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Sustainability* in the Bathroom

(*I recognize that using this word without defining it is problematic.  I am writing an entire dissertation on this, and recognize that I am guilty as charged.  This is simply a catchier title for my entry than “How to reduce the disposable, non-biodegradable plastic consumption in your bathroom habits”)

In an effort to prepare for my friend Renata’s visit tomorrow (as well as to be procrastinating productively), this morning I took down my shower curtains and put both the inner plastic liner and the outer cloth curtain through the wash.  This reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write a post about the changes I’ve made in the bathroom this year.

As you may recall, when I left my house in town and moved out to the country, I purged my home of as much plastic as I could possible eliminate.  Most of this was found in the kitchen – tupperware containers, plastic wrap, plastic utensils, plastic dishes and so on.  Kitchens are typically chock full of plastic products.  I now cringe when I visit homes with small children and see all the plastic dishes they are given to eat from, day in and day out.  Regardless of claims now of ‘BPA-free’ plastic, I firmly believe that it is all toxic and want as little interaction with it as possible, especially around food!

Of course avoiding plastic is completely impossible, but we can certainly reduce it in our daily practice.  My food is now only stored in glass, be it Mason jars or Pyrex dishes.  I bring my lunch to work in variously sized Mason jars.   Cooking is done in glass or stainless steel bowls, and stainless or cast iron pots.  I stir things with wooden spoons, and flip pancakes with a metal spatula.

While it took a fair bit of time to identify, and subsequently replace, the plastic in my kitchen, that project is mostly complete now.  It wasn’t long into this purge, however, that I realized that my bathroom was another plastic haven. And surprisingly, getting rid of plastic in the bathroom has posed far more of challenge than doing so in the kitchen!

Why is that, you ask? Well, mostly it’s because the products we (I) use in the bathroom almost all come in plastic packaging, and or are made of plastic: toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, hair brush, hair clips, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, skin lotion, make-up, tampons, razor blades, liquid soap, shower curtain, face puff.  The list goes on and on.  I’m a minimalist in the bathroom, but I’ve seen some that could rival a drugstore for how much plastic they contain.

The first thing I did was eliminate everything I felt really wasn’t necessary.  This left me with the list I just mentioned.  But that is still far too much plastic in my house.  So I started to search for alternatives.  And you know what?  There aren’t many out there.  Food has definitely come farther along this path than cosmetics, let me tell you.  Yet the more I learned about what I was exposing myself to (watch, for example, The Story of Cosmetics), the more urgently I wanted to get rid of this stuff.  It’s been a frustrating struggle.

Very fortunately, Taina – anti-plastic activist and author of the outstanding and inspiring blog Plastic Manners – has done a lot of research on the subject, and generously shares her findings herean extremely helpful list of bathroom (and household) alternatives to plastic.  She uses a bone and boar bristle toothbrush.  I haven’t quite been that brave (the assurance that the ‘wet pig taste’ eventually goes away has not inspired me to rush out and buy one…yet) and instead purchased a Preserve Toothbrush at London Homeopathy in Covent Garden.  This toothbrush is still made of plastic, but it is 100% recycled plastic.  And, when you are done, you can mail it back to them to be recycled again.  I have just worn out my first one and am getting ready to send it back. I am undecided if I want to go the wet pig route for my next toothbrush, or buy another Preserve one.  The last time I went to London Homeopathy, they were sold out. I’m tempted to order the boar brush as surely natural bristles are gentler on tooth enamel than plastic, and of course hopefully less toxic! So maybe I’ll muster up the courage and give it a try.

I decided to stick with my current hairbrush – it’s mostly ceramic, with plastic bristles.  I also have a wooden one with natural bristles.  Both were expensive and are lasting well, and I see no need to replace them as I’m not ingesting any plastic by using them.  That said, I have seen some nice wooden and rubber brushes that I’d be tempted to try if I was more flush.  Not a priority, however.  And buying a new brush would just generate more waste.

One of the biggest plastic items in my bathroom is my nasty, plastic shower curtain.  I fully intend on replacing it just as soon as I can afford a $100 hemp curtain.  Not likely to happen today, but it’s on my wish list.  Now why replace the curtain if I already have it?  Isn’t that just wasteful?  Well, yes, it is, as there’s no way to recycle it.  I will try to find some other use for it rather than throw it out, such as keeping my kindling dry or covering something in my shed.  But the bottom line is that every time I take a hot shower, the heat causes the curtain to release toxic chemicals.  That nasty plastic odor of a freshly purchased shower curtain?  Toxic fumes!  And just because I can’t smell them anymore doesn’t mean that they still aren’t being released, albeit at a lesser intensity now.  So the curtain must go.  Soon.

What I had the biggest trouble replacing is the consumables: toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, tampons, deodorant.  Potentially toxic in and of themselves, these products also come in non-recyclable plastic packaging.  Thanks to Plastic Manners, I learned that Lush sells (relatively) natural products without packaging, and I recently ventured into their store in White Oaks Mall.  Initially knocked off my feet by the intense perfumes, I spent a good half hour with one of their clerks discussing solid bars of deodorant, shampoo and conditioner.  I settled on a chunk of each and brought them home.  It took a good couple of weeks before I could walk past my bathroom without be assaulted by the perfumes from these products, but that eventually went away.  Now that I no longer use any scented products, items that have been infused with scent I find really obnoxious.

So far, I am quite happy with the deodorant.  It works well, and doesn’t leave me smelling like artificial vanilla or strawberries.  But the shampoo and conditioner were disappointing.  The shampoo bar worked well, but left my hair too dry.  I have found this to be the case with every single ‘eco’ shampoo I have ever tried.  The others all came in plastic bottles, which immediately rules them out now, but I had hoped for something different with the Lush bar.  No luck.  The conditioner, on the other hand, conditioned my hair but left a significant residue.  My hair dresser was very concerned about how my hair felt when I saw her after just using the conditioner twice.  So both bar and conditioner now sit unused in my window sill.  What a disappointment.

Having used the last of my shampoo, needing to go out in public, and deeply reticent to purchase another plastic bottle of questionably safe hair cleaner, I finally decided to take the plunge and try going ‘no poo.’  Not the prettiest of terms for a cleaning process, ‘no poo’ in fact cleans my hair and leaves it feeling better than even my $30 bottle of salon shampoo!  Not only that, it is non-toxic,  extremely cheap, and can be purchased everywhere.  So what is ‘no poo’?  Simple: wash with baking soda, condition with vinegar.

I now keep two mason jars in my bathroom and when I want to wash my hair, I put one table spoon of baking soda (which I buy in bulk, alumnium free, from Eco-Pioneer, but I expect any brand will work just as well) into one jar, and a tablespoon or two of white vinegar into the other.  In the shower, I then fill each jar  with a cup or so of hot water from the shower head.  I start with the baking soda, pour it through my hair and massage it in.  Rinse.  Then rinse again with the vinegar and water.

I have been doing this for over a month now and my hair has never felt better.  It stays clean, feels soft, has no residue build up and looks great.  I will never go back to shampoo with its plastic bottles and unknown toxic chemicals.  Thanks but no thanks!

Regarding the other consumables I use, I now use bar soap instead of soft-soap.  There are many places where you can find bars of soap for sale in paper wrapping, or better yet, no wrapping at all.  Hand made soaps abound at markets and in local gift shops.  Likely you can find someone local making soap, or even learn to make it yourself!

For toothpaste, there’s baking soda (you can brush your teeth and wash your hair at the same time!).  For skin lotion: olive oil.  Coffee grounds make a good exfoliant.  I still haven’t resolved razor blades, and try to console myself with the fact that they are tiny, and at least in part metal.  And unlike a man’s course beard, my legs don’t beat up a razor blade so I can use it over, and over.  Finally, make-up.  This is a very problematic on so many levels.  Do I even need to wear make-up?  Why do I conform to social pressures and do so when I went without for years and years?  The bottom line is that I am getting older, work with perpetual 20-year olds, and, at least in winter, feel I need a little added colour.  There are some really wonderful (and expensive) non-toxic, all-natural make-up lines out there.  I personally use MAC.  Not the company it used to be since being bought out, but it still avoids animal testing and takes back 100% of its packaging.  Lately they have started making eye shadows without plastic containers that you can just insert into a re-usable holding case (sadly, made of plastic).  It’s a lesser of many evils.

This leaves the taboo subject of ‘feminine hygiene.’  Surprisingly, there are more options here than with many of the products I discussed above.  For straight substitution of conventional sanitary products (liners, pads, tampons) I buy Natracare organic products (available at London Homeopathy, LynDys and also in the organic departments of Loblaws and the Superstore).  It makes no sense to be careful to avoid putting toxic chemicals in my mouth, and then use a bleached, toxic tampon.  And so for years I have spent more and purchased the organic version.  These products, however, still have some plastic in their packaging (although this is much, much less than in most conventional brands – or at least it was the last time I bought those other brands).  Regardless, there is still packaging, and the product itself is disposable and ends up flushed down the drain with what otherwise would be drinking water.  It really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

An alternative to using disposable sanitary products is to try something like the Diva Cup.  This a reusable, latex cup that works a little like a reverse diaphragm.  It’s a little awkward to use at first, and unfortunately doesn’t work for about 20% of women (there are only two sizes).  The company will reimburse you if you try it and it doesn’t work out, so it’s worth giving it a shot.  You can also try LunaPads – washable, reusable pads.  And I expect more products will come to the fore as demand increases.

I have not come up with an alternative to toilet paper – quite frankly I can’t even imagine what that could be – and as such just use recycled paper products you can buy at Loblaws and the like.  It is one of the few things I still occasionally venture into a grocery store to buy!

Finally there’s water use.  Last, but most certainly not least.  Reducing water consumption is a very big part of being more environmentally friendly, but it’s not always easy.  You can purchase a low-volume shower head and toilet, or just focus on taking shorter showers and flushing less often.  I’m afraid I tend to use a fair bit of water – hot showers are one of my guilty pleasures and an area I need to cut back on.  Check this little video out on ‘the Bathroom Reconstructed‘ for ideas around where we might be able to go with a little political well.

Well the washer is done, my soup pots need checking (making a 48 hour beef stock) and  those essays are not grading themselves.  Time to make a pot of tea and get back to work.

And Another Month Flies By…

Goodness, I can’t believe it’s been a whole month since I last wrote.  Again!  I haven’t even logged in to check my comments in so long that WordPress has significantly overhauled some of its major features and I hardly recognize the place!

So, what have I been up you ask?  What has kept me from tending to my poor, neglected blog?  The short answer is: Life.  Life of a working person, that is.  The big change from being just a grad student, with a nicely flexible schedule and an ability to work to the beat of my own drum.  Now that I’m teaching (more than) full-time, and also in a relationship, I find myself scrambling desperately to keep on top of the domestic side of my life.

In other words, the reality that most people live is now staring me directly in the face.  Or rather, it’s pulling the rug out from under my feet.  The reality that our society is structured around fast food and harsh cleaners and cars and power tools and purchasing and lack of exercise, all to make time for work and some semblance of a social life.

Not that this comes as any surprise.  I knew this, and expected this, and braced myself for this.  It’s what I have been talking about, reading about, writing about for the last three+ years: the (near?)impossibility of working full-time and eating locally and ecologically.

Yes, I have been sticking to my guns – to the best of my ability – and still buying and eating local food and preparing everything from scratch.  But twice out of the last three days I drove into campus for work I ended up having to buy my lunch.  It was gross and I hated it.  And I felt disgusting afterwards.  I have now eaten every scrap of food I cooked and froze over the summer and have nothing left in the pantry other than basic stores and ingredients waiting to be turned into meals.  In fact lunch on Wednesday was tomato sauce poured over rice I steamed while getting dressed for work.  That was all I could come up with!  (but just reminded myself that I can make tomato soup from this sauce in the blink of an eye – lunch for next week!)

So this weekend – Thanksgiving Weekend – I am staying home, alone, and trying to resolve this dilemma.  I had a couple of very tempting invitations for the weekend: spending it with my wonderful man – who I miss constantly due to the 8+ hour drive that separates us – or going home to visit my family and enjoy my mother’s fabulous cooking.  Instead I am here, doing my best to get on top of my house and pantry while simultaneously trying to catch up with the never-ending, constantly growing pile of academic and teaching work inundating my desk.

I started by doing some basic cleaning and taking stock of my fridge, which was full-to-bursting with produce waiting to be turned into something tasty.  Last week was the last day of my CSA so the constant flow of fresh, organic veggies into my home is going to stop.  Good thing too, as I have done nothing with the last three pick-ups and am sadly having to compost way too much of it.

Last night, too tired to cook, I plopped myself down in front of  The Price of Milk, a quirky, fun love story from New Zealand (funny how I suddenly have a thing for romances…), opened a bottle of wine, and peeled 7lbs of beets that have been collecting and waiting patiently in my fridge for weeks.  This morning I grated them (with my food processor), salted and sprinkled them with caraway seeds, and packed the whole red mass into my new 1 gallon ceramic crock.  The idea is to make sour beets a-la Wild Fermentation.  From what the book says, using fermented beets is how borscht was traditionally made.  Seeing as I love borscht, and that I had a ton of beets, I thought this would be an interesting experiment.  By the time I finished shredding and packing them, enough juice had been expressed to cover the beets.  So no brine was necessary.  I just put a plate on top of them and weighted it down with a large jar of water, then covered the whole crock with a cloth.  Now I just sit back and wait.

Emptying my fridge revealed another 10 large beets so I need to find other things to do with these wonderful root veggies.  I will likely just boil some and eat them with butter.  And I’ll chop some into a fresh batch of fermented veggie ‘kraut.  And the rest I’ll roast with garlic and eat with a balsamic & olive oil dressing.  Simple, but delicious!  I think I have the recipe on here already somewhere.  I’ll put up the link under my recipe tab if I find it.

My fridge also contained two rutabagas, which I am going to shred and ferment as well, just to experiment.  Perhaps I’ll steam a cup or two to enjoy with butter.  I also have half a bushel of tomatoes waiting to be turned into sauce, about 25 pears waiting to be canned, two baskets of plumbs withering away waiting to be turned into sauce, and half a bushel of red peppers waiting to be made into jelly.  Oh, and four egg plants that are starting to droop.  Likely I’ll turn one or two into ratatouille, and the rest I’ll roast and freeze to use later.

I really don’t know when I’ll get all this done, but I’m hoping it will be this weekend.  I tried to also do academic work (and still may do some reading this evening.  Then again, maybe I won’t!), but I have a huge list of things that need doing around the house.  So instead I chipped away at that as well: laundry, cleaning, sorting the shed so there’s room for the patio furniture and boxes of kindling, putting away the patio furniture, boxing up the kindling, cutting the lawn and moving several car loads of wood.  Amazingly I got most of it done today.  Not surprisingly, I’m beat and ready for bed by 9pm.

I knew the food-centered lifestyle I have chosen would be tough to maintain once I went back to working and having a life beyond my writing.  But I am determined to make it work. I have the advantage of having had three years to learn many of the skills I now possess, making cooking and preserving much easier now.  Most of it is so routine that I can whip off a batch of cheese or butter or soup without much thought.  Still, I am finding it tough to keep up.  And it’s going to get tougher.

If I don’t write for a while, don’t worry.  I have not given up.  I’m just setting this aside, along with a few other things, in order to make food first.  But I’ll be back.  Perhaps even tomorrow.  Or maybe in a month.  Until then!

“Cool” Sustainability

I should have been in bed half an hour ago, so I’ll try and keep this short.  I just finished cleaning the kitchen after feeding the dogs and making myself a small snack, and now I’m catching up on email and writing here.  For some reason all I can smell is sheep manure – I expect one of the dogs is still dirty from training tonight.  I’ll have to figure out who it is and keep them from getting up on the bed!

Tonight I am feeling tired and overwhelmed.  I’m still not sleeping well (I have not slept well since my car accident in November) and woke up this morning feeling tired and a bit anxious.  I have a ridiculous amount of work to do and feel like I am slipping farther and farther behind every day.  And this is my ‘slow’ time!  Yikes.  I am worried about the year to come.  If I’m tired now, how I am going to survive come the school year?

Today I reviewed five books as potential texts for one of the courses I’ll be teaching in the fall.  The upside is that the books I’m looking at are really interesting.  One is called “The Essence of Capitalism: the Origin of our Future,” which traces the history of corporate power, with a focus on Coke.  Fascinating stuff and very much the foundation I’d like to present to my students.  And then there’s “Cool Capitalism,” which argues that neoliberal capitalism (the present form of our economic system) co-opts its resistance, making symbols of the resistance “cool” and then marketing them, thus making itself stronger.  In this way, Capitalism consumed the radical ’60s and made quite a profit.  Indeed, the present day heads of Big O-organics (i.e. corporate production of “organic” food) in the US were in fact the leaders of the ‘back to the land’ hippie movement.  This certainly explains why we don’t see much attempt at change these days.  No flag burning or protesting anymore, at least not on the scale we saw a few decades ago.

Next I looked at the No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization.  These No-Nonsense Guides are neat little books that present very clear arguments in an easy-to-read, short presentation.  The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food is another, and is an excellent read.

Because I am trying to sort out textbooks, I didn’t get any dissertation writing done today.  Tomorrow I’ll get back to it.  I am trying to get a rough draft of one chapter written by the end of the week.  I need to discuss it with my supervisor as this particular chapter is going to be the framework for analysis throughout the rest of the discussion.  The chapter is on Sustainability.  Specifically, I am tracing the origins of the term, and it’s use.  Sustainability is such an over-used word now that I question whether it has any meaning at all anymore.  The word is used to describe everything from small-scale organic farming to Monsanto’s GMOs to the growth of the economy.  Talk about co-optation!  So when I say I’m studying sustainable food systems, what do I mean?  What definition am I following?  Why?

While this sounds potentially boring, it’s in fact surprisingly interesting in its complexity.  The word sustainability emerged from economics, and thus has an inherent economic side that works in tension with social and environmental efforts.  Indeed, sustainability includes the notion of trade-off.  Who knew sustainability involves compromise?  And here I thought things either were, or were not, sustainable.  Hmm…. Sounds like a term of convenience, no?

In addition to it’s market focus, sustainability has a strong environmental component as well.  The word was adopted by environmentalists at pretty much the same time as the economists were embracing it.  I shouldn’t be surprised, then, by the dual focus on economics and environment that I am finding in the literature.  Heck, it inspired a whole new field called “ecological economics.”

This certainly explains why the third aspect of sustainability – the social component – is largely left out of most discussions around sustainability.  Or if it is mentioned, it is almost as an afterthought or side-bar.  I suspect that this is because it’s hard to come up with a way to make social sustainability profitable.  Most ways I can think of involve radical change to the current economic structure, such as returning to the concept of the commons and other more collective ways of living.  What was I saying about convenience?  Restructuring capitalism doesn’t exactly fit the bill.

I’ve written before about the impact of language, and this is indeed another example.  The words ‘sustainable’ and ‘sustainability’ invoke warm fuzzy feelings, but the deeper I delve into the real meaning behind them, the less comforted I am feeling.  Are these more terms of co-optation?  Is all the language we are using around trying to identify modalities of change merely means co-optation by those in power? “Alternative,” “organic,” “ecological” – and so on.  These words all sprang up with certain intention but have taken on other meaning altogether now.  That is the dance: those attempting change are kept busy coming up with new words with which to distinguish their efforts while the mainstream keeps consuming these terms and making them part of the mainstream.  Making them “cool.”  And then marketing them and making a tidy profit.

Decisions, decisions…

I really need to get more work done on my dissertation this week.  I have now collected a number of excellent articles for the chapter I’m writing, and am starting to read through them.  Very interesting stuff, which will likely inspire me to compose a few posts here. I am presently researching the definition of the concept  of ‘sustainability’ – a word frequently used (abused?) in just about every context.  Sustainable food, sustainable living, sustainable economy, sustainable technology, sustainable fuel, sustainable GMOs… the list is endless.  With such constant use, does the word even mean anything anymore?  This is what I am exploring. In the process I came across this particularly interesting site on Critical Sustainability, which asserts that the concept is a social construction put forth by those in power to maintain the status quo.  I’m afraid I tend to agree with this, but there are definitions that try and do otherwise.  I think.  I’m not sure to be honest.  Maybe the word is not helpful.  Perhaps no words in the English language – the language of the Imperialists and global hegemons – can be used to effect fundamental change in this system.  I guess that’s what I have to try and figure out.

I’m sure struggling with such abstract concepts sounds perfectly boring to most of you, and to an extent it is.  I enjoy it, but I also am easily distracted by more practical uses of my time.  Such as training my dogs, or doing my food gathering and prep for winter.  And for summer.  Yesterday I picked strawberries at my CSA; lovely organic ones.  I now have 10 quarts in my fridge that absolutely must be processed today.  It will likely take me a couple of hours.  I also have several pounds of rhubarb, and three huge bags of spinach.  Oh, and four loaves of bread to bake (my gas got cut off yesterday due to construction next door, and I had to put them in the fridge to retard them while I waited for the gas company to come back and turn it on again), and three liters of milk to turn into yogurt.  I am leaving town this evening and none of this food will last until my return on Sunday.  I’m glad I won’t be traveling again for a month after this, as it is very difficult to stay on top of my food processing at the best of times, let alone when I go away for chunks of time.  Summer is simply not the time of year to travel if you put food at the centre of your life.

So now I am faced with the dilemma of deciding how to prioritize on a shorter day than usual.  I also at some point need to pack!  I think the food is going to have to take priority.  The dogs have had good exercise lately, and it’s too late to run them this morning anyway.  By now the conservation area will be busy.  I should have left 45 minutes ago.  I will just have to play ball with them in the yard, and do some brainwork with them.  Tomorrow we will hike the Bruce Trail by my parents house, and that should make up for today.

I have just done a couple of hours of work, mostly reading through that critical sustainability site.  This has given me food for thought, so perhaps I can spend some time cooking now while mulling it over.  Then back to some writing in a couple of hours.  Yes, maybe that will work.

As I’ve written many, many times, finding time – no, making time – for food is a constant challenge.  Our society simply does not value this work, and in fact tends to look down on it.  There’s even a voice in my head nagging me to keep working rather than dealing with my strawberries. Heck, I shouldn’t have spent 2 hours yesterday afternoon picking them.  After all, I can always go to the store and buy some if I need them.  Even in winter.

That’s the problem.  We are not starving here.  I could survive quite easily without going through all this fuss.  In fact, that’s the point.  Our economy depends on cheap, easy, fast food.  It needs people to spend time working at their jobs rather than working for themselves.  This is the only way to keep the economy expanding.  If we all stepped off the treadmill and spent our Tuesday afternoons hulling strawberries, the economy would grind to a halt.  And then the world would stop spinning.  It would be a catastrophe.  Or so they – the all powerful ‘they’ – want us to think.

Regardless of the risk to the future of civilization, today I will bake my bread, make yogurt and hull my strawberries.  I’m even going to make a big batch of spinach & corn chowder (the only recipe I know without having to do more research, that uses a lot of spinach).  Then I’ll pack and hopefully find time to do something with the dogs.  And do a bit more reading and writing.

If the world stops turning at some point this afternoon, you’ll know it was my fault.  Apologies in advance.

What’s Stopping YOU From Making Change?

OK, I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and would really love to hear what people have to say.  In my last post, I mentioned that it seems like an increasing number of people are changing their eating and shopping habits and buying from small-scale and more sustainable producers.  Here’s a short clip from Plastic Pollution Coalition.  It’s of 14 year old J.D. speaking out against the use of plastics:

J.D. makes a very interesting argument here: he asserts that people are aware of the problems we face, but they don’t care enough to do something about it.

I’d like to think that most people do care, so I’m not sure that’s the best way to look at the apparently apathy of the masses.  I know that the readers of this blog are likely already involved in change, or at least interested in and thinking about making change, and may not be representative of the general population.  Nevertheless, most of us had to go through some thought process to get to where we are now.

So here’s my question to you: We know, and presumably care, so why don’t we change our habits?

What changes have you made, or would you like to make in order to live in a more eco-friendly way?  What inspired you to make this change?  What got, or is getting in the way?  What would need to happen to allow (or convince) you to turn thought into action?

I am not asking to pass judgement.  I am genuinely interested because if we don’t understand what’s getting in the way, we can’t do anything about it.  There are plenty of things I keep thinking about doing that are more environmentally friendly, yet fail to get my act together and do, for a variety of reasons.  I know what’s stopping me but don’t want to generalize to others.

I’d really love to hear from you.  Thanks in advance to anyone who takes a minute to share their thoughts!

The Ongoing Struggle Against Stuff

I just walked into my bedroom and was greeted by a vision of clutter.  How did this happen?  Why do I still have so much stuff?  Do I really need it all?  Certainly part of the problem is that my room is messy – I’ve had another busy week (I’ve resigned myself to this being the norm for a least a few more weeks).  But it’s messy because I have enough stuff that it is a trick to put things away.  Shelves quickly look messy – because they have too much stuff!

Time to do some more unstuffing.

Another issue is that once I get rid of things, a vacuum is left.  Space is created that can easily be filled with more stuff if I allow it.  I need to be strong and not fall prey to temptation!  This is much harder now that I actually have a little income left in my bank account after all my bills are paid.  I am carefully squirreling most of this away as my contracts end in April and I won’t have work again until August.  Still, it’s tempting to buy a few things after so many months of just squeaking by.

I have indeed succumbed to these urges a few times over the last two weeks.  It was hard not to, considering the bargains I came across.  Specifically I bought myself two lovely stock pots – which I’ll use for years – one a 12L pot and the other a 15L pot.  I paid $85 for both, a large sum for me to let go of these days, but a tremendous deal.  Regular price for each pot on its own cost a fair bit more than what I paid for both.  I had been saving to buy a good stock pot, and to get two for less than I expected to pay for one was more than I could pass up.  But still, I could have just bought one, and saved even more.  In fact, that’s what I did, but a few days later I went back and bought the other.  I do cook a lot, and having pots of different sizes is very useful.  The biggest pot is one that I will likely rarely use, but when I need a pot of that size (typically during canning season), it will be very handy.  I used my roommate’s pot of that size this fall, which made it clear that such a big pot is a fantastic tool to have on-hand.  So I have two new pots and, despite agonizing over the ethical (and budgetary) impact, I don’t regret it.

Now, you’d think that would have scratched my need-to-buy itch.  But no, I further gave in to the urge on another occasion.  I recently discovered a new second-hand clothing store – Talize, a new Canadian chain – which not only has terrific prices, but also has really nice clothes.  Very well organized by item, size and then colour, this shop is full of great second-hand finds.  I bought two sweaters ($6 each), several blankets for the dogs ($2 -$3 each, including a full size wool blanket in perfect condition) and a beautiful piece of jewelry ($0.99).  I am sick to death of just about every item of clothing I own, and I can’t tell you how excited I am at the prospect of revamping my wardrobe at these prices.  Most second-hand clothing stores I have been to either have nothing but poor quality items for cheap, or have nice clothes but at much higher prices.  I’m not sure how this one offers the best of both (nice clothes, cheap prices) but I’m going to enjoy for as long as it lasts!  Shopping here fits both my budget and my life-ethic.

This week I hit the jackpot at this store.  I found a beautiful, full-length genuine sheerling coat in lovely dark taupe with cream colour trim.  A coat like this would cost easily $1000 new, if not more, and I got it for $18.  And given the current cold snap, I couldn’t have found this coat a day sooner.  It is far warmer than anything else I own, and I’ve even been wearing it around the house as I’m rationing wood until get more until Monday (figures we’d run out of wood on the coldest week of the year, the same week our wood supplier went on vacation!).

Exciting as all of this is for someone with a deeply programmed desire to shop coupled with a horror of consumerism, I need to make sure I don’t fall into the trap of buying things because they are cheap and used.  To make sure I don’t do this, or at least avoid it as much as possible, I am working on a set of shopping rules for myself.  The few I have come up with are as follows:

– I must need it before I see it.  No impulse purchases (i.e. I was saving for a stock pot, and then waited until I found a great sale on stock pots)

– No random shopping trips.  I only go into stores if I am looking for something specific.

– If I have a similar item, I must be willing to replace it with the new item.  For example, I bought two new sweaters, so need to select two of my old sweaters and donate them to charity.

– I must be able to pay cash for it.  Credit cards are for emergency break-downs on the highway 200Km from home only.

– I can only purchase clothing items that are in excellent condition and fit perfectly, including when done up (i.e. no jackets that look great as long as I don’t do them up!)

– I can only buy something new if I can’t find it used.  Exceptions include underwear and footwear.

I have been trying hard to stick with this, and so far these rules have kept me from coming home with armfuls of new or new-to-me stuff.   And as I have developed a gag reaction to my space being cluttered, I will harness this reaction to further destuff every time I do bring in something new.  Now I must sign off to go and select two sweaters, a bracelet and a coat to add to my charity pile.

The Locavore’s Dilemma

Another busy week, and now… vacation.  Well, at least a vacation from having to drive into London and teach.  Unfortunately, not a vacation from work.  I have such a mountain of it piled up in front of me that I have pretty much resigned myself to having to skip Christmas this year.  I am going to head down to Niagara to stay at my parents’ house, but they are actually leaving town.  My mother leaves today to spend a few days with her parents in Kingston, then is heading down to Ithaca to  my brother and sister-in-law’s.  This is where we spent Christmas last year and it was quite delightful.  They bought a new house this summer and are looking forward hosting Christmas there.  My father and other brother will be leaving for Ithaca on Wednesday, as soon as my brother finishes work.  I, however, will be sitting in an empty house for a week and grading essays and writing my dissertation.

On the one hand I am looking forward to finally getting a chunk of time to get caught up.  On the other, I really could use a break and some social interaction.  Life gets depressing quickly when living and working in isolation and I am already feeling pretty bleak after just a few days alone here out in the country.  This is why I want to at least stay at my parents house as I know neighbours and have friends relatively nearby whom I can visit in the evenings.  Where I live now, the neighbouring houses are mostly empty and my closest friend is an hour away.

This week I actually enjoyed my first local dinner invitation.  It was absolutely delightful to spend an evening chatting and eating with a group of really interesting and kind people.  I haven’t done anything of the sort in ages.  In fact, while enjoying the meal I realized that it was the first I had eaten in ages with multiple courses.  As I cook and eat alone about 99.9% of the time, I usually just  make one thing and eat it until it is gone, then make something else.  This could explain why I am starting to get bored with just about everything I put on my plate these days.  Having a multiple course meal adds variety and makes eating more fun and exciting.

I just finished (re)reading Michael Pollan’s The Omninvor’s Dilemma. This is really a great book – very interesting and eye opening.  I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand our food system.  There are a few points where I think Pollan falls a bit short on his analysis (for example, when talking about the ethics of eating meat, he doesn’t even touch on the ethical problems of eating the mainstream alternative: Soy), but for the most part the book is an excellent introduction and even fairly advanced analysis of how we feed ourselves.

One point raised in this book that is really starting to resonate with me is Pollan’s comment that we (in North America) no longer have culture to guide how we eat.  Instead, we turn to so-called experts.  As a result, for the first time in history, children do not turn to their mothers (and grandmothers) to learn how to eat.  This is very problematic for the omnivore, according to Pollan.  For the omnivore can eat almost anything, but that doesn’t mean that we should.  Indeed, the reason behind cuisines is that they offer us guidance as to how to eat well.  Many food items do not release their nutrients in ways that we can use them unless they go through a certain process.

Take soy, for example.  Its proteins are essentially unavailable to us until soy is fermented.  This is why traditional cuisines use fermented soy products.  Our new uses of soy (for example, textured vegetable protein or TVP, as a ground beef replacement) is not fermented and thus a very poor source of protein.  People don’t seem to know this, and the “experts” don’t tell us.  Well, at least not the “experts” we have ready access too, through media and advertisement – those paid by Big Ag and Big Pharma.  They push soy as the ultimate healthy solution to eating meat and all the ethical and environmental problems that causes.  These claims are true, I believe, of ecologically grown and traditionally fermented soy products (tofu, soy sauce).  Independent researchers, however, have very different stories to offer about their industrially produced counterparts: these soy products are a poor quality protein source, genetically modified and potential carcinogenic, and produced using very environmentally and socially damaging practices.  For more on this topic, read this article and its many links.

While I never thought much about it before, it is indeed striking that we don’t eat the same way as our parents.  What does this say about our society?  I completely disagree with my mother’s obsession with low-fat products, for example. I eat full-fat everything, believing it to be healthier.  She believes the exact opposite.  Each of us has come to our conclusions through listening to “experts.”  Her advice comes from conventional medicine and nutrition, mine comes from alternative medicine and nutrition (such as from the link above, or books like Nourishing Traditions).  So who’s right?  As our eating traditions have been destroyed, we no longer have any way of knowing.

As Pollan points out, different cultures around the world have dramatically different approaches to their diets.  Some eat mostly plants, others mostly meats.  All tend to be quite healthy, except for Western diets.  So one thing I am certain of is that the way we eat here in North America is wrong.  But even if I turn to my grandmother for help, I can’t find what I am looking for.  She also learned to cook in an era of processed foods, with recipes that call for ketchup or bar-b-q sauces, or cans of mushroom soup.  Of course in her youth, these items were still probably relatively healthy and cooking this way a relatively close simulation to older traditions.  Not today, however.  Nearly 70% of all processed foods on the market today contain genetically modified products and I am not interested in eating any of it.  I strictly avoid anything that contains soy, and do my best to avoid corn and wheat unless organic, locally grown and (in the case of wheat) fermented before I eat it.  I cannot, therefore, use my grandmother’s recipes.

As I get ready to head home for a couple of weeks, I ponder just how much food to bring.  I don’t like making a fuss over this, separating myself from others by my choices around food.  Food actually is often used to draw lines of distinction between different groups of people – for example not eating pork, or beef and so on, according to religion.  But while these customs serve to distinguish various collectives, they also serve bond together the people within them.  This is simply  not the case with all the eating fads found in North America (of which I fully agree that eating locally is one).  Here, as Pollan remarks, you can find four different eating regimes within a single family of four.   This does little to strengthen social ties.  Indeed, it serves to further fracture and individualize our communities, not coincidentally very helpful to the capitalist cause.

In many ways, my determination to eat as ecologically as I know how goes against what I believe food to be all about: community.  At the same time I am becoming more and more adverse to eating industrial food.  While eating locally has introduced me to new friends and community, it is separating me from others.  Trying to decide where to draw the line, how to find the balance between an ethic of eating and building community is what I believe to be the Locavore’s Dilemma.

Destuffing Update

Lately, when I have found the time to write, I have been writing mostly about food (which was the original focus of this blog).  But behind the scenes I have been continuing to work on reducing the crap in my life and making tiny steps towards a more ecologically friendly life.  Looking back over the last few months, I am happy to report that I have purchased very little other than food.  This has been largely for financial reasons, but it feels good and hopefully will become a permanent pattern.

For some strange reason, I have recently been really craving shopping.  I have found myself driving past big box stores and picturing myself, with some nostalgia, walking down the neon-lit aisles.   Strange, I know.  Perahps it’s some kind of re-directed “gather for winter” urge.  Or maybe it’s a subliminal switch that has been programmed into me upon hearing Christmas music: shop, shop, shop ’till you drop… it’s Christmas time!  Because I have been working so hard all semester, I actually had a little extra money for the first time in ages, and decided to allow myself a few purchased.  Last week I picked up a stainless steel canning funnel (I have been looking for one of those for months!) and a stainless steel compost bucket from Lee Valley.  I also bought two sweaters and a pair of pants at a great little second hand clothing store in Waterloo.  I desperately needed new pants as none of my old ones fit.  I am growing quite fat from spending most of my time sitting at a computer or in a car.

Last night, while driving home after a very positive but nonetheless tiring meeting with my dissertation committee, I once again felt the lure of the aisles of junk and neon lights.  I am always tired after such meetings as I worry so much beforehand that they won’t be happy with what I am doing (but, once again, they were).  I decided to allow myself a trip into Winners.  I had a good reason: to buy a good quality pot at a reasonable price.  I cook using my roommate’s pots and pans, which are lovely and expensive.  For some reason, I seem to be incapable of keeping things from burning in them.  Yesterday I twice heated up food that left dark rings on the inside of her stainless steel pots, which took quite a bit of scrubbing to remove.  And every time this happens (just about every time I use the pots), a little more of the ring stays.  Worrying that I am going to ruin her lovely pots, I decided to get a couple of my own and use those instead.  I found a fantastic, brand new, cast-iron skillet and soup pot on the side of the road, and just needed a little pot for reheating the soups I eat almost every day this time of year.

On entering Winners, I was amazed by all the stuff.  I walked up and down the aisles, humming along to the muzak, and was pleased to see that there was absolutely nothing that interested me.  It was pretty much all junk.  The quality is so low on most items that it is really not worth buying them.  A friend commented a few days ago that antiquing and second-hand clothing is going to become a thing of the past as there is nothing that this generation is producing that will last.

After wandering around the entire store, I found a suitable little pot and headed to the cash.  Supposedly originally $50, this pot was marked down to $21.  I heated my dinner in it tonight, and the sides did not burn.  Success!

This weekend I have to finish grading 160 exams, but I am going to try and find some time to get back to sorting through the last few boxes in my room.  I still have about 10 boxes left to sort, and now that we have the woodstove going almost constantly, it is a good time to go through my old letters and cards and ceremoniously dispose of them.  The next project will be my photograph collection, which was once very nicely organized, but has been let slide out of control for several years now.  I would like to have that sorted as well before  spring.  What remains will be a much more manageable collection of stuff, and nearly all of it useful.  Of course at that point I will once again comb through everything to see what else I can get rid of.  But one step at a time!

The Big Pharma Model of Health Care

Food is the foundation of health, therefore talking about health care issues is really not off-topic for this blog.  I was just listening to CBC’s “White Coat Black Art” program in which they were discussing ways of streamlining private practices in order to reduce wait time and increase the number of patients a doctor can see in a day.  Of course this all boils down to money – expenses are going up, and since the government limits what a doctor can charge per patient visit, the only way a doctor can increase his or her income is to increase the number of patients seen per hour.

The first doctor interviewed hired a registered nurse to assist in his practice, allowing him to increase the number of patients he sees from 5 to 8 an hour.  Eight people an hour!  That’s an average of 7.5 minutes per patient.  The second half of the discussion was about a new concept of “group appointments” where a doctor brings in 12-17 patients into a room, briefs them about the necessity for confidentiality, and then goes around the room – one by one – and has the patients discuss their health problems.  While the doctor listens, other staff members pull records and take notes.

What a disaster our health care system has become. I feel badly for doctors who are reduced to such assembly line approaches to their practices in order to pay the bills and meet the demands of a population with too few medical practitioners.  Quite a few of my friends and family work in healthcare and every single one of them is highly dedicated to the idea of helping people.  I can only imagine their frustration at having only 7.5 minutes per person in which to do so.

The only way such a system can even appear to be working is through the pharmaceutical model.  Through the idea that there is one pill for each symptom.  Doctors and nurses learn which pill goes for what ailment, and presto, prescription written and off the patient goes to the pharmacy.  We treat symptoms as evil and take drugs to suppress them, believing that to bring about “cure.”  Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth.

It may not come as a surprise that I subscribe to a holistic approach to medicine.  More specifically, I believe in a homeopathic understanding of disease.  The latter argues that symptoms are not disease, but in fact the body’s way of trying to expel disease.  For example, coughing is the body’s way of expelling the bodies of dead cells produced in the battle against a cold or flu virus.  Conventional medical practice is just starting to realize how dangerous taking cough suppressants is, as it stops the body from ridding itself of all this toxic waste.  Suppressing the cough does not cure the patient of a cold; rather, it tends to prolong it.  The same is true for all these cold and flu suppressing drugs we all now pop like candy in order to avoid missing work.  And then, when it takes us 6 weeks to shake off a flu, we blame it on more virulent flu viruses.  Nobody stops to question if trapping the disease within the body through the suppression of symptoms may in fact be the cause of the problem.  I would argue that in many or most cases, it is.

Surgery is another means of suppressing symptoms.  Now in some cases, such as emergency trauma, surgery may indeed be necessary. But most of the time surgery is used to remove a symptom, effectively closing a vent on the immune system, trapping the problem inside.  From a homeopathic perspective, surgery can in fact make cure impossible if the body cannot find a new vent, as is explained in this article.  Yesterday my mother had her gall bladder removed.  She has been having gall bladder attacks, or what appears to be gall bladder attacks, every few months for the last couple of years.  Diagnostics confirmed stones, although  her doctor said they likely were formed when she was pregnant with me.  So why are these stones suddenly causing problems?  That question was never asked.  One possibility is that she has been very healthy of late, and perhaps her body is now strong enough to expel them.  Or maybe there’s something else going on.  We’ll never know as she no longer has this organ.  Whatever the body was trying to do, it can now never finish.  And what it will do instead, only time will tell.

Even a cancerous tumour is the effect of the body trying to fight an imbalance in the vital force.  Of course by the time it produces a cancer tumour, the battle has been raging for so long that often surgery (or chemo) is the only remaining option.  Especially from a conventional perspective.  By that point the body may be too weak and run down to fight, even with homeopathic help.  But it got to this point not because of some magical apparition of the disease in a perfectly healthy person, but rather as the result of a long onslaught against the immune system, likely helped along through suppressing drugs prescribed in those 7.5 minutes through a medical system that sees each symptom as separate from the body and not allowing enough time to look at the whole and see what may in fact be going on.

Let me give an example.  When my old dog Jake was around 5 years old, he suddenly developed horrible skin allergies.  The doctors said it was a flea allergy.  We gave him steroid shots to stop the itch.  It would flare up again about six months later (despite it no longer being “flea season”), and we’d repeat the treatment.  Steroids act to suppress the immune system, to stop it’s response in it’s tracks and shut it down.  It worked like a charm to stop the itching.  Eventually Jake stopped having these outbreaks.  I figured the fleas must have gone away somehow.

By the time Jake was 8, he started having problems with his hind end.  He also developed a horrible sinus infection and would sneeze blood.  Whenever the infection would flare up, so would the pain in his hind end.  Vets said there was no relation between the two, but I started to think otherwise.  We gave him antibiotics for the infection, and that would clear both problems up for a few weeks or months.  Then they would come back.  Several rounds of this and eventually the problems went away.  I was relieved but starting to worry about what would happen next.

Sure enough, not long after Jake came down with sarcoptic mange.  Interestingly, so did my father’s dog.  The two dogs had been living together for a bit and we figured one must have gotten into a coyote den or something while out hiking, picked it up and given it to the other.  More drugs fixed the problem.  The mange went away, but within a couple of weeks, Jake developed horrible abscesses on his chest and abdomen.  His skin was breaking down.  It was horrible!  More drugs were prescribed.  By that point Jake was on antibiotics more often than he was off them.  The skin problems kept coming back and both vets and I were baffled.  At the same time, he became weaker and weaker in his hind end, and was on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs taken on a daily basis.  By this point he was nearly 12, and the vets concluded that it was a normal progression of old age.  So was the acute  vestibular disorder he developed a few months later.

Not wanting to lose my best friend, I started doing research.  A lot of research.  I also found an acupuncturist who gave him treatments for his hind end.  Two sessions and he was off the pain killers, permanently.  It was amazing!  She also had me stop giving him the antibiotics, and instead gave me a pro-biotic cream to put on the sores.  She said the antibiotics were actually causing the skin problems.  I applied the cream and the sores cleared up within a few days.  After two years of being on antibiotics almost constantly for this skin disorder, I stopped all treatment.  I never gave him another pill, and the sores never came back.

At this point I had also discovered the horrors of commercial pet food.  If you are interested in learning more, the book “Food Pets Die For” is a very good place to start.  This opened my eyes to the importance of nutrition in general, and started me on the path I am still on with respect to food (and health in general).  I started Jake on a homemade diet.

Unfortunately at this point there was too much damage done.  Jake’s kidneys were about 75 percent gone and there is essentially no recovering from that.  Through feeding him a more appropriate diet, keeping him off the drugs and working with a holistic practitioner, Jake lived for a full year longer than anyone ever expected.  He still died several years short of the time I had hoped we’d have together.

So where am I going with all this?  At the time I felt baffled, wondering how this dog could fall apart despite all the care I was giving him.  But now that I look at things from a homeopathic perspective, the path from health to death is clear.  Just before Jake developed his “flea allergy” (I never did find a flea), he had eaten some rat poison.  I caught it right away, gave him some hydrogen peroxide to have him vomit it up.  To make sure we didn’t miss any, the vets had me give him vitamin K shots every day for two weeks, to keep his blood coagulating.  This threw his system out of whack, which tried to expel the toxins out his skin, causing him to be itchy.  Instead of finding a way to support this, or to help his body do this expelling, we shut down his immune system with steroids.  Every time it tried to get back up and going, we’d shut it down again.  Eventually it stopped trying.

However, the disease or imbalance was still in his system and had to come out elsewhere.  I was also giving him yearly vaccines (a horribly damaging and completely unnecessary practice), and anti-flea and tick toxins.  These served to knock his system further out of whack.  Every time his body mounted some kind of response, we stopped it in its tracks with drugs.  Eventually the disease was pushed deep enough to damage his kidneys, and he died.  I killed him through trying to make him better.  Of note, my father’s dog died a few months after being “cured” of mange.  He had developed lung cancer.

A holistic and homeopathic approach to health would have figured out what was going on and supported his immune system rather than constantly tried to fight and suppress it.  Drugs and surgery have this effect, but are the only tools of a medical system that is so overwhelmed and has so little time for each patient.  When I’ve met with a holistic practitioner (be it a naturopath or a homeopath) my initial consult has been 2 hours long. TWO HOURS!  Not 7.5 minutes, or even the 20 minutes conventional medicine allots to annual physical exams.  Two whole hours to discuss your health history, usually along with a detailed 10-20 page form you filled out prior to coming in.  Follow up appointments are usually a solid 45 minutes or longer.

It is only through taking this much time that a healer can really learn about you, can start to see the whole picture, notice trends and patterns, and become aware of links and connections.  For example, when getting more serious, disease moves from the outside inward, and from the bottom up.  Most disease starts with skin problems, as the body is able to keep the imbalance on the surface.  We typically suppress with creams and ointments, and eventually the skin problem goes away (as with Jake) but then something more serious emerges, at a deeper level.  Perhaps you then get bladder infections.  More suppression and something else comes up, likely higher up in the body, and also deeper.

Cure operates in the reverse order. To know if a procedure is curative, you need to watch the direction of symptoms.  When my Ross dog developed a bull’s eye rash and skin abscess in the middle of his back after being bitten by a tick, instead of giving him antibiotics for lyme’s dieases, we treated him with homoeopathy.  The lesion healed, and then appeared again at the base of his tail. That healed, and a smaller lesion popped up at the end of his tail.  The disease was moving down and out his body.  When the last sore healed, he was better.  That was nearly two years ago and he has never shown any signs of Lyme’s disease or any other problems either.

Taking his case, however, took the homeopathic vet more than 7.5 minutes.  It took her several hours in fact.  The result is a healthy dog who has been truly cured, but not a modality of medicine that can make money for corporations.  Homeopathic remedies are only effective when applied appropriately, and there is no “one symptoms – one drug” rule.   Their selection requires the careful study of the patient and a fair bit of research for every individual and ailment.  With holistic practices, the knowledge lies within the practitioner, not in the patented drug.  Homeopathic remedies work wonders, but have no value without a skilled practitioner.  This is why it is demonized by Big Pharma.  They can’t make money off it.  To make money, they need to sell drugs that they have patented, that they own the rights to.  And they need to sell a lot of them.  Their ideal patient is one with a chronic disease who will need daily pills for life.  This is exactly the type of patient you get when medical practitioners only have 7.5 minutes to evaluate.  They don’t have time to really work up a patient’s case, but since drugs are now so effective in suppressing symptoms, they can at least accomplish making the patient feel better in that brief window.  This practice has become so pervasive, that it is now the norm.

Until we are willing to support a system (and that means paying more, either directly or through taxes) which allows medical practitioners to spend more time with each patient – much more time – we are going to stay trapped in the pharmaceutical model of medicine.  And as long as this is the case, we will continue to be a sickly population, riddled by chronic health problems we can neither explain, nor cure.

It’s All in the Planning

To continue on yesterday’s theme, a subcategory of the locavore’s biggest struggle is the need to plan ahead.  I have never been much of a planner (as my very erratic and eclectic life clearly reveals), and that has had to change over the last couple of years.  For if I don’t plan ahead, I often can’t eat. There is no quick food in this house.  Nothing instant, nothing pre-packaged.  Here are a few pictures of our fridge, pantries and freezer.  Note the lack of corporate packaging and logos.  Pretty much everything has been processed in this house (and I think all the produce was grown by my roommate).  This represents an awful lot of planning, time and work!

 

 

 

 

This has required not only a lot of time, but also planning.  I need to actually schedule time in for canning and cooking.  Even on a daily basis, I have to make sure I leave enough time before I get really tired at the end of the day to decide what I’ll be eating the next day.  What needs to be taken out of the freezer?  What needs to be soaked?  Does the sourdough starter need to be fed?  The sauerkraut burped?  The milk turned into yogurt as it’s threatening to soon turn sour?  (by the way, the large pail in the fridge is milk, which we got last night and will be put into smaller jars at some point today to keep it fresher and minimize fridge space).  The fastest food I have is toast, which is only fast if I’ve gotten around to making bread!  I need to keep a constant watch on my supplies and always be thinking ahead.

There’s a wonderful book I’ve been reading (well, I read half quit a while ago and have not quite gotten around to finishing it, but I hope to!) called Kitchen Literacy: How we lost knowledge around food and why we need to get it back.  In it, an 19th century American woman’s life is described, based on the careful notes found in one New England woman’s diary.  In it, she plans her food a year in advance at times!  While I don’t have to go to nearly that extreme for many things, certainly I must take advantage of what is available when, or – like the pears I never got around to canning this fall – I have to do without for a year.  Of course, unlike the woman in the story, for me this is by choice. I could certainly go to the grocery store and pick up anything that I missed putting by during the harvest, but generally I chose not to. In most cases, I’d prefer to go without than to buy something industrially produced.  And I’d rather stay organized than do without.  So I plan and work at improving my self-discipline.

Doing so has actually been a really fantastic experience for me.  I have always enjoyed living more on the Bohemian end of the spectrum, but planning ahead and staying organized is dramatically reducing my general levels of stress and anxiety, and increasing my productivity in all areas of my life.  Who knew?!  I’m sure this is not surprising to many, but it certainly is a pleasant discovery for me. I find that being organized around food requires being organized in other areas of my life.  What a great side effect!  One more reason to stick with it.