Category Archives: Blog

The Problem with ‘Pet’ Causes

Occasionally, when I share with someone about something I’m passionate about, like Fair-Trade chocolate, I’m met with a response that can be bluntly summarized as “That’s nice that you care about that issue, I care about this issue,” as if these were hobbies like crocheting or racquetball. Unfortunately, I feel like that’s probably closer to the truth, that they are merely self-gratifying hobbies, for many and not necessarily an attempt or commitment to pursue lasting change. Disclaimer: I do not mean this as a judgment on anyone, you be the judge of your own motivations. This is as much for me as it is for anyone else.

We live in a very individualistic society where it is almost taboo to actually make an authoritative statement to another person about an issue (“You shouldn’t eat Hershey’s chocolate”). We might talk about our personal decisions, but we rarely demand the same of others. Thus, even those who want to be more evangelistic about their cause (whether it’s fair-trade chocolate or organic produce) find it difficult to do. It’s also difficult because any diversion from the status quo is often met with blind defensiveness and resistance. Rejection is tough.

The result we end up with are ‘pet’ causes. I care about the chocolate I eat, my neighbor only eats organic, a friend tries to reduce their carbon footprint and my cousin advocates against sex trafficking. And, while we each do our small part, this approach is largely ineffective for any of these issues. My personal chocolate choice might make me feel less guilty, but it certainly won’t shift the chocolate industry from using child slaves. My friends reducing their carbon footprint to zero with solar panels and a hybrid car won’t stop the ice caps from melting. or even stop our nations dependence of oil. And unfortunately, we seem to be rather okay with that, addressing our personal guilt on the subject, but not truly affecting massive change for any one cause.

We need to work together. That doesn’t mean you have to ditch your personal cause for mine. Rather, it means we should become passionate and committed to systemic change, not just change that makes us feel less guilt or like personal do-gooders. What does this look like in practice? I’m not totally sure yet. Maybe it means you become more evangelistic for the cause, maybe we become more strategic in how we demand change. What it does mean is that we stop being content with just our own ‘pet’ causes and we get serious about seeing real and systemic change in our neighborhoods, our society and our world.

Steps Toward Change: Meals (Less Bad, More Good)

Last time I wrote here I asked about help doing a food audit. Thank you so much to the folks who were willing to take some time and give me some input on my current food choices. I was surprised by the lack of response, especially considering I know a lot of people that seem passionate about this issue, but that’s a topic for another post.

As I said initially when I started this discussion, I’m very open to making changes in the way my family eats. I’m also much more interested in getting some straight forward tips and suggestions from those who have extensive knowledge and wisdom in this topic, rather then trying to sift through all the information myself (seems we are hesitant to speak with authority, we’d rather direct others to the book we read, a topic for another time again).

My goal is over the next several months, maybe year, to make changes in my families eating and purchasing habits toward a more ethical end. But, I need your help. The first step I’d like to take is to consider the meals that we make with some frequency and sort them into “bad” and “good” categories in consideration of ethics. I know this will be a little hard to do, but I think it’s worth a shot.

Here is how I’d like to try and do this. You’ll need to come to the blog if your reading in email or rss. In the comments section I’ll list meals that our family eats with some frequency (I’ll list just the basic title, not complete recipe). I’ll list one meal per comment and then you can reply to specific comments/meals with your comments about that meal. I’m looking for feedback about how good or bad meals are on a spectrum, so give it a 1-5 star rating if you’d like. Keep in mind I’m much more interested in how my food choices impact the lives of people, not so much the health benefits to my immediate family.

Additionally, if you’d like to add meal suggestions, recipes, etc in separate comments that would be super helpful. I’m looking for your most ethical meal ideas that are also low budget (and not overly complicated to prepare ideally). My initial goal is to start having more of the Good meals we make and less of the Bad meals. Slowly, I’ll add other people’s recipe suggestions as well. That’s my plan anyways.

I know this might all seem rather lazy on my part to not simply read the books and watch the movies myself, but sometimes this is the way that I best process things, relying on the wisdom of the community around me, and I think there are others who do similarly. Looking forward to your responses.

A Critique: Food Choices and the Food Movement

In recent months, I’ve been encouraged by others to think a bit more critically about my families food choices. I’ve since watched and read a bit and I find myself still a bit skeptical. If an outsiders generalization of my readers is correct, my skepticism regarding the popular food trends of local and organic might be a bit controversial to you reading. I’m hoping it is, because I’d like to get some feedback and thoughts on the topic and am quite open to having my views changed.

I have to start with a bit of a disclaimer. There are a lot of things espoused by the food movement that my family is already doing. We’ve almost always composted and recycled. We don’t buy a ton of processed foods (microwave type stuff) and we don’t eat red meat much (I never ate it growing up). We even bring our own bags usually. Oh, and we’ve tried to garden in some form most summers. So, along the spectrum, there are a lot of things we are already doing. But, there are some things we aren’t.

We shop at Aldis and Cub, not Whole Foods, The Wedge or other organic/coop/local type places (I’ve tried occasionally). We don’t buy organic when it comes to our produce. And we don’t buy free-range, cage-free, grass-fed or anything when it comes to our meat. And, I haven’t been all that compelled to change those choices. Rather, I’ve had some concerns or critiques.

  • The Food Movement seems to be a primarily motivated by self-interest. I’m not saying individuals might have larger societal interest in mind, to that point, the information that’s presented is often in the form of national statistics of obesity, disease, etc. However, the changes that are being done and created are individual family choices. It’s families with the financial means and resources changing their families purchasing habits. I’ve seen very little collective action to encourage more systemic change (Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution might be a minor exception).
  • The justification and reaction seems to be from one extreme to the other. It’s clear our nation has some health issues, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, so on and so forth. And I definitely agree our eating habits are heavily at fault. We eat very unhealthy, highly processed food, and far too much of it (this last part is my vice). However, I don’t think the only solution is to buy local and organic. We’d be a much healthier nation if we ate more fruits and vegetables, organic or not.

There’s more thoughts I’ve had, but at risk of making this too long and not getting some conversation going, I’ll stop here. I’d love to hear your thoughts about food, organic, local, etc and why your making the current choices you do. And feel free to challenge me on the statements above or choices we make.

Thoughts on a Public Faith

I’m a firm believer in faith and religious beliefs being an integrated part of ones daily life. And thus, I don’t believe ones religious opinions need to be regulated to private conversations amongst those you are sure you agree with, rather then openly discussing even with those with whom you do not agree.
That being said, I have to attribute my lack of thoughtful blogging lately to my inability to be too open with my faith, both my beliefs, and my struggles and doubts. A while ago, I attached my blog posts to my facebook notes, thus sharing my most recent thoughts not just with those interested parties who’d opted into a email or rss, but with long lost high school friends and college acquaintances. In some ways, it’s been a rewarding experiment. I’m a different person in many ways then I was in high school, and it’s a chance to share my current place with those who’ve been a part of my journey in earlier years.
At the same time, I’ve found the publicness (just made that up) to be a little too intimidating for me. Trying To Follow started as just my personal blog, but I’ve tended to write primarily under a theme of what I understand to be Christian values. The audience, you, have been faithful fellow sojourners, encouraging me along my walk, while hopefully being similarly encouraged and challenged in yours. Now, I was sharing thoughts with people who hadn’t even asked for them, and might not be as interested or as receptive. The intimidation caused me to freeze up and not really write anything at all.
So, why am I sharing all this with you? Mostly to say that I want to continue on this journey, this conversation about trying to follow, and I’d love for you to come along with me.

(Details: Here’s my current plan, I’m going to blog about faith specifically here on trying to follow. Most everything else I’m going to post at I’ll cross post if it’s relevant. Plan subject to change, batteries not included).

Help my Neighborhood win $50,000

Summary: If you like me and want to support the things that I do, sign-up at, to take less then a minute each day in April to vote for my community to win $50,000.

A short video explanation:

Longer Explanation: This is one of those internet voting contest, the kind I usually think are pretty annoying. However, in my research about it, I think we have a good chance of winning if we can get 500 committed people who will vote each day in April. I’m hoping not to spam facebook or twitter constantly with pleas to vote.

If won, I’d have the opportunity to help give $50,000 in small grants to all kinds of cool organizations and individuals with creative ideas and visions for building community in my neighborhood. It seems like an amazing opportunity. Even if we don’t win, encouraging the community to come together in an organized fashion toward a specific action has great benefits and can prepare us for other future actions.

The April contest is also just a trial run. In May, we hope to have 10 organizations from our neighborhood to support in the contest with their separate grant applications. Since each individual visiting the site can vote 10 times each day, we can support all 10 organizations at the same time. But that’s next month, for now we’re trying to see if we can actually come up with 500 supporters in April.

I’ve written a lot more on the actual site I created for rallying our efforts, you can read more about it there.


Sponsored Links:

Help Create a Collaborative Significant Events Calendar

Spurred on by my failure to realize Monday was International Women’s Day, I’ve decided to start a small project to create a significant events calendar. Several years ago I had one of those pocket daily calendars with a random quote on each day, and those 365 calendars with a random fact or puzzle each day where quite popular. My idea back then was to create a similar calendar with historically significant events related to social justice (Juneteenth, end of S. Africa Apartheid, Assassination of Oscar Romero), and have that published as a planner.
Anyways, I’m going to start the project again, and this time I’m going to use a Google calendar, so it will have immediate use for those who are interested in using it, and allow for collaboration for those who’d like to help make it a complete 365 calendar. If you’d like to help create the calendar, just let me know and I’ll add you as an admin to it so you can add entries. If you’d just like to subscribe and get tidbits of information each day, you can view and then subscribe to the calendar here:

Oh, and if you already have or know of something like this that exist, do let me know, I’d love to have it.

International Women’s Day

It’s 10:36pm on March 8th, and I just realized, thanks to my wife pointing it out, that’s it’s International Women’s Day. I’ll blame my own ignorance primarily, but it’s both sad and surprising that in my web browsing and activities of the day I didn’t notice a single recognition of this global celebration of women. I was well aware, thanks to several status updates, that yesterday was the Oscars, and I’ve already been reminded that St. Patty’s day is coming up, so how is it that we as a community can’t get it together to take one day to celebrate women? Okay, I know there is Mother’s day coming up, but apparently Minnesota officially believes catching fish trumps motherhood and regularly schedules fishing opener to conflict.

I have become, over the years, increasingly passionate about the issues and injustices that face women in our society and world. Both my amazing wife’s continual reminders and the past three years of raising our daughter have given me a greater passion and desire to speak out and act in solidarity with women against injustice. I know I probably won’t be the most eloquent or even accurate, but I encourage you, men and women, to step up and make your voices heard. I’m going to keep this from turning into a rambling rant and simply post some links to some random blogposts I’ve written on topics I think you should be concerned about:

The Celebrity. A short story.

The Celebrity

Carrie Bloom was used to being a star, it came with the territory. Like others in her profession, her stardom hadn’t diminished over time, if anything, it actually had increased. The truth was, she had always appreciated the perks, it was a reminder to her that what she did was important. It had been her husband, many years ago at the beginning of her career, that had taken a while to come around.

“I’m not saying what you do isn’t important, honestly.” He had said that evening twenty years ago, “I just think I deserve a little more credit that’s all.” And he’d had good reason. Starting his career too, he’d been voted rookie of the year for the New York Yankees. A million dollar signing bonus, thousands of fans coming to games every day hoping to see him hit a homerun, pining for his autograph. A guy of his prestige isn’t used to being out shined by his wife, but without fail, every time they went out together, he felt like chopped liver.

“I love your work Mrs. Bloom!” The people would say. “Thank you so much for what you’ve given to the city, there’s no way we could ever repay you.” But that didn’t stop them from trying. Her husband rarely had the chance to pay for a meal, the chef or manager always coming to their table declaring the meal was “on the house” and spending a few minutes praising Carrie for her work.

It was odd to imagine a time, just a few years before Carrie had started her career, when men and women in her profession weren’t treated with the respect and reverence she’d come to take for granted. They pay had certainly increased, but it was the honor and accolades for the work that she did that she really valued and appreciated. You can only give yourself so many peptalks before you start to question the real value you have to society when your work is rarely acknowledge and, more often then not, blamed instead for societal problems.

“I want to teach third grade.” Carrie had told her parents at Thanksgiving her first year of college. Her father, an extremely successful lawyer, had been unimpressed. It had been her mother that encouraged her to follow her heart. And her mother was right. Even if the pay and respect hadn’t suddenly and amazingly increased, she knew in her heart that what she and the thousands of other teachers she worked with was important. Educating the next generation is by far and away the most important task of any society and teachers are commissioned to do just that. They are not and should not be alone in that task, parents, family, neighbors and community members need to heed the call as well, as it is said, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

(This was simply a fun writing exercise I did this morning that I wanted to share. First draft, welcome to critiques, but thought some might enjoy)

Dedicated and inspired by all the teachers I know, thank you for your selfless commitment to our children.

Want to honor a teacher? Or get involved? Leave a comment and ask me how.

Enough For Everyone’s Need

“There is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
— Mahatma Gandhi

You’ve probably heard this quote before, as have I, but somewhere amidst the recent earthquake, tsunami warnings, or more foreclosures news, the quote hit me afresh. There really is enough.
We as a global society have enough resources to rescue the hundreds and thousands from the rubble of natural disasters. We have enough food to feed every hungry mouth on the planet. We have access and the ability and knowledge to produce medicine and vaccinations to stop preventable diseases that kill millions each year. We have the resources to build schools and wells so that every child can grow up with clean drinking water and a solid education. We absolutely have enough, right now to do all of that and more.
Yet, in a neighborhood like mine, we sit with thousands of homes empty while hundreds of men, women and children, spend their nights in shelters and on the street.  Nations like Haiti are ravaged and desolated by oppression and greed before any earthquake even came. And while global needs continue to mount, we sit around with millions wanting gainful employment, eager to contribute, resources no less plentiful to address needs, feed bellies, heal illnesses… we wait. We wait for the economy to bounce back, for numbers on stock tickers and data sheets to add up. We all wait.  For what? We aren’t even sure.
And I’m well aware that capitalism, which functions on a main tenant that man will act in his own self interest, has had a hand in creating the wealth and resources to make many of the innovations possible, it doesn’t seem to be solving anything now. I’m not necessarily calling for global anarchy, but maybe global generosity. And maybe not global, maybe local, maybe just me. You’ve got to start somewhere.

What if You Could Stop an Earthquake?

Mosquito NetEven today, over a month later, thousands are in desperate need of help in Haiti. It has been encouraging to see the global community come together in the moment of crisis to help an entire country recover from near total destruction. But this post isn’t about Haiti. It’s not about devastation we saw when Katrina or the Tsunami hit or the carnage of lesser publicized natural disasters in China, Pakistan and Iran over the last several years. This also isn’t about belittling the need in those moments or the compassion and outpouring of goodwill that it sparks.

This is about what we are going to do between those moments. How we are going to live when the images fade away from the public attention and the relief effort coffers are full. What will our generosity look like when the need isn’t for a one-time “act of god” disaster, but for the daily un-natural disasters of poverty, contaminated water and disease. How will we respond when our interaction with these realities is an occasional commercial of a desolate child needing sponsorship? Just one of the millions of children across our globe struggling to survive, one of 30,000 dying every day of diseases we can treat, lack of clean water we could fix, or economic disparities our nations helped create.

It almost feels good responding to a natural disaster. There was nothing you could do beforehand to stop what happened, but now you can open your wallet, with no guilt, and only pity and charity, and help these unfortunate people in their time of need. It’s a one time thing, you can even sacrifice a little bit, and then you can move on and go on about your life.

What if the equivalent of the Haiti earthquake happened every week? And what if you knew it was going to happen the following week and the week after that and the week after that. What if it was an un-natural disaster that you could actually do something to prevent? What if God had given you and many others who believe “love your neighbor as yourself” the resources to stop this disaster, to turn the tide? What if you could stop an earthquake?

Today you have an opportunity to stop an disaster, tomorrow you’ll have the chance too. Will you stand in the way of the disaster of Malaria? Contaminated drinking water? Education? Will you make sacrifices, live differently, alter your decisions in the same way you did when the earthquake struck? Will you appeal to friends and rise up a community response to the desperate needs in your community or around the globe?