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Slice of Life: Letter from Morocco

Keeping up with friends while abroad

Dear Katy,

There is so much I wish I could write to you—but where do I even start? I know it’s my fault for not taking the time to write to you more often. I’ve been busy trying to absorb all the tomorrows filled with even more stories than the yesterdays. But as I sit in a rattling bus taking me from Marrakesh deep into the Atlas Mountains—where I plan to wander in Amazigh villages—my thoughts run wild and I feel the need to write to you.

The landscape is truly unbelievable. It’s a mix of infinite mountain peaks and barren valleys. The sun heats up the bus, and I keep exchanging sighs of desperation with others who are clearly more patient and used to this weather. Yet, they’re amused to see me, this young woman traveling alone. It seems as though my every move is meticulously tracked, or maybe I’m just self-absorbed. I stumble through discussions, trying to squeeze in the few words of Morocco’s Arabic dialect, Darija, that I’ve learned here and there. As I travel through the north, I feel as though I only catch a glimpse of people’s lives: men far away guiding their flocks of sheep and kids begging as they reach out to the bus windows. Then the road turns, and the kids are replaced with a view of the imposing ksour, an ancient mud and clay village. While the remaining castles have been wrecked by time, they are architectural masterpieces in my eyes. These images feel surreal, as though from a movie that I will never get to view entirely.

While I’m escaping the calmness of Rabat to take a break from my studies, I can’t help but think about what I’ve learned here. There’s something really overwhelming—and powerful—about witnessing the extent of class disparity, colonial repercussions, and developmental challenges—realities I’ve only encountered surrounded by four walls in an air-conditioned classroom. While on my way to Marrakesh a few days ago, when I looked away from the window, even for a minute, the metallic slums transformed into unblemished, renovated buildings. The two worlds are so disconnected from each other that the bridges—both old and new—connecting them feel strangely simple. The disparity became even clearer to me as I witnessed an old shepherd wearing a brown djellaba—the traditional robe—slowly crossing the road with his sheep, while an expensive-looking sports car zoomed by. Morocco’s inconsistent realities are indisputable. La calèche d’un bord, et le pétrole de l’autre.

I’m starting to see a paradoxical world here in Morocco, where values clash with beliefs and actions. Sometimes, men welcome me, feed me and discuss politics and religion with me, while their own mothers and daughters sit quietly without access to education nor the need for it, according to those same men. I am allowed to do and say as I please, but I’m shown the charming side of a place whose people are secretly choking from the inside out. My foreign naivety is entirely gone now, and I am very grateful for it. I have a feeling this journey will change my stance towards this asymmetric country.

I hope the winter isn’t too harsh on you.

Sincerely yours,

Virginie

P.S. You know that night…I did get on the back of that stranger’s motorcycle in Marrakesh. Ha!

Feature graphic by @sundaemorningcoffee

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Student Life

Slice of Life: Letter from Morocco

A student on exchange writes to their loved ones in Montreal

Feb. 25: Dear Katy,

I arrived in Morocco one month ago today. Time seems to go by so quickly sometimes. The weeks I’ve spent here have been so far from the reality I was expecting. I can still see the anxiety in my friends’ and family’s eyes and feel the tension in their embraces as we said goodbye just a few weeks ago. Africa. That single word—the entire continent carries so many misconceptions and prejudices. I was starting to feel so trapped in my own occidental perspective—and in other people’s ideas—that I embarked on this journey for many reasons. But in the end, I really just wanted to see for myself. And dear, the past few weeks have already shown me such an eclectic, extraordinary place.

I flew to Rabat and automatically wandered into the labyrinthine marketplace of the Medina. I’ve found myself in situations where I am literally the only woman present. It’s a man’s world, but one that is fast-changing. I was expecting to feel consistently repressed, but in reality, I feel empowered by witnessing such a sense of solidarity between women. I am not welcomed with judgmental looks, but with warm smiles. I don’t think I’ve ever entirely comprehended the power of my freedom as a western woman or questioned it until now. Here, I walk the streets and I feel privileged. Call me naive, but Rabat has been so good to me.

The Moroccans’ kindness is so special. I’m finding such a strong sense of community—from the way people share their meals, consistently offer their help, laugh together, and greet you with “Salaam Aleikum,” or “peace be upon you.” I know this is just a first impression, but it’s such a contrast from back home, on such a deep level, that I sometimes fear I’ll never want to come back. And while everyone does stare at me, sometimes calling mela gazelle,” “fromage,” or even “la blanche,” I’ve been responding with an open mind and my boundless sense of humour.

You know, most people think of Marrakech or Casablanca as the capital of Morocco, but it’s actually Rabat that holds the title since the country’s independence in 1912, and it has become so internationally accessible. We are barely one hour away from Casablanca, where I’ve heard life is chaotic and loud—even overwhelming—and yet, it’s so calm here. As I sit on the roof of the house I now call “home,” beautiful Rabat is alive and well before my eyes. I can’t resist glimpsing over my neighbours’ rooftops, where mixed colours of hanging clothes and blooming flowers add to the diversity of the scenery.

In front of me, the Bou Regreg river—which separates the neighbouring city Salé from Rabat—is circling the old, fortified neighbourhood of Kasbah des Oudayas like a thick knife cutting into butter. I have to squint as I write to you, as the reflection of the sun on the water is bouncing onto my white pages. I am in awe as I sit before the imposing, bright blue Atlantic’s work, and deeply wish I could teleport you here to show you. Montreal seems so far from me now. I’ll send you another letter soon. I can’t wait to tell you about my luck finding the gorgeous house I now live in with cats (yes, I am still very allergic, but I like to believe constant sneezing is now part of my charm), as well as the wild feasts and the musical nights I’ve been sharing with locals.

Beslama my dear friend!

Virginie

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

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Student Life

Slice of Life: Finding food around Loyola

There may not be many, but here are some off-campus resto options

Among everything else on Sherbrooke St. W, the Loyola campus seems out of place. Isolated from Concordia’s buzz, the campus has few food options: Tim Hortons, the Hive Café and two food stops in the CJ and SP buildings. If coffee and BLTs aren’t what you’re looking for, there are many other options just around the corner.

Souvlaki George

6995 Monkland Ave.
Feel like Greek food? This place will definitely have what you’re craving. Only one block East of Loyola, Souvlaki George serves traditional Greek plates such as pitas, plates, or even Quebec delicacies such as poutine. Their soft bread, well-seasoned meat and creamy tzatziki will never get old.

“Souvlaki George has this depth of flavour that reminds me of my grandmother’s food,” said Elias Grigoriadis, a Concordia student of Greek origin. “I like how you can grab something and go, as well as sit down with friends and enjoy a good meal.”

Comptoir KOYAJO
6963 Sherbrooke St. W

If greek isn’t your style, a few doors down from Souvlaki George is Comptoir KOYAJO. The restaurant offers an array of soups, noodles, rice bowls and dumplings.

The cozy restaurant (just a short walk East from Souvlaki George) serves a plate of six pork or vegetarian dumplings for $7.99. These juicy, crispy exterior, soft interior dough balls are worth the snowy trek to Comptoir KOYAJO, trust me.

NDG HotDog & Pizzeria

7363 Sherbrooke St. W.
Comfort food anyone? On the other side of Loyola, right off the corner of Westmore Ave., NDG HotDog & Pizzeria will offer you a variety of fast food options. The smell of charred pizza crust mixed with day-old frying oil will take you right back to late nights out with friends.

NDG HotDog & Pizzeria is a great spot for all circumstances; $1.25 for a steamed hot dog, $3.99 for a hamburger or a 10-inch pizza for $10.60—ideal for sharing amongst friends or for a grab-and-go meal on the way to a late night study session.

“It’s good comfort food!” said Casandra Bentivoglio, a Concordia journalism student. “It’s cheap and it’s great when you’re in a rush and hunger strikes in the middle of class.”

Café Bistro Bano
6929 Sherbrooke St. W.

With Persian tapestries and colourful lampshades as decor, coming into Café Bistro Bano feels like entering an Iranian living room. The smell of freshly infused sweet tea with hints of saffron signals to the authenticity of this Persian-Iranian coffee shop.

This is the perfect stop to enjoy a well-earned warm drink after combating the freezing cold outside. With most of their authentic teas and desserts under $10, Café Bistro Bano is worth the two-block walk from campus.

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

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Student Life

Slice of Life: To-Do: Smell a rose

Rethinking what it means to set goals for ourselves

From late December to early January, the internet is riddled with memes generally belonging to four categories: empty bank accounts, being drunk from Dec. 24 to Jan. 2, cringey family stories, and, my personal favorite, all the ‘new year, new me’ bullshit. As if overriding our digestive systems with champagne and Jameson somehow flushes out all the toxicity from the previous year, leaving us with a blank-slate liver to tackle the new year with.

Honestly, New Year’s resolutions are pretty dumb. You can search the crap out of it: in January 2013, Forbes reported that only 8 per cent of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions, and in January 2017, Business Insider reported that 80 per cent of resolutions fail by the second week of February. But why? Why is it so difficult to set a goal—a singular goal—and follow through with it?

About a year ago, The New York Times listed tips for making and keeping resolutions. Just a few days ago, The Guardian published an article that touched on similar points: make a personal plan, join a support community, focus on one goal at a time, find what motivates you, externalize your goals, etc. All good advice, sure, but these fluff articles still have a hollow ring to them.

There are so many issues with New Year’s resolutions (not the inherent concept of goal-setting), but mainly it’s the localization of goal-setting to one check-point window in the year and the pressure to make that window. Realistically, we change so much throughout the year, and it’s important to recognize how your goals evolve with you. On top of the pressure to make a New Year’s resolution, there’s also pressure to make your resolution fit into a cutback-box. For most, resolutions consist of goals like: spend less money, go out less, watch less Netflix, start going to [insert physical activity], read that book, eat less junk, pay off debt, etc.

But what if your resolution was stuff you should do more of? Laugh more. Go outside more. Call more friends. Have more dinners at home. Think you’d have an easier time sticking to those resolutions? Melbourne-based queer artist @frances_cannon posted “Frances Cannon’s Big 2019 List” on Jan. 2, and it may surprise you in all the best ways. Cannon lists goals such as: take a breath, let go of someone who hurt you, apply for something that scares you, tell a really good joke, call someone you haven’t called in a while, smell a rose and many more goals, both small and large. It’s time we start rethinking the wide range of what goals can be for each individual, and accepting that self love is both loving ourselves for accomplishing those goals, and loving ourselves for accepting when we simply cannot.

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Slice of Life: Overexpectations

What happened to stopping to smell the roses?

Higher education is a privilege not everyone has access to, and we’re all extremely fortunate for the learning opportunities at Concordia, but crap is it ever tiring. After three full years spent in Montreal either working my butt off at school, or working my butt off to pay for school, I’m just about done (realistically I still have a year or so left, though—whoop-dee-doo). But it’s not the prospect of hard work that leaves me feeling discouraged; it’s the feeling that I’m not doing enough. The feeling that being in school full-time, working for The Concordian part-time (read: full-time), and trying to pick up whatever photography gigs I can still isn’t enough.

Just the other week, I was talking with my roommate about how I want to spend this summer. Working outdoors is something I fell in love with in 2015, before moving to Montreal, when I worked as a canoe trip counselor in Algonquin Park, a provincial park in southeastern Ontario. Getting outside and into nature is something I’ve been itching to do every summer since then, for my own sanity. Yet, when having this conversation with my roommate, I found myself bringing up my degree, the benefit of staying in Montreal for another summer to take extra classes, maybe pick up an internship; all to get ahead. But of what? Of who?

I’m not sure what makes me more upset: the fact that I have this competitive desire to finish my degree quickly and move on, or the fact that I’m probably going to end up taking classes and whatever internship I think will boost my CV the most. There was one semester, one blissful (yes, blissful) few months in fall 2017, when I thoroughly enjoyed all of my classes. Not only that, but I was proud of the work I was accomplishing, both in and outside the lecture hall. But toward the end of post-secondary education, professors start encouraging students to envision how their degrees fit into their career paths. While this isn’t inherently negative, the insane pressure many of us feel to find that career path early on and pursue every available opportunity within that field, to differentiate ourselves and come out on top is kind of negative (cheers, capitalism), no?

What happened to stopping and smelling the roses? Enjoying the journey, and not the destination? I’ve had one-too-many conversations with students already working full-time in their final years of university who only show up to classes on mandatory attendance days or to hand in assignments because they’re simply done with school. Or students who are in school full-time, pursuing a full-time internship, and also trying to work part-time who have absolutely no time for themselves.

The constant pressure to go above and beyond comes from the overexpectations we all feel, and it really friggin’ sucks. It translates to us constantly focusing on the next stage of our lives, as opposed to drawing value from our current place in life and really growing as individuals.

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Student Life

Slice of life: Out with the old, in with the new-to-you

Trade used clothes for new (ish) ones at ConU’s Queer Clothing Swap

If you’re anything like me when it comes to clothes—meaning your closet is overflowing with unused items, yet you still find yourself sifting through thrift store racks on a weekly basis—then pay close attention. On Nov. 7, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) is hosting its annual Queer Clothing Swap on the seventh floor of the Hall building from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. All items are free, as long as you bring your own articles of clothing to replace what you take.

Camille Thompson-Marchand, the CSU’s external affairs and mobilization coordinator, is the project’s current manager. Although the Queer Clothing Swap started prior to Thompson’s involvement with the CSU, she has continued it every year since. “Last year’s clothing swap got very good feedback,” said Thompson. “People seem excited with the idea of having it again.” The swap aims to provide trans, non-binary and genderqueer folk with a safe space where they can explore an array of clothing that reflects their identity. The event lets them find stylish clothing while also meeting people from the queer community at Concordia.

Designated donation bins popped up on campus on Oct. 22, and will remain open until just before the clothing swap. Clean clothing, accessories and shoes can be left in blue donation bins in the lobbies of the EV, VA, MB, H and LB buildings downtown, and in the lobby of the SP building at the Loyola campus. This year, the CSU received a heaping supply of donations from the broader Concordia student body. “Piles and piles of them,” said Thompson. “And it takes days to sort it all out.”

In lieu of having received so many donations, Thompson highlighted that some donations were also left in the Art Nook and at reception desks, as opposed to in designated bins. “We don’t have the space to keep the clothes outside the donation period,” said Thompson. If you’re planning to donate clothes (which you should), please make sure they are clean, in relatively good condition, and placed in the appropriate donation bins.

All of the donated clothes that aren’t included in the swap are sent off to Fripe-Prix Renaissance, a non-profit organization whose mission is to facilitate the reintegration of people experiencing difficulty entering the workforce. “This event is also a great way to address overconsumption, a fun way to recycle clothes, and [a way to acquire] new outfits without having to buy them,” said Thompson. “It gives the opportunity for people to explore and define their identity without having to spend an excessive amount of money.”

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Student Life

Slice of Life: Late night chats

Try anonymously calling Concordia’s Student Nightline next time you need some support

Concordia’s newest service offers confidential, anonymous and non-judgemental advice to any students in need of a listening ear.

The Concordia Students’ Nightline was founded by Jade Se in October 2017. Since Sept. 13, it has been run by student volunteers who hope to help and advise any student that may need it.

“Although Concordia has counselling services that offer up to ten free sessions,” said VP External and Security Margaréta Pintér. “Our founder believed that there was not yet a service like ours at Concordia, and thought it was a good initiative to bring it here and adapt it to the students’s needs,” said Pintér. The idea was based off a similar service offered by McGill, which Se became aware of as a former student.

As of now, the non-profit organization’s team of volunteers remains relatively small. The organization plans to recruit new members throughout this month and hopes to expand their operating hours along with this. Pintér stressed that while all calls are treated seriously, not all of them need to be of a serious nature—students are free to phone in regarding anything, even if it’s just to talk. “It’s free for anyone, and if you have something to talk about, our volunteers pick up every single call. Whether you’re bored, lost, or scared for any reason, you can give us a call,” she said.

With midterms in full swing and finals almost around the corner, it’s nice to know Concordia Students’ Nightline is there to lift some stress off your shoulders—one call at a time.

The Nightline currently operates from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and can be contacted at 514-437-9797.

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda.

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Slice of Life: Growing sustainability

Check out Concordia’s Farmers Market for all things organic and local

Did you know Concordia has a farmers’ market? I didn’t until just last week. Crazy, right? I literally could not believe that locally-sourced, organic veggies, snacks and so many other handmade products were being sold right at school. The Concordia Farmers’ Market (CFM) takes place every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the second floor mezzanine of the Hall building.

An Instagram post made by the CFM on Aug. 7 indicates that their location moved to the corner of Mackay St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd. that week, so it would be wise to follow them on social media in case of any future location changes (see below). The CFM is supported by many on-campus organizations such as the Concordia Greenhouse, Concordia Food Coalition (CFA), Sustainable Concordia, Concordia Student Union (CSU) and Sustainable Action Fund (SAF).

According to an article from November 2014 on the university’s website, the idea of an on-campus farmer’s market started with two anthropology students. After an inspirational trip through the Costa Rican countryside, Kasha Paprocki and Alejandra Melian-Morse decided to start a recurring farmers’ market with the help of some volunteers “as part of an internship course on social economy, supervised by Satoshi Ikeda,” said the same article. During their first market on Oct. 29, 2014, 500 people came by. Melian-Morse is still the CFM’s project leader.

On the CFM’s Facebook page, you can find all kinds of affordable, organic veggies that cycle out depending on the harvest season. Other goodies from urban farms and greenhouses such as the Concordia Greenhouse, the City Farm School at Loyola, and Jardins Autonomnes can be found at the market as well. “It is also a great place to get gifts and lunch from,” the same page reads. They have everything from herbal teas to chemical-free, zero-waste shampoos, handmade beaded jewelry to a range of honey bee products—all offered at relatively affordable prices.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ll definitely be checking out what’s in season over the next few weeks at the CFM. The best part about doing even a portion of your shopping there—aside from the convenience of it being on campus—is that you’d be supporting small businesses and local food distribution networks in Montreal. This ultimately contributes to a more sustainable economy, something I think all of us can get behind.

Follow the CFM on Instagram @concordiafarmersmarket

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

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Slice of Life: Peeing in peace

It shouldn’t be so hard to make washrooms gender-neutral on campus

Ah, gender-neutral washrooms: so controversial (sigh), yet so simple. News flash! Everyone has a gender-neutral washroom in their home, and everyone deserves access to a facility that suits their needs. But the call for more gender-neutral washrooms goes far beyond that. It’s about advocating for the right to feel safe in a washroom—a right cisgender people often don’t think about.

Many ideological and physical constructs of society, right down to the way washrooms are designed, exclude many LGBTQ+ members. Non-binary people having to choose between ticking off ‘male’ or ‘female’ on certain forms; trans people having to choose which washroom to use—or choose to not use the washroom altogether—are all examples of these exclusionary structures.

D.T, a trans advocate and public educator for the Centre for Gender Advocacy, said it’s hard to pinpoint the exact number and location of accessible gender-neutral washrooms across the Concordia campuses. “I also have a problem with ‘single-stalled’ washrooms in general,” said D.T. “Why do we have to exclude ourselves, and further isolate ourselves?”

Ella Webber, a trans student at Concordia, said they found a list of gender-neutral washrooms on the Centre for Gender Advocacy website. It also has information about other resources available to trans and non-binary students, both at Concordia and around Montreal. “Concordia never mentioned that in [the] orientation which I went to,” said Webber. D.T. explained that the list on the centre’s website hasn’t been updated since 2016 and doesn’t account for construction on campus that may bar accessibility. “I think at orientation we should be notified about Concordia’s queer facilities like [the centre] and their resources,” said Webber. “When I do find [gender-neutral washrooms] it’s super helpful, and so much more comfortable for me as a trans person.”

Personally, I know there are single-stalled gender-neutral washrooms on the Loyola campus on the second floor of the CC building, in the Hive Café, and in the basement of the CJ building. D.T. informed me that, in the H building on the downtown campus, Reggies bar, the other Hive Café, plus the 5th, 7th and 10th floors, all have gender-neutral washrooms as well (although, due to construction on the 7th floor, the washroom is currently inaccessible—same goes for the VA building).

D.T. and the centre described the H building as extremely problematic in terms of accessibility, one of the reasons being that many of the single-stalled gender-neutral washrooms in the building are shared with wheelchair users. This means they are only accessible with an access code or key provided by the security desk on the first floor (not where the washrooms are). Trans and non binary students not only have to locate the gender-neutral washrooms that are actually open on all of three floors in the Hall building (total number of floors is 12), and plan to get the necessary key or access code, but, after all that, once at the security desk, they may be asked to justify their needs to the security officer. “They run the risk of being outed and asked intensive questions,” she said. “It’s super shitty.”

D.T. met with Andrew Woodall, the Dean of Students, a few months ago to communicate the centre’s goals—both short and long-term—for the gender-neutral washrooms project. Short term, they would like to see three types of washrooms: an all-gender washroom available to everyone, trans or not, regardless of their gender identity and expression; a men’s washroom for men, male-identifying or transmasculine persons; and a women’s washroom for women, female-identifying or transfeminine persons, explained D. T.

Long term, the centre would like all washrooms to be gender-neutral, thus “respecting everyone’s right to choose the washroom that is appropriate for them.” While Woodall was very supportive of the centre’s project and their demands, he said these changes would take time. “The centre is not satisfied with this response,” said D.T. She also explained how something as simple as changing signage to actually indicate whether a washroom is gender-neutral helps increase accessibility and awareness. “We don’t want only promises,” she said. “We would like the university to put a concrete plan in place to get us to our goal.”

I’m a big fan of the ‘my rights end where your rights begin’ logic, so let’s talk privilege for a second. Do you navigate your days thinking about where the next available and safe washroom is? Do you mediate your liquid intake so you don’t have to go as frequently? If you answered ‘no’ to the above, I’d suggest rethinking the privilege—yes privilege—you have of simply using a washroom. Everyone should be able to pee in peace.

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

Updated on Jan. 9. 2024

In the original version of the article, one of the two sources was named fully. One of the sources has since requested to be left anonymous.

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Slice of Life: Bloody botany

Watering your plants with diluted menstrual fluid

Do you like plants? Do you bleed once a month from the holiest of holy holes? Are you always looking for ways to save a few bucks and produce as little waste as possible? Well boy do I have a rad tip for you! If you’re up for the challenge, try diluting your menstrual fluid with water, and use that when watering your plants—it can essentially replace your need for fertilizer.

According to Planet Natural Research Centre, fertilizer mainly consists of three macronutrients: potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen—the same nutrients found in blood. Many organic gardeners also use blood meal fertilizer, which contains a high percentage of nitrogen and is made from dried animal blood, usually cow.

“Farmers have used blood meal since blood meal has existed,” said Jade, a Concordia master’s student who practices horticulture by fertilizing her plants with diluted menstrual fluid. “If you want, you can buy fertilizer at the store, but who knows where it came from,” she said. “Who knows how it was made—it’s probably a petrochemical.”

After Labour Day weekend, Jade and I sat down in a sunlit café to talk about her botanical practices. It was only after almost one year of using her menstrual cup that she one day stopped and thought, ‘Why am I dumping this and how can I make use of it?’

“For me, it was just obvious. I have plants—I’m going to use it on them,” Jade said. Properly diluting your blood is not an exact science, she explained, “but your plants will tell you.” The typical dilution ratio is 10 cups of water to one cup of blood.

In her apartment, Jade has multiple plants that she has grown from seeds: figs, bell peppers, lemons, dragon fruit, tamarillos. She even has a third-generation tomato plant, meaning Jade eats tomatoes that grew from the seeds of an earlier tomato, that came from the seeds of the original tomato (whew). She uses her menstrual fluid dilution on all of her plants.

Jade said that when people learn of her horticultural practices, she’s typically met with skepticism. “There’s definitely a stigma, but we eat plants from the grocery store that we don’t ask any questions about,” she said. “We just accept it.” Jade said she often gets put into a box with a big man-hating, feminazi label on it. “This has absolutely nothing to do with the patriarchy, and everything to do with zero waste.”

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

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