What the Fuck To Eat

Ever since my first terrifying encounter with GERD, food went from “things I eat that taste good and keep me full” to “things I eat to sustain me and my health”. Quite literally overnight. And ever since the gastroenterologist looked at the lab results of my poop sample and thought I would be happy with an Imodium prescription and a meaningless diagnosis of IBS, I’ve taken diet very seriously.

Nobody wants to start their journey to better eating habits like I did, but it was the kick in the ass I needed. Unfortunately, most of the landscape of dietary information out there consists of fad diets promoted by sketchy internet “doctors” and Amazon referral-powered blogs hoping to god that you buy that $60 tub of protein they claim to use every day. So I did what any reasonably neurotic person would do and started experimenting on myself.

The first thing I did was go vegetarian – almost vegan, actually, aside from the occasional piece of cheese a few times a month. It did a fine job of making me question the legitimacy of the Standard American Diet (SAD), and therefore the scores of doctors and nutritionists who upheld it as the gold standard of balanced eating. If my stomach couldn’t handle it, then clearly the problem was my stomach, and all I needed to do was take a magic pill to make it all go away. Nobody ever suggested that, hey, maybe the problem lay with my eating garbage. My GERD cleared up, though, now that I was no longer able to eat stuff like chili dogs, or buffalo wings, or Jack in the Box tacos. It wasn’t the meat that made the improvement, though. The culprit I’d eliminated was the sauces that are typically served with SAD-style meats, and the fatty ways they’re typically cooked.

No-no #1: Rich, greasy  preparations.

I did more exploring and decided to eat a low-fiber diet for a while to see what that did for my gut. By the end, I was mighty sick of eating nothing but tofu, eggs, rice, and mushy vegetables, but the results were pretty conclusive: my bowel movements were regular, I experienced no gas, and little bloating. Score.

No-no #2: Excess fiber.

Curing my GERD and mostly alleviating my IBS was good enough for a few years. I was happy, I didn’t feel like crap after eating, and I no longer dreaded going to the bathroom. But then I started having blood sugar problems: hypoglycemia, mainly, which is a symptom of metabolic inflexibility. My research told me that such symptoms were the beginning of the long road to insulin resistance, which scared the pants off me. The remedy for metabolic inflexibility? Metabolic exercise! I limited my intake of carbohydrates to a fraction of what they had been, “quitting” them cold-turkey. My blood sugar protested, but after just a few days of the low-carb flu, my hypoglycemia never reared its ugly head again.

No-no #3: Too many carbs… including sugar.

Unfortunately,  a side effect of going low-carb made me lose weight, which was never one of my goals. I dropped 10 pounds in a week, and started fielding questions from a number of folks about whether I was sick or not. I realized that, contrary to popular dietary wisdom, I needed to drastically increase the amount of fat in my diet, which returned me to my normal weight in short order. By this point my average daily carb intake was less than 60 grams, while my fat intake was nearing 100 grams. However, I still had to keep in mind no-no #1: no rich, greasy food. More research taught me the real differences between healthy and unhealthy fats, and the merits of saturated animal fats. The trick? No hydrogenated oils, no highly refined oils, and keep preparations simple – that is, no complicating the digestibility of lipids with things like acids (fruit, coffee), simple carbohydrates (white potatoes, beer), and too much spiciness. These are all things that IBS sufferers need to be keenly aware of anyways, though.

No-no #4: Too little healthy fats.

Those 4 rules have been my takeaway over the years I’ve been playing with diet, give or take a few quirks of my particular microbiome and genetic makeup: maize products, for instance, don’t bloat me nearly as much as bread does, and due to my long history of low blood pressure, I need a little more salt than the average bear. Unfortunately, some things that used to be OK to ingest are becoming increasingly intolerable to my gut as I shift away from old habits. Beer, for instance, is becoming more and more unpleasant to drink as time goes by. The heavy, malty stouts and porters I used to love so much are practically poison to me now: I can’t drink a glass of Rasputin or Victory At Sea without getting nauseous, and a pint and a half of the stuff will put me on the verge of throwing up. I can’t exactly say I’m not disappointed.

That all’s just the physical, biological relationships I have with various foods, though.

What about the ethical? The cultural? The economical?

As someone who still, for some reason, gives a damn about trying to live lightly, the rest is a veritable minefield. I could shop fair trade because I don’t want my food coming from slaves or sharecroppers or the otherwise economically destitute; I could shop local because I would prefer to keep my money circulating among producers in my bioregion, and because my food doesn’t have to travel very far to get to my plate; I could shop zero waste because I would prefer my food to not come in ridiculous amounts of plastic packaging; I could shop pastured or organic or biodynamic or whatever else, because I would prefer the producers of my food to not be actively destroying their local environment and reducing its biodiversity. Or I could shop cheaply and feed myself to my personal standards without breaking the bank.

And I have to choose wisely, because it’s a rare product that checks off more than one or two of these boxes. So what the fuck do I eat?

Price, obviously comes first. I’m no good to anyone if I’m starving and malnourished, if only to be able to say that I followed some lofty ethical ideal at the cost of my own health and personal finances. That’s a given.

The rest, as I’m sure many of you would agree with, are trade-offs. Personal negotiations. Triage. Where can I afford to do the least damage without compromising my health or sanity? This is something I’m still working out, but I feel myself getting close. Some unofficial “rules” that I’ve developed in figuring out which product should come from what source:

  • Chocolate is fair trade.
  • Meat is almost always local, as are vegetables when they’re in season.
  • Staples like cauliflower I get for cheap – most stores in my Vancouver neighborhood have bargain shelves of food that’s going south where you can pick up entire bags of produce for a buck, and there’s usually a glut of cauliflower someplace. I keep most of my “impulse” produce shopping limited to these shelves as well. In a sense, saving this sort of food from the garbage is sort of like buying zero waste. And if you’re lucky, sometimes it’s even organic.
  • Staples like vinegar, oil, and salt, I just pick one strategy based on my circumstances that day. Coconut oil must at least be organic; and as for animal fats, let’s just say we’ve got plenty of bacon grease in the fridge as well as a jar of homemade rendered fat from local product.
  • If tea isn’t fair trade, it’s either local or zero waste and package free.

You get the picture.

Health and food is such a moving target that it’s easy to either get overzealous with your favorite conscious consumer strategy, or just give up altogether. What I’m here to urge you to do is don’t give up. And don’t get overzealous either, nobody likes those. What all of these different food strategies have in common, including just plain focusing on your dietary integrity, is that they undermine the Standard American Diet. They question the reasoning (or lack thereof) that goes into eating a pound of steak and a baked potato slathered in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! purchased from Walmart, and washing it down with a liter of Coke every day. Even if you still did that, but bought organic steak and an organic potato instead, you’ve got a small leg up. You done a good thing. 

I’m getting real sick of food aesthetics to the point where I’m this close to taking pictures of my crummy little galley kitchen with its white appliances and black, “granite”-veneered countertops that I can’t ever seem to get perfectly clean and posting them. I’d open up my kitchen cabinets so you can see my hodge-podge collection of mason jars and bags of shredded coconut, the mismatched boxes of salt and emergency cans of Campbell’s soup sitting beside a 3-year old box of half-eaten pasta. Like… fuck you, man, this is real.

We buy what we need to buy and eat what we need to eat. Sometimes it’s fucking delicious. Sometimes it’s mediocre. Sometimes it’s just plain necessary and we stick it in a glass jar to make us feel a little bit better about having bought it in the first place. Sometimes we get lucky and that bottle of fair-trade, wind-powered, biodynamic, bulk olive oil didn’t cost half our life savings and that’s something to be happy about. We enjoy it and move on.

I’m getting ready to go to the store right now, actually. We need more meat for the cat, and unless I want to make a smoothie, there’s no protein to go with dinner. I would prefer to go to the co-op since all their meat is local and they pay their employees a living wage with benefits, but it’s a 20 minute walk uphill walk to get there and the only places that carry offal around here are the local Chinese markets anyways. I also have a customer loyalty card for a coffee shop nearby that’s full and I want to redeem it if I’m going that way, too.

So, choice made. I can do one good-ish thing today, and another good-ish thing some other time. C’est la vie.


Going Analog part 8: So you’ve got yourself an opinion. Now what?

This is a follow-up to my older post on dealing with belligerent incredulity, seeing as how I’ve run into more since then. This time it has been from online talking heads, so this has given me a better look at how the psychological machine works, what without the usual mediating influence of good social etiquette getting in the way. In other words, people feel safer running their mouths online than in person, and it’s easier to build a model about how the other side works when you have better access to their thoughts.

The first thing I noticed is that most of the vitriol came from people who were constructing very obvious strawmen – you know, the kind that results from projecting your own anxieties and prejudices on others, not unlike what gay-bashing politicians do before they’re discovered to be cheating on their wives with cute college boys – and then smugly tearing them apart.

The primary form this argument takes closely resembles Just World thinking: that, at the end of the day, all of my problems with technology, and all of my problems with people who have problems with my problems with technology, are self-inflicted due to some character flaw. Usually that flaw is that I have self-control issues and “need to work on those”, or am a “jerk” and therefore prompting others into being jerks to me, respectively. I mean, barring the fact that I haven’t had bread or sugar in 3 weeks (while working in a bakery where I can technically stuff my face full of delicious organic bread and cookies all I want), I don’t overdraw my bank account, and have been in a long-distance marriage for going on 6 years now, I clearly have self-control issues. Or, barring the fact that everyone at my job likes me, that I have friends who will bend over backwards for me because I have done the same for them, or that I’m an otherwise pretty chill, mostly selfless, and extremely private person, I clearly must be a jerk.

It’s a ridiculous assumption to make about somebody you’ve never actually interacted with. But that ridiculousness is the whole point: it’s impossible to disprove without over-arguing your point, and probably proving your accuser right in the meantime. Well, almost impossible. I gave it my best a few weeks ago on the blog here after getting quite tired of such cookie-cutter response (one of which was even posted to the blog’s comment section):

There are a lot of things wrong with this assumption, and frankly it serves as a very tidy little thoughtstopper.

A thoughtstopper, as defined by John Michael Greer, is:

…exactly what the term suggests: a word, phrase, or short sentence that keeps people from thinking. A good thoughtstopper is brief, crisp, memorable, and packed with strong emotion. It’s also either absurd, self-contradictory, or irrelevant to the subject to which it’s meant to apply, so that any attempt you might make to reason about it will land you in perplexity. The perplexity won’t do the trick by itself, and neither will the strong emotion; it’s the combination of the two that lets a thoughtstopper throw a monkey wrench in the works of the user’s mind.

What you are essentially asserting, even though you don’t know anything about who I am, who I know, and what my life experiences have been, is that because I am frustrated here, in this blog post written for a specific audience with a specific goal in mind, is that I must clearly convey frustration in all of my interactions with everyone I meet, and therefore deserve the hostility I’m recounting.

That’s an incredibly lazy leap of logic, and I’m sad that I have to actually explain to you why.

First off, you don’t have much of a leg to stand on unless you’ve never spoken disparagingly of anyone in your life. Have you ever vented frustration about someone when not in their company? You have, just like everyone else on the planet? OK, then you know that such conversations have their place, that they’re perfectly normal, and moreover, they help to keep us sane when direct confrontation with the individual isn’t possible or worth anyone’s while.

Secondly, policing tone on a blog post about dealing with the recurrent rudeness of others doesn’t really make any sense. Moreover, you’re taking this post, which is only the latest installment of a multi-post series, and extrapolating an entire (false) narrative about how I’ve thus far conducted myself with people who aren’t you. I mean, I could write you an entire memoir’s worth of stories about all the bizarrely hostile encounters I’ve had with folks who had absolutely no reason to be hostile, and I could list off the names of everyone I know who genuinely find me to be good company, but seeing as how you will not take me at face value here, I doubt that you will take those accounts at face value either, and will be altogether a waste of both of our time. So like any good conspiracy theorist, you’ve made an accusation that is almost impossible to disprove. Not sure what tone policing is as defined by somebody other than tumblr? Here you go, courtesy of the RationalWiki:

The tone argument (also tone policing) is a logical fallacy that occurs when an argument is dismissed or accepted on its presentation: typically perceived crassness, hysteria or anger. Tone arguments are generally used by tone trolls (esp. concern trolls) as a method of positioning oneself as a Very Serious Person.

The fallacy relies on style over substance. It is an ad hominem attack, and thus an informal fallacy. […]

At best, it may be a way to point out rhetorical dishonesty in a formal debate, but at worst it is simply awarding victory to whoever is affected the least by what is being discussed.

Thirdly, you haven’t criticized or accepted any concrete foundation of the argument I’ve made here (nor have I see any other defender of smartphone technology do similarly either, interestingly enough), which makes this comment especially meaningless. Surely you’ve encountered rude, belligerent, and unreasonably hostile people before, ever? If so, how have you dealt with them repeatedly attacking you for the same thing? If you have, I’m all ears as to your input. Unfortunately, your gripe, again, seems to be with nothing more than the presentation of my ultimate goal with this individual blog post: how to deal with others being unduly threatened by you doing you. Irregardless of your belief and your own experiences (which is what the entire fallacy of Personal Incredulity is about, and is partly what this entire blog post is meant to address; talk about meta) these things have happened to me, and they have happened to others.

Now, with that in mind, do you have anything useful to say, or will you continue to be offended that some shmuck on the internet hates smartphones?

As far as I’m concerned, that’s that.

The problem goes deeper, though, and to no one’s surprise. It goes back, even, to that pesky Just World Hypothesis and the associated frame of mind where we assign moral values to things that maybe shouldn’t have any. It’s very easy to blame people for their own problems, I should note. It protects you from having to deal with the repercussions of accepting that bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people, among other tragic consequences of chance. That’s not to say that everyone is always powerless in the face of everything – this is hardly true either – but quite often we do not make our own lots in the grand scheme of things. Still, one person’s crippling debt may be a personal failure just as much as the next person’s was completely beyond their control.

In the current, progress-addicted world we live in, technology is Good. Good in the way that charity and humility and patience and honesty are Good. No decent human being would ever argue against values like those, and so it has followed that questioning the march of technology is just as appalling a notion as questioning the very idea of, say, peace on earth and good will toward men.

To this unspoken ideology, the difficulty experienced by people who refuse to adopt the latest-and-greatest, or have chosen to downgrade after the novelty of such wore off, almost approaches a kind of moralistic karmic retribution: ‘you did it to yourself’, or ‘what’d you expect?’. (Note that karma in its un-Westernized form is simply another word for good ol’ Cause and Effect, not some cosmic force of punishment and reward.)

I remember my husband and I getting into a very unnecessarily antagonistic discussion about mattresses of all things at a family xmas party one year: cousins extolled on the wondrous virtues of memory foam, talking about how they couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly sleep on anything lesser. I shrugged and chuckled: “I actually like sleeping on my $100, 3 inch thick foam pad on the floor. I get the best sleep of my life.” I’d uttered something that made no sense to them. They balked, wondered if I’d ever even tried a memory foam bed, to which I replied “yes, and it was terrible”. This was unacceptable, and my husband and I looked on with fascination as they continued to escalate the discussion in such a way that made my opinion on the matter irrelevant. I made a passing evolutionary argument: that humans had been sleeping on hard or firm surfaces since we came down from the trees, and that you’d think millions of years of bad sleep would have wiped us out long ago. (You can’t exactly hunt mammoths with hundreds of accumulated hours of sleep debt, after all.) They responded with a hand-waved, Just World-type thoughtstopper: “Yeah, and cavemen had a life expectancy of 30.”

Ignore the fact that life expectancy figures often include infant mortality (which is the largest contributor to numbers like that) and average adult life-expectancy was considerably older; ignore the fact that such a rebuttal comes from a place of valuing quantity over quality (which is another tenet of this wide-spread, unspoken ideology); ignore the sheer irrelevance to the discussion in general and my comment in particular.

This is but one of many such experiences I’ve had, and they all have one thing in common: arguing from the implicit assumption that more and more complex is, like any storied triumph of Good over Evil, righteous and inevitable. If you walk away from that dichotomy, you simply become part of the temporary adversity that the believers will surely overcome in the end.

The problem with the Just World Hypothesis, though, is that it’s not true. Murderers get away with murder. Abusers die peacefully in their sleep, surrounded by loved ones. Wall Street kleptomaniacs get bailed out with public tax money. Children die. Wives get battered. Men, women, and children alike get cancer and slowly wither away as drugs and chemo fail to stop the spread of metastases.

Likewise, the Just World Hypothesis’ technological-determinist cousin is just as untrue. Social media use is just a likely to connect you to friends and family just as much as it’s linked to skyrocketing rates of loneliness among young people. Modern medicines are just as likely to manage your symptoms as they are to kill, cripple, or give you other complications that require further medicating. Firearms are just as likely to kill innocents as they are assailants or game.

It is, as philosopher and historian Paul Virilio had once said, that “the invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck”.

What I discovered was that I had an opinion about the whole thing. People don’t like opinions, even though everyone is up to their eyeballs in them and have no qualms about throwing theirs all over the place. It’s your opinion they just don’t care for. But I discovered that I wasn’t doing this just for frugality’s sake, or just for minimalism’s sake, or just for my sanity’s sake. I was doing this thing because I felt a deep moral obligation to opt-out, in any way I could, of what ‘gifts’ the modern world was trying to force me into receiving. I do my best not to convey that in casual discussion, but I do got out of my way as often as possible to make space and answer questions and support people who want to do what I did. Which is also a no-no, because to have two sides means having a debate, not a lecture. So unless I have negative things to say, unless downgrading ruined my life and proves the techno-optimists right, my experience doesn’t matter. It’s a court of public opinion where the verdict is decided before the trial even begins.

There’s really no way to win, is the bottom line. If it were a mere matter of weighing the pros and the cons, or looking at the numbers, or getting the facts straight, then these reactions wouldn’t happen nearly as often. There’s such virulent hostility because it is a moral issue, because there are sides, because there is loyalty, and because existential crises and entire social structures of self-identity are at stake when we talk about smartphone and modern technology in general. The importance of having the internet at our fingertips, 24/7/365, has approached levels of saturation, zealotry, and emotional dependence that the world religions only wish they had.

All you can do is keep doing what’s right for you, and others will come into it or they won’t. If you’re thinking about it, don’t get the opinions of your peers – it would be about as useful as asking your Southern Baptist preacher their opinions on leaving the church to practice Shinto. Would they weigh the pros and the cons, look at the numbers, and get their facts straight in regards to your needs as a person of faith?

No, they’d tell you to have fun burning in hell.

Myths About Hand Laundering

Having been doing most of my laundry by hand for a while now – dang, for several years at this point –  I think I’ve earned the right to Have Opinions about the way hand laundering is often written about and depicted by folks who’ve known nothing but machine washing. So here’s a post debunking a few of the most common myths surrounding the chore of washing clothes in a tub with a little elbow grease.

1. It’s hard.

Not really. Unless, of course, you’re measuring it against the act of dumping dirty laundry into a couple of electric boxes that magically spit out clean laundry 20-30 minutes later, then yes, it’s hard. But it’s no harder than sweeping your own kitchen floor, or replacing the sheets on your bed. In fact, the difficulty of washing laundry by hand is quite often indirectly proportional to the time you have to accomplish it: that is, the longer you can afford to let your clothes soak in hot, soapy water, the less work you have to put in to agitate it. Let the “load” soak overnight, and in the morning you barely have to do any agitating at all. A few simple pumps* of your hands will do the trick to circulate the water through the fibers, and wringing them out afterward only takes as much muscle as you feel like putting in.

*Cupping your hands together, side by side, and pushing down into the clothes like you’re performing CPR is the most energy efficient way to agitate without tools of any kind. (Oh, and if you own a breathing hand washing device, it’ll take even less effort.)

2. It’s time-consuming.

See above. If you don’t have all night or all day to let your clothes soak (and odds are, you do this regularly for pre-soaking soiled clothes anyways), then expect to spend, on average, 10-20 seconds per garment in the load to wash, and half that to rinse. If you have a small/capsule wardrobe whose entire contents can fit into a 5 gallon bucket, and they’re not covered in stains, then you might spend at the most 5 minutes washing, rinsing, and wringing your clothes.

I’d like to see a washing machine do a load in 5 minutes.

The other benefit of hand-washing over machine washing is that you are constantly inspecting the clothes as you agitate them, visually and manually. You can spend less time on minimally-soiled clothes, saving time, and give more TLC to garments that need it. You’re more likely to notice the beginnings of damage like holes and fraying. And you’re more likely to avoid setting stains because you threw them in the wash without noticing them. (I catch almost all oil stains while I still have a chance to wash them out now, for instance. Before, oil stains were the #1 killer of my clothes.)

I’d like to see a machine do that too.

3. Modern front-loading washing machines are so water-efficient, though. Washing by hand probably can’t compare.

I use about an average of 2-4 gallons of water to wash, and 1-3 to rinse with. I can wash a full set of California king-sized sheets and 4 pillow cases with less than 10 total gallons of water. Once again, I’d like to a see a machine do that.

4. Washing machines are part of what helped to liberate the Western wife and mother from a life of hard, household labor.

Yes, that was the case… for maybe a decade. But as always, the consumerist hedonic treadmill was quick to crank up the speed, and suddenly that housewife had more clothes to launder per person than before, and she had higher and higher standards of cleanliness to achieve as a result. A classic example of the Jevons Paradox: efficiency gains provided by a technology are often not just squandered, but undone many times over by more intensive and sustained use of that technology.

So sure, instead of doing laundry by hand every day, the liberated Western woman now goes to work for 8+ hours daily, buys the expensive laundering appliance (probably on credit, so she winds up paying even more for it when all’s said and done), and goes home after a long day of wage work and gas-guzzling commuting to do a load of laundry every day anyways. (And probably pays for a gym membership so she can work on her arm and back strength, which is sorely lacking because of all this manual labor she’s been liberated from.) And instead of being satisfied by a sufficiently clean load of clothes, garments are now expected to be completely wrinkle free, form-fitting, spotless, and smelling like a cheap cologne store at a second-rate mall. And that’s not even mentioning that the size of our wardrobes have since disproportionately exploded in response to this so-called labor-saving device, now the average family does at least one load daily. Don’t make me laugh!

5. Jeans and towels are too hard to wash by hand.

If you have more than a few pairs of jeans, and if you wash them more than once a month, then yeah, it would be on the slightly more inconvenient side. But if that’s the case, then you probably have too many jeans, and you probably wash them too often. Moreover, plush terrycloth towels are, in my opinion, a waste of precious cotton more often than not. Get a peshtemal instead; they’re no more difficult to wash than a large t-shirt. It doesn’t soak up water like a sponge the way terrycloth does, but it’ll still get you dry before pneumonia sets in, and only gets more absorbent with use.

6. Clothes stretch out if you don’t put them in the dryer.

Putting clothes in the dryer isn’t technically what makes them shrink: agitating the fibers is what does it. (Otherwise, leaving your clothes on the clothesline to dry when it’s 120F out would shrink them.) Technically, you could agitate clothes by hand enough to accomplish this – stirring around with a stick for a few minutes and using hot water would help. But the whole phenomenon of clothes stretching out wouldn’t be such an issue if they weren’t made so cheaply – and if they were designed differently to begin with.

7. Laundry probably comes out smelly and dingy that way.

This hasn’t been my experience at all. If you rinse well and don’t wash your whites with your darks, then it’s a non-issue. Hang whites out in the sun to dry and they’ll be lightened up by UV action as well; no whitening products necessary. As for smell, they can smell like anything you want them to, depending on what detergent you use. I don’t recommend using typical laundry detergent, however: it’s very sudsy and more difficult to rinse out. I use a small squirt of Sal Suds in my laundry, no more than a tablespoon, which produces few suds and degrades quickly in water. Those cal king sheets I mentioned above? Done by hand in an 8-gallon washtub with Sal Suds, rinsed, wrung, and hung out on the clothesline. And it passed my husband’s very stringent smell test. He said if I hadn’t told him they were hand-washed, he would never have guessed.

Washing by hand is half design – buying sturdier clothes, buying clothes that fit differently than the throwaway kind you find at the likes of Target and H&M – and half outlook. Outlook? Here’s what I mean.

Reasons washing by hand is better than using a machine:

1. You control what happens to the water when the wash is done.

2. You’re more likely to catch small stains or oil spots before accidentally setting them in.

3. It’s good exercise.

4. It’s meditative.

5. Your clothes last a lot longer.

6. It’s less stressful all around.

Not a bad deal, huh? When you think of it this way, it’s clearly the superior process. It saves energy, time, sanity, and doesn’t wear out your clothes. That’s like… four ‘wins’.

In my completely biased opinion, I think it’s worthwhile to give it a go. It’ll take some getting used to, but once it becomes part of your routine, you may not want to go back. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Going Analog part 7: Dealing with Belligerent Incredulity

If there’s one thing that not having a smartphone, barely using social media, and not keeping up with pop culture will earn you, it’s endless belligerence from incredulous screen addicts. Of course, doing much of anything outside of the norm will earn you much of the same, but in the spirit of documenting my slow journey into the world of slower technology, I’ll dedicate a blog post to it.

A while back I wrote about Shooting the Messenger, a related social phenomenon that happens when you encounter people struggling with guilt and cognitive dissonance who have nowhere to direct their anger but at you, the pointer-outer of some inconvenient truth. This sort of hostility is different, and likely to be encountered more often because it doesn’t hinge on having a conversation with you about an important topic: all it takes is for someone to notice that you’re doing something differently than them, by which they can pigeonhole you into a stereotype of some sort and make their accusations from there.

Recently I dealt with some run-of-the-mill belligerence with some family members who like to run their mouths – but who I love dearly, mind – and the subject of their ridicule this time was my vegetarianism. Being vegetarian, unless you get all your food from farmer’s markets, isn’t anywhere near an analog diet in any way, but the idea, to their mind, serves the same function: my choice to deprive myself of something that they couldn’t live without makes me holier-than-thou. Nevermind that I’m probably the chillest vegetarian they’re ever likely to meet – that I don’t proselytize, I don’t badmouth meat-eaters, and that I actually whole-heartedly condone small-scale livestock husbandry, hunting, and other related kinds of manual slaughter – but my live-and-let-live attitude probably makes me an easier target.

Vegetarianism, even done wrong, has a smaller carbon footprint than American-style meat-eating, and done right, can lighten the impact you have on the earth by many orders of magnitude. (Strict veganism, on the other hand, is pretty much a case of heavily diminished returns. Unless you live in a grass hut in the tropics, veganism is financially and environmentally expensive when all is said and done, and needs to be propped up by large subsidies of smug satisfaction to make it worth it.) Meat-eaters know this, which is what makes their derision so strangely obsessive.

Likewise, reducing screentime or eliminating them altogether can really do nothing but benefit the earth and in many cases, your mental health as well. It’s like quitting a hard drug. Except that everyone in our society is addicted to the drug, nobody wonders what life would be like without the drug, and nobody talks about the downsides of the drug. Given such a saturated environment, it’s no wonder that encountering someone who is not addicted to the drug, or who doesn’t use the drug at all, is such a jarring encounter.

The belligerence I’ve experienced from “downgrading” seems to have two other components: one, the sense that I’m withholding something others are entitled to have (voyeuristic glimpses into my personal life from using social media, and instant access to my attention using the same), and two, that I now need their “help” for things that I didn’t before.

These two notions together form a microcosm for much bigger trends in the way human social relationships are changing thanks to the ubiquitous use of mediating technologies. That is to say, we are becoming emotionally and materially estranged, while becoming more impersonal and fetishistic.

Someone recently posted a thread to the r/Collapse subreddit about the strange reactions friends and family were having toward his re-adoption of a landline in lieu of any cellphone at all:

I recently got rid of my cell phone and switched to a landline only. I also got rid of Facebook. Just to be clear, I am not asking or telling ANYONE else to follow in my footsteps, it is just a choice I made for myself for personal reasons. I don’t want to get into too much detail on my justification, but let’s just say the stuff I see on this subreddit doesn’t help, lol. Clearly I have not completely sworn off technology. Anyway, friends and family who are finding out all have different reactions. Some people are mild or just seem slightly annoyed that we can’t text anymore, but some people are SO angry about it. Their reaction is ridiculous and I swear it is as though they are defending their precious!!! Little golems just blinded by their need for it. One friend seemed mad cause he hates calling people but other than that people are defensive! I say I did it and they lash out as if I told them they are idiots for having phones. Which I didn’t.

Thoughts? Why do people behave this way? Is this deep attachment a sign of something to come?

The responses range from the humorous:

How old are your friends and family? 12??

I say, try not to make a “thing” of it. If you were poor enough not to be able to afford these things, your real friends wouldn’t blame you for being poor. You shouldn’t have to justify it to anyone.

But get used to the derision as you make other, more substantive changes.

To the piercingly observant:

  • You made it less convenient for them to get what they want from you.
  • Your actions telegraphed to them that you don’t fear (overall) losing access to what they think you should want from them.
  • Your rejection of your cell/Facebook causes them to question: ‘should I quit too?’

Someone else drew the same comparison with vegetarianism/veganism as well:

same effect as stopping eating meat and mentioning it to people. vegetarians / vegans get the same sort of backlash. its just because of cognitive dissonance etc in people who are living partially examined lives

The ‘partially examined life’ concept intrigues me, and I think it’s a pretty good explanation for most of this kind of behavior. Different ways of doing things is generally no real threat to the unexamined life – that sort of person takes everything for granted and doesn’t question what they or other people are doing. The examined life usually reacts in kind, because that person has likely done the mental legwork of putting themselves in somebody else’s shoes and come to the conclusion that there is possible a multiplicity of motivations, questions, and answers in life. What’s the partially examined life, though? To me, it seems like that sort of person had come into questioning, gone looking for answers, and then stopped when the answers threatened to upend what they held to be true. They are the most keenly reactive to the whims of their ego and identity, because they’ve caught a glimpse at the shaky foundations they’re built on and have chosen to ignore the truth. In other words, they want to have their cake and eat it too – this is cognitive dissonance. Unfortunately, making someone aware of their cognitive dissonance is almost always a dangerous, losing game.

I’m thinking also of the couple behind This Victorian Life, who have routinely received hate mail and even death threats over the years for choosing to live the way they do.

Of course its a threat response: when you see others happily choosing to do without that which you’ve deemed a bare necessity, what does that say about you? Moreover, while marketing buzzwords like “luxe”, “designer” and “chic” dominate our consumer-driven lives, nobody wants to be accused of being extravagant. It is, I suppose, the modern loophole around our culturally-learned sense of Protestant ethics, without actually having to live up to those ethics. For workers of yesteryear, for example, it was more socially acceptable to brag about how little you had to work for your high salary, but not anymore. (In spite of steadily declining rates of office worker productivity, as well.) It’s a competition to appear that everything you have has been hard-earned, well-deserved, and morally justified. Yes, even that $50 water bottle. Because you worked so hard for it, and it does its job of holding water so well, right? And besides, we all need to “treat ourselves” sometimes. Even if “sometimes” actually means “every day”.

The question, though, is simple: how to deal with others’ cognitive dissonance? In the wake of the 2016 election, it seems that all options have been rendered moot. There are no discussions now, only arguments; no arguments, only ad hominems and death threats.

My method of dealing is to just try and avoid such conversations in the first place. Just as I now avoid giving unwarranted advice (nobody wants it), and avoid pointing out major flaws in someone’s reasoning, I generally just avoid pointing out hypocrisy for the simple fact that everyone’s a hypocrite in some way, and that, again, those conversations never end well. I figure that if someone is open enough to the idea that they might be wrong about something, then they’ll find out sooner or later on their own.

That’s not to say that you can’t defend yourself, though. It takes having a thick skin, but so does doing anything that goes against mainstream values. Other ways to avoid heated confrontation:

  • Say your choices are purely personal and have improved the quality of your life: “I just don’t like ____.”
  • Say that your choices are financially motivated. Playing the frugality card is often a safe bet.
  • Among the somewhat-environmentally-informed, you can frame it in terms of your carbon footprint.
  • Turn the awkward moment into a joke. Play dumb, misanthropic, or elusive. I’ve done all three.

At the end of the day, dealing with incredulity at doing things differently than ‘everyone else’ is just going to be par for the course. And when it does happen, it helps to keep a level head: nobody wants to be preached at, told that they’re stupid, or hypocritical. And ultimately nothing comes of those kinds of heated discussions except a bad mood at best, or a ruined friendship at worst.

Book Review: The Organic Artist

I didn’t know what to expect when I bought this book, honestly. The cover makes it seem a little cutsey, and some of the pictures seem, in the tradition of craft a la Hobby Lobby, to be more novelty than anything genuinely useful.

Boy was I wrong.

First off, the author is described in the back as (more or less) equal parts artist, survivalist, and caveman. Or, to put it more accurately, stone age technology aficionado. What this should have told me is that the man takes his work seriously, and that his breadth of very real knowledge is to be found in this book. He lives this stuff, he works in these media, and he’s been doing it for years.

Most of what he shows you how to do will not be of any real interest to most folks, though I suspect zero wasters will find some of the projects immensely useful. For instance, his paper-making guide is much more thorough, and results in a much more useful finished product than Bea’s instructions in Zero Waste Home. He shows you how to make crayons out of nothing more than beeswax and pigment; he shows you how to source your pigment from the landscape around you; he shows you how to make felt-tip pens out of little more than sticks, twine, and a bit of hide; he shows you how to make glue; he shows you how to make charcoal.

And the list goes on. Those beautiful little paint pots featured on the cover? Those are all handmade by him as well, and he shows you how to make them too: every step from finding and tempering natural clay, to shaping and firing.

There’s even recipes in here for the zero waste, organic printmaker: he has instructions on how to make an all-natural brayer, and suggests an ink recipe thickened with honey to use with your woodcuts. And for painters, he shows how to make animal hair brush bristles, complete with quill ferrule. (Guides for which are difficult to come by, I’ve found.)

Nick Neddo is a monster. And I mean that in the best possible way: he’s a person who knows his craft so thoroughly that you can’t help but let your jaw drop at the sheer absurdity of his knowledge, talent, and dedication. Included also are examples of his work made with the relevant tool or medium, and these proof of concept are not only astoundingly beautiful, but with no noticeable difference in quality compared to the plastic, commercially-produced equivalent that he is recreating. Most of these tools are so easy to make, so beautiful, and so personal, that in showing us how to make them Neddo almost asks, between the lines, why don’t more people do this? After all, up until very recently in human history (a period that can be measured in mere decades), most artists had to make their own materials.

Do I recommend this book? For artists looking to turn away from high-impact, toxic, and fossil-fueled-sourced tools and media, this is an absolute must-have. For zero wasters or organic households looking to replace a few of their casual art supplies, this is also a must-have. (Just about everything in here isn’t just non-toxic, but free of synthetic ingredients entirely, and probably also safe in the case of accidental ingestion, for those of you with children.)

For everyone else, this book is probably just a novelty – but get it anyway. It might inspire you take up doing even just one thing the Nick Neddo way.

Starting Simplefit: Week 1

I started a simplefit exercise routine today, and I think I’m really going to like it.

Simplefit is probably the simplest exercise program in existence: there are only three exercises to do, you do them three times a week, and the only equipment you need is a pull-up bar. No fancy gym equipment, no membership fees, and unless you’re a real dunce, no way to seriously injure yourself. My kind of minimalist exercise.

Unfortunately, I do not have a pull-up bar or any suitable anchor point to do the recommended substitutes, so I’ve been using a 15lb kettle bell weight and doing front raises with nearly-locked elbows. Not the same thing at all, but it’ll have to do for now. And in either case, it’s kicking my ass!

I’ve started off today at Level 3, and managed to get 4 rounds done in 20 minutes. I probably could have done 5 if I hadn’t just spent 45 minutes gardening!

I went to the gym regularly for a few months, and while it was fun to try out all the fancy machines, I ultimately came away from the experience feeling weirded out. A gym is a place full of high-tech gadgetry that western adults feel obligated to throw money at because they no longer use their bodies for anything else in life. We go to the gym because we don’t want to take the stairs. We go to the gym because we don’t want to wash our dishes by hand. We go to the gym because we don’t want to walk to the store two blocks away. We go to the gym because we don’t do anything ourselves anymore. So we pay for the convenience of having a machine do manual labor for us in the home, and then we pay the gym to go do manual labor over there instead, which doesn’t even accomplish anything but use up electricity. It’s all very silly to me.

At any rate, I’m trying out this Simplefit thing. I’ve been somehow inspired to be a physically stronger person lately, and with all the adventuring and off-grid living I see in my future, it’ll be a good foundation to build on.

Going Analog Part 6: Goodbye, Nexus


My first few smartphones were second-hand iPhones; my favorite was the iPhone 3, which was built, as far as smartphones go, like a tank. I had it for about 3 years, I believe, before an “update” killed the wifi antenna and all but bricked it. (Apple is into the planned obsolescence thing to the point of belligerence.) It wasn’t a slow death marked by intermittent hardware failure; it was working one day, then my phone forced an update, and it stopped working thence. A lot of other 3 users experienced the same “update”, which appeared to be rolling out in waves. After all, Apple couldn’t just remotely disable the wifi on all iPhone 3s at the same time, could they? It would have been easy pickings for a good lawyer and a class action suit, and terrible press. But disable one mostly vital piece of hardware for a user here and there, and tell them their only option is to upgrade? At a glance, the strings being pulled are invisible. Either way, Apple really wanted us stubborn iPhone 3 users to hurry up and shell out for the iPhone 6 already. Our preference for tech that works and works well was getting in the way of their profit margins. Fortunately, with smartphones, carriers and OS developers can pretty much do whatever they damn well please with your devices – without their continuous, second-by-second permission, you don’t have a device.

I didn’t really think that deeply about it at the time; I knew that Apple was an obsolescence plannin’ fool, and that Android was greener pastures in the user autonomy department. So I switched platforms. I really prefer platforms that are transparent; platforms that let me know exactly what’s going on at any given moment, and platforms where I can diagnose and fix my own problems. That’s why I bought the car that I did, and it’s why I’m typing this up on a Linux netbook. (Unfortunately, I’m still forced to run a Windoze machine for the sake of Photoshop – GIMP and Krita have not, after months of forcing myself to use them, been suitable substitutes for my rather meager needs. I will sooner move to traditional media than use them to continue making digital art with their maddening and poorly designed interfaces. Anyways, that’ll be a later development in my long and slow Going Analog series.)

So, after much research, I found the Google Nexus phone. Specifically, the Nexus 5, which gave me everything I wanted in a smaller package; I bought one gently used out of pocket for a reasonable price (how many people can even say they own their phones outright anymore?) and it even came rooted. Over the next few years I wound up with two, and swapped parts between them as each of their performance slowly started to decline from regular use. Eventually, I cracked the glass on my then-better one, and once the screen started to discolor, I switched their batteries and set it aside to be used for Skype calls, using the other as my daily. More recently, the glass finally cracked on the other – I dropped it at such an angle that the screen underneath my Gorilla Glass protector shattered – and the body dented in just the right way to keep the back plate from ever being securely snapped in place again. About a week later, and the thing began to shut off at random, no matter how much battery life was left. It’s dead, Jim.

While I still technically have a backup smartphone, I’ll never use it for such. I have exactly three apps on it – a music player, Slack, and Skype – and the battery lasts me for days because it only ever gets used for a single daily Skype call. The screen is just too broken and battery drain for typical use too rapid for anything else. I’ll probably install a single other app, though: Uber, for when I need to take the train.  (My town is so pathetic that it doesn’t even have a bus stop at our lightrail station, and on weekdays, the parking lot is full by 7am.)

As soon as I find a place to recycle the Nexus, I will. Though I’ll probably still keep the battery as a backup.

While I’ve talked about ditching the smartphone before, it wasn’t all told, a complete transition. I still had the devices in my possession, and they still had wifi capability, so I’d use them like tiny tablets here and there. Mostly to read articles I’d saved to Pocket, or to check traffic, or to call that Uber ride. I also used it extensively as a music player. So what the heck do I do now?

At the end of the day, the Nexus allowed me to do three important things that I need to work out other arrangements for. In my previous Going Analog post, I talked about overcoming the fear of having to navigate without the use of GPS, and I’m improving my navigation abilities by leaps and bounds by no longer relying on technology to do that kind of thinking for me. I’ve since done dozens of drive-by comp shoots for my father, who’s a residential appraiser, with nothing more than a printed map and a list of address numbers. I’m confident that I could find my way anywhere without GPS at this point.

The first problem though, the music player, is not really that much of a problem at all – or rather, it was, until I remembered that I still have my old Zune MP3 player from circa 2008. Microsoft discontinued the Zune product line many moons ago, even though it was an arguably better product than the iPod, had better internet browsing capabilities than most of other pre-iPhone smartphones of the time, and its touchscreen keyboard was better designed than that of the early iPhones as well. I’m currently waiting for my new sync cable to arrive in the mail, at which point I’ll fire up the Zune for the first time in at least 6 years. (And then see about stocking up on spare batteries from ebay.) And when I’m in the car, I’ll probably be listening to my growing CD collection (though CDs are hardly “analog”; however, they are not ephemeral like digital files are). So that’s one problem dealt with.

The secondproblem is Uber, though I rarely use it. In the past few months I’ve learned that it is illegal to hail cabs in Los Angeles, and that in order to get a ride, you have to call a central dispatch to schedule a pickup. My research has left me a little skeptical of LA’s cab industry; no company seems to have more than a 3-star rating, and many of them only have 2. On yelp I’ve read a lot of horror stories about taxis arriving an hour late, or not showing up at all, and drivers trying to inflate their fare by not taking the fastest route. If I’m taking Uber to the train station and need to make it to work on time, I need to know that my cab ride will arrive when its supposed to arrive. Likewise, if I’m stranded someplace late at night, then I don’t want to wait around for an hour then either.

Of course, these fears are a little overblown – the telltale mark of a convenience being taken away from somebody who’s long since taken it for granted. Being a car-owner now, I don’t take the train as often as I used to, and therefore I don’t often find myself needing an Uber much at all. My fears about getting stranded too, that typical “what if” scenario that is never likely to happen, are also needless: there’s nowhere I’d be where I could call an Uber but not be able to have a family member to come get me. In in truly exceptional situations, like my last year’s solo trip to Olypmia, WA, which left me stuck at the train station after the last bus had come and gone, I could always call somebody and have them arrange a ride for me.

The final problem is photos. I will probably get a point-and-shoot to solve that problem. Remember point-and-shoots? Battery lasted forever, they could more or less withstand being dropped, and they took great photos to boot. Smartphones have completely gutted the low-end market, though, so most of the worthwhile ones nowadays cost at least several hundred dollars. Thankfully, I bought my husband and I a pair just before the aforementioned gutting happened, and he is more than happy to give me his. (I, of course, managed to smash mine a year after I bought it. And I mean smash: accidentally positioned a chair leg on it and proceeded to sit down.) Point-and-shoots require more diligence than the ubiquitous smartphone, though. They require more planning, more thinking, more process than simply pushing a button and uploading the thing to Instagram. A while ago I realized that I no longer wanted to take pictures of things willy-nilly like everyone else; we are drowning in cheap images, and I didn’t really want to contribute to that cognitive fog. And I definitely didn’t want to take selfies anymore. (Especially knowing what Facebook was doing with them without my permission.) So now, every time I want to share a photo with the world, I’ll have to take it with a disconnected, specialized device, upload it to the computer later, sort through them, and then decide if any of them are worth sharing. Just my kind of tedious.

More broadly, though, there’s still a finality to all this. I had the emotional support of at least wifi-powered devices that could fit in my pocket, but that too is on the way out. I’m channeling a frame of mind I had for the first 22 years of my life: being disconnected is natural. And, arguably, it’s good.

The whole smartphone thing seemed like such an amazing leap forward. Internet communication and digital entertainment wherever there was a cell signal. It promised an end to boredom, to inefficiency, to loneliness, but it really did nothing but make us allergic to spare time, addicted to mindless “productivity”, and terrified of solitude. In reality, all we got was that famous line from the chorus of an Eagles’ song: Everything, all the time.

My other problem is that I read too much now. I go through a book a week, it seems like, what with all these extra little moments I find myself with these days. But there’s an old school cure for that too: a library card.

California Grown

I’ve made a soft resolution recently to eat as locally as possible. I didn’t wake up one morning and go “I’m gonna be a locavore from now on”; it’s just that I found myself making the decision to buy local produce more often than not in recent weeks, and I encouraged myself to continue doing so.

I live in the easiest place to do this in the entire US, though: California. A huge portion of the nation’s food comes from here, and we’re the #1 exporter for a number of crops for the whole planet. Things are in-season for a long time around here, too.

So I thought, why not give it a go? Or at least, pay attention to where and when it becomes a difficult decision. This means I’ll probably be giving up things like chia seeds, quinoa, and a number of varieties of rice. I’ll have to do my research. I won’t be giving up spices – I rarely use them anyway – and I will pretty much be forced to limit my sweeteners to… honey. (I don’t think there is any agave production in CA.) I’d use dates, which we do grow fairly close by, but they have a high glycemic load and aren’t great if you’ve got iffy blood sugar like I do. Plus, they’re not all that useful where liquid sweeteners are concerned.

I’ll also be limiting my purchases of bananas. I probably won’t be able to eliminate them, but I can personally avoid buying them. The banana industry is… pretty ugly on the whole. More on that in a later post that’ll rip into veganism again and paleo, though.

I probably won’t be following up on this too much; it doesn’t feel like that big of a change, being fortunate enough to be where I am, and aside from a few take-for-grantedables, there probably won’t be much to write home about. There is no grain or legume that can’t be substituted with another, banana substitute suggestions are one google search away, and the more exotic stuff that I only just in recent years got used to eating aren’t non-negotiable in any real way. Not to mention the fact that, I’m so used to making sudden changes to my life that most of them don’t feel particularly special anymore. I became vegetarian; so what? I stopped wearing makeup; big deal. I haven’t bought shampoo or paper towels in two years; yawn.

Anyways, that’s happening now. If there’s any noteworthy developments, I’ll keep you posted.