Of course, America's individualistic streak is responsible for many of the best things about America: from our rigid separation of church and state to our entrepreneurial spirit. But it also creates problems. Our social safety net isn't as strong as that of many European countries precisely because we believe fervently in individual responsibility. Don't have a job? You're probably just being lazy. It is the "American" in me who feels like a failure when I can't do it all all by myself. But after reading all your wonderful comments, I realize I'm not alone in feeling like it's impossible for one person to do it all.
And here's the thing. You shouldn't have to do it all alone.
I know there are many eco-conscious folk whose idea would be to live off the grid in a house in the middle of nowhere. If that's your dream, or your life, I get it, and I respect it. To you I say, "Rock on with your bad self!" However, if that's not your dream, or if it sounds good in theory, but seems unachievable for you and your family in practice, read on.
See, personally, I have no desire to live off the grid, ever, ever, ever. I love the grid. The grid is my friend. Do you know how many villagers in China and India would kill for our grid? I don't want to do away with the grid, I just want a grid powered by solar and wind instead of coal and oil. So, I reduced my electric usage to 11% of the average American's, largely by never turning on the heater or air conditioner. And then I stopped worrying about my electricity usage. Oh, I thought about unplugging the fridge in passing. It's my only remaining power-suck, and because I have a fridge at work, and am home so seldom, I think I could actually do just fine without a fridge in the apartment. But having a fridge makes my life easier, and frankly, I see that 11% usage as a badge of honor. I'm a green power user, and every time DWP bills me, they see that I'm a paying customer willing to pay more to invest in alternate energy. And in its own way, that's just as important as being able to live off the grid.
Because what would happen if every eco-conscious person decided to get off the grid? It's possible that energy companies would notice they were losing customers, and would start investing in alternate technology in an attempt to woo those customers back. But I think it's more likely that the grid would still continue to serve the majority of Americans, but now, the people willing to invest in alternative energy would no longer be paying into the grid. And if no one was interested in green power, energy companies would stop offering them and would stick to coal and oil. When you're outside of a system, it's easy for a company to shrug its shoulders and ignore you. When you're invested in the system, the company has to pay at least some attention to you.
Similarly, home-schooling is often touted as much more eco-friendly than classroom schooling, and I've seen many a green mom express guilt that they weren't "green enough" to home-school. But when we say that home-schooling is the more eco-conscious option, we're ignoring the very real, albeit immeasurable ways, that the children of "green" parents affect their teachers and peers. This is not to say that parents shouldn't home-school, but simply to remind us that opting IN is just as valid a choice as opting OUT.
In the comments for my "Good, Not Perfect" post, Beany suggested that if I'm having difficulty finding time to cook, I eat at restaurants that serve local food. It's telling how deeply our "do-it-yourself" attitude is ingrained, but I was surprised to see Beany suggest eating at restaurants. I eat at restaurants a lot, and they frequently serve locally-grown food, but eating at restaurants always seemed a little bit like cheating. Aren't I supposed to be able to cook for myself?
Well, yes and no. Cooking is an important skill, and everyone should know a little about it. But, it's not necessary for me to cook every meal for myself. Beany further mentioned that she was considering starting a meal-delivery service. First of all, I think this is an awesome idea, and if and when she moves to LA, I think she should definitely pursue it. Second of all, this is the exact kind of "green" career that we should all be promoting. It would provide a job for Beany, and because she only uses local and organic ingredients, it's good for the environment. Thirdly, um, have you seen the ridiculously delicious meals she cooks up? If I could afford it (which I probably couldn't, but let's pretend), I would ABSOLUTELY hire her, self-sufficiency be damned. Because I know the road of self-sufficiency and it frequently involves coming home late, and having nothing but strawberries for dinner.
The point is, it is not a sign of weakness or human frailty if you rely on others. Sure, I may not want to rely on conventional produce shipped from Chile, but I am happy to rely on the farmers at the farmers' market. I'd rather pay these farmers than grow my own food, and really, that's okay. Because by opting in to the farmers' market, I am creating a demand for small, local farms. I may not have much desire to grow food, but by buying a small farmers' produce, I'm making his or her dream come true. We aren't weaker or food insecure when we rely on eco-conscious systems like farmers' markets and CSAs. In fact, we are building a more secure and happier future.
It's all a question of time and money. Which can you more easily afford? I'll continue to cook my meals, because I can't afford (yet) to pay for organic, local meal delivery. But I'll get my pants hemmed by a tailor, because I can afford that, and I'd rather have someone else do it. I'll buy at the farmers' market, because I can more easily afford the money than the time to grow my own produce. And while I might dabble in making jam this summer, in January, I will happily plunk down the money for someone else's homemade jam.
We don't have to do it all ourselves. In fact, relying on others might make us happier, more relaxed, and more focused. I can't do it all, but I get by with a little help from my friends.