This page is for the UCSD News and Feature Writing course.
Query Letter (3/9-3/15/20)
Buzzfeed Health: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Theresa Tamkins,
The consumption of meat has symbolized wealth, vitality and health for a millennium. But today, over half of Americans have a preventable chronic disease such as high blood pressure or obesity due to their diet. The culture of eating meat is shifting as people start to question their health, animal welfare and the future of the human population.
Yet, behind the scenes, doctors and scientists are fighting a food war; not all experts agree that the health benefits of a plant-based diet outweigh those of a traditional meat-based diet. The conflict is not surprising given the lack of training for medical professionals and many controversies in the field of nutrition research.
I seek to write an article that will dive into the pitfalls of the medical profession and why so many scientists are not in agreement about diet. Additionally, I will discuss other reasons a plant-based diet should be considered such as animal welfare concerns and a growing global population. For the article, I will interview Dustin Grossheim, a cardiology physician assistant, as well as Amanda McClain, a nutritional science researcher.
Who am I? I am a science writer, blogger and podcast host based in San Diego, California. I share stories about the science of health and wellness through a variety of outlets including Massive Science, NeuWrite San Diego and Yoga Research & Beyond. You can see my full list of writing clips here.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Brittany Fair, MS
Social Media Promo of your feature story (3/9-3/15/20)
Twitter: Switching to a plant-based diet can ease concerns about #health, #animalwelfare and the future of the human population. Saving Your Health–and the Planet.
Feature Writing Final Assignment (3/2-3/8/20)
Saving Your Health–and the Planet
A plant-based diet can help optimize health by lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar; it decreases the risk of cancer and diabetes; preventing and even reversing heart disease; and increasing life span. Yet, behind the scenes, doctors and scientists are fighting a food war. Not all experts agree that the health benefits of a plant-based diet outweigh those of a traditional meat-based diet.
The conflict is not surprising, given the lack of training for medical professionals and many controversies in the field of nutrition research.
In fact, many medical schools do not teach nutrition as part of the curriculum, leaving doctors confused and conflicted about dietary recommendations. Researcher Jennifer Crowley, PhD, was recently quoted in an article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) stating that “despite the importance of nutrition for healthy lifestyles, graduating medical students are not supported with the required nutrition knowledge and skills to be able to provide effective nutrition care to patients.”
“Nutrition is vital to a person’s overall health. It helps prevent illness, increase recovery from illness and can often reduce the length of stay in a hospital,” says Dustin Grossheim, MMS, a cardiology physician assistant who practices and prescribes a plant-based diet at a private practice in San Diego. “Diet is a controllable factor in someone’s overall health, yet I had to seek many additional sources outside of my medical training to feel confident and informed about discussing dietary options with my patients.”
One reason medical schools may be hesitant to include nutrition training in their curriculums is that nutrition research has been notoriously plagued by poorly designed studies, including limited sample sizes and weak methodology, among other factors. Thus, the conclusions drawn from studies may seem overstated or too novel to teach as a standard of care.
“The biggest challenge facing nutrition research study designs is the limited availability of precise measures of dietary intake,” says Amanda McClain, PhD, assistant professor in the School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University. “New methods are emerging that are promising, like wearable camera-based assessment tools and nutrient-specific biomarkers, but more research is needed to determine their validity and reliability, as well as appropriate conduct in research methods with human subjects.”
Additionally, the field is fraught with conflicts of interest. Most recently, an article published in JAMA showcased the ethical dilemma of receiving research funding from big agriculture. For example, Patrick Stover, PhD, the dean for the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, published a meat guideline (stating that beef was not that bad for you) while being financially supported by the largest Texas producer of Black Angus cattle.
On the opposite side, David Katz, MD, who follows a plant-based diet and is the founding director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, researches and solicits the benefits of nuts while receiving funding from California Walnut Commission.
These examples are not uncommon, and illustrate the fundamental bias in the nutrition field.
Despite validity and funding issues in the scientific literature, plant-based diets do offer many benefits besides health, like animal welfare. In fact, more than 50 percent of plant-based eaters attest to not consuming meat due to concerns around animal welfare. For example, Californians that have driven Interstate 5 can easily recognize the overpowering odor that stems from Harris Ranch, the feedlot located in the San Joaquin Valley. Here, hundreds of thousands of cows stand in their own waste, awaiting slaughter to become a hamburger. Despite continued controversy over the poor conditions, Harris Ranch is still California’s largest beef producer, providing more than 200 million pounds of beef and supplying popular food chains such as In-N-Out Burger.
And cows in the dairy industry don’t have it much better. Female cows are continuously impregnated and their newborn calves are taken away in order to provide a steady stream of milk for human consumption. If the dairy cow is born male (males do not produce milk), they are killed almost instantly after birth as this is cheaper than selling them for veal. This knowledge has made customers demand alternatives to dairy. Plant-based milk options now litter the shelves of grocery stores as customers demand alternatives to dairy.
Aside from animal welfare issues, our population is growing at an unsustainable rate. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be over 10 billion people on the planet. By cutting down forests to make room for cattle, humans are decreasing the planet’s ability to draw down carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Cows also emit large amounts of methane gas through burping and farting, which is believed to account for a quarter of the global warming problem. The world’s meat-eating and dairy-consuming ways are not sustainable for such a rapidly growing society.
In a recent article in Business Insider, Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated that “The greenhouse-gas equivalent of up to 8 gigatons (16 trillion pounds) of carbon dioxide could be prevented from entering the atmosphere by 2050 if ‘almost the whole world became vegan.’”
Although it will take the scientific literature some years to catch up, eating less meat is likely still a wise choice.
Critique of a classmate’s Progressive Feature Writing Assignment #1 (2/24-3/1/20)
Hi Arya, Loved your lede and a great idea for a story! I’m really excited to read your finished project. I think the addition of quotes will add a lot to this piece. One question for you…what is your main angle? Is it about citizen science? Or the zombie sea star disease? I would pick one and stick to it- having two angles can be a little confusing for the reader.
A few small things:
- Totally personal preference, but I might suggest using a different adjective than “sunset” to describe orange. As a reader, I was a little confused since a sunset can be many shades of orange. Additionally, I thought you were talking about sunsets as a noun for a hot second!
- No need to use a question mark after “why it won’t go away” because you’re not asking the question, but rather listing the questions that scientists are interested in.
Progressive Feature Writing Assignment #1 (2/17-2/23/20)
The War on Meat
The consumption of meat has symbolized wealth, vitality and health for a millennium; slicing open a juicy steak while sipping a glass of red wine was a sure sign of success. But today the culture of eating meat is being threatened and it may be a good thing.
A plant-based diet offers the benefits of being healthy, ecofriendly and humane. Eating plant-based means consuming foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains without any animal products like meat, fish or dairy. Plant-based diets were one of the biggest food trends of 2018, and today the momentum is still increasing. Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Paul McCartney and Natalie Portman have all given up animal products in favor of more greens. And companies around the world are producing eggs, meat and cheese all without the involvement of animals.
Critique of a classmate’s news story (2/10-2/16/2020)
Hi Chris, Well done! I really enjoyed reading your article. I have personally been trying to become more involved with local politics, so it was nice to hear about the discussions on the upcoming fiscal year budget. I was shocked to learn that 46 people were killed in traffic incidents in 2019- as a reader I was curious is this was for car/car or car/bike accidents. I thought the quote you included from Hunt brought forth the human side to the story. As an avid SD biker, most of my friends have been hit by cars at some point in the last 10 years. It’s really terrifying to be on the road with poor bike lanes and torn up roads. Hopefully, bike safety will become a priority for 2020.
A few things to think about:
-Your title was really long and, at first, I thought your story was going to be about all of the fiscal year projects; however, after reading your piece I believe your main point was about allocating more money for traffic safety. This became very clear after reading your final sentence, “Only time will tell if the City Council can do enough to prevent further deaths on our city streets.” So many start out with a title and lede that relates to that?
-Try to not start a sentence with a number. For example, instead of saying, “46 people were killed…” write “forty-six people were killed…”
-The word “city” is capitalized throughout the piece, which I found confusing as a reader. I would probably use lowercase for instances such as these: “Only time will tell if the City Council can do enough to prevent further deaths on our City streets.”
Overall, I thought you did a great job on the article and selecting quotes that supported your main point. Cheers, ~Brittany
News Story (2/3-2/7/2020)
Wear It Wise
by Brittany Fair
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Approximately 9 million tons of clothing were sent to the landfill in 2017; that’s almost one garbage truck going to the landfill every second.
Camila Gomez Wills, a public policy graduate student researcher at UCSD, is trying to decrease clothing waste by encouraging the public to reduce and reuse, instead of consume. She does this by hosting quarterly clothing swaps at Trilogy Sanctuary, an eco-friendly yoga studio and café located in La Jolla, California.
“The clothing swaps are free and open to all- we typically have around 80 people attend each swap, so you can find a lot of unique items,” says Gomez Wills. “But what really motivates me to organize these events is the human connection: we are all trying to reduce our waste and footprints.”
Inside Trilogy’s Earth Room, women of all ages gather around a wall painted with silvery Buddhas to lay their clothing out for others to inspect. Colorful sweaters and yoga pants quickly become coveted items as the search begins.
So, what is the environmental impact of buying new clothes? Water is used to grow the cotton as well as to produce and dye each cloth. State agencies estimate that more than 700 gallons of water are used to produce a single article of clothing such as a t-shirt or a pair of jeans. That’s about 5,270 bottles of water or 7,467 Starbucks lattes.
Additionally, the carbon dioxide produced from each item is roughly equal to driving a car 10 miles, and this does not include the carbon dioxide produced from the shipment of goods. When 98 percent of clothing in the United States is imported from abroad, this becomes significant.
Gomez Wills explains that one of the best ways to decrease the environmental impact of the fashion industry is to reduce the quantity of new clothing that is purchased and disposed.
One option is to buy used clothing. Goodwill diverted 4 billion pounds of clothing and textiles from landfills in 2018. Companies such as Columbia and The North Face accept their used clothing back, and other brands like Patagonia sell refurnished items.
It has also become trendy to simply own less. For example, author Marie Kondo, an organizing expert, suggests only keeping cherished items that spark joy. Whereas minimalist capsule wardrobes, sometimes consisting of just 30 items of clothing, promise simplicity and style without any of the clutter or stress.
And these trends may be making an impact. India is the largest producer of cotton in the world, but a recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture indicates that market prices are showing a decline. This suggests an overall slowdown in clothing demand.
Gomez Wills holds up a tumeric-colored shirt, considering if it will fit into her wardrobe.
“What’s most important is finding what works for you. Maybe that means attending a clothing swap or maybe it means mending a broken hem instead of throwing it away,” she says. “Just remember, you vote with your wallet.”
Interview a Classmate (1/27-2/2/2020)
Helping rabbits go mainstream
Online media is an ever-changing landscape filled with possibilities if you know how to navigate it.
For Angela Brockus, the News and Feature Writing course is providing a roadmap to that online world. She seeks to merge her background in web design with her interest in branded content in order to reach a larger audience. To do this, she needs to understand industry standards and limitations in current technologies, as well as to learn more about journalism in general.
Although she is in the process of finishing law school at Northwestern California University, Brockus is passionate about continuously exploring opportunities to learn outside of the justice system. She is currently finishing UCSD Extension certificates in Intellectual Property Law, Copyediting and Creative Writing.
“I’m learning that my brain can be very malleable and can re-learn things I thought I once forgot,” shares Brockus.
In her free time, Brockus breeds show rabbits including the English Spot variety. The fur of these spotted white rabbits once adorned the robes of English kings. This weekend nine of her rabbits will be competing at the California Rabbit & Cavy Show in Santee (a cavy is just a fancy name for a guinea pig).
And soon she hopes to integrate her knowledge about rabbits into her writing.
“The people that attend rabbit shows provide an excellent captive audience as we are all there for the same thing,” says Brockus. “There is this whole niche of people my writing could reach.”
My name is Brittany and I’m excited to be taking this News and Feature Writing course. I am currently in the process of completing the UCSD Extension Creative Writing Certificate Program with a focus on science writing.
I work across the street at the Salk Institute (0.5 miles from UCSD Extension) as the science writer, so I am hoping this course will help ignite more ideas/angles for feature stories. As for hobbies, I am a triathlete training for the 2020 World Championships, so I spend a lot of time swimming, running and biking around San Diego! I don’t have a personal mantra, but this year I am focusing on staying healthy and injury free! I also love to cook delicious and extravagant plant-based food, and I have a tank of tiny cherry red shrimp that make me smile.
I look forward to reading everyone’s pieces and exchanging ideas.