Creations Throughout the Cathedral Close
The final days of The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet are also the final days to view student artwork on the Value of Food Youth Art Walls. These two walls, located at the southwest end of the Cathedral ambulatory, have displayed a rotating selection of food-themed artwork by local students throughout the exhibition.
Through April 3rd, visitors can see The Cathedral School fourth graders’ food faces, based on the art of Guiseppe Arcimboldo. Students traced their own profiles, then filled in their features using food motifs.
On the opposite wall are spring flowers, planters, and shakers made from recycled materials by the after school students at Adults and Children in Trust (ACT). They saved recyclable materials from their daily snacks and repurposed them into a colorful wall of art that illustrates an important theme: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
More information about both of these projects is displayed on the walls alongside the artwork. Catch these beautiful creations before they expire—along with the rest of The Value of Food—on April 3rd.
An Open Letter on Gentrification
Here’s the thing: I grew up here in Fort Greene. I grew up here in New York. It’s changed. And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights, for facilities to get better? –Spike Lee at the Pratt Institute, 2013
The following letter was drafted during a visit to The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet and addresses gentrification in the South Bronx. The author, a junior from The Calhoun School, has allowed us to share it with our readership.
Dear Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand,
My name is Xiomara, I'm 16 years old attending The Calhoun School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and living in the South Bronx. I've gone to a primarily white independent school all my life. For the past 12 years I've spent my days being one of the only black children at school and going back home to a black family. I've lived in my neighborhood since the age of 7. My parents are landlords and purchased our apartment building in the summer of 2004. It was primarily an African-American and Hispanic community then. Eleven years later I remember what the neighborhood used to be and all the changes it's gone through. Then I also think about the changes that could be in the next 11 years. Gentrification, I see it now in Hunts Point, two stops from where I get off on Elder. I see white people get off in hopes of buying brownstones and newly developed properties at a cheaper price.
Moments like these reveal the structural racism implanted in our society, in New York City. Why does it take an influx of white people to make a neighborhood better? For food deserts to diminish and restorations on the old brownstones to occur? This is all created by capitalism's urban land markets and policies. The rising property values push out low income and working-class households, causing eviction, personal displacement and homelessness. Gentrification is something that should be stopped and that you should stop. The cycle is only becoming worse with inflation and an increase in the wealth gap. As an American citizen and as a New Yorker I demand that gentrification stop and the systematic displacement people of color be addressed. I ask that in doing so you acknowledge your privilege and how it oppresses people of color.
Exploring Social Justice, Community Service, Hunger, and Homelessness
Students from the Calhoun School and De La Salle Academy working on social justice initiatives visited the Cathedral to explore the connections between The Value of Food: Sustaining A Green Planet and their classroom studies.
For the last several years, middle school students from De La Salle Academy have visited the Cathedral as part of their Social Justice and Community Service elective course. For the fall of 2015, their weekly visits centered around the social justice aspects of The Value of Food. Early in the semester, they learned about the history of social justice initiatives at the Cathedral and toured the exhibition. They then dove deeper into the individual works of art, exploring objects and installations that addressed a variety of topics. These explorations led to each student creating their own mini-tour of the exhibition, which focused on 3 works of art. The tours were presented to their classmates in December as a culminating project.
High school students from the Calhoun School also made several visits to the Cathedral in connection with their Community Service and Social Justice curriculum. Thirty-six students visited in November for a day of service, touring The Value of Food and learning about social justice at the Cathedral. Additionally, students from the Hunger and Homelessness elective course made visited repeatedly through the late fall, buttressing their classroom conversations about topics including food insecurity, healthy lunches in public schools, food stamps, minimum wage and affordable housing. These students focused their attention on pieces by Alexis Rockman and Matt Black, among others, which led to conversations about the intersection of art and activism, the power of images, and different means for conveying a message. On their final visit, students drafted a message to their representatives about issues surrounding hunger and homelessness; they had the option to write a letter or draw a cartoon or other visual representation.
The Cathedral is thrilled to have students using The Value of Food as a learning tool, especially given the important role social justice plays—today and historically—in the Cathedral’s programming and services. We look forward to welcoming these schools back during the spring term, and to see what new ways New York City students will find for incorporating social justice into their learning.
"This piece depicts the class struggle and hunger in America. Healthful food often is priced to be rather expensive when compared to non-healthful food, making it virtually impossible for those who cannot afford it to get access to it. The only amount they can access is often really low, which ends up being one of the problems of those who do not make up the privileged Americans." –Javay F.
Local Students and “The Value of Food”
Throughout October, November, and December, students in Morningside Heights were exploring the Cathedral’s special exhibition, The Value of Food: Sustaining A Green Planet, in a variety of exciting ways.
The School at Columbia University included the exhibition in its after school programs, offering a class this fall called Art at the Cathedral: The Value of Food. With students from 3rd to 5th grade enrolled, the class has made multiple visits to the exhibition and is producing artwork that explores themes of health and social justice. One of their first projects of the year was a meal collage, using dried beans, pasta, and other food materials as well as paper and cardboard. In this project, the students were asked what they would serve to someone who was suffering from hunger, and with whom they might share a meal. These collages were installed on the Value of Food Youth Art Walls, located at the southwest end of the Cathedral Ambulatory, for the opening of the exhibition in October. The class will also be showing a culminating exhibition of their work from the fall school term on the Youth Art Walls at the end of January.
Meanwhile, the Cathedral School is folding the exhibition into several aspects of its curriculum. Each grade is responsible for designing an Evensong presentation to teach their schoolmates about a specific issue, and several of the grades from both the lower and upper schools found their inspiration in the The Value of Food. From exploring the nature of urban food deserts with David Burns and Austin Young of Fallen Fruit to using Christy Rupp’s sculptures to prompt thinking about extinction events, these presentations have demonstrated thoughtful insight into some of the themes present in the exhibition.
Additionally, the Cathedral School Kindergarteners recently took a guided tour of the exhibition as part of their unit on how plants grow, using the art to help think about soil, seed, water, and farm in new ways. They looked at work by Claire Pentecost, Eating in Public, Fredericka Foster, and Suzanne Anker. These pieces fostered conversation about how soil and compost are made and how they help plants grow; the fact that seeds come in many different shapes and sizes and why watermelons and apples don’t grow in your stomach when you swallow the seeds; and the important role water plays in helping both plants and kindergarteners grow up big and healthy.
The Cathedral School eighth graders have also contributed work to the Youth Art Walls. Inspired by the still lives of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque featuring musical instruments, the students used metal cutlery to create their own three-dimensional cubist collages. This project is on view until late January.
After school students at Adults and Children in Trust (ACT) are working on a long-term recycling art project this fall. Since the start of the school year, they have been washing and saving applesauce containers, plastic spoons and forks, and other refuse from their afternoon snacks. They are in the process of transforming these materials into art objects, including decorative flowers and planters for seedlings. The flowers will be used to decorate the ACT garden, located near the Morningside Drive entrance to the Cathedral Close; this upcycled winter garden will be viewable from January through March. The planters and other work will be installed as a living exhibition on the Youth Art Walls at the end of January.
With strong connections to important curriculum points, starting at art and extending to health and nutrition, social justice, ecology and earth sciences, and more, The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet is a powerful resource for educators at all levels. The exhibition will be on view until April 3, 2016, and we look forward to continued engagement from our students and teachers in the neighborhood and throughout the city. Teachers interested in learning more about the exhibition or scheduling a visit should contact our Education Department at (212) 932-7347.
This Is the Scariest Superbug Yet
In mid-November, a group of Chinese and UK researchers published a paper in The Lancet delivering some sobering news: They had found a strain of E. coli in Chinese pigs that had evolved to withstand colistin, a potent antibiotic widely considered to be a last resort against a variety of pathogens that can resist antibiotics. Worse, the gene that allowed the E. coli to shrug off colistin easily jumps among bacterial species, and is thus "likely to spread rapidly into key human pathogens"—think fun stuff like salmonella and Klebsiella. The cherry on top: The authors warn that these colistin-defying nasties are "likely" to go global. What's it all mean? Here's a quick guide:
How did E. coli in pigs evolve to resist a drug that's so important in human medicine? When China began to ramp up pork production to satisfy the demands of its growing middle class decades ago, it emulated the US model: moving away from small-scale, widely dispersed farms and packing pigs by the thousands into giant facilities, and feeding them regular low doses of antibiotics to make them grow faster.
Here in the United States, farm animals aren't given colistin, but they do get plenty of antibacterial drugs that people use, too. Around 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock farms, and of that huge gusher of drugs, 60 percent are considered crucial to human medicine. (Examples include tetracycline and penicillin).
In China, though, hog producers use, well, tons of colistin, The Lancet paper shows. Driven largely by China, the authors write, global farm-related colistin demand is expected to rise 23 percent by 2021—and the market for it is already worth $229.5 million. And it's not just used to fatten hogs—"it has also been used in farmed fish diets where it has been shown to improve health and promote growth."
How important to human medicine in colistin? Pretty. Colistin is an old antibiotic (introduced in 1959) that fell into disuse because of harsh side effects: It can cause liver damage as well as "dizziness, weakness, facial and peripheral paresthesia, vertigo, visual disturbances, confusion, ataxia, and neuromuscular blockade," according to a 2005 paper by Greek researchers. Despite those unpleasant qualities, it reemerged as a crucial tool for doctors fighting common infections as other, less harsh antibiotics began to lose effectiveness. A 2012 Bloomberg article reported that "in the US, a pneumonia-causing variant of the bowel-dwelling microbe Klebsiella pneumoniae, dubbed KPC, has been reported in 37 states, and associated with mortality rates as high as 40 percent." Because of a "silent dissemination" of KPC, "especially in residents of long-term care facilities," the Bloomberg reporters found, "there is a major increase in the use of colistin."
How would colistin-resistant E. coli genes jump to other bacteria? Other bacterial strains have evolved to resist colistin—in a paper published in 2012, researchers reported finding resistant E. coli and salmonella strains in Brazilian pigs. What make The Lancet finding so troubling is that, for the first time, the resistant gene the researchers identified turned up in plasmid, a particularly portable form of DNA found in bacterial cells. "Bacteria can…transfer plasmids to one another through a process called conjugation," according to a Nature explainer. They're so good at moving genes among bacteria that "scientists have taken advantage of plasmids to use them as tools to clone, transfer, and manipulate genes," Nature reports.
Why doesn't Big Pharma just roll out new antibiotics? Despite the massive and rising toll of antibiotic resistance—it now kills 700,000 people per year globally, on pace to expand to 10 million by 2050—large pharmaceutical companies with fat R&D budgets aren't keen to invest in discovering new antibiotics. "Antibiotics…have a poor return on investment because they are taken for a short period of time and cure their target disease," the World Health Organization stated in a 2011 report. "In contrast, drugs that treat chronic illness, such as high blood pressure, are taken daily for the rest of a patient’s life."
Things haven't changed much since 2011, the International Business Times’ Amy Nordrum reported in March. "The handful of biotech firms that are making them [new antibiotics] today have focused on the narrow slices of the infectious disease spectrum that seem most likely to generate profits," she found. "Therefore, only a fraction of the medicines that are needed are being produced." She added, though, that earlier this year, President Barack Obama "committed $1.2 billion in his annual budget proposal—an unprecedented amount— to the fight against life-threatening infections caused by resistant bacteria."
So are we screwed? Is the "post-antibiotics era" dawning? That would indeed be awful. As Maryn McKenna put it in a great 2013 essay:
Before antibiotics, five women died out of every 1,000 who gave birth. One out of nine people who got a skin infection died, even from something as simple as a scrape or an insect bite. Three out of ten people who contracted pneumonia died from it. Ear infections caused deafness; sore throats were followed by heart failure. In a post-antibiotic era, would you mess around with power tools? Let your kid climb a tree? Have another child?
The Lancet study's authors are certainly sounding the alarm. Timothy Walsh, a professor at the University of Cardiff and a co-author, told the BBC that "all the key players are now in place to make the post-antibiotic world a reality." He added that if the E. coli gene that arose to resist colistin "becomes global, which is a case of when not if, and the gene aligns itself with other antibiotic resistance genes, which is inevitable, then we will have very likely reached the start of the post-antibiotic era…At that point if a patient is seriously ill, say with E. coli, then there is virtually nothing you can do." In addition to a UN effort to curtail climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, about to get underway in Paris, it sounds like the globe's nations need to reach an agreement to keep antibiotics necessary for human medicine the hell away from farms—and fast.
The First GMO Animal Was Just Approved. But You Probably Won’t be Eating It Anytime Soon.
Since the mid-1990s, a US company called AquaBounty Technologies—now partially owned by the synthetic biology company Intrexon—has been trying to get the Food and Drug Administration to approve a salmon variety genetically engineered to put on weight faster. On Thursday, the FDA finally did so. Theoretically, at least, US retailers can now stock the fast-growing fish, and they don't have to label it.
But don't expect it to take over the seafood counter of your local supermarket anytime soon. We import about two-thirds of the salmon we eat, the great bulk of it grown on large farms in Chile, Canada, and Norway. But the FDA is hyper-specific about where AquaBounty's engineered salmon can be grown:
"The AquAdvantage Salmon may be raised only in land-based, contained hatchery tanks in two specific facilities in Canada and Panama. The approval does not allow AquAdvantage Salmon to be bred or raised in the United States. In fact, under this approval, no other facilities or locations, in the United States or elsewhere, are authorized for breeding or raising AquAdvantage Salmon that are intended for marketing as food to U.S. consumers."
Why the caution? Standard salmon farming takes place directly in the ocean in net cages. Escapes are inevitable. In areas like the North American west coast from California to Alaska—home to some of the globe's last remaining wild salmon runs—escaped fast-growing salmon could out-compete and displace their wild peers. A highly detailed 2013 risk assessment from Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans found that, without strict containment, the AquaAdvantage super-salmon presents a "high" risk to wild populations.
So for now, until the FDA approves other facilities, the only GM salmon that makes it onto US store shelves will come from eggs produced in one approved facility on Canada's Prince Edward Island, which will be shipped and raised into fish at another approved facility in Panama, only to be shipped back to North America as filets. That one facility in Panama is not likely to pose much competition to, say, Norway's vast salmon farms.
Meanwhile, the biotech-watchdog group the Center for Food Safety has vowed to sue the FDA to reverse the decision, claiming that "the review process by FDA was inadequate, failed to fully examine the likely impacts of the salmon’s introduction, and lacked a comprehensive analysis."
Add limited supply and a legal challenge to the fact that several regional grocery powerhouses—including Kroger, Safeway, and HEB—have pledged not to sell GM salmon, and it seems unlikely that many consumers will be savoring AquaBounty's bounty anytime soon.