Saturday, September 11, 2010

One Knife: A Minimalist’s Take on Extreme Consumerism

From 2002 to 2004, I owned one knife – no more than that.
This one knife was a fish filleting knife. It saw duty as a paring knife, as a fish skinning knife, as a wire stripper, as a butter knife, as a dinner knife, and even as a poor flat screwdriver blade.
I had not intended, in 2002, to be a minimalist. I had no concept of what being a minimalist entailed. I simply had no need of any other knife.
When I remarried in 2005, I inherited more than 60 knives. There were dinner knives, steak knives, bread knives, electric knives, meat carving knives, paring knives, pocket knives, multi-tool knives, cheese knives, cleaving knives, and other knives whose purpose I could not guess. Of course, there were also duplicates of those knives.
The knives, to me, represented the difference between consumerism and minimalism. Each type of knife simplified a given chore, or made use of a knife a little easier for that specific task. But each knife also required specific care: cleaning, sharpening, storing and handling varied for each knife. While each chore was made easier with the correct knife, keeping track of that knife became more complex than caring for one knife.
A multitude of knives meant, too, that many people could do many tasks concurrently with each other (not that it happened frequently). But an assortment of people handling a range of knives complicates the task of tracking & caring for the items.
With my one knife, I never felt the need for more. But now that I possess dozens, I see better quality, more attractive, more durable knives that I want. Ornate handles, eversharp blades, and superior, indestructible quality make each new offering a “must-have” product.
There are risks, as well, with owning a plethora of culinary scalpels. Cuts are more frequent, breakage more common, cleanliness more essential. I can no longer just wipe the filleting knife on my trousers. Each knife need be sterilized. Each knife requires storage, and specialized storage, at that.
And I needed to learn etiquette as it pertains to the proper use of knives.
I am baffled at how I was able to survive for three years with only one knife. I marvel at the rugged pioneer independence of those that have fewer knives than I now possess, and wonder how they manage to tolerate such primitive living.
In 2002, I had no need of two knives. Now, I cannot fathom being without at least 60. It is my minimum.

Using alternative fuels

Having made biodiesel from hemp, flax and canola oils, from rancid & sprouted seeds, from waste vegetable oil and animal fat, I had learned that a high-quality diesel alternative could be fabricated quite easily. Having conducted a research initiative into producing biogas from animal manure, grass clippings & old hay and waste or off-grade oilseed & grains, I had learned that a good propane substitute could be made with a little effort and effective production controls. However, I had not attempted to use various petro-fuels as alternatives to conventional ones.
Recently, I began experimenting with various petroleum products in alternative use scenarios. Diesel, for example, can be used as a substitute for kerosene in kerosene heaters or even kerosene and citronella lamps
While the odour of burning diesel is quite obnoxious, diesel heat in a relatively closed space such as a workshop is less risky than using propane heaters. Propane consumes huge amounts of oxygen, and puts out high levels of carbon monoxide, making its use in closed spaces quite dangerous. Diesel, too, has a relatively high flash point, meaning that it is somewhat safer than kerosene if drops are spilled. On the other hand, diesel produces more impurities, and will clog filters and lines more easily.
Last month, I found an ethanol-burning fireplace that claimed to consume 1/3 litre per hour. Since, in Canada, we cannot buy pure ethanol directly, this great “deal” would be valueless, if not for the fact that methanol can be substituted for ethanol. Indeed, when making biodiesel, you may use either ethanol or methanol in the chemical mix.
Methyl hydrate, by the way, is another name for methanol, and can be found in any paint store. At $3.00 or more per litre, though, the price is not attractive. Another option is to buy methanol in bulk (less than 235 litres, as the Dangerous Goods Act restricts transport and storage of larger quantities. Bulk methanol may be obtained at some race tracks and some larger fuel distributors.
The advantage of methanol is that it is not very hygroscopic. That is, it does not attract moisture to the same degree as ethanol. Besides, who wants to waste good whisky by distilling it down to pure ethanol?
Biogas and methane can be used with relatively little risk to the engine in any diesel engine. However, biogas has high sulphate content, and tends to corrode iron products rapidly.
Even manure is not a pure waste product! Well-dried manure will burn, albeit with an unpleasant odour and lots of deposits excreted. Still, it burns a little like compressed & dried peat, so it offers an emergency option for a wood heater.
A word of caution is needed, though. Use of alternative fuels must be a “stopgap” measure only, and must be done with regard to proper safety precautions.