This blog is about my own journey to sustainability—getting outside of the box and being more authentically human. It’s about not viewing 'wealth' as money, but as something much more holistic and broad. The ideas presented here come from my newest book, The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Excerpt from The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle


Food and economics are intimately related. The typical family spends between 15 and 20 percent of their overall household budget on food. Much of this money is not, however, spent supporting local economies, but goes into global corporate food chains that destroy local culture and economies by being more concerned with their bottom line than they are with people or planet.

In The End of Food, Paul Roberts writes that in the 1950s, farmers received about half the retail price for the finished food product. By 2000, the farm share had fallen below 20 percent. Cornell University sociology professor Philip Mc-Michael reports that by the mid-1990s, 80 percent of farm subsidies in Western countries went to the largest 20 percent of corporate farms, rendering small farmers increasingly vulnerable to the global market for agricultural products. Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, notes that, on any given day, one out of four Americans opts for a quick and cheap meal at a fast-food global corporate chain, without even considering that they have traded convenience for health, landscape, values, or sustainable economy. The numbers get worse: more than half of the American population eats fast food at global corporate chains at least once a week and 92 percent eat at them every month.

The World Trade Organization's guidelines regulating government subsidies enables global food corporations such as Pepsico, Kraft, Mars, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Burger King and Walmart to source their ingredients globally, giving them the power to force down prices, which drives more and more farmers off the land. Then these corporate giants turn around and manufacture high-profit products that seem like an unbelievable bargain to consumers. Last year, for example, in the wake of the economic meltdown, Kentucky Fried Chicken promoted their "10 Dollar Challenge," inviting families to try to recreate a meal of seven pieces of fried chicken, four biscuits, and a side dish for less than its asking price of 10 bucks. Of course this is a virtually impossible feat, apart from dumpster diving. It doesn't take a huge leap of intellect to figure out that the KFC product might not be using the highest quality, freshest ingredients.

This runs deep: people aren't even taking the time to chew their food anymore. David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating, notes that whereas Americans, in the past, typically chewed a mouthful of food twenty-five times before it was ready to be swallowed, the average American now chews only ten times. People are becoming more and more stuck in the stress of excess, including possession overload and time famine. They are choosing stuff over time. Glossy, multicolored advertisements for sleep products grace the pages of most major magazines. People are wired and they just aren't sleeping like their grandparents did. There are even some who claim that sleep is a "waste of time" since it doesn't net any financial returns. And Boomers are eating a lot of prepackaged and take-out foods because they don't have time to prepare food at home anymore. In 1900, the typical American family spent six hours a day in food prep and cleanup. By last year, Americans on average took thirty-one minutes a day. For many, "cooking time" consists of opening up take-out containers, dumping the contents on a plate, and throwing away the trash. All of a sudden, time is money.

The philosopher Heidegger explored the meaning of being as defined by time. He thought that an analysis of time gave us insight into our nature, our being. Reflection and contemplation move slowly. The subjective self can't be forced to blossom. Can something as important as our nature, our very being, be defined by money? Is our life measurable in dollars and cents? One answer to these questions is offered by a renewed interest in voluntary simplicity that is sweeping the country. Voluntary simplicity describes a process whereby people opt out of the harried life of modern day living, and choose, instead, to live more simple, slower lives. Simplicity in this sense doesn't mean austerity. Rather, it means getting good value for every minute of your life energy and from everything you have the use of. It's slow food, a garden, yoga, bicycling and so much more. And, it offers us a really, really good life!