On this day—the fourth day after Christmas, the 30th day after Black Friday, the 106th day after my birthday, the whatever-th day after everyday on which we in our culture expect to spend money or receive gifts—I find myself once again pondering consumerism. As a Geography major, I often encounter the notion of “development-as-progress” in my studies at Vassar. By development, of course, I don’t mean the implementation of running water or basic social services—these sorts of developments almost certainly serve as markers of societal progress. No, the development that I’m talking about, the kind that keeps me up at night, regards economic growth as essential for prosperity, and thus encourages us to consume (natural resources, money, animal products, land) more than we ever have before. It subjugates the earth by regarding our life-sustaining planet at a commodity. It contributes to ever-intensifying class disparities between Western and non-Western cultures by deeming earth-friendly indigenous modes of production as “inefficient” and “unproductive,” insisting upon the necessity of technologically mediated modes of production for “progress.”
But considering that this “development” has manifested in resource depletion, climate change, social division, mass extinction of species, factory farming, and more, do we really want to “progress” in this manner? Do we really want to invest ourselves in a lifestyle that, by valuing the pursuit of wealth and possessions as an end unto itself, “is associated with lower levels of well-being, lower life satisfaction and happiness, more symptoms of depression and anxiety, more physical problems such as headaches, and a variety of mental disorders”? (Macy & Johnstone 46). The time has come to realize that our consumptive habits enact profoundly negative consequences upon the earth and all of its inhabitants, rather than asserting it as an unquestioned “American way of life,” as did President Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer in May 2001 (Macy & Johnstone 13). In the words of feminist environmental activist Vandana Shiva, we must “redefine[e] […] growth and productivity as categories linked to the production, not the destruction, of life [through an] ecological and a feminist project which legitimizes the way of knowing and being that create wealth by enhancing life and diversity, and which delegitimizes the knowledge and practice of a culture of death as the basis for capital accumulation” (12).
By necessitating that I carefully choose the food I consume, veganism has familiarized me with the practice of analyzing my own consumption and that of our broader culture. This awakened consciousness about consumptive patterns has prompted me and others—such as my housemates in the vegan co-op in which I live at Vassar—to buy food in bulk so as to reduce packaging, to reuse plastic bags for vegetable storage, to drink only out of reusable water bottles, to purchase used items rather than buy new ones, to donate used items, to not flush after every trip to the bathroom, etc. These practices may seem like insignificant behaviors in the face of an enormously destructive Western system of consumption—and we also engage in harmful practices such as using computers, etc.—but they are indicative of the growing popularity of modes of intentional living that re-envision “development” and “progress” as symbiotic earth-human relationships similar to that described by Shiva above.
Of course, veganism does not automatically lead to a sense of urgency in combatting general capitalism and consumption. Indeed, innovative vegan companies have recently taken the market by storm—offering humane versions of meat, cheese, and eggs, yes, but also playing within our problematically capitalistic system. Towards these companies, I find myself in a state of ambivalence. On the one hand, I worry that they embolden our consumerist culture by adding new products to the market and encouraging customers to “buy into” veganism. On the other hand, I wonder if these companies provide a business model in harmony with the aforementioned modes of intentional living, in that they offer animal- and environmentally-friendly alternatives to astronomically destructive industries. Clearly, I’ve still got some thinkin’ to do, but I’d love to hear your thoughts, as well.
A new endeavor that gives me hope in the face of all this mythological development, consumerism, and ambivalence comes in the form of a self-sustaining vegan eco-village based on a gift economy, named Eotopia. Conceptualized in large part by Raphael Fellmer and Nieves Palmer—a German couple who has thrived living completely without money for over a year now—Eotopia defines four main objectives of the project: creating a sustainable village through permaculture, reuse and recycling, self-sufficiency, and a vegan diet; forming a functional gift-economy; providing a system of free education; and cultivating a community of love, trust, and personal change. Eotopia currently lies in the beginning stages, seeking both community members and a viable piece of land on which to construct the community, but has laid out a timeline that expects to achieve 50-100% self-sufficiency by late 2015. Ideally, I would love to participate in such a community in my future life, but that will have to wait at least another two years until I wave goodbye to Vassar.
To provide some levity on this weighty, thought-provoking topic, I give you, dear readers, a plate-lickingly scrumptious recipe that puts the “reuse” part of intentional living in action by employing the sweetened condensed coconut milk leftover from making my famous holiday “butter” pecan rum balls. Enjoy.
Brussels Sprouts & Sunchokes in Green Curry Sauce—Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium.
3/4 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1/2 lb sunchokes (aka jerusalem artichokes), scrubbed and cut into small chunks
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight (be careful not to shake during or after refrigeration)
5 tbsp green curry paste (about 3/4 of a jar of Thai Kitchen brand)
1 tbsp maple syrup (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, toss the brussels sprouts and sunchokes with the melted coconut oil. Roast for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, open the can of refrigerated coconut milk, taking care not to shake it. Scoop only the top layer of coconut cream into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, saving the coconut water at the bottom of the can for a later use (great for smoothies!). Add the curry paste and the maple syrup (if using) to the saucepan with the coconut cream, and gently stir the ingredients together as they melt. Allow the sauce to simmer while the veggies roast.
Once the veggies are tender and nicely browned, add them to the saucepan. Stir together and allow to simmer gently until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 10-15 minutes. Serve.
Until next time, Ali.
Macy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012. Print.
Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. London: Zed Books, 1989. Print.