The Scavengers’ Manifesto

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Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson know that the United States is an incredibly wasteful society. They write, “The freedom to generate waste and not worry about what happens to it is what powers the economy.” As long as companies keep producing, waste will continue–waste that the adventurous can reclaim for their own needs.

In The Scavengers’ Manifesto Rufus and Lawson invite readers to explore the fringe world of scavenging. The authors share numerous examples of things they have found: furniture, home decorations, food, and even a working iPhone. They’ve been scavenging for years and argue that it can be a liberating experience. Aside from saving a lot of money, they write that scavenging has changed how they experience things–it’s made them more patient, made them more observant, and given their lives a sense of surprise and uncertainty that is often missing from the predictable routine of consumer capitalism.

To be sure, there is truth to what Rufus and Lawson write. Aside from their numerous examples, over the years I’ve subsided for long periods of time on food gleaned from dumpsters, groceries purchased with the bottle deposits from found bottles, and wild plants picked in parks. At various times, this very website has been updated from computer hardware that was scavenged in the trash. That said, there are plenty of options out there at a variety of different comfort zones.

The authors are right that many may be put off by dumpster diving and to those folks they offer a number of helpful tips: attend and organize clothing swaps, purchase your clothes second hand, attend lectures with receptions afterwards for free food (you might even learn something), yard sales, and other ideas. It mentions resources like FreeCycle (a community devoted to exchanging goods for free) and CraigsList. It makes a point to define scavenging in a broad sense, ostensibly to hook people on the idea. So, while I’m not sure that someone that cuts coupons and vows never to pay full price is really a “scavenger,” I do understand the logic of classifying them as such. They also include a twelve-point set of “commandments” for scavengers that helps to remove the association of scavenging with lawlessness. Rufus and Lawson argue that once you give it a chance, you will likely be hooked.

Unfortunately, the book is a little vague on the political reasons for scavenging. While it talks about the abundance of waste in the United States, in never really develops this into a full-blown critique of environmental destruction. Similarly, it never talks about how much food is wasted and the number of people that go hungry each day. For me, the political reasons have always motivated scavenging, as they have for many others that scavenge. The authors write a bit about the freegan movement (–an anti-consumerist philosophy that advocates scavenging and minimal corporate work–but they largely leave out the politics.

Overall, The Scavengers’ Manifesto is an intriguing book. Aside from practical tips, it offers a few chapters on how scavengers have been portrayed historically, a look at the spiritual aspects of scavenging, and even a somewhat tedious chapter on biology and scavenging.

For many, it will be eye-opening look into an incredibly wasteful society and what can be gleaned from this waste.

Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson, The Scavengers’ Manifesto, (Tarcher/Penguin, 2009).

Empowered Women’s Health Workshop Explores Alternatives to Traditional Healthcare

An Empowered Women's Health Workshop Hosted by The Bloom Collective Provided Alternatives to Corporate Dominated Healthcare

On Saturday, about 25 people of various ages gathered at the Tanglefoot building for the Empowered Women’s Health Workshop, hosted by The Bloom Collective.

The workshops were varied in topic and in style:

Birthing and Pregnancy

The first workshop, about a woman-sense approaching to birthing and pregnancy, was facilitated by Yolanda Visser, a local lay midwife who has been practicing for 20 years. Visser talked about how giving birth has become “medicalized,” but that there are other aspects to the process. For example, Visser focuses on a spiritual component as well, noting that birth is inherently spiritual as the miracle of life. She also makes sure to care for the mother as well as the child during the birthing process.

Some of the challenges of home birthing were also discussed. For example, in Michigan home births are legal, but in nearby states they are not.

Media and Marketing – “Pink” Products

Following this was a workshop about media and marketing targeting women for profit, facilitated by Julia Mason, asst. professor of Women and Gender Studies at GVSU and Mindy Holohan, a member of Kent County Friends of Coalition for a Commercial Free Childhood.

Mason began the discussion by talking about recent campaigns for breast cancer awareness. She stated her opinion that the issue of breast cancer needs to be focused on as a societal issue, rather than individual. On the subject of “pink” consumer products, she noted that it is important to be educated on whether or not the company you buy from will actually do anything concrete with the profits – Mason recommended as a resource to educate yourself on which products are legitimate. She pointed out the contradiction of many of these “pink ribbon” products, noting that many women’s pharmaceuticals contain cancer causing chemicals, but then convince consumers to buy their products in order to fight cancer. The discussion was then led to the problems of a consumerism viewed as a fix for societal problems – most people present were critical of the current cultures which dictates that we all need more stuff to be happy.

Marketing Toward Young Children

Mindy Holohan focused on marketing toward young children – she read off some disturbing statistics (the average male sees his first pornographic image at age 11.5, a life size Barbie would have a 16 inch waist), saying “we are a culture in crisis.” To further illustrate her point, she passed around disturbing advertising images of dolls distributed in Happy Meals dressed provocatively and caked with make up, of 4 year old human models dressed in the same manner, and advertising for young males which shows unrealistically muscular men and promotes stereotypes. Holohan called on society’s fathers to step up and learn to be supportive for their young daughters as they navigate through this sea of advertising – “There is no time a girl needs her Dad more than early adolescence, but that’s when they’re pulling away.”

Menstrual Health

The next workshop, “De-Sanitizing Our Menstrual Health,” facilitated by GVSU student Rachel Hamilton and Lori Day, utilized a more hands-on approach. Materials and instructions for everyone present (whether or not they themselves menstruate) were shared to sew their own reusable menstrual pad. While everyone sewed, the facilitators talked about how our culture has made menstruation a taboo topic, and they encouraged everyone to get rid of that stigma and share their own experiences.

During discussion, it came up that many young women are confused when their first cycle occurs, because so little information about menstruation was given to them prior. Discussion continued to the problems of the most commonly used products – disposable pads and tampons. As with any disposable product, these are harmful to the environment, both in their manufacturing process and after being thrown out. They also contain toxins which are harmful to the body, most of which are added during the bleaching process (contradictorily, the only reason these products are bleached is give the illusion of cleanliness.)

Many alternatives were shared: reusable pads, menstrual cups (the Diva Cup and the Keeper were two brands mentioned), sponges and disposable cups, all of which are better for women’s bodies and the environment.


The final workshop of the day, facilitated by Kathy Reider of Intuitive Services, began with an explanation of the benefits of meditation: meditation gives one’s body the chance to everything down, and helps the body heal more quickly. Meditation connects you to the fullness of who you are, allowing you to have better relationships. Reider said, “being grounded is your natural state. Thinking is not.” The group was then led through a meditation technique, which some found beneficial, and others struggled to relax.

For the final twenty minutes, everyone participated in a go-around in which we shared what we do for our own health. Exercise, a healthy diet, using a menstrual cup, and many other ideas were mentioned.

Overall, the workshops represented a variety of opinions and encouraged productive discussion among everyone present.

Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design

From Portland to Milwaukee to Ypsilanti, a new wave of do-it-yourself art, craft, and design is, and has been, emerging across the nation. Intertwining interviews of crafters from all areas of the nation with photos of their work, Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl have compiled an intriguing look at the rise of DIY crafting.

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From Portland to Milwaukee to Ypsilanti, a new wave of do-it-yourself art, craft, and design is, and has been, emerging across the nation. Intertwining interviews of crafters from all areas of the nation with photos of their work, Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl compile the ever so timely book, Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design.

Upon skimming through the brightly-colored glossy pages, we see photo after photo of young emerging artists showing off their handiwork. Lampwork beads, handmade shoes, latch-hook rugs, refurbished jewelry, altered clothing, and knitted purses are exhibited by twenty-four crafters. Through interviews, they all share their inspiring stories of how independent (also known as “indie”) craft has impacted their lives.

With blogs, forums, and craft websites hopping with both makers and buyers, many indie crafters have transformed small projects, which at one point started from sitting on their bedroom floors cross-stitching, has now turned into an underground economy from which many are able to make their living. A dream come true for some of the crafters featured; the ability to combine their passion and skill to create and make money doing what they love, drives them – for others, it is a reclamation of the creativity and uniqueness that they feel is stripped from our society by corporate influence and uniformity, that makes them flourish in the art. As Andrew Wagner states in his essay entitled “Craft: It’s What You Make of It” he says “Making your own clothes, your own dinnerware, your own art has become a way to politely (or maybe not so politely) give ‘the man’ the middle finger, for lack of a better term.”

Wagner’s reaction to the rise of the indie craft revolution perhaps best envelopes many of the feelings the twenty-four crafters share about their community. So whether they intend to or not, these crafters are stabbing capitalism in the heart by outwardly refusing to participate in the corporate economy while supporting their own independent market that eliminates mass production, the “middle man”, and may also take the form trading goods and eliminating any or all currency in their transactions.

Even someone completely foreign to the world of indie craft will instantly notice the complete turn-around of what makes this form of craft different from their grandmother’s. While many of these crafters borrow old traditions, what they are creating is something drastically different and completely new.

Throughout the text, Levine and Heimerl intersperse other crafters’ wisdom through short essay-like segments which give much insight into the many varying interpretations of what craft is, how it can be used as a catalyst for social change, the Internet and its affects on craft culture and business, to craft as a therapeutic and even spiritual form.

Handmade Nation makes it immediately obvious that in this particular world of craft, the medium, the creativity, and the ideas, know no boundaries and the empowering underlying message: anyone can do this.

Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl, Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design, (Princeton Architectural Press, 2008).

Chicago Stories


Aaron Elliot’s Cometbus is perhaps the best known of the fanzines that once provided the lifeblood of the underground punk rock scene in the San Francisco bay area, and to a large extent, the United States as a whole. For much of its nearly 20 year history, Cometbus has documented punk culture, describing shows, chronicling the travels of the author through various punk scenes, and providing a personal documentary of punk culture. Cometbus’ success has always been that rather than simply interview bands and review records it address the intersection of punk rock and the personal and how the ideals and ethics of the punk scene manifest themselves in the author’s everyday life.

Chicago Stories collects numerous stories from Aaron’s tenure in Chicago, all of which appeared in previous out of print issues of Cometbus, and compiles them into a sharp looking pocket-sized book. However, while the stories are the standard Cometbus fare–and as such are well written–the book is typeset rather than handwritten which considerably detracts from the personal nature of the zine. Certainly longtime readers of Cometbus will recognize Aaron’s writing, and new readers will appreciate Aaron’s tales of growing old, spending time in diners, and passing the day browsing book stores, but without the “Cometbus” handwriting, the book loses the charm of its zine counterpart.

Cometbus has long been one of the best zines and Chicago Stories provides some introduction to what all the hype is about. Aaron has a knack for taking seemingly mundane and trivial aspects of both life and punk culture and making them seem at once significant and interesting. While Chicago Stories is a good way of becoming acquainted with Cometbus and the zine underground, readers looking for a more through introduction would be better served picking up a copy of <Despite Everything for a more complete anthology of Cometbus.

Aaron Cometbus, Chicago Stories, (Self Published, 2004).

Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society Rides Again

Reprinted from Get Up (June 2000)

Sadly, we ripped off the name from some unsuspecting group who I know very little about, but assume is an amazing and active bunch. But, as they say, Americans are not endlessly creative, rather endlessly re-creative…

On a Sunday, about twelve gals got together for a “bitch stitch” of sorts. We kicked out about 25 homemade menstrual pads, some of us crocheted, some repaired and altered clothing, and some made menstrual calendars to keep track of mental and physical patterns. We felt it necessary to gather together and do our thing for a number of reasons-for one: a few of us love to sew, and a few of us have mad information and experience on womenÂ’s health issues, so w wanted to get together and share our knowledge with one another. Now, I am certainly not going to pretend to be one who knows much about health, but I do know that tampons and pads are not only harmful to our bodies, but also to our earth.

We shared information on natural sponges (Jade and Pearl, Inc., PO Box 1106, Hawthorne, FL, 32640 906-684-3217), reusable cloth pads (available at various local health stores, but are terribly easy and fun to make yourself), and the keeper (The Keeper, Box 20023 Cincinnati, OH 45220) which are wonderful replacements for tampoons as we like to call them back in Ohio. They lack the toxicity of tampons and pads (no warning label is required, and do not carry residues of toxic chemicals and perfumes), are incredibly reusable (I read of one woman who used her keeper for fifteen years!), are much more cost efficient in the long run, and make me feel a heck of a lot better than buying, BUYING, BUYING, wasting and polluting. Blood can also be saved from any of these babies, and acts as a wonderful fertilizer for your garden and plants. It is quite an incredible feeling to make things that care for the body, instead of relying on taking things to “cope” with our natural ebbs and flows.

Though we have yet to establish our own name for both ourselves and our gladrags, we resolved to do two things: (1) meet monthly and (2) make more pads and sell them.

The idea is to start off with local markets, shops, and festivals, and sell them for as little as possible. Rockstar, Jennifer Perry suggested that we make a pattern and include it in each pack-o-pads so that people will be encouraged to make their own. We are in need of old towels and flannel shirts to fully utilize resources and keep costs down, as well. Next month we will meet on the last Sunday, around noon-ish, to continue rags and start on reusable shopping bags.