Trying My Hand At MUCH Briefer But More Frequent Posts, Today: What Do We Own?

A poem by Margaret Atwood, a graphic on our waste of food, and commentary on how they are related. Roxanne deserves full-credit for sending me both the poem and the graphics that follow. I think I did a great job of cutting and pasting them in 😉

The Moment

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

If you’d like to hear Margaret Atwood read the poem, click here.

Eating Without Wasting Food

I couldn’t get the single graphic from Sustainable America : “Eating Out Without Waste.” so I had to snip it into three graphics, one after another. The article from which it was taken offers more of its own commentary along with suggestions for how you can adjust your dining out eating habits to resist the trends depicted below. Beneath the final graphic, we offer a short commentary on how the poem and these graphics tell at least part of a very important story.

The poem’s message is clear: We don’t own a thing, but are interlopers, hanging out with nature as long as it accepts us as guests….which is becoming less and less likely as time passes….and passes without our better aligning our priorities with Nature’s rhythms.

The graphic points to our cultural shift over many decades, a shift characterized by over consumption, not just of food, but of cars, gadgets, clothing (due to fashion shifts, calculated to generate over consumption) and much else. Indeed, most of what we consume, if we were honest, we over consume, at best and too often, grossly over consume.

The poem and graphic are connected because our over consumption is grounded in an assumption that if something is “there” we/I/you have a right to it. Even if we don’t “own” it now, we have a right to own it whenever whim strikes or Amazon offers a deal. But the real culprit is not the individuals who over consume, but the capitalist system whose survival depends upon over consumption and uses the media and social media to create cravings in all of us. And the corporatocracy’s thirst for growth is grounded in its own hubris that the world is owned by corporations to do with as it pleases.

How do we extricate ourselves from this bind? Whether we do or not, doesn’t matter to Mother Nature and we will either learn that we are guests and treat nature as our all too patient hosts, or we will be evicted.

Your thoughts?

In solidarity and hope,

Roxanne and Paul

Categories: Climate Change, Agriculture, Land Use & Wildlife

Tags: , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. Well done, Thank you.

  2. Are we guests, or an integral part of Earth’s biosystems? I guess that depends on how we behave.

  3. Just a couple of weeks ago, I heard a vicious fight outside my bedroom window in the middle of the night. Coyotes, a bunch of them, were really going at it with either each other or some other animal.

    A day or two later, not far upslope from the struggle, I found the body of a small coyote, its ears chewed badly, its hair torn from its skin. It had curled up beneath a pinon, like I have seen the dying in Nature do a thousand times, and let go of its claim to the body it had inhabited.

    I never disturb these hallowed sites. They are sacred to me, the psychic power of that spot of Earth holding me in its grasp. It is like this for me at any site where the dead have fallen and left their bones or their artifacts.

    I constantly note the behaviors of the wild animals and their sheltering plant companions as I work. Whether birds, squirrels, snakes, rabbits, foxes, coyotes, deer, bear or cats, I cannot avoid the similarities I see in their actions – they are FULLY absorbed in each and every activity they perform, because those circumstances ARE their entire life, they do not have the ‘luxury’ of excess.

    The plant world, the foundation of all life above ground, and itself the recipient of the energies of bacteria, fungi and algae, the many worms and boring crustaceans that inhabit the soils they root into, searingly demonstrates with every second of existence that excess is NOT a behavior that flourishes unless it is stored as valuable energy for more difficult times.

    And it is human excesses, driven by fear of want and the desperation of envy, that in a few short millennia have created a calamity so galactic for whatever biotic life took hold on this tiny rock in space that not only one animal here, but all biotic life teeters on the brink of Extinction.

    Thankfully, I grew up poor, and excess was frowned on by my father, whose nuclear family of five had lost the farm in the Depression and Dust Bowl, while my maternal grandma, a paraplegic in a wheel chair, daily fed the hobos traveling the tracks who showed up at her back door.

    Later, I saw what the temptations of excess were doing to my mother, who herself as a child had an unenviable situation of caring for her crippled mom, her also crippled brother and a cynical and raging father. Her newfound behaviors made me squirm, and I saw them as a kind of betrayal to the values I had been taught just a few years earlier.

    So, during Nam, I purposefully chose the life of the proletariat, while enjoying the exposure and education of the intelligencia. To this day, I have never owned what Marx and Engels would call ‘private property,’ and most of what possessions I have are few in number and twenty years old or more. I admit I have a fetish for tools, flashlights and pocketknives.

    I cannot answer your question of what and how to change in terms of strategy. I do not see strategy as an answer, but rather a hindrance.

    My only comment would be to note that I learn daily, again and again, that ALL living beings other than humans eschew strategy for immersion, and even with such concentration and care, they often find themselves being asked to let go of their own bodies in order to allow other life to continue.

    Now that is sacrifice, and I only request of consciousness that I have the courage to do the same when that time comes.

    Mick Nickel

    • Thank you. That is beautiful.

    • Yes, beautifully written and expressed Mick.
      On coyotes: all nature, especially mammals, are now stressed to survive by limited environments and resources. The poor coyote was probably weakest/ill, so they sacrificed him for the healthier pack (key to understand is knowing it wasn’t his choice). People believe coyotes don’t pack, but they do when the weather is cold and resources are limited, to stay warm and successfully hunt. Evening howling is their way of keeping contact and assessing their environment.
      On self sacrifice: exactly true for the domain of family. Families are like cells, and often the only way a family can survive is when there is unchosen sacrifice. As you have identified through time and experience, and anyone with insight sees, unchosen sacrifice is a law of nature (vs conscious self sacrifice). Unfortunately, most sacrifice within families now fall on mothers, who often pay for their (socially) disrespected sacrifices mentally and spiritually.
      On the Earth’s resources: as someone who respects the teachings of the Bayan, we are told commodification of air, water, earth, and fire (four elements) are forbidden, with strict dictates to keep all the world’s waters as pure as possible (given water is a non renewable, recycled element). Further, the future of medicine is foods, and this will only happen if we never alter its DNA/genetics.

      Don’t worry Mick; when the time comes, you will say goodbye with dignity. This isn’t our real home. We come with nothing, and leave with nothing.

  4. Thank you for your GOOD WORK !

  5. Beautiful expressed, Paul and Roxanne. We have so much to lose by being greedy, and so little time to learn and to be grateful.

  6. People keep harping on the wastefulness of restaurant food, the entire model is wasteful, and exploitative. Think of the carbon footprint of grocery stores too. Produce shipped from other countries, and sold in plastic bags, or packaged so that you have to purchase more then you need. The big box grocery stores are ruining our health and the planet. At one time we could purchase food as we needed it, especially produce. Now it is packaged in plastic, shipped for weeks, and rots within a couple of days. It is flavorless and lacks nutrients. The rest of the highly processed shelf stable crap is even worse, but low income people have no choice.

    Thanks to the cult of individualism in this country, families do not even eat the same things or even together anymore. The mass marketing of fad diets, is ruining our health too. Restaurants are inherently wasteful, and contribute to low wages and poverty. Since we have no manufacturing or other jobs, and exploitative labor laws, these are a growing part of the economy. They fill a niche, left vacant by outsourced jobs. We pay for the restaurants several times over, from the wasted food, subsidized low wage workers, and the lines at drive through, idling cars, burning fossil fuels. Then there are the significant negative health effects, causing expensive diseases, like diabetes.

    Locally they keep slamming in more big box stores, more fast food restaurants, and pretending it helps our economy. Then anywhere possible they slam in a few dollar stores, causing more health problems. They target low income areas, where people do not have the resources to travel and shop in the big box stores.

    We are seeing the powerful interests of the chain restaurant lobby, they used their massive profits, to lobby against wage increases and find new ways to exploit workers. They were all in on denying a viral pandemic, and forcing their workers into unsafe workplaces. The same with meat packing plants and very likely the food processing done by the incarcerated. We don’t even know how much of the pre prepped restaurant food, is prepared by prison workers.

    We are not seeing anything really sustainable or healthy around here. We have an upscale downtown, farmers market, that will not sell any regionally available food, unless it is “local and organic.” There is nothing mid town, not enough profit in it. The few sales of the Co Op do not offset the massive scale of the big box stores. A lot of restaurants cut corners and sell food that is past it’s prime, no one keeps track of food poisoning, it is bad for business.

    Highly publicized, food giveaways, to food banks or the poor only assuage the guilt over the waste. In parts of the state where they actually grow things it is hard to find anything local to buy. Farmers let food rot in the fields, due to no workers, or misapplied farm subsidies, while we buy imported foods. Mexico is in the midst of a Climate Change drought, which means we won’t be getting any low cost produce from there, like usual.

  7. Paul, you touch on one of my favorite obsessions over the past 20 years. In terms of total deaths, Covid is relatively insignificant compared to the deadly epidemic that has been raging for decades in the U.S.: morbid obesity. I’m not talking about being 20-25 pounds overweight. We are the same age, so you will remember from your childhood in the 50s and 60s how there was maybe one really fat kid in each class. Go to a school today. It’s very different. There are multiple, well-known causes for this epidemic, which kills slowly, mostly through various diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. More than eating TOO much (the graphics above are shocking), we, as a nation, eat crap. I would say that somewhere around 80% of the “food” that is sold in any supermarket is bad for a human. Writers Michael Pollan, Gary Taubes, and Mark Bittman have addressed this subject with eloquence and detail.

    What to do? Education, starting at the earliest age. Gardening, where possible, and learning basic cooking, Techniques to resist the insidious and omnipresent marketing that leads to over-consumption. It is a process. One that should become a movement.

  8. Tecumseh says, “Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the clouds, and the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit Spirit make them all for use of his children? But we buy and consume as if we are the only ones.

  9. A beautiful, beautiful poem that I will read and discuss with my students next school year. Thank you!

  10. Born in the depression era, 1932, I grew up with our family motto of:

    Use it up
    Wear it out
    Make it do
    Or do without.

    We remade, reused everything and I have lived for 88 years by that creed, watching the world get more and more obese as America exports it’s greedy attitudes.

  11. As for the graphic, there is only one extension I would like to add – bring your own reusable container to take the leftovers with you and avoid the waste of disposable ones. Own reusable containers is something the restaurants allowed even during the pandemic.

  12. Thanks for sharing Paul & Roxanne,
    What a powerful poem!
    The idea of “owning” especially land, water or other natural resources is really absurd when one considers
    our extremely short life spans and the fact that our remains are ultimately “consumed” by the forces in the soil that Mick Nickel so eloquently describes in his reply above.

    Happy 4th to all,
    Jeff Silesky

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