Friday, December 26, 2008

Et Tu, Klean Kanteen?

Hi there! I hope everyone had a nice Christmas/Hanukkah/Thursday. My family and I had a wonderful day together, opening presents, eating too much food, watching Wall-E, and playing Monopoly.

Good times! But that's not actually what I want to write about today. Instead today, I'm going to talk a little about plastic. Or more specifically, the plastic found in the caps of Klean Kanteens.

So, as most of you know, my Klean Kanteen was stolen with the rest of my contents of my messenger bag. Which meant that last Friday, when Beth of Fake Plastic Fish and I went to Rainbow Grocery, I decided to replace it.

And that's how Beth and I found ourselve staring at a bunch of water bottles for about 15 minutes discussing the relative merits of one water bottle that had a stainless steel cap but came packaged in plastic versus another water bottle that had a plastic cap but was unpackaged.

Now, first of all, I want to clear something up. Beth says on her blog that I said that shopping with her is stressful. Now it is true that I did say that. But what I also said was, "This is why I don't shop!" It's not just Beth, it's shopping in general. Because frankly, being a non-consumer is much less stressful and guilt-inducing than staring at water bottles for fifteen minutes. I came extremely close to saying, "Screw it, I'm just going to use a glass jar." Except that, I'm sorry, I know Mr. No Impact Man uses a glass jar, but I just dont. want. to. I did the whole glass jar thing for a bit during my non-consumeristic days, and it made me feel a little like a bag lady. Also because I'm clumsy and always dropping stuff and glass, you know, breaks.

The point is, I needed a new water bottle, and the lack of a perfect option caused me to be paralyzed by indecision for fifteen minutes.

So. First off, Beth and I would like to encourage all y'all to write Klean Kanteen and ask them to not make the plastic caps their default cap. (Also it would help if Klean Kanteen didn't package the stainless steel caps in plastic, but one thing at a time.) Here's the email I wrote to Klean Kanteen:

I wanted to write to you as a loyal Klean Kanteen customer because while I
love your product, I do have a concern about your water bottles. Specifically,
that the water bottles now come with a plastic cap as the default cap. One of
the reasons that I switched to Klean Kanteen was to get away from plastic, so I
was disappointed when I learned that now Klean Kanteens all come with plastic
caps, and that if you want a stainless steel cap, you still have to purchase the
Klean Kanteen with a plastic cap and then purchase a separate stainless steel
cap. I would really love it if instead you offered two different options so that
people could choose to pay a little more for a Klean Kanteen with zero plastic,
if that's what they wanted.

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Okay, so that's my letter to Klean Kanteen, and if you want to email them, you can reach them at Klean Kanteen, 4345 Hedstrom Way, Chico, California 95973 or email them at original@kleankanteen.com.

But beyond that, there is something else I want to talk about, which is, this. There are very rarely going to be perfect choices. When Beth and I were at Rainbow Grocery, we found cocoa powder in bulk, and fair trade packaged cocoa powder. But we never found bulk fair trade cocoa powder. Similarly, my bulk food store in London sells bulk organic sugar. But it doesn't sell bulk fair trade organic sugar, so instead, I buy packaged fair trade organic sugar.

The point is, we have to make choices sometimes. And as frustrating as it is to have to choose between fair trade sugar in plastic versus plastic-free unfairly traded sugar, unfortunately that is life. So what I'm trying to say here, is, if you find yourself staring at sugar for twenty minutes, and you think you're going insane, well, you're not alone. I've been there. We've all been there. And in the end, you just need to take a deep breath, and make a choice. And then, yes, maybe talk to the grocery store manager about why they don't have fair trade sugar in bulk, or write Klean Kanteen a letter, or what have you, but, at some point you then need to let go and accept that you made the best choice you could make given the circumstances. Don't go home and beat yourself up over sugar. Or Klean Kanteens. Or cocoa powder. Because life is too short, and beating yourself up and feeling guilty doesn't do any good anyway.

Also, next time Beth and I hang out, we are definitely going to karaoke. But not because shopping with Beth is stressful so much as karaoke is just awesome.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Memery

I don't usually do many memes, but there are a couple that have seemed fun, and it's the holidays! So here's one I found at VWXYNot, and have subsequently seen many other places. You bold the things you have done, and I've put in italics the five things I rilly rilly want to do, but haven't yet.

1. Started my own blog - uh, yeah. obviously
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band- I would love to be in a band, but first I have to learn to play guitar!
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower -I'm actually not sure, but I'm going with no
6. Given more than I can afford to charity- how do you quantify more than you can afford?
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain- Half Dome! Not a big one, but I reached the top!!
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo 
11. Bungee jumped- nope, and I have zero desire to do this
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea 
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning - only minor food poisoning though
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty - no, I did go to the base of the statue though
18. Grown my own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train - several times in India
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill- only once, but yeah, during the WGA strike when there was very little going on at work, I took a sick day to attend a Hillary Clinton rally. It was such an incredible experience.
24. Built a snow fort - California girl, here
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse- I saw a total solar eclipse in Turkey actually with my family and our best family friends. It was one of the awesomest vacations I've taken. 
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors - yes, if you mean have I been to India in general. I've also been to both my mom's home state, and the city where she was born. But I've never been to my dad's home state of Gujarat, nor have I seen his birth city.
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied - sorta, though not anymore!!
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing 
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David 
41. Sung karaoke- I LOVE karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt- I think so, I've definitely been to see Old Faithful, but I was very young
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant- no but this is an awesome idea
44. Visited Africa- Egypt, Tanzania & Kenya so far
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris- I ... will have to check with my mom, but I'm pretty sure we did go to the top
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain 
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie- I have been in some not so stellar student films, yes
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business- sort of, I've independently tutored people
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies - I wasn't in the girl scouts
62. Gone whale watching 
63. Got flowers for no reason- I've gotten my fair share of flowers, but they have always been for some reason ... even if that reason was just "I love you"
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma - I used to be too scared, and now I'm not sure I weigh enough
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check- do people bounce checks anymore? Doesn't your bank just cover it and then charge you a fee for overdrawing your account?
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car- yeah, and I regret it. I should have bought a used car.
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating 
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit- sort of, I've gotten those mail-in settlements for things, and also I've been involved in a case that went to small claims court
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Ridden an elephant- In India when I was little

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why I Blog

Today I took the train up to meet a friend. She had told me that she'd pick me up from the station, in case it rained, and the truth is, I was glad to have her pick me up, even though I know I'm now a Londoner and should be inured to a little rain. 

It turned out we needn't have worried, as it was one of those gorgeous sunny days that California is famous for. As I got off the train, I rummaged in my bag to call her, and then saw her waiting right outside of the station. We headed off to get cupcakes and tea, where we spent a couple hours talking about life, family, school, work, politics, the environment, mutual friends, and boys.

As she dropped me back to the train, she gave me a hug and told me to call her the next time I came to town. And I told her that of course, I would. Because Green Bean is now one of my good friends. A good friend who I met through blogging.

And ultimately, this is why I blog. I mean ... there are a lot of reasons why I do it. Because I am opinionated and I like spouting off. Because I like to write. But ultimately, I blog because of the human connections.

It's not just the new friends either. Okham writes about how blogging has enhanced his pre-existing friendships. I've found the same to be true. ScienceMama and I have been friends for now ... 17 years. And yet, in 17 years, I don't think we've ever been as close as we've become in the past year. And I think a large part of that is because we both blog. 

It hasn't been entirely easy keeping up with the blog since August. At times, I've struggled to juggle everything. Several times, I've felt like I was neglecting you all. I have definitely had much less time to read and comment on other people's blogs. And yet, I can't imagine my life without this blog. Without blogging. Without all of you, some who I've known for 17 years, some who I feel close to despite never having met in person. 

Thank you to all of you who have been reading my blog this past year. Thanks for having patience with me during my blogging hiatuses. Thank you for reading my sometimes rambling, sometimes silly, sometimes too long posts. I cannot emphasize enough how much my life has changed, mostly for the better, because of this blog, and because of this community. 

Thank you to all my readers, and have a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On Food and Tom Vilsack

I've spent a lot of time in the past few months pondering the whole 'food' question. Namely, how are we producing it and why, who are the losers, who are the winners, and what the hell do we do now?

Some of the things I've learnt: 

The giant grocery stores are squeezing everyone dry. Walmart and Tesco may offer low prices, but those low prices come at a very, very steep price.

The money in food comes at the value-added step. So, simply harvesting cash crops doesn't allow for much of an income. The real money is in the processing.

Famines can occur even when there is food IN THE VILLAGE if people can't pay for the food. There have even been situations in history where the food supply has been taken AWAY from a famine stricken village to a city because no one in the village could afford the food.

On the other hand, when you give food away for free, like the controversial US Food Aid program, you risk depressing local farmers' wages even further.

GM crops *might* have a place. But we need to be really careful in figuring out what that place is.

Rules governing worldwide trade forbid many third world countries from placing subsidies or tariffs on food crops, but the US is still allowed to subsidize their corn.

The food situation is extremely complex, there are no easy answers, but I do believe that the way that we're doing things now simply reinforces current power structures that keeps the first world dominant over the third world.

I don't know what we do about our damn food situation. But I do know this: we need a major change. And unfortunately our "change" president has saw fit to appoint a "more of the same" Secretary of Agriculture. 

People. I cannot repeat this enough. Just because a Democrat will be in office, doesn't mean we can take our eyes off the ball. Vilsack might be our new Sec of Ag, but that doesn't mean we have to take things lying down. As Green Bean writes, we need to constantly be pestering him and Obama both.

Because at the end of the day, what's more important than the food you eat?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Our Most Valuable Natural Resource

I have to be honest. I almost didn't contribute to this month's APLS carnival. Because, well, the topic is about how children are our most important natural resource. And, well ... I just didn't know what to say. Because, I don't have children, and I guess, more importantly, it's weird for me to talk about children being the future, when I barely feel like an adult myself most days. As I emailed Green Bean, I'm in college, for crap's sake. Guys, I'm in classes with the future. And the future? Is getting drunk and hitting on me.

I've been listening a lot to the musical Avenue Q. There's a song, in particular, that sticks to me: "I Wish I Could Go Back to College." It ends with the following lyrics: "But if I were to go back to college, Think what a loser I'd be-I'd walk through the quad, And think "Oh my God...These kids are so much younger than me."

Yeah. That's my life lately. Hanging out with people younger than me ... some of them over ten years younger than me. And it's rough sometimes. Especially when people find out how old I am. I seriously had a girl say to me, "Wow, I hope I look as good as you do when I get to be your age."

Well, gee, THANKS. As an old lady, I deeply appreciate that.

It sucks sometimes to feel older than everyone else. It's not easy spending so much time with people who don't remember the fall of the Berlin Wall because they were two. Sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing. Or why I'm doing this now. Sometimes I feel like I'm too old to be in school and making no money.

But then there are the days when I'm reminded that with a little bit of age comes quite a bit of wisdom. Classwork comes easier for me than it should. I can confidently express my opinion to anyone. Blogging has made me a better writer and taught me how to form a cogent argument. My years of reading Hollywood scripts have prepared me to critically analyze an academic paper. And after writing a whole damn novel, well ... let's just say a 40 page dissertation seems like a cake walk.

At those times, I realize that though I have lived a circuitous life, I wouldn't change it for the world. Because every single experience I've had has helped get me where I am today.

So you know what? Screw it. Are the children our future? Sure, but you know what? So are you. Every single one of you. I don't care if you are six or if you are 72. We are all the future. And if I can quit a job I loved, leave a city that was home, and move halfway around the world on a leap of faith, you can take a leap of faith too.

I promise you.

Are kids a valuable resource? Damn straight they are. But know what else is a valuable resource? Maybe even more valuable for those scars and stretch marks?

You.

So do it people. Live life. Every day. Reach for your dreams. Don't let the idea that you're too old stop you.

Because, know what?

You ain't.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Priceless

Tonight is my last night in London. I intended to spend the early part of the evening doing a little shopping, packing and cleaning, and then get a drink with my friend. Instead, I spent the evening: at campus security, at a police station, and searching dumpsters in London alleyways. Because my school bag got stolen. My school bag which carried no computer, nor cash, but did carry my Klean Kanteen, my notes, my external hard drive, the charger for my laptop, and ... my wallet. My wallet which contained replaceable and unimportant objects, but was itself irreplaceable. My wallet which was my father's wallet. My wallet which was my father's wallet which I have carried on my person every day since he passed away. My wallet, which at the end of the day, was just an object, lord knows, this non-consumerist has learned that at the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. And yet ...

And yet.

My wallet which is currently sitting in some dumpster in London because it was priceless to only one person on the planet.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wherein I Weigh In on the Astyk/Monbiot Debate

Like a lot of people here, I'm sure, I found the recent Sharon Astyk-George Monbiot argument fairly fascinating, partly for the obvious reason that they're both interesting people and thinkers, and partly for the, ZOMG! George Monbiot of The Guardian is arguing with someone I've argued with! factor. That makes me like, two degrees of argumentation away from Monbiot, and when you're as argumentative and contrary as I am, that's kinda cool. So kudos to Sharon for getting the well-deserved attention and press.

Now, I'm not a published author like Sharon, nor the columnist for one of London's biggest newspapers, but I do have an opinion, a blog, and a desire to procrastinate writing an essay. So, I thought I'd spend some time discussing their discussion.

If you haven't read the discussion, you really should (here and here) but I'll summarize quickly. Basically, Monbiot favors a technological green deal, while Sharon argues that the costs for such a green deal come with “an enormous front-load of fossil fuels." Because Sharon doesn't believe we can afford, both financially and climactically, such an expenditure, she instead favors a 5 year plan of personal reduction of carbon emissions. She writes, "This is a drum I keep beating, not because I wish to undermine efforts to expand renewable energy, but because I think living in a 5 degree warmer world with wind turbines will be small, sad consolation." Monbiot believes Sharon's voluntary abstinence plan is pie-in-the-sky thinking, whereas Sharon believes Monbiot's green new deal plan is wishful thinking.

Now while I greatly admire Sharon's work, and find her to be an incredibly interesting writer, we do tend to occupy different spheres of the environmental blogosphere, so it's not particularly surprising that I disagree with her AND Monbiot. But first, let's start with where we agree. One, we all can agree that climate change is real and imminent. And we can all agree that there is a lot we don't know. Based on our limited information, Sharon posits that Monbiot's plan "has a 20% chance of success if it isn’t already too late to invest in a build out [ie a rapid investment in green technology], 0% chance of success if it is too late for a build out, but not too late to stabilize the climate at all with rapid cuts, and 0% chance if we’re already past the tipping points." She argues that her plan has a "10% chance of succes [sic] if we still have time for a build out, a 10% chance of success if we don’t have time for a build out and a 0% chance if we are past the tipping points."

And this is where I find both Monbiot's plan and Sharon's plan troubling: neither plan has a shot of working if we are, in fact, past the tipping point, whatever that is. Put it this way, I think there's a possibility, that even if we attempt Sharon's more conservative plan in terms of mitigation, we could end up with a world that is a few degrees warmer, and WITHOUT wind turbines. We are already seeing shifts in weather patterns, the ice is already melting. It is evident that global warming is not a future event; it's happening now.

The truth is the time is past for a strategy focused solely on mitigation. The focus now needs to shift to adaptation. Solutions that have a zero percent chance of success if we're past the tipping point are no longer acceptable as solutions. 

So what exactly is adaptation? To put it simply, if collapse is one side of the coin, adaptation is the flip-side. A neo-Malthusian view of society is represented by a J curve: that is human population grows and grows until we use up all our resources, and then the population collapses and gradually starts to rise again. But collapse is not pre-ordained! The flip-side to Thomas Malthus is Ester Boserup, who argued that "necessity is the mother of invention." A Boserupian view of the world suggests that we throw out the Malthusian J-curve, and replace it with an S-curve. The idea is that when resources start running low, instead of a collapse, societies figure out a way to adapt. So if oil were to run out, a society might collapse, or they might adapt by using different types of energy.

While Sharon is right that the costs for a green deal likely involve a large fossil fuel expenditure upfront, that is very likely the price we are going to have to pay to adapt. In this, I agree with Monbiot that a technological green deal is necessary.

But, once we've gotten our green deal, we don't get to slap each other on the back, and say "Job well done," because the truth is, a green deal is just the STARTING point. It is absolutely crucial that any sensible approach to climate change must focus on a reduction of human vulnerability to climate change. 

Just who is vulnerable? According to the IPCC, while all countries are vulnerable to a certain extent, the countries most at risk include the LDCs (least developed countries) as well as the small island states. The risk to small island states is fairly self-evident, but why are least developed countries so at risk? Part of the answer lies in geography: many of the LDCs are in areas where climate change will be particularly problematic: for example, Bangladesh is a flood-prone area as it is, and rising sea-levels will exacerbate those issues, while many of the drought-prone countries in Sub-Saharan Africa could suffer more critical droughts more of the time. But part of the answer is that LDCs lack the infrastructure and the financial wherewithal to reduce vulnerability. The Netherlands suffers from its own geographic problems: as a low-lying country with an incredibly high population density, you might think it was a Malthusian collapse waiting to happen, but instead The Netherlands is the poster child for adaptability. Their climate change strategy has included a $1 billion investment to retrofit their dykes. The difference between the Netherlands and some of the LDCs then is not a difference in geographic vulnerability, but a difference in SOCIAL vulnerability. The Netherlands being a rich country with a stable government has the money and the institutions to adapt, whereas Bangladesh or Malawi might not. Part of our response to climate change must involve increasing adaptational capacity in these socially vulnerable areas.

Not all adaptation will involve technological solutions. In one of the more extreme examples of adaptation, the Maldives is establishing a fund to buy a new homeland should rising sea levels render the small island unlivable. Other means of adaptation might include better response systems to floods and hurricanes (the evacuation strategy prior to Hurricane Gustav is a good example of this kind of social adaptation.)

The point is, the world is not static, nor has it ever been. Much as we might wish that things were different, much as we might wish that we could stabilize the atmosphere, and stop global warming in its tracks, most scientists now believe that even if we were to stop carbon emissions this second, we'd still see a rise in temperatures and sea levels. Thus, we MUST learn to adapt. 

For too long adaptation has been put on the back burner, because, OMG, if we teach people to adapt, then maybe people will stop trying to reduce carbon emissions. This approach is nonsensical, dangerous, and if continued, could result in a zero-sum outcome where we've neither built our adaptive capacity, nor reduced our emissions. Luckily, the IPCC is now on board with regards to adaptation, and there's a real chance that the post-Kyoto agreement will give adaptation the attention it deserves.

Sharon sees a real problem with a world that has wind turbines, but is a few degrees higher, and acts like it is fait accompli that such a world wouldn't be worth living in. But the truth is, we don't know what the future will bring. We don't know that a massive green deal would result in temperatures rising by a few degrees. But even if the temperature did rise, we don't know that human beings could not ADAPT to such a world. In any case, I think we had better try. Because the alternative is accepting that we might just be screwed. And frankly, I'm not okay with that being a possible scenario.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fasten Your Seatbelts, And Move Your Tray Tables to the Up and Locked Position

Um, wow. December 1st? DECEMBER 1st?! WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED HERE? 

I remember in first grade, our teacher asking us what the shortest month of the year was. And I, ever the brown-noser, raised my hand anxiously to say that the shortest month of the year was February. But she called on another student who said that the shortest month of the year was November, and the teacher AGREED with her. To this day, I still find this moment from first grade utterly baffling. Except that November sped by so quickly, that maybe my teacher was right after all?

It's odd, being in school. I alternately want to cling desperately to every day in these hallowed halls of academia, or I want to get to freaking break dammit because my head can't take more learnin! 

Although, I have planned out my winter break reading, and let's just say that it's a long, long list, so if my head explodes around New Year, you'll know why.

All this to say preemptively that posting might be a little light for the next two weeks as we wrap up the term. I do have good posts coming your way ... like a review of Commonwealth when I get around to it, and oh! oh! guys!! I totally get to hear Jeffrey Sachs speak this week, so I'll be posting about that. And of course, I have a couple posts due for various carnivals, including my recommendations for the Obama administration. 

So stay tuned, check your feed reader for updates, and sit back and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Am ScienceMama's Bitch

If any of you ever find yourself in a position of agreeing to cook Thanksgiving turkey for 8 people when you consider yourself a cooking idiot, all you have to do is follow ScienceMama's recipe. It will turn out brilliantly, even if you are in a country that does not have non-alcoholic apple cider, and you have to use pressed apple juice instead. It will turn out brilliantly even if you fail to realize that turkeys have TWO cavities, and so you inadvertantly end up cooking the bag of giblets inside the turkey. Not that that happened or anything.

So yes, the turkey was a huge hit at my expat Thanksgiving dinner. And the rest of the food was divine as well: homemade rolls, eggplant with stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetable risotto, pumpkin pie, baklava and mulled wine. Plus there was good conversation, a lot of laughing, and some Uno Stacko. What else could you want?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful My Family Is Safe

I just got off the phone with my relatives in Bombay. My cousin works near the Oberoi hotel, and apparently missed the attack on the train station by about 15 minutes. 

I'm tired, I'm heartsick, I'm dazed by the wreckage of beautiful hotels I have stayed at, but right now, for this second I am thankful that my loved ones are okay.

Hope you and your loved ones have a safe Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Too Busy Not Writing Papers To Blog

So go read this instead. (Full disclosure: the author is my uncle.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Eco-First Date

Well, since my post about engagement rings was so popular, I figured that I'd leap to the other end of the dating spectrum and spend some time discussing the first date today.

First dates are tricky enough as it is, but when you're a little eco-nutty they are even harder. You want to be yourself, but you don't want to seem too nutty on the first date. Best to gradually let the crazy come out. Hopefully by the time your sig o finds out that you don't use paper toilet paper, they will already be so smitten with you that they won't care.

On the other hand, you do want someone who will be reasonably tolerant of your green escapades, so if your date spends all his time mocking polar bears, they might not be the one for you. So, you definitely don't want to hide too much. For example, many many years ago, I went out on a date with a guy, and I let him pick the restaurant. Which isn't a big deal, except that I specifically told him that I didn't eat red meat, as at the time I was only eating chicken and fish. Now, I would imagine that as dietary restrictions go, no red meat is a fairly minor one, right? Well, guess where the guy took me. To a steak house. Yes, a steak house. In the Midwest. Know what was on the menu? Red meat. Know what was NOT on the menu? Things that didn't involve red meat. I ended up eating an extremely sad garden salad that literally consisted of iceberg lettuce, croutons, and ranch dressing. As you can probably guess, there was no second date.

So, you definitely want to be upfront about your environmentalism, if not entirely upfront about your specific enviro kooks. A date who is intolerant of said environmentalism is not a person you really want to be with anyway. BUT, this is not to say that you shouldn't say ... date someone who drives an SUV, or someone who eats factory farmed meat, or someone who doesn't recycle. Because the truth is, people change. Remember, most of us weren't born environmentally conscious. It took us time to become so. So if your date isn't Mr. or Ms. Eco, don't let that necessarily be a deal breaker. If you both really like each other, you'll probably adapt.

All right, so in sum, be honest about yourself, but not too nutty, and don't date environmentally intolerant people, but don't make their lack of environmentalism a total deal breaker. Everyone got that? Ok, good.

Now that we've got that out of the way, where are you going to go?

Some first date locales are definitely trickier than others. A coffee date, for example, is a pretty easy date. It's low key, it doesn't have to be too long, and it's not that hard to find local independent coffee shops that brew organic fair trade coffee. Even if you go to that non-independent behemoth, Starbucks, they do have fair trade coffee available. On the other hand, if you really like a person, coffee might not be your first choice in terms of first dates....

Then there's the ever popular drinks option. It's fun, having a drink can alleviate first date nerves, and here in London, it's surprisingly easy to find organic, locally brewed beer on tap. If you can't find organic locally brewed beer on tap, just do your best. I tend to give preference to what's on tap, both because it generally tastes better, and then you're not stuck with a bottle which may or may not be recycled. Then you might go for a local beer, unless your local beer choice is Bud Light, in which case, absolutely DO NOT GO FOR THE LOCAL BEER. If there is no good local beer choice, you might live in a region like California that has excellent local wines, so that's always an option. If you can't find anything local or organic that sounds appealing, don't sweat it too much. It's your first date, you're freaking out a little inside, and really, your choice of drink should be the least stressful part of the evening.

Dinner dates are probably the most difficult first dates to deal with. They involve a longer time commitment than coffee or drinks, and dealing with food is complicated even when you're not an eco-nut! If you're a girl, there's a lot of pressure not to be The Girl Who Eats Half A Salad, but there's also a lot of pressure not to be The Girl Who Eats Like A Pig. Similarly, if you're a guy, there's all this weird pressure to be masculine. Like, if you order a vegetarian entree, then maybe she'll think you're some super sensitive girly boy who likes to take baths while listening to Peter Gabriel. (Not that there's anything wrong with baths or Peter Gabriel per se.)

The point is, we all subscribe, at least a little, to the idea that you are what you eat. Thus, we can see what the other person orders as an indicator of sorts as to what kind of person they are. Not very fair, but thems the breaks on a first date.

So what to do? Well, clearly restaurant choice is important as illustrated in my sad steak house first date story. Many of us eco-nuts would probably prefer to go to the cute place downtown with really good food that sources their ingredients locally. But, your date might have other ideas, which, remember, doesn't necessitate that that person is a bad fit for you. Also, there's the added question of who is going to be paying for said date. Now, I'm not going to go into that little issue, as we all could probably write books about it, but what I'm saying is, if there's a good chance you won't be paying, then don't suggest a place which costs $50 per head.

So here's what I would suggest. Ethnic food, if you both are somewhat adventurous can be a really good option. One, because you can often find good ethnic food inexpensively, and when you're eating at an ethnic restaurant, all those steak/salad issues tend to disappear. What does ordering saag paneer or kung pao chicken say about a person? Nothing really, that I can think of.

Another good option is pizza. I know what you're thinking. Really, pizza? But your local pizza place is a really nice option because almost everyone likes pizza, it's reasonably inexpensive, and there are likely to be plenty of veggie and non-veggie options. Also, then you can throw in that funny story about how you tried to make mozarella, and ended up setting off the smoke alarm, and half the building had to be evacuated.

And that wraps up this week in first dates. Anyone else have some first date advice they'd like to offer?

Friday, November 21, 2008

What Did I Get Myself Into?!!!

I agreed to make a turkey for our expat Thanksgiving next Saturday. I, who does not understand what the words brush cut mean. I, who has a horror of raw meat. I, who can screw up the simplest dish on the planet.

Yeah.

So if you need to find me next Saturday, I'll be in the kitchen, breathing into a paper bag, hysterically dialing ScienceMama for the 3,000th time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend?

No, I'm not engaged or anywhere NEAR engaged, but I'm a girl, and occasionally I think about these kinds of things.

Once upon a time, I had decided that if I ever were to get engaged, I wanted a princess cut diamond from Tiffany's with a platinum band.

Looking back, I can't really believe that that was actually what I wanted. I mean, clearly it's what I wanted because it's what *everyone* wanted. But the truth is, that's not really me. Even if I didn't care about the cost, or the environmental factors, princess cut Tiffany's? Can you imagine that being ME? Okay, you may not know me very well, but trust me. It's not me.

Now, the non-consumer in me has a preference towards second-hand, err, I mean antique, rings. I'd guess an antique diamond would be insanely expensive, but there are other cool stones out there. If I ever wind up getting married, that would probably be what I would lean towards. I'm not particularly set on a diamond anyway.

But if you like the diamond look, what do you do? My friends were having this discussion, and I think people generally agreed that antique diamonds were great if they were affordable. A lot of my friends have diamonds that have been passed on from generation to generation so that's an EXTREMELY affordable option! And it's more meaningful to be wearing your grandmother's ring, I think. (Unless your grandmother had a horrible marriage, in which case I'm not sure if it is better, you know, symbolically.)

The other options are, of course, conflict-free diamonds and synthetic diamonds. Conflict-free diamonds, are again, probably expensive. Synthetic diamonds have the advantage of being cheaper, and as one of my incredibly wise friends pointed out, it reduces the general demand for natural diamonds which is probably a good thing. It's funny to think that natural is bad, and artificial is good, but diamonds are probably one of the few things where artificial really is the more environmental option by far.

Of course, there is a bit of me that is sternly chastising the rest of me (what can I say, it's hard being me.) Because, the truth is, engagement rings can hardly be classified as a need. Presumably, you're going to be getting a wedding ring soon enough, so the real non-consumer answer is probably to just forgo the engagement ring entirely. BUT, the tiny mushy romantic in me is hard pressed to give up entirely on engagement rings. I know it's unnecessary, but I freaking LOVE seeing my newly engaged friends' rings, and I love seeing them beam as they proudly extend their hands. I'm eco, but I'm not a grinch.

So for you married peeps, what kind of engagement ring did you get? Would you get a different one if you were making the decision today? Did any of you get your husbands engagement rings? And for you single folks, if you ever decide to tie the knot, do you have any thoughts as to what kind of ring you'll get?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Freeze Yer Buns, Update Uno

Well, this year, I again decided to participate in The Crunchy Chicken's freeze yer ass off challenge. Of course, last year I was in LA. Where it never really freezes.

This year I'm in London. Where it is cold, but seriously, guys, it is not as cold as I was led to believe. Maybe it's because I spent four winters in the freaking Midwest, but London seems more like Seattle than anything. It's just always kinda drizzly and gross, but it's not particularly cold ... yet.

Anyhoo, I pledged to go without heat in my dorm room. We have individual radiators in our rooms so theoretically we are allowed control over the heat, but I swear there HAS to be some sort of secret heat monster living in the walls, because I haven't turned my radiator on once, and yet it is still always hot in my room. To the point where I often go to sleep with the window open.

So. I guess I am technically cheating with the whole Freeze Yer Buns thing, since I'm ... not, but this is SO not my fault! The heat that is under my control is turned off! Can I help it if my dorm happens to have hot ... ghosts or monsters or whatever it is that is turning my room into a freaking sauna?

All I'm saying is that I'm having an easy time of it right now, but y'all know I'm doomed come June. Did I mention that our windows only open about three inches?

Monday, November 17, 2008

You Can Never Go Back

About a year ago, one of my favorite beans wrote a post entitled, "You Can Never Go Back." Because I am a shameless stealer, I am totally ganking her post title. Sorry, GB. Next time, trademark your post titles. Ha ha!

There are times, when I feel like I am slipping. The transition between continents, the move from a routine of working at an office five days a week to that of a being a student with no clear routine has been ... rough.

I am doing well on some counts. I walk to school every day. I haven't been in a car in at least a month. I live in a tiny room. I have minor electricity needs. I go to the natural food store and buy my massive cartons of tea, all organic, fair trade, and without plastic shrink wrap.

BUT. I am consumed by my failures. The many times I end up grabbing a sandwich, or a doughnut, or even worse a Dr. Pepper or a Kit Kat bar from the vending machine.

I am overwhelmed. I am unprepared. I am still adjusting.

Sometimes I worry. I'm getting lazy. What if I get too lazy? What if I eat Kit Kat bar too many? Is there a tipping point for a personal environmentalist? A point where we say, "Eh, eff it. It's too hard. Let's just go back to the way things used to be?" Or is it more subtle? Is it, that one day, we wake up and realize that we're living the life we used to live three years ago?

But then yesterday, I was at a shoe store. And the shoe store was selling several pairs of cute shoes for a mere £5. £5! That's only $7.50 with the new AWESOME exchange rate. True, none of the shoes were particularly sensible, but dude £5!

But ... I couldn't do it. True, the cost to me personally at the moment might only be £5, but I knew that the shoes really cost much more than £5. And so, it didn't matter that right now I would only have to pay £5. Maybe if the shoes were a necessity, if they were sensible, I would have considered it. But for cute but impractical Mary Jane's? No way.

And that's when I realized that it's true. You can never go back. That maybe I do slip up more than I'd like to. But I can't slip up unaware. I can't buy a plastic wrapped sandwich entirely guilt free. And that's a good thing. Because while we are all going to make mistakes, or get lazy, it is ultimately, our awareness that keeps us going. It is our awareness that prevents us from going back to the way things were.

So I'll keep plugging away. And some days, I know, I will fail. But I will continue to take things one day at a time. And every day, every single day, I will stay mindful. I will stay conscious.

Friday, November 14, 2008

In Soviet Russia, Shirt Wears You

Beer+Indian Food + 2 Brits+ 3 Americans + 1 Colombian= Ruchi having a Russian accent??!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Merely Useful

"Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else." - Aristotle

This quote has resonated with me quite a bit recently. I've always believed that money isn't everything (it is merely useful), and yet, I can't deny that money matters (it is useful). For me, wealth or money has been useful in securing me an education. I have the luxury of reading and studying for 8+ hours a day because I can afford not to work for the present time. And for that, I am daily grateful. 

Material wealth by itself can't buy happiness or love, but it can be a vehicle to further opportunity. It can provide us with education, health care, and security, among other things. 

What useful purpose does money serve in your life?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Urgently Requesting Help From The Blogosphere!

One of the things I'm finding is that grad-school is very much what you make of it. Meaning, that basically, there aren't constant problem sets. You're not continuously being quizzed on reading. You read, you don't, no one cares. It's also very unstructured, routine wise. Sometimes there is class at 9:00 am, and sometimes there's no class until 11:00 am. And sometimes there is no class at all.

So my question for those of you who have already finished grad school, or for those of you who are currently in grad school is: how do you create routine or organize your time? Are you really structured, or do you go with the flow? My new plan, which I admit is more of a theory, is that I should be working eight hours a day at school, like it's a job. So eight hours of work can include time spent researching, essay writing, reading, in lecture or seminar, in office hours, etc, as long as it is productive work. But I'm not sure how realistic this is. If eight hours a day is really enough ... and how much time I also need to allow for non-school stuff, or for school societies and things. On weekends, do I also need to work eight hours a day? How do you create work-life balance?

And, how do you create school-sustainability balance? Today, I bought a doughnut encased in plastic. And yes, I was sad about the plastic, but I was STARVING, and mmmm ... doughnut! I'm having a really hard time figuring out how to manage my eating when I'm on campus all day without access to a kettle or microwave. Anyone have any suggestions? I have difficulty waking up in the morning in time to make myself a sandwich for lunch, so when I worked, I would say, make a lasagna on Sunday, and then eat it for lunch all week, but without a microwave available at school it's tough. Also, if you have a way of avoiding the vending machine at midnight when all I want is chocolate, and the vending machine is RIGHT THERE a few feet from my dorm room, I would appreciate that as well. My waist line (and waste line) will thank you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On Writing Essays

One of the things that I've realized is that having a blog has given me a lot more confidence in my writing ability. I've always thought I was a decent writer, but clearly blogging for a year has built that muscle, so to speak. I've consistently been impressed by the quality of writing you get on the blogosphere, but I guess it shouldn't be so surprising. If you are practicing writing daily (or near daily), you're bound to get pretty good at it.

As a result, the essays I have to write for school are nowhere near as scary as they might be. I mean, don't get me wrong, they're still scary. But the dreaded word requirement isn't. Couple thousand words? Pshaw! That's just two somewhat lengthy blog posts!

So, this week I turned in my first essay two weeks early. My next goal is to turn in my second essay one week early, and from then on turn in an essay every week so that it's all nice and spread out and not too stressful. Let's see what really happens at the end of term, but I'm grateful that blogging has generally made writing a less harrowing process.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Think Global, Act Local ... And It's All Local

You know that book Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... And It's All Small Stuff? Yeah, I never read it either, but lately I've been applying that same logic to that ubiquitous phrase "Think Global, Act Local." Think global, act local ... and it's all local. If that hadn't been hammered home enough during the global financial crisis, it was certainly hammered home on Tuesday when people from all over the world rejoiced over the election of Barack Obama. Why? Because very simply, what happens in America affects the entire world.

Every act you make now has global consequences. As Bill McKibben pointed out in his book Deep Economy, American demand for plastic shower curtains produced in China is helping to pull many Chinese young men and women out of poverty. While I might not encourage people to buy new plastic shower curtains from an environmental point of view, I cannot deny that shower curtain factories produce jobs for people who desperately need them. In The End of Poverty Jeffrey Sachs talks to some Bangladeshi women who work in sweatshops producing clothes destined, most likely, for America. Although their work environments are poor, still, the women are grateful for the work, and for the opportunities they see arising from their paid labor.

I've always been a little wary about the idea of buying locally simply because I feel it ignores this component. And when locavores don't ignore the component, such as Bill McKibben, they often seem left with no ready answer. McKibben points out that globalization has increased the prosperity of many Chinese people, and I give him credit for that. But he never resolves the issue for himself. How do we deal with the legitimate environmental concerns related to shipping products around the world, and yet still ensure better lives and more opportunity for those workers in Chinese factories? If we, as environmentalists are telling people not to buy cheap plastic goods produced in China due to the hidden negative externalities of cheap plastic, what is the engine that produces equality?

Because here's the thing. The surest way to get less cheap plastic crap on the market? Is to make that cheap plastic crap more expensive to produce. And a great way to make that cheap plastic crap more expensive is if labor becomes more expensive. That is, if people have more opportunities, and better job possibilities, then working in a shower curtain factory is suddenly not so appealing. Why are there almost zero shower curtain factories in the United States? Because people don't want those jobs. Because labor is expensive. Because most people living in America can find better work that pays MORE.

So right now our global corporations send those jobs abroad where labor is cheaper. Essentially, in my opinion, the answer isn't to boycott goods made in China, but to reduce inequality. Because, frankly, when the whole world is making say, between $15,000 and $20,000 a year? Those plastic shower curtains are going to become veeeery expensive to produce. Why don't people fix their DVD players when they break? Because it's cheaper to buy new. But those $10 DVD players, rampant consumerism, and a need to buy new, new, new are built on the backs of cheap labor. Once labor starts getting expensive, so do the DVD players.

But besides all that, here's the truth. Those Chinese workers in the factory? They are part of my community. They are human beings, and thus, my people. And they have as much right to their dreams as does the person who lives next door.

So what am I saying? Am I saying that we should all start buying produce from South Africa because it enhances South Africa economy, that we should all start buying plastic shower curtains by the dozen from China?

No. But what I'm saying, is we need to start framing things differently. Buy local food, by all means, but buy your sugar fair trade, and your chocolate fair or equitrade. And next time you're dying for a banana, then get yourself a damn banana, just get it fair trade. Buy goods at your local mom and pop green store, but if the shoes you buy happen to be ethically and sustainably produced in China, treat that as a WIN, as opposed to a loss. Take the money you save by forgoing the plastic shower curtain, and lend it to someone in the developing world at Kiva.org. And the next time you have to talk to IT support in India, instead of griping about how you can't understand the accent, take a moment to remember that these IT jobs have enormously benefitted India, have pulled thousands and thousands into the middle class, and that the environmental negatives for phone support are fairly small.

We must stop viewing the world in terms of us versus them. There's only us. Think global, act local, but remember it's all local. So by all means, buy products from your farmers' markets, support the seamstress who lives next door. But remember, that the choices we make directly impact people all over the world, and not just our neighborhood. Remember, we are all human beings. We are all entitled to dignity, to food, to health care, to work, to education. We are all entitled to dream big.

*This is my post for the November APLS carnival. There is STILL time to get your submissions in. Write your post about buying local and email it to aplscarnival (at) gmail (dot) com.*

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thankful for...


Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a wee bit vain about my looks. And one of the things I've always prided myself on is my skin... that is until a few months ago when I used Body Shop's terrible plastic fish-killer face wash and ruined my skin. (Ok, not maybe AS tragic as the plankton that were indubitably killed, but tragic, nonetheless.) 

I found a new face wash, and the problem got better, but the breakouts never went away. One day, I had had it. So when I found this blemish stick with tea tree oil at my crunchy store, I decided to give it a go. 

And I have to say, it worked a miracle on my face. Who knew the magic of tea tree oil?

So, yeah, I know it's a little silly, but, hey it's Friday. So today, I'm thankful for my tea tree oil blemish stick. If you are susceptible to breakouts but want to use something natural on your skin, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving was always my father's favorite holiday of the year. One, because it was a secular holiday, and my father was an atheist. Two, because it involved family, friends, and food, and who doesn't love those things? An third. and I think, most importantly, because it was a time for us to reflect on our lives, and express our gratitude. So, every year, my father would insist that we go around the room and talk about what we were thankful for. He didn't care if we were at a Thanksgiving party of 20 people, or if there were a mere 8. We were all going to give thanks.

This year will be my first year spending Thanksgiving without my family. I'm not even a hundred percent certain whether there will be a turkey or yams or pumpkin pie. My heart aches knowing that I won't be with my family on my dad's favorite day.

But, turkey or no, I can still give thanks. So, this November, I'm participating in Joyce's Thanksgiving Challenge. Almost every day this month, I'll try and talk about something I'm thankful for. Some days I might explicitly say that I'm grateful, other days I might not, but in general, my posts for this month will be imbued by a sense of gratitude.

Today, I'm simply thankful for this holiday. For the opportunity to spend some time reflecting.
Happy Thanksgiving, all.

P.S. If you want to join the challenge, I don't think it's too late to join!! Visit here to sign up.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

They May Have Lost The Battle, But All Of Us Won The War

One more post, and then I'll stop talking about politics for a good while, I swear.

(Has anyone wondered what we, collectively, as a world- and I say world because the Brits here were as obsessed with the election as any American- are going to talk about now?)

There has been a lot of justifiable pride that the United States has elected it's first African-American president. And I have to tell you, that the pure symbolism of this is overwhelming. As I watched Jesse Jackson cry on CNN, I couldn't help but tear up myself. Who would have believed in 1968, that a mere forty years later an African-American would hold the highest office in this land.

But the feminist in me couldn't help wanting to give some equal time to the other "historic-ness" of this race, that is, that the Democrats came close to nominating a woman as their nominee, and that the Republicans *did* nominate a woman as their Vice Presidential nominee.

Now, let's put aside our personal feelings towards Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. (Full disclosure, I adore Clinton and voted for her in the primary, and I'm not personally a huge fan of Governor Palin.) But love them or hate them, I do believe that what the two of them accomplished was nothing short of astonishing.

Never again will it be questioned whether a woman can have a viable shot at the White House. We know a woman can. Both women were able to elicit votes and support from Americans who wouldn't consider themselves feminists, but who, nonetheless found something attractive in these women.

I know Sarah Palin isn't the most popular person around liberals. I'm not going to comment on her qualifications or her positions on this blog, but I will say this: I think that in a symbolic way, the Republican Party's nomination of Sarah Palin was a huge leg-up for women. Because it was a sign that now, women transcend politics. A woman can be a viable candidate from the right and left side of the aisle.

I predict, that from now on, we will REGULARLY see women running for president, from both parties. Maybe in eight years we will see a President Kathleen Sebelius, or a President Kay Bailey Hutchison. We may not have completely smashed that highest glass ceiling, but we've come far, America. So thank you Senator Clinton and Governor Palin. Thank you for fighting the fight. You may have lost your personal quests, but because of you, we all have won.

And thank you America. For proving to us, this election cycle, that it does not matter if you are black or white. It doesn't matter if you are male or female. The promise of America is still within your reach. This was a long, and often bitter race, but I think, in the end, we came a long, long way.

A Picture of My Ear...

And some other dude. I don't know what he's doing in there. ;)

No matter who you're supporting, please, people, exercise your Constitutional right and GO VOTE!! 

Monday, November 3, 2008

My Vote

I have avoided, thus far, from writing much about the Presidential election. Those of you know me know that I'm a political geek and a capital L liberal. And yet, I've restrained myself from writing much because, well, this isn't a political blog, it's mostly a personal environmentalism blog (among other things.) And I don't believe that climate change should be a right/left issue. I believe the environment should and does have the capacity to cross party lines.

So. For me, that has meant no editorials on why you should vote for Barack Obama, nor charts detailing who has the better environmental track record. I am not out to troll for votes. I believe that you can be a committed environmentalist and vote for John McCain, and what's more, I think, for the sake of us all, there *have* to be committed environmentalists on the other side of the aisle. The Democrats can't solve these problems alone; we need the support of ALL Americans.

But, all that notwithstanding, I have decided, today, to tell you a little about why I am proud to have voted for Barack Obama.

Once upon a time, I was a young girl, who, for whatever reason, dreamed of being president. (Side note: I should add that I have also dreamed at various points in time of being an artist, a maid, an actor, a lawyer, the president of NBC, a teacher, a singer, and an environmental activist. It's a long list.) But the stumbling block I kept coming to, whenever I imagined such a scenario, was that I was an Indian-American, the child of immigrants, a girl. Even then, at a young idealistic age, I knew that in America, you had to be white and male in order to become president. Anytime I thought about being president, I'd hit this stumbling block, and
eventually, I just gave up and stopped dreaming. Because even in my pipe dreams of pipe dreams, I simply could not allow myself to believe that it was possible. Never, no way, no how. I was an American, and proud to be one. I had thousands of opportunities, but president just wasn't one of them.

Then came this election. Suddenly the Democrats were either going to nominate a woman or an African-American, a second-generation American on his father's side. The promise that America holds for all immigrants: that it is a melting-pot, that she welcomes your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, that in America, ANYTHING is possible, well, all that started to feel really true.

This is what Barack Obama represents to me, and thousands of other immigrants, and children of immigrants. This is what Barack Obama represents to the many Africans, South Americans, Canadians, Brits, and Australians who have excitedly pressed me for details about the election in the past weeks. For us, Barack Obama is a symbol of what makes me proudest to be an American: the fact that we truly are a multicultural nation. That we are a nation where thousands of races and religions live together in peace. That we are country where you can eat Korean Barbecue and then drive up La Brea for Iranian ice-cream. That it doesn't matter if your parents came from Kenya, or India, or North Dakota; you CAN still become president.

And in the end, that's why I teared up a little as I checked Obama's name. I may not want to be president anymore, but somewhere out there, I know a young child of immigrants is now free to dream big.

No matter who you are voting for, may you vote with the same sense of pride that I felt.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Things You Cannot Say

There is a girl I have met recently. She is in my program, and she is an incredibly sweet, energetic girl.

And she reminds me of Kim.

It's not just that she's quite short, with medium-brown hair, or that she's got a cute voice ... it's not just her physical characteristics that remind me of Kim. It's something about her personality, her smile, the way she says my name that makes me catch my breath.

There have been a couple times, where I've almost said it to her.

But whereas, once I would have probably said, "You remind me so much of a good friend of mine!" it is now just to creepy to say, "Hey, you remind me of my dead friend!!"

Besides the obvious weird/creepy factor, I worry that if I give voice to this idea so early in knowing my new friend, that I won't be able to see her for who she really is. Because, clearly she's not Kim, nor a replacement-Kim. Kim will never come back to life, and there will never be a replacement-Kim, one has to face the facts. Best then to treat this fledgling friendship as any other, to treat my new friend on her own terms. Best to check my emotional baggage at the curb.

But it's not easy.

People claim that wounds heal over time, and I'm not going to claim that my experience is universal, but my experience is that they emphatically do not. But nor would we want them to. Just as a war veteran might gain a sense of identity through his scar, so too, do I gain a sense of identity through my scars. If I couldn't think about my dad, and metaphorically rub the scar that cuts a wide swathe across my heart, who would I be? Would I be a bad daughter? Or merely a forgetful one? I'm not sure, but I do know I don't want to find out.

Some days the scars itch more than others, and some days they positively ache. And some days, you purposefully press on the scar, to remind yourself what pain feels like.

Today, the 1st of November, is Dia De Los Muertos, a day for celebrating and honoring the dead, a day that has had increasing resonance in my life. You see, most days, for me, are about repressing the dead. Because thinking too much about the dead is essentially pushing purposefully on the scar. And though there is a validity to it, if I pressed on my scar every day, I would never be able to survive. So most of the days are about reducing the ache, ignoring the itch. Most days are about biting your tongue instead of saying, "You remind me of my dead friend."

Today, on the other hand, is a day of release. A day to grieve. A day to allow myself the luxury of crying for an hour if I feel like it. A day to play parlor games with myself: How would Kim have felt about the election? (Well she'd obviously be very excited.) Would my dad have enjoyed the latest P.D. James? (He might have, though its possible, that like me, he would have been a little deflated by it.)

Today I will honor the dead in the only ways I can. By grieving, by loving, by memorializing, by tracing the scars on my heart. For one day.

And then tomorrow, I will dry my tears. I will leave the scar alone. Instead, I will move forward, maybe email my new friend, and get to know her for herself over a couple of pints.

I think Kim would approve.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I Need an English To English Dictionary

In general:
I've noticed that Brits are very fond of the word "loads," as in, "I have loads of reading to do." I've never heard an American use that exact phrase per se, but we do say, "I have s**t loads of reading to do." Is that because we are more crass than Brits?

Today, at a convenience store:

Me: Hi, do you sell chap stick?
Shopkeeper: No.
Me: Oh, you don't?
Shopkeeper: Chopstick?
Me: Chap stick.
Shopkeeper: Right, chopstick, like the Chinese use?
Me: Uh, no. Chap ... you know like when your lips (gesturing to lips) are chapped (imitate rubbing chap stick over lips)? Like ... lip balm?
Shopkeeper: Oh! You mean Lipsyl!
Me: Oh, okay, lip...syl. Yeah .... I think so.
Shopper: Yeah, we call it Lipsyl or ... er, Vaseline. 
Me: Okay, I get it, we just call it chap stick because it prevents chapped lips.
Shopper: Well, some places do sell chap stick, but it's not the general term. It's Lipsyl.
Shopkeeper: It's okay, she's learning now.

Lesson learned. Lipsyl. But now I know what to ask for. In other news, today I had to give a half an hour presentation, and I kicked its ass. Take that abusive boyfriend.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Grad School Is Like An Abusive Boyfriend

Okay, maybe that's a little extreme, but seriously, sometimes I feel like I love grad school and it's so awesome! and I'm learning so much! And other days, I find myself in total despair at how little I really know. You know, the days, where you do the reading, and you have this feeling like your head is filled with cotton candy, and that you are a total impostor among all these other really smart, talented people who clearly know way more than you will ever know in your entire life.

Blah. I hate feeling stupid.

Fake Plastic Fish Wants YOU To Join the Plastic Posse

The other day one of my favoritist bloggers, Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish fame and fortune asked the masses to come join her in her plastic free world. Basically, I think she was feeling a little lonely blogging about plastic, and wanted some blogging company.

I can sympathize. Well I can't really, since everyone talks about non-consumerism, which was kind of my pet project last year. But I can empathize? 

Anyway, point being, Beth posed some questions to us about plastic to get the plastic-conversation going.

So, here are her questions and my responses:

1) What was it that first inspired you to eliminate plastic from your life? Was it a particular issue? News article? Experience? And when was this?

To be honest, I think Fake Plastic Fish has been my greatest inspiration to remove the scourge of plastic from my life! I also was deeply influenced by Elizabeth Royte, writer of Garbage Land, which, once again, if you haven't read it, what are you waiting for? I read Garbage Land last January, and FPF started being on my daily blog rotation around the same time, so it was really a combination of reading both that has made me drastically reduce my plastic usage.

2) What have been the 1-3 easiest changes to make?
The first change I made was before I even read anything about plastic really ... the obvious reusable bag instead of plastic bag change. The other changes I've made that were relatively easy? Let's see... well giving up the plastic water bottles. That was kind of a no-brainer, though I admit, the unintended consequence has been that I do drink less water than I used to. Bad Ruchi. Those were probably the only "easy" changes. I did end up using a lot less plastic in my year of non-consumerism, because as lot of plastic waste is in packaging, and if you're not buying, you avoid the packaging thang too. So that was sort of a bonus of the non-consumerism year. But really, other than that, I would probably say the other changes have been fairly difficult for me.

3) What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Definitely packaging for food and drink. I do really well with home-prepared food. I have my bulk food store where I buy my pasta and rice and beans. I re-use bread bags for produce. I buy stuff I can't buy in reusable containers in glass (my bulk store doesn't have bulk peanut butter, but the organic store down the street sells peanut butter in glass.) But being a student, I don't have much in the way of routine. So I'll often find myself at school at 5pm not having eaten anything all day for whatever reason. So I end up buying a sandwich in plastic wrap. I don't love it, and I wish I was a better planner, but I'm definitely finding it difficult to transition between working adult with a routine and a fridge and microwave at my office to hobo student who spends hours in the library and then realizes she's starving.

4) What one thing would you say to encourage others to lessen their plastic consumption?
Treat it like a game, or an adventure. One of the games I like to play is, can I get rid of my one-time use plastic this week? So I focus on a specific area, and then work on that. It also makes you creative in how you can re-use your plastic. I reuse my bread bags as produce bags (actually I don't anymore because I am buying bread not wrapped in plastic, but I used to.) Cereal bags have tons of purposes. I'm not as hard core as Fake Plastic Fish, so for me, the key is, I don't want to be using something once, and then chucking it. If I can at least get a few uses out of it, and spare some additional plastic, to me that's good progress. As for durable plastic, well, here's the non-consumer coming out: buy it used! I'm not opposed to plastic completely. Want a plastic DVD? Fine, but go get it used!

Well, those are my answers, but let's hear from the rest of you! Have you started to reduce plastic consumption in your house? What do you find easy, and what do you find difficult? And for more tips to reduce plastic, visit Fake Plastic Fish!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Elephant in The Room- Part II

Thank you all for your wonderful, and thoughtful responses to my post on population. Truly, I was so impressed and pleased with the civility and depth everyone showed on the question. In some ways, I feel like I don't even need to weigh in, but, well, given how much time so many of you put into answering my questions, I figure the least I can do is answer them myself! Plus, I'm a loud mouth. Since when do I miss an opportunity to express an opinion? ;)

Okay, so here we go.

To start with, is population a major problem from an environmental point of view? I think it is *a* problem, though I don't know that I would go so far as to say a *major* problem. Birth rates have already steeply declined in many parts of the world, and I generally see no reason to disagree with the UN's assessment that population will stabilize between 9-10 billion in 2050. Now, because a lot of that population growth is built in growth (due to large numbers of teenagers and twenty year olds in many countries), I don't think there's a real way to hold the world population down to 6 billion without instilling serious draconian measures. So, in a sense, I guess I see the neo-Malthusian debate somewhat of a red herring. The question for me isn't, is population an enormous problem, the question is, where do we go from here?

On to the bullet points:

  • Does it make sense to treat population as a quantitative problem (number of people) versus a qualitative problem ( one of lifestyle?) If we had 6.5 billion people on the Earth living lives similarly to farmers in Ghana, would we have a global warming problem?
To me, population is only very minorly a quantitative problem. I don't think the world could sustain any number of people, but I do think 9-10 billion people could live on the Earth in a sustainable fashion. I think population often gets conflated with lifestyle choice which often gets conflated with affluence. No, I do not think that everyone in the world can live like a typical American without a major technological breakthrough (and even then, I'm not 100% certain.) I don't think the average American lifestyle is a particularly sustainable one. But again, and I think this is crucial, this is not to say that the *affluent* lifestyle isn't sustainable. Anyone who has brought their Riot for Austerity numbers down to about 10-20% of the average American's understands that it is possible to live with a high standard of living (from a global perspective) but with much lower output. Similarly, most Londoners and New Yorkers live much more sustainable lives than the majority of people living in the suburbia.
  • Is it fait accompli that more people leads to degradation of renewable resources and/or increases in carbon emissions?
Okay, I'll admit, this was an unfair trick question. Is it fait accompli that more people leads to increases in carbon emissions? Well, it better not be, or why the hell did any country with a rising birth rate agree to the Kyoto Protocol! So my answer to this is an emphatic no. It is not fait accompli that more people leads to the degradation of renewable resources and/or increases in carbon emissions. In fact, if you look at population densities of the first world, it's interesting to note that countries with the higher population densities are often those that have lower carbon emissions. For example, the Netherlands is the 25th most dense country in terms of population and one of the most dense countries in the first world, but ranks 43rd in the world in terms of per capita carbon emissions. Conversely, the United States ranks 180 in terms of density, but comes in 10th at per capita carbon emissions. So higher population densities, far from obviously degrading land or increasing carbon emissions, can many times offer very positive benefits that improve land, and decrease emissions. To come back to New York, the reason New Yorkers have lower per capita emissions than the average American is precisely because density is higher in New York than it is in most parts of the US. As a result, New Yorkers tend to take public transit more often than the average American. 

  • Is disease Nature's way of "controlling" population? If so, is it fair to extrapolate from that that malaria and AIDS are Nature's way of "controlling" population, and that the Western Europe and the United States should not interfere with Nature?
I was really interested to see Hypoglycemiagirl's answer to this since she's an evolutionary biologist, and Cath's answer since she's a virologist. Virologist right? I get confused. They both had better technical answers to this, than I ever could, but I think in the main everyone who commented agreed on the most important part of this question which is that we should be using all the tools at our disposal to stop malaria and AIDS from running rampant in Africa (and other places). I am very relieved that we all were able to agree on this point.

  • What are the solutions? Is China's one-child policy a solution?
Here is where the comments started to get really fascinating and exciting. No one seemed to think China's one-child policy was the best kind of solution. I think Joyce, Cath, and Young Snowbird all eloquently discussed the problems with China's one-child policy. 

  • And more generally, where do we go from here? Given that we have population increases built-in, so to speak, what are the steps we can take?
Here again, I think people brought up excellent ideas. In general, education of women was mentioned as key. I agree, though I believe education of women has to be done holistically and should not be simply education of contraceptive options. That is, women need to be empowered, they need to be given opportunities, and the general health and security of women and their family needs to be of primary concern. For example, as Joyce pointed out, many women have more children because infant mortality rates are so high. So in order to bring down birth rates, it is not enough to hand women contraceptives, one must also work to bring infant mortality rates down. One of my professors discussed how having many children is a form of social security in countries where the states don't offer much in terms of old age provision. If the state is able to offer parents more financial security, they may well see birth rates decline as parents realize they don't have to have several children to ensure their well-being in old age. 

Beyond education and health, Cath and Melinda made some very interesting points that I think are very important to this discussion as well. Cath pointed out that several first world countries with declining birth rates are now reversing, and are thus encouraging women to have more children. Cath's point was, instead of trying to increase the birth rate, let's open up immigration in these countries! I completely agree with Cath in this regard. As the child of immigrants, and as someone who is now living in my non-native country, I think countries with stagnating birth rates should be encouraging immigration.

Melinda pointed to some of the discrimination/social alienation that childless or child-free couples suffer, and wrote as a possible solution, "Making it socially acceptable to not have children." I think this is an incredibly important point. Too many couples without children must deal with all kinds of social pressure to have children. I believe wholeheartedly that having children should be a personal decision. Just as I don't believe it's right to cast aspersions on parents who choose to have larger families, I do not believe it's right to cast aspersions on couples who choose not to have children. 

All in all, I think this was a fabulous discussion, and I want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to share your views. I think the civility of the discussion allowed people from a variety of perspectives to share their opinions. We had several moms of four children express their views, as well as several childless people share theirs, and we all managed to do so without personal attacks, and with everyone's feelings intact. So thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. You guys are seriously awesome.

And Speaking of Bookworms....

Want to read another review of mine? Go to the Blogging Bookworm for my review on The End of Food.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Be A Bookworm: The End Of Poverty

There are the great books that change your life, and radically shift your way of thinking. Then there are the great books that aren't life changers, but arm you with plenty of new information. And then there are the great books which are life affirming, which give you hope in humanity, which encourage you to keep striving for a better world. The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs is definitely that third kind of great book.

The premise for the book is simple: to provide a blue-print for how we can eradicate extreme poverty by the year 2025. And what is amazing is that Sachs is indeed able to provide such a blue-print.

Will it be easy? No. But Sachs makes a strong case it won't be nearly as hard as most people think.

Sachs writes eloquently and persuasively about how developing world economies can stabilize and grow, and provides several case studies including Bolivia, Poland, India, China, and Kenya. He offers tremendous insight as to why African economies have failed to grow, and fingers geography, ecology, and diseases such as malaria and AIDS as some of the key culprits. Yet, geography is not destiny, and Sachs argues that investments in transportation infrastructures, in sustainable agriculture, health, and education could turn around failing African economies. Moreover, he argues that such investments can be easily financed if the developed world donates a mere .7% of it's GDP to the developing world. That's right, for less than a percent of our GDP, we can pull the entire world out of extreme poverty. 

But for me, the most compelling part of the book was Sachs's discussion of the poor living near the railway tracks in Bombay. As Sachs talks about the danger these people face, and the need to empower the people, my mind kept drifting back to those poor children playing cricket near the tracks



These children are not an abstraction for me, but are viscerally imprinted on my mind. When Sachs writes that we can't afford NOT to help the developing world, I can't help nodding my head. 

Now for the warning. The End of Poverty is definitely not Light Economy. There are several discussions of Donna's favorite guy, Adam Smith. I actually *liked* the discussions of economics, but, well, I'm weird. 

Still, even for those of you who are a little econ-phobic, I'd urge you to push past the economics discussions and read this book. This book is incredibly important, now, in our time of financial panic, more than ever. There will be temptation by many to close the purse-strings, to offer less instead of more to the developing world. It is critical that we do not do so. The budget tightening that many of us are facing is miniscule compared to the downward spiral of poverty currently occurring in Africa. And it is important for us environmentalists to remember that it is the developing world, and especially Africa, that will be hardest hit by climate change, and indeed, is already being hit by climate change.

Star rating: five out of five stars.
Recommended for everyone who can stand some economics talk. Hey, Bono wrote the foreword! So if you hate econ, at least you're rewarded with some Bono?

Monday, October 27, 2008

And Now About APLS Not Apples

I think it's fitting that Burbanmom posted the APLS November topic the day after Apple Day! Go check it out.

An Apple A Day

On Sunday, a couple friends and I went to the Apple Day festival at Borough Market. Apple Day is a celebration of fall, of the harvest, and, well, of apples. The day was celebrated with apple peeling contests, a harvest parade, bobbing for apples, and an apple tasting.

Yes apple tasting.

As I sampled several breeds of rare apples, it occurred to me: this is what seasonal and local eating is about.

There are a lot of people who view eating locally as, dare I say, an arduous challenge. Locavores want to take our bananas away!

I admit, that I am often a cranky environmentalist, and sometimes I do see eating locally and seasonally  as a burden. 


But yesterday, I had a very different reaction to local eating: gratitude. Without the local food and slow food movement, the incredible variety of apples might well die out.

You see, supermarkets aren't interested in the Smart's Prince Arthur (the larger apples pictured right) because, well, the apples are funny shaped. No matter that they were my favorite apple taste-wise. I mean really. Since when have supermarkets cared about taste?

And I started to realize: what's the point in a market that carries the blandest variety of every fruit under the sun? I mean, I love me some bananas and mangoes, but having a store that carries tasteless plums, durable bananas, unripe mangoes, and only perfectly shaped apples doesn't represent a real choice. 


But what if that store sold twelve different varieties of local apples? What if we sought to become apple gourmands? Because as I can tell you now, all apples do not taste alike. Far from it, the apples I tasted varied in sweetness, in crispness, in pungency. I now know that apples can be appreciated like fine wines or cheeses. 

If we look at it this way, eating seasonally doesn't have to be a net loss. It can be an enormous gain. And while I might still eat bananas and mangoes on occasion, the majority of my fruit bowl will be comprised of local, seasonable fruits. Because now, I'm an apple connoisseur. 

This month Karen at Best of Mother Earth challenged us to think about gratitude. I am grateful for local food. I am grateful for fall and for harvest. And I am grateful to have five different kinds of delicious, juicy, imperfectly shaped apples lying in my fruit bowl right now.