Tag Archives: community

Every bite counts: Parts 3 & 4.

Part 3. The People.

staples-2752_640Feeding the world is easy, and we don’t need Monsanto to do it. Did you know that there’s enough crop land in the United States alone to feed 10 billion people? One country could potentially feed the entire global population. So, why aren’t we? Because that only works if we’re not wasting our resources on animal agriculture in all its caloric inefficiency.

One acre of land can produce 40,000 lbs of potatoes, but only 250 lbs of meat.

One acre of legumes produces 10 times more protein than an acre devoted to animals raised for their meat.

70% of the grains produced in the U.S. go to feeding animals raised for food, instead of being grown for people. 80% of the world’s hungry children live in countries with food surpluses, but that food is exported to wealthier countries in order to feed animals that will be used for food. It doesn’t get more unjust than that. “Growing grain for feed instead of food may be humanity’s greatest evil yet.”

Artist: Lovis CorinthThose are all issues that you’ll hear every vegan raise. There is, I feel, a missed opportunity in the vegan movement – people that almost never get mentioned in the discussion on the human victims of this system: slaughterhouse employees. I start out with the assumption that most people who work in slaughterhouses do so because it’s the only, or one of the only, options open to them. This will be the topic of another post in the future. For the moment, suffice it to say that one of the first signs of psychopathy in children is harming animals, so why is it considered normal for someone to kill (certain) animals as an adult? Only because we don’t think about it. Society sweeps that bit under the carpet. Many slaughterhouse workers develop serious mental disorders, including PTSD, from the work that they do, and U.S. communities with slaughterhouses have 166% increase in arrests for rape compared to those without them. It is NOT normal.

The next time you buy a piece of meat, just take a moment to wonder who you paid to kill it for you and what kind of effect your demand for that piece of meat might be having on someone else’s mental health.

Part 4. The Animals.

sheep-451981_640To be honest, this is a much more important issue for me now than it was when I first decided to change to a vegan lifestyle. The environmental and health factors were enough. But, since I’m no longer emotionally invested in the ramifications of being a meat, dairy, & egg consumer, I’ve been able to mentally shine a light on those aspects of consuming animal products that were just too disturbing and painful for me to really evaluate while I was still participating in them. For anyone who has shut off that portion of your ability to deal rationally with the consequences of your actions – I get it!

Empathy is a difficult skill to develop and use because it requires that we open ourselves up to feeling pain and sorrow on behalf of others, and most of us have enough trouble dealing with our own suffering without adding to the burden. In this particular case, it also opens us up to feeling guilt, which is an unpleasant but necessary step on this path. Just remember, pain, physical or emotional, exists in order to help us avoid unhealthy behaviors.

It just doesn’t make sense that we love our dogs and cats like members of our own families, and recognize their individual personalities and their rights as living beings, while treating others as products. There’s some massive cognitive dissonance there, and it takes time to be able to confront that. If you haven’t yet watched anything like the documentary Earthlings, then whatever you imagine the treatment of these animals to be like, you can start by multiplying the horror by 10 to even get close. More than 2000 years ago, Pythagoras said,”For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap the joy of love.”

In the end, I realized that living as a vegan is the only way for me to align my actions with my ethics.

Save yourself. Save the planet. Save the human race. Save the animals. Go vegan.

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Sustainable Universities

The university system does a lot to shape our world. It molds young people into citizens. The best of universities allow young people to mold themselves within a healthy and supportive environment, but most of them simply engage in indoctrination. I could write quite a long critique regarding that, but it’s not my purpose here,  so I won’t get into it just now.  There are some colleges and universities that have developed a focus on sustainability, but not nearly enough. We need to push for three different areas of change in our university system. This can be done by almost anyone – students, faculty, staff, alumni, prospective students. The areas of change: sustainability of the school itself, courses of study that focus on sustainability and application of knowledge in related areas, like engineering, to problems of sustainability, student organizations and focus groups that engage in discussion and action.

Unless we teach people what it actually means to be sustainable, we can’t attain a level of sustainability that will carry us into the future.

Student body & organizations

Students. The most important part of any school. The raison d’etre of any school. There are so many things that students can do to promote sustainability and to bring the topic into focus for the school’s administration, faculty, and other students. First: make some noise. Start an organization and make yourself noticed. Issue challenges to the entire school and everyone in it, or to other schools, like the “do it in the dark” challenge, in which houses and/or dorms compete for the biggest reduction in energy usage for a month. Have seed-bombing and guerrilla gardening campaigns. Petition the school for an area where you can have a vegetable garden on campus to produce cheap food for students – you can even have a little students-only farmer’s market to raise funds for the organization. Give out free BPA-free water bottles to encourage students not to buy throw-away plastic bottles of water. Ask the school’s bookstore to sell notebooks, flash drives, pens, binders, clothing, etc. made out of recycled and eco-friendly materials. Get involved in boards and committees of the institution in which you have a voice, and can push for change. There are so many things you can do.

Programs of study

This one is trickier. Students, along with staff and faculty with experience in related fields can push for the development of programs focused on sustainability and/or for a focus on sustainability in each related field. It’s really when people come together with experience in different fields and from different parts of the world that we can progress in leaps and bounds and make a huge difference. Look at the programs already available at other universities to see how they’re doing it, and try to improve upon them. If you’re a prospective student, even asking about whether schools have a sustainability program, or have plans to develop one, will help. An increasing interest from the general population can push things in the right direction. If you are a current student, you can aim for this within your own program, and you can encourage all your classmates to study together in the same place, which will collectively reduce the amount of electricity you’ll use by quite a lot over the course of a year. Think of how much more you’d use if you were each studying in a separate room or building all the time.

University & its policies

There are several areas to look at here. Alumni might consider telling your alma mater that you will make donations or donate more if it only makes investments in sustainable businesses and if it implements programs to increase its own sustainability, or you can earmark your donation for sustainability projects, renovations etc. Prospective students should keep this in mind, too. Choose the schools that are most environmentally friendly and that are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. See what you can do in your own department if you’re currently a student. Can you turn in your assignments via email or dropbox rather than on paper? Are all those hand-outs really necessary, or can they be sent to your email or posted on a virtual blackboard? Some students may need a paper copy, but most don’t. Again, there are many things you can do to try to make a difference, especially if your classmates join you.

A Call to Action

industry-611668_640With what we’ve known for quite a long time now about the causes and effects of climate change, it’s almost inconceivable that we’re still, as a species, plowing ahead with our ill-advised plan to suck up all possible fossil fuels and burn them. The extraction processes and the pollution resulting from use are all extremely damaging to our environment and bode ill for future survival. We’re beginning to realize that even the more drastic estimates of global warming and its effect on all species, including us, have been frighteningly conservative in the face of our current reality.

Do you know what fossil fuels are made of? Organic matter that’s been laying in the earth for millions of years. Through a process involving time, compression, and heat, the organic matter turns into coal, oil, and natural gas. Unless you want to personally help comprise the next generation of fossil fuels, I recommend reading on.

Living sustainably effects every part of our lifestyles, and I typically focus on the small things that are part of our daily routines, because they can really add up if enough people make a conscious effort, make better choices, and spread the knowledge and initiative around. And because the smaller choices are more manageable.

The problem is – they aren’t enough. The two biggest issues facing us today in terms of our very survival are agriculture and fossil fuels. These two industries have shown no desire to benefit humanity, only their own profit margins. It’s a vastly different thing to say ‘stop eating GMOs’ and ‘stop using your car’ but it’s really no good doing one and not the other. So, right now, let’s think about the difficult choices instead of the easy ones.

There’s so much outrage about the what the fossil fuel industry is doing to the planet, as there should be. Just imagine if the massive amounts of money spent on lobbying went instead to research and development, design and implementation of alternative energies. We’d be sitting pretty. And the companies would benefit by diversifying and moving into the future with the rest of us. But that’s not happening. Instead, they’re creating a situation in which it’s entirely possible that many of us will not move into the future at all. It’s so disgustingly myopic, it’s not likely to change, and there are few ways that you and I can hope to make a difference.

We all use fossil fuels. We’re all complicit. With current technologies and the way things work, it’s impossible to avoid without completely uprooting your life, but each one of us must begin to fight to make the changes we can in order to attain the smallest degree of complicity possible. This is a moral imperative. It should be an easy choice for anyone who has or plans to have children, or nieces and nephews, or in any way cares about future generations. The truth is, the suggestions I’m about to make are not only going to help to transfer power away from the fossil fuel industry, helping future generations, they’re also physically and mentally healthier for you in the present. These are just a few; there are plenty more things you can do.

Invest in solar panels on your home – They’re not that expensive to install and they pay you back while reducing or eliminating your reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power. You might also be able to benefit from a feed-in tariff. If you generate enough electricity to feed back into the power grid, you get paid for it. You can also get federal tax credits, and some state governments offer rebates as well.

Use your bicycle for more than entertainment – In several countries, we grow up with this idea that bicycles are for entertainment. They’re fun, or they’re for kids who can’t drive to go visit nearby friends. You know what? They ARE fun! So why not use your bicycle to get to work, or go to the store, or the library, or out to dinner? As an American, taking my bicycle for a 30-minute journey sounded like a bit much, until I started doing it. Now I love it and there’s no way I’d rather travel, even for much longer trips. Americans spend tons of money pimping our rides, so why not spend a little on pimping our bicycles to make them both comfortable and functional? It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a lift kit.

How about a motorcycle or a moped? – Another good option for longer trips when a bicycle isn’t feasible. They’re not very expensive, especially mopeds, and they get you where you need to go while paying you back for your investment by using waaaaay less gasoline.

Move – Seriously. I know it’s difficult and time-consuming, but it’s also fun! And you can choose to move to a community that allows you to live more sustainably. It’s a big thing, but people do move all the time. It’s not inconceivable.

Buy local – Just about everything you buy from your local supermarket has traveled long distances, using lots of fossil fuels for production, storage, and transportation. Industrial agriculture is THE biggest user of fossil fuels and producer of greenhouse gases. Small local farms tend to use much more sustainable practices, to stay away from GMOs, and they require little use of fossil fuels for production, storage and transportation.

Gardening – Grow food at home, help start or engage in community gardens. This is physically, emotionally, economically, and socially healthy and sustainable, and results in a grand-scale reduction of the need to use fossil fuels.

Don’t vote party lines – Vote for what’s best for your children and the future. Always. Educate yourself about bills and propositions and politicians, and the effects they’ll have, keeping in mind that they are all often purposefully misleading. Dig deep. It’s necessary.

Engage in activism – Get out there! We need you to help make a difference and to inspire others to do the same. This kind of bottom – up change will only work if we reach a tipping point.

As the saying goes, “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” ~ Leroy Eldridge Cleaver

Guerrilla Gardening

Meet Ron Finley – resident of South Central L.A. and guerrilla gardener. Even if you’ve never been near the place, you probably have at least a vague notion that South Central is not really where you want to find yourself. But for the residents, it’s home, and many people couldn’t move if they wanted to (and they probably want to). So, instead of jumping ship, this man decided to do something about it; to try to make a difference that everyone in his community could appreciate and anyone could participate in if they wanted.

Food Deserts

South Central L.A. is considered a food desert. That means that the residents don’t have access to healthy foods within a relatively convenient distance, though they often have plenty of access to fast food, and convenience and liquor stores. Food deserts exist all over the U.S., predominantly effecting lower-income areas, where there are, on average, 3 times fewer grocery stores than in wealthier neighborhoods. This is entirely related to the off-balance obesity rates and incidents of type-2 diabetes in these communities.

Why you should get involved

The purposes of guerrilla gardening are to both beautify and provide healthy food for local communities, no matter what their socio-economic status. As the gap between wealth and poverty widens and the middle class shrinks, it’s not just the food deserts that need help. In suburban neighborhoods, many people are struggling more to make ends meet and, as Ron Finley says, “growing your own food is like printing your own money,” and he tells us that about $1 worth of green beans can generate as much as $75 worth of produce.

The effects are much more far-reaching than that, though. These gardens offer incredible educational opportunities for both children and adults, to learn how to be more self-sufficient and to understand and appreciate the importance of fresh vegetables, for health, yes, but for well-being in general. Kids that are out in the garden aren’t out getting into trouble, or sitting in front of a television. They’re learning how to improve themselves and their communities instead of watching fast food advertisements. Another great benefit is that you can control where your seeds come from and how they’re grown. You can buy non-GMO seeds, and choose not to use pesticides. You generate less waste from trips to the grocery store and all the paper and plastic you come away with in addition to your food. This is something worth getting involved with in some capacity, even if you’re just chucking sunflower seeds down a grate or creating graffiti art with moss (link to instructions below). Make whatever difference you can!

Watch Ron Finley’s TED talk. It’s only about 10 minutes long and worth your time!

Learn more about food deserts at the Food Empowerment Project.

Advice and tips on how to get started

Community pages on guerrillagardening.org and a Facebook page – try to find other guerrilla gardeners in your area to team up with

How to make moss graffiti

Sustainable Neighborhoods

Please read this article: How to Design our Neighborhoods for Happiness.

This article talks about developing relationships with the people around us, but it’s also very pertinent for sustainable living. It talks about community spaces for increasing interactions with your neighbors – which can also be used for community gardens, community composting, etc, which can also increase the self-sufficiency of the people living there.

Another thing mentioned in this article is smaller streets, and ensuring sidewalk space. I would add bicycle lanes. If my time in the Netherlands has taught me anything, it’s that bicycling can be a very fun and safe alternative to fossil-fuel-consuming cars, but it’s not reasonable to ask people to ride their bicycles everywhere with the current infrastructure and attitudes in the US. It’s just not safe enough. Designing or re-designing neighborhoods to be safe and inclusive for bicycles will help make communities happier, healthier and more sustainable.

The last point in the article is possibly the most important. Having a sense of community increases your ability to organize effectively to implement change. This is badly needed.

Also check out the Piscataquis Village Project in my awesome home state: Maine. It’s a clear and unique vision for a car-free village that focuses on community.

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