Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Word of the Year is PATIENCE

Back from vacation with The Conscious Shopper...

Every holiday season, my family takes an insane, 2000+ mile, totally not eco-friendly roadtrip to visit our family. The typical trip involves several days cramped in the car while watching movie after movie on our portable DVD player, munching on individually wrapped snacks, and loading up on fast food. Like I said: not eco-friendly.

Last year, I decided to address our wastefulness by coming up with a plan to make our roadtrips greener. And when we took our summer roadtrip (a shorter but still insane version of our Christmas trip), I put that plan into action: we checked the air in our tires, homemade a bunch of snacks, stopped at rest stops to make sandwiches instead of fast food restaurants for burgers, and brought our own water bottles instead of buying Cokes.

But for this latest trip, I just wanted a vacation. Not just a vacation from my house, but in all honesty, a vacation from my life. I wanted to have the kind of roadtrip that most people in this country get to have - the kind where I don't have to think hard or cook in advance or plan a lot or care so much. Just for two weeks, I wanted to live like everyone else.

Except that I can't.

I think there's a point of no return when you've gone green. A point where you know too much and the whole world looks different. I see trash, and my mind immediately flashes forward to where it will end up next. I walk into Target, and my mind flashes backward to where those products began their lives. I pick up a bottle of shampoo and subconsciously twist it around to check out the ingredients. For better or worse, my outlook on everything has been changed.

And so there came a point on our "vacation" when we swung by Sonic for lunch (my favorite fast food restaurant to eat at when roadtripping). And I'm sitting there eating a toaster sandwich and mozzarella sticks and sipping a Coke (my favorite Sonic meal), and all I can think is, "Look at how much trash we produced in this one meal."

And this thought makes me angry.

I just want to have a freakin' vacation! But I can't enjoy myself because freakin' Sonic uses so much freakin' trash in their meals.

It reminded me of a scene in No Impact Man during one of the early phases of his experiment where he decides he wants a slice of pizza. Except that he's decided not to produce any trash, and he can't order a slice of pizza without the paper plate that comes with it. And he's just about ready to give up the whole experiment, because he really, really, really wants a slice of pizza.

Eventually, like Fake Plastic Fish and Envirambo and many of my green heroes, he figures out how to order a slice of pizza without a paper plate (bring your own container), but why should he have to try so hard? Why should the responsibility fall completely on him and me and you?

Why can't restaurants design their to-go packaging so it's compostable, and why can't cities everywhere have compost collection along with their recycling and trash pick-up? Why can't companies design more products to have a cradle to cradle lifecycle? Why don't more grocery stores carry more products in bulk bins?

I believe that we are definitely, unequivocally going to have to make our lives more sustainable. But I can't help but ask, "When??? How long will it take?"

Thinking about this reminded me of a comment Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse left on my blog several months ago:
As someone who has been working on these issues for 30 years, I'm really heartened by the level of discussion going on. Even though it's late, and not enough, compared to the dust-ups we generated when we started in 1970 (yes, at the first Earth Day), I feel like we're in a hurricane. It's frustrating that progress isn't smarter and faster, but it is happening, and I'm thrilled we're all a part of it.
So now my Word of the Year is PATIENCE...Change will come, even if it's eventually rather than right this second.

And until then, if I've reduced my waste and water and energy consumption, and if I'm involved in advocacy groups for transportation and community gardens, and if I'm even walking two hours several times a week to avoid driving my car three miles, I should be able to take a vacation every now and then. But maybe next time we'll go to Chipotle.

Do you have a word of the year?


Alli said...

I love it. I love the way that you have acknowledged that you can't "switch off". We are starting this with the next generation - Miss 5 and 6. They will see a plastic bag down at the lake - and pick it up because it "might get swallowed by a fish and it will die". I mutter and curse about the dirty plastic bag and where I am going to put it but am very quietly proud of our girls for doing just what we have taught them - even when I may forget.

DramaMama said...

My word for the year is GIVE. As in give away stuff. As in give to people w/needs since I have so much. As in give more time to my family, the tasks at home and my role here. As in give great thought to the decisions we are making, give more effort to change what we are doing for the better, give more information to people who ask instead of feeling weird and not wanting to bother explaining. To me, the word give sums up how I want to be more passionate about what I'm doing but have never really been able to give more time, money or attention to. Not sure if that comes across to others exactly how I mean, but it makes sense in my head. =) I don't feel like I've been much of an active participant lately and I'm finally starting to give a hoot about that! I agree that it's hard to take a vacation from the way you feel. I appreciate hearing your thoughts...thanks!

greeen sheeep said...

Excellent post! My husband has just reached the state you are in. Everyday he comes home and tells me about something he wanted to do, but then couldn't because all he could think about was the impact it would have. Finally, the rose-colored glasses have come off! He totally blames me for it, "Thanks! I used to have a normal life. Now everywhere I go all I see is waste. What the hell are we thinking?!" Aww.... you're welcome honey.

You are right, there comes a point where the switch flips and you can't shut it off. The land of enlightenment is a hard place to live.

Green Me Alison said...

Patience and a few nicely written notes to the CEOs of the world's Sonics might just be the key! I've been impressed with how many restaurants are converting to compostables. And it definitely makes me feel good to eat at these places! There is a road race around here that gives out canvass lunch sacks (think brown bag lunch). Would that not be cool if the fast food places marketed their own reusable canvass bags and reusable containers for take out? The cafeteria at CU boulder has reusable take out containers. The students pay a deposit once and then swap them is so doable and could be our future!

Green Bean said...

Great post. I too feel like I'd like a vacation sometime from my life and yet one cannot escape the knowledge we've accumulated over the last few years.

Daisy said...

Chipotle is good.
Balance is good.
Lifelong green attitudes? Great.
Guilt: not so good, but it helps keep the positive attitude intact.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Alli - Doesn't it make you feel good when your kids make those good choices?

@DramaMama - What a perfect word. I need to do more of that too.

@greeen sheeep - I'm hoping you're saying that I won't even want to eat at Sonic in another year or two.

@Green Me Alison - Very good point about the letter writing.

@Green Bean - It can be tiring, but overall I know we're doing something good.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Daisy - I'm working on the guilt. I am definitely my own biggest critic.

Sue said...

When you travel have you considered going the few extra blocks into the nearest town and eating at the local cafe? We have found some fun, interesting places and people. Nothing is wrapped in packaging, it comes on a plate and in a glass that is washed and used again. The food is usually healthier too.

Jessica Nichols said...

My word this year is discipline and it's been a long time comin'. I have not been a very disciplined person. Ever. So I am doing things so far this year that need to be done, even if I am "not in the mood" to do them, like sit down and make a flippin' meal plan and a grocery list and do crunches and stretch at night.

P.S. Last night we got fast food for the first time in months as a family. I only got cheese fries because I'm terrified of the meat now. The place (a local place, not an international chain) gives Horizon organic milk boxes for the kids meal. I was stoked! Even if it's an individually packaged item, or not pastured cows (not sure how good or bad Horizon is these days). For me, it was better than who-knows-what-dairy. I was thankful. So maybe this is the kind of patience you mean. On the other hand, I literally made the exact same observation about the trash factor. I was floored because it has been so long, it was really obvious to me how large the footprint was from that one meal.

Hippy Goodwife said...

You sound like me! We took a road trip this Fall for our once every three to five year vacation. We drove 12 hours each day, two days there are two back. We packed all of our own breakfasts and lunches for those days, took our sturdy cloth napkins,flatware, aluminum water bottles and homemade snacks. Tuned the car to be as light and efficient as possible. I just could not face the fast food garbage piles and seriously unhealthy food. Even at our theme park we packed in our own homemade or bulk purchased snacks and water bottles. I do realize that a theme park is not exactly an environmentally friendly vacation, but we did our best to mitigate our impact. We also trucked home a bag of recycling when we discovered certain things that we usually recycle were not recyclable at our hotel.

The Nurturing Pirate said...

I agree with Sue about visiting local diners. When we go on roadtrips, we try to avoid fast food (Subway is our weak spot), and have found some great little restaurants. The money goes to a local establishment AND there's less waste generated.

I've also found that my entire world view has changed. This morning I went to sign up to donate something for my little boy's daycare for their auction. Every classroom comes up with a theme. When I saw our theme, my heart sank: Spend to the End. Ugh. Rampant consumerism! The items requested were gift cards to a billion different shops and malls. They did have reusable bags on the list, but someone had already scored that item. Instead, I signed up for an Entertainment Book. It was painful.


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