A Good Habit

Mama’s always kept a neat house. My urge to “pitch it” first and ask questions later comes from her. I speculate, though, that like she and I, lots of neatpins have one messy space where we nod to entropy. For me, my car. For Mama, her pantry. Cans upon cans stack and topple. When she remembers she has her own culinary Room of Requirement, finding anything is a mini-archaeological expedition. The number of websites offering tips for cleaning out one’s pantry suggests she’s not alone.

In the United States food is relatively cheap, and we prefer it pretty, which means we waste A LOT. The Environmental Protection Agency says food ends up in landfills and incinerators more than anything else we throw away--as much as 50% of all produce, according to a 2016 Guardian report. Before doing the research for this post, I hadn’t given much thought to the food waste my own household creates. Now, I can’t stop thinking about that ½ quart of week-ish old strawberries next to a much older quart of heavy whipping cream in our fridge. The *several* boxes of couscous in my own pantry.

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It matters we don’t think about it; waste has both personal and global cost. The EPA estimates 20% of total U.S. methane emissions come from landfills, and at least some of what we throw away could help feed a few of the 42 million food insecure American households, households living without the luxury of strawberries.

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg expands on his finding that every habit consists of a simple, three part, neurological loop: a cue, a routine, a reward. Daylight Savings Time is a cue to change smoke detector batteries. The routine completed, one feels his/her household is safer, validated as a responsible care-giver. I propose we cultivate a new annual habit. Using Thanksgiving preparation as a cue, let’s clean out our pantries. Maybe some of us won’t need to add chicken stock to our holiday shopping lists, saving time and money at the grocery store. More of us will find items we can donate to local food banks/LFPs/Blessing Boxes. Giving these forgotten items will make us happier, and we’ll be keeping them out of the trash, reducing our carbon footprint. I can think of no better way to “Give Thanks” for our abundance.

Please see linked resources for every day ways you can reduce, reuse, and recycle food waste.


For general suggestions: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home

To find a food bank near you: http://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank/

To find a place that will take donations including prepared food:  http://sustainableamerica.org/foodrescue/

Veterans Day

First, a bit of history:

World War I hostilities between Allied nations and Germany ceased on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. On that anniversary the following year, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 the first commemoration of Armistice Day. Armistice Day wasn’t a legal holiday until 19 years later.

In the coming years American servicemen and women would serve in World War II and the Korean War. At the urging of veterans service organizations, the Act of 1938 was amended, the word “Armistice” struck and replaced with “Veterans.” On October 8, 1954, President Eisenhower delivered the first “Veterans Day Proclamation,” and we’ve observed it ever since. I won’t go into the Veterans Day 1971-1977 three-day-holiday stint except to say it was confusing, diminished significance for some, and the November 11th observance was restored.


Veterans have their days. If at all, many of us, myself included, observe those days by posting a flag pic/call to remembrance on social media. Some attend an annual parade, year over year crowds diminishing in tandem with numbers of those honored. A few place flags or wreaths at the graves of the loved and lost.

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1 in 4 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are food insecure. I wonder how many of that 25% feels honored this Veterans Day. 

The good news is organizations like Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger are paying attention. In just the last few days, Members of Congress, too, expressed concern over high rates of food insecurity among veterans. In a letter dated November 8, 2017, to Veterans Affairs Sec. David Shulkin, US Representative Al Lawson (FL) asked the department for a 2018 report of data collected re: food insecurity among veterans. Rep. Lawson wants to expand SNAP for veterans. The following MOCs signed that letter.

Al Lawson

Michelle Lujan Grisham

Seth Moulton

Tim Walz

Peter A. DeFazio

Dwight Evans

Denny Heck

Chellie Pingree

David Scott

Kirsten Gillibrand

James P. McGovern

Tim Ryan

J. Luis Correa

Julia Brownley

John Garamendi

Jimmy Panetta

Jacky Rosen

Tom O’Halleran

Each of these MOCs has at least one thing in common. (Hint: it's a letter.) I do not know who was asked to sign.

On March 4, 1865, in his second inaugural address, President Lincoln exhorted our nation (soon to see his assassination and the Civil War’s end) to the following:

“…let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

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This Veterans Day, don’t “wave a flag.” Call your MOCs (800-826-3688) and urge them to reject H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a bill that provides massive tax cuts for the wealthy paid for by cuts to low-income programs and the safety net—programs benefitting veterans. Determine whether your MOCs are in fact patriotic, heeding Lincoln’s call to care and a "just and lasting peace." If not, next time do your patriotic duty and vote them out. 

 

On Zinn and Career Development

 “Small acts when multiplied by millions can transform the world.” That quote is attributed to Howard Zinn, an American historian, playwright, professor, and social activist probably best known for his A People’s History of the United States, (a book I highly recommend). When I built this website, LFPs were already multiplying. Thinking the quote appropriate, I put it at the bottom of the What We Do page. (That page needs work, BTW.) A year and a half later, I have a much better idea what it means.

Having graduated from a small liberal arts college with a degree in “English,” I enrolled in a master program to “study Faulkner” under the guise of becoming a teacher. After two years’ graduate assistance teaching Freshman Composition I and II, I went to law school (for a semester). “Teaching is a calling,” I said. “I can count the number of truly inspirational teachers I’ve had on one hand.” I wasn’t hearing the call. University of LaVerne’s website offers this: “50% – 70% of students change their majors at least once. Most will change majors at least 3 times before they graduate. Students should choose a major based on current job trends.” Many of us (me) are still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up.

Years later through the LFP Project I learned I love working with kids. Last week I worked with two Springdale Public Schools 4th and 5th grade EAST Initiative Program groups. The kids plan to map all NWA-area services from LFPs to LFLs to bricks and mortar pantries. They’d already mapped food deserts and hope their continued work will provide location guidance to potential pantry stewards/emergency food organizations. They’re considering the merits of website development over app development. A student asked about data. I explained because anonymity and discretion are conceptually critical, collecting data is difficult. One of the schools decided to connect with a local engineering firm about a solution.

Also last week, City of Charleston Vegan Club, Charleston Veggies & Vegans, and City of Charleston Faculty for Compassionate & Sustainable Living celebrated World Vegan Day with a potluck and party. Admission to that event was a vegan donation to the Lowcountry Blessing Box Project.

This Saturday, Algiers Point Free Lil Pantry will host a Free Lil Thanksgiving planning meeting at The Crown and Anchor English Pub.

A small act multiplied by millions does transform the world because it inspires others, whether to the same or tangential action. A small act’s greatest potential to transform the world, though, is that it creates unpredictable and diverse opportunities for connection among those in its orbit—from EAST Initiative Program students, to engineers, to vegans, to pub-goers--those connections influencing unpredictable and diverse action across disciplines. So much complexity may be found within an empty box, a small act.

Often what mediates that complexity is our simple human need to serve others--a community’s impoverished, someone at the bar. What are the current job trends? Is it any wonder we don't know what to do with ourselves? Better guidance for those of all ages might be, How will you serve?

Logistics

All day yesterday, I was a logistics manager.

Before LFP, I was a Thrivent Financial Associate. I made my own schedule, which came in handy when LFP took off since almost immediately I was working full-time on LFP-related stuff.  I maintain my securities license and affiliation with Thrivent but stepped back from a role with expectations. This means I still do some Thrivent work.

Task one: Coordinating a local poultry producer’s donation of Thanksgiving turkeys to two area churches, a task once handled by Thrivent volunteers. (It’s complicated.) On November 17th I’ll pick up and deliver 52 raw birds.

Task two: Coordinating an Indianapolis newspaper’s donation of 50 plastic newspaper boxes to LFP. I am in Fayetteville, AR, but because of the work I do (LFP) when I’m not doing my actual work (Thrivent), I have connections to Indianapolis-area groups. They’re taking it from here. 50 new projects!

Task three: Creation of a spreadsheet of Northwest Arkansas area LFPs, made for a large local corporation who will use it do community service. (26; another five unconfirmed.)

And so on until 8:15.

Poverty and distribution are the leading causes of hunger, and I spent all day yesterday on the distribution side. I'm ready to get to work on poverty. I anticipate that work, too, will have lots to do with the logistics of mobilizing people to act.

The Cupboard Under the Stairs

Two Saturdays ago I was part of a Leadership Panel for the local Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter GIRLS (Girls Inspiring Respect, Leadership, and Service) Academy, a day-long retreat for 5th and 6th grade girls. Each panelist responded to questions like, “How did you get where you are today?” and “If you could offer advice to your 5th or 6th grade self, what would it be?” Then, the girls asked questions, among them, the ubiquitous, “If you could travel anywhere in the world, were would it be?” (South Africa)

Part of my response to the “from-there-to-here” question was, “Read books. And lots of kinds of books.” Shortly after, I watched a girl with red hair and freckles work up the courage to ask, “What one book would you recommend we all read?” My answer was spontaneous and obvious. Harry Potter.

Late last night, I finished Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. Brown loves JK Rowlings’ Harry Potter series, too, and writes about it a couple times in her latest. When struggling to convey new, research-supported ideas, Brown imagines Rowlings’ voice saying, “Give us the stories that make up that universe. No matter how wild and weird the new world might be, we’ll see ourselves in the stories” (4). The second time as an example of connection through collective pain, Brown describes the scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when the Hogwarts staff and student body, gathered around Dumbledore’s body, raise their wands to dispel the dark mark. “Wands Up” (124,5).

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Both Brown’s observations are relevant to the project, but a couple pages early in her book prompted me to even more reflection on Harry Potter and Little Free Pantry. Brown writes about how not belonging in one’s family “is still one of the most dangerous hurts,” having “the power to break our heart, our spirit, and our sense of self-worth” (14).  A page later she writes, “Sometimes the most dangerous thing for kids is the silence that allows them to construct their own stories—stories that almost always cast them as alone and unworthy of love and belonging” (15). One of three outcomes then occur. 1. Numbing or inflicting pain. 2. Denial and passing on of pain. 3. Courage and empathy (14).

The Dursleys kept Harry Potter in a cupboard under the stairs. The series inspires not because Harry, “The Chosen One,” defeats Voldemort. It inspires because for Harry outcomes 1 or 2 are most logical. Instead he is sorted into Gryffindor, a house known for its courage, and as Horcrux, he embodies empathy with the one most responsible for both his individual pain and his world's collective pain; he literally understands and shares Voldemort’s feelings. In Order of the Phoenix, just after Belletrix Lestrange kills Harry's godfather, Sirius BlackHarry says to Voldemort, “You're the one who is weak. You will never know love or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.” Harry escapes the cupboard under the stairs.

Little Free Pantry is another cupboard, and I like to think it offers another counter-story to those who see themselves as alone and unworthy of love and belonging. In a world where numbing or inflicting pain and denial and passing on of pain are increasingly normalized, I am certain it is a weird, wild, new space calling all who interact with it to courage and empathy. 

My advice? Read books. Have courage, girls. Pantries Up. 

Dumbledore's Army Forever

Feels

Today’s my birthday. Folks I know say they feel either older or younger than their actual age, which may be because most either dwell on the past or dream of the future.

I feel younger…hipper than my 43-yr-old self.

Last night to celebrate early, my husband, Josh, and I ate burgers at Art’s Place, a Fayetteville fixture and total dive with the best burgers in town. (Locals, I’m choosing Art’s Place over Hugo’s ten times out of ten, smoke and all.) Halfway through my burger and already feeling indigestion (still with me as I write), I said, “I know MTV is still on, but I haven’t thought about it in years.”

This and the indigestion are two ways I know I’m not as young or as hip as I feel…rather imagine.

My two daughters are practically grown.

But I also feel like the new-ish mother of a 1 1/2 -yr-old. Giving this nascent movement the attention it needs takes all my time. I worry too much…have sleepless nights. I am re-learning everything. I love Little Free Pantry profoundly.

Commonly applied to parenthood, the saying, “The days are long but the years are short," is a call to the present.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do give myself gifts sometimes. I learned it from my 90-yr-old Grandma Myrtle, known to purchase, wrap, and place Christmas gifts from herself to herself under our family tree. This year for my birthday, I am giving myself the present.

Today, I am 43.

Ruminations

As I’ve mentioned, I am a reader. Some years ago, I read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. (Who doesn’t need more happiness?) Rubin is also a bibliophile, salt and peppering her work with literary allusion when not extrapolating from literature outright, so I enjoy her work. Her system for achieving more happiness was far too systematic for me, though. Guessing that may’ve been feedback she received; her next book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, is all about doing more of the things that make us happy and less of the things that don’t. Turns out habit formation is no more forumlaic than happiness and largely depends on who you are. Rubin identifies “Four Tendencies” influencing habit formation—Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, Rebels.

All this preamble to say I am a Questioner. Among their characteristics, Questioners are “often willing to do exhaustive research” (20). Yep.

I’ve also mentioned I love the podcast On Being. Last week’s episode, “The Opposite of Good Is Indifference,” featured a conversation between Krista Tippett and Arnold Eisen about 20th century mystic, religious intellectual, and social change agent, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. A quote attributed to him has resonated with me all week:

                Words create worlds.

A Questioner, I spend my evenings researching food insecurity (hunger?), poverty. Every source agrees, words matter. How we talk about ________ matters. 

In nursing school, we were taught conflation of the individual with his or her diagnosis de-humanizes. That patients are “clients.” So in the anti-poverty, anti-hunger field. In 2006 Mark Nord with the USDA led efforts to replace the word “hunger” with “very low food security.” Despite immediate backlash, the new terminology stuck. “Food insecurity” is considered more accurate in the American context if less emotive. “The hungry” or “homeless” is thought reductive. Emergency food organizations serve clients, not “poor people.”

I’m still pretty new to this. It’s taken some time for me to learn the jargon, and a Questioner, it really matters to me that my words be well-informed. What kind of world does “food insecurity” create? I ask that question having just read the Medium article, “Saying ‘People Experiencing Homelessness’ Will Not Influence Change.”

I’ll have to keep researching, ruminating on this. What I know, though, is many doing this work, myself included, probably don’t spend enough time talking with the food insecure/hungry. And our questions might sometimes be the wrong ones, generating answers that create a world where people are still hungry and homeless. 

Signifiers

My youngest daughter, Charly, is in 8th grade. This week her junior high celebrated its Spirit Week. Monday was “Dress Like a Book or Movie Character” day; Tuesday, "Tie Dye" day; and so on. Because Charly, like lots of kids, gives me ten minutes’ notice before these types of things, we didn’t have time to tie dye. She wore her older sister's rainbow-striped t-shirt.

Most evenings Charly and I walk our dog, Baron. Charly really talks to me during our walks, and we both protect this time together. Tuesday evening, she told me a kid she was passing in the hall leaned in to her face and said, "Faggot." She had on the rainbow-striped t-shirt. It didn’t hurt her feelings; she said this kid often bullies. It did make her mad. At first because he came into her personal space. She yelled after him, “That’s not very nice!” By the time of our walk, though, she wanted to “take him down” on behalf of those he bullies.

My mom’s been teaching 35 years. Her response to the incident is as follows:

There have always been and will always be kids who parrot the cruel misconceptions they hear at home. It often gives them a feeling of power to label others and see them as “the other.” Their words say much more about them than about the individual they have labeled, judged, and slammed. What to do? Parents and students need to tell teachers. They have an obligation to address such behaviors. As far as what kids do at the time? There is no point in engaging. In fact that is what those who bully thrive on. They want to argue. Perhaps the best thing is to give them the evil eye and walk off. Don’t give those who bully the satisfaction of knowing he/she got to you.

It definitely happened to me. I turned into my mother. I said almost the same thing to Charly as we talked about what she should do if she is a target for or witnesses this behavior again. 

You may be wondering how this relates to the LFP Project. The project provides no end of opportunities for labeling, judgment, and slamming of others. (If you haven’t seen it, find media coverage and check out comments.) Pantry stewards are project teachers. That means when we are informed about this kind of behavior in our communities, part of our work might be to educate and re-direct. For those not in our communities (in the comments), the evil eye is probably better.

Complicating matters, ALL OF US judge. Like junior high, the LFP Project presents an additional opportunity to actively choose trust, grace, and compassion instead. That’s so much harder It's also the project's covert, grand work.  

  • Please talk to kids about standing up to those who bully, even if you already have. I recommend my mom’s advice. She’s wise.