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There’s so much I want to write about, but I never seem to find the time.  Right now I should really be working on my dissertation (I should always be working on my dissertation), or at least exercising the dogs, who have yet to get out for a run today.  I have a committee meeting at 2:30 and by the time I get home, it will be dark and cold.  I don’t mind running the dogs at night in the winter because the snow makes it light enough to see well.  But throughout the last few weeks the temperature has dropped so much at night that I have simply not been up to it.  Not to mention the dogs are not acclimatized (since they are indoors so much) and their feet get cold very quickly.  But I digress…

This morning I was doing the dishes, which have piled up considerably over the last few days.  My roommate and I are both heavy users of the kitchen and it is always somewhat messy as a result.  We’ve resigned ourselves to this, but both try and do dishes every day.  Today, as I was cleaning, I picked up the pile of used plastic bags and wrap that was collecting next to the sink and was just about to toss it in the garbage.  “I just don’t have time to wash this all up” I thought to myself.

No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than I realized that this is exactly the problem we all face, and why our planet is being destroyed. Living sustainably takes TIME.  Way more time than most of us have.  I have had to struggle with this almost constantly for the last couple of years.  And the more layers I add to my effort towards sustainability, the more time it requires.  Like washing all those ziplock bags and plastic wrap for extra use.  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Other things I do on a near daily basis – in addition to writing the disseration, exercising and training four dogs and spending quality time with two cats, housework, socializing, keeping up with correspondence and maintaining two blogs, and working three part-time jobs – are the following.  I feed my sourdough starter every couple of days.  I keep a culture of yogurt going, which requires replenishing every couple of days as well.  Growing sprouts requires that they be washed roughly every 12 hours.  I start a new batch daily as well. Every night I have to set out to soak any grains I might use the next days.  I also have to set out meat to thaw for the dogs.  Then there’s cooking everything from scratch – including preparing the meals for my 6 animals on a daily basis.  This often includes cutting up whole chickens and so on.  No opening a bag of kibble and scooping out food in this house.  Baking bread is a three day process which requires a lot of planning and availability, even if the time actually needed is fairly short.  And then there’s the monumental effort cook up the slowly decaying piles of winter vegetables I have around my kitchen and basement for lack of proper storage.  My potatoes are all sprouting and the squash is starting to mould.  Carrots and celery root and leeks all wilting in the fridge. 

Last year I blanched and froze a near truckload of veggies to get me through winter, and barely touched them.  This winter I didn’t do any of that, but have tons of food left from the CSAs I joined.  I can’t process it fast enough and much of it is going to end up in the compost I’m afraid.  Next winter I’ll have to try something different.

As I wrote a couple of nights ago, I also am starting to plan for the growing season.  I continue to struggle with the tough decisions I have to make about moving.  If I am serious about growing my own food, I must move in May or October.  October will still mean leaving a lot of things behind in the garden, so May would be ideal.  That’s only 3 months away and I have no idea where I would even move to.  Yikes.  And where will I find the time to sort and pack everything?  I’m tired just thinking about it. 

I’d also like to build a cold frame in late March to get some greens started early.  Right now I can’t even imagine gardening, but once that gets going, it will require a lot of TLC every day for the first couple of months.  I do love gardening, but again, it takes time.

The only way to find all this time to is to not work outside the home more than part-time.  My days are absolutely full without a “job.”  Once upon a time, peoples’ “jobs” were largely centered around food and shelter.  In some cultures still today, there is no word for “work.”  This concept of having a job outside the home, a “professional” life separate from the personal, is very much a product of Western Capitalism.  Capitalism requires workers to produce commodities for sale.  Instead of putting our labour into producing things we use ourselves, or barter directly with, we put our labour into some abstract effort, and receive money in return.  This money we can use to buy things we need, instead of creating them ourselves.  This is what Marx called alienation.  I certainly felt alienated when I had a “professional” life working for Big Oil.  Great money, but it was absolutely soul draining.  Money just can’t replace the pieces of your soul that get infused into the product of your labour.  I hope never to have to return to that; to “work.”  In fact there’s really no way I can.  I’m quite sure it would kill me.  

Now I am out of time and must return to preparing for this committee meeting.  Right after I finish washing all the plastic bags soaking in my sink.


9 Responses

  1. I know excately what you mean about “Big Oil”, when I finally left I think I slept for 3 months. I always thought I was missing something….mostly my sanity 😉

  2. Sustainability in principle should not require extreme time investment. In your examples, yogurt can be produced sustainably by a local dairy and they would invest less time and energy on the production than when you do it yourself. Same thing with bread — whatever the benefits of home-baked bread, it certainly is a larger use of human and other resources to bake it at home in one batch than at a local bakery with the same standards. (I also think there are social and cultural benefits to having artisan producers who are more invested in their specialty good than anyone who just makes their own, but I digress.)

    After reading a few of your posts, I just wanted to comment on sustainable living efforts. The law of decreasing marginal utility really applies here. It might take a certain amount of your time and effort to go 80% of the way, and double that to go the remaining 20%. Part of the reason it’s so difficult to go the whole way is that the society around you isn’t helping much, and this is why I think it is much more useful to go 80% of the way, and have some time and effort left over to try to change the society around you, as well as to stay sane. When more people become aware of their impact, more policies and programs (and culture) can be set up that make it easier for people to lessen their impact.
    Basically my point is that 100% is really not a possibility in the current society, so it makes sense to pick your battles to have the most effect in total.

    I don’t mean this to be a rant and I certainly don’t mean any offense. Just my two cents.

  3. Hi Michael – No offense taken, and your two cents are appreciated. I agree that one of the big problems is trying to do this in isolation. The second I step out my door, for example, it is all but impossible to eat sustainably unless I bring my own food with me. That takes time to procure and prepare etc.

    A couple of points in response to the law of decreasing marginal utility. First, I have a long, long, long way to go to get to being 80% sustainable. I don’t think that is possible in our society, with the exception of a few people who manage to live off-grid on farms that produce their own food etc. The people I know who do that do nothing else but! That’s not my goal, or even a possible reality for me at this time. My efforts to eat local, sustainably produced food and reduce my consumption as much as possible (especially consumption of plastics) are still only a fraction of what I would like to be able to do, but can’t.

    As for buying bread and yogurt locally, I can do that, but it is expensive. The sustainably produced (local, biodynamic in returnable glass jars) yogurt I was buying cost $6.75 a kg!! I can make it for about $2 from local, organic milk. As for bread, the only bakery that makes bread with local, organic flour is quite expensive as well. Ideally, yes, you would have artisans making bread and others making yogurt. But then I would have something I was good at that I could exchange with them for their bread and yogurt. The only thing I have that they can use is money, and not enough of that.

    Unfortunately, the easiest way to “go green” is to spend more money. This is why green(er) products are becoming so popular and numerous – they are profitable! As a grad student, I live on a very tiny income, and since that income won’t be increasing anytime soon, I have had to find ways to improve my sustainability through other means. That mostly has meant doing stuff myself. A fascinating experience, but definitely time consuming! Maybe this will change as more people get on board and we can find each other and work together, or restaurants and stores start buying locally and so on. There are a few options I have found, but most are niche market producers and out of my budget.

    Also, spending more money to solve the problem is in fact perpetuating what caused the problem in the first place: a capitalist system obsessed with efficiency and constant expansion. It can’t afford for us to step out of the system to make our own food as it needs us to be working, earning and buying, i.e. expanding the economy!

    One last point, I actually really enjoy making bread and yogurt, cooking, growing my own food and so on. There is something really meditative about kneading bread or digging in my garden. I like that these processes have forced me to slow down in other areas of my life to make time to do them. I think more people should give it a try. The problem is getting them to slow down enough in the first place!

  4. Amanda – three months is about how long I slept as well. I still haven’t fully recovered I don’t think; to this day I can’t work the long hours I did in industry. But that’s not exactly a bad thing 🙂

  5. Thanks for the reply. All good points, and I’m probably in a pretty similar situation.

    Tangent about yogurt: I’ve found that I can use Pinehedge yogurt to incubate a new batch that is really good, but it deteriorates after two or three cycles. And freezing it doesn’t work, as that kills most of the bacteria.

  6. Michael – I mentioned your yogurt woes to my roommate this morning, as I pulled my fourth (5th?) generation Pinehedge yogurt out of the yogurt maker (not the most sustainable way of making yogurt as it requires electricity… I won’t need it in summer!). She is a microbiologist and said that yogurt culture should continue on indefinitely. The only reason she could think of that your yogurt culture is dying is that it must either : 1) be contaminated somehow, or being overrun by improperly sterilized milk; 2) not be left long enough to really bloom; or 3) somehow dying.

    I’m only on my fourth or fifth generation, so not sure how long it will last, but so far it is going strong. What I do is scald milk, let it cool, pour it into a clean jar, add several tablespoons of yogurt from the last batch, cover loosely and keep warm for 12 hours. I’m not sure exactly what temperature it is incubating at as I use a little incubator with pre-set temperature (http://www.epinions.com/review/Salton_Yogurt_Maker_Model_YM9_1_Ea/content_62034054788). I’ll be sure to let you know if I run into the same problem, but so far it continues to reproduce itself.

  7. I use pretty much the same method as you do, same yogurt maker even. I should’ve been more clear, though: it still results in yogurt, it’s just not as thick and not as tasty. My suspicion was that it’s similar to sourdough: the initial culture is supplanted by other cultures, altering the flavor and properties. But I’ll see if I’m not sterilizing properly or maybe not keeping it for long enough. Thanks for the advice.

  8. Ok, that makes sense. My yogurt is still thickening fairly well, but it definitely tastes different from the culture I started with. I find if I don’t do a comparison, however, I don’t mind it. I’m sure if I were to buy some fresh Pinehedge yogurt and taste them side by side, I’d probably feed my batch to the dogs!

    I don’t know if this explains what might be going on with the yogurt, but here’s an interesting article explaining how sourdough starters change: http://northwestsourdough.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/sourdough-starters-and-temperature/

  9. Hmm… interesting stuff about the sourdough!

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