Wednesday, March 22, 2006

More On These Stories After This

I'm taking a break from blogging. I'm not always sure what I'm accomplishing, and I'm certainly growing more cynical. I just ran across this same sentiment at Pocket Farm's blog. The cynicism, I mean. It's beginning to feel like another chore, rather than something enhancing my life and cause. Now that I'm going to be working again I'd like to minimize my obligations. I still plan to stay informed, and if I run across something I think must be shared, I'll do an entry.

I am happy to report that, having been unemployed for several months, I will be teaching two courses this Spring quarter, one here in town at CWU, and one online for Everett Community College.

Before my break I'd like to outline the steps I'm taking to minimize my environmental impact. In case anyone "drops by" I'd like to have my most recent entry be inspirational, if possible!
  1. I don't drive anymore, except on very rare occasions. The last time I drove was to the doctor because I felt too sick to walk or ride. I do my laundry, grocery shopping, and all other errands on my bike, or less often, on foot. I will be using my bike to get to work this quarter (about a 10 min. ride). Using my own power to get around has been as good for me as it has been for minimizing environmental impact. I feel better physically and emotionally, and my life is much more peaceful. If I were living in the city and trying to commute by bike during a 40-hr. work week, I'm not sure how I'd be feeling. But here, I truly enjoy being outside, seeing this beautiful town at a slower pace, and feeling good when I get home. When I go over the mountains to visit my friends and family, I take Greyhound. It's a 4-mile walk from town to the station, but I'm surprised at how short 4 miles actually is. It's a one-hour walk, give or take, and I find it amusing that we generally think nothing of spending an hour in the car to get somewhere, but an hour walking at a leisurely pace? Most people never consider it. I certainly never used to.

  2. I'm buying organic food, and local when possible. Sometimes the only organic apples at the store are from New Zealand. I live in Washington - the apple state!! Is it better for me to buy a local, chemically-produced apple, or one that came from thousands of miles away, across oceans? I'm happy when there are organic apples from Washington. What I wouldn't give for an apple tree right in my yard! As far as shopping at the smaller, privately-owned natural foods stores, I haven't been much of a customer. There's little to no produce, and most of the items are a full dollar or more than the same item at the grocery store. I have to buy gluten-free foods, which are already expensive ... so it's hard for me to lay down those extra bucks. I don't feel good about the large store where I shop, but maybe when my income stabilizes I can make a commitment to the local stores. After all, in the post-Peak Oil world we will really need smaller stores to serve our communities. I don't want them to go under before that.

  3. I do my best to MAKE DO, OR DO WITHOUT. It's surprising how little we really need. Food, yes. More clothing, no. Toilet paper, yes. Paper towels, no. It's pretty simple when you break it down. I try not to buy anything for which I could re-use something I already have. I'm so attached to my cloth napkins, I use them for everything. I use my backpack for a grocery bag, and I wash plastic produce bags and re-use them (they're suprisingly durable). We won't be purchasing any more ziplock bags, plastic wrap, that sort of thing, so if I do use an item like that I either wash it for re-use, recycle it, or throw it away, knowing it won't be replaced. These steps have involved a shift in thinking that ultimately has liberated me from our culture of acquisition. At first I used to repeat to myself over and over, "They can't make me buy stuff." They are the corporations, who bombard us with marketing to convince us we need things that we don't actually need, things that are destructive to the environment and to a culture centered on peace, sustainability, and helping others. There is so much joy to be found that doesn't involve purchasing anything. If you feel like you have to buy something, I suggest a secondhand bicycle or musical instrument, preferably acoustic. (I'm assuming that someday we may not have electricity the way we do now, or we won't be able to afford it.) Learn to find joy in things that don't leave destruction in their wake. The elation in finishing a long bike ride, or learning a new chord, is far more pure and satisfying than the temporary fix of purchasing a new knickknack for your home, or a new outfit to show off at work. Also, the satisfaction of doing the right thing for the planet and all its species, is a true joy unto itself. Don't knock it till you try it!

  4. I don't eat meat anymore. Not only do I want to refrain from contributing to an industry that is cruel and unhealthy, but I'm aware that everything that goes into meat production and distribution is bad for the environment. All that grain could be used to feed people. All that methane contributes to global warming. All that fertile land is taken up and destroyed by grazing. Mostly, though, it's the suffering of the animals that I can't bear to be party to. If our neighbors were using factory-farming methods on animals in their own backyard, we (average Americans) would be horrified and call the authorities. But when it's out of our sight, and it ends up as a steak or drumstick on our plate, we accept and support it. I am getting in the habit at looking at the way things actually are and absorbing the reality of it. Understanding the reality of mass-produced meat means I cannot contribute money to that industry or put that contaminated food in my body. I still eat organically-produced dairy and eggs. I try to get the eggs from local folks. I'd love to go vegan, and might eventually, but I'm already gluten-free and vegetarian ... so it will take some time.

  5. Recycling and composting - T. and I are doing are best to recycle everything possible, and, along with our landlady, with whom we share a yard, we are composting all our table scraps. There's no meat in our scraps so everything goes in the compost, and our garbage consists almost entirely of packaging. Someday I hope to see this reduced.

  6. We are planning our garden. Neither of us is really a gardener, but we have some excellent help from a master gardener friend of ours, and our landlady (with whom we share the backyard) is also willing to help us get started. I hope this summer and fall we'll be eating fruits and veggies that came right from our little patch of dirt. Of course, we'll be using only organic methods to help our garden grow.

  7. I call my legislators and sign letters and petitions. This wasn't an easy one for me. I'm shy and reserved by nature. But someone told me that senators and members of congress, at the state level, consider one phone call to be the equivalent opinion of 10,000 people. Whether or not this is exactly true, I believe it's important that we involve ourselves in our government whenever possible. The government exists to serve the people and our interests, which include the interests of our grandchildren's grandchildren. There simply isn't anything more important than saving our planet. It's easier than ever to stay informed when organizations like MoveOn and WashPIRG send out regular emails with prepared letters and petitions.
I recently watched an interesting program on American photography, and it showed the first pictures of the Earth from space. What struck me was one comment on the picture of Earth rising above the landscape of the moon - how it presents a vivid contrast between a living and dead planet. We have a LIVING PLANET. It's teeming with life. And it's the only one we have. We're not colonizing any other planets any time soon. We must focus all our resources on what is truly "Homeland Security." This is it. Let's not let this miracle die at our hands, when we have the opportunity to save it. I want generations of folks hundreds or thousands of years from now to remember this precarious time as one when greed, materialism, disconnection, and self-absorption began to slowly dissipate as love, sacrifice, community, and commitment to the future took hold worldwide.

Happy Spring! I plan to return to my blog in the summer.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Mystery Meat / Meet My Neighbor

The meat industry never ceases to amaze me. Perusing baloghblog today, I learned that beef is now being treated and packaged with carbon monoxide to maintain its color and texture. According to Don Berdahl, vice president of Kalsec Inc., a maker of natural food extracts in Kalamazoo, Michigan, carbon monoxide-treated meat could be left on the kitchen counter for five days and would still look bright red and fresh. Kalsec filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration seeking a ban on the use of carbon monoxide in meat packaging. He noted that carbon monoxide "also suppresses bad odors and the presence of slime, other telltale signs that meat is spoiled." The FDA has approved the use of carbon monoxide for this purpose, but it is interesting to note that the European Union does not allow it.

It's reasonable to assume that folks will consider the expiration date when purchasing meat, but I remember an expose a few years back on grocery stores' commonplace practice of covering true expiration dates with later ones to improve sales. [Although, I can't find any information on this. If anyone does, please send me a link!] Considering this and the false red meat treated with carbon monoxide, or the false pink salmon treated with dyes, or abnormally large, genetically altered chickens and turkeys that suffer painful disorders ... how much sicker will this industry get? I am a former meat eater, and I miss it at times. But I am sickened by the horrific industrial method of providing meat to the public. There is nothing they won't do for profit ... public health and even the slightest compassion for the suffering be damned.

The Mad Cowboy would agree, and I'm certain he could tell stories that would turn us green. Former Montana cattle rancher Howard Lyman and Oprah Winfrey were sued for libel by Texas cattlemen in 1998, under the "Food Disparagement Act." Lyman had written The Mad Cowboy to expose the practices of factory farming and explain why this fourth-generation family farmer and meat-industry supporter became a vegetarian and activist. He appeared on Oprah's show in 1996 to discuss Mad Cow disease and other aspects of meat production. Meat sales dropped significantly after the show aired, and a chain of events began that finally ended in 2002 when after several appeals a Federal judge dismissed the case. Howard travels around the country and the world as an activist and speaker, and has a new book entitled No More Bull! and a documentary which should air on PBS this year. His non-profit educational organization is Voice for a Viable Future, which promotes "organic family farming, biodiversity, vegetarianism, environmentally friendly practices, and enlightened trade."

He's also our neighbor. Howard and his wife discovered and fell in love with Ellensburg during their travels, and left their home in Virginia to settle here. They are renting the house right next door to ours. They're very nice folks, involved in the community, and from what I hear, they cook a mean vegan spread.

Friday, March 03, 2006

A Better World is Possible

This unique Cuban transport vehicle, called a "camel", can carry 300 passengers. (Photo by John Morgan, from the Energy Bulletin website)

Check out how Cuba is way ahead on sustainability and building a society with minimal dependendence on oil.

A few highlights:
  • Today an estimated 50 percent of Havana's vegetables come from inside the city, while in other Cuban towns and cities urban gardens produce from 80 percent to more than 100 percent of what they need.
  • Cubans have moved to a primarily low-fat, vegetarian diet.
  • Government officials allow private entrepreneurial farmers and neighborhood organizations to use public land to grow and sell their produce. They encourage migration back to the farms and rural areas and have reorganized their provinces to be in-line with agricultural needs.
  • At the Organip√≥nico de Alamar, a neighborhood agriculture project, a workers' collective runs a large urban farm, a produce market and a restaurant. Hand tools and human labor replace oil-driven machinery. Worm cultivation and composting create productive soil. Drip irrigation conserves water.
  • Solar power is providing electricity for homes, schools, medical facilities, and community centers.
  • An innovative mass transit system was created out of necessity. Virtually every form of vehicle, large and small, was used. Commuters ride in buses, other motorized transport, hand-made wheelbarrows, and animal-powered vehicles. Government officials pull over nearly empty government vehicles and trucks on Havana's streets and fill them with people needing a ride.
  • The literacy rate in Cuba is 97 percent, the same as in the United States. Cuba's education system and medical system are free.
  • The Cuban government changed its 30-year motto from "Socialism or Death" to "A Better World is Possible."