Queering the home: environmentalist tackles paper goods

I decided I’ve probably been a bit of an ass toward my roommate. She’s shy, but I shouldn’t hold that against her. I’ve been loud and inconsiderate at times, but it’s not my apartment. I’ve been more mindful lately, and I think I could do better.

I was probably mad that my old roommate moved out and into an apartment with the girl I used to have a huge crush on, so a bit of jealousy came back up for me and a feeling of abandonment. Then another friend bailed on living with me, last minute; then a few other friends considered moving in and nobody actually did, so I felt really bummed. I also had the apartment to myself for a few weeks before my new roommate moved in and I’d sort of taken over the place meanwhile; it didn’t feel awesome to then have a stranger in the space that had been taken up by a friend.

I could always stand to be nicer and not take my frustrations on other people. Especially especially since she’s a first year student and I’m a 4th year; I’m well established while she’s far away from her support network. Given how fucking horrible a track record the PhD has with students’ mental health (something like 50% of academics have depression, it’s pretty fucked up) I need to remember that my actions have an effect on those around me. Nothing has happened of course, but well, maybe I’ve been interpreting my roommate’s withdrawal as antisocial behavior when really it’s a symptom of stress and man, I promise to not take things so personally when someone doesn’t automatically hug me and scratch my belly (metaphorically speaking). We all have our shit.


 

Anyways. During the inter-roommate era of 2015, I did a thorough cleaning, and then moved a bunch of stuff around. When a senior roommate leaves (in this case my roommate had pulled me into the current place) whoever is left can choose the bedroom, so of course I chose the big bedroom. Now I’ve got myself a really nice space to eat, sleep, work, and entertain. It feels very homey.

I used most of a roll of paper towels in all the cleaning I did, plus a ton of pocket tissue packs while getting through a cold, and a whole lot of swiffer mop things… and I started thinking man, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to buy and store paper products, plus chemically-laden cleaning materials? Mostly I feel like shit about the landfill waste to which all the paper goods contribute. I’ve eliminated several sources, but the biggest shift that weirds people out is in my cleaning routine.

So here are the ways I’m queering my cleaning. Ready?

Floors

  • I like the Swiffer’s maneuverability and control relative to floppy mops which spread dirt around and also cannot be detached so they just collect dirt forever and ever, so I now use a washable cloth thingie that I bought on Etsy to fit a Swiffer; you can basically use a terry towel or sew your own though. I use it like a mop cloth: I soak it in floor cleaning solution (when I use it up, I’m gonna use a vinegar-based floor cleaning solution), mop an area, rinse it out in the sink, and then re-soak it in the clean solution. Keeps the mop bucket clean, keeps me from using 3 swiffer pads in one go. Then I just hang it and let it dry thoroughly. Every once in a while I bleach it or toss it in the laundry. Done.

Kitchen

  • I use microfiber dish cloth with a scrubbing mesh. Dries thoroughly when I hang it up, and it’s gentle enough that I can toss it in with my laundry, so again I don’t have to keep replacing gross sponges. There are also more sponge-looking ones available. Basically, I feel they’re way more sanitary and eco-friendly than smelly sponges.
  • I keep a stack of bleachable towels to clean up messes instead of paper towels. I just spray down a surface with a water+vinegar+essential oil mix and wipe. I also use these as napkins if needed. Once in a while I bleach them; usually I just toss them in the laundry.
  • For broken glass+liquid though, I still use paper towels.

Bathroom

  • I use one of the microfiber+scrubbing mesh cloths to wipe/scrub.
  • I clean surfaces, shower curtains, etc. with water+bleach+liquid soap solution.
  • I clean the tub with Comet. Maybe I’ll do baking soda next, but Comet works great. It’s a tub. The soap scum must be destroyed.
  • My old roommate used to use tons of Drano; I just suck it up and pull the damn hair out of the drain. It makes me gag less and less each time I do it. Then I bleach the crap out of the work area and wash my hands and face with tons of soap. Blech. Better than an ineffective drain-declogging chemical every several weeks.
  • Wet microfiber towel for the mirror every once in a while, then wipe after it with a dry microfiber towel. I just wet one end of it and then dry it with the other end. Just water and microfiber. Pretty simple. I can even use a clean one of those dish cloths, as long as it’s some kind of lint-free fabric.

There you go. The glamorous life of a wannabe-eco-friendly clean freak. Next to come is how I green the rest of my routine, because I fucking feel bad about my modern lifestyle so here’s what I do.

By the way I haven’t eaten meat in 2 days and I’m really feeling the hunger, despite eating a ton of avocado, eggs, protein shakes, cheese and apple, even a little smidgeon of pickled herring. Plus cookies and chips. Ugh this is so rough…

Tales of a lapsed vegan

It seems that I’m not alone in being a lapsed plant eater. In trying to create a food philosophy I could get behind, I’ve been struggling with how exactly to voice what makes me uncomfortable about both omnivory and vegetarianism. Marissa Landrigan wrote in Paste Magazine:

For so long, I had assumed I was maintaining a diet that caused less suffering, but my vegetarianism had blinded me to the myriad other ethical dilemmas that were a part of my eating choices. I started wondering whether not eating animals was the only, or even the best, way to make such a compassionate choice.

This was exactly my goal when I decided to started eating meat again. I wanted to move beyond boycotting a food economy whose practices I found abhorrent, and move towards supporting what I see as a burgeoning food economy recentered on small-scale, local, sustainable farming, some of which does involve raising livestock animals. I decided that, by investing in these sources of meat production, we can attempt to offset the suffering implicit in any act of eating.

And it’s not just “lapsed vegetarian” writers who struggle with the morals of eating meat: “veganish” James McWilliams (PSmag) also gets into the complexity of whether or not eating animals is ethical.

…consider the untold numbers of sentient animals killed by combines and pesticides to grow the essentials of a vegan diet—edible plants. In 2003, Oregon State agriculture scientist Steven L. Davis created a dust-up in vegan camps when he calculated that the number of small animals killed to grow plant crops was high enough to justify using more land to raise large ruminants rather than edible plants. Because overall suffering would be diminished if we ate more large ruminants, he concluded, “humans may be morally obligated to consume a diet from plant based plus pasture-forage-ruminant systems.”

The philosopher Gaverick Matheny quickly (and convincingly) took issue with Davis’ numbers. But the essential fact remained untouched: A vegan diet requires harming sentient animals. A lot of them. So we can reject Davis’ flawed calculations, as well as his claim that we should be eating large ruminants raised on pasture, but the question he forces us to consider doesn’t go away: Are there sources of meat with a suffering threshold low enough to justify reducing our consumption of plants, and thus the number of animals killed to grow plants, by eating from those sources?

When I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, a rather unbiased, un-preachy work revealing the state of modern meat production in the United States, I was flooded with emotion that I had blocked out since learning about global warming in the 3rd grade… and realizing nobody else really cared. I cared about it when I woke up in the morning, and it shaped my whole day; an adult had told me my world was gonna end but meh, there was nothing to be done about it… how could I ignore the sheer enormity of the problem of climate change? It’s obviously overwhelming to a 3rd grader to realize that the world is not going to be the same, and will likely change for the worse; on top of that, when I’d try to talk to people about it, adults and peers alike, nobody seemed to care. I started to think that maybe it WAS overhyped, maybe it wasn’t that big an issue, otherwise more people would be freaking out about it, right? It’s as if I were desperately asking an adult to do CPR on someone while the adult was walking away and saying, “look they fluttered their eyelid, they’re fine!”

I regret not having joined environmental clubs, student government, etc. I regret not working harder on communicating about these issues in a more informed, less alarmist way, so that I could feel like a more powerful entity despite my young age. But nevertheless, life DID go on, everything seemed fine, and if I were to really interact with people in a meaningful way, I had to stop bringing up climate change.

So then I read Omnivore’s Dilemma. I knew all of the facts already from discussions with people who did care about climate change, but the book hit this wonderful balance between emotional and rational arguments, facts and anecdotes. The author ate meat and therefore was able to say: “Look, this is something I care about deeply but I live my life just like you. I’m not on any moral high ground here.” It resonated with me, to not be condescended to while learning about issues I cared a lot about. Previously when other vegetarian friends would say why they’re vegetarian, I’d felt like it was a completely emotional, antisocial choice–I’d perhaps internalized much of that apathy and denial I struggled so hard against in childhood.

And despite Michael Pollan’s meat-eating habits, his book led me to question my own lifestyle for nearly a year before I too declared that I was going vegetarian. I did it to reduce my carbon footprint, to eat healthier, to stop my tacit support of factory-farmed meat.

My mom fussed over what she’d cook. Thanksgivings became difficult, even though when I passed on the turkey a cousin came out to me as a vegetarian also. My brother made me feel downright shitty about it: one time at a korean restaurant, which we tend to do family-style, he ordered meat for the whole table, and I had to fight to order just one vegetarian dish, at which he rolled his eyes and gave in so grudgingly I felt like I was choosing between family and eating habits. Vegetarian doesn’t go over well with many people.

Furthermore, I started training for a marathon. I was hungry a lot. It got to the point where I’d eat half a jar of peanut butter in one sitting, and I’d think about the resources that went into that half jar of peanut butter–raw material, packaging, transportation– and think, would one piece of chicken be all that bad compared to this?

After getting sick several times over the course of the year, I lapsed into meat-eating for a while. I tried eating meat-light but found myself having it more often than not. It felt good to feel accepted again, to be getting whole nutrition in simpler foods (no protein powders, supplements, etc.). I had more energy as well. But of course I felt conflicted about it, especially after seeing first-hand the feedlots of Kansas on my bike trip and starting grad school far away from family pressure. I gave it another shot.

I even ate predominantly vegan for about 8 months, foregoing cheese and eggs 80% of the time.

What happened then? Why do I eat meat now? A big life change was moving into Manhattan and out of the bubble of small-hippie-town life. I had a few reasons for going back to carnivory:

  1. I was hungry a lot, and left unsatisfied by my vegetarian diet. While I was struggling with mental health issues, feeling hungry definitely didn’t help stabilize my mood or breed good body image: when I’d celebrate that I was hungry, I knew that wasn’t good.
  2. I had begun doing it to try and lose weight: a veggie burger clearly has fewer calories than a bacon cheeseburger, and vegetarianism was a convenient excuse for choosing lower-calorie options. Again, not great for my mood OR my body image.
  3. New York is full of food. Even street carts have amazing food. I hated to pass up on bone broth ramen or pork soup dumplings; I wanted to try everything, and the vegetarian Smorgasburg fare was not quite enough to satisfy my curiosity. I did really miss the social and culinary experience of eating new foods, even if they contained meat.
  4. The social aspect did grate. Eventually I felt like, what’s the point really, when everyone’s eating this meat? Why not eat some myself? This is the reason I’m least proud of. It’s just my cynicism and my inability to stick by my morals.

    The culture wars are real.

  5. Those were just excuses: The issue comes down to corporate responsibility. Individual actions make me feel good, sure: I feel good every time I bring my own coffee mug and forego a coated paper or styrofoam cup when I go out for coffee, when I use reusable paper towels at home, a handkerchief instead of paper tissues, a menstrual cup and reusable pads over disposable menstrual products. But ultimately, when I walk right by the paper towel aisle in the super market, if 90 customers had just bought paper towels that day my actions are futile. If those corporations were held responsible for the end-product of the waste stream of their products, then real change could start to happen. By opting out of eating factory farmed meat while everyone else is, I’m not actually making a difference; the most I can do is support initiatives to increase government regulation of these industries. I don’t know. “Vote with your dollars” is a way to make lower- and middle-income consumers feel empowered and also guilty for their consuming habits, while corporations could drown out 10,000 of your donations with one of theirs. As Williams (again, a vegan himself) says in “Do we really vote with our forks?” about an individual’s influence on, say starting a Walmart boycott:

    Of course, there must be a numerical threshold for change. There must be a theoretical number of boycotting consumers who would, in their collective abstinence, deliver to Walmart a message loud enough for the system to adjust. But, despite the great unlikelihood of such an event, it’s simply implausible that such a massive number could be attained through the moral suasion of individual choice. Instead, something external to individual choice—such as a spike in price or a food safety scare or maybe the classification of bacon as a carcinogen—would have to drive such a comprehensive transformation.

    While deflating, the message delivered by causal impotence shouldn’t deter the vegan from giving up veganism any more than it should deter the environmentalist from trading in the Prius for a Porsche. Symbolism matters, as does the personal satisfaction of knowing that you live your life in accordance with the ideals that you espouse. Plus, lots of symbolism can sometimes inspire a movement capable of effecting change from the top down, as Naomi Starkman recently suggested. But it is simply inaccurate to quantify our impact in terms of animal lives saved. Sometimes those making personal sacrifices for a larger cause—yes, even vegans—need to find another way to think about progress.

    That is to say, individual action sadly does not matter; voting with your dollars does not matter; but symbolism does. Neither way of approaching ethical eating is more “correct”; it’s just important to keep both of these extremes, hopeful symbolism and cynicical practicality, in mind when making informed decisions.

  6. I don’t know how much I believe in consumerist elitism. The fact of the matter is that, food waste aside, factory farmed meat is cheap enough for the “masses” to afford, which is a good thing. People aren’t just getting the cheapest food they can get so that they can afford a new iPad; we genuinely benefit as a society from spending less of our money on food. Back in the day when you had to farm all your food, food expenditures pretty much took up a family’s entire paycheck. Think about what it means if we only have to spend 10% of our paychecks on food. Now, I’m aware that people in poverty continue to struggle to put dinner on the table, even in the U.S., and we have a lot of work to do to miminize this inequality, but to pine for a time where everyone produced their own food is to ignore the huge progress that these new habits of consumption represent. This comes at a cost to animals and the environment; we just need to fix the regulatory system that allows a more optimal tradeoff between cheap and ethical/sustainable food production. So who am I to say I’m above participating in this food system? Does it make me a mindless sheep if i do participate?

What to eat has been quite a big struggle on my part: to balance the fact that, now that I know what meat production for a growing world population and a modern society entails, do I believe that opting out is truly the ethical choice or is it just a feel-good tactic to keep my feelings of guilt for existing as a human on this planet at bay?

I have no answers. Only questions. All I know is that the struggle between eating meat and not eating meat poses a much more complex moral dilemma than I initially thought when I went vegetarian.

From Landrigan’s article:

“It’s easy to say ‘all life is death and suffering’ …but for me, all ethics are something I struggle with almost daily,” Malchik says. “The important thing for me is not to bury the facts behind how I live and the choices I make. Facing them is a lifelong effort.”

One thing that’s really changed: now I wish I ate vegetarian around family just to annoy my brother. Because if you’re policing others’ eating habits, I have no patience for you. Maybe that will make the social part a little MORE fun, and I will start re-introducing vegetarianism into my life from there. So, thanks big brother. I’m eating this tempeh for you.

Book review: “Butch is a Noun” by S. Bear Bergman

Upon recommendation from fellow blogger The Butch (thanks man!) I found another lovely queer book to read: Butch is a Noun (BiaN). The author, Bear, goes into all the ways ze does gender, and I can’t help but hear echoes of Stone Butch Blues, if only because both butches are products of similar societies: both are from New England Jewish roots, and both resist femininity with all their strength. Not only that, but (though SBB does this only tangentially) both books address variety within the butch community: butches who are women, butches who are transmasculine, butches who are men, butches who love other butches, and the oppression they face from within the community.

Now I feel like these books were a product of a much more heteronormative era than we are living in right now, so I don’t relate to much of it. The chivalry. The glorification of performing gender to the point of impracticality. But both books also address the need for such posturing, stemming from the the external pressures to be a certain way all the time, to be consistent in one’s gender, to be always reinforcing gender roles even while defying them.

SBB talks mostly about being one kind of butch, about the pain of existing in an era where norms were violently enforced by the police, about fighting for civil rights and workers’ rights and the struggles of the working class. It was about how civil rights, for workers and for LGBT people, were sometimes one and the same. It was about all these things, and Leslie’s personal identity underwent very little questioning or change. Ze was a butch through and through, refusing dresses, dating femmes, working manual labor jobs. And ze was repeatedly forced to fight for and justify zir existence.

BiaN is about a slightly different life. Bear alludes to rough and even violent experiences, but with the help of hir family and butch brotherhood, she is fortunate enough to write a book that focuses more on the positive aspects of butchness. Absent are the bar raids and police rapes in SBB. Butchness has evolved. Ze alludes to ever-present violence, to butches hardening up as they get older, to the stress of daily interactions; but by and large ze focuses hir writing on the glorification of masculinity, of femininity, of butch/femme dynamics, of a romantic dynamic so often underrepresented in the media.

I will say I still don’t identify with the book’s old-school gender dynamics. Back when I was dating men, wearing dresses and wearing my hair long, I still didn’t find it necessary for people to open car doors for me, to protect me from mud, to carry my groceries, pay for dinner. It made me angry. I learned later to be grateful, to not assume the worst of the male/butch party in these situations, and to just say thank you and slip into the car seat with a smile. But my dad never did any of that stuff for my mom, she didn’t seek it, and we never discussed it: those gender dynamics feel stilted and uncomfortable. So to find a whole queer subculture glorifying these gender dynamics felt surprising to me. And that’s when I realized some people LIKE being treated this way.

Maybe I’m too much a product of my upbringing. My parents are about the same height; my dad is marginally stronger than my mom; they both worked for comparable salaries their whole lives. There was no butch/femme at home. My mom is capable and active and doesn’t wear makeup; my dad does not peacock his masculinity. So for me, the model for masculinity and the model for femininity are hardly different. Maybe I’d have felt differently in a more gender-divergent household. But then I look at my brothers, so comfortable in their masculinity, and I realize we all have multiple influences shaping our gender experiences. But I was always closer to my parents than my brothers were; it’s inevitable that their gender dynamic would play a role in shaping my own experience.

Or maybe it’s because I generally fit into femininity when I want to, and as a result never had to assert my identity as otherwise; Feinberg and Bergman certainly faced much more othering as children, and as a result, discovering who they were rather than who they weren’t created in their butch identity a sense of pride that is freshly asserted every time they interact with the world as a masculine creature. In their time, I would have been a “femme”.

But as far as masculine-feminine goes, and this is something I just never ever related to, both books portray romance between masculine and feminine as this electric dynamic, that being your partner’s opposite was very much a desirable thing, whereas I always struggled with that in romance. The thing about this is that Bear is in fact married to a man. Ze alludes to being a butch who likes other butches, boys, men, masculine humans of various identities, at the beginning… and then waxes poetic about femmes for page upon page, and then squeezing in a few pages about butch-on-butch. To have a feminist masculine writer talk about femmes with such admiration and respect is wonderful and enjoyable to read, for sure; but the balance of butch/femme and butch/butch was skewed heavily toward the former. I’d been looking forward to some more discussion about butch/butch as a complementary presence to the butch/femme, but there was little besides the chapter calling Bear out on the unequal attention to the two dynamics. I eventually started skimming over the parts that were painting flowery word-pictures about butch masculinity and femme femininity because there was so much of it there; almost as if the book itself was conforming. Nevertheless, this is a personal gripe, and it was all very well-done.

Aside from not identifying with their perception of gender dynamics, both Feinberg and Bergman are from New England Jewish upbringings. I didn’t completely identify with Feinberg though because of her working class roots; I was unquestioningly going to college and they forbade me from doing menial summer jobs because we didn’t need the money (though I wanted to because I wanted to feel needed and I was ashamed that I had privilege). Feinberg’s descriptions of factory work and the need for unions and union politics was completely new and eye opening for me. But I thought I’d have more in common with Bergman, because Boston-area judaism has a kind of commonality. It turns out that her family’s synagogue-going habits (vs. my family’s lack thereof) and her family’s gender dynamics and her mother’s pressure on her to perm her hair and wear makeup… these are not things I can relate to at all. Her family sounded wealthier than mine, and indeed in my hometown there was a great divide between us first-generation Israeli kids and the rest of the jewish kids, as well as a divide between the upper-class jewish kids and the middle-class jewish kids. There were many differences that came up yet again in BiaN.

I think more than anything BiaN made me realize how much heterogeneity there is even within that community; my identity as a Boston-area jew intersects with my first-generational status and my middle-class suburban status and, of course, my femme-ish status.

Tl;dr: Reading books about experiences other than one’s own is incredibly eye opening. I found Butch is a Noun to be a wonderful read to follow Stone Butch Blues. The two books are complementary pictures of female-assigned masculinity. I’d love to pick up a book about femme-ness next, or some other female-assigned masculinity besides butchness, to see the queer world through a fresh set of eyes that have seen their own unique challenges. Right now, I give this book a solid thumbs up.