Friday, November 17, 2017

How to Eat More Vegetables (Part 2 of 2)

Spinach soup, from a Moosewood cookbook

Without further ado, my favorite ways to eat vegetables (and fruits that are vegetable-like)!

Avocados— Make guacamole by mashing an avocado with some lemon or lime juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Eat with chips or any kind of Mexican dish.

Beets— Shred one beet and two large carrots with a box grater, then sauté the shreds in a hot pan. Serve with ground beef or parmesan, topped with a fried egg.

Bok Choy— Chop into bite-sized strips and lightly cook with a bit of water in a pan. Drain the water and dress the greens with soy sauce, sesame seeds, and a dash of Sriracha.

Broccoli— Toss into stir-fry, or chop into bite-sized pieces, douse in oil and roast in a hot oven until crispy.

Brussels Sprouts— Make this recipe. Zach thought he didn’t like Brussels sprouts until he tried them this way.

Cabbage— Great for sauerkraut (a bit time-consuming, but easy) or cabbage stir-fry (super easy).

Carrots— Eat raw with dip, shred to use in a hash, throw into a stir-fry, or chop into tiny pieces and boil with pasta water, then toss into pasta sauce. Carrots are good with everything.

Cauliflower— Eat raw with dip, or roast a whole head with a coating of salt, pepper, and curry powder.

Celery— I don’t like it raw, but it’s an important ingredient in soup stock (along with carrots and onions).

Corn— Corn on the cob, of course! You can also slice off the kernels and mix them into burritos. 

Cucumbers— Peel if the skin is tough, chop into thin coins, and drizzle with some vinegar, salt and pepper. Or make Bulgarian salad: sliced cucumbers, chopped tomatoes, and hard white cheese (feta, goat cheese, etc.).

Garlic— Add this to any savory dish, or to one part red wine or apple cider vinegar and two parts olive oil for a delicious dressing.

Green Beans— Sauté in a hot pan with garlic and parmesan until tender.

Leeks— Use the white parts like a sharper-tasting onion, or simmer slices of the whole plant in water with carrot and celery to create a delicious broth.

Lettuce— The key to lettuce is knowing how to make delicious dressing (see my previous post and Oh She Glows).

Mushrooms— Chop finely and stir them into pasta sauce, or slice thin and fry in butter with onions or garlic.

Onions— Good in absolutely everything, but be sure you sauté them long enough. If you slice them thin, salt them, and gently sautee them in oil for an hour, they become deliciously sweet. Caramelized onions are the base for French onion soup (just add broth), and they can be spread on toast or mixed into eggs.

Peas— Excellent for stir-fry, but also great in plain pasta with butter and parmesan.

Peppers— So many uses! Fajitas are my favorite, but you can stuff and bake them, chop them into burritos, or eat them raw with dip.

Potatoes— Bake them, mash them, fry them: you know how to make potatoes. Here’s one of my favorite go-to potato recipes.

Spinach— Great for blending into smoothies! Also a great addition to pasta— finely chop and add just before serving.

Sweet Potatoes— I like to roast these much like potatoes and throw them into salads, mix them with pasta or quinoa, or top the pieces with a fried egg. You can also fry the skin peels in lard for instant sweet potato chips.

Swiss Chard— Chop finely and heat up with a can of black beans, chili powder, garlic, and tomatoes. Serve on tortillas with sour cream and a fried egg for awesome huevos rancheros.

Tomatoes— You know what to do with these! It’s especially important to eat tomatoes in peak season. In the summer, someone you know probably grows tomatoes. See if you can beg them to sell or trade you some.

Winter Squash— My favorite is butternut squash, which I roast and use like sweet potatoes. Spaghetti squash is interesting too: see these instructions.

What are your favorite ways to eat these veggies? Let me know in the comments!


Thursday, November 16, 2017

How to Eat More Vegetables (Part 1 of 2)

Regardless of which dietary guidelines you follow, everyone agrees that we should eat more vegetables. But what if you don’t like vegetables, or don’t know how to cook them? That was sort of me when I began my journey into adulthood. I was used to salads made with romaine or iceberg, veggies out of a can, and fruit in heavy syrup (yummy!). But as grocery stores started carrying a larger variety of veggies, and as I started volunteering on farms and learning about different kinds of produce, I realized that I had a lot to learn.

Over time, I’ve learned to like most vegetables (though with varying degrees of enthusiasm). Zach is my guinea pig; he doesn’t like most veggies, so if I can fix something in a way that he likes, I know it’s a winner.

There are some great ingredient-based recipe collections out there (check out Dishing Up the Dirt for some truly gourmet dishes), but if you’re like me, you might need to start small and simple. I hope this post is helpful.

Principles for eating more vegetables:

1. Forget about buying veggies in a can. Ideally, you’d buy your produce from a farmers market or farm stand. But let’s be honest, most of us aren’t there yet. Just buy whole veggies at a grocery store, and try to stay in season. (What’s in season? Check out this map!) Frozen veggies are another good option, just be sure you’ve chosen something that thaws well.

2. If you don’t like a particular vegetable, try it cooked a different way— roasted instead of raw, sautéed instead of steamed, etc. This doesn’t mean you’ll ever truly like it (I’m still not crazy about eggplant), but give it a shot before dismissing it.

3. Roasting hardy vegetables is one of my favorite ways to eat them. Preheat the oven to 450ºF, cut the veggies into bite-sized pieces, place on a sheet pan, and drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper on top. Toss to coat them evenly, then put in the oven and check after twenty minutes. If they’re still really hard, check again after fifteen minutes. Or if they’re starting to soften, check every five to ten minutes afterward. When roasted, all sorts of veggies— beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, onions, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, etc.— become caramelized and sweet. You can eat the roasted veggies hot with rice or meat, or cold with a salad later on.

4. Stir-fries are another great way to try new veggies. Chop the pieces small, and sort them by cooking time (carrots and onions take a long time, broccoli a few minutes, garlic and peas very little). Sauté them at high heat to sear the outsides. 

5. Sauces and dressings are very important, especially for the non veggiephiles in the audience. Here are some of my favorites:

Butter sauce: Melt butter with some crushed garlic and spices such as Italian seasoning, curry powder, chili powder and cumin, or paprika and pepper.

White sauce: Melt together a few tablespoons each butter and flour, whisking in the hot pan until the mixture turns golden, which can take several minutes (this is called making a roux). Crush some garlic in there if you want. Add milk gradually, stirring quickly until the sauce is the consistency you want. Add a generous dose of pepper and serve.

Kung Pao sauce: Cookie and Kate has an excellent recipe.

Basic vinaigrette: Mix salt and pepper with some vinegar (red wine, apple cider, or balsamic), then add twice as much oil as vinegar and thoroughly shake. Or, if you want to be fancy, first mix the vinegar with crushed garlic and Dijon mustard.

Creamy dressing or dip: You can use sour cream, but I love using drained kefir (kefir that has been drained through a cloth napkin for several hours) because the consistency is perfect. Either way, add a generous shake of onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and dill or parsley flakes to create your own ranch or French onion dip. Thin with a little milk or water to make a dressing.

If you want something more gourmet, Oh She Glows has some amazing sauces, too. 

Other spices that go well with veggies:

Curry powder— carrots, cauliflower, onions, peas, sweet potatoes
Paprika, garlic, and/or onion powder— everything, but especially potatoes
Thyme, rosemary, and/or sage— potatoes, winter squash, carrots
Lemon— everything but especially anything bitter like broccoli, kale, or Swiss chard

Tomorrow, I’ll give a list of how I cook my favorite veggies. 

Do you have any tips to add?


Friday, November 10, 2017

This Week (Five Years, Life at Home)

Last week, Zach and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary! In some ways, it feels like it hasn’t been that long, but on the other hand, it’s as if we’ve been together forever. Since we spent all summer gallivanting around, we decided to have a “staycation” this year. 

It was marvelous in every way. We slept in late, spent huge amounts of time cooking fancy meals (French toast made with homemade sourdough, the most delicious fondue ever, pumpkin pie), hiked through local conservation areas (Weldon Spring and Olin Nature Preserve— since autumn was so late this year, we got to see some gorgeous fall colors!), shopped a farmers market to buy ingredients for kimchi, watched movies from the library, visited an Audubon center and the National Great Rivers Museum, watched Thor: Ragnarok with a friend, and generally just celebrated all the little things that make everyday life beautiful. (Doing dishes is much better when you’re listening to Steely Dan and chatting with your husband about permaculture mulching systems.) 

I finished the staycation feeling happy and ready to tackle everyday life with more gusto. There are so many wonderful things to do and see right where we are, if we just pay attention to them. 

Happy November!


P.S. The chickens are continuing to thrive despite the sub-freezing temps at night. Fortunately they're very fluffy!


Friday, October 27, 2017

This Week: A Cold Snap, Outdoor Chickens, and Persimmons

Chicory, one of my favorite fall flowers

Summer has finally left! After weeks of unseasonably warm weather, we’ve been blessed with yellowing leaves, bright cold evenings, and freezing wind that makes my face turn to goosebumps when I run outside to take care of the chickens. ...Yes, St. Louis really does only have two seasons, summer and winter. Oh well!

Speaking of chickens, ours have been growing like crazy— they’re fully feathered now and collectively wolfing down a quart of feed a day. We finished the run enough to let them outside, and they’ve been managing beautifully, despite the cold snap. They love to dust bathe, chase crickets and flies, run around like crazy for no reason, and try to intimidate each other by facing off and extending their necks with ruffed feathers. There’s no clear pecking order yet, but I’m sure one will emerge soon.

Artemis, Isbushka, Bobbie, and Fluffy Buffy

Also, all five of them have names, since I can reliably tell them apart now, both by appearance and by personality. Pirate Buffy is the friendliest and doesn’t mind being held. Fluffy Buffy is the most adamant dust-bather and bug-hunter. Artemis Mayfeather is named after the goddess of the hunt because of her cricket-catching abilities (she even ate a full-sized grasshopper the other day). Isbushka Mayfeather is always trying to sneak out of the run when I open the door. And Bobbie Dylan is still scared of everything, sounding a desperate warning cry every time a plane flies over, and always the last chicken to snatch any treats I feed them (she will also, however, find bugs and call to the other chicks so they come running— a rooster-like trait that I hope doesn’t mean she’s male).

The run has been safe from predators so far, although the neighborhood hawk checked them out and nearly terrified them to death. But so far, so good.

Pirate Buffy and Isbushka

Other activities last week included a glorious hike at Pere Marquette State Park with Zach and my brother Christian who just returned from his summer at Yellowstone. Christian convinced me to sample some fallen persimmons, and I tentatively licked the fruit, expecting the face-sucking sourness that they’re known for. Instead, I tasted a jammy, tropical-flavored fruit without a trace of sourness. Persimmons are amazing! We ate so many that I got a stomachache, and brought some of the seeds back in hopes of planting them.

The view from McAdams Peak

Last weekend, and now this weekend, are taken up with the St. Charles Halloween Festival, Legends and Lanterns. If you’re in the St. Louis area and like Halloween, you should definitely come check it out! I hear that the most famous witch of Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga, is awesome.
...although a bit cranky.

That’s all for this week! What have you been up to?


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Six Expenses We Choose to Have

In my previous post, I talked about expenses we avoid. Today, I’m talking about things that we’re happy to put our money toward!

You’ll note that these are expenses, which are different from charitable giving, savings, and investments (all of which are financial commitments that we highly prioritize). We don’t have to spend money on any of these items— but we choose to because they’re important to us.

1. High-quality eggs, dairy, and meat. We have ethical concerns with all three industries, so we’re trying to move away from conventional animal products as much as possible. We spend a good chunk of money buying humanely-raised eggs from the farmers’ market and our neighbor (although obviously we’re hoping to start collecting eggs from our chickens this spring!). We get a biweekly deliver of Oberweis’s whole milk and butter. (This is the best dairy option we’ve found so far, but if anyone knows a good source of local small-farm dairy in the St. Louis area, please let me know!) We buy almost no meat (we eat it probably once every three weeks, if that), but when we do, we try to invest in pastured meat and use up every scrap.

2. Local food. I go out of my way to visit the farmer’s market for fruits and veggies. This is more an expense of time and convenience than money, since in-season produce bought directly from a farmer is often comparable to what you can buy at Walmart. The problem is that farmers’ market season is almost over! I’m still trying to figure out how to buy local food in the winter— I’d appreciate any tips on this matter.

3. Quality athletic shoes. I don’t know if you know this, but Zach and I walk. A lot. As a result, we wear through shoes quicker than anyone else I know. We figured out a long time ago that buying $30 pairs of shoes every two months was not worth it. We now wear Asics and Solomon brand. Not cheap, but so worth it.

4. Bike accessories. Zach recently bought an electric bike trailer that gives him the extra speed boost he needed to bike the 20-miles round-trip to work. Although his fluctuating schedule makes it difficult to do this on a regular basis, we’re hoping this is part of a long-term plan to get off car transportation as much as possible.

5. Chickens. Getting everything set up for the chickens has been expensive! From the henhouse to the coop materials, we’ve been dishing out some cash. However, it’ll be worth it to grow eggs right in our own backyard. (If you’re wondering, feeding chickens and collecting their eggs is not cheaper than buying the battery-cage eggs at the grocery store. But eggs from happy chickens and eggs from chickens crammed into cages are two completely different things.)

6. Travel. Although we always try to travel as cheaply as possible (see my tips on this), it’s still a big expense— but one that we’re happy to invest in. From backpacking in Olympic National Forest to visiting family in Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t trade our travel experiences for any of the “normal” expenses that we’ve avoided. 


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Seven Expenses We Choose to Avoid

Homemade fondue dinner: best date EVER.

One day at work, Zach passed by a display in the electronics department featuring the newest toy: a set of drones that will battle each other mid-air. One of his co-workers asked if Zach was going to buy it, and when Zach said he couldn’t afford it, the co-worker laughed.

“What do you mean, you can’t afford it?” he asked. “Didn’t you guys just take a three-month vacation?” 

Zach answered, “The reason we could afford a three-month vacation is because we don’t buy random stuff like this!” 

Spending money is one of the most effective ways to show our priorities in life, and these priorities can be intentional or unintentional. Many people, if presented with a clear-cut choice, would take a vacation to Hawaii over a pile of random gadgets from Amazon— but in reality, they spend their money on the latter rather than the former.  A lot of people wish they had enough money to travel (or learn a new skill or just take some time off), but also sleepwalk through life without considering that the money they’re spending might be better placed somewhere else. 

One of Zach’s and my ongoing goals is to be intentional in the way we spend our money. That means spending less money in some areas and more money in others (see part two, coming soon!). I write this list not to brag, but to give an example of what we’ve chosen and how it’s working for us. For some people, these expenses are very important, and that’s fine— they’re just not important to us.

First of all, three expenses we’ve never chosen to have: 

1. Television service. If you’re about my age, this is probably a no-brainer for you— who watches regular TV anymore when there’s Netflix? News shows and sports games are online (not that I watched them to begin with), and the library has a massive bookshelf of interesting documentaries. 

2. Drinks out. I don’t drink to begin with, and Zach would rather mix his own drinks at home or buy a nice craft brew to enjoy while watching TV or reading books. He also makes coffee every morning before work so he’s not relying on Starbucks. 

3. A second car. I work from home (or at the historic district a mile from our house), so functioning on one car is quite easy for us. However, other friends in different situations have still made alternate transportation work for them.

And four expenses we’re choosing to cut out or minimize now:

4. “Just ‘cause” shopping trips. I almost never buy new clothes to begin with, but I had gotten into a habit of perusing thrift stores for clothes, household goods, and records. Although I’m not planning to cut these out entirely, I want to be more intentional about what I buy and focus on using and enjoying what I already have, rather than accumulating more.

5. Wi-Fi. We had gone Wi-Fi free before, but got Internet when Francis was living with us. Yes, watching Netflix was really nice, but Internet service is freakin’ expensive, so cutting this expense was an easy decision. That said, my job is completely online, so how do I manage? My smartphone (a basic Windows phone model) can function as a Wi-Fi hotspot, with 9G of high-speed data per month (check out “Internet Sharing” under “Settings”). This is plenty of data for surfing the web, working my online job, and watching the occasional YouTube video. I would miss Netflix, but our library owns all seven seasons of Parks and Rec, so the withdrawal hasn’t kicked in yet.

6. Pets. My neighbors tried to give me a free kitten, and although my heartstrings were tugged, I was firm in refusing. Pets aren’t really free— there’s the neutering/spaying, shots, vet visits, food, care if they get sick, etc. With our current priorities, it’s just not worth it to us. (That said, I fully support my friends getting pets so that I can visit them without the commitment!) And yes, chickens are sort of like pets, but they give you eggs and you can eat them when they get old, so they don’t count.

7. Eating out. We have a habit of going out for fast food once a week with our church friends, but these days we just pack ourselves sandwiches and order some fries, if anything. We had already started moving away from eating out in general since we started avoiding factory-farmed meat— vegetarian food at restaurants is generally either bland or grossly overpriced. (Cooking a nice dinner together, packing a picnic lunch, or making homemade ice cream are all great dates!)

Like I said, I don’t want this to come off as arrogance, only information. Now it’s your turn! What kind of “normal” expenses do you say “no” to in order to say “yes” to something more important to you?


Monday, October 9, 2017

What I've Been Reading: Late Summer 2017

To be honest, I didn’t read much when we were out west— I was too focused on experiencing things rather than reading about them. However, since we’ve gotten home, I’ve been devouring book after book. Here’s a sampling of my favorites:

Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation: Simple to Advanced and Experimental Techniques for Indoor and Outdoor Cultivation by Tradd Cotter

We bought Cotter’s book after seeing two of his presentations at the Mother Earth News Fair. His passion and creativity are clear to see, both in person and in this jam-packed manual/manifesto. He covers the basic growing techniques for different mushrooms, and profiles the varieties with ratings of how easy or hard they are to grow. There’s a lot of good basic information in it, but he also addresses sophisticated scientific growing techniques that made my head spin, and delves a lot into different uses for mushrooms beyond food. Definitely worth the read if you’re interested in growing mushrooms, or simply want to learn about how mushrooms can save the world.

Practical Permaculture: for Home Landscapes, Your Community, and the Whole Earth by Jessi Bloom and David Boehnlein

This book gives a clear overview of permaculture concepts and how they affect our everyday lives, particularly in the way we design our surroundings, grow food and animals, and engage in commerce. It’s designed mostly for people with larger plots of land, although there was a lot of value for me as a small landholder, too. This would be a good follow-up to Gaia’s Garden in a deeper study of permaculture.

Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard by Jessi Bloom

This book discusses how to keep chickens in a garden without them destroying everything. With beautiful photography and a lot of practical tips, it was well worth the read, although sometimes I wished she would elaborate more on her points. 

Gardening with Less Water: Low-Tech, Low-Cost Techniques by David Bainbridge

This is a pithy, no-nonsense guide to cutting your garden water usage by a significant amount, no fancy mechanisms required! Each chapter discusses a different methods, from clay pots to porous capsules and hoses to deep pipes and swales. I know I’ll definitely check it out from the library again as we continue to design our yard.

Homemade for Sale: How to Set Up and Market a Food Business from Your Home Kitchen by John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist

What is cottage food, and how do you sell it? This book is a definitive guide to getting started with a small-scale food business. Although reading this book convinced me that Zach and I are not in a place to run a viable cottage-food enterprise, it’s good information to keep tucked away for future reference. And if you have any interest in selling your homemade jam, fresh tomatoes, or specialty cakes from your home, this is a must-read.

Why yes, I have read these books approximately eight bazillion times. No, I am still not tired of them. If you haven’t read them, you should (just be sure to start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, no matter what Harper Collins tell you)!


Saturday, October 7, 2017

This Week: Chickens, Larvae, and Other Things That Make Us Happy

Although autumn is still refusing to arrive, Zach and I are making the best of it. We eat salad, keep the fans running, note the yellowed cottonwood leaves (despite everything else being green), and pretend that it’s a month earlier than it is. 

In other news, our chicks are growing up! Their downy feathers are being replaced by strong grown-up pinions, and they grow so much that it’s noticeable from day to day. They’re starting to be shaped less like fluffy balls and more like chickens, including tiny little combs on the Buffys’ and Mayfeathers’ heads. Bobbie Dylan is still terrified of people, but the others are quite friendly, especially one of the Buffys who will hop up on your hand and even sit on your shoulder like a parrot (as my brother’s brother-in-law discovered).

Meanwhile, Zach and I (well, mostly Zach) have been working in fits and starts on getting their outdoor accommodations ready. After much debate we bought a prefab henhouse from My Pet Chicken, but have been building a run from scratch. We’ve connected PVC pipes into a 10’x10’x4’ structure, and are working on attaching hardware cloth to the sides. We have taken the chickens out in it a few times, with supervision, and they love it. They poke around in the grass, chase gnats, flutter and flap and jump around, have little dominance battles where they size each other up, nibble on plantain and dandelion, and sound warning cries whenever a plane flies overhead. Once we get the run completed I’ll let them out more often, even though they won’t live outside full time for another several weeks.

Another rather geeky triumph this week was the discovery of a certain kind of larvae in our compost pile. I hadn’t turned the pile for a while, and when I did, I was met by the sight of a literal swarming pile of maggot-looking things. It was pretty disturbing until we learned that they are actually soliderfly larvae. When Zach properly identified them, he was so happy I thought he was going to dance. Why, you ask? Soldierflies are harmless creatures whose larvae have a voracious appetite— they can liquify a compost pile in a few days if there’s enough of them. Once they grow to full size, they crawl out of the pile as easy-to-harvest protein-packed chicken snacks. So the chain goes like this: you feed your scraps to the larvae, the larvae feed the chickens, the chickens eat less feed, you save money. Circle of life. Zach put some of the larvae into a separate bin, and I feed them our kitchen waste directly, rather than mixing it into straw or leaves.

Well, that’s enough geeky homesteading stuff for one post. Have a great week! Autumn can’t be far away!


Thursday, October 5, 2017

How I Care

“You won’t rescue the Shire just by being shocked and sad, my dear Frodo.”
~Merry Brandybuck, Return of the King

A couple days ago I was sitting at my desk, taking a break from editing papers to see what my friends were up to on Facebook. As soon as I looked at the newsfeed, I plunged into a world of darkness. Images of weeping people at the Vegas shooting, memes about gun control and lack thereof, arguments, condolences, news articles with catchy titles. I found myself falling down the rabbit hole until I couldn’t breathe anymore, and yet here I was, scrolling, scrolling, always mechanically scrolling.

Finally I paused and looked up. The sky was cloudy through my window and I could see the henhouse that Zach and I had just painted. “Why am I scrolling through these articles?” I asked myself. After a few moments, I answered, “Because I want to help, and I don’t know how.”

I shut my computer. I stood up and shook myself off. I folded some laundry, and did some dishes, and cleared my head. When I returned to editing papers, I critiqued a student on her run-on sentences while being fully aware that she lives in Puerto Rico and does her schoolwork by generator power these days. (She had written me, “The beautiful colors of my country are gone and all that’s left is wreckage.”) 

Feeling shocked and sad felt more like caring than teaching a student how to construct a sentence. But was it really?

The pressure to stay informed is higher than ever, and with a shrinking world and instantaneous technology, there’s more than ever to keep track of. If I don’t know the details of the Las Vegas shooting or the latest police brutality case or the fallout of Hurricane Irma, I feel out of the loop, uninformed— maybe I just don’t even care?— but I do care! I want to care, I must care, because these are things are horrible or unjust and worth caring about! And so I reassure myself that I obviously do care because look at all these articles I’m anonymously skimming through. Look at how bad and sad and shocked I feel. Keep scrolling, keep scrolling, keep scrolling.




Compassion for other people is essential, as is prayer if you’re a Christian. And I do believe it’s crucial to be informed about important issues.

But here’s the thing: there are so many important issues. 

And you cannot possibly care about them all.

We are human. We have limited time, energy, focus, and money. If I try to commit myself to every single bad thing that happens, every injustice in the world, I will crash and burn and spend my time numbly scrolling through articles, substituting feeling bad for any sort of meaningful action.

The more I focus on the latest tragedy, the less energy I have for nurturing my students, listening to people with different perspectives, encouraging friends who are going through a tough time, and gaining a thorough understanding of just a few issues. The point is not to bury your head in the sand or lack empathy— it’s to use your time wisely for the greatest good.

Some people have committed themselves to politics— they call their representatives, get involved in local government, march in protests, vote at every election. Some people are committed to education— they teach or support teachers or homeschool, lobby for school funding, volunteer at fundraisers, spend time tutoring children who need a little extra help. Some are committed to welcoming refugees or learning more about issues of race or providing programs for homeless people. 

I’ve chosen to focus on food issues. I support local farmers, grow some veggies, and raise chickens. I try to keep up on news and articles about the troubles of the industrial food system, the economics of small-scale farming, the ethical problems of concentrated animal feeding operations, and creative methods for building resilience and food security in a community. These topics are much less dramatic than, say, Nazis marching in the streets, but they are tied to a web of issues that affect the health and well-being of everyone in the country, especially the poor and urban. Food issues are vitally important, and they’re important to me— but not everyone can choose to care about them, and that’s okay.

In the end, random spurts of action based on the latest outrage are not going to create lasting change. Instead, I think it’s better to find your “thing”— the issues that you can put the force of your focus behind. Be informed about that thing. Devote a consistent stream of money, time, study, and physical and emotional energy to it. 

Don’t feel bad about shutting off the news if it means opening yourself to meaningful, focused action.