Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Don't-Eat-Missiles-For-Breakfast Manifesto

Dear everyone,

I hope you're all doing well. I've been doing pretty good, keeping trim, brimming with energy, enjoying marvelous afternoons in parks, trying to communicate with caterpillars, and writing like there is no tomorrow. But why would I be writing like there is no tomorrow? What I'm about to say may be painfully obvious for many of you, so if you have already stopped eating missiles for breakfast, please don't feel obligated to continue reading. But if you haven't, read on.

Normally, I've been complacent with the idea that humans may soon take giant erasers and smudge themselves off the face of this planet within the next hundred years for any number reasons that we've all heard too many times. And I thought, well, okay. It'll give bugs a chance to evolve over the next million years, so that they can one day be custodians of our fine Earth and have their own run of Star Trek series and spin offs. But then I thought, well, bugs have already been evolving for millions of years, and they haven't quite gotten to the same place that we have (although, I did read that ants and caterpillars communicate via their antennae, which sounds like fascinating cross-species communication if you ask me. But pardon me for digressing from global Armageddon).

Recently, I'm becoming a little more anthropocentric, thinking that it's important for humans to stay alive and find pleasure on Earth, and that billions of years of universal, planetary and biological evolution does have the potential to lead towards any number of paradises. And if we end up destroying our chances to do this, it'll be a real shame. Not to mention painful.

When problems of this stature arise, I often think about breakfast. What did I eat for breakfast yesterday morning? A bowl of Orangutan-O's cereal with roasted sunflower seeds and raisins. What did the Earth eat for breakfast this morning? The toilet flushes of 330,000,000 North Americans, containing the digested remnants of yesterday's bowls of cereal (you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that waste was piled up in landfills and sometimes recycled, and not simply jettisoned to outer space). Despite the differences in people's lifestyles, I think North Americans share some fundamental similarities, and it's an interesting thought-experiment to multiply each action you do by 330,000,000 (unfortunately, my solar-powered calculator doesn't go that high and 1 x 330,000,000 still has me feeling uneasy with my pencil and notepad).

What did some Lebanese kids eat for breakfast recently? Juice, toast, and...Israeli rockets! What did some Israeli kids eat for breakfast recently? Cereal, fruit, and...Hezbollah rockets! Although missiles are a good source of iron, it really is too bad we don't get more riled up when we hear the news that a child has been killed in an armed conflict. One child dying because of a pilot (or nowadays, a computer) flying a multimillion-dollar war machine should be enough to make us all furious. What does it really do? It makes us upset, until we find some distraction in this wonderfully amusing society of ours. But really, we're intimately connected to the deaths of these children. Especially those that die at the hands of North American soldiers. And, following the same logic which I'll soon explain, we're also intimately connected to the deaths of North American soldiers. Society is the hand that feeds us and then the hand that turns into a fist to pummel others, so that it can feed us a certain way. As long as we're being fed by this society, we're responsible for what its other hands are doing. So what do we do? Stop eating and die? Banish ourselves to a mountain and eat dandelion root? Find someone to feed us who isn't a homicidal maniac? But where?

Politicians? I'm skeptical. Besides, there are only several thousand of them, while there are hundreds of millions of us. How can they really change things?

Luckily, the free market has some advantages along with its well-documented disadvantages. The supermarket receipt is a kind of voting ballot that carries a modest but potentially great amount of sway once you multiply it by 330,000,000. For example, if you buy locally produced goods, that means less petroleum was used to get the product to you. And maybe one day, we'll have the choice of buying food that was harvested using environmentally friendly fuels. For now, we can find local goods at farmers' markets, and some supermarkets should also have them. Labels make for good breakfast reading too, and should tell you where something comes from. Furthermore, a lot of these companies are online. Your money has power. Give it to the companies that you admire and like and have less ties to oil. Perhaps your time spent earning money will become more meaningful as well.

It's a good exercise to flex our imaginations at the grocery store and piece together the story of each product we buy. If it has sugar, chances are it was harvested by one of 600,000 under-paid, under-fed Caribbean workers who live in metal shack shanty towns (all documented in a film called Big Sugar). And it may be wise to avoid those packages that look like they come from outer space, or at least could double as some kind of space blanket. I don't know exactly what kinds of fuels were burned and byproducts dumped in order to create these packages (x 330,000,000), but I'm starting to feel uneasy. And when you get a chance, look at the box that's used to transport apples to supermarkets. On the side, it may have a list of three or four chemicals that were sprayed onto the apples just while they were being transported. And who knows what was going on at the field? Farm robots can handle more toxins that us, I think. Organic, chemical-free food seems to be a safe bet, even though it may not be a perfected science yet. Our bodies can definitely handle a certain amount of chemicals. But I think that when our bodies pass a threshold, certain illnesses happen. It makes sense to try to avoid crossing or coming close to those thresholds. And how are all these thousands of chemicals acting inside our bodies? Maybe for the time being, we should exercise the precautionary principle and avoid them till we know better.

Who can argue that shopping isn't a deeply mystical endeavour? Changing shopping habits slowly but surely can also be a rewarding and creative experience. And when the next tragic headline jumps out at us, we'll know that we're protesting and taking action in a peaceful and potent way at the market. Change doesn't happen without its mistakes. And there is often conflicting information. But this shouldn't be discouraging. We've all seen that change can progress in positive directions. Finding the courage to change isn't difficult, and even small changes, here and there, from time to time, make a difference.

Make a list: try to buy food first from farms near your city, then in your state or province, then from your country. Buy products with packages that can be recycled. Buy bulk so you can reuse packages. Buy less and find pleasure in ways that don't require consumption. Non-consumerist hobbies--or hobbies that don't require that you buy many things to get started--are a great way to pass the time. Borrow a friend's guitar, find some used paint brushes, start a rooftop garden reusing discarded materials, volunteer for a conscientious organization. Choose activities that don't require you to zoom about in petroleum-propelled transportation. I'm sure that there is an endless amount of exploration to be done in Hobby World. And remember, change doesn't have to be drastic and radical. Little steps at a pace you're comfortable with can add up through the years x 330,000,000. Maybe every time you hear the bad news that someone has been killed in battle can also be the time when you make one small grocery market change, as a statement to protest such a death.

Besides that, I hope you all get the chance to enjoy the blues of the sky, and the greens of the trees. Good luck, and if you have anything you'd like to add, please post a comment. The great thing about dialogue is that we can all help to create ideas that makes sense.

Ian Goodman, BA, hitherto environmental and political disaster

(originally posted Aug. 6, 2006, on

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