Sunday, November 14, 2010

Stuff Green People Like

Yesterday, my uncle Jay forwarded me this link to the blog "Stuff White People Like." It's a reference to the late, lamented TV show "My So-Called Life," which played out its first and only season during my senior year of college. I was indeed a huge fan of the show, but I was actually kind of ticked off by the implication that this is a characteristic I share with all "white people." After all, if all white people liked the show that much, then how come it got canceled after one season? Back at the time, liking that show was something that actually set us fans apart from mainstream America. So how does this guy Christian Lander reckon that being a fan of it now is simply a part of mainstream, white-American culture?

Perusing the blog in more detail, I found that what annoyed me about this one entry was really typical of the blog as a whole. It's obvious from the title of the blog that it's going to be nothing but blatant stereotypes, but that would be pardonable if the stereotypes were incisive and funny. The problem is, Lander is actually promulgating a stereotype of a very specific subculture of white America (and Canada)—the upper-middle-class, northeastern liberal elite so despised by the Tea Party—as belonging to "white people" in general. It's not just an invidious stereotype; it's an invidious, inaccurate stereotype. Sarah Palin probably hates everything on Lander's full list of Stuff White People Like, from organic food to Bob Marley.

Aside from the fact that this just promotes the idea that racial profiling is okay, as long as it's aimed at a privileged group (they're stereotypes of white people! Get it?), I couldn't help being annoyed at the wooliness of the stereotype itself. I pretty clearly belong to the group Lander is trying to satirize, and many of the things on his list (farmer's markets, David Sedaris, recycling) are things I like a lot. Yet there were also quite a few things on the list (having two last names, modern furniture, being offended) that I positively dislike, or at a minimum, have no interest in. And as I ticked my way down the list, I kept finding items that are antithetical to my ecofrugal lifestyle: you'll never catch me going to a place that charges $9 for a sandwich, especially when most of the items on the menu aren't vegetarian, nor am I about to pay $10 for a Moleskine notebook that isn't even made with recycled paper.

So I've decided to start my own list. It's called "Stuff Ecofrugal People Like," and it's for people who are really part of my tribe—regardless of skin color.

1. Public libraries. More books than one person could ever read, plus music recordings, movies, Internet access, and even community gatherings like film screenings, poetry readings, and classes for kids. All for free! (Well, not exactly free, since it's paid for by your tax dollars. But if you have to pay them anyway, you might as well get your money's worth, right?)

2. Creative reuse. Take an object that's no longer useful for its original purpose, and turn it into something else—the more unexpected, the better. Plant flowers in an old boot. Turn an obsolete Macintosh computer into a fish tank. Make coasters out of unwanted CD-ROMs. Make your own notebooks out of scrap paper (much more frugal than Moleskine). This is an ecofrugal three-fer: it keeps waste out of landfills, saves the money and resources that would otherwise be used on new stuff, and gives you the creative kick of seeing an old object in a new way.

3. Freecycle. Also a three-fer, this allows you to prevent waste, get rid of stuff you don't want, and get useful stuff for free. It's even better than thrift shops and yard sales, which ecofrugal people also love.

4. The Habitat ReStore, where you can get all manner of useful stuff for your home (from a single nail to a complete set of kitchen cabinets), save resources, and support a good cause all at the same time.

5. Wasted Spaces, a home-improvement show hosted by a sexy Australian who actually makes an existing space work better instead of tearing everything out and replacing it. A typical budget for this show is around $500 rather than $5,000 or $15,000 or $25,000, and it's great fun to see all the creative ways Karl finds to make use of space that the homeowner probably never realized was there. (Did I mention he's a sexy Australian?)

6. Trader Joe's, which sells green goodies like organic raisins, Fair-Trade coffee, and free-range chicken for lower prices than anyplace else, along with a tempting array of tasty prepared treats like maple sandwich cookies, crumpets, and fizzy limeade. (To keep the frugal in ecofrugal, we limit ourselves to one non-list purchase per visit.)

7. Biking to work. Hybrid cars are nice, but they ain't cheap. A bike, by contrast, costs little to buy and maintain, uses no gas at all, and gives you some exercise into the bargain. Plus it enables you to skirt right around traffic jams and feel smug.

That's all I have so far. If there's anything else you think really needs to be on the list, post a comment and let me know.
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