The Web-Deprived Study at McDonald’s

Yikes. What a conundrum. People increasingly need the internet to help complete school assignments, research and apply for jobs, stay current with the news, and be connected with their networks. Not everyone can afford Internet, so they look for places offering free WiFi. Cue McDonald’s, the home-base for all things unhealthy, to offer that service at more than 12,000 locations. Health issues are tied to economic status. If you’re going to McDonald’s to use their free WiFi, you’re in a demographic that is at higher risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. This is not the greatest scenario. But, who else is stepping up?

The Web-Deprived Study at McDonald’s

What’s Wrong With #FirstWorldProblems

Check out this short but to-the-point look from The Atlantic at #firstworldproblems, which you’re undoubtedly familiar with if you’re on the internet. (If you are not familiar, click on the hashtag and read a few.)

A teaser:

I don’t like this expression “First World problems.” It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.

I have always felt mixed about this hashtag, because it’s kind of self aware and kind of perpetuates (often gross) dichotomy and/or ignorance. It also sounds flippant, and maybe shouldn’t be taken so lightly, although that irony and flippancy is also part of what twitter is great for.

Not only did this phrase of (in)sincere commentary grow online, but I have observed many (including myself) saying it offline, or IRL. If one of the goals of social connectivity online is to spark conversations offline, maybe there’s something here. BUT, perhaps unfortunately, the phrase is said more as a giggling joke than as a conversation about poverty or abuse or injustice; it’s just a way to characterize the (lack of) true importance of a problem.

Use it, don’t use it….whatever. I get it, and am still uncomfortable a bit by it. And maybe keep the conversation going?

What’s Wrong With #FirstWorldProblems

Atlantic Avenue Subway Station

I know graffiti is “just graffiti” and I shouldn’t read into it, but I did. I generally agree with the sentiment here (access to affordable, healthy food should be human right, especially according to the values on which our country was founded), but don’t think it accomplishes anything. Clearly, the intended audience is the government (unclear if it’s federal or state), and someone doesn’t like the inequity between rich people and poor people as status specifically relates to food. This just doesn’t sound productive though; it sounds spiteful and reminds me of an uninformed bumper sticker. Also, who’s even seeing this statement? Was it written out of sadness? Anger? Boredom? Does the door ironically lead to a hidden vault of unspent government money? (Ha!)

My only point with posting this is that even though I’m questioning its original intent and effectiveness, it still made me think, which it might make you do, too. And maybe just maybe, one of my readers, or your readers or friends, will find some use for it to change attitudes or policy, and therefore do what no other single statement catalyst has helped our country to do.

You just never know.

Stephen Ritz is a South Bronx teacher/administrator.  With the help of extended student and community family they have grown over 25,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx while generating extraordinary academic performance. His Bronx classroom features the first indoor edible wall in NYC DOE which routinely generates enough produce to feed 450 students healthy meals and trains the youngest nationally certified workforce in America.  Stephen has consistently moved attendance from 40% to 93% daily, helped fund/create 2,200 youth jobs, captured the US EPA Award for transforming mindsets and landscapes in NYC, recently won the ABC Above and Beyond Award, helped earn his school the first ever Citywide Award of Excellence from the NYC Strategic Alliance for Health and attributes these results directly to growing vegetables in school.

This is seriously so cool. I’m thrilled to see such innovative teaching and learning happening around food in classrooms.

In the Fight Against Poverty, It’s Time for a Revolution

I am so proud to be a long-time LIFT volunteer, leader, advocate, and supporter alongside countless others. To really understand some of the thing I value most and dreams that I fight for, please read this article. The work LIFT has done throughout the years and the growth it continues to do is incredible, and this is one of the most comprehensive articles sharing LIFT’s work. Hats off to the staff, client advocates, clients, community partners, and supporters who make it all happen.

The revolution isn’t over, but it has certainly begun.

In the Fight Against Poverty, It’s Time for a Revolution

On beliefs

A few nights ago, I went to a bar with a friend, and while we were sitting and chatting, this guy dressed in a red and black plaid shirt, tattooed arms, and those round earrings that stretch your ears sat down near us. He was an inebriated talker with a small amount of charm. He started:

I’m not from around here; I’m from the south. Yes, the south south. But I’m not racist or anything. I just think people shouldn’t be lazy. As long as they work to provide for themselves and give back a little, they’re ok.

So that was a weird start to an even weirder conversation. Sometimes, I just ignore people at bars who want to talk about things that maybe don’t quite interest me or sound quite right, but this was unavoidable, rather funny, and also got me thinking. He continued:

You know what’s messed up though? I work hard and mind my own business, and I come here, and I can’t even bring my marijuana on the plane. It’s like, how’s a guy supposed to get by? It makes me resent people, you know?

OK, fairly typical 20-something complaint. Fine. And he’s from the north part of Florida, so I give him a pass. He goes on:

I like you guys. You know, I’m not crazy or anything, but everyone I come into contact with in Florida, I hate. Like, really hate them. And I mean no disrespect, but it’s the same up here; everyone’s just trying too hard. People don’t know what they’re about but just what they think they’re about. You guys are different. You’re strangers and I can tell you get it.

This threw me for a loop a bit. On one hand, I was totally flattered; Mr. Tough To Please thought we were awesome! On the other hand, what vibe had I given off or words did I say to justify this? How was I any different from who he was describing – the people who just think they know what they’re about? And who is he to judge? He asks me if I had ever fired a gun. I say no and he goes on:

Look, you may think I’m crazy, but I believe strongly in the right to bear arms. Did you know it’s illegal in New York to own one? In fact, do you know how hard it is to own one lots of places in the country?

I actually agreed with him on this one, but added that it should be much more carefully regulated because too many people die. I also, however, know that it would be quite tough to regulate more, because not issuing a gun based on a person’s character, for instance, feels like a constitutional violation. I was a bit torn on this one because frankly, I don’t think about it much. He cuts in:

To regulate who can get guns would just be wrong. That’s like telling someone that they’re less American, and like I said, I’m not racist and I know that’s not ok.

Sociologist in me, by the way, is fixated on his preemping of any potentially racist remarks. He actually never said anything that sounded racist to me.

So yea, there’s really 3 things I stand for. The right to bear arms is clearly the most important. Socialism is definitely another. And of course, free speech. What do you believe in? What do you know to be a truth?

He popped the question and I sat more tongue tied than I’ve been in awhile. I used to be so principled, knowing what was right and wrong in my world and what ‘my mission’ or gospel was. I tell people how proud I am of my self-awareness and people tell me what a ‘do-gooder’ I am, and yet, I had no answer. I told him that in all honesty, I wasn’t sure, that there was nothing I felt so strongly about where I didn’t see the other side of the coin. I told him poverty really upsets me, to which he replied “Duh!” I said well, it’s not so intuitive for a lot of people. I continued that everyone should have access to good health, which felt like the main right denied to those living in poverty. He asked if that was it, without judgement but with opportunity to expand, and I said yes, I think that is it. 

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this; is that really what my mantra has been reduced to? Granted, it’s not a small mission statement, but I used to passionately argue for it and preempt any counter-arguements that could be made. I used to make sure that everyone understands that health isn’t just physical well-being but mental and environmental well-being too. I used to feel driven to change the world and empowered enough to do it, and staunch enough in my beliefs to fight fearlessly for a good cause.

I have a strong set of values, but I wasn’t able to articulate them to this stranger at a bar. I’m not sure why I couldn’t say that I care about human decency and that I don’t support the death penalty, or that immigrants shouldn’t have to fear deportation while being asked to pay taxes. I would postulate that these beliefs stemming from my values are just internal drivers of my choices, and less so a gospel that I’ve ever needed to present. In a public arena, politicians are the key responders to the “what do you stand for” question, and the answers often sound overtly empty and lacking tangibility. Unlike politicians and this dude at the bar, I felt no need to sell my opinion or beliefs, though I wonder if sharing more precisely and passionately might have influenced anything.

To our new friend at the bar, issues were matter-of-fact, black and white. I respected his background and his grounded standpoint, but it wasn’t necessarily mine. Beliefs and values are important to have, but to me, they are more guidance than matter-of-fact, as they can be molded by circumstance and context. I still can’t figure out, too, what made him sit and want to share his staunch beliefs in such a measured way with strangers. I don’t believe it was for the purpose of influence, but for what then? Validation? Deep Conversation? Fire fuel? Profundity? Pride? And, why did I not feel any of that same desire to share? Weaker principles or apathy? Stupidity? Confidence, or lack thereof? Who knows.

All this is to say that a drunk 22 year old from Florida out with his twin brother and tobacco-chewing parents gave me a disturbingly fun train of thoughts, for which I am grateful. This much I know: I believe strongly in listening to people, strangers or not, sharing their beliefs and really thinking about it, because you never know what you can discover about yourself or the world.

Sesame Street teaches about hunger

Sesame Street has a new muppet who is hungry for more than just cookies.

The iconic kids show is set to unveil a new impoverished puppet named Lily, whose family faces an ongoing struggle with hunger issues. Lily will be revealed in a one-hour Sesame Street primetime special, Growing Hope Against Hunger, which is being sponsored by Walmart. The special will star country singer Brad Paisley and his wife Kimberly Williams Paisley, as well as the Sesame Street Muppets.

“Food insecurity is a growing and difficult issue for adults to discuss, much less children,” said the Paisleys in a statement. “We are honored that Sesame Street, with its long history of tackling difficult issues with sensitivity, caring and warmth asked us to be a part of this important project.”

The special will share the stories of real-life families to raise awareness of hunger issues in the United States, as well as strategies that have helped these families find food. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 17 million American children — nearly 1 in 4 — have limited or uncertain access to affordable and nutritious food. Walmart is sponsoring the show as part of a $1.5 million grant toward the initiative and holding screenings in select communities.

The special is set to air nationwide on Oct. 9.


I hope it’s all done tastefully with minimal negative impact. Already not crazy about some of the coverage headlines though.

How I got into the New York Public Library game

Everyone’s been asking….how did I get picked as one of the awesome 500? Honestly, not sure after reading my submission, but I’m sticking to it. Here it is sans edits for you to judge yourself.

jenbo1 Brooklyn, NY

By the year 2021, I will become the first person to…

ride an Air Bike ( around the world in an effort to advocate for non-virtual exercise and fun. Premise of Idiocracy II. 

What drives you… and what strengths do you have that will help you achieve your 2021 goal?

 Honestly, I have no idea what 2021 will bring (though it will be the age of the air bike and probably less physical activity, thus, my goal); the world is changing so rapidly and it’s important to be present and working to fix systemic issues in whatever way is most effective in the active climate. For me, bridging socioeconomic divides is really important. I worked for a nonprofit organization in which college students served as holistic case managers to low income folks. One of my favorite services that we provided (on top of interview workshops, SSDI and food stamp application support, financial literacy education, housing eviction advocacy….) was tax return preparation. Most of our clients qualified for tax credits and might not have received them had someone not helped to file a return for free. Then, I worked for the wonderful but notorious IRS and saw the other side of things, but also felt like I was still, in a different but still important way, working to improve “the system” and change lives through education, sincerity, and commitment. Now, I’m working for a private foundation that funds creative and innovative approaches to solving long-standing problems in New York.

SO, I get the importance of thinking outside the box from many different angles, with a goal of leaving the world a better place through my work. Something I bring to the table is my network – I love participating in classes (improv comedy! brooklyn brainery math! bridge!) and events (art openings! scavenger hunts! rallies!) so that I can meet other inspiring and inspired people. It broadens my perspective even more and makes me a better person, which I’m then able to pay forward.

On a less serious note (which is also important!), I LOVE games. Especially social games. Scavenger hunts are the epitome of awesome for me. I even designed and taught a class on the sociology of board games. doing this would be unreal. I will bring a ridiculous amount of fun and EXCITEMENT!