FINDING ENVIRONMENTAL UNITY IN SIMPLE WAYS THROUGH "TOGETHER: HANDBOOK TO RETOOL FOR THE FUTURE"
Written By: Sydney Vincent
Published: February 19, 2021
An Interview with author Dana Simson
This word has become a daily occurrence in many young people’s lives, including my own. Between keeping an active and healthy lifestyle and understanding that our own Earth is under attack, threatening our future, it can be hard to ignore this word. We are constantly bombarded by products and technology that ensure a longer life or encourage a new way to live. In a sense, sustainability has become a weaponized word in our society, a constant, looming idea many young people shy away from. We’ve seen it tear our nation apart. However, in her newest book Come Together: Handbook to Retool for the Future, Dana Simson does not shy away from this word. Instead, she looks at it with a new refreshing and positive lens. She offers easy and environmentally sustainable ways to live, eat, clean, and create with common items in your home. She encourages each reader to take this handbook seriously as it is not just another gimmick to spend more money on supposedly “organic” products, but promotes a change in lifestyle for the betterment of our earth. With her handbook, Simson redefines what it means to be sustainable and how, as members of humankind, each of us can understand that we are the problem, but we are also the solution. I got the opportunity to sit down (socially distanced, of course) with Dana Simson and talk about the beautiful change this book could create, even asking for some tips of my own about how to navigate the secret to simple living as a college student.
Author Dana Simson and her upcoming book
Sydney: Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to speak with me, Dana. I have read through this book and could not believe the amount of simple yet effective methods and recipes for products that I would normally purchase off of a shelf without a bat of my eye. How did you come across these tips and tricks? Were they self-taught or have you learned them from others over the years?
Dana: As an artist, I am trained to observe things on a variety of levels. This makes the world incredibly interesting and full of possibilities. When I walk into a building or pick up a product, the first thing I see is its design. Is it beautiful? Does it work well? How might it be improved? Invention is part of creativity. I have always loved the game of seeing alternatives and finding better ways to do things.
This guidebook contains beautiful illustrations that differentiate it from other handbooks I have read. What was your thought process in including these drawings and talk about your own style of art and why that helps you write about the earth.
My goal with the book is that the content gets out to as many folks as possible to start a bottom up movement that hopefully will grow to speed awareness and action, to stop the harmful practices currently hurting our planet and living things. I began my art career doing a comic strip for the Baltimore Sun and a few other newspapers, the illustrations lightened the message and also helped to deliver it. A bit of humor always helps. I want to encourage and create an atmosphere of joyful doing.
As I read this guidebook, I felt that I was being spoken to, my college self being able to resonate and become inspired through a lot of your tips and tricks. Why have you decided to gear your work towards younger audiences and how do you think that will help our world change for the better? Why not target the older generation, the generation in power now?
I’m glad you felt engaged, and I do think the book may be especially potent as young people become the next wave of consumers and legislators. The book was written for all ages: older people that feel frustrated and want to change old habits, also families that can tackle the gaming aspect together (try to get groceries with no plastic, or think how to reuse packaging materials in other ways), or anyone really. We all can enjoy rethinking and retooling.
We all can save money and our environment.
Sample illustration from the book
When did you first become inspired by sustainability and discover your voice in advocating for a cleaner earth? What advice would you give to those struggling to speak up about climate change?
Funny, as a kid, when other kids were playing cops and robbers or the like, I wanted to play environmental activist. In the seventies, when I was growing up, there was a famous commercial that showed an Indigenous man paddling his canoe through garbage and litter. At the end he turns to the camera and a tear rolls down his cheek. People have lived in harmony with ecosystems- it can be done. The pandemic shows us we can get by with less driving, flying, we can find the joy of baking bread and eating from a garden we planted together. The commercial with the Indigenous man was actually sponsored by the plastics industry to promote recycling as a movement had started against plastic use. The problem with recycling is that it is more a concept than a working solution; it was better to limit/stop use of plastic and find alternatives.
The beauty in adapting the practices suggested in the book is that you are speaking most eloquently and clearly with the actions you live by. In my rural community on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I am one of the few people that takes market bags into the grocery store. I also reuse the netbags onions or limes come in for loose produce rather than taking the filmy plastic single use bags provided. People note this and we start a dialogue. People want to do the right thing. Seeing others doing it is what inspires change.
Now that President Biden and Madam Vice President Harris are in office, what are your hopes for America’s role in climate change and our activism with it?
I believe President Biden and VP Harris, along with other mindful politicians, understand the gravity of the foolish setbacks and careless legislation of the Trump years. There are many hard working environmental groups, scientists, and educators working for swift, wise legislation and we may see some important steps forward here. But the point of Come Together is not to wait for others to tell us what we should do. Democracy takes time, years, and can experience counterproductive derailment, like the four wasted years of inaction and slipping backward as we have just experienced. We are the change.
Hypothetically, if the entire world were to read your book and take action, what do you envision would happen in five years? Ten years? Even fifty years?
This answer might surprise you. First off, we would be happier and healthier. I believe a feeling of being held-hostage by things we think are out of our control would be replaced by empowerment and clear direction. When people turn from toxic, over-processed, heavily packaged food or product, the companies producing such items will have to change to keep their market. If everyone today stopped buying/using plastic, the gushing faucet of manufacturing would turn off (plastic is fossil fuel’s Plan B). If people say we want to buy in bulk - we’d bring our own jars and bags - grocery stores would respond with this option. As consumers, we vote with our dollars. This is a numbers game; the more people that think about our future, the shorter the time frame to a smarter, safer one.
I can’t let you go without asking about some tips for young people like myself. Got any tricks for a college student wanting to make a change in their lives and environmentally?
So many of the things we buy over and over again in plastic can be made easily in a few moments. A few key items that are very inexpensive can take the place of a clutter of cleaning products (and their bulky containers): vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, Castile soap, etc.
When you buy hand soap sold in small plastic push bottles - and we need to wash our hands a lot these days - you are paying a lot for water and a teaspoon of Castile soap flakes with a drop or two of glycerin and 6 drops of Teatree essential oil. Why not reuse the containers and fill a bunch of them? They make great gifts for friends and for spreading a wise idea; even put the easy recipe on the bottle.
You can make your own cleaning and personal care products like conditioner, toothpaste, and mouthwash. Many of these are actually better for you than the commercial products, which can contain toxic ingredients that build up in your system and harm the water supply once it goes down the drain.
When I was just starting out with little money in my pocket, I used to make my own bread, yogurt, and other items that cost little in time and money to make. Making is grounding and strengthens your resolve that whatever it is you can do it. This mindset has served me well and led me to amazing experiences I might not have tackled, like using my skill set to write this book and do something positive for the future we all share.
Packaging doesn't have to be waste!
Who needs a store when you can DIY?
Being environmentally conscious and still having fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive. But don’t take it from me, take it from Dana, who lives this life of simple sustainability everyday and has passed on her own tips to us in her book Come Together: Handbook to Retool for the Future. As a college student struggling to balance my own life, diet, the political climate, and my responsibility to Mother Earth, it can be difficult to find clarity in how to take care of myself and others. Fortunately, Dana was able to provide some guidance. With this knowledge, I now feel confident in my actions and hope to provide unity in this world through all facets of my life, no longer seeing sustainability as a weapon, but a tool for change.
Come Together: Handbook to Retool for the Future releases on February 23, 2021 through Green Writers Press in Brattleboro, Vermont. Please visit our website http://greenwriterspress.com/book/come-together/ for more details on the book.
Start with EASY BREAD:
You can put this together in the morning and let it rise all day—bake it as you make dinner and have fresh bread! Great for breakfast in the morning with almond butter and honey, or peanut butter and banana.
3.5 cups of flour or bread flour (I sometimes do 2 cup flour, 1 cup whole wheat, .5 cup (half) of flax meal)
1 tsp sugar
.5 tsp salt
1.5 cup warm water
Mix it up in the bowl with a spoon till it forms a ball— flour your hands and knead the dough a minute or two
Put a little cornmeal or flour in bottom of bowl so it doesn't stick
Cover with a damp clean dish towel and have your day (you can also cook bread in a few hours if you want)
Around dinnertime....preheat the oven to 425 and put an empty metal bowl on the bottom rack.
Tip the bread out onto a greased cookie sheet or pizza pan
Push it into shape—lightly score top
Put in oven
Take a half glass of water and pour into the heated bowl below the bread pan for steam (this will make a nice crunchy crust, European style)
keep an eye on it—maybe 25 minutes— and test by pushing a silverware knife in- comes out clean
All done. Super yummy and hot with butter—bon appetit!