Posted by: scintillatingspeck | November 12, 2009

How am I doing at saving the world?

The other day, the incomparable Adrie wrote a post on the Fields and Fire blog here, suggesting the top 10 steps to save the world.  (Of course, we can question whether the world can be saved at all, or whether it is up to us to save it, or whether we should call these activities something else entirely… me, I recognize the name-brand value of the phrase “save the world,” but instantly translate the term to mean “act with maximum integrity to avert as much catastrophe as possible and spread as much goodness and joy as possible or at least know that I tried my best.”   Possibly Adrie meant that as well.  Anyway, enough with my quibbling…)

I thought it might be useful to examine these 10 steps in the context of my own life, to see how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go, to identify hurdles and perhaps set some goals.  I will confess that I’m especially needing to make explicit to myself the fact that I am improving over time.  I had a pretty bad day today.

So without further ado, the 10 steps!

1. Stop buying a bunch of junk you don’t need.

Progress:  Compared to my habits and mindset 10-15 years ago, I am light-years ahead of where I used to be.  It helped that I was comparatively frugal (by American standards) to begin with, but I still used to buy too much junk.  That tide has been seriously stemmed.  I put way more thought into what my genuine needs vs. wants are, and I want my purchases to really count; I want my dollars to support people and causes that are worthy, and I want the things that I buy to have real value.  I also want to avoid surrounding myself with too much stuff because it doesn’t just clutter up my environs, it clutters up my consciousness. 

Next steps/hurdles:  I still need to be more diligent about each and every item I consider purchasing and to pursue alternatives whenever possible.  There is still plenty of room for my improvement here.  Some of the hurdles I’m facing are the lure of convenience as well as the ingrained cultural habit of wanting shiny new things and thinking they will make me happy even if I know better.  I need to get better about looking at Freecycle and Craig’s List and asking around.  I want to always ask, how can I make this item myself, or find someone local who makes it?  One thing I would really like to learn is how to make clothes for Lily.  We have gained tremendous benefit from hand-me-downs (the vast majority of Lily’s clothes are hand-me-downs), and I am grateful to make good use of clothes that are in excellent shape as well as save a lot of money, but I find myself wishing that I (and, increasingly, Lily) could choose exactly the kind of style and colors and fabrics that would suit her, rather than always make do with what we’ve got.  I find myself resenting the original owners of the clothing, because they had the luxury of making those choices.  This kind of thinking and resentment makes me want to run out and buy clothes for Lily, but really, it would make more sense to just learn how to make clothes for her, and make them really fabulous and personal.  Same with clothes for me.  Many of my clothes are cast-offs from others and I can’t stand to waste them, even if they are not exactly my style.  Maybe I should learn more about embroidery.

2. Grow food.

Progress: 10 years ago, I knew not the slightest thing about growing food.  Today, I have a garden and I spend time reading and learning about food growing all the time, and engage in food activism.

Next steps/hurdles: My biggest hurdle is not knowing where we are going to live yet, since we can’t do anything until we sell our current house.  I’m very reluctant to invest much time and effort in my garden here since we are planning to move away as soon as possible.  The problem is, we have no idea when that will happen.  If I had known we’d still be here in November, I might have done a lot more in the past 6 months in terms of growing food.  At least I have still been nurturing and harvesting the perennials that I planted before we decided to move, as well as foraging wild edibles.  This winter, I want to start thinking about container gardening as a temporary strategy.  There is much for me to learn.

3. Eat local foods.

Progress:  I know I have made great strides here, even in the last two or three years, let alone the last 10 or 15.  I pay a lot of attention to this, by supporting CSA’s, farmer’s markets, local foods at the co-op, and growing and foraging food.

Next steps/hurdles: Probably my biggest hurdle is our love of restaurants.  Tom is no help in this matter.  We just love to not have to do dishes, to not have to plan meals way ahead of time, to feel catered to and nurtured through food.  I have been paying more attention to which restaurants focus on getting their food from local sources (not many restaurants, but a few).  We should cut back on the restaurants.  This makes me sad.  Part of the enjoyment of going out to eat is not just about the food, but about being out, being around people.  So addressing this hurdle is going to take a lot of work in terms of addressing isolation as well.  Another hurdle involves my dietary needs and the cost of food.  Since I have prediabetes, I focus on eating a lower-carb diet than most people, without sugar or refined grains.  I find I need good, regular sources of animal protein.  Local dairy and eggs are not hard to find at a good price, but meat is a lot harder.  I just tried to sign up for a local grass-fed meat CSA but I never heard back from them, so I’m worried about this.  I need to call them and find out what’s up.  I also need to be diligent about always, always buying local, grass-fed meat, even if it means spending a lot more– probably cutting out most of the restaurant visits would cover the cost of meat.  Another strategy I should look into more is arranging regular meals with friends where we focus on local food and having fun.

4. Eat less meat. Especially red meat.  Eat it grass fed.

Progress: I addressed some of this above, but I don’t think it’s a realistic goal for me to eat no meat or very little meat.  I can’t fall back on eating lots of bread or rice or pasta or potatoes as the backbone of a meal for me, because I don’t want to raise my blood sugar.  But I agree that limiting red meat and eating only grass fed meat is extremely important.  I have made some progress in this area, but not as much as I would like.

Next steps/hurdles:  I really, really need to find out why I haven’t heard back from the meat CSA.  I need to figure out what meat is available to me.  I need to say no to meat dishes in restaurants, but this would probably mean no more restaurant eating for me with only extremely rare exceptions, because it is still pretty difficult for me to order in restaurants as it is, let alone removing one of my mainstays– I can’t skip the meat, as well as the usual starch (usually potatoes and white bread), and expect to feel full and not dizzy.  I rely on omelettes a lot.

5. What you do buy, buy in bulk, bring your own packaging.

Progress: I love buying in bulk.  I started buying in bulk a few years back and haven’t looked back.

Next steps/hurdles: Although I have reduced the amount of packaging I use, I haven’t eliminated it.  I’m not sure if it’s possible to completely eliminate it but I would love to come close, and I need to examine my habits to see where and how I am using packaging and how I could avoid it.  One thing I realized lately is that cheese always seems to be sold in plastic wrap or containers; I should probably learn how to make cheese, but it feels daunting.

6. Big Box Boycott.

Progress: I’m doing quite well with this one.  It’s rare for me to set foot in a big box store at this point, including Whole Foods.

Next steps/hurdles: It’s harder, for me, to avoid purchasing things online sometimes.  This often carries some of the same problems as shopping at big box stores, although not across the board.  It is just too easy to do an online price comparison and assume that the vendor with the lowest price wins.  I do try to minimize shopping overall, including online, and if I buy online, I pay attention to where the item is shipping from and try to choose vendors that are closer, but I need to scrutinize those purchases as well and figure out if they are necessary, what the vendors are all about, and if the need can be fulfilled locally.

7. Reduce the amount of seafood you eat (especially shrimp and tuna).

Progress: I don’t eat very much seafood, but I could eat less than I do currently.  I already avoid tuna.  I don’t buy seafood to prepare at home, but I do sometimes order mostly salmon, calamari, clams, and mussels in restaurants.

Next steps/hurdles: I should not order seafood in restaurants.  Again, this runs into all the aforementioned issues with restaurant eating.  I’m surprised at how much of this exercise is making me conclude that I should eat way less at restaurants, and how sad it makes me, and worried that I will feel even more confined and isolated in my house.  Also I feel sad to think of giving up more foods that I enjoy and that are good for my prediabetic diet.

8. Clean it green. (Use homemade cleaners, and get rid of unnecessary clutter at home.)

Progress: I’m doing pretty well with this.  I have a book called “Clean Home, Clean Planet” that has some great recipes for homemade cleaning products, also relying primarily on baking soda and vinegar.  And I have purged a lot of junk from our home in the past five years.

Next steps/hurdles: There are still conventional cleaning products lingering in our house that we have had for years now, and for some reason I still haven’t gotten rid of them.  I think I was waiting for a hazardous waste collection, but I don’t think they take everyday cleaning products if I’m remembering right.  And there is always more stuff to get rid of in our house.  I especially want to target as much plastic and vinyl as possible.

9. Use less power, pay for green power, drive less.

Progress: I think we’re doing far better than the average American, but we could always do more.  We have all CFLs, all Energy Star appliances, a very tight Energy Star rated house, we unplug or use power strips, we turn off lights, we don’t own a dryer, we don’t use a television, we don’t crank up the heat when using the forced hot-air furnace, all the conventional advice.  We also opted for the extra green option on our electrical bill so we give money to renewable energy that way each month.  We own one car and try to minimize driving.

Next steps/hurdles:  Mostly I want to move as soon as possible to minimize our driving even more.

10. Be more joyful.

Okay, you know what, this is probably the hardest item on the list for me right now.  I still feel gratitude, I still make sure to tell my family I love them every day, I still try to count my blessings.  But I’m going to give myself a pass on this one right now and try to have faith that more joy will appear eventually.  I’m not giving up on joy, I’m just trying to validate my current state and not make myself feel even worse and self-blaming about it.



  1. Jen, I’m really enjoying reading your posts and I would so love to see you again someday, maybe next time we make it back east with the twins. I’m reading about your struggles with needing to eat meat to control your prediabetes versus feeling like you should eat less to be better to the planet, and I just want to give you a big hug and say “be nice to yourself!” You are doing SO MUCH MORE than most people, and thankfully you are really focusing on what *you* need to be and stay healthy. That’s so important – and while yes, eating less or even no meat is more eco-friendly in many ways, how much “less” is really does have to take into account a person’s health and metabolism. And this is coming from someone who’s been vegetarian since age 14.

    Do you remember leading up to the 2000 elections when folks in states where there was really no competition would pledge to vote Nader in exchange for someone voting Gore in a swing state? I’m mostly vegan these days – it works for me and always has, but I have several friends who simply can’t do it for health reasons (mostly iron issues) – so consider me your friend who eats no meat for you so that you can take care of yourself 🙂

    lots of love and hugs and kisses for you from your Ruby Amber in CA

  2. I LOVE this list – thank you for forwarding and re-sharing this. A lot of these are things our household wants to achieve also. As I see more and more of the stuff moved from the apartment being packed in boxes in the basement, I am realizing I CAN do with less. And I want to.

    Cannot wait until our next moments together (SOON!) 🙂

  3. Jen,
    SO much I want to respond to in your post and yet I have a 3 month old chewing on one of my hands while I type this. Let’s make a date for tea sometime soon – it would be great to talk more about all this!

  4. Hey Jen – So great to see your responses to these! You are too kind, by the way. And yes, I did mean your interpretation of “Save the World” – not my favorite phrase, but a shortcut, if you will. And, hopefully, it provides a sense of the urgency I feel. Maybe number 10 should include “be kind to yourself, and remember that change can be hard” – you are doing so much, and I for one am very thankful for all you do! Thanks for your offers of help, also, we’ll totally talk about that, although you seem to be a pretty busy lady! With love, A.

  5. Rebecca: you are a sweetie. I am moved by your offer to eat no meat on my behalf. I need a hankie now.

    Kristi: I have also found that moving to a new house was a powerful exercise in realizing how much can be packed away and how little most of it is needed! Can’t wait to see you on Saturday.

    Heather: I so completely understand about babies and accomplishing things like, oh, say, typing an entire sentence. With one hand. While breastfeeding. Yep. I know. I will call you.

    Adrie: Nope, I am not too kind. So there. 🙂 I have to agree, the phrase “save the world” does have that nice, concise, urgent ring to it. And I appreciate your further expounding on #10, which makes a huge difference to me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: