Zero Waste Myths, Misconceptions, and FAQs




Behold, the most pedantic post I've ever written! I think a lot of people like to poke holes in the concept of zero waste, same as they like to tell me celiac disease is fake, or that I wasn't really born in the United States. The intent is not to sound preachy, self righteous, or extreme. We all produce waste. Blogging is wasteful. Living the so-called "Western lifestyle" is wasteful. Instead of nitpicking or worrying about things we can't change, we just try to live as responsibly as we can, and help others who want to do the same.


ZERO WASTE FAQS


What is zero waste? What do you consider waste?

Definitions vary, but in general, zero waste doesn't really mean "zero." It goes beyond what we send to landfill, including recycling, energy, water, and food waste. Typically, zero waste is an industrial term for a consumer movement encouraging manufacturers to eliminate single use items and non-biodegradable materials. The aim is to push towards a circular economy and increase demand for package-free products or reclaimable packaging. People blog and post about it to heighten awareness about unsustainable consumption and affect change; except, of course, in the case of this blog, which is motivated purely by unbridled narcissism.

Is it hygienic?

Zero waste should always take a backseat to health and safety concerns. However, the idea that paper towels, antibacterial hand sanitizers, conventional cleaners, and disposables are more hygienic than zero waste alternatives isn't necessarily true. Disposables can spread infectious diseases via waste disposal and collection, and viruses remain viable in landfills. Plasticizers in single use wrapping are potential endocrine disrupters- DEHT is one well-documented example. Most studies don't indicate decreased incidence of pathogens or disease when comparing antibacterial liquids to soap and water. Other household products emit VOCs or contain flammable, explosive petroleum distillates that can be extremely dangerous, even fatal, if ingested and potentially damaging to the brain, central nervous system, liver, kidneys, etc. It all makes a little bit of bacteria- effectively removed with vinegar / hot water / a good soap scrubbing- seem not so bad after all.

Do zero waste products work as well as packaged?

Most people think homemade food tastes better and fresher than convenience foods. To see how cleaning, laundry, and beauty products work in zero waste households, just check any of the sparkling homes of zero waste bloggers. Giving up shampoos and facial cleansers cleared my skin and fixed my hair, and our apartment is cleaner and clothes nicer when I use vinegar and soap than when my husband uses expensive conventional cleaners. Many studies indicate physical removal of bacteria is more effective than chemical inactivation anyway. 

When you buy in bulk or eat out, don't the bulk shops / markets / restaurants produce waste?  

Yes. I count this as part of the waste I produce, though I don't get too anxious about all waste on the distribution level. The point is reducing individual impact on landfill waste. Many bulk shops get items shipped in large plastic bags (some still use cloth bags), but isn't that less wasteful than lots of individual packages? Often these stores have access to recycling facilities consumers don't, and in many locales, are legally required to recycle materials. France, for instance, prohibits grocery stores from wasting food. It's a myth that zero wasters always eat out, too- I cook at least 90% of meals at home. The market stalls I frequent transport produce, grown just outside Paris, in wooden crates for display in wicker baskets, using waste-minimizing growing methods. When we do go to a restaurant, it's usually a zero waste place like Freegan Pony, La Recyclerie, Mûre, or Institut de Bonté.

What if you refuse products that were prepared in advance for you (like airplane food)? Don't they still end up in the landfill?

Eh, every time I fly American Airlines, they don't have food for me. Just try telling them you have to eat gluten free and vegan and they totally forget about you! In those situations, you may be able to write in advance requesting no meal. If not, everyone inevitably generates some waste, so don't sweat it. Not all airlines will refill your reusable bottle, either, and you can't go through a flight without water. Be reasonable. If enough people ask, things may change eventually.

What about receipts? 

Not all places print receipts. When I have the option to email or forgo a receipt, I do; otherwise, I take the receipt with me and count it as part of my trash. Most secondhand shops and markets I go to use digital accounting systems, so they don't print paper receipts. Some cities recycle thermal receipts- since they contain BPA, don't put them in recycling bins unless explicitly allowed. I learned accidentally that BPA-laden receipts break down quickly in a compost, but haven't studied bioremediation of BPA-contaminated soil. If you do accidentally compost receipts, it's best not to use the soil around food.

Isn't it more expensive to repair and tailor items than buy things new?

On the consumer end, sometimes, yes. On the production and resource side, it's far more costly to buy new- especially in terms of the human and ethical cost. I repair appliances until they're not fixable anymore, but I have a bad habit of selling clothes if the cost of tailoring is too high. I buy almost everything secondhand instead of new, though.

What's better: secondhand or ethical / sustainable items? What about buying online?

These are personal decisions to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. I like secondhand because nothing uses less resources than something that already exists. At the same time, I see why it's important to support ethical or organic brands. Some argue it takes more carbon to ship a compostable bamboo toothbrush, but others feel that's better than a plastic toothbrush that doesn't decompose. If I purchase online, I buy from retailers like Reformation, Swedish Stockings, Etsy sellers, or Zooplus, who ship without plastic, using paper tape and the least amount of packaging possible. Amazon also has frustration free packaging. The last eBay seller I bought from shipped jeans in a tiny reused Madewell mailer, which I then used to sell items on Vestiaire Collective. When I end up with plastic or styrofoam packing materials, I reuse them as long as I can.  

Doesn't washing reusables use more water and resources than disposables? Aren't disposables more environmentally friendly than reusables?

No. The embodied energy of reusables is often higher. However, life cycle energy analyses factoring in pollution from production and disposal of disposables, transportation, water inputs, the volume of disposables required, and landfill capacities generally find reusables to be lower carbon and the best value choice. If you buy reusables secondhand, it's a no brainer.

How do you deal with feminine hygiene? Dental floss? Where do you find vinegar unpackaged?

Here's a rundown of reusable options. Short answer, a lot of women just use the cup. I use siwak (miswak) exactly like floss. Any arguments about the efficacy of ancient methods don't hold up because when the bristles separate, you can use it between teeth just as with nylon floss, and siwak actually whitens (turmeric and activated charcoal are other natural tooth whiteners).  Bea Johnson uses silk unraveled from something used and other people use horse hair, Ecodent, Radius, Vömel, Stimudent, Bryton picks, interdental brushes, water piks... my dentist like water piks in addition to some sort of interdental brush or floss. I've never had a cavity, so I trust him. If you don't have bulk vinegars (Paris has lots of places, and so does my small hometown), make your own. It's really easy, cheap, and foolproof, because even I did it- the hardest part is getting enough apple scraps to make a batch. I eat all of mine! You could also use lemons or plain soap and water.

How do you freeze things without plastic?

Glass jars, if you don't fill them the whole way, freeze really well and protect against freezer burn. My grandparents used stainless steel their whole lives though (you can get them at places like H Mart for cheap), even when they had iceboxes! I always keep ice cream and soup frozen in Weck or Ball jars and it's fine.

Don't you use toilet paper?

No, I use soap and water- it's healthier and more hygienic. Toilet paper can contain BPA and is associated with various infections and health problems. I still buy toilet paper for my husband and guests.


MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS


Zero wasters don't have jobs or children. 

A lot of zero waste bloggers work full time, and many are parents. When I started zero waste, I was working two jobs (one full time, one an internship) while going to school full time. Check out Rebecca's post to see how two parents work full time while raising two zero waste kids under five.

Zero wasters carry their trash around in a jar. 

I don't. As Celia notes, it's misleading, and doesn't account for energy / resource waste or recycling. When you're first starting out, it's helpful to see what trash you're making and figure out how to eliminate it. It's nice having a goal to work towards and keep yourself accountable, but it can be disheartening and breed a spirit of competition if your trash doesn't fit the 1L standard. 

Zero wasters let other people (producers, retailers) deal with their waste by leaving all their trash at the store. 

A lot of people think I leave receipts or shoeboxes at shops for some reason. I buy secondhand, so I don't always get shoeboxes, but when I do, I keep them for storage. It increases the retail value of shoes if I ever sell them. See above for a receipt explanation.

They're all lying. 

Waste is a relatively modern invention- people lived zero waste for thousands of years! If it worked for our grandparents, it can work for us, only we have the added advantage of research and hindsight to keep us healthy. There are very few things we use today that cannot be replaced with a zero waste alternative

They throw away all their old plastic to buy new stuff. 

Most zero wasters recommend using up all your old disposables and plastics before replacing them with sustainable alternatives. I had the advantage of starting zero waste when I owned nothing, so I had no choice but to buy or Freecycle the glass and cloth things I own now (mostly purchased secondhand). 


Zero wasters spend all their time making things. 

I make food, and that's about it. You don't have to make deodorant or toothpaste- just use baking soda. Instead of making laundry detergent, use soap. Instead of whipping up some lotion, try oil. Use gram flour, clay, or water only instead of shampoo. There are lots of one ingredient solutions that don't require hours of labor. Not that making things takes so much time- remember when Monica made all that jam and still had time to go to the coffee shop and cryobank?

You can only be zero waste if you live in a place with bulk stores. It's easy if you live in a city / impossible if you live in a city.

I didn't live in a place with a bulk shop or farmer's market until moving to Paris, and even now I don't usually shop bulk bins. You can buy unpackaged fruits and vegetables from most supermarkets, spiralize vegetables instead of pastas, make gnocchi from leftover mashed potatoes, ask for meats and cheeses in your own jars, and purchase breads from small bakeries in your own bags. Buy recyclables when you have to, or liquids in returnable bottles, if available. Don't worry if you have to buy packaged items- ask the manager for more zero waste options. I did this, and now my tiny hometown offers bulk olive oils, peanut butters, gluten free pasta, etc. As for beauty products, there are plenty available in paper, metal, or cardboard packaging. Lots of zero waste bloggers live in the city, in the countryside, by the beach, on farms, etc. I lived in a suburb when I first started. There are options wherever you live, if you really want to try.


Paris to Go

Plastic Free, Zero Waste Self Tanner


Normally I'm several shades lighter than my white tank top. A few swirls of homemade henna self tanner later imparts streak-free, smudge-proof, summery color. Unlike conventional self tanners, it doesn't smell like cat pee, either! I'm all for embracing your natural skin tone, but it's fun to experiment sometimes. This was my shade six months a year before moving to Paris, where I developed Victorian pallor.

This recipe looks muddy and dirty at first, leaving a nice, subtle glow after showering. For the most part, the formula doesn't transfer onto white sheets or light clothing. It came off on white towels after a shower, and it smudged my white t-shirt once. In both instances, the color washed out beautifully and didn't stain. You can shave, take baths, and swim and your tan won't budge. After five days, it starts to look patchy, but fades nicely until then. Unlike typical self tanners, this won't stain your bathtub or sink, wiping away easily with soap or vinegar.



Homemade Zero Waste Self Tanner

50 grams henna (not black henna)
100 grams oil (you can use coconut, almond, or even mango / shea / cocoa butter)
20 grams loose leaf black tea steeped in 100 mL hot water

Let tea cool before making a smooth paste with henna and oil (it's green and looks disgusting). Apply in long, circular motions. Contour to make fake abs and stuff. Wait fifteen minutes before getting dressed. Makes one light full-body application; double or triple as desired. You can make a big batch and store it in a dark glass pump bottle in the fridge for one month. Allow at least eight hours to set before showering. Repeat every night to gradually build your tan, rinsing between applications. 

To remove the self tanner, I scrubbed with a hemp washcloth. I like that this doesn't settle in pores or leave dark dots where I shaved; it is extremely messy and not worth using regularly, but nowhere near as complicated as storebought self tanners. After several applications, the color is comparable to Vita Liberata- I've gotten the spray tans and used the 2-3 week lotion in the past (packaged in #7 plastic). I've also tried Olay, L'oreal, and Neutrogena, and they were more orange than this. Some people recommend taking a bath with a few teaspoons of henna instead, though I heard this can result in an Oompa-Loompa look. Not in the mood to DIY? Try plastic free, all-natural self tanner from Etsy.

Paris to Go

Popine, Gluten-Free Pizza, Ménilmontant

 

Popine is the most aesthetically appealing- and delicious- place for gluten free pizza in Paris, made by world champion pizzaiolo Gennaro Nasti. Recommended by lovely Chiara, we tried it Sunday and even my husband couldn't get enough of the perfectly oiled, flavorful gluten free crust. Chiara told Gennaro we were there and he said hi after dinner; he was very friendly and sweet. I only wish I'd ordered a second pizza to take home!

  

My husband jokes Ménilmontant is hipster Paris, but it's fortunately not quite there yet. Elderly couples dined next to families and college students. Gluten free desserts also appear on the well-priced, creative menu, which includes dishes like satay burgers and quinoa salad.

 

Call at least 24 hours in advance to reserve gluten free pizza dough. Otherwise, walk in and sit on the sunny terrace, at communal tables, or comfy window seats. I loved the violet and cucumber cocktails :) J'ai testé Popine ce dimanche. C'est tout simplement le meilleure pizza sans gluten et la deco est super. Merci Gennaro et Chiara!

Popine

108 Blvd de Ménilmontant
75020 Paris
Phone: +33 09 86 25 05 71
Say "Je voulais savoir si je peux réserver la pâte sans gluten" or something like that


Paris to Go

Quick Zero Waste Beetroot Blush, Lip, and Cheek Stain

Weck jar, Ecotools Bamboo Brush

Blush was one of the first things I stole from my mom when I was too young to wear makeup. I have big cheeks, and liked the flushed milkmaid look- fresh and healthy. In Paris, women don't seem to wear pink blush too much, favoring pale cheeks or highlighted cheekbones. That doesn't work for me. I prefer old school Dauphine Marie-Josephe de Saxe-era French court makeup, with heavy rose tones from ears to the apples of my cheeks. I used to do stuff like just swipe beet juice onto skin, or mash a few raspberries or strawberries together with olive oil for lip tint. Applying pomegranate juice directly to cheek or lips was another easy beauty DIY. However, powder can be applied more precisely, doesn't cause breakouts, and lends the matte look I need for my oily skin. 

Homemade beetroot powder blush is coarser and darker than storebought, but looks subtle on skin. Some people incorporate arrowroot powder to tone down the redness. I haven't calculated the energy consumption of using a dehydrator or oven to make this, but it surely uses a lot less resources, water, and time than conventional store bought blush. I use organic beets from Joel Thiebault, eat the greens, and dehydrate as many roots as I can at once. If you don't have a dehydrator, slice beets into 1/4 inch slices and set the oven under 100°C (the lowest setting is fine), with the fan on. Place on cookie sheets in the oven. It takes up to eight hours to dehydrate beets, after which you simply pulse them a few times in a food processor, with arrowroot, if desired. If you have a dehydrator, leave thinly sliced beets at 200°F overnight. The same process with golden beets makes yellow eyeshadow. Use mortar and pestle if you don't have a food processor. UPDATE: Bonnie had the great idea to mix golden beets with red for a peachy blush. If anybody tries, I'd love to see it!

Louis Vuitton coat, secondhand (similar here)

The color is universally flattering, but you can dehydrate cherries or strawberries at the same time to make a different hue. For DIY lip and cheek stain, mix two teaspoons beetroot powder for every one teaspoon each oil (I recommend almond) and candelilla wax. Above is a bad picture of me wearing the lip stain- my lips are flesh toned normally, but the lip stain gives a nice berry hue and has great staying power. Keep homemade cosmetics out of sunlight in a tightly sealed jar, so they last a long time. Just wash your brush with bar soap every week to keep bugs away :)

Paris to Go

Zero Waste 10 Step Korean Skincare Routine

Inspired by Elizabeth and Christina's post, Clean Version of the 10 Step Korean Skincare Routine (thank you to everyone who shared this with me!), and readers Rachel, Ji, and Susanna, here is a zero waste approximation of the Korean skincare routine. I only spoke to a limited sample of Korean women- most of whom are family- so this definitely isn't representative of everyone, but they didn't really know what I was talking about when I said "10 step routine." It's just something they've always done, and the number of steps vary by person. There's a strong history of DIY and zero waste beauty treatments in Korean culture, dating back to at least the Goryeo Dynasty. You can read some traditional recipes, with ingredients like sulfur and human milk, in the Joseon-era Dongui Bogam. I also recommend watching the K-drama Horse Doctor for historical depictions of Korean beauty :)
My sister and I could tell countless stories about exacting Korean standards of beauty. Our flaws were discussed regularly, openly. In particular, acne was seen as a reflection of poor character. "Last year, I told your grandma, Ariana looks terrible," my friend said recently. "You finally look normal again." After an American friend visited the Philippines for a weekend, Korean colleagues touched her bronzed, glowing skin with tears in their eyes. "Don't worry," they whispered. "We can whiten this for you." I get the impression, however wrongly, that French women feel pressure to maintain a certain weight. In Korea, excess pounds have actually been referred to as a shame upon my family, along with dark circles, freckles, curly hair, and even being too thin. There was a period of time when I was a little skinny because of complications from celiac disease. When I recovered, a longtime family friend said verbatim: "Good. I'm glad you're so much fatter now. You were starting to be embarrassing."



I actually never thought this was a bad thing. Perhaps I'd feel differently if I actually lived there, but I always sensed an undercurrent of healthfulness in Korean standards of beauty. Friends and relatives were genuinely concerned that my external flaws reflected internal medical issues, and for the most part, they were right. To me, the Korean ideal was attainable, wholesome even. It was the pressure to conform to American standards- tanned, big boobs, plump lips, and a contoured face, like Barbie- that really messed with my self-image. Again, I'd probably feel different if I lived there, or if mixed heritage hadn't given me eyelids that rendered blepharoplasty unnecessary (not pointing fingers or anything, but the national obsession with plastic surgery arguably began with American occupational forces, not K-pop superstars). 
Despite their admitted devotion to products, whenever I tell a Korean I'm doing water only, they know what's up. And even though my own routine couldn't be more different, I respect the methodical, individualized approach to beauty my friends and family members take. So, here is the 10 step Korean skincare routine with their plastic free, zero waste counterparts. While I can't comment on the effectiveness of this anecdotally-derived routine compared to modern Korean products today, the women I consulted always had perfect skin. They all look half their age! Remember, Koreans believe beauty starts from the inside, so eat lots of kimchi, miyeok guk, and good fats for a healthy glow.





10 Step Zero Waste, KOREAN Skincare Routine


I.

Cleansing Oil
Floral oils like camellia or peony are really traditional, but my grandma pointed out they are better for hair than skin. Pre-Occupation, she and her friends used sunflower, pumpkin, castor, apricot kernel, or even cabbage oil, depending on skin type. Castor oil was also applied directly to eyelashes and eyebrows in the hopes of making them fuller, pre-Latisse. Now, my grandma uses olive oil, but other Koreans I asked use rice bran, rosehip, or grapeseed oil, since they're less comedogenic. Check out this post about higher linoleic acid oils to minimize breakouts.

II.

Cleansing Foam
Ground mung beans were the original HG cleanser. I tried it once- they actually foam like soap. Grind raw beans or use mung bean powder mixed with water, milk, or yogurt to treat acne and fade scars. Can't find mung beans? Gram flour is a great substitute. You could also just try plain soap. The unpackaged soap my grandma uses was once milled from flowers that grew in the DPRK.

III.

Exfoliant
Ginseng root, red beans, sponge gourds, and rice bran were the most common exfoliators- gentler than sugar or sea salt and oil. You basically chop the raw roots and beans really finely or grind them in a coffee grinder and apply to wet skin. Mix with oil, if desired. My grandma said facial exfoliation didn't happen often- less than once a week- because they thought too much caused wrinkles. This is opposed to body scrubs, which frequently pushed pain thresholds to the brink. 

IV.

Toning
Cucumber slices or homemade rice toner removed the last traces of cleanser, gently softening skin. Oily skin types used hamamelis  (witch hazel) in water.

V.

Essence
Pinning down the essence- now considered the most important step in the Korean skincare routine- was the hardest part. Older Korean women didn't know what I was talking about, even if they were addicted to SK-II's version. My grandma says she and her sisters applied watermelon juice (diluted with water) or homemade floral water after toning, so I'm guessing this may be the precursor to the Korean essence. Oily skin was treated with lemon juice in water. Some people used pomegranate, which my grandma called extravagant, lol.

VI.

Ampoule
Well, by the sea, they really did use snail mucin, or bee jelly. And in ancient Korean texts, they mixed pearl powder with breast milk, which is unfortunate. Others used- still use- ginseng oil or skullcap (Chinese herb) tea instead of serum. Infuse your own ginseng oil by leaving a piece of the root in the oil of your choice. Let it sit in a tightly sealed bottle in a cool, dark place, 1-2 weeks. Some people said just boil ginseng three times, let the water cool, and apply that instead. My grandma's friend recommended mixing it with lotus starch to make a cream. Others remembered using fermented tea mixed with one drop of fragrant oil.

VII.

Sheet Mask
Elizabeth and Christina made their own beautiful, zero waste muslin sheet masks out of fabric scraps, so they could wash and reuse them indefinitely. I don't think my grandma did these, but one of her older friends said she made one from rags back in the day. Use 1-2 times per week.

VIII.

Face Cream
Most of the women I talked to remember cucumber, pumpkin, or watermelon lotions, but they were apparently more like milk than cream. To make it, they extracted juice from the gourd plant and mixed it with distilled fruit essence. Others just used rice water instead of lotion, which really works! One halmeoni recommended mixing rosewater with rice powder and safflower oil. I tried that once, and it didn't end up lotion-y, so you may wish to use one of the recipes here, perhaps substituting candelilla for beeswax and rice powder for cornstarch. Or just use plain oil, purchased in bulk.

IX.

Sleep Mask
Some Korean people said they used milk- again, the Dongui Bogam recommends human milk- tea, honey, or eggs for the occasional nighttime mask. The water that floats over millet porridge, or fermented millet water, purportedly whitens skin and remove freckles. Chinese motherwort, roasted and ground into powder, then mixed with drops of water to form a paste, was used to remove acne. Turmeric bug is another traditional recipe that's easy to make today.  

X.

BB / SPF
During the Occupation, in country towns where they couldn't get Japanese products, people used mibun or baekbun (millet or rice powder) mixed with water or oil to form a paste. This whitened, concealed imperfections, and shielded the face from the sun, so I guess it was the original BB cream? Then they used plant ash or indigo soot to draw on eyebrows and define the eyes. Obviously, sun protection is not something to be messed with today. There are plastic free and homemade sunscreen options, but they're not for everybody, and as with conventional sunscreens, they're not always effective. So choose at your own risk! Personally, I've mixed arrowroot with cornstarch to make zero waste foundation, and it provided effective coverage- but I wouldn't try making a cream with it.

Paris to Go

Freegan Pony, Zero Waste Vegetarian Restaurant, Paris 19ème

 

The most exclusive table in Paris isn't Michelin starred, doesn't have any dress code, and doesn't require several months advance notice to book. It's hidden under the highway supporting the Périphérique, across from a gypsy camp just past Glazart-La Plage, with a pigeon infested port-a-potty outside. When Aladdin Charni opens Freegan Pony's giant metal doors- painted with green vegetables and graffiti letters- he greets each guest warmly as they step inside a cavernous 500m2 space lined with cars and photos from a recent exhibition. A friendly dog sniffs the people filing in, who nearly trip over him (her?) as their eyes adjust to the darkness, lit only by a row of windows in back and a few lamps sprinkled amidst exposed brick. All the furniture is secondhand, purchased from Emmaus, with pallets behind the kitchen counter, moss covered pillars, and a sparklingly clean sink and workspace. Throughout the night, we watch fellow restaurant goers trip over brightly colored vintage rugs, laughing. They crowd onto sofas and brightly colored benches. Music plays from a speaker stationed behind the piano. In the kitchen, volunteers help professional chefs prepare unsold food recovered from Rungis. The ambitious project is one of a kind in Europe, designed to raise awareness about the problem of food waste and divert perfectly good produce from landfills.

     
Photos, Becoming a Parisian  
 
Freegan Pony's sixty seat restaurant has been packed every night since opening in November. Kids dance in the open space with their parents and play football with the dog. Local university students, couples, and middle-aged book club members chat with tourists and expats. After we get our seats, a line forms out the door. A group of girls opt to stand with their food and drinks. The rotating team of highly trained chefs creates an entirely vegetarian menu, with gluten-free and vegan items clearly marked, that changes every day. It helps to get there a little early; ten minutes is enough, since this is France. When guests reach the head of the line, they give their name and the number of people in their party. Next, they pick up silverware and glasses, ordering drinks on the other side of the counter. Names are called for each entree. Once the first course is finished, all dishes- entirely non-disposable glass and metal- are placed in a bin marked "vaiselle." Patrons head back to the counter for plat and dessert, and at the end of each meal, pay what they can afford. Dishes like fresh cucumber, tomato, and mint salad, or expertly seasoned lentils with roast peppers, onions and kohlrabi paired perfectly with the vegan coconut mango dessert. Portions were generous, and every table had overflowing baskets of bread and water carafes.

  
Photos, Becoming a Parisian  

The space laid empty for over ten years before Freegan Pony's volunteer team turned it into a unique art gallery, concert space, and community center with ateliers and distribution programs for needy Parisians and refugees. Now Freegan Pony is being asked to leave the unused space and abandon headquarters for their zero waste food recovery project. Today from 12-6 PM, Freegan Pony is opening its doors to make the most of what may be their last weekend under the Périphérique. From 6-midnight, entry is 5 euros and there will be live music, delicious food, performances, and photography for all. Please sign the petition to save this amazing restaurant from eviction! The volunteers and organizers worked so hard and were so friendly, we never wanted the night to end. Even when we held up the line taking pictures for this blog post, the ladies behind us joked and laughed. When I bumped into people, they patted me on the back and smiled. Also, two Chinese women asked to sit with us which thrilled me because I felt like it validated my Asianness. Places like this remind me why I loved Paris when I first came here five years ago! I find myself forgetting more and more lately and Freegan Pony showed me a side of the city worth staying for. Bring your own cloth napkin and mason jar for beer (wine / beer are 3 euro a glass) to support this great community project today.


Paris to Go

Doha, Qatar



I think I'm racist because I went to Qatar with lots of inaccurate ideas and misconceptions. I blame TripAdvisor. I was initially afraid of doing anything without my husband. I was inexplicably surprised when Qatari natives revealed their love for Game of Thrones, or played Zayn in cars, homes, and public spaces. The main observable differences between Qataris and Clevelanders are that Qataris are far wealthier, have better roads and eyebrows, and I.M Pei actually likes them. Embarrassingly, I asked some people if they would "get in trouble" for taking a picture with me, and assumed Qatari women weren't allowed to drive. All met my ignorance with remarkable forbearance. "I'm not Amish," one friend said matter-of-factly. "The camera's not going to steal my soul!" People constantly had to remind me this wasn't Saudi Arabia. "I can drive. I just hate driving in Doha traffic," a female friend explained, pulling a flaçon of Chanel perfume from her 3.55. She spritzed both our wrists- mine and hers- before shuffling away, Hermès sandals peeking out under an intricately beaded abaya. 

 

Our friends insisted on paying for everything, displaying true Arabian hospitality. They took time out of their day to visit the stunning Ibn Tulun-inspired Museum of Islamic Art with us, share a traditional Persian meal at Shebestan, and sip delicious karak tea on a sand dune. They joked about their nationwide weight issues. I got the impression that not eating meat or gluten struck some as strange, but everyone knew my deal- clean pan, no wheat, barley, or rye- so I ate gluten-free and vegan without any trouble. Recently, a 24 year old even opened Evergreen Organics, Qatar's first vegan cafe.

 

My husband used to live in Abu Dhabi, and we've both traveled the Middle East separately, but nothing could prepare us for the sheer luxury of Qatar. I can't compare it to any place I've ever been. They speak casually of routine plastic surgeries and get regular massages at the Four Seasons. They layer the latest runway fashions under hijab. "This is our great chess game," one Qatari commented. "White thoub for men, black for women." 



Unlike other emirates, it seems Qatar imports less Western institutions, preferring to establish their own museums and icons while buying up buildings, fashion houses, department stores, and sports teams instead. For art and architecture lovers, Doha is heaven. I'm used to roads or complexes built with cheap materials by the lowest bidder. Everything in Doha was designed by the best architects and structural engineers, made from the finest quality granite, marble, and sandstone. Whenever I finished a glass of water, someone arrived immediately to replace it with a fresh one. No expense was spared, except when it came to imported labor. Each morning I watched Nepalese migrants dangle from skyscrapers in searing heat. White tourists decried FIFA death tolls. After talking joloff rice and Twi with a Rastafarian driver from Accra, he told us about difficult working conditions and how much he wanted to go home. 

 

By contrast, many never want to leave. Though their mothers didn't wear abaya, the women I spoke to were proud to have masters degrees, be PhD candidates, and earn positions only men held before, as well as higher salaries than their male counterparts. When I asked a friend if she'd ever move to one of the many countries she frequently traveled to, she shook her head no. "I love the Gulf," she said resolutely.



High temperatures and an astonishing number of cars mean you'll mostly see expats and immigrants walking around Doha, and only for short distances. Qatar's vision for 2030 involves pedestrian friendly development (such as the Pearl, where I think all the expats live), an advanced public transport system (completing Phase 1 by 2019) and zero waste initiatives like composters, solar compactors, and refillable water bottle systems. Even now, trash is separated by recyclables, compostables, and landfill waste, though I heard that all trash gets collected into a single truck, presumably headed to the same place. I was shocked when I saw how perfectly green the grass was and how many sprinklers ran each day. 



Qatar is focusing more on indigenous plants and installing rooftop gardens to reduce dependence on air conditioning. They need to tackle overly salinated water and environmental damage caused by oil spills, and some Qatari are upset about city planning decisions made by non-natives. "They should use the colors of the desert. It would be so much better if they relied on the expertise of people who actually grew up here," one commented. However, their aspirations are sound. It takes time to change culture and behaviors, especially in a place where development happened so rapidly. "Our grandparents had slaves. You can't get Qataris to live in apartment buildings," my friend explained. Currently, carbon emissions don't seem to be a big motivator, but being a world leader in sustainability does. 


By the way, the Qatari royal family is fascinating. First of all, it seems like all Qataris know them personally. The Emir goes to Souq Waqif every Friday and it's fun seeing their beautiful stallions and falcons. Secondly, the Sheikhas are so powerful and beautiful. Some people criticize how Sheikha Mozah wears exclusively haute couture with her turbans, instead of mixing it up with high street items like Kate Middleton. But I love her uncompromising style. If I had seven kids, and accomplished everything she did while staying that slim, you better believe I'd wear nothing but Dior. 

    

Sheikha Al Mayassa is equally intriguing. Perhaps the most influential person in the art world, she commissioned Jean Nouvel to design the new Qatar National Museum. It's not even finished and already looks amazing, like veined flower petals sprawled across the Doha coastline. Once completed, the museum will feature an indigenous plant garden, cinema, research laboratories, and cultural food hall in addition to galleries.
  


GLUTEN FREE, VEGAN DOHA


  • W Doha Great location and gluten-free friendly restaurants frequented by native Qataris. Gluten free pasta, cakes, and afternoon tea available (the Ritz also does gluten-free high tea), and I loved the matcha sundae and cocktails at Spice Market www.whoteldoha.com
  • Al Riwaq Gallery Huang Yong Ping's suspended cuttlefish, along with works from 15 contemporary Chinese artists | www.qm.org.qa
  • Bin Jelmood House Interesting museum on slavery around the world, particularly Qatar
  • Museum of Islamic Art and Park | The highlight of our trip. Expertly lit artifacts from Italy, Spain, Turkey, Iran, China and India; an Alain Ducasse restaurant, gluten free / vegan café (I had a lychee, lemongrass, coconut and saffron tapioca pudding with a saffron-mango smoothie), fantastic library, nighttime marketplace, and Richard Serra's 7. I like that Qataris work there, and they are all really friendly and welcoming. The Qajar exposition showed conceptions of beauty in the Iranian dynasty- women drew unibrows and mustaches on to be more attractive! We later saw Bach's Brandenburg Concerto in the auditorium. The acoustics and ensemble were amazing. | www.mia.org.qa
  • QNCC | Louise Bourgeois' Maman | www.qatarconvention.com
  • Mathaf Representing over 100 contemporary Arabic artists, plus an exhibition by Hassan Sharif | www.mathaf.org.qa
  • Souq Waqif and Doha Islamic Center | I didn't like the Souq much because I hate shopping and saw lots of cute cats in cages and wanted them all. But Qataris recommend going in the evening. It's nice to see live traditional music, falcons, and Arabian horses. The spire of the Doha Islamic Center (across the street) is a beautiful addition to the city skyline. We walked along Al Corniche afterwards, watching lights twinkle over the waterfront | www.souq-waqif-doha.com and www.fanar.gov.qa
  • Al Mustafawi | Organic farm (if zero-wasters can't make it out there, Lulu Hypermarket has unpackaged vegetables) | www.mustafawiorganicvegetable.com
  • Red Velvet Cupcakery | After Katara Beach, the Chinese silk exhibition, or a visit to the theater at Katara Cultural Center, sample incredible, richly frosted gluten-free vegan cupcakes on the terrace of this bakery. I particularly enjoyed how they played Taylor Swift's "Teardrops on My Guitar" when I visited | www.redvelvetdoha.com
  • Nonna Zanon | Gluten free pizza | www.nonnazanon.com
  • Khor Al Udeid | Dune bashing and a swim in the Inland Sea, on the Saudi Arabian border. Keep your eyes peeled for salt hummocks, camels, gazelles, cute Arabian goats, and oryx among the brush 
  • Illusion | Rooftop bar | www.kempinski.com/en/doha/marsa-malaz-kempinski-the-pearl-doha/dining/bars/illusion
  • East West / West East Richard Serra | After Zekreet and Film City, check out this beautifully oxidized steel installation in the desert 
  • Al Khor Mangrove Forest | Kayaking and an unforgettable lesson in climate change
  • Shebestan Palace |  Famous traditional Persian restaurant for gluten-free dishes like delicious ash, khoresht, sholeh zard, and more. We were the only tourists!


I could go on and on about the architecture- Aspire Tower, the Burj Qatar, Tom Otterness' sculptures and playgrounds in Hamad International Airport, the curvatures of which mimic the dunes- even lamp posts covered in Arabic script lit like lapis lazuli at night. But instead I'll just tell you about the Yemeni man who picked us up in his tricked out, custom Land Rover, painted to match the sand. We had the best time together. As we balanced precariously on the edge of a desert canyon 60 meters high, we sang Justin Bieber songs, and he told us all about his devoutly Christian, Filipino wife.


"Americans think they can see the desert themselves, but we find them stuck after five, six hours, all the time. They just see a mass of sand. We see five or six roads that we memorize. And the desert changes everyday." He handed us mugs of Karakh tea his wife made. "When I first told my mother and father I was marrying a Filipino woman, they asked, what about the children? I said, what about them? The children will be beautiful! The mixed features will be extremely cute!" He told us about shopping for jeans while dating a foreigner in his pre-gastric bypass days, and said that if he bought anything that wasn't pink for his pregnant wife, "She would kill me." He explained, "Today, everything is the opposite of what it once was. Here, a husband is like the President, and the wife is like Congress. The wife controls the husband." Some of his friends abandoned him when he broke tradition by marrying a Christian, he said, including his best friend from childhood. And his family? "They fell in love with her too. My mother likes to rest her head on my wife's stomach, just listening to the baby. They can't imagine their lives without her now. She lights up the whole house."

  


WHAT I PACKED


As always, I brought only secondhand items, including lightweight J Brand Maria and Photoready 811 jeans to keep my knees covered and protect my legs from sand. Denim also provides protection when hiking through mangroves or riding 4x4s in the desert. The sleeves on my linen Etoile Isabel Marant Keiran and Tom shirts covered my elbows, a requirement for women on Katara Beach. I also packed two white tank tops (secondhand 2x1 rib u-neck American Apparel, which I think they don't make anymore) and a pocket v-neck cotton t-shirt (thrifted Madewell). Bikinis are fine in hotels and the Arabian Sea, but I made sure my red Dior dress covered my knees for fancy dinners. In spring and summer, bring espadrilles or leather sandals- sand shakes out of them easily, and they breathe better than sneakers. Women in Qatar are very fashion conscious, wearing the prettiest heels under abayas. Secondhand Louboutins were perfect, even with jeans and a t-shirt, for nights out. I saw lots of tourists respectfully dressed and way more stylish in cotton midi dresses with linen button-downs tied on top (like this), or silky jumpsuits covering everything from elbows to ankles. Basically, wear natural fabrics and make sure your shoulders and knees aren't exposed. I promise you'll be comfortable even in blistering heat.


Paris to Go