For the past 3 months Gaelle Borgia, director of Voice of Vanilla, has been reporting on the devastating famine in the south of Madagascar. Reporting on such terrible conditions is difficult enough, but now she is dealing with a smear campaign and cyber-harassment from the government of Madagascar.
Gaelle showed video of people forced to eat cow leather meant for making shoes. The governor of the region, along with a national television reporter made attempts to discredit her by claiming that the people in her video said she paid them to eat the leather. Gaelle posted another video in which those same people said they were paid and threatened to make the statements against her.
Thankfully Gaelle is being supported by Reporters Without Borders, which has issued a statement condemning the smear campaign. No doubt, Gaelle’s credibility as a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter makes her especially threatening to the status quo.
Scientists have developed a way to convert plastic waste into vanillin. Vanillin is the main chemical component of vanilla flavoring, but real vanilla extract has over 2,000 chemical compounds. Vanillin is not only used in the food industry, but also in pharmaceuticals, fragrances, cosmetics, and cleaning products. Vanillin is in higher demand than natural vanilla production can provide, so alternate sources are necessary.
On one level, this is a great scientific accomplishment. Hey, we’ve found something useful to do with all this plastic waste that’s piling up everywhere! But like the announcement of other products made from plastic waste – shoes, sunglasses, Jenga blocks – it feels a little hollow. Umm…yay? What will happen to those things at the end of their life span? They’ll be plastic waste again, because this stuff literally never goes away.
In 2014 I participated in the Ocean Cleanup Megaexpedition. I sailed from Hawaii to San Francisco on a tiny boat with 5 other people to collect plastic from the Giant Pacific Garbage Patch. The founder of The Ocean Cleanup, Boyan Slat, had developed a passive system for removing plastic floating on the surface of the ocean. The system has been deployed, and is successfully removing plastic from oceans and rivers. But this doesn’t stop the constant flow of more plastic into the environment.
Every time you use a plastic water bottle, or purchase soap in a plastic bottle, or some other product with unnecessary plastic, you are making a decision to contribute more plastic to the environment. There are companies that make money from manufacturing and selling plastic. Those companies have development teams and sales agents constantly coming up with new ways of selling plastic. Remember when some liquid soaps came out with microbeads to exfoliate your skin (something normally accomplished with natural products)? The microbeads enter the water, where they’re eaten by fish and move up the food chain, compounding the impact of toxic chemicals. (Watch the awesome documentary The Story of Plastic on Amazon Prime)
We cannot passively move through life as though the things we do don’t matter. We are making our bed, and we will have to sleep in it. I write this not to start a charge to ban using plastics to make vanilla, but rather to encourage us all to think more about our impact on the earth. I am also not suggesting that you have to drastically change your life tomorrow. But I do think we can try to be a little better every day. Small changes over time are better than no change at all. In 50 years will we be consuming real vanilla, or will we be consuming vanilla derived from plastic waste? What other consequences will we face in a world drowning in plastic?
We are incredibly grateful to everyone who helped us reach our crowdfunding goal, and proud to announce that we’ve been awarded 2 grants: the Female Filmmaker Grant from Women in Film and Media Colorado and the Colorado Film and Video Association, as well as the Energize Colorado Grant. This money will fund our most critical stage of filming: capturing the opening of the vanilla market, and its impact on farmers.
We are looking forward to sharing some of the footage we capture with you in the fall. Thank you for joining us on this journey!
Gaelle Borgia is a Pulitzer prize-winning Malagasy/French journalist. She has worked as a journalist in Madagascar for 10 years, reporting for major media like France 24, BBC, and TV5Monde. Gaelle has strong ties to vanilla, her father and grandmother both hailing from the vanilla capital, Sambava.
Actually, the whole world has a fever right now. I’m not talking about coronavirus. During a time when we should be connecting more and caring for each other, the pattern I’m seeing on social media is disconnection, shame, and anger. The good news is that there is a cure. Yeah, you know the prescription.
There’s a famous quote that is constantly misinterpreted, and I talk about this a lot.
Be the change you wish to see in the world.
Now, a lot of people think this is a call to action, but it doesn’t say ‘Make the change’ or ‘Go do the change’ or ‘Shame people on facebook until the change happens.’ The statement is telling us to change the way we think, see, and react. The best way I have to describe this process is to develop empathy. And for me, because I’m a storyteller, the best way to develop empathy is to listen to the stories of other people, especially those very different from you.
Empathy is the ability to share and understand the feelings of others. How will this save the world? Well, a few examples include:
Empathy promotes helping behaviors; gives a sense of connection and community–> People with empathy can work together.
Empathy fosters pleasurable and positive feelings; helps heal psychological problems such as anxiety–> Empathy makes people happier.
Promotes creativity and innovation –> Empathy helps people solve problems.
Streaming platforms like Kanopy, Netflix, and Prime are curating films about black and indigenous people of color. So if you find yourself feeling angry or confused right now, take a few hours to listen to someone’s story. It is a simple and fun way to make the world a better place.