Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Genetically Modified Food

Eleventh-grader Jamie weighs in on genetically modified food:

"Genetically modified organisms" sound downright terrifying to the layperson. "You want me to eat something that's been created in a lab by a bunch of mad scientists?!" one might ask. That's the stigma speaking. It's all based on misconceptions. People are afraid of the unknown, and that fear is contagious.

The article I read induces fear with statements such as, "You’ve been eating it for a long time and no one has told you," as if it were a shocking secret that people have been trying to cover up.

Requiring that foods made with GMOs be labeled as such would only perpetuate these unfounded fears. It would create undue concern.

Unknown does not necessarily mean bad, but as the article mentions, it does not necessarily mean good either. The article fails to mention, however, the scientific process behind it. Consider the following background information: plants, and all known living organisms, have spent billions of years evolving into what they currently are. One aspect of this is random mutation of genes. A plant's genetic code may change for the better or for the worse because a base ( A, T, C, or G) is substituted for another or omitted. This is completely natural. Scientists, at least in a simplified version, achieve the same effect by purposely changing the code. The main difference? It isn't random. It is far from random and every base in every gene is calculated to do only the desired effect, whether that is protecting it from insects or increasing its nutritional value, or other beneficial traits. Then they are inserted into their place in the DNA. 

Ideally , this all goes perfectly according to plan and nothing is overlooked. We are all human though and have to consider the possibility that some food do have harmful long-term effects.

A better solution is to ensure that only the GMOs that have been studied and tested to a sufficient degree ("sufficient degree" is up to the experts to determine) should be allowed out into the public. Fortunately, there is such a system: the Food And Drug Administration. If someone believes that its standards are not high enough or rigorous enough, and that harmful GMOs get through the system, which is entirely possible, then complaints should be directed to the FDA, not the entire category of GMOs.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tu B'Shevat Continued

RealSchool's Health and Environment team offered ways to keep us healthy in honor of Tu B'Shevat, Judaism's "Green Day." Here is a blog post FastCoExist posted right after the holiday, and in it you can learn how important trees are to human health. Read the post, and then read some student responses to New York Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban on the size of sodas some NY vendors can sell. Is Mayor Bloomberg's plan a reasonable way to fight obesity and keep New Yorkers healthy?

An Archive of Ancient Tree DNA Will Help us Clone the Ones we Destroy

Student response 1: Con:

Mayor Bloomberg has many valid reasons for wanting to ban the sale of sodas larger than sixteen ounces, in restaurants, street carts, and movie theaters. It is a major cause of obesity, which can result in many health issues as well as death. Five thousand people in New York die of obesity each year. Research shows that an extra soda drink a day increases the probability of a child becoming obese by 60%. In addition, one or two sugar drinks a day increases the risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 25%, which is the cause of more than 60,000 amputations a year. There are many other negative effects of soda drinks, such as tooth decay. These are all conditions which nobody should have to experience, and Mayor Bloomberg believes disallowing the sale of large bottles of soda will help decrease the amount people drink and therefore also the number of people that have these potentially fatal conditions. However, many people believe this law shouldn’t be passed. It is forcefully taking away business not only of the soda industry, but also of the restaurants, street carts, and movie theaters that would no longer be able to sell the larger products. I do believe actions should be taken to help prevent obesity, but not in this way. First of all, it is unfair to many businesses. But in addition, I don’t think it will have much effect. If people want more soda, when they finish the first bottle, they will just buy another one. If they are at a restaurant, they can ask for a refill. Other actions need to be taken that won’t harm businesses but will also have a major effect.

Student response 2: Pro:

Over the past few years, many researchers have expressed their concern about the regular consumption of sodas and sugary drinks in our society. They have found that one soda or other sugary drink, which contributes the most calories to our diet, each day can increase a child’s chance of obesity by sixty percent. Sugary drinks, such as sodas, can cause tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes, which is the leading cause of amputations. Health problems related to obesity are the cause of death for five thousand New Yorkers each year. 
For this reason, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed a bill to ban the sale of sugary drinks in containers larger than sixteen ounces in restaurants, street carts and movie theaters. This, he hopes, will decrease the number of obesity-related deaths and other health problems in New York. Many New Yorkers oppose the measure, though, claiming that it will cause losses to small businesses and limit their rights. They do not want the government telling them what and how much they can drink, and they have a point. Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal will probably help with the obesity epidemic, but it does have some problems. First, people can buy multiple smaller-sized bottles of sugary drinks, which will amount to more than sixteen ounces, and it would be deemed legal. Also, his proposal only bans excessive amounts of soda to be sold in establishments that receive inspection grades from the health department. Therefore, convenience stores, vending machines, and some newsstands would be exempt from the law, as well as the sale of fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, alcoholic beverages, and no-calorie diet sodas. I believe that Bloomberg’s proposal is a good step toward fighting obesity, but I think he should follow through fully and ban the sale of excessive amounts of all sugary drinks everywhere in New York.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tu B'Shvat: Jewish Arbor Day

If the earth does grow inhospitable toward human presence, it is primarily because we have lost our sense of courtesy toward the earth and its inhabitants.
Thomas Berry, Catholic ecotheologian  (like that term?)

In honor of Tu B'Shevat RealSchool Religious Identity and Health and Environment teams bring you some favorite thoughts, clips and a great Tu B'Shevat salad by Tori Avey.

To start, here's Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on Judaism's eco-friendly legislation:

Enjoy this clip, which we showed on Food Day, about returning to a more simple way of farming and eating:

If you weren't convinced to eat healthier by the Back to the Start video, maybe you need something scarier:

Now that we have your attention about making some changes to your diet, you can start by making and enjoying the following recipe:

Recipe for a Tu B'Shevat salad by Tori Avey, but don't forget to use a healthy mayonnaise, such as Spectrum Light Canola Mayo.

Click on the link to go to the recipe: Tu B'Shevat Salad

Stay tuned during the Spring Semester for RealSchool's Green Recipes. The Health and Environment team is busy compiling them. Feel free to send us your favorite green and healthy recipes at frischrealschool@gmail.com!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Student Response to #26Acts Program

By Raquel, tenth grade:

My initial response o hearing about the #26Acts program was one of awe and concern. Performing a total of 26 good deeds sounded like a lot; I feared I wouldn't be able to reach my goal. I reminded myself of the cause, the 26 lives cut way too short by the killing in Newtown, Connecticut, and decided if there was even a remote possibil ity of impacting a life through this initiative, I would try it. As my day progressed, my pessimistic attitude changed, and I became confident. I began checking acts off my list and noticed a pattern; I did most of the good deeds listed on a daily basis, even when I didn't have an ulterior motive. I think dedicating an act to each victim is special and not even close to the far-fetched concept I originally thought it was. I realized that not only I, but many people, routinely do nice things for others and are just not sensitive to that fact. And even the smallest of my gestures got a response of thanks and appreciation.

It is impossible to justify the villainous occurrence that took 26 innocent lives, but the least I could do is hope the 26 acts of kindness I did in remembrance have a domino effect. If each recipient of my 26 acts did just one deed for someone else and so on, much more than just 26 lives will have been touched by this program. An overwhelming number of people could be positively impacted and that is what gives me an even greater sense of awe.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Religious Identity: Prayer Discussion Series Continues

On Wednesday, December 26, the Religious Identity team met once again to discuss prayer. Since last discussion used sources in Tanakh as the basis for a talk about prayer, the jumping off point this time was prayer in the Talmud. Ben, Marni and Rafi moderated the talk, with Ben supplying examples of prayers of Alexandrine Jews and Marni and Rafi preparing the following source sheet:

Talmudic source sheet on prayer

RS Member Jamie summarized her impression of the discussion:

When we pray in the Jewish religion, we do so as a community, with a minyan [quorum], and in a set place of worship. There are sources that say that God’s presence is stronger in a group of ten or more. This is not to say that smaller groups of prayer or individuals are not counted, but they do not hold as much weight as does the prayer of a community. Likewise, it is preferred that modern prayer take place in a synagogue and not be subject to whim.
This seems to contradict the idea that God is omnipresent and omnipotent. If He is everywhere and anywhere, why should it matter where we pray or with how many people? This community emphasis in prayer could perhaps be one of the many methods instated in Judaism to keep the community strong, because the community is what keeps religious awareness strong. While people can attain spirituality alone, in the locations they choose, there is a certain power in a group of people coming together to make requests and to plead as a unit for the needs of the community.