Friday, May 30, 2008

When Public Transit Gets Depressing

Have I mentioned that I hate the bus? I hate the bus. Haaaaaaaaaaate. Buses are slow, they get stuck in traffic, and they don't adhere to any schedule.

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.

She refused.

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

A Dirty Hippie's Guide to Fashion

The second and possibly final fashion post...We'll return to regular programming tomorrow.

It is hard sometimes to be a fashionista who cares about the world. And I get it, I get it. No one wants to be the worst dressed at the next Greenpeace meeting. I mean, I do, because I'm a dirty hippie, but clearly you don't. And that's okay. Because the truth is, you CAN be both eco-conscious and fabulous.

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

The Devil Wears Nada

Today, a friend of mine who shall remain nameless IMed me to complain that my politics had gotten too complicated. "I tried to read your post, and then my head hurt and I was like, god damn it, it's lunch time. So I read Go Fug Yourself instead."

And I laughed, because I have to admit, she's right. Because frankly, sometimes I make my head hurt, too. So today, I'm not going to talk about health care, or new economies, or individualism. I promise I'm not going to throw around the words "Jeffersonian pastiche."

Instead, today, I'm going to talk about fashion.

No, I'm serious. 


Don't roll your eyes at me! Sheesh!

Okay, fashion. Once upon a time (or about five years ago) I was a struggling actress (seriously) who taught SAT classes for a living. I was having a conversation with my Pilates teacher (shut up, I live in LA) about clothes. She was talking about how she had all these clothes that she never wore, and I smugly remarked that I wore all the clothes in my closet. 

Fast forward to myself a year later. I had quit acting and the SAT teaching, and was working an office job that required me to wear business casual wear. My closet started to pile up with business casual clothes (many of which I didn't like) and the army of jeans and tee-shirts I had needed when teaching SATs were left neglected.

Fast forward six months later. My father died, and I rapidly lost 20 pounds, thanks to the only diet that has ever worked for me. I call it the "too sick with grief to eat" diet. None of my clothes fit anymore, but I was too depressed to care much. Plus, I assumed I'd gain back the weight.

A year later, I still hadn't gained back the weight. So there I was, with a closet of ill-fitting clothes. I had a pile of work clothes I hated, and a bunch of tee-shirts I loved but never had the opportunity to wear. Where I had once bragged about wearing every piece of clothing in my closet, I now wore a tiny fraction of my clothes.

Now most people say stuff like, "Oh, if I ever lose 20 pounds, I'll treat myself to new clothes." Well, here's the problem with that. I had lost 20 pounds, but I hadn't gotten any richer. I simply could not afford a whole new wardrobe. 

So here's what I did. I started off by stealing clothes from my younger sister. Okay, okay, but this is not as bad as it sounds. First of all, it is the *right* of sisters to steal from each other. This is what we do. And secondly, I only stole the clothes that she left at my mom's house when she went to college. I mean really. If she didn't care enough to take them with her, she obviously didn't need them. Those clothes were sad and lonely and I was just giving them a home! On my ass. Plus she didn't even care! Fine, she cared. But then later she stole some stuff of mine, and now we're even. This is so not the point. Can we move on now?

Next, I went through my closet, and pulled every article of clothing that didn't fit me, but that I actually liked. Once I had together 15 pieces of clothing, I got a recommendation for a tailor from a friend. Then I went to the tailor, and had her alter everything. A mere $85 later, I had well-fitting clothes I actually liked. 

And then, and this was the hardest point, I worked to slowly hone my own personal sense of style. This isn't the easiest thing to do when you're a woman. There's a multi-million dollar industry out there whose sole job is to tell you that ponchos are in, and skinny jeans are out, and then that skinny jeans are in and ponchos are out. I am 5'2" with a propensity to fall down. I am hardly a fashion maven. Yet, I owned two ponchos. The pull of the fashionistas is strong.

But I didn't want to have to buy ponchos one year and vests the next. I wanted a nice wardrobe that would make me look decent year after year. So, I started to ignore Glamour and Cosmo, and instead started trusting my own eye. I don't particularly like button down shirts, but I tend to gravitate to shirts with Indian embroidery. So I bought those, and when anyone went to India, I got some from them too. I bought things in colors that attracted me (largely forest green and burgundy.) And I picked up several dresses with cute floral patterns. I bought tops that worked with the bottoms I already owned and vice versa.

And slowly, I had a wardrobe of clothes I liked. Clothes I was happy to wear.

So when it came time to the non-consumer challenge, I decided to forgo all clothes shopping for a year. Because, honestly, I had more clothes than I really needed, and I was pretty happy with my wardrobe. I didn't feel like anything was lacking, so why buy more?

So for almost 10 months I haven't bought a single article of clothing. Not new clothes nor used clothes. I admit, I did receive a few shirts as gifts, and I participated in a clothing swap, but I haven't spent one single dollar on clothing since August.

And truthfully? I don't miss it at all. Okay, that's a lie. I miss it a little.

But I miss it much less than one would think.

Because the thing is, I already did my homework. I already have a great wardrobe full of clothes that fit me well, clothes that fit my personal style. Clothes that if you saw them and you knew me, you would say, "That's a shirt Arduous would wear."

Eventually, the clothing I have now will wear out and I will have to buy new clothes. 

But for now, I'm happy with my clothes. Once again, I can smugly sit back and say, "I wear all the clothes in my closet."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Vanquishing My Inner Cowboy

We Americans pride ourselves on our individuality and our do-it-yourself mentality. In many nations, a middle-class family might lie and claim to hire a maid even when they actually clean the house themselves. In America, the opposite is true. Because you see, to an American, the fact that you are upper-class and still clean your toilet makes you down to earth and more personable. Citizens of other nations might wonder why our President takes such pride in cutting the brush at his ranch. Doesn't he have better things to do with his time? Isn't it unbecoming for the leader of the free world to be so publicly engaged in "menial labor?" But in fact, it is this aspect of Bush's character that makes him so likable to so many. Because he cuts his own brush, we sympathize with him. We see him as "one of us."

Of course, America's individualistic streak is responsible for many of the best things about America: from our rigid separation of church and state to our entrepreneurial spirit. But it also creates problems. Our social safety net isn't as strong as that of many European countries precisely because we believe fervently in individual responsibility. Don't have a job? You're probably just being lazy. It is the "American" in me who feels like a failure when I can't do it all all by myself. But after reading all your wonderful comments, I realize I'm not alone in feeling like it's impossible for one person to do it all.

And here's the thing. You shouldn't have to do it all alone.

I know there are many eco-conscious folk whose idea would be to live off the grid in a house in the middle of nowhere. If that's your dream, or your life, I get it, and I respect it. To you I say, "Rock on with your bad self!" However, if that's not your dream, or if it sounds good in theory, but seems unachievable for you and your family in practice, read on.

See, personally, I have no desire to live off the grid, ever, ever, ever. I love the grid. The grid is my friend. Do you know how many villagers in China and India would kill for our grid? I don't want to do away with the grid, I just want a grid powered by solar and wind instead of coal and oil. So, I reduced my electric usage to 11% of the average American's, largely by never turning on the heater or air conditioner. And then I stopped worrying about my electricity usage. Oh, I thought about unplugging the fridge in passing. It's my only remaining power-suck, and because I have a fridge at work, and am home so seldom, I think I could actually do just fine without a fridge in the apartment. But having a fridge makes my life easier, and frankly, I see that 11% usage as a badge of honor. I'm a green power user, and every time DWP bills me, they see that I'm a paying customer willing to pay more to invest in alternate energy. And in its own way, that's just as important as being able to live off the grid.

Because what would happen if every eco-conscious person decided to get off the grid? It's possible that energy companies would notice they were losing customers, and would start investing in alternate technology in an attempt to woo those customers back. But I think it's more likely that the grid would still continue to serve the majority of Americans, but now, the people willing to invest in alternative energy would no longer be paying into the grid. And if no one was interested in green power, energy companies would stop offering them and would stick to coal and oil. When you're outside of a system, it's easy for a company to shrug its shoulders and ignore you. When you're invested in the system, the company has to pay at least some attention to you.

Similarly, home-schooling is often touted as much more eco-friendly than classroom schooling, and I've seen many a green mom express guilt that they weren't "green enough" to home-school. But when we say that home-schooling is the more eco-conscious option, we're ignoring the very real, albeit immeasurable ways, that the children of "green" parents affect their teachers and peers. This is not to say that parents shouldn't home-school, but simply to remind us that opting IN is just as valid a choice as opting OUT.

In the comments for my "Good, Not Perfect" post, Beany suggested that if I'm having difficulty finding time to cook, I eat at restaurants that serve local food. It's telling how deeply our "do-it-yourself" attitude is ingrained, but I was surprised to see Beany suggest eating at restaurants. I eat at restaurants a lot, and they frequently serve locally-grown food, but eating at restaurants always seemed a little bit like cheating. Aren't I supposed to be able to cook for myself?

Well, yes and no. Cooking is an important skill, and everyone should know a little about it. But, it's not necessary for me to cook every meal for myself. Beany further mentioned that she was considering starting a meal-delivery service. First of all, I think this is an awesome idea, and if and when she moves to LA, I think she should definitely pursue it. Second of all, this is the exact kind of "green" career that we should all be promoting. It would provide a job for Beany, and because she only uses local and organic ingredients, it's good for the environment. Thirdly, um, have you seen the ridiculously delicious meals she cooks up? If I could afford it (which I probably couldn't, but let's pretend), I would ABSOLUTELY hire her, self-sufficiency be damned. Because I know the road of self-sufficiency and it frequently involves coming home late, and having nothing but strawberries for dinner.

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

Armchair Activism- Number Punching Edition

Hi guys, hi guys. Sorry to bust in on your long weekend again, but this will only take about a minute of your time, I promise. As most of you know, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that under the California Constitution, gays have to be given the right to marry in California. Of course, opponents of the Supreme Court decision are now gathering signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot banning gay marriage.

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

More Armchair Activism!

I'm guessing most of you have seen this, but if you haven't, please help  Colin aka No Impact Man out. I know everyone's raring for the three-day weekend, but it's just cutting, pasting, and emailing, I swear! By the way, non-Americans, you aren't exempted. Colin is asking that you still send an email putting in the subject line "From a world citizen to whom American policy makes a huge difference."

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 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 (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 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.

Yours sincerely,

Your Name
Your Address
Your Email

Good, Not Perfect

Guys, I have to admit that by most metrics, the local food challenge has been something of a failure. I mean, I haven't gone to McDonalds, but I've done everything but. Oh, I know, I know, I just detailed that amazing local meal we had on Sunday. Yeah, here's the thing. Those days? When I eat fabulous local meals and am all warm and fuzzy? They're few and far between.

Most days, I've been a total disaster. You see, because of my job, and because I'm still taking public transit several days a week, I am outside of the house from about 8:00 am to 9:00 pm. Breakfast and lunch are always eaten at work and sometimes dinner. So I'd gotten in the habit of making 3-4 small grocery runs every week at lunch. I'd get some bread for sandwiches, or I'd pick up some vegetables and a bottle of dressing for a small salad I could toss together in our kitchen at work. If I was in the mood to cook, I'd do the grocery shopping at lunch so that I wouldn't have to do it at 9:00 pm at night.  And if all else failed, I regularly bought pasta and a jar of Trader Joe's organic tomato sauce so I could just have spaghetti. 

But if I want to be eating local, all that goes out the window. The grocery stores that are walking distance from my work don't sell too much that's grown within 150 miles, and even if they do, they don't really label anything. Occasionally I see something marked, "California Grown," but California is a ginormous state. I have no way of knowing if this was grown in San Diego, or if it was grown in Eureka. Oh, I know, buying from California is still better than buying from New Zealand, but like ... everything is already all grown in California. I've probably unwittingly eaten "California local" a zillion times because really, if you live in California, how can you not? So to just accept all California produce as local seems like it's cheating, somehow. 

Plus, I think part of the reason people advocate for local food is because buying local often means buying from local family farms. In other words, industrial organic, even Californian industrial organic, is missing half the point. So instead of doing my 3-4 shopping runs a week, I've been pretty much limiting myself to a once a week shopping trip at the farmers' market.

It's been a mess. Because I'm only able to shop once a week, I over buy. I haven't had this much food waste since I did Crunchy's No Waste challenge. But produce, as Barbara Kingsolver reminds us, is not meant to be eaten days and days after it is picked. And if you wait a week, or hell, with some of these veggies, even a few days, they end up going bad. But if I omit buying tomatoes for example, and then I have a craving for rajma on Tuesday, well, I'm screwed. I have to wait until the next farmers' market on Sunday. 

Unfortunately, my good intentions have left me ill-prepared to deal with the matter of feeding myself. I went without bread for a week because the grocery stores near my work doesn't sell local bread. There is a store near my house that does sell local bread, but by the time I got home from work, I never feel like going to the damn store. I finished up the tomato sauce, and have been reluctant to buy more because, well, shouldn't I buy some local tomatoes and make my own sauce? But when the hell do I have time to make tomato sauce? Oh yeah. Last Saturday. The day BEFORE the farmers' market. So, finally, the other night, I came home late, starving, with no (non-rotting) food in the house. I thought I was going to cry. Instead, I picked up the phone and I ordered a pizza. For delivery. (Yes, I picked a local business, not Dominoes, but still.) I started to wonder, have I made the perfect the enemy of the good?

Tonight, as I walked home from the subway, I ran the dinner options in my head. I had some asparagus I'd bought on Sunday that miraculously hadn't gone bad yet, that I really had to deal with tonight or it would definitely be bad. And I had some corn that I had chosen specifically because I suspected corn lasts a reasonable length of time. But ... asparagus and corn isn't much of a dinner. So I decided I HAD to stop by the grocery store to pick up a lemon for the corn (I had used all my local lemons to make lemonade) and some bread for peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. And I thought, maybe they'll have some Winchester gouda or brie and I can eat that too.

First, I headed for the cheese. No Winchester. Okay fine, I thought, I'll just get the bread. I headed to the bread aisle, where, because it was now 9:00pm, the stock of locally baked daily bread was vastly depleted. In fact, the only kinds of bread I could find were rye, sourdough and rosemary olive. None of which go very well with peanut butter and jelly. Okay, it's okay, I told myself. I'll just get a lemon. So I headed to produce, picked up a "California grown!" lemon, and then I saw my beautiful Mexican mangoes. I picked up one, fondled it, put it back down, and almost threw a temper tantrum in the store. Instead, I angrily walked back to the dairy aisle, grabbed a goat cheese made in Sonoma. 500 miles is good enough! Then I stalked back to the bread, and grabbed a loaf of the sourdough.

I headed home and within twenty minutes, I had a meal of roasted asparagus, corn on the cob, and sourdough bread with goat cheese. It wasn't perfect, but I'm done making the perfect the enemy of the good. Tomorrow I will have peanut butter on sourdough, and you know what? Maybe it'll taste just fine.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

And Then My Site Meter Burst Into Flames

Jayzus! In one hour, I get linked by both Crunchy Chicken and No Impact Man, and by the time I woke up this morning I had more page hits than I normally get in a whole day. You guys! You didn't tell me to expect company! I would have ... dusted and made tea and stuff.

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 be In Your Wagon?

Found this game at this blog and thought it would be fun to play.

Who would you pick to be your four wagon-mates on the Oregon Trail?

Celebrity Edition:

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.

Blogger Edition:

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

You Have Died of Dysentery

Growing up, one of my favorite games was The Oregon Trail. Really, I think it was one of everyone's favorites. There were no graphics to speak of, as it was played on the then ubiquitous Apple IIe. There were no prostitutes, nor princesses to rescue. No street fighters, no tomb raiders, no paladins nor mages. Hell, it was technically educational. And yet, against all odds, we loved it.

One of the best parts of the game was getting to go hunting. Often you would only "find" a rabbit, but if you were lucky, you'd nab a bison, providing you and your wagon with plenty of delicious meat. Of course, what the game never mentions is that bison were almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century. Ooops.

Luckily, the bison are making a comeback. And weirdly, their populations are growing, in a large part, because of an increased demand for bison meat. It may seem counter-intuitive, but demand for bison meat encourages ranch owners to raise bison. Higher demand for bison meat means more ranchers raising more bison. Thus one of the best ways to preserve bison, is to ... eat bison meat.

Of course none of that was going through my mind on Sunday when my friends and I saw a vendor at the farmer's market selling grass-fed bison. Mostly I was thinking, "Wow! Now I can be just like a pioneer!" So we bought some, along with some strawberries, apricots, artichokes, and cheese.

Dinner was a sumptuous affair, and probably way better than any pioneer meal could possibly have been. Goat cheese brie with bread. Artichokes with butter and lemon. Vodka strawberry lemonade. Grilled apricots. But the piece de resistance? The bison burgers.

I am not the biggest meat eater. I was a vegetarian for four years, and I still don't eat much meat. I still generally prefer the taste of vegetables.

But this? Was the best damn burger I have ever, ever eaten. Seriously, I never knew meat could taste so amazing.

So let's see. Helping to preserve a once-endangered species? Check! Eating grass-fed meat low in cholesterol and high in omega-3? Check! Local? Check! Delicious? Check! Pretending to be a pioneer? Check!

I mean really, what's not to love? Now if you'll excuse me, I have a river to ford.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Be a Bookworm: "In Defense of Food" Review

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

Friday Rerun (for Natalie)- Ce N'est Pas Une Blogger

This is an old post, but what the hell, it's Friday. Plus I wrote it when the only person reading my blog was ScienceMama. It answers some questions you might have, including why I call myself "arduous." If you have any other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. I'll answer all those I feel comfortable answering. Because I mean really, a lady must retain some element of mystery. :)

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.

Q: Really?
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?
A: Hmmm?

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

Our Top Priority

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I believe that in January of 2009, Barack Obama will be inaugurated as President of the United States of America.

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 should let go of their internal agenda for ninety days and focus on one thing:

Universal health care.

You thought I was going to say global warming? Gotcha!

Now why would a woman who spends her days prattling on about the environment turn around and say that for 3 months we should focus solely on health care? Simply because health care is a basic need.

To try and deal with an issue like global warming when millions of Americans have insecure access to health care is not dissimilar to trying to deal with the issue of literacy in India when millions of Indians have insecure access to water. It doesn't work. When Green Bean and I unveiled the "APLS," acronym, I admit, I was surprised by how many people balked at the word affluent. But the truth is, many of us are One Major Health Care Crisis That Insurance Won't Cover away from poverty. How do you like them apples?

If you are an American, you know what insecure health care means. People stay in horrible jobs, forgo early retirement, and give up on owning their own business because of health care. For the uninsured, things are worse. I've had friends ignore countless health-related red flags because they just can't afford to deal with the medical bills. I had an insurance-less friend who had a cyst removed, not in a hospital, but on the floor of a hotel room. And yet another who was denied insurance, because she occasionally took medication for cold sores.

This is not right. 

We can talk about living simply, we can talk about how our uber-consumptive economy doesn't work, but until we fix health care, all that is moot. Voluntary simplicity advocates talk about how if you buy less stuff, you can work less. Sorry, no. Not in America. Because in America part-time work generally does not confer benefits.

Yes, but there are other important issues! We can't drop everything for NINETY days! Global warming, peak oil, ZOMG TIPPING POINT!!

I know, I know, I know. But here's the problem. The health insurance companies have lots of money and lots of power. They have so much power that Obama, who used to support single-payer health care, now advocates a watered down form of voluntary health care. But, I believe universal health coverage is achievable if we all band together. Besides the fact that health care is so basic that it affects everything else.

How so?

Here's an example. About 10 months ago, I was at work when I felt like I was having an asthma attack. I didn't have an inhaler with me, so I started to panic, which made my asthma worse. I quickly decided to go to the drug store and get an inhaler right there and then.

At the drugstore, the pharmacist handed me an inhaler right away. After a few pumps, I felt better and calmer. I handed my credit card over for my co-pay which I was then informed was ... 40 dollars. 

"FORTY Dollars?" I asked horrified. I had never, ever paid forty dollars for an inhaler before. Ever.

The pharmacist assured me that was correct. 

"How much was it without insurance?" I asked. Apparently, $44. My insurance had covered four dollars.

Now, I'd like to say right here, that I have awesome insurance. You know when you hear an "average American" talk about how they love their insurance? That's me. I *adore* my insurance. I want to marry my insurance and have little insurance babies. So the fact that they had covered so little was ... really, really weird.

As I walked back to the office, I fully intended to figure out what the deal was with that ultra-expensive inhaler. But the truth is, I forgot. Forty dollars is a lot, but frankly, I need an inhaler about once a year. I could afford  it. And so it remained one of those strange unsolved mysteries, until yesterday when I saw this article in the New York Times.

Apparently, the reason that inhaler was so expensive was because unlike the original inhalers,  this inhaler was made CFC-free to comply with federal regulations set to go into effect in January 2009. Those old inhalers? Cost $13.50.

I finished the article feeling really bothered, somehow. How, I wondered, had I never known any of this? Isn't it odd, that though I have read countless articles by environmentalists about the effects of pollution on poor kids with asthma, I have never, ever, not once, read an article by an environmentalist about this new, expensive, albeit CFC-free, inhaler and its effect on poor kids with asthma?

Why? Is asthma in poor kids just a means to an end, or do environmental groups really care about asthma? Because, frankly, if environmental groups are just using asthma as a way to talk about diesel buses, then I don't want to be part of that group.

For the record, I have no issue paying $40 myself for a CFC-free inhaler. But $40 is too much money for a medication that many people have to take once a month. Just because we have achieved our goal in mandating a CFC-free inhaler does not mean our job is done. If we really care about poor kids with asthma, then we must make sure that those CFC-free inhalers are easily affordable. Caring about the environment does not mean caring about global warming and ozone depletion while ignoring the very people we claim to want to protect. 

And that's why health care needs to be everyone's priority. Because, really, we're not environmentalists because we want to "save the world." We all know that the world itself will continue to turn. We're environmentalists because we care about the people and other species that inhabit this world. So it's time for us to put our money where our mouth is. If we care about Americans, we must support universal health care. It's time.


The California Supreme Court has overturned the gay marriage ban, and my beautiful, wonderful, awesomest state is on the verge of becoming the 2nd state in the nation to allow gay marriage.

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!

Mr. Green Bean decided he wanted me to send his $50 to the Chez Panisse Foundation, an organization that endeavors to bring healthier and more sustainable school lunches to Bay Area children. 

Thanks again to the multi-talented Green Bean family for the graphic design and acronym aid!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The New Economy

Over the past nine months I've received varying responses to my non-consumerism project. I'm lucky in that most of the response I've received has been positive, though I do admit I've heard my share of, "Wow, why would anyone do that?"

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.

The Song That Made Me Cry Today

Monday, May 12, 2008

And The Winner Is ...

By popular consensus, Mr. Green Bean for his acronym:

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

Arduous the Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Recently I found out from the London Telegraph and San Francisco Chronicle via Green Bean that I have an acronym!

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

On Asceticism, Gandhi and Tagore

Sometimes, you have to take a step back from yourself and take a hard look at your practices. The other day Crunchy Chicken started a discussion about religious asceticism on her blog, and I have to admit it shook me a little.

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.

You see, back when I was a wee undergrad and only a little bit difficult, I ended up doing some life-changing research on Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. Tagore and Gandhi were two of the Greats. They loved and respected each other dearly. But that didn't stop them from vehemently disagreeing with each other.

When I first started my research, I assumed I would side with Gandhi, because, well ... he's Gandhi. All my life I had believed in the certainty, in the truth and the righteousness of passive protest and an ascetic life.

And who was this Tagore? A poet? What did he know about politics anyway?

Quite a lot actually. And as my thesis progressed, I realized that it was Tagore who spoke to me clearly. It was Tagore's life and practices that I wished to emulate.

Tagore and Gandhi were products of Colonial India, and, in many ways, they were both success stories of Colonial India. Both were sent to the University College of London to study law (though Tagore didn't actually earn a degree.) Yet, they each dealt with the duality of being an Indian and British subject in opposite ways.

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.

As an Indian-American, I understand what it is like to feel caught between two cultures. I have dealt with the identity crises. I have questioned who I am, and where I belong. But as part of a life-long struggle, I have realized that I am happiest when I embrace what is best about both.

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.

The problem with asceticism is simply this: asceticism is a rejection of the world around us. Asceticism places the concept (of nirvana) over the tangible (people). Obviously, Gandhi cared deeply for his people. No one would deny this. Yet, his adherence to an ascetic life consistently pitted his commitment to principle against his commitment to person, and inevitably he chose principle (even when the person in question was himself).

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:

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.
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.

Let's get to work.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Nine Months

Nine months.

The day, May 3rd, passed without fanfare while I was in Providence. I didn't even notice.

Nine months.

The amount of time it takes for a human baby to gestate. The length of a school year.

Nine months.

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

Eating Local When I'm Not

This past weekend I flew to Providence to see my friend Danger J's play. The last time my college friends convened was under rather unfortunate circumstances, so it was wonderful to spend time together on a more joyous occasion. Danger J directed the hell out of Moliere, we caught up on each other's lives, we gave and received great big hugs, and we ate food. Lots of it.

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

Grocery Shopping- Week One

Because most farmer's markets are held on the weekend, I ended up getting an early start on my local food challenge. Here's what I bought:

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

MaLoFoMo- Day 1

I have to admit that I was initially wary of this challenge. Oh, I know, you're probably thinking that's silly. How could local food be more daunting than public transit?

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:

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!

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.