Life Without Toiletpaper - Bum Deal?
How far would you go to save the world?
Upon reading the New York Times article about the Beaven-Conlin household in Manhattan, I started to get a little queasy. The article delves a bit into the lives of a couple and their young daughter, yuppies who live affluent lives in New York City. They've taken the idea behind The Compact, and then taken it a LOT farther. They are trying to live for one year with absolute minimal impact on the environment.
Their toddler wears organic cotton diapers. The family eats all organic food, grown within a 250-mile radius of the city. They bake their own bread, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and don't buy much outside of groceries.
That sounds responsible, right? Then it gets better. They don't use toilet paper (the details of how they avoid this are not pretty, and no, they did not have the good sense to invest in a bidet). They compost INSIDE their apartment. They use no spices but have made an exception for salt, which they apparently think of as an indulgence in baking rather than something that humans need in order to survive.
I think that the idea behind what the Beaven-Conlin family is trying is wonderful. And even though we all agree that we should use less, buy less, and pollute less, how many of us really do much of anything to accomplish this?
The dishwasher is off, along with the microwave, the coffee machine and the food processor. Planes, trains, automobiles and that elevator are out, but the family is still doing laundry in the washing machines in the basement of the building. And they have not had the heart to take away the vacuum from their cleaning lady, who comes weekly (this week they took away her paper towels).
I consider myself an environmentalist, but I just ate a sandwich out of a styrofoam container and then threw it away, because you can't recycle styrofoam in Seattle and I got tired of hauling bags of it to my parents' place across the mountains for recycling.
I drive 20 miles to work, because my job is located quite far from the job that I had when I bought my home (telecommuting is not an option with this firm, and taking the bus would take me close to 2.5 hours each way). If there is anyone who eats food grown farther from where they live, I don't know who it could be. I have a ridiculous appetite for tropical fruit and exotic spices.
In the NY Times article, Colin Beaven states that the experiment that his family is trying is "also very urban. It’s a critical twist in the old wilderness adage: Leave only footprints, take only photographs. But how do you translate that into Manhattan?"
Well, I'd argue that that's easier in Manhattan than a lot of other places. Because Manhattan is rife with foodies, you can find farmers markets open year-round. You can buy organic milk in reusable glass bottles. There aren't many places in the five boroughs that you can't walk or bike to. I used to live in Brooklyn and work in Chelsea, and I would walk from dinner with friends in Midtown back home. It took a while (and wasn't always voluntary; sometimes I'd run out of money and not be able to get subway fair), but it was very doable. Come to think of it, I never went to Staten Island, so maybe you can't get there by bike or on foot.
People who live outside of large metropolitan areas with stellar public transportation (you know, normal people who can't afford huge apartments, or even studios, in swanky downtown areas) don't have the luxury of riding their Razor scooters to work. Not only would that be impossible, but they'd probably get their butts kicked by their work buddies. Hell, my neighbors are very swishy, and I think they'd probably call me a sissy if I broke out a Razor scooter and started scooting around Seattle.
Now, the No Impact Family is not saying that everyone else has to live like this, and they are obviously trying it as an experiment. I think these kinds of revolutionary try-it-and-see experiments are brilliant, and I certainly applaud their efforts, even if I think the lifestyle might be too extreme for many of us (I am NOT making my own vinegar, thank you).
Also, I think some of the moves are a little odd. For instance, Ms. Conlin takes her lunch to work every day in a mason jar.
A mason jar.
What's wrong with Tupperware? Yes, it's plastic, but it's not like you throw it out. A mason jar is heavy and awkward and breakable. I love using mason jars for preserves and pickles, but it's not up there on my list of potential lunchboxes. Why stop at a mason jar? Why not just put your lunch in a soapstone box that you carved yourself and tie it up in leather than you tanned out of from Central Park squirrel hides? Think of the shoulder muscles you'd develop!
Also, she gave up coffee. Well, that's just plain sick. I mean, if you don't want to go to Starbucks or even an independent coffeshop every day, that's fine. But there's nothing wrong with a French press. It's French! The French love suffering (or is that Russians?), so it totally fits in with the lifestyle.
There was a telling little bit of the story that got me thinking, though:
Ms. Conlin... did describe, in loving detail, a serious shopping binge that predated No Impact and made the whole thing doable, she said. “It was my last hurrah,” she explained. It included two pairs of calf-high Chloe boots (one of which was paid for, she said, with her mother’s bingo winnings) and added up to two weeks’ salary, after taxes and her 401(k) contribution.
What? You know, maybe these people really need to try this. I don't know how much Conlin makes at Business Week, because she could be an intern, but I'm guessing from her apartment location and her good taste in boots that that was pretty much a $3000 shopping spree. That's a guess, yes, but still. Two weeks salary? Doesn't something like that sort of defeat the purpose of no impact living?
Perhaps I'm being too touchy on the subject because I realize that if I used one-tenth of the discipline that this family is showing, I could make a major impact on my life, but by golly, I hate the stairs.
And bidets are really, really pricey.