Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pickles, Sustainability, & Twinkies

It started with making pickles and a visit to the barber. My husband told the barber about my pickle experiments and the barber told my husband about a hardware store, Lehman's, where sustainable products are available for those, like the Amish, who stay off the grid can find old fashioned pickle jars from Germany, nonelectric appliances, compostable toilets, and hand tools. A few days later we were passing horses and buggies as we neared the shop’s grounds.

Before me was a whole new ballgame. Inside, horse drawn carriages can be bought along with every kind of canning supply, wood burning stoves, off the grid refrigerators, and large copper cauldrons for making apple butter. Up to this moment, the ideal washing machine was a stainless steel front loader that can be fully stuffed and plugged into the wall. I was in the grip of products that utilize only human power.

I use cloth napkins, line dry laundry, and buy local as I can get food which can be farm to table here. Our home improvements (to a 1910 house) have included energy efficient appliances, double paned windows, and foam insulation. Our wood burning stove looks like a fireplace, but is designed for efficiency to burn hotter and radiate heat into the room. However, seeing that life can be off the grid but not camping took over my imagination at a whole new level.

I will not likely ditch my current home and life. Searching for ideas on sustainable practices, I turned to Pinterest and created a pin board titled “Unabomber Shack," before I realized this was probably not the greatest heading. Doomsday planning feels negative and off-putting. Instead, I looked for ideas like “Sustainable Living, Passive House, and Off the Grid Living." There are some interesting products, ideas, and options for those who are willing to go even part way. My board is currently titled, "Eco, Green, Sustainable."

We passed a number of windmills on our drive to Chicago. I can't comprehend the resistance to green energy and making changes to the electric grid in the States which would serve all Americans with the benefits of renewable energy, less environmental destruction, and cleaner water, air, etc. Combined with products that demand less energy, wind power (and other forms of renewable energy) feels like a win for the everyman. In the museums, Science + Industry and the Field, displays of bygone cultures that lived in harmony with the environment spoke of modern life's destruction of habitats, the changes from hunter gathers to farmers, the rise of strong leaders that created great works like the the pyramids of Egypt, earthworks by American Indians, and temples in Mexico. We could build equally wonderful works and systems that enhance the lives of all, but instead community resources are more often marshaled for sport's complexes. From our coal mine tour, at Science + Industry, we were directed to the Twinkie display made from coal byproducts. The Twinkie is a testament to our ability to preserve food, born October 8, 2009, it has a birth certificate on display next to it. It looks marvelous,

Canning and preserving the produce from farmers and my own garden is a step toward sustainability that I can control. The work and the connection to the seasons is enjoyable if at times, time consuming. On the plus side, there is something about vinegar in vegetables that makes them wake up and sparkle in your mouth.

There isn’t room for the windmill composter in my backyard so I’ll still be tossing compost with my pitchfork. However, there is a pressure canner waiting for me to push fear aside and save for the season as well as an old fashioned pickle jar fermenting in the basement.

Twinkie born October 8, 2009 on display at Science + Industry Museum


  1. " displays of bygone cultures that lived in harmony with the environment spoke of modern life's destruction of habitats"

    Well yes and no. There were many fewer people, but still there were impacts. For example, I read a paper just last week about people arriving in Australia, and changing the climate through changing the fire regime.

    Now mankind is much more efficient. Yes we could return to old inefficient ways as a means of forcing the slowing down our consumption, and go back to spending most of our hours just trying to survive. Instead could we just slow down our consumption? What would we do with all our spare time!? Problem is that what we do with that time is consume. We're consumption addicts! Should we "just sit" like Buddha perhaps...?

    1. We could have time to garden, hang clothes on the line, lay in the sunshine, can jars of salsa, repair broken tools, chop firewood, write blog posts, read a book, cook for friends, or do for others? Maybe these are tricks that keep us from consuming less. The real conversation might need to be within or while contemplating Buddha instead of shopping online. There is something more that can be done at each stage of where we find ourselves.


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