Holidays

A brief commentary about the use of the term “holidays” in the media.

I don’t mind the phrase “Merry Christmas.” I don’t mind the phrase “Happy Holidays” either. “Happy Hanukkah” and “Joyous Kwanzaa” are good too. I get various forms of “Blessed Solstice.” Festivus. Wikipedia has a nice list.

What I find interesting is the use of the generic “holidays” with obvious Christmas imagery.

I would like to point to two Glade candle commercials.

The first is from 2008, the second from 2011.


(2008)


(2011)

The first one has gingerbread men, which is a fairly Christmasy tradition. The second uses the phrase “make your holidays come alive.” They never specifically say Christmas, but their visuals include things from gingerbread men, a Christmas tree, Frosty the Snowman, and even Santa Claus.

I will now point you towards Maria Bamford’s Target Christmas Sale ads.

These creep me out. There are many, many things awful about them. However, she just right out and says it.

While it’s easy to argue that “holidays” is more inclusive, it feels disingenuous to assume that using the phrase makes it okay to then have Santa Claus. I don’t think it’s wrong to have Santa, I just think it’s ridiculous to use the phrase “holidays” and Santa in the same image.

Advertisements

Debt

One of the reasons I chose to go to Pitt was because it was cheaper than my other options. It was also in a better climate (for my tastes), had more options for me to explore, and it felt like the place I needed to be.

Of course, I took out student loans.

I have a total of seven loans with Sallie Mae. Data ranges from 10/26/2009 – 11/29/2011

Loan Original Current Amount Owed Total Payments Interest rate
1-01

5,000

$5,583.50

515.32

3.0%

1-03

5,000

$5,270.90

509.78

3.0%

1-04

3,500

$3,651.18

336.47

3.0%

1-05

6,000

$7,244.74

1,306.55

9.75%

1-06

3,500

$3,743.36

517.90

6.875%

1-07

1,700

$1,929.69

380.68

9.875%

1-08

7,000

$7,615.85

1,526.80

10.125%

$31,700

$35,212.68

5,093.50

 

Upon doing this tedious work, I have realized that since November 1st, my interest rates have risen! Where there used to be 6.75%, 9.75%, and 10% there is now 6.875%, 9.875%, and 10.125%!

I consider myself lucky because I have a job.

I had a lot of trouble finding a job and making payments since I graduated. (I’ll save my sob story for later.) I ended up on interest only repayments.

Interest only thing confuses me. Regularly I find myself faced with screens like this:

A screen shot of a page from my Sallie Mae account displaying the difference between that is labeled as "accrued interest" and the minimum payment due for an "interest only" loan.

Damn.

If my interest is more than the payment, isn’t it not an interest only payment? Isn’t it like a “less than interest” payment? To be safe, I pay above the accrued amount rather than the ‘pay this amount’ amount. But, when I do this, I have to allocate the extra to someplace specific. This is cool, because I can work on paying off my scary loan the most quickly. The downside to this is not knowing if all the interest is really being paid off each loan! I’m hoping to embark on a complex, tedious mathematical tracking of my individual loans to see what happens. I say hoping because I will likely forget. Unless I add it to my finance spreadsheet. I do love fidgeting with my finance spreadsheet. In general, I find the Sallie Mae website to be especially unhelpful because it doesn’t show me these things. I have to figure them out myself, which is rather pedantic and probably not the best use of my time.

Due to the angst my loans have caused me over the years, I found myself really inspired by Lawrence Weschler’s article in The Stranger calling for people to stop paying their loans. InsideHigherEd also had a brief piece mentioning it in their ‘Quick Takes’ section. The franchisation of the Occupy Movement (which I don’t judge the way I do TEDx) has led to Occupy Student Debt, which doesn’t make such a dramatic call for action as Weschler does. Rather they point to a Change.Org Petition calling for Sallie Mae to cease requiring Forbearance Fees if one is unable to pay their loans.

As someone who used the forbearance option quite heavily in my less employed days, I can tell you that when you can’t afford a 200/month loan payment, you certainly can’t afford the forbearance fees.

I found the idea of just stopping loan payments quite enticing. I recognize that I borrowed money and I should pay it back. This isn’t about whether or not higher education should be affordable (it should), it’s about the fact I made a promise to pay back money I borrowed (borrowed is the key word). The interest, even the higher rates, are somewhat reasonable. Interest accruing at quite a rate (even before graduation!), with high forbearance fees, and little to no wiggle room is ridiculous. When I was looking at money saving options, I did not qualify for anything Income Based. They told me, at the time, that my options were “income based,” “interest only,” or forbearance. They said they would figure out how much I would owe with IB, and if it was below IO, I’d have to pay IO. I’ve heard varying experiences from various people I know. Finding a job, any job, within the short period of time they give you post-graduation is nearly impossible–much less one that affords you the ability to pay your loans.

The Onion brings attention to one of the most fundamental problems of looking for a job: they don’t exist where you need them to. Post-graduation, as many people do, I considered the worth of moving in with my parents. It would be cheaper than living on my own. I wouldn’t have to pay rent. I also wouldn’t have a job. Clarkdale, Arizona is a lovely place, but it’s not exactly the employment rich land I needed. (Getting a job with an HPS degree that isn’t ‘graduate student’ is actually quite difficult, with more employers searching for people with specific degree types for entry level positions.)

In short, loan payments are hard to make, due largely to the inability for people to find employment that affords them luxury of paying rent and loans–not to mention the misc expenses of things like utilities, food, medical care, and beer. (I had this interesting situation where I could have had a job if I had better clothes, but I couldn’t afford better clothes because I didn’t have a job. In the end someone I know lent me ten bucks to get an outfit that I wore every day for two weeks until I got paid the first time. P.S. ‘Beer’ is a joke there.) This sort of living also causes stress, depression, and ulcers.

Yay, ulcers.

So, while I would enjoy not having to pay the $700/month I ought to be paying on my loans, I don’t expect that to be the case. I expect to pay back everything I borrowed (and then quite a bit more). But I also expect people to not be dicks about it. Taking a stand against a broken system is an important thing to do. Words stop being enough, and action comes into play. Financial action has been a successful tool of protests all over. Not paying loans seems like a great idea to take a stand. It’s a dangerous stand, but if others would do it, I would not only be willing (and scared), but I would be happy (and scared out of my wits) to participate. The system of lending and borrowing is not broken, the companies that run this system are.

Then my reasonable side asked me “What happens when you don’t pay your loans?” I made some calls and did some digging. Here’s what I found out.

After not paying on my loans for 45 days, the guarantor will take over. A guarantor has the right to garnish from your wages. Therefore, even if I stopped paying, I would be forced to pay and kick my credit score in the head. This option is really only useful if you don’t have any wages to garnish. Basically, us employed people can’t stand in functional solidarity with our less-employed brethren.

The guarantor for my loans, I learned, is HEMAR Insurance Corp. of America. They don’t have a website, but they do have an office in Sioux Falls, ND. According to this 1994 article, HICA is a subsidiary of Sallie Mae. I didn’t spent the energy to confirm this. It seemed hard to do.

So, if I stopped paying on my loans, Sallie Mae would transfer them to another part of Sallie Mae and then garnish my wages. Fun.

However, there is still hope for people who do not have loans with Sallie Mae–or guarantors that are not the corporation who also owns the loans. If enough of you, i.e. millions (not one million, but plural of millions), all stopped paying AT THE SAME TIME it would be hard to manage that much buying of debt and theoretical money being passed around.

But, really, are millions of us ready to do that?

Food

Airline food has always been this strange thing for me.

As a kid, at one point my mom was trying to be healthier or something and ordered a vegetarian meal on a plane. This was at breakfast. It amazed me, this bowl of fruit she was given. It just looked so tasty. Since she was my mom, she shared, of course.

Since I’ve been doing this “requesting food on international flights” thing, I’ve seen a range in terms of how it works to have special dietary preferences or requirements. When I flew back from Korea, they made a mistake and didn’t actually set things up for my “special meal request,” as they like to call it. Instead, they offered me a side dish of kimchi, since that was all they had that was vegetarian.

It was a hungry flight.

On my trip to and from Wales, there was some wackiness in planning (as in there wasn’t any. However, on this flight (run by American Airlines) they said that their standard meal options were vegetarian and non-vegetarian. A special request, in this case, was not necessary or even possible. On my flight back, they ran out of vegetarian meals before they got to me, and instead compensated with extra generous portions of their salad, rolls, and crackers.

My most recent adventure, a trip to England, had a very real, simple, and strange experience in classism on the way out. The oven broke and we had no food while first class still had hot food. Part of the strangeness of this came from the stewardesses being snippy about it and American Airlines not offering us any compensation, which seems to be something airlines do when they inconvenience people.  For this flight, I had gone out of the way to triple check the vegan status of my ticket. I even called. I assume my meal was vegan or something, or would have been had I seen it. The margarine that came with it, however, contained whey. This was weird, because they went out of their way to offer a vegan meal request without it actually being so. As I realized this, I had these horrific images flash through my head of vegetarians with whey allergies going into anaphylactic shock on planes.

However, my meal was obviously supposed to be different from the standard. Other people got cookies, I got fruit. However, it’s worth noting that the bread and crackers they gave me were the same as they gave everyone else. For their “snack” they told me there were no special options—it was exactly the same as those next to me—but they kept the yogurt out of mine when I requested it.

On my flight back (still American—and I’m on it RIGHT NOW), I was hooked up with a special meal request. As opposed to the American flight out, the oven was working. This time, the guy sitting next to me also requested a vegetarian meal (not vegan). We got the same food. It also happened to be gluten free, low-sodium, wheat-free, and a few other things. In short: healthy. Everything special was in one go. It also wasn’t vegan! There were eggs and milk in the snack and whey in the margarine. But there was a rice cake. Man, I love rice cakes. Seriously craving some with nutritional yeast on them now.

 

 

Plans

I have lots of plans. For example, plans of things I wish to blog about but don’t–either due to time or inspiration.

Veganism
Why I became a vegan in the first place, why I became a vegetarian in the first place, how my opinions on both of these have changed, and how I wish I could give them up but I can’t.

Donations
My parents donated to Wikipedia and Wikileaks. Previously, they have donated to SIAI (the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence) and the Hunger Project. Dad normally makes a point to also donate to microfinance groups. I have donated to MSF, but no longer do so. I have also donated to BNB, and would like to do so more. I would really like to find a good water infrastructure group, but they’re all kind of a let down in the end.

Citizen Photojournalism
Why I believe that, for the most part, photojournalists aren’t people and citizen photojournalists are leeches. I cannot emphasize “for the most part” enough here.

Seeing the Protomen At PAX
And how much I loved it.

Seeing the Protomen at the Middle East
And how it scared me.

The Death of Steve Jobs
And incidentally Iilya Zhitomirskiy. I don’t care that either of these people have died and I sort of think it’s important to explain why.

Paterno
As a Pennsylvanian (almost the same way as someone whose parents moved to the US from Italy is Italian–almost) I have strong feelings about what happened, as do many people I know. However, I think this is really just window dressing for a bigger issue in which I think we shouldn’t vilify pedophiles and how they need help. The relevance of this has almost passed out of the news. I also think writing it would get me into a lot of trouble. Part of why I want to is so people will argue with me about it and help me shape my argument.

Oh dear gods, these are just the ones I’ve been thinking about today. I have a backlog list of others.

Borders

I’m bad at going through border control. Every time I pass across a national boundary, my passport is checked. I am asked questions. I try to be friendly and truthful. I am nervous. I stutter and stumble and do what I always do when I am nervous: keep talking.

At the border into Canada, the guard asked “Where do you live?” “Boston,” I told him happily. “Where do you live?” I asked back. I was trying to be friendly, assuming he was doing the same. He gave me A Look and said, sternly, “Canada.”

I realized he wasn’t just being friendly.

The first time I went to the UK, I told the lady I was going to Filey. She told me she’d never heard of Filey and wasn’t sure it was a real place. “It’s near Scarborough,” I said. She frowned and after a few moments put the first stamp into my nearly expired passport.

The second time I went to the UK, the man asked me why I was there.

“I’m going to see my boyfriend’s parents,” I said.

“Where’s he?”

“Er, already here.”

“Already here? Why’s he already here?”

“He lives here.”

“Were you a student here?” He paged through my passport, looking for evidence of a visa.

“No,” I said.

“Was he a student there?”

“He’s twenty-eight.” I felt as though this explained everything that needed to be explained.

“So his parents live in Cambridge?”

“No, they live in Cardiff.”

“But your card says Cambridge?”

“Well, uhh, we’re going to Cardiff later.”

“You’re only here until Monday.” It was Saturday morning.

“Yeah.”

“When are you going to go to Cambridge.”

“Today?” I said helplessly.

He smiled.

“Why’s your passport so beat up?” He tried to sound more friendly. I must have looked scared.

“I carry it with me.”

“No other ID?”

“I have a driver’s license too.”

“This is really beat up.”

“I’ve had it for a few years.”

“This much damage comes from carrying it around for a few years?”

“I guess.”

He pages through my passport some more.

“You lived in Korea?” He thumbs the page with my Korean visa on it.

“Yeah.”

“And Russia?” He looks at that Visa.

“No. I was just there visiting.”

“Why were you in Russia?”

“I’d been living in Mongolia. It was a good way to get home.”

He broke. “Mongolia? What were you doing in Mongolia? How was it?”

I told him.

“Do you speak Mongolian? Can you say something in it? Where did you live? Was it beautiful? Did you ride a horse?” His questions came quickly. While I talked he nodded and looked at the other stamps.

“What about Iceland? I hear Iceland is nice in the summer.”

“We went in the winter.”

“Did you see the aurora?”

“Yeah, once night.”

“Is it as great in person as it looks in pictures?”

“Yeah, it’s amazing.”

He looked up at me and smiled.

“I hope you find something amazing here too.” He stamped my passport with a heavy mechanical click and handed it back to me.

Cake, 02

I had a cake vision.

It all started with DH turning 29. When he turned 28, we made him a chocolate and cardamon ice cream cake. I asked him what sort of cake he wanted this year and he made noises about the peanut butter and jelly cake (based on the recipe based on Julia’s.) The pb&j cake involved cutting the sugar and, instead, using the coconut milk as the basis for a coconut/strawberry/maple smoothie which went into the cake.

It’s a pretty dense cake, but it’s moist and fairly good, I think. (The pb came from an icing that was accidentally made and really fluffy and good.)

He also made noises about vegan cheesecake. I have never made a vegan cheesecake that was what I wanted it to be, but they’re still tasty nonetheless. I wasn’t confident in my ability to put together a cheesecake that would feed everyone and taste good and look good. At least, compared to the cheesecakes of Veggie Galaxy.

I considered this, and DH’s love of layered cakes. From this, DH’s 29th Birthday Cake Tri-Level Spectacular was born.

Or, in the words of someone at the party, “Yo dog, I heard you like cake, so I put a cake in your cake, so you could eat cake while you eat cake.”

Step one, make a vegan cheesecake.

SDS passed me a copy of the cheesecake from The Joy of Vegan Baking, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

6 tsp Ener-G
1/2 cup water
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
24 oz (690 g) nondairy cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

I made it without the chocolate chips. Bake at 350 for about fifty minutes. It took me longer, but I think our oven wasn’t that hot. The cake puffed up and then sunk. In the end, it was a heavily custardy concoction. It was tasty, but, like all of the vegan cheesecakes I have made, not quite what I wanted. Maybe I’ll try some agar-agar next time.

I made the cheesecake Friday night.

Step two, melt chocolate.

I’ve had fancy cakes in the past that involve layers that add textures of creamy fillings, crunchy bits, and cake. I wanted to create something that involved a mixture of layer textures. I wanted to get something a little crunchier into it. I thought about some other ways to manage this, but I wanted to start with a fairly simple, low risk method. Hence, chocolate.

Saturday morning, I melted a bag of chocolate chips using a college student’s double boiler (two pots that vaguely fit together.) If the cheesecake had been a little firmer, I would have liked to coat both sides of the cake with it, but it got gooey when I tried to remove it from the spring form pan. with a sigh, I spread the melted chocolate over one side of the cheesecake and reintroduced it to the freezer.

Step three, make the cake.

I doubled my standard cake recipe and cooked it in two spring form pans. The strawberries failed to shot up, so instead I heated the liquid and used it to brew a chocolate-cardamon black tea to give it a unique little kick. I cooked each of these in a spring form pan.

I like to use spring form pans while making “pretty” cakes because they have nice even (straight) edges that stack well and are easy to remove the cake from.

Then we, through acts of balance involving plates, spring form pan bottoms, baking sheets, and lots of elbow room, stacked the cakes on top of one another. They were then coated in some store brought frosting–that looked more like icing–and concentric spirals of raspberries and blueberries were placed on top to make it pretty.

I think the cake was tasty, but I think the cake parts were a little too dense, and the “cheesecake in the middle” was much more like a layer of custard and much less like a cheesecake in the middle of a cake. Making a less dense cake part is pretty easy, but I’m not sure the best way to try and make the cheesecake part more like my grand vision of the cake.

Fly, 02

Many people have been linking to things about Mrs. Shoshana Hebshi’s experience on Frontier Airlines Flight 623. I think awareness of what has happened, is happening, on planes is good. But, it’s not enough.

I wrote the following letter and e-mailed and mailed it to the TSA and Frontier Airlines. I implore you to write your own letter to these people.

You can reach the TSA:

Phone: 1-877-EEO-4-TSA (1-877-336-4872).

E-mail: TSA.Civilrights@dhs.gov.

Mail:

Jennifer K. Carmichael, Director
Transportation Security Administration
Office of Civil Rights and Liberties (TSA -6)
601 12th Street
Arlington, VA 20598-6006

Frontier Airlines has a contact page with a webform.

You can also

Call: 800-432-1359 (“other options” then “complaints and compliments”)

Write:

Attn: Customer Relations
Frontier Airlines, Inc.
7001 Tower Road
Denver, CO 80249-7312

My letter.

Jennifer K. Carmichael, Frontier Airlines,

I’m not going to talk about laws, policies, or practices right now. I’m not going to talk about rights, safety, or balance. I’m not going to talk about my political opinions. I am going to talk about manners.

When I walk into someone on the street, I apologize. When I spill a drink, I apologize. When I fight with my roommates, we apologize. We don’t act like children, refusing to say anything or letting bitter, meaningless words escape. We explain, and we mean it.

Frontier said it wasn’t going to apologize to Flight 623 passenger Shoshana Hebshi, or the two men who sat in her row, because, they said, safety is the most important thing. Apologies are not about whether anyone thinks what happened is justifiable: apologies are about recognizing that you were wrong. Frontier, and the security officials, was wrong and this resulted in three people being inconvenienced and humiliated.

When you inconvenience and humiliate someone, you should apologize. You might think what you did had reasons, and they might be good, understandable reasons, but you still apologize. When you make a mistake, you thank the person you put out, especially someone as understanding, polite, and polished as Shoshana Hebshi has proven herself to be, for their time. Then you apologize.
The least they could do is apologize to people they wrongly accused of being terrorists.

Director Carmichael, I also think you should apologize to the three people on Frontier Airlines Flight 623. I think you should apologize to everyone who has felt uncomfortable, unsafe, or discriminated against in their experiences with the new security measures, but it is imperative that you apologize to Shoshana Hebshi and the two men that were sitting next to her. Tell them you’re sorry.

However, I do understand that you may not be entirely comfortable, or familiar, with offering apologies. I believe DeBrett’s does a good job clearly stating the things I learned when I was a child. If you read over these guidelines, and follow them, even the hardest apology will be a breeze. If you’re not sure how to word it, I will happily help you.

A sincere apology should always be offered when your actions have had a negative impact on other people. Even if you do not fully understand why someone is so upset, respect their feelings, and accept that your actions are the root of the problem. Don’t pass the buck, or use your apology as a way of blaming someone else. Take full responsibility for your actions.

 

An apology will be much more persuasive if you acknowledge the fault: “I’m sorry I was so late” is more specific than a simple “I’m sorry”, and actually recognises the other person’s grievance. Never temper your apologies with accusations or insinuations: it will negate its impact. If you have committed a real faux-pas consider sending a handwritten note – but only after you have offered a verbal apology, otherwise it will look like cowardice.

Faithfully yours,
M.

Dinner, 01

For dinner last night I made, well, I made “what can I do with that’s in the fridge?”

I’d requested some leafy greens, for my own obsession with raw ones. Kale was acquired, and since I don’t really enjoy raw kale, I cooked it up.

The kale was from market basked. Who knows where it came from.

A good way to cook things like kale or collards if you’re feeling lazy is to put some broth in a pan and toss the greens in. We have knorr vegetarian vegetable bullion available.

The bullion contains the following ingredients:

Salt, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oils, Monosodium Glutamate, Yeast Extract, Dehydrated Vegetables (Onion, Cabbage, Carrots, Parsley, Garlic), Sugar, Corn Starch, Spices, Caramel and Turmeric for Color, Disodium Inosinate, Citric Acid.

Knorr is owned by Unilever. Unilever is huge. They say they’re into sustainability. I’m not sure where it’s made or where its ingredients come from.

I e-mailed Unilever about the bullion, so we’ll see. I think I need to do more research before I can talk about what’s in these, even in a general sense.

There was brown rice. I forget the brand name. No one is home to check.

I also made a sort of salsa, containing corn, tomatoes, basil, and garlic from our CSA. World PEAS is located in Lowell, MA. World PEAS is a member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association and describes their farming practices as “naturally grown.” They have some association with Tufts.

I’m going to miss out CSA in the winter.

There was also some jalapeno from our garden.

I heated some peanut oil up.

The peanut oil is Hollywood Peanut Oil.

It contains: Peanut oil, dl-beta-tocopheryl acetate and dl-beta-tocopheryl

This means “peanut oil and vitamin E.”

Hollywood is part of the Hain Celestial Group, which includes a bunch of other companies like Celestial Seasonings, Arrowhead Mills, WestSoy, Walnut Acres, Rice Dream, Avalon, Alba, and JASON (to name a few).

I cooked the garlic, jalapeno, and basil for a bit in the oil while I cut up the tomatoes and cut the corn off the cob.

These were added together and mixed.

We had some tortillas that were used to eat it, but I used a bowl and spoon.

Conscious

I needed new bedsheets. Need is a strong word, I wanted them. I wanted them because the old ones were pilling–or whatever it’s called when they start to get little fuzzies on them. I wanted to brighten up my room and begin to consider the possibility of decorating (we just signed a new lease, so I guess I’m really living here). I was at brunch and wanted to stop at Target on the way home. I looked at the more independent stores (all smaller chains) and they’re prohibitively expensive. (I can’t afford to spend $400 on bedsheets.) I could go to the Goodwill, but, I’ll be honest, the idea of having bedsheets I -know- a stranger had sex in kind of squicks me out. (I lie to myself about hotel sheets.) I could order on line, but the shipping costs, wait time, inability to -feel- the sheets before purchasing them, and our neighbor’s arguments against ordering online (it in actually no way benefits the community), make it hard for me to justify going to Amazon. Target it is!

We were discussing the best way to get to there. Specifically, we were considering the worth of going there through the front of the back and various routes to either of these ways. Then someone said “Target? You must hate gay people.”

He was being tongue-in-cheek with that comment. He wasn’t seriously accusing me of hating gay people (I don’t), but he was talking about Target’s monetary hatred of gay people.

In 2010, Target donated money to a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate who, among other things, said that a marriage is between “a man and a woman.” At least, that’s what the news stories said. In truth, Target donated money to Minnesota Forward, which created an advert for Emmer, the gubernatorial candidate in question. Emmer, among other stances, supports a high speed national rail network and lower taxes, has a “general hostility towards clean energy,” (Grist, 2010), and has made a bit of noise about pro-business legislation.

I like to think that Target, a Minnesota based company, donated to a pro-business Minnesota candidate rather than an anti-gay Minnesota candidate, but I can’t prove that. Regardless, that’s generally not considered to make a difference. They supported a candidate is against something that a lot of people I know are for.

Whole Foods is a lot like this as well, though no one I know talks about whether or not we should shop there. I sort of don’t like them because they began this Seafood Rating program once upon a time. They rate how sustainable the wild caught seafood they have is. One of their options is “avoid.” However, they still sell these things that ought to be avoided. Their meats are step rated usingThe 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating Standards. Not all their meat is at the highest standards, and price, obviously goes up. I think it’s sort of hypocritical of them to talk about these things being important, but still offering “less good” alternatives.

Luckily, I don’t eat meat.

I do, however, eat vegetables. And help buy groceries for a house of seven (plus) people. Every time we make a purchase, we weigh the cost of being environmentally friendly, being friendly to what we (a bunch of variously employed hippies, technohippies, and hippie like people) can afford, and our desires. “Local” usually means “North East” during the summers with a goal for “US” during the winters. We cheat and buy avocados year round because we all love them so. We are beyond capable of consuming bananas like crazy, much to the chagrin of one of our more aware members.

Don’t even get me started on trying to pick good versions of good options.

Our massive soy consumption is fueling the international soy trade, which tears down rainforests and displaces people in order to grow enough soy. So we have to make sure we get soy that was grown in the USA, but a lot of that comes from factory farms. Earth Balance, a vegan alternative to butter, is good because it’s vegan, but is uses palm oil, which is bad for the same reasons international soy is bad.

A lot of things which appear “good” have these insidious underbellies of consumption. (Does that phrase look as ridiculous to you as it does to me?)

“Plug in” electric cars would save on batteries and be cool and all, but the power would still be coming from -somewhere-. The U.S. Energy Information Administration cites in their Annual Energy Outlook for 2011 that the majority of US energy comes from liquid (petroleum, liquids from coal, natural gas liquids), and, overall, “renewable” sources are the second smallest minority, eclipsing biofuels by quite a bit. Nuclear, barely surpassing renewable resources, is expected to be overtaken by more “green” (not toxic green) energy well before 2035.

In short, even if you have a plug in electric, you’re still likely powering it through that stuff we’re supposed to be using less of.

Being a half-awake consumer is really easy. It’s not hard to keep up with a few things going on, but to be a conscious, fully awake and ready to run consumer takes a lot of work. I can’t keep up on all of these things–it took me nearly forty minutes of reading papers and googling just to find out about electric batteries, the plug in plan, and the way we actually get most of our plug in power.

I spent about a minute googling “target gay controversy” and then another find to find out how the money really flowed and then three more looking up what else Emmer said, because, let’s be honest, it’s damn near impossible to find a candidate with whom you agree on every issue. I was hoping that maybe while he was against gay marriage, he might be down with abortions or helping the homeless.

My written manner of thinking about how overwhelming it feels to try and “vote with my money” doesn’t so much talk about a point as it does illustrate it: being feet on the ground running conscious is hard. It’s not just enough to be awake and be aware of what is going on–or at least it doesn’t feel that way. When everyone has a cause, merely picking one and dedicating yourself to it isn’t enough when it comes to all the other causes people you have to interact with.

This isn’t to say being a conscious consumer isn’t something we should do. No, we should all strive to think about where our things come from. We should think about, and be aware, of what the costs are in our food and cars, what it means to purchase from someone who donates money to a political candidate (-any- political candidate). Wikipedia has a list of consumer watch organizations to help make this process easier. The Consumerist is a popular website that does this as well, full of user accounts. (It informs me of Target’s anti-union activities.) But sometimes all the effort feels overwhelming and I want to give up and eat an avocado, lettuce, tomato, tempeh, and veganaise sandwich in the winter. And sometimes I just want new bedsheets.

Snapshot, 07

We were pulled over at the side of the road. The rain poured. It lashed against my helmet and the hood of my rain jacket, amplifying the sound so it thundered in my ears. My fingertips, exposed, fought against the wet map, I frowned and looked around, trying to figure out where we were in relation to the neat lines that didn’t resemble the real world at all. To our right was a field of sunflowers, vivid yellow against the grey, grey sky.