heart & sole

I am training for a marathon.

There is quite a bit of anticipation and anxiety wrapped up in those six words, but the more I say it, the more real it will become. It’ll be a monster to tackle, personal uncharted territory, but a road well traveled by others before me. I’m excited for the opportunity.

As I embark on this journey, I have made my first truly new purchase of 2017: a pair of new running shoes.

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to home, with love

Happy Valentine’s Day.  While my thoughts on the holiday are a little convoluted and conflicted, I hope y’all are feeling the love today (and everyday), whether through a relationship, friendship – or place.

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This weekend’s unseasonably warm weather, a community race through the local mental hospital turned public park, and an evening spent outside with friends was reminiscent of the atmosphere in which I was first prompted to write about how much I’d come to desire to take ownership of this place in which I was planted.

Though Raleigh, and my place in it, have changed a bit in the last year and a half since I wrote this piece, this sentiment remains. Originally titled “Home Ownership”, I was trying to capture the feeling of pride and belonging in place one has come to love:

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whence it came

Thursday is Produce Day. It’s the day on which our Produce Project shares are ready for pickup from the local shipping container turned “Produce Cave”, a name coined by a child of a shareholder. This week, as I loaded the share into my box to take home, a man and his elementary age daughter came in behind me. Immediately after crossing the threshold into the container, the man stopped, took a deep breath, smiled, and asked “Doesn’t it smell good in here?” before prompting his daughter to try and pick out their box among the alphabetized containers of fruits and veggies. The question seemed to be directed partially to her, partially for his own acknowledgement. Though I didn’t answer him, I silently concurred. The distinct smell of fresh produce laced with a bit of cardboard is oddly refreshing, a reminder of the earth from which the bounty was cultivated.

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I think there is great value in knowing where something comes from, and knowing where it’s going. I think there’s even greater value in turning that knowledge to action & trying it for myself. While picking up a share of produce on a weekly basis is not the same as growing it, or speaking with a farmer, it’s one step closer to the source – and the smell is a reminder of this.

As evidenced by today’s politics, we fear what we do not know. Similarly, we may often take for granted that which we have not witnessed.

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s&s: animal, vegetable, miracle

Animal, Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life | Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen L. Hopp & Camille Kingsolver

I thought I was going to go vegan in 2017.

I’ve been vegetarian for four years and generally eat a “whole foods, plant based” diet as they say. I suppose I’m a pretty standard vegetarian-that-might-turn-vegan candidate: I eat a lot of Greek yogurt, but don’t buy eggs; I would be okay giving up cheese – though pizza would look a little different then, wouldn’t it? I’ve teetered on the edge.

But, the book:

Before Christmas, I went and visited my grandmother and aunt to aid in the annual Christmas Cookie Baking Extravaganza. My grandmother’s Christmas cookies are a longstanding family staple, concocted from German family recipes passed down over the years. Their Thanksgiving arrival signals the beginning of the winter holiday season. This year it was my turn to help, as my cousins had gone the previous couple years.

As the three of us worked in the warm, fragrant kitchen, my grandmother & aunt began discussing this book, recommended it to me, and – lo and behold – it found its way into my Christmas package this year. And I’m so glad it did.

In summary, the book is a memoir of sorts, detailing the farm-to-fork adventures of author Barbara Kingsolver and her family. For one year, they vow to only consume food they either grew themselves or could obtain locally after moving to a farm in western Virginia. The book beautifully melded so many things I love or care about: communities, food, plants, conscious consumption, environmentalism & policy, to name a few.

Kingsolver et. al. highlighted the value (necessity, really) of investing in our local food economies. My vegetarianism was inspired by a desire to “eat more efficiently” by consuming foods lower on the food chain, thus requiring fewer resources to produce. However, I’d largely turned a blind eye to where those foods come from – which is often halfway around the world. Reading this book convinced me that I could “do more good” in my own eyes as a locavore vegetarian than a vegan, as there is not an abundance of easily available protein sources year round to support a vegan diet where I am. Obviously, everyone is free to make their own dietary decisions, but maintaining a vegetarian diet with a better focus on local foods seemed like the fit for me.

The authors weave this discussion of food economies with that of general consumption, and raise a number of great points as they get to know the people & fellow producers in their community. A common theme was the externalities of consumption, or the effects of an exchange experienced by a third party & not accounted for in the cost of an item or transaction:

“We have the illusion of consumer freedom, but we’ve sacrificed our community life for the pleasure of purchasing lots of cheap stuff. Making and moving all that stuff can be destructive: child labor in foreign lands, acid rain in the Northeast, depleted farmland, communities where the big economic engine is crystal meth. We often have the form of liberty, but not the substance” (152)

There was also a beautiful depiction of the love, care, and art associated with food production, and the intimate experiences we can have with our food through knowledge of or participation in its production. Their decision to eat seasonally meant that not all foods were available at all times, bringing new meaning to each season and the natural gifts that accompany them:

“Value is not made of money, but a tender balance of expectation and longing” (287)

Lastly, the book had an inherent call to action of responsibility at both the individual and collective level:

“Global scale alteration from pollution didn’t happen when human societies started using a little bit of fossil fuel. It happened after unrestrained growth, irresponsible management, and a cultural refusal to assign any moral value to excessive consumption” (345)

I really do think there’s a little bit of something for everyone in this book: those who garden, those who farm, those who are interested in learning more about where their food comes from, those intrigued by the intricate web of consumer transactions & policy, and most importantly those who eat. There are no all-or-nothing directives, simply lots of information incorporated into an enjoyable narrative.

If you’d like to learn more, there is a website associated with the book on which you can also find seasonal recipes and get a virtual tour of the farm.

Shelf & Screen is a series of reflections on various books & media addressing matters (directly & tangentially) associated with consumption & consumerism

the game plan

Happy New Year! As we begin 2017 and my pledge to be intentional with respect to my purchasing habits gets underway, the looming questions are now “what exactly will this look like?” coupled with “what exactly do I tend to buy, anyways?”.

My general objective is two-fold: to limit the purchase of new items, and to make meaningful, intentional purchases. I personally would prefer to own used things in most cases, but understand that may prove impossible. Coupled with the fact I also want to support local growers and businesses, I’ve decided I don’t intend to exclusively buy used things or pledge to not purchase anything at all. Instead, I’m looking for a sustainable in-between.

After reviewing the records of my spending from the last year, I’ve discerned that a good deal of it after rent & utilities falls into the following categories, so I’d like to outline the actions I intend to take in those areas. This is not exhaustive, and the bulk of “unnecessary” spending tends to occur on “incidentals”, so I’ll have to evaluate those on a case by case basis and am sure I’ll be engaging with that here as the year goes on.

general rules
For any and all purchases, I plan to keep the following in mind:

  • Make a good-faith effort to exhaust other options before making new purchases
  • Do my research. When buying things, one isn’t simply buying an item, but the associated externalities as well.
  • Prioritize post-consumer/recycled content
  • Avoid shopping (in store/online/even craigslist) “just because”

food
I imagine that one could resolve to spend a year (or more) reframing how they think about food, its sources, and preparation. I would love to be able to grow more of my own food, or do more preserving/freezing/self-prep, but current circumstances limit time and space. My roommate and I currently get most of our produce from a local produce box that is about 50% local, 50% bulk grocer. While I don’t consider myself prepared to go full-on locavore this year, there are a few concrete things I can try to do:

  • Plan meals
  • Buy from the supermarket bulk boxes for nuts, grains and spices. Bring your own container options cut way down on packaging waste, and are potentially cheaper (depending on the item)
  • Attempt to eat (mostly) what is in season locally. Is my vegetarian diet hypocritical if I’m eat plants on the basis of efficiency but predominately get produce from the other side of the world?
  • Actually take advantage of the farmers’ market!! Our local market is open (almost) 365 days a year and is overwhelmingly full of amazing produce from the region

toiletries & personal/home care
I’ll take this one as an opportunity to get a little experimental. I don’t purchase a wide array of things in this area, but use them on a daily basis. Are there products that I could make instead of buy? Are there products that I frankly don’t need?

  • Evaluate what I actually need, and quit buying what I don’t
  • Make products wherever possible
  • Research & purchase environmentally friendly alternatives as needed. (“Environmentally friendly” can be such a buzzword, and I’d like to learn more about labeling/what that truly means in this area”)
  • Invest in reusable alternatives up front where possible. This can range from the simple (bye bye paper napkins) to the adventurous (if I get bold maybe I can give the DivaCup a shot…)

transportation
I’m fortunate to live in a place where I can walk to most of the necessities, particularly school & grocery store. I do own a (used) car, and have no intentions of buying a new (to me) one this year, but in terms of transportation:

  • Bike & walk whenever possible
  • Carpool whenever possible
  • Group errands together to limit gas
  • Log miles as a sanity check on driving
  • Limit air travel (not that I do much of that, but I still want to be conscious of it)

gifts
On occasions where I need to find a gift for someone, it’s tempting to grab something off department store shelves in a rush. Luckily,  I’ve been slowly breaking myself of that habit. By holding myself to shopping local for gifts, or coming up with alternative gift ideas, I hope to be more intentional with my gift giving and put the thought into giving that my friends & family deserve. I will try to:

  • Purchase handmade items
  • Give the gift of experiences – restaurant gift cards, tickets to shows, day trips, etc
  • Find used books; they’re often in good-as-new condition
  • Exceptions:
    • If I know there is a specific item someone wants or needs, and a suitable alternative is not available, I’ll definitely consider gifting that item. Obviously the needs of the people I care about shouldn’t fall by the wayside because of this personal mission, but I want to also do my best to stay true to the spirit of why I’m doing this.

clothing & accessories
This is probably the most straightforward of the categories and can be summed up in two words: buy used.

  • Buy used as needed
  • Borrow for “one time use” events instead of accumulating clothes I don’t intend to wear again & again
  • Support local makers if looking for accessories
  • Exceptions:
    • Purchase new on occasions where uniformity is required. If for some reason I find myself as part of a bridal party in 2017, I’ll spring for whatever it is I’m instructed to wear, for example.
    • Underwear. I’m not a frequent purchaser of undergarments, but if the need arises I think I’ll opt new on this one.

Thoughts? Feedback? Any glaring omissions? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

a resolution, of sorts

Oh, where to begin?

I’ve never particularly been a fan of “things”, but when I needed them, you can bet that I’d be the first to find what I needed as economically as possible. I’d feel a swell of pride that I could make do with an inexpensive alternative, or was patient enough to scope out the best deal. I wouldn’t consider myself cheap – frugal or thrifty would be my preferred adjectives – though cost-cutting is some kind of game I like to play, competing (mostly) with myself.

At the same time, I don’t have an extensive purchase history, at least by the standards I see plastered across the media or embedded in today’s onslaught of advertising. My parents have always had to poke, prod, and probe to get me to produce “wish lists” come birthdays or Christmas. I couldn’t tell you why; I’m just wired that way. (It’s not like I was so aware or well-meaning as a young kid that I would insist my parents donate a toy to someone else who needs it instead, though that would have been admirable). This has generally remained the same as I’ve gotten older – my monthly spending is almost entirely rent, utilities & food, with some dining out, donations, Target runs, and miscellaneous things mixed in. Though I have my own income now, purchasing things “just because” is far from habit.

I don’t mean any of this in some kind of boastful way, only to let anyone reading this know where I’m coming from: a background with access to “things”, but without an overwhelming desire to obtain them. While I’m not someone who might be considered a materialist, or an over-consumer, that doesn’t mean that I’ve adopted habits that mean I’m truly doing shopping “right”.

Just because I’m not someone who has not historically been attracted to all things shiny and new doesn’t mean that I’ve contributed more than my fair share to environmental degradation and inhumane treatment of people I never have, and never will meet.

I value our environment, I value community, I value others – and a globalized consumer culture has hung a sheet between the items that stock the grocery and department store aisles and their sources, generating a juxtaposition of my values and actions.

So why not try to change?

This year, I will. This year will be an attempt to truly consider where the products and food I purchase come from, whose hands have touched them, and the impact I’m having on people and the planet. This year, I will borrow, barter, then buy – and only buy new if I can support someone locally, or buy from a company or organization that is truly aligning with my values.

However, I don’t intend for this to be something I hang up as we ring in 2018. Perhaps by then this will all seem routine or automatic, or I’ll have discerned what parts of this are sustainable and what may need to give in the long term.

This adventure of sorts I’m about to embark on is not about not consuming, but consuming in an intentional, conscious way. I’m not swearing off buying things to curb an addiction to shopping, to save money, or prove a point (though, if there are some economic benefits, I’ll gladly accept). Instead, I’m looking to “purchase deliberately”, and take more responsibility for the actions I take with the power of the pocketbook.

I’m aware that this is a choice of mine that comes loaded with privilege; I have the luxury of being able to spend time contemplating my decisions, patiently scope out used items, or perhaps spend more on something that is made locally than scooping it off the affordable Wal-Mart shelves. No matter how much I cut back, I know that I’ll still consume far more than most of the world’s population. And that’s an issue I’ll explore more as the year goes on. But if I’m in a position to be able to help support local farmers & makers, and divert my dollars from elsewhere, then shouldn’t I?

In these last few days before the new year begins, I’ll finalize my plans for the and share them on this site. I imagine the year will unfold much like a Scrabble or Monopoly game with a new crowd – with a lot of rule-checking & making as it goes on. (Obviously, used underwear and TP aren’t really a thing. So we’ll be working though that). For me, the challenge is one thing, but the principle is what truly matters.

So here we go: the road to conscious consumerism begins now.