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Food, clothing, and Volvos


Off-the-Grid Urban Living Part II


by the Corporate Mofo Web Staff



For Part I, click here. For more phun and philosophy, check out Slow Food/Slow Cities and Simple Living, where they'll sell you books telling you advice we're giving out for free. You can also write in your own urban-living tips to, and we'll print them here.



Cars are evil and environmentally irresponsible. They're also, thanks to Ike, a necessity in this country. Taking the piss out of Exxxon by buying the latest in solar or electric-powered transport is the most appealing option. It's also the least practical for most of us, since they don't have 4,000-mile-long extension cords for you to drive to San Francisco.

Therefore, the rule of thumb is to buy the most fuel-efficient car you can afford. This conflicts with the stays-crunchy-even-in-soy-milk adage to "reduce, reuse, and recycle" because, despite intense lobbying efforts by manufacturers, cars have been getting steadily, albeit much too slowly, cleaner and more fuel-efficient. The newest all-plastic car from some hentai-producing Japanese megacorporation may also be the most fuel-efficient. There is no easy solution here.

If you've gotta buy used, look for the best fuel economy and exhaust system. That leaves all SUVs out of the running, just in case there is any need to mention that. Old Volvos, on the other hand, last forever and are safe and indestructible. Before Volvo was bought out by Ford a few years ago, they were made to pass Sweden's stringent air-quality standards and survive Nordic winters. Grab a pre-2000 model and run some Sport Futility Vehicles off the road.

Be sure to customize your car. VW minivans must be painted like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo. Station wagons must be painted like the Studebaker from The Muppet Movie. This is a moral imperative.

Whom you buy gas from is as important as how little of it you use. Most oil companies squelch research on alternative fuel sources and give money to terrorist-supporting Saudi Arabia, and we're still pissed off about Exxon because of the Valdez disaster. BP's motto, on the other hand, is "Beyond Petroleum," and they actively pursue alternative energy. (And if you believe that, we have a bridge we'd like to sell you.)

If you're in a city with good mass transit, consider yourself blessed. Use it. Don't drive unless you have no other option for getting from point A to point B. And first consider whether it is absolutely necessary to get there at all. The business world is gradually accepting telecommuting and eMeetings, not out of any environmental sentiment but as a cost cutting/employee retention measure. Take advantage of it if you can.

Bicycles run for free. Most cities, particularly New York, are notoriously heinous places to cycle. Errant taxis and homicidal UPS trucks make you feel as if you are taking your life in your hands, not to mention all those naked metal frames locked to parking meters. Most major cities have an organization that promotes urban cycling and lobbies the local government for bike lanes and other concessions. Get involved.

Bikes also give you your daily exercise without having to shell out money for a gym membership. In Sweden, offices have showers so that you can ride your bike to work. No such luck in the States. Carry some spare clothes and deodorant and change in the bathroom.

Horses are very ecologically correct, and cute, too. Unfortunately, they're a tad impractical.

Finally: Walk. There are so few fat people in Manhattan because we walk everywhere. No matter how busy you are, you can probably even work in a little extra walking in your day. Walk to the next subway station, or save the fare and walk all the way to work or school.



It's a shame how much food is thrown out to satisfy our demands for the freshest bagels humanly possible. There is, however, something you can do about it. Reader Matt wrote in with this story:

"When me and my buddies were hungry, there was one place we could always go to eat for free: The day-old bread store. This is the place that takes the unsold bread from the supermarket chains and sells it at a discount. Of course they have more than bread there, as well: chips, doughnuts, those fruit pies, etc. All of the stuff was 'past its freshness date,'but since freshness dates seem to be picked arbitrarily with most food products, you couldn't really taste the difference.

"Anyway, we didn't BUY this food, because we were poor as fuck. The thing is: even discount breadstores throw unsold food out after a while. It's a law. It's also the law that employees have to jab holes in, or otherwise mangle, the product containers before tossing them, so they'll get all ruined in the dumpster and therefore inedible. It's an unwritten law that employees are extremely lazy, so the point is, if you find out your local discount breadstore's garbage schedule, you can find an assload of pristine bags of Doritos in the nearby dumpsters, and sometimes dip, although glass often cracks when they toss it in.

"Of course you have to do it at night when nobody's around, before the garbage trucks come to empty out the dumpsters. And if anyone is loath to jump into a dumpster for food (I was before I tried it), let me tell you that there's nothing gross in a baked-goods store dumpster—except maybe if you land on a rat, but there probably aren't many of those either."

There's plenty of other ways to get some food on the cheap. Free samples are still free. Haunt some of the upscale food emporiums, and bring your own toothpicks. If you want to do something socially positive, volunteer at a soup kitchen. They may even feed you at the end of the day. This is a great way to meet other corporate motherfucker-types. At the most desperate end of things, Hare Krishnas are always good for a free meal. Mmmnn, brown rice and tea!

Chinatown is the home of the original cheap meal. You can get a container of noodles for a buck. Dim sum can feed you and six friends for five bucks. For that matter, real ethnic food tends to be cheaper than other groceries. Chinatown groceries are dirt cheap, Goya beans are meal in a can for seventy-five cents, and rice can be bought in bulk.

Restaurants are tempting, but an unnecessary expense for day-to-day eating. The sorts of places that spring up around office parks are more than happy to sell you an overpriced order of deep-fried fat with an extra helping of grease on the side. In midtown Manhattan, there is nothing remotely approaching a good deal, unless it's Chinese food, and, cheap as it may be, eating Chinese every day will give you fatal MSG poisoning within a week. Bringing lunch to work is both cheaper and healthier than overpriced cafeteria sandwiches. However, sitting inside all day is depressing, so be sure to use your lunch hour to work on your science-fiction novel, take a walk in the sunshine, practice yoga in the park, or download kiddie porn onto your boss's computer.

Here's a good corporate motherfuck you can pull on the bastards at the giant conglomerate supermarket. Abbie Hoffman mentions it in Steal This Book, and we used it in college. If you have a friend working the register, they only scan every other item. The only thing is, you have to pretend to be perfect strangers, or the managers get suspicious. You may feel guilty about stealing from the store but, trust me, it's not half as much as they're stealing from you.

If you actually want to buy food, there are a number of choices. Most cities and towns have farmers' markets where you can buy from small growers instead of huge agribusinesses. They can be cheaper than big supermarkets, and you'll be surprised to learn what a tomato actually tastes like when it's not picked green for maximum shipability, or how good bread can be when it hasn't had all the nutrition bleached out of it. In Manhattan, there's a farmers' market every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in Union Square Park, on Sunday in Tompkins Square Park, and a bunch of places around the city on other days. We like to walk by on our way to work. You can cruise the vendors and put together a filling breakfast and lunch for $5-$7.

If you eat meat (and we're not saying you should), some farmers markets sell bits chopped off a steer that actually ate grass instead of having corn and bits o' other bovines crammed down its throat in a feedlot. Compare this to a Big Mac, which is half random steers and half worn-out dairy cows, all mixed up together like some bizarre beef bukkake. The only downside is that the cute little all-natural lamb is killed at the same slaughterhouse they kill all the other lambs they take away from their mommies. You can thank Upton Sinclair for that, kids.

If you really want to eat meat, here's a suggestion that will horrify the Bambi-hugging camp: Learn to hunt. The least thing you can do for your dinner is the favor of killing it yourself.

Food co-ops are another option. They're cheap because they're not trying to make a profit, and they're usually pretty into buying eco-friendly products. Often, they have all sorts of weird funky things like Japanese pickled plums or Thai peanut sauce. They also offer food-education classes that can totally change your attitude on eating. We have a completely unhealthy attitude about food in this country. Say "cake" to a Frenchman, and he'll think "celebration." Say it to an American, and they'll think "guilt."

Learn to homebrew.

Finally, buy organic whenever possible. It both benefits small farmers, who are an endangered species these days, and is better for the environment. (By this, we mean real organic, not General Mills pretending to be organic.) "Biodynamic" is even better than organic, and a sure bet in a time when the FDA, under intense lobbying from agribusiness, is letting standards slip something fierce. Jose Bové would have a heart attack if he lived in this country.



Don't be fooled by those "trendy" secondhand stores that'll sell you a Hawaiian shirt for $40 just because it's vintage 1978. The Goodwill, Salvation Army, and church sales are your last, best hope. Thrift shop chic is always in. While on the subway or out with your friends, look for people with your body type whose "look" you like, and then copy it. Very often, it's something as simple as matching a blue T-shirt from last summer's camp-counselor job with cheap blue-tinted sunglasses.

The trick with secondhand stores is to get stuff that doesn't look like what Great-Uncle Irving would wear to poker night with the boys. We are, after all, judged by our appearances. Don't just get anything to cover your ass. Be patient. Eventually, you'll find something that's both hip and cheap. Think of the search for the perfect bowling shirt as a spiritual journey.

Work clothes are another matter. Most jobs require you to be somewhat presentable (unless you work in IT, in which case you probably get paid enough to afford the good clothes you don't have to wear). All you really need is that one good interview suit, which you might be able to get at the Goodwill. There are also several non-profits that give suits to low-income people. If anyone comments on the fact that your double-breasted plaid zoot suit went out in the '50s, tell them you saw it in GQ. Most people who actually care about what other people are wearing are stupid enough to believe this.

If you're working at a job that requires a suit (thank you, Men's Apparel Alliance), you can probably afford to get two or three, but then dry-cleaning's a bitch and an environmental nightmare. Learn to hand-wash your stuff, or consider changing jobs. Also, it's cheaper to shine, mend, and re-sole your shoes than to buy a new pair. (Also, if you're a vegan, Doc Martens' and several other companies make leather-free shoes.)

If money is not the problem and you just don't want to appear sheep-like in mass-produced corporatewear that will be out of fashion anyway by the time you get it home and out of its landfill-destined bag. Or you at least have qualms about paying $50 for a T-shirt that some Phillipino 8-year-old was paid 3 cents to sew, have your clothes made the old-fashioned way: By a tailor. Or peruse vintage stores like (silk stockings still in the original package = sexy). Of course, if you're reading this, your last name probably isn't Rockefeller, and the tailor's going to be fixing your torn clothes, rather than making you new ones. Mending is better than ending. Still, if you go out of the country, take advantage of the exchange rates: Our brother had some really sharp suits made for $300 eah in Hong Kong.

No matter how cheap your clothes, you're gonna have to wash them sooner or later. Detergent is a major environmental polluter. If you can afford the extra pennies, eco-safe brands like Seventh Generation are the way to go (especially since Tide, All, and all those others are made by huge corporations who test the stuff on poor little bunny rabbits—probably as a Satanic ritual, in Proctor and Gamble's case). If you can't even afford detergent, some ordinary liquid (or liquefied) soap does the same job, if less well. Also, some white vinegar added to the wash along with the detergent is better for getting out stains and odors than fancy-ass stain remover. We use it on all our martial arts uniforms, and it gets out yellow sweat stains and rancid odor without destroying the fabric. (Just don't try it with balsamic or you'll smell like salad dressing.)

If you feel you must use bleach don't inflict more chlorine on the water supply. Hydrogen peroxide is environmentally safe but don't waste your money on a big bottle of eco-bleach. It's mostly water with a splash of hydrogen peroxide. Buy the brown bottle of straight hydrogen peroxide from the drug store for a buck.

Haircuts are a small but significant expense. Either grow that stuff out or buy a clipper and do it youself. Shave your head to save on shampoo.

Remember, your khakis don't need to be washed every week. Washing clothes tends to destroy them quicker.

In truth, life is too short to iron, but then, putting a nice crease in anything makes it look that much sharper. An ironed thrift-store Hawaiian shirt is a statement. A wrinked thrift-store Hawaiian shirt is a statement, too: "I'm homeless."

And remember: Style is a matter of independence, even rebellion; it's not fashion, which is only a matter of commercially fostered fads. True style comes from knowing who you are.

Next: Part 3.


Got tips that would make Martha puke? Send us e-mail at

Posted October 6, 2002 4:30 PM






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