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Friday, March 02, 2007

Our Two Localist Resolutions

I've written before about the relationship between health and the land, about being "crunchy" and countercultural, and a whole lot about simplicity. The question should be asked then: what do we actually do to live in accordance with all of the above? And the answer is: not enough.

Mostly, I read, write, and think about all these issues, rather than agitate on their behalf. (Melissa is the same; over the next two months, she'll lead a couple of book groups through both Wendell Berry and Rod Dreher.) This is not because I lack good examples--on the contrary, I regularly check up on bloggers who all, in one or way or another, strive to work these kind of environmentalist/localist/anticorporate values and practices into their daily lives (I'm thinking in particular of Hugo Schwyzer, Lee at A Thinking Reed, Kim-loi Mergenthaler, Daniel and Maclin at Caelum et Terra, and Rick Saenz, an agrarian blogger I've just discovered who recently wrote a post teaching me everything I'll ever need to know about having one's own pig). But getting inspired while sitting here at my desk, reading the computer in between classes and committee meetings and student conferences, doesn't always translate into a plan for action once I get home. We do a few things fairly well, I think. I ride my bike to work, we shop at the farmer's market, support local companies and avoid Wal-Mart when we can. But surely, if I'm as serious about this stuff as my long posts would suggest, we ought to take it to the next level, shouldn't we?

Well, this year Melissa and I have stumbled upon a couple of programs that--well, to be truthful, we're not really going to live fully in accordance with, but which we are using as guidelines to try to orient ourselves a little bit more to this kind of simpler, more producer-oriented life. One is the 100-mile Diet: a commitment to "eating locally," or specifically eating nothing produced outside of a 100-mile limit from one's home, for a full year. The other is The Compact: a commitment to avoid the consumer culture by refusing to by anything new--to only barter, borrow, or buy used--for a full year.

As I said, we're talking "guidelines" here. The founders of the 100-mile Diet movement, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, jumped headfirst into their commitment, and found it enormously difficult...and they lived in Vancouver, Canada, and had no kids. Raising four children in Wichita, KS, having just moved into a new home, with money fairly tight, is an entirely different proposition. So we're taking it a step at a time--slowly working all the meat out of our diet that doesn't come from local producers (though I doubt I'll ever be able to content myself with Kansas catfish alone...), finding local honey and butter, searching for various non-typical Kansas items--beverages, some fruits, etc.--available within a short drive from our home, and, of course, planning for a real garden for the first time. It's a work in progress. Given how much Melissa and enjoy fine food (to say nothing of deserts), we'll probably never want to subject everything we eat or feed our children to the 100-mile rule, whether within this coming year or ever. But the benefits of at least trying--developing relationships with local farmers and producers, eating fresher food and healthier diet (less processed food, more vegetables), teaching ourselves some local discipline--will be more than worth it, I think.

Similarly with The Compact. Once again, this is a program started by childless urban professionals, this bunch in San Francisco. And so, again, our adoption of it has to go at a different pace. Rather than saying "no" to buying new stuff and then making a few exceptions here and there, we've started with the exceptions: no new clothes (Melissa has become a master at scoping out consignment stores) or toys (garage sales are our friend) or furniture (which means that, over three months after moving in to our house, the upstairs living room is still bare carpet) or appliances. If we can make that work for a year--and I think we can--perhaps we'll be ready to take it to yet a higher level. And in any case, if this means we have a family commitment to fall back on when we feel pressured to buy one of the girls some crappy Barbie to take to a birthday party she may have been invited to, and instead we'll be obliged to actually, say, think about the gift to be given for more than a day or two beforehand, and perhaps be able to actually involve our daughter in making that gift...well, there's a teaching moment and a family project, all wrapped up into one.

Perhaps, come the winter, I'll blog on how we've done with these two resolutions. In the meantime, wish us luck.


David Watkins said...

Bill McKibben gave a talk at UW last year, and he had nothing but good things to say about his year on the 100 mile diet. Of course, he lives in Vermont, the land of a thousand organic farms...

I flirt with the idea on Sundays at the farmers Market, and Seattle is certainly a good place to do it.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Your thoughts are on-point, David. The difficultly we will have with living the 100-mile diet is directly related to the fact that we don't live in either a cosmopolitan center of trade like Seattle or Vancouver, or in a place like Vermont which still has a lot of local economies intact. In some ways, living in accordance with an agrarian/producerist ethos in America today is probably often easier in metropolitan areas, given that so many rural areas, unlike Vermont, haven't managed to preserve much local ownership or diversity in production.

David Watkins said...

Yeah, I don't know much about the farming practices around Wichita, but I can't imagine it would be easy. I've actually been giving some thought to creating my own variant of the 100 mile diet, in which I indulge my localist tendencies (as much local food as possible) with my cosmopolitan ones (make a point to learn a great deal more about cooking more globally--thai and malaysian cooking classes, actually go beyond the handful of recipies I'm comfortable with in my Indian and Italian cookbooks, etc). Thus, the information/technique/practices would be both global and local, but the consumption would be almost entirely local, and once I'm more familiar with the cooking techniques of more cuisines, I could try to adapt them more and more to the food that's locally available.

To do this as seriously as I'd like would require more rigor and discipline than I evidently have, but it's fun to think about, and I've actually made a few steps in that direction.

Anonymous said...

We're enjoying the local farmer's market. Being in a Mennonite area of Kentucky helps.

For the non-food purchases, I'm getting good results with our local freecycle group ( freecycle.org ).