The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

How to Survive a Weekend-Long Assault by Conservatives June 2, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend: The first good beach weekend of the year. An opportunity, thanks to employers who give a half day or the whole day off on Friday, to escape the city and its 90-degree, gritty air for a fresh breeze and fresh seafood.

For this Clean Hippie, it was also an exercise in restraint.

For the weekend I was invited to Cape Cod by my friend John, along with five others. His parents have ramshackle house on a private beach in Orleans, surrounded by a few acres of woods. It was a perfect place for seven people to try to relive their college days. (That means being loud and inappropriate, in case you’re wondering.)

Anyway, knowing the people who were invited, I KNEW going in that I should avoid politics completely. I didn’t want a repeat of last year, when I got completely frustrated with John over his pro-big business views. Well, John is a Green Peace activist compared to some of the people who were there.

John gave me fair warning before I left. “Just to let you know, the three people you are riding up with are very conservative, and very un-pc,” he told me. The implication? Don’t rock the boat.

Friday I left work at 1 and took the train up to South Norwalk in Connecticut , where I was supposed to be picked up. When I came out of the station into the parking lot, I saw a red SUV come around the corner. “Alden!” yelled the passenger, leaning out the window. I waved and it pulled up in front of me. Drew, the driver and John’s friend from high school, got out to open the trunk for me. Drew would prove to be the quiet one of the bunch, a sort of observer to our rantings. In the front seat was Travis, Drew’s coworker. I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name, so I created the mnemonic “Travesty.”  Let’s just call him large and in charge, and leave it at that. I climbed in the back seat with Travesty’s girlfriend Erin, a pretty brunette.

“We’ve been circling the parking lot for like ten minutes,” she told me. Every time we came around, Travis would yell ‘Alden! Alden? Alllden…’ to every girl that came out front. And then Drew was like, ‘Oh, I think I have her number. Let me call her.’ We were like ‘Oh, NOW you tell us.”

One thing I love about long weekends like this with a group of people, is that by the end of your time together, you have at least five inside jokes that get repeated over and over. One of them for Cape Cod was a sort of impromptu celebration of my name, where everyone would just start saying “Alden? Alllden. Alden!” Great ego boost.

So obviously I took John’s advice really seriously, and about an hour into our trip, I saw the news on my phone that BP’s Top Kill strategy might be working. (Of course it failed later.) I piped up with the news. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” Travesty said. It’s leaking, what, 4,000 barrels a day? I mean, that’s not much in the grand scheme of things.”

“Actually,” I said, “it’s about 40,000 barrels a day.”

“Yeah, she’s right, Travis,” Drew said.

“Ok, whatever. I mean, the Georgia Aquarium alone has over 3 million gallons just in its tanks.” (Actually it has 8 million. But who’s quibbling?) There’s so much water in the gulf, will it really affect anything?”

“Travis, honey,” Erin ventured. “It’s already washing up on the shores.”

“Yeah.” I sputtered. “It’s already coating birds and keeping them from flying.”

“Eh well. I mean it’s not that bad. They just showed a hippie cleaning a seal with a toothbrush on TV, and now everyone is all upset. Come on. You know how many seals there are out there?” Obviously Travis was not yet aware that I call myself a Clean Hippie. Well, he would find out.

We all offered some more feeble explanations of how bad it is, but in the end it degenerated into jokes about how God seems to hate New Orleans.I mean, how hard did I want to fight Travesty about this? He obviously has his mind made up about how he wants to view the world, and that is through the lens of “Me is important. Other, not so much.” That includes seals and the Gulf of Mexico, apparently.

It was a nicely timed incident, coming on the heals of my reading a chapter in Happiness Hypothesis on how we have self serving biases. Apparently, when you are talking to people other than judges, they make decisions not rationally by considering all facts but by choosing a position that feels right and then casting around for facts to support that position. When they find a fact, they stop searching.

So how did I get through this weekend? I had to contend with perfect weather – a Cape record high of 75 and sunny, mojitos, free beer, a trip to a local favorite bar with a live band, and delicious seafood. It was hard, let me tell you.

It’s actually funny how little I have changed since my trip to the Cape last summer. Back then I lamented in my post about not sticking to my no-processed-food guns, and eating lobster rolls and fried seafood. Whoops, did it again!

Hey, I’m irrational just like anyone else. I know that factory farming sucks, both for me and the animal, yet when I see maple-drizzled little piggy sausages and bacon, how can I resist? I’m working on it. Are you tired of my guilt ridden posts on eating consciously yet?

When our little group got there on Friday, we were greeted by John, his friend TJ, and Ryan from W&L, both of whom I’ve metbefore. We packed a cooler with beer, threw it in the back of TJ’s huge SUV, and drove the half mile to the beach where we walked out over the dunes to the water. It was a cool, windy night, and Erin and I shivered as the boys tried to get the fire started. Their solution to the sputtering flames? Lots and lots of lighter fluid.

“I’m not going anywhere near those fumes y’all,” I said.

“Whatever, it’ll burn off,” one of the boys said.

I had found an old brown knit cap with a poof on the top and a brim and had pulled it on my head. “Boy, do you look like a hippie now,” John said. I gave him a grin as I wrapped my arms around myself and edged away from the petroleum scented smoke coming from the pit. But once the fire was good and roaring, we settled in for a couple hours of laughing and talking with only the sound of the waves as our soundtrack. I went to bed early that night when we got back, exhausted from the workweek and the long drive up. I could still hear the laughter and calls drifting up from the basement where everyone was playing beerpong, through the thin floor to me as I fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up at nine feeling rested and refreshed. I poured myself a glass of water and wandered out onto the back porch, where the sun rose in a yellow orb above the dunes. I was greeted by a chorus of birdsong and a soft breeze. Inspired, I popped inside for a beach towel and laid it down on the porch. I stood at the edge facing east, and went through the first yoga series, appropriately called “Sun Salutation.” I was stiff, but I quickly loosened in cool air as I stretched and moved through my positions. I never do yoga by myself, but it was a perfect hour for it. By the time I heard people moving around and talking inside I was feeling limber so I joined everyone for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast.

We spent the day at the beach, naturally. The water in Cape Cod is numbingly cold, but I’m a big believer in the therapeutic properties of salt water, so I finally screwed up the courage, let out a banshee yell and sprinted into the water, plunging headfirst into the waves. I was numb when I emerged, but feeling good. We actually saw little groups of seals pass by. “Someone should get Alden a toothbrush,” Travesty quipped. Thanks dude.

When the idea popped into our heads Saturday night that we should go to the bar, all of us were several beers in. The boys had been playing a frisbee game called Kan Jam in the fading light while the girls, including John’s cousin Anne who had just joined us, perched on the railing to watch. Every once in a while one of they guys would shout, “Nancy! Beer me!” and I would toss a Bud Light to them. (They called me Nancy after Nancy Pelosi.)

After yanking on some presentable clothing, we went to Land Ho, where we all ordered draught beers. That is, except for Travesty. He walked over to us carrying a martini with three olives with such a serious “I’m James Bond” look on his face I barely contained my laughter. Especially since just an hour before he had been wrestling with the other guys in a cross between a drunk bear and a sumo wrestler.

Someone ordered tequila shots for everyone. We tossed them back and I quickly bit down on my lime with a shudder. As I pulled it from my mouth, I heard a cough and felt a thick spray of tequila on my face.

I turned to see where it had come from, and there stood Travesty gazing at me with what only can be described as no expression at all. “What the hell is wrong with you??” I yelled at him, totally losing my zen.

“Woah, Alden,” Erin said. “He didn’t mean it.”

“Uh, can someone hand me a napkin?” an unfortunate bystander said. Behind me, another girl who the boys had been chatting up at the bar stormed off, yelling about tequila on her face.

Meanwhile, Erin and Travesty had exited the bar. I didn’t find out until later that Erin was outside bawling, she was so upset at my reaction. Whoops. Travesty came in later and apologized, and I accepted his apology. I didn’t dwell on it, instead launching myself onto the dance floor with Ryan for another hour.

When we got back to the house we heated up queso for some chips which we ate out on the back porch. Our conversation degenerated into an argument about whether Americans are too stupid to decide what to feed themselves.

If Travesty showed an enormous amount of ignorance, TJ boasted an enormous reservoir of facts and figures about the ridiculousness of unions, the percentage of crimes in Arizona that are attributed to Hispanics, the number of jobs lost versus gained by shifts to a greener economy, and on and on and on. Smart kid. His arguments were convincing, even if the logic seemed to be all off. I struggled, knowing my own biases, to give his arguments for Arizona’s new law a fair shake. TJ did not return the favor, instead he would all but stop up his ears and say “Lalala, I can’t hear liberals!”

One point of contention was the impending soda tax and the ban on salt in NYC restaurants. I think the ban on salt is stupid. The reason Americans eat too much sodium is that they eat too much processed foods.  But anyway, even though I told TJ this over and over, “Yes, TJ, I agree with you. Yes, it’s stupid,” he still couldn’t get it through his skull that I’m not a crazy liberal who kowtows to every Democratic initiative. He also didn’t believe me when I told him that a cheeseburger is cheaper in this country than a head of broccoli. I tried to abbreviate Michael Pollan’s argument about corn subsidies, but I wasn’t getting anywhere with TJ. He literally said, “I don’t believe you.” My goodness.

John repeatedly entreated me to “Just let it go.” And Travesty stood up in anger and told me I should just move to Europe if I hate America so much. (The next day he would argue that landfills are good because they create jobs.) Drew just shook his head at me, Don’t bother. I looked down at the chip dripping with yellow fake cheese in my hand, set it down, and retreated inside to a corner of the living room. I sat, reading another chapter of Happiness Hypothesis about the Buddhist exhortation to break worldly attachments. That nothing is really that important. Man, that book is good. As I read I felt my heart rate slow, I relaxed into the old crocheted chair. The book also extolls the wonderful effects of meditation on happiness, so I decided I needed to meditate as soon as possible. Finally, with my calm restored, I got up and went to bed. I still had the icky, hypocritical taste of chips and queso in my mouth though.

The next morning I got up with a new resolve. I set myself up on the back porch again to do yoga, and when I finished, I sat cross-legged and meditated for 15 minutes, listening to bird song, feeling the warm sun on my face, and repeating the words “Gratitude” to myself. What shouldn’t I be grateful for? How could I let a couple of die-hard conservatives ruin such a beautiful weekend? At the end of my meditation, I felt completely reset and refreshed, and ready for a day at the beach, with or without political rants. Most everyone else went to get a huge breakfast at a diner, but I opted to stay behind, having discovered all the ingredients for a smoothie were already in the fridge and freezer. Score!

We spent another day at the beach, getting nice and brown/red under the warm Cape sun and dunking ourselves in the water. I just wanted to wash the tequila out of my hair, to be honest. At one point, as I laid on the beach with TJ, Erin, Ryan, and Drew, and Ryan, the political debate started up again. I engaged for a couple minutes, then just gave up. TJ continued to cite examples of democratic stupidity. “He’s still going, isn’t he?” I mumbled to Ryan 15 minutes later.

“I heard that,” TJ said from his beach chair. He went back to ranting to Erin and Drew. I just sighed and flipped over, staring at the blue sky above.

For dinner we went to Arnold’s, a fried seafood mecca. I opted for steamers, fried Maryland Oysters, and a diet soda. I took three sips of the soda and dumped it. It didn’t even taste good to me anymore. Despite that small moment of lucidity, by the time I was done stuffing my face with fried food, I felt sick. Everyone was so lethargic when we got back, we all passed out by 10 pm.

The next day I woke up at 6:30 in the morning. Ryan joined me on the porch, quietly sipping coffee and gazing out at the shore while I went through my Sun Salutation, and then he good-naturedly agreed to meditate with me for ten minutes. I thought that was really nice of him. I completed my perfect morning with another homemade smoothie, and a refreshing shower in the outdoors in a little wooden and slate stall John’s dad built.

Overall I would say it was a good weekend, despite all the contention. I feel rested and restored, and – most importantly – brown from the sun. I shook hands with Travesty when he left, though I wouldn’t say we are going to be friends. I gave Erin and Drew a hug goodbye, and I’m now finally Facebook friends with TJ. My opinion of Ryan and John soared, as they seemed to be sane voices among the crazy. They may not be liberals, but at least they seemed to have brains.

And that, my friends, is how I survived a weekend among the enemy.

Bonus: the funniest video ever that was our weekend soundtrack. You better believe we did the Fork in the Garbage Disposal over and over.

 

How to lose weight in the healthiest way possible, permanently November 28, 2009

 

I’m a girl. I went to college. I gained 15 pounds. So obviously I’ve thought a lot about the nagging problem of losing weight.

I heard it all in college. Bulimia of course, microwaving onion rings and pairing them with diet coke for a meal, slim fasts, fruit only diets, eating Kashi microwavable meals exclusively, and straight-up anorexia. But things like that don’t work, or only work for a short period of time before you become completely miserable, go out to dinner with friends, or your body rebels and asks you to eat like a normal person.

But I think I’ve finally found the answer. And that answer is simply this:

Knowledge. Women tend to want to put their trust in whatever might be the silver pill without really questioning the reason. We read Self magazine and think that maybe all those little nuggets about this and that vitamin and weight loss tips will add up to something meaningful. But those are written by women like us, who are also seeking the answers.

What really changed my perspective was knowledge  about our food system, about how marketers and food designers know how to mess with our minds, how our relationship with food has been perverted and warped into an unsustainable lifestyle. How many times have I said to myself, “Today, I will eat perfectly,” only to fail as soon as a bowl of chips was put in front of me. I knew chips were bad, but not really why. Why could I not resist their siren call? Why did they make me feel so unhappy and dissatisfied after?

Reading these four books answered those questions, and have given me a new perspective on food that will carry me forward throughout my life. It’s broken a cycle of promising myself I’ll do better and then failing. It’s given me confidence and, dare I say it, happiness.

Start your knowledge feast with Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser: This book, which I read in high school, was the first thing that turned me away from fast food. It exposes the dark underbelly of the sloppy and dangerous slaughter of cows, processes that lead to foodborn illnesses. Schlosser paints a picture of the connection between Big Macs and obesity, special interests and salmonella outbreaks. This was the book that made me turn to my mom one day and say, “I want to start eating organic foods. Can we get our groceries at Whole Foods?” Though I would slip occasionally over the years and grab a pizza slice, it was an important first read.

Tuck into The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan: Pollan builds on the foundation established by Schlosser by examining how almost every processed food you buy in the store is made up of low quality corn. It shows the connection between the large profits of companies like Monsanto and the bankruptcy of farmers. And it shows how much more delicious and healthful a meal of local food grown sustainably can be. In short, it makes a serious case for putting more thought into your food.

Take a break from Michael Pollan for a moment and read The End of Overeating by David Kessler:  a well researched and even entertaining treatise on how food companies are more profitable when Americans get fatter. He explains in detail the devious ways the Cheesecake Factory and Friday’s build food designed to slip down your throat so fast you can eat 2000 calories before the waitress refills your coke. He explores the mechanisms that drive and downward spiral of using foods to make ourselves happy instead of fueling our bodies. It will make you rethink popping into a Dunkin’ Donuts for your next lunch.

Top it all off with In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan’s sequel to Dilemma that paints, in broad brush strokes, how we can recapture the healthful eating of our ancestors. It cracks open the paradox of the French, who seem to eat so badly, and yet stay so skinny. It gives you a chart for navigating the grocery store and avoiding the deceptive claims splayed across the front of sugary cereals. (Part of a balanced breakfast! Calcium fortified for healthy bones!)

After I read these books, commercials that used to make me drool now make me recoil in disgust. It’s like an x-ray has been held up to pictures of french fries so that I can see the chemicals (did you know McDonald’s uses BUTANE in their cooking oil?) fat, synthetic flavors, and corn.

This Thanksgiving…yeah, I ate more than I do on a normal day. But instead of going back for seconds – which I used to do even though I knew I didn’t need them – I sat back and talked with the people around me. I savored my food and then finished eating. I didn’t feel sick or disgusting, just happily full! And I enjoyed the whole, healthful, non-processed food on my plate that much more.