Four hundred and fifty

The problem with trying to make ethical, sustainable choices…

Last year I examined a lot of different topics that changed me to the core and I hope will influence the choices I make for the rest of my life – for instance the information I learned when I lived at the poverty line and during good deed month, some of the videos I watched during vegan month, and what I learned about food during many of the months.  I’ve tried to make as sustainable and ethical choices as I can since learning this information, but it’s hard to draw a line between what is sustainable and what isn’t.  I’m reading Vanessa Farquharson’s book Sleeping Naked is Green (how an eco-cynic unplugged her fridge, sold her car, and found love in 366 days) and she mentions the problem with spices:

Things like basil, thyme, and coriander can all be grown locally, but garlic and ginger usually come from China, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, cumin from the Middle East, vanilla and curry powder from India, and so on, which means the more flavourful your meal, the bigger carbon cost it may have.

So unless you are a raw vegan who adds only locally grown herbs to your food, you are leaving a carbon footprint.  I never even thought about the environmental impact of spices.  The more I find out, the more it becomes overwhelming.  It feels like no matter what you do, you are screwed.

I recently went on a rant about TOMs shoes (for every pair you buy, they donate a pair to an underprivileged child in a developing nation somewhere) and how they might be doing more harm than good by giving shoes instead of helping bring jobs to poorer countries by manufacturing the shoes there (they are made in China).  I was upset that I tried to make the ethical choice and instead my purchase could be supporting something that hurts not helps.  Sometimes it’s so overwhelming I feel like giving up and just buying whatever I want to without the thought of where it comes from or how it’s affecting the environment and other people.

A friend of mine and former roommate who is more educated in ethical and sustainable products than anyone else I know (she owned a company that sold these kinds of products, as well as has a degree in nutrition, and has influenced me to use natural products and eat organic over the years) had an interesting opinion about it.  She told me that yes, TOMs doesn’t do everything perfect, but at least they’re doing something.  They are better than buying a pair from a company that makes their shoes in sweat shops and doesn’t try.  And her husband is from Africa and he often brings shoes to give to the kids because even if they were made there, there’s a lot of corruption and often the kids don’t actually get anything.  “You can only do what you can do.  Try to make the most informed decisions you can and continue to try to choose sustainable, ethical products.  None of them will be perfect.”

It made me think about how making simple choices can help.  If we all made simple choices, like used vinegar and water for cleaning instead of chemicals (which cleans just as good and is cheaper) or chose to buy shoes that were trying to help people instead of hurting them, the world would be a better, cleaner, nicer place to live – and might actually be around longer for generations to come.

So, here are my TOMs.  And I’m going to continue to do what I can do and make the best choices I can with the information I can find out.  Maybe my great grandchildren will thank me for that.

Three hundred and eighty-seven

Wednesday post day and the aftermath of St. Patty’s Day weekend

The biggest day of the year working in an Irish pub came and went and I survived.  I remember last year how absolutely tired I was at the end of it, but still managed to post something.  Good for me.  Although maybe not the best writing I’ve ever done!

I did manage to spend quite a bit of time working on the book this week, though, in my spare time.  I also heard back from the agent!!!  Her intern and her both read the prologue I sent them and liked it, with a few changes, of course.  I have a phone meeting with them tomorrow evening to discuss what I need to work on and “discuss the next steps in getting this book written!” (in her words).  Awesome! That also means I need to write the book.  For those interested, the book is about my personal journey behind the blog – my romantic journey (and that’s a good one), my physical health journey, my emotional journey, etc – filtered through what I am going through in the blog.  There will be small excerpts from the blog, factual information about the topics, but also my secret personal story of what I was going through at the time.  Well, at least that’s what I’m thinking it will be so far.  I’m all for adaptation, depending in how it is going.  I’m almost done the first section, so hopefully I can keep up this pace.  If I can still find time to write while working St. Patty’s Day weekend at an Irish pub, I can find time any time.

A couple of interesting things that jumped out at me this past week that pertains to topics from the year:

I found the image below on Quora.com answers from “When people look back on their life in their 30s, 40s and older what are some common regrets they have?”.  It reminds me why I do what I do.  And not that I kiss a ton of people (no that’s not what the book is going to reveal!), it’s that I try to live my life without regrets.  Sometimes I succeed better than others.  And I only kissed a few of the boys from date month (if I was The Bachelorette on television, you’d be disappointed if I wasn’t kissing them all, so no judging).  But the ones I did kiss were very special to me, and one of them is especially special to me still (oooo, hint at what my big secret is in the book).

(originally from http://xkcd.com/458/)

As I donated a bunch of money to the Daily Bread Food Bank during Good Deed and after Poverty months, I belong to their mailing list.  I’m sort of against snail mail lists because they’re just wasting paper and killing trees.  I know there are conspiracy theories that if we go completely electronic, the computers could crash or all our personal information will be stolen (you know who I’m talking to – father), but in cases of marketing I think going completely electronic is the socially responsible thing to do.  That being said, the Daily Bread Food Bank does a lot of amazing things, so I can’t hate on them too much.  In their package they sent me, there’s a leaflet about what causes hunger in Ontario and who the donation helps.  Here are a couple of those facts that remind me of what living at the poverty line really is:

  • The median monthly income for people using food banks in Ontario is $925, meaning 72% of their income is spent on rent/mortgage including utilities.
  • 46% of adults have not eaten for a day because of lack of money
  • 36% of food bank clients are children
  • 19% of children go hungry at least once per week

I am grateful every day for what I have and what I was born into.  And I remember every day to try and help those who have different circumstances in their life that are not as fortunate as mine.

Three hundred and sixty-one

I know I’ve been putting a lot of photos of street art up, but I need to add one more.  It’s not art as much as it is a political statement, written across the doors of an abandoned building a few blocks away from my house.

It reminds me of all the things that could be done to better the living conditions of those in poverty in Canada.  Although I’m a believer in investing in prevention as opposed to reaction (also something I talked about quite a bit concerning health and diet in previous months), there are steps that need to be taken in order to help get people on their feet when prevention (affordable, safe  housing; child care;  improved working conditions and pay for low-wage jobs; more access to education) didn’t work.  Food banks are one of these.

“This space could be a food bank”

Three hundred and thirty-seven

I made it through Life at the Poverty Line!

My almost empty fridge. Can you make a meal out of condiments?

Well, I almost made it.  I have the rest of the day, but I’m on the home stretch.  And thank gosh it is over! Am I allowed to say that?  I am so grateful that I earn enough income (and live in Canada and have a wonderful support system) to allow me to live comfortably, in a safe environment, with fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy food and the occasional treat.  It’s been a tough month.  A journey of discovery for me and what it means to be brought down by something that you can’t control.  It’s been a time of evaluating my priorities, and a lot of time to myself to do this in.

It was interesting seeing people’s reaction to the money topic.  I don’t think I realized what a touchy subject it would be until I started writing about it.  Everyone has a different experience and relationship with money and I thank all those who shared their personal story with us.  It was also interesting taking the big leap from my low-income line of $21.40 to my basic needs line of $4 per day.  Then thinking about the extreme poverty line of US$1.25 per day.

Recap of the month

I began by defining different options for the poverty line, and which one I chose to use.  I argued why I chose what I did.  I talked about giving up a trip to the strippers, and what my background and relationship is with money.  I was very clear that “this month does not trivialize the lives and concerns of those people who live at the low income line (and I have a few friends who do).  This month is an attempt to understand what it’s like to not have money always there.”

Unexpected expenses came up, I had to pay for transit to give blood,  I struggled with eating healthy on a budget.   I talked about the international extreme poverty line of US $1.25 per day, the cost of poverty in Canada and the emotional and physical struggles poverty can cause.  I was hit emotionally by a few comments about how my $21.40 is too much and reacted accordingly, changing my tactic for the month.  I wrote about a different ways of looking at poverty – the Ontario Deprivation Index, international poverty lines, why defining a strict poverty line isn’t always good.

I examined documenting poverty (photographs and videos) and the debate of whether this is appropriate (with a great comment from Nikki about taking photos from someone who works with communities who are poor), sugar daddies, earning extra income, choosing to live in poverty/with no money,  ways to eat and live for free, living with debt.  I shared some personal stories, here and here, from people living in poverty. I revisited extreme couponing and talked about poverty in war times and poverty and obesity.  I tried to learn a lot and share different perspectives.

What did I learn?

How do you really simulate life at the poverty line, when you know all along that it will end in a month?  You can’t.  This month has no more taught me what it’s really like to be poor as it has made poverty enjoyable.  It has, however, given me a glimpse into a world where money is a constant stress and worry and where food and emergencies are the only necessities you can spend on in order to keep yourself afloat (and even then, you’re likely to continue the downward spiral).

I also learned to spend only what I need to, to look at the cost of things, and the live on a strict budget – all skills that are really important.  I learned to be more humble and put myself in other people’s shoes.  I learned to look outside of my world to see what I say comes across to other people.  I learned that poverty can affect physical health, but also mental health, which causes a downward spiral.  Being poor takes a toll on you as a person, and it’s extremely hard once you’re in it to get out of it.

Where do I go from here with Life at the Poverty Line?

I am donating a chunk of the money I worked for, but didn’t use this month to local shelters and food banks.  Any help to get people off the streets and well fed is important.  And I would like to give locally to support my community.  I will let you know once I have done a little more research into which charities I’ll be giving to.

I will also be more frugal.  I understand the value of money a bit more and how to stretch each dollar.  I will continue setting a budget of money I can spend and saving the rest for emergencies or a large expense.

Tomorrow I start A Photograph a Day.  I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do with this topic!

Three hundred and thirty-six

Personal poverty stories

I’ve spent the day reading personal stories of poverty.  Maybe I should have done this at the beginning of this month, but I feel like I understand them more now.  Women whose fridges look like mine right now – a few condiments and not much else.  Men who have important things to say but are overlooked because they have lost their legs, can’t afford an apartment and therefore panhandle on the street to try and hopefully save enough to pay for rent.  Mothers who lose their babies because they water down the milk or formula because they can’t afford to feed their children properly.

The food coming from food banks is not very healthy.  Rent subsidies are not high enough to afford decent, safe housing.  Rent-to-own companies are preying on the poor, and cheating them out of money in the long term.  Trading sex for accommodation is not uncommon.  These are stories of depression, hopelessness, coping, and what to do to change this.

Here are some quotes from some of the stories I read and below, where to read the full reports/articles:

“The furniture and all that stuff is my past life… left over from the gravy days… a lot of women march into poverty with the goods they had before.”

“Never having enough money or enough of anything to meet basic needs has taken a toll on my health, on my self-esteem and on my idea of who I am and where I fit in this world. Living close to the edge of disaster on a daily basis eats away at your soul and destroys you from the inside out.”

“The two nights that it snowed she slept in a port-a-potty, to get out of the snow and wind. She joked and said it wasn’t bad because at least she had a bathroom but no light to read her book. She tried sitting at a bus stop under a streetlight to read but was told by police that she had to move because the bench wasn’t her living room.”

“She had always assumed that homeless people were on the street because they wanted to be there, that she never dreamed that it could happen to her or just how fast someone could find themselves homeless.”

“…an apartment where cleanliness means a sponge bath in the kitchen sink or a walk to the nearest pool house, and the toilet – shared with neighbors – is in a small closet in the hall.”

“In a typical day, he said, he would send out 10 resumes and make 10 calls.  But the months went by and nothing happened. ‘This is the first time I’m out of a job since I was 8, when I had a paper route,’ he said. ‘I kept thinking the economy would get better, and it just hasn’t.'”

“Circumstances put people where they are…You’re living in a cockroach-infested, one-room place that is not as big as half of the room we are sitting in now, about the size of a jail cell.  And you are supposed to live twelve months of the year like this? And not go out and beat each other up? And rob each other? And go and steal, and do this and do that? Because what else have you got, what else have you got to lose?”

“It is not our fault. We don’t want to be doing this. We didn’t choose this. We didn’t say OK I’m going to be homeless today. And have nothing to eat and no place to go.”

Read more at:

Women’s Perspective on Poverty: photos and stories by women on low-income in Calgary, http://www.ucalgary.ca/gender/WAFI%20Report2.pdf, (Quotes 1-4)

Poverty Stories.  A blog by David Schwab Abel, reporter for the Boston Globe and adjunct professor of journalism at Boston University and Emerson College. http://davidabel3.blogspot.com/ (Quotes 5-6)

Voices: Women, Poverty and Homelessness in Canada.  Rusty Neal.  Report of the National Poverty Association, May 2004. http://intraspec.ca/WomenPovertyAndHomelessnessInCanada.pdf (Quotes 7-8)