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Field Notes

Field Notes: The Slow Path to Deplasticizing Your World

The health risks associated with plastics are astonishing. I am not a chemist, but even a casual read of the hazards surrounding plastic give me pause. Once ingested, the chemicals used to create single-use food packaging are now linked to cancer, they impact human development and can impede reproduction. Much plastic now ends up in our environment where it wreaks havoc on marine life.

Columbia businesswoman Leah Christian has a solution for removing plastic containers from your home one bottle at a time.

My logical self says to never bring plastic in the home and to remove all the plastic already here. The realistic side of me understands that plastic is everywhere. It is in my computer, appliances, food packaging, pens and toiletries. Plastic is everywhere.

Armed with the awareness that most plastics in our home are unsafe, I started eliminating those plastic containers that seem to be closest to the foods we eat. Getting my wife on board with no more Tupperware took some doing however. As it turns out there are plastics with sentimental value. We ultimately found some lovely glass jars in which to store our sugar, flour and coffee.

Leah Christian understand the quest to remove plastic from our lives. To that end, she started a business. The Clean Refill sells soaps, cleaners and hair care in re-fillable glass containers. Leah’s mission? Remove plastic from your kitchen and bath one bottle at a time.

For more information about Leah’s business, check out TheCleanRefill.co. For more on the dangers of plastic in your home and in the environment and tips on how to get plastic out of your life, check out UnwrappedProject.org.

I will tell you it is a process removing plastics from your life. My advice? Start small. Take it one bottle and container and thing at a time. And don’t go touching the Tupperware without consulting your wife.

Thanks to Leah Christian for the interview. And until next time, remember, your neighbors are more interesting than you think.

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Field Notes

Field Notes: One Less Drive-Through

It’s hard to always do the right thing. Hi, my name is Trevor Harris and I have high cholesterol. My body is genetically predisposed to higher cholesterol says the doctor. I also have a family history of heart disease. Those factors taken together led my doctor to suggest lifestyle changes. It seems like an extreme term for what is needed. I hear lifestyle change and I think about becoming trans or becoming a travelling hemp activist or something like that. None of that is required. The good doctor says to eat less meat and other high cholesterol foods. 

And that is where doing the right thing comes into play. Most days I can eat oatmeal and kale and veggie burgers and tofu and love it all. 

It is when I travel that I get off my nut as they used to say. 

Last week I went to Missouri’s Bootheel on a podcast reconnaissance trip. In case you didn’t know, the bootheel is not known as a vegan hotspot. The hotel in the small town where I stayed for three days was near enough a McDonalds that I could almost smell it. So I went there. I went there three times in three days. There was also a Burger King visit in there somewhere. 

I don’t travel too much, but when I do my diet such as it is all falls apart. Somehow, I psych myself into believing that food eaten far from home doesn’t count. Or at least that’s how I justified snarfling down those Quarter Pounders and yes, I’ll take fries with that thank you. 

Back home, I can honor my mandate for health and eat at regular times. I am blessed to have a wife who is a committed vegetarian and a good cook. Lisa seems to genuinely enjoy creating new dishes for us to try. Although Friday night is always pizza night. When Lisa is here, she sees to it that our noon and evening repast happens like clockwork. We eat balanced meals and I am grateful. I am very good at dish doing. When Lisa goes to a work conference, however, my schedule shifts. I can be mercurial about when I eat and sleep. Not eating lunch until 3:00pm doesn’t bother me until I am on one of my regular mulch site runs and realize how hungry I am what with it now closer to dinner than lunchtime.  

Suddenly the Boca burgers at home in the fridge are forgotten as I create a fast-food map in my mind. It takes a healthy dose willpower to skip the fried chicken at the first grocery store I pass. Then avoid other. I visualize how I could drive to KFC for a three-piece or over to Arbys for their gyros. My intellect battles with my stomach. The part of me that knows all the food at home is so much healthier works to suppress my stomach’s urge to navigate our Ford Ranger to the drive-thru for a full meal deal thank you not just the burger! 

It is in these choices each day that I imagine my body is healthier instead of in some stage of the inevitable decline that we will all experience. I’ll know more about my cholesterol when I go back to the doctor for my next annual check-up. This is of course a First World Problem. Billions got rice and beans today or less and I am worried about an elevated LDL. I saw on Al Jazeera last night that the Philippines is soaked after a typhoon and many are suddenly homeless. I heard on NPR this afternoon that 8% of Africans are vaccinated and the continent probably won’t wipe COVID out until 2024. My African brothers and sisters not getting enough daily calories and access to the COVID vaccine is truly tragic.  

This all makes my concerns about heart health seem kind of petty.

What kept my will power strong today is indeed the global picture. I am not deeply concerned about cholesterol. I should be more so, I know. I am concerned about climate change. What I believe in more than that oatmeal can lower my cholesterol is that eating meat increases methane in the atmosphere. The BBC reports that almost a quarter of greenhouse gasses come from agriculture and that livestock are a major part of that. 

Call it altruism or call bullshit on me. I don’t care. What I do care about is having a livable planet on which to dwell. I don’t want to evangelize. I did enough of that in college and afterwards. I am sorry if you were on the receiving end of it. I am much funner to be around now. I swear. I do believe that the climate on our one precious planet Earth is changing. I want the young people and the future people to enjoy nature as much as I have and do. I also believe that eating a plant-based diet can slow the damage as can avoiding plane travel and minimizing unnecessary car trips. 

You do what you need to do and I am going to do what I feel is best for the planet and my arteries. I am far from perfect. My cholesterol and my quite likely my karma tell the tale. 

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Field Notes

Field Notes: ‘In Burma we really need help.’

Soethu Hlamyo is a Columbia resident. With his wife, he owns and operates Shwe Market. Trevor Harris interviewed Soethu about his family, his business and his hopes for a return to democracy in his native Burma.

This is an excerpt of an August 11, 2021 interview.

The nation of Burma – highlighted in red above – sits on the Bay of Bengal and is bordered by Bangladesh to the Wets and Thailand to the East. Photo credit: TUBS/Wikipedia.
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Field Notes

Field Notes: ‘Missouri is ready made for dramatic writing’

Steve Wiegenstein draws on real life settings from his native state when crafting his works of historic fiction. The Columbia, Missouri-based writer’s recent work – Scattered Lights – was nominated earlier this year for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Here, Steve shares why ‘Walden’ inspires him, introduces us to a group of 19th century Missouri utopians and makes no promises that you’ll meet anyone famous when you read his stories.

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Field Notes

Field Notes: ‘It was a lifetime of stuff that hit me at one time.’

The past year has presented previously unimaginable challenges. While many of us spent last year mostly stunned, Tanika Cherie’s lived life had conditioned her for what 2020 had to deal out.

Here, the social worker, single mother, devoted Christian and motivational speaker explained what helped her live through the toughest years of her life.

This audio is taken from an February 12, 2021 in-person interview at Kansas City’s Black Archives of Mid-America and follow-up e-mail interview.

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Field Notes

Field Notes: Explaining 2020

When you look back on this time in a generation or so, what will you tell those who came of age after the pandemic of 2020-21? How can you describe the fundamental ways that life on Earth changed while humans dealt with the coronavirus?

Through my business, blog and podcast, I capture peoples’ stories. Often the stories from 2020 were not explicitly not about the pandemic (although it comes up every time.)

To write that the past year has been challenging is an understatement. Shutdowns, social distancing and mask-wearing make it hard to feel connected to the rest of the human world. At the same time, I feel truly blessed to be healthy, employed, well-fed and sheltered during this time. The same can not be said of many of my neighbors here in the Kansas City area.

The past year saw several trends play out. First, the virus sent work and meetings and civic life online where much of the world already was. Second, culture continued to splinter where every imaginable show, film or concert can be found available to stream most anywhere, anytime. Third, the look-at-me culture continued to dominate how we talk to and past one another.

In launching my Missouri history podcast, I touched on – for better or worse – each of on those 2020 trends.

Podcasting has certain conventions. The craft – if we can call it that – is aural in nature, not visual. Most podcasts have a recurring theme, bed music and hosts. Many creators edit audio productions that are of a consistent length and on a consistent schedule. I learned all that this year when I started Mo’ Curious.

The podcast and these Field Notes function as a way for me to feed my curiosity about a subject while telling the world “Hey, this is what’s on my mind right now.” As it turns out, doing the work of creating a podcast and audio blog is satisfying during the pandemic. It forces me to call other people and have a focused conversation. It lets me take my study of a topic in whatever direction seems most fitting and useful. I ultimately want that work to prove educational and entertaining for you with each shared post.

Producing a quality podcast deserves real work, so I aim to be honest with myself about my capacity. In 2020, I produced three full podcast episodes and 11 shorter Field Notes interviews all of which live at RecollectionAgency.com. I’ll aim to match that in 2021. No pressure.

A couple of generations from now, when you think back about the pandemic and try to explain it to someone born in, say, 2022, what will you tell them? From what will you draw upon for your memory? All now born digital, our photographs, e-mails and texts are ephemeral mementos.

Consider using this time to journal or record your experience of now. Or you can hire me to capture your story. Either way, these are strange times. Once the virus is gone, we’ll all crawl out of our homes one day blinking at the bright sun. We will be different then compared to how we were before the pandemic. I’ll be glad to tell stories around the real world campfire in 2040 about how it was during 2020.

I can also tell them, “You want to know how it was then? Take a listen to my podcast.”

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Field Notes

Field Notes: “I cleared away a lot of stuff.”

Carol Romano is a long-time Columbia, Missouri resident and my former neighbor. On the eve of her 75th birthday, she talked about running away from home, finding her tribe and the role of contemplation in managing the pandemic.

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Field Notes

Field Notes: ‘If they want me to give them two, I give them four.’

In each installment of my Field Notes from the Recollection Agency, I talk to someone with an interesting backstory. Here, Scott Lunceford* talks about government cheese, how re-enacting 1855 can be a family activity and why it pays to bring your harmonica to church.

Listen to other Field Notes and learn more about the Recollection Agency at RecollectionAgency.com and on social media.

*Scott says we “are always family”, but our official status is that of ex-step-cousins. -Trevor