Posts tagged commitment

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I’ll admit it: when I got the book reviewed last week, Skinny Bitch, I had no real intention of becoming vegan (well, no more than usual, anyway), I simply wanted to learn more about healthy food choices and eating a plant-based diet. Vegan diets are good for the whole planet? I had no idea. But now, one week later, I’m slower than your Great Granny at the grocery store, reading all the labels, trying to remember whether ingredients were on the Good or Evil list. The other day, I ate soy yogurt, for pete’s sake! True, when I read Fast Food Nation a few years back, it inspired a similar quest to eliminate fast food from my life, but I’m not usually one to just jump wholeheartedly on a bandwagon. What’s going on?

Ingredient List

The book recommends not going cold turkey if you’re used to a carnivorous diet, but being kind of an accidental semi-vegetarian most of my life (my parents never could figure out why I preferred asparagus to ice cream at ten), I figured I was close enough to try. Rather than set up for failure, I simply aimed to reduce as much as possible with each individual food choice, and keep a food journal to track progress. One week in, it’s been pretty enlightening.

From the first day, I could feel a difference. I stuck vegan that day, but already I could tell it wouldn’t be cold turkey for me. Oh no, I’m still thoroughly hooked on milk products. The next day, I allowed myself cheese on top of pasta, and ate some peanut M&Ms after dinner. Okay, opiates, refined sugars, and artificial colors. Could be worse. Day three must have been, like the book predicted, when my body started to digest itself, which although it sounds awful, they promised was a good thing, once you expel all the toxins and stop feeling like crap. Which I definitely did on and off all day. Already, I could feel the direct effect of putting butter on my wheat toast in the morning, and of eating a bean and cheese burrito from Del Taco. Buouyed by the book’s promise, I stuck it out and promised myself I’d stop eating so much junk. Yesterday, I was back on my feet, and feeling good. Tried soy yogurt, in a moment of particular devotion. Ummm… not going to make the regular shopping list yet. But almond and rice milks will, for sure. Suddenly, I understand why everyone at Whole Foods looks so great. Ralph’s (Safeway) is definitely NOT vegan friendly. To be honest, it’s no less expensive either.

Strangely, the first thing I’ve noticed about this “food vision quest” I’m on is that my skin brightened up immediately, and has been getting softer by the day. Not bad for an added bonus! Those little enzymes must be hard at work putting things back together again. Also, in an effort to stop drinking so much soda and caffeine, I’ve been exploring the world of teas. I discovered Tulsi Ginger Tea (caffeine free) from Organic India, and it’s love at first sight. It reminds me of Celestial seasonings Tension Tamer tea, minty and rejuvenating. And the literature included listed so many health benefits of Tulsi (“Holy Basil”) that I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it before, especially since it said it had been revered in India for darn near 5000 years!

Tulsi (Holy Basil) Tea

So there you have it. Though this blog is about getting off the grid, I realized how much better for the planet and for my local community it would be to eat locally produced vegan foods. In the end, the foods you eat DO have a huge impact on the footprint you leave. I wasn’t planning on cleansing, or making a definitive vegetarian choice this week, but Skinny Bitch’s arrival nudged me (with a cattle prod) to get started if I ever wanted to stop being a half-assed foodie hypocrite. So I am. And me, my glowing complexion, and my newfound tea are loving every minute of it. You can do it, too. Read Skinny Bitch to find out how forgoing animal products will save you and the environment and help avert the global food and energy crises. If you haven’t read it already, read Fast Food Nation. That should put you over the edge, for sure! Or pick a hard-hitting book on some other topic and scare yourself into making that change you’ve been toying with. After all, in our entropic world, building your spirit will require you to actively participate, and there’s no time like the present to start. In fact, that’s the only time you’ll ever start anything. So do it now!

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UPDATE: Commitments and your future self

Time to check in on the great experiment that started this whole thought blot that is my blog. After a few months, how am I doing in my quest to detach from the grid? Here’s the report:

Solar Cooking: I constructed two solar ovens and have been testing them out whenever possible. Lately, there haven’t been too many hot, sunny days. I think they’re spraying too many chemtrails to keep the temperatures down. (If you don’t know what a chemtrail is, consider yourself warned: the government is spraying us with heavy metals and other carcinogens in order to better control the weather and possibly do a host of other nasty things… look it up on Google.) I have successfully cooked several foods, and have found that squashes are by far the easiest to cook, as they have a fairly high water content but are not actually liquid. Next, I plan to branch out more into cooking fruits.

Haven’t gotten that solar panel dissected. I’m a little afraid to cut into the circuitry without expert help. But it will happen, undoubtedly once I figure out the perfect application for the modules.

Avoiding Fast Foods: Um, not exactly going to get a A+ on this one, but I have cut out a majority of the fast food joint trips. And replaced them with frozen dinners from the grocery store. Yeah, need to work on that. I still hit up Del Taco for some tostadas and salads, but try to avoid anything with meat. The frozen pasta dinners, on the other hand, do have some meat in their sauces, and who knows what else hiding in those highly processed packages. Drinks are falling somewhere in the realm of sodas (healthy is harder than I thought on a budget!), whole milk, and gatorade. Judge as you will.

Adopt a Block: I selected the block that I will keep clean. I have done preliminary study to see what sorts of trash accumulate there: it’s your usual city detritus, mostly plastic bags, party fliers, and paper cups with various name brands emblazoned on their sides. At home, I’ve started a few seeds of edible varieties to do some “guerrilla gardening” as I pick up the trash. They are just now maturing to a size where they can be transplanted, and I will probably put them out this weekend. Stay tuned on that.

Transportation: As reported, I sold the car, and have been hoofing it since. In the city, there’s a lot of public transportation available, and I’ve simply been taking the metro, and occasionally the bus. Since the Metro is more than a mile from my place, I’ve been doing plenty of walking lately. Luckily the weather has been beautiful for that. Taken the Greyhound several times now, and it’s doing just fine for long-distance needs. Otherwise, I don’t miss the car too much, though I did have to skip attending the magazine release party for my latest article due to lack of appropriate transport. All in all, a small price to pay. Still looking for a great deal on a scooter or bicycle on Freecycle, whenever that may happen.

Far West AlmanacIf you live in Southern California, check out my latest article in this month’s Far West Almanac!

Website: As this whole blog is a labor of love, I’ve been trying to make lots of useful information available for all of you who are fellow travelers on the road to off-grid living. That does take a bit of time and applied effort. You’ll see that recently, several pages have been added to the site, outlining several aspects of low-impact living. I am continuing to update and add to these pages as I do research. Keep an eye out soon for an all-natural recipes page and a survival skills page. Of course, I’d love to hear more about what YOU want to see here. Please comment if you are looking for information you can’t find, or if you see something that was especially helpful, so I know what to add.

So that’s the round-up. It’s important to check in every once in a while on your progress, so you know whether things are going as you planned or if you’re headed for uncharted territories. For an automated way to do this, I like to use http://www.futureme.org, a service that lets you write an email to your future self. You have to write more than three months in advance, so it’s not a daily reminder service… it’s a way to remind yourself of what was important to you at a particular moment. It’s humorous to talk to yourself this way – you think you’ll remember what you’ve said, but trust me, you won’t. Try it!

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Take a Tour of Solarious

This week, you will be seeing a lot of action at the Solarious website, as I update and expand the back pages with new information for you.  Why don’t you stop through and take a tour?

First, check out the food additives page, “In My Food”, where you can find out more about the ingredients that make up you daily diet and how they may affect your health.  If you have any expertise or suggestions about ingrdients, please share them, and I’ll follow up by posting more on the topic.

Next, visit the “Success Stories” page to see how others in your position have overcome challenges and maintained inspiration and vision to complete alternative energy projects.  Again, please feel free to share any inspiring stories or learning lessons you know of so that others may learn too.

And finally, see the brand-spankin’ new section, “Box it Up”, for an ever-incomplete listing of companies that incorporate recycled packaging and goods into their product lines.  I say incomplete, because more companies recognize the need for such sustainable practices every day.  Here’s to wishing for that day when ALL companies use recycled goods in their products, reducing our virgin material needs close to zero.  Until then, support these companies’ decisions to ensure that they view sustainability as a wise business decision.

In regularly scheduled news, everything here is going great.  After a solid week of grey days and spitting rainy weather, the sun is out and blazing.  It’s time to get cooking!  Over the “down time” of cloudy weather, I walked around the city distributing a new magazine for whom I write.  Plenty of time to check out the neighborhood and look for a block to adopt.  And… I’ve found one!  It took a bit of looking, because in my neighborhood the “Clean Team” (ie. people who’ve gotten community service hours to complete) come around once a week and supposedly clean the streets, so I didn’t want to overlap their areas.  And because there is just so much mess to choose from!  I’ve chosen a two-block area near my house to start with, and will expand once I figure out how much maintenance that will entail.  When I go next week to begin picking up, I’ll post before and after photos.  I also found a community garden near where I travel regularly with available plots.  With any luck, I’ll be able to scrape up a little cash and get a plot there to feed my growing demand for veggies to steam in the sun!  If you’re in the LA area and have a neglected backyard that you want planted for a share of the organic produce, holler! We can help each other out… and isn’t that what life is all about?

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COMMITMENT: Community Service

So I just finished doing a few days of community service around Los Angeles. Out here, you can end up doing community service for almost anything. Jaywalk? Community service. Broken headlight? Community service. Forget your seatbelt…? You guessed it. Specifically, I was in Macarthur Park, made nationally famous by Donna Summer in 1979, but integral to the history of LA much longer than that. Back in the early days, it was owned by the governor’s family, and became a garbage heap, then a huge park at the turn of the twentieth century. In the eighties and early nineties, it was famous more as a place to find drugs (and bodies floating in the lake), but these days, it’s settled back into a respectable place, albeit one where the shop keepers don’t speak English as often as they do.

So as I picked up trash off the grounds and skimmed the lake with a long skimmer, clearing more trash and several varieties of dead animals, I started thinking about trash. What else, it’s all I’d been looking at all week! Even as a kid, my family and I used to go a few times a year and volunteer at the local park cleaning trash, mostly stuff that had floated downriver in a flood and somehow ended up on the banks. It’s not that people didn’t use the park. Sometimes it was downright crowded in the picnic areas. But I don’t remember people leaving a lot of litter behind. And I’m not that old yet, so this isn’t a “I remember when…” story!

Now Macarthur Park is a different story. It’s almost all human trash, and people just have a picnic on the lawn and leave everything there when they leave, like the lawn is some plastic dinner tray that can just be picked up taken to the dishwasher at the end of the day. If I’d melted down the plastic bottle caps I swept up those few days, I’d easily have gotten a chunk the size of myself. And as all you greenies know a plastic cap on the ground isn’t going anywhere anytime soon from biodegradation. At several points, the park director said not to worry about little trash, just newspapers and boxes, and plastic cups… big things you can see from across the park.

This illustrated to me the national situation we find ourselves in with our waste systems. We produce SO much trash that we end up only trying to clean up “the big things”, because we think we don’t have time to concentrate on all the little things. Well, I disagree. You see, if you’re going to do a job, do it right. That’s the motto of 90% of successful people, rich or otherwise. After a day of doing what was asked (and watching people throw things right back onto the half-cleaned areas), when skimming the lake I thought, why do this halfway? A lake that looks sort of trashy will quickly invite people to think of it as a place for more trash. A pristine lake is a scene for enjoyment. So I started skimming, and then when I finished, I went and did it again, checking my work. In the end, the whole lake was clear, and I was feeling pretty good watching the ducks feed their ducklings in an area free of plastic bags and soda bottles. And to prove my theory, I saw a man take out his camera and take a few lovely pictures of the now clean park, and several patrons even stopped and thanked me for cleaning up their lake, asking questions about the wildlife and the lake itself.  All that positivity for a few hours work!

Another thing that I see so often in our current societal system is that we work at odds with ourselves. After three days of cleaning the park, the park managers received word that, in response to anticipated large turnouts at the immigration rallies planned for this year’s May Day celebration, all trash cans must be removed from the park, so they couldn’t be used as weapons against the police (never mind that every barrel was chained down). No plastic bags or paper receptacles either, as they could be torched. What about the trash of the ten thousand or so people supposed to show up? The police’s answer… throw it on the ground. Having just been that person picking up trash for three days, I felt the frustration of someone who watches their sandcastle washed away by the tide. True, picking up trash once won’t cure everything, but couldn’t we as a society learn to coordinate everything a little better so that we don’t expend our resources repeatedly attacking the same problems when we know that by not changing the underlying patterns of consumption we won’t stem the problems themselves?

So community service wasn’t so bad after all. I’m glad not to be getting up at 5 am, but I kind of enjoyed being in the park all day. And when I walked away from the last day’s work, I felt good seeing the green expanses trash-free because of me. It looked like I imagined it in the old days. So here goes, I’m going to make another COMMITMENT. I will find a place, somewhere in LA, and adopt it as my own. It will stay trash free and maybe even sprout a few more plants. People may or may not notice, but hopefully the birds will. Will you do the same? If everyone just adopted a tiny little spot, we could create communities and scenes for enjoyment rather than half-cleaned vistas, waiting to accept another gift of trash.

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COMMITMENT: Use Public Transportation

Back to the great experiment that is my green life-in-training.  It’s been a while since the last report, but fear not, I HAVE been taking action.  About a month ago, I decided that long distance trips across the country were unacceptably increasing my carbon load on the earth.  True, I still drove much less than the average American, and I shared a ride every trip across the country that I made.  But, when 45% of your emissions are coming from one place… well, that just looks yucky on the pie chart!  So I made a commitment.  Sell the car….  Done. 

What was I thinking?   No, really, it’s not that bad.  During the daily routine, I only drove a few miles a day anyway, and now that’s a little further free walking exercise to be gotten.  No, I don’t mind that at all, especially given LA traffic, which doesn’t quite compete with the intensity of that in my native DC, but certainly makes up for it in volume across great distances.  Yes, LA traffic is frustrating, and I am happy to kiss it goodbye.  Even though it means making a few adjustments in lifestyle (no more meeting people across town unless you’ve got a GOOD reason for paying bus fare and figuring out a route), it’s a better way to get to know your local community, as you WILL interact more with passersby and merchants.

Greyhound Bus - Eco-Friendly Transport

However, the real test of this commitment is the replacement of my regular car travel plans over long distances.  How to get across the Southwest without a car or a monster budget?  In a spirit of conservation and adventure, I recently took my first trip… on the Greyhound bus.  I must say, it was less stressful than driving, with driving’s relentless watching the road while steering, or not quite trusting other drivers and watching the road anyway.  Never a good sleep in a car, unless you’re REALLY zonked.  So, back to the Greyhound.  It was painless, relatively on time, much more eco-friendly, and I met a few interesting people along the way

If you’re contemplating taking the bus when you next travel, may I offer a few pointers?  Arrive earlySeriously.  And when you arrive, ask where your gate is and go ahead and put your bags in line.  It seems to be standard practice that you don’t have to remain with them beyond that point.  So settle in and watch a movie on the big(ger) screen while you wait.  And bring your own food, unless you like two dollar snickers bars in the vending machines and similarly priced sodas.  I’m pretty sure that they’ve never heard of the word organic either.  Experienced Greyhounders relate that they routinely oversell the buses (remember that tip about putting your bags in line?), so if you want to have any choice about what variety of seatmate you want, better get your spot and hold on tight.  It will help you out a lot if you travel light enough to avoid checking baggage.  That also removes you from having to open up your bags for people at every stop.  When I went hiking last month, the travel compartments above were large enough to accommodate an artfully packed trecking backpack and tent – it’s kind of get-it-as-you-come on available space.  After all that, well, sit back and relax!  The bus stops at cities along they way, often for  long enough to get your standard fast-food fare along the highway, make cell phone calls or whatever else you can fit in a quarter hour.  Best of all, if you travel with a friend, one of you can ride for a 50% discount companion fare, reducing costs further. 

So far, life without a car has been pretty good.  I HAVE missed a few appointments and retooled my day a few times, but all-in-all, it hasn’t required too much more time or thought.  And I’ve met several local business owners whose businesses I might not otherwise even have seen whizzing by in a car.  If this is to be a long-term arrangement, I think that I’ll get a bicycle again (last one was stolen, another LA hazard!) or maybe even a little moped that can be converted to use less gas.  Has anyone else made the jump to sell their car?  I’m curious to know how it went/ is going?   I salute you for traveling the road to green-dom (literally!) one step at a time

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WooHoo!

I did find my soldering iron the other day and was ready to get started on the solar panel repair. And then I remembered, of course, that it uses a plug. Which, if you’ve read my other posts, is a problem, as I don’t use electricity at home. So, FINALLY, today, I unearthed a handy tool that I’d forgotten about – a little pocket blowtorch that fuels up like a refillable butane lighter. Sweet! Now there are no excuses.

Real life (yes I know, we bloggers aren’t supposed to have one of those) has been intervening this week, making shop time scarce. So, in the mean time, I concentrated on my first COMMITMENT, eating less fast food. It’s much harder to do than I’d imagined, given that my daily food budget is something like five dollars, and I have no kitchen (yet).

Here’s the report: Total elimination of fast food burgers is a step in the right direction. CHECK. However, not to starve while greening up my own kitchen, I did eliminate two foods from the “nasty list”: bean and cheese burritos and side salads. I’m sure many of you out there could point me to a million reasons why these two foods should disappear as well. Yeah, I know. But my stomach doesn’t speak green quite yet. And my pocketbook definitely doesn’t either! =)

Carrots, yum! In the interest of not boring people with “what I ate for lunch today” syndrome, I’ll spare you the details of what replaced what. But with lots of veggies taking over main food duty (I forgot how much I love carrots!), suffice it to say I’m feeling a little better already. Next up, eliminating caffeinated sodas from the repertoire. Baby steps, people! I’m currently waiting for a copy of Skinny Bitch: A no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous! to arrive at the library. You can read a good review of it at Vegsource.com, itself a great resource. From all indications, it’s going to be a boot camp guide to eating right and saving the planet. Just what the fast food junkie ordered.

What do you eat to snack healthily?  Favorite easy vegetarian meals?

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