Tag: Texas

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!