I’m not entirely sure when or even how it happened, but I’ve been eating nothing but takeout. I think it’s some “emotional exhalation” around food. When the pandemic first hit I was in Manhattan. As wasn’t yet clear how Covid spread, we locked down in our apartment and cooked every single meal for three straight months. Probably a record in my life for going without ready made meals. But boy did I miss takeout by the end of it.
I’m sure both facts say something about the privilege I have. I can afford to have someone prepare all of my food in restaurants. And when disaster struck I had the time and ability to stay home and cook. Most folks chose their food based on budgets, literal and time.
As I’ve been concerned about the looming supply chain crunch I now think it might be time to flex the cooking at home muscles again. Letting fresh food linger in the fridge without a plan is wasteful. Whether or not I can afford the waste isn’t the point. It’s offensive to the energy and work of the many people who put their livelihood into feeding others.
I feel this especially acutely as my milk and produce come directly from local farmers. I feel like I’m letting down Daphne if our milk isn’t turned into yogurt or ricotta (or at very least put into my morning coffee). Although I will say I have no good plans for the sheer volume of peppers and chilis my farm share produced. In Colorado it is the chili that’s the crop that goes overboard in your CSA box not zucchini or some other squash. I genuinely have no clue what to do with some of more exotic peppers so send me recipes!
I found myself eating an entire pound of chilled organic bing cherries in bed while binging episodes of Downton Abbey this week. Watching the British aristocracy cope with modernity poorly seemed like an excellent balm for the climate anxiety that has been gripping me during the consecutive heatwaves inflaming the American West.
I’m a doomer and a prepper but recently I’ve felt completely defeated by the looming impacts of climate change. And I’ve been manifesting it is a kind of orgiastic panic of consumption. We had a windfall this year and it has soothes some of the panic I’ve had about having the resources to survive. Maybe it will be miserable but we might have enough wealth to avoid dying.
The excuse I’ve been using is that I’m concerned (nay convinced) none of these things will survive the next 25 years except as extreme luxury goods. If I can see the changes coming should I not enjoy the access I have to food that will no longer be available in my fifties? If I can see the end coming why conserve? I’m not Exxon or BP or some giant mining extraction concern in China. My forgoing small luxuries as an individual will do nothing to stop the catastrophe and I would like fond memories of the taste of a cool tart cherry in my twilight years. Burn me at the stake for it I guess.
It all started with basil. Buying those plastic clamshells filled with herbs felt like insult on every grocery bill. You pay a couple dollars for wilting produce to complete some elaborate recipe you got from the New York Times (because Bon Appetit would never do you wrong that way) and are subsequently bathed in a broth of guilt and regret over your ambitions and poor budgeting.
Now a normal person would probably start an herb garden and enjoy its seasonal bounty. No winter herbs for you but plenty of summertime basil. But I am a yuppie. A full David Brook’s hippie turned bohemian consumption machine.
So on Black Friday I bought an Aerogarden. It’s a good Boulder company so that felt nice. Until I learned that it’s owned by Scott Corporation otherwise known as the purveyors of Miracle-Gro. But because I’m a yuppie I can let that one go even if I’ll cry indignation in public. I want my easy year round herbs.
So fast forward a few months and this is the best consumer product I’ve purchased all year. Up there with the $14 stovetop espresso maker. So I’ve got stars in my eyes about how in our townhouse we can do more than herbs. We can grow tomatoes! We could get two Aerogarden and grow lettuce too. Imagine if we could stack them. And so my husband and I start a familiar cycle of manifestation wherein he and I churn our cycles on making something we want a reality. He handles the logistics. I handle the the desires outcome. Together we have both decent ideas and follow through. The trouble is when we try to switch rolls.
“Oh honey there are Aerogarden subreddits. Check it out before you decide what we should do.”
That sounds innocent enough. I click in on the link. Cue instant panic. Post after post after post about optimizations. “I bought a pollinator” and “I pulled out seeds to improve lower light filtration” and honestly I can’t even type out anymore it’s giving me hives.
Why? I don’t learn this way. But my husband does. My husband learns by seeing. A bunch of questions, and a lot of show and tell, gives him the confidence to dive into a project. He is the master of the Subreddit. A king of the DIY Youtube tutorial. I on the other hand can only learn by doing. I take one step. I don’t milk myself. I gain confidence and then I take another step. I have done a lot in my life with this “one foot in front of the other” method. And I know it works for me. Because if I start seeing too many complex steps and tools or gadgets I immediately undercut myself. I assume it’s too complex for me. A hobbies forum assumes a degree of detail and devotion I believe I can’t ever muster. I’m too much of a dabbler for that.
So I panicked. I kept reading the threads and slowly convincing myself I could never handle this hydroponics shit. Look at how complex all these set ups were. Look at all these questions I never thought to ask before I just started doing it. This panic surfaced despite the fact I was reading posts by people about the identical device I have. Which all evidence suggests I have been using correctly for months without even once looking at a subreddit or forum for hacks.
I very nearly talked myself out of getting an additional Aerogarden at all by attempting to learn the way my husband does.
And he didn’t mean to spook me. He got excited on the forums and wanted to share it with me. I thankfully caught myself in the emotion before I let it run away from me too much. But it was a valuable lesson in not judging yourself for not having the same style. My method of learning is more any better or worse than any other. It just happens to be the one that keeps me excited to keep going. And that’s half the battle with learning something new. If you get bummed out the fire dims and you won’t continue learning. And that’s really where you fail.
One of my favorite scenes from the science fiction epic The Expanse is a botanist explaining systems cascades to the muscle.
“It’s a simple complex system. Because it’s simple it’s prone to cascades. And because it’s complex you can’t predict what is going to breakdown next or how”
Supply chains are “sort of” simple complex systems (it’s just inputs of goods and outputs of retailers really). Which means cascades are a normal occurrence but genuinely hard to predict. The more we rely on modern inventions like “just in time” ordering and multi-country manufacturing and assembly, the trickier it gets. The money people are already worried about how distributors and consumer end points like groceries and restaurants will cope.
I’m obviously someone who likes to prepare for possible futures. I like finance, disaster preparedness and science fiction. All of which are put options on the future. So I’m beginning to give more consideration to how I can harden the supply lines in my own life. I have no control over logistics companies nor do I have special insight into choke points but I have done enough import work in my time in fashion and cosmetics to have lived through a cascade or two and seen the damage.
If it’s a topic of interest to you too I’d check out resilience and complexity studies (give Joe Normon a gander) and read the classic Lean Logic. You will start to notice the more expert someone is in complexity systems the more interest they have in providing themselves with personal protection against system hiccups or god forbid collapse.
Now I’m a globalist (in both the Hyatt points system sense and being married into a Jewish family) a capitalist, and a fan of trade so I’m pretty invested literally into a planet of free trade and open markets. But I don’t like being unprepared for a problem. Be it short or long term. So in addition to being a dedicated prepper I am giving a lot of thought into how I can harden my personal supply chain.
Some things are national or global in scope (pharmaceuticals notably) and I doubt I can find a local manufacturer of toilet paper, but I can very much get local milk, eggs, and vegetables. So I signed up for a milk coop. I already paid up front for a community supported agricultural share for the spring. And I’m noodling on what else I can find local in the Rocky Mountains. Meat is at the top of the list. I’m guessing some fuels like wood would be easy. Refined fuels might be tougher but Colorado has some options.
But it’s a fascinating exercise right? You realize you probably can’t buy clothing (even if it’s made here chances are the fabric and dyes came from elsewhere). You can’t buy most personal care products but you probably could buy some apothecary products. Most herbal medicines, teas and some cosmetics could be acquired. You notice that if our global supply chains cut off the goods you rely on simply won’t make it to you anymore. But the basics of life like food can very much be acquired and cultivated nearby. So I’m starting to buy what I can locally and build ties with farmers. Because it’s good for my community and it’s just more resilient living.
I’ve managed to make it a full week of writing something long form everyday. And this off the cuff stuff is becoming routine but also I need to start preparing topics and having a thesis or two. Because I’m just winging it. With a violent insurrection in the capital smack dab in the middle no less. As I doomscroll Twitter this Friday night I’m barely able to pull myself away from “The Purge” to think about a topic for a few sustained minutes. How could I ever consider “thought leadering” up some content in the middle of all this!
I feel like I should be doing better. Being more productive about this creative exercise. With as much effort as I’m putting in to parenting my inner child and taking responsibility for my emotions you’d think I’d be coping with the insanity of the week better. And writing better essays. Because when you take responsibility for your own actions you can survive anything right? Well maybe for a couple minutes at a time. And then you add them up and it becomes hours and days and I think I’m just reciting AA program jargon at this point. One day at a time don’t “should” on yourself and such.
Truth is I am struggling mightily. While doing the laundry I tripped and smashed my foot into a cabinet so hard I split my big toe’s nail. I spent a good 15 minutes on the floor crying over the pain and unfairness. Like the 5 year old that lives inside me. Because I just feel that fragile and distracted. To do lists are piling up. Obligations aren’t being met. And here I am crying over an ouchie. But then if you told me that you were doing just great and has never more been more officer I honestly might not believe you.
Today’s consumption was all over the place.
Food: Picked up the raw milk from the diary cooperative Light Root Farm. Then stopped to get empanadas for lunch on the way back. I also got ahead of things by securing and preparing for my spot in a biodynamic CSA farm share for spring. Fun fact about this farm? It’s my first YIMBY effort! In 5th grade I testified before Boulder City Council asking to get permits to farm the land my school had purchased. They said no. I was crushed. Twenty five years later the farm exists (no clue how the permits worked out) and now this spring I’ll finally get to eat the fruits of my labor. You do reap what you sow. It just might take a few decades.