The Big Deal…Or How I Acquired a Computer

My friends will tell you that I am one of those few hold-outs who has refused to buy a new computer for years (six if we’re going to be exact).  I have wrongly been called a Luddite by many, as if my refusal is an affront to their technologically-obsessed world.  I simply place value in other areas of life.  However, while I may admittedly be decidedly stubborn, I am not completely illogical or unreasonable.  Reality presented me thus: I started a new business (yay!), that runs in large part online.  Ergo?  I need a computer.  And since I believe in buying something once and keeping it for years and years and years (note: my hiking boots are twelve years old and still look new despite having walked all over the world; I’ve had the same flip cell phone for three years…are we getting the picture yet?), I wanted the best bang for my bucks.  So I went to many computer stores, had many break downs and panic attacks, and walked out a few months later with a MacBook Pro.

Now, I know that most people who own Macs think they are the best things in the world.  They rave about how easy they are to use, how gorgeously designed they are, and on and on and on.  Blah.  Blah.  BLAH.  Me?  I don’t mean to sound like an ungrateful spoiled American, but I hate owning a computer and each time I open this machine of supposed beauty, my stomach wants to chuck its cookies.  But what is it that makes me react so viscerally to something that shouldn’t be traumatic?  This question deserves some further contemplation in my opinion.

Over the past few years, I have built a life that places the majority of its value in people, small businesses, local community, and environmental wellbeing.  I buy my bars of soap from my farmer’s market, along with my raw honey, eggs, veggies and bacon all the year round.  I buy sustainable, fairly-traded, organic, shade-grown coffee from my old college coffee shop in Providence, Rhode Island because not only do they support all those adjectives, they support an organization called Coffee Kids.  If I’m going to drink a liquid made from beans which have been shipped around the world, I want them to do the most good they can.  Rarely do I go to an actual grocery store. I support the best bookstore in the world instead of ordering through Amazon because I believe in having incredible resources, which are able to keep their physical doors open.  I only use Goodsearch instead of Google because even my web searches can generate a little more good in this world.  My cell phone company is a non-profit, which lets its members choose where the profits go.  I’m a traditionally-trained wooden boatbuilder who loves her a beautiful old schooner with her sails full of wind–need I say more?

Yeah, I know I sound a bit fanatical.  It’s really more a matter that I make very conscious choices of how I spend money.  They are active choices, positive choices that make my life feel generous, aware and fulfilled.

And make no mistake, I am not rich according to my bank account.  However, I believe fiercely in putting my money where my mouth is, even if it costs me a few more dollars.

So what’s the big deal about buying a Mac, besides the small fact that I swore that I would never own one?  It’s the complete anti-thesis of all the values which I hold dear.  It is a large company, with a not-so-great environmental and humanitarian track record in places like China, where I used to live.  Its entire existence focuses on planned obsolescence, instead of longevity.  My dollars go anywhere but locally and the carbon footprint of my shiny new machine is annoyingly bigger than just about anything in my life currently (courtesy of Apple).  I feel like I’ve been duped into a world which I’ve tried hard to avoid, where there is little connection to the rest of my life or my core being.

How I’ll learn to live with this irritating dichotomy, I’m still looking for that answer.  At least for now, I can more succinctly answer the big deal question.  What are the things in your life to which you feel you’ve had to acquiesce, even when your gut tells you it doesn’t fit?  And how did you make peace with the inherent contradictions?

50 Ways

I couldn’t have said it better myself, so instead, I’m simply going to share something from the No Impact Man Project.  Check out 50 Ways to Help the Planet.

Why not pick one habit to adopt each week?  It makes change a whole lot less painless!  And the planet will thank you for it, as will future generations.  Every small change adds up to a lot.

EWG takes on Toxic House Cleaners


The word is slowly starting to get out that many of the products used to clean houses across America contain toxic ingredients.  Johnson & Johnson just announced that it will remove toxic chemicals from its products by 2015 (you can read the press release from Campaign for Safe Cosmetics here), and while I’m happy to hear the news, I believe it should put on high alert every person who uses their products currently.  Don’t you wonder what’s in your window cleaner, for example?  Or you dish detergent?  Or what, exactly, makes you whites whiter in the wash?

Lucky for us, the Environmental Working Group has published a new guide for consumers: EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.  Here you can look up the household cleaners you use, and find out what is in them and how toxic they are to your family’s health.  Did you know that all you need in your cleaning arsenal is baking soda, white vinegar and Dr. Bronner’s castile soap?  With these three simple, non-toxic ingredients, you can clean your entire house without any of the harmful chemicals that nearly every mass-market cleaner contains.  Your body, and your wallet, will thank you.

By the way, did you know that Sustainable Shanti is a member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics?  We believe people should have access to safe, effective and holistic products that benefit them and the planet.

Help the Honeybees

After watching the 2009 documentary, Vanishing of the the Bees (you can view it on Hulu here), I decided it was time to talk about bees and the beauty of honey, because afterall, the entire Sustainable Shanti line contains raw organic beeswax from Tremblay Apiaries.  Have you heard of a new problem called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD?

Relatively new on the scene of beekeeping, CCD has major impacts on our environment, our ability to produce food and thus, on every human’s food supply because without the honeybees and their work as cross-pollinators, we wouldn’t be able to pollinate and grow our food.  Essentially, bees are leaving their hives and never returning, abandoning their queen bee and any larvae left in the hive.  This behavior is not normal and scientists in America are searching for answers.  While the scientific community has not pinpointed a main cause, many beekeepers who raise their bees with only organic practices, believe that there is a obvious connection between the currently accepted beekeeping practices and CCD.

So what are these “accepted” practices?  And how do they differ from organic methods?  And does it really matter?  Commercial beekeeping has evolved to use massive doses of pesticides and antibiotics in their hives in an effort to pre-emptively fight the mites and other pests that are natural predators of honeybees.  Would you want your house sprayed with chemicals?  Would you stay?

Another common practice in commercial beekeeping is to use a sugar-syrup solution as food for the hives once the honey has been removed from them.  Seems pretty harmless on the surface, but essentially, the bees are feeding off high fructose corn syrup.  Think about feeding any body HFCS for every meal and the effects that it has on them instead of eating whole foods.  Bees need real food in the same way humans do.

The third common practice has long-reaching consequences.  Commercial bees are literally trucked across the country in order to pollinate different monocrops (don’t even get me started on the monocrop issue!): almonds in California, blueberries in Maine, cranberries in Massachusetts…you get the picture.  The hives are loaded onto flatbed trucks and can be on the road for 4 to 5 days with little food and water.  How would you feel after such a journey?  Not too happy, right?

There are additional problems when the bees arrive in their monocrop havens: there are pesticides used on those crops as well.  The types of pesticides have changed over the years and it was with the introduction of a type of pesticide called neonicotinoids that brought the biggest cases of CCD.  These chemicals have a longer-term affect on honeybees because they are used as a seed treatment and often work their way into the nectar of the plants.  As you can see in Vanishing of the Bees, the honeybees are immediately disoriented when they become covered in the plants that have been sprayed with the neonicotinoid pesticides.

So what can we do about it?  Seek out local honey and talk to your beekeeper.  Find out what she or he thinks of CCD and the pesticides to which our honeybees are exposed.  Buy raw honey–yes, it can be more expensive than what you find in the bear bottles at the grocery store, but it is so much better for you!  And the taste is beyond compare.

Our honeybees need our help, and without a doubt we need our honeybees.

Small Changes, Big Impact

Looking for some simple ways to make a big positive environment impact?  Some of the following tips have been said over and over by many, but they bear repeating because the majority of people have yet to implement them.  The changes our planet’s health requires will be mostly small, individually-based ones to make the biggest difference.  It all adds up.  Why not try to incorporate one new habit a week?  Sound like too much?  Try one a month.  Put it on your calender, electronic or paper, to remind yourself of your upcoming pledge to your planet.

  • Change out those lightbulbs!  Replacing your incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient CFL bulbs.  They can reduce your electricity use by 75% and last at least SIX times longer.  Feel they’re too expensive?  Ikea makes inexpensive CFL bulbs.  And don’t forget to recycle them by taking burned out bulbs back to accepting stores.
  • Switch your laundry detergent to a plant-based product.  Laundry detergents such as the ever-popular Tide and All are petroleum-based products.  Everyone moans and groans about how much a barrel of oil costs in regards to gas prices, but most people don’t realize that many of our everyday products use oil, too!  There are many effective alternatives on the market, Seventh Generation and Ecover being two of the most widely available brands.  Do you really want to wash your clothes in oil??
  • Buy organically-grown food.  There is much debate in the media currently about the nutritional benefits of certified organic produce.  For me, the debate shouldn’t be so much about the nutritional content, though it does deserve scrutiny, but more about how our “conventional” food is grown.  Pesticides that wipe out precious pollinators and require haz-mat suits don’t belong on my food, in my body or in the earth’s soil.  Chemical fertilizers are just that: chemicals.  Again, not in my food, body or soil.  Organically-grown food eliminates the chemicals that are damaging our bodies and their well-being, and pollute our planet’s natural resources.
  • Even better, buy locally-grown food.  Have you ever tasted a tomato that was just picked the day before after being allowed to grown and ripen in the fields, living out its perfect tomato destiny?  It is like eating ripe, juicy, glorious sunshine.  Our food is trucked and flown across our country and from abroad, meaning that produce is picked before it is ripe and is many days old by the time it reaches you.  Buying locally not only cuts down on the carbon footprint of your food, it also keeps your dollars where they can do the most good: in the hands of your neighbors, not big corporations.  Small family farms used to be the bread and butter of our agricultural system but they are fast-disappearing.  Help them stay alive by supporting their produce.  You can find out where and how your food was grown, and maybe even make a friend in the process.
  • Use re-usable cloth bags.  Say no to plastic….always.  Get in the habit of using your bags by putting a few in your car (no excuses at the grocery store), throw one in your purse or backpack for unexpected purchases, hang them on your front door handle so you won’t forget them when you leave the house.
  • Take public transportation or walk.  If you live in a city, this one is a no-brainer, but if you live in a more rural or suburban area, it can be a real challenge.  Consolidate your errands or carpool to work if you can.  Biking can also be a great way to travel longer distances and you get exercise and fresh air in the process!  Win-win!

Let these few tips soak into your psyche and see if you can find ways of incorporating them into your daily routines.  I’ll post more ways to go green later on after you’ve had some time to get these to seem normal.  One more parting thought:

For the love of a stranger

Sustainable Shanti’s mission is about spreading more love into the world, whether it’s by helping someone have clearer more radiant skin so they can feel more confident in themselves, by reducing the amount of pesticides and chemicals that are used on our crops, or by helping to teach the road of sustainability and environmental awareness we try our best to walk everyday.

While feeling blue, down and lonely last night, I decided to attempt to cultivate more love in my immediate world: I called some of my closest friends and sat down for a few hours to hear about their lives.  I have always found that when we as people are generous with the very thing we seek be it money, time or love, the universe responds by sending it back to us two-fold.  And those phone calls did the trick: I was reminded of how incredibly unique, brilliant and talented my friends are, and how lucky I am that they are a part of my life.  Those blues just seemed to melt away into laughter, even through some of the tears.

I have recently come across a project by Hannah Katy that attempts to spread the same love I found last night, but instead of spreading it with friends, they are reaching out to all the strangers we encounter in our lives.  Called More Love Letters, Hannah and her army of volunteer writers leave love letters to strangers in unexpected places.  Whomever picks them up is the lucky recipient.  How wonderful to find one of these letters and know that someone somewhere in the universe has taken the time to tell you, not by email or by a text message, but in a hand-written letter that you are special to them!

What can you do to help send someone a little love today?  And what will it do to your heart and your world?  What would change about your day if you knew a complete stranger out there loved you, just as you are in this moment?

Saturdays = Farmer’s Market

What an absolutely gorgeous day to wander around the Union Square Farmer’s Market!  The bounty of the season seems almost surreal: bicolor corn, heirloom tomatoes in so many colors and shapes, Peruvian Purple potatoes, fresh mozzarella balls made from local milk, gigantic watermelons, juicy peaches and apricots and plums!  The list simply goes on and on.

So what’s all this buzz about farmer’s markets and eating locally?  Why the big fuss?  Well, think back to what a fresh, just-off-the-vine tomato tastes like.  It’s like the sun has been captured in a fruit.  The taste is absolutely divine.  Now, think about what a tomato in the middle of winter tastes like: dry, mealy, bland.  Different foods grow better in different weather (asparagus are the first harbingers of spring in late April, morphing into strawberries in early June, and on and on).

Eating through the seasons is not only a constant new adventure for your tastebuds, it’s also the way Nature intended.  Winter is a time to slow down, yielding squashes, beets, potatoes, carrots and parsnips.  Spring is a time of rebirth and we see the first eager signs of summer yet to come: asparagus popping up through snow.  Summer is an explosion from every plant, and when the living is easy: food takes less preparation–a handful of blueberries, slices of watermelon, corn and tomato salads.

Buying from local farmers helps keep dollars in their hands and in your community instead of sending it to a big box store executive.  You have power as a consumer–every dollar counts–and you can vote to keep your neighboring farmers in business.  Buying directly from them also presents an incredible opportunity to really learn where your food comes from.  They can tell you how they grow their food, and what they believe in terms of environmental stewardship.  Plus, there is nothing like the excitement of watching (and tasting!) the seasons roll through your life.  It’s a connection to the earth, no matter where you live or what your lifestyle is.

Want to find local farmers, but don’t know where to start?  Check out LocalHarvest, a website dedicated to connecting consumers with farmers, markets and CSA shares.  Time for me to go make a basil, heirloom tomato and fresh mozzarella sandwich!

A New Day!

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.     – Margaret Mead

Welcome to the Sustainable Shanti Blog!  Consider this your go-to place for sustainability and greener living.  Stay tuned for more info coming your way, soon!