Archive for the ‘Green Living and Natural Health’ Category

I was working at the DC Green Festival one weekend, doing beverage demos. Among other adventures that befell me, I had to run all the way out to my car, which was parked quite a ways away in some lot, to get cups and brochures from my trunk when we ran out.

As I close the trunk, I pull a half-eaten vegan “turkey salad” sandwich out of my bag and start eating it. Suddenly a soldier appears at my side, in full uniform.

“Hi,” he says, “Do you know where I can get something to eat around here?”

The DC Convention Center is in a pretty desolate part of the city. There isn’t much on this street but a few parking lots, used car-parts places, and the infamous DC Eagle leather bar with its painted-over windows and blue-black S&M flag proudly flying. And somehow, I don’t think that’s quite the menu he’s looking for.

I dig in my bag and found some all-natural brownie made of raw, sprouted grains and carob. I’d bought it at the festival to eat later. I explain to him that it was kind of “earthy-crunchy” and that it’s all I have, and I’d understand if he wanted something more mainstream. I would help him find it.

“No, this is great,” he says, unwrapping it and taking a bite. “I’m so hungry, this gives me a chance to try something new.” Chewing it, he smiled. “Wow, this is really good! Thanks, I appreciate it.”

“That’s not going to fill you up,” I say. “I don’t know DC much, but I do know there are lots of eats at the Green Festival where I’m headed. It’s all vegetarian, but that’s all I know right around here.”

I wait for him to tell me thanks but no thanks, I’m looking for some real food… McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC. He’s silent for a moment.

“Can you take me there?” he asks cautiously. “I’ve always been curious about all this natural, organic stuff.” I tell him it’s paid admission, but that he’s military and should get in free in my opinion, so I’d try to sneak him in. I offer to show him around a bit.

We talked as we walked… me, genderqueer veggie liberal, and him—tall, clean-scrubbed, freckle-faced, full-on Southern boy in desert fatigues who looked like Richie Cunningham. We exchange stories. I ask him if he is home from a tour; he is not. He tells me about life in the Army, because I ask him. I tell him about tofu and organic food, because he asks me.

I manage to sneak him past the guards. He looks around at all the people in tie-dyes, dreads, “Impeach Bush” shirts. Folk music plays loudly from a stage. There are booths everywhere of peace activists, animal rights activists, queer activists, green activists.

“People are looking at me funny,” he notes, not really seeming to mind.

“That’s their problem,” I say. And it was. Just like I get paid to lie sometimes when I mystery shop, his job potentially involves killing and cooperating with what may at times be corrupt government agendas. But we all have a job to do, don’t we? We are not in a perfect world. We need the military to protect us, now. Maybe this is a myth that someday, in John Lennon’s imagine-able world, we will live in a world of peace. But until then, soldiers get hungry. And thirsty.

I saw a big display of tables full of earth-friendly sugarcane-fiber cups. A sign announced an event he I knew he wouldn’t want to miss. “Look, you’re in luck,” I pointed out. “Free organic beer tasting today!”

“Sweet!” he says, smiling. I show him where the sandwiches were and explain the different types of fillings. I am so apologetic about the lack of meat, and he doesn’t care. He’s wide-eyed, completely curious, not a trace of any voyeuristic sneer in his demeanor. He’s crossed the barbed wire fence and is visiting The Other Side, and I am his tour guide. I offer to buy him a sandwich. I don’t really have much money on me… I have to pay my babysitter, my parking, my gas. But I feel like—for all the shit he goes through every day, all the insults and dehumanizations he must undergo each day as part of his discipline—regardless of whether or not I adore the causes he is forced to defend, the least I could do is buy him a tofu sandwich.

He tells me he’s sorry that he’s keeping me from my work… he knows I have to get back to my table. I do; my absence will be noticed by now. I offer one more time to buy him a sandwich. When he declines and says he’ll just look around, I realize that maybe he just wants to hang out and drink beer first, and figure out for himself what he wants.

So I leave him, and head back to my booth. I feel delightfully wicked for sneaking him in. And I hope he tells his friends that the tree-huggers are OK sometimes after all.

© Sarah Noack 2007


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Is it just me, or is everything just getting too damn small?

Today I accidentally washed my iPod Shuffle in the laundry (it was attached to my gym shirt), and then knocked a 2GB memory strip into the AC floor vent as I was trying to back up my hard drive. Argh! Even though I’m kind of a nano-human at 5’1″, I’ve decided I’ve had it with small.

I’ve had it with digging into my purse to find cell phones that mimic the contours of a credit card. I’ve had it with keychains overflowing with assorted electronic thingies. I’ve had it with thingies that clip onto your ears or clothes like inconspicuous parasitic insects, sucking assorted waves and bytes out of thin air. And I’ve definitely had it with shoving my entire life on little thingies the size of boogers.

I’m claustrophobic. I used to have freak attacks in elevators when I was a kid. I hated the last two months of pregnancy because I felt so squished and crowded out. So when I think about my tax returns and design files bumping up against ultrasounds of Jeni, complex applications, and MP3’s of Madonna and Meatloaf, I feel deeply anxious for them. I wonder how such a motley crew (sorry, back to the M artists…) of data can possibly stand being squished nuts-against-butts onto something that could fall into a floor crack.

I understand that big isn’t what I want either. I am really happy that computers don’t take up a whole room anymore. I thank God for laptops, and do not want to revisit my stepfather’s old cell phone from 1991, which was about the size of a small gerbil cage. But at least, back in those days, everything had a special place and device. It wasn’t all just DATA that fit on one do-it-all thingamajig. There was uniqueness in the world.

Somehow, it just feels wrong to have my friend’s cherished songs live alongside my demo invoices and font “read-me’s.” Shouldn’t they have a special place where they can bask in their specialness? A place that is easily found, easy to notice, an album I can hold in my hand, smell, touch and lovingly re-read the liner notes while doing absolutely nothing else but relaxing? And what about poems and love letters I’ve collected over the years? Shouldn’t they be stashed away in a silk-lined box under my bed… the kind that has a real key, not an encrypted password? And what about all these pictures of Jeni? I can’t think of the last time I printed them out and glued them in an album. They’re all just backed up on more and more little sticks of data, data, data… little 0’s and 1’s I can’t even see, like some kind of exotic digital alpha-bits cereal all jumbled into a heap that somehow points to beauty in its various forms. Looking at all this data… I half believe the idea that life could begin from a pile of gases exploding out of nothingness. Everything feels so random. It’s up to me to make sense of all this data, all these bits and bytes of my life, heart and soul stored onto various inconsequential lumps of plastic the size of tiddlywinks.

I wonder sometimes if those little flyers the religious fanatics used to throw on my doorstep—you know, “The End Days are Near… Don’t Accept the Number of the Beast on your Hand,” are coming true. Maybe we really will start getting barcodes and data chips embedded into our skin, because there is no more “nano” left to go without going within our very cells. It creeps me out. I don’t want nano. I want “manageable, function-specific macro.” I want a device that plays music and a device that watches movies. I want to be disciplined to do one thing at a time, to enjoy each thing for what it is, to not start mixing up all these bits and bytes inside my brain. I want to experience the integrity of a moment, a song, a picture as something solitary and unique—not a “file type” among many others, all squashed up into the same crowded bedroom like transients in an Amsterdam youth hostel.

What’s particularly interesting is that the more “nano” electronic devices get, the more “macro” we get… our meals, our bodies, our cars, TV’s, businesses. It’s kind of disgusting. I feel like the two are directly proportionate. Do we really need to eat 20 ounces of steak? (I don’t need to eat any, but theoretically). Do people really need to drive Hummers if they aren’t in active military service? Do three national banks and one coffee place need to own the entire share of these markets? Do we need to drive everywhere? Here in my town, the county planners didn’t even bother to build sidewalks in the main commercial areas. It’s ironic how, to me, moving to a city, my life will be, in so many ways, less “macro,” and more “microcosmically conscious.” I will be without a car, I will be able to compost and buy fresh fruits more easily, I will have sidewalks to walk on and resources for living soulfully. I won’t have to go to big chains for everything like I do here. Cities are becoming the place where it’s possible to live an organically empowered life.

One of these days, we’re going to be so disproportionate in our mini/maxi tendencies that we’re going to lose all our ipod shuffle extra-minis and memory microchips in the folds of our burgeoning sedentary flesh, while consuming whale-sized burgers in front of TV’s that take up entire rooms. We’re going to have such big needs for space, despite all the downsizing we seem to be doing, that we’re going to have to send half the human race into outer space just to survive.

I have only one thing to say about this:


© Sarah Noack 2008

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There is one thing, possibly ONLY one thing, that my ex and I fully agree upon. We both hate zoos.

For him, it’s an issue of national pride and clashing cultural views on the way nature is perceived. For me, it’s an issue of animal rights. For both of us, it’s an issue of respect for fellow creatures.

So when I went to the zoo today with Jeni—something I do very rarely, and with the justification that some of my fellow recycled-footwear, tofu-munching mom friends still grudgingly bring their kids to the live-animal museum too—I actually had something to talk about with The Ex tonight. Which is good, because he’s been camping out at my house for a horribly long time while he waits to replace his broken car and get some phone service in his rural cabin in the woods that I (according to his story) exiled him to four months ago.

I’ve avoided talking to him, looking at him, breathing the air he exhales for the past week, although I admit I’ve driven him a few places here and there and looked the other way when he ate some take-out Schezuan chicken in my now-strictly vegetarian kitchen. I’ve tried to scare him away with hummus, obsessive housecleaning, and singing creepy Velvet Underground songs in the shower. Nothing works. Well, even if it did—he has no car, and no money to rent one, so he’s stuck in the ultimate alpha-male humiliation for now. I know I could just get him into the car and drive him back home into the wilderness (literally—that’s the name of the town where he lives) but I’m not that cruel. I’m waiting for Verizon to come and save me. If he has a phone, he at least has a lifeline.

But back to the zoo. I don’t know what made me bring Jeni there today. I don’t know why kids are so nuts about zoos. As a kid, I remember thinking they were weird, overrated places that smelled of poop, where the animals always seemed to be hiding, grumpy or asleep. I vowed once never to take Jeni to a zoo, but peer pressure set in from the other moms I knew. It just seems to be a childhood rite of passage. So I figured, I’m going to just focus on the small animals like lizards and birds, and keep her away from the depressed masturbating monkeys and cage-pacing lions.

I’m going to cut to the chase here. Zoos suck. What else is there to say? My ex, for once, told it straight: “If Africans came to Yellowstone National Park and started airlifting bison and coyotes, Americans would start a war about it. But we just let everyone come take our wildlife without understanding what they’re doing.”

You can justify, for sure, breeding pandas that are becoming sterile in captivity. You can justify saving endangered species. But are zoos the answer? To me, saving animal species by creating human-run artificial, limited urban wild-animal habitats, is inhumane and just plain counterintuitive. Call me radical, but I think we should stop playing God and just stop taking over the entire planet with condos and Chipotles, and give the damn animals some rights to the land they need to coexist with us. If we don’t, then EVERY panda in the world is going to live in a zoo. They will not be able to live without us. And yet they won’t really BE pandas anymore. They’ll be… pets, human accessories.

The truth is, there are ways to assist animals in the wild without putting them in captivity. Everyone who interacts with animals in the wild, as my ex did while living in his family’s village in Burkina Faso, knows this. Animals are intelligent, much more than we realize, and are quite capable of coexisting harmoniously with humans. It is common knowledge in African villages that lions and humans are capable of forming psychic contracts about land use. My ex and others in African have told me that lions will only attack humans if humans attempt to settle on their designated hunting grounds. You can walk right by a lion, and as long as it is in its land and you are on yours, there will be no confrontation, even if the lion is starving. It has no interest in human flesh, but it will attack if these contracts are not observed.

To most Americans, a statement like this is utterly absurd, fanciful. In most traditional cultures, however, such ideas are just considered common sense. Animals are not cartoons for our entertainment; they are embodied souls like we are. Few cultures sentimentalize, anthropomorphize and pamper animals as much as we do, while simultaneously being cruel to them. The way we deal with animals is so much like the way we deal with women and children, to me. We idealize and imprison them in one breath, yet know nothing about their real needs or nature.

As I watched children interacting with animals through glass, fences and bars today, I thought of all the times I’ve censored books people well-meaningly bought Jeni as gifts. I won’t have anything to do with Curious George or Lyle the Crocodile, for example. I was totally shocked when I read these books to Jeni, and just gave them away after one read. It was that shocking to me. I mean, I read them as a child. But how can people think it’s normal, the idea of a crocodile who lives in a zoo, crying to the dentist because it’s afraid it will be taken back to the scary wilds of Africa? Or a monkey who willingly submits to captivity (in a cage) after being tricked and bagged up by a condescending man in a yellow coat? Where are George’s parents and friends? Am I the only one who finds this outlook intolerable?

I don’t care if people are vegetarians or into animal rights or not. It’s not even about that. It’s just about RESPECT. Respect for all beings, for all of life. I even respect plants. I don’t believe in cartoons and sentimentality. I don’t believe in putting a dress on your dog and spending thousands of dollars to clean its teeth, and then going out and eating a steak. If you’re going to eat the steak, that’s fine. But do it because your body really needs it. And thank the animal. And for God’s sake, take that damn jewelry off your dog. It’s not an accessory. It’s your friend. It is kind enough to tolerate all these humiliations, but it is, to me, a sort of castration of an animal’s spirit to mix up its priorities with human priorities. If I keep a companion animal, it will be because it shows up at my doorstep and needs shelter. I can no longer bear the idea of keeping a bird in a cage.

Even when I had a pet lizard in my early 20’s (probably the only pet other than fish that I’d actually go out and buy, anymore), I carried it around town with me on a leash and let it roam free around the house much of the time. It just went to bed in its cage at night. I don’t like to have animals sleep in my bed with me or eat off my plate. I have this weird distinction between the human race and the races of dogs, cats and other animals, you see. I know it’s strange, and to some, insensitive. But those same people who would call me insensitive are the ones eating steaks and begging me to spare them the details of how such food is produced.

I believe in honesty and consistency. I believe in honoring each creature’s natural spirit. I believe in freedom for all beings, and in relationships—whether with other humans, with any creatures, or even with plants—that acknowledge the soul. I believe in letting animals be animals, and humans be humans. I believe in letting animals stay a little wild, even when they live with you and depend on you for support. I believe this to be a sign of love.

At the zoo today, I was horrified when I entered the gorilla and elephant “houses.” I don’t know what I was expecting—but they really were like animal prisons. Being cursed with an over-empathic nature, I could just feel low-grade depression lingering in the air. I noticed how often animals in the zoo were sleeping during the daytime, and wondered if this was their way of shutting out excess sensory data. Children were screaming at the monkeys to wake up and at the seals to swim, as if they were characters on a TV screen programmed for their entertainment. Kids screeched in horrified glee as the elephant took a dump, and I wondered if she had strategically turned her ass to face the crowd as she relieved herself: a sort of elephant “Fuck You.”

I was shocked and ashamed to see how our culture is raised to see wild animals. We call them “zoo animals.” I tell her that certain animals are African animals, rainforest animals, Arctic animals. They are WILD ANIMALS, not “zoo animals.” I will not shape my daughter’s consciousness to believe that animals are either meant for our use, or our entertainment. I am okay with people milking cows and riding horses, if they are treated well. I’m even okay with people hunting and killing animals for meat and other resources, if it is truly necessary and the animal’s soul is honored. But I am not okay with disrespecting or humiliating ANY living creature. I am not okay with zapping frightened lizards with camera flash bulbs all day until it no longer trusts its natural stress responses, and just becomes overloaded. And I’m definitely not okay with the noise pollution at zoos.

When some rowdy teenage boys started banging loudly on the glass of the sleeping gorilla’s “house” today and jeering at it to “move its ass,” my hands started to itch. I knew that I could not leave this situation without putting on my bitch suit and mouthing off. And I got my chance to, when Jeni started trying to copy them.

I grabbed Jeni’s hands and said, “NO.” I looked at her in the eye and said, loudly enough for the boys to hear, “That is the gorilla’s HOUSE. How would you like it if you were sleeping at home, and some people came and started banging on your window and screaming at you to wake up? Would you be happy?”

Jeni got it. “No,” she said sheepishly, and looked at her feet. “I’m sorry, Mommy.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “You didn’t know. But don’t just copy everything everyone does, honey. Think about what you’re doing, and if it feels right or wrong.” I directed the next comment toward the two nearly-grown men: “They are BIG BOYS. They’re the ones who should know better!”

The boys looked at me as if I were crazy, laughed, and kept banging. That was it.

“I hope YOU get to be a gorilla in a zoo in your next life!” I yelled at them as I left.

Jeni squeezed my hand.

The boys kept laughing.

That will be my last trip to a zoo, unless someone drags ME along by a leash.


© Sarah Noack 2007

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I have kissed my car goodbye, and said hello to my shoes.


It’s hard to convey exactly how this change has affected me, except to say that when I say “I walk everywhere,” I mean that on many days, I walk in excess of three hours a day, in all kinds of weather. Fortunately the weather has been mostly nice lately, but we have had some hurricanes. I walked in them too. I have a bright yellow PVC raincoat and a dollar store umbrella just for those rainy days. And I pack a change of shoes in my courier bag, which replaces the dead-body-size trunk of the big green Lincoln I once drove. 


I walk to work (1/2 hour) and back, I walk to Jeni’s babysitter’s house (another 1/2 hour from my house), to the grocery store (15 minutes) and to other areas in town (any length of time). Occasionally I take the bus, but I’ve found that in this town, walking usually gets you there faster. Buses don’t run very regularly at night.


Do I miss driving?


No, I really don’t.


I have lost about ten pounds since I moved here, just from all the walking. I am becoming sunburnt (no matter how much sunblock I use) and feel color seeping back into me like a restored portrait. 


I always have walked. I am so used to it, that being out of my walking routine for so many years was making my body very unhappy. Today, I am not working. I have nowhere I need to walk. Yesterday, I walked over three hours. I thought I would love resting my legs, which yesterday were aching to the point of feeling injured. My feet were blistered and almost bruised-feeling. But today, my legs are restless. I don’t want to be in the house moving in, unpacking boxes, cleaning up while Jeni is in school across the street. I want to be out on the street, passing strangers and living in my mind as I feel the comforting rhythm of my feet slapping the hard pavement. 


Feet were the original vehicles of the human race. And in a city like the one I live in now, they are still the best. 


I don’t have to pay insurance on them (except health insurance, which covers the rest of the body along with them at no additional cost). 


I don’t have to change their oil after every 3000 miles (who walks 3000 miles?) or worry about their air pressure. 


I don’t have to worry about get stopped by cops because I’m walking too fast or because my stickers are expired.


I don’t have to carry a permit to walk, or wear a license plate on my ass. 


I don’t have to worry about getting in an accident because I’m drinking coffee or looking at the scenery while I’m walking.


And I don’t have to apply special polishes and waxes to my feet to get them to shine… or, well, if I do, it’s called a pedicure and actually is a lot of fun. 


I was born with what the French orthotics doctors (I actually saw one in high school) call “les pieds profondement plat” (ridiculously flat feet). And I pronate badly. This means that I wear out shoes really fast, and can’t wear high heels without dying of pain. It also means I don’t have the most delicate or graceful feet and ankles in the world. I’ve always been a foot person, so I’ve always been self-conscious of my own chubby, slightly bowlegged feet and calves. But I’ve been told by doctors that these flexible flat feet are the reason I can walk long distances without any discomfort. So despite their homeliness, we’re friends. 


I make sure to take good care of them.


I love the way many shoes look, but can never bring myself to wear any but the most basic, comfortable ones. I only have a few pairs, and they are all very simple styles. Often I get men’s shoes, because they fit my oversized feet better than women’s shoes. Where many people are into shoes with straps and heels and patterns, I am into shoes with arches and cushions, soft soles and little massaging bumps. My favorite appliance that I own is a foot massager, and if I had any spare money, the first thing I would do is pay for an hour-long reflexology massage. I would not date anyone who had any aversion to feet (especially mine), and I would actually give preference to a foot fetishist, even if they were weird and obsessed about them. I understand. I believe they’re that important, too. I think feet are a microcosm of a person’s body. They have so much information hidden in them, if you know how to look. And they are beautiful. I don’t know how anyone can consider feet ugly… to me, they are the most beautiful part of the human body. I like feet simple… well-cared for, with a little polish on neat toenails, maybe (for both men and women), properly moisturized… but nothing too fancy. I like feet that walk and work and live and get worn out, not just perfect museum feet hobbled by straps and stilletos (although I confess, I definitely notice those too). I like all feet that are clean, healthy and loved. All feet deserve love, especially hardworking ones that are used for walking. I treat my feet, and feet in general, with as much care as some people treat their cars. I believe that in a way, they are sacred. 


On that same token, nothing bugs me more about a human body than seeing horrendously neglected feet. I don’t know how someone can let themselves get to the point of having huge corns and bunions, or cracking, crusty heels. I mean, don’t people notice when their shoes don’t fit? Don’t people know that their feet need hydration? It is much sexier to me to wear men’s shoes that feel good, and then take them off and show perfect feet… than to wear pointy toes and high heels all the time and develop varicose veins and foot deformities. I understand if people get short on time (as I do sometimes), but I mean, as a default mode, feet should be loved. It’s too easy to say “they’re just feet.” I strongly believe that when we don’t take care of our feet, we don’t take care of ourselves. It correlates. 


I feel like my feet are reverse antennae, picking up signals from the earth. When I walk, it helps align my body and soul. I feel more peaceful and intuitive. Driving makes me crazy. It unsettles my nerves. I feel helpless when I drive. When I walk, I can choose my route. I am not limited by one-way streets and traffic. I don’t have to sit around breathing recirculated air or obeying signs. And I sure as hell don’t have to pay $4 a gallon for gas. 


I do run through a lot more shoes and pants than most, but that’s okay. 


I love walking.

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