Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are Playgrounds Too Safe? A cure for the overprotective parent

In a recent interview on on Q Radio (Toronto), the host and interviewees began discussing the roles of playgrounds around the world, the differing styles of playgrounds, etc. Now, I must admit originally I almost changed the station but as one interested in urban parks and green spaces, and with a background in recreation, I stuck around. I highly suggest you listed to the interview, which can be found here: Are Playgrounds Too Safe?
    Harry Harbottle, of the German playground manufacturer Richter Spielgeräte presents an interesting case about the present state of playgrounds and child safety. Around the world, we are making our playgrounds too safe and they are not spurring the challenge and creativity that our children need...mainly due to the fact that we are so afraid the children are going to get hurt. What are many parents solution to this? We stick them in front of a screen where no harm can become least harm that we can see on the outside.
    For those who may not understand parks and playgrounds, the following picture will illustrate just a little about what Richter Spielgeräte does. These are not your normal play structures, but ones that are made to challenge a child. Looks daunting, yes, but as Harbottle points out adults are more prone to injuries in a playground than children. Children know their own limits and boundaries, while adults seem to forget them in their old age.
   We need to create a culture where children can explore and grow. I spent my childhood running around my parent's 20 acre wooded lot surrounded by farms. I came in when it was dark and sometimes even after. I built forts, build campfires, played in the mud, and climbed trees. I feel, I broke bones, I got scraped...but here I am today a 26 year old healthy individual with a love and passion for the outdoors and a passion for the outdoors and getting away from the screen. Yes, screens (iPads, computers, etc.) are a necessary part of life anymore in our society, but time needs to be limited on them.
   At one point in this interview, they play a pre-recorded phone call from the Director of the National Program for Playground Safety, who openly says that those making playgrounds more challenging and difficult should be charged with physical abuse to a child. I was outraged! Kids are supposed to get hurt, yet we live in a society where we have coddled them so much that they no longer can stand on their own two feet and are afraid to get a little dirty and a little messy. Harbottle rebutted by saying that they do not want kids to get hurt at all, but they plan for "serious bodily harm," which constitutes permanent damage. I agree with this. I know, call me crazy, but don't scars, bruises, and bumps shape us? Don't we learn lessons from the pains of our past?
    The answer is not in keeping your kids indoors or creating a sterile, safe environment. I just read an article in Outside Magazine called "Free Medicine: the therapeutic benefits of playing outside." Let me outline a few of the benefits there are to spending uninterrupted, non-screen time in nature:

  • "When you're relaxing in nature, your adrenal cortex produces less of the hormone cortisol, which activates the body's stress response. Prolonged periods of stress can also shrink the hippocampus, which is where we form and store memories. By contrast, less stress enhances neuro-plasticity, the brain's ability to form new connections."
  • "Sunlight exposure boosts production of white blood cells, which help the body combat disease. Sunlight also increases the number of red blood cells, thereby increasing your blood's oxygen-carrying capacity and improving muscular endurance."
  • "When sunlight hits your eyes, your optic nerve directs your brain's pineal gland to decrease production of melatonin, the hormone the regulates circadian rhythms-- our wake-sleep cycles-- and boost serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood and appetite."
    These are just a few of the benefits of spending time outdoors and these are benefits we can give to our children early in life, when their bodies still are developing and adjusting to the world around them. We can set them on a healthy track for the rest of their lives (hopefully). By immersing your kids in nature, they will grow up appreciating the world around them, feel less stressed, more productive, more focused, witness less cases of obesity and diabetes, and have better relations with people around them. As parents, getting our kids in nature gets us in nature. 
    We, even as adults, can experience these benefits and they are lasting! Even a one-day trip to a suburban park has been shown to boost cancer-fighting proteins for 7 days. That's once a week, getting away from the TV and the screen, and even just to a city park. I believe we can all do that. 
    There are immense psychological and physical benefits to getting our children (and ourselves) outside. Not only do they develop the ability to think, solve challenges, and be creative, but it is physically better for their health. As parents and adults, we coddle our children into this safe world, where they do not get dirty and do not get hurt but it is to their detriment. We need to live in a world where we are not afraid to let our children play outside, play baseball in the yard, run rampant until the streetlights come on, and explore the world around them. There is value and power in exploration.

As always, if you have thoughts or comments, please Email Me.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Plight of the American Food System

The following blog post is a reaction paper I submitted in class based upon an article looking at how governments use food scarcity to control their constituents. The article can be found at the following reference:

Nally, D. (2011). The biopolitics of food provisioning. Transactions Of The Institute Of British Geographers36(1), 37-53. doi:10.1111/j.1475-5661.2010.00413.x


            David Nally presents a very interesting viewpoint in his article, “The Biopolitics of Food Provisioning.” I believe it is an argument that we see throughout the world today, as prices on “healthy, local” foods go up and those of fast food chains continue to plummet. We live in an age where you can buy two hamburgers, a large French-Fry, and a large soda for the same price it costs to get a head of broccoli. The problem is an underlying social problem, really. I believe that many of the citizens of the United States believe food should be cheap and that they are ultimately entitled to three meals a day, although we all know this is not the way that the world works. Additionally, and we can consider this throwing in a critical feminist argument, as more women have entered the work place, we have lost the “home makers” who prepared a full dinner for the family when they returned home from school and work. I am not arguing that women in the workplace is a bad thing, or even that a woman’s place is in the home, but merely suggesting that as humans our lives have become so busy, and technology has not helped but exacerbated this problem, to where we no longer can sit and enjoy a meal together. We eat on the road, stopping at a drive-thru, and getting cheap beef produced in Concentrated Animal FeedingOperations (CAFO).
            To preface my argument, I will say that my master’s background is in Sustainable Systems, working a lot with sustainable and organic agriculture. I grew up on a small farm in western Pennsylvania, studied agriculture initially at Penn State, and my fiancée’s parents are sustainable and organic farmers in central Ohio. I have an interest in agriculture and Nally presents points of passion for me when he talks negatively of Cargill and Monsanto. The commercialization of agriculture has led to the demise of the small-time farmer. These two companies are the bullies of the agriculture industry, as can be seen in the recent election where Proposition 37 in California to label Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) was knocked down. As Dr. Emariana Taylor put it on the social media site, Facebook, ‘this shows the power of Monsanto more than the voice of the people,” (Taylor, 2012). Books such as Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and movies such as “Food, Inc.,” “Our Daily Bread,” and “Frankensteer” are replete with images that depict the horrors of our current food system (Pollan, 2006) (Robert Kenner, 2008) (Nikolaus, 2009) (Remerowski, 2006).
            Nally further ties into this argument with his discussion of Foucaultian biopower, which I took to mean a government’s control of biological factors (agriculture, natural resources, and similar commodities) to exhibit power over its constituents. The United States government and a handful of large agro-industrial companies, with Cargill and Monsanto being to two main culprits, largely control today’s agriculture system. Farmers, according to Nally, have become the new proletariat class and these large companies are the bourgeoisie, essentially enslaving the individual farmer. It is capitalism played out in a large scale over the whole world, as the global north (also a bourgeois class) seemingly takes advantage of the global south (proletariat). A traditional Marxist viewpoint, according to Noel Castree, would examine these labor relations and find solutions to benefit all and advance the status of the American farmer, as this industrial agriculture system seeks to destroy traditional ways of life. Additionally, small time farmers are being forced to pay higher prices for Monsanto and Cargill seed, which are genetically modified to not reproduce ensuring these farmers will re-buy seed yearly. Lastly, the United States government has heavily subsidized the production of corn and soybeans, leading to an agriculture monoculture (Pollan, 2006). Animals (beef, chickens, and even salmon) are fed this corn so that a bigger return is seen from people who eat these products. Whereas we would not pay a lot for corn, we would pay a lot for these animal’s meat that has been fed largely on corn. Plus, the time from birth to production is decreased as animals are “fattened up” on cheap corn over the span of months to a point that normally took a year or more to reach.
            This is an area I am fascinated by and ultimately disgusts me. The one quote I always repeat is this, “Small scale farmers and teachers should be the highest government subsidized positions.” There is merely not enough time to dive into these issues in a two-page reaction paper, but I highly recommend the following pieces of media in the Works Cited section.

Works Cited

Nikolaus, G. (Writer), & Nikolaus, G. (Director). (2009). Our Daily Bread [Motion Picture].

Pollan, M. (2006). The Omnivore's Dilemma. New York, NY, USA: Penguin Press.

Remerowski, T. (Writer), & Marrin Cannell, T. R. (Director). (2006). Frankensteer [Motion Picture].

Robert Kenner, E. P. (Writer), & Kenner, R. (Director). (2008). Food, Inc. [Motion Picture]. United States.

Taylor, E. (2012, November 7). Facebook Post. Kent, OH, USA.