WED 2013 : Learning To Finish That Meal…

WED 2013 - Raxa Collective

On June 5, we’ll celebrate World Environment Day. This year UNEP focuses on Food waste/Food Loss. At Raxa Collective we’ll be carrying out actions and sharing experience and ideas. Come and join us with your tips to preserve foods, preserve resources and preserve our planet.

As a child, I was always told to finish eating my meals because there were starving children in poor and faraway lands that would gladly trade places with me.  I could not exactly picture what that meant, and the rebelious part of me always wanted to stick a postage stamp on my plate and send it to these children.  No one who grew up with such abundance, I think, could trade the fresh memory of a full meal for a clear picture of hunger.

Being from Texas (and proud of it, so don’t mess with that), with its long “bigger and better” history and wonderful mythology of abundance and its can-do certainty, I did not “get it”.  Now, the hazy memories of those dinners and parental wisdom are coming into perspective with my ability to follow and understand news from around the world.

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“Suzuki, Samurai, No Problem”

I frantically grabbed the phone and dialed the front desk.  I hastily told the night auditor of my situation and begged him to send help.  Within minutes, not one but two maintenance men were at the entry path leading to my room to redirect the furry night creature that (in my imagination, at least) seemed intent on spending the night too close for my comfort.  A few minutes later “it” had exited back to the forest, and I had met three new members of Cardamom County, one of whom managed to gain my trust through a single phone call: Faruk.

He works the night shift at Cardamom County and is quite a remarkable person.  This gentleman is oft my unfortunate sounding board when I can’t sleep or arise before the rooster crows (a reality next to the beautifully quaint farm here).  He was manning the reception desk after my enlightening night visit to the kitchen.  When I wrote about meeting Jimmy he said if I ever were to write about him I should use him as an example of night shift mishaps, laziness, or incompetency.  I didn’t think much of his suggestion at the time, but in hindsight, I scoff at the thought of doing such a thing; Faruk is likely the furthest thing from the aforementioned negativity. Continue reading

A Day Without Shoes

Over dinner one night, I revealed to a few of my fellow interns my fear of feet, specifically adult feet.  We established that I may have podophobia: an irrational fear of feet.  You may think that I should consider taking a quick course in dinner convo dos and don’ts, or consider seeking psychiatric help; however, I guess I feel I have bigger fish to fry than to try to acquit myself of this fear.  We discussed other phobias and how many people overcome theirs by simply “facing” them.  I certainly am not at a place in my life to face my peculiar fear, but I am happy to say that a trip the following day to Meenashki Amman Temple helped me take one step (well, many steps really) towards defeating podophobia.

This beautiful Hindu temple is located in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India, and devoted to Meenashki, an avatar of Parvati, one of the few female Hindu deities to have a major temple named for her.  Before entering the temple, visitors must remove both socks and shoes to be held outside.  Thousands of devotees and tourists visit this temple daily, and from the lines of barefoot men, women, and children, I and my fellow interns seemed to be visiting on a busy day.  I must admit: at first, I was not keen on sauntering around where so many people have trod, and for some time I tip-toed around to minimize my foot-to-ground contact.  Though, with each step against the granite flooring, my focus shifted to the detailed sculptures and the passionate faces of those around me. Continue reading

Eye Heard You

Lately, I have been noticing how much I rely on and draw value from eye contact.  Maybe due to my weak hearing I tend to evaluate my conversations by observing others’ body language, specifically eye contact and supporting facial reactions.  I am surprised to find that I can accumulate a range of feelings simply from looking at these small features; I can be made to feel entirely stupid, worthless, and a time wasted, or I can feel encouraged, wise, and joyful to share my thoughts.  I guess this can support the old phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  The manner in which I maintain eye contact matters and can convey much more than the words I am speaking.  It makes me wonder how my message would be perceived if only my eyes were seen and my words were heard.

Before my mind over-evaluates this communication feature, I pause to promise myself to be mindful to the conversation my eyes and other facial features are having with someone instead of only that of my words.  I know according to Eleanor Roosevelt that I can only make someone feel inferior or poorly if he/she allows me that crude act.  However, I never want to put someone in a position to be made to feel negatively by my actions, both in words and other supporting communication.  So, in the words of John Sinclair, “The eyes of Texas are upon you,” and will, to the most often and to the best of their ability, be encouraging others to reach their great potential.

Not A Creature Was Stirring…Or So I Thought

Like many people that can’t sleep at two o’clock in the morning, I let my nose lead me into the kitchen.  In the wee morning hours, I was surprised to find one, lone and hardworking chef, Jimmy, preparing the morning’s breakfast buffet.  I was drawn to the beverage station where I stood aghast, hoping my drip coffee machine would appear.  As I looked pained with an overwhelming desire for caffeine, Jimmy’s hospitality ensued.  He lowered the heat to his Aloo Bhaji, grabbed a saucepan, and began making me some coffee the “old fashioned” way with only a pot, water, ground coffee, and a sieve.

With my fuel source performing caffeinated magic, I observed his hard work ethic, learned how to make Kozhukattai, and had good conversations despite my poor and minimum Malayalam and his frequent inability to understand my East Texas “twangy” accent.  I was filled with respect when I found he alone prepared the delicious breakfast for the guests of the retreat.  I grew greater appreciation for my Wusthof knives; and, once again, I was, and continue to be, awed and inspired by the hospitality and giving character of the people I’ve met in Kerala.

Rarely do I find such great rewards for sleepless nights, but this night I found gold.  I’m thankful and I “remove my hat” to Jimmy of the Allspice Restaurant.  It’s people like these in this culture that increase my fondness for this state of India and strengthen my wish to stay or repeatedly return.

Reflections in the Rain

The song of the rain washes over me.  It soothes my soul and calms my buzzing thoughts.  Never would I have imagined forming a sense of respect and admiration for this wet, and often noted, overwhelming natural phenomenon.  Yet, the monsoon rains of Kerala are magically revitalizing, relieving, and so much more.

Like blessings the droplets fall on my skin, awakening my soul from its lazy trance.  I am increasingly able to understand how artists find it inspiring, how birds find it song-worthy.  I am as thankful as the parched earth that I relinquished many of my hesitations towards the rain; my mind is open and ready for more.

When the rain ceases and the sky reveals the sun’s rays, it is a rainbow I hope to see.  I find its colors in the cheerful tunes of the birds, the slow rustle of the leaves, and the intermittent chirps of the emerging insects.  These few, along with many other, “colors” create a reflection of hope in the puddles of my mind.

As my days increase, I do not expect my puddles of misunderstanding, disbelief, or hesitation to completely dissipate.  I only desire that, like I have with the rain, I am able to find positive and inspiring reflections within them.

Being Full of It: A Meaningful Word

Since arriving in Kerala, I have been greeted many ways.  I have exchanged many smiles and hellos, and I have been veiled with jasmine garland and pressed with traditional dika.  However, the greeting I find most profound lies in a single word: Namaskaram.

Two people, worlds apart, meet with this word.  Each of their hands draws together in a prayerful pose in the nest of their individual chests.  With a bow of their heads, they utter, “Namaskaram.”  At first, it seemed like a simple interaction, yet when I asked the native people for the meaning, I learned that it has a much deeper connotation.

A signal of respect.  A promise of hospitality.  A notion of putting aside one’s ego.  All of these meanings are understood with Namaskaram.  I witness and experience them with nearly every interaction among the people here at Cardamom County, but the latter meaning, putting aside one’s ego, has struck a powerful chord in me. Continue reading

Plan B

My past posts reveal my desire to be directly involved with sustainable farming.  I plan and hope to achieve this, but as both the global population and the demand for land, space, and food rise, I recognize that being flexible with this dream may minimize any potential disappointment.  Comparatively, as much as I seem to “fly by the seat of my pants,” I like to plan.  I come close to peace when I at least have some general structure to my life.  So with this in mind, I began to brainstorm back-up plans to having my own farm.

In this search and planning excursion, I read an article and learned of vertical farming.  Dickson Despommier of Columbia University and his students researched this urban farming phenomenon and hypothesized that such projects could solve our global food insecurity problems.

I am unsure of its feasibility, but in my characteristic optimism, I believe it has potential.  Continue reading

Optimism and Opportunity

Many of my posts reflect my outlook to err on the upside of life’s circumstances.  I try to drown out my inner (and often powerful) pessimism by surrounding myself with positivity and optimism.  I find that this is a careful balance of being hopeful while remaining realistic.  Today, when I was taking a break from my coursework, or the slightly negative part of my day, I watched an encouraging Ted Talk that I think demonstrates hopeful realism.

Johan Rockstrom suggests that the earth is at a point where major transformation must occur.  He optimistically recommends that we use and continue to use crises as opportunities and local initiatives to transform and sustain life.  Also, he makes a realistic statement that climate change is not our biggest problem only a symptom of our land use.

I found this talk engaging and thought-provoking.  I agree that I transformation is soon to happen and I look forward to being a part of it.

Needing Mr. Miyagi

Anyone who has ever been to ski slopes may have experienced small, pint-sized, infant skiers buzzing down the hills.  As a veteran skier of 18-years, I proudly proclaim that I was once one of these daring children.  However, I learned this past weekend that through the years I have lost this fearlessness when I was challenged to try snowboarding.  I would love to boast that my first run was very similar to this video, but the aching of my entire body keeps me truthful as if to say, “Ha!  You wish, Meg!”

Several times I met the side of the mountain and regardless of the many parts of my body that hit, the solid surface was resilient to my attacks; in fact, the bruises that continue to surface would argue that it fought back with increasing firmness.  The absence of soft, powdery snow brought my awareness to this season’s lack of typical winter weather, and it drew my attention to the resort’s snow-making cannons.  Continue reading

Positively Happy

My high school chemistry teacher always said, “Don’t be negative; be positive.  Multiply the love and divide the hate,” while she used her hands and fingers to represent each mathematical symbol.  This phrase would surface in my memory occasionally, but I must admit I rarely took it to heart.  However, I was preparing for a presentation about affirmations when I stumbled across a Ted Talk that affirmed this old saying.

I found this short speech relatable, funny, and surprisingly thought-provoking.

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Confidence in Dreams

It has been a struggle to pick topics to write about for the past several weeks, and in my innate pursuit of perfectionism I became wrought with indecision.  I could write about sustainable facilities design; I could uncover the truth about many LEED-certified buildings; I could even write about the ecology-based dormitory where I am writing this now.  But among these various topics, I could not find one that I felt “good enough” to write about at this time.  So to dissolve some of my indecision, I chose to reveal some of my mind’s musings, many of which the perfectionist side of me deems crazy, but day-by-day I am learning to embrace.

Each morning, I wake to the sound of my alarm clock and the chime of my smartphone being flooded with emails.  A month ago I thought nothing of this activity, but lately I have found it unnerving.  The annoyance I am feeling developed over my winter break. Continue reading

Strengthening Helpers’ High

Lately, I have been pondering altruism, one’s unselfish devotion to the well-being of others often without regard to personal well-being.  I admit I am befuddled by the concept.  It challenges theories of evolution and even caused Charles Darwin to question his own theory of natural selection—how could these acts of self-sacrifice exist in a world full of the fittest habitants, that possess only an incentive to survive and reproduce?   Regardless, I find it very encouraging to witness such selfless behaviors from my fellow mankind.    This behavior takes many forms in many aspects at many different times.

For instance, I reflect on the aftermath of September 11, 2001.  This date was one of the earliest times in my life when I acknowledged altruism’s existence.  I remember people gathering in tribute to the dead, celebrities organizing benefit concerts to raise money, and yellow ribbons streaming across nearly every home and shirt lapel signifying compassion for lost lives.  After Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast, citizens all over the nation offered their support; my family even opened our home to refugees for a few weeks.  Similarly, this year’s September flooding of the southern tier of New York and the recent damaging snow storms of the East Coast have brought out the kindness and generosity of neighbors.  From the Flight 93 passengers to storm rescuers, altruism spurs many questions: Why are some people willing to help even at their own expense?  Why do some feel the urge to help more strongly than others?  Can altruism be learned or is it innate? Continue reading

An Abundant Life

I recently read an essay in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Living to 100 and Beyond.”  As I read about the technology that is rapidly increasing human longevity, the movie Death Becomes Her began replaying in my mind.  I imagined myself following in Meryl Streep’s and Goldie Hawn’s footsteps and taking some magic potion that makes me immortal.  However, instead of the body deteriorating with age like the Streep and Hawn rivalry, advances in modern technology will likely not only increase life span but also health spans.   Living for centuries may seem appealing on the surface, but we should consider the overall effects of a longer life.

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Daily Thanksgiving Banquet

In 1621, Plymouth colonists and Native Americans gathered for an autumn harvest feast that set the precedent for today’s American Thanksgiving holiday.  Thanksgiving traditionally brings families together (in-laws and all) to give thanks to the various aspects of their lives.  Many memories are created and a cornucopia of food is shared.  In my family, the holiday lingers until only the turkey carcass remains and the stuffing is amply stuffed into our bellies…a week later.  See, we tend to err on the side of caution and over-prepare for the rare event that an extra ten people arrive to celebrate.

In one sense, Thanksgiving occurs every day in many restaurants—they over-prepare; however, restaurants are without the willing and unashamed stomachs of my family to eat their daily surpluses of food.  As I mentioned in my previous post, much of this perfectly edible food goes to a landfill.  Yet, food shelters are often unable to match their supply with their ever-increasing demand.

Increasingly, restaurants are turning to local Harvest Programs to provide an alternative to discarding surplus food.  With food donation programs, restaurants and other food service businesses have the opportunity to reach more than just their customers.  Programs provide social, environmental, and economic benefits to businesses.

Donating helps disadvantaged members of any community.  A Hunger in America study shows that one in eight American families rely on donated food. This outreach helps employees contribute to a greater good knowing that they are helping members of their community.  It also helps food pantries better match their supply and demand so restaurants can serve more than just the traditional customer. Continue reading

Building Blocks of Opportunity

The wooden block is probably one of the simplest and most played with toys.  However, this iconic block did something unexpected: it has been promoted amongst the complex toys of this generation and sure to last for many generations.  With a little entrepreneurial conservation, Tegu has created a block that surpasses most expectations of a toy.  It is educational and stimulates children’s creativity and unscripted play (as I mentioned in one of my previous posts), is heirloom quality, helps the planet and its citizens, and is so much fun that adults sneak off and play with them.

Tegu’s magnetic blocks are built to leave a legacy.  They are complex, yet they don’t require any batteries or instruction manuals, just an imagination.  The uniqueness of this toy is not just the functional (and inaccessible to children) magnet, but the series of events that follow each block purchase, called the Tegu Effect.  Tegu gives every buyer the choice to either donate dozens of trees or donate schooldays for Honduran children.  But it is not only the environment and children that benefit; as Tegu grows, the company creates living wage jobs for the Honduran factory workers, and with 65% of the population living currently below the poverty line Tegu offers the people a great opportunity. Continue reading

They’re Real, Not Plastic

Earlier this year I would have thought blogging about plastic bags would be boring and quite redundant.  I have heard and read of the dire effects plastic bags have on the environment countless times.  And I am well versed in the “green tips” of bringing my own bag that are so prevalent.  Intellectually, I realize that plastic bags…well, suck.

I heard the implications and I pride myself to be eco-savvy yet I still would often be caught red-handed with those pesky plastic bags on a few desperate occasions. Continue reading

Back to Nature

I was recently walking around in a neighborhood park, and I saw birds splashing in a pool of water.  I watched a pair of squirrels play tag up and down a large oak tree, and I admired an elderly couple walking hand-in-hand in a flower garden.  Then, I heard a car door slam and my eyes beheld children entering the park hardly lifting their gaze from their electronic devices as debris flew from their car.  As I raced to retrieve and dispose of the litter, my mind quickly volunteered pieces of itself to give to them and their parents.  How could this world’s future generation be so oblivious to the natural environment?  And especially when global climate issues are so prevalent? Continue reading

The Organic Solution

When rain seems like only a dream, taps are turned and water begins to flow from sprinklers onto family lawns across the U.S.  In many areas, water has not been given the value it deserves making this precious resource easy to take for granted.  As the global population and industrialization and urbanization increase, the rising demand for water will only cause more harm to the environment.

The UN estimates by 2025, a combined population of 2.8 billion people across the world will face freshwater drought or “scarcity,” and according to water.org, about 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals go to irrigated agriculture; with these statistics, turning the water tap on to quench the backyard will soon no longer be an option.

Water is important to just about every natural phenomenon and artificial activity.  The more I think about water the more I realize the countless times I use it throughout my day.  I mean it is my drink of choice…and the main ingredient of many other favorites.

So, as water conservation becomes increasingly more urgent, I began to research some efforts geared to the alleviation of the largest use of freshwater—agriculture.  The media is saturated with advertisements of drought-resistant and other GMo and hybrid plants.  And in response to the ever-changing climate, chemical-producing companies are racing to release the first species of drought-tolerant corn.  They claim these genetically modified and hybrid plants may be the answer to a potential food crisis, but they also seem to have an ulterior motive of extorting millions of already economically drained farmers.

While these developing drought-tolerant plants may be one aspect of reducing the stress of water conservation, another solution has already been proven and researched that farmers can do instantly without paying for special seeds from these mega producers. Continue reading

The Power of Clean

What happens to those little bars of soap in many hotel rooms?  Specifically, what occurs after a guest opens a carefully packaged bar and uses it?  Most guests often do not use all of it.  Some wrap it back up and take it; most leave it for housekeeping.  I have mostly seen the latter; and having some experience in housekeeping operations now, I am shocked at the amount of amenities that are thrown to overflowing landfills every day.  However, my anxiety about this abundance of waste was reduced slightly when I stumbled upon a small, not for profit organization, Clean the World Foundation, Inc., that collects these gently used bars of soap and recycles them to distribute amongst several developing countries and underprivileged communities.

According to Clean the World, millions of pounds of soaps are discarded each day in North America.  These bars not only get wasted and take up space in an overflowing landfill, but they also contribute to groundwater contamination.  Continue reading