger and bigger. The square footage has increased 53%.

But, starting in the second half of 2008, that changed. And the trend to smaller houses is continuing this year.

Steve Melman monitors trends for the National Association of Home Builders.

He says, during past recessions, new house sizes decreased because smaller was more affordable. As soon as the economy recovered, the trend toward larger homes continued.

He says that might not be the case this time.

“This could be a change in that the homes might incorporate better design, better energy features, green features, but not necessarily increase in size.”

A national survey of home builders found 59% are already building smaller homes or planning to build smaller homes in the near future.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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The Future of McMansions (Part One)

  • Brian Hickey runs Teardowns.com, a real-estate marketplace for teardown properties. Some communities complain that the teardown market encourages the growth of so-called 'McMansion' replacement homes that are seen as too large and out-of-place for their neighborhoods. (Photo by Shawn Allee)

Your home may be your castle,
but, for some people, too many
homes are as big and grand as
castles. Critics call these homes
‘McMansions,’ and they complain
they’ve ruined neighborhoods
filled with older, smaller houses.
The McMansion fad fizzled during
the real-estate bust. Shawn Allee looks at whether it could
return:

Transcript

Your home may be your castle,
but, for some people, too many
homes are as big and grand as
castles. Critics call these homes
‘McMansions,’ and they complain
they’ve ruined neighborhoods
filled with older, smaller houses.
The McMansion fad fizzled during
the real-estate bust. Shawn Allee looks at whether it could
return:

I head to a Chicago suburb called Hinsdale to understand the hub-ub about McMansions. Over the past twenty years, one in three Hinsdale homes got torn down to make room for mostly bigger ones.

Brian Hickey drives me past one-story brick and wood houses.

Then there’s a huge one, with stucco and Spanish tile.

Hickey: “This is an example of something where someone would go, this is more Florida-like.”

Allee: “It looks like it walked off the set of Miami Vice or something like that.”

Hickey: “Yeah.”

Bigger, mis-matched homes sprouted up in Hinsdale during the real-estate boom, and for some, Brian Hickey’s partly to blame.

He runs tear-downs dot com. Hickey finds and sells homes to tear down, and maybe replace with McMansions … or ‘replacement homes’ as he calls them.

Anyway, during the housing bubble, teardowns increased … and so did complaints.

Allee: “Some of the arguments I’ve heard against the teardown phenomenon is that we’re basically tossing perfectly good houses into landfills.”

Hickey: “See, that’s not accurate. To take some of these homes and bring it up to what people in this community would expect in terms of housing amenities, it doesn’t make sense to renovate when you can build new for less.”

The big-home trend faded recently, but if the soft real-estate market improves, you gotta wonder: will people build big again, or will they keep smaller, older homes?

Hickey thinks old homes might lose.

Hickey: “At some point a buyer simply won’t pay that price to live there.”

Allee: “In that one story …”

Hickey: “In that one story, two-bedroom, small kitchen – that the land will be where the value is.”

Some real-estate pros say Hickey’s right: people want big, and they’ll build what they want, where they want.

Others say, the game has changed.

Local governments in Dallas, Denver, and other cities are starting to regulate teardowns, like Hinsdale did.

(sound of a printer)

Robert McGinnis prints me 60 pages of Hinsdale’s zoning codes.

“Hot off the press, it’s still warm.”

McGinnis runs Hinsdale’s building commission. He says the code got up to sixty pages partly because of teardown complaints.

McGinnis: “Pollution issues, the loss of sunlight in some cases.”

Allee: “Loss of sunlight? What do you mean by that?”

McGinnis: “Some of these houses are so tall they end up physically blocking out some of the sunlight.”

McGinnis says it’s hard to stop teardowns – you can just delay or improve them.

“I would like to think, at some point, Joe Q. Public says, ‘I’d really like to live in Hinsdale, but I can’t afford to heat and cool a McMansion,’ so they’re going to look at building a smaller home.”

But McGinnis says this could be wishful thinking.

So, I thought I’d ask some Hinsdale homeowners about the small-home idea.

Just outside McGinnis’ office, I find Greta Filmanaviciute. She’s stuffing official demolition signs into her car.

Filmanaviciute: “I was getting permits. We’re going to tear down old house and building the new house.”

Allee: “Are you guys looking at a house that’s bigger than what you have now?”

Filmanaviciute: “No, actually, we are sizing down, but that’s because we’re a three-person family and I don’t want to have a huge house and then we have high utility bills. This is perfection for us, actually.”

Filmanaviciute says preservationists might not like that she’s tearing down her place, but her neighbors are glad she’s keeping things modest.

She says she’d be proud to start a small-home trend.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

Related Links

The Great Vaccination Debate

  • There are parts of the country where up to 20% of families are saying ‘no’ to vaccines. (Photo by Bill Branson, courtesy of the National Cancer Institute)

Babies and young children get a lot more vaccines today than they did ten years ago. To most parents, it’s a chance to protect their children from more diseases. But there are pockets of places where lots of people are opting out of vaccines. Julie Grant reports that it has the Centers for Disease Control concerned:

Transcript

Babies and young children get a lot more vaccines today than they did ten years ago. To most parents, it’s a chance to protect their children from more diseases. But there are pockets of places where lots of people are opting out of vaccines. Julie Grant reports that it has the Centers for Disease Control concerned:

Heather Waltz has a five month old daughter. Most Americans her age have already started a series of vaccinations – to prevent everything from Hepatitis B, to Diphtheria, to Polio.

But Waltz’s little girl isn’t going to get those shots. Her mom worries they could cause things like autism, juvenile diabetes and even cancer.

“I think the jury’s still out, as far as what the research says. But there is enough anecdotal sort of stuff to make me aware and decide that, really, right at this point, vaccinating wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

Waltz is among a small, but growing number of parents who are becoming skeptical of vaccines.

Lance Rodewald is director of immunization services at the Centers for Disease Control.

He says more than 90% of American children are vaccinated. But there are parts of the country where up to 20% of families are saying ‘no’ to vaccines.

“And that’s getting to a rate of lack of protection of children that really can be a fertile ground for the spreading of diseases like measles. And we actually saw that last year.”

In one case last year, Rodewald says a child who wasn’t vaccinated caught the measles in Switzerland and brought it back to Arizona.

“The parents didn’t realize that the child had measles – brought him to the pediatricians office where there were babies that were too young to be vaccinated that got measles. And then that particular outbreak went through four generations of spread, from child to child to child to child before it was able to be contained.”

Measles can cause more than just a nasty rash. In rare cases, it can lead to death. Measles still causes 200,000 deaths around the world. But it’s been almost eradicated in the U.S. because of vaccines.

Rodewald says many parents are concerned about vaccines today because of a ten-year old scientific article that linked the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella to autism. Rodewald says the science in that article proved to be wrong.

“The authors withdrew their names from the article. But this particular study set off a whole series of concerns about vaccines and autism that, to this day, is still talked about.”

Rodewald says many studies have been done and found no association, no cause and effect, between vaccines and autism.

It’s tough for parents to wade through all the information that’s out there these days. And there are so many vaccines to try to understand. Back in the mid-1990s, children were given 6 vaccines. Today, they’re supposed to get more than twice that many.

Mother Heather Waltz tries to keep up with it all and says she still plans to avoid vaccines.

Waltz: “For every bit of research and every article I find sort of helping me support my point, there’s a million other bits of research and articles saying that I’m a bad parent, or saying that I’m somehow damaging the health of the entire United States by not vaccinating my child. Just this idea that she could be a measles monster and just running around and infecting her classmates with measles or something like that, and that would be a terrible thing.”

Grant: “What do you think when you see that?”

Waltz: “It doesn’t make logical sense to me. Because to me, if you have 30 kids in a classroom, and my one isn’t vaccinated, wouldn’t my child be the one at risk? Not the public’s.”

But even if Waltz’s daughter doesn’t get vaccinated, she’ll probably be safe from these diseases. With so many other kids getting inoculations, most of the U.S. is not fertile ground for them to regain traction.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Green Last Requests, Part One

  • Amy Weik has a will drawn up that specifies a green burial (Photo by Todd Melby)

Memorial Day is coming up. Many people still visit the graves of family and friends, maybe bring flowers. When a loved one dies, grieving prevents most of us from thinking about the environmental consequences of conventional funerals and burial. But some people are beginning to weigh the environmental costs of caskets, burial vaults and grave markers. Todd Melby reports on the green death movement:

Todd Melby and Diane Richard produced a documentary on green burial called “Death’s Footprint.” You can listen to it here .

Transcript

Memorial Day is coming up. Many people still visit the graves of family and friends,
maybe bring flowers. When a loved one dies, grieving prevents most of us from
thinking about the environmental consequences of conventional funerals and burial.
But some people are beginning to weigh the environmental costs of caskets, burial
vaults and grave markers. Todd Melby reports on the green death movement:

Amy Weik works at a bank in downtown Chicago. She’s also a big-time
environmentalist. She bikes to work, doesn’t eat meat, recycles and she composts.

“This is my worm bin. It’s a rectangular cube, which I keep my worms in that eat
my scrap vegetables. Mmm, look at that. Yum. Scrap paper, food that went bad.”

The environment is such a big part of Weik’s life, she’s not only interested in
living green.

She wants to die green.

“We’re Americans. We are wasteful and we consume. We think that we are
entitled to everything. So I’m entitled to using up this massive plot of land for the
rest of eternity. That’s ridiculous thinking. You know what I mean?”

So 11 years ago — when she was only 23 — Weik wrote her own will and shared it
with her mother.

Weik: “I can read part of it.”

Melby: “Sure, what does it say?”

Weik: “Zero products or services from funeral homes are to be utilized.”

Instead, Weik prefers her body to be chemically cremated. But that new, high-
tech process isn’t widely available yet. Her second choice is to be composted with
worms.

“If all efforts have been exhausted, but these two options are not available, please
bury me in a green burial ground, location unimportant.”

That second option leaves Weik’s mother — Linda Williams — confused.

“The second was composed with worms? When I read it today, my first reaction
was, oh my Gosh, she composts with worms in her kitchen. I hope she doesn’t
expect me to put her in the box!” (Laughs)

Weik sees lots of unnecessary waste in conventional burial practices. Caskets
constructed from wood or metal are used for a short time and then go right into
the ground. Most graveyards require the casket be placed inside a concrete burial
vault to prevent leaking, but most eventually leak anyway. Grave markers are
often made of granite. And cemeteries are usually manicured to perfection using
fertilizer and riding lawn mowers.

Green burial advocates prefer biodegradable caskets — or just a shroud — no
burial vault, no grave markers and no landscaping. They prefer natural
surroundings.

Weik is hoping to live long enough to see a cemetery in her town go green.

So far, that’s not happened.

But one organization is working on it.

“I don’t think many people really want many aspects of conventional death care. I
think they think it’s legally required.”

That’s Joe Sehee. He’s head of the Green Burial Council.

“Most Americans do not know that you can have a funeral with a viewing without
embalming. Most don’t know that you can transport a body across state lines
without having to embalm it. Most don’t know that burial vaults can be avoided,
for example, or that you can go into the grave with a shroud or nothing at all.”

The council has been busy certifying all kinds of earth-friendly death products,
but has been slow to find graveyards willing to ban concrete burial vaults and
minimize traditional landscaping.

That leaves Amy Weik wondering if she’s going to have rely on the worms in her
compost bin to dispose of her body.

For The Environment Report, I’m Todd Melby.

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Interview: Why Private Forests Matter

There are 751 million acres of forest lands in the United States. More than half of it – 56% – is privately owned. Some of that land is owned by big timber companies. But the majority is owned by individuals and families. The American Forest Foundation represents those private landowners. Until last week, Larry Wiseman was CEO of the group. Lester Graham talked with Wiseman just before he left the organization. Wiseman says privately owned forests are at risk.

Transcript

There are 751 million acres of forest lands in the United States. More than half of it – 56% – is privately owned. Some of that land is owned by big timber companies. But the majority is owned by individuals and families. The American Forest Foundation represents those private landowners. Until last week, Larry Wiseman was CEO of the group. Lester Graham talked with Wiseman just before he left the organization. Wiseman says privately owned forests are at risk.

Larry Wiseman: “One of the great paradoxes that most folks don’t quite get is that the largest part of the productive forest land in the United States is owned by families and individuals. Some 5 million folks who own more than 10 acres of land, some of them as long as 300 or 400 years – land has been in their family since before the United States was actually created.”

Lester Graham: “There’s a lot of concern these days because as the demand for things like newsprint, the demand for lumber is down because of the economy, there’s some concern that some pretty large tracts of land might be sold for things like development, just simply because they’re not making as much money off of this land. Is there a real risk of that?”

Wiseman: “Absolutely. The risk of conversion of forest land to development has accelerated over the past decade, to the point that we’re losing a little bit over one million acres a year. To put that in perspective, that’s about the size of the Everglades National Park every year. One of the primary pressures on forest owners, whether they own 1,000 acres or 100, is that they can’t do the kind of conservation work they want to do unless they have some cash. You know, cash is really the cornerstone of conservation when you’re talking about private property. People have to pay taxes, people have to buy liability insurance, people have to invest in the future of their forests, and if there’s no cash flow at the end, then it becomes very hard for them to say ‘no’ when a developer comes calling. This isn’t to say that all of these 4 or 5 million folks are growing timber for profit – very few of them actually do. But, by the same token, most of them have to develop cash flow, or, over time, it becomes very hard for them to keep their land as forests.”

Graham: “There has been suggestion that carbon offsets by planting more forest land, or that forest land owners should get some sort of compensation for the service that a forest would do – but there’s a lot of debate about the net-gain of a forest sequestering carbon dioxide. I’m wondering what your members feel about that issue?”

Wiseman: “There’s no doubt that on a net-net basis the forests in the United States currently absorb about 10% of the carbon dioxide upload as a nation.”

Graham: “Should your members be compensated for that?”

Wiseman: “Well, let me get to that in a minute. I believe they should be compensated. But our organization takes the position that healthy growing forests that are being managed for a suite of values – including carbon sequestration, water quality, wildlife habitat – provide a wide range of services to the public that the public doesn’t understand that it’s getting. These folks are volunteers; they’re providing clean water, cleaner air, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, and green space – for free! And, the great paradox is that the public doesn’t understand that they have a stake in the future of these forests, just as the owners do. Accordingly, that’s why our organization has long stressed the need to create streams of income that reward people for the stewardship investments they make that benefit the public as a whole.”

Tom Lyon is the Director of the Erb Institute of Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. He spoke with The Environment Report’s Lester Graham.

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