Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stuck in the Middle with You

Lest you think we're getting too preachy and high-minded here at NSDH, I'd like to bring us back to middle ground. The idea behind Not-so-Dirty Hippies is to encourage small lifestyle changes for the greater good (ergo, the not-so-dirty part). I'm afraid that making drastic, sudden changes is not an approach that works for the long haul. (Think extreme dieters who end up gorging on a Big Mac.) I've sometimes been accused of not having a "medium button," and the first week or so of blogging is probably a good example of that. But since moderation is key to all of these changes, we'll try to keep that in mind as we write.

Take, for example, baby care. When my son was born, I was obsessed with the safety of the plastics that we use to feed and entertain him, and I researched BPA before it made national headlines. Also, I proudly continue to breastfeed my son. But, we also use disposable diapers, without much guilt, after reading a NY Times magazine article that basically equalized cloth and disposable diapers from an environmental perspective. Although I can't really see the environmental or social justice reasoning behind it, the choice not to vaccinate children seems to have gained a "hippie" following. We chose to vaccinate our son according to the schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. (For more information about why we vaccinate, please see this, and this, and this.) I "wore" my son in a sling when he was an infant, but he also rode in a stroller. We co-sleep some of the time, but not all of the time. Our son eats homemade organic food almost exclusively at home, but he's also tried Cheetos and (clutch the pearls) a McDonald's cheeseburger or two. I can't tell you how much Ibuprofen I've given him (sanctioned by our trusted pediatrician) to reduce teething pain and swelling. I suppose this is why a recent facebook quiz rated me "about as crunchy as Jell-O."

We don't make these decisions lightly. But we also know that it is important for our sanity, and also for our continued commitment to our priorities, to moderate our behavior so we can stay in this for the long haul.

Some of our lifestyle choices are expensive. Organic food, for example, is often more expensive than conventional food. So, we reduce consumption in other areas: we don't have cable or satellite television, and we don't subscribe to a DVD service. (This particular choice has come with the added benefit of more interaction as a family.) We don't belong to a gym in the warm months when we can walk for exercise. We don't go on expensive vacations. We have one desktop computer for the whole family (no laptops, no smartphones). We cook and eat almost all of our meals at home. We embrace hand-me-downs and other gently used toys, books and clothing. Are these sacrifices worthwhile? For us, they are, and they often lead to unanticipated benefits. And obviously, each family must choose what they prioritize for themselves.

Many "green" choices can come with economic savings, of course. As the price of gasoline continues to rise, walking or bicycling becomes an increasingly attractive alternative. In our community, recycling is free, while we pay for trash service by volume. So, we have a cost incentive to recycle. (Lucky us! But before you start patting my community on its proverbial back, know that kitchen waste cannot be composted here.) Our use of reusable shopping bags comes with cost incentives at two of our favorite grocery stores. Our cloth napkin use has drastically reduced our paper towel consumption. Of course, cloth napkins cost money. (In my case, they were sitting in the cabinet, wrinkled and out of use, but they had to be purchased at some point.) Our beloved squeegee was not free, nor was the milk frother we use for our coffee (to replace the coffee creamer that was purchased in addition to milk, that often went to waste). But the cost savings of using these items in the long run will more than make up for their cost. And we are not immune to consumption and accumulation of goods: I love the video monitor I have set up in the nursery more than anyone should love a material thing, and I have a Very Special Relationship with our washer and dryer.

This post was brought to you by the nail-biting session I had over compost last night. I didn't really know what to do about compost, but I knew we were throwing away a lot of kitchen scraps that could probably be composted. But then I found the above-referenced city ordinance banning kitchen scraps in compost. What's an eco-conscious girl to do? In other respects, our community is very green. I've never lived in a more walking-friendly place, and we do love our weekly recycling ritual. Our garbage goes to a waste-to-energy facility, so I think I can feel good about that.

After my composting dilemma, I went to bed, where I saw my ever-growing pile of books about our food sources on the nightstand. The next two books on my reading list are The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. These are borrowed from our wonderful library, with due dates looming. I decided to give myself a break, though, and will return the books without reading them. After my other reading this month, I certainly have enough disgust and righteous indignation to get me through the summer months. I can re-check the same books out of the library, or look for them at our upcoming church book sale. By then, I may need to re-fuel the fire for inspiration to eat locally-grown organic food.

Until then, expect to hear from me about Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry. It looks like a much-lighter read on the same subjects, and the writer is from Wisconsin, so I like him already. Maybe I'll find that medium button yet.

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