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March 30, 2016 / thegirlwiththedinotattoo

the comfortable life (aka, why i don’t use plastic straws)

My husband, my mom, and I’m sure a few others, have asked me, “doesn’t all that get exhausting?!?”.  I am vegetarian pushing toward vegan, try to buy mostly organic food and fair trade goods, produce as little trash as possible, home-make more of my personal care products, and try to ride my bike for errands around town when possible. Yeah, you know my stereotype, and the worst part is that when I get tipsy I like to talk politics and religion. I’m the worst.


And my answer to them is that yes, it can get exhausting. there are times when I just want to eat a fried chicken sandwich, from a styrofoam container that I throw away, and then go buy little plastic tchotchkes that serve no purpose other than making me happy for five minutes.


The thing is, this concept of living a comfortable life is relatively new. The idea that people have free-time regularly, hobbies, and even spare money to support these is something that the middle-class has only seen in the past few decades in America, and the low-income is still striving to achieve. It is only a relatively recent change in society that has extended the ability to lead a life that is not so physically demanding beyond the supremely wealthy.  Life has always been hard and requires work, and that is still true today, but since we are so isolated from those who work for our ease and convenience we abuse that reality. Our motto has become “if you don’t like it, don’t do it” and for some this is a liberating slogan, though this often comes at the expense of others.


I’ve always been interested in where my products came from, and as I’ve learned more about the products I buy and the people who help produce them, I have tried to adapt my purchasing behaviors to make the best decisions I can. It is truly amazing what I can buy – on my phone during lunch and have Amazon deliver to my house by the time I get home. I mean seriously, who doesn’t want a Baby Nessie Tea Infuser?!?


But where is the line between modern convenience and greed of consumption? At what cost? Do I really deserve to just toss my plastic water bottle in a trash can, which will either end up in a landfill or washed into the ocean, because I don’t see a recycling bin in sight and don’t feel like carrying it? Am I actually entitled to purchase lots of cheap clothing every season and rotate out my wardrobe just because I can afford it, even if that means supporting harsh working conditions or slave labor? And am I really being inconvenienced by spending a few more dollars on organic food, and drastically decreasing the amount of pesticides being released into the environment and the farm workers who work in those fields, or do I really just want to eat out once more this month? 


This is not to say that we can’t enjoy the benefits of modern technology. I love seeing how technology is providing truly unique ways of battling age-old issues that are long overdue being addressed.  But advances don’t always mean progress, and as a member of the most consumptive society to ever afflict the earth, I expect more from myself and others than just being blind consumers.


And yes, this takes some time.  Time to research the effects of production and consumption, and changing habits, and preparing for our daily routine or next major life decision.  And it cuts into the amount of time I spend watching TV (but here’s the secret: I don’t miss it!).


I think as a society we inherently know that we’re being so disruptive with our consuming habits, and our extreme outpouring of charitable donations and actions can attest to that. My critique of the American charity model can be saved for another long winded post however I will say this: it’s become our salve to make us feel good without having to change our lifestyle.  Don’t worry about all those Nike sweatshop-produced workout clothes you have, you’re also sporting some Tom’s shoes which totally evens it out, right?


Charity is not just one-way giving, but a validation of the recipient, and giving doesn’t always validate that person’s humanity. If you want to really empower someone, give them a job so they can provide for their families and live a healthy life, and this all starts with knowing what we are supporting with our purchases.


So yeah, I’m occasionally tired, and I lax a bit on my standards and buy snacks that come in packaging that I know I can’t recycle, or whatever.  But I refuse to be an uninformed consumer, and not act on the knowledge that I have. And I do live a comfortable life, and I am more appreciative of what I have as a result.  As I often tell those who are interested in my waste-reduction efforts, I’ve come to realize that I am a part of the problem, but that also means I can be a part of the solution.


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