Sour Grapes

And here she goes again…

Another Portland design event brings another set of thoughts and, likely, questions.  I’d like to start by climbing to the highest rooftop I can find, so I can do my shout from the rooftops rant.  But instead, I’ll settle for this metaphorical rooftop I have here.

This story will begin and end with grapes.  That’s right—grapes.

Last night I attended an open house at Portland’s Leftbank Project, a cool revamp of a 1923 building originally designed by architect A.E. Doyle.  In theory, I’m a supporter of the building and its purpose: to connect and support mission-driven businesses in an inspiring environment, and to do so in an ecologically responsible way.  But based on my recent post about The GreenVille Project—one of Leftbank’s tenants—one could say I’m a bit leery of what this “mission-driven” concept sometimes means.

I was hanging out in the office of dc202 design collective, and became privy to a conversation that really threw me for a loop.  One of dc202’s neighbors (a Leftbank tenant) came by and started grilling a dc202 employee about their sustainability practices.  I guess it’s fine to ask the questions, but here’s where it turned strange:

Apparently, there was a question posed about where the grapes dc202 was feeding its guests came from.  As in, the neighborly tenant thought it necessary to remark on the large size of said grapes and therefore, the fact that they probably weren’t from the local farmer’s market.  No, sorry people, the grapes were from Costco.

Oh, how I hate that I have to repeat myself from a previous post, but:


Again, let’s not get caught up in the details, folks.  Before we start nit-picking about grapes, we’ve got to think about the bigger picture here.  Sorry, but local farmer’s market grapes will do nary a thing to save the world.  Yeah, yeah, I get it that all those little actions add up to a greater whole.  I’m not completely oblivious to this concept.

But for the sake of point-making, how about I call attention to another silly sustainability detail from last night: the PLA “biodegradable” corn cups used to serve wine.  I could go on and on about the fact that the term biodegradable is awfully generous, given the process required for these cups to biodegrade, and the lack of availability of said processes.  I could rant about the fact that most people don’t have access to the required commercial composting system—and that these cups can’t be recycled—so more often than not end up in landfills, or contaminating recycled traditional plastics.  I could go on for hours about the fact that these cups are made from genetically modified corn, and that the epidemic agribusiness of corn growth is extremely harmful to the environment—by using excessive amounts of insecticides and herbicides, and contributing to soil erosion and water pollution.

Yes, I could do all of that.  And for the sake of illustrating my point, I just did.  But the real point I’d like to make here is that if we all can’t get off of our sustainability high-horses and stop this nit-picking about silly details, we’re never going to get anywhere.

News flash: the problem is much bigger and much deeper than grapes or corn cups.

I guess what it comes down to for me is this:

Are grapes and corn cups really worth fighting over?

I’m beginning to feel that sustainability—a word I’m starting to despise—has just become another way for people to express their superiority, their virtuosity, their perceived willingness to do the right thing. It’s another topic to fight about, and most of the arguments are truly futile.

I waver between feeling that there is hope for change, and feeling that we should all just do the best we can, and most importantly—live and let live. Because really, if we aren’t willing to seriously tackle the root of this problem, which in my opinion is over-population, chances of any major turn-around in the state of our environment are slim to none.

So let’s just stop with the sour grapes, please.


14 responses to “Sour Grapes

  1. the corn cups are actually “compostable”, which is slightly better than biodegradable because no methane is produced during the breakdown process. The Leftbank Project has a commercial composting system, so that’s cool. I’d love to know where you did your research for this, because I am interested in how these “eco” products companies could justify using GM corn….i honestly can’t believe that someone would be so rude to show up to a party, grill, and criticize the hosts. THAT leaves a sour taste in my mouth!

    • Compostable, yes. Perhaps confusing that I used the term “biodegradable.” I was trying to point out that they are only biodegradable under certain, very controlled, and not widely available, conditions. That’s great that Leftbank has a commercial composting system. Here’s an article about recycling/composting issues locally: And here’s an article that gives a very thorough overview of many issues associated with PLA, including GM corn (it’s a few years old but is still widely discussed which leads me to believe the issues are still relevant): There is a lot of information out there about environmental issues associated with our (now) overproduction of corn–since it is being used for food and non-food products, and is cheap. But that’s a whole other big issue. My main point is that we can nit-pick any one of these sustainability details to the point that we could throw our hands up in the air and say, “why bother?” And again, it is my belief that using different products without changing our behavior is doing virtually nothing to attack the problem. We use too much and consume too much, and corn cups or not, the result is virtually still the same. So why should we even argue about it?

  2. Oh, and by the way, I didn’t mean you (thanks!), I was referring to our lovely neighbor.

  3. I hope your next post is about how you suggest we tackle the overpopulation problem.

  4. That’s my point. How do we stop having babies? People like sex. Well, most people.

    Enforcement? That hardly seems nice. Look at what happens in China when there is forced population control. Not so good.

    We clearly cannot self-govern this idea, however.

    So what is the solution?

    Personally, I think we’re fucked until the ice age comes or the poles reverse.

    • Ever heard of birth control? Oh, never mind. I don’t really think there is a viable solution at this point. But there is one thing I feel sure of: Earth is smarter than we are, and will do what it takes to preserve itself. We might not survive, but Earth will.

      • Economic recessions lead to diminished birthrates. In developed nations, birthrates are extremely low (and in some cases negative).

        Audrey, please excuse me for being all up in your blog and twitter after randomly seeing your name in my @replies, but I strongly disagree with the paralytic suggestion that we’re screwed, possibly because we deserve to be.

        I concede that we generally can’t look to the federal government or the fortune 500 for much in the way of honest action, but necessity is the mother of invention and we’re on a planet full of natural resources and labor capacity–which, if I recall correctly from physics, natural resources + labor capacity = reason for hope.

        • @jtzl–No apologies necessary for being all up in my blog and twitter. That’s what I’m here for. I don’t ever feel that I have all the answers or even the right questions. I welcome comments and discussion; it’s actually my goal. I completely agree that necessity is the mother of invention, and I’m just suggesting that it is a two-way street–meaning that Earth can do the same right back at us.

          I do freely admit that I have some serious complaints with the current state of “sustainability” actions, only because I believe most of them are short-sighted attempts at solutions that are only treating the symptoms of the problem, yet there is not a whole lot of discussion about the actual cause and root of the problem. If we just keep bandaging the wound while continuing to stick the knife in and cut more, the wound will never heal.

          So I can see it two ways, and like I said in this post, I waver between feeling hopeful and feeling that we should just live and let live, because the “solutions” we’re employing just aren’t cutting it.

  5. I feel like @jtzl’s comment was glazed over and deserves some discourse. Recessions lead to birth dearths in developed nations. True, but the fact is that developed nations aren’t the problem. The overpopulation issue is most exacerbated by impoverished nations, where sex is literally the only entertainment and education is even worse that the United State’s. Zing!

    I recently read an interesting article that’s related. By 2050, according to this report by leading US demographers, “world population is growing by about 70 million people a year, and will likely reach 9.3 billion by mid-century from 6.3 billion today.” Despite this, Europe is expected to have 60 million fewer people than today.

    Apart from natural disaster, how can we help reduce the global birth rate? Wealth redistribution? (Yeah right.) Education? (With what money?) Mandatory sterilization? (Orwellian fascism ftw!)

    They predict that at least an extra 1,000 million will be living in the world’s poorest African countries by 2050. And these are countries where we’re trying to reduce the death rates because the spread of disease is so rampant.

    This is not some paralytic suggestion. The fact is we are screwed and not doing a damn thing about it. There are other reports that predict that the world population starts declining as soon as 2030 because fuel and food production cannot keep up with demand. So, we’re talking serious amounts of people flat out starving to death. 20-40 years from now. Not millions, but BILLIONS.

    We should be devoting our entire military budget on extraterrestrial exploration, because we’re almost done with this particular blue orb.

    • I think you make some pretty damn good points, Josh. I’m just not sure how to respond because my natural reaction is simply that we won’t actively do anything about it. The over-population issue has been glazed over and replaced with something more palatable for people to focus on (bandaging the wounds, treating the symptoms, as I said earlier).

      No one wants to be told they shouldn’t have babies. I know plenty of people who acknowledge that there is an over-population problem but that won’t stop them from procreating–I guess because they think that’s more important. We’re all selfish beings with entitlement issues; we want what we want and the rest of this doesn’t matter. People will make changes that benefit them directly. That’s my point of view, anyway.

      I do believe scores of people will die, and that’s how the population “problem” will be remedied. Not by personal initiative.

      Now that we’ve determined this is unsolvable, why don’t you forget about it and go drink some wine from a corn cup. Do your part.

  6. When women gain more control of their lives and are more equal in societies.. birth rates drop. The end of male domination will bring about a more balanced population.

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