Aesthetics of Sustainability, A Call From Within

The aesthetics of sustainability is an unsuspected guiding light. The way our surroundings look, feel, are organized or not, and function is a molder of our interest, comfort, motivation, acceptance, and so much more. I believe our surroundings affect how we feel, our outlook, mental health, physical health, and values.

Many people in western society have very little to do with actively creating their surroundings. Our homes are generally built by strangers in preplanned neighborhoods, the plants in our yards prescribed by HOAs, our furniture and accessories bought at big box stores, identical products available nationwide. What if we had a more participatory role in creating our surroundings? How would we feel surrounded by a home our family built from bioregional resources? What stories would would be cultivated and passed on in working a potter’s wheel to make bowls with our grandmother? We might decide not to fill our houses with meaningless stuff, and choose instead a simple lifestyle infused to the core with meaning and stories.

Not only is the industrially-made aesthetic boring, but every stage of production and transport is not sustainable. Uniformity is not a principle of resilience. Even though most of our disposable products are made in China and Bangladesh, the emissions created in those places effect us all. If there’s one good thing about globalization, it’s realizing that we’re all in this together. And even though we’re all in this together, maintaining bioregional cuisine and seasonal living is just another part of the aesthetics of sustainability.

As John Dewey (1947, 45) writes, one cannot form an experience fully without an intellectual aesthetic to “stamp” to be complete. However, on a tangible level, my sense is that aesthetics draw people in, make them feel inspired, at home or alien, and motivate them to action. Aesthetics can be a manipulation tool; think of any tv ad or the decor Whole Foods chooses.

Attention to aesthetics is not and should not be applicable only to those with enough disposable income to “decorate.” Part of the appeal of simple living is that it’s an affordable way to become a radical homemaker. Everyone is affected by aesthetics.

The aesthetics of sustainability are simple, minimal, useful, and handmade; they are bioregionally different and appropriate; they possess a “satisfying emotional quality” and an “internal integration and fulfillment” (Dewey 1947, 45). Many stores are trying to market and sell the aesthetic of sustainability such as Whole Foods, Crate & Barrel, Anthropologie, Etsy, World Market, ad nauseum. The problem is that these are still outlets for the “consumer” and do not contribute to sustainability, but perpetuate consumerism.

My sense is that these businesses are doing so well because people are yearning for the aesthetics of sustainability, and they intuitively know what to look for, but they are either too distracted, busy, uninformed, and overwhelmed with marketing that they don’t realize that they are not achieving what their inner desires seek through their purchases.

Often in pondering issues of sustainability and “how we ought to live,” (Quinn 1995) my mind settles on the lack of quality time. We, myself included, busy ourselves too much to take the time to make things, grow food, and cook by hand. Why do we do this? We do this to put a roof over our heads, eat, and maybe get an education; it’s a capitalist system. I imagine a cooperative system would help us toward a better aesthetic of sustainability. It may be idealistic, but perhaps beginning with an aesthetic of sustainability can help inspire us toward regenerative practices.


Dewey, John. 1947. “Having an Experience.” In John Dewey The Later Works, 1925-1953,edited by Jo Ann Boydston, Textual Editor, Harriet Furtst Simon, 42-63. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press.

Quinn, Daniel. 1995. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. A Bantam/Turner Book.

Recode Oregon

I’m constantly amazed by the ingenious and progressive ideas coming from the western US. Recode Oregon seeks to recode changes codes to legalize sustainable building practices by creating collaborative relationships with communities and regulators.

On spaceship Earth there is really no “away” to throw things. It’s time our legislation reflect a zero waste outlook and local government support a different way of supporting natural building, ecological sanitation, and other more closed-loop means of living.

“If you knew how you ought to live, then the flaw that is man could be controlled. If you knew how you ought to live, you wouldn’t be forever screwing up the world. Perhaps, in fact, the two things are actually one thing. Perhaps the flaw in man is exactly this: that he doesn’t know how he ought to live.” – Daniel Quinn

Two Sisters Natural Soap & Farmers’ Market April 7th

Today I’d like to share about my new acquaintance at the Clermont Farmers’ Market: Aurora from Two Sisters Natural Soap. Not only is Aurora one of the kindest, friendliest souls I’ve met, she is an artisan soap maker and a wealth of knowledge about anything relating to natural body care. All this, and her soaps are absolutely FANTASTIC! They smell out-of-this-world, don’t dry my skin, and I know they’re all natural and made with love and care. Since the showers in our house are piped to drain into the garden and we finished our outdoor garden shower, it’s important for us to use biodegradable, natural bath products. You can now find Two Sisters on my local Resources page!

Two Sisters' Gardener's Helper soap is one of my favorites!

Two Sisters’ Gardener’s Helper soap is one of my favorites!

There are at least four reasons why I insist on what I’ll call “real” soap (simple ingredients, biodegradable, homemade).

  1. Better for the Earth: Natural, biodegradable ingredients are so much better for the Earth. They won’t damage water ecosystems with phosphates or pollute with chemicals.
  2. Better for us: You may have heard of sodium laureth sulfate, phthalates, parabens, formaldehyde and diethanolamine being present in our body products. This article from the Washington Post explains the dangers associated with the body care products of our industrialized civilization. When you make your own or buy body products from trusted sources, you can rest assured that there’s no formaldehyde or other creepies in it!
  3. No animal testing: Not only is it wrong, but there is no need to when you know the artisan soapmaker, trust their ingredients and promise to not test on animals.
  4. Support local producers: Instead of giving your money to large multinational corporations whose products might be made by wage slaves on the other side of the world or at least in a large laboratory or factory, provide someone in your locale the opportunity for meaningful work by supporting what they do! Plus it’s going to be a more personal, better product; you can talk to them about how they make it, what’s in it and where the ingredients come from.

I learned in my herbal classes that what you put on your skin is just as important as what you eat. Our skin is our largest organ and readily absorbs whatever comes into contact with it. With this sentiment in mind, I am mindful to use totally natural body products whenever possible. Another great thing about real soap is that it is naturally emollient – it moisturizes the skin. Two sisters also incorporate medicinal herbs like calendula and lavender into their soaps, which not only help heal the skin, but smell amazing too,  not with artificial fragrances, but with homegrown herbs.

Sure, you might have to deal with a little more soap scum by using real soap, but that’s what the baking soda is for! With all of the vital reasons to stick with real soap, there’s no reason to support industrial soaps or products. And if you’re in Central Florida come out to the Clermont Farmers’ Market to support Aurora (and me!). Her sister, Sierra, is near Umpqua, Oregon, so if you’re there you can find their soap. If you’re somewhere else, see if there’s a small-batch natural soap maker near you, or support these lovely sisters and order from them online. If you’re really getting into the local, diy spirit, make your own soap. I’ve heard it’s not that hard, and it’s definitely on my crafty to do list!

The market April 7th was wonderful. The weather was finally cooperating and gave us a glorious sunny day. I sold or bartered all of my produce and came home empty coolered! And that’s what I love to see! Thank you to all my regulars (and new folks) who came out to get your kale and support me doing what I love – growing delicious, fresh, nutritious vegetables!

Be Like Florida, Green for the Holidays

With Thanksgiving behind us and now officially in December, we are certainly in the thick of the holiday season. My family always makes fun of me for being a scrooge as I loudly and repeatedly state throughout December, “I hate Christmas!” My statement is especially cantankerous when I overhear Christmas music in public places in November. Don’t get me wrong, I love the family time, delicious food, happy moods, and the other altruistic parts of the season. It’s the consumerism that ruins it for me. I love giving; I don’t love feeling obligated to purchase something for everyone I know, hearing on NPR what the retail market feels the buying power of “consumers” will be this season, and other crazy-talk such as people getting mowed over to get into certain enormous multinational corporations.

However, I’m beginning to try to embrace the season again with a new frame of mind. Instead of being ill-tempered throughout the last month of the year, I want to enjoy the cool weather and change in seasons; utilize the additional time spent inside by reading, craft-making, knitting, kitty cuddling and learning new skills; enjoy making useful gifts for my loved ones; and maybe even listen to one of the only Christmas songs I like: “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. (I’m always the gray cloud.)

Wednesday and Arthur love cuddling when it’s cold out.

Luckily, I feel that I have lots of support in this relearning process. I’ve come across so many folks that feel the same way I do: Consumption has gotten way out of hand, and it’s time to take a step back. The Internet is littered with inspirational ways to have a handmade, waste-free holiday! I loved this article from Apartment Therapy about keeping it green during the holidays. Also, check out Adbusters’ Buy Nothing Christmas, which encourages celebrating non-material joy, inner peace, avoiding stress and saving money during the holiday season. A simple google search will yield hundreds of ideas for a green holiday season!

Reflections on Simple Living & Squashy Blueberry Pancakes

It seems I am really adapting to woods life. This was made very evident the other day when we walked into the grocery store. The ambiance was such a contrast to what I am now used to, and I felt like I had wandered into a strange alien world: everything seemed so bright, white and clean, and there was a constant hum. People seemed very clean, ironed and tidy, and preoccupied with their shopping.

Living with less, I am for the most part content. The homestead I am at has no refrigerator, no oven, no air conditioning, simply an outdoor kitchen and a yome for the owner, a trailer with a porch for the wwoofers. I am constantly a little damp, dirty, smelly, and sun-kissed. I get tired when the sun goes down and wake up early with the birds and rooster. When I have my own homestead one day, I will be able to make some minor adjustments to make myself totally content. I think I could even get used to cooking over the open fire full time if I designed a barbeque-type hearth. I have been using the public libraries to update my blog, check email, etc. It will be  interesting to see just how off the grid I can get used to!

wild harvested blueberries

In the homestead garden, we have huge light green squash ripening. We’re not sure what kind it is, but it looks a lot like a Hubbard squash. It is delicious and the fruit is so huge that I decided to get creative with ways to eat it. With sweet potato pie in mind, I decided to try to make pancakes with the squash as the base. Keep in mind, I don’t have Internet at the farm, so I made this up completely; there might be a better recipe out there somewhere! First I chopped and cooked the squash in the awesome Lodge cast iron dutch oven over the fire so that it was nice and squishy and mashed with a potato masher. The next morning, I mixed some whole grain pancake batter, corn meal, one egg from our chickens, and cinnamon and folded in the wild harvested blueberries with the squished squash.

cooking over the open flame

They took a little while to cook through, but held together well and tasted delicious, a little sweeter than normal pancakes. We topped them with Vermont maple syrup. I definitely see more squash blueberry pancakes in my future – there’s still another half of our huge squash to eat up!

Hello New Life

Next week is my final four days at my public health job. While I am very grateful for this learning and working opportunity, I think the most valuable lesson I garnered from my time there was about myself: I am not a cubicle person. I need personal contact, stimulation, variety and adventure. My current vision of my future includes an assortment of ventures to support my needs. I want to do freelance nutrition writing for magazines and online content; I want to grow produce and make herbal remedies for my community farmers’ market; I want to help people achieve their health goals by doing personal nutrition consulting; I want arts and craftiness back in my life.

I initially read about voluntary simplicity and purposeful living in college. When I turned 25 one week ago, I decided it is time to take these philosophies, which I hold close to my heart, seriously, to practice them and not just dream about them. Leaving a secure job in this economy is nothing short of scary. However, I like to think of myself as a thrifty, creative and frugal person. And I am immensely lucky to have enough freedom to make this life-altering choice. People keep asking me if I have another job lined up. My answer is, “Well… I have an internship!” (The closest “legitimate-sounding” description for a series of dates with different farms across southeast USA.) Their next question is, “Does it pay?”

I’m realizing that I am developing a mindset much different from that of the average person. I don’t want to worship or rely on money for my needs. I know this sounds naive, but it is indeed my goal.

I wrote the following in a journal entry on my birthday:

Something about the nice, round number 25 makes me feel that a lot of good things will develop this year. Many also feel that 2012 is an auspicious time for change. My friends gave me a blue tiger eye stone, which they said protects you on your travels and wards off anxiety. I will keep it close. “This year I’ll try to only listen to myself.”* This year I want to peel back the layers. I have set myself on a righteous path of rigorous self-actualization. I will work to shed the ego this year, to dig deeper into who I am and who I want to be. This is the year of Getting My Hands Dirty. I believe this is the year I’ll find my life’s calling. I will also reconnect with those closest to me. I have not felt “home” in a long time. I will regain that this year. I will delve into my spiritual side and release practices and thought patterns and controls which are no longer serving me. I will become very comfortable in the Now and the path I am on.

This quotation from Chris Guillebeau planted a seed of deep pondering in me, especially the part I italicized: “Sometimes, we let people take over our lives by entrusting judgement to them. We assume other people know better than we do. We assume other people’s priorities are more important than ours. The answer is to stop believing these things… You begin by deciding for yourself what success looks like. Set your own rules. Be clear on what you want and how you’re going to get it.”

It reminds me of the Thoreau quotation that I can confidently say, when I read it, changed my life: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” I think it was when I read these words, I believe via Guillebeau, that I decided to leave my job to pursue my passion instead. Really, what better time than now? What better moment to start doing the things you have always dreamed of doing than now?

As I prepare to leave Richmond, I am parting with a lot of my “stuff” (non-essential, useless, excess). I think this has a lot to do with my shedding process and leaving my old self behind to better uncover my potential and to embrace my new mindset. I remember a time when I felt weighed down by stuff, when all my stuff was an excuse not to jet off somewhere. Changing location is a perfect opportunity to raise the anti-materialism bar. Through this move, I have gotten rid of many things that I never would have if I wasn’t moving – like my kitchen table! Yet, with each item I remove, I’m happier with my space. So open and uncluttered! It is really true that keeping only the most special, bare essentials multiplies their sentimentality and functionality. I now eat at my desk which I moved to the breakfast nook.

“Be willing to live on less and you’ll buy yourself priceless freedom.” – Colleen Kinder

Carpe diem!

*The Lawrence Arms

Four Guilty Pleasures I Need to Quit

Since life is our ultimate learning experience, and there are always improvements to be made, I’ve decided to compile a list of habits and choices in my life that I would like to change – two short and two long term.

Short Term:

1. Stop thrifting.

A few of the many bags of give-aways I have made in preparation for moving.

“Stop thrifting!?” you say, “I thought thrifting was good.” Yes, generally going to your local thrift store for something you need is a great way to reduce waste, support the local economy, and save money. However, my guilty pleasure and the verb “thrifting,” is sort of a synonym to “shopping.” You know, the “I don’t have anything to do, so I’m going to go to the mall to distract myself and look at the pretty things and probably buy something I don’t need” thing. The mystery of the hunt while thrifting adds a bonus lure – finding the jewel in the ruff. That added excitement is quite addictive. I must admit, I’m pretty decent at walking out of the thrift store without buying anything should nothing call out to me; however, the principle I need to face is that I am still killing time (and cash) seeking things I don’t need. Every cute thing I bring home that I don’t really need is a backward step from the intentional, minimalist life I am trying to create. So, in the spirit of intentional living, no more going to the thrift store without a mission!

 2. Chuck shampoo & facial soaps.

I picked up this tip from my favorite blogger, vegan chef, and ultimate lifestyle role model, Joy Tienzo. As someone with fine hair (I wouldn’t quite call it “thin”), and a definite T-zone of oily skin on my face, I am excited to see how the no-poo method works for me. Joy writes that she didn’t like the baking soda/apple cider vinegar method mentioned on a lot of sites, so I’m going to follow her advice to condition once weekly and scalp massage daily first.

For my skin, the supply and demand explanation of bodily oils definitely makes sense. The more you soap up your face, the more oil your skin produces. We need to reach a natural balance instead of a roller coaster. I have experienced mild to moderate acne and oily skin since puberty, and I’m hoping the oil cleansing method will finally (I’ll be 25 next week for goddess’ sake!) help my skin find the balance I’ve been screwing up the past decade or more with various soaps, astringents, topical medications, and antibiotics. Since I eat a fairly healthy diet, I think for me acne is mostly hereditary – which is the most frustrating part. However, I refuse to believe the only way to cure my acne is through medications. I am determined to find out what will make my skin naturally clear, whether it be through eliminating an irritating food (gluten? dairy? peanut butter?), or discontinuing stripping the natural oils from my skin which have been causing it to overproduce oils for years. I plan to make an antimicrobial oil concoction with coconut oil as the base and a few drops of tea tree and lavender essential oils to use for a nightly cleanser. To be honest, adding moisture to my skin resonates with me much more than soaping. More and more lately, I’ve been feeling like I am doing my skin a disservice by going to bed with it squeaky clean and dry. I imagine my new regimen will not only lead to less maintenance but probably discourage wrinkles as I get older, unlike the constant drying of the skin caused by using soaps. I believe in the infinite wisdom of my body and its ability to heal itself, so I feel like any treatment I impose on myself that goes against my body’s natural processes is counterproductive. I think that’s why no-poo makes sense to me.

I laugh at myself for this new adventure because I recently bought two “natural” products on impulse. They were shampoo and facial wash.

I’m not saying anything bad about these companies and they are certainly better than the average chemical stuff, but I believe we need to be aware of greenwashing these days during which “green” is hip and trendy. Don’t think that advertisers and big companies aren’t going to capitalize on this trend in order to make money, usually selling us stuff we do not need. While I have been very happy with these products for what their jobs are, and at the time of purchase I didn’t yet know about the no-poo and oil-wash methods, I was definitely a victim of impulse buying with the facial wash and shampoo.

So, I’m going to give no-poo and oil wash a whirl and report back with my results to see if my impulse buys truly were unneeded.

Long term:

1. Driving a car.

I recently paid off my car loan after two and a half years. Woo! I officially don’t owe anyone anything! Except my parents I guess since they birthed me and let me live in their house rent-free for 18 years. However sweet it is to not have a car payment every month anymore, there is still a little voice in my head saying I shouldn’t own a car at all. Insurance payments, gas, pollution, military-industrial complex, carcinogens in car materials… the list goes on and on. My current travel plans for wwoofing SE USA include traveling by car; however, I see myself possibly doing some wwoofing in South America next year. This may require selling the car. My dream is to one day live in a utopian cooperative community where there would be a shared car. My primary mode of transportation would be feet and bike, and folks in the community could reserve the car for special occasions or large hauls. And it would be a veggie mobile. *Sigh*

2. Disposables and recyclables.

Since I am going to be a farming intern for the rest of this year, I hope I don’t have to wait too long to fulfill this goal because luckily, homegrown food has no packaging! In the previously described dream community I plan to find or create in the future, all our food will be homegrown = goodbye need to dispose or recycle! Love the correction: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse then Recycle.

In the mean time, I try to reduce the packaging I consume by supporting the local farmers’ markets which are just popping up for the spring season here in Richmond – lovely, buying in bulk, and choosing less-packaged products. By buying more produce instead of processed semi-foods, you can cut your disposable packaging by a LOT!

Off I go to do my scalp massage!

On Simplicity

I was reading through some of my first posts from the original Raw Summer back in 2007, and was reminded about how I’d dedicated my cleanse to not only my body, but to my surroundings as well. I’d proclaimed to get rid of excess stuff and simplify my belongings and life. How fitting to revisit now, as I transition to life on the road.

As mentioned briefly before, I am planning to be a farming intern this summer through WWOOF. Therefore, I am currently working on giving away, selling, and donating most of my “stuff.”* I am trying to pare down to the essentials. I feel like minimizing is a constant process in my life, evident by the fact that I write about it often and it always seems to be needing done again and again. I don’t consider myself a hoarder by any means, but tend to like pretty (though usually cheap or free) things like thrifty home decor. Nevertheless, it is stuff I will need to purge in order to travel as freely and easily as I desire. My friend gave me a great compliment by saying, “You are already pretty minimalist,” in response to my proclamation that I wanted to be. However, the more I learn, the more I develop the idea, the more I garner inspiration from others, the more I up the anti on my own simplicity goals.

So, once again, I find myself wanting to shed unnecessary “stuff” from my life as well as nourish my body more fully through raw foods and the avoidance of negative nutrition. And it is spring. Here in Richmond the wind is blowing and the flowers and trees are in full bloom. Nature seems to be damp and fuzzy. Soon, summer will begin my adventure of living off the land, learning to be more self-sufficient, experiencing real food production first hand, and listening to the stories from those who know it best.

I’ll finish this post by sharing some very inspiring quotations I came across today on simple and non-conformist living:

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you ought to set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” – Seth Godin, Tribes

“Life is indeed bloody short and no one is going to give you a gold star for playing it safe.” – Almost Fearless

* By “stuff” I mean clutter, excess, non-essentials, anything that makes me feel bad or obligated, or doesn’t serve me as a useful and productive item, anything I haven’t used in a long time, anything I’m keeping out of “sentimentality” but serves no purpose. “Stuff” is weight, baggage, guilt, and blockades to Freedom.

Tiny Kitchen Tour

For some reason, whether it’s because I’m veg or because I’m a dietitian, people ask me quite often what I eat or what it is I’m eating. Most of the time I don’t mind sharing ideas, but to be honest, a lot of the time I can’t think of a good answer simply because I don’t remember. I thought it might be a good idea to share some of my own unique recipes or alterations of common meals and snacks to equip me to better answer this question in the future.

As a side note, I am always astonished at what insults people will throw at you in regards to food. I can’t tell you how many times someone will come up to me while I’m eating and heckle me about my food, which is kind of insulting. Generally, it is not socially acceptable to go up to someone and say, “Your dress looks disgusting. I could never wear that dress. Ew.” How is it any different with food? “Your meal looks gross. I could never eat your food. Ugh.” I get this all the time. Has this ever happened to you?

However, don’t let these impolite gestures dissuade you from trying my recipe ideas. Most people do know how to be courteous about food, and I’ve received far more compliments than “ews.” Besides, I think most of the folks who generate comments like the above are closed-minded and addicted to the SAD (standard American diet) and haven’t had much cultural or dietary adventure in their lives.

That said, I also thought it would be handy to show you the kitchen I’m working in. I have the tiniest kitchen I’ve ever seen. Maybe besides my college dorm which hardly counts as a kitchen (sink, counter, microwave); however, I did have more counter space in the dorm! My kitchen is about 10’x7′. This is the best view of the whole kitchen I could get, dirty dishes and all:

The amazing antique cast iron sink station and cabinets (see my kombucha mama on top of the fridge!):

Luckily, even though our kitchen is teeny tiny, we do have a 1911 apartment building with high ceilings. We build up! I nailed the scavenged drawers to the wooden wall as shelving for my dried herbs, spices, oils, nutritional yeast, bulk seeds & grains, my partner’s whiskey collection, and other essentials:

My partner built these beautiful shelves for my heavy duty cookware. Here you can also see our mini antique gas stove (more on it later!):

I have about one square foot of counter space which is a shelf with drawers on wheels. I have the essential knives, all free or thrift store/farmers market finds: bread, paring, chef’s, cleaver:

Other essential equipment: my vintage glass Waring blender (thrift) and food processor (gift). My dad called me “the girl who doesn’t go anywhere without her food processor” when I was pet-sitting one weekend and made sure to bring it along! You can also see my vermicompost bin. I made it out of another scavenged drawer and used shredded office paper from my work. It’s great for small spaces and apartment composting as it doesn’t take up a lot of space, requires little maintenance and doesn’t smell. I’ve used the worm castings on my houseplants!

Arthur, my blind kitty, can’t resist the boxes:

I also have a window shelf for cups, basil, lemongrass and cacti. I love that my tiny kitchen has two windows! The natural light is amazing! As you can see, I recently began purchasing reverse osmosis water from my local health food store mainly to use for my fermented tonic beverages like kombucha and water kefir. These SCOBYs (symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast) don’t like chlorine or chloramine. However, since neither do your intestinal flora, it is good to eliminate these chemicals from your drinking and cooking and, if you can, your bathing water.

Since my kitchen is so small and I use it so many times a day, I have had to get creative with the space. I use the top of the refrigerator for a shelf and acquired a thrift store stepping stool to help me reach the highest places. The hardest part about this tiny kitchen, by far, has been the utter lack of counter space. I love the vintage cast iron sink unit and all of the character of the ancient mini gas stove.

So, now you know that all the recipe ideas to follow can be accomplished in any kitchen!