I often find myself annoyed by the environmentalist type so caught up in what they’re “doing” that they wonder around stomping on others without realizing it.  Often, they’ll look at others doing various projects with a distinctive air of superiority reeking of smug.  There’s a word for them: assholes.

For roughly 3 years now, I’ve been vegetarian.  Fin turned to the vegetarian path not long after for her own reasons.  And now, after 3 years of towing the hippy not-quite-vegan line, I’m scarfing steak, jerky, and chicken soup.  Well, sortof, I’ll get into that later.

When making an active attempt to build/create a different lifestyle, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in your own shit.  Next thing, a long look in the mirror and it’s pretty obvious you’ve joined ranks with the asshole crowd.  I’d like to think 3 years of being vegetarian would be a net-win for the environment.  Now, it looks more like a distraction than anything meaningful.

Before jumping into the asshole camp again, let me say if that’s your thing, kudos to you.  I’ve done it long enough to know how much it can suck living in a world tailored around veggies as side-dish only.  Going out to eat is near impossible, parties tricky at best, and often meals require substantial backup planning.  A vegetarian diet isn’t easy.  Of course, you can look in the mirror and say – “I haven’t supported factory farming today.”

Well, not really.  You haven’t support factory MEAT farming.  That load of chips?  Factory.  That veggie burger patty?  Factory.  That bottle of ketchup? … The list goes on.

From a “sustainability” culture standpoint, Fin and I made some big mistakes while we were vegetarian.  Instead of meat, we ate meat substitutes grown with fairly traditional agriculture, occasionally slapped with an organic label, and then thrown into the super-market complete with easy-plastic packaging.   Making one big decision led us to cheating on hundreds of day to day decisions in food purchasing.

After some substantial discussion as to pro/con on being vegetarian and other general dietary choices, Fin decided to leave the vegetarian camp, and I decided to follow her.  We also decided at the same point to only eat meat after doing some homework to insure the farm treated its livestock with dignity.  In practice, this leaves eating out mostly vegetarian. I’ll leave it to Fin (or at least another post) to fill in the details.

When researching local farms, farmers markets, and coops though, Fin and I saw the local community in a new way.    There’s a fairly good number in the metro area dedicated to the ideas of local agriculture and sustainability.  Organic or no, a quick search finds multiple producers nearby.

Of course, we knew about the local farmers markets, but the reality of our food choices became clear.  Our vegetarian lifestyle didn’t include supporting the local markets, it just continued feeding the Walmarts of the world more profits for overpriced ‘organic’ goods.

In short, sometimes multiple small and continued gestures can do more than a concentrated grand gesture.  Something to keep in mind for our next effort.

Dear Target,

Why is it that everyone must purchase the same mass produced crap for the holidays? I’ve seen the premade costumes, and it doesn’t take much for homemade creations to trounce them. As a society, we should be encouraging creativity instead of bashing it.

After seeing this commercial:

I question if I’ll be doing any Holiday shopping at your stores.

In short: shame on you.

Anti-Environmentalism – Grocery Bags

Fin and I are fairly big about taking reusable trash bags to the grocery store whenever we shop. Green grocery bags are interesting to me for a few reasons. As far as “going green” goes, switching to reusable grocery bags is one of the easiest moves to make. More amazing to me is how telling people’s reactions about trash and the checkout line can be.

Funny enough, grocery bags put me over the edge from thinking about the “anachronism” concept here, to actually living it. A few years ago, I lived in a small apartment within walking distance to a super market. When I say walking distance, I mean visitors to the complex sometimes used back spots of the market for parking. As uber-bachelor, I kept my kitchen with the required necessities: ketchup, mustard, alcohol, pickles, and random baking stuff years old carted from each move and woefully out of date. Moving next to a store let me stop by, pick-up dinner for the night, and simplify my epic fail meal planning.

This grandiose plan didn’t come immediately, but after I got in my car, drove across the parking lot, loaded the car with groceries, and drove back across the same parking lot to unload. I think the thought was: “wow, this is lame-ass lazy for even me.” So, I started walking. After making the journey a few times I decided a couple things. First, buying groceries that day, and cooking never frozen meat and (sorta) fresh fish is awesome. Second, plastic groceries bags suck. I noticed the store was selling reusable grocery bags ($0.99) and offering a $0.05 refund for using them. I have a few bags now which have paid for themselves several times over.

The thing that got me though, was my initial reaction to the thought of buying one: “I don’t want people to group me with those environmentalists.” Then, I just got mad. Somehow, someone had put into my head the idea that purchasing a 99 cent bag would lead me straight into being a Green Peace hippy blowing up SUVs. Isn’t it funny how some ideas have a life of their own?

Over the past 2 years I’ve heard multiple people say, “I like the reusable but don’t want to use one with Go Green written on it”. That’s not as bothersome as when I hear things that amount to “reusable grocery bags are communism”. Point is, as reusable bags become more prolific, I hear multiple people saying the exact same things that went through my head when I made the switch.

At times, when I’m at the grocery line, I get reactions verging on offence when I give the cashier a reusable bag. Reusable bags long ago lost their novelty for me. Now, they’re just part of my life. I keep them in my trunk, and try to remember to bring them when I go in the store. Most cashier’s treat them as routine. And then, there are the special that do things like bag items into plastic sacks and then place those in the bag…

Cloth bags are convenience for me, not environmentalism. I don’t go through grocery stores and snear at people not using them. I’m really beyond even thinking they’re a big deal.

Still, they illustrate a larger issue, one that I’m trying to wrap my head around and plan to explore here. Of the two of us, Fin is more of an environmentalist. I simply enjoy exploring ideas and value free thinking. I understand the drive and desires of the environmentalist. I understand the not being an environmentalist. What I find concerning is the growing population of otherwise normal people actively anti-environmentalist.

Review: No Impact Man

Fin and I have been on a documentary kick here lately, so when our next movie choice came up, we decided on “No Impact Man”. Fin was fairly excited to see it – “No Impact Man” is one of several environmentalist blogs she follows. As far as documentaries go, the film itself was fairly interesting and well put together.

Colin Beavan decides to put his views into action by making “no impact” on the environment for a year. He does this by removing various modern conveniences from his life (the biggest of which is apparently toilet paper), and attempts to reduce the amount of trash he outputs.

While I found the film interesting, I don’t think it really had any point besides being something of a human interest film. Other documentaries do a far better job of explaining the effects of modern agriculture, pollution, or attempting to be “Green”. However, seeing some of the normal arguments environmentalists might have with each other, or the general public, did provide some food for thought. The value of being an environmentalist is taken as a given at the start of the film. Lacking however, was any real advice on how to put ideas into action – most of the things highlighted in the film weren’t things everyday people would find useful.

If documentaries are your thing or you’ve heard about “No Impact Man” otherwise, you might want to watch it. Unlike some other movies I’ve seen, it doesn’t hit the level of “need to see” or even my giving a strong recommendation.

That said, while it is a documentary, be warned if you read further for spoilers.

Watching the documentary, I do have some very strong thoughts as to environmentalism and what an environmentalist lifestyle would be like. Now, I’d like to start by saying that the primary focus (for me) of writing here isn’t exactly environmentalism. It’s about focusing on the reality of the world around us. At one point in this movie, an older New York hippie highlights the hypocrisy of Mr. Beavan’s lifestyle when his wife writes for Business Week. That one moment highlighted my main objections to the whole idea of his “No Impact”.

Like it or not, the mere act of being alive has an impact. Nature isn’t an all giving kind and nurturing place with fluffy bunnies and puppies that never grow up. The documentary never addressed it, but I found myself wondering throughout the movie if the “No Impact” show piece wasn’t actually at times, causing WORSE impact for the environment. After removing electricity, “No Impact Man” continues to use gas service (lighting an oven with a match) and water service. He enjoys fruit cooled by ice from his neighbour’s freezer. He keeps light at night using candles. Not having the thermostat turned to warm the apartment during the winter, means his apartment mates are subsiding his heat. These examples to me is where “No Impact Man” moved from environmental activist to performing a stunt.

Sadly, part of that stunt seems to be the message “going back in time is an improvement”. The “how things were done in the past is better” idea proves just as fallacious as the “new is better” idea. When it comes down to it, so much of what we’ve discovered makes our lives easier and simpler. Our ability to modify the environment and live in luxury should come with a sense of responsibility.

About halfway through the film, it occurred to me that a lot of what I saw was only sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. I don’t think good things come when people sacrifice to assuage their guilt, it comes when people decide to take responsibility for their actions. The difference is subtle, but it is there.

Single Serving World

We are a single serving society. Everywhere you look you see single serving products:

Individual water bottles, “lunch sized” bags of chips, cans of soda, boxes of juice, lunchables, Styrofoam cups for coffee, individual sugar packets and creamers, tv dinners, single serving candy, yogurt, paper plates, plastic silverware, travel sized beauty products…….and this is just off the top of my head!

Almost every day for lunch I send Fate with leftovers for lunch. I send them packaged individually in *reusable* containers. He brings them home (mostly every day) and I wash them and they get used over and over again. I need to start remembering to send him with silverware too, I’m just afraid I’ll run out of forks when he forgets to bring them back!

The point here is that its not enough to just recycle, and as a matter if fact most people don’t even do that one little thing. Even if they recycle at home, I have to wonder if that extends to work? In the building I clean on a daily basis I dump trash and it really hits home how much people don’t recycle, or for that matter even think about reducing their trash output. I see trash cans full of single use products all day long around here.

If people would just change their habits in one or two little ways it would make such a difference on their trash output:

Bring a reusable water bottle and fill up from the sink when it gets empty

Bring silverware to work and wash it when your done

Bring leftovers in reusable containers, take them back home and wash them

Buy in bulk and split stuff into reusable containers instead of single serving packages of items

Bring your own coffee mug and reuse it

We do as much composting and recycling as we can possibly can at home, and I do as well at my business location. As of now we put out *one small bag* of trash about once a month for the trash man to take. One small bag! How much do you dump into the landfills weekly?

My goal: by the end of the year be able to cancel my trash service because we are not using it

What do you do to reduce your footprint on the earth?

— Fin