Tag: self-sufficiency

How an American family got “supersized.”

heavy Texans eating web
Visitors to the Texas State Fair, 2017

My true story starts about one hundred years ago in a village in a rural part of central Ohio. There a family (mother, father, and six children) had a small home with enough land to grow food for themselves, including apples, walnuts, and golden raspberries, as well as flowers to sell for income. The parents were such good cooks that they also ran a local restaurant.

The youngest daughter married a boy from a nearby small town. They were ambitious and both went to work out of the home to pay for their starter house. The mother, now a widow, took care of her two grandchildren, a girl and a boy while their parents were away at work. She cooked for them every day, and the boy learned to make pies from her.

Eventually, the daughter and her husband decided to leave the countryside and move  to a suburb of a large eastern city. The husband bought a store, and he and his wife worked long hours to be successful. The wife continued to cook, but the food she bought came from the large grocery store nearby, and much of it was processed and packaged. There was a yard large enough to grow vegetables behind their home, but nobody had the time or interest in doing that. In fact, the father of this family believed that only poor country people too ignorant to know better would want to grow their own food.

Now it was time for their eldest daughter to have a family. She married a man from the Midwest, and she returned with him to live there in a suburb near a large Midwestern city. She cooked occasionally, but mostly she bought fast food and ready-made meals for her family. This daughter had always been heavy, and after having three children, a girl and two boys, she found that she could not lose the weight, no matter how hard she tried, so she had an operation to have her stomach reduced. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bariatric_surgery)

Meanwhile, her husband was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure and two of her three children also had serious weight issues. Her eldest daughter had to have stomach surgery too, and her youngest son became morbidly obese. The other son didn’t cook at all, and he married a girl who had never cooked. All their food is prepackaged or bought at fast food outlets.

This American family is middle class, educated, and health conscious. They use doctors and read articles about medical issues. They didn’t realize that they were choosing a way of eating that would give them obesity, diabetes, and other serious diseases.  The information- why eating foods produced by industrial farming in the now normalized manner of huge portions with meat at almost every meal is unhealthy- was not available to them through mainstream media outlets.

Changes in the nutrient quality of the food itself as it is grown on exhausted soil through industrial agribusiness processes; the inexpensiveness of food (the U.S. has the cheapest food in the world!); and the idea promoted by advertising that food (and I use the word loosely!) should be processed and pre-cooked for immediate consumption (let’s not waste any time on that dreary chore of cooking!) are some of the complex causes for this weight gain in many Americans, but even doctors seem unaware of this or unwilling to talk about it to their patients!

I  suggested in this story that there are furthermore two important cultural reasons for the disruption of healthy eating patterns: the loss of the skill of cooking in many families as processed and fast foods replaced real sit-down meals, and the deep alienation of Americans from the sources of their food. Joel Salatin, Michael Pollen, and Barbara Kingslover write about these major shifts in our American traditions.

Michael Pollen in his In Defense of Food has some good suggestions about how, through simple small steps, one can reverse this debilitating trend and bring back older more sustainable habits. His mantra is: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

So how does one begin cooking again and start reconnecting with the staples of a good healthy diet? First, buy food that is grown or raised locally. This food will appear to be more expensive than the stuff trucked in from thousands of miles away, but it will taste much better! Dallas, which is a great foodie city, turns out to have a lot of organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms. I pick up my weekly box of vegetables every Friday from one of them (https://johnsonsfarm.com/farm-market/produce/csa/). Still experimenting with recipes to use up all the jalapeño peppers I got in my first order (did you know that you can make cowboy candy with them?  http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/candied-jalapeno-or-cowboy-candy-453141)

Another great way to get into cooking is to grow one’s own food. This doesn’t have to be a big deal: a couple of containers with herbs or tomatoes or salad will work to begin. I have no garden in the apartment I rent in Dallas (though I am in the process of looking for a community garden to join), and my balcony is too shaded to grow much. However, I have installed a grow light (total price $35 with bulbs) in my kitchen to raise rosemary, cilantro, mint, basil, and chives this winter. And I have all these herbs right at hand when I’m cooking!

herbs under grow lights
Chives, rosemary, German thyme (hidden), spearmint, basil, and coriander under grow lights.

Cooking is a better choice for using your time, and growing food is the best choice for reconnecting with the earth beneath your feet!

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Walking Dallas

                                        walk under oaks, Dallas copy       Walking out to do errands at 4 pm Wednesday under oak trees; not a person in sight!

Dallas at rush hour copy  Downtown Dallas at evening weekday rush hour; I’m walking home from the butcher.

I knew when I came down here to Dallas that it is not known as a walker-friendly city,

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/sep/12/walkable-city-worlds-most-new-york-melbourne-fes-el-bali

but the actual experience of walking here has been positively surreal! Coming from eight years of living in Montreal, and taking for granted that people walk whenever possible, I was not prepared to find myself the only person walking around the streets of Dallas. This sounds like an exaggeration, but truly it is not!

I live in the Oak Lawn section of town, https://www.walkscore.com/TX/Dallas, an half an hour walk from downtown and to most of central Dallas. It is a beautiful part of the city (and Dallas is surprisingly lovely), but at any hour of the day or night, the only people on the street are the dog walkers, an occasional jogger, the indigent, and me. Now that might be understandable in the summer months when the temperature is in the triple digits Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), but there is no reason for this at a time of year when the weather is sunny, cool, and perfect! But the citizens of Dallas are so habituated to their cars, that I don’t think that they even notice the change in weather!!

This is the first time in my life I have lived in a car-centric place, and it is really bizarre! Even during morning or afternoon rush hours, the city feels as if it is deserted. There are, of course, thousands of people sitting in their cars, but the cars are closed (air conditioning seems to be a necessity no matter what the weather!), so I have the uncanny sensation that I am all alone on the street!

It is not so much that the city is hostile to pedestrians as that it seems to have decided that since so few people of any standing (read young, well-to-do & white) actually use them, Dallas presents places to walk without the accompanying functionality of those spaces. There are sidewalks along most streets (though not, interestingly in the very wealthiest neighborhoods), but they are often closed by construction with no where to go, for the walker, but in the street with the cars. There are crosswalks at most corners, but the walk lights are often calibrated to give the pedestrian about ten seconds to get across before they change to a flashing stop, and this is when the pedestrian signs work at all. If one is an older or disabled person, the crossing is impossible.

It is also really dangerous to cross a busy street even with the light as Dallas, unlike Montreal, permits a right turn on red; and drivers are so unused to people in the crosswalk that they often turn without looking. I have taken to getting the attention of the driver in the right hand lane (even if I have to knock on the car hood to make him look up from his cellphone) before the light changes and I head across the road!! Also, Dallas is structured with a number of high speed highways and tollroads dividing the city into various neighborhoods and districts, and walking the overpasses across those highways with the traffic coming into or out of them is not my favorite part of walking Dallas.

turtle-creek-oct-copy.jpg                                Turtle Creek, Dallas

Still, I continue to explore Dallas on foot. In the past two months I have seen some beautiful parks (including along the Turtle Creek near my home), and visited some of the fine libraries & museums in the town. And when I do pass anyone on the street, no matter his or her race or aspect, I am always greeted by a warm “How are you doing, Ma’am? You have a good one!” which is one of the perks I love of living in a Southern town.

It would make me happy to see Dallas switch into a more sustainable mode of living.

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/buildings-and-cities/walkable-cities

If the habit of driving could be replaced with the habit of walking, especially for folks commuting locally and doing errands in their neighborhoods (and yes, I am one of the few people trundling my rolling shopping cart to the nearby grocery store with me- to my daughter’s chagrin!) Dallas could become a healthier more integrated town.

https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/walkable-cities-are-better-for-our-health-and-economy/article36384880/?ref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.theglobeandmail.com&click=sf_globefb

And now the bad news:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/05/traffic-fumes-in-city-streets-largely-wipe-out-exercise-benefits-for-over-60s

which means that I will be walking during the middle of the day & not during the rush hours!

 

 

Change of Life…

courtyard at home in Dallas copyThe courtyard of my apartment complex in Dallas, Texas. You can make out a banana tree at the far left by the stairs!*

Howdy, y’all! Here I am, for the winter, in Dallas, Texas…not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would be a “snowbird” in what is, in the U.S., the Deep South. (The West does not technically start until a few miles farther west in Fort Worth.)

But coming down here to spend the winter and early Spring months was a decision intimately connected to a larger change of life that I have been experiencing the past year. The news has been uniformly bad, and although I am not of a pessimistic mindset, I believe that we have passed the tipping point to an increase of 4 degrees warming that will cause a catastrophic collapse of many environmental systems.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/letter-to-humanity-warning-climate-change-global-warming-scientists-union-concerned-a8052481.html

So to be very clear, I do not expect the changes (“the better choices” that I am and will be making) to do very much to avert the coming disaster. And, though I am by nature a “fixer” (and many of my friends will know what that means!), I am resisting the urge to tell other people (including my own daughter) what they should do under this environmental crisis. Instead, I am simply going to document my choices and explain my reasons for my change in life and lifestyle.

One of the central reasons that I am investing the time & energy on redoing my way of living is that I believe that in the very near future we will all be forced to reform our profligate lifestyles; and I think that it will make it easier & less stressed to be proactive about changing before it is forced on us. The crux of our challenge is how to switch from a worldview that privileges personal accumulation (of money, power, property, etc.)  speed, and personal gratification (no matter at what the cost) to a much slower, simpler, and less “glamorous” way of living.

The idea of “progress” is so embedded in our lives & in our economic system that it feels almost counter-intuitive to reject it, and try to return to an older simpler way of living. The whole definition of progress is that each generation will live far better than the one before.  But the problem with human progress is how fast it is expected to happen. In this it is in direct and dangerous opposition to progress as it plays out naturally and even culturally. The Western capitalist lifestyle in particular rejects the more ancient indigenous methods of living as backward even though the solutions contained in these modes of livelihood have been tested and incrementally improved over generations!

Though I don’t like (or even approve of) most of this Western life style, I am finding it very challenging to extricate myself from a fossil fuel dependent way of living, and from very long ingrained habits!  Now, my strategy for facing a problem is first to read myself through it. So in the past year I have read a considerable amount, first on the crisis itself, and then about ways to avoid some of the more egregious pitfalls, and maybe even ameliorate this dire dilemma. My booklist can be found in the sidebar at the right.

The reading continues, but now I am making some substantial changes in my life. Some things have been in place for a long time; some are in the process of being instituted; and some are plans for my future. Because it is just me, these are all tiny steps, but they are part of greater systems; and I hope that some of them will turn out to be keystone actions.

My goal of a sustainable life will include new (for me) ways of moving through the world; eating, growing food, and cooking; getting rid of waste; and developing a community from which to learn & get moral support. I hope to connect with other people working through the same challenges!

*If you go back to my previous posts, you will notice that I have removed all the photos except for the ones I took. I have been “borrowing” photos online which is not kosher (read illegal) or fair to the photographers who made them. From this point forward, all the photos or illustrations will be my own work!

 

 

 

 

 

Art & Climate Change

 

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/northern-californias-wildfires-local-artists-1117727?utm_content=buffer2eb6e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=socialmedia

The above is one of the few articles that I have seen on the losses artists have endured because of extreme climate change. I have not seen to date any articles on what artists in Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands have suffered. Seeing the nightmare of losing one’s  studio and all the accumulated artwork in it, makes me wonder again: what is the best way for an artist to set up for the climate-induced disasters of the coming age?

As artists, we live with certain constraints, especially if we are painters still working in an easel tradition:

  1. we need art supplies. Even if we choose to live a minimalist lifestyle (certainly my goal), depending on what type of art we do, we will use many more tools than, say,  writers do.
  2. we need studio space in which to do our work, and store our supplies.
  3. and we need inventory: I am a painter, and I have lots of paintings and drawings and sketchbooks that I can sell or use for future work. These things are, in essence, my equity.

Now if a fire or flood destroys these things, insurance will pay for very little. Insurance might pay for supplies or the studio, but there is no way to replace the paintings (as I understand it, the supplies that went into the paintings can be reimbursed, but not the actual value in terms of work time and potential sales).

So I have been thinking of two paths: one to minimize the risk; the other to soften the blow.  Let’s start with the latter: what can make the loss of artwork less painful?

1. Photograph in full file and store online and in hard drive everything that would be difficult to part with, and I mean everything: paintings, drawings, sketchbooks. It is the same with important photographs, and papers (birth certificates, passports, wills, drivers licenses, etc.) but for a different reason. You just want to have a record of the papers, but you want the peace of mind to know that you will be able to reproduce the art, either as a print or a gclee, if the original piece is destroyed. Paintings can also be repainted using good photographs as references. We tend not to make copies in this day and age, but if the work is really important, it can be remade.

2. Practice non-attachment. One way is through Buddhist study and practice: http://www.zen-buddhism.net/buddhist-principles/four-noble-truths.html. Another more secular route is by accepting randomness as the basis of reality. The best book to read on this is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan. For a quick synopsis: https://medium.com/personal-finance-series-by-richard-reis/black-swan-101-beware-the-highly-improbable-316658109d46.

Thinking about how to minimize the risk, I have come up with a number of ways:

  1. Store in secure storage units that are fire and flood resistant though I assume that this is an expensive choice.
  2. Leave the paintings with as many friends as possible. These paintings are “on loan” and if I sell them or need them for a show, I just retrieve them. Not having them all in one place, like my studio, also gives me some more peace of mind, and I like the idea that the art is giving pleasure and not sitting wrapped up unseen somewhere!
  3. Edit ruthlessly so you have a smaller inventory.  I have an artist friend who keeps everything he does. He has reams of sketches, piles of sketch books, and closets full of paintings. And certainly there is a widely understood assumption that true professional artists produce prolifically.  But I don’t believe that artists should either be like industrial manufacturers or hoarders. Paintings can be gessoed over and painted over. Or the old canvas can be removed and new canvas put on the old stretchers. Again, if the painting that is to be destroyed has been photographed, it can still act as inspiration or reference. And destroying a piece because it is not that good is cathartic and keeps the art from becoming too “precious.”
  4. Switch media! Easel painting was invented in the 14th century as a way to make painting more accessible physically: easier to move. But seven centuries later, easel paintings have unfortunately joined the overwhelming flood of objects that crowd our homes, use up the Earth’s resources, and are just one more commodity to purchase. As a change, I have been looking at Print on Demand (POD) where the image is uploaded to a website and the buyer can buy it as a print without the artist having to keep inventory; books, again a POD situation; and in situ murals. This last is where painting in our time has gone to live, and in a strange historical reversal, some of the most dynamic painting being done today is found on walls for public consumption, as was the case for most of recorded history!

These are just my first raw thoughts on life as an artist in the time of extreme climate change, but I would be grateful to hear the ideas of other artists!

 

 

 

 

“Unprecedented!”

 

Before & after photos of the damage done by the fire now raging in Northern California

There is a parable about a frog put into a pot filled with lukewarm water on the stove. The frog is supposed to stay in the pot even as the water in the pot heats up to boiling,  because it cannot figure out that it is in a potentially life threatening situation because it is occurring so gradually.  (This is, by the way, not scientifically true!  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog   but it makes a very good parable for our times.)

Sometimes I feel as if my country is that frog! From today’s The Washington Post:

“The fires, which first whipped up Sunday night, added to what has already been a severe fire season in the West. More than 8 million acres have burned in at least four states, raising questions from across the political spectrum about the connection to climate change and forest management practices.”

“Raising questions”?!! Billions of dollars in destruction this past year through fires, floods, hurricanes, and droughts; and one can have questions about whether this is being brought to us by global warming?! And yet, the media continues to label every hurricane, every fire, every flood: “unprecedented!” (sic!) as if each disaster is some unconnected climate anomaly.

Meanwhile, the US Federal government is rolling back and eliminating the far from strong environmental laws we had in place to slow down CO2 emissions:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/09/epa-scott-pruitt-abandon-clean-power-plan-obama

I suppose their idea is that when extreme climate change happens, these so-called leaders of government and industry will be long gone and will not have to live through the consequences of their stupidity and cupidity. The irony is that there is something called a feedback loop which leads to the tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to stop the runaway warming. These feedback loops are speeding up the whole process, far quicker than had been predicted, so even my generation (the Baby Boomers) will have to live through the results of our carelessness.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/05/carbon-emissions-warming-soils-higher-than-estimated-signalling-tipping-points

And it is very difficult to determine how fast these feedback loops will change the climate; but it seems to me that it would be prudent to assume a worst case scenario and plan accordingly.

Worst case for me means that the Federal Government will continue to be unusable, both as a deterrent to global warming, and as a dependable and functional help in disasters.  So personal responsibility for oneself and one’s community is going to become more and more important. And this means that one will need to be connected to one’s local natural world, and to take a serious interest in how one’s local government is planning for emergencies. It means taking a proactive rather than reactive stance; and using our imaginations to be prepared for possible problems caused by the extreme climate.

It also means that certain things that we have counted on (or simply assumed) to always be there like gasoline and electricity and food and water, will start to become scarce or erratic or non-existent depending on the severity of the disaster or climate stressor. So, again, we will need to take care of these things ourselves. One way is by switching over to a solar panelled backup system (Anyone know why backup generators are run only on gasoline, when gasoline is one of the first things to disappear in a disaster?!) if only to keep the cell phone charged!

(I found this online, but I am not recommending it until I have done further research. It is simply one example of what we could use.)

https://hanspowernet.com/

I also found this water purification system:

https://www.espwaterproducts.com/outback-emergency-water-system/

but again it is something that I need to look into further.

Another is to grow our own food. This is a very good way to connect to each of our localities and to the surrounding natural world. It has been used often when times got hard, and times are definitely getting tougher!

https://www.metropolisfarmsusa.com/single-post/2017/09/07/A-History-Lesson-Local-Gardens-Can-Feed-America

I will return to all these subjects in future blog posts. But in the meantime, realize that, unlike the frog, we can jump to a safer place and saner lifestyle, before the waters and the land begins to boil!

 

 

 

 

 

Better Choices

Better Choices

“…the understanding of connections seems to me an indispensable part of humanity’s self-defence.”

Wendell Berry
 Home Economy

A couple of truly unsettling weather events (a small one here in NDG, Montreal and a truly horrific one in Houston, Texas) and the resultant talks with friends and family have convinced me that what is needed now is not just the well-meant but too general list of how to mitigate climate change on a personal level (https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-you-can-stop-global-warming), but a more specific itemizing of how our lives are going to be and already are being radically altered by global climate change; and what we can do in our daily life to respond bravely and calmly to this new world.

I have known about global warming since the 1970’s, but I feel as if I was sleepwalking, assuming that it would be a problem for my grandchildren (long before I could even imagine having children, much less grandchildren!). Then, recently, I happened to read a series of books and articles by Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, and Elizabeth Kolbert, and I began to pay much closer attention to the subject on the news and in my own surroundings. I have become convinced that the tremendous upheaval in our environment is going to be a sooner rather than a later crisis. From what I have read, global climate change is being accelerated by feed-back loops (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/jan/05/climate-change-feedback-loops); and we are not emotionally nor realistically prepared for the suddenness of this climate shift!

Now I am neither a scientist nor an activist. But I do trust in people’s ability to help themselves if they are given accurate and honest information. Unfortunately, as of this writing (September 2017), North American governments, except for a few states and municipalities, seem unable or disinclined to put the necessary solutions in place. In a vain attempt to hold back the inevitable, they are actively disseminating misinformation that has, for their populations, created a miserable emotional climate of anxiety and distress.

However, I believe that the future challenges will be met and survived by people working together, in smaller local groups, sometimes with governmental help, but always with a clear idea of what choices need to be made, what things need to be done, as we saw with the volunteer civilian rescuers in Houston during Hurricane Harvey, who got their boats and went right out to save people!

These new choices will create a world that will appear quite different than the one I have known my whole life; it will be a smaller, slower, simpler, but much happier world. These better choices will put in place the changes in our day to day lives that will allow us to weather the coming storms and build a more human scaled economy to assure our survival!

So my very modest contribution to this project is this blog, which is a compendium of better choices as well as information about what to do in the face of extreme global climate change: floods, droughts, fires, refugees (internal & external), power outages, food supply disruptions, gasoline shortages, etc.; links and books which explain the ramifications of this major shift in our environment; and an imaginative section (the Cassandra report) that suggests long term changes in what we will have (and what we won’t) to eat or buy, and what our every day lives might look like.

I look forward to comments and suggestions. Please no political rants, from anywhere on the political spectrum. My own values come out of Buddhism: I believe in the profound interconnectedness of life on this planet, and the value of every sentient being. The information I will be posting is the best I have been able to find in books, articles, or online, but these are suggestions only, and should be used only if applicable to your local situation.