Environmentalism for Goonies

…don’t know where the title came from but I like it!

  1. Is environmentalism a privileged person’s cause? Isn’t it more pressing to be assisting hungry children or the homeless? Partly yes, partly no; climate change is causing untold numbers of humans to go hungry because of failing crops or become homeless as catastrophic weather events intensify and increase in frequency.
  2. How do we educate about climate change without making people so scared or angry or frustrated or bored that they turn off their emotions and go back to buying their daily Double Ristretto Venti Half-Soy Nonfat Decaf Organic Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Gingerbread Frappuccino Extra Hot With Foam Whipped Cream Upside Down Double Blended, One Sweet’N Low and One Nutrasweet, and Ice in a non-recyclable coffee cup and using hundreds of plastic bags annually to encapsulate their grocery store vegetables?
    • Speaking of the latter clause: Buy reusable grocery and vegetable bags!!! Extra plus: THEY DON’T SQUEAKImage result for YAY gif 

      Short break for feminism:

    • How much could we learn if we removed the shopping-related portions of magazines and replaced them with information? I believe in style and fun ways to express yourself through clothing and, albeit not personally, makeup. I am just interested in pursuing this thought.
    • How much more could I learn or even earn if I traded time spent applying makeup doing something else? How about curating outfits (starkly posited: think of the typical men’s costume of a suit while women spend literally hours decking themselves in the perfect blend of color, texture, baubles, scent, etc.)

Back to environmentalism (last thought for now):

3. Yes, it costs more to buy organic and biodynamic and pasture-raised and cage-free and cruelty-free and not-tested-on-animals and biodegradable. However, if you can afford it (which you probably can… at least some products, which also probably taste better or are better for your bod), think of it as both voting and making an impact. Each product purchased acts as one vote towards the values associated with the product and/or the company itself. In regards to making an impact, your organic cotton rounds are polluting the world less than cotton balls, and that extra money spent is going to help someone affected by climate change by lessening its impact, even by a teensy tiny bit. This is not to say that I personally believe that buying organic = donating to climate refugees. However, it’s certainly not a terrible habit to get into.

A confession of aspirations

Is it my duty, as a Wesleyan-educated alum, who has been the recipient of countless privileges and good fortune, to pursue academia and high-level knowledge? There’s so much stress and comparison and elitism that comes along with that. It’s also obvious that having a minimum-wage or middle-class job has its own stressors.

I just finished Ruth Reichl’s utterly consuming memoir, “Tender at the Bone”. When I was younger, I flirted with the idea of becoming a chef. I adored cooking, and still do. Now I realize that I don’t have the passion to relentlessly refine a tart recipe nor have the emotional tenacity to produce multiple recipes every day, as so many foodies do. However, I would just love to explore the field of terroir, because it is so intimately linked with my passion for evolutionary biology and nature/nurture, aka how the environment affects one’s genetics and phenotype (very much a run-on sentence… Just trying to get these ideas out). Terroir: “the conditions in which a food is grown or produced and that give the food its unique characteristics.

Ruth’s book recounted her adventures around America and the world on her journey from a child to celebrated restaurant critic. I greedily swam in the words that structured the retelling of her colorful, character-laden path full of loneliness, talent, luck, and bravery. Such is the luxury of reading.

It also reminds of of last week’s psychology class, where we divulged our secret desires that we’d act on if not for fear of arrest, guilt, or other societally-influenced constraints. Some were to-be-expected: walk around naked, cheat on tests. But one that drew much interest and confusion was along the lines of, “I’d be a high school math teacher.”

My immediate reaction was of shock: Of course they can do that! Why is it such an issue? But after a few days’ activities including reading, altering mental states, giving blood, and subsistence upon mostly carbs (molasses-oatmeal bread, two homemade types of granola bars, beer pancakes…) new perspectives emerged.

Whose judgment matters to us? I’m fortunate that, at this moment, I know of no one who has objected to my dream career path. But I’m worried that those I haven’t met yet, who will be implicated in this career path, will care and will negatively view my choices.

I want to go to grad school for biology, get a PhD, and do research. But before I do that, I feel the urge to capitalize on my tender, sweet, twenty-something years and travel, have experiences, and enrich the rest of my life. How can people just go from school to school to school to job without travelling or exploring? Leaving their bubble? Comfort zone/zone of familiarity?

Fortunately, biologists tend to be pretty open-minded. They might understand why I took off a year or two or five to create myself. But will the admissions counselor? Will my PI? Will future employers?

After writing down these three gatekeepers and noting their possible influence in my entire life, I feel a little better.

I’ve been told that, if I want to take time off in between college and grad school, it’d be logical to get a science job. But I want to travel, volunteer, and do somewhat non-sciencey things. Will I be condemned for this? It’s not to say that I don’t have a passion for science (what an utterly silly thought!) But does it implicate that I don’t have passion for academic science and therefore enough motivation to attain a doctorate?

I’ve been neck-deep in biology-based learning for over over six years. I’ve loved it since I was young. I’ll keep loving it forever. But will it reflect harshly on me if I take a hiatus of biological learning? And at this relatively young age of 21/22?

Maybe I’m just tired of the system through which I’m learning. Indeed, one of my volunteer ideas is to work on a farm. That’s an extremely biological activity. It’s just not through the traditional ideas of experimenting and publishing results. This would be about engaging with biology in a more spiritual, wholesome, blue-collar way.

Sidenote: Recently, two friends and I were talking about our dreams and one who I won’t name mentioned that all she really wants is to find a husband and have kids and be a mother. As reproduction is our ultimate goal in this life, what she wants makes total sense. But I’m judging her. Doesn’t she want more out of life? It’s brave of her to say that (at least, putting myself in her shoes.)

By forging an alternative, volunteer-laden path now, will I be able to avoid a mid-life crisis? If I embrace the difficulties of having to stray from society’s principles and regularly remind myself of my true autonomy, will I be better off in the long run? It’d be so easy to just siphon into the system after college: get a job or go to grad school and assimilate into a typical American lifestyle. To passively jump into the forceful and alluringly predictable economic system. But I don’t want that. I want to move around too often and meet people and struggle to communicate in different countries. It’s tough because people don’t understand the pull of wanderlust. One cannot conceptualize/understand its colossal personal impacts. It’s an addiction most people just can’t fathom, like imagining a novel color or feeling a type of prejudice that’s foreign to you.

And now, an excerpt from a blog post written at the tender age of sixteen, which strikingly resonates even five years later.

9.12.2010

I change shapes just to hide in this place but I’m still, I’m still an animal.

The other day at services I was watching the all the Rabbis on the stage dance, sing, and play instruments to celebrate the Jewish new year. As if I adjusted my eyes, I suddenly saw them as what they are- apes. I noticed the primitive way they moved their body in dance. I saw one of them banging a tambourine on their hand to make sound. I saw their mouths open, forcefully expelling air through their throats to make different pitched sounds. Then, everyone else who gathered that day voiced back lines written down to the rabbis. They did this because this is the “proper” thing to do- go to services. Sing songs that have been in existence for centuries seems right. But half-mindlessly repeat back sentences that are typed up? I feel like when I read those words, I’m half worried about staying in time with the congregation, the other half I’m trying to understand what I’m saying.
I think I’d rather pray on my own, with words that aren’t so rigid and are more understandable than the ones written in the prayer books. If there even is a god, I have a feeling that it wouldn’t matter if the words we spoke regarding this god were outrageously eloquent or broken english. Maybe it makes people feel better/like they’re fulfilling their obligation as a Jew if they just read these dry words and are attentive for those few hours at services. I don’t know.
I read the Alchemist. It’s really a masterpiece of a book. Not in the way where it’s really complex and everything connects (like Harry Potter), but the dialogue and events that occur are just spectacular. I don’t feel like explaining it besides commanding, yes that’s right, COMMANDING that you read it yourself. It’s excellent brain food for teenagers pondering life. It’s affected me really deeply and I look forward to reading it again at a different stage in my life. I think the contrast of how I interpret it then vs. now will illuminate many things I can’t see or understand right now.
Going back to the rabbi part though, I find I’m periodically entering and departing from two mindsets: one where I’m a citizen of America, a student, an aspiring scientist, a subject of immense high school pressure, a driver of a car. On the other hand, I live as an animal: a humble member of Homo sapiens, a monkey, an equal to all the other creatures in the forest and even the smallest of beings. Plants too. However, I’m “higher” on the food chain, so I eat them, although I still respect them for having that miraculous breath of life circulating their body and existing in a realm of unfathomable magic.
Here’s where my astrological sign comes in (yes, I believe that stuff to a reasonable degree, just not the newspaper columns [all they talk about is work anyway, which makes them seem really stupid.] I simply like to look at it for a possible fortelling of what could happen soon/advice of how I could react to things differently.):
My Aquarius sign stresses that I’m deeply intellectual, methodical, idealistic, etc. My opposite would be emotional, people-person, needy individual (nothing wrong with those people, btw.) It admits that I have an issue viewing things as they are in a combination of those two mindsets. I can clearly see pros/cons from each perspective, but it’s hard to decide what to do if I try to exist in both those mindsets at once. When I’m thinking about my future, I long to take the alternative path: to explore the world, to detach myself from communications, really discover who I am, realize the meaning of love. The rational/reality side of me defaults to thinking about college. I want to travel a path that includes both of these options. There’s so much that can happen. In ten years, I can’t give you an answer of where I’ll be, in some parts because I don’t want to imagine myself somewhere that I can name right now as a 16 year old. I want to be in a place I didn’t expect, with fascinating outcomes. I want to become a shepherd like the boy in The Alchemist and discover my Personal Legend; to establish a relationship with a God/spirit I truly believe in; to travel; to love; to complete my mission on earth. I also want to become a scientist and make my impact on the world. I suppose a mid-life crisis could really trigger a realization of my Personal Legend, but I don’t want to wait till I’m 50 and ailing from various things. I want to start now, when I’m aware of how naive I am, and I want to learn now.
But the world we live in now doesn’t support that. It supports suburbanization, “settling down” with 3 kids and a husband you met at a bar, working just to make money.
I have time, I’m only 16. But in two years I’ll be heading off to college (most likely) and choosing a path. I appreciate the conflict I have now because it means I have options. And I know that at college I’ll have options. But it’s not the same.
Or is it?
For the first time, after college, I’ll actually be the CEO of my own life. Not to imply that college was a forced decision- I embraced it and wanted it very much. But it was always expected. Now, no one, including myself, will be able to predict what I’ll do next. S C A R Y, yet oh so exciting.

Strangers

With my parents fresh off the plane to Scotland for their well-deserved vacation, I woke up this morning feeling hungover from work. No, not the alcohol-related sort; the kind that results after a night of racing around a two-story restaurant for over six hours, doing a job meant for two highly motivated workers, my mental to-do list being rewritten every six minutes. I felt like a player in “Waiting for Godot” while waiting 30 minutes for my tips, exhausted to the point of delirious. Needless to say, my morning necessitated taking care of myself before embarking on my only day off in a span of ten consecutive eight-hour workdays. And, with my parents on the other side of the world, it also involved household chores and creating a plan to feed myself for a week. And knowing me, a simple trip to the grocery store would not suffice: to feel physically and mentally satisfied, I’d need to think up my week’s meals, their ingredients, and then turn the kitchen into a manufacturing tornado until I’d concocted my refrigerator beets, lentil salad, bulgur, hummus, and hard-boiled eggs by hand. So anyway,

Here I was, disheveled in body and mind on a Sunday morning.

However, what I want to arrive at is the underappreciated beauty in kindness by strangers.

As living in London for five months showed me, people who know nothing about you except what they assume from your looks hold unprecedented power in shocking you with the blunt force of their (amazing) character in tiny time spans. When I began bussing at the restaurant four years ago, I was bowled over by the generosity and kindness of the owners. On my first day of bussing for a mellow brunch shift, they embraced me and my first-day nerves, instructing me to pause polishing silverware and partake in a beautiful plate of eggs benedict on a copper table next to the window. Their warmth has only continued over the past four years, delivering me to a place of busser veteranship where the chefs respect me, the owners smile and ask how I’m doing, the patrons extend humbling appreciation for my efforts. The waitstaff recognizes my meticulous nature and rewards me with unbelievably loving coworkers who tell me stories of their lives, listen to my jokes, constantly thank me for being me. The tips are usually great, too. And of course there are points of frustration- there are at every job- but I’m thankful that they are relatively sparse. There’s no way I could work in a restaurant for the rest of my life, but as a summer job, I can’t imagine a better opportunity than the one I have.

The restaurant is a committed to farm-to-table establishment, supporting local agriculture while offering incredible organic, local, grass-fed, etc. food to its customers. So, today at the market, I encountered the family who grows the spirited onions, robust peppers, and altogether lovely veggies for the restaurant. After buying some celery and turnips, I mentioned how wonderfully their produce is received at the restaurant and the 20-year-old bilingual merchant perked up. Enthusiasm spilled out of her, along with wishes to return for a shirley temple at the bar and check out the restaurant’s picture of her family posing with their mountains of veggies at the market. As I thanked her for the groceries, she relayed the conversation’s main points to her mother in Spanish and rushed to present me with a free ear of corn.

Now, it’s not like 500 extra kernels of corn will sustain me for very long. However, this token of friendship blew me away. Don’t even get me started about comparing this to a friend request on Facebook. I don’t think I’m going to forget that ear of corn for a long time.

What’s more, this is what markets are all about: getting to know your community members and support one another both economically and socially. It’s something I haven’t been able to fully understand until now, when I am the one with choices to make about how to live my life in a way that optimally benefits myself and the communities near and far from me. Of course, you don’t have to buy everything from a market; some products are less expensive or more widely available at stores. However, maintaining a habit of buying local food and wares is dear to my heart and I can’t wait to nurture this habit throughout my life.