If you're like me, nothing beats a big, meaty cheeseburger off the grill.

And if you're like me, you probably don't really like to think about where your food comes from. But we really need to.

Of course, I try to buy responsibly farmed meat for the most part, but I'm definitely guilty of purchasing lower-grade beef in a pinch or when the sale price is just too good to beat.


This image lives permanently in the depths of my subconscious.

It's just way too easy to not think about what horrible things may have happened to that package of beef on its journey to my supermarket's cooler.

Unfortunately, out of sight, out of mind is exactly what the meat industry wants.

That's why many big factory farms have proposed laws to prevent animal advocates from exposing their practices.

Animal rights groups have spent years fighting for more transparency about what goes on inside factory farms, often in the form of undercover videos taken inside poultry and pork factories that aren't playing by the rules.

In 2013, the meat industry processed over 100 million pigs. Photo by Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr.

But instead of cleaning up their farming methods, a lot of these manufacturers have been trying to punish the people who capture and distribute this kind of evidence via "ag-gag" laws, as they're known, that try to keep these videos from ever seeing the light of day. Not cool.

Some of them make it illegal to enter an animal facility with intent to use a camera or video recorder. Others inflict harsh penalties on people who lie on employment applications in order to gain access to these places.

Starting around 2011, state-level ag-gag bills started cropping up everywhere. Thankfully, most of the bills have died due to strong opposition, but the laws have passed in several key areas, like Iowa and Kansas, for example, both of which are central hubs for factory farms.

We may not want to watch the horrifying behind-the-scenes videos filmed at factory farms, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have access to the truth.

In 2007, The Humane Society of the United States shot one such undercover video at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. plant in Chino, California. The footage showed appalling treatment of sick cows, yes, but it also tipped off the USDA that the resulting meat may not have been safe for consumption. What followed was one of the biggest meat recalls in U.S. history.

Ag-gag laws make obtaining that kind of footage a punishable crime.

Going vegetarian or vegan is a great way to make a difference, but it's actually OK to eat meat. It's even OK if you don't want to know where it comes from.

It's just not OK for factory farms to escape accountability for their actions.

There is good news, though. A federal judge in Idaho just struck down the state's whistleblowing law.

Big Ag, meet your maker — Judge B. Lynn Winmill. Photo from U.S. Courts website.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled on Aug. 3, 2015, that Idaho's ag-gag law violates the First Amendment (free speech, ftw!) following a lawsuit from a coalition of animal activists and civil rights groups.

"Audio and visual evidence is a uniquely persuasive means of conveying a message, and it can vindicate an undercover investigator ... who is otherwise disbelieved or ignored," Winmill wrote in his ruling.

You said it, buddy.

And it's a good thing this ruling came down because Idaho's ag-gag law really sucked. In addition to making it damn near impossible for anyone to collect hard evidence of wrongdoing, its penalties for whistleblowers were actually worse than the ones for inflicting animal cruelty in the first place!

Absurd.

Good riddance to ag-gag in Idaho. But there's a lot more work to be done.


Big Agriculture is an extremely formidable opponent. According to the North American Meat Institute itself, meat and poultry sales in the U.S. were over $150 billion in 2009. That kind of money buys you some serious lobbying firepower and a lot of influence when it comes to public policy.

But the industry as a whole needs to be held accountable.

Yes, trespassing and lying on employment applications should be illegal, but the factory farming industry shouldn't get to inflict special penalties just because they have friends in high places. And they definitely shouldn't be shielded from following — at the very least — basic animal welfare guidelines.

Ag-gag is currently holding strong in at least six states (as of March 2015), but the federal court throwing its weight around in Idaho definitely bodes well for the future of this battle.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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A sweet pup is finally home with her family where she belongs after way too many years away.

Ginger the dog was stolen from her family back in 2017. Her owner, Barney Lattimore of Janesville, Wisconsin, never gave up the hope that his sweet girl was out there somewhere. Whenever he'd see a dog listed on a rescue website or humane society website that even remotely resembled his Ginger, he would inquire about the dog. Unfortunately, it was never her. You'd think that after a while he would stop, but if he had, he likely wouldn't have gotten the sweetest reunion.

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As if the past handful of years weren't challenging enough, the U.S. is currently dealing with a baby formula crisis.

Due to a perfect storm of supply chain issues, product recalls, labor shortages and inflation, manufacturers are struggling to keep up with formula demand and retailers are rationing supplies. As a result, families that rely on formula are scrambling to ensure that their babies get the food they need.

Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"

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