Boutique Poverty

I love The New York Times. Not the news and editorial departments of course – the true object of my desire is the food, style, design and travel coverage. The reason for this is very simple: whenever I need a pretentious, out-of-touch theme story on the latest trend in sustainable caviar-spoon technology, my beloved Times is there. The lifestyle editors would rather vacation on the Jersey coast than print something as prosiac and bourgeois as, say, “10 Easy Chicken Recipes a Busy Single Parent Can Prepare in 30 Minutes or Less.” Let the weeklies in the sticks run that trash. Much better to profile a free range poultry farm where heritage breeds are pre-infused with provencal herbs by grazing among organically-fertilized plots of rosemary and chervil.

Today’s Home & Garden section has a special gem of classic Times ridiculousness. Colin Beavan and Michelle Conlin live with their 2-year old daughter Isabella in “an elegant prewar [co-op apartment] on Lower Fifth Avenue” decorated with chic “neo-Modern furniture.” He’s a nonfiction author, she’s a writer at Business Week. They have a great apartment, successful careers, an adorable toddler, and seemingly everything a successful Manhattan couple could want. Except, that is, toilet paper in their bathroom. You see, the Beavan-Conlins have decided to pursue a “No Impact” lifestyle, which means organic, locally-grown food, no significant material purchases, no carbon-fueled transportation and no disposable paper products:

Toothpaste is baking soda (a box makes trash, to be sure, but of a better quality than a metal tube), but Ms. Conlin is still wearing the lipstick she gets from a friend who works at Lancôme, as well as moisturizers from Fresh and Kiehl’s. When the bottles, tubes and jars are empty, Mr. Beavan has promised her homemade, rules-appropriate substitutes. (Nothing is a substitute for toilet paper, by the way; think of bowls of water and lots of air drying.)

Yet since the beginning of No Impact, and to the amusement of her colleagues at Business Week, Ms. Conlin has been scootering to her office on 49th Street each day, bringing a Mason jar filled with greenhouse greens, cheese and her husband’s bread for lunch, along with her own napkin and cutlery. She has taken a bit of ribbing: “All progress is carbon fueled,” jeered one office mate.

Here, here, unnamed Business Week colleague. Of course, there are a few exceptions. They still use the stove and a few incandescent light bulbs (why haven’t they gone compact fluorescent?), as well as the laundry facilities in their building, but they’re trying real hard. Amazingly, even after all of their sacrifices, they still feel guilty. Father Colin tells a story of going to a used clothing shop to buy their daughter a $1 present for her birthday:

It was freezing cold that day, Mr. Beavan said, picking up the story. “We went into a restaurant to warm her up. We agonized about taking a cab, which we ended up not doing. I still felt like we really screwed up, though, because we ate at the restaurant.”

He said he called the 100 Mile Diet couple to confess his sin. They admitted they had cheated too, with a restaurant date, then told him, Yoda-like, “Only in strictness comes the conversion.”

It seems living life like a primitive while residing in New York City is a fascinating experience, if you can afford it.

>>Seen on Drudge and passed on by Marc Morano.