I'm not especially good at battling either one.
I've gained weight over the years. Right now, it's probably about what it was when I was pregnant with my daughter years ago; certainly, I'm not the sylph I was in high school.
As for my carbon footprint, it's pretty porky, too. I'm not quite as "fat" a polluter as the average American, who outgasses a hefty 20 tonnes of carbon a year. But my annual contribution of 15 tonnes a year to global warming is certainly higher than the average for other industrial nations, of 11 tonnes, let alone the current worldwide average of 4 tonnes per year.
And that's not even considering the amount of unrecyclable plastic waste, recyclable plastic waste that "downcycles", toxic chemicals, and contributions to environmental atrocities like mountain-top removal mining that I'm contributing to, directly and indirectly.
I'm going to get depressed in a minute... and that won't help anybody. So, let me share some good news with you first:
My gall bladder has decided it doesn't love me any more.
Yes--this is good news. And I promise not to turn this entry into a long whine about my aches and pains: no "organ recital"--cross my heart.
It took some time for me to figure out what was going on. I started to have pain. Several times a day. And enough to wake me up at night. It hurt, and I didn't like it.
I'll leave out the medical sleuthing that led me to suspect it was my gall bladder. I will say that my feelings were hurt by the idea: I associate gall bladder problems with fat middle-aged people. I kind of resented looking the truth in the eye.
My body thought I was fat. And was unhappy enough about it to give me those nasty little twinges and aches.
Bodies don't lie. Even if we offer to take them out for an ice cream sundae.
My doctor shared my suspicion and ordered the usual tests. But in the month between the initial visit and the revisit to discuss the results, I decided to act like it was my gall bladder, even if we didn't know for sure. What makes gall bladders unhappy? High fat foods and eating too much. What makes gall bladders happy? The kind of foods we all know we should be eating: lots of fruits and veggies, not a lot of processed crap, more fiber, and less fat. And less generally.
So I tried it. Really tried it this time, because every time I got sloppy or lazy, my body would wake me up at 3 AM for a little motivation session. My body got very good at plain speaking, and I got better and better at listening. And after a while, my body stopped giving me a hard time, because I stopped giving it a hard time, and yielded to the hard truth:
I can't eat like a fat, happy American any more.
No more the slices of pizza, dripping with mozzarella; no more the chocolate bars and brownies; no more the salt-and-pepper potato chips (my irresistible toxin of choice).
Pain has been a great teacher.
By the time I saw my doctor again, my weight had dropped noticeably, but, best of all, I was almost symptom free. It took me about a month, but when I finally understood where my pain was coming from, changing my lifestyle was nowhere near the struggle I would have predicted it would be. At this point, the weight loss is slowing, as I figure out ways of controlling my fat intake without being hungry all the time. But it has not stopped. It probably won't stop until I reach a weight my body--not my brain--thinks is acceptable.
I'm cool with that.
So, here's the environmental angle. (I told you I'd get there eventually.)
Having made one set of lifestyle changes has made me much more aware of others I need to make. Not only is my energy use and consumerism a lot like my pre-gall-bladder-diet in being loaded with "fat", but the strategies I used to create change in my body should also be helpful in my relationship with the earth. Dramatic changes are hard to sustain... unless you build them in. Losing weight turned out to be easier than I'd thought it could be... once I'd made the changes to my day-to-day life that supported it.
A little negative reinforcement to keep me faithful was helpful, too. Happily, increased energy costs are doing a nice job with this in the area of carbon footprint.
So the stage is set to make some changes.
Here's where I make some shameful admissions. While Peter and I do a lot of things that are reasonably good for the earth--we keep our thermostat low in the wintertime, recycle everything that comes into our house that can be recycled, eat very little meat, and so forth--we also do some not-so nice things. For instance:
- We wash our dishes in a dishwasher. Just two of us and the dogs, and we use a dishwasher.
- We use an electric clothes dryer. Even in the summertime.
And I'm writing about things I know full well are significant sources of pollution, and, worst of all, unnecessary. Very few people can claim to actually need dishwashers or electric clothes dryers. It's just that, like salt and pepper potato chips, they're handy, quick, and appealing.
So we're trying an experiment, Peter and I. We're washing the dishes by hand.
I know that those of you who, like us, got addicted to this appliance are thinking to yourselves that the energy savings are not likely to be earth-shattering. And I know that those of you who are working to eliminate all plastic waste from your lives are likely thinking that this is a very minor gesture.
The point I'm trying to make here is that small changes sometimes make good levers for larger ones. Once I began counting grams of fat and reducing portion sizes, I began looking for ways to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and to increase my fiber intake, too. And each discovery of a convenient way to sustain one change seemed to lead to another way to initiate another change. Thus far, the changes in my diet have been both surprisingly easy to sustain and, from the point of view of my body, effective.
And in the Chapin-Bishop household, effective environmental change begins with the dishwasher. Let me walk you through the steps:
First of all--why we use a dishwasher. It's a habit, of course: that's the most obvious and probably even the most important reason.
But also, we have a tiny galley kitchen, that (literally) used to be a closet. There is just barely room for the sink and one under-counter cabinet (or, in our case, a dishwasher) to the left of the fridge on one side, and the stove and another under-counter cabinet, with one wall unit, on the other. Two people can fit into our kitchen only if they are very, very good friends, and there is no way to set up a traditional dishwashing sink, with counterspace on either side (for dirty and clean dishes, accordingly).
We got the dishwasher around 1993 or so, when we were living in a group household with 5 adults and a child. Another two adults--Peter's parents--were in residence for probably a month or so every year, and we hosted many coven and Pagan community events that drew a record of 23 people at one time. Add to that the hours a day of elder care and taking care of a young child that were part of our household routines, and a dishwasher seemed to us to make sense. So we got one, and we've used it ever since.
Now, Mt. Toby is a relatively large meeting. We often have fifty or more people staying for hospitality after meeting for worship, and the annual Thanksgiving dinner is probably even more. And there is no sign of a dishwasher in that kitchen. Though it can be awkward making sure that there are enough volunteers, there usually are enough hands to make the work speed by pretty quickly.
And the message is loud and clear: we, as a community, don't think we need to waste the energy and resources that dishwashers consume.
I have felt embarrassed about using ours for some time now.
But, though it was my gall bladder that pushed me over the edge, it was the dishwashing station at Woolman Hill that showed me the way to make a change.
In October, Woolman Hill conference center hosted the FUM General Board. There were somewhere between forty and sixty people there, for a full sit-down dinner, and Peter and I had volunteered to help host. In addition to bringing food, I wound up doing a stint in the kitchen afterwards, washing dishes at the i-Pod of dishwashing stations. By which I mean, this hand-washing station has a design that is so user-friendly and carefully thought out as to make legions of converts. Irritations I'd never really thought about, like the way that the counter
under the dish drainer always becomes sodden, or the chronic lack of space in the drainer, were addressed.
Washing up for the General Board was far easier than it had any right to be. And, since I am a good American, I immediately began thinking in technological terms about how to address my problem: my desire to go low-tech with dishwashing, in a tiny kitchen.
Peter, it turns out, had been as impressed with the triple-decker dish-drainer as I had been, and agreed that--come summer, when the demands of his hectic teaching schedule abated--he'd make one for us. And my brain began to scheme, in the way brains have. And then, when my gall-bladder demonstrated that lifestyle changes were easer to reach than I'd thought, I began working on a series of lifestyle changes that might make us a little less piggish in our use of resources.
We do not have our triple-decker dish drainer yet. Peter's school ended only last week--mine only ended yesterday. But, for the past month, our only use of the dishwasher has been as... a double-decker dish drainer.
It's not as elegant as Woolman Hill's, I must say.
However, it has allowed us to test the theory that, properly configured, we can make a dishwashing station that will be as convenient to use as our dishwasher, and a good deal more energy efficient. We've discarded the sink-stoppers of my youth (do those things ever work?) for plastic tubs in each sink, found scrubbers we like, and kept up with the dishes just fine. In fact, though it's inconvenient to have to bend over to remove the clean dishes from our dishwasher-cum-drainer, it's actually begun to seem a little bit easier than using the dishwasher. It was always such a project to arrange the dishes so they would all get clean, and my favorite mug was always dirty and waiting for the next wash, and so on.
Even before installing the triple-decker over our countertop, I am ready to declare Project Hand-Washing a success. What's more, it was successful at our busiest, tiredest time of the school year, suggesting that this lifestyle change is sustainable.
Which means I can take the dishwasher out, and proceed to Step Two.
Step Two involves laundry.
Laundry is another big energy piggy in our house, because of that electric clothes drier. We use the drier because our washer is in the basement, and the basement, while dry enough to allow clothes to dry eventually, generally imparts to them a delightful aroma of heating oil and mildew. Not Very Nice.
What's more, our yard is tiny. There is nowhere for a clothesline to go. So indoor drying is really the only alternative to a clothes drier--but the washer is in the basement, which is at the end of not one but two narrow and twisting flights of stairs from our part of the duplex in which we live. Not only does this mean that carrying the wet clothes up the stairs would be a huge project, but it has also always meant that Peter, who does not have the back problems I do, has been stuck doing the laundry all on his lonesome.
And whatever my feelings are on the energy waste of electric driers, it's pretty clear to me that those of us blessed with mates who are willing to do all the laundry, every single week, are ungrateful and pettish little monsters, if we turn around and preach at them about how it gets done!
The only way to ethically reform our laundry drying system, I believe, is for me to be doing at least half the work. (More would be better--I owe this guy for about fifteen years worth of sorting, toting, and folding!)
And for that to happen, the washing machine needs to be on the same floor we live on.
Like, maybe in the vacancy in our kitchen where the dishwasher used to be? Maybe one of those nice, energy efficient front loaders?
Wish me luck. Peter says he's willing to consider it. And I've got a few ideas for space-efficient clothes drying racks, too.