Slow food, slow fashion, slow indulgence
As frequently happens, I woke up longing for Rome. Sitting back I realize in many ways I am longing for the European lifestyle in general. The memories of fantastic meals, surrounded by fashion and art enjoyed at a slower pace continue to comfort me. In Europe, art and culture are inextricably connected to family, to food, and to style. I am also reminded that the average carbon footprint of this lifestyle is less than half that of the US national average. Good taste may be our most compelling guide to aligning our lifestyles with an appropriate carbon footprint.
Europe for me evokes long lunches of local delicacies, lazy afternoons sipping Campari Orange while watching well-clad people on bicycles. I love reading newspapers on fast trains filled with business travelers and school children. Socializing from lunch on into the afternoon work hours seems not only acceptable but to be a secret mandate that I wish I was privy too. I love seeing children in museums and contemplate how different it must be to grow up against a backdrop of architectural history reaching back millennia. Is it because they see themselves in history that they are more able to address the risks of the future? Do they invest in good clothes rather than fast fashion because it speaks to time in both directions? Europeans seem to unanimously choose style over consumption for consumption's sake. They wait for good cheese and pass on packaged chips. They discuss food more often than they eat it. Farmers arrange their vegetables at the open-air markets like jewels on display. You can watch discerning women carefully inspecting the quality of care taken to deliver the fruit as much as for the quality of the fruit itself. Food and clothing in Europe have a terroir, a place of origin that determines its quality, flavor and cultural history. It connects the food and fashion and lifestyle to both the soil and landscape as well as to its historical relevance and to the seasons and climate. In Europe, place of origin is by default more important than the corporate mandate. Pushing a profit agenda to sell for sale's sake is considered gauche.
One could argue that a low-carbon life can become a well-lived life of a more European style. It is just a given that good style is determined by the quality of natural fiber in your clothes, the natural ingredients in your food and the curation of the quality of experience in your life. This seems preferable to the gluttony of shopping for the sake of filling big bags. Mindless consumption has been sold to us as often as the products themselves. We are simply not allowed to feel satisfied in America for if we were, we would stop shopping. We are rarely invited into the curation of experience as something that gains nuance in its restraint. Yet the restraint of one’s consumption is a sign of civility and the presence of mind. As we all muse on the complexity of climate change in the context of our culture and personal lives we often forget the simple principles of what a well-lived life looks like. It is full of experiences to remember, not storage units to stuff. A well-lived life is surrounded by family and good food and art worth seeing.
We cannot allow the bad news of climate change take over the stage that was once reserved for the likes of Shakespeare. In the climate story, we are both the perpetrator and the victim. Collectively we are reinforcing its destructive unfolding by failing to actively redesign the culture that perpetuates our demise. By failing to act we write ourselves out of the story and become the silently-enduring spectator. Gripping our seats as this grim story diligently marches on toward a horrendous conclusion, our eyes widen but many of us have not jumped onto the stage. Heroes in this story seem to lose momentum time and time again. That is because the only possible hero is collective action, that makes local food, natural fiber and restored habitat fashionable. We must remember that we are actors in the greatest improv session ever to take place. Lines are written as we go, each of us can poke at the outcome and twist the story's fate. We can turn the headlights onto a manageable course that does not go off the melting cliff of an iceberg. Imagine the power of showing up in the tangle of this mutiny on stage eating a carrot and reveling in how delicious it is. On this stage we change the outcome when we sign up for 100% renewable energy, drive an electric car and donate to restorative carbon offset projects. We change the narrative when we support Carbon farming and the oh-so-delicious organic carrots. Surely, we are attracted to the tension and the drama and the conflict of this epic tale of climate change but are we truly ready to accept the outcome? Do we want to succumb to the dragon's breath or do we want to set the table for a delicious healthy meal shared together?
The most exciting part of the story for me is that each of us is David conquering Goliath in our own way. We must take careful and exacting aim to pinpoint what in the end is an unbelievably elegant solution to conquer the societal demons. What will defeat this great Goliath of a challenge is a civil action, a curation of quality over-consumption. The climate Goliath will be defeated by accepting natural limits and realizing that none of us are above the laws of nature. We do not win by wallowing in crisis and failing to act on this moral imperative to protect our atmosphere. Facts about parts per million do not suddenly reverse themselves. What will overcome climate change is an evolution of culture that curates rather than consumes, that celebrates nature rather than bulldozing it for profit. As special actors brought to the stage, we begin by taking steps toward a carbon-restrained life and become the timeless style mavens of our future. As actors, we turn the powerfully restorative knobs available to us. Not only do we spend the extra few dollars a month to opt-up for our 100% renewable energy program with www.mcecleanenergy.org we talk about it with our neighbors. We make sure our next car is an electric car, we install insulation and smart thermostats and choose to put on a sweater, none of that really costs us more but more importantly, it sets a precedent. By reveling in the ingredients at the farmers’ market for their flavor as much as their carbon storage methods we set a trend that expands. We avoid plastic packaging and bring real silverware to lunch as a matter of civility. Slurping big gulps from plastic straws is a metaphor for so much of our culture today that we have lost sight of the art and culture of a life well-lived. Each of us must trend-set for the kind of inclusivity that includes nature and all species. It includes female literacy as part of thoughtful consideration to our personal legacy. We can turn the delight in the fresh delicious carrot grown in our backyard into a movement.
Change begins with us in the present, while we acknowledge the past and consider the future. Turning the tide on fear and loathing as well as temperature-rise means not only do we make tax-deductible carbon offsets for every one of our flights with organizations like cooleffect.org, we celebrate the restorative capacity of our culture to design a future worth living. As each of us decides when to deliver our lines for this improv play-of-life, we might find that we have more impact by walking the walk in natural fibers, tasting the future of carbon farming, and indulging in the slow food, slow fashion, and the slow culture of timeless good taste. Failing to act before the curtain call forfeits your Oscar. Being the actor who compels the grace of a solution as a curatorial choice is the star that will outshine the fossils who perpetuate an era of misguided consumption for profit. In all good improv, the unexpected action weaves the tale. Now is the time to act boldly, deliver your lines succinctly and help this drama unfold a restorative economy that protects the children and the biodiversity that instills them with wonder. That is not only a happy ending it is the only reasonable ending and if we are really lucky there will be no ending at all.