by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC
A friend shared a story the other day about her experience of a would-be city mugging several years back. Though a truly frightening moment, it had a happy ending with the mugger running off. The punch line, only amusing in retrospect, was that for unusual reasons, my friend happened to have $2,000 cash with her at the time.
It got me to thinking about how some decisions are darn simple – based on an innate instinct of survival – one that could not be ignored. If the mugger holds a gun to your head and says, “Your money or your life?” It’s a no-brainer. You’re either James Bond, or you give up the money.
So, why, in contrast, do our sustainable “life and death” choices seem so difficult to make? For me, it goes back to my early work in nutrition. I could easily convince people to by supplements and exercise, but hit a road block when, with the organic food movement still young, I struggled to convince people that paying more to eat organically was truly a choice between their money or their life (and the life of the planet.) It took not just facts, figures and threats over pesticides in our bodies, water and soil, but the willingness of my clientsÂ to see the larger, long-term picture that shed light way beyond their wallets.
I started to take small groups through the natural food store (newly owned by Whole Foods) stopping in each department to talk about the truth regarding conventional and organic choices. I knew my stuff and was nothing if not passionate about the topic. I even shopped on a tight budget myself and managed it while committing to eating close to 100% organic food. Surprisingly, my conversion rate was a mere 40%, leaving me feeling not just disappointed, but baffled. Wasn’t the choice obvious? Wasn’t this something that could make us healthier right now and protect our future? Wasn’t it simply a matter of moneyÂ – and not all that much of it?
I’m an idealist, if not an optimist, so the wake-up call was difficult – though I did (not surprisingly) get offered a position at that store, where I continued to share my excitement about the whole foods/organic food business for several years. Local eating came along later and the transition by consumers has been similar in many ways – slow in coming, wrapped up in the long, arduous process of getting enough information out to enough people and the commitment of small groups of dedicated farmers and consumers.
Now our money and life choices have extended to living sustainably in many other ways and perhaps the questions change slightly when it comes to our cars, our homes, our use of resources, our wasteful habits. Your life or your luxuries? Your life or your conveniences? Your life or your ego?
The answers still feel knee-jerk certain to me – more no-brainers. What’ll it be? Your money or your life?