Please visit WasteNotFoodTaxi.org/blog for current posts. Thanks for your support!
I know, I've said it a dozen times before -- I'm going to slow down. I feel like a smoker who keeps saying she's going to quit. I slow down for a week or two, then get bored and jump into some new project that escalates and grows until I'm as busy as ever. I'm hoping, really hoping, that this last medical scare is big enough to convince me to change my lifestyle for good. My wonderful husband and daughter are all over my case about it.
I have to recognize that slowing down physically doesn't require me to stop being productive or useful. I just have to do more of it from my desk and less from the car. I have to organize and build my volunteer network so that when stores have food to donate, I don't have to get it myself. I have to get the app into my drivers' and donors' hands so we can work out all the kinks and then offer it to other communities to help solve the food waste problem.
All that is easier said than done. There are a lot of pieces I don't know how to accomplish yet, and I'll need more mental energy than I have this week. Here's hoping healing comes quickly, at least to my mind and spirits, so I can tackle the puzzles at hand.
This is such a tiny thing in the grand scheme of life. Change your lifestyle. Sure, OK, I'm on it. But we don't like change, do we? We certainly don't like slowing down, accepting that we're able to do much less, cutting back the budget, downsizing the house, getting rid of all that stuff that we saved for a reason, some reason, that we can't remember anymore.
A friend was notified recently that her rent would be increasing by 50%. No way her modest budget could accommodate that. She's lucky to have adult children nearby who own their home. They've converted a back yard shed into a granny pod -- a 500 square foot cottage where she can live within her means. 500 square feet. My closet is more than 500 square feet, and sometimes it's not big enough!
How do we change? Slow down? Cut back? Downsize? How do we take everything that represents our lives, our impact on the world, our dreams, and our hearts, and slash it down to 500 square feet, or to the limits set by doctors, or to live within our means when our means don't seem to be nearly enough? How does the disabled senior employee provide for herself when the job dries up? How does the self-employed guy bounce back when illness closes his business? How indeed.
I saw a real estate listing today for a house over on the east side of Portland (which I've always thought of as lower in property value than the Bethany area where we live). The home is about the same size as ours, maybe slightly larger, but only three bedrooms and on a smaller lot than ours. It's nicely landscaped and has a lot more curb appeal than ours. (Someday I'll have my garden -- someday.) It was built 90 years ago, compared to our 50 year old home. The asking price? $725,000. Dollars. Srsly. It's a cute house, but come on!
Less than 20% of homes being built today are considered "entry-level," that is, inexpensive enough for a first-time buyer to hope to qualify for one at some point. If they've saved $20,000 or more, if they have perfect credit including paying all their student loans and medical bills on time, and if they can gather enough roommates to share the mortgage payment. Some pretty big ifs.
Just as we baby boomers are aging and cutting back and downsizing, our society is facing similar changes. Gone are the days of throwing anything and everything in the trash, of buying imported out-of-season fruit, of flying off for vacation anywhere we wish. The world needs to cut back. We need to get off fossil fuel and quit with the landfill system already. We need to grow vegetables instead of lawns and buy local and be mindful of the destruction left in the wake of our choices. We need to buy less and reuse more. And we need to teach our young people how to walk gently on this planet and to share it with people of all shapes and sizes and colors and faiths, not to mention all other forms of life we're lucky enough to share this home with.
We have to change. We know it. We don't like it. We have to do it anyway. And it's not going to be pretty. We're going to try and fail and try again and forget and retry and need one another to remind us why it's important. It's as hard as quitting smoking, as an addict choosing sobriety, as losing weight and embracing an active lifestyle. It's tough. Life is tough. I'm going to give it my best effort today. I'll deal with tomorrow when tomorrow comes.
A year ago, neither of my kids had jobs or any particular path for the future. My husband, unable to work, was facing the end of his disability insurance with no Social Security approval in sight. I, having already been declared disabled, was sitting at home not doing much of anything, which really doesn't suit me. I decided to get off my butt and do something productive, try to make a difference, try to lend a hand. I decided to raise money for a cause, get the kids involved in something meaningful they could put on their resumes, and build the potential for a future income if my husband's claim fell through.
The kids jumped in, eager to do the heavy work and be part of something good. We made it up as we went, and after a year, I have to say it's going surprisingly well. Then my son got a job and we've been missing his strength and energy. My daughter moved in with friends. A couple of other young people are willing to help, sometimes, but they need to be earning wages. Before you know it, I was doing the baking, the shopping, the food pick ups and deliveries, the market booths, the PR, the networking.
Did I mention that I'm disabled? Yeah, I'm not very good at that. I like to push myself, do my best, beat my own records. I don't want to pay for help that takes money away from desperately poor people. So I overdid, over-committed, over-worked, started forgetting to eat, neglected my water bottle. In just a few days, I was all used up. A five-day hospital stay got me re-hydrated, re-nourished,, re-oxygenated, and rested. They brought my blood pressure back up so I'd stay conscious, killed whatever infections were trying to take over, and forced me to sit still and learn to breathe again, literally.
This is one of the safety nets we tend to take for granted in America. I had a dozen doctors of various specialties studying my chart. I had this amazing team of nurses that got to know me, cared about me personally, took responsibility for my recovery. I had two different IVs and a machine that programmed fluid and medication volume down to the second. An hour didn't go by when they didn't check my blood pressure, oxygen, temperature, and pulse. Medications were ordered and arrived in moments. Housekeeping came in twice a day to sanitize. When I buzzed the nurses' station, I had help in less than a minute. I had a private room with a beautiful view, a large bathroom, luxurious shower, my own thermostat, a recliner for me and another chair for visitors.
Why has healthcare gotten so expensive? Because it's gotten so GOOD. We expect the best that science and technology have to offer. Gone are the days of rows of beds with nurses holding wrists and looking at watches. No more are we prepared to hear, "I'm sorry, we don't have any medication for you, but we'll try to get some soon." An on-call general practice doctor when I arrive in the ER? Absolutely not -- we have specialists and consultations and hospitalists who, in addition to our cure doctors, serve as our continuity of care doctors. Oh,, and of course we have wi-fi in every department.
I'm embarrassed. I brought my illness on myself, and I should have known better. I should take more responsibility for my own health and quit relying on medical services to rescue me. I'm embarrassed that I took so much valuable time from busy professionals, that I used so many resources, that I wallowed in luxury while my friends downtown wondered if that lady with the bagels was going to show up so they could eat something today.
The tough decision is choosing between making some serious money to do bigger, better projects to fight food waste and hunger, or easing up on the physical demands and settling for a smaller impact in the interest of my own health. I've never been good at taking care of my physical self. Give me intellect or emotion or spirituality any day. But here we are. I'll be hanging up my baker's hat and taking Waste Not Food Taxi in another direction. Not because I can't do it, but because the abundance of care and resources and time and money it takes to back me up only takes all those things away from people who are suffering through no fault of their own.
We are surrounded, inundated, overwhelmed with abundance of care, of material possessions, of money and choices and opportunities. That's OK. We can have all that and be grateful for it. But we cannot squander it. We cannot take our privilege for granted. We cannot believe that we have all this because we deserve it or because we're somehow better or more worthy than the huge percentage of the world that must do without.
With privilege and abundance comes responsibility. We are in a unique position to use all these resources to make life better for so many others. To preserve the natural world that we depend on for existence. To reverse the mistakes of our predecessors and put mankind on a path toward life and health and dignity for all of us. I don't have the right to ignore my responsibility for health because my ego wants to do bigger things.
I have received an abundance of care. It's up to me to make sure it isn't wasted.
I had the great pleasure of spending last weekend with my parents, all of my siblings, and all the kids, spouses, significant others, etc. We're a pretty big group! The last time we were all together was at my niece's wedding in Seattle ten years ago, at which we didn't get to visit much. It was fun, this time, to spend some time talking with each brother and sister, to learn what's going on in their lives, to experience the dynamics of their family units, and especially to sing together.
It brought back so many memories. I remember Oichan (we called her Winnie back then) seeming like kind of a misfit. Well, she's Chinese, so obviously she has a different look and ethnic background than the rest of us, but I mean beyond that. She went through some really rough times before we joined families in 1969, times that I couldn't possibly understand. I never felt that I got to know her very well, and I haven't stayed in touch.
Raising my daughter has inspired me to think of Oichan often the last several years. Katie has had more tough times than I can even relate to, although she and I are very close. I had a suspicion that she and Oichan would connect. They did. Katie was thrilled to finally meet a member of my family who had a lot in common with her, who had made different choices than the rest of us, who understood what it felt like to be the black sheep or odd duck or whatever animal you want to call it. They both felt like misfits. Their unique gifts help to round out the mostly-blond, mostly-mainstream, mostly-suburban middle class that the rest of us are.
Katie got a chance to show her fire poi (spinning flaming balls on chains) to everyone. For the first time, she felt that the family was impressed by her, that they admired something about her, that she was memorable. She's very graceful and skilled. I've always known it, but the rest of the brood see her so seldom, and she's had so many dark stretches that she mostly felt like a disappointment.
Have you ever felt like you didn't belong? Like nobody "got" you? Like you didn't matter? It's such a lonely, painful sensation. Many of our loved ones feel it without us ever being aware. When we do find out, we tend to react with, "Why do you feel that way? That's not accurate." It's not about accuracy, it's about perception. It's about feeling so different from the rest that you can't believe they would support you or believe in you.
So many of our homeless friends, especially the teenage ones, feel like misfits. Their families didn't understand them or didn't support them or didn't believe in them, and that's how they ended up on the streets. And because we're so hesitant to engage with street people ourselves, their perception of being ostracized is perpetuated.
Each of us has the power to change a little bit of this huge societal problem, and if we all do, maybe we can overcome it. If we stretch our awareness a little bit and reach out a little more to someone who seems to be standing in the shadows, we might discover a new treasured friend. We might learn something about them and about ourselves that we can't discover in our normal routines and circles.
Our world needs a lot less divisiveness and a lot more reaching out. Who can you approach today to expand your world and make them feel like they matter?
Knute and I leave in the morning for a gathering of all my siblings -- something that has happened only twice in my adult life. We'll stay in charming cottages in Ashland, take in a play, celebrate Mom's 80th birthday, and see all of the younger set while we can still recognize them and before they graduate college. A couple of other family members and friends will be in town too, and I can't wait to see everybody. I'm blessed to have an astonishingly loving, fun, and supportive family. My son will stay home and tend the animals -- his job is too new to allow time off yet.
It seems odd to take a vacation. My whole life is pretty much vacation. I do what I want most of the time. The kids are grown and, although they still live at home, they're self sufficient. My husband is the most low-maintenance person alive. I get a nap in the afternoon a couple of times a week.
Of course, the afternoon naps make me think of my friends on the street. Portland is patient and gracious as most cities go, but the homeless are rousted at 8:00 a.m. to clear the sidewalks and doorways for businesses. It makes no difference when they got to sleep or whether they're sick or their backs are aching from sleeping on concrete. Up and out, everybody.
Where would one go for a little more sleep if one didn't have a home or a bed or a door to close against the world? Where would one wash? There are a few public restrooms around, and I've even seen a pay-per-use shower downtown, which is awesome. I can give a few people enough coins for a shower and feel great doing it. Breakfast can be found at the missions, and the trash cans outside the coffee places tend to have bits of pastries and other freshly-thrown-out leftovers. But a nap? Only if one can find shelter under or behind some shrubbery. There's no legal place to nap in the daytime.
I can see why so many homeless people don't mind too much when they get arrested. Jail is more comfortable than the sidewalk, meals are provided, and naps are allowed. It's an awfully expensive way for the city to meet the needs of the poor, and I hope someday we manage to provide free shelter for the chronically homeless. But for now, at least there are jails, and at least the people in them are treated with a modicum of dignity. Life could be worse.
So, off I go to Ashland and fun and luxury and excesses of food and a classy play. I'll try not to carry too much guilt along, and I'll be paying attention to how people treat the poor in another community. But I'll be eager to get back on Sunday and resume my food deliveries. Giving away food is the most satisfying thing I do. I wish I could also hand out some naps!
I have set up a visually appealing booth at Portland Saturday Market. The purpose is to draw people's attention enough that they'll want to talk about what we do. There's a brochure and some signs, some "Your purchase helps us..." information. But it is brownies and fudge that attract people. I get a lot of "Ooooh fudge!" and "Yum!" reactions. I have to agree, it does look delicious.
I don't understand how our society can be so full of unmet needs, and still have such frivolous wants. Or how we believe that giving someone something that we want will somehow make them feel better, even if they have needs that aren't met.
I have a wonderful pastor friend who is making a huge difference in Nicaragua and Haiti. He saw mission trips going to these poverty-stricken areas and engaging with the residents -- putting on a bible school for the kids, painting a building -- you know the routine. He said he was in the dump in Managua, where about 1,000 people were living, and felt like a hypocrite. Dozens of mission-trip folks would talk to the dump residents, express sorrow at their living conditions, and offer them a mint. OK, maybe not a mint, maybe a good meal, but still, the problem wasn't being address. Pastor Ron started a church and a school and a free meal program, and his organization now provides micro-loans so people can pull themselves out of the deepest poverty and create small incomes for their families' needs. It's brilliant.
So I'm sitting in my booth downtown, in the south waterfront area that is better than it was but still an area of poverty and desperation, and the people walking by want brownies. They don't see the woman crouched in a doorway ten feet away, wrapped in an old tarp against the wind and rain. Several of them donate an extra dollar, because they know I'll make soup and then these people will at least have a hot meal. But the real problem remains, and we feel powerless to solve it.
Other cities are building mini houses for their homeless populations, including medical clinics, free or cheap cafeterias, and small markets. Some are redesigning their park benches to convert into covered beds at night. Most are recognizing that we have a responsibility to our poverty-stricken residents, and are doing their best to address the situation.
I want. But I don't want sweets. I don't want trinkets or souvenirs or fancy coffee drinks. I want a solution. I want to be the food provider in the mini-house village that our city provides to our street people. I want to walk through downtown with my head high, knowing that I'm doing something that matters. When I see someone on the street, I want to be able to tell them where there's a warm, dry place to sleep. A cup of soup and a pair of socks are nice, but they're still just a band-aid.
The problem isn't just hunger. It's inhumanity. As George Bernard Shaw said, "The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity."
We are not helpless against inhumanity though. Each of us can embrace what Alan Paton said, "There is only one way in which one can endure man's inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one's own life, to exemplify man's humanity to man." Ah, that's what I want -- humanity. I want to embrace, represent, express, and spread humanity. One brownie at a time.
I'm not supposed to lift more than 10 pounds for the foreseeable future. Right. You all know how good I am at taking care of myself and following doctors' orders. We load a hundred pounds of brownies, plus tables, tents, chairs, shelves, and more five times a week to sell at booths. Then unload, set up, tear down, reload, and unload at home. Just the weights for the canopy are 25 pounds each. A sheet pan of brownies is 20 pounds.
So I have limitations, and they're not convenient, and they keep me from doing things I want to do, like go for walks and haul food donations and fix up my yard. Oh poor me. What if any of us had limitation that really impacted our ability to live a normal life? Like being born without arms, or needing daily medical treatments, or being confined to a wheelchair? What if those disabilities made it impossible to work, but social security disability is about half what we need to rent a studio apartment?
We'd be living on the streets, that's what. I keep harping on the same theme, because it's important that we all understand and really embrace this. Homeless people are not the losers, the failures, the addicts, the criminals. Homeless people are the vulnerable, the marginalized, the victims of abuse and prejudice and financial insanity. They're families. Teenagers. Young adults whose parents don't recognize that we live in a different world than they did growing up, and you can't just go get a job and your own apartment.
Rents in Portland have doubled in the last two years. That means a two bedroom apartment that two young couples used to share for $400 a month each now costs $1600, and even if all four of them work full-time, entry-level, $10-an-hour jobs, after taxes rent is nearly half their income. Economists agree that housing expenses should not exceed a third of your income. And employers are getting frugal and hiring people for 30 hours a week instead of 40 so they don't have to pay benefits. So now these four kids have no health insurance and even less possibility of paying rent, utilities, transportation, and all the other expenses that go along with living as an independent adult. Want to buy a house? The average home price in Portland is now around $450,000. Good luck.
Now take a look at those young people. They're smart and did well in high school. The school was so overcrowded, though, so inefficient, and they were so bored waiting around for "no child left behind" backtracking that they gave up and got their GEDs. Not because they're dumb or lazy, but because the education system is ineffective for gifted young people. Now add some mental illness, because soon we'll all have it. We live under such constant stress and pressure, bombarded every moment with news, ads, useless information, important events, decisions, choices, warnings, notifications, beeps, and thumps that we can't possibly sort through it all. I know the serenity of the wilderness because I was forced to backpack when I was a kid. Millennials aren't getting the exposure to peace and quiet that we did. They're not bonding with neighborhood kids for life. They're not getting enough sleep. The demands of functioning in the digital age with the endless input are pushing people over the edge. Just look at the news and compare it to the effects on animal groups in over-populated conditions. Nature does weird stuff to us.
These are our homeless people. Our children. Our grandparents. The people who would be our loved ones if anybody had any capacity to love after being used up by the demands of survival ourselves.
As life becomes faster, more advanced, more difficult, more competitive, more unhealthy, we become worse instead of better, weaker instead of stronger, more scared than brave, more selfish than generous. We have to work so hard to keep up that our ability to give and care and empathize dries up.
Our homeless neighbors are fighting real, tangible disabilities. Are we going to let modern society disable us, too, to the point that we can't take care of one another?
After a long day in a booth last week, I was telling my husband about the fun part of the day -- cruising around the streets of Portland at 8:00 on a Saturday morning, handing out muffins, bagels, croissants, and various other pastries Safeway would otherwise have had to throw away. The police roust the homeless at 8:00. They do it as gently as they can. They're sympathetic, and they know quite a few of these guys were awake late, drinking if they could get liquor, smoking if they could bum cigarettes, and otherwise indulging however possible to temporarily escape the hell that their lives have become.
One guy in particular was asleep face-down on the sidewalk with his arms in awkward positions. He didn't look good from my car. I actually thought he might be dead. I pulled over, got out, and walked over to him. A couple of other people on the street also approached him. One guy nudged him with his foot, telling him to hurry and wake up. The police were just a block away, and if he couldn't get himself up, he'd be arrested. The poor guy was just trying to sleep. He looked positively miserable, and who could blame him. He yelled and muttered at the guy who had nudged him, and he started to pull himself up. I asked him if he'd like a couple of muffins. All of a sudden he seemed like a person. He looked at me and said that would be awesome. That was the best thing anybody could say to him. And thank you. And you're an angel. You get the picture -- he went instantly from feeling victimized to feeling lucky. Because of a couple of muffins.
My husband was supportive, as always, but said he wished I would take someone with me on these little jaunts of mine. He's probably right, and I will, if and when I find someone as crazy as I am. It occurred to me how very different all of our points of view were on this one tiny moment -- a guy waking up on the street before the police came, and a crazy lady giving out day-old muffins. The police with their sympathy and their duty, the other homeless guy with his impersonal nudge as the best support he had to offer, me with my passion for getting the food to the people, my husband with his concern for my safety, and lastly, the guy and his reaction to the short series of minor events.
It made me think about how often I react to situations without paying any attention to my reaction. Do I choose it? Am I reacting based on previous similar incidents? Do I choose to trust or fear or care or let go or enjoy or judge with my whole mind, or are my pre-programmed prejudices running me? We all have prejudices. Hopefully we're becoming a little more aware of them thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, along with all the work so many have undertaken to develop equality and fairness in this country. We are so far away from the goal, and I never would have imagined that I was part of the problem, but I am. I make assumptions that other lives share similar experiences to mine. I expect self control and manners and generosity and honesty in everyone, because those are qualities I was raised to have and to value. It's hard to imagine what life would be like if I didn't believe in anybody.
Knowing that millions of people are without homes, without food, without medical care or clean water or clothing makes me take action and want to help solve these problems. But when I realize that millions of people don't know what it feels like to care or be cared for, I'm numb. I can't embrace it. I can't imagine or empathize or envision any cure for the intensity of it, the poverty of heart. This is a poverty I have no muffins for.
I got a call the other day from the TV show, Portlandia. They give local products to their guest stars in goody bags and asked if we'd like to be included. Of course. They'll also put some in the props department, so you might see one on a show sometime, if you watch closely, which I rarely do.
Anyway, that's fun publicity for us, and the price is right -- free. We have no budget. We count on meeting people to get the word out -- talking to folks at the farmers' markets, calling stores and charities to build the network that will channel food to people instead of to landfills. It's a long, slow process.
What's getting all the publicity this week, of course, is the shootings. Police shooting innocent black men. Police shooting black men even if they're dangerous criminals. Protesters shooting policemen. Protests and more protests and so much anger. I think I understand it. So many people have been living with less than they need for so long, and now that political leadership has gone off the deep end, everyone feels the time has come to express the frustration. It was never gone. We've been living in a bubble.
So we're all asking ourselves who's to blame? Is it the police for discharging their weapons too quickly? The black community for appearing aggressive? The political extremists on both ends yelling that things are not OK in America right now? The white supremacists? (One little opinion I have is that white supremacists have no more business being hired as peace officers than people convicted of violent crimes. It's just not a good mix.)
But the blame, I feel, belongs on publicity. Because our news agencies are for-profit, and because people gawk, open-mouthed, at sensational stories, our reporters have to report what's dramatic, scary, bloody, horrifying, and emotional. That's how they make money. If we, as consumers of the news, can't take responsibility for our own discretion, we will continue to hear the worst, and the ugliest.
It's just like buying food -- there's a whole fast food industry built on the preference we all have proven for cheap, greasy, salty, instant food. Grocery stores have responded to demand as well, stocking packaged, processed, advertised items that are tailored to our weaknesses, our impulses, our emotional decisions. If we all used our heads when buying food, we wouldn't be inundated with junk.
It's not a bad part of human nature that we believe what we hear and are told, especially by our friends and families. But the sources of our information have broken down so completely that we shouldn't trust most of what reaches our eyes and ears. We need to question more. Research more. Dig into what's going on and ask ourselves the questions professional reporters used to ask for us -- who, what, where, when, and especially why? If we don't get the why, we aren't getting the story, and we react to the drama without enough information.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The most horrific story gets the screen time. It's never been more true than it is today. I think my project deserves more publicity. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way. But as long as we allow ourselves to be blinded by the headlights of sensationalism, we'll never know all the stories, all the reasons, or all the good that's going on in the world.
We sure have changed our definition of necessity in the last 100 years. I've joked that I'd be OK living in a box as long as I had wifi. What are your necessities? Do they change based on circumstances? I know I take my luxuries for granted most of the time. And even when we had to cut our budget way back, we still have comforts never dreamed of in 1920. Let's look at a few:
I could go on and on, but that's not my point. My point is that only in the last 50 years have Americans believed that a house, electricity, heat, clean running water, a livable wage, weather-appropriate clothing, a telephone, a bank account, a car, and dozens of other items are necessities. Could you live without them? Do you believe it might ever be necessary?
There are no guarantees in this world of ours. The very planet we live on is violent and unpredictable. Humans have plenty of intelligence, but not nearly enough wisdom. Governments bend and change and collapse and re-emerge. Currencies fail. Infrastructures wear out. The electromagnetic pulse is now considered a weapon of mass destruction, and apparently every major nation has the capability to deploy it.
So as we sit sipping our Starbucks lattes and reading our Facebook feeds, it might serve us well to remember that we are living in an extravagant, luxurious bubble that will not last, and that we'll need one another, at some point, in order to survive. This might be a good time to meet that new neighbor, greet the family visiting your church, stop in at your fire station with some warm cookies.
The investments that we make in our relationships are the only investments that retain value no matter what. Our greatest necessity is one another.
Former pastry chef, amateur writer, and passionate about helping the less fortunate, I appreciate your time and am grateful to all who share my site with others. Together, we can make a difference.