Entries Tagged 'Miscellaneous' ↓
June 16th, 2011 — Interviews, Miscellaneous
I’ve been trying to cut non-seafood meat out of my diet for the past year. I’ve managed for months at a time sometimes, but I haven’t been consistent. I’ve been trying to cut down on seafood lately too. I thought it was interesting that two members of my immediate family, my brother Ben and our Mom, have been moving in a similar direction, despite us living in different places. I’m Dan Copulsky, and I’ve been piecing this piece together for too many months.
Dan: You’ve mentioned off-hand a couple of times trying to eat less meat, but I honestly can’t remember what exactly you said. How long have you been eating less meat and what exactly have you been eating?
Mom: I’ve been eating less meat in a non-deliberate way for a long time for a few reasons: I don’t cook, Dad doesn’t cook that much, when he does cook he doesn’t often make meat, and when I go out to eat I usually prefer seafood over meat. However, it has always bothered me that I eat meat, and over the past four or five months I’ve been much more deliberately avoiding it—although I haven’t made the step of completely renouncing it.
Dan: A couple of months ago you stopped eating meat, but then after a month you started again because it seemed to be affecting your health. What’s your diet been like since?
Ben: I’m not sure how much it was really affecting my health. I generally felt more tired when I wasn’t eating meat, and as soon as I started again I felt better, but it could have been coincidence or psychosomatic. Now I’m eating meat, but less than I used to, and I’m trying to mostly eat free-range.
It seemed like my Dad’s diet and perspective on eating meat was an important piece of all this too. I’d been kind of surprised how totally unsurprised he was when I told him about the change in my diet, and I really didn’t know what his feelings were.
Dan: What are your diet and cooking habits like these days?
Dad: I haven’t been cooking much at all but hope to get back to preparing two to three dinners a week. Now, typically one meal a day will be a lettuce/greens salad which once in a while will have a slice or two of salami. The second meal either a sandwich (which may or may not be meat) or else restaurant or take out which usually ends up including meat.
Two of the three people I live with are pescetarian. My partner Kat doesn’t eat meat because of moral objections to factory farming and our roommate doesn’t eat meat as a health decision. They’ve certainly influenced my choice, at the very least in that it makes sense to cook pescetarian when we eat together, but I find it interesting that my own motivation comes much more from a moral issue with killing animals at all. I was curious if my family might be more on the same wavelength about why we want to eat less meat.
Dan: Why do you think it’s better not to eat meat?
Ben: I think it’s better to be a vegetarian for moral reasons. I think meat-based diets and vegetarian diets can both be healthy. I don’t have major moral objections to eating animals, just to the way the animals are raised and treated. Even meat that’s marked as free-range can come from some pretty inhumane conditions. Animal farming also tends to be bad for the environment.
Mom: Although I do care about the health aspect, that plays a much smaller role than the moral issues, with factory farming being the single biggest reason to not want to eat meat. I am not completely morally opposed to killing animals, although I don’t think it’s something I could feel comfortable doing myself. I am morally opposed to animals suffering for my sake. I struggle with the knowledge that of course some animals kill other animals in the wild, so it’s “natural,” but it still feels like we humans could hold ourselves to a higher standard of not causing suffering so easily. I feel repulsed by the idea of any creature being tortured for sport, but where animal populations are too great to sustain themselves and they would otherwise starve, I see hunting them as the more humane option. When I think back to the local farmers where I grew up in rural New Jersey, and remember the chickens running free all the time, I don’t have a moral problem with it. It’s sad to me that it’s hard to assure that quality of life for animals today. Another factor is the “cost to the planet” as far as the use of resources to raise meat, so even if it’s humanely raised it seems more earth-friendly to still not eat meat.
Dan: And what do you think about eating meat?
Dad: When I first started to regularly cook, I was living in a house with several vegetarians and we all took turns making dinner, so I got in the habit of cooking and eating non-meat dishes. I’ve never felt that a meal needs meat to be complete. I’m not too troubled morally/ethically by eating meat, although I prefer to eat animals that are theoretically less self-aware than those that are more so. I tend to not eat a lot of beef for a combination of reasons—taste, health, and environment.
My Mom’s sister, my Aunt Peggy, was one of the first people I knew who didn’t eat meat. She used to be a vegan, but now she’s a vegetarian. Their sister, my Aunt Colleen, has also been vegetarian for a while. My brother’s high school girlfriend Magda was the first vegetarian I considered a close friend. Being around these people never consciously affected how I felt about eating meat, but I’m sure knowing them helped make it a choice I considered changing.
Dan: How have other people influenced your decision? Did Aunt Peggy and Aunt Colleen play a role?
Mom: Other people have certainly influenced my decision just by being in my mental landscape. Aunt Peggy has played the greatest role for that since she has been either vegan or vegetarian for going on twenty years. Then having Aunt Colleen make that choice has made it even more on my radar, as well as many other folks who cross my path, such as Kat and my friend Fran. I’ve also been influenced just by the green movement in general, and have just become ever more conscious of the fact that every choice I make does matter.
Dan: How did Magda influence your feelings about eating meat?
Ben: I don’t really know how to answer this question because I just can’t even remember high school that well. I know I tried going vegetarian for a little while in high school, which presumably was somehow influenced by Magda, but beats me how.
Particularly since our motivations for eating less meat aren’t the same, and even our goals for our diets are different, I found it interesting that we’re all moving in this direction now. I’m curious if we played a role in each others’ decisions or if it’s just chance.
Dan: Do you think it’s a coincidence that three of us are moving towards eating less meat now, or do you think we’ve influenced each other?
Ben: I think it’s mostly chance, but I might have been subconsciously inspired by you. I’m really not sure why I’ve decided to cut down on meat now when I’ve been eating plenty of it most of my life.
Mom: Well, at the very least, it is a coincidence, but I don’t know whether or not it’s just a coincidence. Possibly not since we were all exposed to some of the same things both in our smaller circles as well as in society at large over the same time frame. Another factor in the timing for me was visiting my step-cousin’s organic farm in New Jersey. My step-cousin Jack and his wife Cheryl have other full time jobs and raise organic chicken and steer part time.
I’m eager to start keeping a pescetarian diet more consistently and to move towards eating less seafood and keeping a stricter vegetarian diet. I’d also like to eat more that’s locally produced and maybe even have my own garden. But with how much my feelings on food have changed in the last five years, it’s odd thinking long-term about what my diet might look like.
Dan: Do you have any predictions on what our family’s diets will look like in a decade?
Mom: I don’t know if I have predictions so much as hopes. My hope is that it will get easier and easier to get vegetables and fruits and nuts and grains and everything else that is good for us, in a form that makes it easy to buy and eat. I know that this is not difficult for other people, but it is for me since I can’t cook. I think by ten years from now it should be easier to order organic foods in restaurants. And I think that our family’s diets will be affected a lot by what is available for us “without a lot of trouble.” My other big hope for myself, and for the rest of us, is that we get rid of most of the sugar in our diets, because that is the biggest challenge for me right now. I know I would feel and be so much healthier if I could stop eating all the things with sugar.
Ben: I have no idea what our diets will look like in a year, let alone a decade.
Dad: Ten years from now Mom and I will be eating a similar diet, ideally more frequently meals cooked at home. You’ll be preparing vegetarian meals using home grown produce to feed you, Kat, your seven kids, and the rest of the commune members. Ben, I don’t know.
April 14th, 2011 — Miscellaneous
Poncho Peligroso is now the number one Google hit for “2011 poet laureate.” He’s also a friendly acquaintance of mine from Bard College at Simon’s Rock. I’m Dan Copulsky, and Poncho answered my questions in April 2011.
How did the idea to promote yourself as the 2011 Poet Laureate develop?
It was Steve Roggenbuck’s idea. He was the first serious supporter of my work, and has been pretty much since we started interacting through facebook last June. His first stunt to promote me was last November, right after I sent him my manuscript for the romantic, when he declared November 14-20 to be Annual International Cyber Poncho Peligroso Week. I’m trying to figure out right now when the idea first came about, but I’ve locked myself out of facebook and twitter until my thesis is done, and most of my correspondence with Steve is through comment threads on other people’s facebook walls, and thus nearly impossible to keep track of. He’d mentioned the idea for the google bomb in early February, around when I was planning visiting Chicago for my February break to meet him and some of my other internet writer friends for the first time. I arrived in Chicago and stayed at the apartment of Stephen Tully Dierks, editor of Pop Serial. On February 15, I woke up late in Stephen’s apartment after he’d gone to work, turned on my computer, checked my messages, and found way more emails, facebook notifications, tweets to me, and pageviews on my website than I was used to, though I wasn’t really sure why. I checked my tumblr feed and saw this post on the Metazen blog, which I was flattered and confused by, because I hadn’t actually been published by them yet, and had only sent them prose. I eventually found Steve’s post about the Google bomb, which had gone up while I was asleep, and started laughing uncontrollably when I realized what was going on. I posted a link to it on my facebook wall, and pretty soon afterward Mike Kitchell commented on it and said he liked the idea and was going to write about it. I didn’t realize it was Mike Kitchell because he doesn’t use that name on facebook, so when the post on HTMLGiant went up later that day, I danced around the empty apartment for several hours while giggling.
Thanks largely to HTMLGiant’s coverage, it took off a lot faster than we’d expected it to, and I was the number one result for “2011 poet laureate” within two days. When this happened, I honestly had very little idea of what a poet laureate was, though I was amused by the whole stunt, of course. I’d been clarifying my position as “2011 poet laureate of the internet by verdict of google” whenever anybody asked, but when I researched the actual position of the poet laureate, I realized that there was a pretty big disparity between the designated responsibilities of the poet laureate and the behavior of the poet laureate in practice. The poet laureate’s job is, supposedly, to promote the awareness of poetry in American culture, and, as I said on my blog: “While WS Merwin is an undisputed master and his environmental work is admirable, he’s also an 83-year-old man living in seclusion on an isolated pineapple plantation on the North coast of Maui, which is to say that he’s not really in touch with the kids.”
That’s why I decided to make the post about why I should be the poet laureate for real – while I have no expectation that it’ll work, it’s been a wonderful publicity stunt and got around enough that people have made me a facebook fan page, a facebook event about the campaign to become U.S. poet laureate, and a hotly-disputed wikipedia page about me that I expect to die any day now. At this point, I’m kind of letting it stagnate while I do other work, because publicity won’t help me graduate. Once that’s done, though, I’m going to focus on writing a lot more poetry and releasing it for free online in various ways, including in-browser ebooks and downloadable PDFs that I’ll promote as if they’re hip-hop mixtapes leading up to the release of the romantic, which I’ll be self-publishing later this year unless I get some ridiculously great offer from a publisher first.
What would you do if you were officially declared the Poet Laureate?
Go on talk shows, hopefully the Colbert Report. Go on tour to venues that wouldn’t normally host poetry readings, like rock clubs, and bring in young local poets to perform at every stop of the tour. Promote self-promotion. Encourage poets to act more like indie rock bands in their promotional tactics. There are all these bands and musicians that have made their way into the mainstream through their use of the internet and social media to promote themselves, but there have been very few writers that have achieved anything similar. Encourage poets to consider social media as not just a promotional tool, but as a platform for the creation of poetry as well. Encourage poets to distribute poetry with guerilla tactics instead of relying on literary journals as their sole outlet. Support self-publishing as valid and respectable, because the approval of the reader who buys the book is, to me at least, more important than the approval of the editor who might decide to publish it. Poetry receives very little promotion from publishers anyway, and with the internet and social media at their disposal, poets now have the tools to promote themselves and their work.
I’ve seen a lot of stuff about the shrinking attention span brought about by the internet being the death of literature, but I feel like this just means that literature, poetry, and publishing all need to adapt to new media, similar to how the music and film industries have had to. The shrinking attention span of the reader on the internet is perfectly suited to short-form poetry, and if we can hook readers with work that fits within the shortest of attention spans, then there’s the possibility that the hooked reader will, in searching for more poetry like what hooked them, find themselves moving on to more work that would have been previously daunting for its length. The most prominent points of entry for new poetry readers are from decades in the past, at the very least, but I want poetry to be recognized as something that’s awake and alive and contemporary, and I want young, emerging poets to have followings like musicians might.
I would try and raise the national awareness of poetry by giving poets the tools to make people aware of them.
On your blog you make some intellectual arguments about the accessibility of poetry to people who feel alienated from the academy. Isn’t discussing issues like that also participating in that exclusive academic culture?
Is it possible you’re really more fascinated by thinking about how poetry can have a wider public appeal than in actually making poetry that just appeals to a wider public?
It’s possible, but I don’t think I am. My most recent work has been more structured and conventionally poetic than the romantic, but this is largely because I’m in a poetry workshop class for the very first time this semester, and I’ve been assigned to work in various older forms. Even in those, when working in blank verse or a sestina or a sonnet or whatever, I’ve tried to keep the language as contemporary and vernacular as I can within the constraints of the form.
I’ve been unfortunately prevented from writing as much poetry as I’d like because writing that I get graded on takes priority until I get my diploma. I just wrote that sentence with my thesis open in another window without realizing the irony until afterward.
I don’t really know the extent of the public appeal of my poetry, though. It seems like, even though I consider it poetry, it tends to connect more with non-poets, and while that’s my goal in general, I by no means have enough of a following, among poets or otherwise, to claim any kind of mass appeal. I write to satisfy myself above all else, and when I do that I usually get a good response with the result. Unfortunately, the poetry class I’m taking is keeping me from writing my usual way, so I have lost track of that a bit recently. My output will most likely increase dramatically once my major writing assignments for the semester are complete.
Who are you when you’re not an internet poet? Are you still in school? Are you working?
I’m currently finishing up my last semester of college. I turn 21 today. I’m in my dorm room and I’ve been 21 for three hours, but I can’t do anything to celebrate today because I’m working on my thesis right now and the first complete draft is due Wednesday. My laptop was stolen from my backpack last week. Most of my thesis was on it, and I unfortunately hadn’t backed it up since a far earlier draft. I got a dropbox invite right after I sent out the school-wide announcement about the theft, so that will hopefully save my ass in the future.
I’ve been working on the story that constitutes my thesis for over two years now in some form or other, and though I still love the story idea and want to see it come to fruition some day, at this point I’m so angered by the theft and frustrated by having to recreate things I already made and sick of the process in general that I can barely bring myself to work on it and am answering interview questions instead. I’d really rather just take the whole thesis out back and Old Yeller it to put it out of its misery, but I have to help it limp to the finish line before I can put it down.
Once it’s done I’m going to try and stop thinking about it for several years until I can start thinking about it fondly again, instead of with contempt for how my past self’s ambition and hubris in designing the project has fucked me over right now. So I’m going to be working nonstop until Wednesday, and then I’m going to fill myself with booze and fall over. Once I ride out the hangover I plan to turn into a small orange housecat and sleep on my girlfriend’s abdomen for a week straight while purring with the intensity of a Harley-Davidson. Then, to cap off the festivities, I am going to revert to my human form as an intermediary step before turning into an aluminum chair, and then I will hurl myself through a plate glass window with such grace and poise that the glass will seem to splash instead of shatter.
This is what I look like right now:
Oh, they also stole my hat.
What should people do if they want to support you becoming the 2011 Poet Laureate?
Here’s Steve’s instructions to help strengthen the Google bomb: “How to help is simple: link to ponchopeligroso.com with the phrase ‘2011 poet laureate’ and convince others to do the same, starting now. If you know someone with a high-traffic website, those links are even more valuable. (From what I know, blog comments rarely help because of the ‘nofollow’ tag included in most blog platforms.) Link ‘2011 poet laureate’ on your blog sidebar, link ‘2011 poet laureate’ in anything about poncho peligroso, link ‘2011 poet laureate’ as a non-sequitur in your blog posts, link ‘2011 poet laureate’ as a non-sequitur on tumblr, link ‘2011 poet laureate’ regularly for the next several months. Ask your roommates to link ‘2011 poet laureate,’ ask your friends to link ‘2011 poet laureate,’ ask your classmates to link ‘2011 poet laureate,’ ask your family to link ‘ 2011 poet laureate.’”
Attempt to convince reputable publications to write about me. Try Christian Lorentzen from the New York Observer – he’s at least vaguely aware of me.
If that fails, write about me on your blog.
Email me or Steve Roggenbuck if you want to host us on our tentative poetry tour this summer. We will crowdsurf and yoyo and sing Justin Bieber songs, also.
Get beautiful photographs, photoshop some of my poetry over them, include my name and “2011 poet laureate” title, and post them on tumblr with a link to my website in hopes of going viral. One guy already put a line from one of my poems over a nebula.
Try writing to the library of congress about me to complain that I’m not in The Poets Laureate Anthology. You can snailmail the luddites at The Library of Congress 101 Independence Ave, SE Washington, DC 20540.
I also have a facebook page, and there’s a link to the “Poncho Peligroso for 2011 Poet Laureate” event on its wall. Like the page, RSVP the event, and invite all your friends.
Also, please give me money. There’s a donation button at ponchopeligroso.com and I’m not sure what I’m going to be doing for money after I graduate. Please help so that I don’t die cold and alone in the gutter.
January 6th, 2011 — Interviews, Miscellaneous
K.C. is in the second year of medical school at Rosalind Franklin University and answered these questions about being a med student in January 2011. I’m Dan Copulsky, and K.C. is my partner. We are both bored of the question (and all its variations) “what kind of medicine do you want to practice?”
How long does medical school take? When do you become a doctor?
Medical school is traditionally four years long. The first two years are mostly spent in the classroom taking graduate-level science courses that are relevant to medicine. There are also some labs, and different schools offer different amounts of exposure to real patients and/or “standardized patients” (paid actors who we practice physical exam skills with). The third and fourth years are spent in hospitals and clinics learning more about different medical specialties.
After passing those four years and the standardized U.S. Medical Licensing Examinations, we get M.D. degrees, but we can’t practice independently until we’ve gone through a Residency program in the specialty we’ve chosen. Residency is intensive, supervised, on-the-job training, which is three to seven years long depending on the specialty.
How often do you have class and how often do you go?
My school usually has three to four hours of classes per day five days a week, often with a few hours of lab every week.
If there’s a lecturer I think is really good, I’ll go to most of his or her lectures. I think most of our lecturers are pretty terrible, so I only go to class for a few hours every week. If I don’t understand something in the notes, most of our lectures are recorded, but the notes are usually more thorough than the spoken lectures, so that’s unusual. My labs are all required.
Do you get grades? Have tests? What about homework, projects, or other assignments?
This varies a lot from school to school. Lots of med schools are Pass/Fail and some of those will also give honors. My school gives A, B, C, and F. No plusses or minuses or D’s. Grades for most classes are determined by block exams which happen every 3 weeks (this also varies a lot from school to school).
We don’t really have homework. Most people need to study for a number of hours every day to pass the exams. We have a handful of classes that require posting to an online discussion board or doing a write-up of a patient interview, but assignments like that are pretty infrequent.
What’s your impression of medical school’s ability to prepare students to be good doctors?
I can’t really answer that yet. The first two years provide a good knowledge base, but a lot of the students spend most of their time holed up in the library, and I think a few too many of them forget how to interact with other people. Since most of us are going to spend a whole lot of time interacting with people as doctors, it doesn’t seem like very good preparation to me. I guess, if nothing else, we’re learning stamina.
I’m assuming that third and fourth year will be better for learning how to interact with patients, and we’ll definitely learn more clinical skills.
I’ve heard that despite all this, we’re going to start residency and have no idea what we’re doing for a while. But I’d imagine it would be much worse without the basic introduction that medical school provides.
What’s the discussion of health care reform like inside medical school? How much do people talk about it? Do opinions tend to go in certain directions more than in the general public?
It’s a fairly common topic of discussion. Professors make comments alluding to their opinions on the issue and student groups invite speakers who talk about reform from the point of view of the medical community. It seems to come up in casual conversation fairly regularly, depending on who you hang out with. We’ve had lectures in our clinical reasoning class and our preventative medicine/patient safety class.
I think the focus of the discussions tends to be a little different from in the general public. People talk about how reform will affect our ability to pay off our student loans, how it will affect residency program openings in different specialties, how it might affect malpractice insurance, how Obama’s plan is expected to change the model of patient care, etc. But most of the out-of-class discussion isn’t that different from the discussion going on everywhere. Students disagree about whether healthcare should be considered a right or a privilege. We talk about what we like and don’t like about the imminent changes, we talk about what we think will work and what we don’t think will work.
Most medical schools, mine included, have taken a general pro-reform stance and supported more radical reform than what’s now been approved. We have a few professors who have made it clear that they oppose reform, but most of our professors seem to support what’s happening.
What changes do you think we need to make to be a healthier country?
Plain and simple, everyone needs affordable access to preventative care. Catching and treating common problems like hypertension and diabetes early helps stop them from causing devastating complications later. Patients are more likely to follow through with lifestyle modifications and take their medications if they’re regularly checking in with a health care professional.
Going along with that, we need to learn to eat smaller portions of healthier food and to exercise. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s really important—obesity and sedentary lifestyle have caused rates of diabetes to soar, along with death from heart disease, stroke, and many cancers. A few quick tips we’re told to give patients: prepare food from scratch at home whenever you can, eat slowly and wait twenty minutes before getting seconds if you’re still hungry, park at the edge of the parking lot so you have to walk farther to get to the store, shop mainly around the edges of the grocery store (fresh fruits and veggies, raw seafood and meat, low-fat dairy, fresh bread), and start exercising gently by walking thirty minutes three times a week instead of making unreasonable goals that you can’t live up to.
Do you have any suggestions for what people can ask to start conversations with medical school students other than what kind of medicine they want to practice?
I like being asked about interesting topics I’ve recently learned about. And about my professors—there are always good stories about professors.
Also, we shouldn’t give advice about your medical problems, but we learn a lot about normal processes and diseases, so if you want a thorough explanation about why something happens the way it does (e.g. How does ibuprofen work? Why do bruises turn green? How do vaccines work?), a medical student is a good person to ask.
What’s it like to be a medical student and visit doctors for your own health?
I feel like my doctors have more respect for me and give more thorough explanations about what they’re concerned about or why they’re giving me a particular medication. I think they’re also more upfront about it when they don’t know what’s wrong.
I always kind of feel like a hypochondriac when I go to the doctor now though—I worry about weird rare things that could explain all my symptoms and the doctor needs to remind me how much more likely it is that I have something common.
What do you tell people who ask for your medical advice or say something about their health that suggests they’d benefit from it?
I try to keep medical advice at a minimum, since I’m really not in a good position to be giving it. I can list off a bunch of things that might be wrong and ask some questions to make sure it’s not an emergency, but after that I usually tell people that they should see a doctor if it continues.
If a person with no medical training gives other people medical advice that’s blatantly wrong or controversial, I’ll say so and give an explanation. If someone gives other people advice that’s just a little off, I usually leave it alone or throw in a comment that nudges them in the right direction. I don’t like correcting people or pulling the medical student card, but so many people like to give medical advice and have no idea what they’re talking about. I draw the line when someone gives advice that could be dangerous or discourage someone from seeking treatment.
Are colds and flus sexually transmittable?
Not in the strict sense of “sexually transmittable.”
Once you’re sick with a cold or flu, other people catch it through your respiratory secretions. Every time you sneeze or cough or wipe your nose on your hand and touch something, you’re giving your virus a chance to find a new host. You won’t catch a cold or flu from sexual fluid, but being in bed with someone who has one of these very contagious viruses is a good way to catch it. If your partner coughs or sneezes, the virus is in the air, ready to be breathed in. If your partner hasn’t washed his or her hands since blowing his or her nose and touches your face, you’ve been exposed. If you’re really determined to avoid a respiratory virus, your best bet is to not spend time around someone who’s got one.
Send K.C. a message through Dan – email@example.com
November 18th, 2010 — Interviews, Miscellaneous
As Laird’s going to put it in a bit, intentional communities are “groups of people who live together on the basis of explicit common values.” Laird Schaub’s been living in intentional communities and working with the Fellowship for Intentional Community for decades. He answered my questions (I’m Dan Copulsky) in November 2010.
You’ve lived in community since 1974. How did you get interested in intentional community?
I greatly valued my experience of dormitory living in college (Carleton, 1967-71). It offered a combination of peer stimulation and support that I thrived in. When I lost that upon graduation I sought community as a way to recapture that. In the winter of 1973 I stumbled across an excerpt of Kay Kinkade’s A Walden Two Experiment in Psychology Today and that led me to examine intentional community as an option. I’m still there today because I found what I was looking for.
One of the purposes of the Fellowship for Intentional Communities (FIC) is to connect communities to each other. What do you think the most important things are that communities can offer one another by being connected?
Moral support (you are not alone) and technical assistance (it’s highly likely that other groups have already faced the same challenges you’re facing and it can be enormously helpful knowing what they’ve already learned).
In addition, community-to-community connection helps with new member recruitment. The best pool of people to get new members from is ex-members of other communities. They tend to know better what they’re getting into, and most people who leave communities are not rejecting community, it’s just no longer working for them at that community.
FIC’s website and magazine, Communities, are resources to learn about community. Is living in community something people need to study, or is it something that can be learned just through experience?
People learn about and approach community in many ways, and no single way is best. I recommend that serious seekers both read all they can about their options AND set aside time to visit groups that are offering what they think they want. Often, people will find that their visceral experience helps refine their intellectual preferences. You’ll find that things you thought were important may not be so much, and things that didn’t matter suddenly do. All of this makes you a more savvy shopper when it comes to knowing what will be a good fit for you.
Do you think the number of people living on or interested in intentional community is going up, going down, or staying the same?
There was a surge of interest in community around 1990, followed by a plateau around 1995. We went through another surge around 2005 that continues today. I’ve been involved in community networking since 1980, and interest in intentional community (at least in the US and Canada) has never been stronger in those 30 years than it is right now.
FIC experienced a 25% jump in visits to our website 2009 over 2008. In the past year we saw an additional 12% boost. Today we get 2200 unique visits daily. Three-quarters of these are to our online directory, where the visitors are requesting an average of seven pages. That’s a lot of interest.
Do you think other aspects of the intentional community movement, like the kinds of communities people want to live on or the way we talk about community, are changing?
As near as we can tell, all segments of the movement are growing. The concept of cohousing has only been around for the last 20 years, and the term “ecovillage” is new and exciting, but a lot of this is old wine in a new bottle. That is, there are plenty of groups that predate these labels who fit the models.
That said, there is one noteworthy demographic shift: there are a bunch of people over 50 years old who are trying community for the first time. Back in the surge of 1965-75 there was very little of that. While folks in their 20s and 30s are still the bulk of those experimenting with cooperative living, now other age ranges are joining the party in significant numbers.
I have a hard time when intentional community comes up in casual conversation. I don’t know how to explain the idea simply, and I’m worried it just sounds kooky. Any suggestions?
I define intentional community as groups of people who live together on the basis of explicit common values, which could be economic, social, environmental, spiritual, psychological, or any combination of the above. Generally communities own land together (or control a lease), though not always. The key thing is people wanting to live with others who share their core beliefs or values.
So long as groups are accurate in the descriptions, and don’t advocate violent practices or attempt to interfere with an individual’s right to freely leave if dissatisfied, FIC is happy to help disseminate information about what communities are doing and letting people sort out for themselves what’s a good fit.
Are there aspects of community you’re still trying to figure out or understand better?
Always! Community is essentially a social challenge (rather than architectural or economic) and there are always mysteries around why some groups fail (despite abundant advantages) and others succeed (despite endless challenges).
Laird’s Blog – communityandconsensus.blogspot.com
The Fellowship for Intentional Community – fic.ic.org
June 16th, 2010 — Interviews, Miscellaneous
I could mention her relevant undergraduate study, work and volunteer experience, and publication credit, but what’s really important is that Keely O’Connell is a very good friend of mine and that I think she has some really interesting things to say about food. I’m Dan Copulsky, and Keely answered my questions in June 2010.
What restrictions on the food you eat do you follow or try to follow?
Restrictions is a word that I wouldn’t choose to use: I think it perpetuates this idea that something must necessarily be lost in the process of changing the way that you eat. I like to think of what I’m doing to my food experience as amplifying or enhancing or any word that means making it BIGGER. Originally, when my manfriend Sean and I set out to change our eating habits, we wanted to eat primarily food from local sources that use practices that we feel are environmentally and socially responsible. This works well during the summer and fall, when a fantastic variety of foods are available at farmers markets, and less well in the winter and early spring. We did some canning, dehydrating and freezing during the growing season, but it wasn’t enough to get us through this winter. We had to turn to other sources for most of our food as we’d been doing all along for exotic but indispensable things like sugar, olive oil, and ginger. We sought sources that had qualities other than local-ness to recommend them. Most of the time this meant buying more expensive organic foods, but when you end up with a grocery and a good feeling about it, it’s okay. The good feeling about it is what we really shop for when we buy food.
What concerns shape these choices?
1. Personal and interpersonal well-being:
Last spring I made the decision to change my foodyhabits. I’d been stressing my sweetheart out with my exhaustion and moodiness, I’d had the flu twice, and I’d been unhappy and strung out for months because I didn’t enjoy the food served in my college’s dining hall and didn’t eat it. I didn’t have time to cook for myself much. When I did have time I was usually too worn out to bother. It sucked. Things change and now I eat the way I do in part because my health is on the line. I’m pretty much a nutritional philistine, but I know that eating less meat puts me at a lower risk of heart disease and other crap. There are health benefits to eating fresh food, seasonal food, organic food, and home-cooked food, and I’m going to be tactful and shut up because I’m not very well informed about this and I want to talk about other things. My health is a factor in my choices, but it isn’t as important to me as the others.
Sean and I have a blast cooking together. We usually end up talking about our dinner at the table: the origin of our vegetables, the recipes we’ve tried, what to do differently next time. I hope we have a garden to play in together someday. This food thing is responsible for a lot of our closeness. It’s a passion that we’ve discovered and enacted together. Most romantic. I’ve also found that with a partner it’s easier to take responsibility for things like nutrition. I have to take care of him too, see?
2. Environmental stewardship:
Eat local, save gas: eat organic, save the planet. Less packaging, fewer harmful algal blooms, better fats in your meat, reduced danger from spinach, soil enhancement instead of degradation… I could elaborate. Lots of people could. Ask around if you’re interested in details. Ask me! I realize that my answers don’t all fit neatly under their headings, by the way, but hey, this thing is all about integrating systems anyway. Buzz word: sustainability.
3. Social responsibility:
Capitalism runs on choice: If I pay for a product, I am responsible for the consequences of that product’s production, human and environmental. Civic duty is something I’ve been turning over in my head a lot lately. For me, it plays in right about here, though for others it may not. That’s a different conversation. Others may feel that it’s their job to buy things at Wal-mart to stimulate the economy or some crap. I feel that it’s my job to choose my purchases carefully, since by doing so I can help to keep money in my community (maybe the farmer I pay will buy her daughter a prom corsage at the flower shop that forks over my paycheck) or in the hands of people who will put it to sound uses instead of in the distant pockets of people who don’t give a damn about me or my community or my planet and its future. That crap baffles me: I think evil tycoons must all be sterile or something.
I want to mention that I really dislike hearing people talking about how they’d like to buy local or organic food and citing the “prohibitive” cost as the reason that they don’t. This food costs so much because its sale is supporting an individual or a family or a business that uses practices that you say that you want to see flourish. If you truly find the cost prohibitive, you shouldn’t be whining, you should be finding a way to eat that sits right with your morals and your wallet (and your belly).
How do you explain your diet to others, particularly when they are offering you food?
I try to eat little meat that doesn’t meet my standards, though I have a weakness for pepperoni. Sometimes it’s easiest to tell people that I’m a vegetarian. I used to lie and say I was a vegan because I don’t like cheese, but for some reason I adore pizza. I couldn’t live without pizza and butter, so I stopped that.
I don’t like to antagonize people about food. It’s sensitive. If they want to talk, I’ll explain my choices, but I don’t volunteer the information most of the time. It’s not really a restrictive diet: it centers around the notion of choice, and if it seems most prudent to accept an offer of food, I choose not to turn it down for my political agenda. It’s just that: MY political agenda. I don’t need to go foisting it off on the generous.
There’s a stigma attached to high quality food, meat in particular. You can’t ask someone to serve you organic vegetables and grass-finished beef because they’re expensive. You get this tolerant “oh you’re privileged” thing. It’s true I’ve been lucky this year to have a job and a free place to live, but I eat much less meat than most people do. Personally, I think the cost works out. Trying to explain that you eat only these high quality (and yes, expensive) foods looks snobby and critical. Detaching these foods from this stigma would go a long way toward making communication about eating habits much easier.
There’s a good word for people who don’t eat meat. There’s a good word for people who eat seafood but not other kinds of meat, though not enough people know it. Do you think it would be good if we had some more words to describe dietary choices like yours?
Since not enough people know the word pescatarian I don’t think having more labels would help. If people did learn them, they might create expectations and collect associations that don’t fit what individual eaters are trying to do with their choices. The way we eat can be influenced by things ranging from religion to politics to personal taste. The degree to which we adhere to strict dietary rules varies similarly. A few umbrella words can’t begin to cover that sort of variety.
It would be phenomenal if people were more interested in having conversations about food and eating-related choices, but we’re not. We like the stereotype, the quick-and-easy box with packaged implications (lunchables).
I’m all about adjectives because they link up together in descriptive, short-version-of-a-long-story-type strings. I don’t try to be a vegetarian, a vegan, a locavore or a raw foodist; instead, I try to be a discerning, well-informed, well-nourished, food-eater who might sometimes be vegetarian or vegan or local-voracious. I guess I just like the wiggle-room that adjectives allow. This is a hard question to answer. It goes so closely together with the question about explaining my foodychoices to others: for me, the choice is more political than nutritional, more choice-based than strict. I’m still working on the language I want to use to talk about this thing. Others have to find their own words.
If someone wants to eat better but doesn’t know where to start, do you have any suggestions for a good first step?
1. Find a buddy.
2. Go to the farmers market.
3. Try a food you’ve never tried before. At market this fall we came across a southern Appalachian heirloom squash called a candy-roaster. The vendor told us that it was uncommonly sweet and delicious and gave us instructions for preparing it to best effect. We tried it, it tasted like candy, and we wished we’d bought more.
4. Try cooking at home more often. Homemade food is usually better tasting and better for you. And the more you do this, the more you’ll appreciate quality ingredients.
Be clear with yourself about the reasons you want to eat better (and what “better” means for you). Remember that food is one of the most basic elements of life. A dramatic change in the way you eat could necessitate a dramatic change in the way you live. Take it slow, make it fun and don’t get discouraged by costs in time or money: remember why you want to make the investment. Be creative.
How do you hope to continue changing what you eat as time goes on?
I have just started my own food garden and my radishes are already beyond the wee-little-cotyledon stage. Next year I’m thinking of rounding up some friends to rent a place with a little more room (right now I live in a town) so that I can have chickens and maybe a pig. I’m learning to make more and more of my own food at home from ingredients of my choosing. Pasta is my favorite example of something that’s about as easy to make at home as it is to buy. I hope to discover more foods like that, put more food by in the summer and fall, eat more seasonally, and learn skills (I recently learned to gut and fillet fish!) that will help me to become less dependent on the grocery store.
Self-righteousness is unappealing, but if a person sincerely believes they’re doing something good, then it’s no surprise they think it would be good if other people did likewise. Is there a good way to try to influence others’ choices about what they eat?
Feed them really excellent food and let them exclaim. Invite them back for more. If they ask you to talk, talk. If you’re really passionate about this stuff, let it show in how well informed you are, not in how aggressive you can be (I’m bad at this).
I went to see a movie called FRESH with my father a few days ago. It’s all about food sources. Off the top of my head, I’d recommend that, King Corn, and Food Inc. to anyone who likes documentaries. There are also excellent books about food: for starters there’s Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
This stuff is happening now and it’s happening fast. When I saw FRESH with my dad the other day, he told me that he thinks political apathy is one of the biggest characteristics of my generation. I think so much of that has to do with our sense of impotence. Every change seems to be in the hands of the card sharks, so it’s easy to just stop playing. This, though, isn’t voting in an election that occurs every four years; this happens three times a day.
Keely’s Email – firstname.lastname@example.org