Category Archives: Associated Press

The Last Straw(s)

A crusade against plastic drinking straws?  Huh?

At first glance, it may strike you as frivolous.  But it’s not.  In fact, it’s pretty darned serious.

In California, the city of Berkeley may kick off such a crusade.   In June, the city council directed its staff to research what would be California’s first city ordinance prohibiting the use of plastic drinking straws in bars, restaurants, and coffee shops.

Berkeley is responding to efforts by nonprofit groups like the Surfrider Foundation that want to eliminate a significant source of pollution in our oceans, lakes, and other bodies of water. According to the conservation group Save the Bay, the annual cleanup days held on California beaches have found that plastic straws and stirrers are the sixth most common kind of litter.  If they’re on our beaches, they’re flowing into the San Francisco Bay, into the Pacific Ocean, and ultimately into oceans all over the world.

As City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, a co-author of the proposal to study the ban, has noted, “They are not biodegradable, and there are alternatives.”

I’ve been told that plastic straws aren’t recyclable, either.  So whenever I find myself using a plastic straw to slurp my drink, I conscientiously separate my waste:  my can of Coke Zero goes into the recycling bin; my plastic straw goes into the landfill bin.  This is nuts.  Banning plastic straws in favor of paper ones is the answer.

Realistically, it may be a tough fight to ban plastic straws because business interests (like the Monster Straw Co. in Laguna Beach) want to keep making and selling them.  And business owners claim that they’re more cost-effective, leading customers to prefer them.  As Monster’s founder and owner, Natalie Buketov, told the SF Chronicle, “right now the public wants cheap plastic straws.”

Berkeley could vote on a ban by early 2018.

On the restaurant front, some chefs would like to see the end of plastic straws.  Spearheading a growing movement to steer eateries away from serving straws is Marcel Vigneron, owner-chef of Wolf Restaurant on Melrose Avenue in L.A.  Vigneron, who’s appeared on TV’s “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef,” is also an enthusiastic surfer, and he’s seen the impact of straw-pollution on the beaches and marine wildlife.  He likes the moniker “Straws Suck” to promote his effort to move away from straws, especially the play on words:  “You actually use straws to suck, and they suck because they pollute the oceans,” he told CBS in July.

Vigneron added that if a customer wants a straw, his restaurant has them.  But servers ask customers whether they want a straw instead of automatically putting them into customers’ drinks.  He notes that every day, 500 million straws are used in the U.S., and they could “fill up 127 school buses.”  He wants to change all that.

Drinking straws have a long history.  Their origins were apparently actual straw, or other straw-like grasses and plants.  The first paper straw, made from paper coated with paraffin wax, was patented in 1888 by Marvin Stone, who didn’t like the flavor of a rye grass straw added to his mint julep.  The “bendy” paper straw was patented in 1937.  But the plastic straw took off, along with many other plastic innovations, in the 1960s, and nowadays they’re difficult to avoid.

Campaigns like Surfrider’s have taken off because of mounting concern with plastic pollution.  Surfrider, which has also campaigned against other threats to our oceans, like plastic bags and cigarette butts, supports the “Straws Suck” effort, and according to author David Suzuki, Bacardi has joined with Surfrider in the movement to ban plastic straws.

Our neighbors to the north have already leaped ahead of California.  The town of Tofino in British Columbia claims that it mounted the very first “Straws Suck” campaign in 2016.  By Earth Day in April that year, almost every local business had banned plastic straws.  A fascinating story describing this effort appeared in the Vancouver Sun on April 22, 2016.

All of us in the U.S., indeed the world, need to pay attention to what plastic is doing to our environment.  “At the current rate, we are really headed toward a plastic planet,” according to the author of a study reported in the journal Science Advances, reported by AP in July.  Roland Geyer, an industrial ecologist at UC Santa Barbara, noted that there’s enough discarded plastic to bury Manhattan under more than 2 miles of trash.

Geyer used the plastics industry’s own data to find that the amount of plastics made and thrown out is accelerating.  In 2015, the world created more than twice as much as it made in 1998.

The plastics industry has fought back, relying on the standard of cost-effectiveness.  It claims that alternatives to plastic, like glass, paper, or aluminum, would require more energy to produce.  But even if that’s true, the energy difference in the case of items like drinking straws would probably be minimal.  If we substitute paper straws for plastic ones, the cost difference would likely be negligible, while the difference for our environment—eliminating all those plastic straws floating around in our waterways–could be significant.

Aside from city bans and eco-conscious restaurateurs, we need to challenge entities like Starbucks.  The mega-coffee-company and coffeehouse-chain prominently offers, even flaunts, brightly-colored plastic straws for customers sipping its cold drinks.  What’s worse:  they happily sell them to others!  Just check out the Starbucks straws for sale on Amazon.com.  Knowing what we know about plastic pollution, I think Starbucks’s choice to further pollute our environment by selling its plastic straws on the Internet is unforgivable.

At the end of the day, isn’t this really the last straw?

 

Declare Your Independence: Those High Heels Are Killers

I’ve long maintained that high heels are killers.  I never used that term literally, of course.  I merely viewed high-heeled shoes as distinctly uncomfortable and an outrageous concession to the dictates of fashion that can lead to both pain and permanent damage to a woman’s body.

A few years ago, however, high heels proved to be actual killers.  The Associated Press reported that two women, ages 18 and 23, were killed in Riverside, California, as they struggled in high heels to get away from a train.  With their car stuck on the tracks, the women attempted to flee as the train approached.  A police spokesman later said, “It appears they were in high heels and [had] a hard time getting away quickly.”

Like those young women, I was sucked into wearing high heels when I was a teenager.  It was de rigueur for girls at my high school to seek out the trendy shoe stores on State Street in downtown Chicago and purchase whichever high-heeled offerings our wallets could afford.  On my first visit, I was entranced by the three-inch-heeled numbers that pushed my toes into a too-narrow space and revealed them in what I thought was a highly provocative position.  If feet can have cleavage, those shoes gave me cleavage.

Never mind that my feet were encased in a vise-like grip.  Never mind that I walked unsteadily on the stilts beneath my soles.  And never mind that my whole body was pitched forward in an ungainly manner as I propelled myself around the store.  I liked the way my legs looked in those shoes, and I had just enough baby-sitting money to pay for them.  Now I could stride with pride to the next Sweet Sixteen luncheon on my calendar, wearing footwear like all the other girls’.

That luncheon revealed what an unwise purchase I’d made.  When the event was over, I found myself stranded in a distant location with no ride home, and I started walking to the nearest bus stop.  After a few steps, it was clear that my shoes were killers.  I could barely put one foot in front of the other, and the pain became so great that I removed my shoes and walked in stocking feet the rest of the way.

After that painful lesson, I abandoned three-inch high-heeled shoes and resorted to wearing lower ones.   Sure, I couldn’t flaunt my shapely legs quite as effectively, but I managed to secure male attention nevertheless.

Instead of conforming to the modern-day equivalent of Chinese foot-binding, I successfully and happily fended off the back pain, foot pain, bunions, and corns that my fashion-victim sisters suffer in spades.

The recent trend toward higher and higher heels is disturbing.  I’m baffled by women, especially young women, who buy into the mindset that they must follow the dictates of fashion and the need to look “sexy” by wearing extremely high heels.

When I watch TV, I see too many women wearing stilettos that force them into the ungainly walk I briefly sported so long ago.  I can’t help noticing the women on late-night TV shows who are otherwise smartly attired and often very smart (in the other sense of the word), yet wear ridiculously high heels that force them to greet their hosts with that same ungainly walk.  Some appear on the verge of toppling over.  And at a recent Oscar awards telecast, women tottered to the stage in ultra-high heels, often accompanied by escorts who kindly held onto them to prevent their embarrassing descent into the orchestra pit.

The women who, like me, have adopted lower-heeled shoes strike me as much smarter and much less likely to fall on their attractive (and sometimes surgically-enhanced) faces.

Here’s another example.  When I sat on the stage of Zellerbach Hall at the Berkeley commencement for math students a few years ago, I was astonished that many if not most of the women graduates hobbled across the stage to receive their diplomas in three- and four-inch-high sandals.  I was terrified that these super-smart math students would trip and fall before they could grasp the document their mighty brain-power had earned.  (Fortunately, none of them tripped, but I could nevertheless imagine the foot-pain that accompanied the joy of receiving their degrees.)

Foot-care professionals soundly support my view.   According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, a heel that’s more than 2 or 3 inches makes comfort just about impossible.  Why?  Because a 3-inch heel creates seven times more stress than a 1-inch heel.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently questioned Dr. Amol Saxena, a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon who practices in Palo Alto (and assists Nike’s running team).  He explained that after 1.5 inches, the pressure increases on the ball of the foot and can lead to “ball-of-the-foot numbness.”  (Yikes!)  He doesn’t endorse 3-inch heels and points out that celebrities wear them for only a short time (for example, on the red carpet), not all day.  To ensure a truly comfortable shoe, he adds, don’t go above a 1.5 inch heel.  If you insist on wearing higher heels, limit how much time you spend in them.

Some encouraging changes may be afoot.  The latest catalog from Nordstrom, one of America’s major shoe-sellers, features a large number of lower-heeled styles along with higher-heeled numbers.  Because Nordstrom is a bellwether in the fashion world, its choices can influence shoe-seekers.  Or is Nordstrom reflecting what its shoppers have already told the stores’ decision-makers?  The almighty power of the purse—how shoppers are choosing to spend their money–probably plays a big role here.

Beyond the issue of comfort, let’s remember that high heels present a far more urgent problem.  As the deaths in Riverside demonstrate, women who wear high heels can be putting their lives at risk.  When women need to flee a dangerous situation, it’s pretty obvious that high heels can handicap their ability to escape.

How many other needless deaths have resulted from hobbled feet?

The Fourth of July is fast approaching.  As we celebrate the holiday this year, I urge the women of America to declare their independence from high-heeled shoes.

If you’re currently wearing painful footwear, bravely throw those shoes away, or at the very least, toss them into the back of your closet.   Shod yourself instead in shoes that allow you to walk—and if need be, run—in comfort.

Your wretched appendages, yearning to be free, will be forever grateful.

 

[Earlier versions of this commentary appeared on Susan Just Writes and the San Francisco Chronicle.]