Raw Diets for Pets

Is it just me, or do pet food manufacturers jump on the same food bandwagons as people food manufacturers do? It seems you can’t even walk into an independent pet store without seeing shelf upon shelf of grain-free, or gluten-free cat and dog food. What, exactly, is going on here?

Let me say this up front: raw food diets for animal companions are not a trend, but boy howdy are the pet food companies trying to turn ’em into one!

What is a raw diet?

A raw diet (for pets) is a lot like what a raw diet is for people: uncooked, unprocessed, whole foods that provide a balanced species-appropriate nutritional profile that mimics what nature intended for them to eat. Animal parts of all sorts, from meat to offal to bone, a few choice veggies, egg, and the occasional supplemental source of protein or oil, are all part of a quality raw diet.

What are the benefits?

The benefits to switching from kibble to raw are immense. Improved health through the whole body; healthier teeth, coats, intestinal tracks and their flora, liver, pancreas, muscle… everything. In cats, stool consistency and odor is greatly improved also. These are just short-term improvements that can be seen in a matter of weeks, though. The long-term picture for a carnivorous animal getting fed a more natural diet are tremendous. All it takes is a little digging to find countless stories of pets, old and young, being saved from euthanasia or invasive veterinary treatments by being switched to a raw diet… and usually at the discouragement of their vets. Why is this? First, though:

What’s wrong with kibble?

The vast majority of kibble is bad. And I mean bad. It is essentially equivalent to eating 3 meals a day from what you can find at 7-11. How long do you expect to be healthy on a diet like that? How long before the health complications start piling up? Or imagine feeding any other carnivorous pet–like a ball python or falcon–a vegetable-based diet of crunchy, extruded bits of who-knows-what. Harder to picture, right? Well, it’s time to star thinking of our dogs and cats (and ferrets too!) as meat-eating animals with special dietary needs, just like their wild cousins.

Here’s an abridged version of a very long and thorough article, written by a vet, on why you should not feed your carnivorous pets dry kibble:

1. Ingredients

Dry food is typically made from rendered ingredients, such as chicken meal, poultry byproduct meal, and meat and bone meal (MBM). Rendering starts with animal-source ingredients being fed into a massive grinder to reduce them to chunks. The resulting hodgepodge is boiled at high temperatures for hours or even days, turning everything to mush. Fat floats to the top and is skimmed off for other uses. The remainder is dried to a low-moisture, high protein powder suitable for use in dry foods. […]

Because all of this ends up as an amorphous brown powder, it’s impossible to know what went into it. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that dog foods containing MBM and/or “animal fat” (both rendered ingredients) were the most likely to contain pentobarbital, the primary drug used to euthanize animals. […]

A survey of dry cat food for sale at a popular internet pet site found a huge variation in the price and quality. As expected, generic and grocery-store type dry cat foods were less than $2.00 per pound, while “organic” and many “grain-free” foods were more in the $3.00/lb. range. But the mostexpensive foods were not grain free, organic, or natural; but rather were those most massively (and expensively) advertised. Science Diet’s Feline Indoor Maintenance rang up at an astonishing $3.96 per pound, despite containing not one single shred of real meat (mainly poultry by-product meal, rice, and corn). Don’t even ask about Hill’s Prescription Diets—but if you just gotta know, their “hypoallergenic” z/d formula is over $6.00/lb.

2. Processing

To make dry food, whatever rendered high-protein meal is being used is mixed into a sticky, starchy dough that can be pressed through an extruder, which forms the kibble. The dough is forced by giant screws through a barrel and ultimately into tiny tubes that end in a shape, much like a cake decorator. The heat and pressure in the extruder are tremendous. As the compressed dough exits into the air, it passes through a whirling mass of sharp knives that cuts the pieces individually as they “pop” when they reach normal air pressure, creating the familiar shapes associated with each pet food brand.

While heat processing makes vegetables, fruits, and grains more digestible, it has the opposite effect on proteins. Not only are cooked proteins less digestible, but they can be distorted, or “denatured,” by heating. These abnormal proteins may be a factor in the development of food allergies, as the immune system reacts to these unfamiliar and unnatural shapes.

Enzymes, special proteins that aid in thousands of chemical reactions in the body, are especially fragile, and are rapidly destroyed by heat, even at relatively low temperatures. The normal food enzymes that would help digest the food are destroyed by processing. This forces the pancreas to make up for those lost enzymes. Over time, the pancreas can become stressed and enlarged, and even get pushed into life-threatening pancreatitis.

3. Carbohydrates

[…] Dogs and cats are carnivores, meat-eaters. Their natural diet is high protein and high moisture. For example, a whole rat contains about 8% carbs, which are found mainly in the liver. Natural prey (birds, rabbits, rodents, etc.) contain from 9-10% carbs. Some of this is consists of glycogen, a fuel the body stores in the muscles and liver, and some comes from undigested food in the prey’s gut. The carnivore’s ideal diet is essentially the Atkins diet: lots of protein and fat, and a small amount of complex carbohydrates from vegetables.

The average carb content of dry cat food is about 30% carbohydrates; it ranges from 8% in EVO Cat and Kitten food (most the carbs are replaced by 44% protein and an astronomical 47% fat), to 48% in Blue Buffalo Lite. Protein is the most expensive ingredient, and carbs the least expensive; so in general, cheaper foods contain more carbs. […]

Heat processing increases the glycemic index of carbohydrates. Corn—a common ingredient of dry food—has a glycemic index similar to a chocolate bar. When dry food is available all the time, cats in particular will nibble at it 15-20 times a day. This causes multiple sharp swings in blood sugar and requires the pancreas to secrete insulin each time. Over-secretion of insulin causes cells to down-regulate and become resistant to insulin. This is one reason why dry food is a major contributor to feline (Type II) diabetes.

4. Calories

It’s currently estimated that about 50% of dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight, and many are seriously obese. Carrying extra weight isn’t cute and cuddly—it will shorten your pet’s life, create unnecessary discomfort, and will surely lead to one or more chronic diseases, such as diabetes, bladder and kidney disease, arthritis, liver failure, chronic gastrointestinal problems, poor immunity, and even cancer. You’re not doing your pet any favors by giving in to those abnormal appetites, which are in most cases caused and perpetuated by dry food. […]

5. Dehydration

Obviously, dry food is dry. This is a big problem for cats, whose ancestors are desert-dwelling wild cats. They have passed on to our pets their super-efficient kidneys, which are designed to extract every last drop of moisture from prey animals. As a result, cats have a low thirst drive, and don’t drink water until they are about 3% dehydrated—a dehydration level so serious that most veterinarians would consider giving intravenous fluids. Dogs have a higher thirst drive and will drink more readily, so they are less prone to dehydration.

Dehydration causes or contributes to many serious health issues, including urinary crystals and stones, bladder infections, FLUTD, constipation, and kidney disease.

6. Potential Contaminants

Given the types of things manufacturers put in pet food, such as pesticide-soaked grains and diseased, dead, and dying animals, it is not surprising that bad things sometimes happen. Ingredients used in pet food are often highly contaminated with a wide variety of toxic substances. Some of these are destroyed by processing, but others are not. […]

Bacteria & bacterial toxins. Slaughtered animals, as well as those that have died because of disease, injury, or natural causes, are sources of meat, by-products, and rendered meals for pet food. Rendered products commonly found in dry pet food include chicken meal, poultry by-product meal, and meat and bone meal. […]

Drugs. Because sick or dead animals are frequently processed for pet foods, the drugs that were used to treat or euthanize them may still be present in the end product. Penicillin and pentobarbital are just two examples of drugs that can pass through processing unchanged. Antibiotics used in livestock production also contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans.

Mycotoxins. Toxins from mold or fungi are called mycotoxins. Modern farming practices, adverse weather conditions, and improper drying and storage of crops can contribute to mold growth. Pet food ingredients that are most likely to be contaminated with mycotoxins are grains such as wheat and corn; and fish meal. There have been many large pet food recalls in response to illness and death in pets due to a very powerful poison, called aflatoxin, in dry food.

Chemical Residues. Pesticides and fertilizers may leave residue on plant products. Grains that are condemned for human consumption by the USDA due to residue may legally be used in pet food.

GMOs. Genetically modified plant products are also of concern. […]

Acrylamide. This carcinogenic compound forms at cooking temperatures of about 250˚F in foods containing certain sugars and the amino acid asparagine (found in large amounts in potatoes and cereal grains). It forms during a chemical process called the Maillard reaction. Most dry pet foods contain cereal grains or starchy vegetables such as potatoes, and they are processed at high temperatures (200–300°F at high pressure during extrusion; baked foods are cooked at well over 500°F). These conditions are perfect for the Maillard reaction. In fact, the Maillard reaction is desirable in the production of pet food because it imparts a palatable taste, even though it reduces the bioavailability of some amino acids, including taurine and lysine. The amount and potential effects of acrylamide in pet foods are unknown.

7. Preservatives 

Preservatives are not needed in canned foods since canning is itself a preserving procedures. Dry food manufacturers need to ensure that dry foods have a long shelf life (typically 12 to 18 months) to remain edible through shipping and storage, fats used in pet foods are preserved with either synthetic or “natural” preservatives. Synthetic preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), propyl gallate, propylene glycol (also used as a less-toxic version of automotive antifreeze), and ethoxyquin. For these antioxidants, there is little information documenting their toxicity, safety, interactions, or chronic use in pet foods that may be eaten every day for the life of the animal. Propylene glycol, which keeps semi-moist food and “bits” soft and chewy,  is banned in cat food because it causes anemia in cats, but it is still allowed in dog food. […]

8. Liver Disease

[…] Cats’ livers are particularly sensitive to dietary changes. If a cat does not eat, the liver gets stressed and starts calling for “reinforcements.” In the cat’s case, this consists of fat breakdown around the body, which the liver then grabs from the blood stream and packs into its cells. This extreme fat hoarding can become so serious that it prevents cells from functioning properly, and a life-threatening type of liver failure, called “hepatic lipidosis” (fatty liver disease) can result. Overweight cats, and cats eating mostly or only dry food, are most at risk.

9. Allergies & Asthma

[…] As mentioned briefly above, the high-heat processing that dry food undergoes during manufacturing can denature proteins, meaning that it distorts their shape. To a protein, shape is everything, and only a protein in the correct shape will function properly. Shape is also how the immune system identifies proteins that belong in the body (“self”) versus foreign proteins. Viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other invaders are all identified by the proteins found on their surfaces. When an immune cell identifies a foreign protein, a whole cascade of signaling for reinforcements and production of antibodies is set into motion. Antibodies then scour the bloodstream looking for invaders matching their shape; when they find one, they latch on and signal for support. Inflammation is one of the primary responses.

When an abnormal protein is picked up by an immune cell and antibodies are produced, then every time that protein appears, antibodies flock to it and stimulate inflammation. More bad proteins, more inflammation.

The gut doesn’t take kindly to this reaction, and will start rejecting the food—one way or another—vomiting or diarrhea. Cats seem to be especially good at (or perhaps fond of) vomiting, and indeed, vomiting is the primary symptom of food allergies, as well as full-blown inflammatory bowel disease. […]

10. Kidney and Bladder Stones

Both dogs and cats can develop inflammation, crystals, and stones in their bladders and kidneys. These conditions are exacerbated, if not outright caused, by dry food.

[…] The best way to prevent all bladder problems is to keep lots of fluid flowing through the urinary system to flush these problem particles out. The dehydrating quality of dry food produces highly concentrated urine that is much more likely to form crystals and stones. Wet food is needed to keep the urinary tract healthy; and it’s essential in any dog or cat with a history of bladder disease.

So why don’t more vets recommend raw diets?

This is a complex issue, but unfortunately in my research, the blame can almost always be placed on the kibble companies themselves. Hills, the maker of Science Diet, is so ingrained in the veterinary culture that they are pretty much responsible for all the training on nutrition that a US vet will get while at school. From providing the professors to sponsoring student programs to writing the textbooks, it appears that they peddle the kibble myth to aspiring vets from day one.

The other issue is that, like human medical doctors, vets don’t actually pay all that much attention to the role of diet in a patient’s health. Or at least, not nearly enough. Pills are almost always preferable to a change in lifestyle, and that goes for animals too. The other concern is that pet owners won’t do it right–which is another reason pills are preferred; they’re harder to screw up–and make their pets even sicker by mishandling raw meat or not providing the right balance of nutrients.

And last, there’s always the liability concern. If a vet gives you the go-ahead to start throwing whole cornish hens at your dog, and the dog chokes on a bone, you might sue. And nobody wants that. Unfortunately, many fears about raw diets are unfounded, and many vets believe in these myths (probably due in no small part to their kibble-peddling professors in college).

How do I get started?

There are several ways to do this, but it’s generally recommended that you go cold-turkey, especially with cats because of how they digest meals. (If you feed a cat raw meat and kibble at the same time in an attempt to transition, the meat and the kibble will digest at different rates, and parts of their meal run the risk of going rancid in their gut.) The first thing to do, though, is to stop your pet’s grazing habits if they are in fact a free-feeder. This means setting specific mealtimes and removing the food in between. Yes, they will probably whine and beg for a few days, but patience here is key. They’ll get used to the new routine in no time.

Because the rest is species-specific–and even breed-specific in the case of some dogs–here are some links that far surpass whatever I’ve gleaned in the past few months. I’m still learning too!

For Dogs

For Cats

For Ferrets

So this is Lucky, a cat I rescued off the street in Bed Stuy 4 years ago. Even though I was super poor at the time, I still fed her as much raw food as I could afford. Then I brought her back to California with me, and she went on a grain-free kibble diet because it just wasn’t possible for me to keep doing raw. There was no room in the freezer, I couldn’t trust my grandmother to do it correctly when I wasn’t around, and I was just lazy. Now that she’s here with me in Vancouver, with not one but TWO loving humans who’d do anything for her, I decided to start feeding her raw again.

The first bad habit I needed to break was her grazing. She was used to having food in the bowl 24/7, and would munch here and there throughout the day. Grazing is an unnatural behavior in cats; in the wild, they have to eat as much of their kill as possible otherwise it’ll start to rot. Tired from hunting and full from eating, their natural inclination is to bathe and then nap the rest of the day away until its time to eat again. (Cats are active at dawn and dusk and shouldn’t be eating more than twice a day unless medically necessary.)

At first I started her off with wet food to get her away from the texture of kibble. The canned stuff she took to immediately (can’t blame her, it’s designed to smell great), but the less processed dehydrated stuff I got, a brand called Sojos, was less to her liking and she’d only eat as much as absolutely necessary. I’m sure the vegetable chunks were a turn-off. When it became apparent that she was never going to finish the bag of dehydrated food, I decided that it was time to switch. We headed off to the nearest Asian supermarket and bought a few trays of meat: chicken wings, boneless chicken thighs, duck gizzards, and the smelt.

The trouble with raw food is that it just doesn’t smell as exciting as processed junk food–hey, just like it is with humans!–and it can be tough to convince your pet that the chunks of raw, relatively odorless chicken in their bowl is actually food at all. So the trick here is to brighten up the smell with something a bit more familiar to them if they don’t take to it right away. Catnip, a schmear of canned food, or even a ground-up sprinkle of their old kibble will help a lot. (It’s like getting your kids to eat their veggies by putting cheese on ’em.)

If your cat is a lifelong kibble-cruncher, then they won’t actually have the jaw muscles to tear into the tougher cuts of meat, ligaments, skin, and especially bones, that they otherwise would have. So it’s useful to start them off with softer tissue, or cut others into smaller, more manageable pieces. The process of building up that jaw strength can take months; and until they can chew their way through a bone, you will have to supplement their diet with essential nutrients like calcium and phosphorous.

Part of that can be alleviated by feeding your cat what’s called “whole prey’– like the fish in the picture. Granted, I only give her a few a week as I don’t want to screw up her thiamine absorption, but the bones and offal in the fish do somewhat make up for the fact that she’s just not that great at chewing larger bones yet. (The most she can handle right now is the ends of chicken wings.) Though that’s not to say don’t give your cat bones if they can’t eat them! Even just attempting to eat them is beneficial as it cleans their teeth and is a great workout. You can always put the unfinished bones in the freezer until they’re ready to tackle them down the road.

Eventually, I’d like to start developing her taste for heart (rich in taurine), liver (always feed organic liver if nothing else, because that’s where all the toxins and antibiotics wind up), other offal, and maybe even pinkie mice. I also gotta figure out where to buy brain and green tripe around here!

Did I mention that switching your pets to a raw diet produces less waste too? Even if you’re still buying meat on styrofoam trays, think of all the energy from shipping and processing and rendering that isn’t being used to feed your pet now. And if you have access to a decent butcher who’ll fill your jars with beef hearts and chicken wings? I’d say you won the jackpot.

Not a pretty picture

Originally posted on Rebalancing Acts:

Image above, and text quoted below, from this article on Grist: “Fossil fuel companies have been lying about climate change for more than 30 years”

As early as 1977, the report’s authors note, “representatives of fossil fuel companies including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Shell attended dozens of congressional hearings in which the contribution of carbon emissions to the greenhouse effect and other aspects of climate science were discussed.”

An email written last year by a former Exxon employee recounts that by 1981, the company was very concerned about the prospect of carbon dioxide emissions triggering climate change and bringing on regulation

So naturally they did what any self-respecting big corporation that was worried about the terrible beast of regulation, and they started lying about what they knew, and spinning what was there to convince people there was sufficient doubt in the science that maybe just maybe…

View original 270 more words

What Rob Greenfield and Mick Dodge Have In Common

So I stumbled upon RobGreenfield.TV a while back via my favorite social network, Diaspora*, and navigated around some before coming across this article:

As of today it has been one year since my last shower. Yes, I know that sounds crazy and a year ago I would have agreed with you. I was a regular showering guy for the first 26 years of my life. Well, maybe not every single day, but just about.

So how does a regular showering guy end up going 365 days and counting without taking a shower? It started with a long bike ride across America to promote sustainability and eco-friendly living. I set a bunch of rules for myself to follow to lead by example. The rule for water was that I could only harvest it from natural sources such as lakes, rivers, and rain or from wasted sources such as leaky faucets. And I kept track of exactly how much I used too, with an aim of showing just how little we need to get by.

I made it through the 100-day bike ride without taking a shower and for me that was quite the task in itself. But everything had gone so well that I decided to continue my showerless streak. I set a goal for 6 months and when that day passed I figured I might as well go a full year without a shower.

So here I am now, one year later, to tell you story of my year without a shower.

I might as well bring this up right away. You think I’m really stinky right? […] When I say that I haven’t showered that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t bathing. I swam almost daily in places like this:

Rob Greenfield Water


But I learned that by living naturally I didn’t need cosmetic products anymore. I just used some soap, toothpaste, and essential oils and found that to work real well. This compared to previously using colognes, deodorant, shampoo, lotions, and all sorts of other products full of chemicals. And guess what?  I had no lack of friends! […]

I learned that the average American uses about 100 gallons of water per day. But I was able to use less than 2 gallons per day on my bike trip. That’s just 8 Nalgene water bottles. (This was not including the natural water and leaky sources that I bathed in.)

Rob Greenfield Drinking

Most importantly I learned to really appreciate every last drop.

I mean, this is all amazing and inspiring and great stuff! I think 100 gallons of water per person per day is a downright shameful amount of water for anyone to use, and everyone* ought to be seriously critical of their water usage.

But this just reminds me of a comment thread on Diaspora* that turned sour when someone started telling me that being “truly healthy” and “truly sustainable” meant that I shouldn’t need deodorant, toothpaste, medicine, or any modern convenience whatsoever. He didn’t want me taking antidepressants because they’re “poison”. (And clinical, chronic depression isn’t?) Anyways, long story short, I got agitated and told him to get out of my post because he was failing spectacularly at solidarity.

But it got me to thinking a little bit– why are characters like that know-it-all on Diaspora*, and this Rob Greenfield person, always men? And why does it never occur to them that the people they are talking to aren’t all men also? And that, maybe, in not being a man, things are just a little bit different? When this happens–and let’s face it, it’s almost a constant in our society–whether it comes from a man or a woman or someone else, it’s called androcentrism. 

One of my favorite guilty pleasure shows right now is the Legend of Mick Dodge. I love that program because Mick, a wildman of some 20 or 30 years, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about television, celebrity, drama, and even likes messing with the camera crew following him around. This winds up having the effect of reminding the viewer that they are, in fact, watching a TV program and not there themselves; which, to me, is an amazing “fuck you” to the whole reality format of the show, and the genre itself. But one of the things I realized after watching a handful of episodes is the complete lack of women in Mick’s world. None of his off-grid friends are women and none of his apprentices are women. It’s a total sausagefest. What gives?

I really mean that as a rhetorical question, because I know exactly what gives. Patriarchy and sexism, to put it bluntly. It’s all in the collective social consciousness: bushcraft, “roughing it”, is a man’s skill; peeing outdoors is par for the course for a man, weird and gross for a woman; men are allowed to be dirty, ugly, and hairy, while women who are un-manicured are often considered subhuman; and so on.

But there are other things at play when I hear healthy men preach about how amazing it is to be free like Rob or Mick.

Show of hands: how many of my female-identified or female-perceived readers would be OK scrubbing down, in your street clothes, via leaking fire hydrant in the middle of New York City, like Rob Greenfield did during his bike trip? I know I wouldn’t. I would be worrying about my safety, to be honest. What more obvious invitation for harassment could there be on a NYC street than a young perceived-woman, completely wet, sudsing down in public on a hot day?

Or how about: how many of my female-identified or female-perceived readers would be OK skinny dipping near a trail, alone, like Rob did during the same trip? I would never, in a million years, do that. The worst-case scenarios are just too real for me to risk it.

The other guilty pleasure show I watched last year, Live Free or Die, featured only a single woman out of a total of five subjects; is it any coincidence that she was also part of the only married couple on the show that lived in a proper house? She and her husband were roughing it, to be sure; I don’t believe they had much in the way of electricity or running water, and money played a very small role in their day to day lives and exchanges with neighbors. But, given the four different lifestyles featured in the program, it should come as no surprise that a woman would only be found in the safest of them: with access to a male partner, a house with doors, and a life that didn’t necessitate wandering the wilds, far from any reliable aid should something, or someone, become a problem.

How come this reality, the reality of being women and perceived-women, is never acknowledged by bushcrafters and advocates of rewilded living? The realities of emotional and physical violence (perpetuated by men), the realities of having having a uterus and needing birth control as a safety measure, and the realities of living up to (and often failing because of hypocrisies inherent to these tropes) what a woman is supposed to be?

And yeesh, that’s not even touching on what happens when a male stranger can’t immediately recognize your gender, or worse, thinks he’s been tricked. That is a very dangerous place to be, and has resulted in many an assault and murder of a trans person**.

So what do Rob Greenfield and Mick Dodge have in common? They’re men, and as such, are granted certain protections by that fact while out on the road or in the wilderness. And I think some of us would like to see the likes of them openly acknowledge that a little more often. Or better yet, use their popularity to do something about it.

With that, I’d like to end this post with a quote by Sylvia Plath:

Yes, my consuming desire is to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, barroom regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yes, God, I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night…

*In developed countries
**Mostly trans women of color; may you all rest in power

Ownership vs. Stewardship


Throwback Thursday! Enjoy~

Originally posted on Zero Waste Millennial:


So someone told me that I was rude for wanting to reuse something.

This person was my grandmother, and the occasion was Mother’s Day. We were having brunch and I’d given her and my mom their presents; a gift card for her, and some random stuff for my mom (like this stainless bento box which she is totally in love with now). Gma’s present was so tiny that I just put it in a little card box with a ribbon on top, but for my mom’s pile of stuff I had a cloth gift bag from Patagonia (can’t seem to find them on their site at all? anyways, they’re awesome) that I just threw it all into and took back when she pulled everything out.

My mom had absolutely no problem with this; I told her that this is how I roll now, and she’s completely on board. Besides…

View original 637 more words

The Zero-Waste Case for Littering

You see the title of this post and probably think to yourself: “That’s it, they’ve finally lost their marbles. How could anyone, let alone an anti-trash advocate, endorse littering?? The transporter must’ve glitched!”

I haven’t grown an evil beard– I can assure you that this isn’t the mirror universe.

Being pro-litter is actually highly logical, as I will soon argue; even a Vulcan couldn’t disagree by the end of this post. Why? Well, it comes down to two things: one, the history of litter laws in the West (specifically the US), and two, a concept called direct action.

The History of Litter Laws in the West (Specifically the US)

Littering, like most everything else, wasn’t always criminalized. In fact, for the vast majority of human history, there was no need for it: litter was, up until very recently, almost always biodegradable natural waste, and in the case of tough-to-decompose materials like bones and ash, some of it was even saleable. But the sea change happened at a very important part of US and world history. What else was going on at the time? Well, WW2 had ended, for one thing. Plastics were being mass-produced for the first time, and the concept of disposability was just entering into the social consciousness; the USian public had 20 years of pinched pockets after the stock market crash of ’29, and during WW2, they had strict rationing. It’s little wonder how the allure of cheap and disposable goods captured the imaginations of so many as soon as the opportunity arose.

In 1953, Keep America Beautiful was founded in response to the trash accumulating along the roads of the country’s brand-spankin’-new interstate highway system. In 1955, Britain had its own campaign: Keep Britain Tidy. Australia founded Keep Australia Beautiful in 1968. Other countries have similar initiatives, though not usually on a national scale; for instance, in Canada, it appears most anti-littering organizations operate on the provincial or municipal level, and very few of these smaller movements go back further than the 90’s.

But those campaigns are good, you might be saying. They are, it could be argued, on paper. In reality, Keep America Beautiful, obviously the first and most influential of the anti-littering movements, was founded by a group of key players in the beverage industry, who were beginning to see bad publicity when their products were turning up on roadsides and in ditches all over the country. Some of these names you might recognize: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch, and Phillip Morris. From Bottle Bill Toolkit’s history of Keep America Beautiful:

In the aftermath of magazine ads promoting beverage cans as “throwaways”, Keep America Beautiful (KAB) was founded in 1953 by a group of businessmen from the beverage and packaging industries. Their purported interest was to curb the growing problem of litter. Coincidently, 1953 was the year Vermont passed the nation’s first bottle bill, banning the sale of beer in non-refillable bottles.

Litter was a visible problem nationwide and the bottlers and packagers were concerned that government would make them responsible for solving the litter problem by regulating their industries. That concern was the catalyst for founding KAB. The organization launched its first campaign theme, “Every Litter Bit Hurts” and the most visible environmental organizations joined KAB’s war on litter.

So like any good capitalist, these businessmen sought to hand the responsibility over to the unwitting public, rather than deal with the repercussions of their manufacturing practices, or–god forbid–face government regulation. According to them, “People start pollution, [and] people can stop it.”

Surely Keep America Beautiful has gotten better since then; after all, the goal is admirable, right? Again, it only sounds great on paper. From the previous link:

In 1972 Oregon and Vermont enacted the nation’s first bottle bills requiring a 5-cent deposit on beer and soft drink containers. By 1974, when the California legislature began to debate whether to enact a container deposit law, KAB made a strategic decision to publicly oppose the bottle bill. Roger Powers, President of KAB testified against the California bottle bill before the state legislature in Sacramento. […]

The final blow to environmentalists was dealt during a speech at a July 1976 KAB Board of Directors meeting at the Biltmore Hotel in New York, when American Can Company chairman William F. May labeled bottle bill proponents “Communists” and called for a total KAB mobilization against the four bottle bill referenda on the ballot in November. Present during the speech were KAB’s Advisory Committee members, many of whom were the subject of May’s attack.

The story was picked up by Jack Anderson and aired on his national television show. On August 12, 1976, the EPA resigned from KAB’s board and by October 1976 more than a dozen environmental and citizen groups, including National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, League of Women Voters and Sierra Club disaffiliated from KAB. In November of that year voters approved bottle bills in Michigan and Maine. […]

In the 1990’s, KAB adopted yet another campaign slogan – “Let’s not waste the 1990’s” – which stressed the need to encourage citizens, municipal officials and civic leaders to “re-examine recycling’s capabilities and limitations.” The new campaign presented a 5-pronged solution to solving the problem of solid waste – source reduction, recycling, composting, incineration and sanitary landfilling.

KAB’s 1990’s slogan was new, but the message had changed little since Iron Eyes Cody warned that “People Start Pollution – People Can Stop It.” The promotional materials made no mention of policies such as recycled content requirements, mandatory recycling rates, bottle bills or other measurers that shift the burden of waste management and waste reduction from government to the producers of waste. […]

In an article in Biocycle , Former President of NRC and Manager of Market Development for Weyerhaeuser Recycling, Pete Grogan, wrote, “I find myself questioning the agenda behind the [$400k report funded by KAB which reached the conclusion that recycling and composting aren’t effective waste management methods]. . . The report reminds us that it is ‘cheaper’ to send solid waste to the landfill. Well, I can easily argue that tossing solid waste in the river is even cheaper.”

Keep America Beautiful may have little clout these days (though it is still affiliated with Waste Management, a company that owns and operates many of the country’s landfills), but the bulk of the damage has already been done. KAB is responsible for inventing and disseminating the picture of an all-powerful consumer in whose hands alone rests the health and future of the biosphere, and it’s been working at maintaining this fabrication for more than 60 years with the help of many an anti-environmental corporate sponsor. The image of Iron Eyes Cody shedding a single tear has been widely recognized by marketers and historians alike as one of the most successful ad campaigns ever conceived. We are living in the aftermath of this great lie.

Whether we like it or not, Keep America Beautiful was the beginning of modern conscious consumerism, eco-friendliness, and greenwashing. This is the heritage of the Zero Waste lifestyle movement. It’s founded on a NIMBY moral aesthetic where beautiful = good and ugly = bad. We gotta get away from this childish and reactionary way of thinking; it’s getting us nowhere fast. This brings us to the next part.

Direct Action

Direct action can be loosely defined as a political act that doesn’t rely on any outside system or institution to direct and sponsor it, and whose goal is more than just “raising awareness”. For instance, planting a community garden can be a direct action; so can smashing in the windows of a bank branch.

Martin Luther King Jr. can be quoted as having a definition:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

– Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Wikipedia has a less poetic and broader definition:

Direct action occurs when a group takes an action which is intended to reveal an existing problem, highlight an alternative, or demonstrate a possible solution to a social issue. This can include nonviolent and less often violent activities which target persons, groups, or property deemed offensive to the direct action participants. Examples of non-violent direct action (also known as nonviolent resistance or civil resistance) can include sit-ins, strikes,workplace occupations, blockades, hacktivism, etc., while violent direct action may include political violence, sabotage, property destruction, assaults, etc. By contrast, electoral politics, diplomacy, negotiation, and arbitrationare not usually described as direct action, as they are politically mediated. Non-violent actions are sometimes a form of civil disobedience, and may involve a degree of intentional law-breaking where persons place themselves in arrestable situations in order to make a political statement but other actions (such as strikes) may not violate criminal law.

The aim of direct action is to either obstruct another political agent or political organization from performing some practice to which the activists object; or to solve perceived problems which traditional societal institutions (governments, religious organizations or established trade unions) are not addressing to the satisfaction of the direct action participants.

Non-violent direct action has historically been an assertive regular feature of the tactics employed by social movements, including Mohandas Gandhi’s Indian Independence Movement and the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

In other words, direct action is necessarily confrontational.

The question is this: do we, as zero waste advocates, recognize the injustices of pollution, waste, and consumerism as being enough to warrant confrontation? Personally, I think so.

Littering as Direct Action

I argue that littering is a legitimate form of resistance against misguided litter laws, the influence of the waste and landfill lobby, and industrial-consumer-capitalism itself, which created this whole mess to begin with.

First of all, litter laws have only ever been about one thing: appearances. Maintaining the appearance of a clean and healthy world for those who can afford to live in areas where these laws are enforced, and where waste and recycling services and facilities exist; and maintaining the appearance of pollution being a problem perpetuated entirely by irresponsible consumers rather than the capitalist system that produces and pushes these products. I suggest that littering, by making trash and pollution visible, instead of hiding it in landfills, developing nations, Superfund sites, and the ocean’s gyres, we can ensure that it becomes more and more difficult for the average Westerner to ignore the problem. We can ensure that the elephant in the room is harder to forget.

If cloud computing is really just storing files and accessing them from someone else’s computer, then capitalist waste disposal methods are simply a form of “cloud” trash management: storing them on someone else’s land and polluting someone else’s ecosystem. Don’t make the mistake of believing that there is less polluting going on– it’s just harder to see.

So I say let every discarded coffee cup be like a gravestone: a reminder of all the casualties in this battle we’re waging against the natural world and our own health. Let plastic wrappers and crumpled foil be reminders that these artifacts exist, that it’s only a matter of where they will exist. Inspire a conversation not about where the trash ought to go, but why it was made in the first place; who sold it to us; whether it was truly useful or not; and what might it take to keep this from happening altogether.

Because cleaning up here means just putting the mess someplace else. And that’s not right.

Little Things

Some little things I’m learning.

1. Save seed from the (viable, non-hybridized, non-GMO) fruit and vegetables that you buy. Give the seeds away or plant them.

2. Grow some kind of edible or medicinal plant.

3. Regrow your green onions.

4. If it can be rooted in water, take a cutting home.

5. With careful maintenance, many trees can be matured in a container and grown from seed.

6. Japanese maples cost a lot of money for some reason.

7. Don’t buy granola bars; you can make them for a fraction of the cost in minutes.

8. Don’t use the ramen packet. Make your own powder or dashi broth; that way, you’ll know exactly what you’re eating.

9. Nutritional yeast is good in almost everything.

10. Raw desserts are just as good as baked ones. Save some time, energy, and electricity, and let those cookies set in the fridge instead of the oven.

11. Don’t let anyone convince you that cold-brewed coffee is any more difficult than hot. All you need to make some is a lidded jar, ground coffee, water, and a few hours.

12. Shop the discounted/old produce section first. You never know when you might walk away with a dozen very ripe avocados for $3.

13. Brush with baking soda. The toothpaste industry is a racket and it’s no harsher on your teeth than anything else you’d brush with.

14. You’re never too old to dumpster dive.

15. Visit your local community gardens and mini free libraries often.

16. Bokashi bran can be sprinkled onto cat litter to help with smells.

17. Apply tea tree oil directly onto blemishes before bed time. It’ll dry them out and reduce the redness.

18. Play more card games.

When Soap Makes the Difference

Originally posted on Raxa Collective:

Sundara is a soap making operation in Mumbai that collects bar soap waste from hotels and recycles it for underprivileged children who cannot afford to buy soap. PHOTO: Sundara Sundara is a soap making operation in Mumbai that collects bar soap waste from hotels and recycles it for underprivileged children who cannot afford to buy soap. PHOTO: Sundara

Ever wondered what happens to the barely used soaps that you leave behind in hotel rooms? Think they get reused? We’ve got bad news – they don’t. In fact they are normally tossed away, cluttering our already crowded landfills. Sundara, a soap making operation in Mumbai has a neat solution to this problem. They collect bar soap waste from hotels, sanitize and recycle it and distribute the new soaps to underprivileged children and adults who cannot afford soap. To date they have regular soap distributions reaching over 6,000 underprivileged children and adults in Mumbai slums. They have also saved thousands of kilograms of waste from going to landfills in the process.

And it started with a University of Michigan graduate…

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Tidying, Japanese-Style

Well, I’m in Canada. Finally. Sort of. For the most part.

Some of my stuff is here, but most of it is still kind of en-route… basically it’s at an uncle’s house in Oregon and I plan on making small trips to get up here bit by bit. The hubs had only sorta moved in back in April, mostly waiting for me to come so that we could both really settle in together.

Not surprising, though, is that a few spats have occurred regarding the number of things we own (though mostly him) and how much space we now have to put them. This sort of thing has happened plenty of times before with us, but this time we mean business: this is basically the apartment of our dreams, and it’s the last place we plan on living before buying up our land and heading off the grid, and we don’t expect that to happen for at least another 10 years down the road.

How did we get here?

Well, I married a collector; he collects toys and memorabilia from his favorite franchises (mostly 80’s stuff). And when we met, I was a collector too. Or at least, I was trying to be… sort of hard when you’re in college and wind up moving 6 times in as many years, having to almost start over every time for a number of reasons, some legitimate, and others not so much.

And in a roundabout way, global warming happened. The BP oil spill. The disappearing Greenland Ice Sheet. Memories of the weather patterns in winter being different back home, growing up, than what they are now. Memories of hail storms and Santa Ana Winds that don’t seem to happen anymore. Bisphenol-A happened too. And rising gas prices. Then, the dawning realization that humanity was making a huge mess and refusing to clean it up. And then after that, the understanding that only certain, special, parts of humanity were predominantly responsible for that mess.

So I started doing a lot more reading about all sorts of subjects that an environmentalist might find useful. The waste stream; food production; conservation; green tech; social alienation; advertising; capitalism; colonialism.

And like my about page says, I eventually found Bea’s Zero Waste Home via an episode of the How Stuff Works podcast, in which they talked about refrigeration, and the feasibility of living without it. Her book was mentioned more or less in passing, but after doing a bit of my own research and happening on a copy at a local bookstore, I bought it and was hooked.

It spoke to me as someone who was deeply unhappy, and was for a long time. I was diagnosed with major clinical depression in 2012, which validated many, many, years of feeling just slightly “off”. Not sad, but distant and somewhat hopeless; I was prone to bouts of explosive anger, was a chronic complainer, and sometimes found myself so inexplicably mad, frustrated, and self-loathing, that I would cry myself to sleep and wake up despondent.

Ever since I could remember, I’d felt like a square peg in a world full of round holes. Very little about the outside world or the dominant hegemony of society ever made any sense to me, and I had a very hard time imagining myself as an adult navigating that world. Not being able to imagine any kind future for yourself takes its toll, and as a child and teenager I roamed around in some very dark places, flirting with self-harm and suicidal ideations. What’s interesting to me is that I was never in a place of despair and trying to escape by hurting myself or ending my life; I think for me, those were some of the only ways I knew how to reconcile my lack of an imagined future with the real world. If you’re 12 or 13 years old in the US and can’t picture yourself being 30, or having a job, or a household, then what is there to imagine? I couldn’t picture myself existing under those terms. So, nonexistence, death, is what’s left. In a sad and twisted way, that was the only way (along with artistic self-expression) that I could prove to myself that I was a real person that was capable of having a future, even if that future was truncated by something terrible– that terrible thing was something that I at least knew could probably prove my realness when it seemed nothing else would.

In the years since my diagnosis, I’ve come a cross a lot of literature, academic and non-, theorizing about what depression and anxiety really are. But one of the proposed explanations that has always stayed with me is that depression is a symptom of the alienation that our capitalistic society has constructed. Without which we wouldn’t have such a need for things like self-help books, beauty products, drugs, and countless other products designed to capitalize on that inexplicable gnawing emptiness that seems to characterize and propel so much of Western civilization.

The author of the piece, The Problem With Society Isn’t Greed. Greed Is a Symptom of a Deep Need Going Unfulfilled, nails it:

All aspects of our culture conspire to strip us of our connection and belongingness. Let me name a few more:

– Religious indoctrination into self-rejection.

– Schooling that keeps children indoors, fosters competition, and accustoms them to doing things they don’t care about for the sake of external rewards.

– Hygienic ideology that fosters a fear and rejection of the world.

– Immersion in an environment composed of standardized commodities, buildings, and images.

– The alienating effects of living among inorganic shapes and right angles.

– Property rights that confine us most of the time to our homes, commercial environments, and a few parks.

– Media images that make us feel inferior and unworthy

– A surveillance state and police culture that leave us feeling untrusted and insecure.

– A debt-based financial system in which money is systemically scarce: there is never enough money to pay the debts.

– A legal culture of liability in which everyone is assumed to be a potential opponent.

– Patriarchal belief systems that oppress the inner and outer feminine, confine intimacy, and make love a transaction.

– Racial, ethnic, and national chauvinism, that makes some of our human brothers and sisters into Others.

– An ideology of nature-as-resource that cuts us off from our connectedness to other beings and leaves us feeling alone in the universe.

– Cultural deskilling that leaves us as passive, helpless consumers of experiences.

– Immersion in a world of strangers, whose faces we don’t recognize and whose stories we don’t know.

– Perhaps most importantly, a metaphysics that tells us that we are discrete, separate selves in a universe of Other.

18 months after hungrily devouring Zero Waste Home, I know now that what I was sensing in its pages wasn’t an asceticism, but this.

The book came into my life at something of a crucial period. I was a few years out of school, living with a relative for very little rent, in a neighborhood I practically grew up in, and most importantly, I had a job. Like, a real, grown-up job. It still didn’t feel quite real, thanks to the aforementioned depression, but having a good-paying job was half the equation of adulthood. Moreover, I could afford practically whatever I wanted. I was  beginning to surround myself with furniture that wasn’t made of plastic, clothes that didn’t come from Target or H&M, foods from health food stores. I was acquiring so many nice, quality, things that I’d previously only been able to dream of owning.

So why was I still unhappy?

Bea’s book hinted at the answer in living her life for experiences, not things.

But as someone who had gone so long with so few meaningful possessions, how would getting rid of all my stuff help? Wouldn’t I feel just as transient and place-less as I did in college with all that moving around? I wanted to feel grounded!

I quickly learned that weighing myself down with stuff is not a substitute for having a sense of place.

I know that in my bones, now.

The problem is, how to reconcile this new understanding with finally cohabiting with my husband?

Well, I happen to have a friend who has a problem with acquiring junk; actually, both she and her fiance do, and they have for years, but it’s something they’re making a concerted effort to work on. So I told her about the issue, and she told me to get a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingAnd wow, I could not have gotten a better recommendation.

The author, a life-long organizing and cleaning aficionado, came up with a method called KonMari (based on her name), that she swears has worked for every single one of her clients since she came up with it. It is both rigid and subjective at the same time, and basically is as follows:

1. Going through your things category by category, and everything within those categories all at once, get rid of everything that “doesn’t spark joy”

2. Once you’ve gotten rid of the excess, put everything back in its place

I love this, and the hubs does too. There’s no endorsement of fancy, expensive, organizing gadgets and systems. (In fact, she actively disparages them.) There’s no emphasis on meeting quotas or other rigid systems that require you to take inventory of the number of X things you have. In fact, she encourages readers to think of our possessions’ feelings as we go about our day, and to talk to them.

That’s because the book is heavily rooted, intentionally or not, in Shinto philosophy, something both the hubs and I found to be very refreshing. We don’t want to get rid of stuff because we hate stuff, we want to get rid of stuff because we want to love that which really means the most to us, all the while giving us room to breathe in our own home, and fewer reasons to stay inside on a beautiful day. We want to respect our things. It’s win-win-win.

I feel like this is a big deal for someone like me. For the first time, I have a sense of who and where I want to be in the future; I can imagine it. I can picture myself living my ideal life, and I can know for certain that such a life will never again involve mindless consumerism, clutter, things that weigh me down, things that would tear me apart if I were to lose them. There’s a lot more to being alive than any of that!

I have so much hope for this new life, in fact, that I can see myself not being on anti-depressants at some point in the foreseeable future. If only I’d known sooner that my lifelong depression was caused in no small part by the culture and society that I live in; if only I’d known there was a way out.

But hey, at least I figured it out at all, right? And at 26 no less?

I thought that I’d done all the purging that I needed to do, that it was up to the hubs now. But reading Kondo’s book made me realize that I still had a ways to go; not just in terms of number of things, but psychologically as well. I’ve got some emotional housekeeping to do, you might say.

My mom is flying up to visit at the end of the month for Canada Day (and to bring my cat for me!), so I expect that hubs and I will have started “tidying” the KonMari way in preparation before that. I would love to do something of a “house tour”, Apartment Therapy style,  at some point after all the purging and organizing; that way you all can see our zero waste systems and decor aesthetics in action.

If you’re interested in reading Kondo’s book but don’t have the money to buy a copy, email me and I might be able to work something out for you. ;]