Discovering a lot of common ground

~ DESTINATION FIVE: SEYMOUR ~

Serenity, companionship and social change

What an interesting trip this has been! We’re so very fortunate to have been welcomed into some beautiful communities, with memories that will stick with us for a long time. When we hit our first highlight spots early on, I though that maybe we’d be tailing off a bit from there. But then along comes Commonground, and the goal posts get moved again. CG logoWith lots of laughs, freely offered information, engaging backgrounds, varying journeys, open minds, good work ethics, shared ethos, and different reasons for ending up in this community, our week here with these great people was delightful and, frankly, difficult to leave.

Going into this experience, we already knew about how Commonground had been around since the mid-80’s and were more than just an intentional community, so we felt confident that we’d see a well-established place that couldn’t have lasted this long without having a solid foundation. Interestingly, whereas everywhere else we’d visited so far had an obvious spirituality at its core, Commonground is instead centred around social change. However, there was a palpable “spirit” to this place which transcended a prescribed doctrine.

main garden

What makes them different is that the intentional community aspect – while integral to the whole – forms one part of a system of elements that help bring about social change in our world. Briefly, their three aims as an organisation are:

  • To provide a conference and retreat venue for the social change movement at the Commonground property
  • To provide collaborative workplace education and training to help people work effectively together for social change
  • To develop a vibrant Intentional Community of people living and working together at Commonground.

On their website, they talk about the early days of why the community was started: “We often talked late into the night about everything from economics and its relationship to global

Kate and Phil, two of the original founding members

Kate and Phil, two of the original founding members

poverty and injustices, the grossly unequal sharing of the worlds resources, the nuclear family, women’s issues, indigenous issues and the state of planet Earth!”  Given their wide range of skills and backgrounds, they began to shape their focus: “At some level we did not want to just keep fighting against the structures and problems we saw.  We felt it must be possible to create other ways for us humans to live more collaboratively on the planet.”  Being that they wanted this community to be built on on ongoing movement and not just individual owner/share collective, they opted to be a non-for-profit to ensure that the community continued well past the original owners’ lifetimes there. Two of the original members we hung out with most while there were Phil and Kate; 30 years on and they both seem keen on keeping the original plan on track and intact.

Wedge backyard

Kasia in kitchenThe property at Commonground is set up with numerous buildings, the main one being “The Wedge” (pictured above) where we stayed and which also houses the conference centre and guest accommodation. There are currently about 6 people who live full/part-time at The Wedge with another 7 at other hand-built homes around the 95-acre property. On a given day, nearly everyone living on-site will pass through the Wedge to cook or share a meal, do some work, have a chat or rest. The cooking roster involves everyone and all dinners are shared so the dining room ended up being a great place to catch up on the day and keep the Commonground family close. We never felt uncomfortable being brought into this fold as everyone was quick to engage in conversation, answer our questions or help us out in some way. Heidi and I were given a room in the conference quarters (and later moved when a group rolled in); the whole Wedge building is filled with a myriad of mud-brick walled bedrooms and bathrooms, each with their own character and outlook to the uninterrupted bushland surrounding it. Wedge wallsWhile not built entirely for off-grid living (no solar due to prohibitive cost when it was built, and the need for reliable power during conferences; one outdoor composting toilet but rainwater and dam water within), the innovative acquisition of building materials and recycled pieces that make up the building coupled with a reuse & repair philosophy and zero-waste gardening makes for a very sustainable contribution to the community.

 

dinner time

Dinner is always a shared experience filled with great chats, catching up from the day and amazing (mostly vegan!) food

Carl with produce

Carl with some fresh garden produce

Even though we had eyes on Commonground for the intentional living angle, we were visiting as working holidaymakers and were given extracurricular tasks on a daily basis to help out the local residents who might not get to them as often. Our tasks tended towards food-related and preserves as a few items were ready to be harvested. Picking, cutting, juicing and bottling was the core of our labour, lettucebut being that the kitchen is a cross-roads that everyone passes though, it was a good spot for interaction and conversation. To our delight, all this food prep meant we were able to take advantage of the extensive gardens kept up largely by Brian and Carl, with a green-grocer level of variety to choose from! There’s nothing nicer than creating an entire meal out of ingredients pulled from the ground as we did for our lunches many days. Brian had also been keeping bees for the past couple of years, so delicious fresh honey was also always available.

Brian beehives1

Brian beehives2I was beginning to think that places like Commonground were an amazing secret with their balance of low-intensity work life, bountiful social interactions, beneficial child-rearing opportunity with co-parenting, constant fresh and healthy foods, low-enviro-impact lifestyle and serenity only an hour out from Melbourne. But I think the word is getting out indirectly through things like their near-weekly groups that use the facilities as a group-work facility, the representation they have in Melbourne, the connection with local town Seymour and the recently-minted boutique music festival which brings in a limited number of punters who are as interested in the workshops as in the music.

Not everyone is rushing to be part of this intentional community despite these inroads, but they seem to get a regular stream of devoted workers/members which continue to keep things afloat. Still, Kate and Phil told us about how they are currently tweaking some of the core membership attributes to ensure that the community lives on well past their own ability to live here which might entice more folks. Kasia and HeidiCommonground takes a certain type of attitude to be part of: living with a close-knit group plus a willingness to hold lightly to money insofar that you are working to contribute to the health of the community but you can’t just walk away with a lump sum if you decide to leave. In my current state of mind, this seems ok to me: with a one-time membership cost of $100, a very modest $30 weekly contribution to the food and bill kitty and 10 hours of expected weekly work for the community in exchange for comfortable on-site accommodation, delicious freshly-grown food, the responsibility of cooking for the household only once a week and the rest of the time spent doing your own work or learning new skills with some of the many projects on the property….well, it seems to me like a great deal. To cap it off, the people you’re living and working with are exceptional, friendly and like-minded folks. To say that we aren’t tempted by what Commonground offers would be an understatement. But this lifestyle still doesn’t seem to be a likelihood for many in mainstream society and I think it all comes down to assets: we cannot acquire anything at Commonground and thus all your work there won’t help you buy anything “in the real world”. Again, I’m not bothered by this, as long as you are willing to concede to living the rest of your life in this or a similar community. Of course, there is time to bank up savings and then move on but I see this type of community as one that you don’t want to leave because it provides you with most of the things we really desire out of life…things you can’t buy.

Mike and Heidi with NgaluThere are heaps of things I could talk about from our week at Commonground like excess cantaloupe (we spent hours making cake, juice and sorbet), the creation and naming of cooch grass beer (Carl came up with “Cooch Hooch”), Kasia’s obsession with psycho-drama to help sell items around the property (none of us could really figure out what a psycho-drama was), Greg’s deftly-placed one-liners at meal times and talk about his recently purchased cigar-box guitar, Phil’s wry sense of humour and helpful direction, Ed’s direct-questioning and foul-mouthed hilarity, Izzy & Carl’s foozball fixation and much more. Overall, it was such a rich week of enjoyment, learning and experiencing community that we are forced to once again re-think what we want out of a community and what could be a good fit for us, even in a shorter term. As usual with this trip, things are getting very exciting!

sunrise clouds

As usual, Heidi’s take on Commonground is filled with some beautiful thoughts and a unique perspective from mine. Make sure you have a look.

 

Strawbales and tipis, native spirituality and hospitality

~ DESTINATION THREE: DAYLESFORD ~

I love being pleasantly surprised…

My initial impression was that this was going to be a very different experience than our last stop at Cornerstone in Bendigo. When researching for the trip, Gentle Earth Walking sounded interesting primarily for the potential for strawbale building (something we were keen on trying) and staying in a tipi. Now that we have left, I am re-reading the entry in the WWOOFing guide about this spot, and while it describes everything that was there in a practical sense, we in no way could have been prepared for the things that actually made it such a rich visit. property wildernessFrom the effortless hospitality of our hosts Sue and Don to the peaceful rhythms of nature on their 40 acre property, we felt welcomed as part of the family with nothing being too much trouble. From the authentic incarnation of indigenous Australian and American spirituality that they practiced to the abundance of interesting ideas and projects around the property, their sense of dedication and care for the Earth and its peoples was clear. And while we weren’t expecting it to have an obvious community element, the outreach to community through creative and intelligent means made us realise that Sue and Don were dedicated to living out their beliefs and lifestyle goals as thoroughly as possible.

A feature of the stay that we quickly discovered was that Sue and Don love to tell stories. We heard a broad array of tales from their lives – learning that they were very well traveled, have had colourful and complex family lives, have experienced some amazing and unusual spiritual events, and are willing to throw themselves into any situation with vigour – all told with humour, trust and openness as if we had known them for years. Granted, at times we felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stories and retreated to our tipi at the end of the night with explodingly full brains, but we continually found ourselves returning and increasingly engaged in their intriguing lives. Given how many dozens of WWOOFers they’ve had over the years, you have to wonder how they tell these stories with enduring freshness!

inside house

Often our conversations were around their dining table which is the centre of a very full and cluttered room that houses all of Sue’s office and computer, the lounge room and tv, the kitchen and pantry, dining table, and inventive clothes and pot racks made from ladders hanging from the high ceiling. In the midst of it all is a pot-bellied stove, continually roaring with flames as the weather was cold these nights (even down to -2ºC one night) while we were there. The room is jammed full as the strawbale house they live in isn’t complete and they have had to pile everything into this one room until another area is ready. Mashing everything and everyone in one place meant it was a cozy place to retreat to at the end of the day, and there would always be something going on like a spirited conversation, visiting family popping in, Don bottling some ginger beer, chooks trying to run inside the back door, Sue digging through boxes to find us books on strawbale building, endless cups or tea and coffee boiling on the ancient stove or Don doing his back exercises on the floor. Part of feeling at home there as well was that they weren’t at all precious about anything: there were no locks on doors, car keys always left in their old cars which we could use whenever we needed to, and nearly everything was a found object or had been reused, recycled or repaired.

group shotThe house is a very solid place filled with touches that indicate that this is a house made lovingly by hand. The bales offer amazing insulation and sound-proofing, looking great in an organic, hand-made kind of way. At about 200 square meters (2000 sq ft), it is a big place, and with the wonders of strawbale building (cheap materials and often free labour or simply less than a typical build), it only cost them about $30K. For those uninitiated with strawbale building, it offers so many advantages over brick or timber construction (cheaper to build, less labour, superior insulation, superior fireproofness, longevity), it’s a wonder why more houses aren’t built this way. Sue and Don have clearly been educating and enticing locals as well, as they are directly responsible for teaching or helping 50 buildings be built in the Daylesford area.Mike rendering

My dreams of building such a home were only increasing in intensity as we began seeing all the potential of the various strawbale projects around the property. And sure enough, they put us to work on a wall that had been half-sealed and needed rendering and repair. We spent the better part of a week working on the wall and it was fantastic getting our hands dirty learning about the craft. Both Heidi and I really appreciated doing the work and didn’t get tired of the labour; there’s something invigorating about working on a project like this, particularly if you are typically used to sitting in front of a computer all day like we are.

tipi at night

tipi in morningA unique part of this experience was staying in a Native American-styled tipi which was as genuine as the original ones found in North America. Ours was a 16 foot style (base diameter, about 5 meters) and about 30 foot high (10 meters) at the peak. The cool thing about a tipi is that, like the original ones, you have a fire pit within. Special wind-control flaps on the outside plus an inner sleeve help control air flow so smoke from the fire is drawn up and out the top of the tipi. We had mixed luck with keeping the tipi from becoming choked with smoke, but when we did get it to work it was a great way to warm it up. And warmth we needed as we happened to hit frigid temps a few nights! I was a bit over the tipi experience by the end mainly because of Kito who was never at ease there and had worked out ways to escape the tipi Kito in tipiwhich was a problem if we were off working. So poor Kito was stuck lashed to a pole with his leash inside the tipi and I felt either bad for him or annoyed as he tried so hard to make life difficult for both of us!

inside tipi

At the end of all the work and life on the property there was Sue and Don, two very interesting, inspiring, slightly eccentric (but wonderfully so!), gracious, trusting, open and hospitable folks. We particularly found Don to be a rare wise soul, someone who projects a feeling of goodwill and joy whenever you speak with him. Nothing is too much trouble for Don and he will embrace the opportunity to discuss a situation or have a laugh. Don steaming woodWe undoubtably asked too many questions as Heidi and I are prone to doing, but neither of them appeared to be put out by it. I aspire to that level of patience – serenity now! With Don, his spiritual journey seems to have led him to a place where he has an easy relationship with whatever life throws at him, with a gentleness, grace and wisdom that is difficult to find these days. We had many laughs at the various stories of people thinking he was a bikie or a vagrant, which again reminded me – as with many times on this trip already – that judging someone solely on their looks will almost always get you into trouble. Finally, they are creative and open to try anything – as their lengthy history of jobs and experiences attest – and for the last 15 years, Don has invested his time into bending timber using 150 year-old equipment and positioning himself as the only timber bending business left in Australia. I spent a day filming and editing the following short video on Don and his work and I think you can get a sense of Don’s passion for the work and how it extends from his passion for the earth as he discusses working with the 4 elementals of life.

What a wondrous and rich exploration this trip is turning out to be!

Also make sure you see another perspective of this experience on Heidi’s blog!

Inhabit – new documentary film

. . .

This looks like it could be a great film and especially relevant to the trip we are currently engaging in. In this four minute trailer, there are already some great takeaway quotes and things to ponder about the future of our planet and how permaculture principles are vital to our survival.

It looks like film aims to be ready for viewing on Earth Day which is the 22nd of this month so keep an eye out for it (dates/venues at the link): http://inhabitfilm.com

Have yourself an ethical little Christmas…

christmas pig

As Christmas approaches, I am feeling very passionate about reducing the amount of cruelty-created products in my life and the lives around me, so I’m hoping you’ll take a PLEDGE to try to do this yourself this season.

Christmas represents a time when people gather for meals, share gifts and eat too much chocolate. All I am hoping is that you’ll consider reducing your intake of animal products and if you do, then source Fair Trade or ethical/humane options (see options below). And with the gifts you purchase, please consider where it came from and reduce the likelihood that it was procured using slave labour.

Some suggestions:

— chocolate: please avoid milk chocolate as the milk comes from antibiotic-filled, tortured animals. Especially the cheaper chocolate which will also be using cocoa beans picked by slave labour. With cheap chocolate, you are usually also supporting a multinational company that cares nothing about welfare and only about bottom-line earnings. Aim for dark chocolate with the Fair Trade logo on it http://fairtrade.com.au/  If you think you can’t afford to pay a bit more, chances are you should just save your money altogether and not buy ANY chocolate as neither you, nor the planet, can afford the cost of this luxury!

— meat: try to find alternative options to meat altogether. With everyone ramping up with their traditional of consuming a bounty of meat they usually eat this time of year, the number of animals slaughtered reaches an epic and horrifying high (Kill Counter: the moment you open the following web page, it tells you how many creatures have been killed from that moment on to deliver you the range of foods that humans have come to expect. I challenge you to watch it for 1 minute and then honestly assess how you feel about the totals you see: http://www.adaptt.org/killcounter.html )

If you MUST have some meat, please don’t buy the cheapest cuts which will definitely come from abusive factories. It’s not just how MANY animals are consumed, it’s how miserable they lived their lives. Why would you want to eat something that was terrified, miserable, orphaned and murdered? Look at the Humane Choice website ( http://www.humanechoice.com.au/ ) as an example of where to get ethical meat and eggs. Remember: every creature on this planet has the SAME RIGHT to be on this planet as YOU DO.

— consumer products: here’s a great guide to why it’s important and what/where you can buy to ensure a better chance that you’ll be getting stuff not made by slaves: http://www.ethical.org.au/consumer/christmas/christmas-gifts.htm There are also lots of charitable organisations like TEAR’s Useful Gift catalogue ( http://www.usefulgifts.org/ ) where you get to give something that actually helps someone else in a life-changing kind of way. It is after all the season for GIVING, right? 🙂

I try to live by these examples but none of us are perfect. However, if we all pledge to try to eat 50% less dairy, 50% less meat and be wary of where are other ‘stuff’ is coming from, that will already represent a positive change.

Will you take this pledge?

Lifestyle Report – as of Nov 2013

This is my fourth Report (usually once/twice a year) as a way of assessing my successes, targets, improvements and areas I need to be more vigilant with when it comes to simple, ethical, environmentally sustainable and community living.

It might not be an interesting entry to read but it’s a way to keep myself accountable and constantly improving my lifestyle.

I’ve highlighted positive changes in green and backwards steps red. So, as of today:

ETHICAL/SUSTAINABLE LIVING

• grocery shopping (with % of how often I do it)
— observing a vegan lifestyle (due to my work and my beliefs, I allow myself some leeway but am committed to greatly reducing or eliminating meat and dairy everywhere possible (90%)
— local green grocer for veg (75%)
— leftover bread free at end of baker business day (0% – though eating less bread in general);
— skip-dipping/dumpster diving (0% – slack but they are hard to find and I’m not really looking)
— major supermarket for all else (20% – Coles/Woolies, 70% – Foodland (local);
— Fair Trade where possible (tea, chocolate, recent clothing)
— organic where possible/affordable (25% – food, soap & shampoo)
— use Ethical Guide to boycott bad companies (50% – need more vigilance here);
— boycott GMO foods (70% where possible)
— boycott food with known cruel processes (90% where known)
— food miles, locally produced (50%)
— meat consumption (0% of meals)
— dairy consumption (5-10%)
— toilet paper from Who Gives A Crap (50% of proceeds go to developing countries with poor sanitation to help built toilets) (100%)

• grow own food (10% – tomatoes, eggplant, herbs)

• household shopping: I only buy new from store if I can’t get from op shop or build myself;
— purchased new in past year:
—– furniture (0%)
—– clothes (10%)
—–accessories (15%)
—– car (0%)

• home energy:
— electricity:
—– solar/renewable = no
—– aircon/heating (15%)
—– computer (off at night)
—– fridge (2/5 star rating)
—– dryer (0%);
— water:
—– rainwater tank (0% – no longer have one)
—– grey water for garden (15% – washing machine only)
—– shower avg. duration (5 mins)
—– garden (10%)
—– dishwasher (0%)
—– washing machine (top loader 2/5 star rating)

• waste:
— food scraps (100% goes to compost);
— wasted food (5%);
— recyclables like glass, paper, aluminium cans (95% to recycle bin, 5% kept for food/household storage);
— wasted paper (minimal use of printer, kitchen & recycled toilet paper)
— wood (90% saved for building material); haven’t built much now that I have what I need!
— white goods, electronics, equipment (0%)

Areas to Improve: fewer food miles; support local; buy organic if it makes sense & affordable; grow more of our own food; continue to consume less energy & town water. As it gets hotter, it is tempting to use aircon but we generally don’t succumb until about 35 degrees or more.

.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

.

SIMPLE LIVING
• build most of my own furniture (lounge daybeds, coffee table, office desk, outdoor tables & seats)
• other furnishings have been donated (bed, futon, tv & DVD) or secondhand (kitchen table & chairs, office chair, rug);
• buy nothing that isn’t essential to the household or work
• work less, spend more time connecting with friends & family; (has been a very busy past 3 years. Trying to find that work-life balance again)
• spend money on essentials, friends, charities;

Areas to Improve: connect more with real (not virtual) people

.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

.

ENVIRONMENTAL
• approx. annual carbon footprint (avg. based on lifestyle as of today): 4.5 tonnes of CO2 (Aus avg. 16 tonnes; world avg. 4 tonnes). This is not including my poor flight behavior below 😦
• car usage per month – approx 400kms ; mileage (approx 10kms/L)
• bus instead of drive (20%)
• ride/walk/skate instead of motor transport (10% – 15min walk to shops)
• return flights in past year – domestic (2), international (2); Unfortunately, the past couple of years have been baaad. This year was a flight for personal and one trip for business.

Areas to Improve: take fewer flights; walk/skate/bus more rather than car; use less electricity; aim for 4 tonnes/yr CO2 including travel

.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

.

COMMUNITY
• I now live with my wife so no more commuting to see one another; most friends are the same distance or closer now though
• intentional community living (share house or close living) = no
• share property or resources with community (some household items, driving, food with my wife’s best friend; borrow from other friends occasionally)
• collect hard rubbish from neighbourhood
• engage in conversation or help with mentally/physically challenged people in neighbourhood (0%)
• give to charities (monthly to: 3 x global aid, 2 x animal, 2 x activism organisation, 1 x community fund )
• volunteer with some friends’ and charitable projects
• community gatherings for shared weekly meals and social activities

Areas to Improve: aim to achieve closer and more intentional community; share more resources; be more accepting of minority/disadvantaged; give more to charities; get more involved with meaningful & helpful projects

NOV 2013 SUMMARY: overall, doing the right things still but still not socialising much due to workload. Some areas I can still be a bit more green. Would love to get more friends to jump onboard different aspects of sustainable, ethical or green living but am still trying to take the approach of “be the change you want to see in the world” however it is not always easy not to promote/preach, be judgmental or not be hypocritical. Involving myself in a great deal more research, protests and campaigns and becoming more politically aware. Taking a strong stance against animal cruelty and using social media to regularly drop hints to friends/the public. Trying not to become overwhelmed or too despondent about the current state of the world and others’ apathy to change!

Aussie vegan products reviewed – part 1

food-reviews logo

Since I am very fresh rolling with my recent decision to become a vegan/vego, I figure that I may as start classifying what I eat not only for helping people out there but even just to remember what I’ve liked and haven’t on my journey.

It’s early days and I haven’t gotten any further than the local Woolies so the variety is pretty non-existent so far. But it’s somewhere to start and to be fair, Woolies seems to be trying hard to do the right thing with their ‘Macro‘  line of goods, and clearly identify non-dairy options within that line. Woolworth’s has strikes against it however which may preclude shopping there much, as they contribute heavily to gambling addiction in this country and own an awful lot of pokie machines. Buying goods is never as straightforward as you think, now is it??

NOTE: I am coming from the perspective of a recent/former meat-eater who is not trying to show how much different vegan products are from their original counterparts, but rather if they can stand alone as decent things to eat, while still trying to somewhat satisfy my cravings for the originals. So I’m not going to come down too hard on them unless they are just truly nasty-tasting, but they will get top marks if they are both delicious and provide a great replacement for the original meat or dairy product.

To kick veganism off, I wanted to replace certain things right away: milk, yogurt, cheese and no meat of course.  So I started with:

  • Macro (Woolworth’s) Vegetarian Soy Cheese with chives. FLAVOUR: Quite nice, subtle chive taste; not too sharp. Slightly bland otherwise. TEXTURE: good cheesy character; grates easily; melts pretty well and has a cheese-like mouth-feel. PRICE/VALUE: $5 for 200g so expensive-ish
  • Parmalat Soy Life Yogurt – Vanilla Creme flavour. FLAVOUR: I like vanilla so it was quite faithful to that. Vague soy element but overall quite yogurt-like. TEXTURE: very yogurt-like in texture and consistency. PRICE/VALUE: $3 for 2x175g so not much more than other individual-pack yogurts. I couldn’t see a bulk one but would buy that next time.
  • 730941Macro (Woolworth’s) Organic Almond Milk (sweetened; tetra pack) FLAVOUR: Other than subtle almond/soy flavour, very milk-like when drinking straight. I imagine you could easily disguise it as milk in anything. TEXTURE: same consistency. Would be hard to detect as not milk in tea/coffee/cereal, etc. PRICE/VALUE: $3.39 for 1 litre so about 2.5 times the price of a Devondale tetra 1 litre. I like that it is organic though as its competitors aren’t.

I couldn’t find any other cheese or yogurt substitutes in Woolies, and they didn’t do a mayonnaise alternative there. I did buy a Sanitarium Soy Milk (So Good) but haven’t tried it yet. I’ll be seeking other replacements this week at a couple of dedicated health/vegan shops and online.

My meat-eating lately really had been restricted already to once a week or so with beef and chicken but nearly daily with fish (smoked or tinned salmon). I decided to try some meat-like soy items as I wanted to make pizza. So I got some pepperoni and also some bacon:

  • Sanitarium Bacon Style Rashers. FLAVOUR: Kind of not really bacon but also just bland. Bacon has such an intense flavour that it really needs to be amped up here. In a BLT type sandwich, you could barely tell it was there. On the fry-pan, it does manage to get that bacon smell though and if you cook it to near crispy it’s a bit better. TEXTURE: as I would expect, simulating bacon’s texture and mouthfeel iVD_Deli_Luncheon_Henchen_375gs tough, and this doesn’t really come close or tries to really. More like a processed sandwich meat. PRICE/VALUE: $4.50 for 145g so expensive-ish compared to real bacon and doesn’t really deliver.
  • Sanitarium Pepperoni (spicy). FLAVOUR: Better than the bacon for sure. Pleasant to eat directly and on a pizza it was quite effective. Not as intense as real meat, but pretty good substitute. TEXTURE: a bit similar to the soy cheese in texture. Or the bacon perhaps, but that is more like real pepperoni. PRICE/VALUE: $5.75 for 200g so about twice the price of normal pepperoni.

I’ve heard about a chicken product by Beyond Meat in North America which is supposedly the first non-meat product to have nailed the mouthfeel and flavour of chicken. This makes me very excited and I hope it’ll make it to Australia in the near future. I’ll be in Canada/US mid-year, so if not before then, I’ll see what it’s like when I get there!

EDIT: Some research on soy has alerted me to just how bad these unfermented products are for us except in extreme moderation. Check out my blog entry on this!

I’ll keep updating reviews as I get products over time!

Off the rails…

Oh gosh, this year started so well with my vision, this blog and the wheels have come off in some regards, evidenced even further by my lack of recording this journey here. What started as an attempt to find a proper work-life balance – one where I worked about as much as I did my own personal projects and socialised more – has become one of the busiest years of my life, worsened by massive carbon-usage crimes and moving backwards in my sustainability vigilance.

What happened of course (as I’ve mentioned in my last couple of posts) is that I have been working on a documentary (which tend to be all-consuming of your time if you’ve done one before, especially on a miniscule budget) plus I have gotten engaged to be married. Well, those being the main things, with plenty of other things layered on top to ensure I don’t ever get weekends anymore.

I shouldn’t be totally hard on myself as the documentary I’m working on is intended on saving lives and raising awareness about the very important topic of human sex trafficking, but I’ve had to take two enormous excursions to SE Asia to shoot the movie, one requiring 18 flights between my business partner and I, the other 11 flights plus another 6 for a third person who flew in from the States. I’m guessing this film was responsible for around 80,000 kms flown this year 😦

Take away my eco-friendly, sustainability-conscious human being status….I relinquish my badge… 😦

I’ve been slightly saved by living with a very vigilant eco-warrior friend for the past 5 months. Without her, I surely would’ve gone for the easier routes of spending more, wasting more and living less-simply because I was so busy. And there’s the key I believe, the trap that most people probably fall into: being busy makes you want to take the shortest route to doing things in life, as you’re always trying to gain a few extra precious minutes in your day. If I were still living on my own, I probably would’ve used my aircon more cuz it is easier, I would’ve not been so fussy with composting and recycling and waste water management because all these things take a little extra time. Of course I would’ve known that by taking those spare extra minutes, I’d be contributing to making this world healthier, but when it comes down to it, we’re all self-absorbed and “I” come first. So the planet will just have to suffer a bit so that I have a bit more breathing room in my day.

So I feel a bit bad. Even though getting married doesn’t come around every day (I hope!), and making your first major documentary (on a budget where you have to work on the side in order to make ends meet cuz the film sure ain’t doing that) is something that takes a lot out of you, but then the first one is usually the hardest. Still, I didn’t want to become that person again. I know this busy period will pass, but I hate making excuses because in the end, that’s what everyone does and that’s why the planet is so fucked up in the first place (insert lots of unhappy faces here).

So I simply need to try harder, at risk of overburdening myself. To my credit, I have gone along with most things that my housemate has kept me to task doing, so that means we waste very little, re-use an awful lot, make hard-rubbish runs, eat some veggies she grows in the garden, use very little electricity (she’s a lightswitch Nazi) and read more cuz there’s no tv in this house (I know: unthinkable!). So, not completely blowing the sustainability plan or anything I guess.

In a little over a month, I’ll likely be in my new home, awaiting my wedding and then soon living with my wife who is also eco-minded (though maybe not quite as much as my current housemate). Still, life after the wedding should calm down a bit and we can refocus on restoring that life-work balance that I am aiming for, thus restoring the drive to be more conscious of simple and sustainable living. In the meantime, I’ll get my carbon credits paid, plant some trees, apologise to the Earth (cuz I already know of 3 potential flights I’ll be taking in the first half of 2012! …oh the shame….) and get on with being a good friend to this little fragile planet of ours.

Free energy will save our world

Poor planet Earth has so many problems with us humans as we plunder, ravage and abuse this green and blue sphere that we call “Mother”. Climate change is in full swing but worse than just increased earthquakes and dirty air is the fact that we simply cannot sustain ourselves with the amount of energy we use nor will we have enough clean water to drink in the foreseeable future (certainly some parts of the planets are far beyond this already).

What was needed was some directed thinking by some of the brightest minds in the world to come up with truly clean, limitless, sharable, cheap energy….and they may have done it! Watch this encouraging video from a presentation done at a TED event:

Smart design: Solar windows

Hooray for smart people! This concept has been toyed-with by researchers for a couple of decades, but an Israeli group, Pythagoras Solar, has begun to sell their design that they have been working on the past 4 years.

The benefits to a solar window over the usual panels is that you have a triple-purpose element to your house whereby the sun’s heat is being shielded from entering the house but you are allowing light to enter as it normally would, and with added benefit of generating electricity at the same time. The added natural light means you use less electricity anyway, and the reduction of heat coming through the windows means less burden on insulation and cooling requirements inside the building.

With a financial recoup time of half that of normal solar panels, it’s looking to be a good investment.

As I personally think solar panels are ugly despite the great things they do, this to me seems like a much better option for anyone who likes natural light and to get “off the grid”! Good work Pythagoras!

Here’s an article from SmartPlanet that tells you more about the idea and company behind it.

Party-time! Tequila is a fab new bio-fuel option…

I thought this was a great article to share as the crop it addresses could be a game-changer in the bio-fuel industry. It’ll flood the world with tequila at the same time, but is that really a bad thing…?? 🙂

http://www.thegreenwayup.com/stories/making_tequila_tracks

(The Green Way Up guys raised money to drive a vehicle around the world using only bio-fuel; it’s a cool idea and worth checking out the other stuff they’re doing on this blog)