"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Thursday, August 11, 2011

greening my life one small commitment at a time

so i mentioned in my last post how i've been reawakened to environmental issues and how that's been the focus of my volunteering and career aspirations. i don't know how it happened, this resurgence of Planeteerism that was latent until recently, but -- hot dang! -- i am so glad for it.

i watched Food Inc. again a few weeks ago, and if you haven't already, i highly recommend it. the film has lots of commendable qualities: a powerful message, eloquent and stirring testimonies from admirable people, impeccable graphic design, and Bruce Springsteen! plus, this documentary has the rare quality of being simultaneously entertaining, educational, and stimulating. i wish i had seen it in its entirety when i was teaching, because i think it would have been an invaluable text to use in my science class when we were doing a food and nutritional health unit.*

watching Food Inc. again made me really pumped about getting more involved in food justice work. but even before i rewatched the movie, i had been thinking a lot about issues of food safety and origins, GMOs, and corporate control of food supplies, false advertising, and government subsidies that contribute to our declining public health. again, i kinda have my current job to thank: i was drinking a package of Swiss Miss hot chocolate gleaned from my office break room, and i glanced at the ingredients (as i am wont to do). i noticed the package said "no sugar added" but that it was still incredibly sweet, so i wondered if i was imbibing an aspartame cancer cocktail. i was surprised to find it was aspartame-free, but i noticed another ingredient new to my ingredients knowledge: SUCRALOSE (read: Splenda). researching sucralose led me to read about saccharin, which then led me to read about Monsanto, genetically modified organisims (GMOs) and some really crazy court cases involving scientists who tried to publish their research regarding the potential harm GMOs can cause to organisms that eat them (long story short, those scientists were discredited and blacklisted for their work, due to some shady backroom dealings with corporations fearing their names being sullied in the eyes of consumers. it is really crazy stuff that boils my blood to think about. you should read about it: The Pusztai affair). since that day, i've been avoiding fruits and vegetables i suspect have been genetically modified (which is, let's be honest, hard to do in a market so saturated with weird and corporate-backed science, but this guide provides a starting point on how to read labels, and this one on how to avoid Monsanto in your diet). basically, i've been eating organic when i can afford to, and buying locally as much as possible, which, luckily for me, means once a week going to the farmer's market and stocking up on my fruit and veggies for the week.

Food Inc. also inspired me to make this commitment, which i posted to my facebook and twitter as a way of trying to get some dialog going among my friends, as well as being upfront about my commitment to changing my lifestyle to one that is environmentally-aware:
publicly promising myself (yes, on twitter, so you can hold me accountable years from now), when i have the means to do so, to start a container garden or community garden, to try to get at least a third of my food from local farmers or my own garden, to eat a mostly veggie diet, and if my partner and i ever reproduce, to educate our children about their food and their environment and the manipulative ways of the media, and to teach them how to help me calculate our annual household carbon footprint in order to reduce our environmental impact. yes!

and it actually worked: that small post got a lot of responses from my friends, and even helped me build stronger friendships with some people i didn't even know were my Planeteering sisters! i was happy to generate some conversation about food and health, and i also got some great reading suggestions.

but, the cool thing about that initial commitment is that it has easily budded into additional commitments; once you re-examine and change one aspect of your life, you start to look at the rest. and this, i feel, is how huge change can happen on a global level, if individuals do their part to make small commitments that over time can make significant impacts.

take, for example, plastic bag use: i was super excited when i found out California was going to pass the first-of-its-kind (in the States), ballsy law banning the use of plastic bags. but then, when i moved back, i wondered what happened to that bill. well, as i was angered and disappointed to find out, this happened: lawmakers decided they were too "concerned" about the consequences for consumers undergoing extra strain that such a ban would pose. read: they were worried about the fallback from the plastics industry and lobbyists. if they really worried and gave a prudent thought to consumers and the longterm environmental benefits of such a ban, there would be no doubt as to the right course of action. the frustrating thing, of course, is that it's not even a matter of convenience (we could easily replace plastic bags with biodegradable, recycled brown paper bags) or even revenue concerns (Ireland didn't do away with plastic bags, but posed a small tax - 15 cents - to plastic bag use. they saw a drop in use of 90% and millions of euros in revenue. doesn't that sound like the very definition of win-win?) - it is quite simply and clearly just a matter of lawmakers being too scared of their corporate backers coming down on them -- which leads me to a topic for another day: why we need to reform American politics, starting with campaign finance laws.

sorry, i get so sidetracked because all these issues are connected, from their root causes to the anecdotes i want to share about how i became so interested in them. the point of what i'm saying is that, even though lawmakers may be letting us and the environment down, we can still do things, very little things, to make a difference, and that we should not overlook the power of our individual actions. what follows is a list of the small ways i am trying to cut down on my own environmental impacts:

1. as far as plastic bags go, i have endeavored to refuse them. it took a long time to remember my tote bags (such is the danger of the American disposable culture that we become habitualized into accepting plastic out of convenience) but now i never go anywhere without my cloth bags AND glass tupperware in tow. and, i find that the more i am upfront and explicit about not using plastic bags whenever i go out, the people i'm with follow my example, and that is an important ripple effect.

2. at work, i completed a carbon footprint report for the company. this got me thinking a lot about water and electricity use. i signed up to an online carbon footprint tool that helps individuals calculate their annual carbon footprint. i plan on tracking my footprint in order to make it smaller year after year - i figured this would be a fun teaching tool/activity if i ever have kids some day, too. imagine if everyone started doing this - they'd soon see how much electricity and water they use per year, which is staggering when viewed in sum. and, if everyone set reduction goals every year, we could cut down our total impact until finally, we're only consuming at levels that are sustainable to our one earth (did you know we're currently living at a rate that would require 2.5 Earths to sustain?) SO much more fun than calculating your taxes every year! though no less important, of course! ;-)

3. weekends are car-free days! i've been biking to the farmer's market and to pilates classes and starting this weekend, to my volunteering at the Historical Garden. if i must go further than my legs can take me, such as seeing my grandparents who live over 20 miles away, i carpool. how great would it be if everyone took at least one or two days out of their week to enjoy on a bike or walking with their family? my legs are stronger too, and without the use of an equally energy-wasting device: the treadmill/stairmaster/elliptical.

4. no more hairdryers! using a hairdryer to dry your hair is not only bad for the environment because of how much energy it uses, it's also really bad for your hair. i love how many cosmetics and beauty companies try to invent new and exciting chemical creams to help us reduce frizz, repair split ends, and restore color and vibrancy and shine to our hair, while also peddling straightening irons, curling irons, and hairdryers as standard tools for styling our hair. it's ludicrous, self-defeating, time-wasting and expensive! i've never had perfect hair, by any means, but one thing is true: my hair is really healthy (according to an LA stylist, i had some of the healthiest hair he'd ever seen. i was surprised, because at the time i was swimming at least once or twice a week, and going to the beach. and, i told him, "i never style my hair!" he smiled and told me that's totally why my hair was so healthy, i don't suffocate it with products and heat!) i use only three tools on my hair now: shampoo, conditioner, and a wide-toothed comb. i've put down the hairdryer and have taken to letting my hair dry naturally, and at first i was skeptical that my hair would still have the same volume as it used to, but i'm surprised and happy to report: it looks fine. and even better than before, actually, because it's healthy and not over-dried.

5. i've started a limited meat diet. this infographic brochure makes a pretty good case for going veggie if you're concerned about your carbon footprint. i still get the meat shakes from time to time, but i eat meat very rarely now, maybe twice or thrice a week (down from twice or thrice a day!) and i enjoy how energetic i feel when sticking to a mostly veggie/fruit and raw diet. the last time i got my period (sorry, TMI!) my cramps were virtually non-existent because the days leading up to it i'd been eating lots of leafy dark green veggies and fruit - getting lots of iron and water in my system that helped me feel great when i needed it most! my fave lunch lately: whole wheat pitas, tomato basil hummus, 2 cucumbers, one cup of spinach, carrot sticks and a handful of grape tomatoes, all from the farmers' market! i eat that and an apple and some plums and i feel full without getting post-lunch sleepy.

6. i've started reading Treehugger, Inhabitat, and Ecosalon. they're pretty good at offering green news that is intriguing, useful, inspiring, and always well-written! i always find something share-worthy when i peruse their sites. and it's so much more fulfilling to spend an hour of free time at work reading eco-friendly news pieces than trolling through tumblr or facebook.

the takeaway point of this post is: these are NOT extravagantly ambitious goals, by any means. i kept my green commitments realistic, because i wanted to be able to actually achieve them, while still feeling like i'm achieving something and not just making empty gestures. i hope something you read here will inspire you to go out and try your own mini-green-revolution!

Planeteers unite! :-)

*i fell asleep thru most of it the first time i watched it with ben. i was teaching at the time and as i recall, that was not a good period for successfully finishing movies, tho we watched a lot of really good ones.

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