It’s time to reject the idyllic —
Or at least the uninterrogated idea of the life beautiful.
Look, having an aesthetic is all well and good. Sitting here with my stack of library books about zero-waste and plastic-free lifestyles is great, and the sun tea I brewed in an old glass milk bottle is great, don’t get me wrong. I could watch the shadows move and listen to my wind chime until the deer come in at dusk (and you wondered why I didn’t already have a lush garden, didn’t you?) — but for the fact I have to get up in a few minutes and plug away at my second job, the contract writing one, in order to pay for yesterday’s groceries and the petrol I burned driving in to Missoula.
I’m here to debunk the idea that going unprocessed, zero-waste, plastic-free, or embracing any number of eco-conscious lifestyles is cheaper than the alternative. I’m here to shatter the illusion that living close(r) to the earth is cheap(er), or somehow ‘idyllic,’ that eschewing fast food and BPA-laced products all but guarantees a life of green-thumb aptitude and afternoons lounging in a lawn chair with kombucha in one hand and a plate of fresh-picked microgreens in the other. That kind of thinking is bullshit, my friends. If the deer don’t take a dump all over that vision then the thistles and dandelions and kudzu will. The carefully pruned and sprayed and tended apple trees will mysteriously collapse under the weight of a serious infestation. The rose bushes will refuse to bloom. Or the ants will get into hot sun tea and then you’ll be royally screwed. And you’ll be sitting there on a Sunday afternoon staring disconsolately out at the wreckage of your ambition and wonder how it all went so wrong, and all at once, too.
If you haven’t guessed, I more or less live in a constant state of desolation. And because I work two jobs in order to eat, making spare time a myth and rendering time as well as money a precious resource, I don’t get to bring in a fall-back crew. I don’t get to get it wrong, even once, because the margin for error is a joke and a single tear.
And here’s the thing:
Most lifestyle books assume their readers have the option to substitute organic for chemically-treated produce, or prime cuts from a local butcher for whatever frozen cutlets are on clearance at Wal*Fart. They assume readers have time to come home after shift and cook up a fresh meal for themselves as well as do everything else that needs doing. They assume all of these things and frame the transition from pre-change to post-change in the language of the ‘fast fact’ or ‘fun tip’: “Three Ways You’re Not Recycling Paper Correctly and How to Change” or “Five Bizarre Materials Used to Make Clothing.” (If you think those sound like clickbait on Buzzfeed, you’re not all that far off: those are headers in Make Garbage Great: The TerraCycle Family Guide to a Zero-Waste Lifestyle.)
They assume wrong. Most people can’t afford the time or setup expense for this kind of change. I sure as hell am going to struggle, and I’m not a single mom or an ex-con reentering the labor force or a recent graduate trailed by massive student loans. I haven’t broken a hip or racked up emergency room bills lately. I don’t live in a region where civil war or chronic violence is forcing me out of my home. It’s not that my life is a lark, but there’s a sense of scale; my homeowner takes me out to dinner every now and then so we can commiserate on the dandelion issue, so I’m not starving.
I guess what I’m trying to say is … I have zero tolerance for people, bloggers and authors and neighbors alike, who preach shame on those who can’t manage to live healthy, wealthy, and free — much less those who can’t ditch plastic and processed foods and fast food for legitimate reasons.
If we’re out to change anything — if I’m here blogging my heart out to an audience of one (hi, Martha) — it shouldn’t just be to engage in a luxury hobby. It should be a real and radical attempt to make healthy living accessible to more people. To more than just the Farmer’s Market alums who have the leisure time to stroll down rows of produce sipping fair-trade coffee from posh thermoses. There’s an urgency to my goal, here. We don’t have a lot of time before wasteful living leads to lives as climate refugees. If we can’t make zero-waste and plastic-free and unprocessed and low-carbon lifestyles real options for the average global citizen, we are — to steal a line from Charles Bowden — “killing the hidden waters.” Forever.