If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either. Joseph Wood Krutch

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ecological Dieting

My wife and I have been in two major car crashes in our life, one from the front and one from the back and this has left us with many aches and pains we would not normally have. The first accident left both of us with some residual back troubles and the second accident hobbled me with a double compound leg fracture and fractured my wife's skull. I was in a cast and brace for about a year and then followed that up by five years of self therapy. She was fairly debilitated for a number of years. It was a long road back and an Andy Warhol moment as we made the front page of the paper. I could have forgone the fame.

When you experience this type of physical trauma you never really do get fully back to "normal". The reminders of the accidents exist in your tissues and heat and ice become very good friends since they help ease many of these discomforts. I have just a few visible scars left but I have quite a bit of unseen scar tissue in my back and leg. Also since one leg is just slightly shorter than the other it messes with my hips a bit and throws off my gait. My wifes injuries are mostly invisible but they cause her chronic pain every day. There is no therapy that fixes scar tissue. It is just a residual agony that must be dealt with. (Here is where you sigh and offer meaningful sympathies in our direction before resuming your normal life. But please, no cards unless they contain money.) I have mostly recovered from my injuries and I am still able to walk, hike, backpack and ride a bike so I have no real complaints. My wife is less fortunate in this regard but she does mostly OK despite having quite a bit of pain still.

Why do I ramble on here about our accidents you are probably asking by now? What does this have to do with ecological dieting? Well, I enjoy walking and right now I try to walk about six miles every day. I am fortunate to live next to a Nature Park that has miles of wooded trails since the air is filled with scents and the sound of birds, there are ponds, creeks, snakes and even poisonous newts and it makes for a great place to walk. Anyhow, as I was out walking yesterday and thinking about all this ecology stuff I suddenly realized that what we have now in America are a bunch of good intentioned people putting themselves on an unsustainable ecological diet. Just like America is getting fatter while at the same time dieting like crazy we are now looking for the Atkins South Beach Zone Deprivation diet for planet earth. We think if we just eliminate this, add that, then boom...the ecological impact will magically drift away, bluebirds will sing, and the earth will be forever saved. Wrong! Deprivation never works. The unaltered human psyche simply catalogs our deprivations and then nags at us until we finally give in and pig out to reward ourselves for our earlier deprivation. (Citation: Human Nature 101)

I was a teen in the 70's and watched the wholesale development of an earth movement sprout into something great. But then over the next few decades the same exact people lost the vision and turned into rampant consumers. For all the weirdness of the hippie movement there was a lot of good that came from the "back to the earth" movement side of it. Not all lost the dream, but it seems most did. Some of us are coming back to the dream. ( OK, I wasn't a real hippie, but I shared in the dream and loved Carole King.)

We can try to adapt our current lifestyle to one that is more green but really the only true answer is to seek contentment without over-indulgence. We need to find what things we actually need and what are the things we just want but don't really need. Keep the needs, whatever they are, and get rid of the wants. It is not the same for everyone. A lot of it has to do with where you live. For example, if you live in an apartment it is just not practical that you are going to be able to start a worm bin, have a solar shower and grow an organic garden. It is not practical or financially feasible for everyone to move to God's green acre and live off the land. However if this is what you really want; worms, solar heated water and organic gooseberries; then by all means find a new place to live and go for it. But simplicity and proper earth stewardship can take place nearly anywhere.

But back to my original topic about the accidents. When I start talking about reducing our consumption my wife often says,"I couldn't get through the day without my morning warm shower". Here, here, I completely understand what she is saying and agree with her. In the first accident we were rammed in the back at about 45 milers per hour by an old fart that should not have even been driving. He was on some sort of medication that put him in a different realm than his automobile was in. He rocketed us through the intersection from a dead stop and as a result we both suffered equivalent and substantial back injuries that left us in pain for quite a number of months. It also left both of us with some residual back troubles. Scar tissue is abiding. That warm shower in the morning sure helps work out the kinks that develop overnight. So when I start talking about limiting our consumption to a few measly gallons of water per day I must decide if that will really work for us. How else could we erase the stiffness without a shower and the occasional soak. Is that a want or is that a need? It's a good question. I am not fortunate enough to have a hot spring in my backyard so if I want hot water I have to produce it myself and that takes resources. Plus, if I abandoned my fridge as well, as some suggest I should do, I would no longer have a freezer compartment with its stack of ice packs. Then my and my wifes life would dissolve into pain. Truthfully, it probably wouldn't be totally debilitating but life would become a drag and the chronic pain caused by chronic inflammation due to scar tissue would begin to take over our minds. Probably make us depressed. That would definitely limit our capabilities and we would become less productive in other ways...such as starting a garden, avid recycling, walking or riding a bike.

When I examine human history, to the best of my availability, I do not discover that we were dropped here from somewhere else and are aliens upon the land. We live here too! We are allowed to leave a footprint. What it really comes down to is, how big of a footprint can I leave before I am no longer a man but a pig? (My apologies to all things porcine, it's just an analogy.)

I read other blogs by those who are trying to "reduce, reuse and recycle". I admire anyone that moves in this direction and support their decision. It's a tough change to make. I too was once a gluttonous consumer pig stocking my larders with things I really don't need and woke up one day to my folly. (OK, I still have a bit of folly in me but I'm getting better) But I also see people anguishing over how they are going to survive without things like hot water. Forget the anguish. If you need a little hot water, then by gum, use a little hot water. The idea is to move to a simpler life and not just go on a complex ecological diet.

Dieting doesn't work and never will. It doesn't matter if it is a food diet or an ecological diet. If becoming green means becoming guilt-ridden and enduring self-flogging hardship, it is not worth it and it will never work. You will just give up and go back to your old gluttonous consumerist ways. True change only comes from finding a new satisfaction and changing inside. Only when something has become truly unnecessary will it truly be gone from your life. So if you want to really be green, then the only way to get there is to learn to be simple. That might still mean some abrupt changes but they should be positive changes that make life simpler and more worth living and not things that bring about deprivation.

Several years ago I switched nearly cold tofu to eating a completely plant based diet. I did it for me. My concern at the time was not the planet or the animals, (although later I did incorporate these concerns in my decision), I did it because I was selfish. My father died at age sixty from a life of eating bad and I did not want that for myself. When I reached middle age and realized I was pushing two hundred pounds on my fairly small frame and saw my blood pressure begin the inevitable climb I started seeking answers. Over a period of about two years I went from being a junk food junkie to a very healthy whole grain, low fat plant based way of eating. I am happy with the food I eat, and I am completely satisfied and free of cravings for junk. But I made the change for me. It made my body healthier, meals are a snap to put together and I know I won't keel over and die in a Mexican restaurant with a mouthful of fatty food like my father did. Had I made this switch simply because I worried about the planet or the animals, but inside still desired the junk food or big juicy steak, my change would fail me and I would eventually go back to eating the old way. I've watched it happen over and over with people I know. We must first admit to ourselves that we are selfish creatures and then realize true change will only come from a true change of heart and desire for our own good...but never from self-sacrifice.

Whoa, this is getting heavy now. That's too deep for me. This is a blog not a philosophy class. OK, so here is the point I am really making without delving into religion. "Happy is he who does not condemn himself in that thing which he allows." That is what Paul the apostle wrote to the Romans when they questioned him about unclean things. If you want to save the animals and the planet, GREAT!, but you have to start with the man in the mirror and change you first. But not through deprivation. If you start with turning off the electricity, running a hose to the roof to collect hot water from the sun, fill your basement with worms to digest your garbage and then convert your one-acre yard to an organic garden you will most likely fail. If life is just a series of chores to save the world you will most likely lose heart. (You could try saving the cheerleafer first but I think that only works on TV.)

From my experience it has taken years to reach where I am now, consumer wise. I am probably not that far along compared to others but I am happy for the moment where I am. I have drastically reduced my driving, I recycle like crazy, I eat plant-based organic, I buy less junk and now I am working on eating locally. I also am trying to reduce my stuff. I have lots of junk and I am trying to end my attachments. Stuff lock I think it is called. That's a pretty full plate for now. I am concerned about the planet but, to be honest, I am more concerned about the stress my stuff brings me right now. I have a desire within me to move to a simpler life. One step at a time I am getting there. But I honestly think a warm shower and an occasional soak in a warm tub will be a part of that simple life. I'll let everyone else feel guilty for me and then won't give it a second thought.

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