Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Buy Nothing, and Korean Beef

A lot of us have been thinking about community this past year, and the importance of deep and authentic connections, beyond the transactional relationships we have more and more. I was struck by this post from the road less travelled about the ways that people lean on us from the communities we build, in the most unexpected moments.

A few weeks ago, my community started a Buy Nothing group on Facebook. Essentially, Buy Nothing groups are hyper-local gift economies where people can "gift" from abundance or loan things they have, "ask" for anything they might need, and offer "gratitude" for gifts in public ways. They believe that strong communities can lean on each other, and that the value of a gift is not just the thing itself but a human connection.

There was already a pretty active "free stuff" group in my township, where people posted all kinds of stuff. But it often felt like vultures circling, waiting for the kill. And by the time I was able to log on and see what was there, nothing was left; it was picked clean. On the giving side, I'd often leave things out for people who'd said "INTERESTED," only to have them go unclaimed for weeks. People seemed to feel no sense of responsibility and were super picky about said free items. It just left me feeling icky, even if it was sometimes a good place to get rid of stuff.

The new group had a fresh start, and some ground rules. We were encouraged to let things "simmer" so that people could have a chance at an item even if they weren't watching a page constantly. We were invited to offer gifts of time and service, rather than just stuff. It felt like a breath of fresh air.

I love decluttering, so I set to work posting things: clothing, shoes, toys, kitchenware, knick knacks. I made two Easter baskets ouf of some plastic baskets I had by adding some toys and lollipops. And I claimed stuff too: a new teakettle (which didn't require a potholder to pick it up), some new dishes (to replace the ones that have been breaking for years), some delicious biscotti, a Nespresso Vertuo coffee maker I'd been coveting (though now I have to figure out how to get cheap pods!). The other day someone arrived with a plate of Indian food as a thanks for the toy I gifted to her daughter. There's a tea round robin, circulating in an unwanted tin. A puzzle round robin is just starting.

But it's also been interesting to try to educate people about how the new group works, to remind them gently that this group is fundamentally about community. People are so stuck on the stuff. When someone says "interested" we remind them to tell us why. When posts start to speed up, we remind posters to simmer so that others have a chance. And some of us have been trying to model the kind of gifting we want to see start happening: gifting baked goods (to people who have to share with a neighbor), tutoring, offering plant cuttings, loaning out squirrel traps.

Buy Nothing is complicated; of course, it's limited by where people live, which, if you know anything about the long term effects of redlining, is racially and socioeconomically segregated. The folks who wrote the book about it do think a lot about social jusice, which gives me hope. It's the other side of the frustration I felt about so much during the pandemic. It's a small investment, I hope, in kindness.

Do you have a local Buy Nothing group?

Korean Beef
Among the "asks" on our Buy Nothing group was for easy recipes. This was, oddly enough posted by another member, and I connected with her because it's one that my daughter happened to find and like, too.

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce*
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
cooking spray
1 pound 93% lean ground beef
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
3 cups cooked brown rice
1 small sliced cucumber, skin on
2 tablespoons Gochujang, or more if desired*
1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds, plus more for topping
2 sliced scallions, white and green parts

Combine the soy sauce, 2 T water, brown sugar, sesame oil and red pepper flakes in a small bowl.
Heat a large deep nonstick skillet over high heat, spray with oil and add the ground beef. Cook, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon until cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook 1 minute.
Pour the sauce over the beef, cover and simmer on low heat 10 minutes.

To assemble the bowls, place 3/4 cup rice in each bowl, top with scant 2/3 cup beef, cucumbers, Gochujong, sesame seeds and scallions.

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