Last week I’d been reading all sorts of articles about minimizing food waste, partly in the never-ending educational saga of learning how to reduce my carbon footprint. I am well aware of how pretentious that sentence could seem in many places Out There. But you see, I care about the earth, nature, trees, flowers, animals, you get the idea, and even clean air and water. While I have for some time, and am thrilled at how, in some ways, such commitments are so much easier to make now, I also don’t want to become a dour fretting person. Given how poorly certain policy reforms are going, that might well be appropriate, but that’s another matter.
So one night thereafter I had a dream including a turn of events the stuff of which I won’t bore you, but one element stuck with me. Suffice it to say that upon much thought the next morning, I finally realized the obvious: I still felt guilty about not taking home leftovers from a restaurant dinner ALMOST A YEAR AGO.
Yes, I felt guilt, even though I can claim a fairly “green” existence right now. Overall, I don’t tend to spend much on what you might call “consumables” and use whatever food or things come into my house. While I still find myself fretting over the Diet Coke I bring into classes at night (plastic bottle), I know what others don’t: those Diet Cokes are a strictly-at-graduate-school habit. (As I sanctimoniously sip my seltzer from a glass while writing this). Generally, when I go out to eat I do bring home what I cannot finish on the spot. Overall, I feel good trying to prevent Planet Earth from boiling over.
But the former theorist and perpetual observer in me notes that when it comes to “greening” our lives we can quickly get into an escalating guilt-tripping purity war which I find disturbing–and this is among folks who DO believe in climate change, mind you.
To wit: a recently overheard conversation at school after which I’m pretty sure a few of us were supposed to be mentally wringing our hands feeling personally responsible for some poor fish choking on a plastic bottlecap. Or something. Dear readers, I was also susceptible, feeling sad thinking of the recycling that is routinely dumped in the garbage by the fine denizens of Jersey City, worrying about the fate of my poor little Diet Coke bottles.
I don’t mean to imply that I walk around wallowing in constant, angst-ridden, dramatic guilt over every environmental “offense” I may commit. I try not to beat myself up when I read about, hear from, or see someone else who is a “better” environmentalist than me. I take what works and move along. In fact, many of us who are genuinely interested in doing “more” or “better” still don’t know what we need to learn–hence the reading–but also, a point I like to gently remind my more politically active friends on this issue from time to time. Not knowing everything to “do” doesn’t mean we’re not interested or at least willing to consider different changes.
Catholic school survivors can be masters of guilt, but many of us are also deeply suspicious of any sort of orthodoxy, which I think is a great quality, for the most part.
It’s also helped make me a little neurotic. (Those poor choking fish!)