Is Radical Homemaking the New Feminism?

  • Author Shannon Hayes says raising chickens and growing veggies is a new route for women who consider themselves feminists. (Photo courtesy of Nathan & Jenny CC-2.0)

Women who consider themselves feminists might be shocked to hear what some are calling the new wave of feminism: women heading back to the kitchen – and the garden. Julie Grant reports:

Transcript

Women who consider themselves feminists might be shocked to hear what some are calling the new wave of feminism: women heading back to the kitchen – and the garden. Julie Grant reports:

When Shannon Hayes was finishing her PhD, she made a list of all the female professors she’d ever had. There wasn’t one who had tenure who was also married with children. Hayes wanted a husband and family, and realized that if she wanted a big university job…

“I was not going to have these things. And they were as important to me as having a career. In fact, in truth they were more important to me.”

So, much to the dismay of her PhD committee members, she headed back to the northern foothills of the Appalachian mountains near the family farm where she grew up. She bought a teeny house with her husband. People whispered. What had gone wrong?

Once there, Hayes couldn’t even get a job interview. To make things worse, her husband lost his job two weeks after buying the house. So, they fell back on their domestic skills.

“Well, if something broke, we fixed it. If something ripped, we mended it. I was very good at canning, so any food we didn’t grow on the farm or didn’t grow in our gardens I wold go to the local farmers when it was in peak season and I would can it, freeze it, lacto-ferment it.”

Hayes says her idea of success changed. Spending time with her parents and children, cooking family meals – those are her successes.

And she’s found that more people are realizing the power of homemaking.

Hayes has now written a book called Radical Homemakers – which profiles twenty families that are saying “no” to regular jobs, and are instead raising chickens and growing veggies.

Hayes says homemaking is a new route for women who consider themselves feminists.

“I think that a lot of feminists are realizing that the family home life is extremely important. I do think that this is part of the next wave of feminism.”

One feminist blogger asked with disgust:
Are you telling women to get back in the kitchen?

Traditional feminists don’t like the sound of this one bit.

Brittany Shoot is another feminist blogger. She’s concerned with calling homemaking feminism. Shoot writes about eco-feminist issues for Bitch Media and The Women’s International Perspective. She says just because some women are doing it, does NOT make it feminism. She says Hayes’ message could be considered a step backward for women.

“I can’t imagine saying to my grandmother, ‘I’m going to stay home and just hang out.'”

Shoot says her grandmother struggled to attend university, and didn’t have nearly the choices Brittany has for a career. She would want Brittany to make the most of her opportunities.

“We’ve come so far. Why would you make this decision when you have the ability to have a career that may not only be lucrative, but fulfilling.”

But Shannon Hayes says we’ve been conditioned to want the money and status of a big job and that’s proving to be as empty for many women as it is for many men.

Hayes says being a housewife in the ‘50s and 60s was limiting. Back then, when Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, women were depressed by their role as homemakers. Women were losing their own identities to serve their husbands and children. But Hayes says women today are losing their identities to the workplace. She also says corporations have largely taken over in the home.
She says when women left the kitchen to join the workforce, that’s when everyone started eating processed, unhealthy foods.

“I think everybody should get back in the kitchen, not just women. But that’s because I don’t think you should be buying processed foods, and I don’t think you should be supporting industrial agriculture, and don’t think that you should be supporting food traveling thousands of miles.”

Hayes says becoming a homemaker isn’t abandoning feminism, it’s redefining it on her own terms. She’s sharing homemaking with her husband… and both are finding more balance between home life and work.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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INTERVIEW: creativecitizen.com CREATORS

If you spend a lot of time on the Internet,
you probably know about MySpace, and Facebook, and
maybe you use Wikipedia to look up things quickly.
Well a couple of guys in California are combining
social networking, web content, and citizen action
to make a green website called Creative Citizen-dot-
com. Lester Graham spoke with Scott Badnoch and Argum DerHartunian:

Transcript

If you spend a lot of time on the Internet,
you probably know about MySpace, and Facebook, and
maybe you use Wikipedia to look up things quickly.
Well a couple of guys in California are combining
social networking, web content, and citizen action
to make a green website called Creative Citizen-dot-
com. Lester Graham spoke with Scott Badnoch and Argum DerHartunian:

Scott Badnoch and Argum DerHartunian: “CreativeCitizen-dot-com is based on the idea that we need
to infuse action into people’s lives when it comes to the green movement. So, we call ourselves
the action-based green community. And it’s essentially where Wiki meets social networks. So,
we’ve taken the best of both worlds and put them together. And so, instead of trying to be a static
content provider, what we do is we open up the playing field for the entire community to be
involved.”

Lester Graham: “Now, when you’re talking about opening up to the whole community, that just
seems you’re asking for a lot of misinformation to be passed around. Who’s monitoring this to
make sure that you ensure accuracy on this thing?”

Badnoch and DerHartunian: “It’s very rare that people provide things that are absolutely incorrect.
Now, at the same time, we also have experts. And I’d also like to add that our experts really guide
the process. They show people where to go to find more information, so then more eyes are
actually looking at it, and making sure the information is actually accurate and effective in the real
world.”

Graham: “Well, even among the experts there’s an amazing amount of confusion about everything
from everyday questions like ‘paper or plastic?’, to lawn care, purchases we make – how do you
plan to get around some of those complicated issues that might depend on where you live, or other
circumstances of your locale or your lifestyle?”

Badnoch and DerHartunian : “We’re not saying we are the sort of all-knowing Gods of green, but, in
reality, we’re saying ‘hey, we don’t know’, and neither does the vast majority of people. So let’s all
contribute, and put the knowledge that we do have together, so we can actually get a more clear
understanding of what this green-thing is.”

Graham: “Your CreativeCitizen-dot-com site seems like it might just be the perfect opportunity for
some of these corporations to come in and really spin things for systems that might not be that
great. How will you compete with corporate green-washing you might see on your site?”

Badnoch and DerHartunian: “On CreativeCitizen-dot-com, we’ve created an organic R&D system,
where each creative solution is uniform in a sense, and users can come and comment on
solutions, and edit them. And companies are really putting themselves out there by saying ‘this
product or service really has this benefit or savings’. And people can say, ‘well, I’ve tried this at
home and it doesn’t have these savings’, ‘I’ve researched this product and you’re using these types
of methods to produce this and manufacture this product and it’s not good for the environment’.
Or, vise-versa, saying that this is good, and really bringing the real green products that are not
green-washed to the forefront.”

Graham: “What have you learned on CreativeCitizen-dot-com that made you a more
environmentally responsible person?”

Badnoch and DerHartunian: “Well, I’ve transformed my entire life since the process of really
understanding sustainability. But one of the main things is really understanding that efficient living
and sustainable living is not about a sacrifice. It’s about really putting in these little acts into your
daily lifestyle that really make you happier as a person, more efficient – not only in a personal
sense but in a global sense. So, one of the most simple things is recycling laundry water. I’ve built
a system in my house where I can just put the laundry water in a bin and feed it to my garden,
using waste-water that is actually more nutritious for the plants because of the minerals in the wash
cycle. I like to call it ‘optimize without sacrifice’ – that’s actually from Amory Lovins. Green is really
about optimizing your life, and making life better for you, and then the result, fortunately, is that life
is better for the whole planet.”

Graham: “Alright guys, thank-you very much.”

Badnoch and DerHartunian: “Thank you, Lester.”

Related Links

Cities Offer Prizes to Top Recyclers

Some communities are trying contests and other financial incentives to get people to properly sort their recyclable garbage. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

Some communities are trying contests and other financial incentives to
get people to properly sort their recyclable garbage. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:


Local governments can make money selling the paper, aluminum and
some other items people set aside for recycling, but improper sorting can
clog the waste stream and add to costs. So, some communities are
randomly handing out cash or other rewards to citizens who do recycling
right.


Kate Krebs is with the National Recycling Coalition. She favors
incentive programs that get people to be less complacent about sorting
their trash.


“It isn’t top of mind anymore…it isn’t as easy as consumers want it to be
or they just have such busy lives that they haven’t really imbedded the habit
in their lifestyle.”


Krebs says the best incentive programs choose their winners fairly and
then spread the word to other people – creating some peer pressure. She
says recycling incentives are similar to other businesses where people do
things like offer coupons to keep people interested in a product or a
service.


For the GLRC, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

Related Links

Suburbs in the City

  • Victoria Park seems like a neighborhood that one might see in a suburban area. But, in fact, it's located in downtown Detroit. (Photo by Nora Flaherty)

Many cities across the nation are looking to re-imagine themselves—they’re trying to become more like dense, walkable cities like San Francisco or Boston. But some people say that some cities weren’t originally designed to be like that. And people don’t necessarily want them to be. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has this report:

Transcript

Many cities across the nation are looking to re-imagine themselves. They’re
trying to become more like dense, walkable cities like San Francisco or
Boston. But some people say that some cities weren’t originally designed to
be like that, and people don’t necessarily want them to be. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has this report:


Aside from the cicadas and crickets, it’s a quiet afternoon in Victoria
park. There’s no one out on the tree-lined street, or on the large houses’
beautifully groomed front lawns.


Jerry Herron is an American Studies professor at Wayne State University. He says that this gated community has everything that people associate with suburbia.


“An artificially wind-y street, some kind of neoclassical details on the houses, a cul de sac at each end, plenty of cars in the garages, basketball hoops, all of the things that people would associate with characterstic life in suburbia. Except it’s in the middle of one of the oldest downtown industrial parts of the city of Detroit.”


Herron says that most urban planners wouldn’t expect to see a suburban-style
cul de sac right in the middle of the city.


“I think because it doesn’t look like one of those pre-arranged ideas of the city, cities aren’t supposed to look like suburban McMansions houses. Well, it turns out that that’s where people want to live, and if you build it in the city, they’ll come and buy the houses and be happy.”


That kind of thinking runs counter to what many urban planning experts might say. In fact, the success of Victoria Park might seem to be an oddity in planning circles, because most planners believe that it’s a specifically urban lifestyle that attracts people to cities, one that involves chic apartments, condos and busy streets, not lawn care and attached garages.


But Jerry Herron says that more suburban-style development is in keeping
with this city’s history.


“One of the important things about Detroit is that seventy-five percent of the people who live here – I believe that’s an accurate figure – virtually since the beginning of the city’s history, have lived in private houses, so that there’s really a dedication to this idea of private property, that they have something good, it has to be mine, it has to belong to me, which makes it very difficult then to imagine as desirable living in something I don’t own, that I have to share with other people, that I may just be renting.”


Regardless of whether they choose to live in private houses or high rise buildings, people who choose to live in the city like being able to spend less time in their cars than they would if they lived in the suburbs.


And they like the cultural attractions and diversity of the cities. And even if it might seem suburban compared to life in other cities, life in this city is still very different from life in the suburbs. Olga Savich grew up in Troy, Michigan a north-west suburb of Detroit. She now lives in a high rise building near downtown.


“I moved to the city because I just needed to get out of the suburbs, I lived
there my whole life, there’s nothing there but the mall, I didn’t
necessarily want to structure my whole life around shopping. So I moved to
the city because it seemed like it was exciting, like a new start.”


Although Savich likes the more traditionally urban aspects of the city, she
also likes the fact that there’s big open spaces, including Belle Isle park,
right in the middle of it.


“I used to walk down on a Saturday afternoon with a book and just sit on the rocks by Shane Park and you can put your feet in the water, you know, it’s really pretty. Going to belle isle, it’s almost like having your own Metropark, you know, right in your own back yard, it’s like a five-minute bike ride.”


And while a lot of people see Detroit’s big, empty urban spaces and abandoned and decaying buildings as the city’s big problem, other people are attracted to exactly those things. Jerry Herron lives in the same building as Olga Savich.


“There’s a lot of room in the middle of a city that’s 300 years old, a lot of green space in the city. And I think that people that are attracted to that kind of revitalization and the presence of significant decay find this a really exhilarating and exciting place. That abandonment attracts people, the way ruins attract people. And people who like it think it’s really unusual and unique and only Detroit looks like that really.”


Like a lot of big cities with decaying centers, Detroit is working hard to bring people in. Experts are thinking hard about what kind of cities people are looking to move to. And Herron says that anyone who’s trying to make a city like Detroit appealing to outsiders would do well to work with what the city already has, rather than trying to make it like other cities with different histories.


For the GLRC, I’m Nora Flaherty.

Related Links

Lofts Attract Urban Renewal

  • Lofts are no longer just structures with large windows and exposed brick. Lofts are quickly becoming a symbol of the lifestyle of the young, urban professional. (Photo by Lester Graham)

In cities across the nation, old warehouses, factories and other buildings are being turned into brand new luxury loft apartments, and for many urban areas, those apartments are a big part of trying to get people to move back to cities from the suburbs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has this report:

Transcript

In cities across the nation, old warehouses, factories and other buildings are being turned into brand new luxury loft apartments. And for many urban areas, those apartments are a big part of trying get people to move back to cities from the suburbs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has that story:


Abby Cook is taking a tour of the Union Square Condos.


“…finished the dining area, old basketball hoops and signs throughout the building, so…”


The condos are being built in what used to be a high school, and when they’re finished, the apartments will have a lot of the things that lofts are known for. They’ll have high ceilings, hardwood floors, big windows and exposed brick.


“It’s a great use of the building, it’s a neat idea and just the uniqueness, I think of it.”


Cook is excited about the idea of moving to downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. She lives in the suburbs now.


“Location is key, I think. Being that I am a young person, and I go out a lot, being close to downtown, just being close and the convenience is huge, just huge.”


Developers all over are building these kinds of lofts in empty city centers. That’s because lofts are thought to attract a group that’s become kind of a holy grail to urban planners: young, educated, professionals like Abby Cook. They’re often willing to live in neighborhoods that other affluent people shun, and it seems, they love lofts. Julie Hale Smith is with Michigan’s housing development authority.


“Our main target goal was to increase population in our urban centers. When we looked around at other cities in the country that we were emulating, we noted that one of their linchpins of revitalization was the redevelopment of historic buildings or the kind of faux-lofting of new, or newer buildings to provide that kind of lifestyle, that kind of urbanist lifestyle for folks that chose to live in those kinds of dwellings.”


You hear the word “lifestyle” a lot when you talk about lofts. In fact, they’ve become almost synonymous with a certain lifestyle, and not just in the minds of developers and urban planners.


FLAHERTY: “When you think of loft apartments, what words do you think of?”


PERSON 1: “Urban living.”


PERSON 2: “Maybe urban contemporary types, younger…”


PERSON 3: “Young, urban, hip.”


PERSON 4: “Maybe en vogue for city living, kind of stylish…”

But what is it about lofts? Doug Kelbaugh’s the dean of architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan.


“Lofts have a certain cache… they started in London and New York, where older manufacturing buildings or warehouses, in the case of London, were converted by urban pioneers, often artists, into large, open spaces, typically without separate rooms, and now it’s become sort of a lifestyle issue.”


But luxury lofts like Union Square are a far cry from the gritty artists’ lofts of 1970’s New York. They often have amenities like pools, gyms and game rooms.


“What will happen, is you’ll come up this stairway – there’ll be a landing here – and then there’ll be a second stairway that goes up through the roof to your private rooftop deck…”


Developers often like to call any apartment with big windows and exposed brick a “loft.” University of Illinois Geographer, David Wilson, says it’s all a matter of marketing, that developers aren’t just selling an apartment, they’re selling an identity.


“Developers and builders look at them and they see certain physical attributes: high ceilings, large, expansive windows, and so forth, and they seize upon the idea of marketing these physical attributes. And the marketing process hooks up to the notion of, ‘Let’s play to the identity of these people. Let’s make them appealing, let’s make them attractive.'”


So when people see apartments that look like lofts, they don’t think about washing those big windows, they think of having the hip, urban lifestyle that the windows imply. Take Hannah Thurston. She’s a 23-year-old student. She and her husband are putting down a deposit on one of the Union Square apartments.


“I’m hoping that the other people moving in will be great neighbors. Obviously, we’ll have a lot in common being young professionals, obviously there are a lot of nice perks.”


But whatever developers’ motivations, and whatever people might think of them, lofts are succeeding at one thing: they’re bringing at least some new people many of the nation’s abandoned city centers.


For the GLRC, I’m Nora Flaherty.

Related Links

Dumpster Divers Find Their Gold

  • One man's junk could be another man's organic groceries or building material. (Photo by Andrew Purtell)

A group of activists has found a way to live almost entirely off the stuff other people throw away. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Amy Coombs finds one person’s trash is another’s ethical lifestyle:

Transcript

A group of activists has found a way to live almost entirely off the stuff other people throw away. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Amy Coombs finds, one person’s trash is another’s ethical lifestyle:


(Sound of dumpster opening and rummaging)


“Cheesy bread, it’s kind of nice heated up… Some people love this crap.”


Jean C. has been dumpster diving for eight years and no longer considers it a chore.


“Dumpster diving can be a spiritual endeavor if you happen to believe it’s a sin to throw away food.”


C. is an activist. She’s also an accountant and is by no means homeless. She says she dumpster dives for food, clothing, office supplies, and building materials because she can’t bring herself to support wasteful manufacturers.


“The point of the dumpster diving lifestyle is to reclaim the waste of consumerist society.”


After dumpster diving in four major metropolitan areas, C. says you would be amazed by how much perfectly good stuff society throws away. If you do your homework, she says you can find almost anything you want.


“We’ve found organic cherries and chocolate and organic tofu, organic tofu burgers, chocolate soymilk, once we even found a whole case of white wine.”


Probably not too surprisingly, health officials say the lifestyle raises some sanitation concerns. Jerry LeMoine is a Food Inspector at the Santa Cruz County, California Health Department. He says even if dumpster-divers go for high-quality organic foods, taking food from a dumpster is risky.


“Potentially any type of bacteria could grow in a dumpster. Flies can get into dumpsters, rats, other types rodents, disease vectors, so it’s just unknown as to what the conditions are there and conditions might change at any moment in a dumpster.”


Dumpster divers say they’re aware of the risks, but Jean C. says she exercises great discretion. She says wading knee deep through other people’s trash is no worse than grocery shopping, as long as you know what to look for.


“We never eat unsanitary or dirty food. We only take meats if they’re frozen or vacuum sealed. Once we found a whole dumpster full of smoked salmon that was not going to go bad for years – and that was good. Everybody ate it.”


Lee Turner,a long-time dumpster diver, says people throw things away because Americans are wasteful. Turner has spent the past thirty years troubleshooting ways to build gadgets from others’ trash. He’s even built a back woods cabin entirely from salvaged materials.


(Sound of crickets)


“Welcome to my home… This is the kitchen, spice rack, this is the food cabinet, got running water, there’s a rain barrel, see…”


(Sound of water)


Turner built his shack illegally in a public forest, but he says he’s always been careful not to hurt the surrounding environment. He considers dumpster-diving to be part of a larger love for Nature.


Turner says using material that’s headed for the landfill makes a lot more sense than buying wood and encouraging the lumber and timber industry to cut down more trees.


“Most of the materials are found materials. Some of the wood came out of dumpsters.”


Turner and C. have turned dumpster-diving into an organized effort. They target the highest quality products, they stake out factory dumpsters to learn when mislabeled items are routinely tossed, and look for store employees willing to leak information about the next scheduled inventory reduction. It’s a conspiracy to salvage.


“What happens in a dumpster-diving collective is that you need to get a small group of quiet people, hopefully, and have them take a large amount of food back to a central location, where you’re going to wash it and process it and redistribute it, so that everyone gets what they need.”


It’s impossible to know how many students, activists, and old nature lovers scour garbage cans, but dumpster-diving is becoming an increasingly popular sport. And despite the social inhibitions and threat of food contamination, activists such as Turner and C. say they won’t abandon their search for edible, usable and fixable refuse any time soon.


For the GLRC, I’m Amy Coombs.

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Hazards of Going Off the Power Grid

  • Some people see living off the power grid as a good way to save money and energy. Others caution that living off-grid is more trouble than it's worth. (Photo by Johnny Waterman)

For most homeowners, electricity requires flipping a switch, plugging into an outlet – and writing a monthly check to the power company. Off the grid homeowners sometimes get to skip writing the monthly check to the power company. But the tradeoff might be climbing a 100-foot wind tower to make repairs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cari Noga reports on what it takes to go off the grid and why some people are encouraged to find other ways to be environmentally friendly:

Transcript

For most homeowners, electricity requires flipping a switch, plugging into
an outlet, and writing a monthly check to the power company. Off the grid homeowners sometimes get to skip writing the monthly check to the power company. But the tradeoff might be climbing a 100-foot wind tower to make repairs. Cari Noga reports on what it takes to go off the grid and why some people are encouraged to find other ways to be environmentally friendly:


In most of the Midwest, both solar and wind power are needed for a home to go off-grid. That’s because the region doesn’t get enough sun in winter, or enough wind in summer. Dave Van Dyke has both. He’s had a 100-foot wind mill tower on his northern Michigan property for nearly 10 years.


“I’d guess there’s hundreds up in northern MI. They’re not so well known because they are small. Unless you’re in a place to see them, you don’t even notice them. Like mine. We’ve had one there since 96, and some of my neighbors in Maple City still don’t know it’s there, until I said something.”


Van Dyke and his wife first used solar panels and then added the small wind generator for their home’s energy needs. More recently, they started a farm business on their 31 acres and
bought a more powerful wind generator.


“Right from the start we’ve been interested in renewable energy. We
were just homesteaders, basically trying to figure out how this off the
grid homestead was going to evolve. It turned into a farm just three years
ago.”


Van Dyke uses wind and solar power because it’s environmentally friendly. But he says there are disadvantages to going off-grid. His first generator was problem free, but still required at least a yearly climb to maintain the tower.


The second generator has had a lot of mechanical problems. It was once down for eight months. The Van Dykes had to install a backup line connecting them to the grid. So it’s meant some work and inconvenience for them.


Jackie Ankerson lives near the Van Dykes. Two years ago she and her
husband installed a wind and solar system. She said because their 5-acre property is in a remote area, it helped justify the cost of between 15 and 17-thousand-dollars to go with the alternative generation system.


“Because of where we chose to live, it would have cost us almost as
much to bring in grid power as it did for our off-grid system.”


The desire to live in a remote place where power lines don’t run is a
common reason people install alternative energy systems. Another is a green conscience. John Heiss says he likes working with those homeowners. Heiss owns Northwoods Energy. Based in northern Michigan, he travels nine months of the year installing alternative home energy systems.


Heiss has customers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and even Mexico. Some want to control their own energy supplies, instead of relying on the power grid. Some are die-hard do-it-yourselfers. Others want to protect themselves from rising energy prices and diminishing supplies. They want to do their part to conserve fossil fuels.


“There’s a big consciousness. Right now we’re listening to our president tell us about an energy plan, and it’s not hitting any of these issues, and there’s people calling me every day asking about these issues, wanting to do something about it. They’re saying, well this is nuts.”


It’s a big change from 1992, when Heiss started his company. The first few years, business was slow. Today, his phone rings steadily.


“Somebody calls every day for something. I can really pick and choose who I do projects for, besides the fact that I have over 200 systems installed right now that I’m maintaining and servicing and keeping those alive, cause that’s a full time job at times..”


But Heiss winds up talking a lot of potential customers out of installing alternative energy. Maintenance is one reason. Others don’t realize how much power they use, and get sticker shock at the cost of a comparable alternative system. Instead of going off the grid, Heiss says those homeowners can help in other ways. He suggests they choose more efficient appliances and lighting. That minimizes the amount of power they need.


“It’s much easier not to spend as much money by changing lifestyle, and doing it without sacrificing, just making good choices.”


If homeowners still want alternative energy, they might need permits. More townships and counties are setting regulations, especially for wind towers. Some homeowners think it will all be worth it when they can sell surplus power back to the grid. But Heiss says they’re mistaken.


“A large percentage of people are misled, and think that they can make money selling renewable energy, power to electric companies. You’re not going to make it. You’ve got to realize at best it’s going to be a break even proposition.”


If a customer is not only willing to accept all that, but does so with a passion and enthusiasm, Heiss says he’s found someone he can work for.


For the GLRC, I’m Cari Noga.

Related Links

A Lighter, Brighter Christmas?

  • Author Bob Lilienfeld suggests that we find ways to express our love for each other in less material ways. (Photo by Denise Docherty)

The message from advertisers this holiday season seems to be: buy more because you and your family deserve it. Retailers are hopeful we’ll all spend just a little bit more to make the holidays shiny and bright. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham went to the shopping mall with a guy who thinks we ought to scale back our spending during the
holidays:

Transcript

The message from advertisers this holiday season seems to be, buy more because you and your family deserve it. Retailers are hopeful we’ll all spend just a little bit more to make the holidays shiny and bright. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham went to the shopping mall with a guy who thinks we ought to scale back our spending during the holidays:


Bob Lilienfeld is one of the co-authors of a book called Use Less Stuff. As you might guess, he’s an advocate of using fewer resources, including buying less stuff during the holidays. We asked him to meet us at a big shopping mall to talk about why he thinks buying less means more.


Lilienfeld: “I want you to go back to when you were a kid. Think about the two or three things in your life, the things that you did that made you really happy. I guarantee none of those have to do with physical, material gifts. They have to do with time you spent with your family or things you did with your friend. But, it wasn’t the time you said ‘Oh, it was the year I got that train,’ or ‘the year I got those cuff links,’ or ‘when I got those earrings.’ That’s the principle difference. We’re trying so hard to be good and to let people know that we love them, but the things that we love about other people and that they love about us have nothing to do with material goods.”


Graham: “There’s a certain expection during the holidays, though, that we will get something nice for the people we love and here at this mall as we’re looking around, there are lots of enticements to fulfill that expectation.”


Lilienfeld: “That’s true, but we’ve been led to believe that more is better, and to a great extent more gifts is not better than fewer gifts. Quality and quantity are very different kinds of thoughts and we’ve been led to believe economically that quantity is more important. But, in reality it’s the qualitative aspects of life that we long remember and really are the ones we treasure.”


Graham: “Now from the news media, I get the impression that if I don’t do my part during the holidays in shopping, that it’s really going to hurt a lot of Americans, the American economy. $220-billion during the holiday season. It’s 25-percent of retailers’ business. So, if I don’t buy or if I scale back my buying, won’t I be hurting the economy?”


Lilienfeld: “It’s always been 25-percent of retailers’ business, even if you go back 30 or 40 years, and that’s probably not going to change. It comes down to your thinking through what’s good for you, what’s good for your family, what’s good for your friends and not worrying so much about what’s good for the economy and what’s good for big companies.”


Retailers are expecting sales to be better this year than last year. So, that simpler lifestyle that Lilienfeld is talking about is not widespread enough to have any real impact on the overall shopping season. But apparently the economy isn’t strong everywhere.


We talked to some shoppers about their holiday shopping plans and the idea of simplifying things. Many of them told us that the economy was forcing them to cut back on gift buying…


Shopper 1: “Well, because of my limited budget, I have to buy, like – I have a list – and I have to buy one at a time, so, being pretty poor is being pretty simple. I’m kind of already living that way.”


Shopper 2: “I don’t need to celebrate Christmas by buying people gifts. And I can give people gifts all year long. And I — Christmas is kind of sham-y to me.”


Shopper 3: “This year, yeah, my family is like, ‘Don’t get me anything.’ I’m going to do something, but hopefully it will be smaller and less expensive and all that.”


Shopper 4: “Well, I don’t feel compelled to buy something because an economist says it’s my part as an American. And I think people are going to get smarter and smarter about how they spend their money and the almighty dollar.”


With the constant messages on television, radio, the Internet and newspapers to spend, there’s a lot of persusive power by advertisers to buy now and think about the cost later.


Since Bob Lilienfeld is such an advocate of a simpler lifestyle, it makes you wonder about his own shopping habits.


Graham: “Do you ever find yourself in the shopping mall, buying stuff for the folks you have on your Christmas list or your holiday list?”


Lilienfeld: “All the time. But, what I try to do is two things. One is think about the fact that more isn’t necessarily better. But the other thing I really try and do is look for gifts that are what I call ‘experiential’ as opposed to material. Tickets. Things where people can go to plays or operas or ball games so that they have an experience. Same thing with travel. I mean, if I could give my father a gift or if I could help him afford to go somewhere, like to see me and the kids, that gift is probably worth a lot more to both of us than if I just gave him a couple of bottles of wine.”


And Lilienfeld says you don’t waste as much wrapping paper when you wrap up tickets.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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Beefy Guy Buys Organic Bovine

  • David Hammond's inspiration to experiment with a low-carb diet. (Self portrait by David Hammond)

Each year, Americans spend tens of billions of dollars on diets and diet aids. Low carbohydrate diets like South Beach, the Zone, and Atkins are all becoming household words and companies are scrambling to cash in. As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Hammond looks in the mirror as he investigates the potential environmental impacts of the low-carb diet:

Transcript

Each year, Americans spend tens of billions of
dollars on diets and diet aids. Low carbohydrate
diets like South Beach, the Zone, and Atkins are all
becoming household words and companies are
scrambling to cash in. As part of an ongoing series
called “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s David Hammond looks in the
mirror as he investigates the potential
environmental impacts of the low-carb diet:


(sound of shower door closing, shower being turned on)


Every day it’s the same. As I wait for the shower to
warm up, I fight off an assault on my self-esteem.
First, there’s my naked reflection in the bathroom
mirror. (Ugh.) To my right, a stack of clothes that
don’t fit anymore. And in front of me, the most
damning thing of all… the bathroom scale.


I know I should ignore it, but its pull is irresistible.


Hammond: “Okay, here comes the big
moment of truth. Ohh… you gotta be kidding
me. Well, according to my scale, I am four pounds
heavier than yesterday. I don’t know how
that can be possible.”


You see, I’m fat. Not “oversized.” Not “full-figured.” Fat. I weigh 268 lbs and desperately need
to lose some weight. None of my clothes fit. My
cholesterol is through the roof. And my wife? Well, she
seems to have cornered the market on migraine
headaches.


(shower fades out)


But what kind of diet? I needed a diet that would
work within my lifestyle, not totally change it.
Because giving up meat wasn’t an option for me, I
figured low-carb was the way to go.


A recent Roper Report estimated that up to 40
million Americans were reducing their
carbohydrates.


40 million carb counters can’t be wrong, can they?


My gut told me that low-carb dieters must be
demanding more meat and poultry. But
was there an environmental impact?


For advice, I turned to the Sierra Club. They have a
program focused on concentrated animal feeding
operations — better known as factory
farms. These are operations where thousands of animals,
sometimes tens of thousands, are housed
together in relatively small spaces.


Environmentalists say the problem is their manure.
So much of it is produced, in such a small area that
simply spreading it on nearby fields can lead to
severe water pollution.


Anne Woiwode is the Director of the Sierra Club’s
office in Lansing, MI. She said that manure is not
the only problem. A bigger threat may be the
antibiotics that the animals are given to promote
their growth.


“Up to 70% of the antibiotics used in
this country right now are being fed to animals so
that they are fattened quickly. And because
animals are consuming so many antibiotics, you
are actually creating super bugs or super
bacteria.”


As far as my diet is concerned, with all this talk
about manure, bacteria, and super bugs, I wasn’t
sure that I needed to diet after all. I’d pretty much
lost my appetite.


Well, almost… it is still barbeque season after
all.


What I need is a low-carb fix that I can feel good
about. A local butcher mentioned Roseland Farm.
It’s located in southwest Michigan, near the Indiana border.
They’re one of the region’s largest, certified organic
farms. It’s a family farm. Merrill Clark is one of
the owners.


“We’re a 1,800 acre certified organic beef farm, we also
raise some grains and other garden vegetables on
a smaller scale but we are mostly known for our
beef. We’ve been, I’ll say certified organic, for
nearly 20 years.”


Certified organic means that Clark and her family
feed their cattle with crops grown without pesticides
or synthetic fertilizers. They also don’t give their
cattle antibiotics or growth hormones.


Nearly a quarter of their farm is devoted to grazing,
so the Clarks avoid the manure problems of factory
farms. They just leave the manure where it drops
and it becomes natural fertilizer.


Natural grazing also reduces the need to feed the
cattle grains like corn and soybeans. When used for
cattle feed, those grains are usually inefficient and
expensive to produce.


Even though the Clark family runs a large organic
farm, they know that in the scheme of things, they are still very small.
Merrill Clark says that’s fine.


“If some major Kroger or Meijer’s wanted to buy all of our
meat, I don’t think we would want to. We sort of
feel connected to our label and our own name and
our identity. It’s just so interesting this way. You
meet great people. Because you’re face to face with
your own customers.”


In my case, Merrill and I didn’t actually meet face-
to-face, but we bonded. We talked long after the
interview was over. And I was impressed enough to buy
a 35-lb cooler full of ground sirloin, strips, and
fillets. Enough to get me through those first few
weeks of my diet.


So even though I’m still fat, and tomorrow, the
bathroom scale was going to be just as unforgiving,
I’m starting to feel a little bit better about myself. For
the first time, I feel connected to my food. I feel a
bond to the farmer. And I feel like I was supporting
something worthwhile. And you know what, it
feels good.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David
Hammond.

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