By: Maegan Bull
A day in the life of a nontraditional college student Russell Mullin is never the same as the next. His weekly routine alone now consists of bundling up for a 2.2 mile bike ride to campus. He is also busy visiting local farmers and cooking up different ways to use some of the 200 pears he collected on campus earlier this semester.
Since Nov. 1, Mullin has only been eating food that can be found within a 25-mile radius of his house in Lawrence and he no longer drives his car. He bikes to get around town now, often traveling 30-35 miles a week, although he recalls a time where he had to bike 11 miles in one day.
Mullin decided to adopt the lifestyle after his professor had challenged his environmental ethics class to find a solution to an environmental problem in a research paper. After coming to the conclusion that he was part of the problem, Mullin decided to study different ways he could live a fulfilling small-impact lifestyle.
He hopes that by starting this low-impact lifestyle, as well as recording and studying it, it’ll be something he could continue for years to come and inspire others to do as well.
“A lot of people hear about what I am doing and think, ‘Oh I could never do that,’ “ Mullin said. “I think people have a bad habit of saying they can’t do something. People confuse inconvenience with impossibility.”
Q: Why did you take time off from school?
A: Well, the first time I went to school, it wasn’t for something that I was interested in at all. I thought I was going to get into business and be a manager somewhere, but the more I got into it, the more I realized that it wasn’t for me. I made a decision to go do jobs that I would pay to do. I started off by going to New Mexico and working as a horseback wilderness guide in the mountains. That really opened my eyes up to a whole different kind of living.
Q: What do you mean by jobs you would pay to do?
A: I didn’t want to follow a life path where I was making money to pay for things that I wanted to do. I didn’t want to do a job that I hated to make money to do things that I enjoyed. I thought that was backwards. That I wanted to actually do things, do a job and it enjoy it so much that I would literally pay to do it. It wasn’t a job that made the money, it was a job to make a life experience.
Q: What brought you back to school?
A: I left my jobs to come back here after I realized I was living a selfish lifestyle. I wanted more than to just have fun and to pay to have fun. I wanted to make a difference as well. I wanted to find an outlet to do that; [the jobs] weren't allowing me to do that. That’s what brought me back to school.
Q: What are you studying here at the University?
A: I am a global international studies major with a global environment specialization. I am leaning between either Western-Europe as regional specialty or Africa. I am [debating] upon becoming an environmental studies major as well.
Q: Can you tell me about the research project you’re working on? What’s the idea behind it?
A: I did some thinking about environmental problems that affected me and a lot of other people. I looked at a couple different things. I looked at the KU campus and beyond, but then I was just laying in bed one night and had this realization that I wasn’t actually figuring out what the problem is or what’s causing it. That’s when I realized it’s me. I am part of all of this. I decided that if I was going to make a change, the best place to start would be myself. I wanted to see how far my daily interactions [with the environment] spread out. Something as simple as making broccoli can affect people in another country, same with the clothes I wear.
Q: What’s the main focus for the research project?
A: The food part is what I chose to focus on the most, mainly because it is so vast of a topic. I quickly realized the effect I had on the world was so much bigger than I expected. I decided to narrow it down to something I could easily interact with, something I could change. I can actually visit the people here that produced the food and grow the food. It’s a really large part of our daily lives.
Q: What made you decide to conquer such an extreme diet and lifestyle change?
A: I decided to eat within a 25-mile radius of where I live here in Lawrence, but more than that 25-mile radius, more than the distance to the grocery store or where I get my milk and eggs, it’s about building a relationship with the farmers. It’s about building a relationship with the things I consume. From meeting the farmers or growers or the dairy owners, it’s actually visiting where they produce, where they grow their vegetables, and how they treat their cows. It’s one thing to see a label in a grocery store and have it tell you its organic or it’s GMO free, but it’s another thing to shake the hand of the person who actually grew it and put a lot of thought and love into it.
Q: What are your short-term and long-term goals with the research project?
A: My short-term goal is for me to self-reflect on my own actions and assess and to affect positive change to things I either advocate or don’t advocate for. Long-term, I would like to spread this view point of actually having people question the things they're eating and build a relationship with it.
Q: What have you had to give up?
A: Well, I don't look at it as giving up anything, so much as taking up different things. Instead of sugar, I use honey from a beehive I built for my dad and have out at my parents' place. For seasonings, I use dehydrated and crushed peppers of various spiciness, green onion powder, and herbs that I grew at home. Basically, if I had to say I gave up anything, I'd say I gave up all processed foods, refined sugars, and preservatives...and perhaps thoughtless snacking. And for me, I don't think that sounds so bad. I've found that I can make flat bread, tortilla chips, popcorn, rice and even ice cream with 100 percent of their ingredients produced right here in Lawrence. The list goes on and on.
Interested in learning more about Mullin’s journey and lifestyle? He blogs here: http://somelocalfoodforthought.blogspot.com/
— Edited by Yu Kyung Lee