What the Whole Foods Buyout Means

Oops, looks like this got prematurely posted as I was working on it. So here it is again, all finished-like!


I pick on Whole Paycheck – I mean, Whole Foods – a lot. I did it before I started working there, and I do it even more now that I’ve seen first-hand how the proverbial sausage is made. Why? Well, first off, they make it so easy. They’re a grocery store for the clueless and self-righteous elite, for people who’ve probably never worked a service job in their life. They prey on the aforementioned elites’ desperation to buy happiness, to buy enlightenment, to buy guilt-alleviation, and to buy youth, beauty, and whatever the hell “wellness” is. And since they opened their first store back in the 80’s, they’ve done a pretty damn good job.

But not quite so much anymore.

Sales for the all-natural grocer have been in steady decline for some years now. I’ve heard stories from co-workers about the good ol’ days of gainsharing payouts – gainsharing is the store’s practice of dividing up some of a store’s excess profits over the course of the year and distributing it among employees around the holidays – which used to be in the hundreds of dollars. In the past 5 years, payouts have plummeted, and have recently been in the measly dozens of dollars. And if this is happening at the leading store in the entire region, employees at other locations probably see hardly any payout at all.

The Big Squeeze

To put the severity of this in perspective: the gainsharing board at my store, a little corner of baseless and manufactured optimism, is proud to boast month after month of surplus that will be available for the gainsharing program; one little detail, though, is that these surpluses are not from sales, but from labor. A labor surplus means that when employees are let go, or when they move on, they are not replaced, leaving the rest of the team to pick up the slack. More work is created for those remaining, so a gainsharing payout from a labor surplus is hardly an extra “bonus” at all – it’s actually hard-earned pay and it’s peanuts to boot.

This kind of cannibalization, this slow speeding up of the treadmill, I’ve begun to call The Big Squeeze. It’s happening across the board in the US economy, and hitting the retail sector hardest.

Imagine, for a moment, a toothpaste tube. It’s brand-new and filled to overflowing. At first, you only have to give the tube the slightest pinch to get some of the toothpaste out. But as more and more of the toothpaste gets used up, you have to squeeze harder. Without taking the analogy too far, imagine a fist holding the tube in the middle, and squeezing the toothpaste out that way. The middle disappears first, right? That fist, squeezing the tube empty, is what our economy looks like right now. And toothpaste, remember, rarely finds its way back in the tube, let alone worked back to the bottom.

Another way in which things resemble a Big Squeeze might be found in the metaphor of an orange being juiced. Getting the juice out is easy for the first few seconds, but quickly becomes more difficult as there is less and less to extract. The same principle can be applied to the labor situation. To use my experience as an example again: another co-worker told me that when she first started at our location about 3 or 4 years ago, the job was orders of magnitude simpler. The menu was half of its current size, we had less equipment to use and manage, and the ingredients we worked with were far fewer.

In my short 8 months there, the menu has grown by about 30%, the number and variety of ingredients used to make orders have almost doubled, and time spent making orders has increased. Adding to this is further complexity due to changes in the chemicals we use for cleaning and sanitation, and more rigorous procedures associated with their use. (Because of those wonderful labor “surpluses”, we don’t have the time to actually perform any of those procedures, and are often required to cook the log books while supervisors look the other way. Who the fuck has time to check the PPM of chemical formulas twice a day when we sometimes don’t even get the opportunity to take our legally-mandated breaks?) And yet, there’s still only ever one or two of us doing the work that three or four people should be doing.

All of this has been an effort on the part of Whole Foods to squeeze extra efficiency out of its employees. First, they gutted labor, but once you’re already running on a skeleton crew, you can’t get rid of any more people; there’s only so much fat you can trim. So the next strategy is always, invariably, to extract more efficiency out of what you have left: you try to expand the size of the ship and spread your skeleton crew thinner. You can’t make them work longer hours, but you can train people to do a wider variety of things, so that they might be more versatile employees, or just hire floaters in lieu of department-specific workers (sacrificing expertise and customer service). You introduce more and more complexity to the jobs they already do, barraging customers with a larger buffet of choices (which all cost extra, but succeeds in distracting from the dip in quality of core products; at least, for a time).

These are all tried-and-true methods of a failing business – it’s also, if you think about it, how a star goes supernova. The question is, does it collapse into a dwarf star or a singularity? Whole Foods was limping, and Amazon pounced – personally, I feel as if the company has gotten swallowed up by a supermassive black hole before we even got a chance to find out either way.

A Horseman of the Apocalypse

Amazon, along with Google, Facebook, and Walmart, are the proverbial Four Horsemen: Surveillance, Enclosure, Monopoly, and Conquest.

As the Horseman of Enclosure, Amazon would be more than happy to see the dissolution of retail and public space as we currently know it. In fact, Jeff Bezos would probably wet himself with glee if the American public didn’t ever leave the house – they’d do all their shopping and consume all their entertainment from the comfort of their armchairs, likely using Amazon to do it. A few months ago, that kind of domination would not have been complete, though. As Fortune explains, the grocery business is a notoriously tough nut to crack, and aside from the smattering of shop-for-you services that have cropped up in recent years, online companies looking for an “in” haven’t found one… until now:

“Food has been insulated from the e-commerce revolution over the last 20 years, but the reality is consumers are going online, they are expecting mobile, and they want the ultimate convenience,” said Michael Wystrach, co-founder and CEO of meal delivery service Freshly, in an interview with Fortune. “The evolution of the grocery store business is going to evolve dramatically over the next five years.”

“The reality is consumers are going online”.

I don’t think I actually buy that when it comes to food. I’m not really able to find data, but if Instacart’s Foodie Awards are any indication, it’s that higher-end, “artisan” food products are the most popular purchases its customers make. It’s not quite Blue Apron-level elite, but these kinds of products (cold brew coffee, artisan marshmallows, prosciutto, etc.) are pretty firmly outside the price range of the working class. The lower middle class, the working class, and those in even lower income brackets, then, are clearly not doing their grocery shopping online.

What’s happening here, then, is that Silicon Valley and the other bloated behemoths of e-commerce are introducing disruptive technologies and business strategies that only the monied are in a position to take advantage of, then, still propped up by venture capitalist cash and itching to get out of the red, proceed to declare that “all” consumers want the future of X industry to go in their direction, and then actualize their self-fulfilling prophecy by muscling their way into markets that don’t actually want them, or by merging with bigger players and choking off the competition, leaving the less monied with no other choice but to shell out. This is how Walmart, the Horseman of Conquest, functions in the brick-and-mortar world. Amazon simply does it in notional space – by colonizing your purchasing habits even though other alternatives are still technically available.

Instacart will not ultimately survive the Amazon buyout unless it, too, is assimilated. Me and a few of my co-workers, in fact, don’t even predict that Whole Foods will survive the buyout. It will either not exist in another 10 or 15 years, or will have been rendered completely unrecognizable. This is what companies in capitalist economies do, though: the only way to survive is to cannibalize your own long-term interests, and then prostrate yourself before the highest bidder.

In other words, the only way to get toothpaste out of the tube is to squeeze.

Where Values Don’t Really Matter

In the hallways behind the public-facing part of the store at my location, we’ve got the “Core Values” painted on the walls. They’re nothing more than bits of decoration on otherwise drab gray paint that everyone ignores; a perfect microcosm to how often anyone at the company thinks about them when making a decision, least of all the CEO. Be wary of for-profit businesses who claim to have a mission statement beyond “make as much money as possible”, because when their back is to the wall, or when a quick buck is to be made, you can bet your ass that money will always trump the “mission”.

The extent to which a large corporate entity can ignore its own mission statement at the prospect of increasing sales can’t get any more evident than with Whole Foods post-buyout. For shits and giggles, I’ll go over each tenet and explain just how, exactly, it will now cease to have any meaning. (Not that many of them ever did.)

  • We sell the highest quality natural and organic products available: This is just plain wrong – really, only somebody who literally has their head up their ass would believe this. This is, of course, if you don’t equate “high-quality” with “fancy” – ie. products that have way too much R&D invested in their packaging, or products that have been processed to heck and gone to make it more palatable to western tastebuds.
  • We satisfy, delight, and nourish our customers: This one’s tricky because none of it really means anything. However, our customers are dissatisfied and irked all the time; every day those kinds of people make my job just that much harder as I watch them cut each other in line, snap their fingers at us to get our attention, or interrupt us as we’re helping somebody else. In fact, it seems like almost half of our customers seem to be in a bad mood on any given day!
  • We support team member excellence and happiness: This has always been bullshit, but now with Amazon running the show, I can’t see it ever improving. Amazon is one of the worst employers out there, and you’d be hard pressed to get me to believe that there won’t be bleed-over in how Whole Foods will be expected to treat its workers in the future, especially if Amazon is looking to create an even tighter, leaner ship. I already explained the so-called “labor surplus” above, but also there’s the fact that raises are hard to come by, everyone who works there is constantly amped up on nigh-lethal doses of caffeine just to keep up with the hard, unpredictable hours, and perks are far and few between.
  • We serve and support our local and global communities: Aside from the small smattering of fair trade items that the store stocks (and ignoring that the Fair Trade label has problems of its own), I don’t really see how WF differs drastically from any other typical grocery store. Unfortunately, now with Amazon in the picture, this will be even more meaningless: Amazon cares nothing for anything but “free trade” – that is, the sort of free trade that makes it easier for them to muscle their way into whatever markets, wherever, and to chew people up and spit them out.
  • We practice and advance environmental stewardship: Laughable. Simply laughable. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is such a bald-faced lie. Oh wait, I sort of did.
  • We create ongoing win-win partnerships with our suppliers: This may be true as of right now. I’m not sure. I know that’s not always been the case, though, especially with that little scandal about WF using prison labor to source some of their products. (Prisoners, that is, who legally get paid less than a dollar per hour of work, and whose employ is not federally regulated.) Post-buyout, again, I can’t really see this improving. All I know is how Amazon treats its self-published authors and what it does (or does not do, rather) for product pricing.
  • We promote the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education: I’m guessing that “stakeholders” here means customers and employees, in which case it’s a wash. Only a couple of the stores I’ve been to actually host classes and workshops about healthy eating, and the rest is your superfood of the week bullcrap. Like the whole juice trend (and not to mention the partnership with Juicero a few of the So Cal stores have made): juice is not actually that healthy. It’s basically nature’s flat soda: sugar water. And yet, along with a lot of other over-priced “food” items making dubious promises, like probiotics, prebiotics, turmeric, bone broth, and wheatgrass, they keep pushing it on the consumer. This stuff isn’t any healthier than the boring shit like brown rice and cabbagebut it sure is for WF’s coffers!
  • We create wealth through profits and growth: I saved this one for last because it’s the only honest sentence they have in their whole portfolio of marketing copy. The problem, obviously, is wealth for whom. Certainly not employees, and it’s definitely a questionable claim regarding their supply chain, but as far as corporate goes, this is 100% true. So congratulations, Whole Foods, your mission statement isn’t all lies, at least.

The Future of the Grocery Store

Part of Whole Food’s decline is in no small part due to the wider availability of organic food now than when the company started over 30 years ago. This has forced it to respond in predictable ways: provide ever more niche goods as well as target a niche market – upscale health-conscious consumers rather than the grubbier hippy-types that started the health food store industry. Unfortunately, when you cater to the rich and well-to-do, you have to make a lot of compromises to keep them coming back. This is how we got that Juicero pilot program – the Juicero itself the epitome of Silicon Valley hubris – and other food fads, each one in turn promising, in ever more colorful language than its predecessors, health, happiness, and everlasting youth.

What Amazon might plan to do with Whole Foods should scare you, though. If it means to make a hard push for personal shoppers, then say goodbye top even more customer service jobs as the rest of the grocery industry is forced to kow-tow to the course charted by the e-commerce behemoth. Personal shoppers, not being the people for whom a good customer service experience is directed toward, won’t mind waiting in longer lines as cashiers are let go. People with experience and knowledge about certain products won’t be necessary either – a personal shopper’s job rarely involves making decisions that would require the input of an expert. They are usually hesitant to make any executive decisions on behalf of their clients at all, as a matter of fact. If nothing else, the Amazon deal will result in fewer jobs in the long run, and WF stores will likely be nothing more than the raw material to start its own warehouse chain specifically catering toward gig economy personal shoppers.

Whole Food’s share of the organic and all-natural pie will not be growing again. This is what the big picture is telling us, for those who might listen. As wealth continues to trickle up, as the middle continues to hemorrhage due to the big squeeze, the number of customers who can afford to shop at Whole Foods will only shrink. And as that customer base shrinks, the only way to stay out of the red is either downsize, or find new markets. Amazon will likely encourage, if not downright force, both. The downsizing is already happening; see above. And it’s only worked a little bit, only bought the company a little more time. So what does Amazon plan to do?

Well, Jeff Bezos has said that he wants to use WF to compete with the big warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club, and that should be an indication of the future he’s imagining. This should terrify you: because what Amazon wants, Amazon usually gets. It’s obliterated the brick-and-mortar retail industry, eradicating employment at traditional stores, and introduced logistics jobs in their place. Now instead of being a full-time employee at some store, where you get a decent amount of human interaction, where you get benefits and perhaps a store discount, you can work in a sprawling, sunless warehouse complex where you rarely speak to anyone while on the clock. Or, you can ship packages for them, using your own car, your own insurance, and your own gas money.

No matter what they might try to tell you, this is the future Amazon has in mind for the grocery store:

And they’ll let nothing get in their way.

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What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

The Sustainability Problem of Digital Currencies – No Tech Magazine
The average Bitcoin transaction uses about 4000 times as much energy as a credit card transaction, or enough to drive a Tesla for 300 miles, found the author of this short article. Yikes.

Vietnam’s Low-tech Food System Takes Advantage of Decay – Low Tech Magazine
A very interesting survey of Vietnamese food culture, and the ways that they avoid the costly use of refrigeration by various fermentation methods.

The Dutch love affair with natural gas: A cautionary tale for the United States? – Resource Insights
Kurt Cobb explains the history of natural gas harvesting and use in the Netherlands, and where it’s gone horribly awry. To make a long story short, early projections about the output of the Groningen Gas Field turned out to be far too optimistic. Unfortunately, they”re still obligated to export their rapidly shrinking reserves thanks to long-term deals, and have become a net importer just to keep their own pipes flowing.

Is Facebook a Structural Threat to a Free Society? – Truthhawk
For some time I’ve been urging readers and fellow zero wasters to think critically about their use of social media, and to ditch Facebook in particular. If you haven’t because of it’s convenience and ubiquity, then hopefully this terrifying piece will change your mind. Facebook is bad for the environment, bad for human health, and bad for the future of democracy. Not to spoil anything, but the piece ends with this:

Are we willing to trust one man with:

  • The largest share of wealth on the planet?
  • The biggest trove of private data ever assembled?
  • The greatest control over information flow ever seen?
  • The biggest psychological research facility in history?
  • The most significant influence machine ever?
  • All five?

Zuckerberg is human. As the saying goes, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Don’t forget this is the man who gave us this gem:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks

6 Things Zero Wasters Need to Know About US Supermarkets

So I’ve been with Whole Foods for a good 4 months now, and I think I can safely say that I’ve learned and seen enough to write a post like this. Because zero waste people make a lot of assumptions about the way supermarkets and grocery stores work – either in good faith, or because we assume that store policies are logical, which they aren’t sometimes – and I’m here to set a few things straight.

1. Most of how the modern supermarket functions is due to lawsuits.

Americans are a litigious people. We sue at the drop of a hat, and even the most ridiculous claims have the chance of settling out of court, granting the plaintiff a handsome sum of money. But we’re litigious because we also have a long and storied history of being screwed over by business interests, a history that is just as American as apple pie. See: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire; the meat-packing industry of late 19th century Chicago; current working conditions of Amazon warehouses.

Part of my orientation involved a 90-minute safety walk around our store, in which one of the assistant managers went over every square inch of the building to outline best practices for emergency exits, eyewash stations, where to put things, and so on. But the subtle language he used made it clear (to me, at least) that these procedures were less about employee and customer safety, and more about avoiding lawsuits, theft, and wasted money. For instance, if someone falls in the store, we are not allowed to help them up – they could sue and claimed we worsened their injuries. Or when taring for an imprecise amount – like butcher paper in the meat department – we always over-tare due to somewhat recent legal action taken against the company for overcharging on weighted items.

Most larger businesses that have been around for a few decades are like this, though, and the vast majority of laws on the books concerning business, public safety, and food handling are because of about 170 years of litigation of consumers and employees against businesses.

When it comes to supermarkets in particular, though, such troubled history sets the stage for the rest of this post.

2. They depend 100% on plastic and disposables.

I’m not kidding. I knew a lot of stuff got thrown away in the process of running a store, but I had no idea until I started working at one. As a floater, if I’m working in a department that involves handling an edible product in any way, I need to wear disposable plastic or latex gloves, and I’m to discard them before handling something else (if I have the opportunity to do so). In this way, I can go through dozens of disposable gloves over the course of a shift, sometimes even most of a box. And I’m just one employee, at one store, at one market chain, handling food at only the final stage of a long assembly line of processes that gets your purchase from the farm to your grocery bags.

Even Whole Foods’ much beloved salad/olive bars and bulk bins use up huge amounts of plastic just to get the stuff from the truck to its final destination out on the floor. For one, bulk product does not actually get packaged in large containers. The biggest olive containers we have, for instance, come from two-gallon buckets of very heavy duty plastic. Some of them come in smaller bags that weigh maybe only a pound or three, and some just come in larger consumer-sized containers.

Without even 5% of the disposable plastics we’re required to use to do our jobs, the store would not be able to function. There would just be no legal way to handle product without it.

3. Everything you return to the store gets thrown away.

Don’t ever, ever return something to a grocery store unless it’s gone bad, because it will end up in the landfill. We cannot put it back on the shelf, even if its been unopened. In fact, if you can compost it at home, do that instead. It’s probably not worth the $4 return.

4. There is little to no auditing of employee waste.

Every department has both black, green, and sometimes blue bins behind the counter, but no one’s there to make sure that they both aren’t treated as garbage bins, and emphasis from management on proper sorting is nonexistent (at my store, at least). Speed of service is valued above anything else at Whole Foods, so during rushes, especially, garbage ends up in whichever receptacle is closest. We have a composting program, but how it works is completely esoteric – we lump stuff that’s mostly compostable together, and set it outside with the other mostly compostable stuff at the loading dock. Where it goes or how they’re able to pick out the thousands of plastic drink cups, straws, gloves, rubber bands, twist ties, milk jugs, juice bottles, and produce stickers is beyond me, and I think, beyond everyone else I work with.

On to of that, there’s really no one to tell us to be more frugal with the tools we have on-hand to accomplish our work with, especially if wasting more translates to being able to do more faster. In the meat department, thawing shrink-wrapped shipments of chickens or racks of bison ribs is done with an industrial sink full of running water. Sometimes it’ll be running for over an hour just for one batch, wasting hundreds, if not thousands, of gallons our precious California water. Or in the juice department, where even the smallest problems are solved by throwing away the first cup and lid and using another one, or using a plastic bag. (And that’s not even mentioning how much waste juicing produces. It’s really almost equivalent to killing an elephant for its tusks or a deer for its antlers and leaving the body to rot. Most of the nutrients is left behind in juicing – it’s truly just a gross status symbol.)

5. Even stuff that looks like it would have been packaged in less plastic is sometimes packaged in a lot of plastic.

During the holidays, all of our drip coffee at the coffee bar came in small baggies of pre-measured grounds that we had to cut open individually, pour into another bag, weigh, and re-measure for use in our industrial coffee maker for the dispensers we have on the counter. At the bakery, all of our “fresh baked” bread comes frozen, shrink-wrapped, and sandwiched between layers of parchment paper (no grocery store actually makes its own batters or doughs on-premises) before being put on baking sheets and thrown in the oven, to give just a few examples.

6. Keeping product topped up is to make you feel better.

Keeping a product topped up – that is, making it look like there’s plenty of it on the shelf – most times has nothing to do with keeping it in-stock in the case someone wants to buy it, and more to do with making the customer feel good. 

This is how a lot of stores wind up throwing so much stuff away – the need to keep shelves and displays immaculately organized and full ensures that there’s more to toss into the garbage bin when the whole display meets its sell-by date.

What does this have to do with customers, though?  Psychologically speaking, a business like this instills in the customer a sense of comfort when they are visually reassured that there is no shortage of goods for them to buy. This is why so much effort is spent on keeping every square inch of shelf full of something, and as I can assure you, doing that with a good ten or twenty thousand different products is a maddening game of physical, logistical, and financial tetris. Because who wants to shop at a store where what you want is out of stock? Or where shelves sit empty because everything sold? Consumers want what they want, when they want it – if that means throwing away 10 pounds of smoked brisket every evening because the display would look bad if one of the warmer trays sat empty for more than a couple hours, then so be it. Spoilage is cheap; customer discomfort is not.

These are all big problems, I’m sure you all can agree. Even Whole Foods, supposedly one of the leading environmentally-conscious companies in the US is up to its eyeballs in environmentally-destructive bad habits with no monetary or legal incentive to change.

The consumer culture we have is ruthless in its hunger for more, for cheaper, and for comfort; the litigious culture we have is ruthless in its conniving greed, its paranoia, and its short-term gain over long-term sustainability.

Most of the problems with the US supermarket, though, has to do with how we understand the concept of sanitation and consumer safety. I’ll dedicate an entire post to that at some point in the near future, but for now, suffice to say, nothing will change if health codes stay the same. I don’t know if we can change them without some major industry shake-up – much of what we want as zero wasters would be considered a step backward, and would be a very hard political sell to anyone, not just policymakers. But I suppose, if you insist on something to do, write to the appropriate people in appropriate places, and write them often. Study the health code, and relevant laws. Familiarize yourself with previous litigation to see how this bloated legal machine came to be.

And while you’re at it – Whole Foods recently, quietly, decided not to let customers use personal cups at their coffee or juice bars. It was a decision that came down from corporate, I heard, and had nothing to do with a lawsuit. So please write them, and please get angry, and please remind them that every other goddamn coffee shop on the planet lets you use your own cup. Thanks.

Going Analog Side Quest: Ditching the Smartphone Part 1

IMG_20161026_125336_20161026135229246.jpg

Behold, ye olde smart paper.

Another goal I haven’t talked about in terms of going analog is that I eventually want to get rid of my smart phone.

It is, quite possibly, one of the greenest things the average person can do, up there with swearing off air travel: the digital and physical infrastructure required to keep the behemoth mobile market afloat is inexcusably enormous. Three years ago it was estimated that 48 million tons of electronic gadgetry is thrown out annually, and of that, about 155 million cell phones every year. (And who knows what that number is now.)

And that’s just the physical products themselves. What about all the throwaway technology required to build, market, and house the apps that make smart phones what they are? The throwaway peripherals: the plastic cases, the dongles, the portable batteries, the bluetooth products? What about the planned obsolescence involved in pushing a new model every 12-18 months, with making phones harder and harder to take apart and fix, and by sheer complexity alone, making them more fragile pieces of hardware overall? What about the infrastructure required to bring you all that stuff “in the cloud”?

Our phones are the very tip-top of an iceberg of gross unsustainability, runaway “progress”, and human suffering. (Yes, human suffering – if you’ve ever found yourself nodding in agreement at the damning assessments of the diamond industry, then you’ve no leg to stand on here. Especially since this sort of digital infrastructure is also contributing to orders of magnitude more ecosystem destruction than the diamond trade. But of course, it’s easier to hate something you can’t afford and don’t think you need.)

Are basic mobile phones an ideal solution? Of course not – but their comparative simplicity makes them more durable, their battery life much longer, and by virtue of not being every single piece of entertainment and tool we’re likely to use in our day-to-day, they’re not out of our bags or pockets nearly as often, and therefore the opportunities to break them even slimmer. They’re also not money-makers for the companies that produce them, so there’s no pusher man trying to get you to upgrade at every chance he gets.

Unfortunately, my Android phone is a major set-piece in my life right now, and like with any good drug, it’s going to take some time to wean myself off of it.


First, it might be a useful exercise to remember how I used to do things before smart phones. And it wasn’t that long ago that I started using them: in fact, I was using a regular mobile phone when I graduated college 5 years ago.

How did I navigate NYC without Google Maps? I wrote down addresses and got good at drawing tiny maps the size of post-it notes that told me everything I needed to know (and nothing more) about my destination’s location. I also didn’t worry about getting lost. Besides, it turns out that using maps is actually better for your brain than using GPS.

How did I find out good places to eat on the fly? Most of the time, I didn’t – I took more chances, asked around, or left my apartment with a plan, and had every bit as much of a good time as I do now, and discovered many little gems along the way.

How did I use social media? Well, I didn’t. Or barely did, and barely do. Personally, I’m of the opinion that most social media acts more like metastasized cancer than not, and I’m not fond of it. I avoid Twitter whenever possible, abandoned Facebook years ago, use Pinterest once in a blue moon as a Google image search substitute, and rarely directly interact with other people on Tumblr, and won’t miss it should it disappear. The only one I would miss is Instagram, but I can browse that on my computer anyway. Almost all of the meaningful connections I’ve ever made online were via forums, or other early Internet 2.0-style social websites. Instantaneous online interaction with strangers does to me what a ride in the Vomit Comet does to folks with no aptitude for space travel.

How did I keep myself entertained during long trips, or while sitting in waiting rooms? First of all, I don’t need to be “entertained” every minute of every day, and if I feel the itch to do so, then I nip it in the bud, because that’s a one-way ticket to misery. So, I take a note from the generations of playbooks that came before me: sit patiently, look at my surroundings, read a book, draw a picture, people-watch, grab a drink, strike up a conversation, listen to music, daydream, meditate, take notes, look at my calendar…

Hey, speaking of calendars, the point of this post was really to talk about ways in which I’m keeping organized without the use of any calendar or memo app:

It’s this radical new thing called an organizer.

Or technically, a traveler’s notebook.

The traveler’s notebook is an increasingly popular format of notebook, as it’s 100% customizable, and due to it’s extremely simple binding system, you’re not limited to proprietary inserts. All you need to make your own is a pair of scissors.

In fact, why not just made the whole darned thing? (Which is tempting; the only frustrating thing about mine is that it does not accomidate 8.5×11″ paper folded in half; pre-made notebooks take 210x110mm size paper, which… doesn’t correspond to any western paper sizes, no matter how you fold them.)

I’ve only had mine for a few months, and I already don’t go anywhere without it. It carries all of my drawing supplies, an insert of blank pages which I use for note-taking and as a monthly calendar, and I have another booklet in there of grid paper which I use to thumbnail comic pages. It’s not meant to go in a notebook system like this at all so it was a little awkward at first, but I can’t imagine carrying a bunch of smaller books now. Also, I tried making my own insert of grid paper, but the ends chafed at the band a lot so I’ll need to put it with a cover that’s made from a tougher paper or cardstock next time. My current booklet should last me… years, though.

As for the calendar, I’m able to fit an entire month on a single side of paper, with each day getting its own row. It looks like this:

O01F:
O02S:
O03S:
O04M:

And so on. Seeing as how most of what I need to mark down is repetitive in nature, I’ve got a lot of little codes that makes it easy to fit several tasks for a single day on one of those little rows. So, for example, Nov 1st might look like this:

N01T: C4080 PI4081, ITS | 10-4

That means on Tuesday, November 1st, I need to color (and finish) page 4080 of my comic, pencil and ink page 4080, finish a chapter of my story, of which ITS is the abbreviation, and work from 10am to 4pm at my new job. Of course that’s all way too much for me to do in one day, but it’s an example of how much information I can cram into so little real estate.

What about calendar reminders, you might be asking? Well, how about glancing at my calendar in those empty, entertainment-less moments throughout the day instead of compulsively looking at my (nonexistent) Twitter feed or checking my email?

Up next: an everyday carry post! Because I haven’t done one yet at ALL, which amazes me, seeing as how I was doing “systems” posts for a while there, and this would definitely fall under that umbrella.

Also next: probably a post on the Fear of Missing Out.

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

PVDSA’s Garish May Production Collapse – Caracas Chronicles
Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum and gas company, has taken a hit to their daily oil production to the tune of 120,000 barrels. As the article states, this means that they “just declined by an amount similar to an entire (if small) petrostate’s production, in just one month.” The country is in crisis mode, complete with food shortages and rioting. At this rate, Venezuela could run out of oil within a few years.

Cows  on Antibiotics Release More Methane – Conservation Magazine
“Antibiotic use and overuse in livestock has long been controversial, as it has been linked to antibiotic resistance in humans. Livestock are regularly given antibiotics to keep them healthy in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions, or even to boost their growth. Now, a study published recently in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B has documented for the first time that antibiotics given to cows also increase the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from cow dung.”

Design For The One Percent – Jacobin
Jacobin on the role of “starchitects” like Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid and their works in a world full of government corruption, sketchy labor practices, and tremendous income inequality.

The dot on my forehead: how we understand the crisis is part of the crisis – Bayo Akomolafe
A Nigerian psychologist and activist on being participants in crises instead of observers: “It was something I heard one dissident professor say when I was an undergraduate studying psychology in a Nigerian university. He didn’t quite say it; he whispered it. When the white men came, they brought us schools and the bible, he intoned. And then we gave them our own stories. That colonial Faustian pact made us orphans in the world, erasing the sky and the lands and the mountains we had learned to speak with, and replacing that intimacy with the more appropriate gesture of staring at them through the microscope. Through the interstices of a ledger. Through the plot device of development and prosperity for all.”

The SNAP of Doom – The Daily Impact
Apparently SNAP/EBT benefits have not been going out to all of its intended recipients lately, and the mainstream news is not reporting this. Millions of Americans are just a few SNAP dollars away from a full-blown famine, and regardless of whether you think this is some grand conspiracy or simply the terrible result of a few cascading computer failures, this really does nicely illustrate just how few clothes the emperor is wearing. (As for a question of how do we feed people when the government can’t or won’t? Three words: Food Not Bombs!)

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

The Bernie Fade Begins – Counterpunch
Counterpunch on late-stage Bern symptoms.

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist – Medium.com
An essay on just how the internet – mostly social media – has learned to manipulate you into being little more than a gambling addict. (Which is why I’m disappointed that the Zero Waste Bloggers Network communicates almost entirely over Facebook, which I am very happy to not be using anymore. A forum would have been better, in my opinion.)

Are Quinoa, Chia Seeds, and Other “Superfoods” a Scam? – Mother Jones
A short piece on why we pay attention when shit gets the “superfood” label… despite cheaper, more local, and more common vegetables having the same health benefits.

Unnecessariat – More Crows Than Eagles
There’s an epidemic going on in the US that nobody’s talking about: suicide and drug overdose rates have skyrocketed in rural America. Anne Amnesia, the blog’s author, has coined them the Unnecessariat, a demographic of the white, working-class poor for whom there are no activist organizations, no talking points, and not even the murmurings of a national dialogue. We’ve let them fall through the cracks, and while Trump pays lip service to these underserved populations, he is just as likely to cast them aside after he has their vote.

Solar Devices Industrial Infrastructure – Sunweb
A lengthy and very informative post on why solar is not green, is not sustainable, and is not likely to be a viable alternative to fossil fuels. The primary reason? Every step of manufacturing and maintenance requires fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-powered industrial infrastructure, and there is no evidence that a solar panel can be made without the use of fossil fuels at any point during the manufacturing process (including in the manufacturing of related tools and equipment), and that if it can, that the energy ROI is above zero.

Leaked figures show spike in palm oil use for biodiesel in Europe – The Guardian
“Steep rise between 2010 and 2014 shows link between EU’s renewable energy mandate and deforestation in south-east Asia, say campaigners”

Why doesn’t the US have right to roam laws?

We’d never given this issue much thought, but the idea of private property remaining accessible to others who will act responsibly as passersby is an interesting one. If nothing is damaged and the goal is simply to get from one place to the other, or enjoy nature without borders, then why not? Ken Ilgunas writes […]

via Private Property in the US — Raxa Collective

I MADE YOUR CLOTHES – FASHION REVOLUTION — Artisan Lifestyle Brand and Fair Trade Manufacturer

The collapse of Rana Plaza, and the hundreds of deaths it brought about, has been presented to the world as exposing the ruthlessness of third world manufacturers, and the lack of conscience on the part of their big label customers—the brands with which we are all familiar. But it also reveals something deeper, something as […]

via I MADE YOUR CLOTHES – FASHION REVOLUTION — Artisan Lifestyle Brand and Fair Trade Manufacturer

People Will Not Buy Zero Waste Until They Can Afford It

For those of you who’ve gone on the record and said that going zero waste “isn’t expensive”, I want you to answer two questions:

How much money does your household make in a year, and where do you live?

The answers you give can mean the difference between bamboo and plastic toothbrushes; shrink-wrapped non-organic produce and farmer’s markets; municipal recycling programs or none at all. The answers you give can mean the difference between access to a grocery store period… or being awash in a gray sea of convenience stores.

accessinfographic595 I make well-below the poverty line in annual wages (despite being a college graduate who is overqualified to work in most basic positions), and if I didn’t have family willing to take me in, or a spouse to support me (which he can do in a very limited capacity until I am a legal resident of Canada), I would be homeless. If this makes you uncomfortable, good. I say this to remind you that there are millions of people in my shoes, and worse – we are not merely statistics for you to prattle off at university lectures or on message boards. We are real people, and surprisingly enough, many of us are very concerned about the environment, but our lack of stable work or housing means that most conventional – by US standards – activism is beyond our reach. (And for me as an anarchist, I’m not interested in most reformist activism anyway. I want to see entire institutions burned to the ground, and buying $30 water bottles won’t accomplish that.)

The thing is this: when we talk about zero waste being cheap, who is it cheap for? And where? When we talk about it “saving” the environment (even though personal lifestyles have never won a single victory in the history of eco-justice movements), who’s environment will it be saving?

Part of the reason – actually, the main reason – that I’m pro-littering when it comes to areas dominated by middle- and upper-class people, no matter what region or country, is because this undermines the NIMBYism inherent to much of the mainstream conception of what it means to be environmentally-friendly and “sustainable”. It undermines the stock we put in the very notion of lifestyles at all – for some reason, we have it in our heads that making the right purchases and taking pretty pictures for our blogs is all we’ll ever need to do to reverse climate change. When we blow this particular category of action out of proportion, then of of course caving in and buying a bag of potato chips or cuppa joe in a paper cup feels like you’ve let down the entire world.

In my piece on littering, I recall the history of just how the world’s actual polluters got us to start blaming ourselves for their messes:

…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. […]

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.”

Zero wasters who want to see an end to the convenience store and what it represents have their hearts in the right place… for the most part. But they fail to perceive and understand the world beyond their own backyard, from the comfort of their chic, urban apartments or mortgaged single-family homes. When I first read Zero Waste Home, there was no mention of who the book was for – though the cover could have told me – and yet, its content assumed that I had access to a Whole Foods, and access to the disposable income to shop there. Among other things.

The ironic part is that I do – and that’s precisely because I don’t make enough to pay rent. If I did, I’d have no money to buy any food with!

To be quite blunt, attempting to do some zero waste shopping here in Vancouver the other day is what spurred this post. I wanted to buy some oil, so I looked at the prices at the two stores I know sell bulk EVOO, and they were phenomenal. $12-15 per 100ml is a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a staple that gets used on a near-daily basis. Or how about peanut butter: I could pay $6 for a little over a cup of peanut butter from the grinding machine at WF, or I could buy four times that much for $8 from a local co-op even though it comes in a plastic jar.

It’s a no brainer.

East Vancouver is not a food desert by any means, and for that I’m grateful. But Glendora, the California city where I’ll be living with my mother for a little while, is. There is no walking in Glendora, no curbside pick-up for recyclables, the transit options are pitiful, there is no infrastructure to support bicycling, and the nearest farmer’s market is in the next town over. I will need to get into a car to buy groceries, or I don’t buy groceries at all.

Out of sheer necessity, my zero waste efforts will be curtailed tremendously. I will be throwing recyclable materials in the garbage. But most importantly, I will buy food where it is feasible for me to do so. If that means Stater Bros., then unfortunately, Stater Bros. it is. At least I’m not stuck trying to feed a family from the local 7-Eleven.

What would happen if, every time we were tempted to denigrate ourselves over a single soda can or candy wrapper, we instead decided to remember that millions of people in the US (and Canada) have no choice in the matter? That, instead, we started talking about ways to put an end to food deserts and poverty-stricken communities’ reliance on convenience stores? Or talked about how ridiculous it is that we’re willing to pay $7-8/lb for salad bar cherry tomatoes or hummus because the plastic clamshell or tub would weigh too heavily on our conscience? (To say nothing of how a clamshell of tomatoes gets a more visceral reaction than, for instance, US foreign policy.)

I’m sure some of you are wondering why it is I continue to blog under the term “zero waste”.

Honestly, this is because I still believe in it – nature has no concept of waste, and neither should we. It is the only mark of a truly holistic community of organisms and resources. Just because I believe that most other lifestylers are misguided in their understanding and intentions, I’m not going to give it up.

To me, zero waste is about habits. It’s about fighting capitalist culture through the language of garbage, by-product, and so-called “innovation”. It’s a way to foster healthy boundaries in my work and relationships. It’s a way for me to understand myself as a steward, not an owner, of things. It’s a way to reject the encroachment of consumerism and voyeur culture on my life. It’s a way for me to reject the notion of disposability in every facet of life and society: no person is disposable, no thought or feeling is (or ought to be) disposable, no action is disposable. There is no throwing anything “away”, whether opinions or onion skins, and we need systems – cultural habits – in place to ease their decomposition and re-use.

If zero waste means little more than a hoard of $15 canning jars and an Apartment Therapy house tour, I’m going to go on record to say that you’ve got your priorities all mixed up.