Archive for July, 2007

Promoting death

Because I am a practicing Catholic and my husband is an Evangelical Christian, we both know people who are firmly in the anti-Harry Potter camp. One friend recently referred me to this article.

I have read and enjoyed the first six Harry Potter books (except for Order of the Phoenix, which I really hated), and I plan to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows once the hype wears off and it’s available for checkout at the library.

The day before Deathly Hallows became available in bookstores, I read this in Fort Collins Public Library‘s announcement of its Harry Potter party:

Along with the traditional popcorn and Butter Beer, there will be a session of Wizard’s School led by Mark the Magician, a costume contest, a trivia contest, and at midnight a reading of the first chapter of the new book. The event is for ages 9 and up and advance registration is required… J.K. Rowling has reported that in this final book, at least one major character dies. There will be a board where participants can post who they think that character will be.

I remember part of the promotion of the fourth book was that a character dies, part of the promotion of the fifth book was that a character dies, part of the promotion of the sixth book was that a character dies. Now, we’re getting excited that a major character dies in the seventh book, and we make a game out of guessing who the unfortunate character is.


I’m finding all this excitement over death in this series to be disturbing. I’m not against killing off characters in a story, but making that a major part of your promotion? Maybe the anti-Harry people have a point.  I know if I allow my children to read the Harry Potter series, they are going to be older than 9 before they start.  A lot older than 9.


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No impact

Jessica Powers recently told me about this blog:  No Impact Man.  This evening I read through a good portion of it and I must say it was better than I expected.  It’s the journal of a man whose goal is to live in such a way that he leaves no net impact on the environment.

As I mentioned yesterday I’m by no means an environmentalist.  Nor do I believe it is necessarily a bad thing to leave an impact on the earth.  However I do believe in conscious living.  I think it is a worthwhile exercise to consider the physical impact our lifestyle has on other people and our living space.  It’s easy to take things for granted because they’re there.  But some of those things come to us at a high price to someone, and many times that someone doesn’t have a choice in the matter.  There may be a way to obtain some of those same things–if they really are so important–in a better way.  But to do that, we have to think about it in the first place.  No Impact Man is thought provoking in that good way.

There is another aspect that interests me, and it’s worth its own post.  It turns out that what is truly good for people very often is also good for the environment, and the reverse is also true.  Take the example of factory farmed animals.  I live in a place that is surrounded by feed lots and just trust me on this; they smell awful.  All those steers walking around on dirt and manure.  The one thing I know about that smells worse than a cattle feedlot is a chicken factory farm.  That stench is indescribably foul (pun absolutely intended).  I can really appreciate the argument that this is not good for the animals.  In fact, pigs and chickens raised in those conditions often get their tails and beaks docked just to keep them from injuring each other–I guess pigs and chickens bite each other; I probably would too if my living space was that crowded.  Well guess what:  the meat and eggs such animals produce isn’t good for me to consume either.  It’s a bad deal all around.  So why does it continue?

That’s the type of question blogs like No Impact Man struggle with.  It’s actually a very important question.  And it’s the sort of question you are more likely to consider after reading such a blog.  So take a look.  It’s well worth it.

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I’ve never considered myself an environmentalist.  In fact, I’m more of a laissez-faire capitalist.  I may be wrong on this, but my understanding is that recycling doesn’t make much economic sense.  If it were economical, people would be doing it privately and getting rich off it.  So, I haven’t been one to separate out glass from cans from newspaper from the rest of the trash.  It just all goes into the dumpster.

I’ve also held the belief until recently that business corporations were inherently ethical and wanted what was best for their customers and for people in general.  Yes, they wanted to make a profit, but they were willing to do what was right even if it cost them financially.

Finally, I’ve believed that milk was milk, beef was beef, eggs were eggs and tomatoes were tomatoes no matter how they were produced.  It turns out this is not true.  A grass-fed cow will produce fundamentally different milk than a grain and soy-fed cow.  Pasteurization and homogenization further and unfavorably change the milk.  Pastured hens lay eggs far higher in omega-3 fatty acids than factory farmed hens.  A tomato produced in soil rich in organic matter, specifically humus, has a higher nutritional value than a tomato grown in depleted soil and artificial fertilizer.

Knowing this might not have had any effect on me before I had children.  But now I think a lot about what they are putting into their rapidly growing bodies.  I want them to be eating the very best there is.  I stopped buying milk from the store and signed up for a raw milk cow-share program.  Next month I will be switching to a cow-share program where the cows are grass-fed.  A vegetable garden seemed like too much work.  But we put one in this year because we knew that we could produce better quality vegetables than what was available at the store and now that matters.  I started keeping bees, so we could start eating our very own raw honey.  I’d like to keep laying hens, but that’s not allowed where we live.

I really enjoy keeping critters and having them work for me.  It started with me culturing the raw milk and using the whey to ferment all manner of grains and vegetables following recipes in Nourishing Traditions.  All these lacto-bacteria were working for me.  Then I moved up to honey bees.  I have a thriving hive that is now just beginning to produce honey that I will harvest.

A few days ago we acquired another critter:  red wiggler earthworms.  Their job:  kitchen waste recycling.  A few months ago my husband started another traditional composting system.  Well, we don’t generate enough kitchen waste to produce the kind of volume that will properly heat up and turn into humus.  A little at a time may work in some locales, but not in super dry Colorado.  At least we couldn’t get it to work.  It worked great as a housefly breeding ground, though, and I got so sick of the houseflies coming into our home in such large numbers.  I wanted to put a moratorium on composting.

That made Erik sad because to him it was a real tragedy to just throw away all that potential compost generated in the kitchen.  It’s hard enough to grow anything in this soil and it’s in such dire need of organic matter.  But I couldn’t live with the flies.

We’d both heard about worm composting before and so last week I did some Internet surfing and made a phone call to a local worm/compost dealer.  I also read Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, which tells you everything you need to know to get started.  I got the crash course on worm composting.  We visited the worm guy and bought an old styrofoam cooler filled with worms and compost.  Today I separated the compost from the worms and started them on some fresh bedding and food (kitchen waste), and now we have an honest to goodness indoor worm composting bin.

It turns out worms need an incredible amount of paper bedding to balance out the food scraps.  I found some newspaper and old non-glossy catalogs to tear up.  So the worms will also compost my paper waste, which is probably the largest volume of stuff I put in my garbage containers.  It’s better than I’d originally thought.  Not only are we recycling our food waste, but also our paper waste.

It’s really gratifying to contemplate living in a less wasteful manner.  As a society, we throw an incredible amount of stuff away.  It goes to the landfill and there are all kinds of issues with that.  With worm composting, I can turn all that waste into humus, something my garden (and entire backyard, for that matter) desperately needs.  I don’t need to throw away such a valuable resource anymore.  And house flies generally aren’t an issue with worm composting.

I don’t have any huge belief about keeping things out of landfills, although I do participate in programs that seek to do just that.  I participate in those programs not because I care about the environment but because those programs benefit me and my family.  Worm composting for me is about enriching my family’s food supply through enriching our soil.  There’s a direct benefit to me.  It’s nice to know it also benefits the environment in general.

So I’m still pretty much a capitalist.  I’m not about to turn into an environmentalist who’s worried sick over global warming.  Though I like the idea of global worming.  Still, I believe in responsible living and in taking care of the resources I have to the best of my ability.  I believe that this kind of stewardship doesn’t just benefit the earth in the long run.  It also benefits me and the people around me in the short term.  I can still do something I know is good for me and know it’s going to help others.  I think this is what trickle down economics is touted as doing, and I think would do if the people at the top were more enlightened on even what their own best interests truly were.  For those with a conscience I would think making a buck without hurting anyone, without wasting valuable resources and without polluting would be in their best interest.  If they put their minds to it, they could still make boatloads of such bucks.

Maybe CEOs and other corporate big wigs should all keep a worm bin in their office.  It could be inspirational to them.  It’s thinking outside the box, though not to worry, the worms will happily stay in the box as long as you feed them.

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