Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I love the Earth but I Don't Love Earth Day

This originally ran on In the Powder Room in 2013. I'm re-running it here because two years later and I'm still in favor of more tree-hugging, less green-washing.

While the origins of Earth Day are admirable and pure – a day dedicated to environmental awareness and education  – Earth Day in 2015 is no longer really about those founding values. I suggest we all do Mother Nature a favor and not celebrate Earth Day.

While hippies and wannabe hippies everywhere have been busy adjusting their solar panels and building rain barrels in an ongoing pursuit of an eco-fabulous lifestyle, it seems just about every big company has re-branded Earth Day as its own totally amazing marketing opportunity.

There are tons of Earth Day-themed children’s shows, because if encouraging kids to sit on the couch and waste electricity watching TV doesn’t honor the earth, I don’t know what does. Disney gives us a new episode of Handy MannyThe Earth Day Challenge, and PBS and Scholastic present the video WordGirl: Earth Day Girl ($14.99). Yay for sedentary indoor lifestyles! Totes eco-friendly!

Scholastic further earns my ire by having its Earth Day school unit sponsored by Keep America Beautiful, an organization that can appear as eco-friendly on the outside as it wants, but can’t change the fact that it’s funded largely by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle Waters. Oh, and by Altria – which despite the benign sounding name owns Philip Morris, and even the most skilled advertiser can't convince me cigarettes keep America even a little bit beautiful. These corporations are Mother Nature’s frenemies at best, and yet somehow they’re the ones throwing her party.

My earth-loving heart also holds a special place of scorn for Oriental Trading Company. While I do not begrudge their right to sell mass-produced items of questionable quality that have a pretty straight trajectory from birthday party goodie bag to landfill, I do condemn them for selling that same crap in the name of Earth Day.

A few items from Oriental Trading’s Earth Day offerings include “I love the earth” stickers ($2.50 per 100 sticker roll) and latex balloons ($4.50 per dozen), which are described as “a fun way to start your Earth Day activities.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually start save-the-earth activities by destroying the planet. But maybe that’s just me.  

Corporations aren’t the only ones dissing Mama Earth on her big day. Government agencies are getting in on the Earth Day “celebrating” too. In fact, the State of Utah’s Oil, Gas & Mining Agency is hosting an Earth Day poster contest that asks kids to answer this environmental conundrum: “Where would WE be without oil, gas & mining?” That’s right, an ode to the destruction of the planet was created not just for any holiday, but specifically in honor of EarthDay.

This year, let's celebrate Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22, the way the original Earth Day organizers intended -- by encouraging conservation through awareness and education, not consumption. Let’s tell the companies we’re literally not buying any of their Earth Day crap.

You won't find me in line at the Disney store’s Earth Day celebration waiting for a cast member to give me my 327th “eco-friendly” tote bag, but I will take a hike with my kids. And while we’re in the woods, we just might hug a tree and whisper, “Happy Earth Day.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Passover: The Endurance Event of the Jewish Holidays

This post originally ran last year on In the Powder Room.

I remember Jon Stewart joking back in the late 1990s (does that make me old?) that Judaism was the best religion because you could wipe out all of your sins in just one day:
Yom Kippur. Greatest Jewish holiday ever. The Jewish day of atonement. You don’t eat for one day, all your sins for the year are wiped clean. Beat that with your little “Lent.” What is Lent? Forty days of absolution. Forty days to one day. Even in sin you’re paying retail.
This one magical day of Yom Kippur occurs in the fall, and with my clean slate firmly intact, I was able to waltz through the tinsel-garlanded end of December without self-pity, knowing that my religion was pretty great, too. What it might lack in jolly ho-ho-hos it certainly made up for in quick-n-easy absolution of sin.

But when springtime comes, my Jewish pride sometimes has a momentary pause. Whereas Hanukkah can literally hold a candle to Christmas, Passover offers cardboard-like food and a story of despair in the desert while Easter happily flaunts pastel baskets filled with jelly beans and chocolate bunnies.

Not only that, but Passover is the marathon of Jewish holidays, with eight days and eight nights of observance - carb-free, beer-free observance.

But first, let me begin at the beginning.

Before the Passover holiday even starts the entire house needs to be cleaned from top to bottom. If you are more pious, this cleaning must be done by feather and candlelight. And if you're lucky like me, with three small children helpfully screaming, "MOM!!!!! YOU MISSED A SPOT!!!!!"

Once the deep clean is over, all food with leavening of any kind must be located and thrown away. Sure, you might be able to live without bagels and pasta for a week, but this isn't just a holiday about eight days of carb-free living, this holiday encompasses so many more things on its list of Do Not Eat. So goodbye yummy processed foods laden with corn syrup. Goodbye Cheetos and Doritos. Goodbye mommy's hidden stash of gummy bears, see ya next week!

The first two nights of Passover are seders, which include the re-telling of the holiday story and a large festive meal. The seder can't even begin until sundown, which this year was around 7:00 pm. Then the kids have to listen semi-quietly to a very loooong story that includes boils, locusts, pestilence, and even the slaying of children. It's a lot, even for the most well-behaved kids.

As a treat for the children, and our only way of keeping them going through each and every story and song, is the promise that a special piece of matzoh, called the Afikoman, has been hidden, and that once they find the Afikoman and return it to the table, they'll receive money or a small gift.

And then - I kid you not - that matzoh is served for dessert. Afikoman literally means "that which comes after," aka dessert. Okay, I kid a little, there are other desserts, but not the kind that scream special occasion. There are fruit compotes and sponge cakes made from potato starch. There are cookies that aren't quite right which have been fashioned from chopped nuts and shredded coconut. And don't even get me started on the attempts to liven up matzoh with various coatings from carob to caramel.

Even after forty-eight hours of late nights and mornings that greet you with Kosher-for-Passover cereal and boiled eggs instead of bagels and muffins, the fun is just beginning. There are still six more days of the Passover holiday. And this is where the real endurance test kicks in big time. Here you are living carb-free and junk food-free, still tired from your pre-holiday cleaning, when the final endurance test is upon you: the kids are home from school. And not just for a few days, but for the entirety of the holiday.

Just you and the kids, and the joy of reminding them 683 times an hour that no, there's no cake, no cookies, not even a graham cracker in the house. But look kids, there's matzoh pizza! Matzoh mac 'n cheese! Matzoh chicken nuggets!

And did I mention that there is also no beer in the house? Or doughnuts. Or cookie dough ice cream. Nor will there be anytime soon.

But thank G-d, there's wine. It may be Kosher-for-Passover wine, but at least it pairs well with matzoh.

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