Text by Duggan McDonnell
Photograph by Lukka Feldman
Don’t take this the wrong way. Really. I know, I know, Earth Day came and went, and no one batted an eye. Recycling is as de rigeur as brushing one’s teeth. Styrofoam hardly exists anymore. Your bartender is asking if you’d prefer your cosmopolitan shaken with organic vodka. When does the fanaticism end? Or should it?
At the innocent age of 18, I opened my voting voice and joined the Green Party. I donated to Greenpeace. I rallied. I wrote letters to my congressman. I celebrated Earth Day. Now, 15 years later, I am an Independent and cannot recall the last time I joined in any Earth Day festivity.
This spring, Vanity Fair published their Green Issue. The cover bore a sickly pastis hue and had me wondering if the photographer intended the celebs to look hung over. I admit, I was curious. I flipped through its pages. It’s always gratifying to see celebrities looking pretty and endorsing their favorite causes – but what did I gain from its reading? Like chewing through a box of Jujubes, I felt a little ill. Was this the condition of green I was supposed to be feeling?
As an urban-dweller, everything I touch has been mass-produced, grown and assembled elsewhere. My former father-in-law used to chide for not accompanying him on a hunting expedition. There’s a big difference in buying a steak at Safeway wrapped in cellophane, he’d say, and spending three days on a mountain to bring down a half-ton buck, quarter him, then pack him home to feed your family for a few months.
His psychology of sustainable living makes perfect sense. He was in touch with his environment, creating less of an impact than driving to the supermarket to purchase a prepackaged product. It also conjures up images of a swaggering, gun-toting Charlton Heston making tired speeches. How very American. How very simple. Could the two notions be related? Is it absurd to wonder whether an individual could be a gun-toting organic farmer? And could a very urban-dweller ever truly live a sustainable life?
I spoke with Allison Evanow, founder of the new Square One Organic Vodka, who related her conversion. “I already was a big organic foods buyer and frequented farmer’s markets, natural food stores, etc., but I became more educated and aware as I started learning more about feeding my kids. It made me realize how important it is to try to go organic whenever I could.”
Of significant importance is that Evanow’s vodka actually tastes good. It holds ethanol on the nose, a bump of rye heat on the mid-palate, and a soft, almost sucrose finish. Square One achieves its purity of flavor not by being distilled or filtered many times, but by being pure and wholly organic from its conception.
This is true of most organic produce. The tiny strawberry in your backyard garden is full of unique flavor as compared to the giant version available at your local supermarket. Snow White’s apple was not organic. You can bet your bottom-dollar it was a Central Valley–farmed wonder, pumped full of hormones, gorgeous in its wax veneer. Jil Hales, eco-evangelist and owner of the celestial restaurant Barndiva in Healdsburg, CA, says, “I want food to find its truth again.” At Barndiva, her lifelong idealism has been realized. It succeeds in being equal parts aesthetic sass and local, sustainable business practice. Hales’ cocktails are poured with organic spirits and shaken with fresh, hand-harvested fruits and herbs. The restaurant is decorated and furnished by local artisans.
More than mere agriculture, sustainable living comes in many forms, including fashion. Coolnotcruel is a label which claims to cater to “the urban chic, fashion conscious, socially and environmentally responsible consumer.” Theirs is a niche audience, to be sure. I wish Coolnotcruel much luck, as from my own experience, wearing hemp is not the sexiest item I’d like draped over my shoulders, nor is it the most durable.
A few months ago, Safeway – the West’s largest line of grocery stores – launched its product line O Organics. Among the many items available are organic dog food, frozen organic blueberries, and my favorite, organic mac ’n’ cheese. Organic comfort food is such a wholly American and uniquely Californian idea, it kills me. However strange and outrageous it is, it does fit in with the notion of progress.
I mentioned I haven’t celebrated Earth Day in a long while. Did I mention that I don’t own a car? That I regularly walk to my local produce market and choose my own vegetables, which I cook for myself rather than eating out? When I’m alone, noshing on my ecological mac ’n’ cheese and swilling a sustainable martini, I’m not dwelling on my green efforts or on living a low-impact urban life. I’m thinking back to my former father-in-law, up there in the Washington wilderness, and imagining what it might be like to live in that wilderness and wondering why I never took him up on the opportunity.