In his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, (Penguin Press, 2008), Michael Pollan recommends: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I need to work on the middle part. But what else can we ordinary citizens do to counteract this culture of greed, particularly in the food system? In The Compassionate Universe (Nilgiri Press, 1989), Eknath Easwaran comments on the seven social sins, Gandhi’s brilliant diagnosis of the ails of the twentieth century. He tells us the power is in our hands; that it is up to us, that we are the ones who decide what to buy or ban, what to support or not. He believes, “the solution is not revolution, but evolution. Lasting change happens when people see for themselves that a different way of life is more fulfilling than their present one. This does not happen through government decrees…Laws change the way people fulfill their desires, but they cannot show people the beauty of a simpler, more artistic way of life. Only fellow human beings can do that.” He calls on each of us to be evolutionaries, leading lives full of compassion, artistry, cooperation and thrift. A lifestyle that replaces competition and the profit motive, while embracing the beneficial contributions made by the industrial era.
He is not advocating poverty, nor even austerity, and certainly not deprivation, but rather simplicity in one’s daily life: getting the maximum effect from minimum means. That, he says, is key to the art of living. He tells us the answers are reflected in nature, where we find tremendous restorative powers, and promises those same resources can be tapped deep within ourselves. He offers the hummingbird as the embodiment of the cooperative principle, demonstrating thrift, artistry and compassion as it enjoys the nectar without even touching the petals, leaving the flower pollinated.
Then he gives some very practical ways to lead that simpler lifestyle, by reducing our waste, buying food with the least amount of packaging, taking a travel mug to the coffee shop, composting, growing some of our own food, to name a few. Tremendous trifles, as G.K. Chesterton would have called them. I already had some of those in my repertoire, but there was certainly room for improvement. I could grow more of my own food, maybe learn to can some fruit and tomatoes. I could certainly soak and cook more of those pretty dried beans in my cupboard, instead of buying tinned ones. And I could share and trade with my friends and neighbours more.
I will also continue to shine the spotlight on myself and ferret out the ways in which I am greedy. Where I consume too much. Where I am too driven by desires. To know better when enough is enough. To understand on a very personal level that plenty has a two-fold meaning: abundance and a full and completely adequate supply. A new year, a more artistic life.