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Are YOU ready to pull the plug?

Posted Sep 01 2008 7:15pm

This month’s initiative is going to be quite a departure from the challenge we hosted last month – the first difference being that this isn’t a “challenge” per say. Most of these challenges and efforts are all avenues to get to the same basic place – a more sustainable future, which is exactly what we are trying to do; we are just going about it a different way. There are elements of a lot of these challenges within this initiative we’ve called “Unplug Yourself”. To us, living sustainably is about more than just sacrifice, will power, and discipline, though those things are often required as part of the journey. But to us, long-term lifestyle change is a more positive experience, and more likely to stick when people do it for their own reasons, starting from where they are, and moving at their own pace. We’ve noticed that – in the course of these “abstinence” challenges – the accountability for “failure” is to us or whomever is hosting the said challenge. It isn’t about us; it is about you, your family, and your future, so you don’t need to defend or explain yourselves to us because what the hell do we know? Point is, we’re all in the same boat, and just because Brett and I are “hosting” this, it doesn’t mean we don’t have just as much (if not more) to learn from you and your experiences as you do from us.

Unplug Yourself has no predetermined length, participation level, and requires no “check-ins”. We plan on continuing with this initiative either until there is absolutely no more interest in it, or we quit blogging. It will likely evolve over time too – as we get feedback from participants, learn from one another, and determine other aspects that should be removed or added to the list of categories.

Information sharing is perhaps the most vital part of Unplug Yourself. We are here to help each other on our paths to sustainability, so sharing experience, tips, troubles, etc. is incredibly important to all of our success. We noticed while hosting the Quit Now Challenge that a good portion of the participants didn’t participate in the check in. Now, we don’t mean to call anyone out; we understand that many people did not understand this aspect of the challenge, and we don’t want excuses. It just seems to us that there is little point signing up for a challenge if we can’t share in one another’s experiences.

For this and many other reasons, we will not be “requiring” a weekly check-in, but rather, a weekly or monthly post on each of our own blogs about our experience with whatever category (or categories) we choose to start an open dialogue with our readers and other participants. How often you post about your experience depends on what you choose to participate in. If you choose “expand your mind,” you will likely need more than a week to sift through your information; suggested frequencies of updates as to your progress on your blog will be included in the descriptions of the subsections, but these are just suggestions. If you want to participate but don’t have a blog, you can leave a comment documenting your experiences on a round-up post we will be doing on Veg*n Cooking each week. The point is to tell us what the experience means to you, what you did to cope, how it affected your family, ways you’ve learned to do more with less, and so on; your perspective can help all of us with our transitions.

Our main reasoning for not having incredibly rigid rules is that this isn’t a game, and it isn’t a competition. Sustainability has to be the wave of the future if we hope to continue to inhabit this planet. The current way we do things, particularly in the West, has taken a lot of our humanity away. We are brainwashed; we support the horrible treatment of others around the world without being fully aware of how and why; we have closed off our minds to alternative viewpoints and sometimes flat out refuse to try to find common ground with those who see the world differently than we do. Many of the activities we support are – unbeknownst to most of us – contributing to a closing down of free societies; the industrial model is destroying the planet, increasing cruelty to animals and people, and is all around destructive to us and everything on this beautiful blue ball we call Earth. There has to be new paradigm – a new way of viewing the world and our place in it to replace the dogma that “all was put here for us to do with as we please.” We have seen the consequences of this and reductionist thinking on our social structures, our moral values, and the overall quality of life for most folks in the world, and there are ways to stand up, say “no more!” and remove ourselves, bit by bit, from many of these things. The paradigm will not, and should not, be the same for all of us (I can’t and won’t tell you the “right” way to live), but the basic tenants of sharing, community, respect, cooperation, and dignity should be present in each of our versions of reality.

On to the particulars of Unplug Yourself… We have divided the initiative into six categories with subsections within each of them. This list is by no means all inclusive; feel free to suggest additions and revisions at any point during the course of this endeavor. The level and duration of your participation is completely up to you and your families. Feel free to come back at any time and change your “commitment” – whether you want to move further, or pull back your participation. There is no obligation to continue on for any longer than you feel is necessary, however, if you are no longer going to be participating, please drop us a comment or email, so we can remove you from the participants list.

There is no particular day which you have to do your update on your blog about how you have been doing, but we will keep an eye on all the participants’ blogs so that we can link to your posts when we do ours. Expect us to come and comment; we want dialogue; we want to learn from each other, so we hope you will do the same for us.

What follows are the categories and subsections (with descriptions) of Unplug Yourself. We hope you will consider joining in and see the value and connectedness of all these aspects.

Category 1: Unplug Yourself from the Mind Machine

  • Expand Your Mind – This subsection challenges you to do one of two things. Either research a topic utilizing information from all “sides” of the debate to come up with your own opinion on the matter, or learn about something you have no experience or understanding of. Branch out from the “norm” and your comfort zone and report what you’ve learned.
  • Kill Your Television – Turn off the idiot box! Whether it is for just one night a week, all nights, or all viewing aside from a particular show. This is very important as television is the ultimate propaganda tool.
  • Get your news and information from only alternative sources. It doesn’t matter the political or social leanings of the source, but remove yourself from the mainstream media system – no NBC, MSNBC, FoxNews, CBS, CNN, ABC, etc. Look for unembedded sources – those who reasonably have no interest in towing a particular line; you are likely to get a closer approximation of reality from these sources as opposed to the corporate media. Or, juxtapose two sources from very different political agendas, but bear in mind that the so-called “liberal news media” is not all that liberal – at least not liberated from the corporate stranglehold.
For this category, updating monthly should be sufficient, though you can, of course, update more often than that if you wish; just determine the level of participation you wish to commit to and the frequency with which you plan to report your experience.

Category 2: Unplug Yourself from the Industrial Food System

  • Go local. Whether you choose to eat all or part of your diet exclusively from local sources or simply choose a local coffee shop over Starbucks, it all helps to revitalize our local communities. Not to mention, local business is far more accountable and responsive to the needs and desires of their customer base.
  • No Logo. (For full-disclosure: we got the idea of calling this subsection “No Logo” from Naomi Klein’s book of the same name.) Choose whole foods, not brand name pre-packaged foods. For other activities, choose raw materials with which to make your own, rather than pre-made goods.
  • Make your own. This could be one or more homemade meals from scratch each week, or something more extensive like making your own clothes or garden planters.
  • Grow your own. Start a small garden to provide yourself with some of your own sustenance. This could be as extensive as a large outdoor garden, or as simple as a couple of pots of herbs in your window.
  • Cut out the fake crap. Abstain or reduce your consumption of “fake food” – things like aspartame, saccharine, and sucralose (the sweeteners in diet sodas and other diet foods), high fructose corn syrup, or partially hydrogenated oils. Not only are these things bad for you, they are only as abundant as they are due to farming subsidies that support monoculture and other unsustainable practices.
For this category, weekly updating might be best as your experiences may vary significantly from week to week, but again, this is just a suggestion.

Category 3: Unplug Yourself from the Energy Sink

  • Reduce, reuse, or recycle. ‘Nuff said.
  • Choose public or human powered transportation. This is not an option for everyone, but it is for many of us. Public and human powered transportation are in no way as convenient as car travel, but this isn’t about convenience; it is about reduced dependence on oil and other substances that may not always be around and are causing great distress to our planet. If you cannot or are unwilling to choose this option, think about, at the very least, bundling your car trips and eliminating unnecessary driving.
  • Reduce your consumption of electrical energy. This would involve something as simple as remembering to turn off lights and unnecessary appliances, switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, or turning the thermostat up or down depending on the season. Of course, you could take it further and/or take steps to produce your own energy in sustainable ways like installing PV, geothermal, mini wind turbines, etc.
  • Kick the bottle! If you are currently drinking bottled water, sit back and think about why. Many of our water systems are perfectly safe and healthy to drink. Bottled water not only often comes from municipal tap sources, but it is unregulated, which means there could be some questionable things in the water. If your local water supply is “tainted” or just plain doesn’t taste good, get a charcoal filter for your faucet, or one of the jugs for your refrigerator. There are many negative environmental consequences to a reliance on bottled water, the most notable being the amount of waste, and a less often thought of aspect is that lots of water is being sucked from one area in order to water a large area. This depletes aquifers and other water sources at an unsustainable rate.
  • Eat less or no animal products. Our diet is the single largest source of environmental impact – more than cars, plastics, electricity production, etc. Animal products are by far the greatest drain on energy resources, so any mitigation of animal product reliance can contribute greatly to reducing our need for fossil fuel energy.
Due to the nature of this category, monthly updating is likely to be the most beneficial as you can look at your energy bills, the savings from using public transport, as well as the transition from bottled to tap water over a longer period of time; but again, it’s all up to the individual.

Category 4: Unplug Yourself from Rampant Consumerism

  • Bring your own. This could mean bringing your own lunch to work in reusable containers or taking your own “table set” and “doggie bags” to restaurants so no disposable materials are necessary.
  • Reduce your consumption (and thus dependency) on something you do not need. Anything folks committed to for the Quit Now Challenge would be perfect here. This subsection does not require complete elimination of something, though if you wanted to do so, that is perfectly fine.
  • Make your own. This category fits in both this section and the one about unplugging yourself from the industrial food system. Many of us are really busy, but making your own food does not require you to slave for hours each day in your kitchen. I work full-time too, and am quite lazy, but we rarely go out to eat or purchase pre-made meals. Check out the recipe index on this blog or any of the food bloggers on our blogroll for inspiration. Other do-it-yourself projects can be quite easy or very difficult depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Hopefully some of us out there have some skills that we can share with each other to make this easier on all of us!
For this section, the frequency of updates is purely up to the participant, and will probably be determined by the level of commitment.

Category 5: Unplug Yourself from Your Self

The inspiration for this category came from Chessa, one of the participants in the Quit Now Challenge who jokingly suggested a meditation challenge. You were on to something!
  • Hone your skills and share them with others. We all have something to offer, something we are good at that is useful to at least one other person. In this world of specialization and an inundation of information from “experts” we often diminish our own abilities and our capacities to offer something to others. Whether you are a good cook, a musician, an artist, a good listener, a good “tinkerer”, work on improving your skills and share with anyone who needs it.
  • Unplug yourself and your family. Spend at least one night a week doing activities that are not predicated on an electronic device. No television, no computers, no video games. Try playing board games together, taking long walks, going out to play with your children, reading, working on a craft, talking, etc. This is perhaps the best thing you can do if you have a family, out of all the suggestions we have. Not only does this remove you from the grasp of the “system”, it brings family together and helps us stay connected with each other in this busy world.
  • Calm yourself. Take at least a little time each week to de-stress. Meditate, take a relaxing walk, a long, warm bath, listen to relaxing music. Do something that removes you from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Perhaps most important to this subsection – turn off your cell phones, PDAs, and computers while enjoying your de-stressing time.
This section is probably best suited to monthly updates of the participants’ blogs, but ultimately it is at the individual’s discretion.

Category 6: Unplug Yourself from Injustice

This section is mostly in relation to consumer choices, there is a good deal of injustice in the world and the cheap products and meat in the Western world are the culmination of this.

  • Buy Fair Trade or don’t buy it! When purchasing an item like coffee, chocolate, tea, bananas, ethnic knickknacks or clothing, look for Fair Trade. This is one of the only means we have of knowing that the workers are paid a decent wage, treated properly, and that slave and child labor are not used in the production of a given product – and none of the things I mentioned above are necessities. Also keep yourself informed of any developments in the changing of standards for Fair Trade products, corporations are constantly lobbying to water down the “rules” one has to follow in order to call a product Fair Trade. We must stay diligent to ensure the sanctity of the label. Open air market stands where people are selling wares they produced themselves is easy assurance that they’re being paid fairly because they set their own prices.
  • Support local business. Small, local businesses are far less likely to employ “illegal immigrants” under horrible, almost slave like conditions than large employers. Small businesses are also more accountable to the public, as the purveyors live and work in our communities.
  • Support small, local, family farms. The massive scale of industrial agriculture has exploitation almost built right in it. The sheer size means that a large number of people or machinery are required to tend to the fields, and this is most often the sector of industry where you hear of workers being kept in almost slave like conditions. Don’t buy into it – don’t buy it!
  • Reduce or eliminate your support for animal cruelty. Again, the massive economies of scale in the livestock and animal “husbandry” industries have exploitation and maltreatment almost built into their structures. When the focus is on efficiency, profit, and maximum production, animal welfare as well as the safety of the workers is often not on the radar. Not only are these large scale operations unspeakably cruel, the sheer amount of waste from the animals is a huge environmental problem, as well as the vast amounts of water and grain needed to support those animals. We are not here to promote a vegetarian diet - that would be hypocritical since Brett isn’t even a vegetarian. But what we are promoting is awareness and perhaps a reduction of consumption of meat. Both Brett and I feel that the current ways animals are treated in the “factory farm model” says a lot about us as humans – and it isn’t good. We do not need to eat meat at all three meals, every day. Consider having at least one vegetarian meal each week. If you want to continue to eat meat and other animal products, purchase it through small local sources, and never be afraid to ask questions about the farmer’s practices, the size of the operation, and the treatment of individual animals. Oftentimes, these small local operations are very open and will even let you come out to the farm and see for yourself.
This subsection is, again, one that could go either way in terms of how often to update on your status in achieving your level of commitment. I would recommend determining how often to update once you have decided on your level of commitment.

We hope you all will think very hard about these topics, and look inwards to see where you feel you could best start to “unplug” and join the community. This can be a very rewarding experience as well as a start down the path towards sustainability. It takes all of us, moving at our own pace, to really make this succeed.

If you are interested in joining in, please leave a comment detailing what you wish to participate in, your level of commitment, and a rough idea of how often you plan on updating us all on your progress. Then, grab the rudimentary banner below and put it on the sidebar of your blog (if you couldn't tell we made this ourselves, there is a reason we don't get "creative" very often - hehe).

How cool is that?!

Anyways, to add this banner to the sidebar of your blog you will need to grab this little line of code and do the following (you will need to use Internet Explorer to be able to see the full line of code, Firefox won't display it for some reason):

In Blogger, go to your layout options, and click on Add a Page Element.

  • Select Text
  • Type whatever you want for the title or leave it blank.
  • Click Edit Html
  • Paste the code you copied in the body
  • Then click Rich Text to confirm the image shows up
  • Save.
When you view your blog you should now see the Unplug Yourself image.

A lot of these choices are things that we are already doing (as may be the case for many of you as well), so I didn't think it was fair for, say, me, as a vegetarian, to sign up for the little or no meat section. We also didn't want to start off with too much, so below is what we have chosen. We are going to work on these categories for the month of September. We will report back on the last day of the month to update you on how (if at all) our minds were expanded, and how we did with the rest of the subsections we have signed up for.

The both of us are going to participate in the following categories and subsections:

From Category 1: Unplug Yourself from the Mind Machine we are choosing: Expand Your Mind and Kill Your Television (except for Sundays to watch football)

From Category 2: Unplug Yourself from the Industrial Food Chain we are choosing: Go Local

From Category 3: Unplug Yourself from the Energy Sink we are choosing: Reduce Your Consumption of Electrical Energy

Brett, personally, is going to (from Category 3: Unplug Yourself from the Energy Sink and also from Category 6: Unplug Yourself from Injustice): Eat less or no meat

I am also going to (from Category 1: Unplug Yourself from the Mind Machine): Get news and information from only alternative sources

We truly hope some of you will consider joining in. Even if we get just a couple of participants, we will feel that this will be a success. It all starts with us.

'Til next time!
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