Whenever I begin thinking about sustainable food systems, I can’t help but deduce that we won’t reach a sustainable food system until we reinvent a sustainable society. You really can’t have one without the other if we’re staying true to the ultimate meaning of sustainability. Sustainability does not mean “green.” Many times when my mind wanders down this rabbit hole, I come to the conclusion that Americans are currently simply too busy to create and close nutrient loops, to make the time to garden, to walk places instead of drive, to ask big enough questions and find real answers (Houle and Rummage 2015). And too busy is just not a good enough excuse to sanction the destruction and inequity we witness today.
These are just a few examples of where human energy can save fossil energy… if only we had the time. Making the time for using human energy instead of fossil energy would not only reduce carbon emissions, it would make the space for us to actually create real solutions instead of techno fixes. It would, in many cases, improve public health by reducing sitting hours, increasing physical activity, and, I would guess, improve mental health by opening opportunities to stop and talk with one another instead of the isolation we inhabit in our single-occupancy cars and cubicles. The idea I’m reaching for is about quality of life. How can we grant permission for people to have the luxury of time? Time to spend on gardening, creating wholesome meals with your family and community, time to talk… and listen. For me these days, time is the utmost luxury; I spend way too much time in the car and way too much time alone in front of a glowing square. But that is the society we live in. Jobs that demand human energy are generally thought of as second-rate. This has got to change. Communication is done virtually. It would be quite interesting to begin considering ways in which to more highly value careful human labor, quality time with others, and a handmade aesthetic that is kinder to our planet.
But this is an elusive dilemma. Busyness is ubiquitous, efficiency worshiped. Almost no one who is alive today knows how to live completely sustainably in ways that would be acceptable to the masses. So, it is the project of our time to imagine and enact a way in which to live that is not only kinder to the earth, but kinder to ourselves. Some call it creative descent; some call it intentional aesthetics; some call it quality of life; some call it permaculture. We need it all, and it begins with astute critical thinking and turning inside. Once again, the outer world finds its activation switch inside ourselves. How can I create the time to do good? How can I make the effort to really listen to my friend, spouse, child? How can I find the time to think critically about ways to practice my values instead of my routine? How can I have empathy?
Houle, David and Tim Rummage. 2015. This Spaceship Earth. USA: David Houle & Associates.