Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Leftovers (or making the abnormal, normal)

From a piece I wrote for Care2.

I was interviewed on the radio last Friday about my 365 Days of Trash and an interesting thing happened. I was talking about some of the things that I started doing last year (and still do) in order to waste less and the subject came around to eating out at restaurants. I mentioned the simple ones–try to stay away from fast food, tell them you don’t need the straw, don’t order more than you think you’ll eat, and then I mentioned doggie bags.

My wife and I have two young kids, so more often than not we are left with food on the table. So, assuming we knew we were planning to eat out, one of us will usually bring along a small Tupperware type container and put it in there. As I explained to the gentleman interviewing me, this allows me to save the food that would otherwise get trashed, but negates my need for a Styrofoam take out container.

Now I’ve been bringing my own for a while now, so it pretty much seems like second nature, but the radio host saw it a different way. “Really?” he said, “Isn’t that sort of embarrassing?”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that kind of reaction and I’m sure it won’t be the last so I wasn’t taken aback, but it did get me thinking. Why is the idea of standing out, of being so different, so scary?

Now I know that there’s human nature, the desire to not be seen outside of the herd and all. My guess is this comes from not wanting to be eaten first by predators or some such subconscious remnant from our pre-wheel, spear-throwing times (as an aside, it fascinates me then that loud Hawaiian shirts are so popular). But no one at Bo’s Bar and Grill is looking for any human flesh these days so it seems like Tupperware shouldn’t be that scary?

I know I’m rambling a bit here, but bear with me for a second. It seems that my generation has sort of woken up over night and discovered that something is very wrong. We were brought up in this pre-packaged, single-serving, don’t-sweat-the-ramifications-of-what-you-are-doing-because-someone-else-will-take-care-of-it society and suddenly (well it started 20 years or so ago) we are beginning to realize that it doesn’t work so well. We are beginning to wake up and recognize that we need change and we need it fast.

So maybe what we need now is for more people to act differently, to make some noise, to risk being embarrassed. And maybe by doing so, enough people will see what we are doing, follow our model, and then we won’t risk being embarrassed anymore, but will once again be able to disappear into the herd as we pull out our take home containers and pay our checks.

And while we, the “adults” struggle to change our ways and try to do what’s best while still fitting in, maybe we’ll realize that this is a short term problem. Because as we start to make a stand and change our ways, our children will be watching. And if we show them that what we are doing is “normal”–that Tupperware take-home is “normal,” that steel water bottles are “normal,” that turning the lights off and walking to the store are “normal,” maybe that’s just what they will eventually become, normal. And then we’ll have done something.

So what am I getting at? Don’t try to hide your Tupperware, or your water bottles, your reusable bags, or your travel coffee mugs. Walk to work and let your co-workers know you did it and why. Challenge the status quo and throw it out there that what you are doing is not embarrassing, but empowering. And let your children know that being different isn’t something you should be embarrassed about, but something you should be proud of, because you are doing it for them.

Trust me, as the father of two girls who think that scrap paper should be given to the worms in their composter, I can assure you that when abnormal becomes normal, it’s pretty cool.


plumm said...

Love this post...thanks for the great reminder!

Scott M said...

Bravo, Sir! As someone who gets lots of strange looks as I pick up litter on my walks, I know whereof you speak!

might I add...? said...

I've been reading you since the beginning, and I have to say, as much as I've enjoyed watching the process unfold, and learning so much along the way, I think this is my favorite of your posts.

This is really what it comes down to... we should all be proud to be different when it means doing the right thing. Someone has to be the first (and the second, and the third), until it becomes the cool/natural way of doing things.

Wake up and smell the coffee, people! We're talking about planetary self-annihilation and some folks are embarrassed about carrying a reusable container. Yikes!

Wendy said...

Standing out is a great way to educate. Surely one of the people staring is thinking what a great idea it is to bring your own container. By doing it without embarrassment, we normalize it.

Thanks for the reminder to bring my own containers more. Another lower waste option is to have them wrap your food up in aluminum foil. Most anything can be wrapped up this way, then you can rinse and reuse or recycle.

Jayme said...

Amen to that.

Quick question for a different topic - does your plastic bag count reset itself yearly, Dave? It does say 'plastic bags consumed this year,' so I'm assuming it has reset, but I'm just curious because that number is ridiculously high.

Dave said...

It's supposed to. It's from another website. I'll check into it thought.