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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

First, you have to get to the dilemma
January 26, 2009 - 8:46am

Michael Pollan pretty famously wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma; A Natural History of Four Meals. If you haven't read it, you probably should. Unless you're really hung up on your current eating patterns.

One of Pollan's points, of course, is that the way North Americans eat takes no account whatever of the lifespan greenhouse gas emissions created by the food we choose to eat. It's a legitimate point, and a significant one, and my family has changed -- to an extent -- the way we eat, as a result.

But more and more, I wish the North American population would just get to the point that lifespan emissions was the biggest problem created by our diet. Three TV commercials I stumbled upon this weekend (maybe they're old hat to some; they were new to me) brought the point home with a bang.

First, there was a Pizza Hut commercial. Actually, I never saw the commercial -- I only walked in on the final panel with the tag line. "Pizza Hut -- Now you're eating." Like anything other than an assertively mediocre, guaranteed flavorless combination of saturated fats and overprocessed simple carbohydrates was somehow less than food!

But then there was the Stouffer's lasagna commercial. Microwave one for your family, so that you can all enjoy the benefits of a real family dinnertime.

And (maybe the worst) the Quaker instant oatmeal commercial. The good daddy microwaves four different flavors of instant oatmeal to keep his four kids happy as they eat it (using plastic spoons and disposable paper bowls, I do believe) in the minivan on the way to school/day care/wherever.

Before we can get folks to relate to the lifecycle implications of the food they eat, we've got to get them eating food in the first place. And thinking of it as an agricultural product. And actively involved in at least the last step in the preparation process (microwaving doesn't count).

In a sense, getting people to think of every purchase they make as only a single step somewhere in the middle of an industrial ecology which starts with raw materials and eventually ends in landfilling is the key to making our society sustainable. But if Pizza Hut is our idea of mediterranean food, if lasagna is defined as something that comes frozen in a tinfoil pan inside a cardboard box, if flavoring is something that gets added to oatmeal at the factory rather than after it's already in the bowl, if (raw food diets aside) cooking is a complex and foreign experience, then what chance do we have to get people to think twice about using disposable pens, or non-rechargeable batteries?

Or ... maybe the secret to sustainability is to ban TV commercials!?


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