It is late and dark, and my house is mostly quiet. For once, my teenage daughter is sleeping when I am not. I remember being a teenager. I thought I knew it all. First I was sure that every can of tuna was killing a dolphin somewhere, then that McDonald’s was destroying the rain forests. Imagine being a teenager who chose not to eat at McDonald’s. Years later, I still don't know if my advocating and boycotting had any effect at all on the environment, although I am fairly certain that every fast food meal I chose not to eat was a step in the right direction.
If I could write a letter to myself at 17 and redirect my efforts...what would I say? I would encourage my youthful self to resist the de-localization of our economy caused by Wal-Mart and Target and Best Buy. There are so few hometown merchants any more. I would tell myself to learn more about gardening, preserving and canning.
Like all mothers and homemakers around the planet and throughout history, I spend a good deal of my time procuring supplies. I buy all the food and household items for myself, my husband and our three children. As I was mentally mapping the day recently, I thought about how the idea of eating locally has altered my consciousness. I wanted to make chicken tacos. So, I needed to buy meat, tortillas, and cheese. My fridge at home already contained the vegetables for this meal: lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, freshly made guacamole, onions, and beans. I was excited because this was a new recipe and my youngest child has recently expressed a love of all things spicy. If his pronouncement holds true, whole new worlds of cooking could be opening up for my family. As I continued to plan for chicken tacos, I could not help thinking that the most costly ingredient on my list was the chicken. I was shocked to realize that I had reflexively defined “cost” as the cost to the planet. I had successfully internalized the fact that producing meat uses much much more of our planet’s resources than plant based products.
All my life, products have been chosen for their cost or quality or possibly nutrient value, depending on the phase of life we are discussing. As a young adult, when I first began helping my mom with the shopping and cooking, she taught me how to get the most for my money by planning ahead, buying in bulk, looking for sales, stocking up and occasionally using coupons. All of these are great habits. Later, as a young mother, I began choosing products not only based on economic value but for the organic qualities of food such as environmental purity, steroid and antibiotic presence and nutritional content. All of these priorities were woven into the economics my mother taught me. Now, in my fifteenth year as a mother and homemaker I have added yet another layer of complexity to the decision making process—the sustainability test.
As I go about my busy American homemaking and mothering, I am often staggered by the amount of time I do not spend at home doing either job: homemaking or mothering. I drive, shop, volunteer, attend meetings, and take my kids places. Being home is a luxury lost to the mists of time when my children were infants and preschoolers. I do long for the days when I made bread, yogurt, baby food (frozen in ice cube trays) and even teething biscuits. Now, though, I can give my older children something as important as the long quiet days playing in the sandbox. I can give them the perspective to be activists as teenagers and adults. I can talk with them about choices and their impact. I can show them that every choice they make does affect the planet we live on, that recycling, buying local, voting responsibly and living sustainably are all important.
I look forward to reading your comments about passing sustainable practices on to our children and how you integrate your values into everyday decision making.