on Diné Family Day: why i hate Thanksgiving

I live on the Navajo Reservation, work for the Navajo Nation government, and have today off because today is Diné Family Day.

Operative word here: FAMILY

In the words of my boss this Wednesday, before President Begaye ordered a half-day of work, “Have a good Thanksgiving…and have a good Family Day.  Be with your family that day.  Or whoever is your friends, if you are alone.”  I know he was probably directed that last bit towards me, as I had told him I would have to spend the holidays with my friends in Saint Michaels.  But, regardless, I wouldn’t be spending the time in a store.

This time of year, I never know what we’re really celebrating anymore.  The October, November, and December months are jam-packed with holidays, but the spotlight is on sales, buying things, and handing out candy and change to the Goodwill.  Admittedly, Halloween and Christmas are my favorite holidays – but they’re my favorite on account of the atmosphere, the changing weather patterns, the music and creativity…

What is Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving
is, of course, a controversial topic.  It’s supposed to memorialize the exchange between one group of English and one group of Wampanoag.  However, 55 years after the exchange, the residents of Massachusetts began massacring the very peoples that had saved their lives, launching Turtle Island into the start of hundreds of years of genocidal policy…which still continue today in various discreet forms.

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We are supposed to be thankful for what we have…while remembering what was stolen to get here?

My dad texted me yesterday, “I hope you’re in an area that understands the true meaning of the holiday…who respects Mother Earth”.  I would like to think that’s true, but I also see how much the kitschy, off-the-rez border town lifestyle has consumed my neighbors.  It’s like when I lived in France: we all flocked to Camaïeu, craving a piece of affordable French fashion only to find our French peers seeking the exotic American styles that they thought were in vogue.

And that brings me to an enormous hypocrisy in our “American culture”:

  • We insist we have to be thankful for what we have, but we don’t always understand what it took – or what we took – to have it.
  • We rally against large corporations, forming unions, and spew hatred against the 1% that controls so much of our money, yet we are obsessive consumers willing to feed our money at the drop of a hat into these monopolies that are utilizing a foreign workforce.
  • We want to be grateful and equal, but we also want to have the one-up on those around us, we want to have a taste of anything that someone else is able to have, and we don’t think about the greater consequences behind our actions.

The Meat & Grocery Store Culture
Thanksgiving was about survival.  It was about learning how to manage with what you have, how to farm and harvest.  Today, rather than throwing together humble plates of maize, squash, beans, root vegetables, and maybe some venison or fowl… Today, we joke about how much we over-ate, all of the turkey we spent hours preparing, the dozens of lavish dishes….but is it really that funny?

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One depressing reality of American gluttony is that our meat culture is, literally, destroying the planet.  A solid 51% of global emissions are caused by animal husbandry, a number that you feed into every time you purchase a meat, dairy, or egg-based product.  So forget turning off the lights or cutting your shower short – if you eat a burger, you’re causing way more damage than that will ever reverse.

During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, 300 million turkeys are slaughtered for centerpieces.  I’m not saying that because you should be vegetarian! or something.  I’m saying that because I’m an environmentalist, concerned about sustainability, about ethical practices, and about what we are putting into our bodies.  Peta is an over-aggressive organization, but all it takes is a short video to understand that ethical animal husbandry in the industrial food world simply does not exist.  But there are other factors that should make anyone cringe.

While most turkeys live in the wild to be a decade or so old, the ones raised on farms are sent to the slaughterhouse at about 5 to 6 months.  This is only possible because of the chemicals and hormones injected into the poults (baby turkeys) cause unnatural growth side effects.  To demonstrate the changes in the industry, consider this: In 1970, the average turkey raised for meat weighed 17 pounds.  Today, he/she weighs 28 pounds, resulting in many animals with broken legs and distorted bodies because, well that’s just not natural and their bodies can’t keep up.

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But meat isn’t the only thing that I find upsetting about our destructive society.  It’s also the produce we buy.  Arguments for organic and non-GMO products aside, we have a collective insatiable palate.  We’ve tasted the exotic coconuts and pomegranates, we crave watermelon in the winter, and it doesn’t matter where we live….we will eat it because, well, this is America dammit and it’s our Constitutional right!

We are so out-of-touch with the origins of our food, with the real world consequences of our choices.  We want to fight against raising taxes, emission regulations, and whatever else…but we will freely reap the benefits of having access to a global economy without once batting an eyelash at the problems this gluttony causes us.  We would rather not think about how the dishes we cooked use out-of-season vegetables and fruits, shipped to Minnesota from Mexico and Peru.

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But why is being apathetic considered the norm??

Insert cries of: Shop local!  Shop small!  Shop seasonal!  Shop Organic!  Shop non-GMO!  Keep the integrity of our food and protect the livelihood of our farmers worldwide!

The Must-Have Culture
Piggy-backing off of the must-have culture of our food ethics is the must-have culture of our consumerism in general.  Rather than retaining DIY skills in big cities – with the exception of trendy Pinterest boards and “projects” – we are obsessed with the luxury of having whatever we want whenever we want it.  But that all comes with a cost.  That cost may not be one we see as we pull the credit card from our wallet; but it is a cost that will have more consequences than monetary if we don’t change our ways.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Take only what you need.  Unless you’re on a shopping spree.

We buy new things all the time.  We buy plastic things all the time.  Antiques become talking pieces.  Convenience becomes the norm.  Anything that takes any more effort because this baffling topic, like You seriously don’t have a microwave?  You don’t have television??  You AIR DRY your clothes?  HOW DO YOU LIVE??

Yeah, I get those all of the time.  My internal response: How do you live with your conscience, or do you not have one?

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I’m not trying to be negative or cynical; I’m just trying to be the voice of logic that too few people are choosing to listen to.  When we become a must-have culture, we are jeopardizing so many freedoms.  We will stand up and rally for our freedoms, but we are simultaneously throwing them away.

When you fall into these Black Friday sales, you are abandoning your values.  You are abandoning your families, and supporting the large corporations who take family time away from their workers.  You are feeding into the monopolies.  You are supporting the manufacture of products outside for the US which, in turn, takes away from American jobs and supports foreign employment systems that treat humans as less than what they are.

We might be willing to throw a dollar or two into the Salvation Army pot come the holidays, probably out of guilt, but we are neglecting the amount of damage we are creating by our hypocritical consumer practices.  No dollar will fix that; only a revolution in our spending practices can.

Don’t Shop on Black Friday: State Parks are Offering Free Admission

Yes, it’s that bad.  Even State Parks that have historically suffered to make ends meet are now offering free admission to get your hypocritical asses out of the chain stores.

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Maybe you don’t see how this will affect your lifetime.  But it will affect the lifetime of your descendants.  And anyone who cares about his or her children should care about the children of his or her children, and so forth.  It’s the same damn thing.

Yesterday, I made organic, vegan dishes for me and my friends.  Today, I will not enter a store but will instead do homework and work on xeriscaping my lawn.  What we do may not be perfect, but actively trying is a start.

What will you do (or refuse to do) to show that you care?

Smiles From Strangers.

ImageI got up early this morning to walk to the indoor Farmer’s Market at Shaker Square, stopping at the bank along the way.  I was proud that I got up early while it was so cold and I would normally have second thoughts.  I got up early, I drank some tea, I read, I played with my cats, and then I got dressed in a dress and even wore lipstick and a hat.  I walked to the market with my satchel from Willi’s Ski House, withdrew cash, and passed inside the market with my list scribbled on the back of a Starbucks ad.

My motivation this fine morning?  Picking up ingredients from local, organic, animal-friendly vendors to cook another fantastic meal on Monday with Jeff.  He’s been working hard, long hours in the cold.  I feel for him, and I’m also thankful that he chooses to spend so much of his limited free time with me.  He’s always texting me and calling me with positive words, even when he is working or busy, and I want to do him favors while I can (not to mention shamelessly show off my ability to cook anything from scratch).  I rounded up ingredients, bought fair-trade coffee at Dewey’s, and walked home to reorganize my produce into tin foil and the proper crisper drawers. And, yes, this vegetarian even bought grass-fed meat to cook for the meal.

While I was emptying my half-peck of apples into the crisper, I started thinking about all the people I saw today.

First, at the bank, an older, white gentleman came in as I finished at the ATM.  As I walked out, a younger, black man came into the room.  The older man was still fumbling with his wallet and insisted for the younger man to go first.  Not only was it strikingly kind, but I realized that would never have happened between most strangers where I’m from.  I’ve been realizing how much more colorblind people in Cleveland are than in my rural hometown in Pennsylvania.

Second, I thought about the first meat vendor I spoke with who didn’t have pork or ham.  We chatted like old friends and he pointed me directly to another vendor and listed all of the others who sell meat.  I told him I’d keep him in mind if I ever need beef or chicken.

Third, I revisited the Woolf Farm vendors for their apples.  The old gentlemen who sell the pecks are sometimes so brittle that I want to help them load their crates.  Yet, they’re always the first to bend over to pick up anything that is dropped, they always help lift paper bags into sacks, and they always have a friendly, crinkly smile like you buying their apples was the kindest thing you could have possibly done for them.

Fourth, as I walked to the other room of vendors, I took a moment to step back and see how many people had walked (and some driven) from all around town to stuff their eco-friendly bags with organic, fresh, higher-than-the-grocer’s-priced goods.  They were all out here despite the 14F-degree morning.  Many of them had children in tow, all sporting home-knit hats or classy bowlers.  I had this sudden good feeling, like these are the kind of people who are going to keep the world good.  These are the kind who care and who keep caring and who get up, bring their family, help out friends they don’t know…

Fifth, I finally found the vendors I needed for my meat.  I chatted with the father and son about how a vegetarian has no idea which meats she needs, but she (I) will surely make it taste alright anyway.  They pointed me in the right direction based on the recipe I said I was making.  The girl beside me gasped and said that not only did it sound good but – And pardon me for getting in the middle and overhearing, but my what a thing you’re doing to be cooking meat for someone!  That’s really cool! – and I thought, maybe it is?  Not for a second did I dread doing it; it only seems proper to cook an ordinary meal and not subject my guests to my eating habits.  Well, I subject them a bit.  I am after all buying local, organ, grassfed – because that’s the kind I support.

Sixth, I walked into Dewey’s to get my fair-trade coffee.  I was impressed by the numbers of people crowded along the tables, many from the market, all barring against the cold in home-knits and pea coats and smiles, appreciating the local, more expensive things.  It was a well-mixed crowd too.  I even recognized a student who used to come into the library while I was on Welcome Desk shift.  I’ve seen him in there before.  He is such an outlier and cannot blend in at all with society; I’m not sure if he actually has a problem, or if he doesn’t realize that people don’t really care about his magic cards and his ability to rule fairies, the way-too-loud conversation he was holding in the middle of the room one morning at 7am.  But they all know his name.  They all ask him questions to relieve the last person and pass him around, making him feel like he has a home.  I’m not sure what the poor kid does with his life; he has got to be older than I am.  But there he was today, on his laptop in the corner, surrounded by throngs of people who I know would defend him.

Seventh – this is the moment that stuck with me the most and made me recall the others.  It was something so simple.  I was walking out of the coffee shop and pulling out my earbuds when I noticed a small dog tied to the bench, shivering.  No, I’m not a bleeding heart over animals left outside.  We keep our dogs outside all of the time and they much prefer it.  I just felt bad because he looked distraught and lonely.  So, I walked over to him, introduced myself, and kneeled down to pet him.  At first, he cowered, but I reached and scratched and he came closer.  Soon, his little tail was wagging rapidly and his breath was panting out steam.  When he looked warmer, I started to pull away and walk back.  I looked up just in time to notice a man, having held doors for many people, walk briskly past us, look back, observe the moment, and bear an enormous smile that he then proceeded to carry into the Farmer’s Market.

All of those smiles – whether from the face or the heart – were affecting people right, left, and sideways today.  It was good to see some hope left in what has been feeling like such a drab, dreary, dark world.

So thank you, man with the smile, and you’re welcome to the person who caught it next.

Festive or Infective?

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With the holidays cranking out since November’s American Thanksgiving, I can’t help but feel perpetual bitterness fueled by the generalized attitude of the public.  Shop shop shop shop shop, eat eat eat eat eat.  Whatever happened to the holidays being a time of togetherness and thankfulness?  No, of course not.  Now it’s just a constant competition to get the best deals, cook (or take-out!) way too much food, have a prettier tablescape, decorate your house better than the guy next to you, cut down a bigger tree (that took as much as 15 years to grow!), and complete forget what this time is about.  I don’t celebrate any holiday, but aren’t these supposed to be religious times, too?  Who even goes to Christmas Mass anymore?  When did Christmas become all about Santa?  And what about the other holidays?  (I got so many “Merry Christmas” goodbyes as I left work this week that I began to think…what about Chanukah?  Kwanza?  Winter Solstice??)

And what I really can’t get over is this: Christmas trees!  Dude, that’s a PAGAN tradition!  PAGAN.  For all of you Christian/Bible-reading superlatives out there.  And that’s fine.  But just remember it’s not some holy, Christian-only enterprise.  (I’m sick of people asking why my family puts up a tree.  Why run your car if you don’t believe in Global Warming?  You’re still partaking.)

So let’s all just have an enjoyable winter and not feel pressured to waste money buying gifts that you and others don’t need, cook too much food that will go to waste, and stay inside instead of enjoying all of the outdoor opportunities that are peaked in the colder areas this time of year and just as available as always to the warmer ones.

Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day is not what it used to be.  Much like the 4th of July, Labor Day has a historical background that has been washed out by having a day off, sales, and get-togethers.  Hardly anyone seems to remember the origins of this day off and how laborers were killed during the strike that eventually lead to the federal holiday’s passing.  Instead of grumbling to work this weekend if you must or occupying yourself with shopping or even just doing nothing, consider the history of labor in the US that has brought us here today and how easy you really have it.  And good bye, August.

Fueling Up the Smart Way

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My grandma and I were making a trip out to Ohio yesterday when I stopped at Get Go to fill up one of our Audis with her Fuel Perks.  Get Go and Sheetz have always had my admiration for how they create savings for customers as a way to keep business in their favor.  With fuel prices always rising and falling, saving at the pump regardless of the prices is an attractive choice.  I’ve long given up watching the fuel prices and accepted that driving a car with Premium petrol requirements and fueling up at competitive stores with competitive prices is always going to leave me paying a hefty bill.  I’ve also driven enough in Europe to realize our fuel prices are – relatively speaking – outrageously low, even in California.  Still, how to maximize your dollar at the pump?

First, let me just say: I am actually a fan of rising gas prices.  Before you grumble too much, consider what these prices are implying: Sure, you can argue it’s the oil industry being the king that it is and taking what it can from the common people.  But doesn’t it also come down to demand?  Not only do prices rise when we keep burning up gas at higher rates than we usually consume and/or extract it, but the prices are able to rise with our increased dependency on fuel.  I think it should cost an arm and a leg to fill up your car.  That’s a tiny sacrifice we make for a life of luxury that we don’t deserve and which is in turn destroying the planet.  So let the oil giants live like kings for the time being.  Their luxuries are short-lived, but also their investment in the business is incredibly genius.  They benefit from our dependency, stupidity, and greed as a society.  That makes them no less of a criminal than all of the other enterprises that thrive off of society’s demands.

But let’s talk about saving money.  Part of that comes from making good choices for the environment, too.  Sure, sometimes the green solution is the more expensive solution – but it’s the right solution.  And it doesn’t always have to be more expensive.  Sometimes it’s a matter of living with less, or just knowing how to spend less.

First, I am notorious for my miraculously low to non-existant electric and gas bills at my apartments in Cleveland.  How do I do it?  By living the same why I live in the country in Pennsylvania.  For the life of me, I don’t understand why city people drive as much as they do.  They have public transportation AND you can find five of the same stores within a five mile walk!  You’d be lucky to find a house that close to where I live, let alone a sole store… but we still make do!  Furthermore, city folk are all about working out.  They pay for gym memberships, drive the the gym, then do the same work that they could do if they made better lifestyle choices on a daily basis.  Talk about hypocrisy!

So how do I keep up my country, fuel-efficient, healthy ways in the city?  First of all, I always pick do-it-yourself before anything else.  Without a question, you can guarantee I walk up every flight of steps, walk to any store within a predefined radius, carry my own groceries in reusable bags, buy only what I need as I need it, buy things that are not only made or grown locally but that belong in the local climate, and I let the outdoors dictate my indoor climate as much as I can.  That means I open and close windows during the summer to utilize the cool night air and the breeze without the need of fans or air conditioning, and in the winter I seal my place up and keep it as cold as I like.  If you’re going to spend money on sweaters and socks, you might as well use them!  I hate artificial lighting, and if you’re going to have a place with windows that let heat escape, well you might as well use those too!  I do everything by natural light, save for some moments when I light candles or do turn on the electricity.

I cook my own meals from scratch and I grow most of my ingredients or harvest them from the patches of woods I find around Cleveland.  I am appalled that there are people in Cleveland who have asked me, “Wait, what’s compost?  You do that?”  I know down to the cents per kilowatt how much energy I’m using and I maximize this energy as much as possible.  If I’m making tea, I’ll use the steam off of the hot water to heat something else.  If I’m baking, I’ll use the cooling oven to reheat other things or just let it dissipate to heat my room or even my socks before bed.  I’d use a wood fire to cook in Cleveland if I could.  Also, I prefer to take baths rather than showers.  This allows me to run less water (although water is fairly recyclable in urban settings).  After my bath, I use the water to hand-scrub my clothes which then hang to dry on my drying rack.  I dream of the day that I can run all of my products off of a self-installed solar panel array.  I also think bikes are one of the best inventions of all time.

But this doesn’t answer the question of how to save money when I’ve gotta roll out my Audi and drive somewhere, like when neither a bike nor public transportation are suitable to haul my large hockey bag across seven states for my indulging in sports.  This is when I invest in Sheetz and Get Go.  Back to the pump at Get Go: I’m filling up only half of a tank on my grandma’s 50-cents-off-per-gallon discount and thinking, What a waste.  But my grandma is very particular about not letting the gauge go down too far and I know I’ve got to use it or she will complain.  Still, 50 cents off on only eight or so gallons?  I turned around to see a family with a huge truck tanking up, then unloading small gas cans and filling those too.  You’re not supposed to do that because that’s how you’ll make the system bankrupt, but they do it anyway.  Alas, my everlasting internal battle: social honesty or environmental responsibility?  I’d have to choose the honesty here.  I couldn’t milk a bargain that way without feeling guilt for how I was jeopardizing a widely-welcomed system.

However, filling up your truck – that is fair game and it’s a smart move.  I’m used to using Fuel Perks on my GMC pick-up truck, all 20-some gallons of it.  That’s why my tiny eight-gallon fill-up felt particularly illogical next to the F150 two pumps over.  But then I started recalling warnings from my parents about not using the Fuel Perks until a lot has been saved up and I realized that’s only true in a certain regard.  Honestly, you’re going to save the same amount of money regardless of the discount, right?  That’s just it, though: it’s a rate.  The rate may be the same, but your purchase size is what affects your savings.  So no matter if you’re saving 20 cents on a eight gallon fill-up or 40 cents on a 16 gallon fill-up, you’re saving the same amount despite the different rates.  What my parents were really trying to tell me is save up a lot of savings… then make a big purchase.  In other words, we rack up savings here and there, then buy a large quantity of fuel to expire our savings.  My little fill-up used up those savings on an unjustifiably small (if you’re not my grandma) quantity of fuel.

So do some math, weigh your values, and take the effort to do what’s right for your wallet – and the environment.  The point of this entry is really just to get you thinking about your daily choices and how it’s affecting your health, your planet, and your wallet in different proportions.

France-Enamored Americans: Love or Lust?

I have finally arrived in France after a long time traveling across Asia and Eastern/Central Europe. The last bits of my trip brought me through Venice and some other extremely touristy cities in Europe. As I sat back in some cafes, I observed the behavior of many tourists. The ones who stand out the most are always the photogenic Asians, the loud Brits, and ignorant Americans.

This isn’t my first time in France, but I am again dumbfounded by the cults of young women who flood the south of France, Paris, and fashion capitols across Europe, dying to “experience the culture” and indulge…but in what? In clothes, food, and boys. I’m not saying that my student group in IES is full of people like this; in fact, I’ve been quite impressed by the mix of people genuinely exploring the area for diligent work and culture experience. No, I’m referring to past experiences and current observations outside of my group.

Did you know there are H&M stores all across Europe? That many European youth in fact strive to be American-dressed, American-fed, and American-serenaded? Yes, while young women and other adults across America are dying to “experience France”, the youth over here are having quite the opposite desire. But what is the draw to France? Why do so many young women I know at home take French lessons, study journalism and fashion, read silly magazines, and eat at fancy restaurants so they can show off how to pronounce the names of foreign foods? It’s NOT a LOVE of FRANCE. They don’t care about the culture, about the politics, about the dirty facts about poverty and immigration and daily life in the not-so-fancy corners of the country. Not at all.

These are today’s youth who LUST over the IDEA of France, the images you see in those glossy magazines, the zombie-like models totting clothes that look absolutely ridiculous but that we are TOLD looks “fashionable” (ha!), the wine and the cheese… They want to lay in the sun and bask in what THEY view to be life in France. They turn their noses up at the most pungent of the cheeses and instead settle for things within their comfort zones. They avoid foie gras or pieds de cochons, or anything mildly ambitious that goes outside of their comfort zone.

These people, my friends, are the future generations and the people who spoil the image of American tourists for the rest of us. This ignorance plagues me and the vanity makes me nauseous as I sit at a cafe and juxtapose life here to my days passed at Luna Cafe at school. I dress to fit in, to respect, to not stand out. I don’t dress to make a scene, to become the new “It Girl”, or whatever it is these silly girls lust over these days. I have had quite enough of friends who come here for the boys, for shopping, for not speaking the language, and for picking through McDonald’s and other American treats. For shouting and being obnoxious and getting attention. For staring at themselves in the mirrors and taking photos of themselves to plaster online so everyone can tell them how adorable and “French” they are.

Please, indulge in the Love of France and not the Lust.

I like local, but local sometimes local is the wrong answer.

Yup.  That’s pretty much all there is to it.  For all of you “go local!” buffs, the ones totally obsessed with this new trend, first of all, WOAH.  Going “local” is NOT some new trend, people!  Local is the way we evolved!!  Do you think cavemen imported food?  How about frontiersmen?  Yeah, local is a way of life, so get over yourselves…

But local isn’t always good.  In fact, sometimes it’s bad for the environment.  Ever thought of that?  It’s a pretty simple concept.  The first step in realizing the fault in locavore lifestyle is acknowledging the unrealistic demands today’s food industry.  Back when we were a naturally locavore society and didn’t have the option of importing goods, we ate what was available when it was available.  That means eating melons in the summer, roots in the winter, and there’s nothing wrong with that…we still do that.  The problem is, now, we also expect other crops to be there.  Crops that aren’t supposed to be there.  But now that we have the technological ability to grow them, we will.  And we’ll do it locally.  So it’s locavore food…or is it??

I vote, NO.  Just because a food is grown locally, that doesn’t mean it’s locavore.  Although “locavore” is supposed to include locally grown foods, I think classifying it as such misses the point.  LOCAVORE means LOCAL because LOCAL is SUSTAINABLE.  So locavore is really sustainable.  Nothing else.  Locality is just a vehicle of this sustainability.  So what’s my point?  Well, do you really think growing a non-winter crop in a greenhouse during the winter is sustainable?  Maybe it’s being grown on a local farm, but does that mean its energy expenditure is valid??   No way!

Here’s an example:  A study has shown that “it can be more sustainable (at least in energy efficiency terms) to import tomatoes from Spain than to produce them in heated greenhouses in the UK outside the summer months”, according to a food mile study.  I think this sums up my point well.  Truly eating sustainably means getting rid of fresh fruits in the winter, and in fact ditching a lot of the crops that we eat out of season.  Thinking about this, I realize how unsustainable a lot of Farmer’s Markets crops are if they’re not actually produced in fields and are instead closely monitored in greenhouses and watered frequently.  I now realize that scrutinizing a company for importing goods is not necessarily worse.  Maybe those pineapples came from Hawai’i, but just imagine the energy expenditures had we grown them here?

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What’s my point?  Just this: If you want to eat sustainably, don’t focus so much on “local” as being a matter of “distance”.  Realize that “local” really means being locally available.  Eat seasonally.  That’s what makes the real difference.  Think about that the next time you make a grocery list, and consider growing your own food.  Cheers.