Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Am I Green?

What does it mean to be green?

For Kermit, it was as simple as looking at his own skin.

As I walked around the Chicago Green Festival on Saturday, looking at people wearing stickers saying, "I'm a Green American," I realized that I don't really think of myself as green. That is, I don't think of myself as living the environmentally-conscious life. To be sure, I'm pro environment, but I don't know if I really walk the talk. Because there's always more you can do.

What's funny is that I had this thought at the same time I was blowing my nose on my cloth handkerchief, carrying around my metal water bottle, which was wrapped up in my cloth napkin that I knew I'd be using for lunch, which was all transported to the conference in my hybrid Prius.

Hm, maybe I'm a little green.

What the question is really getting at, though, is this: Do I fit in here? Are these "green people" my people? Like so many questions in my life, the answer is complicated.

When I first started walking around the exhibit hall, I was absolutely thrilled to be there. I was convinced that this was the place for me. I sampled granola bar bits, cereal, salsa with weird tortillas, "tiny" popcorn, all-natural gum, and hundreds of kinds of chocolates. I tried hemp oil, hemp seeds, and hemp chocolate "milk", which was definitely NOT for me. I got some free coupons for this new wheat-based kitty litter, which I'd just started buying last month. I got some coupons for the kinds of granola bars I already buy at my local co-op. I heard a speaker talk about making your home more energy efficient, which was really cool because they had a hand-out which listed the average kWh of all these different things in your home. Did you know that a dehumidifier (228 kWh) uses 13 times more energy than an oven (18)?

I got some business cards made out of elephant poop. No shit! Mr. Ellie Pooh, LLC, makes paper out of elephant poo.

I really wanted to buy this shirt, but I didn't have enough cash and the guy's credit card machine wasn't working.

I got a free sample of a new kind of water bottle made entirely out of plants. No petroleum whatsoever. That was pretty cool. The label said the bottle was compostable, but when I asked the guy more about it, he said that was industrial composting, where they heat it. If I throw it in my compost bin in my back yard, it won't decompose.

I also bought some decanters made from old wine bottles, and some all-natural household cleaner to replace my 409.

There were also a lot of really cute hippie-ish women with no makeup and sensible shoes there, the kind of women I tend to be attracted to.

All these things were very cool and made me feel like I belonged.


But there were also things that made me feel like I didn't belong. Perhaps I'm just too cynical to really get into the spirit. The largest presence at the festival was Ford, which was showing off some of its hybrid and electric models. Ford also sponsored all of the "Resource Recovery Stations," which turned out to be the trash/recycling areas. For the longest time I walked around looking for a trash or recycling bin, but it never occurred to me to use something called a Resource Recovery Station. Can you hear the sound of my eyes rolling?

The keynote speaker was pretty inspiring, all about how we live in a corporatocracy where large corporations have all the power, and we need to hold them accountable, but I couldn't help but notice the contradiction between that and the presence of Ford all over this conference.

There was an exhibit for something called Ki, which is some new-agey massage-like thing where they appear to just wave their hands all around your body, maybe destroying thetons or midiclorians or juicing up your Jedi powers. As you can see, I'm a skeptic.

The weirdest exhibit I visited was something called the Humane Society University. They had tons of promotional materials with dogs and cats on them. It's an online, for-profit "university" that somehow has a connection to the Humane Society. Presumably the diploma certifies that you and indeed a good graduate, yes you are, yes you are! I had trouble understanding what exactly the purpose was, and even more trouble understanding what this had to do with a "green" festival.

Sit. Stay. Roll over.

One of the talks I went to gave out fortune cookies. Here's what mine read: "Your fortune will not escape your home when you plug leaks with air sealing and insulation." Yeah, that's cheesy.

Speaking of cheesy, the biggest way I felt different was the food. It was all vegan. I got lunch from a place called Soul Vegetarian, which tried to reproduce Southern soul food. I got the lunch plate, which included barbecue bits, mac & cheese, greens, and cornbread. The barbecue was seitan, a meat substitute, which was pretty good, but the mac & cheese was a huge disappointment. It was some sort of unholy approximation of cheese that just made it taste way worse than if they called it something different. The greens were okay, but the cornbread was way too dry.

I know that a vegan diet is way more green, but the word itself scares me. I just can't give up my dairy. And there are more humane ways to get it than from factory farms. The one saving grace about vegans is they still have chocolate. There were tons of chocolate exhibits there, and I sampled dozens of different kinds. I even bought myself a bar of organic fair trade orange dark chocolate (70% cacao). The cynic in me wonders, though, how many people would still be vegan if they had to give up chocolate?

Anyway, I'm not going to debate that whole issue here. I just mean to say, I feel out of place around militant vegans. And Ki practitioners. And people who think they're saving the Earth by using a Resource Recovery Station instead of a recycling bin. And I don't like signing petitions about things I haven't investigated first.

So like Kermit says, it's not easy being green.


chocolatechip said...

I love this post. I think the things that made you feel out-of-place don't make you less green. Either you're more green (like being bothered by Ford) or more logical. Is the bottled water in the picture the compostable bottle you wrote about?

I have some really good vegan mac 'n cheese at home right now. I think of myself as vegan-friendly, and I made this recipe just because I was curious. Or possibly because I wanted to do something with pasta and don't have that sauces cookbook that you have. And I also have a notebook made out of elephant pooh!

Tim said...

Thanks, cc.

Yeah, the bottled water is called Green Planet. http://www.greenplanetbottling.com/