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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Edgewater couple makes 'sustainably queer' living
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2013-12-17

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As the lentil soup was cooking on the stove, Rachel Schipull and her partner, Kristi Yuen, went into the dining room of their Edgewater home to practice their choir music. After all, the two met while singing with Aria, a choir within the Windy City Performing Arts.

But they soon forgot the soup, which ultimately was burnt and almost inedible, Schipull admitted.

"We were trying to limit our food waste, [so] we somehow ate that soup for two to three days before we sheepishly admitted to each other that it was absolutely disgusting and decided to throw it out," Schipull said, laughing.

Rarely does this sustainably queer combo do that, but this time, they had to.

"To us, being sustainable means making educated decisions about where our money goes—food, cleaning supplies, clothing, transportation, etc. It doesn't mean that every choice we make is sustainable. We try to make the best choices based on what's available, what we can afford, and what we need," Yuen said.

For example, they wanted to buy meat from a local farm, but quickly realized that they could not afford it. "So, we usually buy organic, preferably pastured, meats from the supermarket, but when we can afford it, we will purchase it directly from the farm," Schipull said. "And when we cook meat, [such as] a whole chicken, we eat the meat and make stock from the bones, so very little goes to waste."

Yuen, 31, is the owner/acupuncturist at Kwai Fah Acupuncture Clinic.

Schipull, 29, is the admissions coordinator at the Illinois College of Optometry.

The two run a website/blog, detailing their attempt to live sustainably in Chicago.

"Once we started informing ourselves about environmental issues, large-scale farming practices, and the carbon footprint of the typical American lifestyle, we were compelled to make changes in our own lives. We feel like we don't have any other choice," Schipull said.

"It comes down to people thinking that one person can't make a difference," Yuen added. "You've got people who think that their impact on the world's resources is negligible because they are just one person throwing away just one thing. But, when you have millions of people throwing away just one thing, that becomes a major problem. Especially because it isn't just one thing that is being thrown away. On the other side, if one person decides to start making sustainable choices, it will hopefully encourage others to do the same. That's basically why we started this blog. Our goal is to educate people so that they can make informed decisions and easily add sustainable practices to their lives."

Yuen said her upbringing in Hawai'i certainly impacted her sustainable ways. Schipull, meanwhile, was motivated by recent changes she's seen, such as a species of animal becoming extinct or a forest being destroyed for, say, the production of toothpicks.

"I am dedicated to doing what I can to stop or reverse the bad habits humans have developed, and to inspire everyone I know to do the same," Schipull said.

Yuen added: "The best part of being sustainable is knowing that you are making a difference. And it actually feels good. We're eating better food, using fewer chemicals in our home, and saving some money in the process."

But being sustainable does have its drawbacks, Schipull said. Specifically, time-consumption. "We have to schedule our lives around when we can cook certain things, and if we run out of shampoo or deodorant, we have to find time to make more. This can be a little bit stressful, but we are always devising new ways to streamline our processes and do things in advance."

Schipull confirmed that the two have considered pushing their blog into a book, eventually.

"Prior to dating, we both wanted to make sustainable choices, but we didn't have the gumption or self-motivation to make those choices consistently," Yuen said. "When we moved in together, the move towards sustainability definitely snowballed and we fed off each other to transform the way we were living."

Schipull said, by being sustainable, she feels "healthier."

"I know exactly what I am buying and what I am putting in my body," she said. "I am often able to grow my own produce or buy from the farmer that grew it, which is so meaningful to me. It greatly simplifies my life, which frees me to focus on the other things that are important to me."

They started their blog last April.

"Personally, the biggest change for me is the intentionality with which I make decisions," Yuen said. "I rarely eat really processed foods anymore because not only do I not agree with the wasteful consumerism at play, but since we've been eating more fresh, organic, local foods, I literally can't handle the taste of chemicals in processed foods."

Schipull has maintained her sustainable lifestyle even while traveling for work. She often researches sustainable choices in advance.

"One big sustainable habit we wanted to adopt was reducing our food waste via composting, so we got a worm compost system," Yuen said. "The worms were supposed to be my responsibility, but I failed spectacularly the first time around. We got the worms all set up and the instructions said to let them acclimate for a week before adding more food. Well, a few days into the first week, I came home from work to find tiny, shriveled, dried up worms all over the floor within a few feet of the worm composter. I was so upset by not only failing, but also by killing the worms, that we ended up having to miss our friend's birthday party that night. We've since gotten our worm compost system up and running beautifully."

Schipull said their sustainable lifestyle is "fun and makes us feel good."

"There's a sense of adventure to growing things, trying new recipes, and seeing if we can do things without industrial chemicals and without buying into what corporate advertising says we need. It makes our lives more grounded, connected, simple, and intentional."

So why sustainably queer?

"We feel that being sustainable is in and of itself an act of queerness in today's world," Yuen said. "We are bucking the trend of consumerism, disposable living, and taking natural resources for granted. Also, we liked the double meaning, as we both identify as queer and are in a same-sex relationship."

Schipull said they often are challenging themselves "to try interesting new recipes and cooking projects." Thus, they have made our own Cheez-Its-like snacks, marshmallows, graham crackers, sour dough bread, pickles, syrups for mixing in drinks, sauerkraut, ice cream, infused liquors, fruit vinegar, chicken/vegetable stock, and candied ginger, among other stuff.

"We really enjoy trying to make things that most people don't realize you can make at home," Schipull said. "We get to know ingredients intimately, and it makes us appreciate the food more."

Yuen added: "One of our favorite discoveries this year has been the Chicago Food Swap. Every month people gather at a local business and swap food that they have either made, grown, or foraged. It's an amazing way to meet people and try foods you may never have heard of, or had the opportunity to try. Plus, if you're into canning, it's a phenomenal way to get rid of any extra jam, pickles, or other canned goods you may have.

"Some of our best food experiments have taken place in the slow cooker or the pressure cooker. We make smoked pork shoulder in the slow cooker that will make you weep. One of our absolute favorite things to eat in the late summer, is caprese salad with burrata cheese ( mozzarella with cream in the middle ) and homegrown tomatoes and basil. We've found that the simpler the recipe, the more the ingredients shine. We also love to make beet salad with goat cheese, green onions, and a simple vinaigrette."

Yuen also has made brown butter chocolate chip cookies with sea salt, among other sweet treats.

"We love to eat out, but it can be hard now that we're trying to be as intentional and sustainable as possible," Yuen said. "We do have a few places that we love to go to, if we're wanting a nice night out on the town. Our three favorites all source their products well and have a commitment to sustainability: Big Jones in Andersonville, Browntrout in North Center, and Uncommon Ground in Edgewater."

To contact the sustainably queer combo, they are available by email at sustainablyqueer@gmail.com .


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