Friday, January 29, 2010

Backstory Part III

The third and final installment of the "how I got here" story...

Before moving to the east coast I had taken an interest in archery and this lead me to bow hunting. While hunting I came face-to-face with the reality of meat and exactly how an animal becomes food. It was also around the time of this move that we started taking a look at the anti-Wal-Mart hype. While we had shopped at Wal-Mart from time to time, I frequently found myself aggravated with the experience. I decided to try and find out why.

While I found books on Wal-Mart and organic foods, my wife was looking into childbirth and the medical industry. When our son started having unexplained seizures at age six, the doctors at the hospital had absolutely no explanation and our motivation for answers grew. It turns out that the over-the-counter allergy medicine we were giving our son each spring causes seizures in a small percent of people; mostly children. None of the doctors to whom we are still paying bills had ever heard of such a thing. Money well spent.

Around this time I had made a complaint among my college friends about how difficult it is to reduce one's carbon footprint even when trying to do so. I was admonished by a vegan friend who suggested that I could do a lot more by simply not eating meat. I decided to really examine this perspective which lead me to more information about Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations, food transportation, and why eating locally is important. Now I was torn between local and organic and found it seemingly impossible to reconcile the two.

We never did find a local brew shop in Wilmington that could get us anything we couldn't find online from the same origin or closer. We never found a local butcher. Seriously. The local supermarkets would reluctantly hand-cut shipped-in raw meat but did not want to have to clean the slicer for a private order. I ended up buying a meat slicer online because no one in Wilmington that I could find sold such an item (I did not check Wal-Mart).

On top of all of this, we were appalled by both the school food and the local school system. One day we picked our son up from school when he was on the verge of tears. We had to pull from him that the school was having a "McDonald's Day" that Friday and that, while he didn't want to let his class down, he didn't want to eat McDonald's food. Now the school has made me a bad parent for teaching my kid to eat better. When I emailed the principal, I was informed it was not a school program, but a PTA fundraiser, never mind the giant banner in the school entryway and the competition between classrooms for participation. The PTA cashed my enclosed check for the "recommended contribution" plus what an average family might generously spend at McDonald's, but never responded to my letter. Still, that wasn’t the last straw.

My wife was reading articles by John Taylor Gatto and decided it would be a good idea to volunteer at the school library to help out. One afternoon the school went on “lock-down”, which means the lights went off, the shades were pulled, and the kids all got on the floor while police searched the school. Once the police cleared the building, the shades remained closed and no children were allowed outside without an adult escort for the rest of the day. It turns out someone down the street had been shot and the police were looking for the shooter. Now I don’t have a problem with the lock-down procedure, what I have a problem with is that the school did not tell any parents about it. The only reason we knew about it was because my wife happened to be there that day. How do you put kids through something like that and not mention it to the parents? After one year in the local, public school and three and a half months in the local magnet school, we removed our child from compulsory education and started a homeschool, but not without threat of litigation. Schools get money based on attendance now, so every child counts at least as far as the budget is concerned.

We were reading books like Crunchy Cons (Dreher), When Corporations Rule the World (Korten), Deep Economy (McKibben), The Ecology of Commerce (Hawken), The Great Turning (Korten), Choice (Bender & de Gramont), Conscious Conception (Baker & Baker), The Empty Cradle (Longman) (a disturbing book on several levels), and The Wal-Mart Effect (Fishman). We saw documentaries such as Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, Why We Fight, The Fog of War - Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, The Corporation, and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. We began to really reconsider how we live and how to live better.

By the time I was able to secure work and move our family back to the northwest, we had become staunch anti-Wal-Mart, anti-industrial, organic-foods, homeschooling, label-reading shoppers. Once again, change seems to be easier when habits change. We now found ourselves closer to home, but in no context with which we were familiar as our habits and priorities had so dramatically shifted. We found that the neighborhood Fred Meyer's (now owned by Kroger) "natural" section closely resembled the co-op we belonged to on the east coast. We were relieved to find a supply of natural and organic products, but we soon discovered a local butcher and several local markets sprinkled about the area. It was as if we had stumbled into the perfect storm of local access and organic options. We were also able to gain access to a much more user-friendly library than we had been to in years. Instead of buying a few books a year I was now able to borrow a few books a week and learn much more about local and sustainable. The book Plan B 3.0 by Lester Brown shook my world all over again. We planted a vegetable garden, started raising chickens, learned canning, freezing, pickling and jam making. I continued homebrewing and making sausage and jerky.

Which brings the whole story up to speed. We are now several years into this journey and we are making progress, but we can always do better. Our worldview has changed some, but what has really changed is how we interact with the world and our environment. We are learning to consume less, produce more, and be more involved with our own lives.

It will be interesting to see what happens next.

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