a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Archive for September, 2007

I want a urinal!

Friday, September 28th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Although I’m not a full-blown feminist, I do believe that Patriarchy has kept the world from finding balance. This is a big topic that could go many places, but for now, I simply want equal time – specifically, in the bathroom – I want a urinal! Think about it – waterless urinals have been around awhile now, but they are only available to men. I would love to have a sitting version that could accommodate everyone and save tons of water.

I’ve seen just a few of the alternative flow toilets that flush with more or less water, depending on, well, you know. But this barely scratches the surface of the type of conservation practices we need now. I’m the only outhouse lover that I know, but they do make sense in public recreation areas, don’t they? I can’t stand to see traditional toilet facilities in these places since they are usually malfunctioning and filthy.

During my time living el fresco, I took easily to respectfully utilizing the great outdoors for my bathroom needs, camping style. Going back to peeing in perfectly clean drinking water suddenly felt foolish and I still avoid it at all costs (sawdust magic). A waterless urinal in homes and public places makes a lot of sense as we continue to needlessly suck our rivers and reservoirs dry. I hope that eventually composting toilets will become commonplace, but this waterless urinal could be an quick fix for now since you can use the existing plumbing system.

Entrepreneurs, pay attention! This is an opportunity waiting to be claimed! We’re only steps away and The Change would love to help you market and strategize this idea, so please contact us as soon as possible!

Sacrifice is the New Black

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Nice story, Sami, but you had me worried for a moment when you almost gave in to your craving for a convenient – but unsustainable – meal!

Call it another of my eco-peeves, but I do strongly believe that it IS time for all of us living convenient lives to think in terms of “sacrifice”. And why not? According to Merriam-Webster, sacrifice is simply “the surrender of something for the sake of something else”. And isn’t that EXACTLY what we have to do to bring back a way of living in harmony with the earth and our resources?

We need to surrender our polluting cars for the sake of our air and climate. We need to surrender hot tubs, long showers and/or washing our cars for the sake of a dwindling water supply. We need to surrender a cheap burger for the sake of our small, local farmers who provide us with healthy food in a sustainable way. But don’t all of these things provide a bounty of rewards on the other side – both for the present and future? In actuality, it’s really only extreme convenience that we need to sacrifice and somehow, this kind of convenience always, but always, has a downside.

For many people, there are times when local and/or organic food just isn’t available and some compromise needs to be made. But even then, there are lesser ways of giving in than to jump on the ‘just give me a burger’ wagon. After all, the factory-farms of agriculture are some of the most horrifically NON-sustainable things happening in the U.S. today and one that threatens the health of our bodies as well as the planet. The use and misuse of water, land, hormones, antibiotics and pesticides are huge in this industry, along with the abusive situations for animals. Mad Cow Disease – need I say more?

I’m happy your ‘gotta find dinner’ story had a happy ending, Sami, and it sounds like it brought about a new level of awareness for you. After all, you don’t just “get what you pay for”, but you get what you plan – and sometimes sacrifice – for. Bon Appetit!

Bratwurst AND a Better World

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

by Sami Grover, Carrboro, NC

Sometimes I feel so lucky… wait, that’s how I started my last post here. Well, I guess it must be true then. So what’s got me counting my blessing this time? Bratwurst. Let me explain…

Jenni and I had been having one of those busy/crazy weeks, so we figured it’d be nice to grab a bite to eat somewhere. We opted for ACME on Main St in Carrboro, mostly because it was close by. Now, I’d never been to ACME before, so I wasn’t sure where they stood in terms of sustainability issues such as local and organic food. And, I admit, on this particular night, in this particular moment, I didn’t care too much. I just wanted to eat and I didn’t want to cook, so I probably wouldn’t be asking too many questions about where my burger came from. Or so I thought…

As it turned out, I didn’t need to ask. The menu was laden with local and organic delights, including a sampler plate of Heirloom tomatoes and cheese from the farmers’ market, as well as locally-raised meat selections, including an amazing brown turkey fig tart with amaretto mascarpone. I finally decided on the homemade bratwurst from Eco Farm, served with onion relish and fries. In terms of eating, everything was now pretty much spot on – and the hormone/chemical-free bratwurst was delicious. But that’s still not what made me so happy.

As we were finishing up our meal, who should walk in but John and Cindy Soehner of the same Eco Farm from whence my dinner came. Jenni is acquainted with them and it was such a pleasure to say ‘hi’ and to thank them for raising the pig that I had just eaten. Though John and Cindy were there to eat – not talk shop – we did have the opportunity to learn a little about that pig’s life in the woods of North Carolina. To me, this sums up what eating sustainable food is all about. It’s not about personal sacrifice, restriction or regression – it’s about reclaiming a vital part of our culture and humanity and understanding where our food comes from. It’s about knowing, respecting and thanking the people that bring it to our tables. (And it’s about turning our back on lung-destroying popcorn once and for all.) Fortunately, it’s also about eating great bratwurst.

Sometimes I feel so lucky… did I already say that?

My Dirty Little Car

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Asheville, NC

I was visiting a friend this past weekend, who lives in a city in the mountains of NC. He rents a house in a funky little neighborhood in the west end of town. It was a nice visit – hiking and talking and eating a lot of fresh and raw foods from local farms (more on that later). There was one thing that left me on edge upon leaving – the self-service car wash behind his house that was being used almost 24 hours/day! You could hear the sprayers at all hours and the beeping timers and fluorescent lights meant he had to keep his bedroom windows closed up to get some sleep. I was shocked and irritated for many reasons.

I guess I’ve lived in denial of sorts – or maybe in a cave. I didn’t realize auto-washing was still such a frequent National pass-time (and I certainly didn’t know it could or would continue to such a degree during a severe drought!?!) Is washing a car really a priority for water use? Minnesotans like to say that salt and chemicals from Winter roads need to be washed off occasionally to prevent rusting (though I rarely complied and my car did fine), but beyond that, isn’t a car for dirty activities, like – um, driving?

Although I remember washing my parents cars with a bucket and hose, I soon learned where all that wasted water and phosphate-laden soap ended up after running down the curb and into the storm drain – straight to the lakes and rivers. I also figured out soon enough that using professional self-service car washes can save water and keep soaps contained, so if you gotta do it….

Still, I never thought much about washing the 3 cars I’ve owned since I finished college (pay attention – college students don’t need cars!) and they each came to be known, affectionately, as “my dirty little car”. Oh, I like to keep the inside tidy since I actually have to sit there periodically, but the outside? My attitude has always been – if I can see out the windows, my car is clean enough. Thanks to my Dad’s fatherly advice, I also give the engine attention by having regular oil and filter changes, rotating my tires and stuff like that. If I have to use one (and I’m always working out ways to do that less), I believe in being safe and smart. But, wash it? Pleazzze, it’s a car!

My Prius has yet to be washed in almost 4 years. And here’s the parking lot at my co-housing community – lots of dirty little cars. Maybe we’ll figure it out one day – our fresh water supply is only for cooking, washing clothes and drinking. And material possessions – even cars – are not the treasures of life. Until then, I’ll stick with my denial – sometimes ignorance can be bliss.

Meat Your Maker

Friday, September 21st, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’ve been vegetarian and/or vegan for most of my life (since age 16). I’ve extensively studied and experienced the ethical, environmental and health issues, problems and benefits involved in meat and dairy consumption. I understand that most of what goes horribly wrong in the beef and dairy industry happens in factory farming. Without going into the details here, I’ll let you connect to the links and just tell you, It’s worse than you think.

Although I’ve experimented with variations of vegetarianism over the years, as a whole, I follow macrobiotic philosophy, based on the consumption of whole grains and plant foods, sea vegetables, smaller amounts of seeds, nuts, fruits, traditional condiments and, in some cases, occasional animal foods. Mostly, it’s a process of eating whole foods mindfully and continually finding balance.

I’ve learned more about local farming since moving to a small town (2 years ago) where local farmers participate in the Farmer’s markets, CSA and provide food for the local co-op. And, after sincere contemplation, I’ve begun to occasionally indulge in locally produced meat and dairy. Intellectually, adding locally-raised eggs, dairy and meat back into my diet works for me – I am still eating food that was organic, free of hormones and antibiotics and comes from animals who were raised humanely. I also enjoy knowing the farmers that provide this for our community and consciously wish to support their efforts and livelihood. However, once the novelty of new foods wore off, I’ve found my desire for animal food falling off again, too.

According to macrobiotic philosophy, we are what we eat – physically, mentally and emotionally. Meat is good for physical strength and for maintaining an aggressive edge over the challenges in life – getting things done. Possibly some lifestyles or work demand this, but too much of it can throw us into a state that becomes too combative or tense. Animal products in general are very acidic and very yang – or contractive. Accordingly and theoretically, it can feed self-centeredness and dull sensitivity, deplete the body of other nutrients and stress the digestive organs. Personally, I found that raw cheese was easier to digest but any other slowed me down. Organic eggs taste delicious, but eating them often makes me edgy. When I’m especially tired from physical work, a little meat perks me up, but otherwise, it doesn’t suit me.

While our food choices should always follow environmental and ethical reasoning, when it comes to individual health and happiness, the important thing is knowing the effects of what you consume and and learning from them. Since I’ve gone back to eating some meat, I’ve noticed an increase in intensity in my life – some of it welcome and some of it not so much. When it comes to animal products – for me, less is more and I’ve learned about myself from my experience.

Macrobiotics means “big life” and requires a study of the self as a whole – life, work, personality and situation and being aware of how to balance all of it to a sustainable place. Living, eating and thinking this way is a big job – but one with more rewards and less limitations than you could possibly imagine – both for yourself and the world.

United in Truth – Fusion of Faiths

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I opened my latest issue of Plenty Magazine (one of the best enviro-life reads out there – please check it out!) and my little green heart went pitter-pat over some encouraging news.

Last May, religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions wrote and presented an “Interfaith Declaration” to Congress and the White House, calling for immediate action on climate change. It looks like, when it comes to seeing and caring for nature, everyone is (or should be) on the same page. Here’s just a small sampling of the supporting finds, beginning with my own favorite, The Tao…

Taoism – From 180 Precepts of Lord Lao:

You should not wantonly fell trees.

You should not throw poisonous substances into lakes, rivers and seas.

You should not dry up wet marshes.

You should not seal off pools and wells.

You should not light fires in the plains.

You should not fabricate poisons and keep them in vessels.

You should not disturb birds and other animals.

You should not wantonly make lakes.

Native American Spirituality – The Earth is precious. To harm the Earth is to heap contempt on its creator. – Chief Sealth

Judaism“thou shalt not destroy” – Bal Tashhit

Hindu – O Mother Earth! Sacred are your hills, snowy mountains, and deep forests. ….may no one exploit and subjugate your children. – Prithivi Sukta

Jainism – All breathing, existing, living, sentient beings should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This is the pure, unchangeable, eternal law. – Acaranga Sutra

Wiccan – Nature itself is sacred and holy. Environmental actions are all manifestations of a reawakening spirit of reverence towards the Earth. – Vivianne Crowley

The Religious [are] Right

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Are we tipping yet? If not, there’s at least some big-time pushing going on. The Vatican declared this year that our abuse of the environment is against God’s will and they are putting their solar panels where their mouth is. And, more recently, they have become the first carbon neutral state by offsetting carbon emissions.

A Hungarian company, Klimafa, in its second year of operation, has made an offset donation, worth approximately $130,000, to the Vatican by planting trees to restore an ancient forest along the Tisza River. The proposition received a big thumbs up from Pope Benedict XVI who has gone on record supporting an international “green culture”. Although tree planting as offsets is heavily debated, in this situation, it will have an effect on both climate change and economic growth. The growing forest will absorb 10 times the carbon it does now, will be self-sustaining and the project will provide local jobs in an economically depressed area.

Environmental awareness is growing quickly among religious groups across the belief-system board and there is not much room for debate among followers. Church leadership are working to educate, inspire and lead their flocks to greener pastures through sermons, classes, and initiatives within their respective communities and beyond. One church teaches “The Green Bible”, readily pointing out that the good book calls man to be a steward of the earth and that the environment is “too important to be left to politicians.”

It seems only yesterday that the What Would Jesus Drive campaign kicked off discussion within religious communities in 2002 and brought the environmental questions into a whole new light. In actuality, the Evangelical Environmental Network & Creation Care formed in 1993, establishing a firm connection between environmental problems and spiritual problems, paving the way for healing on both fronts. This now widely-used voice speaks more loudly, asking for a faith actualized in more than the abstract in everything from conservation of resources and energy, to recycling and offsetting as a kind of “penance”. Can you hear me now?

Animal Medicine – easy to swallow

Monday, September 17th, 2007

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

If I really wanted to believe it, I swear the animals have been speaking to me, you know, sort of looking out for me. First, at the beginning of the Summer, as the drought set in and I learned of my mom’s illness, I found myself filled with fears about the future. It was during one of my many morning hikes that I saw an owl in the tree above me. I’d noticed it before, but this time, it was sitting in a branch just a few feet above me. I stopped and we looked at each other intently for several seconds. As I walked on, I kept looking back, seeing the head turning slowing and the yellow eyes following me up the hill. When I returned home, this is some of what I read about my owl friend:

Owl represents the illumination that brings wisdom which comes from seeing what others cannot. Use your powers of keen, silent observation to intuit a life situation. The owl can can show you how to speak the whole truth.

A month later, I was pretty stressed about the continued oven-like weather and didn’t know how I could reconcile dying trees and dried up creeks with my water-loving self. On this day in the woods, I found two turtles directly in my path. I went home and opened my animal medicine book to this: Turtle is the oldest symbol for planet earth and the personification of the goddess energy. Be mindful and remember the cycle of give and take – the protection that earth employs through evolution. You can protect yourself from hurt by going inside. The turtle’s two homes, earth and water remind you to place your feet firmly on ground, but also to flow with your situation harmoniously.

A week later, after a particularly rocky couple days, I decided to pull an animal card for guidance and I drew the Grouse in the inverted position. This is what I read: Many Plains Indian tribes dance the Grouse Dance, following a spiral, which is the ancient symbol of birth and rebirth. Learn how to harmonize your life dance with Mother Earth’s cycles. The Sacred Spiral will take you to the Center and is one of the oldest known symbols for personal power, vision and enlightenment.

Last week, I was sitting on the deck answering an email from my neighbor who was asking others to help “host” the abundant butterfly larvae found in her yard. I hadn’t seen many butterflies this Summer with the flowers and plants all dried up, but just then, one landed at my feet. In animal medicine, Butterflies represent the art of transformation. If the Butterfly is speaking to you, you should ask yourself what needs transforming in your life. Be where you are in this process and wait for clarity. (It rained a few inches here the other day. My larvae are now catepillar size and happily munching on potted parsley on my porch.)

The journey continues, but it seems like I’ve got plenty of company.

(These are mere excerpts from Animal Medicine lore, summarized in my own words. To learn more about Animal Medicine, go here.)

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