Monday, June 30, 2008

Cheesemaking Giveaway

About six weeks ago, I was reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, when I became obsessed with the idea of making my own cheese. "It'll be awesome!" I decided. And so, I set about to order the supplies for cheese: rennet, citric acid, and most egregiously, cheesecloth. (The rennet and citric acid are at least food. The cheesecloth, not so much.)

But even the cheesecloth would have been fine, had I actually, you know, used it. Except I didn't. The box has literally been sitting unopened for over a month. I am so not going to make my own cheese.

But maybe you are? If you want to try your hand at making mozarella, please leave a comment. I will select one person to receive my cheesemaking supplies. Included are the rennet, citric acid, and the butter muslin, so all you'll need is your own thermometer and a pot. And some milk. Read here to find out how to make the mozarella.

ETA: You have until Wednesday, July 2nd at 8:00 am to enter.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Consuming Under The Greenfluence

Yesterday, there was a bit of a conflagration over at No Impact Man. Colin had a post up about how we "APLS" now have a new name. Yes, yes, we needed another one, and apparently the new name is "Greenfluencers." Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it?

Weird name non-withstanding, this "Greenfluencer" thing seemed pretty cool. According to a Porter Novelli report, Greenfluencers are pretty important people. In fact, the report states that more and more, average consumers are turning to Greenfluencers to find out what and what not to buy:
Consumers can rely on Greenfluencers to sniff things out in a way that they may not trust brands and organizations to do- not just the issues but also the issues behind the issues; not just what corporations are saying, but also what they're not saying.

Sounds pretty good to me. But there's more:
They are active, not passive. They join, rally, lobby, write letters and generally believe strongly that collective and personal actions can impact global warming.

They stand out not just for their interest in the environment but also for their overall up-and-at-'em attitude to life... In short, what they lack in numbers they more than make up for in energy and presence.
Well that definitely sounds neat! And consistent with my idea of "APLS" or "Greenfluencers." The report thus concludes that corporations should pay attention to Greenfluencers and do their best to woo said demographic.

Great! Sign me up! I will gladly tell corporations how best to woo me. So I'm all set to leave a nice comment telling Colin how much I like this post, and how great this seems. And ... then I see the comments.

Turns out, I was in the minority in thinking this whole "Greenfluencer" thang was cool. And a lot of the commenters, far from thinking being a Greenfluencer was neat, found the whole thing very, very objectionable. Comment after comment talked about how "real" environmentalists don't consume, and how this was all very bad greenwashing.


Let me tell you something. Unless you are hiding your money underneath your bed, you too are probably a participant in a consumeristic society. The bank you use is likely a multinational bank traded on the stock exchange. The money you deposit in the bank is used by the bank to make a loan to someone else. And if you have a 401(k), or stocks or mutual funds, well, those are all corporations. To suggest that "real" environmentalists aren't consumers is patently absurd. Very few people have the wherewithal or the inclination to completely disengage from the system. Thus, in my view, it's imperative to find ways to achieve a sustainable life within the system. And that means engaging corporations instead of ignoring them and hoping they go away.

I also take umbrage with the idea that environmentalism is some sort of exclusive club and anyone who is not hard-core need not apply. Take my friend Honda. She's not as eco-insane as I am, but she recycles and buys recycled products. She brings her own bag to the grocery store, she tries not to turn on her a/c in the car, and she limits her a/c use in the house. Is she a non-consumer? No. Does she try to buy less while buying more consciously? Yes. Is she an environmentalist? I would say so. Is she the kind of person we eco-types need in our camp? Definitely, yes! Honda is exactly the type of person we want to attract. And while she's smart, and caring, and can definitely be "greenfluenced," she is going to want to buy things here and there. But she would also be willing to pay more for things produced in a more sustainable fashion. And in my mind, that's where Greenfluencers come in.

Now being a Greenfluencer doesn't mean that you have to lie down and let corporations walk all over you. It doesn't mean succumbing to greenwashing. Rather, being a Greenfluencer means positively engaging with companies rather than avoiding them. Take for example, The Take Back The Filter project I mentioned yesterday. I'll let you in on a little secret. Beth drinks her water straight from the tap. For that matter, so do I. Neither of us, personally, feels the need for a Brita filter. So why didn't Beth start an "avoid Brita and just drink tap water" campaign? Why ask Brita to recycle filter cartridges?

Well, it's because Beth recognizes that a lot of people do want filtered water. She's realistic. And so, instead of trying to boycott Brita, she's trying to engage Brita. In essence, Beth is using her "greenfluence" to make Brita a more sustainable company for us all. Would it be easier for Beth to just say, "Don't consume. Avoid Brita." Sure. But would she reach fewer people with that message? I think so.

Ultimately, I'm a non-consumer because I believe that this is the right thing for me, right now. And I write about my positive experiences with non-consumerism in the hopes that other people will be inspired by my actions. I love it when someone tells me, "I almost bought this thing, but then I thought, Arduous wouldn't buy it, so I didn't." I think that's great! I like to think I'm helping provide a road-map to an alternative life-style that people can choose to follow to whatever degree they desire. Part of my job as a Greenfluencer is to act as a role-model for a life based more on consuming experiences, and less on buying stuff.

But ultimately, these are my choices, and this is what is right for me, and I don't pretend to know what is best for other people. We all have to make our own decisions, and we all have to follow our own path. And even those of us who consider ourselves environmentalists may approach things in different ways. Some may focus on growing their own food, but will happily shop at H&M. Others will give up air travel, but will continue to drive a less efficient car. And really, that's okay. Because as a wise Thistle once said, "it’s better to be hypocritical than apathetic when it comes to the environment."

So that's why I'm happy to be a Greenfluencer. Even if I think the name is kinda dumb. Ah, well. At least it's better than YAWNs.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

People Promoting

There's a movement afoot! It's clearer and clearer. Every day it seems like people are organizing at the grass roots level. Check it:

The Magnificent Burbsarino (that's her magician name) is hosting a Yahoo! Group designed to help people take baby steps towards the One Tonne Lifestyle. If you are interested in "doing more," but are unsure where to start, The Burb (that's her wrestling name) can help you out.

Meanwhile, plastic diva Beth Terry is continuing her quest to get Brita to recycle their filters. Did you know that Brita makes the most popular pour through filter cartridge in North America? Did you know that in Europe, Brita has created a recycling program for filter cartridges, but that here, Clorox (which owns Brita in North America) refuses to do the same? Did you know that I once performed in a short sketch wherein Big Brother used Brita filters to spy on people? Okay, the last one wasn't strictly relevant, but the point is, you should check out the Take Back The Filter website. And if you're an American or Canadian, I strongly urge you to sign the petition and ask Brita to recycle their filter cartridges.

In other news, a group of bloggers recently started an environmental book blog, an offshoot of Green Bean's Be a Bookworm Challenge. There you'll find tons of resources for environmental reading as well as links to various book reviews. I can't wait to see what all they may do with the site!

Not enough homework for you all? You want more! More! Check out No Impact Man's post from last Friday, and then go call your Congressperson asking him or her to halt the construction of new "dirty" coal plants. It will be more scary than you thought, and then afterwards you'll wonder if you could have been any more incoherent. But you will have done it! And that's the most important thing, really.

And while you're at it, why not drop your Congressperson an email as well asking him or her to uphold the ban on offshore drilling. Visit the Crunchinator's website for details and a sample email.

And after all that, take a few seconds to ogle the awesome retro furniture at this store. Beautiful furniture at Ikea prices! Did I mention that given that the furniture is retro and used, this store is also a non-consumerist's dream come true?

And after THAT, hell I don't know. Take a break. You've earned it. Read a trashy magazine. Have a drink. Go watch Wimbledon. (Second round and it's already gotten exciting! Anyone else watch that awesome match between Ivanovic and Dechy?) Or else, I hear that "soccer shit" is still going on....

So do your homework and check out these great sites, and then sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of your day.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Flotsam and Jetsam

I ended up NOT sending the scrub with my letter to The Body Shop. I really, really wanted to, but I decided that I might get a more positive reception if I didn't. Besides the person who opens the package is not the one who made the decision to carry the scrub, and I would imagine it would be disconcerting to open the mail and have a half used scrub in there. But here is the letter I sent both to Customer Care and the president of The Body Shop America:

June 23, 2008

Attention Customer Care:

I am a longtime customer who recently purchased a facial scrub from The Body Shop- the Vitamin C face polish. My decision to buy a product from The Body Shop stemmed mainly from my apparently mistaken belief that The Body Shop was an environmentally sensitive company.

I’ve been buying Body Shop products for about 10 years now, and I have watched the slow erosion of the ecologically-minded company I once loved. But when I found out that the face polish contains polyethylene or microplastic that is killing sea life, I was horrified.

Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. So when that face polish goes down the drain, those teeny bits of plastic eventually land up in the oceans fully intact. Once in the ocean, the plastic can be accidentally swallowed by a whole host of marine animals. Please note, that our sewage systems do NOT treat water to remove microplastic, so the plastic does not get removed during treatment. For further reading, see this article at Slate:

I know that The Body Shop holds “protecting the planet” as one of its values. So I was deeply disappointed to see that The Body Shop is actively destroying sea life with this project. I urge you to pull this product and any other products that contain polyethylene. Scrubs can be made in ecologically sensitive ways. For example, St. Ives Apricot Scrub or Burt’s Bees Deep Pore Scrub use natural
ingredients that do not harm marine life.

I hope that I can remain a Body Shop customer. I have been using your Vitamin E moisturizer for years now, and it would be a shame if I had to discontinue using your products. But I simply cannot continue to patronize The Body Shop if you continue to carry products containing polyethylene.

Thanks for your time

Let's see if I hear anything back. In other news, A Crunchy Tribute is almost coming to an end. We've reached almost $2,000 in donations. If you have been meaning to donate, but haven't gotten around to it, do it soon! I'm going to donate again, so Crunch, there will be another Lunapads kit coming your way.

Happy Wednesday!

Confidential to Equa Yona, do you still want that book? I emailed you, but haven't heard from you. Email me your address! You can reach me at arduousblog (at) gmail (dot) com.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Need For More Public Parks

On Sunday, Miss V and I decided to go see Kung Fu Panda at the Glendale Americana. For those of you who have never heard of the Americana, it's basically like the Grove or Santana Row. Essentially, it's a European-styled outdoor shopping mall complete with fountains, tacky interesting statues, a playground, and luxury condos above the stores.

On Sunday, the Americana was packed. But what was remarkable was that the stores themselves weren't crowded. Instead, everyone was outside, sitting on the grass, hanging out by the fountain, or watching their kids on the playground. And while there were plenty of people eating on the Cheesecake Factory's outside patio, there was a conspicuous lack of shopping bags.

It seemed like everyone had gone to the mall ... to sit outside on the grass.

I'm not exactly sure why no one was shopping on Sunday. It could be because of the recession, or because the Americana mostly features upscale expensive shops like Barney's and Kate Spade. But I can tell you why people flock to the Americana all the same. It's because there's a paucity of public parks in LA. With a few exceptions, such as Griffith Park or MacArthur Park, there are relatively few neighborhood parks in Los Angeles where you can sprawl on the lawn and read a book or throw a ball around with a friend.

Now I know, I know. Lawns aren't eco-friendly in a drought-prone area like LA. But the truth is, people like grass and trees, and a village green is much more eco-friendly than everyone having their own backyard lawn. And especially in a place like Los Angeles, where it's sunny all the time, people need more spaces where they can enjoy the outdoors.

Unfortunately, land is also expensive, and so instead of getting more parks, we end up with outdoor malls. Contrast this with Prague, where I went two summers ago. Prague is famous for its old buildings of course, but it is also justifiably famous for its parks and gardens. And there are parks EVERYWHERE. And if you turn into a random alleyway, chances are good you will land up in some public garden.

I read once that one of the reasons the Czech are so outdoorsy is because when the Communist Regime controlled the media, people headed outdoors because it was the only place to escape the government.

But even those of us in messy capitalist democracies need to escape outside now and then. We all need time to lean against a tree, or to teach our child how to throw a frisbee. It would be nice if we could have more parks, but until then, people are going to make do. 

And so people will probably continue to visit the Americana and not shop. Because LA didn't REALLY need another mall, but we desperately needed that patch of green.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hidden Plastic in My Face Wash

All right guys. I admit, when it comes to all those face products, I'm kind of an idiot. For years, I washed my face with Noxema until a friend of mine told me I had to stop because I wasn't twelve. Since then, I switched to Neutrogena Cream Cleanser, and have been using that, and a moisturizer/SPF and that's it. No exfoliant, no toner (I just learnt what toner is, though, so I'm very proud), no foundation. I'm very no muss, no fuss.

Well, the other day, I was at the mall dealing with one of my many iBook issues, when I saw a Body Shop store. Aside from my face moisturizer which I tend to stock up on, I don't really buy much from there. But I seemed to remember the store as being somewhat environmentally responsible. I even remember being able to refill your bottles back in the nineties. (You can't anymore.) And at one point, they had had a cucumber face wash that I had used to wash my face for a couple months. I was in college at the time, so it had been too expensive to use on a daily basis, but I remembered liking it, and hell, I can afford a little more than Noxema now. So I went into the store to see whether they still carried it.

They didn't carry the cucumber face wash anymore, but the saleswoman recommended a Vitamin C face polish scrub thing. Now looking back, I'm not sure why I was so stupid, because I KNOW that you all have written about face wash. And yet, at that moment, everything I had read went flying out of my head. I couldn't remember what was bad and what was okay. I vaguely thought laurel sulfate was perhaps something to avoid, but I couldn't remember why or if I was confusing laurel sulfate with something else. (I wasn't.)

Anyway, the point is, I bought the stupid Vitamin E face polish scrub. "Because," I reasoned, "It's from The Body Shop. It MUST be better than Neutrogena. At least it's in a bottle made from 30% post-consumer plastic."

Reader, shoot me now. Because what I have to tell you is so embarrassing, I'm not sure I can stand to go on. But to keep you from making my mistakes, I'll continue.

So I started to use this damn scrub thing. And ... you guessed it, it irritated the hell out of my skin. "Crap," I thought. "This is NOT going to work." But at this point, I'd already bought the face scrub, and I NEVER just throw stuff away. So I kept using it, and hating it, and wondering if my skin was doomed. Finally, I started using a face wash sample Honda gave me, and my skin started to clear up, but I still felt compelled to use the face scrub a couple times a week since you know ... I didn't want to WASTE it.

And then, my friend DJ sent me an article about face scrub. Now you probably know this because you're not an Eco Dunce. But apparently, these face scrubs contain microplastic or polyethylene, and it's killing the sea life.

As soon as I read the article, I was panic stricken. HOW, HOW, had I not known about this? I mean, this is the kind of thing that should have been new to me 7 months ago! Not NOW. I read Fake Plastic Fish every damn day! How did I miss both this and this article she links to on her HOME PAGE?!

So, I went home, and sure enough, it contains polyethylene. My horrible face scrub that irritated my face is also killing sea life. Wow, isn't that awesome! Let's not discuss the irony that I gave up my beloved Neutrogena for this product because I assumed (stupidly and incorrectly) that it would be more eco-friendly than Neutrogena.

So I threw away the face polish. Then I fished it out of the trash, because I decided instead that I'm going to send it back to The Body Shop with a letter explaining why I'm sending it to them. Let's see how they defend the fracking polyethelene when they claim that one of their five values as a company is to protect the planet.

I'll let you know if I ever get a response (I'm not holding my breath.)

In the mean time, if anyone can recommend a good face wash, I'm in the market for something. Ideally a cream cleanser, but if it's not causing me to break out constantly while killing plankton, it will be a step up from my last face wash.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Easy Green: The Alt-Consumerist Guide To Gift Giving

One of the questions I get asked a lot is, what have I been doing about presents for the past year?

Well, the truth is, that presents are on the list of exempted items. I made an exception for presents because I was trying to make this year as easy on my friends and family as possible. I figured that since they're not non-consumerists it wasn't fair to hold them to my rules.

But, as the year progressed, I started to realize that I was generally able to buy nice gifts for people that weren't durable items. 

Here's the thing about presents. How many of you have a pile of crap that other people gave you that you never ever use? 

Yeah, me too. So instead of giving people stuff they'll never use, why not give them a different kind of gift?

So without further, ado, here's my alt-consumerist gift giving guide:

Gifts for babies (Good for baby showers or early birthdays):

  • Okay, let's be honest here. These gifts are not strictly speaking for baby. They're generally for Mommy and Daddy. So one of your options here is to cut to the chase. Instead of buying the parents yet another baby monitor, consider pooling in with some people for a gift certificate for a cleaning service. Other options in this vein could include food, a gift certificate for a massage, etc. Or hey, how about offering your baby sitting services a couple times a month so that Mom and Dad can have a date night without (too much) worry.
  • If you want to get something for the baby, consider making part of the gift. If you're crafty you could knit a hat or crochet a blanket. If you're like me, and the least crafty person ever, don't despair. For Bean's first birthday, I bought a used copy of my favorite childhood book. Then, I recorded myself reading the book on a CD, and I sent both the CD and book to her. I live too far away to read to Bean in person, but I figured the CD was the next best thing.

Gifts for Children:

  • Have a hard time keeping up with the many, many birthday parties your child attends? Make life simple on yourself. Go to your local movie theatre, and pick up a bunch of movie gift certificates. Then any time your kid gets invited to a birthday, stick a movie gift certificate in a card, and you're done. After all, what kid doesn't like going to the movies?
  • Other good options include gift certificates to mini golf, bowling, ice skating, Chuck E Cheese, etc.
  • For a child you're close to, like a niece, nephew or cousin, or your own progeny, consider buying them a token gift (like a used book) and then taking them out as their main gift. The child would much rather have quality one on one time with Aunt Sue than another toy. You can do anything you think you'd both enjoy whether that be a picnic at the park, a fancy tea at a hotel, a trip to the zoo, or a baseball game.
Gifts for Teenagers:

  • Teenagers are hard. But gift-giving is not. Hand them cash. Trust me. 
  • If you really don't want to give them cash, an iTunes gift card is a pretty safe bet. 
Gifts for Friends:

  • Again, friends are pretty easy. I've done all kinds of things here. One of the most fail-safe is to take your friend out to dinner. 
  • But there are plenty of options here as well. Pool together with a few friends to buy a spa gift certificate. Or take your friend out to a concert, or to a play. Again, your friend would rather spend time with you, than get more stuff.
  • And if your wallet is feeling a little light, a bottle of wine is always classy, and often inexpensive. (Try Trader Joe's or Cost Plus World Market for good, inexpensive wines.)
Gifts for Weddings:

  • I actually love buying non-traditional wedding gifts and have pretty much stopped purchasing stuff off of registries. Because frankly, I find cheese graters sort of boring, and doesn't everyone live together before marriage these days? It's not like we're all Victorians living with our parents until we say, "I do." So how did you grate your cheese before marriage? Yeah, I thought so. So instead of buying the bride and groom a cheese grater they already probably own, why not just buy them cheese? Yes, there really are Cheese of the Month Clubs. And they are awesome. Because nothing says, "I love you," like cheese.
  • In that vein, what about a Wine of the Month Club? A group of people pooled in to buy a year long membership for Honda and Mr. Honda, and they say it was their favorite wedding present.
  • Oh, but there's more! Spice of the Month Club? Tea of the Month Club? Fruit of the Month Club? You name it, it probably exists!
  • Okay, I get it. You are tired of the month clubs. Do I have any other options? Why yes I do. What about a CSA share?
  • No food? Okay, how about movie passes so that the husband and wife can enjoy Friday date nights? Or a gift certificate for a couples massage? Or a gift certificate for a nice restaurant? Or how about chipping in with a few people and paying for a couple nights in a hotel so that the couple can have a little weekend get-away?
  • And if all else fails? You know what married couples like most? Cash!
Gifts for Family:

  • What does your mom want most of all? She wants to spend time with you! For Mother's Day, my sister and I flew out to spend the weekend with my mom. Now granted, that's a pretty carbon-heavy present, but on the other hand, we will all three have memories of that weekend for the rest of our lives. 
  • Here's a less carbon-intense option: make a nice scrapbook for your mom filled with family pictures.
  • This one is for your brother's family next Christmas. Instead of buying five presents, one for your brother, one for his wife, and three for the kids, why not just buy them a present they can all enjoy? A year long membership to the zoo or aquarium? What about a museum subscription? In addition, a lot of theatre companies now offer a subscription specifically for families for the kid-friendly shows. These are usually less expensive than the regular theatre subscriptions, and the plays are aimed at younger audiences.
Gifts for Teachers/Coaches/Etc:

  • As a former SAT teacher, I can say hands down, the best gift you can give, is cash. Seriously. Even if you're not giving much, I would rather have $5 than a $5 doodad. 
  • If you can't stomach giving $5 and a nice card, what about a $5 iTunes or Starbucks gift card? Even $5 will get you a couple coffees or five songs.
  • Still not convinced? Okay, I'll let you buy "stuff." How about a couple nice soaps from the farmers' market? At least those are useful! Or what about a nice beeswax candle?
  • There is also food. But I gotta warn you, teachers tend to get food a lot as presents. Honestly, if you feel comfortable with it, a bottle of wine would be better because the wine will keep.
Now listen. I'm not against giving "stuff" here and there. In fact, some of the best gifts I've given have been things. If you find the PERFECT gift for someone, and it happens to be a thing, go for it! But all too often, I think we buy stuff for people, stuff we're not sure they'll ever use. So on those occasions, why not think outside the gift box?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Recently, there have been some interesting discussions on the blogosphere regarding the Easterlin Paradox. (Be sure to read the comments.) For those of you who have never heard of the Easterlin Paradox, I'll give you a quick run down. Devised by economist Richard Easterlin over 30 years ago, the Easterlin Paradox argues that, "contrary to expectation, happiness at a national level does not increase with wealth once basic needs are fulfilled."

This paradox is used by economists and environmentalists alike to demonstrate that money isn't everything, and that GDP is merely an indicator of a nation's financial well-being, and not an indicator of its citizens general well-being. As such, more and more economists and environmentalists favor a metric like the Genuine Progress Indicator or the Gross National Happiness to determine a nation's well-being.

But does the Easterlin Paradox really hold up to scrutiny? A new study by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of the University of Pennsylvania suggests otherwise. Stevenson tells the New York Times, “The central message is that income does matter.” 

So what does this all mean? I only ever minored in economics, and I was a reluctant economics student at best. However, I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle. To me, the problem with the Easterlin Paradox resides in this pernicious little phrase, "once basic needs are fulfilled." 

If there is one thing I've learnt during my non-consumerist journey, it is that it is not easy for me to distinguish a want from a need. Take my laptop. Is it a basic need? Strictly speaking, of course it's not. Plenty of people do without a computer just fine. And yet, if I'm being honest, I do consider my computer a necessity. If I couldn't afford a computer, I would consider myself worse off than I am now. 

And there's the rub. In a first world society, basic needs such as food and shelter are being met for the vast majority of the populace. And not only are they being met, but for many people there's never any real question of those needs not being met. As such, I would posit that those basic needs become what I would term "sub-basic," and, in turn, non-basic needs like a computer or a car become basic needs. In essence, when one set of needs are fulfilled, human beings begin to aim to fulfill another higher set of needs.

The question is, does money continue to help us as we aim to fulfill higher and higher sets of needs? Stevenson and Wolfers argue yes. But the chart they offer to the New York Times paints a slightly different picture. If you look at the chart, you see a pretty reasonable correlation in income and happiness up until you hit the $25,000 per capita GDP mark. After that things become much less clear. For example, the United States has a higher per capita GDP than Canada, yet Canada has a higher happiness index. Similarly, Norway's per capita GDP is about the same as the United States, yet Norway boasts the higher happiness index. And apparently Denmark, not Disneyland, is the happiest place on Earth, even though several countries have a higher per capita GDP than Denmark.

So it appears it's not as simple as saying that more money results in greater happiness. Denmark may have a lower per capita GDP than the United States, but the country has a much stronger social safety net, which is very likely why the Danes tend to be happier than Americans. So while the Danes might make a little less than their American counterparts, they make up for it in social services such as subsidized child care, universal health care, and free university education. 

To me, that seems like a pretty sweet deal. I would gladly trade a chunk of my income for the security that comes with such a social safety net. So while money can buy happiness to a point, ultimately, security of well being is more important to me than income. Furthermore, in my personal experience, once I hit a certain level of income, time became a much more valuable commodity than money. For example, for a while, in addition to my regular job, I would tutor on the weekends. I quit tutoring, even though it was quite lucrative, because I realized that my time was more important than the extra $150 a week. In this case, more money wasn't making me happier.

What do you think? Would you rather receive a 10% raise, or would you prefer to be offered flex-time or the ability to work from home instead? Would you rather an extra week's pay or an extra week's vacation? Would you rather pay 33% in taxes as we do in America or would you prefer the Danish system where one pays 50% in taxes, but receives subsidized child care, universal health care, and free university schooling in return? Do you believe that increase in wealth results in an increase in happiness?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bay Area: Heaven On Earth?

In case you can't tell from the title, I had a wonderful trip. I got to see my mom, various relatives, childhood friends, family friends, high school friends, college friends, post-college friends, and blogger friends!

The wedding was beautiful and untraditional. San Francisco was as gorgeous and foggy as always, though I got lucky and it did warm up the afternoon I was there.

It was a great time, though, I admit not particularly relaxing as we seemed to constantly be running from one event to the next. As such, I didn't have a ton of time to just sit back and reflect, but I couldn't help but notice how sustainable the Bay Area seems to be.

See, I grew up in a small town 40 miles south of San Francisco. Now let me tell you, suburbs 40 miles outside of Los Angeles aren't particularly erm ... crunchy or diverse. There are very few non-chain restaurants, and the suburbs are one housing development after another after another after a strip mall. There doesn't tend to be much in the way of public transport, and while there is often one farmers' market nearby, there's usually only the one within 10 miles. So, essentially, they are similar to the suburbs that have been much maligned (unfairly or no) by various environmentalists.

My little home town is entirely different. Because while it's 40 miles south of San Francisco, it's only 10 minutes from San Jose. So there are still plenty of small, independent restaurants, and stores. The city is fairly diverse, there are multiple farmers' markets that operate in a 10 mile radius, and the Cal Train that travels to San Francisco isn't particularly far away. The public transit situation could be better, but altogether, it's fairly sustainable for a suburb.

So while it is technically "the suburbs" its very different in character from what we normally view as the suburbs. And because the Bay Area consists of THREE satellite cities (instead of one) every suburb in the ring between San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose still tends to be fairly diverse, with lots of small shops, restaurants, and somewhat reasonable access to public transit. And the public schools are almost all excellent. In fact, if they ever get BART to San Jose, and find a good way to connect San Jose and Oakland, the Bay Area might be the most perfect place in the world. Did I mention that my mom is there? And that she cooks for me so I don't have to eat the pitiful meals that I otherwise make?

I wasn't in town for very long, but I did manage to see Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute, and I got to meet the Breakthrough Generation fellows, who are an awesome group of intelligent, committed college students. And on Tuesday, I had breakfast with the lovely Cindy W, and the great Green Bean. Although none of us had ever met in person, it was funny because all three of us felt we knew each other so well! The conversation was easy, and frankly, I could have gabbed the day away, but alas, we all had various family obligations to attend to. The only bum note was when our waiter informed us that the restaurant had neither syrup nor oatmeal which meant that we were unable to order about half of the menu. But menu selection aside, it was a pretty great breakfast. 

And that's the story of my mini-vacation. How have you all been doing?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I Can Has Vacashun?

Hi all, just wanted to let you know I'm in the Bay Area for the next few days attending a wedding, spending time with my mom, seeing various friends, and meeting up with a few bloggers!

So I probably won't be posting until Wednesday or Thursday. Have a great weekend, and when I come back I'll be able to give you the scoop on some of the bloggers I met. You know, answering your questions like, " Is Green Bean REALLY a bean?" (I think she might secretly be a root vegetable.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

What The Eff Is Going On With Our God Damned Food!!!

Seriously people, what the eff? I know, I know, I try hard to be happy and shiny and all, "We can build a better future and sing kumbaya while holding hands and then we can cure blindness through the power of our love."

But it is a little hard sometimes to be optimistic about everything when our food systems are freaking collapsing in FRONT OF OUR VERY EYES!!

Spinach, pet food, seafood, tomatoes, I mean really, isn't this getting a little ridiculous? Isn't someone going to step up to the plate and say, "Hey. This isn't really working out that well for us. Maybe we should change the way we grow food?"

Oh, but see, that would be too easy. Instead, I have read various suggestions including, I am not fucking kidding, not ever eating vegetables raw.

Yeah. You know where I don't eat raw vegetables? In INDIA. You know, that third world country on the other side of the world? I am okay with not eating raw vegetables in India. Because frankly, it's India. I don't expect the electricity to stay on all day, I don't expect the hot water to be working. And I stay dehydrated rather than use the bathroom in the train, because the restroom consists of a toilet seat with a hole, and frankly, there is nothing more discomfiting than staring into a toilet bowl to see the tracks beneath you. But that's INDIA.

This is AMERICA. Aren't we beyond this? Isn't our flipping food supposed to be, oh I don't know, SAFE?!!!!!!

I am sorry, I guess I am a little cranky. Which is kinda weird, because I have been eating tomatoes all week. Because I bought my local tomatoes at a farmers' market and therefore I know that they are safe. And also delicious in my bison meat sloppy joes.

But you know what? I am tired. I am tired of watching as our infrastructure breaks down. And what's more, I am tired of people EXPECTING our infrastructure to break down. It's like we're all so demoralized by Iraq, Katrina, etc that our expectations have diminished. We see problems with our infrastructure and instead of being shocked and outraged, we shrug our shoulders. Because ... meh. What do you expect?

This is a dangerous road we're traveling on, the road of expecting less. Because when we expect less, we get less. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I've witnessed this first-hand in India. As India has prospered, I've noticed that people have started to expect more. And you know what? They're slowly starting to get more.

Well, I'm done with expecting less. I want food that is safe, I want water that is drinkable straight out of the tap, I want roads that aren't filled with potholes, I want schools that aren't falling apart, and I want bridges that won't collapse. And what's more, I EXPECT all of these things. Because this is America, and I am tired of lowering my expectations. 

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ten Months, Nine Days

I realized a few days ago that I let my tenth month of non-consumerism blow right past without even acknowledging it. I guess I'm at the point where I kind of take my non-consumerism for granted.
Non-consumerism: You never take me out anymore! We used to talk all the time, you know, about the future and our dreams and stuff. And now you barely say two words to me!
Arduous: Baby, chill out. You know I still love ya.
Non-consumerism: Yeah, but would it kill you to say it sometimes?
Arduous: What can I say, Non-consumerism. You consume me.
Non-consumerism: Hah hah. I'm still mad at you.
Okay, I'm having conversations with an idea now. I'm officially loopy.

If I'm being honest, I'm actually kinda sad that this project is ending so soon. I mean, I am definitely, definitely looking forward to new underwear. But ... it's going to be weird. In a way, being a non-consumerist makes life easier. It's so black and white. There's no weighing, "Can I buy this? Do I need this? Can I afford it?" It's so nice, so clean, so simple. And once I'm done with this challenge, I'll be back in the world of grays. And I worry a little. What if I go back to my consumeristic self? What if I buy one new thing and it unleashes a year's worth of pent up buying frustration? I mean, I don't FEEL frustrated, but what if I am and I don't even REALIZE it?

On the other hand, it will be nice to occasionally buy stuff without the incredible time hassle that is now required for so many things. For instance, did you know that very few people feel like selling their fans in June? Shocking, I know. And it's sort of frustrating that I can't just pick one up at the Bed, Bath, and Beyond especially considering that the reason I need a fan is because I'm attempting to go the summer without turning on my a/c. Part of the reason I'm not composting yet is because I can't go out and buy a worm bin, and I don't really think I own anything suitable.

And lest y'all get the wrong impression, I haven't been a total saint. I've committed a few transgressions in the past ten months. Let's see. I bought a new battery for my iBook, and a new battery for my iPod. Both purchases sort of fell into questionable territory because I only gave up new durable items for the year. Is a rechargeable battery durable? I don't know. Sorta. But in any case, I didn't really see how I could avoid the purchases seeing as I didn't want to just do without my laptop and iPod for the rest of the year.

What else? Oh, I guess I should count the fact that I got my laptop fixed when it died. I mean, again, it's questionable, because instead of buying a new laptop, I just had the old one fixed. But seriously, I'm not blind. I can see clearly that Apple was nice enough to give me a new keyboard, and who knows what other parts are new inside my computer.

I also recently bought some cheesecloth. The cheesecloth itself falls into the gray durable/non-durable area and frankly, if I had been using the cheesecloth, I'd be inclined to let it slide. But since I haven't used the cheesecloth once yet, I actually think this has been my biggest sin.

Oh, and then there's the diva cup. I really don't count this as a transgression at all because if I hadn't bought the cup, I would have had to buy more disposable tampons. But I guess while I'm confessing all, I might as well mention it.

And ... as far as I can remember that's it. So that's five (sorta) transgressions in ten months. Not too shabby, huh?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Friggin Mosaic-licious, Yo*

As seen everywhere.

Create a mosaic based on the following questions:

1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food?
3. What high school did you go to?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. Favorite drink?
7. Dream vacation?
8. Favorite dessert?
9. What do you want to be when you grow up?
10. What do you love most in life?
11. One word to describe you.
12. Your Flickr name.

The instructions to create the mosaic are:
Type your answers to each of the questions below into Flickr Search
Using only the first page, pick an image
Copy and paste each of the URLs into the mosaic maker

Photo Credits:

1. eye of einstein, 2. suchitraprints, 3. zoomar, 4. PYHOOYA, 5. monsieurlam, 6. adulau, 7. babasteve, 8. ulterior epicure, 9. Niemster, 10. babblingdweeb, 11. dannyman , 12. Roobee

*Title for GB

Minority Report

Re-reading my post yesterday and the comments, I'm starting to feel like I was unnecessarily harsh in my review of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. A reader of my review might never have guessed that I couldn't put the book down, that I laughed at Kingsolver's turkey tribulations, that I started to understand, more fully, why local eating is about more than merely reducing carbon emissions.

But for some reason, I didn't feel like cutting Kingsolver a ton of slack. Her world sounds like a lovely one, but it also feels like a world in which I have no place. I can't imagine living on a rural American farm, and not just because I love city life, or because I enjoy living five minutes away from grocery stores, bars, schools, parks, restaurants, and theatres, though those are good things. I can't imagine living in rural America because I can't imagine always feeling as if I was walking on eggshells wondering if someone was looking at me strange, or if that lady was rude to me because she had a bad day or because she hated brown people. And I really can't imagine living in an area where I was the only minority.

On the other hand, just two days ago I wrote about my love for Enid Blyton novels, and certainly, if I have no place in rural America, I really had no place as an Indian-American in 1950s upper-middle class Britain. Blyton's books make no mention of South Asians, though presumably there must have been SOME Indians living in Britain at the time. And Americans were always stereotyped as loud, rich, and not terribly smart. But as a child, I let this all wash off my back. I would imagine myself as another student at St. Clare's and just assume that I would show all the girls that their prejudices against Americans were invalid. I never let my race, nationality, or sex get in the way of my Blytonian fantasies of solving crimes and going to boarding school.

Why the disconnect between the way I treat the two authors? Is it the difference between approaching material as a idealistic young girl and a more cynical adult? It is because Blyton's dream world is fictional, whereas Kingsolver's world is all too real? Is it because I view Blyton as a product of her time, whereas Kingsolver lives in MY time? And what did I really expect from Kingsolver anyway? She likes living in the rural South. Isn't that okay? Did I really need her to write an apologia on behalf of the South? "Dear Minorities in America. I'm sorry you don't feel welcome here. Want some cheese? Love, Babs."

Actually, that might not have been so bad... I do like cheese.

It's an interesting thing being a blogger in what is presumed to be a predominantly white blogosphere. In real life, I never need to state that I'm not white. My name, my skin color, even the way I gesticulate telegraph my race for me. But on the blogosphere, it's easy for a casual reader to assume I must be white like everyone else. And thus, I often feel the need to signal, "Hey! It's me! Arduous! Not white! Wait, guys, it's me, again!! Still not white!!"

While I do think the minority viewpoint is an important one to bring to the table, and while I do see it as, somewhat, my responsibility to be that minority voice, I also recognize that that responsibility can sometimes work the other way. Because I sometimes feel like I'm not just representing myself, but all minorities, I can be over-sensitive in blogland in a way that I'm not in real life. I can read a book and become disgruntled over a small part of the book that I find exclusive and ignore the fact that the majority of the book is about a subject that unites all of humanity: food.

So while I think it's still important for me to provide my "minority perspective," I also think it's important that I pull back from time to time and remember, that in the end, there is more that unites us than divides us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle- Book Review

The book is overdue as is the review, but it's already past my bedtime, so I'm going to have to keep this short and sweet.

I enjoyed Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver's lyrical tale of eating locally. It's well-written and engaging, and I warn you, after you read the book, you will suddenly be filled with the demented desire to make your own cheese.

It's a book I fully recommend. And yet ... yes, there is an "and yet."

And yet the book made me uneasy. The book begins as Kingsolver, her husband Steven L. Hopp, and her two daughters Camille and Lily decide to move away from Tucson, Arizona to make their permanent home in Appalachia. Once they're settled into their new home and farm, they embark on a year-long project to eat as locally as possible. The resulting story is sweet, profound, and just a tad too idyllic for my taste.

Because, frankly, running the farm, cooking from scratch, killing your chickens, and making your own pasta and cheese seems damn hard. I can't imagine the hours that must have gone into canning tomato sauce, drying fruit, and making sausage, not to mention the planting, weeding, and harvesting.

Kingsolver acknowledges that farming is hard work, and suggests that farmers should be paid more for such back-breaking work. While I'm on record saying that I can't in full conscience support higher food prices, I do agree with her that farmers should get paid more. Farming seems to be a never-ending fairly thankless job, and I have to admit, I am happy not to do it.

But oddly, Kingsolver never seems to fully acknowledge the hard work cooking entails, nor does she seem to think that cooking is a job that really deserves compensation. She writes:

"Cooking without remuneration" and "slaving over a hot stove" are activities separated mostly by a frame of mind. The distinction is crucial. Career women in many countries still routinely apply passion to their cooking, heading straight from work to the market to search out the freshest ingredients, feeding their loved ones with aplomb. (127)

I sort of get where she's trying to go with this here. I understand that she's trying to reframe cooking, so that we see it less as a housewifely duty, and more as a fulfilling, and pleasurable pursuit. But, man, it still bugs. Yes, I think cooking can be meaningful and fun. Yes, I think you can be a liberated feminist, and still cook a delicious meal for your man. Yes, I think there are plenty of people, men and women included, who simply enjoy cooking as a hobby.

But not everyone is like that. I enjoy good food, I enjoy complicated cuisine, and I love tasting new dishes. But I'm a reluctant cook. I always have been a fairly reluctant cook, and I suspect, to a certain extent, I always will. Cooking for me is a novelty that's enjoyable on occasion, but on a daily basis becomes drudgery. But Kingsolver never seems to understand that not everyone achieves the level of self-gratification that she receives from cooking.

It frustrates me when she writes, "We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families' tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable." (127) Because personally, I must admit that I receive more satisfaction in the workplace than I do in the kitchen. I concede completely that not everyone has the same experience, but to reduce the successful, enjoyable careers many women have to "the minivan and the Lunchable" seems rather unfair. (And really, does Kingsolver, celebrated author, feel the same way? Or does she not, simply because as an author who can work from home, she neither had to give up the bread rising nor the meaningful paid work?)

I appreciate that Kingsolver attempts to dispel some of the myths of the rural American South, and I admit that I know very little about the area or the people. Still, she doesn't particularly endear me to rural life with her explanation that country folk tend to view people as either "insiders" or "outsiders." She writes:

I am blessed with an ancestor who was the physician in this county from about 1910 into the 1940s ... But even a criminal ancestor will get you insider status, among the forgiving. Not so lucky are those who move here with no identifiable family ties. Such a dark horse is likely to remain "the new fellow" for the rest of his natural life, even if he arrived in his prime and lives to be a hundred. (209)

Well! How very comforting and amusing! Except when your parents arrived in this country in the 1970s and there is not a chance in hell that any of your ancestors, former convicts and all, ever stepped foot in the rural South. But hey, at least any "outsider" to the American South would get the same treatment, including a Bostonian whose family had lived in Massachusetts for generations. See, that's TOTALLY not racist or xenophobic!! Awesome. I feel better already.

Heh. I don't mean to rag on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's a book well worth reading, and at the very least, Kingsolver definitely makes you think about your food and where it came from, which is always a worthwhile pursuit. In fact, when you come down to it, I think Kingsolver and I agree more than we disagree. I believe food is important. I believe good food is worth the money. I believe we should know more about how and where our food is grown. And hell, I think everyone should know how to cook, even if they don't enjoy it. In the essentials, I believe in the same things as Kingsolver.

But I can't quite shake the feeling somehow, that Kingsolver's idyllic America is one to which I don't have complete access. And so, as much as I enjoyed Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I can't quite join the club of those who loved it without reservation. I guess I'm okay being an outsider on this after all.

Monday, June 9, 2008

One Local Homage

I decided not to participate in One Local Summer because frankly, I was feeling a little burnt out "challenge" wise. May had been kind of a disaster, I had barely managed my own challenge (ie I cheated a LOT) and I had completely ignored Crunchy's Extreme Eco Throwdown challenge.

So I figured I'd do my own personal challenge for June, but by and large, I wanted to keep things pretty challenge-free. Plus, I had the feeling that the Bean twins would be preparing these ridiculously amazing 12-course meals, and I'd be showing up to One Local Summer all, "I ate a salad."

Of course, then when it was too late I had a brain wave for One Local Summer, and while I think it's too late to join the challenge officially, this idea is too good to pass up. So, I decided I'm going to unofficially play along from time to time on this here blog.

See, when I was a child, I was a total bookworm. I read everything under the sun, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, you name it. But my absolute favorite author in the whole world, was none other than Enid Blyton.

I suspect at this point, CAE, Beany, and Pink Dogwood are nodding along, and the rest of you are looking at me all, "Huh?" Well, I am sorry, Americans. You led deprived childhoods. Because there are a few things the Brits do way better than anyone else in the world, and children's fiction is one of those things. While she lacks fame in the States, Enid Blyton is beloved worldwide, and her stories have inspired hundreds of thousands of readers, including, most famously JK Rowling. (Anyone else notice the many similarities between Mallory Towers and Hogwarts?)

Because Enid Blyton's books aren't readily available in the United States, reading a new book of hers always felt like a special and momentous occasion. Every time we traveled to India, we would have to make a stop at the bookstore right away so I could load up on Mallory Towers, Five Find-Outers, and Famous Five books. I'd hug my books to my chest, eagerly anticipating the moment when I would crack the spines open. As soon as we arrived home, I'd take my books, curl up on the divan, and be lost to the world until dinner, where I'd try to continue reading until someone yelled at me.

One of the most iconic attributes of any Enid Blyton book are the numerous passages detailing the meals the children eat. And, oh, man, did that food sound amazing! I was a little Indian-American girl, and I had never eaten nor seen most of this food, but I had visions in my head of what this heavenly food must taste like. Scones I imagined to be cone shaped pastries laced with honey. Macaroons must be syrupy sticky macaroni noodles, sort of half-pasta, half-Jalebi. Pudding I understood as we had that in the States, though I admit steak and kidney pudding confused the hell out of me. Chocolate sponges obviously looked like sponges and tasted of chocolate. And tinned sardines and kippers were utterly foreign, but I assumed that they must taste salty and wonderful, rather like beef jerky.

And then there was all the food that I did understand properly, toast oozing with butter, cucumber sandwiches, hunks of cheese and freshly baked bread, ripe fruit of all kinds, and newly laid eggs.

The books would always make me so hungry, that I would have to go to the kitchen and ask for some toast. Then I would sit, and continue to read, scattering crumbs here and there through the pages.
Anyway, back to One Local Summer. I've been complaining a lot about how cooking takes all this time, and I don't have the time, and so then I end up eating strawberries for dinner or something similarly sad, and that local eating is haaaaard! But then a few days ago, I had a brainstorm. Why not use Enid Blyton's novels as inspiration for One Local Summer?

See, the primary reason why the meals were so appealing, is that the children were always stopping at local farmhouses and buying newly made butter or recently picked corn. Everything was always fresh and extremely local. But the meals itself, aside from the baked goods like the macaroons and scones, were often pretty simple (because the children did a lot of picnicking and camping.) Even I can put together a meal of cucumber sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, ripe berries, and tea.

So here's my Enid Blyton-inspired local meal of the week:

Grilled whole-wheat bread with ripe red tomatoes and luscious goat brie cheese. Boiled corn on the cob dressed Indian style with lemon and mirch. One entire cucumber, a juicy apricot and a bowl of succulent blackberries. Prepared in under 10 minutes, and yet, as the Famous Five would say, absolutely "gorgeous!"

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Twenty Goddamned Nine!!

Saturday, I was walking to the movie theatre and I started thinking about how nine years ago, I had exclaimed to a professor of mine, "I'm in my twenties now! I can't believe I'm no longer a teenager. I'm OLD!"

And he had laughed because he knew, as I didn't really, how ridiculous such a statement was.

And I know that in nine years, I'll look back on this, and think, "I can't believe I thought 29 was old." And I'm not old, I know, really. But for some reason 29 is hitting me a lot harder than 28.

I was kinda morose about turning 29, but I have to say that all the birthday celebrations have been pretty awesome. My birthday party we threw last Friday. We went to one of my favorite karaoke bars, I got just a little bit okay a lot tipsy on cosmopolitans (which in my defense contained tequila, a substance not normally found in cosmos.) I sang a couple songs, which apparently were very well received by the drunken hordes. The next day, I had a pretty bad hangover (though my legs inexplicably hurt way more than my head), my throat killed me, and I realized that tequila is definitely something one must give up when one hits 29.

The day after my party, I got a call at 9:00 pm from my friend Pie who had accidentally gotten the wrong date for the party. So, I met up with her for dinner, and she gave me my birthday present: a bunch of her hand-me-down clothes that she thought I'd like. 

Then a few days ago, I got an email from my friend Ryl wishing me a happy birthday, since she wasn't sure she'd have email access on my actual birthday. She also told me that for my present, she wanted to give for a day in June on my behalf so I could take a little giving break which was pretty sweet.

Friday, I was feted at work. Saturday, Annie sent me a birthday email and The King called to wish me a happy birthday because he still can never figure out the time-difference between the States and India. And today I'm going to the farmers' market in the morning, and doing dinner with friends in the evening.

But since 10 days of non-stop celebrating isn't enough, next weekend I'm going to celebrate with my mom when I go home to the Bay Area. And the weekend after, Miss V and Honda are taking me to the spa as my (experiential alt-consumerist) birthday present!! So in total, I will have celebrated my birthday for one full month.

So you know, really, maybe 29 isn't so bad after all.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Little Debate

Colin Beavan, Michael Shellenberger and I have been engaged on a little back-and-forth in the comments to the Gandhi post on the Breakthrough blog. Here's my response to the discussion. (If you want the full discussion, you'll have to visit the post, but it's not strictly necessary.)

Michael, you know I love you, but I think this is a straw-man's argument you're making here.

If you look at Colin's first comment, he was specifically talking about "resource consumption" NOT income. Neither of us started discussing income until you brought it up. I'm not against money, I quite like money actually. And I won't speak for Colin, but, considering his wife works for Business Week, I would venture he'd agree with me.

I actually disagree with Bill McKibben when he talks about how it would be a-okay if we all made less money. I'm pro-growth. That's why I believe in creating a new economy, because I think we could be happier and maintain our income levels if instead of spending and making money on stuff, we were spending and making money on experiences. A world with a more piano teachers and fewer Gap clerks if you will.

But Michael, I think we agree much more than we disagree, and I think there's an opportunity here. As you know, I found the part of your book where you discuss "building an environmental church" particularly compelling. I agree with you completely, but I think what you're perhaps missing here is that we are BUILDING that church. That's what people like Colin, and Deanna Duke, and to a lesser extent myself, are doing day after day.

Every day, hundreds of "personal environmentalists" read and blog about their sustainable living adventures. These people are mostly women (Colin's a lucky man), and many of them are stay at home mothers. These are women who are not environmentalists by training or schooling, but are simply women who have started to look at the crises ahead, and are asking of themselves, "What can I do?"

Will any of my actions (not buying, driving less etc) by themselves stymie global warming? No, of course not. I'm not under any illusion that they will. But I believe I am out there, helping to build a social movement. I am building that church. I am reaching out to my fellow women, who, by the way, have been the cornerstone of every social movement from abolition onwards.

You talk extensively in your book about how we need to follow the paths of evangelical churches in creating an environmental movement. That we need to get people invested so they do more than merely throw a $25 donation to the Sierra Club once a year. I completely agree with you. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what the personal environmental movement is about. I think you possibly underestimate the satisfaction derived by us when we walk rather than drive, or buy local food from the farmers’ market, or make our own butter. 

Not only that, but these environmental bloggers, these women, are doing so much more. They’re investing in their community both online and offline. When an important member of the community is going through a rough time, they do the electronic equivalent of baking a casserole, they create a blogger tribute. Closer to home, they’re going to their city council meetings and demanding city-wide composting programs. They’re challenging Brita to recycle their water filters. And they’re slowly learning about the policy, reading books by Sachs, McKibben, and yes, by you and Ted. After all, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation in the first place if I hadn’t read about your book on a personal environmental blog.

So regardless of whether you think what Colin or I do makes a tangible difference, remember, we are your number one allies, Michael. We are doing this because we ultimately believe in the same things, because we’re trying to build a movement. We are building our church, we’re building your church, the best way we know how. So instead of focusing on where we disagree, let’s focus on where we agree. There’s a lot of energy here, and a lot of passion. Together, we can harness this energy. We can build a better future. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Michael. Come help us build that church.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Tribute to An Original

It is difficult in one short blog post to encapsulate the font of wisdom that is Crunchy Chicken. I mean seriously. That would be like Luke Skywalker writing a short blog post about everything he learned from Yoda. Or Frodo writing a 500 word article for Hobbit's Quarterly on what Gandalf taught him. Except Crunchy uses proper grammar, and she's not an old bearded wizard, but a six-foot tall blonde bombshell.

Anyway, I could talk about how Crunchy is the reason I'm a diva girl. Or I could talk about how it was thanks to her that I became compulsive about food waste, eating truckloads of bacon (for the Earth!) and re-ingesting my own vomit (okay, only kidding about that one.)

But what Crunchy has really taught me is at once more intangible and more important. Because it is from her that I have learned about the importance of community. I've learned about strength in the face of adversity. And hell, if I could approach my life with 10% of the passion Crunch approaches every single day, I'd think I was doing pretty good.

The reason I love Crunchy's blog, the reason we ALL love Crunchy's blog is because she inspires us, daily to be better people. She provides a place for us to try out new ideas, to stumble, to make fun of ourselves, but ultimately to grow. When Crunchy challenges us to be better, to live lighter, to work harder, it is always with the sense of fun, as if she is saying to us, "Come on people! You just have to try this because it will be so freaking cool to live without a fridge or appliances!" Even on the very rare occasion she doesn't convince me to try her newest crazy idea (keep your hands off my fridge, Chicken) I admire her vitality, and her enthusiasm.

It's fitting I think that I pay tribute to Crunchy this month, during the Giving Challenge, because Crunchy is another person who gives of herself as a way of life. Whether it is raffling off diva cups, sharing information about rust cleaner, or giving to girls in Africa, Crunchy is forever generous with her money, her time, and her heart. That she does this all, even as she endures personal difficulties, is a true testament to her generous nature and caring spirit. 

It is because of this, that we want to honor Crunchy today, that we want to give back to her. If you are one of the many people Crunchy has touched, help us give back to her as we attempt to raise $5,000 for her organization Goods 4 Girls. For details on how you can give back to Crunchy, please visit our tribute website, A Crunchy Tribute.

Thanks, Deanna. I am better for having you in my life. We all are.

Your friend (whom you've never met)


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Etc, Etc & A Blog Give Away

Changing Focus: Part Three will be coming next week. Probably Monday. I know, I promised it to you today, but I'm pretty tired, and I'd rather finish it up next week when my head doesn't feel all full of cotton.

The Giving Challenge is ... harder than I thought, mostly because it's not always easy for me to come up with some simple way to squeeze giving into the average work day. Any suggestions? I have been making it a point to act more polite and positive in general. Even when I'm getting put on hold by my cable company's customer service. Especially then. And it turns out staying positive actually is better for my psyche too. 

On an unrelated subject, I somewhat arbitrarily made the choice to not put my picture or my name up on this blog. (Mostly for Google search reasons.) However, if you are interested to see what I look like, there is a picture of me up on the Breakthrough blog. You'll have to scroll down to the post about Gandhi to see it.

Finally, for today's giving, I'm giving away a book on my blog. It has nothing to do with the environment, but it's an enormously fun novel and a quick read. It's called The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, and if you like literature, mysteries, ghost stories, and are looking for an easy summer read, this is your book. If you're interested, please leave a comment specifying that you would like to be included in my little book raffle. 

ETA: Oh I can't believe I forgot to mention this, but someone STOLE my bath mat the other day from the laundry room!! Can you believe that? Why would you STEAL a two year old bath mat? I am trying to be zen about the whole thing in the spirit of JuGiveMo, but it is a little annoying especially because I can't just go out and BUY another bath mat. Sigh. Stupid stealer of my bath mat. It was so cute and yellow and matched the devil duckies in my bathroom. I miss it. Sniff.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Changing Focus- Part Two

Now, some of you may have read my last post and thought, "Wow. That Arduous. She's nice and all, but she's kinda unrealistic. Here we are facing some of the biggest crises of the century, and she's out there doing jumping jacks and pyramid formations for a brighter future. I mean REALLY. Do we even LIVE on the same planet? How the hell does she expect me to believe that not only are we going to deal with major problems like global warming, but that somehow we're going to come out the other end BETTER. Does she really believe that global warming can bring about a more positive future? Is she nuts?"

And, again, I get it. On the surface, it does seem nuts. But I believe firmly that crises can be catalysts for positive change. 

Let me provide you with an example from my life. Four years ago, my father passed away very suddenly of a massive heart attack. Less than a week after he died, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. My life, which had been fairly happy-go-lucky up until then, all of a sudden seemed ripped from a Lifetime movie of the week. 

Losing my dad sucked. Watching my mom go through chemo sucked. For a while, I lived in a constant state of grief. I couldn't understand how the world kept turning. How the newspapers kept reporting about the presidential election. Why did other people get to live their lives so peacefully when my life had effectively ended?

But slowly, I began to come out of my fog. And I learned a few things about myself. One, that my life, inexplicably, hadn't ended. Two, that my capacity to feel, whether it be grief, love, or happiness, was much greater than I had ever imagined. Three, that even when I felt weak, I was much stronger and more resilient than I had ever imagined possible. Four, that there were so many, many people out there who loved me, and cared about me, that I had so much to be thankful for, even in the face of tragedy.

I don't wish this kind of personal crisis on anyone. Hell, I don't wish it on myself. But ... it happened. And because of it, I am a better person. I am a stronger person. And I am a more confident person. Because once you go through shit like that, you know, deep in your heart, that if you can handle that? You can handle whatever else life wants to throw at you.

Difficult times test us like no others. And sometimes, we succumb to defeat. Sometimes, difficult times can bring out the worst in people. But difficult times can also often bring out the best in humanity. 

On a national scale, take a look at some of our greatest presidents like Abraham Lincoln and FDR. These are presidents that were made stronger and greater because of the crises they faced. Our nation itself is better for the difficulties it has gone through. The Civil War resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, but it also brought an end to slavery. The Great Depression brought us unemployment, bank runs, and the loss of fortunes. But it also brought us a more secure banking system, Social Security, and other much needed social safety nets. In other words, our country is better and stronger for having gone through and withstood these crises.

Now some of you might be thinking again, "Oh, great, Arduous. So you're saying that global warming could result in war, unemployment and unstable financial markets, but then that EVENTUALLY we'd be better off. Wow, yeah "civil war" scenarios are really hopeful."

And you would have a point. Both the end of slavery and the advent of Social Security were bought at a very steep cost. So here's where we have to apply some of the lessons of history. The Civil War came at such a steep cost because for years and years, we dithered around the subject, operating out of fear of change. We were so afraid of what would happen if slavery ended, that we waited and waited until there was no choice but to bring about the end of slavery in an extremely painful way. Similarly, while the stock market crash was certainly a terrible crisis, the fear that came out of it was worse. In fact, the subsequent run on the banks had a far worse effect on the economy than the stock market crash itself.

So, first, we have to remember that crises aren't necessarily bad. That they can bring with them opportunities and positive change. Next we have to remember that progress is natural. That life keeps moving forward, that there is no societal turning back to the "old days" no matter how wonderful those days seem. And then, we need to approach said crises with hope, with full hearts, and with faith that we can take on these crises and come out better. If we approach crises from a position of hope and strength, then I believe we can mitigate the worst effects of said crises. The sooner we stop fearing climate change the better. Because as soon as we stop acting afraid, we can begin to positively deal with the problem at hand. We can take this crisis we've been given, and turn the crisis into a positive BEFORE the costs start to grow any further.

Tomorrow (assuming I'm not brain dead)- Part Three: One lay blogger's prescription for a brighter future.

P.S. For the record, my mother's cancer-free now. Yay, my mom!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Changing Focus- Part One

All right guys, it's time to put your thinking caps on. I'm sorry, I DID talk about fashion and brunch for like three days. But now I gotsta wax philosophical again, yo.

Well, it's all the ever thought-provoking Chile's fault really. Because a week ago, after she announced a "Quit Your Addictions" challenge, she and her readers engaged in a really fantastic discussion about "changing the focus."

I didn't jump in the fray, because frankly, I was just enjoying soaking up the discussion. But I've been pondering the discussion for days now, and so I feel I have to come clean.

There was a time a few months ago, when trying to lead an environmentally-conscious life was killing me. Reading green blogs all the time was making me nutso. I was having nightmares about worst-case scenarios, I would watch people eating ice-cream and think, "How can people be laughing and eating ice-cream when the world is in crisis!"

In short, being green was making me miserable. (Okay, one of my best friends had just passed away so I would have been fairly unhappy either way, but I think it's fair to say that thinking about environmental catastrophes all the time wasn't helping either.)

I felt hopeless. Like here I was trying to do little lame things to "save the world," when there WAS no saving the world. Scientists agree that even if we were all to stop carbon emitting right now, global warming would still happen to some extent. There is no way to completely turn the clock back. So I'd get all upset about global warming, and then I'd happen on a site about peak oil or the food crisis or the economic crisis and how we're sliding into a depression, and pretty soon I would be a total mess.

By this point, I was seriously contemplating saying "eff it," and giving up on my personal environmentalism. Because, I'm sure you haven't noticed this (ha ha) but I have a contrary streak a mile wide. When people tell me that the world is getting worse day by day, my instinct is to be like, "Fine. Then what's even the point? Maybe I'll just turn on ALL my lights and then rent a plane and fly around the world twelve times for no reason!"

I admit it's not the most mature response, but there it is.

I don't respond well to negativity. When the focus is negative, I want to give up. I want to be a bad person. I want to stop caring.

It was especially fortuitous then that about the time I was going through this personal environmental turmoil, I decided to read Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus' book Break Through. I've already discussed the book a few times, but suffice it to say, the book turned me around. It helped me to shift focus, and made me realize that there IS hope.

But to go back to last week's discussion on Chile's blog, one comment in particular hit me very hard. Mollyjade writes:
I've been internally debating whether I should join the challenge (aspartame). And I think a good deal of my conflict has to do with this positive/negative divide. I have a chronic illness that means I won't survive if there's a massive breakdown in our infrastructure. So preparing for a world in which I have to be totally self-sufficient seems pointless because I could never live in that world.

I just can't believe that the world will deteriorate that much, because then I have little personal interest in doing anything about it. It's not logical, but it gets me through the day.
After reading Mollyjade's comment, I realized there is more at stake here. This isn't just about changing the focus because people respond to positivity better than negativity. This is about shaping our destinies, shaping our future. We owe it ourselves, and we especially owe it to the Mollyjades of the world to remember that the future is not set in stone. Is it possible that climate change and peak oil will cause a massive breakdown in infrastructure? Is it possible that competition for oil will result in a zero-sum game where a few very rich people win, while the rest of humanity loses? Is it possible that if CO2 in the atmosphere hits 400ppm "life as we know it" (whatever that means) will cease to exist? Yes, I think it is possible. BUT, BUT, that is not to say it WILL HAPPEN. We are not doomed, people, unless we resign ourselves to doom.

My friend Honda who is very wise is forever saying to me, "You can't resign yourself to two fates at once." (I think she's quoting someone, but I can't remember whom.) Well, here's the deal. We can't resign ourselves to doom AND also believe in a brighter tomorrow. If I really thought global warming was going to submerge the city of Los Angeles underwater, I couldn't ALSO be trying to improve the public transit infrastructure. But I don't believe either LA or New York are ever going to be submerged. Because I trust in human ingenuity, I trust in science, and I trust in the abilities of our engineers to do whatever it takes to keep frickin Wall Street above water.

It is tempting to feel like we have no control over the future. Like the best thing to do is to accept the inevitable environmental apocalypse, learn to be totally self-sufficient and start stocking up on guns and food.

If that is your philosophy, I understand where you are coming from. But for me personally? I can't do that. Not just because I have no desire to do it all myself, but because I know that there are many people in this world who CAN'T do it all by themselves, who can't live without civilization. And I'm not willing to resign myself to a world in which only the fit can survive.

So instead, I choose to believe that we DO have control over the future. That we can buttress our ailing infrastructures. That we can build new food systems that don't rely heavily on oil. That we can spur demand for alternative energies and invest in new technologies.

In short, I believe this crisis could lead to the creation of better systems, better technologies, and a better future for all of humanity.

Tomorrow (hopefully) Part Two: Why I'm not just wearing rose-colored glasses and how crises can bring about positive change.

Monday, June 2, 2008

My Sunday Brunch Routine

Several years ago, me and three of my closest girlfriends instituted a Sunday "Sex & The City" brunch ritual. Every couple Sundays, Honda, Miss V, Annie, and I would get together at a cute brunch place, and eat and gossip to our heart's content.

Years passed,  and Annie moved away to travel the world, but Miss V, Honda and I continued to get together for brunch every so often. It was difficult, we were all busy, and sometimes several months would go by without our girls' brunch. We missed it, but life gets hectic. When you work long hours, the weekends can get crammed with endless errands to run, apartments to clean, and meals to cook. You just don't always have time for a leisurely, gabby brunch.

But then about six weeks ago, Miss V asked me if I wanted to go to the farmers' market with her. Of course, I wanted to go to the farmers' market. So on our first free Sunday morning, we went. We bought breakfast first from one of the vendors, and then we set off to do our shopping. Crunchy snow peas, juicy strawberries,  and creamy wildflower honey were piled into our bags. By the end of the morning, we were hooked.

A couple weeks later, we decided to go again, and this time, Honda came along. Soon enough, we had developed a little routine. We pile into the car and head over to the market together. Miss V and Honda get coffee, while I make a mad dash to the bank. (Because I'm disorganized like that.)

Then we hit the stalls. Our first stop HAS to be the tamales stand. We sit on the curb, and gobble up what may very well be the finest tamales in LA. After we finish our tamales, we start shopping for produce. Once we've bought our fruits and vegetables for the week, we might pick up a nice goat cheese, and then we make our way to the bison meat stand. We buy our meat for the week from the nicest woman on earth, and we're good to go.

And while we eat, shop, and gaze lustfully at the heirloom tomatoes, we get time with each other. We catch up on each others lives, exchange gossip, and make fun of the very earnest yet truly awful musicians that are the bane of farmers' markets everywhere

When we're finished shopping, we can head home and cross "buy groceries" off of our list of errands. So you see, now we get our brunch time, our quality friends time, and our errand time all rolled into one. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?