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Like Organic Milk in Kraft Dinner: Eco-Idealism and Finding Your Balance

Posted May 24 2009 11:46pm

Our life is a series of contradictions.

We strive to be eco-conscious in all things, to live in harmony with nature and each other. We endeavour to nourish our bodies with whole foods, locally grown, rich in the nutrients nature gave them, clear of artificial processing and toxic additives. We aim to nourish our children with strong family bonds, freedom, integrity and perceptive discretion, away from the influence of rampant consumerism, peer-orientation and pressure, the wastefulness and shallowness of contemporary western society.

We don’t always quite live up to these ideals.

I was contemplating this at lunchtime recently, as I was eagerly pouring from our jug of whole, organic milk — it’s the only milk I ever buy. I’d get raw milk if I could find any. We don’t drink much milk as a rule, but I use it in baking and how can you possibly have chocolate chip cookies without a glass of cold milk? It costs a fair bit more than “regular” milk, but for us it’s worth it.

I was eagerly pouring that precious white gold into a pot of Kraft Dinner (known to our American readers as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese). What more sublime example could there be of “ processed convenience food ”? Is there any real cheese in there? Maybe it used to be cheese in some former incarnation…

And I couldn’t decide… was the milk enriching the macaroni, turning a processed junk lunch into something at least moderately healthy? Or was the mac ‘n cheese ruining the milk?

This got me thinking about other eco-contradictions in our day to day lives. We are active supporters of the Green Party of Canada, participants in the local riding association, very involved in the campaign in the last federal election. Our cars are the most fuel-efficient ones we could afford. But… we do drive. We own not just one, but two cars.  We live outside of town and have to drive in almost every day - there’s no bus service out here. I suppose this isn’t our fault, necessarily, but a true green radical could argue that we could have chosen to live in town… or for my husband not to have taken a job in town… or to not allow my son to be involved in any activities that would necessitate our driving… or we could ride our bicycles into town (which would likely be an hour’s trip), even in the depths of winter and with a 2-year-old tagging along. We feel like we don’t have much choice about the driving we do, but we still can’t help feeling a little guilty about it.

Then there are our toys. My 2-year-old daughter’s toys are mostly wooden, natural, simple. We don’t own much noisy electronic plastic garbage. We don’t buy my 11-year-old son every single fad product that comes along. We strictly limit “licensed” products, like Hannah Montana jewelry boxes or Barbie hair clips or Elmo dolls. We’d much rather our children play with their imaginations, make forts out of boxes and blankets and run around outside in the yard and in the trees and on the swings. We don’t have cable TV. But — we have a Playstation II, and a Wii, and not one but two PC’s running all kinds of games. And did I mention there are two televisions? One for the Wii and for DVD’s, the other for the PS2. And we play on them. A lot.

We would happily live out in a cabin in the woods, grow our own food and raise our own livestock, build our own furniture from fallen logs… just so long as we still had a high-speed internet connection.

I bake our bread from scratch, even Indian flatbreads like fried poori or baked naan. I cook large, vegetable-rich healthy meals and freeze portions for later. I make hearty, rich bone broth from free-range organic chickens and local vegetables. I buy lots of fresh local produce at harvest time (and this year I’m planting my own garden) and spend weeks each autumn canning and freezing, preserving for the winter months. We buy a half-side of grass-fed pasture-raised beef for the freezer about twice a year. And I will supplement this wonderful diet with chicken nuggets, frozen pizzas, more than our fair share of Doritos and chocolate, and of course… Kraft Dinner.

How can we rationalize this? Are we hypocrites?

My husband simply says… we do what we can. Like it or not, we live in this society, in this paradigm, and it is very difficult to live a lifestyle very far removed from that. We make our priorities and sometimes, the need to fulfill a family obligation outweighs the desire to spend all day making soup. Or allowing my son the freedom to carve his own path in life necessitates driving into town everyday for the activities which he loves. We make compromises, balancing nutrition and fair trade and ecology with the need to stretch a budget to feed the family.

We have an ideal that we do not live up to. But if we did live up to our ideals, though, perhaps it would only be because the goal was set too low. An “ideal” is, by definition, something to ever be reaching for, to have as an ultimate dream. As long as you are continuing to reach for that ideal and not giving up, then you are making progress.

My son used to have a poster in his room which said “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” And when we compare our lifestyle to the average, it becomes easier to see where we are succeeding, where we have made important steps in a positive direction. Rather than dwelling on what we’re still not doing ‘right’, we should be focussing on how far we have already come. Then we can look at how far we still need to go as simply the next step, the next phase, and not as an insurmountable obstacle that signifies only our failure in not having already achieved it.

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan via Creative Commons

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