Ever considering giving up/reducing meat? Great article to think it through.

February 23, 2010

I thought this is one of the best article on vegetarian questions/issues in a good while. I love how chill he is, how not arrogant.
Interview with Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals at The Atlantic

Hat tip to CT for sharing the link (on the blog of Rev. Scott Wells where he blogs Lent, Google, Animals, and Meat).


How Much Is Enough? Buying Green Edition

May 5, 2009

I started my “How Much Is Enough?” series back in February, but haven’t quite got to it yet. Until now.

A while back I read an article about how, if you calculate the environmental cost of shipping ceramic mugs and the heat used to make them and the energy used to clean them it actually turns out to be better to use paper cups and throw them away than to tote your coffee mug around with you and use that. (This ended up not being true, but the point is that there are articles out there making such claims.)

It made me want to bang my head on the table. Because, just when you think you are doing the right thing, an article comes out and tells you that, actually, no you are not.

Then there was the article about how doing a search on google somehow uses more carbon than… well, something. The point is, of course, that it doesn’t occur to most of us that doing a google search uses any carbon or does anything bad, right?

And then, there was the fairly traded vanilla at Whole Foods for $9.99. Could that possibly be worth it?

And, there is my recent checking of the “yes I want to use green energy” box on the form when I signed up for electricity in our new home. I got our first bill and realized that this costs about $70 more a month! That is A LOT. And I have been reading articles about how the new light bulbs that use less energy actually cause as many problems as they solve because they have mercury in them which leaks when they are thrown away, poisoning things.

Aaaaaa! What is a green wanna be to do? How much is enough? And how much is too much? When is it “green washing” and when is it really better? I mean, if I buy unfairly traded vanilla for $1.99 and then give the other $8.00 that I would have paid for the fairly traded vanilla to a NGO, isn’t that probably better than spending $10 on vanilla? What about the extra $70 it costs us to get green electricity? We are still debating if we can actually afford this at all – can we buy $70 less in groceries each month? Yet, if we aren’t willing to do that, can we really say we even try to live up to our values, especially if we can afford it if we make adjustments?

I am pretty sure I am not the only person struggling with all of these questions.

Here is my theory on how much is enough when it comes to buying green:

First, take it easy. The reality is that our individual decisions are not going to make or break the future of the planet. What we do is important, but it is important not to inflate the difference we can make. Although I know it maybe sounds a little bit cheezy, I think we can only create peace in our world if we are peaceful. We cannot be peaceful if we are freaked out about every lightbulb.

Second, do what you can. We all have different things we can do/will do/want to do. We should push ourselves to do more than what is just easy to do. We probably can pay extra for the elecricity, even though it is a stretch. We don’t eat meat, but we fly and drive too much. We buy recycled toilet paper, but we can’t bring ourselves to use reusable wash clothes for this purpose as some do. We can’t all do it all, but we can push ourselves to do more.

Third, use some common sense. I know people are all into calculating this and that, but I think common sense probably goes further than we think. If $10 fairly traded vanilla seems absurd to you, it probably is. Biking is better than driving. Apples from your local orchard are better than ones from Australia, even if the local ones are not organic and the Australian ones are. While some things may need to be researched and carefully calculated, the whole reuse, reduce, recycle goes a long way.

Please feel free to leave your two cents in the comments. I would love to hear someone who has figured this out better than me!


How Much is Enough? Sustainability, Justice, and the Economy

February 15, 2009

This is a question I return to over and over again in my life and on this blog and my answer never seems that helpful. I guess I like to just keep thinking about it and trying new approaches which is better than completely giving up.

First, I want to be clear that this is a pretty darn privileged post. I know that, for a lot of people, any discussion of where to spend money is about whether to pay for medicine or food. Or how to pay for food. Or how to pay rent. The reality is, that I wish I was someone who would say, “You know what? Until other people don’t have to worry about how to eat or how to pay for life-saving medical treatment, I am only going to buy what I really need to survive and give the rest to more important causes.” But I am not saying that. I might someday. I wish I would. But I am simply not ready to make that sort of sacrifice – of, let’s be honest, my own comfort – for what I think is the right thing to do. This is about how to live more simply, how to better take into account issues of sustainability, justice, and the current economic crisis for people who are not dealing with acute and/or traumatic economic situations.

Given this – that I am not going to live ultra-simply – I still would like to live more simply and more sustainably, better taking into account how my consumption habits impact me, the world, and the values that are important to me (justice, equality, survival of our planet, etc.).

This is for three reasons: first, because it seems preferable to acquire less stuff for environmental reasons; second, because it seems to me that there are spiritual and personal benefits to having less stuff and depending less on acquiring things to make me feel better/more fulfilled; and three, because the economy sucks, I worry about our finances and job stability, and we really need to be saving money.

So how much stuff is enough to have? When it comes to buying stuff and having space (in your home, which costs money and uses resources) and spending money – what is being normal and reasonable, what is being conscientious, what is being extravagant?

With the economic situation and our recent move, I have returned to these questions more lately and at least until I am preoccupied with other things (baby to arrive soon), I hope to blog on it more.

I ran across a blog (I forget how) Enough which is:

a space for conversations about how a commitment to wealth redistribution plays out in our lives: how we decide what to have, what to keep, what to give away; how we work together to build sustainable grassroots movements; how we challenge capitalism in daily, revolutionary ways.

I haven’t read a lot of the blog yet. I’m pretty sure they are more radical than me. I think I am not so much into challenging capitalism (maybe I am into challenging capitalism as it currently is practiced/carried out, but not in general). But the rest of the point of the blog – thinking about what to have, what to keep, how we work together to build sustainable grassroots movements related to justice and equality…. that sort of thing is what I am interested in.

So this post is getting long. I think I will stop here, and say that this is the introduction to my How Much Is Enough? series which, at the very minimum, will include a post on How Much is Enough? A Question of Faith, How Much is Enough? Moving Edition, How Much is Enough? Baby Edition, and How Much Is Enough? Buying Green Edition. I welcome links in the comments to blogs, posts and websites that deal with these issues from any of the three (obviously intertwined) lenses that I’m using to look at this: the sustainability perspective, the justice perspective, and the personal economic perspective.

More soon!

p.s. Other posts I have done on this in the past:

Privilege, Justice and Sustainability Thoughts how to try to eat more sustainably without getting on our high horses, on the interconnectedness of justice issues (including the issue of food).

Book Review for The Simple Living Guide

Can Polyester Save the World? Part of the series of posts on my (failed) attempt not to buy new clothes for a year.

May a Curse Fall on the House of Pottery Barn: Trying to Want Less

No More Clothes in the New Year Thoughts on trying not to buy new clothes for a year. (Spoiler: It lasted five months.)

A Slower and Simpler Life (?)

I Could Keep Living Generally the Way I Wanted Does it actually take sacrifice to live a more sustainable life?


Some Big Questions

November 20, 2008

Greetings blog readers. I have blog posts floating around in my head, but neither the time nor energy to articulate them. Blogging for me seems to have ups and downs. Such is life.

Plus, I get the distinct feeling that I write about the same themes and questions over and over again. Like they say, preachers all have one or two great sermons and they just give them in a bunch of different ways. Such is the case with many of my blog posts. I guess this post is no exception…

Courtney over at feministing.com posted this today:

1. What is the accurate, once-and-for-all differences between men’s and women’s brains?
2. How can a woman who’s super invested in mothering also protect her own creative/intellectual/professional life?
3. What truly works when it comes to rape and violence prevention?
4. When do I focus on being right and when do I focus on being effective?
5. When do I address sexism directly and when it is best to handle it indirectly?
6. How can society still be so invested in the categories hetero, homo, and bi when sexuality so obviously exists on a spectrum?
7. Why do so many feminists resist being critical about the institution of marriage?
8. How can we have no holds bar honest conversations about race and class disparities within feminist circles?
9. How important is it that women embrace the feminist label?
10. How ethical is it that feminist writers like Judith Butler and even bell hooks are hard for my women’s studies 101 students to understand?

I thought it was good. I feel like I have some similar questions that I come back to over and over.

1. How do I balance between living an enjoyable life that involves some unnecessary but enjoyable comforts (vacation, new clothes, eating cheese) with living a simple, ethical life that I often feel called to that better takes into account sustainability, justice, equality, and fairness?

2. I like Courtney’s question about, “When do I focus on being right and when do I focus on being effective?” When do I temper my rhetoric/position in order to work toward incremental change, and when do I speak completely honestly, speaking what I believe to be right, even if it is so radical that people will dismiss me? This also plays into her question about handling sexism (or other injustice) directly or indirectly. I guess it often comes down to discerning a strategy to move toward what we want to see in the world. What are the most effective strategies for change? I know this obviously varies.

3. Is it wrong to look at celebrity gossip websites that I find in many ways deplorable, but also intriguing and interesting? I don’t click on the ads, but I know my browsing of the site must impact the overall click count which makes the site be able to charge more for advertising….

4. How nice and kind should I be to people? When am I just enabling weird, needy people?

5. Why can I never water an aloe plant the right amount? They either drown or thirst to death.

6. How do I balance between success and hard work, and just enjoying life even if it slows down my professional progress? How can I tell I am being successful toward some end and when I am just achieving things because I want to be special/approved/unique?

7. How does one communicate the direness of a situation without making people feel hopeless?

8. How do we balance between being hopeful and positive and being realistic and practical? Or rather, when does hopefulness become naive and just to make us feel better, not anything actually helpful?

I have more, but those are some. I don’t expect you to actually answer these. These are life-long struggles for me. I found it hilarious that some people took Courtney’s questions and then went through them one by one and answered in the comments like “There you go.” As if they could be answered easily and clearly.

What are your enduring questions?


When YOUR Issue becomes THE Issue

September 25, 2008

Or: Vegetarianism and animal issues are not THE most pressing issue in the universe to everyone right now.

I am on the UFETA (Unitarian Universalist for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) listserve, and I think it is a great group. I love the dialogue. I love the passion. The care for suffering beings. I think it is an essential and prophetic voice in our faith community.

But a conversation has been going on recently that freaked me out a bit. I didn’t respond to the listserve because I think some people were voicing what it is I desired to say. But it brought up a good point that I wanted to raise here, more broadly.

The gist of the conversation on the listserve is that a UU church is going to have a chicken raising club or something – egg chickens, not eating chickens. I totally understand why people are not fond of this idea. What happens to the chickens when they quit laying? Where are you getting them from? A mean, terrible hatchery where the male chicks are killed an the laying hens are treated very very poorly? I do not think there is a problem in and of itself of eating the eggs of chickens that are your pets, but I am not so much a fan of raising chickens for eggs, especially if you are going to do away with them once they are no longer good egg producers.

But I digress. The point of this is that I think that it is quite reasonable to identify some ethical stumbling blocks with a church sponsored/orchestrated chicken raising club. But the thing that really freaked me out is the suggestion that those people who oppose this maybe should WITHHOLD THEIR PLEDGE because of this. Stop the presses! Can you IMAGE the mehem that would be caused in UU churches across the nation if people started withholding pledges when they really really disagreed with something?

I can think of five examples of the top of my head:

1. I think sweatshops are bad. Terrrrrrible. Violations of human rights. This is my cause. AND WE ORDERED OUR R.E. t-shirts from a company that uses sweatshop labor!!!!!!!! And the minister’s robe was MADE IN CHINA. And people are wearing sweatshop-made clothes to Sunday services. THIS MUST STOP. We must be consistant, people. We talk about human rights. Justice. Equality. And now the church is supporting sweatshop labor everywhere you look. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. And if it isn’t, I am withholding my pledge until I feel like it is being better addressed.

2. Climate change is coming fast, people! And our church is doing like a zillion things that make it worse. We are all driving to church. Where are the bikes? And the church is sponsoring events on Sunday evening so people drive to church on Sunday morning, drive home AND THEN DRIVE BACK. We keep this place 69 degrees in the winter, which is way too warm. We could very easily keep it at 67 and just bundle up. And, we need to get a new furnace which is more efficient, which costs only $10,000. I know this is a lot to ask BUT A LOT IS AT STAKE HERE PEOPLE. I am sorry, but I will have to withhold my pledge until this church takes more drastic steps to address this VERY SERIOUS problem.

Okay, so I won’t give five examples, but my point is that there are lots of very important issues that are probably not being well-addressed by our churches. We are not perfect. We are sometimes spoiled. We talk a lot about ethical stuff and do-gooding stuff but that is hard to do and, if we are honest with ourselves, it is easier to support things that we already agree with (we are for peace! gay marriage! sex-ed!)  than to do hard stuff we don’t want to do like stop buying sweatshop clothes or turn down the heat or drive less or whatever. I’ll never forget talking with one church I was involved in about socially responsible investing (which, let’s be honest, is not perfect but probably better than just haphazard investing in whatever). And they were like, “Yeah, well we tried that and the returns were really bad.” So, they invest in whatever, including nuclear energy, arms companies, oil companies and so on.

So, my point? Unless your parish committee has decided to open a nudie bar in the parish hall with the church income instead of having an R.E. program, with holding your pledge is really just not a reasonable approach to expressing your wants and desires in your congregation. Discussion – yes. Education – yes. Joining the parish committee/board – yes. Starting an ethical eating club – yes. But if our financial support of our churches starts becoming a “only if you attend satisfactorly to the issue I deem most important” then I say fulfill your pledge this year (since, you know, you did pledge it) and then find a different church that will meet your needs and expecations in every way. (Good luck with that one.) Because being part of a faith community can’t be so freaking conditional. It is a committement, in many ways, for better or worse. I understand that there are sometimes good, legit reasons to find a new church home or even to find a new faith home. But, I hope it would be bigger than issues. Because, when it comes down to it, we are all treading on this earth very heavily – doing harm – enmeshed in a system that is going to be a part of this system of harm. Our goal, I think, should be to lessen our harm, to love, listen, do better, try harder, and, in the end, know we aren’t going to be able to do it all and be humble that we are imperfect people stumbling along on this spinning planet together. And we are going to have to stick in it together – educating each other, learning from each other, listening to each other, being with each other – in order to get anywhere.


Are you vegan at heart? (but maybe not so much in practice?)

September 16, 2008

Kind Green Planet has the coolest thing for you then! It is called Vegan at Heart. You get an email “mission” every day for thirty days that takes only 1 to 10 minutes. I was lucky enough to be able to be in the test group for this project and it helped sooooo much and was fun (and if you skip a day, you can save it for later or, don’t tell anyone and no one will ever know….). The “missions” are little tips, projects, websites or suggestions about gently incorporating more veganism into your life.  I loved it so much because it is non-judgmental, supportive, and fun. I love the title Vegan at Heart because I relate to it so much as someone who really really wants to be vegan but really really is a picky eater and not a good cook in the first place. I am big on “baby steps” (anyone remember that from What About Bob? I loved that movie.) This is a great little thing to sign up for even if you are just VC (veg-curious) or you just want some fresh ideas for ways to incorporate more sustainable practices into your life.

p.s. The woman who designed Vegan at Heart is a Unitarian Universalist who is very nice and friendly and would probably answer your individual questions too if you have them along the way. :)


Privilege, Justice, and Sustainability

April 28, 2008

Over at My Moxie Life, Jacqueline writes about Why Food Isn’t My Politics (also mentioned at The Interdependent Web). She writes about how she and her family became vegetarian and…

Three years after that we moved to an intentional community in Missouri for a year. We, again wanted to experience living as lightly on the earth, community, and a back to the land ideal. It was while living with 70 other people from all walks of life that I began to shift my ideas about food…

What I began to realize was that food is only a choice for those who have the financial privilege to make that choice. It is an economics thing. If you come from a lower economic background or a definitive cultural background you will have food ideas around that. You MAY choose to break out of those ideas, but often, in the circumstances you CAN’T. You eat what is offered, and if you are lucky you are grateful.

It was the white middle and upper middle class kids that were offensively food oriented. THEY were making the RIGHT moral choice and they let you know in no uncertain terms that they were better because of it. Well, that screams of economic superiority, a bit of racism, and holier then thou attitudes.

These were CONSTANT conversations at East Wind while I was there and because of that tension and my wanting to understand where everyone was coming from I chose that food was something to be thankful for in whatever form it takes.

Education and poverty were more important to me then what someone served me at dinner.

So, we moved back to San Francisco omnivores… and have stayed that way.

I started to comment over at her blog, but the comment got a bit long so I thought I would post it here. I completely hear this idea that often liberals or other do-gooding folks go around being like, “Gosh, look at us. Shopping at Whole Foods, getting our vegetarian, local, organic food while we cruise around in our Prius. Golly, we are sure doing good by the world. Too bad there are those other people who are ruining the planet!” I know these people. I try not to be one. Probably I don’t always succeed.

So first, I want to affirm Jacqueline’s struggles with this issue and say that such struggles resonate with my experience (perhaps, um, too closely….). Yet, I think there are two important additional things to consider here.

First, I think we need to be careful not to set up a false dichotomy between “food politics”, and other (race and class or education) politics. Being attentive to the ways that our diet impacts the world around us – the natural world, humans, and other animals – is one important way to seek to live out our convictions related to compassion for suffering, non-violence, environmental justice, and human rights. Vegetarianism isn’t just all about saving the animals/lessening their suffering. It is also about trying to live more sustainably so that future humans have an earth to live on, and it is about being attentive to the ways that meat consumption, violence, the meat packing industry, immigration, race, class, food shortages, food riots, global warming, etc. are all related. Vegetarianism or veganism is, of course, not only way to address such concerns. But, I don’t see our food choices (to the extent that we have choices about our diet) as separate from bigger questions about justice, environment, class, etc.

Secondly, I struggle with the idea that if everyone/poor people/lots of people can’t do _________ (fill the blank with an attempt to be more sustainable/attempt at social justice activity), then it is a privileged thing to do and we are being too privileged/spoiled/snobby if we do this thing. I feel like this would apply to most volunteering, many if not most home energy efficiency measures, to many forms of education (expensive colleges/any colleges/many forms of homeschooling/private schools, etc.), buying organic/locally grown food, having the time and energy to grow a garden, driving a hybrid car, etc. The problem seems not to be that by doing these things (such as being vegetarian) we are not attending to the real problems like race or education, but rather that often our attitudes about our various “do-gooding” activities (like being vegetarian) are problematic.

The problem could thus be framed as the attitude that “We are doing the right thing (as privileged, liberals) while they (poor, others) are not,” rather then the problem being framed as the particular action we are taking (in the case of Jacqueline’s post, vegetarianism). If we look at it like this, the solution would not to be to stop doing action X, but to change our attitudes about action X.

For me, it is all about finding a balance between calling on each other and calling on ourselves to live as sustainably and justly as we can, while at the same time, being understanding that we can only do what we can do. I find it challenging, with vegetarianism, but also issues like hyper-consumerism, sexism, racism, classism, etc. to know how to best challenge my fellow humans try to live justly and more sustainably, while at the same time acknowledging the wide range of limitations to what each of us can do as individuals, families, communities, and countries. Certainly, to some extent, I believe all of us are called to call to humanity to be more just, more loving, less violent, and to live more sustainably, and to live out these principles in our own lives. But how much is too much calling? And how are we to do it without infringing too much on individual prerogatives, given that we cannot all do it all? And, are there different standards for calling upon fellow Unitarian Universalists, than, say, the general public?

Thanks to the post at Moxie Life for helping me to continue to grapple with some of these questions.


From The New York Times: Meat Consumption Is an Environmental Issue

February 1, 2008

NYTimes isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of vegetarian and environmental propaganda, so those leery of vegetarian overstatement can rest assured that this isn’t the same as if PETA came out with such an article. The times has a spotty record of publishing articles about vegetarianism and the environment, including a painfully misinformed article about veganism last year and an article that tells people how they can save the planet with easy, simple steps rather than actual sacrifice (I wish this was true, but it just isn’t – you can only slow down the destruction with easy, simple steps).

Anyway, they NYT has come through, however, with an impressive article about the environmental consequences of meat-consumption. Interestingly, the guy who wrote it is not a vegetarian. I always find that interesting that folks can have all the info in the world (hey, including myself) and know what is best, but not do it. It shows that rationality is overrated.

In “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler“, Mark Bittman writes:

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days….

Perhaps the best hope for change lies in consumers’ becoming aware of the true costs of industrial meat production. “When you look at environmental problems in the U.S….nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag — the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.”

Animal welfare may not yet be a major concern, but as the horrors of raising meat in confinement become known, more animal lovers may start to react [Elizabeth’s note – do we need to be animal lovers to want to prevent very serious suffering?]. And would the world not be a better place were some of the grain we use to grow meat directed instead to feed our fellow human beings?

I suggest reading the whole article, but those are some of the highlights. A good point that I came away with is that it isn’t like everyone has to become vegetarians (although, of course, I would like that!). But if everyone did some reduction, it would have more of an impact than if a small number of people became vegetarian. I found that once I started thinking out of the “meat is the center of a meal” box, I learned to eat a lot of things I wouldn’t have other wise. Like Michael Pollen (non-vegetarian) says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


New York Times Article “Five Easy Ways to Go Organic”

October 23, 2007

Here is an article in the New York Times that lists five steps families (especially those with children) can take towards going organic. Since I think many of us have given up the idea of large numbers of people making significant, big changes that are better for the planet, the best we can hope for is a lot of people making a lot of small changes. This will at least somewhat lessen and slow the damage – to ourselves and the planet – where possible. And articles like this are a great place to start.

I must say that the first suggestion in the article about milk seems important if you drink milk, but having switched to soy milk a few years ago (it does take some getting used to) you also might want to think about that. You can avoid the pesticides and hormones that way too, and its healthier for you and happier for cows. They have made great strides in soy milk (and they now have soy creamer which looks white just like milk which, for some reason I really like).

For other postings on the environment, you can see my post “I could keep living generally the way I wanted” which actually sort of contradicts my somewhat new-found resignation to incrementalism, reflected above. There was also a recent post on environmental legislation vs. personal conservation over at Looking for Faith. You can also read about how our clothes choices and food choices impact the environment here and here.
Happy planet saving!


Sustainable Flowers

August 20, 2007

I wanted to send my sister flowers and she is even more into making sure everything is sustainable and fair to workers and environmentally friendly than I am, so I did some research and I thought I would post it here in case anyone else wanted possibilities for sustainable flower sending. In case you wonder if regular flowers are all that problematic, you can go here to read about it. I’m not trying to be alarmist and make everything into “an issue” but just trying to be more aware of ways I can be more gentle on the earth and its people, while also keeping in mind that everyone doesn’t have the economic or time resources to be super-vigilant. It raises questions for me about how we can make sustainable practices not just something UUs or well-off do-gooding upper middle class people can do, but change systems so that a range of people can be aware of and do these things.  Just some thoughts. Onto the companies.

Organic Bouquet http://www.organicbouquet.com/Index.aspx

California Organic Flowers http://californiaorganicflowers.com/

Diamond Organics http://www.diamondorganics.com/prod_detail_list/84#524

Well, I thought there would be more, but that is it for online stuff. It, of course, goes without saying that buying local is best and local farms/farmer’s markets often have a good selection.

p.s. Another link about buying traditional flowers http://www.coopamerica.org/pubs/realmoney/articles/flowers.cfm

 http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-05-04-organic-flowers_x.htm