Friday, May 30, 2008
But today was without question, the worst experience I’ve ever had on a bus in the whole of my 28 years.
This morning, I got off at the metro station, and was very excited to see the local bus pulling up to the bus stop.
Everyone piled on the bus, and the bus was almost full when the bus driver slammed the door in the face of this young African-American guy who was about to get on the bus.
Immediately, the red flags went up. "Uh oh," I thought. "I think I'm on a large vehicle being operated by a scary bus driver."
I kind of wanted off the bus, but at this point the bus was moving, and I needed to get to work.
“Oh well,” I thought. “How bad could this guy be, really?”
Pretty bad as it turns out.
One of the women sitting at the very front of the bus got really upset that the driver had shut the door on this guy and not allowed him to get on the bus. So … they started arguing.
The bus driver insisted he had a schedule to keep and that he had waited two minutes at the stop.
The woman insisted that it wouldn’t have delayed us really to let that one guy on the bus.
They went back and forth a bit, and then things got really ugly.
The driver started ranting, “I have a schedule! I have my business to keep! Maybe, in your country the buses can keep waiting forever, but I have to keep to the schedule!”
Of course that made the woman FURIOUS. “My country? This is my country!” she yelled at him.
And then he pulled the “No you di’int just say that,” line.
“Why don’t you just go back to your own country?” he spat at her.
Let me say here, I could tell by their accents that both the bus driver and the woman were clearly immigrants. So for them to be engaging in this kind of vitriol, for the bus driver to be telling this woman to “go back to her country” when he himself CLEARLY wasn’t born here was … profoundly depressing. I can handle xenophobic native-born. I’m not saying I like it, but I can handle it. But there is something worse about a xenophobic immigrant. Something more corrosive.
Then the driver pulled up to the first bus stop after the metro station, and stopped. He demanded she get off the bus.
So he refused to move.
We stayed at the bus stop for two minutes. Then three. Then five.
I started wondering what happened to his precious schedule now?
People started pleading with the bus driver. Other people started asking the woman to get off the bus.
Neither would budge.
Finally, pretty much everyone else EXCEPT for the bus driver and the woman exited the bus.
I called a co-worker to see if she could pick me up.
And then, after ten minutes of being stranded, the bus driver for a rapid bus courteously stopped and picked us up even though we weren’t at a rapid bus stop.
Thankfully I was only fifteen minutes late to work.
The first thing I did when I arrived at work was to call Metro to report the bus driver. Metro, of course, took a very different view of the situation than I did. The customer service rep told me that bus drivers are trained to stop at a station if they get into a fight which would impact their driving.
I get it. But frankly? I don’t think the driver stopped the bus because he was too angry to drive. I think the whole thing was a power-play.
And while I admit that the woman was out of line haranguing the bus driver while he drove, he’s the one who escalated it. Besides, crazy people heckle bus drivers every day. If he can’t handle it, should he really be driving the bus at all?
And finally, I believe that if the young black man trying to get on the bus had been white, the bus driver wouldn’t have slammed the door on his face. Am I reading too much into it?
I’d kind of like to believe that the angry bus driver was just angry and would have slammed the door in the face of any person, white, black, Latino, or Asian. But I really don’t believe that.
And now I kind of want to drive to work tomorrow. I wish that the Metro customer service rep had seemed more upset by my report.
I really hate the bus.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
My tips will not only keep you beautifully clad, but they are good for the earth and your pocketbook all at once. So here we go. Without further ado, I give you, the top 10 clothing items to buy used:
Wait, what? Used clothes are gross!! You really are a dirty hippie!
No, they're really not gross. Just stick them in the washing machine.
Listen, do you want an eco-conscious and cost-effective wardrobe?
Then get over it. Okay, once again, the top 10 clothing items to buy used:
10) Accessories. Ever stared at a belt, and thought, that belt is great, but $30 for a belt is way too much. Or, maybe it was a scarf that you had your eye on. Well luckily, you don't have to spend $30 on a belt. Instead, head to the thrift store and pick up a cool belt or scarf for under $10! If you are looking to dip your toe into the used-clothing water, this is a good one because there's really no "ick" factor with used belts!
9) Jackets and coats. Again, there's not much of an ick factor with coats. Plus they're really, really expensive in the store.
8) Vintage Tees. Here's a crazy thought. Instead of buying a tee-shirt that "looks vintage" at American Eagle, why not head to the thrift store and buy the real thing. Plus, vintage tees give you way more street cred.
7) Dresses for special occasions. You know how you buy a dress for a wedding, and you think, "Oh, I'll wear it to these five events!" But then, after the wedding, you kind of don't feel like wearing it to something else, because everyone's already SEEN you in that dress. I get it. I mean we don't expect Nicole Kidman to buy one gown for the Golden Globes and then wear it to the Oscars, so why should you wear the same dress to two weddings? So instead of wearing the same dress everywhere, buy a dress used. Chances are it's only been worn once or twice. Then wear it to your special occasion, and turn around and sell the dress to someone else. Then go buy another used dress for your next special occasion. Voila! Now you too, can never be seen twice in the same fancy dress.
6) Designer dresses for non-special occasions. Did I mention that I used to have a huge weakness for pretty dresses? I did. Especially, Betsy Johnson. I had an enormous weakness for Betsy Johnson. I would rarely buy, but I always HAD to go into the store and try on the dresses. On occasion, I would find something I LOVED, and end up throwing down $250 on a sundress. I wouldn't do it that often, but still, that's a lot of money. So I got smart. I skipped the Betsy Johnson store, and instead, just hit the thrift stores. One of my favorite Betsy Johnson dresses was a thrift store score. It still had its $350 price tag on it, but I got it for $35.
5) Designer jeans. This is a tip I learned from my fabulous friend Annie. Go to Nordstrom. Try out every single pair of nice jeans- True Religion, Sevens, etc. Write down all the info of the jeans you like: size, brand, line, etc. Then stalk Ebay. Within a couple months, one of the jeans you like will eventually show up and instead of costing $180, they'll probably cost about $50. Or you can just cruise the thrift store every so often. Because frankly? I've been to thrift stores everywhere from San Francisco to Milwaukee, and every single one had a decent selection of jeans, many of them designer label.
4) Hats. You know how you're always saying, "Maybe I'm a hat person?" and then you buy a hat, and then you realize that you have no opportunity to wear a hat? Yeah. I mean you should really stop trying with the hats, but if you can't, at least buy a used hat. Then when you realize you don't have a reason to wear the hat, at least you can sell it back for about what you paid.
3) Suits. ESPECIALLY if you're just buying a suit for an interview, and you don't plan to wear the suit every day to work. Don't waste a ton of money on something that will last an hour.
2) Maternity wear. I know, I know, all the stars are wearing Prada Maternity. But seriously? In a few months, these clothes won't fit you anymore. Buy 'em used, and then you can sell 'em back!
1) Wedding dress. She only wore it once. You're only wearing it once. NO ONE WILL KNOW.
And that is it! Now you can save the earth without looking like a fashion victim. Notice that used underwear is not on the list. That is because I may be a dirty hippie, but even I know that used La Perla is a fashion faux pas. But that's okay my fashionista friend. You can skip the fancy underwear. Because, the truth is, your man does not care about your underwear. It is what's inside your underwear that counts! (Wink, wink.)
Oh, one last piece of advice. Alter, alter, alter. You think all those Hollywood stars just naturally look good in off-the-rack clothing? No, they don't. So if you love a piece of clothing, but it doesn't fit you quite right, take it to a tailor, and have them alter it to fit your body. Trust me. You will thank the dirty hippie later. (If you are planning to re-sell the item, you want to be a little more careful about this.)
And that's it. Good luck, fashion mavens! Good luck, and good (used) shopping!
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
The point is, it is not a sign of weakness or human frailty if you rely on others. Sure, I may not want to rely on conventional produce shipped from Chile, but I am happy to rely on the farmers at the farmers' market. I'd rather pay these farmers than grow my own food, and really, that's okay. Because by opting in to the farmers' market, I am creating a demand for small, local farms. I may not have much desire to grow food, but by buying a small farmers' produce, I'm making his or her dream come true. We aren't weaker or food insecure when we rely on eco-conscious systems like farmers' markets and CSAs. In fact, we are building a more secure and happier future.
It's all a question of time and money. Which can you more easily afford? I'll continue to cook my meals, because I can't afford (yet) to pay for organic, local meal delivery. But I'll get my pants hemmed by a tailor, because I can afford that, and I'd rather have someone else do it. I'll buy at the farmers' market, because I can more easily afford the money than the time to grow my own produce. And while I might dabble in making jam this summer, in January, I will happily plunk down the money for someone else's homemade jam.
We don't have to do it all ourselves. In fact, relying on others might make us happier, more relaxed, and more focused. I can't do it all, but I get by with a little help from my friends.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has promised not to support this constitutional amendment. Given that he's a Republican and a fairly popular governor, this is wonderful news for gay rights advocates. However, the Governor is currently being flooded with calls asking him to support the constitutional amendment.
If he doesn't hear from progressives, he might change his mind!
Please call Governor Schwarzenegger's office to voice your support of the Supreme Court decision. It's a completely automated system. You won't speak to anyone, nor will you be able to leave a message. It's kind of like voting for American Idol, except instead of choosing a pop-star, you're supporting gay rights!
Here's what you do:
Call 1-916-445-2841 (Governor`s office). Wait until you are instructed to press 1 for English, then: press 1, 5, 1, 1
(1=English / 5=opinion / 1=court / 1=support)
And that's it! Please call today. As Shannon so eloquently put it, "Everybody has a right to their fairytale." So pick up a phone and let's prove that fairytales do come true.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Here's Colin's plea:
I really, really need support from all of you today (and I'm unashamedly bribing you with the offer of free Reverend Billy DVDs). But first I have to give you some background. Just read the bits in bold if you're in hurry.
Next Friday, May 30, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York's Eight Congressional District has kindly agreed to meet with me in his New York office. As one of his constituents, I intend to ask Representative Nadler to support an effective global warming mitigation policy that is based not on what is politically possible but on what is scientifically necessary.
More specifically, I intend to ask him to:
Introduce, as soon as possible, a non-binding resolution to the House of Representatives asserting that we need a climate change mitigation policy with a goal of no more than 350 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide (read why here). Furthermore, the resolution should say that the United States must collaborate with the international community to achieve an effective successor to the Kyoto Protocol that will achieve the 350 goal or better (depending on how the science progresses).
Pledge to support the 1sky.org policy platform that also includes creating five million green jobs (through, for example, weatherizing our buildings and manufacturing solar panels and windmills), and placing a moratorium on the building of new coal power plants.
Pass on to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter addressed jointly to her and Representative Nadler, in his position as Assistant Whip, asking them both to push for the introduction of new and the strengthening of currently pending climate change legislation to reflect the crucial 350 goal. This means, at the very least, aiming for an 80% reduction in climate emissions below 1990 levels by 2050 and a 25% reduction by 2020.
Now then, here's how I was hoping you could help. My dream is to present Representative Nadler and Speaker Pelosi with between 350 and 3,500 (10 x 350) emails of support for these policy objectives.
Can you help? All it requires is a cut and paste job (see below).
Fellow bloggers: would you be willing to pass this request onto your readers?
Everyone: would you email this around and get your friends to pitch in?
Two bits of good news:
Representative Nadler has been an ardent supporter of environmental issues ranging from the thorough cleanup of the World Trade Center site to securing federal funding for state conservation and wildlife grants. He received a score of 95% for his voting record in the 1st session of the 110th Congress from the League of Conservation Voters.
Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping have provided me with five copies of their new DVD, What Would Jesus Buy (watch the trailer here). I'm going to give the DVDs to people who send in their emails of support (the 1st, the 35th, 100th, the 350th and the 1000th).
Here's how to send in your email of support:
Simply cut and paste the below, making sure to substitute in your name, mailing address and email address, and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org (it looks like a weird email address but, don't worry, it will work).
Dear Representative Nadler and Speaker Pelosi--
Thank you for your hard work on behalf of the people of the United States. It is indisputable that the health, happiness and security of the American people depends upon the well-being of our planetary habitat. It is also indisputable that the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases is causing changes in our habitat that will adversely effect Americans on every level--from our health to our economy.
On May 30, Colin Beavan aka No Impact Man will visit Representative Nadler to express to him support for a number of climate change mitigation policies that are much stronger than those currently passing through Congress. Please consider this a letter of support for the measures Colin Beavan will be advocating.
Specifically, I support Colin Beavan in requesting that Representative Nadler and Speaker Pelosi both, together or separately:
Introduce, as soon as possible, a non-binding resolution to the House of Representatives asserting that we need a climate change mitigation policy that accords not with what is politically possible but what is scientifically necessary--a goal of no more than 350 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide (read why here). Furthermore, this resolution should assert that the United States must collaborate with the international community to achieve an effective successor to the Kyoto Protocol that will achieve the 350 goal or better (depending on how the science progresses).
Pledge to support the 1sky.org policy platform that also includes creating five million green jobs (through, for example, weatherizing our buildings and manufacturing solar panels and windmills) and placing a moratorium on the building of new coal power plants.
Push for the introduction of new and the strengthening of currently pending climate change legislation to reflect the crucial 350 goal. This means, at the very least, aiming for an 80% reduction in climate emissions below 1990 levels by 2050 and a 25% reduction by 2020.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
But anyway, welcome! I started this blog as a way to chronicle my one-year adventure in non-consumerism. (To see my rules, click here.)
Because one adventure was not enough, I began a series of personal monthly challenges. You can read about all the different challenges in the archives, but some of my favorites were the Slow Food Challenge in December and the Public Transit Challenge in April. And, I'm not revealing anything yet, but I have the June challenge already figured out, and let me tell you, I am really excited for it.
I like to talk about the little things, and I like to be silly, but I also sometimes like to talk about the big things too. Most importantly, I like to live in the gray. I choose to embrace the dichotomy of living a lesser-impact life in a higher-impact world.
Imagine it's 2:00pm and you're at the top of a hill. On one side you can see see a magnificent city. On the other side, is a gorgeous valley, a veritable rural pastiche. What is your eye drawn to? Where do you find beauty? People are going to have different answers depending on their sensibilities. Some will be drawn to the city rooftops, others the colorful wildflowers that dot the landscape. Still others will be drawn to the forest of trees beckoning silently in the distance.
Now imagine you're at the top of the same hill. But it's now 11:00pm. What is your eye drawn to down below? Where do you find beauty now? In the lights of the city, right? Because you see, those lights don't just represent industry and technology, they represent humanity. They remind us, even when we're all by ourselves on a hilltop, that somewhere not so far from us, someone is falling in love, and someone is getting his heart broken. And someone else, is just kicking back and ordering a pizza. Just as there is beauty in nature, so is there beauty in the industrial.
I believe we are all industrialists, we are all technologians (you are reading this on a computer, right?) And if "eating is an agricultural act" then we are all agrarians, and anyone who's been outside is a naturalist. And that's okay. In fact that's more than okay, it's great! Because to me, being an environmentalist isn't about renouncing technology or trying to live the life of a peasant. Being an environmentalist is about embracing nature yes, but it's also about embracing technology. Being an environmentalist is about figuring out how to extend the American dream to every person on this earth.
By the American dream, I don't mean that I believe everyone in the world has an inalienable right to more crap. I don't mean we should all be shopping at the Gap, eating at MickeyD's and purchasing yogurt in strange tubes.
Instead, when I talk about the American dream, I am talking about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I am talking about justice, about optimism, creativity and entrepreneurship. And yeah, I'm also talking about drinkable water, food to eat, liveable wages, and a light to read by.
I've often thought that I set out to save the world, but ended up saving myself. Because of my journey, I am happier and healthier. Some people see my life of not-buying and they think, "Oh poor her. She's so deprived."
But I've never felt less deprived in my life. Because all that stuff I'm not buying? Turns out don't need it. Instead, I live each day more conscious of what I HAVE. I was born into the first world. I went to a top-notch public school. I grew up believing that I could have anything I set my mind to.
And I do. I live in one of the most vibrant cities in the world. I have access to great cultural institutions, restaurants, theatres, and cinemas. I can walk to the subway, and read on the train. I have a good job, great friends, and a 401(k) AND an IRA. And I have more money to give to good causes. Feeling blessed with what I have has made me a more generous person.
I have plenty of stuff too. And you know what? I love much of my stuff, I do and I'm thankful for it too, but frankly, the world has so much more to offer us than stuff.
And that's what I'm about. Stick around, peruse the archives, leave a comment, and come back again soon!
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Who would you pick to be your four wagon-mates on the Oregon Trail?
1) Richard Branson- because he could fund our trip in style. And also because of his experience in the transport industry. Maybe he would attach fuel cells to our wagons? That would be cool.
2) Sarah Michelle Gellar/Buffy the Vampire Slayer-because I think we need a little martial arts mastery on our side. Plus, I would bet she's a good shot.
3) Jon Stewart- to inject some levity into our harrowing trip.
4) Roger Federer- I could say it was because he was athletic, or because sometimes it might be fun to camp out and play some tennis. But really, it's because he's hot. Sue me.
1) Chile- For her mad repurposing and reinventing skillz. Seriously, ford a river? Chile, would be like, whatever, give me some rope and a broken axle wheel and I'll just build you a bridge.
2) Student Doctor Green- because, duh. Doctor is her middle name.
3) CAE- she seems to spend a lot of time in kayaks. I think this might be helpful. Kayaking, rafting down rapids, same diff, right?
4) Crunchy Chicken- Because she's a total badass. Does anyone really doubt Crunchy would make it to Oregon, handing out diva cups and cloth pads to all the Indians along the way?
Your turn! Who would you pick?
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Monday, May 19, 2008
I really, really wanted to love In Defense of Food. I adored The Omnivore's Dilemma, and to say it changed the way I eat would be an understatement. The Omnivore's Dilemma changed the way I looked at food, thought about food, ordered food, ate food, and how much I savored food. So, in a sense, I feel inclined to give Michael Pollan a pass. How many life-style altering books can one person write?
Still, the truth of the matter is In Defense of Food is sloppy. And I wouldn't want anyone to read In Defense of Food first and then decide to forgo Omnivore. So I say this to you as a public service of sorts. Read The Omnivore's Dilemma. Relish every word. Then skip In Defense of Food.
The full title for In Defense of Food is In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, and that is exactly what the book is, but not in a good way. Although Pollan makes a valiant attempt to give the book structure, this is a rambling manifesto moving from subject to subject without a cohesive thread. Because the reality is, Pollan ignores essay writing 101. He gives us a thesis of sorts (Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants) but then fails to really provide support for said thesis.
In fact, the argument he seems most concerned with making is that the Western diet is a mess, and that all other ethnic/indigenous diets are better. I'm not going to disagree that the Western diet has its problems, but I've got to level with you: the Indian diet, though rooted in culture and tradition, isn't the healthiest one for you either. The truth is, our diets evolved from a time that food was somewhat scarce, and human beings needed quite a lot of calories because we engaged in calorie-burning activities. I understand that the book is not "An Exerciser's Manifesto," but we cannot talk about our well-being, we cannot talk about diet, if we completely ignore the exercise quotient. While eating chapatis with plenty of ghee probably served my ancestors well, it's not the best diet for a woman who sits in front of her computer for 10 hours a day.
Pollan does address the fact that most Westerners eat too many calories, but he never fully acknowledges that when other cultures have started adopting a more calorie-filled, sedentary lifestyle, their health has slipped even though they might still be eating traditional foods instead of Bagel Bites and french fries. This is a deeply personal issue for me. My father died at 54 of a massive heart attack, and South Asians in general are at a high risk for heart disease. By making a monster out of the "Western diet," (and what does that mean, really?) Pollan does himself and his readers a disservice.
Because Pollan is so intent on demonizing the "Western diet," his thesis, "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants," gets neglected. At times, even, Pollan completely contradicts his thesis when he mentions various indigenous groups who are perfectly healthy even with very few plants in their diet. It turns out that the truth is not so simple. Many of the problems with a Western diet stem from our move from a leaf and seed based diet to a seed-based diet. Nutritionists now believe we need a proportionate ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3, but because seeds contain mostly Omega-6 and very little Omega-3, most of us have too much Omega-6 in our diet, and too little Omega-3. Paradoxically, because many "leaves" as such are not really part of the human diet (grass, algae, etc) one of the best ways to boost your Omega-3 count is to eat more fish and more grass-fed beef. In other words, eat more grass-eating meat. And eat more plants, but try to eat more of the leaves, and fewer seeds. Although when I started the book, Pollan's thesis "eat mostly plants" made good sense, his book actually convinced me that I personally need to eat more of the right kind of meat.
I don't mean to entirely write-off In Defense of Food. There certainly was some important information that I learned, especially about the value of Omega-3. But I find it a little ironic that a book that sold itself as an "escape from nutritionism" actually spent most of its time resorting to said nutritionism. (To his credit, Pollan admits this himself.) I guess the unfortunate truth is, the question of what to eat is simply more complicated than we would like. Even for Michael Pollan.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Oh, right. I should maybe introduce myself. I'm arduous. That's me and this is my blog. Moving on.
NYAQ (Not Yet Asked Questions)
Q: Arduous? That's an ... interesting name.
A: Thanks! My dad named me!
Q: Wait so it's your given name?
A: Well ... yes, in that it was given to me. I mean, it's not the name on my birth certificate. But it is pretty much all he ever called me.
Q: Why on earth would he call you 'arduous?'
A: Because it's the word I missed in the fourth grade spelling bee.
A: Basically, yeah. Well, and also, because I can be a difficult person (see my profile.) And also because arduous sounds a little like an iteration of my birth name. But it never would have happened if it weren't for that bee.
Q: Does your dad still call you 'arduous?'
A: Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago. That's kind of why I'm using it here. Names fade away if they're never used, and ... I don't want this name to fade away.
Q: I'm sorry.
A: Hey, as my dad, would say, LILT.
A: Life Is Like That.
Q: He sounds great. Hey one more thing?
Q: The picture?
A: I know, right! Can you believe that I am NOT an artist?
Q: It kind of sucks. Even for a stick figure.
A: Shut up.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Come January, we will have a remarkable opportunity to not only reverse the damage from the past eight years, but to enact a more sweeping liberal agenda the likes of which the country hasn’t seen since the 1960s. Democrats will most likely retain the House and Senate, liberal groups are stronger than ever, and increasingly the American people support liberal policy. And the first ninety days, the so-called “honeymoon period” where the media typically refrains from much criticism of the administration are vitally important.
So what should be the number one priority for the first ninety days? To me the answer is obvious. In fact it's so obvious and so vital that I believe that every liberal organization from Planned Parenthood to Greenpeace to Moveon.org should let go of their internal agenda for ninety days and focus on one thing:
Universal health care.
I cried when I read the news. And then I almost did a happy dance in my cube, but my co-workers already think I'm crazy. So I'm just doing a happy dance in my head.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Thanks to Green Bean, we now have a beautiful button that you can show off on your blog page! I would give you the code to add it to your own blog, but Blogger hates me so I can't. But luckily Green Bean has the code up on her page, so just mosey down there and get it!
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
But perhaps the most annoying response is from people who adopt a sort of holier than thou tone and say stuff like, "Wait, you're still allowed to buy used stuff? Or go to restaurants? I mean isn't that ... like ... cheating?"
Yes, I still buy used stuff, I still go to restaurants, I still go to movies, I still go to plays, I still go to concerts, I still pay for high speed internet, and I still occasionally download music from iTunes.
I'm not a martyr and I did not start this project in order to receive accolades from strangers for living an austere life.
In fact, I became a non-consumer because I saw Evan Osnos discuss how the high demand for cashmere has damaged much of China's land. It's the environmental and humanitarian costs of new stuff that has led me, personally, to stop buying it.
After I watched Evan Osnos on The Colbert Report, I weighed my options and ultimately decided to stop buying new durable items for a year. I further decided not to buy any clothes period, because I already had so many pieces of clothing in my closet that never got worn, that I thought it was stupid to buy any more clothing.
I could have gone further. I could have tried not to buy anything at all for a year like Judith Levine. Ultimately though, I decided that I wanted to make a choice that I might be able to sustain beyond a year. For me, non-consumerism is like a diet. If you get rid of all sweets altogether, once your diet ends, you might find yourself binging on the sweets and end up gaining back all the weight you lost. On the other hand, if you still occasionally allow yourself sweets, you might find that your eating habits are just generally more healthy once the diet is over. My hope is that while on August 3rd I will technically be allowed to go out and shop till I drop, I won't actually want to shop.
So that's why I still buy used, why I eat at restaurants, and why I still go see plays. It's because my beef is primarily with "stuff," how it's produced, the conditions under which it is produced, and what happens when I get bored with said stuff. But after partaking in this project for so many months, I've realized that there's more to my buying philosophy than just that.
You see, when I started my project, my economist uncle seemed a little perturbed. Because, well, what happens, if everyone stops spending money? The economy tanks.
I'm not an anti-capitalist and I support a strong economy, but when I began my project, I did so thinking, "Yeah, if everyone stopped buying new stuff, the economy would tank, but since everyone's not going to stop buying new stuff, we'll be okay." In retrospect, that was kind of a weird position to take since most personal environmentalism is always couched in terms of, "If everyone did X we'd save Y energy." But as I've mentioned before, I kind of dove in with this project without really considering the consequences.
But the truth is, I never really stopped spending money. I've been calling myself a non-consumerist because I'm not buying new stuff, but a true non-consumerist would probably be hoarding gold bricks under her bed. Which is decidedly not what I'm doing. Instead, I'd probably be better classified as an alt-consumerist.
About 13% of my money gets split between my 401(k) and my savings account. That's certainly higher than the 5% I was managing before I began the non-consumerist project, but it's not an insane amount. In fact, I think it's fairly reasonable, and probably around the amount we would want most Americans to save. When you keep money in a savings account, 401(k), or IRA, you are still contributing to economic growth because your money continues to be in circulation. Given that, I think personal savings rates of around 15-20% are not incompatible with economic growth.
As for the rest of the money? Well, it goes to rent, my car loan, food, car insurance and utilities. All clear signs that I am continuing to participate in the economy. Like many Americans, I suspect, I don't have a ton of discretionary income left after I pay for all that. The money I have left over gets spent mostly on experiences (eating at restaurants, travel, concerts, etc) and charitable donations.
I said that when I began my project, I thought that if everyone did as I did, the economy would tank. I no longer believe that. Sure, if everyone became a non-consumer or alt-consumer, the economy would go through some rough patches, but eventually we would switch from a product-based economy to an experience or service-based economy.
We're already headed in that direction anyway. America no longer manufactures many products, and buying products made in China mainly serves to increase our trade deficit. Services on the other hand, cannot be easily outsourced to another country. It's just not that easy to have someone in Asia wait on your table or give you a massage. As far as the American economy is concerned, buying services instead of stuff is a winning proposition. (It's true that buying less stuff would be a blow to China's economy, and that is something to consider, but I have to believe that there are better ways to bring prosperity to the Chinese than to make young Chinese boys manufacture crappy plastic toys in inhumane conditions.)
The experience based economy is my new hope for America. I believe that by buying experiences instead of stuff, we can be happier and more fulfilled. We can spend more time with the people who matter. We can afford to donate more money to worthy causes. In short, we can focus on living instead of on accumulating.
Monday, May 12, 2008
APLS ("Apples") - Affluent Persons Living Sustainably
Congrats, Mr. GB! Contact me via comments or email with your non-profit/charity of choice!
Thanks to everyone for all the great suggestions. Needless to say everyone came up with better acronyms than YAWN.
Now let's get to work popularizing APLS! If we don't want to be stuck with YAWN we've got to go wide with APLS. So do all you can to make APLS stick. I suck at graphic design, but I would love to see a little sidebar button with the "APLS" designation if anyone wants to take that on....
By the way, for those of you who aren't so sure about whether you qualify as "affluent," I direct you to this site. You're probably richer than you think!
Friday, May 9, 2008
You know, like a YUPPY or DINK or an SOB.
This is very exciting to me because I am obsessed with acronyms. I think it comes from my dad who used to refer to everything by its acronym.
For example, he often used to say: "Witbud, Arduous! Witbud!"
Now you may be thinking, "What the hell is a Witbud?"
Well, in fact "Witbud" is how one pronounces the acronym "WTBD." Which stands for, "What's The Big Deal?"
I don't know if you've met many or any teenagers, but to teens, EVERYTHING is a big deal.
So sometimes I would go into the litany of HUGE PROBLEMS with my LIFE.
To which my dad would respond, "Lilt!"
You are probably wondering, do they ever speak English?
But "LILT" IS English. Sort of. It means, "Life Is Like That."
Like the traditional, "Life Isn't Fair," saying only with more zing.
So you can see how someone who grew up in a very pro-acronym household might be excited to have an acronym of her very own.
And these people, they were kind of cool. Green Bean describes them as people who, "live beneath their means, buying little, donating to charity, shopping local, making their own, doing without and living a fuller life."
That's me, right?! That's totally me?!
So who are these mystery people? These people who are like us eco-nuts with the cool acronym?
Are they SEXYs for Super Eco Xcellent Youths? Or HEP for Hip Eco-People?
Well, they are called ... YAWNs.
It stands for Young And Wealthy but Normal. I mean seriously, yawn!
I am not a yawn! (Right, I'm not, right? Please tell me I'm not.)
Screw you, San Francisco Chronicle and London Telegraph! I reject your crappy acronym! I already have to live with being Generation Y (Why? Because it's after X.) I am not going to be a YAWN as well.
So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to come up with a cool acronym to describe us non-consumerist green folk. Enter in the comments until Monday at 6:00pm PDT. If you win, I'll donate $50 to the charity/non-profit of your choice.
Get cracking, peeps. I mean, we may need to save the world, but FIRST, FIRST, we need to save it from bad acronyms.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
You see, I don't view myself as an ascetic. I was born a Hindu, it's true. And it's also true that many Hindus are known for their practice of asceticism. But in fact, it is this background that has led me to reject asceticism completely and utterly.
Rejecting asceticism, says the woman who hasn't bought anything new in months. Yes. That's right. I don't believe in asceticism. I mean, I'm not here to judge other people's actions per se. If shunning worldly pleasures is what floats your boat, go to. But personally, I don't find such a life particularly appealing.
Gandhi is famous for having rejected what was British or Western from his life and his self. Adopting a platform of swadeshi, he called for a national boycott of among other things, British goods and British centers of education.
Tagore deplored Gandhi's principle of non-cooperation. In a letter to Charles Freer Andrews, Tagore writes:
The idea of non-cooperation is political asceticism. Our students are bringing their offering of sacrifices to what? Not to a fuller education but to non-education. It has at its back a fierce joy of annihilation which at its best form is asceticism and in its worst form is that orgy of frightfulness in which human nature, losing faith in the basic reality of normal life, finds a disinterested delight in unmeaning devastation, as has been shown in the late war and on other occasions which came nearer home to us. No in its passive form is asceticism and in its active moral form is violence. The desert is as much a form of himsa as is the raging sea in storm, they both are against life. (Rabindranath Tagore, An Anthology)Let's unpack this a little, shall we? Non-cooperation is characterized by the negative. Instead of making the positive choice to embrace India, non-cooperation is the negative choice to reject Britain. To reject education. To reject humanity.
This was Tagore's philosophy. Tagore believed in positively embracing his dual identity. And while he passionately supported an independent India, he did not believe in Gandhi's methods of passive resistance.
It is because of this commitment to unyielding principle, that this was Gandhi's advice to the British people in 1940:
I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them. (Non-Violence in Peace and War)There are no simple answers in a time of war. But it is clear that asceticism is not the answer, and yet Gandhi insisted on clinging to passive resistance. Again, I want to be clear. It is not that Gandhi was unsympathetic to the plight of the British during World War II. But, Gandhi believed that "non-violence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering."
I don't support conscious suffering. When I talk about walking more, or not buying crap, I don't mean to reject the comforts afforded to me by the first world. I don't believe everyone in the world should be living the life of an Indian villager. Rather, just as Tagore celebrated the duality of being an Indian and a British subject, I choose to embrace the duality of living a lower impact life in a higher impact world.
Every day, as I walk to the metro, I pass libraries, schools, theatres, restaurants, and stores. I am constantly reminded that I have a good education, health insurance, a retirement account, and food in the fridge.
So you see, it is not so much that I am refusing to buy stuff, but rather, that I am reveling in what I already have.
In his essay "East and West," Tagore writes:
Many years have passed since Tagore wrote those words, but they could have been written just yesterday. For if we ever hope to move to a better world, the East and West must meet each other. Working together, we can build a happier, more comfortable, AND more sustainable life for every person on this planet.
Earnestly I ask the poet of the western world to realize and sing to you with all the great power of music which he has, that the East and the West are ever in search of each other, and that they must meet not merely in the fulness of physical strength, but in fulness of truth; that the right hand, which wields the sword, has need of the left, which holds the shield of safety.
Let's get to work.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
The day, May 3rd, passed without fanfare while I was in Providence. I didn't even notice.
The amount of time it takes for a human baby to gestate. The length of a school year.
It has been nine months since I last bought any clothing. Nine months of buying used.
How does it feel?
Normal. Like this is just ... my life. The other day I went to the mall to get my iBook fixed and it was like stepping into a time warp. "Huh," I thought. "So this is what people do for fun. Weird."
Some days I feel like I could do this forever. Other days, like when my iPod dies, and I have to buy a new battery, I feel like I've already failed.
I've saved money, but I've spent money too. On nice restaurants and on concerts and on theatre.
One month I donated more money to non-profits than I used to donate in an entire year.
In the past nine months, I've been to more concerts than I had been to in my previous 28 years combined.
Most of the concerts were free.
When you are not buying new stuff, you learn to get creative. You learn to do without. You learn what you really need.
Before this experiment, I used to buy things because I thought my things said something about who I was as a person. Like, if I buy these plaid pants I'll look like the kind of rockin chick who spends a lot of time at art galleries in downtown LA. Or if I buy this yoga top, I'll look like the kind of girl who can do a headstand perfectly. With no need for the wall. With perfectly painted toes daintily pointing upwards.
But no matter what shirt I wore, I could never manage that headstand. My pedicure was always 3 months old. And my feet were always flailing about.
I still can't do a headstand.
But I no longer care.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Now, I was a guest, and with a big group, so I wasn't about to get too picky about the food or restaurant choices. Still, I wanted to do my best to remain as faithful as I could to my local food challenge. Local food has infiltrated many of the good restaurants in California, so I was hoping we would end up at a restaurant that touted its farmers' market produce or some such.
Unfortunately, if any of the restaurants we patronized do use local produce, they keep it on the down low. I was a little too embarrassed to ask where my tomatoes came from, so instead I just ordered food that SEEMED like it would be local. Mussels in New England looked like a decent bet. So did pancakes with maple syrup. And instead of ordering a California wine, I opted for the local Narragansett beer that at $3 a pint, was a surprisingly tasty and frugal choice.
I admit that just a few weeks ago, I was that person who could not tell you when asparagus was in season. But since reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I was looking at menus with new eyes. The effect was rather jarring.
Bananas, kiwis, limes, avocados. Strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkin, kale. All flung together higgelty-piggelty, seasons be damned. My friend Annie once referred to Los Angeles weather as Stepford Weather- creepily perfect year-round. Most people I know claim to love the changing of the seasons, myself included, but we prefer Stepford Produce- eerily good looking and perpetually in season. Sure we may sacrifice a little flavor, but pshh, who cares about that, right?
I have mixed feelings about eating locally. On the one hand, I hardly feel we should be consigning New Englanders to avocado-free banana-less lives. I refuse to give up my Indian spices, and if you told me I could never have another mango, I'd cry. On the other hand....
For the past few years I've been trying to do my darnedest to eat more fruits and vegetables. It's odd, because I LIKE fruits and vegetables. I know I do. And yet, every time I buy produce, I'm disappointed by the bland, watery taste. Eventually, I decided that I just wasn't good at selecting produce. Or something. I stopped buying most fruit, and purchased my veggies frozen. And I live in CALIFORNIA. What the hell?
Then I visited the farmers' market. It turns out that I am remarkably good at selecting produce when the produce is all high quality. Strawberries, asparagus, snow peas. Everything was so good, I just ate it all raw.
I got home from Providence last night. Because I was gone all weekend I ended up missing the farmers' market, so today I wandered over to the Gelson's on my lunch break. I picked up some local bread, and then headed to the produce aisle. After all, California feeds the rest of the nation. Surely a grocery chain that caters to a wealthy Los Angeles clientele would have some tasty local produce.
What I found? A few local tomatoes, and a spattering of produce from the Central Valley. But mostly, the produce seemed to come from elsewhere. The most bizarre find? Asparagus, which is in season almost everywhere in the United States... from Chile. Where it's fall.
In the end, I decided to forgo the produce. Because the truth is, Stepford Produce may be nice to look at. But that's about all it's good for.
Friday, May 2, 2008
Mmmm. Look at those delicious strawberries front and center. Everything in the picture is local except for maybe the yogurt, (I didn't really pay close attention since I'm planning on making my own and just using this as a starter) possibly the cheese, (I was told it came from the base of Mt Mojave so I assumed it was local, but I can't find Mt Mojave on a map anywhere, so who knows), and uh, definitely the cereal.
Right. Now you may be wondering. Why, when she could make her own granola, or oatmeal, or any number of other delicious options, does Arduous buy non local, packaged General Mills cereal that tastes like twigs?
Well, here's the thing. Much as I hate Fiber One, and would love to give it up and eat homemade granola every day, eating Fiber One has caused my cholesterol to drop 40 points. Because I'm at high risk for heart disease, this is something I'm just not willing to mess with. But hey, I'm guessing cholesterol drugs aren't local either, so at least the Fiber One is keeping me off those, right?
I didn't keep track of how much I spent, but I should have. My estimate, based on how much I had in my wallet then, and how much I have in my wallet now, is that I ended up spending about $60. Which isn't horrifying, but it IS almost double my usual weekly grocery bill.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive, especially when you think about cost per calorie. I got two pounds of snow peas for ten dollars. Mind you, these snow peas are maybe the best snow peas I have ever eaten. As a privileged, middle-class childless American, I consider $10 for amazing snow peas well worth it.
But I understand that $10 snow peas aren't in everyone's budget. I mean for $10 you can get 11 McDonald's hamburgers. Or two foot long Subway sandwiches. If we're talking caloric bang for your buck, well farmer's market snow peas just can't compete.
Barbara Kingsolver writes that good food should cost money. And I understand where she's coming from. She knows, first hand, how much labor went into those snow peas. I get it. And yes, as many people like to point out, Americans spend a much smaller percentage of their income on food than we did 30 years ago.
All very well and good. But let's take a look at housing costs, shall we. Or college tuition. It's not really fair to expect us to spend a ton of money on food when 55% of Angelenos are spending over 30% of their income on housing.
Could I afford fresh fruits and vegetables if I had a baby to feed? It's a tough question. I make a decent amount of money. I don't spend my money on unnecessary stuff. I have a fantastic deal on rent, which means that I only spend 27% of my monthly income on housing. And yet, if I had another mouth to feed, I'm not absolutely sure I could afford snow peas.
Should farmers be paid more given the work they do? Absolutely. But should Americans have to pay more for produce? I can't conscionably say yes.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
And in one sense, it's not. But on the other hand, at least when I started the public transit challenge I had the basic idea of where to begin. I may have never tested my route, but I knew the route that would take me to work. I knew what I had to do.
By contrast, I was fairly clueless as to where I could find local food. I had visions of long, pointless searches for local wheat or local beans. What about rice? What about chocolate? Or spices? What about eating out?
Ultimately, it was Green Bean who calmed me down. "You could try to eat all local produce for the month," she suggested, adding, "It takes a bit longer to find sources of local animal protein and other products."
Local produce, huh? Well, sure. I can do that.
And slowly it started coming together. The farmers' market I went to also sold eggs and cheese. I found local milk (in reusable glass bottles!) at Whole Foods. Bread, I was told, was a problem. There aren't really any local sources of wheat per se in Los Angeles. However, there are a few well regarded local bakeries, so even if my wheat wasn't local, at least the baker would be.
And then I found the locavore's pledge:
Pretty reasonable, right? That's how I'm approaching this month. If I fail, and I probably will fail, at least you'll know, I didn't eat at McDonald's.
If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic.
If not ORGANIC, then Family farm.
If not FAMILY FARM, then Local business.
If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Fair Trade.
If all else fails, at least don’t eat at McDonald’s!