Mandy Newham-Cobb illustration
Since moving to Asheville a little over a year ago, it has become clear to me that I have relocated to the sustainability capital of the universe. Whereas before I was a smug member of an elite minority in Los Angeles proud of my solar twinkle lights and canvas shopping bags, here that is just “so 1990s.” Here I am an eco-amateur. I should be raising my own cow and feeding her indigenous grasses. I should be capturing her methane to heat my home, and using her milk to make aged Gouda. I should be growing my own holly berries, lighting candles made from the wax of my very own bees and roasting chestnuts I have rescued from blight.
Santa has a clean green ride powered by magic reindeer; I drive a humble Subaru. Carpooling to school plays and holiday parties is, therefore, a must. Anything less is stealing the future from my children. No, here where people meet for “green drinks,” my aluminum Christmas tree and color wheel are a no-no. A real mountain holiday demands a live Frazier fir with cornhusk angels. Problem is, I’m hopeless with arts and crafts. Trust me, if I could make a wreath out of grits I would.
The Season of Giving will be a challenge for me this year. Catalogues and online shopping are out—that sweater from Ireland I’ve been eying has a carbon footprint bigger than Sasquatch. Wrapping paper is out, unless I buy it from a depressed economy struggling to rise from the ashes like, oh say … Florida. Technology is out. I am not spending another dime until they invent an application that waits in phone queues for me and can talk to customer service representatives in Mumbai named “Heather.” Books kill trees, Kindle kills your eyes. Gym socks are flammable, perfume contains anti-freeze. At least I found a cruelty-free Teddy bear.
Then, of course, there is the matter of holiday food. Sugarplums cause attention deficit disorder. Grandma’s pumpkin pie is riddled with gluten. The turkey must be organic and free-range—“happy before you kill it” is a good rule of thumb. The same goes for a Chanukah brisket. Vegetables should be fresh and local, no Brussels sprouts flown thousands of miles from Peru.
But, what am I to do about the cookies and candy canes? There can be no refined sugars or preservatives anywhere near my table because I cannot risk dosing the little ones on ginger snaps and pfeffernusse. Thankfully, a friend has given me a decent recipe for agave nectar fudge, but my chocolate must meet fair trade standards. I have read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and, in the spirit of “Tiny Tim,” I cannot possibly condone the child labor practices in the cacao groves of Ghana. So, with nothing less than Peace On Earth hanging in the balance, I will gladly add a bottle of Jack Daniels to my list. I’ll need it when I get my guilt-free grocery bill.
When times were tough, my mother would joke that all we’d get for Christmas was a lump of coal. I lost money in the stock market a while back and she actually gave me a gift-wrapped bag of charcoal briquettes. For my mother, prosperity was a reward for practical living and not an entitlement. No Nutcracker ballet if we blew our budget, no photos with Santa if we trashed our toys. Call it an early lesson in community sustainability, but in our house Merry Christmas meant we were all living consciously.
Every year, my friend Eddie gives out custom Christmas CDs. Louie Armstrong’s “Cool Yule,” The Tradewinds’ “New York’s A Lonely Town” and even William Shatner’s “Good King Wenceslas ” are in his archive. This season his Xmas Playlist is coming via an online file-sharing site to eliminate plastic and shipping. If Eddie can find a way to keep tradition alive and still save the planet, I guess I can too. I may not be able to carve a hickory Nativity, but I can listen to Loretta Lynn singing “Christmas Without Daddy” while I brine my happy, local bird. Maybe I’ll even give my neighbor some carbon credits to offset the mega-watt Candy Land he erects on his roof. As long as I’m rolling a little greener than last year, I figure I’m doing my part to make sure nobody on my watch gets a lump of coal.