The Joys of Conscious Consumption

It probably started with gardening, this evolution from mindless consumption to making shopping choices with an eye towards who and what we are supporting when we open our wallet at the cash register.  Admittedly, I’m not very good at it yet, but I have discovered a few things about conscious consumption worth passing along.

This spring’s Sierra Club Magazine highlighted the crash and burn impact of large-scale farming.  The focus was on Iowa in general, and the enormous challenge of providing safe water to families in Des Moines in particular.  Between nitrates in Iowa waters from the overuse of fertilizer to grow corn and soybeans, to related problems with mycrocystin, a toxin produced by over fertilized algae in hot weather, Des Moines Water Works struggles to keep a witch’s brew of water problems under control.  This says nothing of the impacts of a variety of pesticides also showing up in Iowa’s waters and a variety of dangerous bacteria like E-coli, Listeria and Cryptosporidium found in the manure produced by an abundance of beef feedlots and hog barns.  The water problems Iowa agriculture serves up at home also contributes 30% to the 6,334-acre dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.  This despite Iowa representing only4.5% of the Mississippi River watershed, the main source of the problem.  What happens in Iowa is happening in Wisconsin and, increasingly, around the world.

Big Ag certainly has an out-sized, destructive impact on our environment, and therefor on us – and the rest of life on this unique little planet of ours.  And yet, it’s this Big Ag we support as we fill our shopping cart at the chain grocery store in town.  This has always been a spur in the side that gets me out in our garden every year.  The vegetables and salads that come from the sweat of our own brow are organic, taste a whole lot better and add a certain lightness to my spirit knowing I am a little less complicit in some of our environmental woes.  Buying from the local CSA, or farm market is another way to lighten the ethical load and eat healthy and well at the same time.

Then there’s the solar panels on our roof, and the electric car in our garage.  Without even a nod to climate change, the next time you flash your credit card at the gas station ask yourself how you feel about continually supporting the giant fossil fuel corporations raking in huge profits as the price of fuel rises?  Maybe it’s Saudi oil, or maybe it’s from the hideous, dead and toxic remains of what had been pristine forests now called the tar sands of western Canada, it might have even been Russian a few months ago.  Wherever it’s from, the refined oil coming out of that gas pump carries a heavy load of ethical lead as it fills our gas tanks.  Add back in that nod to climate change and our soul’s tires really squat with its weight.

One of the things those who have made the transition from expensive and destructive fossil fuels to clean, renewable and free sunshine or wind energy – did not expect was the equally tangible lightness of spirit that comes with the experience of driving on sunshine or the energy of the wind.  To be sure there are other benefits.  Five years of driving with only tire rotations and one change of tires in my maintenance records has been a real plus.  But knowing we don’t have a part in the latest oil spill and that our carbon footprints are pleasantly, not painfully, shrinking sets our souls to dancing.

I believe there are some big corporations that don’t want you to know all this, that your local utility company would rather not tell you about, but I thought you should know anyway.  We can feed ourselves without Big Ag, we can drive and heat our homes without big oil, we can provide – even here in Wisconsin – our own clean, renewable electricity.  We can do all that and feel great about it.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  All it takes is the desire to invest in yourself – and a much healthier environment – rather than in that unseen corporation smiling at you from the other side of the cash register.