So, going backwards, this is the D post that was supposed to happen last Friday…
I wish to make a confession. I’ve somehow become a food fundamentalist. It goes beyond enthusiasm, to borderline fascism. I am working to step back from the edge of extremism, taking a more moderate Buddhist approach to hospitality, practicing a radical acceptance of what is offered to me, in order to preserve my relationships and my sanity. A fundamental part of my pagan path is the endeavor to live in right relationship with the Earth. My own practice of this belief has led me to obsessive label-reading when it comes to purchasing a new product. I pursue research on to what degree corporations consider environmental effects of what they produce. I avoid high fructose corn syrup and fast food like the plague (and all other fake food, for that matter). It started with being pescetarian through college, moving toward being an omnivore but eating only grass fed, free range meat, to phasing out as much canned food as reasonable and buying as much dried food in bulk as possible, eliminating the white foods (white flour, refined sugar, white rice). Still, I want to do more. I want to someday eliminate plastics from my diet, transition to getting most of my food from the land I live on, and teach other people how to move toward a more sustainable lifestyle, for themselves. To reach others, I have to keep working on being approachable, and avoid conveying to others that what they’re doing isn’t working – it all works, to some extent, but I feel beholden to the law, ‘Do No Harm’ when it comes to my choices of food. Some harm is inevitable, of course: life feeds on life, as the great philosopher M.J. Keenan once growled (see “Cry of the Carrots”). For me, a lot of doing no harm is avoiding unnecessary suffering in the process of going about life.
This ongoing transition is huge for me, considering the place from whence I started. In high school I guzzled Dr. Pepper and inhaled Doritos (mmm, MSG) with all the other teens (wondering why I had such low energy levels and couldn’t think straight in chemistry class). Over the course of the dozen years that I have claimed the Pagan Path, I’ve undergone a transformation in consciousness that has also worked to shift my habits, step by step.
I am a cradle environmentalist, not because my parents were hippies, but because as a child, I witnessed oil spills, toxic dumping, and deforestation (and maybe watched too many episodes of Captain Planet); these events horrified me. I knew even at that early age, that the things we did to the planet, we did to ourselves. These global events, plus my exposure early on to the Cherokee world view, shaped the rest of my life path. My biological family (with a few exceptions) generally practice habits that are not in alignment with my present values. Growing up, we ate a lot of canned food (my parents have shifted to eating mostly frozen food that’s still pre-cooked and possibly worse in terms of health consequences). My grandmother baked exclusively with white flour and white sugar (I didn’t learn the difference between refined grains and whole grains until a middle school science class). I remember eating a whole Big Mac to myself at age 5. I would avoid eating vegetables, opting instead for fortified cereal (except on the rare occasion I could eat out of our neighbor’s vegetable garden). When I embarked on the pagan path, I asked the Goddess to open me up to awareness of my relationship with the Earth; as a consequence, I began to see where the waste was going and where it ended up, and all the waste that went into creating the food I eat, instead of just what was there.
To me, it seems clear that the American/ Western way of life is diametrically opposed to honoring the Earth. As of the year 2000, the average American was eating almost 200 pounds of meat per year (that’s over 50 pounds more than what we ate in 1950, the steak and potatoes era!). Also in 2000, we ate almost 30 statistical pounds of cheese per man, woman, and child, and just over 85 pounds of corn-based sweeteners. Needless to say, these dietary habits are unprecedented by the rest of the world. In 2010, we consumed 31 million tons of plastic waste (12% of overall Municipal Solid Waste). To add insult to injury, we toss out 1/3 of the food that we have available to us. There is an island of trash forming in the North Pacific because we cannot seem to comprehend the effects of our own waste. I recycle what I can, but feel thwarted when I’m given a gift wrapped in non-recyclable packaging, or buy something only to realize later it contains poison in the form of artificial coloring.
When I first started out a dozen years ago as a baby pagan, I assumed that every pagan was committed to honoring the Earth, and I had strong notions of what that meant. After all, we all ascribe to an Earth-based spiritual path, right? Needless to say, I became jaded with organized paganism in any form for many years, after encountering a group who consumed enough paper and plastic goods to keep up with the rest of our disposable culture, with no talk of change. This happened right out of high school; I became solitary for the next seven years, in part because of not having an example of pagan activism to inspire me to start my own group when I moved to a place with no significant organized pagan presence. I became cynical, thinking that all publically open pagans in my generation were just like the Sunday-Christians of my upbringing (Pagan at the sabbats, could-give-a-crap any other day). It was only when I moved to the San Francisco Bay area and discovered a coven that is openly engaged in activism and community service that I felt able to participate in group ritual again. Over time, I have begun to process a lesson I have known intellectually for a very long time: everyone is on their own healing and growing path. We all have to start somewhere, and just because a person seems lackadaisical about something on the surface, doesn’t mean they are guilt-free about their lifestyle choices underneath.
It’s emotionally difficult for me to hear people give credence to Earth-based spirituality, only to find out they make little or no conscious effort to eliminate fake foods and unnecessary waste from their diet, choosing to eat fast food because it’s convenient and guzzle soda because they ‘need the caffeine,’ with no regard to the harm they are doing to their bodies or the planet. I’ve had to work a lot on my tendencies to be sanctimonious or zealous, and I still have a lot of work to do in that department. It’s not very endearing of me to people if I give them harsh criticism, or if I cause them to feel like what they are doing ‘isn’t good enough.’ I am striving for what E.O. Wilson calls ‘dynamic disequilibrium’ (which sounds a lot like the D/Lakota concept of the Red Road – allowing good and bad to exist as they appear in your world, and not trying to veer too far in one direction or another, thus maintaining travel upon the Red Road). At the end of the day, my methods of self expression are my own, so I can’t own other people’s opinions of me, either. I can only work on walking the Red Road.
Over time, I have become rather strict with myself about what enters the Temple of My Body. I’ve encountered a need to cultivate ease and relaxation around people who are uninformed about their unhealthy diets (you would be surprised at how many of you who try to make healthy choices are really eating fake foods, or the widespread unawareness of how plastic leeches into food), rather than being judgmental of others’ choices. That said, I feel like this blog is an appropriate space to encourage people to engage in some self examination. Take a minute to calculate your carbon footprint. How could it be smaller? How much plastic do you consume? Break it down into small steps. Make more things yourself. Slow down in life. Consider your purchases – do you really need it, or just want it? Is it the most sustainable option available to you? Can you make it yourself? What do you feel you can’t live without? Are those things necessary, or are you just addicted? Be honest. Make your own private list. No one else is looking. Give yourself love and forgiveness for your transgressions against Mother Earth. Remember that just because you have everlasting love from Her, is no excuse to continue in complacency on your path of self indulgence and wastefulness.