Your home is killing the planet and mine isn't: Let's talk about eco-machismo

February 23 |
Little Bunnies
Go green or this bunny gets it. Photo by jpockele. Used under Creative Commons license.

My name is Cat, and I'm a vegetarian. I stopped eating meat after I got blitzed at my senior-year BFA show in college, discussed a tidbit from The Omnivore's Dilemma with a friend, and then and there declared my intent to stop eating meat. I then, very emphatically, told the entire party that I AM BECOMING A VEGETARIAN.

When I woke up the next morning I remembered the declaration. I didn't want to be "that person" — the one who makes drunken declarations I never live up to. Besides, my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I had been living together for several years and he'd been veg since age 13. That made the plunge seem easy, so I took it.

I can't speak for my husband, but I'm veg because I believe that it lowers my impact on the planet. I try to make decisions about what I eat, what we buy, and the chemicals and products we use in our home with the intent that we are trying to make the limited resources our world has go a little bit farther for every person. And I don't usually talk about it much, as other offbeat eaters (NOT meat-eaters!) often like to debate where I draw my consumption line. So sue me: I eat gelatin!

In the Offbeat community, there are so many people making thought-out, well-reasoned decisions about how they might live their lives differently than the rest of the world. Couples getting ring tattoos. Parents sleep training baby. Creating a non-black goth bedroom. That's what I LOVE about the Offbeat Empire — everyone, Offbeat Lites included, seems to be firm subscribers to the idea that "An unexamined life is not worth living." Adhering to this tenant makes the world so much more colorful.

Unfortunately, this can also lead to a load of judgement: as seen in DIYer than thou attitudes or the one-lowsmanship (judging people because you were able to spend less than them) sometimes found on Offbeat Bride. Ariel and I were talking about "eco machismo" — the propensity of people to try to strong-arm others' stories with a "greener than thou" approach. In the end, as Ariel once said:

It's all forms of status-seeking and seriously: that's just fine. We all status seek β€” the issue is laying off the judgment of people who are seeking a status different than yours.

We all draw our own lines within the spectrum of eco-consciousness, and every bit helps. So even if you are "only" using a green cleaner and make no other changes — bravo!

On Offbeat Home, I anticipate that we'll have some eco-machismo disagreements: your organic fertilizer is not vegan! When you turn off the computer you're just adding wear and tear, and which is worse: Using electricity or buying a whole new computer? Aluminum siding was an irresponsible choice. A bunny dies every time you don't compost a banana peel! HOW DO YOU SLEEP AT NIGHT!?

We'll try our best to foster discussions focused on celebrating the efforts that each of us make to create sustainable homes. We're all on the same side here, and everyone has their own journey and their own priorities.

Join our community!

  1. I mega-super-like this post. This is really the kind of perspective I come to the Offbeat Empire for — it acknowledges that there is no "one right choice" for everyone, no perfectly righteous way to get married, raise your child, or live. There's only informed decisions, and what's right for each individual.

    49 agree
    • I agree with what you said, and this post in general. I love this community because, in general, things aren't forced or stated as anyone's lifestyle is better. It gets repetitive out there that vegans are best, and being a meat eater, I'm tire of hearing how I'm negatively impacting the earth…can't you be happy I try to recycle or that I make an effort to shop locally? Does everything have to be a one-up? No, and that's why I like the Offbeat community.

      12 agree
  2. I was super excited to read this post. I'm a vegetarian as well. Lacto-ovo pescetarian to be specific πŸ™‚ I'm pretty quiet about it, unless someone asks me about my choice. I think lifestyles are sort of like religions to me, I'm happy to hear about them, but don't force them on me. I can't wait to see how this new community debates, compromises, and comes together,

    10 agree
  3. Ah yes, I've just learned to say "I'm not ignorant as to why I should _______, I just don't want to." I've recently gone veggie and still eat fish on occasion, and have a nagging guilt every time I eat cheese, but dammit, it's better than it could be!

    3 agree
  4. I guess so far I'm the only non-veggie here being someone who follows basically the paleo diet. However my partner and I raise our own chickens for meat and eggs and purchase local grass raised bison and beef. When animals are raised properly their impact on the earth is no greater than veggie. I love hearing all your stories and can't wait to see more! Keep up the AWESOME work.

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    • I'm a vegetarian but I still appreciate the health and "eat real food" perspective from paleo bloggers. I've read a lot of Fitnessspotlight.com's archives.

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    • Fellow Paleo here, I'm kind of excited about OBH because it should bring some other "lifestyles" out of the woodwork in a way that OBB and OBM may not! Definitely looking forward to seeing a good mix of options and information for everyone.. also hoping to see some paleo posts!

      1 agrees
    • WOOHOO, fellow paleo here! I can't wait to own my own land and raise chickens again.

      1 agrees
    • Primal/ paleo here too. My diet is actually almost carnivorous. Ethically carnivorous, but still . . . .

      I really look forward to the Offbeat Home's different approaches to Home, The Universe, and Everything. The respect I see in the OBB forums has me really excited for the possibilities here.

      1 agrees
      • I propose "Different Approaches to Home, The Universe, and Everything" as Offbeat Home's new unofficial tagline.

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  5. I appreciate this post, because as i'm not vegan, and I drive a car, i'm often caught on the wrong end of the greener than thou attitude.

    I recycle, use green cleaning products, and energy saving light-bulbs, i try to buy local and/or freerange produce when it's avaliable and i can afford it… but unfortunately that hasn't been good enough for a lot of people, and i found i had to leave an online community that i'd been a part of for years, because i became overwhlemed with the emerging trend for the greener than thou attitude… i've even found i've had to distance myself from a once-close friend because she couldn't leave alone the fact that i drink Coke and eat McDonalds and KFC…

    I think these judgmental attitudes are really sad, and I'm glad the offbeat empire is doing their best to dissuade them.

    (maybe that's judgemental in itself though? i don't really mind if you want to be judgemental, just don't force your judgments on me?)

    17 agree
  6. I'm also vegetarian, no meat, fish or eggs – it's an intensely personal choice for me based on compassion, my upbringing and eco values – but I keep it personal. I have my values and don't try to push them on others. I use eco products (1. because I like using eco products and 2. because I can't stand the smell of most cleaners, soaps, etc.), recycle, have a composter, drive a good mileage car (but it's still a car!). And I love my international travel – I know it's bad for the earth but I can't help it – I love to travel.

    I agree that every little bit counts. It's really not all or nothing. One more person recycling, buying stuff with less packaging, buying from a farmer's market, trying to make thoughtful choices makes a difference.

    I can see it clearly as a graphic designer. Eco-friendly papers with recycled content used to be so expensive. But now, less than 3 years later, enough clients nation wide have demanded eco-friendly FSC certified paper with recycled content that now it's available at a great competitive price.

    The anonymousness of the internet is great for somethings but the drawback is that it allows people to say things and judge other people harshly in that they would never say face to face to another person. So I really respect that civil conversation and respect for other's view point is a corner stone of the Offbeat Empire.

    That said, my vegetarian friends have a tongue-in-cheek eco joke "Only vegetarians are allowed to drive Hummers."

    3 agree
    • Although there is always the dreaded doesn't-need-the-anonymity-of-the-internet crusader. Lol, I'm reminded of the girlfriend of a friend's exgirlfriend I met recently who was so vehement and obnoxious in making her case for animal rights that my boyfriend fumed later "I agree with 90% of what she said and she STILL pissed me off!"

      4 agree
  7. I don't have much to add, I'm just glad this post is here and it's wonderful.

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  8. I eat meat. I don't recycle nearly as much as I know I should. I drive. I know darn well I am one of those people. It makes me happy to know that there will be a place I can come to check out home stuff and lifestyle stuff, find things that might be relevant to me, or might not, but without the preachy or judgy attitude that so frequently go with such information. Maybe I'll find something I want to incorporate into my life. Maybe I'll find something else I can contribute to the conversation. But I'm happy that I'll be allowed to be part of the conversation.

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  9. Great Post!

    Funnily enough, I've been a veg for ever (only ever ate a bit of chicken or turkey as a kid, usually at holidays) and reading the Omnivore's Dilemma made me re-evaluate why exactly I am a vegetarian and how I feel about eating animals….and I decided to re-introduce organic, free-range chicken back into my diet!
    ….which is, I think so spot on with your post. Different strokes for different folks, y'all. Life would be so boring if we were all the same.

    5 agree
  10. I live in Vermont, where greener-than-thou is practically the state motto. I'm an avid meateater and never plan on changing that, but I also hate the factory farm industry. So, while we're waiting to get our own acreage to raise livestock, we participate in Farm Shares that deliver kickass free range organic meat (and veggies!) every week. We know where our food comes from, which is awesome. We also get a lot of meat from the woods thanks to my boyfriend and his hunting skills. I'm sure there are people who think that's awful, as I get judged for it all the time when I go back to Boston to visit, but we're responsible and use every part of the animal we can.
    That being said, we don't really buy into the rest of the eco-movement. I have yet to find natural cleaning supplies that can tackle the pine sap, engine grease and car paint that plague my boyfriends profession. Eventually we'll go all solar and move to a composting toilet, but its less out of concern for the environment and more out of a desire to be independent and out from under the thumb of utilities.

    6 agree
    • Just like to say I love you! hehe My boyfriend and I are doing just about the same as you, though we have a tiny bit of acreage to raise our chickens on we try to get local grass raised bison and cow for the rest of our protein. I'd really like to solar power our 100+ year old house but right now all the money we save is going to complete my boyfriend's dream – a meadery using all local fruits, honey, etc!

      1 agrees
  11. without judgement, but only as perspective: i eat meat because i think there is a lower global impact when i do. seriously.

    how's that? well, i aim to eat local above all, as i think food distro over long distances is a huge energy suck. i live in minnesota. our growing season is short(ish), and in the winter it's really cold.

    there is no locally produced protein here in winter save for meat.

    okay, a little. chickens, ducks and other fowl will lay a bit in the winter with light therapy, thought that uses a fair bit of electric, thus oil. dairy animals are typically pregnant in the winter and not producing milk. soy, beans, other high protein crops? forget about it. nothing grows when the average daily temp is 2 degrees and there's four feet of snow.

    you know what continues a normal, seasonal production pattern all winter long? rabbits. they will breed in winter. they don't mind the cold as long as they're kept from the wind and any dampness. i can raise 'em all winter long if i like and have lots of protein right out of my basement or backyard. if i was a vegetarian, i'd have to get my protein sources shipped across the country, of further.

    again, just a perspective. i respect vegetarians. i think people should be able to choose to eat what they like. but i do honestly believe that eating meat–local, sustainably raised meat–has a much smaller carbon footprint than eating veggie.

    8 agree
    • Oh absolutely. Eating locally is HUGELY important. I hope that attitudes are shifting and that fewer vegetarians think that it's their way or the highway.

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      • Absolutely! Eating locally grown veggies AND meats are much better than anything imported!

        Unfortunately, It has been my experience that as the issue of peak oil comes more into the light; the divide between being an omnivore or being an herbivore has increased.

  12. While the talk of dietary choices is interesting, I feel like it's actually tangential from Cat's post. Diet is just one of many, MANY decisions we each make when faced questions about sustainability.

    There's a much larger subject to be addressed here about how we each make those choices, and how we can engage in positive discussions with those who make choices different than our own.

    7 agree
    • I was actually just scrolling through the comments thinking this same thing (but I wanted to talk about the no-judgey part, not the diet part!) lol. My new year's resolution this year was to take a step back every time I am confronted with someone's who's choices/lifestyles/declarations make me cringe or bristle up, and instead of preaching or judging (silently included!), embracing the mantra that there is a different path for everyone, and all of them can be equally right. I have been (trying, anyway – sometimes I fail) to reserve my righteousness for statements and situations that are actually hurt/hateful only.

      And to give credit where it is due, that entire resolution was inspired by the Offbeat Empire. When I started reading Offbeat Bride, and later Offbeat Mama, I immediately dropped all other bridal-bitching and mamadrama sites – and shedding that negativity has made Such. A. Difference! "Your [life] isn't a contest" is the best mantra I've found yet. And I'm so excited for yet another awesome platform in the Offbeat Universe to share our lives on!!

      We should really start referring to you as 'Guru' Ariel… πŸ˜‰

      5 agree
  13. I am sooo guilty of this! I completely admit this! I am getting better at not saying my judgments aloud, but I don't think that really matters, because I am sure I am exuding the aura of judgment.
    My guilt isn't on the food subject, but the fact I rarely drive. I don't own a car, we just rent one when necessary. Whenever I talk to someone who is considering a second car for themselves, I just get so annoyed! Is that reasonable? Nope, because I am sure I do a ton of things that aren't environmentally friendly. I still do it though!

    I think most of us need reminders to ensure our passions don't turn into judgments. That is why some religions get a bad rep, and the same thing happens to a lot of subcultures.

    2 agree
  14. It's sometimes hard to convince people that you are actually HAPPY with your choices, and at the same time that you are NOT being judgemental! For instance, I don't have a car, I don't own a television, and I try to eat local foods. When I tell people this (in casual conversation), they sometimes assume I can't afford these things, so they offer to buy them for me! (Seriously, someone offered to buy me a car just last week.) But if you get too defensive about your lifestyle, sometimes people feel that you are judging them ("TV's not THAT bad!" "I couldn't live without my car!").

    Some of my choices started out economic (choice between buying a TV or a plane ticket to California? Um, ticket please! Pay another $500 to fix the car? No thanks, I'll walk!), and are now so ingrained that I don't want to change them. Others are because I started getting to know more people, and I wanted to support them.

    These choices work for ME, but they would NOT work for a lot of other people – and that's just fine!

    5 agree
    • I completely agree! I can't count the number of times people have given me looks of pity for not owning a car, and I'm always a little annoyed with it because it is a choice that I made very deliberately (and not just because of the expense). I love working at environmental nonprofits because the response to "I don't have a car" is usually "me either" or "I wish I could do that!"

      3 agree
  15. I TOTALLY get this. Just recently I had a similar post on my blog called "On Criticizing Others" and about that all-or-nothing attitude that some people have.

  16. Yay for this post! I can tell you this- as someone who has been wading her way slowly into a number of lifestyle changes for years now (let's be honest, partly as my income as increased and my options became wider) I can back up this whole idea. For one thing, shame rarely makes people change. It makes them angry. If you want someone to consider your point of view, it's usually most effective to do so in a way that's respectful of theirs.

    I'm not just saying this as someone who would like others to imitate some of their choices, but as someone who would like exposure to some new points of view, but who has no interest in an extended guilt trip. Treat me with respect, and I'll be happy to consider your way of acting. Treat me like dirt, and I'm probably going to find some other way to occupy my time. I think a lot of us are here to find new potential ways to think, be, and behave, so let's set this up so they actually can find them!

    2 agree
  17. "…and everyone has their own journey and their own priorities…" – I completely agree, but the journey to my destination and my priorities are the only right ones!

    I'm sorry, I'm not really serious, but it was the first thing that popped into my mind and I just loved this post's sentiment so much that I feel comfortable enough to indulge πŸ˜›

    Knowing the guilts that I feel (usually self-inflicted, but sometimes induced by holier/more hardcore than thou attitudes), and at the same time the shittiness I feel when people will not even consider using recycled toilet paper or recycled water (isn't all water recycled, really?), I am both grateful and (yet again) guilty for this post.

    So: I promise to try to influence others to 'the good' by gentle & non-invasive example rather than head-pounding, and I promise to assuage my guilt at not being green/hardcore enough by making the most of those ways I can be green/genuinely me.

    Can't promise I won't smack the next person who criticises my husband for drinking coke without praising him for the animal welfare work he does, though. Or the next person that comments on how suburban & mainstream my house is with it's low ceilings.

    1 agrees
  18. I love this. I do have a friend who does things just so she can say she does them–she "likes" Offbeat Mama on facebook but doesn't live by any of the principles and brags about using homeopathic remedies on her kids in her status…which is fine I guess. But it's when she turns around and admonishes other people for their decisions that I have a problem with her half-assed "offbeatism." I've gone back and forth on the vegetarian scope my entire life, mostly because as a child I disliked the taste and texture of meat, then I became an obnoxious holier-than-thou "activist" in high school…I started eating meat again right after I gave birth to my son because a lifetime of issues with anemia was really catching up to me in an unhealthy way. Now I'm considering giving it up again. In short, my decision was never really based on sustainability or the planet–oops. I do make my own household cleaner out of water and vinegar, I recycle but admittedly I sometimes produce more garbage buying juiceboxes over one large bottle of juice that I could easily distribute to spill-proof cups…I'm lazy and I love convenience.

    So yeah, I too do my part and know that there are some people out there to whom my efforts will never be enough. So what? I might as well do what works for me, and I can readily admit my eco-shortcomings.

  19. There's nothing more to add to this discussion (how could there?) but I just thought it was funny that the first thing that sprang to my mind after reading this was: "but there's a good ecological reason why we never compost banana peels!" – the reason is that my the compost goes into my father's own garden – which is as far as I know quite organic. He doesn't want what's left of chemically treated peels of imported fruits on his organic veggies… πŸ˜‰

    1 agrees
  20. Hear, hear. My thought is what's good for the goose isn't always good for the gander. I am so tired of people trying to push their way of doing something on me or anyone else. And, that someone is better because they're more offbeat. To me, that's what being offbeat is all about-making choices that work for you instead of mindlessly doing what everyone else does.

    1 agrees
  21. I am reminded of a conversation I had in another online space a couple of years ago. It was regarding the recycling of broken glass. I pointed out that most curbside recycling programs won't accept broken glass for safety reasons. I was immediately accosted by someone saying that obviously I wasn't committed because recycling centres would take it and so on and so forth. (Never mind the energy expenditure of making a trip to the recycling centre… but whatever!) Now, at the time, my partner and I didn't have a car, partly for ecological reasons but mostly for economical reasons. When I pointed out that getting to the recycling centre without a car was quite an ordeal and not really worth recycling a broken glass, the other commenter responded with something along the lines of, "Oh, you win." What? I wasn't trying to win anything! I had actually made that comment as a point about class assumptions, which seemed to have flown right over their head…

    I don't frequent that space much anymore. The Offbeat Empire is much happier. πŸ˜‰

    1 agrees
  22. This is great and everyone should get along without the "I'm more ___ than you".

    I am vegetarian because I do not like meat. That is it! My husband can not live without it and that is ok. We agree to disagree! and I also, take dessicated thyroid hormone for my health! Acccck!

    Yes, it was part of an animal! But for me, using synthetic drugs with lots of bad side effects or not using anything and dying from conjunctive heart failure are not options.

    So, we all make the best choices that we can. πŸ™‚

  23. Maybe this is splitting hairs too much, but it seems like "eco-machismo" is somewhat of a misnomer. I'm guessing you mean something more like "eco-chauvinism", believing in the superiority of one approach (YOURS) of "being green". Just a suggestion…

    2 agree
  24. I'm a vegetarian (20 years) who is recently celiac diagnosed (runs in family), my guy an avid meat eater with an onion intolerance. I find that eliminating main dish mentality –setting up a tapas/indonesian rijstafel /curry/potluck style table–works best. 10 little options, 3 different proteins, making sure everyone has at least 2 choices, eliminate cross contamination issues for allergy prone, and eating becomes so much more fun for all! It's conducive to conversation, as well! Make a fabulous dessert (eg: Figs stuffed with chocolate,rice pudding,baked apples with agave,gluten free brownies with soyscream) that everyone can eat, and it still feels tres "dinner party"!

    Regarding celiac, early on, worried about bothering the waitress, I simply took the croutons off of a salad. No trouble that day. The next day I had a migraine, belly swelled out to boobies, got a low grade fever and slept 20 hours. STINKIN' CRUMBS! I now know to "bother" at a restaurant. One of the hardest parts with people understanding celiac is that they don't see the worst reactions as they often happen within a day or two.

    1 agrees
  25. every once in a while something like this is posted and it just feels good to read. like http://offbeatempire.com/2012/02/offbeat-lite (Why we continue to use the term "Offbeat Lite" even though some people hate it). posts like these two i think go a LONG way in making people who feel "less than" included and remind those who think they are "more than" that that doesn't make them better, just other. i won't go into everything i am or am not, it isn't necessary. but one thing i will say i'm not is *more anything* than thou! we all rock imho!

    2 agree
  26. I am terrified by global warming and pollution and the current state of biodiversity in general on the planet. This led me to take actions in my life (recently becoming a vegetarian, trying to buy mostly organic and local products, trying to rcycle most things, trying not to use my husband's car when I can walk or take the bus, etc.). I don't think I am judmental, I sure hope I am not. Because all these efforts I am doing aim at soothing my own anxieties.
    If other people live differently, it means they don't have my anxieties, good for them! I still hope they recycle, but that is not mine to control.
    I still like to hang out with people that care for the environment because they don't think my concerns are silly and I learn a lot from them.

    1 agrees

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