Thursday, April 28, 2011

An Open Letter to Family and Friends

Dear Love Ones,

When you get one of those "forwards" in your inbox that you feel compelled to share with everyone in your email address book, please stop and take a few breaths.  First, consider whether or not the information is true.  Regardless of how much you want to believe it to be true, odds are it is not.  Further, think about the values and beliefs of those on your email list.  Not all of them hold the same values as you and you might even be sending them something that is extremely offensive to them.  As you push the send button, think about how you would feel about getting a forwarded email that takes just the opposite stance - or if they send back that very same email with a rebuttal.  Things could get very ugly.  

For the record, most of those emails are from anonymous sources, so you're risking your relationships over what a stranger has decided to send out into cyberspace.  Also, almost all of those emails are lies or gross exaggerations.  So, instead of allowing your itchy finger to press "send," do some actual research.  At the very least, go to Snopes to see if it is one of those pesky emails that have been floating around in cyberspace for years, spreading wicked lies and gossip.

In addition to risking offending your loved ones by sending out those forwards, you're also risking having your email filtered and sent to spam.  And then, when you really have something important and true to say, your friends and family might miss it.

Thank you for your consideration,

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wellness Wednesday

Although we all know it is better to maintain a normal weight and to be moderately active in order to have optimum health, here are a few facts to grab your attention:
The World Health Organization describes obesity as the "most neglected public health problem" and "a global epidemic."
63% of men and 55% of women age 25 or older are overweight; 20% of men and 25% of women age 20 or older are obese.
Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes, some types of cancer, and arthritis. 
Obesity-attributable medical costs in the U.S. average $147 billion per year and account for almost 10% of the total annual medical expenditures.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death globally.  The main precursors of cardiovascular disease are smoking, obesity, hypertension, and a disturbed serum lipid profile. The latter three precursors are to a large extent influenced by an unhealthy diet and insufficient physical activity.
Now that I've got your attention, I want to remind you to take advantage of the warm weather and the spring and summer seasons.  Get outside and move.  Walk your dog or play with your kids.  Go hiking or take a walk in the park.  Take tennis lessons.  Visit your local farmers' market and buy some fresh produce.  Take a class on nutrition or health - many parks and recreation departments and community colleges offer these type of classes.  

Move and eat right to improve the quality of your life.

Garipagaoglu, M., et al. (2009).  Family-based group treatment versus individual treatment in the management of childhood obesity:  Randomized, prospective clinical trial.  European Journal of Pediatrics, 168 (1091-1099).
Katz, D.L., et al. (2002).  Technical skills for weight loss:  preliminary data from randomized trial.  Preventative Medicine, 34 (608-615).
Drieling, R., et al. (2011).  Evaluating clinic and community-based lifestyle interventions for obesity reduction in low-income Latino neighborhood:  Vivamos activos Fair Oaks program.  BMC Public Health, 11:98.
Groeneveld, I.F., et al. (2010).  Sustained body weight reduction by an individual-based lifestyle intervention for workers in the construction industry at risk for cardiovascular disease:  Results of a randomized controlled trial.  Preventative Medicine, 51 (240-246).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


It's everywhere.  Do you ever notice how much we rely on plastic in our culture?  Try to go a day - or even an hour - without it.  More and more I realize how much plastic is used to package the necessities of our lives.  Food and personal care items are now almost always packaged in plastic bags, plastic bottles, or have, at a minimum, a plastic lid or cap.  

And it's forever.  Plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces and will ultimately break down into the original toxic chemicals from which it is made, but it doesn't go away, ever.  Years ago, I never gave it a thought.  I'd fill up my wastebaskets with it and then take them outside to my large trashcan that, twice a week, I rolled out the the curb for the regular garbage pickup.  It was all gone, so I didn't have to give it a thought.  But it's not really "gone"; it is just moved out of sight, to a landfill, where it might slowly break down over time.  Plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, becoming accidental food for wildlife and leaching toxic chemicals into our ground water.  Not good.

Over the years, I have tried to be a conscious consumer and environmentalist, recycling all that can be recycled in my community.  I've tried to reduce and reuse, as well, but the idea of plastic has really been bothering me lately.  One, because of what I've already said, that it never really goes away, two, because it is made of petroleum, a finite resource, and three, because there is a limit to how plastic can be recycled and I question whether the process is really safe.  Every time I discard a piece of plastic packaging, I wonder to myself, "Is this really necessary and what can I do about it?"

Now that I'm painfully aware of the tremendous amount of plastic in my life, I'm going to start making an extra effort to reduce how much I bring into my home.  About a year ago I switched from getting plastic bags for my purchases by carrying reusable totes whenever I go shopping.  I've already purchased bars to replace shampoo and conditioner bottles.  So now I'm going to start looking at everything I buy that comes in plastic packaging and try to come up with an alternative.  One of the first things I'm going to do is to start buying items from the bulk bins at the health food grocery store.  

Of course, I won't be able to immediately eliminate plastic packaging from my life, but by using baby steps, I hope to get closer to that goal.

Monday, April 25, 2011

End of Lent

Well, I managed to finish out the Lenten season without breaking my vows.  I'm going to donate the money I saved on wine to Blood:Water Mission, a great organization that helps to alleviate the water crisis in Africa.  This is my second year in vowing "Not a Cent for Lent" and, again, I found it a very eye-opening experience.  I had vowed to not spend money on anything except the basics: food and toiletries.  This vow ended up being beneficial to me as I had no reason to go into stores or malls, so I saved time, and I didn't have to waste effort mulling over the pros and cons of making purchases.  The bonus for me was that my monthly bills were drastically reduced - and I don't even consider myself a *shopper*!  I can't imagine the savings for someone who considers shopping their favorite pastime!  This vow allowed me to make a second donation, one to our local domestic violence coalition, which has long-term plans to build a shelter to replace the one that closed last year.  

Both vows ended up being pretty much pain-free.  I really didn't miss the wine or the frivolous spending and I am hoping this experience will have a permanent impact on my life and habits.   One year, I gave up watching the news for Lent and discovered that, not only was I a happier person, but I really didn't miss television.  As a result, I eventually cancelled our satellite TV subscription.  This year, having an extended period of time to think about the differences between needs and wants has made me understand that less spending can both simplify my life and have an impact on the lives on others.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Iris Update

Our most recent farm addition, Iris, continues to be as cute as ever.  However, I had to intervene and start bottle feeding as I realized she wasn't getting any nourishment and wouldn't make it otherwise.  Her mother, Maggie, is actually a very good mother.  The problem is that Maggie suffered from a severe case of mastitis last year and apparently has scar tissue that is preventing her from producing milk on one side of her udder.  She has plenty of milk on the other side, but silly Iris refuses to nurse on that side.  Repeated attempts to show her where the milk is have ended in frustration for both the humans and the goats.  

As a result, little Iris now has me at her beck-and-call.  Four times a day she gets warmed up cows milk in a bottle.  Instinct kicks in when I'm done bottle feeding and she rushes over to her mother to supplement her bottle.  However, she now recognizes me as her source of nourishment and tries to chew on my chin when I pick her up.

Here's a photo of the happy trio - me, Iris, and Maggie:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wellness Wednesday

An insider talks about the dangers of pharmaceuticals.  Buyer beware.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Dilemma

After watching part of the documentary, Earthlings, I've found myself with a dilemma.  As a vegetarian, I do not eat any form of animal flesh.  However, up until viewing the film, I didn't have a problem purchasing good made from leather.  In my naivety, I've always thought that leather was a byproduct of the meat industry and that, until people stopped eating animals, there would always be a surplus of leather.  This thinking made me feel that I was not complicit with the cruelty perpetrated in the factory meat business.  However, my thinking was very wrong.  This film showed me that the meat and leather industries are two very different industries and that the leather used to make my shoes and handbags is not made of skin from the animals slaughtered for consumption.  Leather comes from animals slaughtered for the sole purpose of being made into leather.

Beth, at My Plastic-free Life recently posted on facebook about a similar dilemma.  In making a hotel reservation, she was asked "foam or down" regarding her pillow choice.  What a choice!  She's a vegetarian who is vehemently opposed to the use of plastics.  I am also not a fan of synthetic materials that are not likely to break down in landfill or, if they do, will leach toxic chemicals into the environment.  Therefore, I'm now facing the "leather or pleather" question.

So, what is an environmentally conscious vegetarian to do?  Of course, canvas is one option, although canvas shoes or handbags are not always appropriate.  I could minimalize my problem by choosing to keep my shoes and handbags as long as possible, to buy shoes that can be resoled and/or repaired, and I can buy used.  The first two options are certainly doable.  And I do keep my shoes and bags for years.  Also, I can purchase used handbags as I have in the past.  Consignment shops often have very nice bags, sometimes with the tags still attached.  However, as I typically wear an odd-size in shoes (6 wide), I can never find my size at consignment shops - I can barely find them in regular shoe stores.  And of course, I do need to remember to buy canvas or similar when that option is appropriate.

None of these options are ideal; however, they will at least reduce my personal demand for leather and soothe my conscious just a little.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Farm Happenings

Over the weekend, we had a new addition to our farm family.  Meet Iris:
Iris was born on Saturday to one of our older goats, Maggie.  Regular readers might remember Maggie as the goat that I had to nurse back to health last year.  She was extremely ill, could barely hold up her head and was temporarily blind due to a case of pinkeye.  However, with the help of two rounds of twice-daily antibiotic shots, hand feeding and watering, and just plain tender loving care, she pulled through.

Iris was named 1) in honor of tax day and 2) after a Goo Goo Dolls song (we tend to name our farm animals after songs or musicians).  Mother and kid seem to be doing fine.  We've had a number of kids born on the farm these past few months, but I haven't been documenting them.  Since I was there for the actual birth (and even gave an assist), I felt I needed to get Iris's photo out there.  She's a cutie, isn't she?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Quote for the Day

Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the food that I need.
~Proverbs 30:8

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Simple Living

Over the weekend, I discovered a now-defunct website called"Simple Living."  This organization has ceased to exist but have retained their archives here.  The archives are pretty extensive so I have not had time to explore them in depth.  For years I've been interested in the concept of simple living and strive to find ways in which to simplify my life on a daily basis.

In one section of the Simple Living archives, under "Articles," there is a section on the three steps to simpler living (and influencing others).  These steps include 1) changing ourselves; 2) sharing with others; and 3) working to change systems.  Fortunately, I started changing myself many years ago.  I recycle; I install CFLs where appropriate; I participate in Earth Hour; I buy products made from recycled materials; I try to buy nontoxic, biodegradable cleaners; I use organic methods on our farm; I'm a vegetarian; I try not to make unnecessary purchases.  All in all, I try to live lightly on the earth.  However, reading this section made me realize I have not done nearly enough.  Influencing others really begins with ourselves and we need to look at each and every action we take.  This article asks us to examine where we are in changing ourselves and trying to effect change in the world.  Three questions are asked:  

Do I support both good and evil, regardless of the social consequences?  
Do I support the good, but do not support the evil? 
Do I support the good and resist the evil? 

Applying these questions to my personal life, I realize I can only consistently respond to "yes" to the first question.  And pretty much everyone can respond yes to that question.  On the next two questions, I cannot answer "yes."  For the second question, when it comes to my shopping and other financial choices, I don't look beyond the idea of less consumption.  I find that I rarely consider the source of my purchases or how my investments might have a global and personal affect.  (By personal, I mean how my decisions affect individuals in far away places.)  The third question is also an area in which I fall short as I seldom call or write political representatives or corporate offices on important issues and I have never physically joined a protest.  Although I do boycott some organizations and institutions, I'm not consistent with this and I need to do it more often.  

My Lenten vow of "Not a Cent for Lent" should be my daily mantra.  After all, why should I spend money or purchase items unnecessarily?  An occasional treat is necessary for mental health; however, I think individuals in the western world treat themselves far too often.  In fact, I believe we over treat ourselves to the point that it is damaging to our physical and mental well-being.  Why should I buy things I don't really need?  After all, I will soon tire of them and they will end up in land fill.  All the time, energy, and resources that have gone into those unnecessary items will be for naught.  

I also need to begin taking into consideration where items have been produced and the economic, social, and environmental costs associated with their manufacture.  And I need to be aware of how the items I do need are packaged.  Products are not magically produced nor do they disappear after their time of usefulness has passed.  Every item that is manufactured and utilized comes with hidden costs.  Pretending they don't exist doesn't make them go away.

The third item on the list of changing myself involves resisting evil.  As I think of this issue, I realize it comes with risk which is why many of us don't do it.  In resisting evil, one is usually pitted against very powerful forces, which can be in the private or the public sector.  Resisting a corporation or a large organization can have results such as when Oprah tried to resist the beef industry by proclaiming she would never again eat beef.  This simple act of resistance resulted in a lawsuit.  Resisting a government also carries serious risk.  For example, resisting a heavy-handed pat down at an airport by a TSA employee that would be considered sexual assault in any other context can result in an arrest, possible imprisonment, and being put on a "no fly" list.  

When we look at some of our heroes, we need to remember that while they are revered today, they suffered serious consequences for resisting evil in their lifetime.  Think of what our world would look like if these heroes did not risk ridicule, imprisonment, and even death.  Think about what our world will look like if we don't have more risk-takers.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Last week was a busy week for us as we hosted two of the children from His Little Feet choir plus their American chaperon.  This year, the choir is made up of 15 children from Danita's Children, the orphanage in Haiti.  

Our visitors were Falencia (aged 10, on the left in front) and Djoulie (aged 8, on the right)  who stayed with us for three days.  We thought that the girls might enjoy staying on our farm, visiting with the various animals that live here.  However, the girls had much in common with their American neighbors in that they were most happy when allowed to watch old Disney movies.

Their visit made us painfully aware of the differences in the standard of living between the United States and Haiti.  I found myself suddenly aware of our ability to flip on a switch in any room for lighting or to turn on a faucet whenever we wanted water for drinking, cooking, or bathing.  Food is always available in both the pantry and the refrigerator.  Although these children are extremely well cared for at Danita's Children and they do have the luxury of electricity and clean water, these commodities are very precious and limited.  

The children gave an amazing performance at our church.  The purpose of the choir is to help bring orphan awareness to the United States and to find families willing to adopt internationally.  Although the children at Danita's Children are not available for adoption, His Little Feet is partnered with America World Adoptions,  an organization that facilitates adoptions.

The choir has a couple of other dates on their calendar, then they return to His Little Feet's home base in Colorado for a week before returning home.  Although the children have enjoyed their visit to the United States (which included seeing snow for the first time and visits to Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, and Washington, DC), they are all looking forward to being home.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wellness Wednesday

Living in the modern world brings all kinds of stress into our lives.  Stress is unavoidable, but we can take steps to help lower the effects this stress has on our health.  One important step we can take is to watch what we eat in order to ensure that we are getting adequate vitamins and nutrients.  Some types of foods exacerbate the damage caused by stress.

The Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine recommends a diet low in fat, high in fiber and complex carbohydrates combined with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Below is their recommended lists of foods to include and foods to avoid: 

Foods to Include 
High-fiber, carbohydrate-rich foods: Scientists believe carbohydrates cause the brain to produce more serotonin, a hormone that relaxes us. And lots of fiber is helpful in preventing late-night binging. Some examples of healthy comfort food include baked sweet potatoes, minestrone soup, or sautéed vegetables over rice. 
Fruits and vegetables: Chronic stress can weaken our ability to fight disease. By upping our intake of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, we can boost our immune system. Acorn squash and carrots, for example, are great sources of the antioxidant beta-carotene. And citrus fruits provide plenty of vitamin C, another stress-busting antioxidant. 
Foods to Avoid 
High-fat foods: Fatty foods such as meat or cheese dishes and many baked goods thicken our blood which in turn makes us feel tired, even lethargic. This is clearly not a good way to reduce stress! Even just one high-fat meal can increase our risk of a heart attack. 
Caffeine: Many of us deal with a stress-induced lack of sleep by turning to coffee, tea, and colas. Unfortunately, caffeine stays in our systems longer than many realize. Cutting back on caffeine can help with both sleeping problems and jitters. 
Sugar: As a carbohydrate, sugar tends to calm us. The problem with sugar is that it's a simple carbohydrate so it enters and leaves the bloodstream rapidly, causing us to, in effect, "crash." On the other hand, complex carbohydrates such as pasta, beans, and lentils, the starchy parts of foods soothe without bringing us down.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Quote for the Day

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won.  There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall - think of it.  ALWAYS."


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wellness Wednesday

Calories In/Calories Out

That's the basis of weight gain, loss, or maintenance.  Before one gets into the minutia of which diets are the best, one needs to focus on how many calories are being consumed and how many are being burned.  A few months back I purchased a Fitbit (you can learn more about this device here).  This itty bitty amazing piece of electronics measures my daily activity - steps, miles, and calories burned.  In addition, the online program allows users to enter the foods eaten to see how many calories are consumed.  

I'm a woman of average height and in the normal weight range.  According to my Fitbit, I burn an average of 1700 calories a day.  This calorie burn includes my approximately three times a week yoga practice and almost daily walks on my farm.  What this boils down to is if I want to maintain my weight, I cannot eat more than 1700 calories a day unless I increase my activity.  Also, if I want to lose weight, my calorie intake needs to drop below 1700 calories.  

If you read last week's Wellness Wednesday post, you learned about the calorie content of many popular meals at chain restaurants.  Many of these dishes were close to or over my daily calorie requirement to maintain my weight - and this was just one dish.  Do you see where I'm going with this?

I hear lots of people debate the merits of various diets - low fat, low carb, high carb, etc. Although there is some truth to the effectiveness of some of these diets depending on your personal body chemistry, the fact is that one still needs to consume fewer calories than they burn in order to lose weight.  

I recommend looking at your food intake.  Maintain a log of meals and calories eaten over a two week period of time.  There are a number of online programs that can assist you with this, including Spark People.  They can be found using a good search engine.  Once you see how many calories you are consuming on a daily basis, think about your lifestyle.  Is it, like most people in the Western world, a very sedentary life?  Do you spend most of your time in a car, at a desk and/or on the couch?  If so, this means you're probably not burning enough calories for weight loss.  To get an estimate about how many calories you typically burn in a day, go to this online calorie burn calculator.  You will probably be surprised how few calories you burn.

Once you know your daily intake and output, you can begin to adjust your diet and activity in order to work towards reaching your goals.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Living Above Our Means (Part 2)

The following article, entitled "The 'Aspirational' Consumer:  R.I.P." appeared on the internet this past November:  

It wasn’t very long ago that marketers were assured that most consumers were still willing to trade up. You remember, don’t you? Average Joes and Soccer Moms splurging for that extra “little” something—be it a $6 latte or a $300 Coach handbag—just because they worked so hard and deserved some of life’s finer things. A good many starry-eyed marketers predicted that, even in a recession, this be-good-to-yourself dynamic would somehow hold true.  
It hasn’t. While no headlines have announced the official passing, it’s become clear that the “aspirational” consumer—that cherished demo of marketers everywhere—is dead.
According to a just-released study by the American Affluence Research Center, the spending habits of the utmost tier of earners remains robust, but everyone below has cut back and plans to stay there. “If you look at the 10-15% [sales volume] declines for upscale retailers and brands, it was [due to] people spending beyond their means and not being able to sustain it,” said AARC president Ron Kurtz. Even within the sphere most would consider well-off ($250,000 average annual household earnings), 41 percent reported they’re making a conscious effort to reduce expenditures for the next 12 months. 
Isolated data? Hardly. Consumer Edge Research recently found that skipping top-shelf brands in favor of lower-end ones is most common in households with incomes of $100,000 or higher. A study conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers/Kantar Retail earlier this year revealed that 93 percent of shoppers say they’ve changed their shopping behavior—with 17 percent opting for cheaper brands. “Although we’re starting to see signs of shoppers getting tired of trading down, they remain cognizant of today’s economic realities,” said a Kantar official in a statement. These findings are in line with last year’s McKinsey study, which revealed 41 percent of consumers think that premium brands are “not worth the money.” 
So much for life’s little indulgences. In fact, the whole affordable luxury pitch has lately been the target of various poison arrows, such as one recent posting on “Aspirational marketing is a technique in which the goal is to sell items to people who can’t afford it.” [emphasis added] Ouch. 
“Marketers have long known that we have an aspirational society, and they’ve gone heavily after those consumers,” observed Claire Ratushny, a brand-positioning consultant based in Eastford, Conn. “Now, ‘aspirational’ is a dirty word.”
It was nice while it lasted. 

Although this article declares the "aspirational" shopper to be dead, it isn't around here.  Often I see low-income women toting high status handbags, as well a sunglasses and other articles of apparel with status symbol names.  Granted, many of these items are probably black market knockoffs, but I suspect a good number of them are the real deal.  

This past winter a new outlet mall opened about 45 minutes to an hour south of our community.  A number of the stores at the outlet mall are moderate- to high-end stores such as Michael Kors and Coach.  A friend and I decided to go for one of the grand opening events:  Stacy London of "What Not to Wear" was appearing and we wanted to get a chance to see her in person.  Of course, the entire area was a zoo!  Before we even got to the mall parking lot, we estimated our odds of getting a parking space and decided to gamble by parking on a side street and walking to the mall.  The place was packed!  And the most shocking thing for me was that there were lines to even get in some of the stores!  The line at the Coach outlet was crazy as it snaked around the corner and across pedestrian walkway.  There were guards strategically placed to make sure the lines moves smoothly and didn't impede pedestrian traffic.  

Of course my girlfriend and I refused to get in any line and chose use use that day to people watch.  First of all, as we looked at the potential consumers with a critical eye, we realized most had no business purchasing the high-end items (but there was evince of shopping by the hoards of shoppers carrying multiple shopping bags sporting various logos).  Secondly, the prices were not deep discount, WalMart-type prices.  They were the equivalent of a regular sale - at a high-end store.  Not really that great of a bargain, certainly not justifying the shopping frenzy we witnessed.  Finally, this was a time when unemployment in our area was continuing to rise as employer after employer announced closings and layoffs.  But none of that seemed to deter our shoppers.

Another sign that aspirational shopping is alive and well in our community is the outstanding success of Starbucks here.  We have a stand-alone store and one in our local Target; they are both essentially across the street from one another.  Starbucks is crowded, always.  And in the afternoons, it is filled with teenagers and school children with their parents.  For me, Starbucks is a treat.  I live 30 minutes from town and when I'm in town, I sometimes like to get one of their iced teas for the road because the fast food chains do not know how to make good iced tea.  However, many of Starbucks patrons are regulars; the staff knows what they want before they even order.  It seems that our community has not gotten the word that aspirational shopping is dead.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Living Above Our Means

My recent rant on facebook about my low-income, high unemployment, and high overweight and obesity community eagerly anticipating the opening of an Olive Garden, a restaurant that serves extremely large, high-calorie, high-fat meals with an average plate cost of $17.  This train of thought led me to consider what it means to be middle class, and if our community has enough middle class families to support many restaurants.
Our community consists mainly of a city and a very large county, with a total population of about 100,000.  The median household income for residents of the city is $26,900; for the county it's quite a bit higher at $46,600.  According to the Pew Research Center, middle class income ranges from $37,675 to $75,350, making a large number of people in our community fall below middle class.  The Brookings Institute gives a broader range of $25,117 to $100,466 and an economist at MIT believes $30,000 to $90,000 covers the middle class.  Even these figures put many in our area below the middle class line.  In addition, the unemployment rate for this area is almost 11% for the county and 14% for the city.  

Yet our community manages to support several chain restaurants, including an Outback Steakhouse that always seems to have a line out the door, even mid-week.   This is a restaurant where a typical meal will set you back at least $15 per person.  One website I visited said that in 2007, the average American family spent almost $2,700 on restaurant food that year, that's over $200 a month.

Contrast this spending with the information that jumped out at me:
In the Spring 2009 survey of the wealthiest 10% of all U.S. households, spending for dining at casual/family restaurants during the next 12 months, in comparison to their spending for such items during the past 12 months, is to be reduced by 29% of the affluent consumers and to be increased by only 7% of the affluent consumers. The remainder (64%) expects to spend the same for dining at casual/family restaurants during the next year as in the past year.
Spending for dining at upscale restaurants is to be reduced by 54% of the affluent consumers and to be increased by only 2% of the affluent consumers. The remainder (44%) expects to spend the same for dining at upscale restaurants during the next year as in the past year.
During this economic down-turn, a large percentage of affluent Americans sees the wisdom reducing their restaurant spending and the majority will not be increasing restaurant spending.  Our community is not affluent nor are our incomes rising, but it appears as if we're prepared to support yet another restaurant.  For a new restaurant to succeed in our area, either dollars will be shifted from the locally-owned or existing chain restaurants, thereby putting some people out of work or out of business, or there will be an increase in restaurant spending.  Neither option is a good one for a low-income area.  If those who can afford it are tightening their belts, why are those who cannot afford it preparing to spend more?

Recently I read an essay by Alexie Torres-Fleming, a woman who was living the good life in Manhattan and had a professional career on Madison Avenue.  She came to the conclusion that she was living a shallow, empty life, quit her job and returned to her childhood community in the Bronx to run a non-profit organization she founded.  In her essay, she listed lessons she had learned, one of which was that "making more people middle class is not the answer" to the problems of the world.  She commented on a report on PBS about the economic boom in Calcutta, where Mother Teresa had served the poorest of the poor.  This is what she said:
There were pictures of all these malls, and people buying machines and microwaves from these malls full of lights, and they were all so excited.  I don't romanticize poverty at all, but I saw that and I thought, 'I wonder if this is what Mother Teresa really wanted.'
Over the last few years, I've found myself extremely critical of both overconsumption and spending beyond our means.  When I lived in Florida, I knew people with six-figure incomes who filed bankruptcy.  When they filed their financials with the court, they included things like private school tuition and exclusive club memberships as "necessities."  I saw so many people running out to purchase the newest luxury car and buying larger, more luxurious houses because they wanted to keep up with the "Jones."  I heard one person comment that they had a window treatment made and it was "only $3,000."  $3,000 to cover a window?  So when we decided to move, I was glad to move away from that mentality, looking forward to living in an area where incomes were lower and people were not caught up in the frenzy of consumption.

Now I see the same disease here.  The only difference I see is that most of my former neighbors could afford to purchase luxury items and had reasonable expectations that they could pay off whatever debt they incurred.  This is evidenced by the following statement from the Affluence Research Center:  
The affluent market has always leaned towards careful spending and aggressive saving, as clearly demonstrated in the 20 plus years of research by Thomas Stanley, author of the best seller The Millionaire Next Door.  The affluent typically live within their means and generally do not overextend themselves financially.
Here in my community, with low incomes and high unemployment, those who incur debt are not likely to be able to pay for it.  Most people here consider themselves to be "middle class" and have bought into what that entails:  regular dining at upscale restaurants, closets full of clothes, never-ending home improvements, tuition for private schools, huge celebrations and all the necessary accoutrements, and, of course, Blackberries and "smart" phones for everyone.  These luxuries are often treated as necessities in my community.  This is why the average person in my community now has in excess of $8,000 owed on credit cards.

Although I have become active in my community, trying to focus my energies on helping those who are less fortunate than myself, I've become somewhat disillusioned.  It's difficult to want to help those who are asking for necessities when I see so many squandering their money on luxuries.  I'm not against having nice things and enjoying life.  However, I object when one doesn't have the means to pay for it or when it's excessive.

Sources:  http://www.dpchamber.orghttp://www.reuters.com http://affluenceresearch.org; Torries-Fleming, A. (2009).  Standing in Uncomfortable Places.  Piladelphia, PA:  Friends Publishing Corporation.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Quote for the Day

The main goal of the future is to stop violence. The world is addicted to it.

~Bill Cosby