I wrote this on September 3 and emailed it to myself. I’m newly vegan, though I have slipped up here and there – I’m trying my best. This piece of writing has been sitting in my inbox for more than a week, just simmering. I guess I’m going to post it here so I can clean out my emails… Not quite sure how I feel about sharing it, but here we go.
We are living in end times, my friends. And we did it to ourselves.
Whether or not you believe in God, you have to admit that it’s a crazy miracle that we’re here at all. That the elements bumped into each other in ways that created planets, and life on this planet, and all the species of plants and animals that live in perfect harmony. And us.
We don’t live in harmony. We destroy, conquer, eliminate. It’s all our fault.
Think about the story of the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man. That’s when we decided to take agriculture and farming into our own hands. We were just another animal until the agricultural revolution, when we figured out how to manipulate nature for our own purposes.
But it wasn’t right of us to do so. We live so incredibly comfortably now. Think about when our ancestors had to hunt and gather just to survive. And then think about when everyone gardened and had farm animals just to survive. And then think about now, with your iPhone and microwave.
I like to say that the word God is not a descriptor of some bearded dude in the sky, but a word to describe nature, chance, the universe, the miracle that made us happen, the chaos and perfect math that is responsible for our existence on this planet. It is so improbable that life came to be. So so improbable. And here, in this moment in time, that miraculous crazy ridiculous improbability is true. And we are trashing it.
It’s a beautiful tragedy. It’s the saddest thing ever.
Sadder still is that we don’t even know we are doing it. We aren’t even aware of what we are doing!
We go to our jobs, pay our bills, check our email, drink our cares away. Who wants to hear about this shit? No-one. But we have a feeling underneath, a feeling that things aren’t right.
We are animals. We are animals just like any other animal. Who can really argue with that? We are the smartest animal and we caged up all the other animals so we could torture, kill and eat their dead bodies.
Are we the smartest animal, or are we the animal who’s a big fucking jerk ruining everything?
Think about the world without human beings on it. Everything lives in complete harmony. Sure, animals kill other animals, but not to the point of extinction. Animals kill what they need to survive and that’s all.
The trees and plants make air for the animals to breathe and the animals make carbon dioxide for the trees and plants to breathe. The ocean is self-cleaning. Left alone, nature is perfect. It’s perfect for all involved.
We are fucking it up and we’re going to kill ourselves.
We have fucked up lots of things, causing extinction of many species and cutting down rainforest like crazy. But the worst thing of all is this climate change. It’s going to get us, and I’m willing to bet it will happen within our lifetime.
The momentum is too strong. Just buying recycled toilet paper and driving your Prius to the Farmer’s Market isn’t going to cut it. There are too many people who are living the wrong way. It’s too late.
I’m just glad that I was able to experience love and motherhood before we all shit the bed.
Man, my head is spinning about what to do with food. For six months we’ve had it pretty easy with breastfeeding, and now starting solid foods is boggling my mind. Like an issue of Women’s World where you’re told to eat cranberries for your bladder and eat chocolate for happiness and eat blueberries to live longer and eat flax seed for your brain…
You start off like, oh sure, I could eat more cranberries. I could get them and eat them every day, I guess. I want to be healthy. And then by the end of four pages, you’re just like, wow, I need to eat one of everything in the entire grocery store to be healthy. Which isn’t possible or true, of course.
So yeah, feeding Henry. We have our own dietary choices in place, already.
We are vegetarian and inching more and more toward wanting to stick to a vegan diet.
We’re not always awesome about it, and are far from exclusive on it, but I would like to be as much of a localvore as possible. Given the choice between paying more for something made or grown locally, I’ll usually pick the local thing.
Same goes for organics – not everything we eat is organic or GMO-free, but we lean that way.
I try to buy foods with as few different ingredients and additives as possible, especially random stuff like dyes and corn starch and chemical-sounding names, and definitely steer clear of the obviously awful stuff like high fructose corn syrup (of course there are exceptions, but they’re conscious choices when we do make the exception). I also try to avoid stuff that’s super processed. For example, I’d rather just buy a butternut squash than buy a prepackaged squash soup.
Also, I am bugged by food with lots of packaging.
AND I don’t have a TON of time to make stuff from scratch, so while I will soak dried beans and do other stuff like that, it’s not always super convenient.
So… Basically, we do okay, indulging here and there, of course. We are far from perfect. But when it comes to Henry, we can’t just assume that he’s getting everything he needs. He’s growing, just starting out and his diet is really important. So then in addition to the guidelines we already have in place for ourselves, there are additional parameters.
We like the idea of baby-led weaning. Which is not “weaning” as we know it, but rather the British use of the word, which means adding foods rather than taking milk away. So baby-led eating.
I really think I want to raise Henry as vegan. More and more I’ve been aware of the practices involved with producing dairy and eggs (especially as a dairy-producing creature myself) and I’m really disgusted. While I phase out that stuff from my own diet, I don’t want to be introducing it to him.
For his introductory foods, I want them to be simple, one-ingredient things like a single veggie, etc.
Also needs to be easy to digest, not causing him discomfort with gas (like beans might, for example).
Also needs to be easy to gum since he doesn’t have teeth or know how to chew.
Also can’t be an allergen.
Also needs to be palatable and tasty to him, which right now means sweet-ish because breast milk is sweet.
But not too sweet like fruit because then apparently he won’t like to eat anything but sweets and will be a victim of the horrible childhood obesity epidemic.
Apparently he needs to start getting iron elsewhere, starting now because he’s 6 months old.
And right now he gets enough protein from breast milk, but after he is done nursing (we have time to figure this one out, thank goodness), we need to make sure he’s getting all the amino acids he needs.
And rice cereal has arsenic in it, I guess. Plus is processed.
I want to do the right thing, and my crunchy mama guts say there’s a way to make it all work, but this is a hard puzzle to navigate, with my child’s health at stake in every which way. My eyes are crossing.
I know that nobody’s perfect. My own diet isn’t perfect. I have ideals, but I don’t stick to them ultra-strictly. I’m glad that at least I’m aware when I make a choice that isn’t ideal. But Henry’s a clean slate. We have a chance to do everything right because we haven’t fed him anything but sweet potato (and accidentally salt clay). I know we’re going to screw him up in all kinds of ways through the years, but with the blank canvas ahead of us, I just want to start it off right. It’s so tricky to know what to do.
My problem is that I can’t get my act together early enough on a Saturday, so most of the time I miss it. From my gut, honestly and truly, I feel the Farmer’s Market is the place we should all do our shopping. But I rarely make it.
Henry and I picked out his first foods, straight from the person who grew them. Butternut squash and sweet potato. I saw so many people I knew there. I had the feeling in the room that it was a really wonderful thing for Glens Falls and it made me glad that it exists here, and that I am a part of it (having done some design for the Farmer’s Market Association).
But also horribly embarrassed for not going regularly.
So then today we went to Toys R Us to pick up a purple shirt for Henry for Marchival, the holiday we made up. And then we went to the dollar store for crepe paper. And the dollar store smelled like poison; like PVC gases and plastic. And to Jo-Ann’s for pins for Marchival prizes we’re making. And then to Price Chopper.
And that’s where it hit me, as it sometimes does when I’m in a big box store in Queensbury, how wrong it all feels.
So I’ll freely admit that that I love shopping – it’s something my mom loves and she passed it to me. I’ll go down every aisle and I love finding a deal. I like to browse.
I’ll also admit that I’m not a morning person and would make a shoddy farmer. And that I have a low tolerance for squicky things or scary things and honestly the outdoors kind of freaks me out when we go camping.
A few weeks ago, Cory and I were in a Babies R Us in Albany, standing in line to buy something I can’t even remember. We both got the feeling. It’s claustrophobic. Cold. Frightening. Like if you’ve ever been in a hospital bed alone.
The music was piped in, this crappy electronic pop echoing. Fluorescent lights overhead cast a numbingly artificial glow. Ahead of us, a mother was buying her kid some plastic crap he was excited about. The teenaged checkout clerk looked sick, and miserable to be there. Beep. Beep. Beep. Nobody needs this shit. A few feet away, three aisles radiated pink. Because if you have a vagina, you’re supposed to buy pink plastic garbage.
Cory and I looked at each other and I knew we were both having that same itch that got worse with every second that passed in the line. It passed when we left the store, but that’s what happened to me today in Price Chopper.
Every single thing I picked up was something I could easily talk myself out of.
Bananas weren’t grown here. How long were they on a ship and then a truck to get here? How many fossil fuels were burned just in their transport? Hummus, I could make myself. I have chickpeas at home, even. But I don’t have time because the chickpeas need to be soaked and then boiled. They come in a plastic tub. Who knows what added ingredients there are. Cereal, who even knows what cereal is? They sell it to us as kids. It’s mashed up nothing with a bunch of vitamins added, shaped into little O’s and baked and put in plastic bags and THEN in a cardboard box. Where’s the farm that cereal comes from?
Then we get into the convenience foods. I’m often working through lunch and don’t have much time to spare. It’s easy to throw an organic Amy’s pot pie in the microwave. At least when I have those in the freezer I actually eat lunch. But they’re not ultra cheap. And they come in packaging, of course. And you microwave them, and who knows about microwaves. Other days I look through the cupboards and end up with crummy bagged pretzel twists for lunch because I don’t have time.
Everything in the grocery store is covered in styrofoam and plastic. EVERYTHING! It’s covered in styrofoam, plastic, pesticides, MORE plastic, and also plastic and plastic and plastic. We buy it and we throw it away. And it never rots.
We make it and it never rots! NEVER! There’s plastic everywhere. That slapped me in the face and made me want to buy nothing. The same way, one day in high school, I realized in the grocery store’s meat aisle that I WAS SURROUNDED BY PLASTIC-COVERED BODY PARTS. Shudder. It’s horror movie stuff, if you let your mind realize the truth for a second.
I looked down at my baby and had that boxed-in feeling I had when we went to Babies R Us and were standing in the line. Henry looked back up at me. And even the carseat/stroller, his cute guitar pajamas, it all felt so wrong. We should be sitting on a tree stump somewhere warm, with him swaddled in cotton or just completely naked, breathing in the fresh air. Not bundled up in some plastic contraption, a zipper and flame retardants and seatbelt straps preventing him from playing with his toes.
What am I going to tell him about the way we live?
We walked by the fish section. What drove it all home was the lobster tank. Those lobsters belong in the ocean. There is no truly justifiable reason to have them crammed together in a dirty little tank in upstate New York. Our one job is to take care of the animals and the planet. We are not doing our job. We are just being absolutely horrible, instead. We’ve taken our gifts and destroyed everything we can.
I’m guilty, too. How do I tell Henry that I know this, but I still choose to live this way?
I know I sound like a crazy. And I am sure that I’m glamorizing life in an African tribe. I don’t want to die before I’m 35, I enjoy the perks of modern medicine and modern technology. I know I have it easy and I should really keep my mouth shut because it’s a convenient first world problem to complain about. I’m lucky.
But I really feel like it’s crazy to live the way we do, in our boxes (houses) eating our pellets (food, cereal, etc.) when we have such big brains and so much knowledge. We trade our time (work) for happiness. We work harder at our jobs to earn vacation time, and we work harder at our jobs to earn enough money to do stuff on our vacations. We’re all miserable, really. We all know there’s something wrong.
But we keep distracted.
I’ll say it: I’m addicted to my iPhone, my email, Facebook, my computer. Like, really badly. I don’t make time to breathe, to meditate, to eat, to live, to maintain eye contact with my own son.
It’s wrong and I know it’s wrong. It’s hard to change.
I don’t know how to fix things. I mean, for a while now I’ve tried to shop greener. But I realize now that the solution isn’t to shop greener, it’s to stop shopping. Stop buying crap you don’t need. Stop working so hard because you don’t need that shit that you think you do.
Time with family and time with nature and time with yourself – real time, offline time – is what’s important.
It’s hard to change, though. It’s really hard to change.
What do you think? How do you cope with the mind-bogglingness of our lifestyle and how it affects the planet and the other creatures on it?
I had read about how background reading aloud is good for a child’s developing brain in the opposite way that background TV is bad for him, so I picked a wordy book off the shelf to read to Henry today while he played on the floor with Daddy: Catherine Marshall’s Story Bible.
I had this book as a kid, and a lot of my Bible knowledge stems from it. Of course, it’s way simplified and not all the stories are there, but it has a good synopsis of the main points, and illustrations by kids.
My religious stance is that I made up my own religion, Katethysianism, which is my own plate from the ideological buffet. I like to describe the tenets of Kathethysianism as, “Whatever I feel like believing in at the time.” It’s a mix of this story bible, new-age spirituality, and other things I’ve picked up from books like Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael and the like.
I think the Bible is just fine and dandy, but it needs to be interpreted – run through the translator – and not taken literally. I’m not so into organized religion because I like that I have my own pick-and-choose interpretation that doesn’t quite fit in with the package deal, but sometimes I do like to go to church for the familiar and holy-feeling routine of it, and as a place to remember about your spirituality. The same way sometimes I like to go for a hike, or to sit in a tree. I want to pass that on to Henry; that beliefs don’t have to be a package deal, and that he can opt to compile his own plate from the buffet.
So anyway, I’m reading this story and right in the first few pages there it is: The meaning of life.
Wowza! It ain’t some big secret, folks. I’ll tell you what it is.
The Story Bible says: “Now another kind of creature was needed to enjoy all this beauty and to take care of it.” A little later it also says, “God was making Man so wondrously that he would be able to understand Who had made the animals and the amazing world around him. Understanding that, Man could then know and enjoy his God… Thus God would never again be lonely.”
That’s our job, simple as that. The meaning of life. (Of our lives as people, that is.) To enjoy the world, to take care of it, and to appreciate the mysterious ways it came into existence, and be glad it did happen.
After reading that, a sad thought occurred to me: We are NOT doing our job.
We are not taking care of nature and the world’s animals. We are destroying their natural habitats, mass murdering the world’s amazing creatures for food, clothing and other unnecessary reasons, dumping our trash all over the place, torturing via animal testing and on and on.
And we don’t appreciate it, either.
We whine, complain, are generally mopey and sad. It’s rare that we just look at a sunset or a tiger or the inside of a starfruit and muse on how incredible and unlikely it is that any of it exists, much less how incredible and unlikely it is that we would actually be aware of the incredibility and unlikeliness of it all.
Then, reading the story of Noah, it occurred to me that 2013 isn’t the first time we didn’t do our job.
Climate change is our own self-imposed apocalypse.
We screw up and we wipe ourselves out, except for a few who catch on early and escape it. Call it God’s wrath or call it a bed we made and need to lie in, it’s headed this way and it’s dang scary.
I can’t figure out the translation of the rainbow, though, because in the Bible, God says he’ll never do that to us again. And the whole Jesus thing was supposed to be about forgiveness. I suppose we will get there later, though – right now I’m just up to Noah.
Anyway, I do think there are lessons to be learned from reading the Bible. Not literal lessons about avoiding women on their periods and hating on gays, but lessons about being nice to each other and caring for animals and the environment.
Part of me wants to toss the book aside and get back to Facebooking on my iPhone, watching videos of cats doing cute things and buying mozzarella sticks to eat during the super bowl… and part of me wants to sell the house, donate the money to charity and live in the African outback in a hut, away from plastics and factory farms, living a vegan lifestyle and preaching my own interpretation of the end times and how we should all just get along.
I guess I’ll have to find an acceptable compromise.
But I want to do my job, and to help others — especially Henry — to do theirs.
I hope to raise Henry with a healthy, educated view of stuff. It’s tricky. My own relationship with stuff is conflicted. I like to hold onto things that trigger memories, but I also don’t want anything new.The Story of Stuff films and book have really influenced the way I live my life.
When you start to think about the resources spent on every single thing that passes through your hands, and especially when you’re like me and wouldn’t use any non-renewable resources at all in your ideal world, it can be really overwhelming. I actually think that if we all thought rationally about it and made choices based on our beliefs rather than convenience, most of us wouldn’t be living the way we do. But we have to get along in society the way it currently is, and so we take baby steps to be greener and less wasteful. I’m trying, anyway.
I was cleaning out my studio at the Shirt Factory and got together a big garbage bag full of things that I couldn’t reuse, give away, recycle or compost. I sat there looking at it and it made me really sad. Cory takes the garbage out at home so my hauling a full garbage bag to the dumpster was kind of a rare thing. I felt like I may as well keep the bag there at the studio, because in my head I visualize bringing it outside to the dumpster basically the equivalent of dumping it all over Bambi and Thumper out in the woods. That bag of trash isn’t going to break down any time soon. Just because I don’t have to look at it doesn’t mean it isn’t sitting around somewhere. Because of me and the choices I made. I hate to think about it.
I’m inspired by the zero waste lifestyle, and while I’m not there yet, I aspire to it. This family in particular, and this video, just awe me. I love the idea of nothing in the trash can; of dry goods in jars. I used to daydream about opening a store where you could bring all your own containers in and fill them up with anything from orange juice to shampoo. Some shops are like that — the Glens Falls Food Co-Op, Pure ‘N Simple, and this shop on the main drag in Poultney, Vt. that opened up.
It’s tricky, though. Most of our garbage is food packaging. I’m a picky eater, we are vegetarians, short on spare time and not very clever in the kitchen. I try to buy things that don’t come in packages, but in a lot of cases it’s just unavoidable.
That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. Stuff. And how to be responsible for less garbage. I’m open to suggestions. I think I just need to keep being conscious about what I buy, and to do better at cooking things from scratch and shopping in places where I can buy in bulk and bring my own containers. It’s a step, anyway.