It’s always a good time for pie. If this site has any kind of theme (and it doesn’t, really…), then that’s it. There’s so much negativity, sadness, and downright downers in this world, that we want to set aside a little area reserved just for positive, or fun, or just plain enjoyable and interesting stuff.
Good News Concerning School Lunches
Thirty-two million kids — 10 percent of the American population, and the future of the country — are about to start eating better. That’s the bottom line of the new Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) guidelines for government-subsidized school meals, announced last week. The new rules are the first changes to the program in 15 years, and come as part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
The guidelines are imperfect (what isn’t?) but worth celebrating: this is the single most significant improvement the Obama administration has made in the realm of food. The rules will double the amount of fruits and vegetables served in schools, set limits on damaging trans fats and salt, increase the amount of whole grains served, make low-fat milk the norm and establish suitable ranges for daily caloric intake.
And, incredibly, the U.S.D.A. moves will cost less than half of the agency’s original proposal. Even more stunning is that it’s doing this by scaling back on meat — abandoning requirements that schools serve meat or “meat alternatives” at breakfast. That is perhaps most commendable; teaching kids that nutritious meals don’t necessarily center on “protein” is one of the most important steps we can take in creating a sane diet for generations to come.
Of course, there are limitations: advocates for good food are correctly disappointed that the U.S.D.A. ultimately let corporate interests deter the agency from pursuing an even more aggressively healthy set of rules. Following recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine, the U.S.D.A. originally proposed limiting the amount of starchy vegetables in school meals — which up until now have been unlimited — to one cup per week.
Undoubtedly, it’s infuriating that sound science and nutrition policy can still be trumped by the interests of Big Food, especially when the health of kids is on the line. And yes, good food advocates should be making noise about further improving these guidelines.
But let’s remember that a Republican administration likely would have moved school lunches even more in the direction they were headed: inferior versions of bad fast food. Read this article from 2003 about the desperate state of school lunches and you’ll appreciate how much progress is being made. (In short, the story is that the U.S.D.A. long purchased “surplus” beef and dairy and loaded school lunch menus with it. This was considered a win-win situation, because it gave farmers a safety net while schools got free food. But left out of the equation was what this actually meant for kids’ lunches, which became beefier and cheesier.)
Of course, the U.S.D.A. still supports (and makes unacceptable concessions to) industry, but these current guidelines are a major step away from that. So their importance can barely be overstated: this is movement in the right direction.
The fact that industry lobbyists are griping demonstrates that; compromise, by its nature, can leave everyone dissatisfied. But after taking a beating for generations, advocates of good food should see the new guidelines as a real victory.
As should everyone else, because in food, as in most other arenas of our lives, corporate interests have long enjoyed disproportionate and increasing influence, and shifting that balance of power is among the biggest challenges facing Americans right now. Government can be an ally or an enemy in that fight, and the new guidelines are a welcome example of it using its weight to benefit most of us. The school lunch program is at the forefront of the uphill battle to feed kids well in this country, and — one way or the other — it will set an example for them five days a week, probably until that example spreads to society at large.
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This type of service is fit for a wide variety of people. Many people will need a companion for a business function, a marriage, a birthday celebration or another large event. Some other men have difficulties socializing with the opposite sex, and thus to help détour their apprehension they opt to have an agency decide on a perfect match and set up a get-together for them. Still other men are dealing with a broken heart. We now know that a pleasurable evening out prepared by this sort of an organization will allow you to forget about a difficult separation, divorce, rejection or betrayal.
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Good News for Polar Bears – PCBs Levels Lower
In a study of PCBs in polar bear cubs in Svalbard, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have found that blood levels of PCBs and related contaminants in polar bear cubs appear to have dropped by as much as 59 per cent between 1998 and 2008.
It’s never been easy to be a polar bear. They may have to go months without eating. Their preferred food, seal, requires enormous luck and patience to catch. Add to that the melting of Arctic sea ice due to climate change, and the poisoning of the Arctic by toxic chemicals, and it’s easy to see why polar bears worldwide are in trouble.
Among all the bad news, however, comes one possible bright spot. In a study of PCBs in polar bear cubs in Svalbard, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have found that blood levels of PCBs and related contaminants in polar bear cubs appear to have dropped by as much as 59 per cent between 1998 and 2008. At the same time, levels of these contaminants in their mothers were as much as 55 per cent lower over the same period.
“The levels of PCB compounds in blood samples from females are on the decline,” says Jenny Bytingsvik, a biologist at NTNU who is completing her doctoral dissertation on the findings. “For newborn, vulnerable cubs, this is a very positive trend. Reduced levels of PCBs in the mother bears’ blood mean that there is also less contamination in their milk. Even though the PCB levels we found are still too high, this shows that international agreements to ban PCBs have had an effect.”
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were once widely used as a cooling fluids and insulators in transformers and electric motors, but were banned by many industrialized countries 30 years ago because of their harmful effects on humans and animals. More recently, the global production of PCBs has been banned as of May 2004 by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, an environmental treaty designed to eliminate or restrict the production and use of persistent organic pollutants, including PCBs.
Polar bears are particularly at risk from these persistent pollutants because the chemicals are fat-soluble and increase in concentration the higher you go in the food chain. That’s a double problem for polar bears, because they are at the very top of the food chain, and their preferred foods, like seals, tend to be very rich in fat.
In polar bears, “PCBs affect the bears’ thyroid hormones, and in the worst case can reduce the animals’ ability to survive in the tough Arctic environment,” Bytingsvik adds. “There can be negative effects on the bears’ ability to grow and thrive. The contaminants can also affect the ability of the animals to learn and may reduce their fertility.”
Polar bear milk is high in fat, which also unfortunately makes it perfect for transmitting PCBs from mothers to their cubs. Bytingsvik also looked at levels of OH-PCBs, which are toxic substances created by the body when PCBs are metabolized. While OH-PCBs are still harmful, they are more likely to bind to proteins rather than dissolve in fat, which means that they are more likely to be transferred by umbilical cord blood than by milk. Another source of exposure is the cubs’ own metabolic conversion of PCBs into OH-PCBs.
In her study, Bytingsvik was able to look at polar bear blood samples from mothers and cubs that were collected in 1997 and 1998 (which she considered as 1998 for statistical purposes) and 2008. All told, she had samples from 26 mother bears and 38 cubs from the different time periods.
The bears were all sampled in the Norwegian island archipelago of Svalbard, roughly 800 km south of the North Pole. Overall, Bytingsvik found that the levels of OH-PCBs in polar bear mothers dropped by 65 per cent over the 10-year span, while the levels of PCBs dropped by 55 per cent. In cubs, the levels of OH-PCBs dropped by 50 per cent, while levels of PCBs dropped by 59 per cent over the same period. Although the bears were not sampled in exactly the same location in 2008 as in 1998 (which might itself affect PCB levels), Bytingsvik believes that the findings mainly reflect changes in exposure levels over time.
“PCBs are considered to be among the worst environment contaminants, so it’s good to see that the levels have gone down,” he said. “At the same time, we can’t forget that animals in the Arctic are exposed to a number of other environmental pollutants that are carried northward on the wind or by ocean currents. On top of that, there’s climate change. This creates big challenges for many species.”
Finally, a Newspaper Reporting Good News
The Daily Mining Gazette was among Upper Peninsula media recognized in the latest Good News Awards contest, earning two Good News Awards and two Certificates of Merit.
Winning both Good News Awards – one for her straight news story “Making Lemonade: Orphan Graduate Beats the Odds” and the other for her “Good Will Farm Series” – was Stacey Kukkonen.
Announced in a Thursday press release, judges praised Kukkonen for her straight news article saying it was an “excellent and realistic account of a difficult life journey, written with discretion,” about a young woman who succeeds against tough odds.
“From the compelling first sentence, this is a well-written account,” judges said. “This article also positively showcased the institutions and people that help struggling youth in foster care.”
Also impressed by the photo accompanying her story, judges said, “it, too, would have made a notable photograph entry.”
Kukkonen was further recognized for her “uplifting” series of articles about the Good Will Farm organization and the positive role it serves in the community.
“The organization’s creativity and perseverance are inspiringly portrayed, along with the partnerships with Big Brothers Big Sisters and coordination with state agencies. … The series builds a strong impression of a comprehensive organization while simultaneously affirming the dignity of the young people participating in its care and treatment programs.”
Zach Kukkonen won a Certificate of Merit for his column, “Stories of Copper Country Past,” about reflections on Copper Country stories told by grandparents.
Lauding Zach Kukkonen’s writing style, judges said he, “drew in the reader, and nicely extolled the value of simply listening to others.”
Also earning a Certificate of Merit was Brandon Veale for his “Bittersweet End for Lakes” photograph of a high school football player and the opposing team’s coach sharing a hug.
“You may not know if the hug is for rejoicing or consolation, but even before you read the photograph’s caption, you know something important has occurred,” judges commented.
Stacey Kukkonen said she was “really excited” to earn the awards for her submissions, particularly the series because she invested a great deal of time into it.
“Every journalist wants to know his or her work is appreciated,” she said. “We do a lot of behind-the-scenes work.”
The Good News Awards are given annually by a consortium of U.P. church leaders from the Catholic, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Methodist denominations.