Friday, February 21, 2014

What Everyone Thinks They Know: Assumptions about Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, part 1

Each of us approaches the world from our own unique angle. Regardless of how aware or open-minded we are, we each view life through our own set of filters, preferences, biases and assumptions.

I used to think I was extraordinarily tolerant, until I realized that I had an appalling knee jerk reaction to anything Republican. Whoops. I am working on that.

Julie recently wrote a column for the local weekly paper, The Memphis Democrat (if you'd like to read the column it can be found on Dancing Rabbit's blog, The March Hare). In it she mentions eating chicken. Her attitude was respectful of both the chicken and the audience - she wrote about how grateful she felt to be able to eat meat that had been raised in a way that was healthy for the chicken and therefore, for her and the environment.

The Dancing Rabbit email account was instantly inundated by letters haranguing the entire populace of Dancing Rabbit. Why? Because some of us are eating meat, and because all of us are not vegan, or even vegetarian.

This is a trap members of Dancing Rabbit Ecoviilage are constantly tripping over and falling into: the assumptions of others about our lives.

People hear about Dancing Rabbit and often assume they know all about us and understand how we live our lives, why we make the decisions we do, and, most egregiously, that we are all the same and agree with one another.

This is in direct contradiction of one of the things I hold most dear about DR. Believe it or not, each person here has a distinct and separate personalitiy from others. We. Are. All. Different. Sustainability is not a given, nor is it a hard fast rule. Sustainablity is a moving target, a line in the sand, hundreds of miniscule decisions and compromises that make up a person's viewpoint, his or her way of being.

I knew we were in for a lot of misunderstandings when, while leading one of my first tours of Dancing Rabbit, someone asked "Since you are all vegetarian, what do you feed your dogs?" I was, momentarily, speechless (which, if you know me, doesn't happen very often). It reminded me of the joke that goes something like "so, Mr. Jones, when did you stop beating your wife?"

Assumptions are dangerous because they imply understanding where there is none. And that maxim about ignorance being bliss? Wrong.

In the next few posts I'll explore a few of the most common assumptions about Dancing Rabbit and the people who live here - at least the assumptions that we know about - and a brief explanation of what I believe the reality is.

Today: Food assumptions
Ah food. The land of dogma, trends and strident opinions.

Assumption #1- everyone at Dancing Rabbit is a vegan
Assumption #2 - everyone at Dancing Rabbit is a vegetarian

Let's start with the very first word: everyone. There is not a single issue on which I could be 100% certian of acheiving unanimous agreement. Everyone agreeing on one thing? Never gonna happen.

Veganism and vegetarianism - The founders of DR were vegan, and 17 years later they still are. They knew, however, that if ecovillage membership were restricted to vegans that Dancing Rabbit's growth would be slow. As part of DR's mission is to grow and to educate, people are "allowed" to eat whatever they want.

That said, all agriculture (including small home gardens) must be organic (see Ecological Covenant #3, here). We encourage one another to eat as locally as possible. "Local" is another term with broad interpretations, ranging from food co-ops with strict local produce guidelines to those who do the best that they can. We are always weighing the pros and cons of everything. For example, is it better to purchase organic food (from a grocery store) that has been flown in from California (or Mexico, or Central or South America) or to purchase produce that has not been grown according to organic standards but was grown in Scotland County?

The answer is: it all depends.

What is more important to you? Energy use to get organic food to where you are? Or the health benefits of organic food? Some folks eat exclusively organic while some pick and choose as some produce has a higher "toxic load" than others (read more about the "dirty dozen" here). Still others choose to eat locally for environmental reasons, to avoid adding to the food miles that food travels. 

In the growing season you'll find most kitchens at Dancing Rabbit buzzing and boiling, drying and processing ("canning") the fresh organic produce that we grow here ourselves, and that we purchase from our neighbors. By preserving this bounty we are able to feed ourselves all year 'round with food we know to be organic and healthy. SIDE NOTE: For those of you who are interested in learning to can, the Milkweed Mercantile is offering five hands-on sessions this summer & fall. Click here for more info on our 2014 canning classes.

It is exciting to note that as more people move to Dancing Rabbit (and the surrounding community) and get settled that we are producing more and more delicious, organic produce. A few years ago Dan put in a hoop house and now grows salad greens year 'round. Many folks keep chickens and are just about at the point of having an excess of both meat and eggs to sell.

What about all that Junk Food?
When visitors come in to the Milkweed Mercantile, they come face to face with a wall of what they perceive to be junk food. In reality, the "junk food" in Mercantile not very junky. The cookies are organic Newman-o's, the coffee is Fair Trade and Organic Peace Coffee, and the chips, while not organic ARE non-GMO and owned by a small company instead of a large conglomerate. All of the candy is sweetened with cane juice instead of high-fructose corn syrup. None of our sodas use high-fructose corn syrup, either.

More importantly, though, is that this "junk food" is viewed as a treat by most Rabbits. Our diets consist mainly of whole foods (i.e.: grains, beans, vegetables and fruits all prepared from scratch). The only prepared food (in a box) that the Mercantile sells is Annie's Mac & Cheese and Organic Ramen (who knew?). This is also my opportunity to support companies that I believe in and know to be doing a great job, like Clif Bar.

But we do our best. We try lots of things; some work beautifully, some fail spectacularly. We appreciate the open hearts and enthusiasm of our guests, and hope that they, in turn, will be patient and leave their assumptions at the door.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more misconceptions and assumptions about our lives here on the prairie!