Sunday, January 20, 2019

I'm back on here because another year has started and I love using the new year as an excuse to take stock of the art that sustained me the year prior. Things that I think deserve sharing, acknowledging, taking time with. Not everything on this list came out last year, just crossed my path in 2018, but here it goes...

Of the longer form pieces on the internet I read last year, the ones that I particularly loved include:

Courtney E. Martin's series on On Being regarding the benefits of sending your children to "underperforming" schools (the discussion continued here, here, and here).  Also loved her piece in Bright Magazine on the reality of why social change is so hard (wonderfully titled "Shooting for the Moon, Missing the Point").

Other great writing on the internet I stumbled on: Anand Giridharadas critical look at philanthropy in "Beware of Rich People Who Say They Want to Change the World" and "Democracy is not a Supermarket." Molly Fisher's piece on the #MeToo movement in "Maybe Men Will be Scared for a While."  And it doesn't sound uplifting but Mari Andrew's short essay "Optimism is Exhausting" was actually really lovely.

In terms of podcasts, I probably should have started with this but if nothing else, I wish everyone would listen to Alain de Botton's On Being interview, "The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships". I've listened to it twice and will probably give it another play soon. Also This American Life's "LaDonna" episode stopped me in my tracks.

Favorite books I read this year have to be: 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
Prisoner of Zion by Scott Carrier

Albums I listened to on repeat include (linking to my favorite songs in case you want to take a listen):

Saba's Care for Me
Rosalia's El Mal Querer
Marissa Nadler's Self-Titled Album

And then I probably watched too much TV this year but there was so much that was good, mainly: 

High Maintenance: Season 2
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
The Letdown
Ugly Delicious
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
and of course, Queer Eye 

My heart is filled thinking back on all of this genius. 

Finally I have to mention that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave me so much joy in 2018. Her outspokenness, her strength/joy in the midst of countless trolling, her refusal to give into imposter syndrome, her candidness breaking down Washington politics, her hoop earrings  it's unprecedented. I know she must not feel confident all the time but the fact that she refuses to let people take her power away inspires me every day.

So there you go, 2018 wasn't all that bad (though it was also horrifically bad). Thankfully, there were some gems that helped get me through / reminded me that change is being made.

Though of course, as I'm reminded every day as I check the news, there's always more work to do. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

I ate well this summer. Every week, I took home a bundle of fresh tomatoes, swiss chard, beets, potatoes, carrots, peppers and every other veggie growing under the Utah sun from a local CSA and figured out what to do with what I had.  

Mostly, the veggies didn't need much. I roasted them and paired them with salmon or trout or put them in pasta or corn tortillas or over couscous with a dash of dressing. It was the most fun I've had cooking in a while, though it was also stressful at times, trying to cook all of my veggies before the next bag came. It's a theme I'm finding: happiness despite feeling I may have been a bit overambitious with my to-do list.

At the end of most summers, I often have a feeling of phew, I did it. I made it through another wedding season and the well-meaning / hurried attempt to get the most out of sunny months, and now I can just breathe and go back to a slower routine. This summer I felt it especially, which has made me think a lot about time in general and how everything takes longer than I think and how it's hard for me to understand how other people have houses and babies and an enviable career and travel the world simultaneously (I mean, they don't, obviously, but somehow this is the message I get from my phone).

How to find time and money for the things I want: a thought everyone is working through constantly but has been occupying my headspace more than usual lately. But like the CSA, which was a bit above my budget and a bit demanding, I'm sure I will find a way to squeeze the important things in. 

This is most likely wishful thinking but wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to do that? Squeeze so much in? I've been reflecting on Naomi Klein's book still, mainly her thought that one day, if we rearrange life to be more aligned with real limits and resources, we all might have more time. 

"There could be other benefits too," she writes, "Like shorter work weeks, in part to create more jobs, but also because overworked people have less time to engage in low-consumption activities like gardening and cooking (because they are just too busy). If countries aimed for somewhere around three to four days a week, it could offset much of the emissions growth projected through 2030." 

It is a pipe dream, I know. One that I don't know if it could really come to fruition even if people were given the choice but it's a thought that I carry with me. Most of my writing as of late (here and here) has made me realized that living sustainably takes time and well, I think it would be nice if we all had more of that.

Also as a person in their late twenties, it's hard not to stress and feel like the clock is ticking (maybe because for women, we are made very aware of that?). I grapple with all of those late twenty-something choices, the biggest ones being, how can I afford to own a place someday? Or how can I juggle a career and a family? Sometimes, though, it's just the feeling of, how can I get a hike in this week? How can I cook through the groceries I bought and go to the Sierra Club meeting and make time with my partner? How can I finish writing my book and do well at my day job too? 

My usual thought: you sacrifice and rearrange and that's that but then I read this lovely thing on the internet by Cut columnist Heather Havrilesky and she sparked a bit more fire in me, saying "Do all of the things." Sure, get rid of what you can to open up more time, but do all of the things. Celebrate the work amidst the other to-dos.

All of this to say that it's felt a little bit more hectic than usual lately, with a summer full of visitors and a new job and travel squeezed into two day weekends (all wonderful, exhausting things). I can finally see things calming down and it feels so good and necessary and so I think at least for now, I'm going to let this blog practice go  along with Instagram and Twitter for a bit  to free up some time and focus on my book and exploring and getting settled in my new city. 

I don't think I'll be in Salt Lake City forever so it seems important to be as present as I can be. I hope to post some updates here and there, but also who knows. I'm sure whatever happens, I'll write about it someday.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

I just finished Naomi Klien's This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate and have been thinking about it ever since. It connected a lot of dots for me in terms of the environmental movement, made clear what we should focus on, put a lot into context, offered a lot of hard to stomach realities (i.e. it was depressing) but led to a small, necessary glimpse of hope.

I've been struggling recently with the writing project I've been working on and by struggling, I mean I have only looked at it once since my move to Utah. Moving cross country, finding a job, starting a new job, scouring the internet to furnish my apartment has taken up a lot of my time, but also in the last few months, children have been separated by their families at the border, among other tragedies, and so figuring out where to put my energy seems increasingly hard to decipher.

I recently stumbled on Emily Johnson's essay The Darkness and the Needle by way of Bill McKibben a while back, and Johnson really got at a lot of the despair that I've felt recently but couldn't quite articulate. A fiction writer, she finally gave up writing because she found it more imperative to spend her time kayaking in Seattle ports, blocking Arctic rigs. "If I had the time," she said, "there's nothing I'd rather do [than write] and the lack of that time writing hurts me like a phantom limb sometimes. But I understand the stakes of this moment and writing cannot be my priority right now."

The threat of climate change is so great that Johnson had to give her writing up. The time to act is now, and so Johnson had to put the pen away. I feel the same way at times. Writing a book while working and living requires a lot of time and focus. It requires a lot of me, and I wonder whether my efforts are desperately needed somewhere else.

In the end, it pains me to give up my writing project but it also pains me to give up working toward the resistance and so most likely, I will do what I do best. I will put my effort in many things and see small but encouraging successes in both. If someone has a better idea, I'm all ears.

This post is different from most mainly because it's long, and I don't feel much like editing. I've been wanting to talk about a lot of things related to resistance here but never fleshed out my thoughts, thinking maybe it was too self-congratulatory but I think it's important to move beyond that and have concrete conversations about what we're doing, what we're not, what we should be doing, what's hard, what's easy. This is my attempt at being less vague, less wandering, just transparent.

Here's a rundown of everything in my toolkit regarding how to work toward a future with a livable wage, widespread public transportation, wealth redistribution, immigration reform, reparations and radical equity for the black community, affordable healthcare and so on and so on...

Donating - I donate a portion of my salary every year. I don't know if my donations are large or small in the grand scheme of things (I'm sure they're too small) but it's a habit I've tried to keep. Sometimes it pains me to punch my credit card numbers in because managing money is hard but I do think it's something I can afford to do, being I spend quite a bit on myself. I donate monthly to an international NGO, donate to a local social service agency in Chicago, donate to the Sierra Club around the holidays, and then donate any place that I feel called to after tragedies occur (for ex. Hurrican Harvey, Hurricane Maria, the Parkland shooting, the recent news about family separation at the border, GoFundMes of friends and family). For me, donating is an easy way to feel a little less helpless.

Also, as an environmentalist with a larger footprint than I would like, I tend to take my guilt and use it as motivation for larger donations. I bought carbon offsets a few years ago to offset the driving and flying that I do but then I started donating yearly to the Sierra Club because I felt that the Sierra Club was working toward a longer-term solution than offsetting (i.e. 100% renewable energy). This year, my footprint is even larger than usual because I have to drive to work daily, which means I'm going to try and donate twice as much as I did last year (kind of arbitrary but whatever).

Instead of the Sierra Club though, I'm leaning toward donating to Indivisible or Swing Left, two organizations spearheading the movement to flip seats for the midterm elections. More and more, I'm beginning to see that a lot of what I want to see changed won't be changed unless we have people in office who are pro-clean energy, pro-livable wage, pro-healthcare for all, pro-immigrant rights, pro-public school funding, etc. etc.

The thing is I could be putting this money into retirement and savings as many of my co-workers are doing (and talk about more than I would like). But I'm lucky enough to not have student loans (a privilege not afforded to many) and so I am able to contribute toward savings and retirement as well as donate. It's not always easy but the way I see it is that I am extremely privileged. I came into this life so far ahead, and so it is the debt that I owe. As Brittany Pact writes, "Spend your privilege. And then when you think you've spent enough, spend some more."

Volunteering - I have mixed feelings about volunteering. I think it's a good way to get to know an organization, to grow, to understand issues beyond the headlines and learn more of the nuance that comes with reality but in the end, I feel like short-term volunteering is only good if it entices you to donate (it's really the only reason organizations bring in short-term volunteers) and long-term volunteering/mentoring is great, but only if you can put in the time that it calls for.

I think it's best when people are compensated for the work they do and for skilled lawyers, social workers, educators, scientists to tackle the issues at hand and dedicate 40+ hours a week to social justice work. Plus I think full-time, skilled staff is much better for anyone receiving social services than a volunteer, which is why my default is usually towards donating (to help organizations better be able to hire/retain their workers) but obviously, everything is case by case.

Marching - Protesting is a form of therapy for me. The energy and community I feel at protests is palpable; it's one of the few forms of activism that doesn't feel disheartening so I try to make any marches that I can. I do think protests are more effective when not planned in advance (i.e. the protests that showed up at airports after the travel ban) but those are usually harder to make, understandably.

Voting - Obviously, a very important to-do in the fight. Naomi Klien writes in This Changes Everything, "Climate action has failed on Capitol Hill for the same reasons that serious financial sector reform didn't pass after the 2008 meltdown and the same reasons gun reform didn't pass after the horrific 2012 school shooting in Newton, Connecticut. Which in turn are the same reasons why Obama's health reform failed to take on the perverting influence of the medical insurance and pharmaceutical companies. All these attempts to fix glaring and fundamental flaws in the system have failed because large corporations wield far too much political power -- power exerted through corporate campaign contributions, many of them secret."

The majority of people in power speak to the wealthy because they receive financing from the wealthy and so voting in primaries, midterms, local, and federal elections is critical to take back any control we can. Both the Sierra Club election guides and Ballot Ready are helpful resources to look through before hitting the polls, especially for lesser known seats. I definitely recommend utilizing them as elections come up.

Calling legislators - I never called my senators before Trump was elected because I was much too shy. I still hate calling but as one of my friends said, "The good thing about Trump's election is that it's teaching us all how to be activists and I don't think we're ever going to forget that." Indivisible and 5 calls are my go-to for scripts and weekly priorities regarding who to call and what to say. I don't call as much as I should but I still do when I'm really compelled to. It's hard because I work and have to slip away -- plus it usually only feels slightly validating -- but I think it's a really important tool in the fight.

Staying informed - I have a tendency to spend more time reading and sitting on things rather than getting involved, which may not be totally beneficial, but I do think that being aware of the news is good. I just think that it should come in moderation.

I go in and out of New Yorker subscriptions (which I love but can't always keep up with), I listen to NPR (although it's not always great for my mental health), I read articles online but one thing I find really helpful is reading through emails/newsletters from the groups I'm involved with. Sierra Club newsletters, Indivisible emails, Swing Left emails are all quite good at giving up-to-date information on local issues and usually involve concrete call-to-actions, which I find to be productive.

Speaking Up - I could definitely be more vocal. Writing here is good (mainly for me take thoughts spinning through my head and put them somewhere) but I wish I spoke up more in real life, talked about all of this with people other than friends. Having conversations in real life not just about what is wrong but what we can all do I think would be helpful.

Buying ethically - I feel like there's been a big push recently, at least in the blogosphere, to buy ethically, to spend more time and money to make sure your purchases come from companies that support a livable wage, safe working conditions for workers, and promote environmentally sustainable practices. This is great obviously, and I have begun buying more clothes and other goods from ethical brands in the last few years but it's hard. I'm a big fan of companies like the ReformationEverlanePACT, Girlfriend Collective, and Patagonia and have bought from all of them but they are expensive and I don't love shopping online. It's hard for me to know what to I want to buy without trying it on so it's not my favorite option.

Ideally, I would love to buy everything either ethically made or secondhand but sometimes it just doesn't work out and I have to buy from Target or Ikea or the Gap or whatever. When I do, I try to buy something that I will use for a a very long time. Honestly, I don't love shopping because all of this comes into play, plus women's fashion changes constantly and I can never keep up, so I do the best I can. 

Mobilizing - The main takeaway from Naomi Klien's This Changes Everything? That mobilizing and collective action is probably the most important thing we can do to create comprehensive change on the scale that we need to. "Only mass social movements can save us now," Klein writes. 

While I do my best to donate, protest, vote, stay informed, and call my legislators, I put down Klien's book and immediately reached out to the Sierra Club (an organization that I feel does important work toward a clean energy future). The book helped me realize that nothing will change if I sit back and keep thinking small, individual acts are going to enact the sweeping change I want to see. Being part of a community and working collectively is at times frustrating, at times nourishing, and at best, effective. So if anything, if someone is looking for what to do, I think joining an organization that works toward a much larger movement is a good place to start.


There are so many things we can do to bring about a more sustainable, inclusive, dignified, healthier future. We can compost, ride our bikes or take public transportation instead of drive, try to go zero waste, buy local, grow our own food, put our kids in public schools to fight segregation, run for office, register people to vote, use positions of power to cultivate diverse workplaces, work in social services or health care or education or what have you, and a million other things that I'm forgetting but I do think it's important to note that we can't do them all.

Making these changes takes time. I hate when greenwashed advertising or social media says that doing the right thing is also doing the easy thing. It's not! Usually, it takes more time to do and while these actions can come with benefits, they also often come with added, unexpected difficulties. Please, let's talk about both. Riding my bike throughout college meant I got easy exercise and felt the city in a more visceral way but it also meant I put myself in danger and my jeans got worn through quickly and sometimes I ended up at my destination wet from an unexpected rainfall. It was both wonderful and hard.

So instead, let's calculate what we can all personally do while also staying somewhat sane and then take some pressure off ourselves to bear the burden alone. As Naomi Klien writes, "The end of the world as we know it, after all, is not something anyone should have to face on their own."

But okay, phew, long-winded blog post over. This post might have zero relevance to readers if their politics aren't similar to mine but in case they are and these times are trying, anything else you're doing that I'm forgetting? Would love to hear.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Like so many, I am overwhelmed by the news these days. To try and cope, I've been thinking of the Women's March after Trump's inauguration. I think of the visual I saw, the sheer number of people taking to the streets. It is the only thing that seems hopeful while scrolling through the news online, alone and heartbroken. I try and remind myself of the magnitude of the resistance, and this visual tells me I'm not alone in feeling this way. I may in fact be in the majority. It's my source of energy when things get bleak, a hopeful reminder that the pendulum can very well swing the other way if we keep doing the work. (God, I hope.)

Some other thoughts as of lately:

I moved recently, and with a new place to explore, a book I'm trying to write, lots to do on the resistance front and a myriad of other personal goals, I feel like I need to take a step back and cut some things from my to-do list. Something's gotta give but I'm not sure what (right now, the World Cup is getting nixed. Haven't watch a game yet, oof, which hurts). It's a silly problem to have but honestly, it's hard to know what I should I focus on, and inevitably what I should I stop focusing on (does my novel get put on the back burner for now?), but it feels necessary at the moment.

My mind, just in general, has been a bit all over the place since the move. I find myself feeling content and eager and yet also nolstagic and stressed all at once. It's normal, I suppose, and so I just breathe through it and then get myself to the mountains when I can. Even if there are a lot of things in my life that are a big question mark, I live near the mountains, which feels like enough of an answer for now.

Lastly, I don't know when this blog just turned into random thoughts about things in my head I but I feel slightly okay with it because a) this is really just a random experiment for me and b) I stumbled on writer Mari Huertas' instagram recently and her posts reminded that there's a lot to be gained from a snapshot of one's emotions. Every Friday, she jots down a few thoughts from the week. A photo along with some honest, albeit vague, thoughts about what's going on in one's head seems like a wonderful way to Instagram or blog or bring about your art or whatever. 

I'm just hoping this is still somewhat enjoyable for you, as it is for me. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

So I finished another essay recently. As is the case with most of my writing, it doesn't get at exactly everything I wanted to say but alas, here it is. (It's also on my Medium page, which you can see here. I half-heartedly pitched it to a few places but heard nothing so to the Medium page it goes!). I've been following the zero waste trend for a few years and finally got around to organizing some of my thoughts about it below. I hope you enjoy ‒ especially all of my zero waste friends, who may find it critical but hopefully it comes out as more thoughtful? Here's to hoping, and to calling this one done. As always, comments and thoughts encouraged!

The Allure of Zero Waste

It seems reasonable to say that we have a problem with plastic.

I’m often shocked at the amount of packaging — plastic or not — that I use every day, and the effect of this is often anxiety-inducing. All of the waste amassing in our oceans and landfills and alongside our sidewalks deeply disturbs me, mainly because I like things to be neat and clean but also because I know that there is little hope of it going away anytime soon. Still, the 4 million tons of trash we produce a day is a problem that I never knew what to do about until I stumbled on the term “zero waste,” a new lifestyle trend that advocates for living without consuming any single-use plastics or trash at all.

I first learned about the idea over ten years ago when Colin Beavan, a New Yorker, attempted to live the most sustainably a human possibly can. With his blog “No Impact Man,” Beavon lived a carbon-free lifestyle for a year, forgoing electricity, gas-powered transportation and packaged food to see if it were possible to live without any environmental impact. Beavon’s project stuck with me, though I never went through with it myself, and years later, I was reminded of it again as the zero waste movement began cropping up on the internet with more and more fervor.

Like Beavon’s “No Impact Man” project, zero wasters attempt to do what, to many, seems unachievable: they live without producing any trash. Rather than take a 13 gallon trash bag out to the curb every week (as I do), zero wasters collect their trash in a small mason jar, filling it up over the year, if that. Subscribing to a zero waste lifestyle intrigued me from the beginning. The purity, sanctimony, perfection of it all drew me in, especially since I try to live an environmentally responsible life and often, overwhelmingly fail.

After reading through zero waste blogs incessantly, I began taking on some easy zero waste swaps myself: cotton cloths instead of paper towels, reusable bags at the grocery instead of plastic ones, bulk tea instead of the packaged variety. I kept telling myself that I’d go full zero waste for a month but then each week crept in, never the right time for the experiment.

Initially I thought that I would start on a Sunday at my neighborhood’s farmers market but I often woke up hungover and in need of a Gatorade, or I had brunch plans with a friend on the one day the market was open and couldn’t make it to buy local fruits, veggies and cheese unpackaged before it closed. Reality set in that going zero waste was really hard, and so I kept putting it off.

The most daunting aspect of zero waste for me was figuring out what to do about groceries. In order to avoid anything wrapped in plastic, zero waste calls for buying unpackaged fruits and vegetables, and then grains, pasta, legumes and snacks from bulk bins (using your own reusable bag for filling of course). This means making all of your food from scratch, which, for a mediocre cook like myself, sounds almost impossible.

While there’s a rhythm one develops when they do more of their own cooking, it’s hard for me to fathom how I can make three meals a day from unpackaged ingredients while also working, maintaining friendships, seeing family, exercising, going on a weekend trip, taking up a hobby or dealing with an illness. I know it can be done. The internet assures me it can be done. But while I subscribe to the tenets and the idea of zero waste, I just can’t see how one makes food without plastic wrap working its way in.

Take for example, a veggie burger and chips for dinner. The zero waste way of making a veggie burger and chips means setting aside a few hours one night to make the burgers from beans, onions, peppers, spices and an egg, and then frying one’s own potato chips. Perhaps this is doable but then what happens when I want to add ketchup and mustard? Do I grab my mustard seeds and start grinding? Also, do I have to start the whole process the day before, soaking my own beans and cooking them on the stove in order to avoid an aluminum can? Would every meal be a two day affair?

This is not impossible. Many people around the world make their meals from scratch but they are usually a) women in rural areas with no other choice or b) full time homemakers with someone else’s salary supporting them. As writer Taffy Broddeser-Akner’s mother says to her in a Bon Appetit essay, “You can either cook or work.” I work, which means I buy my grapefruit juice and almond milk in plastic and cardboard containers thank you very much.

In a way though, I am spoiled, as we all are. So much of what we buy comes in some form of packaging, and the zero waste movement is undeniably a response to this modern fact of life. I don’t go a day without consuming something (if I include the most vital act of feeding myself) and what comes along with consumption is its nasty byproduct: single use packaging. So the question is: how then do I stay sane and live my life, avoiding a pesky product I see everywhere I look?

Most zero wasters would say that the end goal of zero waste is not necessarily to arrive at a place where you produce no trash but rather, to rethink habits and reduce where you can. As Celia Ristow of the blog Litterless says, “Zero waste means progress, not perfection.” That is a sentiment I can get behind. I can rethink what I buy. I can forgo plastic in some areas. And yet, the world doesn’t really know what to do with the moderate so there tends to be a novelty in the end goal of zero.

This is bad for me, considering that I have the opposite of an addictive personality. I’m much too indifferent to go to extremes, too curious to not want to try everything. And so, while I have taken on some easy zero waste swaps, I mostly scroll through zero waste feeds on Instagram and wonder how anyone gets to that end goal. Do they have hobbies? Do they ever crave a frozen pizza? In my more cynical moments, I find myself rolling my eyes, believing it a scam (no secondhand garment has ever fit me that good, I think, staring at the young woman in her “thrift store” jeans). But of course, I am not actually opposed to the trend, just wish that social media acknowledged its difficulties within the context of real life.

Part of my objection to zero waste is laziness, sure, but also part of it is gendered. The work of making one’s life zero waste means more time spent in the kitchen, doing women’s work and part of me fears that while women slave away to curb our reliance on plastic and put as little dent in our landfill as possible, men won’t offer to help us in this fight. In addition, there’s the possibility that while women stay at home in the kitchen, men will spend their time working, rising to positions of power, perhaps making decisions of graver environmental consequence.

Of zero waste bloggers, the majority are young millennial women or stay at home mothers, a trend which makes me uneasy. I went to a zero waste meet up once and walked in to find a table full of women. A table that soon began lamenting over how to get their boyfriends or husbands on board with these new, more tedious habits. Most women are still fighting for society to see household chores as a task of both male and female head of households, and so what will happen when we add to this task list?

And what’s more, there may be deep-rooted patriarchal notions at work behind the female buy-in of this trend. Underneath it all, I wonder if there is an uneasiness in women to take up space (either in a room or via trash in a landfill) or a tendency to sacrifice so others don’t have to. I wonder if women feel they have more power in their homes than their workplace or senator’s office. Of course, perhaps it is none of these things. Perhaps it’s just an effect of its styling; marketed toward women, it leaves men hesitant to pick it up.

Regardless, I do feel there would be some resentment if I spent my nights prepping to make zero waste lunches and dinners and condiments and cleaning products while my boyfriend buys his Chipotle and goes off to rock climb every other day, as he does. While I’m busy being zero waste, will he be busy training? What then if I want to climb alongside him too?

The nuances of modern day feminism can be confusing, and ultimately a woman’s choice of how she wants to work toward change is her own. Colin Beavon, aka “No Impact Man,” ran into similar issues that many homemakers face in his “No Impact Man” documentary, saying to his wife at one point, “You only eat local food but who provides it, who cooks it, who gets up in the morning and makes you breakfast every day, does your lunch, does your dinner then generally washes the dishes when it’s all done?” Ultimately both his concerns and his wife’s as a working mother are valid. It brings up the most important theme that zero waste brings to bear, one I think that confounds us all: what are we willing to do, what are we willing to sacrifice so that we can preserve our planet?

The work of change is hard, as zero waste reminds us. Working toward social good involves difficult things like running for office, organizing over the long term, putting our kids in public schools, adopting or fostering, using our time to help a friend or a family member or stranger overcome addiction, depression, what have you. And when it comes to the environment, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, it involves similar sacrifice. It means reducing our trash, living in smaller spaces, taking public transportation, living closer to the things we need, consuming less, flying less, eating less meat.

That being said, I am far from perfect. I fly 3–4 times a year, a number I morally can’t feel right about even if I buy carbon offsets at the end of the year. And jealousy pervades me often. Daily I see clothes I would like to have; I see friends and strangers traveling places I would like to go; I think about living someplace with a yard. Still, I know that I could be doing more. I can’t help but think of my Grandpa, who grew up during the depression and still wears slippers from thirty years ago, the hole in the big toe patched up and worn away a thousand times over. Living in a world where temperatures rise and natural disasters intensify, I question what I really ask of myself (honestly, not much).

It is perhaps one of the most unpopular of opinions, that change will come with a cost to ourselves but it is one I wish we would all start to embrace. As of right now, I am not zero waste but I am making zero waste changes, trying to lessen my environmental impact. I’ve begun to feel the pang of sacrifice — either through the time that I spend preparing my own food or the money I donate or the bus trip I take instead of getting into my car — as a token, an acknowledgement that I’m doing the hard work. And when it hurts, I reach out to others doing the same to find some joy in it all.

Of course, change won’t come from just changing my own habits, as many critics of zero waste will say (an argument that honestly, I find quite banal). If I wait for everyone to become magically selfless and anti-consumerist, the results will be disastrous, but I do think there is hope that when a select group starts adopting new habits, pressure will accumulate for larger, systematic changes. Perhaps one day, plastic will be cast aside and a new, compostable version will come to fruition. Perhaps, a carbon tax will finally take effect. Until then, all I have is the power to reduce my consumption and maximize my political power.

Still, I wrestle with the hypotheticals often; my critiques of and compassion for zero waste. There are certain scenarios I wonder about, like whether it would be better to stay at home and prepare a zero waste, local, vegetarian dinner or just grab whatever I can (in whatever packaging it comes in) because I have to run to my senator’s office after work and protest whatever needs protesting. In this case, the latter may be a worthy exception.

In the end, with gender and privilege and ability wrapped up in all of this, the practicality and effectiveness of a zero waste lifestyle can be difficult to decipher but I think working toward a sustainable future will always be a hard battle, full of a thousand nuances. It’s confusing — but I suppose working toward any worthwhile goal always will be.