Today I went grocery shopping. It struck me how differently I view the shopping experience than I used to. I can remember walking into our grocery store, feeling a sense of peace and luxury at the obvious “plenty” around me- the many choices, the convenience.
It’s a different story now.
When I look down the well-stocked aisles, an uncomfortable thought process unfolds itself. Instead of seeing so much food… I see so many containers. And many of these containers are plastic, or contain plastic. Others are glass or cardboard. While I prefer glass and cardboard, and while I fervently recycle, I understand that recycling itself requires a ton of energy. And I can’t help but shudder at the idea of taking something as beautiful as a tree or other plant, and transforming it into something as ugly as a cardboard food package. Is this the best we can come up with? I have to laugh at our ideas of innovation- ever since I read the Ringing Cedars series and was struck by Anastasia’s confusion about how we humans can take something as beautiful as a tree and think the house we build with it is somehow a more impressive creation. Indeed, there are very few houses I’ve seen that I would describe as more beautiful than the majestic, oxygen-giving trees they hailed from. 😉
Going shopping used to be a game- how much can I get for my money?
Now it is a different game- how little can I get away with buying? What basics can I purchase that will enable me to make more of my own “secondary” foods, such as condiments, yogurt, snacks?
If you look at the picture above, and you imagine how the store is full of such aisles, which are constantly being emptied and restocked- and then multiply that by the thousands of stores in our nation alone- it becomes obvious what an unsustainable business this supermarket culture truly is.
I recently watched a documentary about “No Impact Man”, who attempted to leave no carbon footprint for one year. He switched to farmer’s markets and in many cases, just had to re-invent his shopping experiences (“new” purchases were thrifted or bought used from other venues, such as Craig’s List). Eye-opening. Some may call this limiting; I call it an incredible opportunity for creativity! Think outside the box; invent; re-purpose!
We don’t have much of a Farmer’s Market where I live (ironically, since we’re in farm country!). What is sold at the Farmer’s Market here is either Amish baked goods which are surprisingly unnatural (white flour, white sugar, and preservative-laden pie filling bought in bulk cheaply for their pies), or else vegetables I myself can (and do) grow. A bustling farmer’s market is one thing I miss from city life!
Eating seasonally is one answer (I walked snootily past the strawberries and tomatoes; if they are not growing in my garden, their time has not come on my plate!). I do purchase raw dairy from a local farmer, and he insists his customers all use half-gallon size Mason jars. Seeing the pure, creamy milk in glass containers in my fridge is so appealing. Cream can be skimmed off the top for my husband’s coffee, shaken up into butter, and yogurt can be made as well as whey, creme fraiche, and more. It is a start (especially because my community does not recycle the Number 5 containers yogurt comes in).
My mini hoophouses worked so well in my Zone 4 climate, I think I can avoid purchasing greens at the store for a good part of the year. I’ve read Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Gardening manual and it is a revolutionary concept! At the very least, even an apartment dweller can grow their own micro-greens (see a fantastic tutorial here).
What else can I do? Baby steps. I am going to commit to one new way to avoid pre-packaged foods per month. Maybe that will mean several new forays into the world of canning (now that I’ve ordered my reusable Tattler canning lids, canning can truly be a sustainable endeavor!). It may also herald the return to an era of butchering my chicken myself, right before I need to cook it! I know we don’t all have it in us to farm, to butcher our own meat (or even eat meat, as the case may be), to have an extensive garden. But creating something sustainable, something that makes you less dependent on a failing machine, is within everyone’s reach and will deeply enrich your life.
When I read the Ringing Cedars series, I learned about Russian Dachas. Amazingly, about 66% of Russia’s population produces over 50% of their agricultural output- using about 10% of the energy invested in agriculture. The other 40ish percent of agriculture is farmed using large scale farming and 90% of the agricultural energy (fuel to power tractors, electricity to pump water, etc). They accomplish sustainable agriculture with dachas- small plots of land that serve as “summer getaways”- often appearing to be little more than a shack- where city dwellers (often driven to the country by the Russian government’s inability to provide enough affordable food within certain eras of Russian history) enjoy holidays and weekends gardening and connecting with nature. They produce enough to get them through the winter and the remainder ends up lining the shelves of produce stands and grocery stores. 25% of Russian city-dwellers utilize dachas! Here in the US, as we have officially moved into a city-rich population where once we were a rural-rich population, a statistic like that could produce incredible results- even if our “dachas” were just lawn spaces converted into gardens!
The existence of dachas and the growing dis-ease we all feel about big corporations, special interests, and the rich growing richer as the poor grow poorer, all point to one truth that I believe can save mankind- we must all do our part. If everyone, on a small scale, does what they can to grow and produce something (whether or not is is edible); if everyone, as much as possible, seeks out locally produced, small-scale goods- a lot of positive change will be effected.
How can I spout such lofty ideals when I run a national supply co-op and sing the praises of many natural products that come in packages which could conceivably contribute to our nation’s “stuff-itis”? As with all things, there is a balance. And I hope challenging you to really consider what you need will help you find it. The balance involves protecting our resources while also enjoying the pleasure of cultivating them and the reward of creating beautiful and useful items with them. Sustainable, beautiful, and useful are the criteria! Isn’t it wonderful when you find something that meets all three of those objectives? I find Waldorf-inspired objects often do. This is why I seek to make them more widely available to families.
I am also very open to supporting anyone who wants to come up with a more sustainable, beautiful, or useful version of what Cedar Ring Circle co-op offers. This is also why I am working with local Amish to develop items that would reduce the need for European imported toys.
What ways have you found to pare down your need for “stuff”, and which items do you love because they are sustainable, useful, and beautiful?