Monday, March 31, 2014

Your story and the media - every day is April Fool's Day

Janette Murray-Wakelin, 64, and Alan Murray, 68
You are a committed person with a serious cause that could change the world. You have a strong worldwide group supporting you.

You're in a small minority compared to the mainstream, but you're OK with that, because you have so many great reasons, both emotional and evidential, why you do what you do.

Sharing your story

Then you get approached by the mainstream media, wanting to tell your story in detail. You think it will be a good opportunity to reach a wide audience with the knowledge you have. And then this happens... 
This is exactly the freak treatment I expected to see - because it happened to me on a different topic. (That video is still out there in cyberspace, but I am going to be selfish and use the Raw Vegan video as the illustration instead.)  

Mainstream media is not about balance and reason, but about outraging and then stroking the mainstream to get as much attention as possible - satisfying the advertisers who pay the bills. No genuine critique of current accepted norms will come from this source.

Mainstream treatment of counterculture

In the Raw Vegan video, I see:
  • The subjects explain what they are doing, to an interviewer with some pretense at neutrality. Many of their reasons will seem emotional, disjointed, or just plain insufficient.
  • Mainstream experts present their opposing opinion, sounding far more credible than the subjects.
  • No experts support the subjects' position, leaving the viewers to (falsely) assume that no experts do.
  • No groups support the subjects' position, leaving the viewers to (falsely) assume that the subjects do this in isolation or as a fad.
  • The subjects have at least one shocking statement as a distancing barrier between them and the viewers (e.g., for the vegan couple "missing out on the grandchild" and for the twins "the self-loathing").
  • The viewers are left with the strong feeling that, however interesting the subjects are, they are probably misguided and shouldn't be used as models.
Eerily familiar...

So how does this happen?

Nobody decides to appear publically making themselves and their cause look nutty. You go in thinking at least you will get to tell your story, and that has to be worth the effort.

The interviewers are all friendly, cosy and interested. They talk with you for a long time. You feel heard and acknowledged, because you get to tell them the whole story behind your unusual choices, including all the scientific support and history behind it and the doctors and community groups who recommend it because of the results. 

You feel a sense of accomplishment for how much great information has been recorded. You feel comfortable with them, so you will relax and say personal things and make jokes.

Then for their show, they pick a few short segments which support their bias, especially including any isolated shocking sound bites. Even if the interviewers and camera operators seem totally convinced by you, remember that the story is made by the editing.

They leave out all the boring factual support you told them for why you are choosing a different path. Which simply leaves your face and voice confirming people's biases as they watch the program.

No matter what they say, the mainstream media won't tell your story. They will use you to tell their story.

Forewarned is forearmed

Before I had my experience, I was also warned. But I thought it would be different for me. I hope that others may avoid having the media build them up and let them down.

If you think I'm overly cynical, please check out an even more experienced voice at:

How to do interviews with the mainstream media

While (as for my experience), the converted found some inspiration in seeing their topic on the news, the unconverted found only confirmation of what they already thought.

Remember this when you watch a "freak" show about some other topic you don't know as well.

There are forums to advance your cause. Just don't expect the mainstream media to be one of them.

One Green Planet - Marathon Vegan Couple
Huffington Post - Marathon Vegan Couple 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Moneyless Man - Review

You may already have heard of vegan Mark Boyle, the former businessman who vowed publicly to live totally without money for an entire year.

With my interests, this was a book I had to grab from the Librarian Recommended shelf. You can read about his experience in multiple interviews online, but the book really gets into the details.

The motivation

It sounds crazy to voluntarily give up all the comforts that his money can bring and live apart. Just imagine:
  • No grocery stops
  • No cafe trips
  • No car
  • No toilet paper
  • None
Why? Mark had become disillusioned with our money system. The first simple role of money is as tokens in a bartering system. But we've left that far behind, and money games now include international currency trading, derivatives, stockholder profits, and more. The more complicated it gets, the fewer people can possibly understand the game and get a living share. 

Mark cites the impact of money on community, security, competion/cooperation and the climate as vital motivations for his drastic change.

The preparation

Going from a money-based society to surviving totally moneyless takes preparation to work well. Others have managed with less, but probably not by choice. Mark set up rules for his challenge:
  1. No receiving or spending money
  2. "Normality" (eg yes, Mark can eat a meal at a friend's house; no, he can't eat there for 2 weeks straight)
  3. "Pay-it-forward" - help others without worrying about the reward
  4. Respect - for other people (eg use the toilet when visiting others, not a hole in the backyard)
  5. No pre-payment of bills (eg, paying an electricity bill for a year to get through the year)
Mark first discovered the vast difference between living frugally and living moneyless. He had to scrutinise every item he might consume, and he gave himself a small budget to set up his moneyless year.
On the night before his challenge would start, he got a puncture in his bicycle tyre, stranding him far from home and help - I was quite impressed that he solved this in the same DIY way he'd committed to begin the following day.

Shelter  - On Freecycle, Mark was given a decent caravan that was a burden to its owner.
In our world of overconsumption, there is an oversupply of still-useful products that are not in use. Networks like Freecycle help solve this problem.
And he bartered his labour to a farm to get a space to park the caravan.

Sanitation - DIY Composting toilet, solar shower. Drinking water from the farm.

Power - cooking: DIY rocket stove; light: windup torch; heat: DIY woodburner; electricity for laptop and mobile:solar panel (the biggest cash outlay)

Food - foraging, urban foraging (from commercial waste food), growing, and bartering. (Being vegan makes the food requirement that much easier!)

Transport - bicycle and trailer

Communications - mobile phone (incoming calls only) and internet (WiFi on the farm)

Buy Nothing Feast

On top of all of that, Mark successfully organised a free, moneyless feast for about 150 people for his first challenge day, Buy Nothing Day, 2008. (Remember, when things went wrong, he could not just spend his way out of the problem.) The success of the publicity overall meant that Mark spent a lot of his time early that year giving interviews!

Settling into moneyless life

Mark's typical moneyless day has exercise, wild foraging, personal grooming (with no purchased products), meal preparation, and online and farm work. After the day's work and dinner, he might cycle to a meeting and back (36 miles).

The book explains how he handled problems like the oncoming winter, keeping his bike in action, keeping in touch with friends, Christmas, international travel and doing everything the slow way. It also reveals a few facts worth knowing about the wastefulness of the "regular" way of doing things (eg: water usage from a plumbed vs composting toilet).

More challenges

Like any alternative lifestyle, one of the biggest barriers is interacting with the rest of the world. The media interest was fading, and he did his best to keep up with friends, but Mark's romantic relationship did not surive the strain of his challenge.

While Mark's general health was even better than anyone expected, he did have to find a natural remedy for his hay fever. He also had a tiny mouse visitor who became a big problem.

The moneyless community

Mark learned about other people around the world who also lived with little or no money, including Daniel Suelo and Heidemarie Schwermer. Heidemarie started an exchange group (Tauschring) to help people live without money, and Mark started the Freeconomy site.

Summer fun and food

Summer brought more ease to the moneyless life, and Mark describes how much food and fun there is available for free. Developing communities like Freecycle, Couchsurfing, etc, make it all even easier.

Autumn, almost there!

Mark found that the closer he got to the year's end, the less he was worried about ending it. He and some friends had a great wild-food foraging adventure, and Mark himself chose to spend a week in silence - probably a good preparation for the finish line and the renewed media attention.


He celebrated with an even bigger free "feastival" for hundreds of people, and handled media that brought a range of applause, curiosity, and criticism. And he made his decision that he was not going "back" to his regular life.

The book finishes with the lessons Mark wants to pass on from his moneyless year.

Mark chose to live this way for a year, as a statement and personal achievement. Hundreds of thousands of people in the US alone are forced into indefinite homelessness and poverty or zero-income.

Even if you have no urge to live moneyless, this book will open your eyes to the casual overconsumption our society is based upon, alternative choices you could use, and the people and organisations who seek a better way.

Mark's experience would have been quite different without the overabundance of products going to waste each day. However, without all that waste, everyone's lives could be richer.

Live simply so others may simply live. (Source debatable, intention admirable.)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why we plant grass, kill dandelions and buy kale

I return from our summer travels to a garden invaded by tough shoots of invasive grass as the surrounding lawn tries to take over.

I walk down a street with sweeping square metres of berms planted with grass. Many animals eat grass, but of course they're not allowed here in the city suburbs, and mowing them has become a notable problem.

So what is it with the grass fetish?

History of Green Lawns

This comedy grass discussion with God highlights the insanity: GOD: "Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?" And much more.

The lawn as we know it today developed in Europe - then, as now, a quirk for people with enough money to maintain a purely decorative (nonproductive) stretch of land, with human labour. And apparently, we can also blame the Scots and golf!

It is common to poison dandelions, chickweed, and other "weeds" in the pursuit of a smooth homogeneous expanse of non-edible grass, regardless of the potential risk from the poisons.

Getting your Greens

You can't eat grass. But other dark green leafies are some of the most nutritious edibles around. The produce section of the supermarket is happy to sell you bunches of kale for your dinner. Garden centres carry out a thriving trade in salad green shoots of all varieties (to plant in dedicated gardens, not lawns, of course).

Kale is great (I have some in the garden), but those free pesky dandelion greens from the lawn compare very well with kale. Sure, dandelions have less vitamin C, but they have more iron, etc. And they grow even when you don't want them to!

And if you aren't convinced yet, in the supermarkets you can also buy bags of expensive mesclun salad...which will probably include dandelion greens.

Rethink Lawn Care

There are many alternatives to the traditional grass lawn. But even if you're not ready to dig it out and start again, next time you see a dandelion in your lovely lawn, go get some leaves instead of the weedkiller. And when you see a fluffy dandelion head, remember your childhood, make a wish, and blow.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Not a diet, a lifestyle change!

We've all heard this. So what does it mean?


Your food choices must change for life (unless you mean to join the yo-yo club). And so your food choices must not only help you lose weight (plant-based diets are great for this) but also be healthy enough to do forever (again, plant-based diets get the tick).

+ Exercise

"You can't exercise off a bad diet" (I certainly spent enough years trying) and "80% diet, 20% exercise" is flooding the internet. Exercise is still a potent health weapon, and a Stanford study showed that changing both food and exercise habits at the same time had the greatest results. The National Weight Loss Registry confirms this.

= Lifestyle Change?

So: food and exercise. That's a lot of important change. Surely that's a lifestyle change?

Yes. And probably, no.

Adopting successful new food and exercise habits, with results you see and feel every day, is highly motivating. Why would you ever go back, when the change is so rewarding? Why indeed. Could it be there was a bigger reason for the bad habits?

Home. Friends. Family. Job. Hobbies. Money. Relationships. Mental health... the wider context for poor choices of all flavours. Fail to address your whole lifestyle and expect to reach the end of the honeymoon with your food/exercise successes. Expect to wonder why you can't do the right things anymore even though you know what they are.

Losing weight does not solve the problem of you working too much, or too little, or hating your job, or feeling unappreciated or lonely, or just plain wanting more from life. And if your coping strategies made you fat before, they can do it again.

The big picture

Losing weight through diet and exercise is hard. But a lifestyle change may be even harder.

Seeking the why of your stresses could lead you into deep waters. Your job, your home, your relationships...and like it or not, you may need professional help and crazy solutions if your familiar DIY approach leads you in ever-increasing circles.

Asking real questions and demanding better answers from yourself is key to a lifestyle change.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why "Birth Rape" is rape

Samantha Thurlby-Brooks' controversial piece, Socially Accepted Violence Against Pregnant and Labouring Women was written for women just like me.

To add to her excellent discussion, I will address a comment she received, stating "The very real and troubling trend of violence and rape against women and the attempts to highlight it are not served well by calling everything rape and violence." Rape and justice in our society has been a hot topic recently. I salute all those who have shared their highly personal stories.

This commenter questioned the very idea of elevating some birth experiences to compare them with rape. This idea of "birth rape" is already very controversial.

This is my answer.

What happened to me?

This was sort of Part 2 of our horrific birth experience. Part 1 is too long to tell in full, but went from a planned home birth, to learning about our baby's abnormal status by hearing it shouted by the sonographer down the hall to the receptionist, to being told impatiently that catheterisation would be much easier if I would just relax, and going under the general anaesthetic for my caesarean in tears.

Part 2 is also too long to tell in full. My husband visited me in recovery to share that we had a boy, and he was doing all right, so I thought at least the worst was over. It seemed I could feel myself continue to bleed, but the nurses assured me everything was OK. Eventually, a sudden blood pressure drop confirmed I was hemorrhaging.

Someone (doctor, nurse, I don't know) tried to stop the bleeding using pressure. That means she stuck most of her hand up my vagina as far as my cervix while pushing very hard on my abdomen with the other hand to squeeze my uterus in between. Many times, removing and reinserting her hand. As my husband watched in horror, until he was hustled away. (Note: this was my stitched-up abdomen, and a vagina that had not experienced any labour stretching.)

When I finally screamed, a male doctor decided to put gauze in some forceps and push that up my vagina to my cervix instead. He thought this might be more comfortable, and seemed honestly taken aback when I screamed again.

This did not stop the bleeding. I truly believed I could die before seeing my first child, because they seemed to be doing their worst and yet I was still bleeding.

The rest of the story is more typically medical, with lots of needles desperately hunting veins, transfusions, and drugs, leading eventually to "a healthy mother and a healthy baby."

10 reasons this is rape

This is a horrifying story, and it was a horrifying experience, but how can I justify calling it rape? All I know about rape is what I've heard from others. So here's a little list.

1 This was intimate trauma involving sexual parts of my body, which is embarrassing to discuss While sharing trauma in a safe environment can be key to healing, there are few such safe environments
2 A story so personal and shocking that it makes most people uncomfortable and uncertain how to react and connect with me. As above. People often ask "how was the birth?" But I am discouraged from being "that woman" who tells her awful story around pregnant women, spreading bad energy.
3 Seeking understanding or justice requires reliving the trauma When I shared my perspective with the medical team, they were defensive against possible official action, not understanding. The harder I try to provide the details to make my point, the more painful it is each time.
4 The destruction of trust and birth of fear This experience colours all my medical experiences, and I have no way to fully trust a medical professional again.
5 Damage to future sexual relationships I could not have penetrative sex for more than a year
6 Damage to physical and emotional wellbeing, and the need to carry on with life regardless I needed extensive therapy for my PTSD, both after the birth and before my next birth. 8 years later, I still suffer physical symptoms of the trauma, like hyperreaction to being touched. And there was a very small baby that needed my care.
7 The desperate drive to know "Why did this happen to me?" It's natural to seek some measure of control by asking why, seeking answers, and placing (or accepting) blame. I did it, and so did many other people involved.
8 ... and the rest of the neverending post-mortem There is no end to it.
Why didn't I call for help if it was so bad? (I was in total shock and hoped it would all go away if I was still. Also, I didn't believe anybody could help.)
But it was done to save me and I signed a medical release form... (Complicity in my own rape.)
9 It happened a long time ago, so why should it still be an issue? "You are clinging to this." "It's time to move on." "It wasn't that bad." "At least you survived." "All that matters is that you have a healthy baby." "You should own your birth experience."
10 It happens more than we want to believe or accept Usually, what happens at the hospital stays at the hospital. But just ask Samantha Thurlby-Brooks, who has listened to women's experiences without the apologist filter on.

Any of that sound familiar?

Worse? Better? Different?

Clearly there are aspects of sexual-predator-rape which can't apply to my experience. There are also unique aspects to birth rape. Of course there are worse stories than mine - rape stories, birth stories - but let's not make it a competition.

In no way do I seek to distract attention from women who have suffered rape. I seek, like them, not to be trivialised or dismissed due to ignorance, discomfort, and silence.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chicken - it's the new veal

Thanks to animal activists, most of us know about the extreme industrial cruelty involved in turning calves into veal, or force-feeding geese and ducks to give them fatty livers for foie gras.

Also recently highlighted - the cruelty of battery cages for egg-laying hens. But why would anyone hold a vigil for broiler chickens?

Sound silly? In fact, chicken on the menu is as much an ethical nightmare as veal or foie gras.

7 ways chicken is like veal

Broiler chickens and veal calves are both:
  1. Taken from their mothers
  2. Kept inside all their lives with only artificial light to control eating and activity
  3. Live all their lives with very little room to move - therefore can't move or develop properly
  4. Fed specifically to meet market requirements rather than health
  5. Medicated to prevent diseases caused by their living conditions
  6. At high risk of dying even before before slaughter time
  7. Very young when killed (broiler chickens are only 5-7 weeks old at slaughter)
And a few extra horrors, just for the chicks
  1. Their sheds are not cleaned out in their entire lives, so they live in increasingly deep piles of toxic ammoniac chicken waste.
  2. They have been bred to put on so much weight, so quickly, that they cannot balance on their legs as they grow. So they spend twice as much time sitting in, and breathing, that waste pile.
  3. Since they often can't walk, they are grabbed in bunches and carried by their legs when they are gathered for slaughter. This often breaks their legs (if their legs are not already broken).
Care for a game of Tic-Tac-Toe?

“It is now clear that [chickens] have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates.”
—Dr Lesley Rogers, professor of Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour, University of New England.

Chickens may not be your favourite animal. But any animal with enough brains to learn to play a tune or even a silly game deserves better than this. Follow a broiler chicken through his short life here...

Please enjoy your personal choice - use it well and kindly.

Substitutes for chicken

"What’s key is to remember to season any dish that contains a vegetarian chicken substitute. It is not the substitute but the seasonings that simulate the taste of chicken."