“Man is not imprisoned by habit. Great changes in him can be wrought by crisis–once that crisis can be recognized and understood. “

30 Apr

Maybe he’s right.

Maybe the anxiety I hold watching the news is eating me up, slowly without notice.

Food Crisis. Water Crisis. Peak Oil.

Another plastic bag flutters past my eye, outside the window, while walking I crush bottles and butts with my feet, the cold stench of oil and exhaust fills my lungs. There seem to be fewer birds.

Someone waters his lawn on a cloudy rainy day.

Car after car pass me, empty but for their driver. The bus goes by, also empty but for the driver.

I clench my Sigg bottle and reusable shopping bags closer to my heart, talismans, or perhaps sword and shield. I cough.


Is there anything I can do? I mean really do? I bitch and moan about self involved individuals who don’t put any effort into efficiencies or saving some pollution, but does it matter when even our governments don’t seem to want to encourage businesses to do the same? Until they pump some cash into transit instead of creating new suburbs on the outskirts of towns, eating up farmland, will my small car free existence mean anything?

These things keep me up at night. The thought that in 2 years, we mightย be rioting for food. The thought that most people don’t even realize this is happening in other countries right now. The fear that water will become as gold, and that we won’t know how to purify our own.

We buy local, but we’re also Canadian. Do we go without so very much, or pay 6$ for a head of broccoli in midwinter?

I am driven by these fears, these paranoia’s, and I’m hard pressed to tell what is true paranoia, and what is driven by the disease in my head. I’m used to having end of the world scenario’s playing in my head-even as a little girl I’d secretly think, far in the back of my brain, that I would someday save the world, I was the chosen one. I would kick ass and conquer all. The world would end.

I am driven by the scared voice in my head telling me the sky is falling. And I wonder, am I helping, or hindering? Is there any point in my attempts to change the things and people around me when the true causes are much, much bigger than I.

Now, with children, these fears take on a new hue. Vibrancy, urgency, all the “cy” things you can think of. The worries are fresh and real now, subdued perhaps with the blessing of being born in Canada. But this doesn’t stop my desire for books about canning and winter farming, doesn’t keep me from wanting to stock up on survival supplies.

What part is teh crazy, and what part is good sense? Are we being frightened unnecessarily, or is there a storm brewing that might take many of us, many of our children?


Do you worry? Do you read the news and wonder what next, how, why, what can we do? Or are you blissfully unaware, a state I wish I could achieve sometimes? Or do you have a solution, a something tangible to do to change something, anything right now?

Are you just as confused as I seem to be…..

21 Responses to ““Man is not imprisoned by habit. Great changes in him can be wrought by crisis–once that crisis can be recognized and understood. “”

  1. Caitlin April 30, 2008 at 3:26 pm #

    I think your small carfree existence matters, especially since you have small kids. Going car free is overwhelming at first, even when you don’t have to worry about transporting small kids or dealing with Canadian winters. Just knowing that another mom was able to make it work might be enough to inspire someone to take that first step. One of the reasons my husband starting bike commuting was because another friend made a 20 mile each way bike commute work. Knowing that it could be done inspired my husband to work up to making his 12 mile each way commute by bike 4-5 days a week. After seeing him commute by bike through the winter and summer here, several of his co-workers were inspired to try bike commuting at least one day a week.

    I think it’s hard to not worry when you have kids. I have a hard time not worry about things like food, because I grew up poor. There were many times when my parents had to choose between nutritious food for the kids, or enough food for everyone to have 3 meals a day. There were many times when my parents would just sit and chat with us at dinner, and pretend that they weren’t hungry. I don’t want my son to have those memories. I feel anxious when I don’t have a full pantry.

    Paul wanted to do a garden this year, so I will probably learn how to do some canning at the end of the growing season. I think that environmentally, and economically, it makes sense to do that now. We’re on a waitlist for a country garden spot, but we’re growing what we can in our postage stamp sized backyard right now. I think that you have to do what you can to improve the situation and hope people will follow your example. And worst case? Your girls will grow up knowing that they don’t need a car or to depend on the grocery store for everything.

  2. Marcy April 30, 2008 at 3:36 pm #

    I try not to worry — knowing that worrying by itself doesn’t accomplish or change anything. Reality is what it is, even when it sucks and is getting worse.

    I also try to look one little step at a time. Right now I am thinking about buying some netting to make some reusable produce bags. And I just spent some time looking at the idea of home solar power. Seems like just enough to run the hot water heater would be a relatively inexpensive way to start. Maybe.

    Canning? I have mixed feelings. The typical methods for canning involve lots of heat and water — I wonder how much of the nutritional value is lost. I’d be interested in learning what produce can be frozen in a regular home freezer — perhaps after a quick blanch or something. I also have a cookbook (Nourishing Traditions) that has recipes for old-fashioned lacto-fermented preservation — keeps and enhances nutritional value. On the other hand, I tried the pickle recipe once and it turned out… weird… I need to visit someone who uses this method to see if I did something wrong or if that’s just what this method does.

    But I am growing acorn squash this year, thinking I can store it in the cellar without any processing.

    I think it’s important to be aware but to maintain faith in something — not to let all the downsides and horrors and things you hadn’t thought about (like where does the fabric I use to make clothes come from) paralyze you.

    Were you the one who once commented on my blog with the story of the guy who threw starfish back in the sea, saying to a critic (you’ll never save them all) that you’d saved that one.

    Also: Do you have Community Supported Agriculture farms in the area — where you buy a share in that season’s produce? It’s an alternative to doing your own gardening, but still focuses on local and fresh.

  3. Marcy April 30, 2008 at 3:37 pm #

    Oh, and, how do these guys do the bike commute? Mark’s concern is getting dirty and / or sweaty, and not having shower facilities at work… Do these guys bike in their work clothes or what?

  4. Judy April 30, 2008 at 3:54 pm #

    I believe it was Gandhi who said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” (Okay, I didn’t remember who said it, so I had to Google it. It was Gandhi.)

    Yes, yes, yes everything you do matters. And I say this as someone who is sometimes in tears wondering if it matters at all to make little sacrifices, especially when our friends think we are absolutely insane for doing it.

    I – finally – bought reusable shopping bags a few months ago. Now I’m seeing lots of people using them at the stores, as the stores have started selling them by the checkouts. I take my canvas tote bag with me to the library instead of using one of their plastic bags. We’ve planted a small garden to grow some of our food ourselves, and today we saw the first few tomatoes growing on the plants, plus at least 2 lemons on our lemon tree, and we have bananas we need to cut down and use. Tomorrow (payday) we’re going to get more tomato plants and a book specifically on gardening in our area. I’m already thinking about what we will be able to plant in the fall, when it cools down. (Here a lot of things won’t grow in the summer, and we’ll have more luck in the fall and winter.)

    Today, we made our own tortillas. It saves money, yes, and they are better for us without all the trans fats and preservatives, but it also saves packaging, transportation costs. We’re trying to figure out just exactly how many convenience foods we could do ourselves at home.

    We ran our air conditioner while my mom was here visiting, but turned it back off when she left, and are going to keep it off as long as possible. (I know some people still have their heat on in places. Here, we’ve already had two days over 100F, and DIDN”T use our a/c.) We have friends who think we are absolutely INSANE and stupid for almost all of these things, who go straight from heat to a/c, who eat lots of meat, buy their Starbucks everyday in disposable cups, drink only bottled water, disposable diapers, and just don’t care.

    But other people see what we do, what you do, what others do, and think, hey – why not give it a try?

    You know what prompted me to make a lot of these changes? Karrie’s (One Weird Mother/Mom Voyage) blog reminded me to finally get those reusable bags, and plant a garden. A friend who lives in Canada bragged about how many veggies she got from her apartment’s balcony container garden. You, here, have inspired me in lots of ways.

    It feels futile sometimes. No one is perfect – we buy local when we can, but when we can’t, we’ll buy the frozen veggies trucked in from who-knows-where. We have WAY TOO MANY toys, but that’s largely because my mom really doesn’t get the message that we don’t need anymore. We take a few long car trips a year, don’t buy only organic produce, and we fly our daughters down for their visits a few times a year. But we do what we can.

    And it makes a difference. Every little teeny tiny bit makes a difference. My sons will grow up knowing how to grow, cook and compost their own food. Your daughters will grow up konwing how to get around without a car.

    One more quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

  5. croutonboy April 30, 2008 at 3:55 pm #

    I think it all matters, and our best hope is to live wisely and frugally and teach our kids to do the same. I don’t think there’s a true “crisis” coming, but I think people should stop expecting exponential growth in material comforts. The sooner we all stop eating endangered species, supporting middle-east dictatorships so we can keep the price of gas below the price of milk, and dump all our collective refuse into the local river, the better off we’ll all be. If our kids understand this, maybe it won’t be so painful down the road.

    Oh, and I think we should eat the rich and redistribute the wealth. But I may be alone on that one

  6. Judy April 30, 2008 at 3:58 pm #

    OH dear goodness that was long. Sorry. I’d been thinking about this already today, reading article after article on the food crisis, wondering what else we can do, so your timing was just perfect for what was going on in my head. And I’m feeling more encouraged myself by trying to encourage others.

  7. Caitlin April 30, 2008 at 4:01 pm #


    My husband’s office has locker room with showers, so it’s not that big of a deal for him. However, I see a fair of guys in suits and sneakers bike commuting, so I guess you can make it work if your office isn’t all that far away. We didn’t have a shower in my old office, but the bike commuters would wear cycling gear during their commute and do a once over with a washcloth before they got into their work clothes. But we also had one toilet in the bathroom, so you had the bathroom to yourself.

    You might to try the Bike Forums – Commuting and Bike Forums – Living Car Free forums. My husband was able to get a lot of good information on those sites.

  8. Bon April 30, 2008 at 7:34 pm #

    i’m just as confused, yep.

    but i do like to believe it matters. the little bits of good that balance out my personal bits of bad.

    and you, car-free…? i think that matters, and sets an example even just to those of us out here. we have a Kia Rio, one of the smaller, cheaper cars on the market, and were just recently discussing whether we should upgrade with the new baby on the way. and i said, nah, Thor has two kids and NO car! we should be able to squeeze for awhile. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Jenn April 30, 2008 at 7:53 pm #

    Thor, I believe your worries are worries shared by most. The problem is most just throw their hands up in frusteration of the feeling of helplessness. What can one person do?

    I have many many times wanted to dump all of my worldly “posessions” and hike it into the woods to live off the land, who needs electricity, running water etc? How many times I have come to the conclusion that my car is a waste. Such a big waste. Both on the environment (because most often I am alone in it) but also a personal financial waste ( pouring thousands of dollars a year into its maintenance) But like most others here I am. You will find me firing her up at 6am and heading off to work with the rest of the world.

    Trouth be told I would love to buy a environmentally friendly car, run my home off of solar power, compost amongst many other environmentally friendly things. Alas I do not have the money to buy my own home to install all of the solar panels, nor do I have the money to buy an environmentally friendly vehicle. So I do what I feel I can. I light candles at night and keep the lights turned off as much as possible, I dont run the water needlessly, I drive as little as I feel I can.

    It is always good to have the constant reminder that we can all make a difference. Individually, if not as big a difference we would like to. I do however think that everyone needs to get on the backs of our governments and large corperations who leave the lights on at night in entire office buildings when no one is there and have their sprinkler systems running daily for hours….

    BTW I read your statement about letting the grass die and I have a friend who has a great feature in her yard. she has crawling ivy, it requires only rain water and no maintenance, yet the yard looks green and lush… it also crawls up onto the trees a little bit that looks really pretty. I think it is a darn good alternative to grass that requires so many pestisides, water and care….

  10. Julie Pippert April 30, 2008 at 10:36 pm #

    I worry the same way about the same things. You see what i do, you must know I’m being honest here. And I live in a place where the potential next leader might get elected in on his “100 years of War” platform. We ought to be quivering in our boots, but not paralyzed or overwhelmed. We can be the change we want. Somehow, to some degree.

  11. Judy April 30, 2008 at 11:13 pm #

    Oh, Jenn, we’d love to install solar panels and such too, and have a more “green” car. We bought the van we had because, between us, we have 4 kids (although only 2 live with us year-round), and so we NEED something that CAN seat 6 (or more). In a perfect world, maybe we’d have something to use most of the year, and something else to use when we need all the seating, or some other option. We had a 2-door coupe that seated 5 and probably wasn’t really supposed to have a car seat (it never seemed to fit just right), so when we had another baby, we had to “upgrade.” All we could afford that we could find was our van, at $2,700. It’s not ideal, but it’s what we had to do.

    And I live in Deep South Texas, where it is warm and SUNNY for most of the year. I don’t recall EVER seeing a solar panel anywhere here. I think it’s almost criminal that new construction is not required to install solar panels. Sure, it might cost more initially, but in the long run the savings – for the environment and the bank account – would have to be worth it. If we’re still here and in a position to make it work financially, we’ll definitely check into solar options.

    We have the nastiest front lawn. We have this one pretty tree that flowers for a good portion of the year, and doesn’t require much water (we never water it), and we’ve planted a couple fruit trees which we water, but otherwise, it’s brown mostly. Thankfully, we don’t have a neighborhood association enforcing rules on watering, and we’re not the only ones who don’t have a perfect green manicured lawn. I just think it’s such a waste. We’re tempted to dig it all up and grow veggies out there (although I think then the neighbors might complain).

  12. becca May 1, 2008 at 1:28 am #

    Its always worth it, even if all it means is that when we hit crisis point your family knows how to live without everyone having a car, and can adapt themselves. I don’t expect all of modern society as we know it will crumble, most things can run from electricity (nuclear power anyone?) or coal-powered steam, although the days of personal motor transport for the masses are numbered.

    One point though, as my physics background demands I point out, electricity solar panels are currently very inefficient, and take years to oroduce the resources used for them. Much better are water-heating solar planels, effectively reverse radiators used to make hot water for the house. Also, for Judy – don’t worry about having a second car to save on fuel – around 40% of the oil in the natural resources-> scrap life cycle of a car is used before it leaves the first show room. Its more important to limit the number of cars being used than to save 0.1litre petrol/mile.

  13. Marcy May 1, 2008 at 8:51 am #

    Thank you, Caitlin.

    Judy — I’ve made tortillas — they are very good, but kind of a pain. Still I’d probably do it again.

    Becca — thanks — I’ve been thinking about solar hot water and your comment is another push that way.

  14. radical mama May 1, 2008 at 9:55 am #

    This is normal anxiety, something we should all be anxious about. And yes, you matter. One thing I love about blogging is that I have met other people who give a shit when it seems like no one in my RL does.

    About gas prices, I agree that the resource is too cheap and encourages hyper-consumption. But I also know that it goes beyond the money I put into my car. I can’t afford to pay more for food or for my heat. Everything, EVERYTHING we need depends on oil these days. I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and although it’s not the most well-written book, it’s nauseatingly eye-opening regarding our abuse of petroleum and the environment at large.

    I will say that without bans or charging, I see more and more people using reusable store bags. I see more and more people choosing organic. (Which will hopefully become more and more affordable as industrial food becomes more expensive.) Everyone is switching to CFLs. I think the car thing will be hard to overcome. Even impossible because public policy subsidizes it and discourages other modes of transport. But it will have to change, either using it less or making it more efficient (without pricing the middle class out of the efficiency market).

    (Sorry if I reiterate. I am too cranky and distracted to read long comments today. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

  15. thordora May 1, 2008 at 10:24 am #

    You’re huge and I want to touch your belly. It’s ok. ๐Ÿ˜›

    I know cars are a small part of petroleum usage, but it comes back to people making local choices as well-eating local, vacationing local, buying goods produced locally. It’s HARD. Lord knows I’m not the poster child, but I do what I can. I sat there one day with an organic apple from california or Mexico, and a local non organic one, and tried to figure out where the least impact was.

    It’s those decisions I hate (and I err on the side of local anyway when I can)

    I’m looking forward to joining a CSA this summer. I still want solar on the garage, but the water versions, which I can’t afford at the moment. I’d love a little turbine on the top since it’s so windy here.

    I just worry that it’s “en vogue” to be concious right now, much as it was in the early nineties. I remember being so fucking depressed after some gains made to see “disposable” things all over again.

    People need to CHANGE their habits. Whether they want to or not, it’s a comin…

  16. radical mama May 1, 2008 at 10:33 am #

    I grapple with local vs. organic, too. It’s really gray there. Petroleum to ship vs. petroleum to grow (and still ship although not as far). I usually err on the local side as well, since Michigan needs all the income it can get right now. But I also think of the environmental consequences of my health and I know that what I eat will make a huge difference there.

    If only everything was local AND organic. And it could be if people would just start to demand it and be willing to pay a little extra for it. Either you pay for it now with a little more money, or you pay for it later with ill health and a nasty environment.

    CSA is awesome. This is our first year doing it. I am not going to try to grow as much. I am just growing potatoes and squashes and tomatoes at my dad’s for the winter.

    Make sure you are blogging your recipes. Most people have no idea how to cook seasonally.

    Note how I can’t read long comments, but I can leave them for you to read. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. Jen May 1, 2008 at 10:55 am #

    I am pretty regularly terrified. I cling to the stuff we do too, like pulling my coat tight against the wind. And when I feel really bleak, I write about our progress so that I can see that I’m doing something, even if it isn’t enough.
    There is a change afoot, though. More people are paying attention now, even though they may not be acting yet. I hold onto the hope that talking and writing and doing is contagious. Hell, my extremely right wing grandmother was bragging about my worm bin at a funeral the other day. That has to count for something.
    But I think I’ll always be scared that the worst is on its way no matter what we do because people still want to believe it’s as easy as buying cfls or organic cotton yoga pants and whatnot. It’s the mentality that monetary resources are greater than natural ones that will be the end of us all. sorry for the drama–i’m sick and pessimistic today.

  18. thordora May 1, 2008 at 11:01 am #

    I haven’t been cooking much-Spun has been neglected. Have a hankering for black bean-corn-zucchini enchiladas though…

  19. Dragon May 1, 2008 at 1:24 pm #

    I think most of us do worry about stuff like that. I try to do things with a mind to the environment, like I always try to use my reusable shopping bags, and I buy what’s in season, go to the local farmers market when I can, etc. A lot of things I do though just because it saves money, like when I don’t have to take Chase with me I ride my bike (where I live is one of the best bike towns in the US) and take the bus to school, but I do that more because I can’t afford gas. However, the effect is the same. ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Judy May 1, 2008 at 10:08 pm #

    I so wish we had a CSA available. I can’t find one anywhere close enough to us. The biggest downside ot where we live is that we are so far from anything else.

    I did just recently learn of a really, really cool organic farmer’s market, which just started a few months ago, but the weekend we heard about it we were totally broke, and there’s only one more weekend until the fall. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    It’s an awesome project: They’ve taught some of the very low income families here in the Valley how to grow organic produce in their own backyards, and then the families come and sell it at the farmer’s market. Apparently, so far, everyone weekend they have completely sold out of everything they had. THAT is something I can absolutely get behind!

  21. daureen May 3, 2008 at 2:42 pm #

    Some of the things that are going on are absolutely appalling… while writing an expose on modern food manufacturing, I discovered that dead pets and roadkill are being sold to farms to create feed for farm animals — which we end up eating! Absolutely horrific. Check it out http://www.mmdnewswire.com/food-poisoning-you-are-eating-californias-dead-pets-2319-3.html

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