I’m procrastinating again. My goal this week was to write a Very Formal Sustainability Statement for the restaurant, to put in The Handbook. We took our management team to a green restaurant mini-conference a few weeks ago, and gosh darn it, it’s high time we have a Very Formal Sustainability Statement on the books.
Unfortunately, I have spent the last few weeks realizing that I do not believe any restaurant in our modern world can ever be sustainable. Even worse, I’ve decided that I don’t think any part of modern life can be classified as remotely sustainable. Me, cooking in my kitchen from food I grew in the yard fertilized by carefully tended compost – still not sustainable, for as long as the modern world runs on petroleum. So this line of thinking is throwing a significant kink in things.
I believe our world is winding down and no amount of sustainable habits can save it. You might technically classify my position as: Doomsday, Eventually. This belief is influenced by growing up in a Biblically centered household, reading plenty of stories about fires, floods, and the like. It stems from believing that the world is a beautiful created thing, and that all beautiful creative things reach the end of their life cycles. I don’t think the planet is going to be here forever but I really like our earth, and I feel a strong need to protect it. This is the equivalent of an ant feeling a strong need to strengthen a sagging house by stacking tiny grains of sand against its foundation. I feel, like that ant, a bit insignificant in the face of mankind’s hellacious rate of pollution of the planet, and overuse of its resources.
Nevertheless, in the fourth grade, I started trying to do something about this earth of ours. I lived on a military base in Yokohama, Japan, and one of my only ties to life in the United States was the thin, colorful Scholastic book order circular. In the days before computers, we had books, and FPO AP (Fleet Post Office Armed Forces Pacific) shipping to deliver the books, which meant that you would write a paper check, put it in an envelope with the order form, ask your dad to mail it from the base, forget completely about it, and hopefully be surprised by your package arriving in the next six to eight weeks. Amazon Prime – also not sustainable – is pretty sweet, huh?
I bought 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do To Save The Earth from the Scholastic book club flyer and promptly started a Save The Earth club. It met outside my bedroom window under the boughs of a large tree, which was probably a shrub. I don’t remember anything about the club, or even the book’s contents, except that we had cute Save The Earth stickers and I might have been the only member. Today, a quick internet search reminds me that the book taught me how to make a bird house out of a milk carton (I’m sure I made several), reduce my use of styrofoam (duh), and deeply value earthworms (still today I will rescue them from sidewalks after a rain, and if the rain has been heavy I will CLOSE MY EYES and walk faster so as not to watch the struggle – there’s probably a psychological diagnosis for this condition.) The book did not teach me other neurotic values, such as chastising my younger sister for using each Kleenex only once when she is ill, and becoming extremely physically anxious when my husband leaves the water running while doing the dishes to explain something complicated to me with his hands because he can’t wash and talk at the same time.
But in learning to value something as huge as the planet, I’ve come to appreciate things in nature that are very small, like the gigantically diverse colonies of microbes in healthy soil. In disciplining myself to consume less, to avoid setting foot in Target where I just know I’ll find A Cute Thing I Can Certainly Use, And On Sale, I’ve become more creative solving problems around the house with things we already own. Even though I think sustainability is ultimately a losing battle, it permeates how I look at the world around me. I can’t stop thinking about it. Recently, this has involved an aversion to turning on the oven unless I’m maximizing its energy usage by cooking multiple items at once, which this week resulted in roasted tomatillo flavored burnt granola. Cheers.
Can I mail our wasted resources to the parched lands of another continent whose people walk for miles to a source of drinking water dirtier than what we use to flush our posh American toilets? Nope, not even through FPO AP! I can’t solve the world’s problems, and I can barely solve any of mine. I’m not saving the earth or anyone on it, but in a small way I am being saved from the influence of our culture that makes me hungry for more, feeling empty and striving, incomplete, and generally whiny. I’m fooling myself to think that my actions are making much of a difference, and yet, I am different.
The Mennonite community has a saying: “You begin to raise a child 100 years before he is born.” There is a good chance that this running-down earth will still be around when my grandchildren and great grandchildren arrive, and for hundreds of generations after that. If I’ve practiced a better way to live with my children, if I’ve taught them to value balance, cycles of nature, feeding the soil, consuming less, detaching from oil-dependency whenever possible, making better choices to keep alive species of birds and fish and insects and trees because they’re beautiful and important, perhaps I’ve lived sustainably. If the restaurant can waste less water, use fewer watts of energy, get our food scraps out of landfills and into the soil, and keep thinking, thinking, thinking about shrinking our footprint…well, it’s worth the challenge to our natural state of complacency to give it a shot. And even if I never quite save the earth, I can sleep self-righteously sound at night knowing I use fewer Kleenexes than my darling sister.
For an inspiring read on sustainability, check out chef Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate.