Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Truth About Your Food

That's the headline for this article on YahooNews this morning.

There were no surprises in it for me. The surprise is that it's taken SO LONG for this news to be ... well, news. It never ceases to amaze me how truly blind we allow ourselves to be.

For the past month or so, our diet has been pretty atrocious.

  • trying to get my book finished up (I have less than a month to finish it before the first draft is due to the publisher),

  • wrapping up the school year and scheduling portfolio reviews (as a certified teacher here in Maine, I review homeschool portfolios)
  • ,
  • the dreaded Birthday Month (the end of May/beginning of June brings nine birthdays, two anniversaries and two nationally recognized holidays ... AND the beginning of tourist season,)

  • preparations for the end-of-the-year dance recital/production,

  • the beginning of gardening/farming season (with the addition of broilers, and this year, bees, to our homestead),

  • and

  • just the normal stuff related to our for-money work and our lives in general,
things like cleaning house and meal preparations have kind of fallen off the priority list. The laundry pile (due in part to the many days of rain we've had in the past two weeks - yay for rain!) is growing immense.

I'm both thankful for and disgusted by the ease and convenience with which we can obtain things to fill our empty bellies.

I'm both thankful for and disgusted by the speed at which I can travel a hundred and fifty miles ... and barely give it a thought.

But I do ... give it a thought, I mean. As I'm zooming along at the speed of light ... er, limit, I think about the fact that in a low energy world, getting to a dance rehearsal that is twenty miles from my house would be difficult, and I contemplate ways that it could be accomplished, because the fact is that dance is important to my girls. But more, dancing with that group of people is important to us, as a family. It's our "community."

I could (probably, but not entirely comfortably) bike twenty miles. It would take a few hours, and I'd be walking up a few hills (and there are quite a few hills on the route there), and my girls could bike that distance (probably more easily than I), but then, for them to spend three hours dancing after having ridden for twenty miles ... and then, to have to ride twenty miles back.

I know this is the "happy motoring" suburban mind-set against which James Kunstler continually rails. How many of us do think about how far we are going on a daily basis?

To make it worse, Deus Ex Machina and I are sharing one car. He goes to work in the morning and takes the car. At lunch, he comes home, and if I have anywhere to go before his day ends around 18:00, I'll take him back to work. Then, I have to pick him up.

For the past two days, I've been doing that. Only ... the girls have to be at dance rehearsals at 16:30, and so I drive twenty miles to the theatre and drop them off, and then, I drive twenty miles to pick-up Deus Ex Machina, and then, the two of us drive twenty miles back to the theatre to get the girls, and when they are finished, we drive twenty miles to get home. In one day, that's eighty miles just to the theatre and back. That doesn't even include from home to work for Deus Ex Machina (granted this isn't a usual state of affairs for my family, but how unusual is this for the average suburban American?).

If we were to walk that, it would take a couple of days. In our current world, in less time than it will take me to complete this post and publish it, we can drive eighty miles.

Which is why our diet has been so bad for the past couple of weeks. All of those things we're doing, coupled with all of that driving, means that I don't have much time to spend cooking meals in the kitchen. I did well yesterday. I made quiche for lunch (to use up a portion of the seven dozen eggs we currently have - yay for eggs!), but I also made pizza, and I made an extra pizza so that we could take it with us for dinner. I reused the pizza box from the night before to carry our home-made pizza. Reuse, right?

The irony is not lost on me.

We have this device (automobile) that will carry us hundreds of miles in a fraction of the time it takes to accomplish mundane every day tasks.

And, yet, because we choose to spend our time taking advantage of the ability to go great distances, we're giving up the freedom to make positive food choices. If I'm driving hundreds of miles per day and spending hours on the road, I don't have time to make homemade pizza, and we'll end up at Dominoes (yes, I did ... and please forgive me).

In the meantime, I have a beautiful, neglected, garden outside with lots of yummy food to eat, and I'm spending time away from here and money buying food that is killing me - slowly, but surely.

The age of oil is a catch-22. We have the ability to move great distances at great speed, but in doing so, we're giving up the freedom to have a meaningful life in which we are afforded the opportunity to make "real" choices.

We think giving up oil will be hard (and make no mistake, it will be), but what have we given up so that we could have it, and what will we gain back by turning our backs on this wonder liquid?

I'm thankful we have the ability to travel the distances we are so that my daughters can have this dance experience, and I worry about what will happen when we're no longer able to go out there. I worry that by taking the attitude that we'll keep going until we just can't anymore, that I'm adopting the same attitude everyone else has, as in "I'll give up oil when the last drop is pumped from the ground!"

The more I know about where we're headed as a country and a world, the harder it becomes for me to justify our lifestyle, and even with as much as we've given up as a family, I know that there are a lot more ways we could conserve, if we were just willing to admit that we can not continue living this way.

For my family, when it comes to making the transition to a lower energy lifestyle, the low hanging fruit is long gone, and we're starting to reach for that fruit way up in the branches. We've already given up the easy stuff. We're already using CFL bulbs, eating local, buying second-hand, and using power strips. The next steps are much harder and require much more thoughtful and difficult lifestyle changes.

The question is, will we reach upward and keep going, or will we decide we just don't want that fruit anyway?


  1. Things that make you go hmmm....

  2. I totally hear you! We just started our farm job this week. Between that and finishing up stuff for my teen, moving and the usual maintenance of life there is no time! I spend my day weeding on a farm so do not feel like coming home to weed my own garden. All will be realigned soon. But for now, I am grateful that my life can be eased a bit by a take out pizza.

  3. I am also at a plateau right now, feeling like I want to do more but just can't, for many reasons. I think we have to pat ourselves on the back for what we do right instead of finding shortcomings. A takeout pizza or a movie out is fine once in a while if it saves your sanity. You'll know when (and if) it's time to check out that next branch!

  4. Sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now. When things calm down everything will fall back into place. I am always amazed at how successful you are at living your values and feel you set a good example of what can be accomplished when your mind is set to something.

  5. I wouldn't beat yourself up, our communities aren't built for walking/biking. I feel extremely lucky to be in my position (Old Town) a mile from one school, less than half from the others and the local YMCA and supermarket. The farmer's market is only 3-4 miles away and there's a bike path through the UMaine forest for most of the trip. The local library is just around the corner and there are two playgrounds within a quarter mile. We bike and walk a lot but because we're lucky more than disciplined. Of course we live on about 0.01 acres which makes Urban Homesteading decidedly urban. You do what you can. We only have one car and we work very close to home so we probably drive less than you, but you're able to grow much more of your own food than we are. Something I'm decidely jealous of :). Oil has to have more consequences ( cost or carbon credits) so that it makes sense for communities to 'shrink' a bit. We'll always have cars and drive but hopefully much much less. That being said we do what we can do. Taking a forty mile bike ride for a dance session would probably affect too many other areas of your life to be worth it ( in terms of carbon choices). Whenever I feel stuck I look at the American averages...I feel much better.

  6. I understand completely. Logan is really into martial arts and he does it 4 nights a week. It is about 10 miles from here, but will be moving farther away in August. I might be able to find a closer place, but he's built community at this one school. Do we make our kids give up their passions? The balancing act is really hard. Luckily, we only eat out 1 night a week because he has tumbling before the martial arts and there isn't time to come home and make dinner. The other nights I manage it, but sometimes I'm making dinner at noon and leaving it in the fridge.

  7. And yes, the garden is suffering. It is too hot to do anything in the garden until 8 pm and we are only home at that time 1 night a week.