Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Sustainable Life

There has been quite the response to my post, "Is Living Sustainably Unsustainable?" If you haven't read the comments in that post yet, I'd encourage you to do so. The comments, as well as subsequent posts by Jess, Green Bean, Melinda, and Chile suggest that finding balance is something we all struggle with.

I have remarked on this before, but it's really easy to assume that everyone else in the eco-blogosphere is always perfect. That no one else slips up. That all the other bloggers are local food eating, recycling, never driving maniacs.

But having met and talked to several bloggers personally, I've realized that that's not the case.

None of us are perfect. All of us mess up. And all of us consciously decide, "You know what? Here's my limit. I'm just not going to attempt X."


The other day, I got to see Michael Pollan speak. (It's rather hilarious ... going to a Michael Pollan lecture in the Bay Area is kind of like going to a rock concert in atmosphere.)

One of the first things I noticed was that Michael Pollan of all people was drinking bottled water. "Et tu, Michael Pollan?" I thought, feeling incredibly smug and judgey. Here was Michael Pollan, the man who tells America how to eat, drinking some damn bottled water. Doesn't he know better?!!!!

And then I snapped out of it. Yes, he probably does know better. In fact, he probably avoids bottled water as much as possible just like the rest of us. But he probably also accepts that when he gives lectures, sometimes he'll be provided with a bottle of water instead of a glass of tap water. And when that happens, instead of eco-divaing out, he just drinks from the damn bottle.

Later that evening, he told a story about being accosted in the grocery store in Berkeley for having a box of Froot Loops or something of the like in his cart. (For the record, it was his son's weekend cereal.) The poor man literally cannot grocery shop without being judged.

And that's when it hit me. In order to find the Sweet Spot of Sustainable Living, we must put aside the judging. Judging of others. Judging of ourselves. Judging of our significant others.

Instead, we need to open ourselves up to experiment, to fail, to backtrack, to succeed, to grow, and to be human.

Pollan says, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." To that I add, "Live sustainably. Do your best. And enjoy life."


Anonymous said...

I do agree with trying to do your best (and accepting all the many failures that come with it)... that was kind of the mantra of my blog, and most of the talks I give now are all about why we need to embrace the inherent hypocrisies of green living in order to move forward. HOWEVER, I think that's totally lame of Michael Pollan to be drinking bottled water at his lecture. It's one thing to occasionally cave in while you're travelling in a developing country or something, but when hundreds (or thousands, even) are looking to this man for guidance and inspiration, to publicly consume bottled water at an event like that is just really bad form. It's not as if he couldn't plan ahead and bring his own stainless steel bottle. A small gesture, but the symbolism is important nonetheless. If he can't even get that right, why are we hanging on his every word? The same thing pissed me off at the Copenhagen talks... like, c'mon people, it's one thing to debate meat-eating and vegetarianism and carbon offsets, but drinking tap water is the easiest thing in the world, and there are really no excuses to do otherwise.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I like the idea of Michael Pollan being an "eco-diva." :)

While I think it's important for those of us who care about the environment to recognize our own limits, I also think it's important to be a role model for those around us, so drinking bottled water is something I try not to do ever, especially in public or where my students could see! But of course we all slip up. I've been known to refill my klean kanteen from a Poland Springs cooler at work when I run out of my well water, because since getting pregnant the smell of chlorine makes me want to throw up. So I guess that's a diva in my own way.

I totally agree that the judging needs to stop, but the people judging most, in my experience, are the people who are against the whole sustainability movement. At least that's who I see picking me apart.

Lee said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who has noticed how judgmental we can all be on ourselves and each other through this process of redefining our lives. I really feel for the more prominent members of the "green" community - it must suck to not even be able to buy some junk cereal without being criticised!

We're not going to get through this unless we learn that the key isn't judging, it's supporting.

Everyone is struggling with change, and old habits die hard. I stopped reading a whole stack of blogs because they came across as "holier than thou" and I got pissed off with the attitude of those bloggers.

I guess the truth is we're all human, we're all struggling, and I have a lot more time for those that admit it than those that don't.

So thanks for this post. I needed to remember, and have it pointed out, that we're all of this newbies, no matter how experienced some of us might seem, and together, working together, we're going to stand a much better chance than a world divided against itself.

Daharja at Cluttercut

Simply Authentic said...

I really enjoyed the post about balance as I've been having lots of these thoughts lately myself. I think I've gotten to the point where it's weighing of what is helpful on what level and to whom, and trying to decide at what point doesn't it become too much. I also have come to realize that availability is a huge piece. Two years ago, I was single and living in Portland, OR surrounded by farmer's markets, CSAs, fabulous public transportation, numerous well-stocked thrift shops, and a surrounding mentality of sustainablility. Now I'm married and on a rural military post in the south where the local grocery stores (one of which is WalMart) barely stock organic produce, the local farmer's market included two people selling items in the height of season, I'm not permited to garden easily in my yard since we live on post..and it gets sprayed by the housing company, and while local is sometimes an unorganized option...sustainable and organic are not....

But I'm learning to make do with what we have and how we can. We try not to be too pushy with our opinions, we still recycle what we're allowed to, we buy organic when its available and we can afford it from the store, we hang clothes on a make shift line in our garage except for when the humidity is too high to dry them....so sometimes our adaptations and forced-into-a-new balance are a direct result of our surroundings. And being here experiencing this has made me totally understand why sustainability is not widely accepted across the nation...when the resources aren't available its a problem....

Megan Ramey said...

Thanks for this post. I have been having some issues recently with my article posts on Facebook and some friends thinking that I am "holier than thou".

Someone has had to write a book, article or blog post about sustainability and relationships and the fine line one walks as an ambassador or educator trying to rally the troups or one who is seen as passing judgment on others.

When I saw Paul Hawken speak at GreenBuild this past year, I could not stop tearing up because of the many times he mentioned that it's hard to keep friends as a Sustainability warrior. He specifically mentioned his dinner invitations dwindling as he wrote "The Ecology of Commerce."

Do we keep championing sustainability and hope that our friends can be less insecure and realize we're not passing a referendum on their lifestyle, but moreso that we have a problem with the way the system is designed?