Happy camping can pay the rent

“Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness”

John Ruskin

The overwhelming assumption from everyone that you know is that you are committed to owning the most and very best material goods that you can afford.  There are two reactions from people who discover you are ‘off programme’. A small group of people get it. They will commend you.  They will admit to a level of dissatisfaction with the way of the world and with their own life and they will seek advice on which websites and books to read. This is a smaller group.

My mother is in the second camp. The main street mainstream camp.

My mother told me ‘Dear you are not supposed to be happy. Work is work. It pays the rent. You just need to suck it up so that you can provide all the things your family needs’.

My mother taught me a lot. Like how to choose a good bottle of wine and how to stay out of jail, but on this advice she is dead wrong.

We are supposed to be happy.

By decoupling living and earning we are attempting to live a life with greater potential for every minute happiness.

We have chosen meaning over money.

We are happy.

It is the right choice for us.

Seduced by the technology of the middlemen

“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list”

Jon Stewart

The internet is a useful tool, but it is stealing lives across developed nations. When we die at 45 from cardiac complications will we count our life achievements as stumbling the interweb, clocking Halo 3 and eating copious amounts of potato chips or will we reflect on a life wasted? Will the life that flashes before our eyes be a rush of computer pixels or will there be real people, real experiences – pain, sadness, joy, fear and bliss?

Perhaps the silliest thing about the web is how freely we are allowing the technology of the middleman to commodify our pleasure, our boredom and our communications with our friends and family. Instead of writing letters or visiting people we are slouched in our lounge paying Skype bills and buying apology gifts on Amazon. We don’t talk to the pizza artisan in the village. Instead we order a pie from a faceless corporate pizza page.

A letter is exciting and includes a chat with the postman whereas an email is as bland and sterile as human interaction can get.

There is a balance to be had between benefit and forfeit. When the forfeit of real life exceeds the true benefit of our screen time we need to actively reset the balance.

Life is beautiful. Don’t let your monitor block your view of it.

Nothing is as it appears anymore

Do not be misled by what you see around you, or be influenced by what you see. You live in a world which is a playground of illusion, full of false paths, false values and false ideals. But you are not part of that world”
Sai Baba 

Life has become like one of those old cowboy movies. The posse has high tailed it out of town after the bandit. You decide to stroll down an alley off the main street. Just 5 steps reveal that you are not in an old west town. You are in a stage set that is made to look like an old town. Upon closer inspection the street is made out of cardboard. It’s not real, but seconds before it was totally convincing in its appearance.

Many things in our life are like the old west stage set.

Bread is a great example.

When I buy bread from the shop or the supermarket (hopefully not) I expected that I am buying bread. I believed that I knew what bread is. How it is made. What ingredients are used and so on. Sadly it turns out that I did not know.

Bread is no longer bread like the bread that we baked and survived upon for 5000 years. In 1961 scientists invented Chorleywood. A cheaper, longer life bread like replica. It looks like bread, but it is really nothing like bread except in appearance. It is not nutritious. It is what Michael Pollan would call ‘a food like substance’.

Our response is to go back to basics and learn how to bake for ourselves.

Another example is ground beef. Pathologists have recently studied what is in a burger patty. Shockingly for carnivores only 2% to a maximum of 14% meat was detected. That means you’re not eating burger. What you are eating now is a hormones, parasite, steroid, filler and pink slime (ammonium hydroxide) patty. Ammonium is being added to kill the fatal levels of e.coli and neutralise the faecal matter that is present in that tiny bit of beef in that patty. Trouble is ammonium really isn’t that great a thing to eat. It begs the questions – why are companies serving up bleach patties instead of beef patties?

Farmers used to solve the e.coli problem by taking their stock to a fresh green field with plenty of space for all the animals. E.coli would be gone in a couple of days as the cows feed on the fresh pasture land. Now it is cheaper just to drown beef in chemicals, keep them knee deep in their own feces in a crowded pen and then try to use chemicals to cover up.

Our response is not to eat beef or any meat whatsoever, but if we did eat meat we’d keep our own hens, pigs and perhaps some other animals. Bring back husbandry!

An apple is no longer an apple. We have grown accustomed to our fruit being perfect, large, uniform, and somewhat tasteless. Through this cloning and highly pesticide intensive production processes of industrialised horticulture our fruit genes have become weak. The apples we see are manufactured to look exactly like apples. They are the appearance of an apple, but they are not a real apple.  As a result of selective breeding and cloning of fruit many wild fruit genes are in decline and many others have already been lost from this planet. This is our food. We need this genetic diversity in our seed stocks.

There is no comparison between an apple that you grow in your yard and one that you have bought from the supermarket. Your fruit will be smaller, oddly shaped, pitted from the weather, but in terms of taste and healthfulness it will be unbeatable. Becoming a gardener takes you on a journey to realise that store bought produce is mostly rubbish.

Illusions are not confined to our food either. We are undergoing this transformation toward superficiality ourselves. Consider the body builder that looks to be the epitome of health, but who is raked with pain, smokes heavily, and has precursors of skin cancer from tanning. A healthy appearance, but generally a very unhealthy individual. And what of the beauty queen who is one part collagen, two parts silicon and more than a dash of plastic surgery?

Nothing is as it appears anymore. Best not fall into the same trap as us and assume you know what things are or how they are made. The men in lab coats would prefer that we didn’t ask. Their friends in marketing work very hard to keep the curtain closed, but for the sake of our health and this planet we need to understand what they are doing backstage.

Once you have tasted a real apple, or eaten real bread or met a truly vibrant, healthy person it can make it very hard to settle for the impostor.

The urban saboteur

“The grey city and its lost heart forces its way between myself and my healing”

Jeanette Winterson

Our cities are so grey and ugly. It can make for depressive living. There is nothing worse than a functional, but ugly new bridge or a ghastly new road rolling over land that was once park or pasture.  I often wonder who is making some of this stuff. Are they depressed? Why are they making our cities cold and grey – like their husbands or wives? Where is the beauty and colour in the world?

My response is the anarchistic one of the urban saboteur. I bomb the city with colour, but not graffiti. My bomb of choice is the seed bomb.

A seed bomb can be thrown on the ground anywhere. You do not need to plant them into the soil.  They will simply  germinate once the bomb becomes wet.

To make your own seed bombs, and bring some edible landscaping to your town, just get some seeds (wild flowers, chillis, spinach whatever is ready to plant) and wrap them up in red potters clay. The clay will protect the seeds from birds and as it becomes moist the seed will sprout out of the clay and root into the soil below.

It is really neat to see your beans and peas sprouting in the road reserve or amazingly in the middle of a pot hole in the sidewalk.

A few other things that you can do to naturize your city are:

  • make submissions to your city or Councillors for more green space
  • encourage your planning authority to consider design aesthetics as well as function in new infrastructure projects (there are tourism benefits for beautiful cities)
  • start and manage a community garden
  • build or maintain urban trails
  • become a friend of a stream or a reserve. Clean out the litter and replant with lovely native bush (at night when parks and gardens staff aren’t looking)
  • dig up your front lawn and plant vegetables (I really hate lawn. It is just such a waste of useful land!).

Ever since becoming an urban saboteur the image I harbour is of a group of drunken kids feasting out on one of my stealthy black boy peach trees at 1 in the morning instead of satisfying their muchies at McDonalds or KFC.  I also think people must get a kick when they notice Sliverbeet, Corn or Kale growing in the middle of the main road roundabout.

Once you seed bomb for the first time you will always be a saboteur. 

There is an urban anarchist in all of us.

The kindly cobbler’s advice…

“Shoes are the first adult machines we are given to master”
Nicholson Baker

It is finally time to replace my business shoes. There are now more holes than soles. Still I took them to my cobbler a kindly old chap just in case. He put one hand on my shoulder and broke the news that they were finished.

While he continued with his work we discussed the state of the modern shoe and I couldn’t help but translate our conversation to society as a whole.  My cobbler, lets call him George for arguments sake and also because that is his name, reminisced that when he first picked up the tools of  the trade business was very good.

As a younger man shoes were made by hand. It was a matter of personal integrity for each shoe maker that their shoes could trod many a mile without complaint from the occupant. The cost to produce a fine pair of handmade shoes was such that people were inclined to have their older shoes repaired rather than toss them to landfill. However, over George’s lifetime shoes became the product of the machine. After which the costs and quality fell sharply. In my own case the cost to repair my only pair of business shoes was roughly 90% of the re-purchase price. I had achieved less than two years of wear, which according to George was about 5 times shorter than half decent shoes should last.

“They are made fast and cheap, to be thrown away and replaced as early as possible” he said.

We talked about a range of things that afternoon. At one point I volunteered to come in for half a day a week to learn the trade. A mutually beneficial arrangement I thought as I would learn skills while he gained labour without any requirement to pay for it.

“Wouldn’t trouble yourself” was his reply.

I pressed for a reason which sadly was that in his professional opinion that the cobbler was a near dead trade. He also factored that he had too little to keep himself occupied least he suffer from the boredom of sitting in his small shop with nothing much to do. As we parted company he told me that all in all he’d enjoyed his vocation, but he did wish things had gone differently over the last ‘wee while’. Then he politely shooed me from his shop wished me luck with my shopping, locked the door and went off in search of a date scone for afternoon tea.

The physicality of simple living

“Drink water. Sweat. Eat well. Be happy”

Graffiti on a wall

A simple solution is elegant. It is very enjoyable to figure out a shortcut or a simpler way to do something.

Fools take simple ideas and make them complex. Intelligence is taking complex material and making it simple and accessible to everyone.

We are always looking for simpler, cleaner and easier ways to do things. Sometimes we realise that the simplest solution is just to eliminate the something from our lives completely.

It is not very often that we revert to a more complicated process after trialing the simpler one. In fact we have gained much more in our lives by taking away than we ever gained through addition.

We try to cook simple meals based around low cost groceries or produce that we have grown. Each time we cook we make enough so that we don’t have to cook the next night. We have de-cluttered our kitchen and removed many appliances.

Our laundry routine is very simple. We re-wear clothes until they need to be washed. When they are to be washed we put them into a wicker basket in the laundry. Once the basket is full we wash it in cold water. We line dry the clothes then fold them and put them away. It can only become simpler when we forfeit the electric washing machine.

This highlights a trend in our household where simpler for us involves turning back to simple reliable tools and methods that have been part of the wisdom of the village for a millennium.  In one way our life is not simpler though. Virtually all of the low-tech living techniques are less convenient. This requires us to employ ourselves physically instead of flicking over a switch on the machine and walking away.  Some examples of the physicality of simple living include choosing to power a bicycle (active) over riding in a car (passive), choosing the whisk over the electric beater, the knife over the food processor, the hand drill over the power drill, the scythe and shears over the petrol weed whacker, the cast iron skillet over an electric wok, the axe over the chainsaw, the ukulele over the television and the stairs over the elevator or escalator.

We are also considering a handmill to turn wheat berries into flour for pasta and bread, but we don’t think we eat either enough to warrant the effort of finding a second-hand handmill.

Why are we doing this? Turning our backs on convenience while the rest of the world is waiting for a robot that can defecate for them while they sit in a comfy chair and watch re-runs of Jeopardy?

Answer: Because it has made our life more fun and far more interesting!

How do we find the time or the energy?

Quite simply we have turned off the TV and now we have an abundance of time. We have sold our mobile phones and other time stealing equipment as well. We have started gradually and not been shy to turn back to technology if the effort is too great or our hands are too unskilled. We have also ensured that the process is enjoyable and we have celebrated the rewards. A car is very functional. The reward is the destination, but with a bicycle the journey is the enjoyment and the reward is had in the travelling.

In many ways I have never worked as hard as I have since choosing the simple life of the idler.

I have also never been as happy and gained so much enjoyment from simple pleasures as I do of late.

Avoid, prevent or reverse most western medical conditions through simple eating

“Rice is great if you’re really hungry and want to eat 2000 of something”

Mitch Hedberg

What is the optimum diet for humans? A diet that unequivocally enhances our health and makes us disease resistant?

Unfortunately not the one most of us are eating!

The science is overwhelming when it comes to the effect that food has on our body and the impact that food has on promoting or helping us to resist diseases like cancer (as an example). The right diet can help us to avoid most of the top killers that too many of our friends and family are likely to suffer from long before time  (see here and here).

Thanks to advertising dollars and sinister financial contributions from political lobbyists we are a horribly confused society when it comes to what to eat to be and remain healthy. This shouldn’t be the case though and if you tap into your intuition your innate wisdom will guide you to the best food for you to eat. The Gorilla (our closest biological relative) doesn’t have to take a class to figure out what to eat and what to avoid and neither do we. Start by considering what we would have eaten in a more natural environment in a time when humans lived happily without food factories or factory farms.  Perhaps also consider what most of the rest of the non-western world eats everyday to ensure that their rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, MS, cancer and many other common western causes of death are entirely uncommon or in some cases unknown to them.

The simple truth is that humans should –

Eat a plant strong diet!

A plant strong diet is:

  • Plant based. With starchy plants as a staple of most meals.
  • Predominantly whole foods.
  • No dairy, meat, chicken or fish.
  • No added oil or fat. Plants have all you need.
  • No adding the white sisters or eating foods made with salt, sugar, white flour.

In addition to gain maximum energy, vitality, health and bodily benefits (toned/ripped/fit/in shape or whatever language you prefer):

  • Eat slowly and savour the taste of real food. At first your palate will struggle since all we eat in the west is sugar, fat, and mountains of salt. Over time you will really come to appreciate the delicate, subtle and beautiful flavours of plants, herbs and spices.
  • Stop eating when your hunger is gone. This occurs long before you are full (each meal should be 1/3 water, 1/3 plants, 1/3 air e.g. empty stomach).
  • Eating this way is simple. It is healthful. It is good for the environment. It is good for the species that we share this place with. It is economical in terms of resource and land use and in terms of affordability for your family. We have dramatically cut our food bill since adopting this way of eating.

If you are enthused, but confused don’t be. There couldn’t be a simpler way of eating.  A good place to get started on a plant strong diet and to nab a few new recipes is healthy herbivore. There isn’t much else to say. It really is a simple tonic for better health.

Live plant strong. Be well.