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Monday, 14 November 2011

Live to Eat, or Eat to Live? Part 1 - My Food Revival

I remember a time when food was just a functional necessity for me. Eating distracted me from other activities, shopping for food was costly, and preparing food was a chore. Like getting a fill-up at the gas station, I ate so I could get on with my life.

That time of food faux pas seems so far in the past now. The past, though, teaches lessons, and the overfed and poorly nourished ghost of my past serves as a reminder of what a poor relationship with food looks like. Ashamedly, I reflect upon the times I complained about the home cooking (why don't you make pork chops instead?) or scarfed down a meal so I could eke out a few more minutes of videogaming. Never again, I say... never again.

Eye-opening documentaries like Supersize Me and Food Inc. helped bring society's relationship with food to the forefront of my conscience, and compelling reads by my quasi-hero Michael Pollan propelled me to action. Pollan is a wonderful author and the best part about his books are that they celebrate food and value our synergy with foods, unlike diet books that promote specific nutrients while demonizing others. So instead of saying "saturated fats are bad for you" or "you need more antioxidants" Pollan says "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." And "Eat what your grandmother ate." It really is that easy!

His underlying message is that society's (particularly North America's) relationship with food has degraded to mere inputs into our bodies that provide the means to stay alive. With that mindset we value quantity over quality and nutrients over wholesome goodness. We allow the agriculture-industrial complex to manipulate our food, process it, inject it, industrialize it, medicate it, dye it and transform it and package it into an attractive and edible object with physical substance and a tolerable ration of nutrients and flavour, but is no longer exactly food, even though it still sort of, kind of, looks like it.

Worst of all, the agriculture-industrial complex has switched its power source from the sun to fossil fuels. Pesticides are sprinkled on fields, synthetic fertilizers replace natural nitrogen-fixers that typically reside in healthy soil, but are tilled too heavily by machinery, and instead of letting animals live off the land, grains are trucked in as replacement feed to grass.

The magical synergy of food is lost when it is treated as a statistic. There is something beautiful about broccoli. And it's not the fact that it has an amazing 82mg of vitamin C per cup, plus countless nutrients. It's how that broccoli is happily eaten, slowly digested, and the vitamins and nutrients effectively released into the bloodstream. Industrial processes can't imitate this nature process.

Society's relationship with our food sources has also been severed. Once upon a time, food was handed directly from a farmer with a real name and a face. That has largely been replaced by the popular myth that the supermarket is where food comes from. The mythical existence of these so-called farms can still be glimpsed on the food packages.

As food consumers, we should know better.

Oops, I mean "eaters," not food consumers. The problem with the food industry and too many of its consumers is it sees food as a commodity. It has erased the lines that tradition had drawn over thousands of years to ensure we appreciated and ate healthy food.

I aim to bring back that tradition.

So, like a boring reality show, I embarked on a painstaking journey to reform my diet. McDonald's, Michelina's and Delissio went from staples to rare indulgences. Grocery shopping shifted from the arenas of Walmart and Superstore (sorry Vivian) to the smaller Sunterra and farmer's markets, with a focus on local, seasonal and organic foods. I have since reduced my meat consumption by at least half, and stopped worrying about the cost of food (although I acknowledge it's easy to say this as a single male). I even spent a day working on a farm, learning the ways of the peaceful and wise agrarian man.

Cooking, once a task on par with cleaning the bathtub, has become a fulfilling ritual often with tasty results. Ironically it took being away from home for me to realize how lucky I used to eat. I think having to cook one's own food helps one to appreciate the effort and love that goes into a complete meal. Cooking really is an art, and pleasing the taste buds is the work of a true artist. Same as growing food.

From field to fork, food is a chain of events powered by the sun and cultivated by passionate people, but the art is being lost due to many reasons, primarily low cost. I strove to reconnect and understand food again.

I'm not alone in my food revival. The Slow Food movement, which aims to combat the rising tide of fast food, is gaining momentum. It's never too late to jump on the bandwagon.

Part 2 aims to expose the gruesome science behind our food culture, including focusing on specific controversial foods. Stay tuned!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

My Two Month Challenge

I decided to not drive for two months, starting in November until the end of the year. This challenge arose for several reasons, not the least being my fervent environmentalist side. Another reason for this challenge was the fact that since returning from Taiwan I've largely reverted from my non-automobile reliance. With the winter coming up, it was a good time to reinforce the value that driving was a privilege, not a right. This perspective often gets lost in our auto-centric society. But make no mistake, driving is a privilege.

There were, of course, a few exceptions to my challenge: emergencies, helping friends and to go to the mountains. A car is, ultimately, the only option in many sticky situations, and it would be negligent of me to simply ignore the existence of my car. These exceptions proved useful in my first few weeks, as I rescued a friend from a bar with literally nothing left in the bank, and too proud to ask people he just met for a ride home. The weekend after I also drove to the mountains with friends and had a nice relaxing day among wise sages of metamorphic origins.

It wouldn't be a challenge if it was easy. Cycling to work is starting to get very cold. And dark. I slipped and fell on the first morning of snow of the year. It was embarrassing only because I always laugh at all the car accidents that occur on first snowfalls. Until I upgrade my gloves, my fingers will be too numb to use a keyboard by the time I reach the office every morning. My commute has also evolved into a sensitive daily routine not for the absent-minded. Every week at least once I misplace my wallet, gloves, or some fairly necessary accessory, following rushed mornings of making breakfast, preparing lunch, packing work clothes and dressing for the riding climate. I even realized I lost my cellphone, fittingly, after commuting home from work recently. As I write, my friend just handed me his spare unlocked cellphone as a temporary replacement (hopefully not so temporary).

I also had a dilemma on the morning of my friend's wedding. The wedding venue was a fair distance away and sketchy from a non-automobile-reliance perspective; bus access was poor and cycling routes were unfamiliar and excessively circuitous. Plus I left my good shoes at work and had to stop by there first. All signs pointed to driving - this would allow me to reach my interim and final destination in time without the need for pedalling it out, sweating, and changing clothes after, and with minutes to spare to lounge around the house beforehand. But I would be selling out for convenience and ultimately failing my challenge. That morning I was in denial. The decision was grating on me...

In the end, I managed not to defect to the dark side. My bike ride to the wedding ended up being very refreshing and I arrived without a trace of body odour. It reminded me that life is a journey, not a destination.

Only 8 weeks to go!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

To Occupy or Not To Occupy? That is the question.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is rippling out of New York City and reaching every corner of the globe tomorrow, hitting a major city near you. Saturday October 15 will mark the beginning of mass demonstrations of people around the world united against corporate greed. More importantly it is the first real sign that America is no longer the world’s utopic society.

So what do you think of it? How could you ignore it? Occupy Wall Street is the probably the largest organized protest in North America since the Vietnam War, and it’s gaining momentum. I hope you, like me, haven’t been a stranger to these proceedings. I also hope that you don’t write this off as a passing phase. To us, mass protest is something we do not associate much with our democratic society. And to some of you, this may seem like a ridiculous thing to protest. However, this is just the beginning.
Allow me to provide a fresh perspective on why this is happening. I will admit the existence of bias in this piece of writing and also the fact that I am putting this together in just a few hours. So bear with me if you can, and if you cannot, noone’s forcing you to read.
The reality is that all societies have gone from one system of Centralized Power to the next. Ever since humans first settled down, following the invention of agriculture, it developed Centralized Power to maintain order to a society with an exploding population. Since then, the majority of states have been defined by two forms of power, its People and its Centralized Power. A state’s Centralized Power moderates its People and pools resources through taxation, and its People ensures the Centralized Power invests back in its People. If the state’s Centralized Power loses its way, its People revolt. The Centralized Power then mobilizes its army to oppress the People. Like a game of tug of war, the rope representing society’s power, they keep eachother in check. This is how society works even today.
Many forms of centralized power have come and gone, from despotism to feudalism to monarchies and so forth. The two most common systems in place today are democracy and communism. However, an interesting thing happened with democracy. Out of democracy spawned capitalism and out of this spawned the corporation, democracy’s right hand to accelerate growth.
The Corporation is a faceless entity, yet not unlike a centralized power. A corporation, after all, takes our money and provides us with that which we need to survive and thrive, not unlike the government’s system of taxation. The problem is the Corporation has largely transformed from a vehicle for innovation, to a blood sucking parasite on society. It has created a chasm between rich and poor, accelerated destruction of our ecological habitat and brainwashed our idea of happiness.
The Corporation (this includes its filthy rich) has turned society into a three player game for power within a society. It has become Corporation vs. Democracy vs. its People, and the Corporation is now winning. It is playing the game like a ruthless psychopath, as quoted from the documentary “The Corporation.” Instead of mobilizing armies and SWAT teams, the Corporation mobilizes lawyers with mighty pens. The Corporation is winning the game of power within nations through media manipulation of its people and policy manipulation of the government.
I don’t see the Occupy Wall Street movement as being different from revolutions of the past, just unique.
In the very recent past, especially, revolutions in the Middle East and northern Africa have toppled governments. This was basically a power struggle between a state’s peoples and its government. Now with corporations entering the fray, who says we can’t protest them? It’s certainly sounds odd to protest corporations. What is it but a faceless entity? But really, when you think about it, it’s no different from governments, and we protest them all the time.
Whether or not there’s a purpose to these protests doesn’t really matter either. Again, the complex way corporations have woven themselves into society’s fabric will make them even more difficult to untangle. You can’t just topple corporations the way you do governments. Or demand a union. Or demand the resignation of the Corporation’s leader. The sad fact is we have come to rely on corporations for almost everything we consume. If corporations fall, our society will fall apart.
No, the answer is not dissolving the corporation altogether. The solution isn’t that black and white. Yet, something must be done. Western capitalism has run its course and society demands change. So what will its people do?
In this case, Occupy Wall Street.
The last major protests in the United States were against the Vietnam War. What started as a small group of pacifist protesters turned large scale. Some Americans even self-immolated (set themselves on fire) to set examples, like the recent Buddhists in China and even the martyr that sparked the Middle Eastern revolutions. Anti-war sentiment became so strong that it led to the U.S. withdrawing their involvement from the Vietnam War. Now Americans have picked a new fight, the battleground on home soil, and in their own trading markets and boardrooms. Who says it can’t be done? Who says we shouldn’t at least try?
This could be just the first step in the escalating power struggle of society vs. corporation. The government is also a major player and it has to fight corruption and divest itself of corporate infiltration within its ranks. Protesters are slowly gaining momentum, as well as allies. Unions are jumping on board (although I question their main motivation); the head of the Bank of Canada supports it; even Ben and Jerry’s is handing out free ice cream to supporters. It is a bittersweet irony to see a corporation supporting the movement. It also is a sign that the people can indeed influence corporations, not just the other way around.
Change has to start with the People. And just because some people at these protests may be proud owners of iPhones, doesn’t mean you can accuse them of being hypocrites. This just underlines how most of us have become enslaved as consumers. Even iPhone users are waking up and realizing changes are needed.
And indeed, changes are coming. It’s only a matter of time.

The Conundrum of Consumption

I recently read an article discussing the following question - are we living in a “culture of despair”? This is the notion that, with the multitude of issues in today's society, the world is “headed for disaster." It sure got my attention. The future of our world is something I ponder. I'm not even sure if I would want my theoretical kids to be born into such a scary place. For an optimistic person I sure do have a pessimistic view of today's world!

Society is plagued with problems encompassing the whole spectrum of economic, environmental and social well-being, threatening the capacity of earth itself to withstand anthropological impact. When one examines the range of world issues, there appears to be a common thread; one human flaw that is threatening to unravel all that humans have achieved in their short history – greed. Gandhi said it well in his famous quote - "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed."
Where greed, defined simply as excessive desire, is the flaw of the individual, and the need for progress is the flaw of the collective of individuals, civilizations. Blinded by progress, civilizations engage in self-destructive practices and unsustainable consumption. They often see the writing on the wall too, yet choose to ignore it. Instead they continue to mortgage their future for the sake of short term gain.
One of the first civilizations rose out of the lush valleys of modern day Iraq. Thousands of years ago Mesopotamia flourished as humans invented agriculture and began settling down into permanent homes and villages. However, intense agricultural practices were destroying the soil, yet farmers, fully aware of this, continued to blissfully pillage their own land. The region was eventually abandoned, its inhabitants in search of new untouched pastures. This once fertile land stands today as a vast desert, a lesson in the dangers of unsustainable progress.
On Easter Island, tribes competed to make bigger and bigger versions of the infamous head statues worshipping their chiefs. In the process they depleted their forests and eventually wiped out almost all of the island's population. The grandness of the heads staring blankly at the sea, outliving their creators, serve as a grave warning.
Yet humans have continued to make the same mistakes, not learning from the past. Today, humans have been thrust into an unsustainable fossil fuel society. Progress is accelerating at an alarming pace, and so are the problems, such as global warming and scarcity of resources.
Distribution of power and wealth is uneven and getting worse. Around 20% of the wealthiest people consume 80% of the world's resources. These resources are often exploited through war and ecological destruction. In these cases the poor become victims and the income funnels into corrupt governments and corporations. But society, misled into an oblivious state of happiness, continues to engage in excess consumption. Meanwhile, the true costs of consumption is hidden from consumers to assuage their guilt.
For example, when we burn gas to drive our cars we don't see the emissions we create coming out of our tailpipes, agents of global warming, rising up to attack the atmosphere. Thus, the connection becomes blurred between our driving and global warming and rising temperatures, intense famines and rising sea levels. We fill our gas tanks, unaware of the intensive refining processes and transportation required to bring that oil conveniently to us at a filling station. Neither can we conjure up images of victims suffering in Nigeria. Here, oil spilled annually is greater than the Gulf oil spill, due to guerrilla factions who break the pipeline and steal the oil. Meanwhile, the ecosystem and the poorest people's habitat is being destroyed and the government sits back collecting cheques from oil corporations, who in turn blame the guerrillas.
There is hope, after all, to reverse the tides of environmental change and social inequality. Humans are also compassionate and believe in moral justice. Compassionate people must stop feigning ignorance and averting their eyes from the consequences of their greed. It's time to confront guilt. Compassionate individuals must end the excuses that they alone cannot make a difference. In politics, every vote counts, and in society, every action evokes an idea that may spread like a wave across an ocean of people.
This is what I'm hoping to do with this blog, spread the tide of grassroots ideas that are gaining traction. Farmers Markets are back in vogue. Not only are foods purchased there healthier, thereby reducing healthcare costs, but it encourages shopping local and for seasonal foods, reducing demand on fossil fuels from shipping desirable foods from halfway across the world.
North Americans have elevated the act of driving to a right instead of a privilege. But there are many who would take sustainable modes if feasible. Unfortunately, the local infrastructure favours driving over transit and cycling. While cycling is gaining popularity in cities like Toronto, the lack of cycling lanes has oppressed cyclists and made it a hot-button issue. In cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, an estimated 30% of commuters cycle to work, compared to 2% in Toronto. Those cities also have wonderful cycling infrastructure. Instead of feeling both dependent on roads and the desire to continue using them, individuals need to vote in politicians who care about transit, not scumbags that claim that cycling and transit advocates are starting a "war on drivers" (the words of Rob Ford).
Forget driving, stepping on a plane means you have agreed to pump carbon emissions to the max. A flight from London to Paris creates 244kg of carbon dioxide per passenger, compared to 22kg/CO2/pass taking the train. Again, we have little choice given our continent's poor rail infrastructure. But consider a road trip. Or if you can avoid the trip all together, the more power to you. Avoiding taking that flight is as difficult a decision as giving up a car or even avoiding drinking bottled water, for convenience and consumption go hand-in-hand, and consumption has become ingrained in our society. Corporations continue to brainwash us into buying more. Recycling may be a good thing, but it has overshadowed its fellow R's, providing consumers with an excuse to keep consuming. There's a reason why "reduce" comes before "reuse" and "recycle."
In order for the earth to continue to be a beautiful and sustainable place to live, humans inevitably need to foresake their current lifestyle which rewards greed and strains progress, in return for a life of simplicity. Grassroots movements need to change the culture and ways people think, which in turn revolutionize political and economic systems to operate around a central tenet of frugality and altruism.
At the beginning of the blog, I mentioned an article regarding the "culture of despair." This was the topic of a live discussion organized by UBC, between David Suzuki and Thich Nhat Hanh, a famous buddhist. Any dialogue between two such respected leaders in their fields is sure to command attention. Thich Nhat Hanh said "we have to educate our children to see happiness does not lie in consumption." However, it all starts with compassionate individuals of all ages who strive to make a humble and honest living. They need first to accept the need to change, then to actually take action.
David Suzuki (L) and Thich Nhat Hanh (R) greet each other at the start of the Open Mind Open Heart conversation at Cecil Green UBC, Vancouver, August 15 2011. 
In my previous blogs I shared my experiences with minimalism and reducing information overload. Much of my motivation lies in self-interest. However, compassion for the earth lies deeply rooted in my conscience and, thus, my actions speak to this, and declare optimism for a better future. My latest forays into lowering my carbon footprint include cycling to work as the weather grows colder, turning off the power bar, not just the electronics, and to make my own worm composter, which will reduce landfill waste and produce healthy soil for plants. I won't make a difference on my own, but hopefully my actions ripple outward and grow as an idea, eventually bringing in tides of noticeable change.
David Suzuki and Thich Nhat Hanh's discussion can be found here:

Monday, 15 August 2011

Information Overload

Despite successfully minimizing my physical possessions (as outlined in my first blog), I still felt weighed down by something, some form of lingering stress. I felt as if I hadn’t let go of all the unnecessary baggage in my life. It didn’t take me long to figure out what that was. You see, I was stressed out by information overload.

We live in the Age of Information and subscribe to the myth that knowing more is better. Today’s technology ensures a steady stream of information from friends, family, and also media and corporations. And we can’t get enough of it. However, society is so connected now it has become a tangled web. Information has become so abundant that it has lost its quality. E-mails were once crafted with care and length, but are now typically poorly executed bursts of loose sentences. Wholesome content on media streams such as TV and Youtube are being crowded out by mindless entertainment (dare I say Jersey shore?). I would guess that 90% of the information we receive on a daily basis is crap. The Age of Information has consequently resulted in a brain drain and made us more distracted and, in mine and many experts’ opinions, dumber.
Smartphones have played a large role in distracting and dumbing down society, particularly in youth. This is unfortunate because smartphones can be amazingly productive tools if used correctly. The problem is most people don’t. Instead, smartphone use has facilitated addiction to texting (and even sexting), neglect of grammar and spelling, and shortening of attention spans. If you are unlucky enough to get one for work purposes, you may never actually leave the office. Even after you escape the daily confines of your office cubicle, your work follows you home, uploaded to the palm of your hand, teasing you with its melodic beeps that coddle your desire to feel needed by someone, anyone out there in the virtual world.

Despite staying away from smartphones myself, the internet’s addictive toxin was already in my bloodstream and was quickly mutating me into a zombie. At home and work I was constantly checking e-mails and logging into Facebook for quick scans of the news feed looking for something, anything to fill the void in my skull cavity. I was no longer capable of independent thought, my imagination replaced by packets of data wired from a mysterious source through my laptop screen.

Fortunately I recognized my problem and decided to unplug. I unsubscribed from e-mail newsletters, cancelled extra TV channels, deactivated Facebook, and even added a “no junk mail” sticker to my mailbox. Somewhere along the way I even pried myself from the temptation of videogames, which previously granted me access to an unlimited world in which my imagination could frolic and mingle into unreasonable hours every day.

After unplugging from information overload I felt empty, unimportant, for awhile. I was under anxiety that I may have missed out on juicy bits of information, like a Lululemon sale or an invite to a Facebook event. But I eventually began to recover. Left to my own devices my brain began to tingle and twitch after years of atrophy, and over time slowly regain consciousness. I can now say I have shed my inner zombie and reawakened as a fully functioning human being again.

Nowadays I’m still not completely isolated from the Age of Information but I am striking a much better balance. I am even giving the new Google+ a try. It seems to understand the meaning of the word ‘privacy’ and tries not to bombard you with useless crap, unlike some other social networking site.

Since I’ve gone nearly information-free I’ve noticed many positive changes in my life. Most importantly, my mind is more focused and clear. There is a big difference between clear and blank. Clear is when my mind is free and at full capacity to think. Blank is when I turn off my X-box 360 and somehow simultaneously switch off my brain, leaving a big void that can only be refilled the next time I turn on the console.

Clearing my mind has enabled me to think more creatively. I find myself not wanting to spend all my time at home anymore, a big contrast to my old hermit days. Most surprisingly, I find myself busier now than when I was wasting hours on the internet and videogames. Those hours are now spent cooking, doing yoga, socializing and, yes, blogging. I have essentially replaced my zombie time with more productive time.

In the big picture, I have further achieved my goal of minimalism and being free from stuff. In this case the stuff was virtual, coming in the form of information overload.

I finally located the unnecessary baggage that was weighing me down. It was more than just the internet. It was TMI – too much information. I guess knowing less actually is more.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Blogging for the Greater Good

When I originally started blogging I had just come to Calgary and was missing home. This was the best way to share my life and stay connected with everyone back in Toronto. Now, after a short sabbatical, I have finally returned to my creative outlet, my own version of The Truman Show. I’m reinvigorated and have returned with a renewed purpose. So why am I blogging?

I had my phase of online self-glorification. Or virtual peacocking, if you will. There was nothing like a brainless Facebook blog or status update to prop myself up in the virtual arena and to flaunt my attention-inducing powers to random wandering eyes of the Home Page feed. But I soon realized that I was just keeping up with the viral pace of an information-crazed society. Quality was giving way to quantity. Social media had instigated a flood of useless information that threatened to bury anything wholesome and good-intentioned beneath it. My blogs lay squished somewhere in that pile of useless crap.

Although selfish in its practice, blogging can be an exceptionally useful tool for good. It can inform, inspire and provoke. It can give others different perspectives in life, provide meaning to it, even change their course in it. It also allows humans to feel value by sharing something of value to society without personal gain. In a society that promotes consuming goods to feel happy, blogging can be a selfless act in a selfish world. The basic tenet of blogging is this - one’s experiences are shared not for his or her own glory, but ultimately for the benefit of others.

Enter me. I have returned to bring the internet back to its wholesome existence; to wield the power of blogging to slice and dice your philosophies and the ways that you approach life. This is not to say it’s my way or the highway. In fact, I welcome a friendly bout of intellectual fencing. Those with differing opinions have the same right to blog as I do.

This is also not to say that I am the next great prophet or celebrated philanthropist, here to turn the world on its head, like Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa. The number of people who read my blogs will comprise but a tiny drop in the vast river of online bloggers and journalists. But as long as I make a positive difference in at least one of my reader’s lives I feel that my message has been spread and my mission accomplished.

(If you do feel that I made a positive impact, please pass my blog on to friends. Help fuel my propaganda machine! Umm, I mean, help me go viral and get famous! Ummm... what I really mean is spread the message of goodwill.)

The trait I ask of you readers is open-mindedness. I myself hope to be open-minded enough not to push my passionate (if not crazy) beliefs on you. Like a podcast on your favourite subject, or the evening news with your favourite news anchor and that hot weather lady, I simply ask that you tune in and listen. At that point you would have earned my gratitude. And if you’ve read up to this point you have earned my respect.

So come follow me on my wonderful blogging adventure that’s sure to provide curiosity, laughs, life changing catharses, and promises to take you on more twists and turns than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. When the last word has been read hopefully I’ve left an everlasting impression, and a sugary craving for more blogs.

And if not, that’s okay too. Because it's not about me, it's about you.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Meet Andrew a.k.a. Photo-Vélo

Let me explain to you how I arrived at my cheesy blogger name. The intention of this is not a proclamation of snobbery. Nor is it an attempt to slot myself as a photographer and cyclist and nothing else. My interests are actually quite diverse and, although photography and cycling top my list of interests, I am by no means distinguished in my abilities in either pursuit.

It actually started a few years ago when I decided that instead of continuing to subscribe to the idea that consuming more, and the idealogy of consumerism, leads to happiness, I would reverse my course and subscribe to minimalism. Why? Because “you don’t own stuff, stuff owns you.”

I have read several articles that discuss the minimalist lifestyle. I have intended to read a book called “100 Things” that I saw the documentary version of, but just hadn’t read the book version yet. It is about a man and woman who were having problems both with their relationship and financially. They decided to cut the number of their possessions down to 100 items and since then they have never been happier. Another article was about a woman living in a 90 square foot apartment by Central Park in New York City. Like the 100 Things couple, she had no idea what to expect, but ended up being happier than she ever was.

These cases prove that stuff really does own us. When you buy that new iPhone, you may think you consciously decided to go to the store and buy it. The truth is that iPhone lured you in and you caught its bait. Once it latches on to you it won't let go. At least, not until a newer and flashier iPhone comes out. Why? Because buying new stuff serves as instant, yet temporary, gratification to the consumer. New stuff becomes old within months and becomes discarded in favour of even newer stuff (by the way, I still use my 4 Gb iPod Nano).

As a result, our basements are filled with old and dusty items we deem to have “sentimental value” and our garages are filled with stuff we never use. This stuff takes over our lives and robs us of adventure and valuable life experiences. Consumers are weighed down with so much useless stuff that we are like a ship that, instead of exploring our vast surroundings, remains anchored to the shore.

So how do you know if stuff owns you? If, say, you are addicted to shopping and may have a closet bursting at the walls with clothing, yet are not happy with your wardrobe. Or if you buy an expensive status-affirming car but soon take it for granted as simply a tool for getting around, and are soon stuck with a gas- and cash-guzzling boat. You will soon become unhappy with it and buy a new one.

Only those people with a true passion for their craft will take the time to foster it. Someone truly passionate about cars will buy a vehicle they love and then continue to foster that love. They will get under the hood themselves and get their hands dirty, instead of taking it to a mechanic. They will run their car to the ground before buying a new one.

One of the articles I read about minimalism also advocated that everyone has certain hobbies or possessions that they are passionate about. While minimalism involves the practice of getting rid of everything you don’t need, this article encourages designating a few categories as exceptions to the minimalist rule. These categories represent passions that make up your identity.

Having read this article I decided to start taking on the minimalist challenge with a few designated exceptions. Those exceptions were cycling (Vélo is a french term for bicycle - thanks Reh!) and photography (and possibly cooking). My Kona Marco Polo and Nikon D90 instantly became my most cherished possessions and everything else was deemed disposable.

Recently I went cycling from Banff to Canmore along its new recreational pathway, taking pictures along the way, and also creating a time lapse video. I cycled back to Calgary that day too. I plan on getting some more accessories for my bike and camera. I have never felt more passionate about these two things in my life.

At the same time I started giving old clothes away and selling useless stuff on Kijiji. Except for biking and photography gear I don’t feel the need to go shopping for things I don’t need anymore.

I have never felt lighter than before.