Sunday, March 2, 2014

“That’s Just Psycho” : On Being a Hippie Weirdo In the ‘Burbs

Sometimes I forget that we’re a bit “different” than a lot of folks in our immediate community. We don’t have cable, so we aren’t exposed to a lot of advertising. Some of our friends share a bit of our weirdness and those that don’t are used to us by now. Our families will sometimes ask questions, and our neighbors did double-takes last summer when we turned our front lawn into a garden, but overall I don’t often feel like the way we live is that far outside of the “norm”.

Don’t get me wrong, we are by no means cutting-edge in our approach to life. Our commitment to environmentalism, simplicity, frugality and breaking free of consumerism is deep and true, but in practice we are still refining things and finding our own way. We are relatively new to this urban/suburban homesteading thing.  There are far “greener” families than ours, that’s for sure. 

So I was really surprised a few weeks ago, when at a housewarming party for a work colleague, another colleague referred to me making my own yogurt as “psycho”. I don’t think she meant the comment to be terribly negative, but I found it odd that such a thing would be considered all that weird. The next week at the office, I overhead a group of women talking about it: “Did you know Kathryn makes her own yogurt?!” “Really? WHY?” “I could never do that”.

Last week my oldest son didn’t eat his school lunches. As it turns out, one of the other children told him his quinoa burger looked “weird” and “gross” and wondered why he didn’t have a “normal” lunch. Never mind that my son had been scarfing down the quinoa burgers like they were chocolate while helping me pack the lunch. He wanted a “normal” lunch too, which he informed me was things like chicken nuggets (store-bought), cheese strings, yogurt tubes and the like. He’s only 4. I thought I had more time until this stuff came up.

Last summer we put a garden in on the vacant lot next to us, with permission from the owners. You would have been forgiven for thinking we were planting pot, if you’d gone by the neighbors reactions. People looped around the street twice in their cars, slowing down to stare. People stopped us and asked us about what in the heck we were doing. Did we own this land now? Why would we put a garden in there? Does this mean anyone was allowed to eat the food ? People dumped their garbage in the garden. The by-law office was called because we used wood chips as mulch and someone didn’t like the looks of that. We were a bit flabbergasted – it wasn’t a meth lab for goodness sake, how can a garden be so controversial?

I’m not trying to sound self-righteous. We are by no means a family of eco-warriors, although we do aspire to be. We’re a two car family (for now) and we make many choices that are less than ideal from an environmental perspective. And while I do understand that some of the things we value and ds are not, shall we say, mainstream, its a little bit strange and isolating to feel so different from my peers. Moreover, I really worry about our kids feeling different as they get older. I believe in what we're doing, wholeheartedly. I truly feel that the only way we're going to make an impact on climate change is to stop trying to make everything convenient and easy, and rather re-learn some "old" skills like frugality, gardening, and cooking and most of all, learn to consume less. Its going to take a radical shift in values but its the kind of change that's actually achieved in small steps in our day-to-day lives with those little choices, like whether to bike or drive to the library or whether to make some yogurt at home or buy a 12-pack of disposable little containers of it.

Its a journey not a destination, and I don't think anyone should be criticized for whether they are on that journey. While I do think we are all going to have to change whether we like it or not because, lets face it, our current levels of consumption are completely unsustainable, we'll all have to find our own way in our own time. I'm in a much different place today than I was three or four years ago and I'd like to find a way to use my experiences as examples to my peers, so that growing much of one's own food on a suburban lot while working and raising young children doesn't seem totally impossible. I've spent a lot of my life trying not to be different or weird or anywhere outside of the norm. Its a silly and ultimately futile exercise anyway. Perhaps now is the time to just accept that as a family we do march to a different beat and that's ok. Hopefully we'll get some folks to join us along the way.

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