Thursday, September 03, 2009

Living in a Messed-Up World

As I walked through Terminal C at the Atlanta airport the other evening, I saw something that reminded me (once again) of how messed up our world is. An airport employee was taking all the left-over food from one of those "street corner" food stands and dumping it into large, black trash bags. Salads, sandwiches, fruit cups, and the ubiquitous yogurt and granola parfaits. Perfectly good food being dumped as waste into those thick black bags. To be sent to a dumpster. To be sent to a landfill. To sit there and decompose for years.

How hard, I wondered, would it be for someone to come to the airport each evening and pick up all this food and distribute to the city's homeless? Or at least, compost the leftovers and recycle the containers…?

As I returned, a day later, to the Milwaukee airport, I got on the moving walkway to get to the parking garage where Elmer was waiting (Elmer is my car). This got me started on the messed-up world thoughts again. We have created escalators, elevators, and moving walkways to reduce the amount of energy we have to expend getting around at airports, malls, apartment buildings, and office buildings. And rather than using our own energy (which is free and clean), we use electricity (which is expensive and dirty) to power these "human energy savers." In addition, we spend $147 billion annually on treating obesity-related illnesses, the occurrences of which could be greatly reduced if we just moved more.

At this point, the floodgates of my mind were opened and I knew I had to write a post about this craziness. What follows is additional evidence that we're living in a messed-up world with a final plea help for ideas for how we can affect change. (Also, when I say "we," I really mean "we." This is not criticism, but rather reflection.)

The average American meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate. That's a lot of CO2. What happened to eating local? When I was growing up in Sweden (not that long ago!), we ate food that was in season. We enjoyed strawberries in June and apples in September. What we couldn't eat, we froze, pickled, canned, or otherwise stored in the root cellar. I didn't even know that you could buy applesauce in the store until I moved to the US.

We have created cities that are so spread-out that some people can't even get to the grocery store without getting in the car. Let alone work, school, the library, shops, place of worship, friends, and family. So much unnecessary disconnection and pollution.

We work long and hard hours to make lots of money to buy what?
  • Professional-looking clothes required for work.
  • A nice car to get to work.
  • Lunch out with colleagues.
  • A spectacular house to impress said colleagues.
  • Expensive vacations to recover from work.
  • Dinners out, because we're too busy to cook.
  • The latest electronic toys which a year later will find itself in a landfill.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't work, but do we need to work as much and as hard, especially in jobs that are not fulfilling? Is it worth it?

The distribution of wealth and income is getting larger and larger and larger. Woody Tasch asserts that "the top 0.1% of Americans collectively enjoy almost as much income as the bottom 50%...". That's messed up.

The average NFL football player gets $1.4 million per year to chase a ball (and knock opponents to the ground). The average public school teacher gets around $50,000 per year teaching, mentoring, and caring for our children. That's even more messed up.

65% of all grain grown in this country is fed to cows. Cows are not supposed to eat grain. Cows are a huge source of pollution. Yet, we continue to eat beef like everything is OK. While 1 billion people in the world are starving.

We eat "food" that has been processed to the point of unrecognition and contains more ingredients with longer names than players on the Finnish hockey team. And we're OK with paying more for it than we would in its unspoiled and natural form. Because it's convenient.

I could go on, and on, and on, but I won't, because I think you get the point. It's messed up. We need to do something. How does one bring about change at this level? I know it starts at home, but then what?

Is it an unrealistic dream to think that the world could be a better place? (Please say no.) Where everybody has food to eat and a warm place to sleep. Where every child has an equal opportunity to get an excellent education and good nutrition. Where community reigns and loneliness is eliminated. Where we eat when we're hungry and not because we're bored, sad, lonely, or stressed. Where we get to experience nature on a daily basis and breathe clean air.

Is it?

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