black thumb, green thumb, dumpster thumb
Until very recently I suffered from a condition known as “black thumb,” which is the exact opposite of the condition known as having a “green thumb.” Page of poor lighting, queen of sporadic watering, keeper of the graveyard of greens! My sincerest apologies to every house plant that has ever had the displeasure of living with me.
But for the frustrated wearers of the dreaded black thumb, I have made an important discovery–all hope is not lost–there is a remedy! First you’ll need to quit your job. That way, it may actually occur to you over your morning coffee that you should probably water your plants before they shrivel up and die because you are drinking your morning coffee outside, right next to the garden. And instead of forgetting the plants in your rush to get to work on time, you can follow that thought all the way to the watering can.
The next part of the remedy, I’m sorry to tell you, is that you should probably move out of the city. Though there are plenty of creative guerrilla gardening opportunities to be had on the balconies and abandoned lots of Urbania’s concrete jungles (and hurray for the people pursuing them!), there are also a lot of pollutants in the air that plants will filter into the fruits that you are planning on eating (goodbye pesticides, hello auto exhaust!). In the country you will have (hopefully) a little less pollution and (theoretically) the space to plant everything outside. Once you move your garden outside, the wind and the rain and the sun will take care of most of the rest. Apparently, plants grow outside without human help all the time. (Somebody should probably mention this to Monsanto.) It is also helpful, though not necessary, to have access to a ten-year-old compost pile and some shovels and spades and things. And there you have it: take time, space, water, dirt, and TA-DA! Goodbye black thumb, hello tomatoes and peas and Lima beans! The results have been truly astounding:
I’ve been planting a fantasy garden in my head for several years now–imagining the charmingly decrepit house in the woods that I’d sneakily squat with my friends, the rows of greens in the backyard, the trowel in my hand, the fresh tomatoes and zucchini on my dinner plate, the jungle-stink of rotting compost. I’ve been reading about, thinking about pesticides and factory farming, about genetically modified vegetables and Round Up Ready plants, and about the steady paycheck required to check out at the front end of the grocery store. And I’ve thought to myself over and over again that having my own garden would make me just a little bit more independent. That having a garden would connect me just a little bit more to this place and this now. That knowing how to grow a few plants, having a little saved-seed stock, and knowing which local weeds are edible is likely to come in handy sooner or later.
Eating out of the dumpster might liberate me from a grocery bill, but it doesn’t liberate me from pesticides, and it leaves me just as out of touch with growing seasons and techniques as the next grocery shopper. Most of the stuff that lands in the dumpsters is factory-farmed, pesticide-sprayed, greenhouse-grown, Monsanto-sponsored and is picked by underpaid labor in countries with “free”-trade we-must-stop-the-communist-threat! puppet governments and World Bank debt situations that force farmers to give up small-time feed-yourself-and-your-neighbors farming for profitable export-bound monoculture crops.
As if that wasn’t backwards enough, once most produce has been grown and poisoned and picked, it is packed in plastic (made of oil) and flown (in oil-fueled planes) to faraway places where trucks (fueled by more oil) distribute it to the grocery stores where it is unloaded and attractively arranged by minimum-wage employees who will later dump whatever you didn’t buy that week into the dumpster out back. From there those vegetables might travel in another truck (fueled by oil) to the dump where it will retire into decomposition with the corpses of their brethren and a whole lot of other plastic and paper products that went through another thousand hands and rode in another thousand trucks before arriving at this, the dump, their final resting place. Or they might get picked out of the trash by a dirty punk and escorted home by bike for dinner.
Either way we’re fucked. Proper fucked.
Eating food that has gone through so much just to get to the dumpster behind your local grocery store seems like a more respectful, logical use, but respect here or there, it doesn’t make dumpster divers into the heroic bearers of profound social change, and there are plenty of dumpster-diver critics loudly saying so. (Which must mean that there are dumpster divers out there claiming such? How embarrassing.) So-called politically motivated divers aren’t changing a damn thing by eating out of the trash, those critics say. They are just self-delusional parasites, they say. (They are also very fond of saying things like “Get a job!” and “Take a shower!”)
According to my own limited understanding of the come-to-life monster called The Economy, they are correct on this point–dumpster diving won’t and can’t touch those raging economic currents. This, however, does not bother me because it is not my intention, and there is something I am changing: The food I get from the dumpsters freed me from a grocery bill. Freed from a grocery bill, I could lose the steady job and the paycheck. Suddenly, I had the time to think about the politics of food, to consider the fact that pesticide-free, whole foods are really good for me and decide that I wanted to eat them, the time to learn how to garden and to plant the rows of gorilla-grown vegetables that will line my plate this summer. What I am changing is my life, and I can say honestly, happily, ecstatically from experience that this is what makes all the difference, economy and critics be damned.
Tomorrow (or maybe I’d better just say “sometime this week”): Do Not Fear the Black Thumb! A Gorilla Guide to Your First DIY Garden
mayan pride, united fruit
Two packs of “Mayan Pride” snow peas from Guatemala (a Styrofoam bed wrapped in clear plastic). Three packages of cut parsely from Holland (each bunch of three stems in a sealed plastic bag). Peaches from Spain (nestled in a topless plastic box and wrapped in a plastic net bag).
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’d like to present exhibit A: the inventory of a Friday night dumpster run. Humble but telling evidence of western civilization’s obscene culture of excess, sealed in hygienic plastic and flown to Germany for your convenience.
Peaches in Germany in May? Dutch parsley? Guatemalan peas in Germany, ever? How many miles must our food travel before it becomes too absurd to stomach?
Over the last few days I’ve been devouring a maddening, inspiring book called The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements by Sandor Ellix Katz. The book goes through various absurdities in food regulatory law and describes the underground movements popping up in response. It also had a few things to say about the Guatemalan agriculture industry of which I hadn’t been previously aware.
“The United States has frequently supported the concentration of land and political power in the hands of large holders, most notably in Latin America, where large landowners in many cases have been U.S. citizens and corporations. For if one thing is worse than a fascist concentration of land, according to the capitalist mindset, it’s a communist expropriation of private property and redistribution of land.
“In 1945 more than half of Guatemala’s farmland consisted of plantations larger than one thousand acres, yet less than a fourth of the acreage of these plantation holdings was under cultivation. One U.S. corporation, United Fruit (now known as Chiquita), was the largest employer, landowner, and exporter in Guatemala, growing and exporting bananas, primarily to the United States. United Fruit prospered in Guatemala largely because it was able to secure the support of government officials there.
“In 1950 Guatemalans elected a new president, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, who initiated a land reform policy of expropriating uncultivated portions of large plantations and redistributing the land in small plots. Around 1.5 million acres were taken and divided among one hunded thousand families. Some of the expropriated land belonged to United Fruit, which undertook a propaganda campaign in the United States to promote the idea that this represented the spread of communism to the Western Hemisphere.
“Newly elected President Dwight Eisenhower was a Cold War warrior eager to combat the perceived communist threat. In addition, various members of his administration had direct ties to United Fruit. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hatched a secret plot, code-named Operation Success, that overthrew Arbenz in 1954, aborting the political process there and throwing Guatemala into a state of repression and violent civil unrest that has persisted ever since.”
Despite the clear anti-capitalist tone, this is not propaganda–the information is well-documented historical fact that you can read about in a plethora of other maddening sources. As are many of the U.S.’s other corporate-gains-inspired coups. (If you’d like to know more about some of them, I recommend picking up any book by Howard Zinn for further reading.) The thought sends shivers down my spine.
And what about the snow peas we’d picked out of the trash? Were they from United Fruit too? I went back to the kitchen and looked at the label. “Mayan Pride,” it said. “A Small Growers Project, www.mayanpride.nl,” the label said. Strange that they would have a Dutch web domain, I thought. Domain name not yet registered, said my computer screen when I typed the address into my browser. Sneaky marketing to trick the fair-trade organic bunch into buying the same old shit? Or project so small they couldn’t actually afford to start the website? Who grew these peas? Under what conditions? And why do we need Guatemalan snow peas to be flown in from another continent when we could grown them in our own backyards?
come not between the nazgul and the photocopier
So last night I go to the copy shop down the street to make a few Click Clack Gorilla’s to bring along to the Lee Hollis reading we were planning on going to later that night. The shop is self-service, but the Copy Man was impatient, wanted to look through all my papers, didn’t want to let me touch the machines. “I’d rather do it myself,” I told him. “No no. These are my machines. I know them better than you do. Trust me, trust me,” he repeated over and over, until I finally gave up and handed him the originals. He made the copies and shooed me out of the store once I’d handed over my five euros.
I got home disgruntled; I’d stopped going to the copy shop across the street because that Copy Man had always insisted on looking through all my papers too. Friends had assured me that at this shop the owner would leave me alone, that I could copy all my zines without having to worry about Copy Man’s prying eyes. Strike two, I grumbled to myself as I biked home. I grabbed a beer from the house and sat down in the kitchen to collate the covers with the freshly copied innards. Which is when I noticed that he’d fucked them all up. Copied them all backwards and upside down. I let out a scream of rage, cursed his name, and gnashed my teeth at the thought of having to go back and talk to Mr I Can Make Better Photocopies Than You You Insolent Fool again the next day.
It took me all afternoon to work up the energy to bike back over, expecting, fearing a battle, but around 5 o’clock I forced myself onto my bike and over the bridge to the copy shop. I waited patiently in line while the Copy Man bound a book for another customer, sent a fax for another customer, waited until there was no one left in the shop except for me, Mr. Copy Man, and Copy Man’s Friend, who was sitting at a computer looking at flickr photos of Turkey. He shuffled a few papers around importantly before looking at me and asking how he could help me today.
I had decided to remain calm. To approach the situation calmly, rationally, politely, against every instinct, against the already angry pounding in my chest. I explained the mistake and requested my money back. He insisted he had done it correctly, that they should flip up and over, not open up like a book, “You never said this was supposed to be a book,” he insisted, “I’m not giving you your money back,” he brayed, “There is no mistake.”
“Well, if you had let me make the copies myself, I would take responsibility for the mistake. But if you recall you wouldn’t let me copy them myself, and you copied them wrong. I did tell you this was a book, and I want my money back.” His shoulder was a shut door, a brick wall, a dead end. And somehow, what I’d meant to, hoped to make into a short, polite business exchange was turning into the battle I’d feared.
“You’re not getting any money from me. Too bad for you!”
“You made the mistake, and I want a refund!”
“I’m not leaving until I get my money back!” We were screaming at each other now, cheeks glowing like hot coals.
“Then you can stay here all night,” he hissed. “There’s no money here for you.” He walked away from me and into another room, attempting to act casual, attempting to ignore me into leaving. Instead I stayed put and smsed Calamari for back up, the phone shaking in my hand. All the while Mr. Copy Man’s friend sat at the computer, looking at photos, ignoring us both.
After a few minutes the Copy Man came back into the shop, and I walked toward the shelves of fancy colored paper. Round two, ding! “Well, if you’re not going to give me the five euros in cash, I’ll just take five euros worth of paper then.” Another customer had entered the shop. He didn’t notice. His whole face was a bed of smoldering coals now.
“YOU’RE NOT TO TOUCH ANYTHING IN THIS SHOP.”
“Then give me my money back. I hardly have any money, and I give you my last five euros to make some copies, you fuck them up, and now you won’t even give me my money back so I can make new copies?” Go home and tell everyone you know about the evil copy man who takes advantage of poor students, I thought at the blonde now making copies by the window. “If you aren’t going to give me money, I want five euros worth of paper.”
His face was burning now, the coals had worried themselves into flame. “FINE!” he screamed, slamming open the paper drawer of the nearest machine. “Here, take some paper. I’m doing this of my own free will. Take the paper and leave or you get nothing!” I looked at the thin stack of white paper in his hand and laughed.
“That’s not five euros worth of paper. Five euros worth or I’m packing my bag full of the expensive colored stuff.”
He slammed half of the thin stack back on top of the copier, offering me the remaining sheets. “Take it and get out.”
I laughed again. “I’m not bargaining with you. Five euros, not some measly little pile of paper worth fifty cents.”
“Get out.” He pointed at the door, and my phone rang, Calamari, calling about the sms. I told him what was going on, while Copy Man got desperate. “…and now he has his hands on my shoulders and is trying to physically push me out the door,” I said into the phone. “I’m on my way,” the phone said back.
“Make your phone calls outside!” Copy Man screamed. His computer friend had finally gotten up and gave pushing me out the door a try as well.
“Don’t fucking touch me!”
“Please go, please just go outside,” Copy Man’s friend said softly. I went to the door and planted myself squarely in front of it, determined to block any arriving customers from entering and screaming my story at every passerby. “Here,” Copy Man’s friend said, opening his wallet, “I’ll give you the five euros, will you leave if I give you the five euros?”
“Yes of course I will. All I want is my god damned money back.”
He handed me a folded bill and as I biked off I could hear Copy Man screaming behind me, his friend the target now. “What the hell do you mean you gave her the five euros?!”
“Well she left didn’t she?” his friend replied. Copy Man screamed again. I couldn’t make out what he said, but it sounded like the angry, frustrated shriek of a Nazgul, short one ring.
I waited for Calamari on the corner, face still red, blood pounding like freight just under my skin. Haven’t been having much luck with copy shops lately, I thought, leaning forward on the handlebars. Maybe it’s payback for stiffing the copy shop in Mülheim–Karma, come to wag a pretty, slender finger in my face. Then I reconsidered. There’s no way that Karma is a capitalist.
A few months ago I posted a few guest peices from an old zine project by Tara Stewart (of George Goes Green (in)fame, seamstress, writer, seventh rider of the apocalypse, if you recall). Recently she got a little beaurocratic slap on the wrist (and a request to remove the offending blog entirely) from her boss for posting the text of her annual lecture “Green Vaginas”–about lady parts and periods and the environment–which I am posting here sans pc-beaurocrat-fence-sitter sterilization.
By way of introduction, a few words from Tara on what was allegedly wrong with the peice to begin with…
“So, I’ve been allowed to repost the Green Vagina lecture on my blog.
You’ll notice some differences. Apparently, there were complaints from undisclosed persons on campus, and, for the sake of getting as much of the information out there as possible, a few bits were removed. The section on the morning after pill, primarily. As this information came from other girls I know and not any kind of citable source, I didn’t argue too hard on that one. Try to argue traditional knowledge to an academic and you will always lose. They do not believe anything that doesn’t come from a source you can put into MLA or Chicago.
The other major change, and this is the one I’m still pissed about, is the title. I was told that there were complaints about the use of the word “vagina,” the generally accepted medical term for the female genitals. Considering we are talking about periods and other issues, which, SURPRISE, happen in your vagina, I found the title appropriate. However, apparently it is an offensive term. Despite the fact that WC sponsors the Vagina Monologues annually, I am not allowed to use the medical term for vagina in reference to vaginas.
This is a serious problem. What are we supposed to call it? To quote an Onion article, the hoo-ha? We need to stand up for our right to talk about our own vaginas. I for one am damn proud to have one. They are amazing things, and it is the fact we aren’t allowed to discuss it that keeps us from taking action in regards to our own health and well being.
I hope you all go out and say vagina to the next person you meet. In fact, let’s all go stand in the middle of the campus and scream it as loud as we can.”
Beaurocracy sure is neat isn’t it??!?! Below is the offending lecture text. Enjoy.
All right. We’re here to talk about periods. Who hates getting their period? Who was told by their mother the first time they got their period that it was a curse, that it would be the bane of your existence, that you now had to suffer for the rest of your life, or until you got pregnant or menopause, those blessings of female existence.
But wait. This lecture is supposed to be about the environment! What does this have to do with it? Well, a lot. For one, if you aren’t even comfortable talking about your period, you’re going to have a problem with most of the alternatives I’m going to outline. The reason we even ended up with the products most women use today is that women were uncomfortable with their bodies, uncomfortable with talking about them, and uncomfortable with finding out the facts. Not to mention, willing to let themselves suffer when it came to their periods. We expect it to suck, and therefore it does.
So let’s talk “feminine hygiene.” Disposables have only been widespread since the 1930s. The only way they became popular was that they allowed women to drop money in a jar on the counter without speaking to the clerk. Kotex introduced the equivalent of the disposable pad in 1921, while the self-adhesive pad wasn’t introduced until the 1970s. Before that, women used rags, fabric, wads of cotton, sponges, whatever worked best, and usually washed and reused the same rags each month. There were belts, suspenders, or sanitary panties with hooks or tabs to hold pads in place, because tight fitting underwear is a recent trend. For thousands of years, women have used reusable pads that they likely made themselves, and no one seemed to mind.
So how did we get stuck on disposables? Well, for years, women have been made to feel ashamed and dirty about the natural functions of their body. Early advertisements told women that disposable pads could help them hide their problems by disposing of the evidence. The same theory seems to persist in today’s advertising, when we’ve even gotten to the point of pads with “silent” packaging so the other women in the bathroom won’t realize you’re opening a pad. Our society expects us to hide our periods and pretend nothing is happening- like we’ve got some kind of terrible disease. If we’re buying “sanitary” products, we must assume we are unsanitary. Whatever embarrassment you feel probably came from negative advertising. Periods aren’t discussed openly. Very few of us had positive first periods. The usual response is, “oh, now you get to spend the rest of your life “inconvenienced” once a month.” Likely this has an effect on our periods- how much of PMS is really irritation that for five days you have to continue to deal with the world when you’d rather stay in bed all day eating chocolate and sleeping?
Many other cultures celebrate a girl’s first period with a party and gifts. Others hold menstruation to be a time for meditation and reflection, when women can take a break from regular life. Our culture still seems to think menstruation is a punishment from God. Long ago, women’s cycles followed the cycles of the moon, often menstruating during the dark of the moon and ovulating during the full moon. Even now, women with irregular periods are sometimes advised to leave a light on while they sleep to emulate the light of the moon- which will regulate their periods. This is known as the Dewan effect.
Tell me- what’s unnatural about your own blood? Knowing your own body and being aware of your cycles gives you self-confidence, especially the first time you observe all aspects of your cycle and are not only able to predict the exact time you will get your period, but feel when you ovulate, and, amazingly enough, this can also improve your health and destroy some of those symptoms normally associated with periods- fear, pain, agitation, etc. A positive outlook can go a long way. It’s no big deal if someone knows you have a period. Are you afraid they’ll find out you’re a woman?
Disposable pads are made of wood fiber, polypropylene, and polyethylene (#5 and #4 plastic). Tampons are made of a cotton rayon blend with a polypropylene cover, unless you buy those which are all cotton or have a cardboard applicator. In a woman’s lifetime she can use over 15,000 sanitary pads or tampons, adding up to about 250 to 300lbs of waste. There are 85 million women of menstruating age in America, throwing away about 13.5 billion pads and 6.5 billion tampons per year (2001). Can you even picture 13.5 billion pads? These fill landfills and clog the sewer systems, and can take over 500 years to degrade. Over 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along US beaches in one year.
In addition, both tampons and pads can contain traces of dioxin, a carcinogen. This is left over from the bleaching process, and over time can accumulate in the system, causing, surprise, cancer. Have you ever noticed how the ingredients aren’t listed on a box of tampons? Tampons also put you at risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome, which occurs when bacteria build up in the vagina from the fluid absorbed by a high-absorbency tampon. The FDA uses research provided by tampon manufacturers to tell the public that tampons are completely safe- even though there are no federal standards of quality or absorbency that could determine which are less likely to cause toxic shock.
Now for some solutions. You could start with all organic non-chlorine bleached tampons, though that does nothing to solve the waste problem. The cost is about the same or a little more than regular tampons. There are also reusable options. If you feel the need to use a reusable coffee cup in the morning, there is no reason not to use reusable pads or a tampon alternative. These include cups like the Keeper or Diva Cup and natural sponges. The Diva Cup is a small silicone cup that collects blood and is emptied when full. It usually can stay in up to 12 hours, and will last 10 years if properly cared for. The come in different sizes, to accommodate a variety of vaginas. The initial cost is $35, which over ten years amounts to about 29 cents per month. Natural sponges are animals that live on the ocean floor, which are dried out and cleaned and can be reused for about six cycles. They are, however, dead animals and have to be scraped off the ocean floor, which is not exactly an environmentally friendly option.
Reusable pads come in an amazing variety of options. You can purchase them from one of many female run companies such as Glad Rags or Lunapads. A starter kit costs anywhere from $30 to $150. Or you can make your own out of scrap fabric. They are usually cotton with a terrycloth liner; some also have a piece of nylon for extra protection. They come in all shapes and sizes and colors and if you make your own you can of course customize for the best fit. They’re bigger than normal pads because they wrap around, but they’re also more breathable and are highly recommended to women that have problems with frequent irritation or infection, which can be caused by the plastic backing of disposable pads.
There are always issues with any choice. Just look at tampons- in some countries they’re sold with little plastic finger covers so that women don’t have to touch themselves. That sounds strange until you realize that some countries don’t sell tampons with applicators. You don’t have to make the switch all at once- people will start by using reusables at night or at home, which can cut over 1/3 of the waste. Yes, you have to clean them yourself; yes, you have to get over touching your own blood. People will see them and wonder. Reusable pads will get stains, but if you soak them in cold water and wash them the stains will be minimal, and stains do not mean they are dirty. They make special bags so you can carry them around during the day, though Ziplocs work just as well. You can generally wear them longer than disposables because the cotton is more absorbent (and also less likely to leak). You really only lose from 2tbsp to one cup of fluid during each cycle. Plus, you never get the adhesive stuck to your hair.
“To make the switch from disposables to reusable products requires an attitude change from being able to throw away the mess (or is it the evidence?) of our menses and perfume and deodorize at the same time, to accepting the reality of this natural part of our bodies.”
I also wanted to bring up, at least briefly, birth control. I never used to discuss this in my lecture because, well, for a long time I thought the benefits of not getting pregnant outweighed the downsides of birth control. But as there are alternatives, and birth control becomes more and more of an environmental issue, I wanted to at least mention it.
There are two reasons this topic is important for girls. One, like pads and tampons, there is an environmental concern in regards to birth control. There have been a lot of rumors circulating in regards to hormones ending up in our water supplies, and whether these are all true or if we really have to worry yet, no one seems entirely sure. It’s typically safe, when it comes to pollution, to err on the side of less pollution is better.
The second, and this has been subject to even less research, is that birth control in its many conventional methods has not been proven to be entirely safe for all women. Most methods haven’t been out for a long period of time, and several have been pulled from the market after they were discovered to have negative effects on our systems, such as Norplant, and suspicions have been raised about many of the other forms- though no one has bothered to figure out what exactly all the side effects are.
I’m not going to go extensively into alternatives, because this is an area where you have to do some research for yourself. Some people don’t seem to have the same bad reactions to hormones as others, and some people have a harder time counting days and paying attention to their own bodies. And sometimes accidents just happen. Believe me, I have contemplated going back on regular birth control for the convenience more than once. But I am one of those people who can’t tolerate hormones in my system. Even aside from the risk factor, I do not personally like to be dependent on pills to take care of my body any more than I like being dependent on pads made of plastic that come from the drug store. If there is a more localized alternative, that gives us control over our own bodies, and puts the knowledge of how they work back into our own hands, then that’s the option I’m going to take.
When it comes right down to it, the real question is, do you love your body? One of the most radical things you can do, for yourself and for the environment, is to care about yourself, and to be attuned to what’s going on. I mentioned before that with practice you can literally feel yourself ovulating. That kind of power can change your life. And if you care about yourself, and your body, you’re going to treat it right- and that means not tormenting it by trying to shove your period to the side, and trying to hide from the simple fact that you are a girl and you menstruate and I am here to tell you this is beautiful and amazing.
And, to not lose sight of the theme of this lecture, I strongly believe you can’t love the planet while you’re hating yourself. Look at the damage we do to the environment and how much of it has to do with how much we just don’t care about its effects on ourselves- thousands of kids get asthma every year from power plants, but we let it slide- thousands of people get cancer from pollutants in the air, in the water, and we do nothing… because we don’t know how to love ourselves, dirty and chaotic and imperfect animals that we are. If you can change that, you’ll be surprised how quickly everything else falls into place.
the gods must be crazy
This is a picture of 21 kilos of strawberries. One kilo equals about 2.2 pounds. “Let them eat strawberry cake!” the queen she did say.