Archive for April, 2010

Green Grass and Dandelions

As soon as warmer weather hits, I, like many I know, get the itch to make things beautiful.  Last weekend, I spent 8 hours cleaning up, digging up, and planting up my front yard.  Every morning, I get tremendous satisfaction seeing that the new things are still alive and the old ones are thriving.  I’m aching to get going in the backyard… the weather needs to warm up a bit again.  Soon.

In the midst of the planning and planting, I find myself  pondering my lawn.  About four years ago, we used a chemical lawn care company to turn our grass into a lush green carpet.  I was never entirely comfortable with the idea of chemical fertilizer, but the compliments were enough to assuage my cognitive dissonance and I convinced myself to buy into the claims that the stuff they sprayed on the lawns–the stuff that stunk like chemicals–was surely all right.

Would we die from this stuff?  I don’t know.  Probably not.  But the larger question was:  Do I want chemicals sprayed all around my house, around my children, for the sake of an artificial standard?

I know… lawns are the stuff of summer.  When I envision the scene, it’s loaded with soft focused close-up images of toddlers’ bare feet in deep, green, soft grass.  There’s enough lemonade and puppies and sprinklers for everyone.  The image is Americana.

When I was a kid, our lawn was a conglomeration of dandelions and clover humming with honeybees; occasional blades of grass filled in the rest.  Our next door neighbors were far more diligent than we.  The mrs. would be on her hands and knees with a screwdriver, prying out the golden dandelions and dropping them into her large metal bucket.  The mr. would thatch every spring and fertilize.  Their lawn was beautiful.  A carpet of July heaven.

We didn’t walk on our neighbor’s lawn, much less play on it.  They discouraged it for fear it would be ruined.  And who could blame them?  If I worked that hard on my grass, I’d be protective of it, too.

And so, the neighborhood kids played Kick the Can and Capture the Flag and Red Rover and Running Bases at our house; and we did it barefoot and we stepped on bees and cried and had my mom slather her baking soda paste on the bottoms of our feet and out we went again, running well-worn paths along the shortest distances to “base.”  Yes, we knew the neighbors had a beautiful lawn, but it never occurred to us that ours wasn’t.

Don and I stopped using chemicals on our lawn two years ago and it’s not perfect anymore.  It’s thinning and the dandelions are dotting themselves recklessly throughout.  I don’t know how the neighbors feel and I don’t have the time or inclination to yank them.  I’m remembering the beautiful impromptu bouquets these named weeds became when I wanted to tell my mom that I loved her.  I remember how magical it was to blow their soft, fuzzy orbit of seeds away in the wind.

I guarantee that when my kids are grown, they won’t remember the state of beauty of our lawn.  They’ll remember Tag and soccer and volleyball and zip lines.  And maybe it’s not too late to get a dandelion bouquet.

Eat meat? For your consideration…

Let me begin by saying that I’m not anti-meat.  And by meat, I mean food from any animal flesh:  poultry, pork, beef, fish, etc.  I became vegan for health reasons.

So, as a vegan, I don’t mind that people eat meat.

As a citizen, I mind that people eat meat that comes from factory farms or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).  I understand that many don’t know what these CAFOs do and how their practices hurt the environment and the health of the people who live near them.  With the exception of a few brilliant, brave voices, we have been kept from the fact that these operations are the reasons that the larger society must confront threats like e coli, Mad Cow, and MRSA, as well as complex environmental challenges.

I also understand that that to purchase organic, grass fed, free-range can be crazy expensive.  I know that some people don’t have easy access to these foods.

That said, our general ignorance needs to be addressed.  Our priorities need to be changed.  Our idea of what our food should be has been skewed by standardization induced by hormones, antibiotics, and unnatural feeding practices of the animals; we must find ways to reject the practices that are so detrimental to us in so many ways.

Making a life change because it’s healthy for us and our families and because it’s the socially responsible (it makes a statement about what we accept for our fellow citizens) thing to do might be difficult.  But the right decision should be the decision.

I don’t eat meat, but I’d like to share a comparison that I think is apt.  I love coffee.  I’m addicted to it.  In our house, as soon as we were made aware of the difference between regular Folger’s or Maxwell House type brands and Fair Trade brands like Green Mountain, we switched to the more expensive Fair Trade coffee.  Fair Trade means that growers are paid a fair wage and cannot be exploited by large corporations who can set low prices because they’re the only game in town.  Further, these growers produce organic coffee that does not negatively affect the environment.  Once the recession unfolded, however, and our family took a serious financial hit, I made excuses and went back to cheaper coffee.  I was almost embarrassed to be seen taking it off the shelf and putting it into my cart.  The dissonance was so strong that I couldn’t take it anymore.  The result was that we cut back on coffee consumption so that we could afford to purchase the right coffee.

If we all consider our purchasing decisions more carefully, recognizing that an ethical purchase might mean that we eat more expensive foods less frequently, won’t we all be better off in the long run?  So maybe instead of accepting factory farmed meat, loaded with chemicals and antibiotics, with byproducts that include contaminated drinking water and polluted communities and watersheds, we should cut meat consumption to several fewer times a week and pay more to support sustainable, responsible agriculture.

As you think about this, I urge you to read David Kirby’s Animal Factory, watch the Oscar nominated Food Inc., and look up news stories about how these CAFOs hurt the very communities that they make their home.

Change is hard.  But with information, it is the only choice.