Global Handwashing Day

It’s October 15th, Global Handwashing Day! This past week, we visited the rural villages in which my NGO, the Cambodian Community Dream Organization, works with. The CCDO started out by building water wells and latrines for rural villages in need, and has expanded to help make a difference in the rural schools in which they work 🙂 (more on this impressive organization at another time!)

The CCDO helps to provide soap for the handwashing stations at school
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Tippy taps were an example of a handwashing station we learned in my public health program

Educating children about the importance of handwashing at an early age will ensure that this behavior is practiced as they grow up. “Our hands, our future” is the 2017 theme for this day, as a reminder that “handwashing protects our own health, but also allows us to build our own futures, as well as those of our communities, and the world.”

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Can Cities Become Zero Waste?

The zero waste movement has been gaining momentum in recent years. On YouTube, there are so many prominent individuals who blog about their journey towards a Zero Waste lifestyle (some examples below):

There is also the growing trend of tiny homes that help you reduce your carbon footprint and waste less! Many of these homes are made from reclaimed items, such as reclaimed wood, shipping containers, and other scraps that can be used to build a sustainable, sturdy home that relieves people the stress of paying years and years of mortgages, and allowing people the liberty to not worry about making huge amounts of money just to keep the lights on in the home.

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Realistically, I think it’s difficult to officially become zero waste, regardless of conscious purchases and buying in bulk with reusable cloth bags and glass containers, especially if you still buy items at stores that get their products from industrial farms and factory food farming (think: greenhouse gas emissions, monocropping, overfishing, society’s desire for aesthetically pleasing food items, just to name a few!) However, I do admire their commitment to staying away from plastic items and dedication to composting and if they buy from their local farmers’ markets and vendors.

They make it look so easy, especially if they’ve adopted these lifestyles for months or years; however, how feasible is this lifestyle of zero waste, or at least reducing waste, within cities? It seems difficult to implement a “reduce waste lifestyle” without the help of policy. Many people (not all), in general are more likely to follow the rules that are put in place for them, rather than adopt a new behavior of purchasing non-plastic items and bringing their own cloth bags and containers to their stores to buy in bulk.

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There are some cities around the world that have started taking steps towards zero waste, which I wanted to share for those who are interested! 🙂

  • San Francisco, CA: SF has a very ambitious goal to become a zero waste city by 2020. By focusing on three main principles (preventing waste, reducing and reusing items, and recycling and composting what can be recycled and composted), it is feasible to dramatically decrease the number of items and bags of garbage that end up in the landfills. (BTW, this website also provides a cool video about what they’re doing to become a zero waste city!)
  • Kamikatsu, Japan: Kamikatsu has an insanely efficient waste collection center that helps eliminate waste in their little town. With less than 2,000 people in their town, they aim to become the first zero waste community in Japan by 2020! It’s pretty amazing to see the steps they are taking and that all of the community members have adopted; check out their video here!
  • France: France is the first country to ban supermarket food waste. I’m not sure where you live, but there’s a good chance that your local supermarket staff spend time tossing the unattractive fruits and vegetables before they open the doors to consumers, and some produce items that we may find unappealing and choose not to buy eventually end up being thrown away, too! Currently, a whopping 1.3 BILLION TONS of food meant for consumption is thrown away around the world (more stats here), while there are millions around the world who suffer from food insecurity.

So, now that you’ve seen some examples of successful zero waste individuals and cities who are in this movement, are you interested in making small changes to your everyday lives and make a difference? It can be as small as using a stainless steel water bottle or BYOB (bring your own bag!) when you purchase items 🙂

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We have ONE planet (for now). If we continue to produce more than 220 MILLION TONS of trash that end up in landfills each year (in the US), eventually we will run out of space to put the trash! Let’s not let it get that far… 🙂

Save the Ocean and Marine Life!

If you love marine animals, the ocean and the beaches, you should watch Chasing Coral and Plastic Paradise on Netflix 

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Chasing Coral: Humans are single-handedly destroying the place we call home with our dependence on fossil fuels, our greed for red meats (and most food animal meats honestly), our reliance on transportation methods that require gas, and our ability to turn a blind eye because we aren’t THERE watching the coral reefs bleaching and then dying before our eyes, right beneath the water’s surface. We are literally so ignorant to what’s at stake. If you love seafood, you should care about our coral reefs dying. Marine ecosystems are desperately crying out for help because they can’t fix what humans have done in the last century alone. Think about it this way: if our bodies rose 2 degrees C, we’d be running a 102 degree F fever…this is essentially what’s happening to the coral reefs as they’re subject to rising sea level temperatures because our ozone is trapping all the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere that’s released by the fossil fuel industry, large-scale farming and animal production etc. 

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Plastic Paradise: Our society is addicted to convenience and the ability to use something in the moment and then dispose of it once it’s “unusable”. Instead of investing in or carrying a reusable water bottle, we buy plastic water bottles and refreshments that we either litter, throw in the trash, or (hopefully) recycle. Litter and plastic items that get blown into the oceans ends up floating away somewhere–it doesn’t disappear. Marine animals and birds get trapped in them, they may accidentally eat them (anyone see that photo of the whale with a stomach full of plastic? it starved to death because it didn’t have space to eat what it actually needed. see that video where a sea turtle had to get a plastic straw plied out of its nostril? or birds with those soda can plastic rings stuck around their neck?)

I wish we were more aware of what we’re doing to the environment and where we call home.

Get involved or change your habits:
– eat less red meat, or jump on the bandwagon for Meatless Mondays! earthday_badge3
– carpool or take public transportation, or BIKE or WALK if you can!
– buy sustainable, reusable items, and try to avoid buying things in plastic containers
– donate to an organization that focuses on ocean clean-up or advocates for the climate (examples here: http://careclimatechange.org/our-work/advocacy/https://climateprotection.org/be-a-climate-advocate/http://www.who.int/…/health_policy/who_workplan/advocate/en/)
– VOLUNTEER (examples here: https://oceanconservancy.org/…/international-coastal-clean…/http://saveourshores.org/volunteer/https://www.theoceancleanup.com/http://www.cleanoceanaction.org/index.php?id=128iccd_hero_image_beach_cleanup_1440x550

The worst thing you can do is read this, say “oh…this is sad” and not do anything about it. Don’t sit around and wait for someone else to take action. YOU have a duty to yourself, your family, your children, grandchildren, etc. to take care of the planet we live on and make efforts to live a better life and to improve our lifestyles so we make a lesser impact on the earth.

Health Education in Agua Caliente Nueva

Every month, the local health clinic conducts a health education workshop with the community members in Agua Caliente Nueva. This July, I was able to sit in on their workshop. The topic: Feeding Newborn to 2-Year Old Infants. The topic for August seems to be about children of middle-school age, but unfortunately I’ll be leaving before that workshop!

I really liked the materials that were presented at this workshop; I didn’t get to see which organization provided the materials but it reiterated what we learned in school about breastfeeding recommendations. Two key recommendations for breastfeeding mothers:

  • Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age
  • Continue breastfeeding infants from 6 months until 2 years of age, along with introducing appropriate complementary foods

It’s been stressed in school how a newborn’s first meal should be breastmilk, at the mother’s breast. If the baby is given a bottle, the baby will have a much harder time taking to the breast and successfully latch on or suckle. So if y’all know a pregnant woman in your life, make sure they know that breast is best!

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She’s explaining that “breast is best” for babies from birth to 6 months. Breastmilk is filled with the mother’s antibodies and nutrients that are sufficient for a baby!
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A balanced diet for children between 6 months up to 2 years of age will lead to a healthier childhood; better grades in school; better health, job, and income in the future
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Infants can continue to be breastfed after 6 months up to 2 years of age. This is the time when you can start to introduce foods into the infant’s diet, as seen in the next photo.
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A mother can start to introduce vegetables, fruit, cereals and legumes, and animal products to an infant between 6 months and 2 years of age.

For infants between 6 months and 1 year of age, the solid foods should be chopped up or pureed. They recommended 3 “main” meals a day and 2 “snacks” of one type of vegetable and one type of fruit. I really liked the way she explained this part because this town doesn’t have much access to a big supermarket or a year-round offering of assorted fruit or vegetables; she explained that it’s alright to just get whatever’s in season (which honestly makes sense!) such as mangoes, bananas, chayote, etc.

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This page says NOT to give infants between 6 months and 2 years of age any sweets, fried foods, sugary drinks, and coffee.

I have seen so many children pop into the tiendas around town to buy dulces (sweets) or comida chatarra (junk food). I’m glad that this page was presented to inform the mothers. Can you believe some women give their little kids coffee?! I can’t believe it!

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This is the page that explains how a day’s worth of meals could look like for an infant between 1 year and 2 years of age!
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Recommendations for avoiding diarrhea: WASHING HANDS WITH SOAP AND WATER

I realllllly liked this page because I’ve always been interested in WASH. To me, it was always intuitive, but that is probably since I grew up in the US. When I was in Ecuador volunteering as an English teacher, I finally realized the luxurious life that I lived. Granted, I’ve gone to the countryside in Taiwan before when I was much younger, but didn’t really understand WASH or the privilege we have in New York (and the majority of the US) to have constant access to clean, drinkable water. While I lived with my host family in Tumbaco, my host mother always boiled many vats of water for the family to use. I also bought a 6L water jug to keep in my room to wash my contact case and when I brushed my teeth.

During the health workshop, the healthcare worker explained the importance of washing hands with soap and water:

  • before preparing food
  • before and after feeding your child
  • after changing a baby’s diaper (apparently she knows some mothers who don’t wash their hands after changing the diapers)
  • after using the restroom

In many parts of the world outside of the US, water scarcity is a real issue, so washing hands may not be a priority since water is needed for “more important” household events, such as bathing, washing dishes, washing clothes, preparing meals, drinking, etc. There are some parts of the US who do not use water to flush waste, or wash hands after using the bathroom. Take a moment and imagine that. This is why I wanted to study Public Health. People around the world should not have to live without WASH and experience the many stresses that are attached to water scarcity.

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Here in Mexico, some people I know do wash their hands after using the restroom, although they may not use soap. Honestly, I give them props to wash their hands after using the restroom when there are quite a few people in developed countries with steady access to water who don’t wash their hands after handling their junk or wiping themselves. Again, think about this for a minute. Your urine or feces (AKA poop) is not sanitary and is filled with bacteria. By not washing your hands with water or soap, you are doing a disservice (and quite frankly, being inconsiderate) to the people around you by letting them touch your germs when they grab the handles of the doors you touched, when they shake your hand, when you prepare food for your friends and family, when they touch items on the restaurant tables such as the salt/pepper shakers or ketchup bottle, etc. Get the picture? 

Do us all a favor and make an effort to wash your hands with soap and water!!
No one wants to touch your urine or fecal bacteria and get sick as a result! 😦

YOU are capable of engaging in public health and helping to prevent the spread of bacteria and diseases by doing something as simple as washing your hands with soap and water after using the restroom!

If you are moved by and want to make a difference by using less water, check out one of my posts listing different things you can do to save water at home 🙂

 

Doing Fieldwork

As many of you know, I’m currently in Mexico for the summer! My friends who follow my Instagram or Snapchat can see that I’ve been having a ball of a time with my host family in the little ejido Agua Caliente Nueva. The people in the community are just so friendly and welcoming and have embraced my presence as the only Chinese woman in the town haha! I promise you though, that I actually did come here to do fieldwork for a project for a professor, thanks to the grant I received from the Center for Global Health at Johns Hopkins University (try to find me!).

My project includes two main things:

  • brewing fresh Moringa leaves to make tea samples to be analyzed by my professors
  • assessing the acceptability and feasibility of incorporating Moringa leaves as a vegetable in households in Agua Caliente Nueva through Trials of Improved Practice (TIPs) with community members

It’s Week 4 and I finally am able to begin one of my projects (the brewing the tea leaves) now that I have all the necessary supplies. I didn’t believe my professors when they told me that things in the field may not go as planned or as scheduled, and now I understand!

My first mistake (and hopefully the only one) was grabbing too few leaves the first time 😦 I thought I only needed 15 leaves but turned out I needed 15 grams of leaves! And walking around in the daytime is SUPER hot so it was quite the struggle to go back twice and carry whole branches. I haven’t worked out since maybe April (I KNOW, it’s sad) so my arms are feeling a little bit frail and weak haha. My second mistake was burning my fingers while handling the pots 😩 For some reason, their cookware retains heat for a long time, hence my fingertip burns sigh…

Here are some pictures showing the process of brewing fresh Moringa leaves in the field 🙂

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In the center of it all: the moringa site! I think they might have over 1,000 different trees here since every single one is meticulously labeled with numbers and I saw 1,000+ a couple of times :O

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Let me tell you, these leaves weigh pretty much close to nothing. I learned from my mistake from taking one little twig of leaves to grabbing whole branches just to meet the 15-gram weight!

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This is me with the little manila envelope-full of what I thought were sufficient leaves… Silly me. I had to go back later that day to grab the branches D:

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To preserve the Moringa leaf homogenate (tea), I have to add ethanol into the tubitos in a 1:1 ratio.

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After bringing the purified water to a boil, I’d add the leaves and turn off the fire when the water started to boil again, and let it steep until 15 minutes were up!
 

Tips: Precautions When Eating Foods Abroad (Water Safety)

Hi everyone! In my last post on magnetically aesthetic, I shared the fact that I’ll be living in Mexico for the next two months to do some fieldwork to put into practice what I’ve learned in graduate school.

It’s Day 4, and I’m adjusting to the slower pace in Agua Caliente Nueva. My host family has taken me to eat at a couple of seafood restaurants since I arrived, and I got to meet their extended family over the weekend when we spent the day at the beach for el Día del Padre (Father’s Day)!

I share this background information with you because somewhere within the first three days of arriving, I ate what I suspect was contaminated, or unclean food, because I was sick for a day! I woke up in the middle of the night with intense stomach cramping and pain, and had to take it easy on Monday while relying on Pepto Bismol to keep my stomach neutral. I read somewhere that taking activated charcoal can help with upset stomach as well, so I decided to take a spoon of it as well (FYI- it doesn’t have a taste! I just mixed it in potable water and added some honey and it just tasted like honey water).

 

Today, I’m feeling much better with occasional cramping, but overall I’m getting back to my normal function haha. I wanted to share some tips for food safety when traveling abroad (ironic since I’m a public health student, too, and I should know better!)

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  1. Do your research when you travel to another country. Is the tap water potable for consumption?
    • If yes, great! In the US for example, most states (see Flint Water Crisis) have perfectly potable water that you can drink directly from the tap.
    • If no, here are some options:
      • buy only bottled water or the big jugs of water, and make sure you check that the seal hasn’t been broken before you purchase them
      • when you go to restaurants, ask for bottled water or if the cups of water are purified
      • when you get drinks with ice cubes in them, you typically want to have the ice cubes that look like hollow cylinders since those are made with purified water
      • buy 1oz of iodine that you can drop into the water to purify it before drinking **NOTE: I have yet to find a store in Manzanillo that sells iodine that you can put in water for drinking, so make sure you look this up and purchase it before you travel**
  2. When you order salads, ask if they use purified water (agua purificado in Spanish) to wash their vegetables. I have a feeling I may have eaten some veggies that were cleaned with their unsafe tap water.
    • You can also order cooked vegetables or ask if they serve any cooked veggies (vegetales cocidos)
  3. If you’re going to prepare vegetables at home prior to cooking, you can use the tap water, but make sure you cook them well to kill off any bacteria.
  4. When you order or purchase prepared fruit, ask if they use purified water.
    • It’s better for you to get fruit that still have the skin on them, so you can wash it yourself with purified water when you get home 🙂
  5. WASH YOUR HANDS BEFORE YOU EAT! I really should have known betterwhen I was at the beach.
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    pastilla, salsa de tomate, salsa de nopales, frijoles, aguacate (guacamole), y tortillas

    The family members forgot to pack utensils for eating, so all of the tortillas and toppings were handled with our hands. Wanting to fit in and not act pretentious with my Bath and Body Works hand sanitizer, I went into the water, brushed off the sand from my body with my hands, wiped down my hands with a measly paper towel, and chowed down! In hindsight, I ask myself, what were you thinking?! If it wasn’t the washed uncooked veggies, it was DEFINITELY from not washing my hands before I ate at the beach.

  6. (unrelated to food, but still very important) The water is usually safe enough for you to brush your teeth with and shower with, but if you wear contacts, I’d recommend rinsing out the case with purified water so you don’t get any bacteria in your eyes.

March for Science

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the March for Science in Washington, D.C. with my fellow Johns Hopkins classmates. This demonstration sends a clear message to the Republican Administration that science plays a role in everyone’s lives and has given us so much as a society and in the world. Without science, we wouldn’t have life-saving medicines or vaccines. Without science, we would not be able to discover new cures and treatments for diseases.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world gathered on April 22, 2017, Earth Day, to celebrate science! There were scientists, researchers, doctors of different disciplines, supporters of science (young and old) that came together for the purpose of advocating for science. The March for Science page states:

Science protects the health of our communities, the safety of our families, the education of our children, the foundation of our economy and jobs, and the future we all want to live in and preserve for coming generations. 

We speak up now because all of these values are currently at risk. When science is threatened, so is the society that scientists uphold and protect.

When I was growing up, I watched Bill Nye the Science Guy and ZOOM, and had the chance to create that ever cliche paper mache volcanos that erupts with baking soda and vinegar. I knew I wanted to be involved in helping other people, and ended up in Public Health. It was evident that science and research is paramount to making advances towards innovations that would lead to better health outcomes, even when I was a little girl and to this day.

I hope we continue this open dialogue about science and that my fellow colleagues will continue to fight the fight to promote science and support organizations such as the NIH and EPA to protect our planet and our populations’ health. I hope that PBS continues to get funded so the programs can continue to inspire the younger generation to be inquisitive, eager to learn, and get involved in STEM.

Here are some of great posters that I was able to take photos of this past weekend!

Water-Saving Tips & Tricks

Countries around the world are currently facing water scarcity. Drought is caused by a lack of precipitation for an extended period of time, which can affect agriculture, the economy, and our bodies of water. In the 1930s, the US had experienced the Dust Bowl, a period in which soil from large plots of land would blow away due to wind erosion. Because of a lack of understanding of topsoil and necessary grasses to keep soil in place, farmers had plowed the land that uprooted these grasses and soil and made it easier for strong winds to pick up the soil during a drought, making the land unable to support any agriculture during that period.

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California has been suffering from a drought for the past few years, and as our main source of produce throughout the country, we should be wary of potential ramifications of wasting unnecessary water when we should be focusing on water conservation. Less than 3% of water on the planet is fresh, potable water, while the rest is undrinkable (ocean water or water with too much salinity). If you do not live in a water-scarce city or country, you might want to consider the term Tragedy of the Commons, where we as individuals “act independently according to [our[ own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all [individuals] by depleting that resource through [our] collective action.”

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Individually, we may not see a huge impact, but by becoming more aware of how we use our water and tweaking our behaviors slightly to use a little less water, we can educate others to alter their behaviors and make it more possible to make a larger impact and help the environment. On average, one household in the US can use up to 400 gallons of water IN A DAY!

Here are some tips for conserving water in your home:

  • turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth
  • turn off the faucet when you soap your dishes before you rinse them
  • take shorter showers by timing yourself
    • if you listen to music while you shower, limit your showers to 1-2 songs (that can range between 3-10 minutes)
  • fix any leaks when you detect them to prevent wasted water
  • if you can, invest in an efficient toilet with two flush settings
  • use a broom to sweep away leaves or dirt outside of your home instead of hosing down the sidewalk and driveway
  • use a sponge and a bucket to wash your car instead of spraying a hose
  • invest in xeriscaping over a green grass lawn; it doesn’t just save water, but it can bring out your creativity!
  • more tips here 🙂
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An example of a backyard with xeriscaping!

What tips and tricks do you have for conserving water within your home?

Where do we go from here?

I was hesitant about posting something after the elections, but after I saw this article about Trump’s plans to put Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment, in charge of leading the EPA transition team, I felt compelled to write something especially since I’m in graduate school for public health.

Climate change is an issue we need to address. The sea level has been slowly rising and we’ll lose our coastal cities before the end of the century if we don’t acknowledge that global warming is REAL and do something about it. Long Island, Miami, New Orleans, all the tourist/beachy destinations you want to go on vacation to will be lost with the continuing rise in sea levels. Our beautiful coral reefs will die because of the increase in ocean temperatures, as we are already witnessing with the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.

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The agriculture and livestock industry contributes 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, we’re abusing and depleting our non-renewable energy sources and causing more unnatural disasters history has ever seen. We have the renewable resources within reach (solar energy, wind power, tidal wave power!) but we continue to push on for oil and resorting to unconventional methods such as hydro-fracking and extracting oil from tar sands, all the while bulldozing into sacred reservation lands for our greed for cheap gas… Our environment in America was built for cars and transportation, and we are not thinking of the bigger picture when our population continues to grow and when we eventually run out of space for people. We became so greedy at the thought of having bigger lands to occupy, bigger houses to buy, etc. that we don’t think of the repercussions to our purchases–the bigger homes are in the suburbs, which lead to an increase in personal vehicle purchases, longer drives, and overall a greater sprawl on land that could essentially be used to grow more food to feed us. All of this contributes to greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to the warming of the planet and the gradual destruction of our environments and ecosystems.

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People might not care about this issue because they won’t live long enough to see more drastic evidence that climate change is real, but what about the habitats for the animals and the destruction of ecosystems because of the warmer climates and the melting of the ice caps, of the oil spills and fertilizer runoff that makes dead zones in our oceans where no marine life can thrive? What about the future generations, our future children, our future grandchildren? What kind of earth are we going to leave them when we are gone?

Going into public health and learning more about the global environment, climate change, and what we can do is so frustrating because I see that we have the potential to take steps to correct the massive damage that we have done to the earth over the past century, but that there are so many obstacles that still stand in our way i.e. Trump and Ebell. The evidence is in front of our eyes to prove that climate change IS happening–the too-frequent earthquakes that are happening right on US soil in the Midwest, the devastating hurricanes that are destroying homes in Haiti and cities in the South… We take a couple steps forward with the growing momentum to invest in renewable energy, but I feel as though we have taken an incredible number of steps back with the election results and the change that is inevitably going to happen.

It’s frustrating because I want to be optimistic for our future. I want the progress that we’ve made in America to continue and not be reversed. I want my friends and family of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, Muslims, etc. to not have to fear for their safety or their lives when they leave their homes to go to school or to work, or just to run simple errands in their neighborhoods. I want to trust that our nation has more good people than intolerant people who will continue to foster love and acceptance…

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I’d like to hear anyone’s thoughts on this if you feel like sharing. I apologize for this gloomy post, but as a future public health professional, I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the environmental implications that will occur if conservatives reverse the progress we’ve been making in the environmental health and climate change arena.

Supporting Farmers’ Markets

I have to say, living less than 10 minutes from a farmers’ market in Baltimore is pretty great. It was my first time going this past Sunday and I wanted to curb my expectations in case it wasn’t as humongous as I’d imagined it to be, but I was not disappointed!

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These vendors were literally right below the highway!

Nestled right underneath the Jones Fall Expressway, it’s impossible to miss. If you’ve ever visited Smorgasburg in NYC, or a bustling flea market, this is the impression I got from this farmer’s market when my roomie and I arrived. Three words: it. was. PACKED.

We arrived later that morning when there were still a large number of people walking around browsing each stand, and we quickly hurried to buy our produce. I walked away with two tote bags full of fresh, locally grown produce for less than $20!

Going to farmers’ markets is definitely a great way to support local entrepreneurs and farmers. You are not only helping a small business, but you are buying fresh, in-season produce so you know they’ll be tasty to eat as a snack or in your meals, and most of the time these farmers will not use pesticides or other chemicals on their crops. If you want to know more reasons why you should support your farmers’ markets near you, click here 🙂

Check out some meals made with the produce I purchased at the farmer’s market here:

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