Teens are terrible. I might get flack for saying that, but who among us wasn’t awful? Ask your parents, teachers, and siblings: They’ll confirm you were a raging sack of hormones, sadness, and confusion. (I’m not immune to my own assessment: Picture a Dave Matthews Band superfan in ill-fitting khakis, with the heart of Genghis Khan. See? Total nightmare.)
So expecting paragons of selfishness to care about anything outside of themselves -- much less the fate of an entire planet -- would seem beyond the realm of possibility. It's certainly easier to throw up your hands, grumbling "Kids these days -- amirite?"
But in order for the green torch to be passed down to the next generation, we should make some attempt to appeal to the young’uns. Thankfully, there’s Erin Schrode: She’s been wading into that teenage wasteland for the last nine years as the co-founder of Teens Turning Green. And she believes, contrary to previously stated expert opinions, [deep breath] teens aren’t terrible. Or at least they aren’t any more terrible than the rest of us.
Una Aya Osato has been performing since she was 2 years old -- she landed her first part after chatting up a casting director in a Chinese restaurant -- and she’s been political for almost as long. As a New York City teenager involved in Reclaim the Streets, a social justice movement that transformed city blocks into dance parties, all she wanted for her 17th birthday was a bullhorn. But before she had a chance to really use it, she was arrested, for sound production without a permit.
That was how Osato met Miss AuroraBoobRealis, although not in that guise, yet. At the time, she was “this random lady who was dancing barefoot down Wall Street, who was very kind to me while we were in jail,” Osato says. They met again at the 2004 Republican National Convention. A few years later, they found themselves in the same theater group, and Miss Aurora invited Osato to the first show of a troupe she'd co-founded, Brown Girls Burlesque.
Burlesque, it turned out, brought together all the elements of performance that interested Osato -- theater and dance and storytelling and politics. Particularly Brown Girls Burlesques' style: sexy, yes, but smart, campy and feminist, too -- the sort of burlesque that's seen a revival in the past few years. She thought, “Oh, yeah, I could try that.”
As “the exHOTic other,” Osato began creating burlesque pieces on everything from gentrification to U.S. nationalism. Working with her sister Michi (who performs with Brown Girls Burlesque, too, as "sister selva"), she created burlesque and clowning acts that grappled with questions about the Earth, destruction, and human rights.
“These are big big questions. And sometimes for such big questions, we need big mediums,” Michi says.
Osato’s newest, “PolarBare,” tackles one of the biggest issues of all: climate change. She performed it for the first time this past winter as part of a Brown Girls Burlesque show in New York.
Wander through Portland, Ore.’s Pearl District, SoCo in Austin, or Manhattan’s financial district and you won’t be able to spit without hitting a food truck selling poutine, Korean tacos, or barbecue in some form. The trend has hit Boston as well, unless you happen to live in the neighborhood of Roxbury.
Most Roxbury residents are black or Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey. Thirty percent of the people living there have incomes below the poverty line. A Tufts project found the obesity rate of Roxbury about 8 percent higher than the overall average in the city.
And it isn’t just food trucks missing, says Cassandria Campbell, who calls Roxbury home. Grocery stores and restaurants serving healthier options aren’t in high supply. “I found myself going to other neighborhoods to get good food,” she says. “These food trucks [appearing in other parts of the city] weren’t serving my neighborhood or other neighborhoods in Boston that are similar in demographic to mine."
So she called up her friend Jackson Renshaw with an idea for solving both the dearth of trucks and lack of access to healthy, local food in one swoop.
Sculptor Frances Whitehead calls herself a provocateur. She’s no Banksy. Instead, this professor of sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago pushes people to think differently about how art fits into, and shapes, our lives, from the mundane to the political -- and how it might help us imagine a more sustainable future.
In 2006, Whitehead penned a creative manifesto called “What Do Artists Know?” The document is a point-by-point articulation of what a creative mind can bring to the broader cultural conversation. She later swayed city officials to place artists into government via her program, The Embedded Artist.
It was only a matter of time before Whitehead, a longtime gardener who frequently incorporated natural objects into her sculpture, began to focus on the combination of art and science. In 2004, Whitehead and her husband purchased a 3,000-square-foot warehouse and converted it into their Green House, a haven of sustainability and reuse. Replete with wind turbines and geothermal heating and cooling, the structure served as an educational classroom for design students and inspired new ways of approaching the post-industrial city.
Sustainability, Whitehead says, “is a cultural problem and artists can help find the solution.”
Giving up the grease is a hard sell in the South, though, especially if people find such cooking emblematic of their culture -- a complication explored recently in the documentary Soul Food Junkies, and as seen regularly on the cooking shows of former Southern glory Paula Deen. But eating healthy can’t be seen as a foreign concept in a state like Mississippi, which leads the nation in obesity and diabetes. Which is why Minor, and a team of pastors across the impoverished Mississippi Delta region, have made it their mission to change their members’ eating habits.
Minor's work has earned him the support of First Lady Michelle Obama. Recently, he took his mission a step further by enlisting as a “Navigator,” an evangelist of sorts for the Affordable Care Act, helping people sign up for the troubled program.
I caught up with Minor by phone as he drove to Memphis to connect with more churches around expanding access to quality healthcare. What I learned: Grassroots movements really can influence federal policies, and he does not approve of New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to ban large sodas.
Andrew David Thaler has always loved the ocean. “I'm that obnoxious kid that wanted to be a marine biologist since I was 3,” he says. “I've wanted to work in the deep sea since before I can remember.”
Thaler now holds a PhD in marine science and conservation from Duke. He lives in the Bay Area working to preserve the species living in and around deep sea vents, particularly as these underwater fissure are explored for possible mineral drilling.
But when not saving deep sea invertebrates, Thaler turns into an evil genius who will help you put Tokyo under 80 meters of water.
For Daniel Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, many of our problems today boil down to this: Through much of human evolution, our ancestors spent their days eating twigs and berries, chasing antelope, and being chased by things with big, nasty teeth; these days, the only things we chase are our double greaseburgers and fries -- and it's usually with 32 ounces of corn-syrup-laced soda. We're cavemen come to live in the city. Our bodies just aren't adapted for this stuff.
Those are my words, of course. Lieberman is much more eloquent and precise about the subject, which he's explored in great depth in his new book, The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. Lieberman is the first to point out that modern living and technology have made our lives better in many ways. Still, a look back at where we came from can tell us a lot about where we're headed, he says -- and how we might alter that course for the better.
I caught up with Lieberman recently for a conversation that ranged from the paleo diet to Fruit Roll-Ups to the similarities between the obesity epidemic and climate change.
When I caught up with Rob Hopkins at the SXSW Eco conference in Austin, Texas, this week, he had just ended a seven-year, self-imposed airplane fast. This is a guy who takes the climate fight -- and the power of individual actions -- seriously. A few years back, he launched Transition Towns, aimed at helping communities lead the way into a post-fossil-fuel world. The movement has since spread around the globe.
Jacqueline Patterson can rattle off an endless stream of statistics about how climate change, and the industries that are driving it, put communities of color at risk. Patterson heads the NAACP's environmental and climate justice program, so she lives and breathes these numbers -- statistics that show that African American, Hispanic, and other minority communities bear the brunt of our dirty ways, from power plant pollution to urban heat island effect and superstorms like Katrina and Sandy.
I caught up with Patterson at the SXSW Eco conference in Austin, Texas, this week and found that she had some good news along with all the grim.
Mohamed Hage is not your typical urban farmer. The Lebanese-born entrepreneur, now living in Montreal, got into food as a technological challenge: He wanted to come up with a better way for family back in Lebanon to grow crops. But to say he has a green thumb would be a bit of a stretch; instead, he relies on a knack for high-tech gizmos and marketing. In 2011, his business, Lufa Farms, opened the world's first commercial greenhouse on a roof in Montreal. Today, the company has two rooftop farms and a staff of about 30, including "more programmers than farmers," he says. Next year, Lufa expands to Boston, with plans for world conquest from there.
I caught up with Hage at the SXSW Eco conference happening this week in Austin. Here's what he had to say: