Sandbeck preaches a return to a more primitive way of life—a life with more joy and fewer household products. Green Barbarians demonstrates that by mustering a bit of courage and relying less on many modern conveniences, we can live happier, safer, more ecologically and economically responsible lives..
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Ellen Sandbeck is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures -- which includes two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms -- in Duluth, Minnesota. She is the author of Slug Bread & Beheaded Thistles and Eat More Dirt.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I got the idea for this book as my husband and I were eating a picnic lunch in front of a bonfire in our back four. (We own five acres. A back forty is beyond our capabilities.) My husband, who is more domestic than I, brought a tray loaded with a lovely post-Thanksgiving feast: hot spiced apple cider in a jar; capicola ham; smoked cheese; homemade bread; goat cheese; apples; and pumpkin pie. I was happily contemplating the prospect of enhancing my garden beds with charcoal dust from the soon-to-be-quenched fire, and wondering whether I should wipe the capicola grease on my husband’s pants, since he had forgotten to bring out napkins, and his pants were dirtier than mine, when it occurred to me that a barbarian would wipe her hands on her slice of bread. So I did, and as I did, I realized that it might be time to resurrect the concepts of bread-napkins, trenchers, and other premodern conveniences. After much labor, and many more than nine months later, this book was born. It is filled with domestic strategies both ancient and modern—many delicious, all amusing—that I hope will improve the lives of ecologically minded people, and perhaps serve as a guide to the more feral side of life.
Those who walk the wilder, less-trodden path have always served as scouts for the rest of us. These venturesome souls are the explorers, the discoverers, the early adopters who help blaze the trails that will eventually take the rest of us where we need to go. Human survival has always depended upon intrepid individuals who cannot wait to discover what is just around the bend, on the other side of the river, or beyond the hills. They call to us from cliff tops, treetops, and mountaintops, saying, “Look! We’ve just found a new food or water source, a good place to make camp, or tool-making material.” Nowadays, many of these seekers wave to us from bicycles and skateboards, from cars that belch french fry–scented exhaust, from thrift stores and rooftop gardens, even from Dumpsters.
Almost immediately after the atrocious attacks in September 2001, the Powers That Be strongly urged us to go shopping; they informed us that our economy rested upon the backs of shoppers, without whom our entire culture would collapse. This may have been the first time in recorded history that a government deployed shoppers to protect a country from attack. Now perhaps the renegades among us who delight in thumbing their noses at (and sometimes even sticking their thumbs into the eyes of) the agro-pharmo-military-industrial complex may reasonably be considered members of a new tribe of barbarians: the Green Barbarians.
The classical Greek and Latin definitions of barbarian simply meant one who was not of the dominant culture, and who was therefore considered strange or bizarre. Green Barbarians are those who define themselves by what they do and what they create, what they save and what they preserve, rather than by what they buy and what they consume. Thus the horde of Green Barbarians marches firmly upstream, against the flow of consumerist propaganda.
Taking the free advice Big Business so generously provides has enticed us into a trap baited with toxic food, drink, and playthings. Maybe it’s time to learn from the wild ones who are searching for a way out of the trap. Advances in science and technology have given us ways to live longer, healthier lives, with a greatly reduced incidence (in the First World) of infectious diseases caused by poor sanitation. However, we may have made a mistake when we threw the barbarian out with his dirty bathwater. That bathwater probably contained everything from beneficial insects, to immunity-building bacteria, to inoculating dirt that could have protected us from asthma, allergies, and autoimmune disorders. In some ways, our hypersanitized, consumer-product-driven culture has made us sick. Ancient barbarians may have lived short, brutal lives, but it is highly unlikely that they suffered from asthma, hay fever, diabetes, or ulcerative colitis. Nor were they beautifying themselves or their surroundings with products so full of hormones that they polluted the waters and forced male fish to fully explore their feminine side.
If you’ve lain awake nights anxious, worrying about how clean—or unclean—your house is, this book is for you. If you’ve ever wondered “Are these leftovers safe?,” this book is definitely for you; if you would like to spend less time cleaning your house and more time doing things that you really enjoy, this book will show you the shortcuts. If your dog is having inexplicable coughing fits that last most of the day, this book is for you. (Note: The dog may be reacting to that plug-in “air freshener.” Unplug it and throw it away.)
If your idea of a ripsnorting good time is to don heavy clothing, a hard hat, and safety goggles, and then run at high speed through pitch-black woods until you fall over, this book is really for you! If you pride yourself on your ability to eat bizarre foods; if your loyal gym socks stand up by themselves in a corner of your room until you need them again; if you only clean before company comes, and sometimes not even then, this book is for you. If you’ve ever tried to clean the mineral deposits out of your toilet bowl with a power grinder, this book is for you. If your cat refuses to enter your bathroom in order to use its litter box, this book is for you. If you are already a barbarian, this book will help you become a Green Barbarian. (Note to self: Would a paste of woad and turmeric turn the skin green? Investigate.)
Our home planet is, after all, planet Earth, not planet Just-cleaned-deodorized-disinfected-shined-bleached-and-polished. Life here can be a bit scary. It is frequently dirty, grimy, and gritty, and it is, and always has been, bacteria-laden. These are not sufficient reasons for letting the advertisers scare us into emptying our pockets and poisoning ourselves. Use what you have at hand in new and innovative ways. Take stock of what you have in abundance. Frustrate and thwart the powers that be. Use your mind, hands, and heart to make a better life for yourself and for those you love.
© 2010 Ellen Sandbeck
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