10 March 2010

Small Changes

During my homestay with Mae Pathom Tanakhoon in Yasothon Province I began to develop an appreciation and some jealousy of Mae’s self-sufficient life. During the first couple days I noticed that she did not go to the market to get eggs or meat, rather she would go into her garden each morning and pick fresh vegetables to eat at each meal. I was in disbelief. I have never known anyone who does not buy food regularly and began wondering if this was a way of life I could accomplish. If I am not a farmer can I still live self-sufficiently? How can I be the best consumer possible? What are my practices at home and what knowledge can I bring home to change these practices? These, among many other questions were bouncing around my head all week and I began to feel hopeless. I would go from convincing myself that not all was lost, to thinking, “how could it be possible to live a self-sufficient life if I do not grow all my own food?”

Mae expressed her love of self-sufficiency to me on day two of my homestay saying, “If someone has land, why not grow their own food?” At the time this question seemed hard to answer and being a trained American consumer I immediately began thinking of justifications; some people do not have enough time, planting a garden requires too much work/maintenance, not everyone knows how to grow etc. These were all valid reasons for a mere five seconds and then they were just lazy excuses. But to Mae this was a rhetorical question. In her mind there was no reason why open land should not be dedicated to growing fruits, herbs and vegetables.

Finally, after ten days of feeling guilty about my current lifestyle and passionate about changing my tendencies, I came to both a realization and a solution. I realized that when talking about self-sufficiency and changing consumer patterns nationally or worldwide one has to be realistic. As ideal as it would be, not everyone is going to grow everything they eat and not everyone prefers vegetables or has access to organic food. However, educating people about where their food comes from and what they can do is the primary step we can take.

The solution is not to force oneself to be a farmer, but to find a balance. I arrived at the balance of growing some of my own vegetables and fruit, buy local/organic when available and eating processed food in moderation. Living in Rhode Island, an area that has hot summers and harsh winters, would still allow me to grow vegetables and fruit for at least half the year (with help from Mum and Dad). Fortunately, there are plenty of small-scale organic farms within twenty-five miles of my house with affordable prices that grow the vegetables I cannot grow at home. Finally, in regards to eating processed food, it is not going to kill me…yet. One of my favorite summer meals is a cheeseburger hot off the grill and as much as I do not agree with killing animals for human consumption I do not foresee myself giving up a cheeseburger anytime soon. In a way, just feeling guilty every time I take a bite of that burger is awareness and change in itself.

The answer is not for everyone to drastically change their eating habits or consuming patterns, but to make small daily changes that have long-term affects. According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads. See how easy it is to make a difference?

Claire Coddington
Occidental College

1 comment:

Ilse said...

After our first two units on food production and waste we were collectively excited about changing the way we lived, both here and in the U.S. Many people swore off 7-11 (which in Thailand is owned by a giant multinational corporation that controls much of the food industry), many people went out and bought tupperware containers and plastic cups and we all talked about being more aware of leaving the air conditioner and computers on. We had seen the negative impacts and we were committed to being green, socially-responsible study abroad students. Unfortunately, I’ve watched that resolve (mine included) deteriorate over the course of the semester. You forget your Tupperware, you settle for a plastic bag or plastic cup. You walk out of the student activity room, you leave the AC and the computers on. You’re on a four-hour van ride, you grab as many snacks as possible from 7-11. That salad at the grocery store that was flown half way around the world looks pretty good right about now.

Why has this happened? We are educated, informed, enlightened world travelers now, yet we have still fallen back into the easiest path of socially and irresponsible living. I’ve become more and more frustrated with this fact as the semester has gone on. If we can’t hold ourselves responsible after all we’ve done this semester, how do we expect the rest of the world to? I put so much faith in community education and the change I think it can bring to this world but this fact of our lives here scares me. I’m glad I stumbled across this post though. Claire makes a great point about the value of moderation. We can’t all be self-sufficient farmers. And we can’t all be hot, vegetarian, Tupperware wielding, 7-11 avoiding students all the time. But we can do it some of the time and the value of that “some of the time” on a global scale is, well, invaluable.

Ilse