Sunday, July 27, 2008

Live life lightly, and announce it brightly

My brain was spinning with so many thoughts that I need to get down that I emailed myself, twice. I've occasionally done this to remind myself of something, but usually it wasn't a fact or quote, more like "Don't forget to ___ as soon as you read this." So, before I forget, this post is about stairmasters, placemats and coming out of the eco-closet. Have I piqued your curiosity?

Last week I was at a meeting with a bunch of teachers in my grad program discussing the idea of needing "real world applications" in math classes. I am a firm believer that my job is to teach problem solving; the quadratic equation is simply a context to place this habit of mind in. I have sometimes had trouble verbalizing this though. I did have a good response to the questioning of anti-derivatives and inverses: If you know how to do something (derive), hadn't you better know how to undo it (anti-derive)? But another teacher at the meeting had an excellent metaphor that applies far more generally: Do you get on the stairmaster because you need to be ready when you encounter an infinite flight of stairs? No, of course not, it is for exercise, and to develop a habit that can be applied in many situations. We're developling strong muscles, quick thinking brains.

I've realized this concept also applies to so many of the eco things I do. One woman I met recently has repeatedly reminded me that turning off my computer won't save the amount of electricity in ten years that turning off the AC for one year will. Meaning- why do you bother? When first accosted with this response, I dismissed it. Actually though, its a perfectly reasonable response. Turning off one light bulb is less than a drop in the ocean, but its a habit. Getting into the small habits makes the big ones easier. Its like the stairmaster- the point isn't the tiny amount of electricity (especially since mine comes entirely from renewable sources) the point is that in everything I do, my brain is trained to think about my impact and how to live life lightly.

Last night my family and I went to a steakhouse that my parents used to frequent when they lived in Boston. The placemats featured a drawing of a cow, with each cut outlined and labeled. The side margin featured these statistics: of a 1000 pound steer, 475 pounds are edible and 100 pounds are luxury cuts. I think this was supposed to make you feel really important about the choice piece of meat you were getting, but it just made me feel sad. I was mostly sad because of the waste but there was also the fact that they didn't have lobster and I'd spent the afternoon watching lobster traps, craving that really local meal. But back to the meat- it makes me wonder how much farm land was used to grow corn to feed to a cow that can't properly digest corn to feed a person who is only interested in 10% of the product? I've read plenty of statistics about the amount of grain required to produce one pound of meat, but I never considered the fact that more than half of the animal doesn't even get eaten. I ate salmon instead and felt bad about the suffering of that population too.

The reason I got to go out to dinner with my family last night is because they visited for the weekend. They hadn't been to visit since 2007 so a lot of eco-changes have occured since then. Before their arrival I went and hid most of my nutty environmental self in the (figurative and literal) eco-closet. I put away the grey-water collecting pot, tucked the cloth wipes in a corner and didn't ask them to bring vegetarian food. I am ashamed to admit this. Normally I am happy to announce across the internet everything I am doing and I talk to like-minded friends about changes we're making all the time. I offer little suggestions to my mother, and lament with my father when my brother can't remember to turn off the light, but I didn't want to reveal the full extent of my efforts. After the weekend is over, I fully regret that. Sure they laughed at me for hanging my laundry above my worm compost system, but really, who wouldn't? My father's response to his discovery that I am keeping my kitchen vegetarian was not to question my motivation or inquire if I'm eating healthfuly, but to ask if I wanted him to make me the vegetarian dishes he knows (he likes bringing me home made food frozen in individual servings, and I love being spoiled like that). I have realized that people can be surprisingly open and supportive of the green movement. Its okay to share things that are new and different. And honestly? Even if they had asked all the hard questions, I've read so many blogs and articles that I better know all the answers!

I think I'll make my new motto the title of this post:
Live life lightly and announce it brightly.

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