More than calories

img_4856 by Steph Holton

Food is the one great unifier. For starters, it quite literally sustains life. But the importance of food goes beyond mere calories.

In a world with such remarkable cultural diversity, it is sometimes difficult to find common ground. Every single culture has customs surrounding food, though, and therein lies an opportunity for shared experience. In the simple act of preparing a meal, one is communicating a willingness to expend energy nourishing a companion, and also a desire to share what is potentially a meaningful aspect of one’s life—a favorite food, a traditional mode of preparation, even the excitement of acquiring a new culinary skill.

Thanksgiving is coming up next week, and households around the country are already prepping for that magnificent turkey-centered feast—making grocery lists, contacting all the relatives, delegating side dishes. We’ve made Thanksgiving primarily about gorging ourselves. (Don’t get me wrong; I too purposely wear bigger pants to Thanksgiving dinner.) But I also think that on a day so dedicated to food preparation and sharing, we have an opportunity to do something more, like expressing awe for the unique story and the genuine care that goes into every dish on the table.

College students often don’t have the luxury of traveling home for Thanksgiving, so I think this message rings even more true among us who, perhaps for the first time, are spending the day with friends and bringing together a multitude of traditions into a new shared experience. Personally, I’m greatly looking forward to the experience.

What We Represent

img_4856 by Steph Holton

For two days in mid-October a building-high, six-sided display depicting bloody images of aborted fetuses alongside photos of Nazi Germany and lynchings in the American South took up residence behind a protective metal barrier in the PSU Park Blocks.

PSU publications covered this event, detailing the gruesomeness and the collective outrage felt by what seemed to be a large part of the PSU community. While I fully believe that we should be talking about these kinds of scare-tactics, so as not to be scared by them in the future, what I really want to add to the record is how remarkable I found the student body’s response to be. Almost as soon as the display started going up that Monday morning, students began to gather around it, making impromptu signs supporting Planned Parenthood and reproductive justice, and using their own right to free speech to question the ideas being promoted by this pro-life group. In what I would deem a small victory for the student protesters, a seventh panel that had been up the first day depicting a child with Down Syndrome and making a horribly insensitive claim, was nowhere to be found on the second day.

On the Portland State campus, where there seems to be a weekly protest of one kind or another, it’s easy to become disenchanted with the notion of fighting for a cause. I feel that the PSU student body rarely voices a majority opinion on those causes. But on those two days, I was incredibly proud to be a part of a student body willing to raise its collective voice

Easing the Moving Blues

img_4856 by Steph Holton

It is not uncommon for college students to be on the move, especially in the fall. I’m about to move for the eighth time in three years, and with all of that back and forth, packing and unpacking, settling and relocating, I feel that I’ve picked up enough wisdom on the subject to help you lessen the annoyances of uprooting your life. Here are my top five tips from going from home to dorm and back again:

  1. Storage bins. I have a set of 10-gallon plastic tubs, as the 18- or 30-gallon tubs end up being too heavy to haul. You can basically pack up an entire apartment with 10 of them, and after you’ve unpacked, you can stack them just about anywhere until the end of the school year.
  2. Label everything ­especially if you’re headed back to your parents’ house for the summer. “Need” vs. “Don’t need” or “House” vs. “Garage” is a very useful way to go.
  3. Pack a suitcase as if you’re going away for the weekend, so when you get to your new abode, you don’t have to overturn every box to find clean underwear before you actually get a chance to unpack.
  4. Recruit help and be good to them (this includes returning the favor as often as possible). Moving is exponentially faster with extra hands.
  5. Limit buying groceries starting a few weeks out from your move. Cut down your packing load by getting what you’re going to eat, but not more.

In all honesty, though, the best advice I’ve ever gotten or given about being a frequent mover is the secret Tip #6: Acquire less stuff! And don’t be afraid to donate and throw away during the moving process. Happy moving!

What’s the deal with tipping?

img_4856 by Steph Holton

Unless you want to look like a jerk, you can’t not tip. But after some thought and research into the matter, I feel that our cultural compulsion to leave gratuities for services rendered is perhaps a more sinister institution than we believe.

Tipping at full-service restaurants is a standard 15%, while tipping hairdressers, tattoo artists, drivers, and innumerable others “isn’t expected but is highly appreciated.” The American consumer likes to believe that leaving a tip is an act of kindness for a job well done, but studies show that the amount of a tip rarely has anything to do with the quality of service provided and often depends on factors of race, age and sex. The practice of tipping in restaurants can create both unnecessary competition between waitstaff, and a rather large wage disparity between front and back of house workers. Psychologically, tipping is a way for consumers to assert dominance over a server, and also to flaunt social status.

The no-tipping movement is struggling, however, because it is a financially risky stance for a restaurant to take: Consumers have shown they’d rather tip than be charged a service fee. I’m not suggesting anyone stop tipping when they go out to eat or get a haircut. At this point, it’s part of our social contract. But I am suggesting we all question the tradition, because like many other institutions in our country, just because that’s the way it’s been doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way it should be.

Smile for the Running Community

img_4856 by Steph Holton

I’m an avid runner. I have been since my high school Driver’s Ed instructor (also the cross country coach) convinced me to sign up, despite the fact that I couldn’t go more than a mile without thinking I was going to keel over right there on the course. And I definitely would not have stuck it out that first season, or the two more that I ran after that, if not for the incredible encouragement of not just my own team, but of the entire community that surrounds high school competitive running.  

When I moved to Portland, I almost immediately fell in with the Campus Rec running club, Running Around Portland, and gained several running buddies who share my enthusiasm for the sport. I’ve often lamented to them, however, that the experience of running in the city is lacking the kind of support from other runners that is so prevalent in high school. With the alive and well running culture in Portland, I’d expect there to be more “hey there’s” and “keep it ups” between passing runners on the waterfront.

I recently was running down Springwater Corridor along the east side of the Willamette, a popular route for runners and cyclists, and passed a woman taking the trail at brisk walk but clearly out to enjoy the day more than anything. As I passed, she made a point to smile at me and say “good morning,” and honestly, it made my day. Since then, I’ve made a more concerted effort to smile when I pass other runners, and usually, they smile back. It’s a small thing, but it’s already made me feel closer to the Portland pedestrian community. 

Race: An Open Letter to American Elementary Schools

img_4856 by Steph Holton

Almost everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten, to paraphrase Robert Fulghum. Kindergarten was when I learned to share, play fair, and to wonder unapologetically. But there was one lesson I didn’t learn until I was 18 years old and starting a degree in anthropology here at Portland State – a lesson that, three years later, I’m still upset I didn’t learn earlier.

The lesson was this: Race is not a biological reality.

Today, we’re lucky enough to not only have an impressive archaeological record containing fossils of our ancestors reaching back millions of years, but also to have the capability to sequence entire human genomes. These databases of knowledge support the model of human evolution beginning with humans in Africa 200,000 years ago and migrating into Europe around 60,000 years ago. Change in skin pigmentation was a result of the increasingly limited UV radiation those migrants were exposed to, and was merely a surface-level change – both phenotypically and genotypically. Because it was an adaptation to different environments, loss of pigmentation occurred at varying levels.

This history of early man means two big things for modern man: 1) The range in human skin color we see today only started evolving in the last fourth of our history! 2) There’s no biological way to validate racial categories, because human variation exists on a spectrum, with no places to draw distinct divisions between populations.

Race is very much a social reality. In no way do I intend to take away from its cultural significance. But it is a much too common misconception that there is more than a social justification for dividing humanity into discrete units. We need to celebrate the remarkable phenotypic and cultural diversity among us. But, now more than ever, we should also be taking Robert Fulghum’s advice to “hold hands and stick together” – by recognizing and teaching that we’re more alike than different.

A couple of great TED Talks on this topic are Nina Jablonski’s “Skin color is an illusion” and Spencer Wells’ “A family tree for humanity.”

Thank You for Not Breeding

img_4856 by Steph Holton

On Friday, April 21, Portland State hosted its annual Earth Day Festival, which featured booths from dozens of environmentally-minded student and community organizations with a passion for educating and engaging the public in sustainability efforts. I passed through the festival several times that day but only stopped by one booth, simply because I could not resist knowing what was meant by the words on its canopy: Thank You for Not Breeding. It turned out, this was a booth promoting the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, which supports the complete cessation of human procreation to allow the earth to reset itself from the damage caused by the human race.

When I asked whether the movement had considered promoting limited procreation, the person manning the booth told me that while the goals of the movement are essentially impossible, even the birth of a single human being beyond the current population is unjustifiable because of the damage inflicted on the earth and the loss of life due to starvation every day.

I agree, the goals of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement are impossible. However, overpopulation is becoming a greater issue every day; the human population doubled in the years between 1960 and 2000 alone, while more than 10,000 species go extinct each year. A global increase in life expectancy is partially responsible for the population bubble we see now, but there has also been a dramatic increase in birth rates in modern times. That points to the necessity of nationally and globally supported resources for family planning. There are myriad facts on this topic, which of course are too numerous to list here; however, for those who are interested, some great resources to look into are:

https://www.populationmatters.org/

http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/family_planning/en/

and http://wwf.panda.org/