Category Archives: consumption

Ecopsychology: Addiction Recovery for a People (pt. 5 of 5)

So today, dear reader, I would urge you to be involved in sustainable business.  For many of this you this may mean as customers: every local farmer needs at least a couple dozen of them.  If that’s too much and overwhelming, don’t sweat it.  There really are times when you have to buckle down and just survive, ‘cause I’ll say it again—it’s an insane, addicted, codependent, abusive world we live in.  Get through this and we’ll talk again when things are better.

Or if you’re in a more secure place and mere patronage doesn’t feel “big” enough for you, there are scads of other things you can do to forward local agriculture in your area—it’s struggling and really can use some passionate non-farmers to fill in the gaps.  Maybe you could find a few friends from church and your neighborhood to form a buying co-op and bring in weekly deliveries of some local food that you can’t get in stores, but is too far away to justify actually driving to the farm to get it every. stinking. week.  Start a middleman business moving fresh produce from small local farms to local institutional buyers like schools and hospitals—a big missing link in most communities, because neither farmers nor institutions have time to devote to this.  (Farmers would love it if you did any of these things.  Really, they would.)

You, or any enterprising 16+ year old with a driver’s license, could start a diaper service.  Or a composting diaper service, if you live in a desert.

Partner with a beginning farmer.  (Joel Salatin, alternative farmer extraordinaire, discusses this at length in his books—I couldn’t have thought of this on my own.)   A lot of people have dreams of retiring early to farm.  Here’s the bad news: Farms have a life cycle, and by the time you hit early retirement, you’re already going to die too soon for your farm to be viable as anything but a hobby.  It’s our economy’s cruel little joke that once you’re financially established enough to start something, it’s too late to see it through.  I only see this getting moreso as student debt continues to climb.

How about instead, you partner up with someone whose gut-busting-labor years are still ahead of them?  You can provide them with capital and general worldly experience that they need desperately.  They can take their energy and go far with it, providing you with some side income and maybe a sweet farm to live on in your working and retired years, and be established enough to carry the cycle on when you pass.  This, to me, is one of those Spirit of Elijah things—we need to bring our generations back together in this way just for our own selves, and if we’re serious about replenishing the earth.

If your town, like mine, has a suburban expanse connected to the main workplace districts by roads that get rock-solid constipated during rush hour, another partnership of the established-and-moneyed with the young could run a jitney shuttle service.

Become a solar power baron.  States and utilities are draggin’ their fool feet, so it’s probably just up to people like us.  I would suggest teaming up with farmers or warehouse businesses; they often have big roofs so the installation cost per watt is much lower than it would be if you put little panels on individual homes.  Also, farms and businesses are often eligible for tax breaks or outright refunds that homes are not.  Should you and/or your co-op manage to install enough acreage, you may even find yourself in a good bargaining position to get a better rate from the power company.

…And so forth.  The moral of the story is we can’t just be choice takers if we want to be good stewards.  We have to create the choices we want.  We also need to ensure that the means by which those choices are provided are self-sustaining—that they can provide at least a sideline income—so that we don’t remain dependent on our abusers.

Vive l’enterprise.


Ecopsychology: Addiction Recovery for a People (pt. 4 of 5)

I believe that non-profit environmentalism is unsustainable.  If environmentalism is charity, then it requires profitable non-environmentalism to fund it.  You’re eternally stuck robbing Peter to pay Paul.

We need to take our cue from nature: organisms survive by making their living from activities that actively benefit their community.  Cleaner fish, dung beetles, vultures, the wandering herds and the wolves that follow them, corals, the horse-guard wasps—these are our role models.  We must become able to actually make a living replenishing our earth.  It cannot be a hobby.

We will continue to need clothing, food, shelter, etc for the foreseeable future, and we are already becoming more able to do so locally.  That builds local economies that are much less prone to widespread, systematic abuse, because in local economies businesses have to live with their mistakes.  It also takes customers and dollars—their only source of power—from the multinationals, or what I like to think of as the “locust economy.”

And if there’s anything I learned from my genocidally deranged Anglo-American ancestors, it’s this: that it might feel good to fight your enemies, but carving apart their resource base and starving them out is so much more effective.

Ecopsychology: Addiction Recovery for a People (pt. 3 of 5)

The best part of growing up is making your own path.  The broken world of the abuser, which has only two roles (abuser or victim), would have you either accept or deny its paradigm wholesale.  Either you acquiesce to some degree or another, doing the best you can with CFLs and Priuses and accepting the overall will of the abusers (thus becoming one of them yourself).  Or you run.  You live the happy life with the birds (which will soon be extinct)—in which case, you’re just a victim.  It’s like the frickin’ Hotel California. You can check out any time you want, but you can’t ever leave.

I think of Jesus, who came to a place and a time of lots of Either/Or thinking.  Should we have Greek-centered or Judaism-centered culture?  Sadducees or Pharisees?  Capitulation to Rome or armed revolt?

Confronted with all these ridiculous nonsense choices, the Son of God called them all ridiculous nonsense.  He struck out in His own way and lived and taught a better life than anyone could have thought of before He came along.

How good it is to follow Him.


It turns out that recovering from abuse is a lot like repentance.  It’s the flip-side version of repentance, of course, because you didn’t do anything wrong yourself.  (Actually, many abusers enjoy forcing their victims to do things they find morally repugnant.  Think Abu Ghraib.  For many people whose abuse included these domination-submission games, it can be an entire process in itself just to remember what the difference is between the two.  Those of us trying to make do with CFLs and cloth shopping bags know a tiny taste of that insanity.)

But so many things are the same.

In order to repent, an abuser has to change their view of the world to one where other peoples’ agency matters.

In order to heal, recipients of abuse have to change their view of the world to one where other peoples’ agency matters.

For victims, this means coming to terms with the fact that someone really did force them to do something.  This is difficult because, while it allows one kind of healing to begin—the acquittal of guilt—it also requires the realization of exactly how vulnerable we are.  This is a large part of what makes recovery from rape so difficult—to realize how easy it was for someone to just make you their bitch because they felt like it.

That realization is terrifying.  It’s why so many of us cling to illusions of control.  It’s why we like to blame victims (“She was asking for it,” “Look what she was wearing,” “She’s exaggerating how bad it was,” etc).  It’s why we’d rather self-loathe for being wishy-washy environmentalists than admit that we’re being coerced into doing things we don’t want to do.

Ecopsychology: Addiction Recovery for a People (pt. 2 of 5)

I feel very strongly that our biggest environmental problem right now is that few persons, families, or institutions actually have real choices.  Food’s a great example.  I have been so happy to see the burgeoning growth in local, organic, etc food.  At the same time, the field is very young and green and in no way prepared to provide sustainable resources for all or even most of us at this time.  Our options for, say yogurt in this area are: normal year-round agrobiz yogurt at the grocery store; greenwashed year-round industrial-organic yogurt at the grocery store; driving miles into the sticks every week to buy the local seasonal “for pet food only” brew; or make it myself… using milk sourced from any of the three above sources.  And as much as I’m on the right track to fulfill my dream of running a water buffalo dairy etc when I grow up, we’ve got a boatload of student debt and it ain’t happening any time soon.

In the end, most of us are just stuck choosing from the options “allowed” by the businessmen and lawmakers businessmen around us.  In a very real sense, we are children living with an addicted, abusive extended family, and it is doing everything it can to keep us in its web of codependency.

It might feel good to move out (or in this case, drop out of society).  But if you haven’t formed new patterns of behavior other than the ones they taught you—if you haven’t created new options for yourself—moving out won’t change a thing.  Even the most whole, healthy person can’t have healthy relationships if everyone around them is abusive and/or insane.  And you can’t live lightly on the earth with the options we presently have.

If we want to heal, we can’t just do our best to cope in the bad house or move out—we have to build a new house.

Ecopsychology: Addiction Recovery for a People (pt. 1 of 5)

What if we stopped talking about the “oil addiction” as a metaphor and actually started treating it like an addiction?

Addiction has many characteristics: I will leave it to better social-service specialists than I to lay it all out.

What I want to talk about today is recovery.

The way I see it, the principal problem we face in our dependency on oil (and factory slaves, and industrial agriculture, and so on) is there really aren’t alternatives.

Our civilization is kinda like a wino stranded in a city where the only choices for calories are beer, whiskey, or wine.  He may be able to supplement with the odd free-range pigeon; but no matter how desperately the alcoholic wants out, or how deep his self-disgust every time he drinks, his odds of quitting aren’t good.

It offends, I think, many peoples’ sensibilities to genuinely see themselves as coerced by outside forces into choosing from a few poor or mediocre choices.  We’re a-MARE-kins, dadgummit, and we’re the captains of our souls.  We know that if we’re not living 100% (or at least 90%) in accord with our environmentalist convictions, it’s just because we lack the blistering zeal that we should have.  You know, the blistering zeal that would enable us to finally admit out loud that Yes, we’ve known all along that CFLs and cloth shopping bags doesn’t really do that much in the big picture, and push us over that final hump to drop out of society and go live lightly on the land where we’ll turn our kids’ education over to the birds and the trees.

Hold it right there!  Shouldn’t it be clear that if your best option for an environmentally sound life is to drop out of society, then the real problem is a lot bigger than you?  This is not a problem of you being a faulty individual with insufficient chutzpah to live your convictions.  It is a very real lack of choices.  We don’t dare train our kids up to be like the birds and the trees, because we’ve seen what happens to the birds and the trees.

Consumerism and (hospital) birth – Part II – A Labor Intensive Process

Save for a passing introduction at the desk as I moved to a room, I never saw the OB on call because I had chosen the midwife practice.  I’m assuming that he/she  knew what was going on and likely signed off at that desk because the OB names are all over my discharge paperwork.  Which is how I wanted it.  And it makes sense from an efficiency standpoint of running a L&D wing with mostly midwives: use the less expensive labor when things are going as one would expect and save the more expensive (due to many more years of med school and their specializations) OB labor for when they are really needed.  But, surprisingly, intake wasn’t exclusively the midwives’ or the nurses’ domain.

For this second birth, I moved through active labor VERY quickly – like from entering hospital dilated a 3 to baby on chest in less than 2.5 hours.  The good news is that the midwives realized this right away and immediately started the water going in the labor tub after the obligatory 20-minutes triage monitoring period.  I was thrilled that this hospital allowed – actually encourage! – the use of a big tub for natural labors.   I was laboring in the tub about 45 minutes from walking in the door and was able to stay there for about an hour before we started draining the tub since I was pushy.

The bad news is that I  spent literally half of my time in the tub talking to the anesthesiologist.  For a birth where I explicitly had said no drugs with a track record of no drugs from the previous birth….where every nurse and midwife respected my request that drugs not be brought up unless I initiated the conversation!

So, when the anesthesiologist walks in the door, even in my hazy labor brain, I kept thinking “why is this guy here?”

His presence felt invasive.  I just wanted him to leave and let me get on with the business of being in ‘my labor space.’   But I did what so many women do when they enter the hospital doors – instead of telling him outright to leave, I answered the questions.  I told him thanks but no thanks, that I wanted to birth this child without his help. And then proceeded to answer his questions in the 90-120 seconds between contractions for at least a half hour!

Looking back with a non-labor brain, I know that the anesthesiologist was there to document ‘just in case’ of the crash C-section.  I’m sure it is hospital protocol.  But it still seems odd that an anesthesiologist did the majority of the intake patient history paperwork.  I question the efficiency of having such a specialist doing that for a ‘just in case’ scenario that seemed unlikely to play out.  Every single stinking thing he asked me was already (or could have already been) in my chart.  And, if I really was in need of a crash C-section, he could have done it without many of those questions.

Less invasive (and certainly less costly) were the many middle of the night vital checks by all the nurses.  Again, probably just hospital protocol intensified by the fact that I transferred to recovery just after midnight.  After the second round of vitals that first night, my husband looked at me and said ‘if we were home, we would all be cuddling in our king size family bed and the midwives would have already packed up and gone home.’   I couldn’t decide if I wanted to kiss or kick him for stating the obvious.  It did make me pause to think that (if things have gone relatively well) in a homebirth, the professional is more than comfortable leaving a new mom and baby to sleep and come back the next day for a check-in.  The hospital, in order to cover their ass, is far more labor intensive and resource consuming during birth than it probably needs to be.  Maybe some people find that comforting; I found it annoying.

So, why didn’t I tell the anesthesiologist (and the nurses at 3 am, etc) to leave? I can only explain it as the path of least resistance.  I kept thinking that this question, this wake-up would be the last.  I didn’t want to make a scene, didn’t have the energy to make a scene, just wanted to get people out of my space as quickly as possible.

This is yet another reason why women are choosing to birth at home.  Birth is such an intimate and personal thing; but as much as hospitals are increasingly paying lip service to this, it is very difficult to achieve that intimacy in an institution governed by protocol and the threat of lawsuits.  Only in your own home are you able to control who is in your space; you aren’t bombarded with a stranger asking you questions about something you don’t want to discuss.  Perhaps that is one of the things that scares the medical establishment about homebirth the most?

Consumerism and (hospital) Birth Part I – Insurance Incentives

I’ve had a chance to birth my two kids at two of the most progressive hospitals in the nation and have some thoughts running around in my head about the pros and cons of such birthing options for the completely normal birth.  Since health care seems to be sucking up ever increasing resources and birth is a feminist issue at its core, I thought I’d use this space to pen some of my (flaky, sleep-deprived) thoughts.

To start, I suppose I should define progressive.  These are mother-centered hospitals with enormous (12+ women) CNM midwife groups that encourage doulas and natural birthing if you so desire.  Hospital #1 is a teaching hospital which also has a long-standing CNM (certified nurse midwife) degree program inside a university that is known for integrated primary care; the CNM practice is integrated into a larger ‘woman’s health center’ type place that is lovely.  Hospital #2 is the primary hospital in the region for a large HMO which has one of the longest-standing hospital midwife programs in the country; it contracts out all of its high-risk births to another hospital in the region so the midwives actually rule the roost so to speak at HMO hospital.  It is also a WHO ‘baby friendly’ hospital – so no arguing about whether or not a pacifier will be given, etc.

I myself saw only a midwife for prenatal care in both pregnancies.  In some ways, seeing a midwife within these large groups is great –  when things came up that were possibly out of the norm, a quick email to high-risk OBs quickly resolved the issue.  Everything is all coordinated with my primary care doctors; my prescriptions are seamless; even my (and the newborn’s) followup apt-making is seamless.

But there are some drawbacks of these big groups.  First, there is no guarantee (and very low odds) that your midwife will be on-call when you deliver.  This is how they keep costs down; but it also kind of wrecks (what is in my view) one of the attractions of midwife care – that you have a personal relationship of enormous trust with your provider.

The second is that you must birth in a hospital.  If I’m completely honest with myself, that wasn’t a complete drawback for the first birth.  Even though I have a mother who (for the 1980s) was pretty progressive in terms of how she interacted with pregnancy, I had my doubts and the hospital seemed ‘safe.’  My husband was even more skeptical of the process.  And even though I wanted a anesthesia-free birth, the knowledge I could change my mind at the last second was somehow comforting.  So, I had probably the best in-hospital, low-intervention birth you could want.  But it was a very lengthy labor and, despite the best care and great facilities, I found all the poking and prodding annoying during and especially after delivery.  After a 32+ hour labor (nearly 20 of it at the hospital) and less than a 30-hour post delivery stay, we walked out knowing (at least with a normal, low-risk pregnancy) why people choose to birth at home.

Fast forward 4 years and we were expecting #2.  We also had different insurance….the HMO insurance  that keeps costs down by making sure everything ‘normal’ is done within their facilities.  Well, birth is normal.  Normal enough that people like me should be able to have a baby at home.  But my house is not their facility.  We toyed with getting a homebirth midwife.  But at the end of the day, we could not justify the cost differential of home vs hospital birth.

And that is lesson #1.  We pay over $600/month in insurance premiums for our family of 3 (now 4) which is matched by my husband’s employer for great insurance.  A hospital stay copay is $100/night.  My entire birth and our 2 night hospital stay cost a $200 copay.  Sure, it was billed out at $7500 – and that is cheap because it was a midwife attended birth within an HMO that pays providers salaries rather than by procedures with no epidural (so no anesthesiologist charge), no interventions, nothing but a bag of pitocin when I started bleeding a bit more than desired and two nights of a hospital bed.  But I only had to pay $200.

A homebirth is obviously cheaper than $7500.  In this area, they seem to run $4-$5K.  But because we have an HMO (which, for the record, I actually love in so many other respects both in terms of care and in terms of overall efficiency of health care provision), none of that would have been picked up by the insurance.

Look, I had a nice birth experience and have a healthy baby.  I am incredibly happy with my prenatal and postnatal care.  But this is likely our last child, and I’m mourning my lack of homebirth this time (and I’ll tell you why in my next post).  And I’m feeling angry that I have to mourn that.   What kind of choice is that?  $200 vs $4500?  The incentives are such that I chose the less efficient option (and the more emotionally draining option) because the out-of-pocket costs.  Something is incredibly perverse in this cost structure, don’t you think?


Tonight (Sunday, August 21) I’m hosting a dinner party in Salt Lake City.  We are asking participants to bring donations for Sister Somalia, an organization that assists victims of gender-based violence in Somalia.  I wish I’d thought to post it on this blog before because now it is late notice, but if by chance any readers are interested in coming, just send me an email at and I’ll give you the address.  You can also read more about the dinner party itself on the Utah for Congo blog.

It feels ironic to host a dinner party to raise money for people who are experiencing the effects of famine.  I thought long and hard about this.  Sometimes famines are viewed as being “an act of God,” which is our way of saying that we take no responsibility for them.  But famine is not an act of God and this one, in particular, is manmade.

There is a horrible, horrible drought in the Horn of Africa.  I am thinking of previous posts about climate change on this blog, and about the idea that those who bear the least responsibility for climate change are those who suffer from it the most.  The Somali people aren’t known for being big polluters, and yet the extreme weather is upending traditional growing seasons and creating mass food shortages.

Of course, there is a drought in the southwestern United States right now, and people aren’t starving.  (Although animals are, including farm-raised cattle, and I don’t think we’re paying enough attention to this.)  So obviously the famine is not just about the weather and the drought.  It is also about Somalia’s lack of a functioning government, and about the widespread insecurity and fighting.  It is about armed rebels who hijack supplies of food aid and rape women. 

I also keep reading articles about the “rising food prices” in Africa and other parts of the world,  and I’ve been trying to understand this “high food prices” thing, because somebody is raising food prices in the middle of a famine I’m in the mood to name names. But my internet search isn’t helping much, because all the articles I find just report “high food prices” in such a matter-of-fact tone, with no analysis as to the real causes and actors involved.  So I can’t tell you whose fault it is.  I wish I could.

And there are also land use issues at play when famine rears its ugly head.  Drought means that agricultural land in Africa can be purchased even more cheaply by multinational corporations and American hedge funds. I’ve been reading about these “land grabs” where the land is purchased extremely cheaply and used to cultivate products for export, like monoculture crops and biofuels. Then contracts are signed which ensure that even during times of famine, the companies owning the land can STILL export figures like 80 percent of the product produced on the land. 

So at tonight’s dinner party, we will be eating vegetables and fruit from Salt Lake’s own BUG Farms, and from my mom’s vegetable garden, and from the farmers market.  Industrial agriculture is not invited to dine with us, because it is guilty.  We will eat local organic food–not in celebratory gratitude for what we have, because I just can’t stomach that kind of a feeling right now–but as a symbol.  We will be eating because we need to, and eating to say: We are on to you, global food system.  And we are not with you.

A Pastry-Maker’s Lament

This was going to be a nice post. I am new here, and so I was going to come in with something soft, positive–something everyone could agree on. But some things don’t work out the way we plan them, and today is no exception. Because today I am angry.

It all started when, in the middle of making French macarons for the farmers market, the pastry scale broke. We tried to fix it but it would not stand fixing, and so Mercedes, my gourmet-food-boss-and-friend (the best combination of realities, I assure you) decided it was time to head to the store for a replacement.

We were in Draper, and so we had the following options: Drive twenty minutes to a ginormous strip mall and purchase our scale at Bed, Bath and Beyond, or, um, drive twenty minutes to a ginormous strip mall and purchase our scale at–you guessed it–Bed, Bath and Beyond. So we did what we had to do. We got in the car, and we drove west.

Driving west in Draper means two things: It means you drive by mansion after stucco mansion squeezed between woebegone horse corrals trying to keep their dignity under the shadow of empire, and it means you are facing, dead on, three or four used-to-be-mountains. I say used to be, an adjective not normally found before the word mountains, because that’s exactly what I mean: where previously there stood several glorious peaks, there now stands several gouges in the mountainside, sand and dirt in dusty cascades down the front. Read more of this post

Ward Consolidation and Environment

Instead of attending our ward yesterday morning, I drove out to the edge of the city to the stake center for a special meeting.  A great deal of the Portland East stake was reconfigured this week with 4 wards consolidated into 3.  We all knew it was coming and that my particular ward was going to bear the brunt of the divvying up as we had all been released from our callings the week before.

Relatively new to this stake, I had little interest in the shuffling of (male) leadership positions; given the rubber necking, this may be the primary reason why most people attend this type of meeting.  I mostly went because (a) I was curious as to when church would be next week and (b) I was also curious what would be the official demographic story.  The stake presidency didn’t disappoint with a lengthy (even more so than I expected) explanation of urban demographics.  This happens to be in my professional wheel house, so it was with almost giddiness that I mentally compared the narrative presented with what I know to be the Portland narrative.  I present these to you here because I think it actually says a lot about cultural/environmental ethos in Mormon culture.

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