Tag Archives: featured


Los Angeles Restaurants Pass Employee Healthcare Costs to Customers

20-with-diner-receipt-189321-m***I’m very interested in innovative ways benefits are offered to the average worker.  This is a repost of a recent article review I wrote for a class I am currently taking. (Prof. Moyer – I’m not plagiarizing, promise!)

ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE: “The 3% Surcharge Catches On: The Lucques Group Introduces Healthcare For Employees”  http://www.laweekly.com/squidink/2014/09/02/the-3-surcharge-catches-on-the-lucques-group-introduces-healthcare-for-employees

As costs rise across industries, many employers struggle to find ways to increase employee satisfaction by providing health care benefits, while remaining competitive in their industry. The Los Angeles based The Lucques Group (TLG) has introduced a self-funded health maintenance organization (HMO) option for its full time employees. Earlier this year, one restaurant unrelated to TLG, Republique, set a precedent in the area by adding a 3% surcharge to fund their staff’s health care program. Recently, The Lucques Group has followed suit, and benefits will be available for employees working 30 or more hours at their various sites. Qualified employees will be eligible for benefits as early as October 1, 2014.

According to the article, Republique’s bold move to provide health coverage for its staff has paved the way for a number of Los Angeles establishments to follow. For food service staff in the area, this health care surcharge may soon become a standard. Management at The Lucques Group, with three restaurants, considers the surcharge an ethical way to recover from past financial losses due to the rising costs of food. The public has questioned why management opted for the surcharged rather than rolling the amounts into menu price increases. TLG’s reply was that menu prices are tied to ingredient prices, and to heavily increase menu item pricing was a less desired option. Many have accused TLG for inserting a political statement into their fine dining experience, but TLG denies this move is tied to anything involving the Affordable Care Act, as critics claim. TLG insists the provision will allow their staff stable, long-term security options in an otherwise transient industry that rarely provides health care benefits. While there are accusations that the surcharge funds will be misappropriated, TLG vowed to publicly report to maintain transparency.

There are a number of critics who genuinely disapprove of what this surcharge represents, however, the most glaring question at hand is who is responsible for the payment of this provision. While it was not made entirely clear in the article whether the HMO is contributory or noncontributory, TLG has been very honest about being unable to afford the coverage. It wants to provide its staff affordable group insurance, because “it’s the right thing to do.” I completely agree. While the article muddles it, ultimately, TLG is paying for the group benefit, but passing along the cost increase to the consumer in a very transparent way: as a surcharge, not hidden in the menu pricing.

In food service, many workers are exploited due to certain clauses around minimum wage and tips. Federal law states that tips and wages are to be equivalent to minimum wage, and when this does not happen, owners are responsible for paying the employee the difference. Many times, this does not happen, and servers are left dealing with the deficit. With such low paying positions, which for many are only part-time, accessing health care services would be tremendously challenging and costly.

The local restaurant industry might be very threatened by this move to make health care benefits available to its staff, as TLG and other restaurants are setting the new standard in the Los Angeles food service economy. In this particular industry, the low wages and lack of benefits are precisely why some sites are thriving and earning high profits. It can be expected that if this practice were to become a citywide or statewide mandate, many owners would lobby to oppose it.

Patrons of the restaurant are put off by the responsibility of paying for the staff’s medical coverage. In the article, there is a certain sentiment where customers are angered to have to cover the restaurant’s overhead costs. Even being put in a position where they have to think about providing health care for others is highly offensive these customers. On the Yelp! reviews of Republique, patrons found the surcharge to be tacky and very upsetting, despite the excellent customer service they received throughout their meal. It is illogical to assume that restaurants have other streams of earning other than the the meals served and the beverages purchased. Folded into the price of any meal is the cost of a restaurant’s overhead expenses.

This flawed logic points to a broader societal sentiment where the consumer does not see himself / herself engaged in a larger process within the service economy. There has to be a better understanding of basic workers rights, especially as quality of life dwindles as the cost of living rises. To offer its staff medical care is an important step for TLG to normalize within the restaurant industry. More forward-thinking Los Angeles restaurateurs should be encouraged to do the same, in the hopes that it can affect change on a federal level. This would be a victory for food service workers, and would help raise their total income rather than maintain the low wages they usually are paid.

Beam, Burton T., and John J. MacFadden. Employee Benefits. Chicago, IL: Dearborn Financial Publ., 2012. Print.
Rodell, Besha. “The 3% Surcharge Catches On: The Lucques Group Introduces Healthcare For Employees.” L.A. Weekly 2 Sept. 2014: n. pag. Print.
“République.” Yelp! N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. Retrived from http://www.yelp.com/biz/r%C3%A9publique-los-angeles-2?q=surcharge


Part 1: The appeal of being a tradesperson.

My intention for this post is to share my experience, and for it to serve as a reference point/resource for women interested in entering the trades.  This is continued series, so I hope you find some portion of this helpful! See all parts at this link: CLICK HERE - h!

There came a point when I became absolutely frustrated with my options while I was on the job hunt. I’ve had a number of terrible work experiences, and the idea of going back to some position just waiting to be exploited gave me a migraine.

I started by being very honest with myself on the types of work I did and didn’t want to do; made a list. One of the things I hate the most is maintaining email communication, especially as a main component of my work. The idea of sitting at a desk, writing line by line, to a client who was just complaining was just not an experience I wanted to relive. I wanted to never ever send a work-related email again. There was also the element of my labor that focused too much on spreadsheets and meetings. Would I be able to proudly say on my deathbed that my life’s work boiled down to two turning points:  that one AMAZING spreadsheet I made in 2017, or the time I facilitated a conference call with some Canadian buyers? Nope.

There are very few positions in the U.S.’  service economy (the sector where the majority of jobs lie now that U.S. manufacturing has either been outsourced to prisons or offshored to other countries) which allow for non-email tasking. Knowing that, and how the average person has about 7 career changes in a lifetime,  birthed my personal investigation into the trades.

The trades are a number of different jobs within the construction industry.  These positions are skilled, and require a number of years of formal education and training (depending on the position.) Once you apply to be in a trade job and are accepted, you begin your apprenticeship.The apprenticeship is hosted by a union or trade association, which usually has some kind of national or international affiliation, so they are identified by their district or regional number (e.g. “Local 61″.) Upon completing the apprenticeship, via on-the-job training and formal classes at trade schools, you are then considered a “Journey” level worker, which is also referred to as the mechanic. The years of your apprenticeship also vary based on the trade, and pay increases with experience. Some common trade jobs are electricians, plumbers, carpenters, iron workers, latherers, painters, etc.

A funny observation in this process was when I shared this desire to switch careers, people were a bit shocked. There was definitely some confusion stemming from my family/friends who have white-collar/professional backgrounds. What they know of me, well, my work history doesn’t exactly scream “blue collar.” So, I cautiously went into this, knew that I needed a lot of guidance, and really had to articulate why I was interested in exploring the trades.

My secret: the life of a carpenter has always appealed to me. (Let’s skip the Jesus comparisons, yes?) There is something terribly practical about the craft, that I felt immediately drawn to its pursuit. I would have a skill that I could take with me anywhere I want, and I could literally build anything. I also talked a lot about the coming zombie apocalypse, and how I would be really useful in my new survivor group as a carpenter. By having a practical skill, I would be less likely to get voted out/double crossed by my new stranger-friends.  With the current job skill set I had, I just felt like there wasn’t much to do outside of emails, meetings, and spreadsheets. That’s not how I wanted to participate in the workforce.

Furthermore, I wanted to work using my hands while I was still able-bodied. There was also something very appealing about getting a good day’s work in, and earning your exhaustion. (Yes, this is the one place where I will readily admit that I drank the Kool-Aid of American “bootstrap” mentality.)  There were also the wages, benefits, and stability: consistent employment and pay during one’s apprenticeship was not a shabby deal for someone struggling with chronic underemployment.

After being pretty decisive, I knew I had a ton of  homework to do so that I could dive into the trades.

Which brings us to now…
How did I start this process coming from a string of desk jobs? With limited resources,  check out how I prepared to enter the trades  in Part 2!

Mental health

Why Mental Wellness Is a Thing – with Service Provider Links (NYC)

If you feel you need the additional support of therapy and want to spend time working on your mental health and emotional wellness, do not feel that you are completely without options. (To limit confusion: for the purpose of this entry, I am using mental health, emotional wellness,  support, and therapy somewhat interchangeably. )

After paying bills and covering basic needs, it’s really hard to set aside any sum of money to seek therapy, even when you want that sort of help. But did you know that there are so many resources available nationally/locally that you can use as affordable mental health resources? Many times, these providers alter their regular pricing to accommodate your situation, and charge via sliding scale (based on your income, or ability to pay), low-cost set fees, or NO-COST (free!) copays for their clients. 

Having a dedicated outlet for your emotions and experiences is very important, but we don’t always have the chance to do this. Basically, when you are always preoccupied with reacting to such stressful conditions, are consistently traumatized, are fatigued from working all your jobs,  and/or are exposed to abusive behaviors daily …. you spend more time worrying and less time doing the things you want to do.  Ignoring your mental health decreases your quality of life, and it becomes extremely challenging to complete basic, objective tasks (like saving money or paying your bills). When you’re always panicking, emotions entangle themselves in the daily tasks that can easily be done, resulting in a lot of devastation.

Having  also struggled with depression for years, I knew I barely functioned during those times. When you’re neither grounded nor reflecting on the difficulties you face or traumatic experiences you come across, things can spiral downward very quickly.

It’s no surprise that there are tremendous gaps in who is usually able to afford and access mental health services, and who isn’t. For the most part, communities of color are left on the outskirts of affordability. There is also a slew of cultural stigmas and systemic oppressions in acquiring treatment that further distance certain communities and ethnic enclaves from receiving these services.

There are also a set of issues that make mental health support services particularly challenging for women to acquire.  As a survivor of domestic violence and childhood abuse, I can say economic abuse and lack of wealth for women play key roles in why  so many stay in abusive relationships.  I went to therapy during the time I was getting out of a bad relationship, and continued treatment while I was gradually rebuilding my life (which actually might still be occurring…ha!)  So, I can attest to how important it is to have as much support as you can when you are transitioning to a better situation.

Therapy will not save you from every problem you are facing in your life. I treat it as a space where I am made to reflect on things happening to me. You won’t necessarily get homework from your therapist, or see a linear/straightforward process, but at minimum, you may be able to gain a better understanding of yourself and the current situation troubling you. Therapy is not a solution in itself, but a process to help you arrive to a solution.

The process: Many services and insurers cover treatment from psychiatrists (these doctors can prescribe medication), psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers (L.C.S.W.s). There are also specialists who focus on certain issues, like alcoholism or domestic violence (or partner violence/abuse), so you may seek them to fit your situation.

Once you find a specialist, do the intake at the office (usually just some basic contact info and your medical history), and then you have a session and get to talk with your specialist. It is wise to make appointments with various therapists, because this process is similar to “dating”, in that you’re making the decision whether this specialist and you are a fit. Sometimes, you may not like their approach/method, their offices are too far, or that you just plain are not feeling them. It is within your right to request a new specialist. Keep doing this until you feel like you are getting your needs met.

Also, consider finding a local support group for whatever issue you are facing, which are usually free. One place to start is the listing at Mental Health America, and then doing an online search for issue-specific groups, as well.  This can also supplement your therapy sessions so you have a community of people with similar issues who can help support you.

Below this entry is a list** of organizations in the New York City area with opportunities for low-cost/sliding scale therapy. If you are not local, it might still be beneficial to call one of the providers and ask for any recommendations they may have in your area.  They might be able to refer you to national or regional affiliates or contacts that may be better able to help you.

I know it can be overwhelming, so do the best that you can with what you have. Good luck on your search! I’m rooting for you!   -h!




**This is an old list I compiled for a women’s organization I worked with closely in the NYC area.

Please also check these sites for the most current NYC area listings:

  • http://nycfreeclinic.med.nyu.edu/information-for-patients/health-resources/health-resources-manhattan
  • http://therapysafetynet.org/resources/additional-resources-uninsured/




Phone (212) 228-6036

9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday-Friday

16 West 10th Street
(between Fifth and Sixth Avenues)



Crime Victims Treatment Center (this is a mental health resource)
St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center
411 West 114th Street
Suite 2C
New York, NY 10025
(212) 523-4728


Center for Educational and Psychological Services
Teachers College – Columbia University
525 West 120th Street, Box 91
New York, NY  10027
North side between Broadway & Amsterdam Avenue – 6th floor of Thorndike Hall at Teachers College
Procedure: Apply directly by calling its telephone number. Once the appointment is set up, the patient fills out an application and is assigned an advanced graduate student closely supervised by Teacher College faculty members.
Pricing: Sliding scale – $5 to $40 per session
Note: The Center’s services are not reimbursable under Medicaid, Medicare or other medical insurance plans.
Schedule: Every month except August. Monday through Thursday, 9am to 9pm. Friday, 9am to 5pm. Summer hours vary.
Phone: 1-212-678 -3262
Website: http://www.tc.edu/ceps/


If your life seems out of control and nothing you do seems to help, you may want to call us (516-741-0994 or 1-800-317-1173). Our professional, caring licensed counselors provide individual, couple, children and family counseling


The Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy
1841 Broadway @ 60th Street, 4th Floor NewYork, NY 10023
Tel: (212) 333-3444 Fax: (212) 333-5444
Albert Ellis Institute
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
45 East 65th Street
New York, NY  10021
Institute offers short-term therapy that offers long-term results.  To arrange an appointment or discuss fees or insurance coverage, call Monday – Friday from 9:15 am-8:45 pm or Saturdays from 9:15 am-5:00 pm.
Individual counseling and therapy sessions range from $50-$150.  Group sessions are $30.  Lectures are $10 and workshops are $50.
Phone: 1-800-323-4758 or 1-212-535-0822
E-Mail: info@rebt.org
Website: www.rebt.org
“The core mission of the Albert Ellis Institute is to provide global access to the benefits of Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies through the training and education of mental health and allied professionals worldwide.
The Institute is committed to the evolution, refinement, and application of these techniques and methodologies according to the principles of our founder in clinical, academic, and private sector settings.”


Redeemer Presbyterian Counseling Service
1359 Broadway, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10018
Patient first goes through an “initial intake” where he or she is assigned a counselor based on his or her specific needs and each therapist’s expertise and availability.
Sliding scale: $40 – $120
Phone: 212-370-0475   x1365
E-mail: counselrpc@aol.com
Website: www.redeemer.com/care/counseling
“Redeemer Counseling Services is a ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and exists to provide biblical perspective to the challenges of life. RCS provides professional counseling for individuals, couples, and families for the urban population of New York City. The goal of counseling is to provide a context of growth by equipping individuals and the urban community with emotional and spiritual wholeness. The counselors of RCS are trained individuals committed to Christian perspectives in dealing with mental health.”



A Psychotherapy Group in the Village
160 Bleecker Street 9C East
New York, NY 10012
Call for a free consultation.
“Generous fees based on ability to pay.”
Phone: (212) 673-4618 or (646) 239 9112
E-mail: andremoore@mindspring.com
Website: http://www.am-psychotherapists-new-york-city.com/
“Psychotherapy Group in the Village New York City was founded in 1993 by André Anthony Moore and a group of psychotherapists, counselors, social workers, family therapists, psychoanalysts, psychologists and psychiatrists – trusted colleagues whom André has come to know over the years and whose work he admires and respects.”


NYU Behavioral Health Care Programs
401 East 34th Street – 4th Floor
New York, New York 10016
Phone: 212-263-7419
Office Hours: Call for Appointment
200, 75 each


Bellevue Hospital Ambulatory Community Psychiatry Programs
462 First Avenue
New York, New York 10016
Phone: 212-562-1000
Office Hours: Call for Appointment
sliding scale therapy:
NYU’s referral service
888 769 8633


Mental health


Yvette, 30s: Tashkent, Uzbekistan (2011)

(Snapshots, Elsewhere is a feature of recessionFRESH, where users are asked to submit photos and prices of everyday items to explore the cost of living around the world. If you’d like to submit, please visit this link.)


vettievetteYvette, 30s: Tashkent, Uzbekistan (2011)

Yvette is a counseling specialist at Tashkent Elementary School, and is currently living in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.



Cost of housing: [$850] 1 bedroom house w/ courtyard: $850 (paid by employer – includes gas/electric/water)

Lunch: [~$3 USD] Chicken, coke and bread at the bazaar avg. cost = 7,000 soums (~$3 USD at the black market rate)



Dinner: [~$10 USD] Lamb, bread, and salad at Cafe Efendi, a Turkish restaurant + drinks and dessert (not pictured), avg. cost = 25,000 soums (~$10 at the black market rate)

Daily commute: [~$1.50 ] to Tashkent International School; Taxi commute to school from my house (6km distance) : ~4,000 soums (~$1.50 at the black market rate)



What do you like most about this neighborhood or city?
Tons of hidden gems in a place that a lot of people in the US have never even heard of. The food is awesome (and cheap), the locals are friendly, it’s safe (I can grab a taxi aka any car that will stop at any time of day/night and not worry about anything bad happening to me) and the people I’ve gotten to know – my friends from work and the locals – are a great bunch. It has a lot of quirky character being a mix of the former Soviet Union, Muslim (they like their vodka and sometimes eat pork), Asian, Russian, and Uzbek.

How has the recession affected you?
The recession has taught me that somebody with my education and credentials – a master’s degree and licensed therapist – has to compromise a lot in order to survive, BUT it’s not the end-all. It inspired me to look beyond my comfort zone and I wound up overseas in a country that was not even on my overseas wish list. Looking at what’s happening in the U.S. now, I think I left at the right time.

What would you spend your last $5 on?
Shashlik (kabob) and a cab ride to the airport.

Why did you choose these 3 items?
I chose these 3 items because I don’t think many people – including myself – knew what to expect of Tashkent when I moved out here. Some of my friends and family thought I’d be in some desert, remote, backwoods place where it would be hard to enjoy living here. Living here isn’t so bad – great food, great house to call home (my friends’ apartments are cool too!), and a great school to work for.


Thanks for an amazing submission, Yvette!  Your photos are incredible…an making me hungry! Looking forward to your next set of travels, and to following you along that trail!  Cheers! – h!


HOARD CLEANSE: Finding $92.24 in My House

Learn how I converted a forgotten dress and some old gift cards into $92.24 in CASH…

Back in August, I started getting rid of a lot of things in my home. Between the piles of items to donate and sell, I found a couple of things with some value.

One of the items I found was a dress I’d misplaced when I was the maid of honor for a wedding in 2009. I was so sad to see this somewhat pricey, brand new dress (still in its original packaging) just hanging in the bowels of my closet.

To receive the maximum value for this dress, a couple of things went through my mind. Should I sell it on eBay for $12? Should I return it to the store? Should I just not exert the effort and donate it?

After a quick phone call to the retailer, I ended up mailing it back to J. Crew. In its place, I received a gift card for the current value of the dress, which was $99. This was better news than risking an awkward internet sale, so I was a happy camper.

At this time, I also had a Victoria’s Secret gift card I received a Christmas ago.  This made me turn to the hunt for the best deal online , and I was able to use both Plastic Jungle and Cardpool to cash in. Now, here’s the full comparison between these two services (drum roll, please!)


How I found the site: PlasticJungle came highly recommended by my sister, who used it in the past.Interface : The PlasticJungle site was easy to navigate, and offered a decent list of gift cards for selling. It wasn’t cheesy-looking, like it was some tacky Angelfire site from 1997. (Some of these buyback sites are pretty fugz.)

Process: You basically indicate you’re selling and pick from a list of retailers PlasticJungle accepts. You have to enter the number of your giftcard, and might have to scratch the secret PIN on the back of the card, and enter that, too. You can then choose to get paid by check or directly through PayPal. Afterwards, you’re provided a .pdf mailer with postage to print out, paste onto an envelope, and send in your giftcard.

Customer service: Despite using the mailer they provided, there was some delay in receiving my mailed-in gift card. I only found out it hadn’t yet been received by PlasticJungle through an automated email warning me that my deal with them was to expire soon. I tried to clear this up with their customer service reps, but there were few options other than reissuing the card itself from the original retailer (Victoria’s Secret)…which seemed like a lot of work. I didn’t know that they worked it out until I found a check in the mail.

Turnover time: 23 days

Value: My $25 Victoria’s Secret card was purchased for $20.25, an 81% buyback rate.

Notes: I chose for a check to be mailed to me to avoid PayPal fees. PlasticJungle didn’t accept J.Crew cards, so I had to go elsewhere.


How I found the site: Because PlasticJungle didn’t accept J.Crew cards, I went ahead and researched the value of J.Crew cards on other sites. Cardpool offered the best deal for this particular retailer.Interface: Really intuitive interface. Your Grandpa can even use it.

You basically indicate you’re selling and pick from a list of retailers PlasticJungle accepts. You have to enter the number of your giftcard, and might have to scratch the secret PIN on the back of the card, and enter that, too. You can then choose to get paid by check or directly through PayPal. Afterwards, you’re provided a .pdf mailer with postage to print out, paste onto an envelope, and send in your giftcard.

Customer service: Never encountered them, since there were no hitches! A very, very smooth process.






Turnover time: 5 days

Value: A $99 J. Crew gift card sold for $71.99. A 72.7% buyback rate.

Notes: While letting go of about $30 in credit money, $72 is better than the *possible* $12 I would have made on eBay for that dress.


VERDICT: Cardpool.com > PlasticJungle.com = CARDPOOL, FTW!


Jiny, 29: Queenstown, Singapore (2011)

(Snapshots, Elsewhere is a feature of recessionFRESH, where users are asked to submit photos and prices of everyday items to explore the cost of living around the world. If you’d like to submit, please visit this link.)

me smallJiny, 29: Queenstown, Singapore (2011)

Jiny is  an independent animator based in Southeast Asia.




Coffee: [$0.60 USD] Coffee (Kopi) –  I bought this bag of coffee at my hawker downstairs.  Kopi ranges from SGD $0.80 to $1.20 (roughly USD $0.60)


Price of commute: [SGD $1.17] MRT fare. Purchased at Queenstown MRT station. Fare is based on distance. SGD $1.17 (based on distance from Queenstown to City Hall MRT) with my SMRT card, SGD $1.50 (flat fee) for standard ticket (those without SMRT cards)


Water: [$0.00] Singapore utilizes the four tap system and uses reclaimed water, seawater, rainfall (from water catchment areas) and water from Malaysia to sustain the population’s drinking supply. It is clean and safe and I have been drinking straight from the faucet without a filter for almost a year now.  Free if you find a faucet and have an empty bottle handy.

What do you like most about this neighborhood or city? Affordable food

How has the recession affected you?  I’ve taken on more freelance and side projects this year. I don’t go out as much and usually stay at home drawing, designing, animating or looking for more freelance projects.

What would you spend your last $5 on?  2 sketchbooks

Why did you choose these 3 items?  These are some basic things I have at least 2-3 times a week.

Thank you for the great entry, Jiny! I think this is actually our first report from Southeast Asia! This woman is also my creative partner at everydayarmada.org.  Check out our work there, too. – h!

Story of Stuff

[NOTES ON] “The Story of Stuff”

I’m watching the entire Story of Stuff series.  Let’s watch it together, or check out my notes on all the videos, here.  Thanks – h!

The Story of Stuff is a very simple video that everyone must watch. When RF first saw this video a few years back, we were like, “OH SNAP! HOMEGIRL IN THE BLUE BUTTON DOWN IS CORRECT!” Imagine, being able to explain the mode of production, the dangers of corpocracies, imperialism, true democracy, and the effects on communities to 1.5 million people?

Let’s be real. ”Stuff” is what got us all into debt in the first place. Gadgets, cell phone bills, and expensive meals. What struck us at RF was when homegirl said @4:46 – “And if you don’t buy, or own a lot of stuff, you don’t have value.” (Let’s return to this idea soon.)

 The most important lessons:

  • history of production since the 1950s
  • planned obsolescence & perceived obsolescence
  • local living economies
  • close loop production

Please take the time while you fold your laundry:

roughing it_0

Poverty: The New Rustic Vacation for the Boojie (Bourgeoisie)

Image credit:  kozyndan “Roughing It”, 2005 

Since the Hipsters on Foodstamps article, I’ve been a huge fan of the Pinched series at Salon.com  Having been occupied by my normal life through most of this past spring and summer, I had the time to catch up with the reading.  The writing, while very well done, and the authors, who all seem like incredibly nice and humble people, seemed to depict a very romanticized notion of economic hardship.  Seen:

“Uh, huh,” I said, distracted. I’d been crouching in front of our woodstove for 45 minutes trying to coax the smoldering pile of kindling to flames. The wood was wet and unseasoned, and the mausoleum damp of our house wasn’t helping. I could hear water plinking through the tin roof into the bucket behind the stove, where the worst of the leaks fall. When Rich’s statement sank in, I was amused at the perfect anachronism: my mustachioed husband in a flannel shirt complaining about sourdough starter. But then I realized I fit the picture, too. I wore rubber ankle boots, a skirt, a long canvas jacket smeared with mud, a wool hat and an apron. My plans for later that day: gather dandelion greens for dinner, heat water for my bath, scrub the wooden floor with a vinegar solution, and sweep out the outhouse. Yes, outhouse.” (Source)

Now, isn’t that something kind of beautiful? A plinking tin roof, unseasoned wood, dandelions, and a mustachioed husband? All I picture is the Frontierland portion of Disneyland (or at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World for sticklers) full of adults and no children, having the time of their lives, while playing with their Blackberries. Doesn’t that just sound like the kind of thing urban escapists look forward to after a rough week at work?
Now, in NO WAY am I making fun of the author, and the incredible ways she and her husband have found money-saving alternatives amidst the recession. (If you read all the way through, the linked article at Salon is chock full of recipes you might want to try at home…if you have access to nettle.)  And the outhouse, whoooooo!  That is FORREAL roughing it.

There is just something to be said about the types of vacations some people take when they want to temporarily embrace a “simpler” life.  It’s borderline condescending, and one of the reasons why terrible films like Under the Tuscan Sun or that unfortunate (and essentialist) best seller, Eat Pray Love exist.

It’s a fairly common attitude many Americans have – to go “back to basics” after people with money/access/privilege just want a lil’ slice of life elsewhere.  Whether it’s to feel “alive,” break out of work patterns, a need to find themselves…the list of potential reasons  is a fairly long one.
But what is the draw to the “simple” life?  Where we have the privilege to say, “Hey, I’m just visiting. Thanks for the nettle broth, locals! It was good as hell,” at any point, then leave.  Are we responsibly entering and exiting these communities?  If not, isn’t that a bit f–ked up?

The “basic” life in the country (or wherever that unnamed elsewhere may be) is not simple at all.  As in the excerpt above, there are a number of tasks that require so much time and effort just to run a household.  Food isn’t foraged, planted, or grown where I am.  It’s in aisle 14, about 3 blocks from my house.  It’s bought on the way home from work.  Work is in front of a desktop, not in the middle of a field.  No, things are simple here, not simple in the country.

I want to say what differentiates the rest of the world from us, crazy Americans, is that the majority of us don’t have a visual understanding of our dependence on the land. Its language is not something city dwellers/ apartment renters can pick up by ear over the course of a week or so when we visit these other places.  Americans, unless you’re a farmer fighting Monsanto, many of us just don’t have that kind of relationship with any one area.  And if we have no connection to a particular area, doesn’t that cut us off from the rest of the community, as well?

Being transient in any given place — the idea that we’re here for now, that we don’t have to build relationships — keeps us away from one another.  That’s what I’m trying to get across.  When you are not connected to the land, you are likely not connected to the community.  Do apartment dwellers know more neighbors than not?  Is this just something symptomatic of living in New York City, land of chosen anonymity?  That may be why I feel it most.

Maybe that’s why in these hard times, we seek those “simpler” spaces which remind us of those vital relationships we are looking for; the one between space and people.  When we search for “simple”, I think we’re looking for a time when what we said mattered, and we weren’t so isolated.
Maybe rustic vacations aren’t so bad after all, if they point to the lack of freedom we have in our daily lives.  We get to examine just how dependent we really are on…various external systems. Maybe we find something familiar in what should have been, when we’re transplanted from routine and have actual conversations with (what my sisters like to call)  real people.  Only outside of our insanely consumerist lives do we see the more concrete connections between land and life.

There’s a beautiful song by Salidummay, a singing group from Kalinga, a mountainous province in the Philippines.  Lots of rich ore there, so they’re always under the threat of land grabbing by foreign mining interests.  The song ends something like this: land that fed me / land that raised me / land where I raised my own / this is the land I will fight for / land where I will die.

…yeah. This city life doesn’t really make me feel that way.