Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Defining Sustainable Living, Defining Myself

On my kitchen counter is a large pile of books covering a range of topics on homesteading, animal care, farming, and everything that seems to fit under the heading "sustainable living". On the desktop is the results of a survey asking people how they define sustainable living.

What I am finding is that sustainable living has become a buzzword that covers a huge variety of topics. "Simpler Life" is another set of buzzwords, so is "Homesteading", in all its various forms. In fact, the term "Urban Homesteading" seems a misnomer to me.

To me, the term homesteader brings to mind people in the post Civil War on up through the early 1900s who came west, took up virgin land and tilled it, or put cattle on it, built their own homes out of sod or rock or timber - or even all three. People who came out on a land grant and who were required to make their land useful and productive - and live on it -  for a certain period of years in order to get free and clear title to it.  This was not an easy task; many gave up and moved to town, some even moved back eastward, returning to their home towns.  The number of successful homesteaders was actually rather small.

On that side of it, I'm not a homesteader. This main part of the house has been here since 1955, the rest added on and expanded through the decades, the last expansion in 1995.  I do a lot of the things an average homesteader would have done, but then a town wife would have been doing the same things, A heritage farm out east would have the farmwife doing the same things, Even city dwellers often had the same practices.  It was not a new concept.

I don't feel I can call myself a homesteader for canning food like I was taught as a child, or for owning and raising chickens, or cutting my own firewood, or sewing, or crocheting, or cooking our meals. Paying attention to what foods you are eating  and their ingredients isn't being a homesteader. But then again, it is.

For a time, a number of the things I grew up learning how to do were dying out.  People didn't repair or make their own clothes - you threw it out and bought new.  Premade foods,  going to restaurants became the norm and not the exception.  Canning, sewing, knitting, crochet, even housekeeping - for many folks, they are things done by other people.  Stupid myths and fallacies have evolved around these older practices; the idea that home canned foods are bad for you. That eating eggs and chickens you raised yourself includes killer salmonella.  That clothes made at home were bad - this one traces back to the 1880s, as store bought clothing was coming into fashion.  I remember being told as a child that my dress was not "good enough" because my mom made it. My dress, that looked better, fit better, lasted longer than the store bought clothes thought so superior. That a home cooked meal is nasty tasting, and restaurant food is much better. (To me, that just means whomever was in charge of food in your house just wasn't a very good cook.) And now, there is a growing movement to go back to those ways. And to reinvent them.

Even the online definitions do not really touch on what homesteading is.  Wikipedia calls it subsistence living. Subsistence living? Barely enough to keep yourselves fed, clothed, housed?  Not how I see those who are calling themselves homesteaders on the various blogs and facebook pages I read and follow.  Many of them are growing their on food, raising livestock, canning foods, have an abundance and are running their own home businesses to supplement their incomes. Some of them have home businesses that are their main, and very successful, incomes.  So that's not a fitting definition.

Sustainable living seems slightly better defined. An attempt to reduce their use of goods, to reduce their impact on the planet and society, to live within their personal means, whatever they may be. When I ask fellow bloggers and facebookers, this seems the consensus.  But it was hard worked for definition, for many people it took quite a bit of thought.

I think my goal will be to make the buzz words have meaning. I'm going to do my best.

I'm out of steam.  Any suggestions for my rambling thoughts here are appreciated.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Disenchantment: Food and People Related

I've been disenchanted all day. It really started yesterday,when I got home from physical therapy (messed up my elbow some) and daughter presented me with a pumpkin, as I had asked her for. She proceeded to tell me about how she gone to a certain big box store and there were 10 of those large pumpkin display bins full, all rotting.  She had to dig through to find this one, and when she took it inside, they told her to take it free.

Now free is good, but I am upset that in a smallish community like this one, with other small communities nearby that have a number of people in financial need, they just let this perfectly good food source rot away in front of their store. What? I'm just baffled. What a colossal waste.  I'm highly disgusted by that.

And then, I was talking about pumpkins on my Facebook page  - and this is a minor one - a friend posted about how normal pumpkins are icky and only the baking ones are edible.  I wandered the internet and canning sites, and found this is a common misconception, and no one could be clear as to why - several said this was just something they had heard, but had never tested it out.  Ignorance being passed on as fact - cause that is how people will take it. I have, from first hand experience, had wonderful success cooking up carving pumpkins.  They taste just as good as a baking pumpkin. But that's a side thing.

Then, I made the mistake of getting on the internet this morning. On one of my favorite pages about canning and prepping, a woman shared her son's experience with a high school science teacher who told the class that home canned foods cause cancer.  This is a mindblowing lie.  The kid was great, apparently - he stood up to the teacher yesterday and told her in nicer words that she was full of crap, and today got her to concede that home canned foods could be healthy for you.  But WHY would you tell people that stuff?

As that thread continued, another woman talked about how people won't eat the fruit off their own fruit trees, because apples from the store are better for you. And another talked about people she knows who have chickens -those people will not eat the eggs; they keep them on the table in a bowl for decoration.  Mindblowing waste.

And, of course, as these things will, someone just HAD to go and blame it on "liberals" and messed up teachers. I pointed out - politely - that the term "liberal education" actually means to teach children to become critical and independent thinkers.  And, of course, my having A: a college education and B. knowing the difference between liberal as an insult and liberal education means I too am a dirty liberal who does nothing but spread lies and be in general a horrible person. I was accused of being a troll, because educated people would NEVER want to learn more about canning, or eating or healthily or any of that stuff. (Those who know me are laughing right now.)  I told her I would go tell my chickens and canning jars that they could no longer live here cause they were much too conservative for me, and apologized to the page owner and used the lovely block feature Facebook has - I will never again be bothered by that hate spewing person.

And to top it off, another page I follow posted this message from a woman about how she was going to let her infant go without food until morning, because she ran out of formula and breastfeeding is so horrible and will likely kill her baby if she did it.  I know I'm saying that wrong  - I'm inclined to go find the actual wording... Be right back.

Ahh, here it is "It's times like these that tempt a woman to breastfeed, and I can see how women cold be fooled.  Yes it is easier and cheaper,but it is not more healthy and most certainly not normal as so many claim."

That sound you heard? My head just exploded.  What in the deepest hells is wrong with all of these people mentioned above? Misinformation in the schools, people allowing food to rot away in their yards and in the stores, people who think for themselves are the cause of ALL problems in this country, and allowing an infant to go without food for over 12 hours because someone is too misinformed (and a poor planner) about what is good for the baby and what is not?

And people wonder why some days I really want nothing else to do with other people.

Seriously - why is all this misinformation and outright hate accepted so much as a fact by people?  WHY is it still allowed for such a large disconnect between food sources and human knowledge to still exist?  All the people who get upset at hunters when they can get perfectly good meat at the grocery store, or who still tell their kids that vegetables are bad, or believe that anyone who does know something  clearly hates this country.  How did we get here?

I get that it is hard, for example, a kid growing up in NYC or LA to go see a cow being milked, or collect eggs freshly laid by a chicken.  I get that in certain areas of the country, people are hyper conservative and like it that way.  Well, folks, I am a lot more conservative than people think.  And yet, I am also for the facts of the situation. I'm for the facts in history; I haven't believed in the 1st grade representation of the Pilgrims or Columbus for decades - basically, not long after 1st grade, actually.  Blame my parents for teaching me to read so early, and instilling a love of learning in me.

I'm just ranting here, and I'm just baffled - as I always am - at the level of purposeful ignorance out there in the world. Note, when I rant, I'm not claiming a level of perfection.  I have wasted food by burning it, and yeah, sometimes there are leftovers in the fridge that got shoved to the back and molded instead of getting eaten. But that is not 10 bins of pumpkins, nor a tree full of fruit, or a bowl of apples.

I just...yeah.  I'm done.  My elbow hurts, my brain hurts trying to see the logic in any of this.  I'll get back to regular things tomorrow - I've got more tomatoes to can, some apples, and that pumpkin - mmmm, pumpkin butter!

I'm going to eat some homemade pumpkin cookies and go to bed. Sleep sweetly, everyone.

And why not – here’s a picture of my one chicken – Crow – who thinks that somehow, the top of this table is for laying eggs on.  It’s why the sheet is there; she’s not the only one. The eggs roll off the table otherwise.

What? Me, laying an egg? No, no - I was just checking your kindling supply!