…and it runs from the South where I grew up, across an ocean, halfway across another continent and back, and west across the States, finally ending in Colorado, where I have found a temporary home. I’m referring to the road that brought me to Suburban Pioneering.
Mine was not what you would call an auspicious beginning. Though my mom could (and claims she liked) to cook, she could also recognize a losing battle when she saw one. When it was clear that my dad and sisters and I preferred macaroni and cheese to anything leafy or green, she hoisted the white flag and confined family dinners to spaghetti night (noodles generously topped with Prego) and taco night (all toppings stuffed into a pre-made hard taco shell). I don’t think I’d ever eaten a bell pepper until my husband, who’s from California and considers pepper de rigueur at every meal, forced the experience upon me.
If you’ve ever lived in the South, you know that we Southerners like our “bought air” (as my grandmother called air conditioning). A lot. Most restaurants make it their goal to freeze the sweet tea in everyone’s glasses (saves on making ice). We also like to drive. We like our indoor malls (Chattanooga, TN, my hometown, boasts one of the larger ones in the South). And we like fried things. Fried chicken. Fried pickles. Fried Coke. Fried Oreos. I’m serious. This passes for food. If this intrigues you, by the way, you can find the recipe here: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/deep-fried-oreos/. All things considered, the South isn’t really a breeding ground for Suburban Pioneers.
Then I got married and went to Europe. My husband, Keith, and I have a penchant for combining stressful life events (see upcoming later post about buying and remodeling a house while having our first child). So, 6 weeks into our fledgling marriage, full of boundless optimism and naivety, we went to Slovakia to teach English.
Slovakia is that country next to Austria.
“You mean like Czechoslovakia?” people ask. Yes…sort of. Only 20 years later than what they’re thinking, since the Czech Republic and Slovakia split amicably in the early ’90’s. They are now two countries, though Slovakia’s more like the poor step-child, since the Czech Republic got more of the industry and commerce that had been built since the end of communism in 1989.
In any case, living in Slovakia helped us to make more sustainable lifestyle choices–namely because there weren’t any other choices.
We rode the bus everywhere.
There was no dryer in our apartment, so we hung all our wash to dry (see my upcoming post on the proper use of drying racks).
There was no air conditioning (we learned that, in Europe, when the temperature does happen to rise into the Fahrenheit 80’s or 90’s, people just strip down and loll about their apartments…or sunbathe nude, whichever strikes their fancy).
Our apartment also was only one room, so there was a lot less to heat.
And, though a tomato looks pretty much the same in any country, packaged goods do not. For nine months of that year, I thought Slovaks made all their own soup because I couldn’t find any cans. Turns out they just have packets of soup mix instead. But I didn’t know that at the time, so I learned to cook from scratch.
It was easy to live making less of an impact.
And then we came back to the States. It’s a lot more difficult to live as a Pioneer when you have a lot of choices. And it takes a lot more self-discipline. I’m not always good at it, I confess. It’s easy to fall prey to the temptation to cut corners by buying paper plates for a cookout (though I draw the line at styrofoam!) or using saran wrap to cover those leftovers.
The one thing I can say is that my food choices, at least, fall more automatically into Pioneering ways. Last time I tried to expedite the cooking process by buying some Campbell’s tomato soup, I couldn’t eat it. No amount of spicing it up could conceal the sickly sweet taste of corn syrup. There are some things that, once embraced, cannot be relinquished.
But overall, it’s a day-to-day challenge for me, in the midst of working and keeping the house (not very) clean and raising my daughter, to be as sustainable as I would like to be. I don’t fool myself into thinking that I can save the world by washing out Ziplock bags or composting my kitchen waste. But this is part of how I try to live faithfully and responsibly. It’s about fostering an attitude of caring and attention. It’s about at least noticing that there are choices out there. This blog is one way of holding myself accountable to keep trying. Keep trying, my friends, in spite of the mishaps…that’s all any of us—or many of us, for there are thousands of Suburban Pioneers out there trying to make more sustainable daily choices—can do.