Everybody has a definition for sustainable living and the more it’s out there, the fuzzier the idea gets. While one thinks this style of life is creating a pretty garden with the odd vegetable here and there, recycling and going in an organic direction, another can think it requires more than that: a hard core vegetable garden, a goat in the backyard with a few free-range chickens running amuck, a workshop to build furnishings, recycling old linens for clothing and doing everything as simple and as green as possible.
Dictionary.com defines sustainable living as “any lifestyle based on energy-saving and environmental responsibility.” Does this mean that the pretty garden peppered with the odd red vegetable with scary looking warts is a means of sustainability? Well, yes. According to the dictionary, it is. Every garden requires environmental responsibility and if that garden produces meals, it is energy saving. Sure, it’s not enough to keep a human (being) alive, but the definition of sustainable living doesn’t say it needs to.
There is nothing quite as satisfying as a plate of homegrown vegetables and a fresh line caught salmon for dinner. It almost feels like cheating to use a lemon from the local market, so we tend to forgo the tangy yellow fruit, boasting to ourselves that, yes, this is a 100 percent sustainable meal. Our taste buds burst with pleasure and we smile to ourselves, remembering the rod that tugged with force while the silvery pink fish splashed out toward the surface. Reeling in tonight’s dinner, we have the inevitable sense of accomplishment and certainty; we can survive, alone. We are hunters; we are gatherers.
The idea of “going green” has sparked conversations many times around the dinner table, in the garden, even in a child’s room. It can be an achievement and a set of beliefs. It is a great accomplishment to grow a head of red leaf lettuce, a few sprigs of green onions and an heirloom tomato; eat a garden salad and call it sustainable living. However, others ask if that is enough. Ours is a world where 7 Up is called “natural.” Or where packaging that screams “compostable” ends up in the landfill where it won’t break down because that bio-material is not accepted at the city composting facility (unless you live in one of the lucky cities with compost collection).
Green-washing (meaning when companies spin their products and policies as environmentally friendly) is so pervasive, it might drown out the efforts of countless salads. The phrase “sustainable living” is perfect for marketing that 100 percent organic cotton apron with three little birds embroidered by a blind nun (who was paid fair wages and given access to appropriate healthcare); but is preparing an organic meal in that apron really a sustainable life?
Going Back to Basics: Isn’t it Ironic?
Going back to basics has an irrevocable sentiment of domesticity. Communal gardens and rooftop beds of growth, small porches filled with little plant boxes and rows of seeds sprouting up. Knowing even the dead can fertilize the living. All of this requires attentive detail and constant dedication; it is a time-consuming activity. It involves tending, a trait that once belonged solely to women.
Gardening is as basic as basic gets. A good source of basic living is cooking homemade meals. Baking from scratch is on the rise, because it can cut your grocery bill in half, a big incentive these days and partly due to a growing awareness of our need to keep our regional food sheds healthy and available. For others baking is fun. Whatever the reason for the rise of baking from scratch, one thing is worth noting: many women are back in the kitchen.
Women for centuries have fought long and hard for their independent rights and freedoms. If we go back to the Stone Age era, for instance, the role of a woman was to help gather nuts and seeds and grind them to make meals, sew clothes and tend to the most basic needs of their family. This “role” for a woman has been passed on from generation to generation, defining a woman by her duties at home.
The fight for independence and liberation had finally reached a satisfying point.
- Women vote
- Women work in construction
- Women are in the army
- Women can have a baby and three weeks later return to the workforce
- Women can do nearly anything a man can do
- Women have gained their freedom from tending
The irony in this, however, is women are now fighting their way back into the kitchen and into the garden and those who are lucky enough to work from home are envied. The sense of pride a woman gets these days from baking her first whole wheat loaf of bread! She boasts on Twitter: “Just made a fresh loaf of whole wheat flax bread from scratch and the smell is delightful.” She then proceeds to shove the dry morsels of food in her spouse’s mouth, eager to prove to herself and others that she is a culinary expert. Once again, a woman who can sew her own clothes, master her own garden and cook an entire meal from scratch using the produce from her garden is the new post-feminist.
Getting Started in Sustainable Living
Creating a balance between living within the Earth’s limitations and simplifying our own needs, wants or desires can lead to a daunting and intimidating responsibility. While we know of the environmental plight, we also know human nature has a tendency toward naïve ignorance or the popular and somewhat comforting myth that somebody else will take care of it. Relegating such tasks, however, is not a sustainable option. Interestingly enough, the differences are ones from a more traditional past:
- Use a clothes rack to dry clothes
- Use public transportation, walk or ride a bike
- Turn off the lights when you leave the room
- Use energy efficient household items
- Cut down on electronics
- Plant a small garden for vegetables. If you don’t have access to a yard, use your porch or look around your community to find a communal garden
- Become aware of your local classes and events to see what they have to offer
If you are new to the idea of going green in your lifestyle or just want to continue learning and getting involved in the community, there are local organizations to help you, and websites to learn from:
Seattle Tilth is a local nonprofit organization whose main goal is to educate and encourage gardeners to grow organic and become more environmentally conscious. This past July, Seattle Tilth, offered a City Chicken Coop Tour, educating the minds of those interested in how to raise chickens or build a coop. Additionally, Seattle Tilth hosts an annual edible plant sale presenting Seattle’s largest selection of organic and sustainable vegetable starts. If this doesn’t get a gardener excited, nothing will. In September the Seattle Tilth offers a Harvest Festival where you can enjoy an organic farmer’s market, classes, food and live music.
About.com’s Small Farms site includes important how-to’s in the farming culture. Interested in how to design a small farm, prepare the land for farming or raise chickens? The articulate and informative articles will give you an inclusive perspective on these topics and more.
Seattle Urban Farm Company teaches chicken, vegetable and herb farming or you can talk with the friendly and knowledgeable staff about organic farming/gardening.
Sustainable Seattle is a non-profit volunteer-based organization who believes in getting businesses, governments and people more proactive with healthy and sustainable actions in the economy, communities and environment.
Food co-ops and natural grocers are always eager to help educate the ways of green-style living. PCC Natural Markets, Rainbow Natural Grocery and Madison Market, to name a few, always have interesting and fresh ideas of sustainability (not to mention scrumptious foods).
Local Harvest is an excellent website. Plug in your zip code and they’ll find the closest farmers’ markets, family farms and other locally grown/raised products for you. They also have their own catalog of organic goodies ranging anywhere from produce, seeds, meats, honey, dairy, wellness, wools, fibers and more.
Eat Wild is another good website to browse for factual and easy-to-learn information about grass-fed meats and dairy. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the science and nature of grass-fed meats (especially when you start talking to one of the meat cutters at a natural grocery store); this website is both user-friendly and highly informative.
Going back to basics is a positive direction toward a better and more fruitful life, where one can feel their hard work surge and feel as though they are taking a step toward a greener and brighter future.
In a world where consumerism and thoughtless purchases lead to waste, going toward a sustainable lifestyle makes you re-think everything you’re putting on your plate and how much. It makes you think of what you could create with those old linens you were about to toss in the garbage or gives you a sense of pride when you see your energy bill cut in half. Whether sustainability is hyped up or a post-feministic way of the future, a chance for beginners to strive for a green style of living, one thing is for certain: It’s a beautiful thing.