Monday, November 6, 2017

First They Came For The Homeless

People have been asking me about the camp I’ve been staying in, what it’s about and what’s happening right now.

First They Came For The Homeless has existed I believe for about three years.  It’s a changing group of people, though some have been part of it the whole time.  It began with fifteen people who were part of Occupy SF.  Some are lifetime activists, some are just poor, some have jobs, we all have various physical or mental uniquenesses (like everybody does).  It is a protest, and there are no drugs/alcohol allowed, so the demographics are are not representative of the homeless population overall.  But our work will and does benefit the overall population.

Last winter, in what was called the “Poor Tour”, they were evicted from one location after another, 17 times, sometimes with violence, often with possessions taken or destroyed by the police.

I joined the camp when I returned from my summer in Oregon, so I’ve been there about two months now.

We are protesting:
- That it is illegal to exist in Berkeley and many cities unless you can afford rent.
- The laws and enforcement of the laws that prevent people from
- That extreme economic inequality means that in many places ~20% of housing is empty, owned by investors or the wealthy, while thousands of people live on the streets.
- Police brutality
- That although we still see some of them, much homelessness is hidden from sight, and forced evictions happen at 4am when the public are not watching.
- That millions of dollars and many hours of police time are spent on evicting homeless from one location to another, when they have nowhere they are allowed to be.  These resources could be better used.

There are other benefits/purposes too:
- Creating community, both within the camp, and with the local neighbors who support us
- Demonstrating that people can get along more
- Providing stability for some people who are not cared for well by the system
- Learning how to meet some of our needs without money

We consider it successful, in that:
- FTCFTH existed as a stable intentional community at the HERE/THERE signs in Berkeley for nearly a year, providing a home for 25 people, including disabled and mentally ill who were not being cared for as well (or at all) elsewhere.
- When BART police gave us a 72 hour eviction notice two weeks ago, we filed a lawsuit, which delayed the eviction by a week, and resulted in the federal judge ordering the City of Berkeley to provide a plan by Nov 28 that would shelter substantially all of its homeless for the winter.  They won’t have to adopt this plan, but still this lawsuit draws attention to the problem and might make it trickier for the city to keep evicting homeless endlessly.
- We inspire other communities to do the same thing.

With climate change, chaotic weather, wars, resource exhaustion, and growing economic inequality, there will be more and more people in the next years who cannot afford regular housing.  Property law and its enforcement is unjust.  It is rooted in violence.  How else does one person or group claim land and prevent others from using it?  May we learn to live together with kindness and understanding.

After the second court hearing last week, where the judge ruled that BART could evict us, we were given another 72hour notice.  With the help of our neighbors in the community, we moved off the land by the HERE/THERE signs before the deadline, leaving it cleaner than it was before the camp moved in last year.  We moved to three different locations; those who wanted a more stable location moved to Aquatic Park in west Berkeley.  The protestors, myself included, moved to the lawn in front of Berkeley City Hall.  A few people remained behind, occupying the strip of land between the sidewalk and street at the old location, which belongs to the city rather than to BART.  BART police came and put a fence up around the entire property, as they had done on the other side of the tracks after evicting the people there the week before.

So that’s what’s up with that.

The camp at HERE/THERE as seen from the Google bus.

Neighborhood party, celebrating the delay of eviction.

Hanging out.

Cleaning up and moving out of the HERE/THERE location.

One woman refused to move out with us.
The police removed her the next day.

Fence around the BART property after the eviction.  In the background you can see the tents where a few people stayed on the city property between the sidewalk and the street after the eviction.

The new protest camp on the old Berkeley city hall lawn

From the steps of city hall

Other camp near the Bay

Shelling two pounds of acorns while guarding camp (haha)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Hi friends,

I'm leaving Google at the end of next week.

There's too much I want to say.  :)

I spent the summer away from work, outdoors in Oregon, awash in beauty.  I learned a lot.  I wept at how we're treating the earth, as I rode past mile after mile of logged forests, polluted streams, and lifeless monocrop fields.

I got to be part of what I'll call "alternative culture", to explore ways of meeting all of our human needs through local community alternatives to basically everything we currently use money for.  I wrote some about this time here on this blog.  I barely scratched the surface though.  More and more people, perhaps millions now even in the West, are devoting their lives to new (and sometimes ancient) ways of living in healthy relationship with each other and with the earth.  While they are usually partly within the current system, when all of these new ways of living come together, the current system becomes obsolete.  I see joyous glimpses of this everywhere.

Meanwhile our dominant civilization is killing its own foundation: the healthy web of life on earth.  Through deforestation and pollution we are destroying the ability of the planet to support all forms of life.  We can see this in the oceans where the fish populations are collapsing, the silent fields that were once thriving forests, and the deserts where millions of people go hungry in drought.  This ecological crisis can't be solved simply by swapping oil for solar panels.  I'm no longer optimistic that we will soon fix these problems with some new technology.  It looks like climate change is exacerbating the storms and droughts and fires, and seems likely these will continue to become more and more severe in the next years.

The effects are not evenly distributed.  The unhoused breathe wildfire smoke while many of the housed have filtered air.  Some of us see our homes flooded or burnt while for others business continues as usual.  Most communities in the country and increasingly in the world have lost the ability to sustain themselves from their land, and now must import almost everything they need from elsewhere, which becomes precarious when those importing the goods see no profit in it (food deserts), or when disaster breaks down the supply line like in Puerto Rico.  Many communities no longer have access to clean water, or are losing it as I write.  On Monday I listened to a man from Guatemala talk about a new silver mine near his home that is polluting and drying up the water supply for many villages there.  Almost all silver is used to produce electronics, and demand is rising.  In Oregon this summer, ancient trees thousands of years old were cleared for fire breaks.  The entire planet is being saturated with chemicals that we ought never to have created.  These kinds of damage cannot be undone or fixed by technology.  The story for other species is even worse, as most wild animal populations have died off and we pack billions of animals in cages in horrific factory farms.  The coral reefs, the rhinos, the ancient forests, the whales, and even the insects... who speaks for them?  Some people do, and they end up in jail if their actions threaten profits.  Profits are made at the expense of Life.

And within our civilization, we have more prisoners and refugees, more drugs and anxiety and depression and stress and addiction than ever.  Even in wealthy regions, most people don't like the work they do all day.  It's also not physically healthy to be indoors or using a computer or riding in vehicles for as many hours as many of us who are "successful" do.  What is happening to us?

It seems the leaders of our world are apathetic or powerless, as they fight over the most gaudy deck chairs on this titanic.  While it pains me, I don't hate them for this; their actions are the product of a traumatic history that touches all of us.  They don't know what they're doing.

I envision a more beautiful world where humans have a healthy part to play, to love and respect the earth, not to dominate and exploit it.  I see many people living that vision already, and want to live my life in service to it.  I see the extremes of both ugliness and beauty grow more stark.  Ugliness as we close down and protect ourselves from the 'other', beauty as we come together in community, in love with mother earth.  Will "society" as a whole make some kind of transition, or continue the march into dystopia and eventual chaos?  I don't know.  It will be both at the same time.  Some people are already in an obvious dystopia, some are in a beautiful place yet in the shadow of a collapsing ecosystem.  To hope for a peaceful transition would be to ignore the incredible violence on which the current system lives.  It will be violent because it already is.  May we learn to be kind to each other as these changes unfold.

It's been said that we need the darkness to see the stars.  We can open ourselves to what is happening, feel and honor our pain, grieve what is lost, and revel in our deep gratitude for the beauty of life.  I don't mean to be a downer pointing at all this ugliness.  I feel that we have a deep need to see it and acknowledge it.  It makes the beauty that much more precious and worth living for.

“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
-Mary Oliver

What should we do then?

I don't know exactly what we should do.  I don't have a rational "here's what everyone needs to do" that will resolve all of these crises.  I want to let go of my need to control what happens, because I'm really not in control.  At the same time, even if I let go and accept whatever comes, I am a human being and it is natural for me to care and want to help, to serve what I love.  I will not deny that part of me either.  So I find myself thinking about how to help, even if it seems "hopeless" overall.  I need not stress about the outcomes, but I will still act.  What else would I do with my few short years here?

So what might I do to be practical?

I don't believe our technology is serving us well.  We, the wealthy humans near the top of the power hierarchy may see it as indispensable, but if we consider the animals or the fish or the trees or the laborers in the sweatshops and mines and plantations, it's not working out so well.  Yes, our technology relieves some suffering in some places, but at what cost?  We simply do not, and probably cannot, count the costs of development.  I am not enthusiastic that further technological progress will heal us.

I also don't believe that our problems are mostly due to money being in the wrong hands.  Measuring everything by monetary value seems to me one of the roots of the crises.  The mentality that values money over life drives much of the pollution and resource extraction and oppression around the world, since humans first accumulated "property" and enslaved each other.  I don't feel that getting as much money as I can and giving it to the non-profit side of the system is the best way for me to serve what I love.  I feel that the money abstraction and the distance it puts between us and the effects of our actions makes us feel disconnected and alone.

I also don't like our culture's valuing of measurable impact over everything else.  Much of what is precious to me cannot be measured.  What's the measurable value of a 5000 year old yew tree?  What's the measurable value of caring for a disabled child?

“May what I do flow from me like a river
no forcing
and no holding back
the way it is with children.”

So I don't know what we all should do exactly, and I don't know what I will do beyond the short term.  I'm skeptical of money and the dominant culture's value system.  I want to trust what makes me feel alive over our culture's normal stories that usually are rooted in fear.  I recognize that I'm one of the most privileged people in the world.  I know most people do not have the options that I have.  I don't mean to judge, only to encourage.

Right now what's happening is I've been living in a homeless protest encampment in Berkeley the last couple months, which has given me still another perspective on our society.  It got interesting this weekend and we're fighting eviction, hoping to benefit and inspire homeless communities around the country.  With all of the disaster and war refugees today, and housing crises in many places, there are more and more people who can't have regular housing, and we could learn to live together with more kindness and understanding.  I'm also involved with the community here in other ways like Food Not Bombs.  I expect soon I'll be moving on to other places, to learn and to live in service to what I love.  To restore soil and help plants grow and be community.

I've learned I don't need much money to live well myself, so I don't need to earn it for myself.  Perhaps my perspective on money and impact will change and I'll eventually decide that earning money and supporting my many friends who don't have much money in their various causes is the best way to contribute, and then I might return to a job, but we'll see.  "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."

Wherever I am, I'll be with some kind of community learning how to live in healthier relationship with each other and with the earth.  There'll be dark moments and joyous moments, and this is life.  Life is good.  Whatever comes, I will give attention to the beauty around me, the beauty of community and of nature and of every form.  Beauty everywhere begs our attention.

“An eye is meant to see things.
The soul is here for its own joy.

A head has one use: For loving a true love.
Feet: To chase after.

Love is for vanishing into the sky. The mind,
for learning what men have done and tried to do.

Mysteries are not to be solved: The eye goes blind
when it only wants to see why.”

Friday, September 22, 2017

Simple vegan cooking

I don't like to follow recipes, partly because I don't like to use (and get dirty and then have to wash) a bunch of measuring cups, or to think about 3/8 and other numbers like that, and I don't like trying to read while I cook.

I prefer guidelines and tips over rules and recipes.  So here are my guidelines and tips, or generalized "recipes", which I have done in quantities large and small, for myself and for others.  I do not have the exact ratio of seasonings down to make something perfect, but generally every dish is healthy, tasty, unique, fun, easy, and doesn't result in lots of unnecessary dishwashing.  I learned to cook like this mainly through cooking with Food Not Bombs in San Francisco and then trying the same methods at home or elsewhere.

(Rice or any grain, e.g. millet, barley, etc etc)
Basically you want to boil it.  The process is the same for any kind of grain.  I do brown rice most often.  First you need to know the ratio of water to grain.  For rice, people usually use 2:1 water to rice.  For other grains you can Google the "ideal ratio", or just err on the side of too much water, or watch the grain and if the water gets low before it is soft enough to eat, add more water.  I like rice mushy, I think it tastes better, it keeps better for later by not drying out, and you don't have to almost burn the rice at the bottom of the pot.

Put water and rice into a pot on the stove, ideally where the water only reaches 1/3 of the way up the pot so it won't accidentally boil over.  Turn the stove to max until the water is boiling, then lower the heat so that it continues boiling slowly.  Use a lid so it will cook faster.  It'll take anywhere from 30-90 minutes depending on the size of pot, amount of heat, etc.  Water will continue to evaporate from the rice after you turn off the stove, so you can turn it off once the rice is properly cooked (taste some to see if it's soft).

(any kind of legume -- dried bean or lentil or chickpea etc)
Cooking beans is nearly identical to cooking grain, so follow the same process except use more water.  The standard rule of thumb is 3:1 water to bean.  If you don't mind your beans sitting in extra water, you can add extra water e.g. 4:1 or more, and this way you won't need to worry about burning the beans, as they'll cook through long before the water is all gone.

Soaking beans for hours before cooking them is not necessary but it does make them cook faster saving energy.  I usually add seasonings, e.g. salt, pepper, oregano, or whatever, to the beans while they cook.  You can throw minced garlic or onion into the pot too for that flavor.  You can throw in chunks of potato to make the beans creamier, assuming you're not using tons of extra water.

You can add any other kinds of seasonings after

(e.g. kale, chard, other mustards, beet greens, etc)
Greens are really good for you.  The easiest way to cook them is to chop them up (as small as you want, I usually make a big pile of greens on the cutting board, hold it tight, and chop it every half inch, with maybe a few perpendicular chops across the whole bunch so there aren't really long strands.  This takes very little time.

Put the greens in a pot on the stove.  If you want them to be tastier, put oil in the pot.  Coconut oil is my favorite, but any kind of healthy cooking oil will work.  Stir the greens with the oil first, so they are all coated.  Then, before turning the stove on, add some water.  Maybe an inch of water for every four or so inches of greens in the pot.  If you have more oil you can use less water.  Greens will cook down really small, so if you want more you can throw more in on top of the first ones after they cook down.  (Useful when cooking one big pot of greens for a hundred people at Food Not Bombs.)

To make them tastier, add vinegar or squeezed citrus or herbs or any kind of seasoning, or any combination of these.  A simple go-to is salt, pepper, and squeezed lemon.  Minced garlic or chopped onion are also good in there.

(e.g. root vegetables (potato, yam, carrot, beet, parsnip, turnip, etc), broccoli/cauliflower, green beans, brussels, zucchini, squash)
My go-to method for cooking vegetables is, like greens, to cook them in a pot on the stove with some oil and water.  More oil and less water means they'll be tastier (more fried than boiled) having more fat and thus more calories.  I'm not afraid to mix any combination of vegetables, but often I'll do either all root veggies or all green veggies.

Chop dense vegetables in roughly 1/2 by 1 inch pieces, or smaller.  Bigger pieces will just take longer to cook.  Broccoli and cauliflower pieces can be a bit bigger.

As with greens, add minced garlic or onion, herbs, and other seasonings.  The earlier you add them the more they'll infuse the vegetables.  Mushrooms go good in here too.

Vegetables can also be baked in the oven.  Leave out the water if you're baking them, but oil is fine.  Bake at around 350F.

Green salad
Take any kind of good-to-eat-raw greens and throw them in a big bowl.  Some greens (e.g. mustard) are edible raw but are spicy, so only use those if you think everyone can handle it.  I like to chop or shred the greens on a cutting board, similar to the greens I mentioned earlier, but usually more finely shredded.   This makes them easier to eat and easier to digest, and easier to fit more on a plate without them falling off.  Add any mix of good-to-eat-raw vegetables/fruits, such as sliced cucumber, shredded carrot, sliced radish, sliced zucchini, diced or cherry tomato, avocado, sprouts, olives, maybe some citrus.  If you have dry ingredients like nuts or seeds or dried fruit, those are good in there.  Add a dressing.

If it's just me, I'll eat the fruit whole.  If preparing a meal for a crowd, I usually chop it up into a fruit salad.  Basically any kind of typical sweet fruit goes well together in a fruit salad.  You can add citrus juice or some kind of seasoning, but it's really not needed.

My ideal dessert is what people call a "crisp".  Just put chopped fruit, e.g. apples/pears, berries, or stonefruit like peaches and plums, into a pan.  Oiling the pan will make it easier to clean after.  Put oats on top, with cinnamon or other seasoning.  Bake until the fruit is soft / shriveled.  You can add sugar, but it's totally not needed, and people will feel better afterward if you don't.  If you want a more gooey texture, add chia seeds and a little water to the pan.

Baked goods
Normally yeast or sourdough bread is vegan.  I don't have a favorite recipe and on the rare occasions I do make bread, I like to wing it with flour, water, oil, salt, and yeast.  Maybe add some rosemary or other seasoning to it, or other fun ingredients like mashed zucchini.

The easiest baked bread-like dessert is shallow dish banana bread.  Just mix flour, water, oil, salt, and baking powder, and add bananas.  Season with cinnamon, vanilla, crushed nuts if you have them.  To make it a little fluffier and healthier, add chia seed or ground flax seed.  It's hard to really go wrong, whatever you make will taste good, and depending on the ratios of ingredients you'll end up with something drier or gooier.

Put the batter in a pan of any kind, maybe 1-2 inches deep, and bake at 350F until it's firm enough to cut and eat.  Since there's no animal ingredients, it's safe to eat the batter raw, so you don't have to worry about when it's really cooked.

A typical meal at Food Not Bombs San Francisco has rice, beans, 1-3 vegetable dishes, a green salad, a fruit salad, and maybe a dessert.  Plus sometimes other fun things we come up with.

See also my whole-plant-foods minimum-waste backpacking food guide!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Simple whole-plant-foods minimum-waste no-cooking backpacking food guide

Here's what I did for food this summer while bike/backpacking in Oregon.
No heavy cookware or fires required. Everything can be purchased in the bulk section of a good food store, ideally your local food co-op if you have one. Everything lasts a long time so you can keep your leftovers for next trip. This is healthier, less expensive, and less polluting than buying typical backpacking food. It's basically the same food that goes into protein and granola bars, but unprocessed, without the chemicals and stuff.  It’s very tasty too, and with a variety of seasonings, you can get a wide variety of delicious combinations.
The basic idea is to eat rolled grains, soaked, with nuts/seeds and seasonings added in. I'll tell you what I buy, roughly how much, and how to carry/use it.
. . .
What to buy?
  • rolled oats
  • rolled barley (and/or rye, spelt, wheat)
  • lentils (many possible varieties)
  • sunflower seeds
  • walnuts
  • almonds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sesame seeds
  • chia seeds
  • peanuts / peanut butter
  • etc (whatever you like, but don’t support the cashew industry)
Greens: (for nutrients)
  • dried nettles
  • dried seaweed
  • dried kale
  • etc
Dried fruit:
  • raisins, or whatever you like! raisins are usually the cheapest, I also love dates, craisins, dried blueberries, and dried currants.
  • salt
  • whatever else you want!
  • I like pepper, nutritional yeast, curry powder, cinnamon. But there are plenty of options -- use what you like.
  • bowl and spoon (I use one of those tall plastic yogurt containers as a bowl)
  • durable container with screw-on cover for soaking lentils (soak for 8 hours, e.g. overnight)
How to prepare?
Put rolled oats or barley in your bowl and add water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Then add in all the other ingredients, whichever combo you like, stir a couple times with the spoon, and eat.
How much to bring?
I’m 6’4”, ~190lb and a big eater. For 10 days, I had roughly:
  • 8lbs rolled grains (~1800kcal, 60g protein / lb) ($0.50-$1.50/lb)
  • 1lb dry lentils (~1600kcal, 120g protein / lb) ($1/lb)
  • 4lbs nuts/seeds (~2800kcal, 90g protein / lb) ($2-$15/lb)
  • 1lb dried fruit (~1500kcal, 15g protein / lb) ($3-$10/lb)
for a total of roughly 3000 calories and 100g protein per day, costing about $50 for the food, plus I spent about $20 more on greens and seasonings. I buy organic — if you don’t, it’ll be even cheaper. I am lucky to be on the west coast of the USA where these foods are relatively inexpensive, too. Other parts of the world it may be pricier, but still probably cheaper than processed foods.  I don't eat this much when I'm not getting intense exercise every day.
Dried greens don’t really count toward calories — basically bring as much as you can afford, the nutrients will make you feel good.
How to carry?
Use reusable plastic bags or containers for everything. You can use these same bags for buying in bulk and carrying with you. Use a little gorilla tape to patch holes in the bags. Like any backpacking food, you should either hang it from a tree in some kind of larger bag, or put it in a bear canister.
. . .
Other tips
My favorite combos:
  • Sweet: soaked oats, cinnamon, walnuts, chia seeds, dried fruit
  • Savory: soaked barley, lentils, curry powder, nutritional yeast, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, salt, pepper, dried nettles
If you’re in a place where plants grow, learn to forage greens, herbs, and berries. Don’t count these for calories, but they’re great nutritionally. In california and oregon, miner’s lettuce is all over, for example.
If you let your lentils soak long enough they’ll sprout which is OK! They can soak for days and still be OK to eat. They'll be slightly crunchy but perfectly palatable after 8 hours soaking.
No need to wash your bowl (although you are welcome to). Just eat it mostly clean, and let it dry in the sun. I went a month without washing it with soap, only rinsing it with water occasionally.
I like to bring a little coconut oil. Rinsing your mouth with coconut oil is a good idea in addition to brushing. I just swallow the oil after rinsing, so it’s not wasted.
I love walnut flavor infused in the oats, so I chew the walnuts a little and then spit them into the bowl, when I begin soaking the oats. You could also crush the walnuts, but I find that more difficult to do.
Sesame seeds are great and cheap, but they're hard to chew if you mix them with other food -- you'll end up swallowing them whole, and I believe some of them won't be digested. So I eat spoonfuls of just sesame seeds, separately. If you can grind them before the trip, then they're fine to mix in.
Flax seeds are also great and cheap, but you need to either grind them before the trip, or roast them and eat them separately just like the sesame seeds. Eating raw whole flaxseed is difficult, and won't work at all mixed with other things.
Bring enough salt! With no processed foods, all the salt you get will be the salt you bring, and the little sodium that's found in these foods. I'd guess you want at least 2-3g of sodium each day -- but I'm not a nutritionist.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On Simple Living

When I talk about simple living, I'm referring to living in ways that are less harmful -- that require less destruction and pollution and oppression.  People might also use "simple living" to mean having a less cluttered house, or a large house where their few possessions leave lots of empty space.  That's a different thing -- one could have that kind of simplicity and still spend a lot of money in support of harmful industries, and pay for a lot of violence and destruction.  We can even spend our weekends protesting against the government and corporations who are carrying out this violence and destruction, while the rest of the week we produce and consume in support of them.  One hand is holding a sign saying "Stop!" while the other hand is giving our money to the object of our protest, implicitly saying "keep it up!".

So simple living is a way to put our money where our mouth is -- in other words, take a holistic view, to integrate all parts of our life into a whole, we might say to live with "integrity".  The reason we practice this kind of simple living is that we desire to be kind to those we love, and recognize that we love all beings -- ourselves, other people, animals, and I say even the trees and mountains.  The same way we try to be kind to those closest to us, and we try to avoid harming them, we can practice being kind and avoiding harm to all.  When this happens, we are more able to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of all beings, similar to how we are able to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of those we love most.

So what could simple living look like in 2017 America?

I can't imagine there's a single general answer, but all of us have steps in this direction that we could take.  Everyone who wants to be kind and stop harming others will find some steps easier to take than others.  There are steps that will be easy for one person to take, while being extremely difficult or impractical for someone else.  It's helpful to be in a place of genuine love, not trying to justify one's actions to feel less guilty, and not trying to impress others.  Perhaps when we're coming from a place of genuine loving kindness, we can celebrate any step that anyone is taking, and we can freely admit our own struggles and the things we do that we feel are harmful but that we are not ready to change for whatever reason.

Maybe a good practical starting place is, wherever we might spend money, to look deeply at what we are paying for and what the consequences are.  Question it with curiosity.  What pollution and destruction and oppression is required to give me this thing, and am I paying to support that pollution and destruction and oppression?  Do I really need it?  If I really need it, is there an alternative that is less harmful?  Am I paying for someone else to do work that I would consider beneath my dignity?

Questioning even one purchase this way could feel overwhelming due to the complexity of today's economy -- and I think that in itself is a valuable insight.  Some are simpler, for example if I buy a banana, I'm giving more profit to the fruit companies that conquered Central America and killed/enslaved/displaced the people there, and continue to occupy the land and destroy rainforest.  Some purchases might seem more benign at first, but on investigation we can see they are entangled with all kinds of destruction and suffering around the world.  The purpose of questioning is not to feel guilty about what we've done, or to figure out a way to justify our actions, but to help us practice kindness toward what we love.

In Portland, in the Food Not Bombs community I wrote of earlier, I found people questioning almost everything in this way, and avoiding harmful things as each had the ability or courage to do so.

Here are some examples of harmful things people were avoiding, which we can all try avoiding to varying extents:
- paying for cars to be driven
- paying for airplane flights
- buying animal products
- buying non-local, non-organic, or packaged food -- this is a big topic I'll say more on someday
- buying food from corporations
- buying anything produced with slave labor
- buying anything produced with any destructive means
- paying taxes
- investing money in harmful business or organizations

I am not completely avoiding all of these things, but I do feel the cognitive dissonance each time I give money toward one of them.

I still possess things that had a high cost in destruction, and will again if I someday replace them.  Most obviously my electronics: smartphone, laptop, and camera.  Even just possessing them, there is a cost, because I could sell or give them away to someone else who would have bought them new, which would reduce the demand by one.  Another one I have yet to address in my own life is investments.  I have a lot of money invested in index funds, because that's what you do when you save money, and I know I am helping to fund large scale destruction... perhaps it won't be long before I figure out what to do with that money instead.

But can one person's actions make a difference?

Yes.  We know this intuitively, that when we do harm or show kindness to another being, it matters.  If anything matters, this does.

Consider the destruction of beautiful forests and rivers and wildlife and cultures and villages that has been paid for by the demand of the "developed" world, and take one individual's share of that, one billionth or whatever it might be.  Just in terms of acres of habitat destroyed or polluted, one individual's share is quite significant.  This is not just statistics -- somewhere, actual trees and animals and indigenous people were killed, and the water poisoned.  I don't want to pay for that.

There are lots of other logical arguments for how one person's actions make a difference, but logical arguments eventually become wearisome.  It is beauty that I love, and whether I can accurately quantify the effects or not, I want to live in a way that feels true and honest in the face of the beauty that I love.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Food Not Bombs in Portland

I've mentioned that I spent time with a loose-knit community of people practicing various extents of "simple living" in Portland.  I want to say more about what I mean by simple living, but here I'll just give an example.

Food Not Bombs is the focal point of the community I mentioned.  Here's how it works.  Three times a week, monday/wednesday/friday, some people gather at 3pm at someone's kitchen and start preparing a meal mainly using fresh produce picked up at the end of farmers markets.  Then at 6ish the food is taken over to a park, where everyone else shows up and shares the meal.  The produce that isn't cooked is available for anyone to take home, along with rescued bread, burritos, etc picked up from shops, and occasionally from dumpsters.  It's all vegan, mostly organic, and usually delicious as there are people who know how to make food taste good and this knowledge spreads around.  Helping with the cooking is a great way to learn how to cook.  All the food pick-ups are done using bicycles and trailers.  Most people show up to the gatherings by bicycle.  People bring their own dish and spoon, so no paper or plastic is wasted.  It's all voluntary, no money is used.  Everyone who helps out gets to learn how to do anything from hauling to cooking to serving to cleaning.

Food Not Bombs helps everyone to participate in avoiding or boycotting many harmful  or wasteful activities, and replace them with fun -- we get to
- ride bicycles instead of cars
- eat local/organic/unprocessed food, and not pay for the pollution and waste of shipping/chemicals/packaging
- eat plants and not pay for the horrors of animal agriculture
- use one big shared kitchen and not waste resources using lots of kitchens to cook the same amount of food
- share knowledge and skills so everyone learns how to make food good, and just how good it can be
- eat together in community rather than isolated in separate homes
- do the "work" of preparing and cleaning together rather than alone, because washing dishes and cooking is way more fun with friends
- invite and welcome anyone and everyone to join us, since we're in public and the food is free

In a more beautiful world, I imagine most people eating most of their dinners this way: all-voluntary, free, and in community.  Food Not Bombs gets to show us how beautiful this can be right now.

Cooking food

Hauling food to the serving

Eating food


More Food 

Food in large quantities can fit on a bike trailer

(photos from Daniela and the Food Not Bombs PDX page)

By the way, this also goes on in San Francisco and the East Bay -- I've been with the SF group for the last year.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The purpose of every gathering

I'm contemplating, as I often do, what to do next with my life.  Right now that means deciding whether to continue working at my job.

Most of you are probably well aware of the "ecological crisis".  I find it good to be reminded of these things and just sit with them for a bit, because I don't always have to see them in person and it's possible to forget.

We've poisoned the air and groundwater and the ocean water of most of the earth through developing and using toxic chemicals and industrial processes.  Since we're rich in the US, most of this has been moved away from here and is now done in South America, Asia, and Africa, where most of the people are oppressed and in poverty, and have even less power to stop it.  This makes it a little harder to see from here.

In vast numbers around the world, people who once grew their own food have been driven off the land, or killed, or moved into cities and into debt to become consumers.  While I might not be the one with the gun driving them out, when I pay for ordinary things in America I pay the companies that pay the guys with the guns.

Most of these things have accelerated in the last 20 years as technology has allowed us to multiply our efforts.  Forest is being destroyed faster than ever right now.  Fertile land is turning to desert faster than ever.  The oceans are being killed off and polluted faster than ever.  We're dumping more trash than ever.  We're mining and extracting more finite resources than ever.  There are more factory farms packed with animals in pain.  There are more human refugees than ever.

But aren't we right around the corner from having new technology that will let us solve all of this?

Your guess may be as good as mine.  I think we already have the "technology" needed to live in a sustainable and much, much more beautiful way on the earth, even with seven billion people.  Trees and plants, for example, are incredible sustainable solar-powered air-cleaners and soil-restorers and carbon-sequesterers, plus providing food and habitat for us and all the other creatures.  But our current trajectory is toward more industrial technology that is used to make a profit.  And to make a profit, on some level, means taking nature (life) and converting it into resources and products that can be sold, accelerating this destruction.  Even "green" technology, like solar panels and wind turbines, require horrible pollution to create -- even if they are better than digging coal for the same amount of energy.  And of course, most or all of these green technologies are also focused on profit before anything else.

How does your job contribute to the problem?

To take the most obvious angle on it -- we make most of our profits through advertising, which is a crucial part of the industrial/consumerist system that provides the financial incentive for most of this destruction and horror.  So my job is to help this system run more efficiently.  Plus a good one third of the money I make goes to taxes, half of which go to war.

I could use the remaining money I get to try to do something good.  This was my noble intention until recently -- "earning to give".  But now I see that my earning the money is contributing to the destruction that I would then try to undo by using the money I earned.  It doesn't make sense.  

What would you do instead?

I don't know exactly.  But just as a strawman, if I stop working a regular job, buy almost nothing except [local, organic, unprocessed] food, and just go around helping with Food Not Bombs or whatever else?  I think I'll find other interesting things to do, in fact I have a lot of ideas and plans floating around.  But as a baseline, I could do this, and the amount of earth that is destroyed on my behalf each year will drop tremendously -- as I suspect it has this summer.

How could you give up work that you enjoy, a team of coworkers that are incredibly fun to work with and extremely talented, a career that is respected by most people, and a comfortable life where all your physical and financial needs are taken care of?  

:|  It's not the easiest thing.  But I do enjoy other things, there are awesome people outside Google, there are some people who would understand leaving, and a comfortable life isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Sunshine and birdsong and dirt and grass and the smell of rain and the taste of wild berries are also there outside the comfortable life.  

What are you really thinking about?

I don't spend most of my time thinking about technology and destruction and all that.  I love the trees themselves, and the birds, and the people, and the poetry, and the music and mountains and rivers and all the rest.  Most of this summer I've been spending my time up close with what I love.  I love this line from Rumi:
"The purpose of every gathering is discovered: to recognize beauty and to love what's beautiful."
This is what we really want to "do", isn't it?  This is why we go to the mountains.  This is why we spend time with those we love.  This is why we watch [videos of] cute animals.  This is why we gather to cook food and make music and watch eclipses.  I can give my attention more toward what is beautiful.  And I may help others around me to do the same.  And then we won't need as much of the stuff that is destructive.  The real juice is in what we gain, not what we avoid.  Life can be much richer than most of us are used to.  I've tasted this.

It'll still be complicated and difficult.  It's not like leaving work automatically flips life from dry to rich.  I had many rich moments while employed, mostly in my free time, mostly out in nature or with people.  And I've had my dry moments this summer, if fewer.  I'll still wrestle with my conditioning and culture which tells me that success, work-ethic, accomplishment, reputation, and so on, are most important.  I must be true to the deepest call I can feel.

There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.  May this be one.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Food Not Bombs at Kenilworth park.  

Figs popping

A picturesque Food Not Bombs meal

Abundance of blackberries in Portland

Hey now, I don't think them cashews are local...

One of many berry harvests

 Twelve pints of blackberry jam!

 One week was super hot -- up to 106° so I tried drying plum slices in the sun.  It worked, but don't try to dry fruit on cardboard as it glues itself to the cardboard.  

Fig picker