This piece originally appeared on elephant journal, here.
Did you ever have one of those deciding moments, a sinking realization that you’ve learned too much and there’s no going back to how you were living prior to that knowledge?
During my apprenticeship with elephant journal, one thing kept standing out to me—what is popular is not always what is the most important.
Like great journalists, I need to doggedly search for the truth and facts and not take anything at face value. This caused me to start questioning my daily way of life. I agreed to a challenge of not using any disposable cups for several months. Sounds easy, right?
One day, I forgot my stainless-steel tumbler, and I purposely didn’t get carryout at a local restaurant to avoid the waste. But it was to no avail. They brought me water in a plastic cup to my dine-in table, and I cringed when they proceeded to bring my food on a paper plate, as well. I stared on in horror as the server threw my disdainful cup away and grabbed a new plastic cup to leach chemicals into my refill.
That weekend we attended a charity dinner, and I watched in dismay as 250 hard plastic plates that could pass for fine china in my own cabinet were thrown into large trash bins after the meal.
Now that I was mindful of it and paying attention, it was incredulousness how much waste I created every time we went outside of our home for a meal or social outing. I am just one person, but when I started envisioning how many disposable items are used in just one hour across the world, I started to feel ill.
I don’t want to challenge the way it’s always been done; I want to challenge the way we’ve done it for the past 50 years or so and how it’s impacting ourselves, our communities, and our Earth.
Red flags for me are hearing the words popular, convenient, easy, or free.
A lot of truth and research is staring us in the face, but we have been blindly turning away.
We work so hard to afford the finer things in life and maintain them, but are those the very things that are hurting us? When I sat down and really thought about how we’re living, I came up with 11 ways of life I’m working to make the exception instead of the norm, saving some money along the way. We can survive without all of these things, but with them, the Earth won’t:
1. Processed, frozen, packaged, and fast foods. I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. I don’t want to eat anything with 25 ingredients on the label that I can’t even pronounce. I like to call this faux food. Let’s bring cooking locally-grown whole foods back.
2. Microwaves. With an increase in the consumption of frozen and processed foods comes an increase in microwave use. Microwaves change the chemical structure of food, and that sh*t just isn’t natural. Microwaves damage the nutritional value of food; steaming is much better. I am also a huge advocate of the toaster oven or a rice cooker.
You can plan ahead to defrost and it only takes just a few more minutes to heat up food. I store dish towels in our spotless microwave, but if you can’t quit it, at least stand in a different room when it’s running so you don’t absorb as many electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) linked to cancer and other health issues—we get enough of those EMFs from our cell phones and Wi-Fi!
3. Coffee and energy drinks. I am down with coffee in moderation for a jump start in the morning, but when multiple cups are required, I have to re-evaluate why I’m so tired in the first place. We’ve known since we were little tykes that we need eight hours of sleep a night. My personal average is six. Long-term consequences of insufficient sleep are not good. I don’t need obesity and cardiovascular disease in my life.
4. Medication. The body heals itself during sleep, and food nourishes the body. We’ve all listened to the 80 side-effects rattled off when medications are advertised and shook our heads. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for medication. Other times, it may just take a few more days to let the body heal itself rather than popping a pill.
5. Disposable plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery. One party with a few dozen people creates bags of garbage. The amount of garbage daily collected from amusement parks, concerts, and sporting events is astounding. Think of all the bridal showers, baby showers, and birthday parties going on at any given moment.
We use an old silverware set for parties and just throw them in the dishwasher after. I’m bringing cloth napkins back in 2017. We make our coffee and tea at home and save some serious change and to-go cups. That $4 a day for a coffee quickly adds up to $120 a month.
6. To-go boxes. A new socially awkward thing I’m going to start doing is keeping a glass Pyrex bowl in my satchel when I go out to eat for the leftovers. I would rather look at the bemused expressions on my friends’ faces than yet another carryout box that will end up in an overflowing landfill.
7. We put produce in plastic bags. Whatever did people do prior to 1960? I want to avoid the risk of the migration of any chemicals from the plastic into the food. I put my fruits and veggies right into my reusable bags and for the little and loose guys like okra I put those in mesh bags oranges come in. I always kick myself when I forget my bags at home, and I’ve been known to leave my full cart at the checkout line to run out to my car and grab them.
8. Bottled drinks. Plastic chemicals can seep into what we drink. I now try my best to plan for my day and bring my own water. I carry a stainless steel, glass, or porcelain cup with me. Plastic is off the chain, don’t get me wrong. It was originally invented to create a material that would replace elephant ivory so the beautiful creatures would stop being poached. But there is too much of a good thing when we go to extremes. There are humongous garbage patches filled with plastic in our oceans and plastic pieces end up in the wildlife’s stomachs. The animals can’t take their kids to the doctor to get X-rayed to see they swallowed a G.I. Joe figurine or a bottle cap.
9. Social media for our primary news source. We are relying on a haphazard scroll through a newsfeed to know what’s going on in the world. You are what you eat, how you cook it, and what you read! Let’s bring the Sunday paper back full of independent journalism that is working to protect the interest of the public. I need to be mindful of not just settling for what’s going viral on the web, but seeking out solid reporters to stay informed like they have at The New York Times or The Washington Post. I want to ensure I’m drawing my opinions from facts. And let’s be real, we all miss the Sunday Comics.
10. Online shopping with direct shipping. That one-click purchase and two-day free shipping is enticing; the struggle is real for me on this one. I was pleasantly surprised when I ran into a local store this week and got a free tote bag with my in-store purchase, and I met a cool chick in line and struck up a conversation about the meaning of her tattoo that became my mantra for the day. Shopping local is eco-friendly and strengthens the economy of your community. Support your neighbors.
11. Weed killers and pesticides. While these quickly kill weeds and insects in the short term, what are we slowly poisoning long term? Let’s check out crop rotations from days of old and natural remedies for weeds like boiling water, vinegar, or some elbow grease.
We seem to have this need for speed and insist on intervening. New inventions have come out over the years that were touted to be time savers, and we excitedly adopted them because they were convenient (for us). Study after study comes out about how bad processed foods are for us, how we need more sleep, and how plastic and chemicals are bad. As new information came out on their effects, it was too late—we were hooked. It’s like we would be inconveniencing ourselves to do what’s healthy and ignored the research.
Despite all of the new technology to go faster, when’s the last time we said to ourselves, “Dang, I have so much time and money.” If you ask someone how they are doing, most will respond, “I’m so busy.” Let’s rethink this whole alleged convenience thing. Perhaps having to wash a few plates instead of throwing away a paper plate isn’t the problem.
If we don’t need to buy all of these convenient and disposable items, maybe we won’t have to work quite so hard and will have more time in the long run. And I’ll wager we’ll be sick less and have more energy if we cook more at home with local produce and get more sleep.