Monday, July 2, 2012

Achieving Locavore Balance

Here is an interview with Pierre Desrochers, an economist who wrote a book about how the locavore movement has gotten out of hand. While his caution has some valid points, I think Desrochers' argument can be reversed... we should encourage local food production against the day when oil scarcity, war, famine, or a natural disaster shuts down transportation of goods. If a society doesn't have the skill or the experience to produce their own food, it is just as vulnerable to famine. Hydroponic technology is cheap and easy: almost anybody can grow beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, lettuce, herbs, eggplant, broccoli, cucumbers in a very small space and even year around indoors with proper lighting. That being said, there are lots of highly nutritious foods that are easy to mass-produce organically and carbon-efficient to ship that we should definitely not give up until we have to, like coconuts, mangoes, bananas, and seaweed.

It's about researching your area, finding out what local farmers can produce both efficiently and organically, eating seasonally, and simply giving up highly processed, nationally-branded foods that are made from crops that use large quantities of fertilizers and pesticides and genetically-modified seeds. Corn chips, ketchup, and bread for a start. It takes some effort, creativity, and sacrifice, but you can put together an uber-cheap, balanced diet based on seasonal local crops, your own little garden, and imported foods with low-carbon costs.

What to Look For When You Are Looking For a Co-op

The house is very old and beautiful.
I live in a housing cooperative in Austin. It's not a commune or a condominium. It's a diverse community of about 13 people pooling their skills and resources to create a beautiful, affordable living space. Everyone has their own bedroom and shares bathrooms, a commercial-size kitchen, dining hall, and common living areas. We have a garden, a laundry/utility room, and a deck. Everyone is responsible for at least five hours of labor each week: cooking a vegetarian dinner, kitchen clean-up, or grocery shopping, and a rotational cleaning chore. We have a weekly meeting to discuss house affairs. Monthly membership fees, or rent, depending on how you look at it, runs about $500 to $600 including utilities and food. Because we are home to several low-income individuals, we qualify as a non-profit affordable housing organization, so house purchases are tax-exempt. The house is owned by us, its members, but we pay dues to an international cooperative housing organization that can help us out if need arises. We've been doing alright, though. We have several stellar cooks, a gardener, a handywoman, a seamstress, a painter, a carpenter, and we also do labor exchanges with neighboring co-ops for electrical repair, junk pile pick-up, and other jobs. Turns out we are pretty damn self-sufficient, which, as you know, is something I very much advocate.

The fig tree finally puts out.
Maybe you are the socially-responsible, cooperative, industrious, tolerant type and are thinking maybe this kind of set-up is exactly where you would thrive the best. How do you go about finding a good co-op?

1) Who are you? Depending on the city you want to live in, you can probably find a co-op where you will fit in perfectly. Housing co-ops are a growing movement, especially as the economy continues to struggle, and with it, your chances of finding what you need. In Austin co-ops mostly identify as vegetarian and either student or inter-generational, though mine is leaning towards a late-twenties/early thirties majority. Co-ops are a versatile concept, however, so you may be able to find a vegan or gluten-free community, or a community of retirees, or a dry house for ex-alcoholics. In any case, co-ops tend to attract people who are creative, artistic, friendly, open-minded, eco-conscious, and DIY back-to-basics enthusiasts.
Our dinner gong.
2) Does the house have an established labor system, as well as consequences for slackers? A successful co-op depends on every member consistently pulling her own weight. While everyone may have good intentions, things can get very messy and rundown very quickly if chore expectations and protocols are not clearly delineated.  If you sense an atmosphere of discontent and disillusionment, it is most likely because the people who cared most about the house got tired of picking up slack for everyone else. A system that recognizes members who go above and beyond their required duties helps keep the hardest workers appreciated and motivated, who in turn spur others to take pride in their housework.

3) Do the members seem open to new ideas and fresh approaches? When you first join a co-op, you are going to be overflowing with home improvement and decorating suggestions; your fresh eyes are a wonderful and necessary perk that comes with bringing new blood into a house. Write your ideas down and wait until you are settled in and familiar with house politics and protocol before bringing them up. There may be reasons why things are the way they are, so ask lots of questions before presenting a new idea. That said, when visiting as a prospective member, be sure to gently probe about how changes are generally received. The Germans have a word for the enthusiastic embrace of innovation and change, kaizen. You want a house with lots of kaizen.

Our sworn enemy. Ferocious, no?
4) Does the house sponsor regular social activities? The whole point of a co-op is cooperation and it's much easier to cooperate with people you understand and are friends with. A good co-op needs lots of events (at least once or twice a month) that give its members the chance to get to know each other and enjoy being part of a community, like brewery tours, workshops, dance parties, game nights, hiking trips, or bowling. Bonus if the activities include other local co-ops. Another sign of a healthy co-op is if the members regularly eat dinner together, even if it's just once a week.

Relics from 50+ years of being a co-op.
5) Does the house enforce financial accountability? Money is always a tough subject, but the house needs to maintain a budget, financial records, and a plan for when someone can't make rent. All of this should be transparent to all members. It is advisable to have on retainer both an accountant and a lawyer who are well-respected locally. These third-party professionals are invaluable for tax advice, legal questions, property disputes, and other uncomfortable eventualities.

Ben is our gardener and landscaper.
So there you are. If you still can't find a decent co-op, there is always the option of starting one yourself. It's definitely not easy, but if you have a group of like-minded people, a sponsoring organization, and a big house, you have a pretty good chance. The easiest way is to rent a large house, establish the elements of a successful co-op among your housemates, then approach a housing cooperative organization to help your co-op buy the house from your landlord. Sometimes landlords are open to rent-to-own options as well. If a house is paid off (easier to do when you have multiple incomes), the membership fees and rent are often at below-market rates. Affordable housing will attract a good range of applicants and the house can have its pick of multi-talented underemployed folks who want to contribute their time to building a tolerant, peaceful, eco-friendly, self-sufficient society that consumes minimal resources.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Liz Lemon: Ah, yes... the male gaze.

Hazel: Yes, they're all a bunch of gays.

Seriously, though, here's a heartbreaking essay on street harassment and catcalling. Of course, some of you will pout sarcastically, "Oh, poor girl... her life is so hard because she's pretty." No, it's because she is a woman. If she were ugly she wouldn't get whistled at (as much), but she would have other issues... like the terrible, crushing feeling that she's worth nothing because her looks are nothing, a belief constantly reinforced by advertising and entertainment in our society. Beautiful or hideous, a woman just can't win.

What I like most about the above essay, however, is that she rises above simply being a victim. It is easy for us to whine and cower and ask the government or a boyfriend to step in and intervene, but we lose even more power if we allow others to defend our honor without doing combat ourselves. Passive fear just feeds the idea that we are just walking blowup dolls, so fight back. Every time we smack down a lewd comment with a freezing glare, flipping the bird, or snapping "fuck you, asshole," we make the world a better, freer place... because maybe next time he'll think twice about whether the power trip of intimidating and objectifying a woman is worth the embarrassment of being called out on it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Feminist Men: A Dispatch From an Alternate Universe Where Darrell Anderson is a Feminist Woman Named Delilah Antwerp

Excerpts from an essay written by Delilah Antwerp. (Read the actual essay "Libertarian Women" by Darrell Anderson here.)
. . . .

Men enjoy being challenged but not to the point where it threatens their status as alpha male. That is, most women seem to be better than men at dealing with opposing points of view. Perhaps the reason is men are, by nature, territorial. Territorial animals seek dominance and control. Women, historically the more submissive, have learned to be more aggressive and that aggressiveness often tends to threaten a man’s desire for control. Perhaps therein lies one reason to explain the general lack of feminist men. A man wants control, seeks control, and refrains from environments tending to diminish his sense of control.
. . . .

Many women today still accept the traditional role of housemaid and nanny. Cleaning and cooking is challenging enough without having to engage the political conflicts and illusions of patriarchy. Thus, women tend to recognize male-dominated political systems as legalized slavery under the color of law. Possibly, a man initially does not tend to see patriarchy as oppression because of his territorial nature and focus on controlling his home.

Perhaps a strong desire for sex is another reason why many men tend to shun women with a passion for liberty of action. Because the political powers-that-be rarely have the free movement of women in mind, in one form or another such passion tends to be confrontational. A man’s primary concern is getting laid — whether married, cohabiting, or living alone. He does not want to deal with confrontational human social processes that diminish his possibility of having sex. He is not wired that way.
. . . .

What to do? How can women encourage men to be more thoughtful about the truth of political patriarchy?

The primary thing a woman can do who is committed to a relationship is to assure a man that she always will be physically available to him. This is not a matter of declaring a man’s inability to go find another sexual partner, but an issue of trust. Without that trust no further discussion is likely. That assurance includes any political discussions as well as not engaging in hasty or reactive decisions that will tend to threaten his sense of control. Bob thought that relationships failed when there is no consensus agreement about fundamental issues — sex is one of those issues.

When a woman illustrates the concept of coerced power redistribution, she must explain those differences from the perspective of how women’s rights and free movement are more beneficial and reciprocating toward providing and maintaining a man’s desire for sex. Women must be prepared to show men how patriarchy discourages personal empowerment and inhibits rather than encourages women from displaying a lot of leg and cleavage. Through that educational process a woman always must remember that the moment a man perceives his ego being threatened, he will bail out of any further discussion.
. . . .

Provide him the sex he seeks and he will be more inclined to listen to arguments opposing patriarchy.