No, I will not take Cakes and Ale from your Styrofoam cup

1 Apr

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– by Shauna Aura Knight

If activism is about standing up, then I’m pulling out my soap box and standing on it. Sometimes activism is holding boundaries and saying no. If you offer me cakes and ale in a plastic, Styrofoam, or otherwise disposable cup, I will not take it.

No.

I will not add to the huge load our Earth is already groaning under. I will not stand and silently support the hypocrisy of supposedly Earth-centered folks who toss out ecological sustainability when it’s inconvenient.

Recently I attended PantheaCon in San Jose, where there was a panel discussion about privilege in the Pagan community. The panel was held in a small room and I was unable to attend the first part, but the subsequent discussions got me thinking. (You can read more about the panel, read T. Thorn Coyle’s thoughts on privilege, listen to a podcast about it, or listen to the original panel discussion here.)

Privilege is not about race, sexuality, or money–though, that is a core part of it. Privilege is the blinders that we have on to our own impact; it’s the things we have access to that others don’t. It’s when we take things for granted. Environmentalism is a lot about privilege. Others have pointed out that those who have access to resources like food, water, and health care, have privileges that others do not. Taking that further, those of us who use resources–and who misuse those resources–are coming from a place of privilege.

Our actions have negative consequences for those who have less privilege. They have negative consequences for our ecosystems. And they have negative consequences for the next generations.

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What happens to those Styrofoam cups after we use them in that Pagan Pride ritual for 10 minutes? They get tossed; you can’t recycle Styrofoam  And what went into making those cups? Styrofoam and plastic, which are made from oil, create pollution in their production. Guess who gets environmentally exposed to those toxins? We do, but especially the poor who can’t afford to live further away from the factory. Usually that also more adversely affects minorities. And guess what happens when you drink out of plastic and Styrofoam? You’re drinking minute quantities of those toxins. Where do the cups go? Styrofoam doesn’t break down, and though some plastics can be recycled, the recycling process also has environmental impact.

Paper cups are at least biodegrade, but you’re also contributing to clear cutting of forests, which is essentially hacking away at the lungs of our planet. We’re causing the pollution, the carbon overload, the climate change, that will haunt our future.

We who call ourselves Pagan and Earth-centered should know better.

We should know better. Here’s what I’d like to see in the Pagan community. I’d like to see Pagans across the world standing up to choose the sometimes harder road. I’m asking you, all of you, to stop using disposable cups in your rituals, and to stop supporting rituals that do so by not accepting those cups.

If you want to stop using environmentally unfriendly materials, what might you do instead? Necessity is the mother of invention.

Perhaps we could step entirely out of the box and instead of offering wine or ale, which many can’t drink, or even a fruit juice which probably has High Fructose Corn Syrup or Aspartame in it…and instead of offering cakes, which are usually either cookies, crackers, or pieces of bread, and thus inedible to gluten, dairy, and sugar intolerant people as well as Vegans…what about something else?

Perhaps a platter of several fruit and vegetable offerings. Apples and celery sticks. Maybe even fruits and vegetables that are not GMO (Genetically Modified) and perhaps that come from a local farmer, close to the actual land where you are hosting your ritual. Or maybe even from your own garden.

Perhaps water can simply be poured over the hands vs. offered in a cup. If the sharing of water, juice, or an alcoholic beverage is crucial, consider investing in a thrift store excursion and buying enough small glasses for all to use. If you’re working with a regular group, I’ve heard of many groups encouraging the group to bring their own (glass/ceramic/metal) cups, plates, and cutlery. This doesn’t work as well for a large public gathering, though it is possible.

If you offer me plastic or Styrofoam or paper cups, I will refuse them.

No, I’m not going to shout or throw  fit right there and disrupt your ritual. But I will silently, politely refuse your offering. I will take a breath into love and healing for the Earth. And if there’s time and space to politely do so, I will probably have a conversation with you and ask you to consider more ecologically-friendly alternatives. I strongly feel that hosting a ritual with plastic cups and processed foods is inexcusable. I will risk you getting offended by my feedback, because it matters. Can you hear that I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with your choice?

Instead of getting offended or telling me it’s too hard to use something other than plastic cups…will you stand with me? Will you work to change our culture together? Will you too take a stand to support Earth-centered, ecologically-conscious spiritual work not just in what we preach in our rituals, but how we live our values?

I would love to see the national Pagan Pride project–and every single Pagan festival–ban the use of disposables like this whenever possible. I greatly respect these folks who make these events happen. Pagan Pride, Pagan festivals, and conferences, are important to our community. Things that happen at Pagan events set the tone for our communities in many ways.

Consider sending a polite email to Pagan Pride national, or to your local Pagan Pride coordinator. Consider sending a polite note to the organizers of a Pagan conference or festival that you attend asking them to explore more environmentally sustainable options. Consider volunteering to help make that happen.

Is this a tall order, to remove disposable items from our rituals (and hopefully, from our events)? Certainly. But our planet’s fragile biosphere will not survive our continued rape with our chemicals and our dumping. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, our children will not survive it. The poor will suffer first, unable to afford clean water, clean air.

And here’s where we come back to privilege. Ecological sustainability is also a social justice issue. Imagine in 50 years, when we’re paying more for clean water, when we’re paying for clean air. When our food is poisoned with the toxins permeating the soil from all the products we’ve consumed that we discover, only too late, cause exotic forms of cancer. Those with less privilege will suffer first.

I once volunteered at a Pagan Pride on the south side of Chicago where I’d offered to host a Green Dish Station; I had brought enough dishes, and tubs for wash water, for people to wash their own dishes instead of using plastic ones. During the day, I heard people complain bitterly about having to wash their dishes. I was so disgusted with the Pagans in my community, so disheartened, by all the bitching and moaning. People told me that they’d rather use a disposable plastic cup than wash dishes and save resources. I find this attitude within the Pagan community absolutely intolerable. Reprehensible.  This kind of privilege–this kind of waste–this kind of hubris–makes me ashamed to call myself Pagan. Just as I’ve seen Pagans who would rather spend $50 on trinkets than donate towards community initiatives, I see Pagans who tell me that it’s too hard to do something other than plastic cups in rituals. Or come up with ecologically sustainable options for events that don’t include plastic plates or bottled water.

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Who will stand up for our Earth? Will you?

Will you stand for social justice for those who are yet to be born and yet who are already disadvantaged in life? Will you risk raising your voice to transform our Pagan communities and culture into living our values?

If you honor Earth as a sacred element in ritual, if you define yourself as Earth-centered, how can you not?

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BioShauna2Shauna Aura Knight is an author, artist, ritualist, community builder, activist, and spiritual seeker. She travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and spiritual growth. She’s the published author of books and articles on leadership, ritual facilitation, and personal transformation, as well as an author of fantasy fiction. Her mythic artwork is used for magazines, book covers, and personal shrines. Check out her blog on Pagan leadership and community building or her web site for more information on upcoming classes, rituals, books, and articles.

38 Responses to “No, I will not take Cakes and Ale from your Styrofoam cup”

  1. Philipp Kessler April 1, 2013 at 2:22 am #

    Thank you, Shauna, for these words. I participate in many different groups in my area it disturbs me when they use throw away dish and flat ware. A new group has recently formed and I cringed when they said something about Dixie cups being available for the blot.

  2. David Dashifen Kees April 1, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    100% agree. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever been offered cakes and ale after a ritual that wasn’t at someone’s home and, therefore, using their table settings. Apparently, I need to get out more!

  3. hekateenodia April 1, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    I have been trying to get our local PPD to stop giving out f@&#ing plastic balloons to children for years because they are petrochemical products that become garbage within minutes and if they escape from the park they become a hazard to the creatures of the earth. No luck yet and I am viewed as some kind of extremist who doesn’t want fun. This post is a complete breath of fresh air, thank you! (On another note, several local groups have started using grapes for “ale”- they eliminate infection control issues as well as cups :-)

  4. The Man Alone April 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    This. Times a million. My fiancée and I, instead of using disposable anything, are purchasing thrift store plates, cups, and utensils. It’s cheaper than renting them, too.

    I usually carry around a set of silverware with me if I know I’ll be faced with “disposable” silverware.

  5. paganbran April 1, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    This. Times a million.

    My fiancée and I are buying 75+ plates, cups, and silverware from thrift stores for our wedding reception instead of renting (costs less to get them from thrift stores) or using so-called disposable products.

    I also carry a set of silverware with me when I can expect facing “disposable” plastic silverware.

  6. fathergia April 5, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    Yeah well guess what, some of us doing these things are fucking poor and barely able to meet rent. You want those things, bring them yourself and you dare not bitch at me after the fact. If a person did this to me, not only would they never be invited to rites or celebrations ever again, I wouldn’t invite them to my home.

    I’m glad you have the money to be high and mighty and look down on and act like you are morally superior because you can prepare for every contingency. Some of us take what we can get, and some of our supplies are gifts because we CANNOT afford them.

  7. Slightly Twysted April 6, 2013 at 1:04 am #

    Hi, I’m trying to get your post to the PPD peoples.. I live in Indy, where it started, first year.. there were I think 20 people and a pitch in, and I don’t recall seeing any disposable anything.. But that’s been a big bunch of years..
    I wouldn’t dream of disposable anything like that for ritual, but I was raised by hippies.
    Thank you so much for pointing this out!

  8. Tom Jones April 7, 2013 at 12:11 am #

    Hi, my name is Tom Jones, the Local Coordinator for Indy Pagan Pride Day for most of the last 12 years. We had close to 1500 attendees this year, our 14th. You should come enjoy our event, it’s a lot of fun. I don’t believe our rituals contain recyclables, most use their own goblets, I think, I could be wrong. We do occasionally buy plastic as well as paper cups for our Feast. I’ve been looking for a volunteer to take care off the recycling for our event for 10 of those years, but no one has stepped up and we already have a shortage of volunteers.

    Shauna, I think you are misleading people and giving them an easy way out with what you are suggesting be done. You are encouraging whining, pointing and complaining – not people getting off their ass and volunteering or buying and then donating the materials you are saying should be used.

    If this is important to you, then, when you call or email your local Pagan Pride Coordinator, it should be too arrange to drop off the goods or to volunteer to help with the event. Not to point, whine and tell someone else to take care of it for you like a child does. If you want to change the world, it’s your responsibility to take the steps and make the effort.

  9. Shauna Aura knight April 7, 2013 at 12:44 am #

    @Tom Jones
    Hi Tom, thanks for taking the time to read and post a response. We’ve met before; I have done workshops at Indy PPD in past years and did your main ritual a couple of years ago. I had a great time, and Indy PPD is an excellent event.

    My intent here isn’t to whine and point fingers. It’s to begin the conversation. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on this blog post; mostly positive, but a few like yourself have brought up some good dissenting points. What I’ve heard a lot–both from writing this piece, and from doing years of in-person activism on disposable items–is that many Pagans just aren’t even thinking about the fact that disposable items aren’t ecologically sustainable. When I point out to people that, if they identify as Earth-centered, but are using styrofoam, that they are kind of doing the opposite of what they’d like to see in the world…people get upset, but ultimately, I see them work to become more eco friendly. So a lot of this article was about building awareness. So many people aren’t even thinking about the sustainability issue, they are thinking, “Crap, gotta find a way to do cakes and ale for the public ritual I’ve been asked to do…how am I going to do that for a hundred people?”

    I presented a few potential solutions, but my hope was to hear back from people on things they’ve done that have worked. In my case, I don’t do cakes and ale at all in public rituals. On the rare occasions when I do have a food offering, it’s something like fruit/vegetables that don’t require disposable containers or napkins. When I’m hosting an event in Chicago, I have the benefit these days of a venue with a kitchen and enough plates for 100, though I’ve also had enough dishware on my own in my event supplies in the past to host a potluck for about 100 people without needing disposables.

    I don’t think I propose an easy way out, but I guess I’m a little confused by what you mean. For me, standing in my own integrity means I have decided that I won’t use disposable items any more. I’ll bring my own drinking vessel, and if that’s not acceptable to the facilitators, then I’ll politely refuse the styrofoam or whatever it is.

    What I’m suggesting is not necessarily that ritual facilitators need to buy expensive materials; I’m suggesting that we need to re-think the whole idea. If the offering of food/liquid libations is crucial to someone’s tradition, then, we surely must find a way to do this where we aren’t also poisoning our environment.

    I think the offering of Cakes and Ale went through a similar shift years ago for three reasons. It used to be small groups with a chalice. Then three things happened. Festivals; suddenly passing around that chalice to 80 people was taking a half hour. Communicable diseases; we noticed that we all got the same flu after the chalice was passed. And alcoholics began coming out, which prompted the change to using nonalcoholic beverages.

    The solution to two of these challenges was disposable cups, and it definitely helped to solve the problems of communicable diseases and making Cakes and Ale go more smoothly for larger rituals. But, even these changes are not fully embraced by many Pagans; I’ve heard from Pagan ritualists who hold that if you aren’t drinking from the sacred chalice, it’s not “real.” That if it’s not wine or ale, it’s not “real.” And others that insist that only one person must drink at a time, which (as I’m sure you’ve seen) takes a long time in ritual and causes other logistical challenges, such as people starting to get bored and have side conversations which distracts from the ritual focus.

    I am not saying any of this is easy. And, perhaps I should have written more about the work I’ve done in my own rituals, or when attending other people’s events, to reduce waste. I’ve run green dish stations at many events in Chicago, including a Pagan Pride years ago where people complained so bitterly about having to wash their own dishes that they snuck in plasticware. I used to attend events where Pagans weren’t recycling or even properly throwing out their trash; I’d take bags and bags of trash in my van and sort it, until that wasn’t something I was able to do any longer.

    My intention with this article was to bring awareness to an issue so that we could all begin problem solving together. Certainly the styrofoam cups used in every ritual across the country this summer isn’t enough to fill a landfill. But, if we can’t change our Pagan culture even just that little bit, what hope do we have of removing these materials from our lives in general, of living in a way that doesn’t poison our planet? I guess what I’m saying is, I’m really angry at Pagans who will do an Earth invocation one minute, and litter cigarette butts the next while drinking out of a styrofoam cup.

    If we define ourselves as Earth-centered, we have to be better than that. We can’t just trample our values in one area to put on an event, a ritual. It’s like saying, “My need to put on a ritual and stick to my tradition of Cakes and Ale is more important than the poor kids who will be drinking the toxic water 50 years from now.” For that matter, we don’t need to wait 50 years. People who live downriver from or nearby factories have been suffering exotic forms of cancer and other illnesses for decades, and every once in a while you hear about a class action law suit; one such case was the Erin Brokovitch case, but there are others.

    So I do what I’m able to in Chicago at my own events. Sometimes when I’m at other events, I will still pick up as many recyclables as I can fit in my van. When I travel and teach, I have worked to help other groups find solutions that will work for them, and I hope to do that more in the coming year.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your own challenges getting a recycling volunteer. First challenge is, your event venue doesn’t recycle; I have that challenge too, and many also have that challenge. The challenge of finding volunteers who will do the dirty work–that is pain I know all too well. I can’t even get volunteers to do the fun stuff some time! Further, once you have someone who’s going to take the recycling trash, then you have to get all the lazy Pagans who attend your event to actually put their recyclables in the right container. Having done events for almost a decade myself, getting people to do this is like pulling teeth.

    I do plan to post more about solutions as I hear more success stories around this. But we’re talking about a major culture shift. We’re talking about getting people to stop using napkins, stop using kleenex, stop using plastic water bottles, and go back to handkerchiefs, to carry their own water bottle with them, to perhaps carry their own place setting with them. Eco-friendly solutions these days are rarely more convenient, however, the consequences if we don’t are poisoning the well we live from.

    I hope that we can continue to work together, as Pagans, to find solutions to these problems that are workable and support our community activities as well as our values. Peace.

  10. Shauna Aura knight April 7, 2013 at 12:49 am #

    @ fathergia:
    Just to follow up, I was glad to be able to talk to you on private message via FB. I’m glad to hear that your anger wasn’t really directed at me, and that you are working to be more environmentally friendly in your life. I know it can be frustrating. I do wish you well! And yeah, more environmentally friendly options are sometimes more expensive in the short run, however, I find that most of them actually save money. The trick is getting Pagans to embrace solutions that are more work, such as bringing our own place settings to gatherings, or bringing a reusable water bottle. It’s something I’m committing to and many others have, but it’s a culture shift that will take time. Blessings.

  11. Tom Jones April 7, 2013 at 1:37 am #

    Mine are pretty public as well. ippdcoordinator@indypaganpride.com, morgan@indypaganpride.com (it happens when you run an event over 12 years, lol.) My confusion was over you stating we had talked on facebook and we haven’t in over two years. You aren’t even on my Friends list.

    I’m glad you present at multiple events and Thank you for helping Phelan with some phone calls and emails, I appreciated greatly. Also, thank you for your spreading good PR fro our event, we work hard to put on a good one. Hopefully, you’ll return and do a Workshop or lead a Ritual in the future.

  12. Shauna Aura knight April 7, 2013 at 4:11 am #

    Given that I am getting a lot of comments here (and elsewhere on Facebook) from people who generally don’t know me very well, and aren’t aware of the kind of activist work that I do in my daily life around reducing my usage of materials, I thought it might serve to post some of my earlier blog posts from Pagan Activist. With the template we have, it’s not always easy to see which author is posting what.

    http://paganactivist.com/2012/07/22/daily-activism-2/

    http://paganactivist.com/2012/08/27/activism-standing-up/

    http://paganactivist.com/2013/02/24/boundaries-as-activism/

    http://paganactivist.com/2012/12/17/end-of-the-world-resolutions/ (End-of-Year Tips for reducing environmental use)

  13. Brian Ewing April 7, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Ms. Knight: I read your article, and also read your comment response to Tom Jones, which was more insightful than the article. Thank you for recognizing that the original reason some of these people used throw away cups was the worry about disease. That is the concern of municipal health departments too, and all events have to deal with a health department. The solutions are not easy, but your article got the attention of the PPP Board of Directors and they are reading it and, hopefully, discussing it.

    The trick is going to be finding solutions that satisfy a lot of competing interests, including the requirements of the event facility and the health department. (For example, the health department might not allow an event to wash dishes unless there is a full kitchen facility.) There is a lot that goes on in event planning of this magnitude that people do not realize from the outside. I would ask people to understand that there are sometimes those hidden reasons event organizers make the choices they make. Bad choices are sometimes made only because they are the “least bad” alternative.

    Certainly events should try to at least recycle. And along those lines, I would encourage, using paper or plastic cups, manufactured using recycled materials, and not styrofoam. The Los Angeles event (where I live) tends not to do cakes and ale, but I do admit that the reasons are mostly because of the time it takes, not sustainability concerns.

    I do not foresee an outright ban on plastic cups, however, until there are viable alternatives that work for all events, including events that have little financial and volunteer resources. We cannot just “force” the issue with a ban, we have to “solve” it by developing alternatives that work. And if people think they can make a change, then get involved and make the change. Sadly, this article encourages people to write to “Pagan Pride National,” but I have not seen any communications yet. Not that I am encouraging an onslaught of email, if I get too many, they might not all get read.

    Brian Ewing, National President, PPP

  14. Shauna Aura knight April 7, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    @Brian,
    Thanks also for taking the time to read the article. A brief response from me; I agree that there is a lot that’s not in the article. As an event planner myself in Chicago and other places, I’ve dealt with a lot of the issues you mention. And you are absolutely right; sometimes event planners have to choose the least bad option. I’ve been in that place more times than I can count :)

    And yeah–I didn’t so much go into it here, though I’ve talked about it on my regular blog…it’s hard running events. There’s never enough volunteers, there’s always people complaining. I don’t think I ever get through running a public event in Chicago without some crazy email from someone complaining about something I did.

    However, I guess this is the Pagan Activist blog for a reason; I and the other bloggers are here to call attention to the things that we feel need action, not the easy things. We’re here to start the hard conversations. Though ultimately, I think it’s the hard conversations that lead to the most growth and the most benefit to the whole community. I wrote the article because it matters to me that Pagans, who most often identify as Earth-centered, actually work to take care of our relationship with the earth. It matters to me because, I want to have a child some day, if I’m not already too old, and I’m terrified of raising a kid that’s going to get some disease from all the crap already in our water and air and in the food we eat.

    Hopefully this helps to begin, or continue, a process of moving toward more sustainable options. I think that in the next weeks, I will gather together some of the comments on this article; there’s a lot of folks who have found solutions that work in certain situations, and I think it might serve some of the event planners out there to see some potential solutions others have employed. Similarly, I’ve heard stories of things that absolutely didn’t work, and I think it’s useful to hear those stories too. There was so much that I couldn’t include in the original article as it was already getting too long.

    I think that some potentially creative solutions can come out of talking about this. And…call me an optimist, but I believe there may even be solutions that 1. don’t incur extra cost, and 2. are easier to manage. Heh, or maybe that’s too optimistic.

    Overall, I think that we need to change our culture, our community approach. It takes time to change; took me years to get plastic water bottles out of my life and switch over to re-usable, and it’s taken me years to reduce my consumption of other resources to live my values. But nothing can change without the conversation beginning. I agree that solving the issue requires alternatives that work. Solve the wrong problem, and then we just end up with more problems.

    For my part, I’ll continue to collect the brainstormed ideas and solutions, as well as the challenges faced, to perhaps release that as a future blog post or as an idea kit or something, so I welcome those.

    And so that you, PPD, PPD organizers, and other festival organizers know that I’m not just standing from on high pointing fingers, if there’s a way I can help, I will do all I can. Actually, I’ve already been trying to help mobilize some folks in Indianapolis area to help Tom Jones get a team of people to handle recycling at Indy PPD. We’ll see if I have success with that.

    Peace, and blessings!

  15. Amie April 7, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    I get what you’re saying, and I personally try not to use styrofoam at all… but I am guilty of the paper dixie cup at rituals. Coming from a foodservice perspective, it is more important to me to reduce the spread of germs and foodborne illness. In super large rituals, like those at my own PPD, I have sometimes opted to not have ale/drink at *all* due to the amount of garbage it would produce, and the fact that it takes a long time to perform.

    I have used the “green washing stations” and I am not convinced they are sanitary. Maybe they are for the first couple washings. But I have used them, and after doing so, my dishes are still cruddy and I have to re-wash them in a sink later. I don’t know if I am more sensitive to this because of my sensitive stomach, or my degree in Nutrition & Foodservice, but it skeeves me out. If I get sick, I’m going to waste a lot more paper in the restroom later! :)

    What do you think about the bamboo disposables?

  16. fathergia April 7, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    Indeed. I’d really like to get a cheap set of dishes on ebay or something like that, but no such luck so far. Blessings to you and yours!

  17. swanspirit April 7, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    If you fly off to pagan gatherings, and or drive great distances to pagan gatherings , please don’t be preaching about paper cups ,and what other people do and “pagan privilege “. I know you say you want to help . Resources are resources . How far do you want to take this? Are you homesteading ? Raising chickens ? Doing intensive gardening , re-purposing, up-cycling , and or conserving water in rain barrels; have a composting toilet or a solar panel on your roof ? If not I might not talk to you or do ritual with you . Does that sound helpful ??.
    The initial statement you make in this article is not helpful .
    It is the kind of judgmental stuff that makes me contented in my soul that I am solitary .
    And as far as pagan privilege is concerned, why is it that so many of the people who are
    talking about it , exercise it to their advantage?

  18. thalassa April 7, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    THANK YOU!

    I live by the beach…the sheer amount of plastics that my children and I pick up on a near daily basis is revolting. This is something that has always bothered me…our answer has always been to bring our own cups. Even in our own home, we try very hard to refuse (or at least reuse) disposable plastics…Beth Terry is a bit of a personal hero, but with small children, not always a practical person to try to emulate!

    …I might add that I do Civil War reenacting, and I find it interesting that there would be such a fuss from health departments–they’ve never given a fig over how we do our dishes for our communal meals, which we occasionally share with the public.

  19. Shauna Aura knight April 12, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    @Swanspirit
    Thanks for commenting. I wanted to offer that there are a lot of things that I am doing, in my personal and professional life, in order to live more sustainably. While you don’t quite come out and call me a hypocrite here, you imply it. And others have said it to me point blank. So I’m trying to take a breath and not take it personally, because I realize that you, and others, don’t know me personally or know what sacrifices I’ve made in my personal life to live more sustainably. My first post on Pagan Activist mentions some things I’m doing in my life to reduce waste http://paganactivist.com/2012/07/22/daily-activism-2/ and I talk about it with some regularity on my own blog, but it occurs to me it would be useful to post something more comprehensive about how I’ve shifted my own patterns of use over the past decade.

    Am I perfect? Definitely not. I have a lot of places where I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to use less resources, and it’s something I continue to work at. For instance, I’m not currently homesteading, but that is part of my plan for the next few years. I’m hoping to buy some land within the next 5 years to that will, eventually, become a Pagan retreat center/seminary/monastery/communal living/organic farm. It’s a dream I’ve held for a very long time.

    I don’t have a formal composting toilet but do compost some of my own waste, though this gets more challenging as I usually live in an urban area. I don’t typically fly; I flew to San Francisco this past February, and that’s the first time I’ve flown in almost 9 years. I do drive to Pagan gatherings, but that is typically where most of the mileage on my car comes from. I average about 10-15,000 miles per year, and from what I’ve read online, most people average from 12,000-20,000 a year just from normal use running errands/driving to work. For me, driving to Pagan gatherings is a large part of my work. My van, which is also my mobile event supply storage unit, gets about 22 mpg. I miss my old minivan which got 25mpg. One of my dreams is to be able to afford a more gas efficient car. But I also work to “piggyback” trips when I can, teaching in one area, and then another area along that route. I’ve also tried hard to engage people in carpooling to events to save gas, though I have found people to be actually fairly resistant to this unless they don’t have a vehicle of their own. I’d say 80-80% of my mileage comes from traveling to Pagan gatherings or selling my artwork. In my daily life, I only drive when I absolutely need to, and I plan out efficient routes to use the least gas possible. Part of this is because I live below the poverty line and can’t afford the gas, but using less resources is a big motivator for me as well.

    I understand that you found my initial statement in my article unhelpful, but what I’d offer is that I’m not telling people, “You used styrofoam in your ritual and I won’t talk to you or do ritual with you.” I speak to, and do ritual, all the time with earth-centered folks who don’t recycle, use styrofoam, drive SUVs and Hummers and don’t pay any attention to how much they drive, don’t weatherize their homes, or any number of things. What I’m saying is, I won’t support the use of a styrofoam/plastic/disposable cup in a ritual by taking one. And I’m not going to be silent about this and support this action by my silence. I’m not going to be rude and disrupt someone’s ritual. But I’m going to have a conversation with them after and see if I can help them problem solve a way to use something different.

    I hold that there’s a difference between being judgmental, and having a strong sense of ethics and being willing to speak up about it from a place of love. http://paganactivist.com/2012/08/27/activism-standing-up/ Because, that’s what my blog was about. It’s about love. I love this planet that we live on. I love our community. I love the potential for what we could be as a people, as humans. I love the children that we will be the ancestors for, and I want them to have their best chance. I love the animals that are a part of this world; I don’t want to see them eating styrofoam and dying, or suffocating in plastic bags, or getting bound up in plastic material until it kills them or mutilates them. I love the babies that are being born now with over 200 toxic chemical traces already present in their cord blood. I love the lakes and the oceans that have islands of plastic trash. I want to see us be better.

    Privilege is something that some of us have, and others don’t, but usually privilige is invisible to those who have it. The concept of privilege is that most people are unaware that they have it, and aren’t aware when they are using it. Some of it’s earned privilege, often it’s unearned. I’m white; that’s unearned privilege. I have worked hard to build up a solid reputation in the Pagan community as a good teacher of ritual arts, leadership, and other topics. That’s earned privilege. The links to the Privilege in Paganism panel that happened at PantheaCon offer some discussions about people that have less privilege, and that what they don’t want is for people with privilege to apologize and say, “I’m sorry, I won’t have privilege,” because that’s not something you can realistically do. The call was to: 1. acknowledge that you have privilege, and 2. try to at least use it for something useful.

    I’ve used my privilege in the Pagan community to stand up for GLBTQ rights, especially for transgender rights, for environmentalism, and for ethical leadership. I’m unclear how using my privilege for these causes is in any way to my advantage.

    You’ve definitely inspired me to write more about the specific things that I’ve done to reduce my consumption, and hopefully that will inspire others to see what is possible, with time and effort. Peace.

  20. Shauna Aura knight April 12, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    @fathergia, I highly recommend finding a thrift shop/Goodwill/Salvation Army. You can get all sorts of dishes really cheap. Also helps to find out when their sale days are; some thrift stores have sale days on Mondays, for instance.

    Good luck!

  21. Shauna Aura knight April 12, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    @amie tolomeo,
    Paper dixie cups is about the least offensive option in the disposables category. I mean, I still recommend working to find a different option, but it’s not as bad as the others.

    I hear you on the green washing stations. They need to be kept really clean in order to work, which means access to water. Very hard to do at a park unless there’s a pump or a sink, and someone is on it the whole day. It’s a problem I’ve had at past events, too. There’s time when it’s worked out well, and there’s times when it’s not been so clean. At the Diana’s Grove retreat center, Starhawk helped to build an outdoor dish station. It was open air but sheltered from rain, and had large utility sinks with foot pedals which you pressed for the hot water. This freed your hands from having to turn the water on/off, which meant that way less water was being used. There was a compost bucket as the first stage with a spatula, so we’d scrape off our plates first, then we’d rinse and wash them with the sink/foot pedal, and then there was a sanitizing dip, and then there were dish drying racks that formed the “walls” of the enclosure. Letting the dishes air dry is one key way to improve sanitation. This reduced a huge amount of waste at something like a retreat center with 30-100 people attending regular events and eating 2-3 meals a day. The dirty water was funneled out by hose to an area away from the house where it could decompose naturally.

    Obviously this doesn’t work for a temporary event like a Pagan Pride or festival, but it’s a model I’d definitely use myself if I’m ever able to have my own land/organic farm/Pagan retreat center/monastery/seminary.

    For my part, I don’t do cakes and ale in ritual at all; I use energy raising (singing/dancing/movement/drumming) as the divine communion part of the ritual. When I host sabbats in Chicago, we will usually have potluck before or after. When I teach ritual facilitation, cakes and ale, and smudging, are two examples I give of some of the biggest ritual logistics “offenders” of things in ritual that take a lot of time, and because they take that much time, they actually often fail to achieve their intention. Ie, smudging is supposed to purify and center people for ritual, but when it takes 45 minutes to smudge 60 people (and I’ve seen this happen) nobody feels purified, they feel antsy. When it takes a half hour to do cakes and ale, people aren’t experiencing divine communion with the Goddess and God, they are bored and chitchatting. So I talk with my ritual students about, what is the intention of the piece, and what are ways to achieve that intention that go beyond the strict form/orthopraxy. In my case, I use a lot of sound and movement, but again, I come from an ecstatic tradition.

    In my upcoming Beltane ritual, I will be having offerings of fruit, but it will be done in such a way that it doesn’t take a big logistical chunk of time.

    I have heard good things about bamboo in general; it grows fast, way more sustainable than using things that come from trees and that thusly contribute to clearcutting. I know it can be expensive, but the advantage is it’s lightweight, and I believe you can reuse them even though they are disposable. As I lugged around my old dish station, I remember wishing, frequently and with swearwords, that all the plates and glasses were bamboo :)

  22. Shauna Aura knight April 13, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    Just an FYI, tonight I’ll be on Pagan Musings Podcast talking about this blog post on Styrofoam cups in rituals, and talking about lots of other environmental stuff besides. You can ask questions or make comments in the chat room and I will see those live as we’re talking and can address them on the air, and we might be able to take some callers to. Consider joining us!

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pagan-musings/2013/04/14/pmp-environmentally-conscious-pagans

  23. Phaedra Bonewits April 18, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    Isaac used to ask people, “What’s the difference between true love and your styrofoam cup? Styrofoam lasts forever.”

  24. Jo Dunster April 18, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    The Pagan Awareness Network in Sydney Australia has been using the same plastic cups every full moon for the last 5 years and a different set for the 10 years before that. I know because I bought the latest set myself. They are easy to store and they just take them home and wash them before the next full moon. And every gathering I have ever been to in the last 15 years we bring our own cups, (or chalices, drinking horns, goblets etc, often it is a point of pride as to who can bring the coolest one). We have always used the campsites dishes or bring our own and wash our plates ourselves. Its always been that way. I thought it was obvious.

  25. Ctaig Schumacher April 21, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    What problem could there be in using biodegradable paper cups?

  26. paganbran April 21, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    @Ctaig Schumacher If the paper cups aren’t made from entirely recycled material, they contribute to the destruction of trees.

  27. 01finrod April 22, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Well Paganbran, I certainly hope you don’t own any traditional paper-based books in that case, and you better not let anyone catch you using toilet paper.

  28. Shauna Aura knight April 22, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    @01finrod, what I’d like to pose is the idea of limiting our paper use as much as possible. We talked about it a bit on the Pagan Musings podcast, but it’s possible to reduce your use of paper quite a bit. Using a handkerchief instead of kleenex, intentionally using less toilet paper, or even, as I and one of the other show hosts do, sometimes using washable cloths instead of disposable paper. Using washcloths instead of paper towels, and using less napkins or using cloth napkins. When I print handouts for classes, I print on both sides. Or, if I have misprinted paper, I print things on the back. I also print a lot less handouts than I used to for classes. I buy recycled, or sustainably sourced paper. I haven’t managed to eliminate my use of paper, but I have significantly reduced it. The suggestions to reduce our use of disposable items is about reducing our use of resources as much as we can. :)

  29. 01finrod April 22, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    Using disposable drinking vessels for public ritual is a straightforward, sensible precaution for protecting the health of the participants. To make an issue out of such a trivial matter and insist on using a less safe alternative just to make some sort of ultra-green-left point is to elevate your ideology above the well-being of the practitioners. This is the very opposite of the spirit of the Craft.

  30. Shauna Aura knight April 22, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    @0finrod, I don’t believe I suggested any alternatives that promoted less health and safety. Some ideas that I’ve heard include, having everyone bring their own drinking vessel, or, having libations that don’t require a drinking vessel, such as a piece of fruit, which is a method I’ll be employing at my Beltane this coming weekend in Chicago. Other ideas that people have posted here in comments, and on Facebook discussions of this article, include having re-usable items, enough for each participant. There are lots of other ideas as well.

    I don’t believe it’s ever a trivial matter to stand up for our values.

  31. paganbran April 22, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    When I went to Heartland Pagan Fest, we were told to bring our own dishes for the free dinner they had on the first night. I saw a lot of paper plates here and there, but I brought my own plates. This is not expensive. In fact, taking dishes with you to use can be less expensive than constantly having to purchase new paper/styrafoam plates and cups, even if you’re hosting an event.

    You could pick up a cup and a plate for a couple of quarters at a thrift store. In fact, my fiancée and I are purchasing all of our plates and cups and silverware for our handfasting from thrift stores. Not only is it a green thing to do, but it actually even costs less than renting the plates, etc. And this is for 75+ people, all out of my pocket and my fiancée’s pocket. That’s how inexpensive it is to purchase plates and cups and silverware at thrift stores.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pagan Blog Project: Honest Consumption | musings of a kitchen witch - April 12, 2013

    [...] as Pagans, we have the duty to be what my bloggy friend Deb calls “lessatarian”.  To examine our privilege and its accompanying consumption habits (as individuals and in our communities), and to [...]

  2. Pagan Radio Network Pagans and Earth Day | Pagan Radio Network - April 22, 2013

    [...] Lately, with extreme weather events making the headlines on a regular basis, and controversial initiatives like the Keystone XL pipeline spurring environmental groups like the Sierra Club to endorse civil disobedience, the call to fulfill the role-modeling and leadership many in our community believe we should be engaging…. [...]

  3. Greening your magics: an introduction | Pagan Activist - May 19, 2013

    […] April, an idea started to brew in my head. There was Shauna’s excellent post here about not accepting offerings distributed in nonrenewable materials., and a post I now cannot […]

  4. Ritual: Physical Accessibility, Transgender Inclusion, and more | Pagan Activist - July 21, 2013

    […] some people have gotten pretty angry at me. A few months ago I posted a blog about the idea that Pagans shouldn’t be using disposable cups for Cakes and Ale, and a number of Pagan ritualists and leaders said some harsh things in response. One of the […]

  5. No, I Will Not Take Cakes and Ale from Your Styrofoam Cup « WiccanWeb - September 5, 2013

    […] Read the full article […]

  6. Being a Privileged Pagan - December 13, 2013

    […] clean drinking water, having enough to eat, sanitation, respect for rule of law, and being largely insulated from the devastating human impact on the environment.  (Of course, all of these are a matter of […]

  7. Five ritualists I’d like to invite to dinner, Part 1: Shauna Aura Knight - March 3, 2014

    […] also blogs at her self-titled blog and at Pagan Activist (check out this article about the intersection of activism and ritual).  She is the author of Spiritual Scents: Creative Use of Scent and Fire In […]

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