Self-Sufficiency is an Illusion
There is a lot of information on the internet and in books about how to become self-sufficient. I have to admit I have always been drawn to the idea. Growing our own food and preserving it for later has an appeal to me that I attribute to my grandmother. She always had a big garden and canned and froze the bounty so that we had homegrown food to eat all winter.
Another early influence on my desire for self-sufficiency was the magazine ‘Mother Earth News.’ It always had articles about how to make your homestead self-sufficient, how to become food independent, energy independent, etc. When my children were young we bought 30 acres and started a big garden almost before the furniture was moved in. We were going to live off the land. Of course, even though we ate well from our garden, and had chickens for eggs and meat, we were far from self-sufficient.
Not depending on anyone for our livelihood or our sustenance is appealing. Being free from the authority of others is also a reason that some are drawn to self-sufficiency. The thought that I can be an island unto myself and don’t need anyone else to help me make it through this volatile and unpredictable world is enticing, but it is not even remotely possible.
For example, we might like the idea of putting solar panels on our roof so that we are not dependent on the power company for turning on our lights and powering our devices. I am all for this, don’t get me wrong. But there’s a caveat.
In order to put solar panels on our roof, we have to depend on someone who can install them. Even if we can install them ourselves, we have to depend on someone to make them. For someone to make them, someone has to build a manufacturing plant. In order to build a manufacturing plant, someone has to make the materials — probably in another plant that someone else has to built, and so on and so on. And what about the tools you use to install those solar panels? Someone has to make those, too. Do you see the chain of interdependence here?
If we want to reach food independence, we can plant a big garden, raise animals for protein, and become self-sufficient, right? This is something I thought a lot about this summer when I was growing a garden and preserving my produce. Putting up food we have grown with our own hands is so fulfilling. It feels good to reach in the cupboard for a jar of salsa on taco night that started as tomatoes and peppers in my own soil.
But it dawned on me how many people I depended on to make that jar of salsa happen. Because we bought plants and seed, someone had to grow the plants and produce the seed crop. It takes a lot of people from start to finish to make a packet of seeds arrive at a hardware store or other seed supplier. Someone has to grow the seed crop, harvest the seed, clean the seed, sort the seed, fill the seed packets. But before the seed packets can be filled, someone has to do the artwork on the seed packet, manufacture the seed packets, and ship them to the seed growers. It took the input of hundreds, and maybe thousands, of people in order for me to grow the produce that I put in jars this summer.
And what about the jars? Someone had to make those in a plant built by others with materials made by even more people. Do you see where I am going with this? Self-sufficiency is an illusion. We may come close to providing all of our food needs from our own soil. This is a great goal, and I am not discounting how good it feels to see our pantries filled with food we grew. But to think that we did it all by ourselves, without the help of anyone else, is a mirage.
The reason I am making this point is because I think if we could truly understand how much we depend on one another for our comfort, our safety, our sustenance, and almost every other aspect of the life we have come to expect, maybe we could begin to be a little kinder, a little more compassionate and way more accepting of one another. We might learn to appreciate one another more.
If you were to line up every single person who had a hand in producing your food and getting it to your table you might feel a little differently about all the people who share this planet with you. Hundreds and even thousands of people are responsible for things you take for granted, like the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the car you drive, the gas that powers it, the computer you are reading this on, the internet service that powers your computer, the tables and sofas and beds and appliances that fill your home and make your life more bearable.
It all comes down to the fact that we all need each other. Every one of us is necessary to keep the world moving forward and to enable us to go about our daily routines with very little thought. The next time you order a coffee, think about the people who planted that coffee, harvested it, roasted it, sold it, bought it, ground it, packaged it, manufactured the cup you are holding, the machine that just brewed it, the floors the barista is standing on, the uniform he is wearing, the lights that illuminate the space and the tables where patrons are sitting. All this just so you can start your day with a tall, double shot, caramel soy latte.
I challenge you today to look at all the people around you and imagine all the ways that they are contributing to your well-being. And think about the ways that you are contributing to theirs. We need each other. We can’t make it in this world without one another. To think that we can is just an illusion.