I try hard to be "green" as the popular phrase puts it. I live off-grid, grow vegetables and raise chickens, and try very hard to avoid driving unnecessarily and especially flying. It seems like a natural way of life for me, but I know its not for all people. It's hard, I know, to unlearn all that we have been taught and to live differently. I was thinking back on it this morning, and I realized that it all began with cereal boxes.
When I was a kid, one of the few rituals I truly enjoyed was breakfast. I would choose my daily dose of nutrient-blast, fortified with 10 essential vitamins and minerals, from the few that my Mom would deem acceptable amongst all the fare offered by the likes of the Kellog or General Mills corporations. And I would sit at the table, quietly chewing my precious meal, splashed with some of that wonderful pasteurized, homogenized, Vitamin D milk, and I would read the cereal box. Sometimes there were special prizes inside, or even on the outside like the time I got a 45 rpm record of the Jackson Five singing A-B-C on the back of the box. I would read all parts of the box on different days, often taking in the latest sales-pitch propaganda from the aforementioned cereal companies, and sometimes even getting desperate enough to actually read the ingredients and nutritional information, provided according to the prescription of the US Food and Drug Administration. To this day, I wonder if these cereals more aptly apply to the "food" part of this agency's purpose or the "drug" part.
But somewhere along the line, it hit me: what are these cereal boxes for? To hold the cereal? Well, no, the cereal is actually contained in a plastic bag within the box. And now that I've been eating bulk and non-boxed cereals for a number of years, I know that my suspicions about the integrity of the packaging having nothing to do with the cereal box were well-founded. Bagged cereals don't crumble to dust just because they are not boxed. No, I realized some time ago that the only true purpose of these boxes is to advertise, to help brainwash the kids and adults who buy the cereal how important and nutritious and, well, fun it is to buy and eat cereal as a way of life. That may not be a terrible thing, or at least one we can ignore just like those awful commercials that interrupted my favorite TV programs as a kid like The Brady Bunch or Emergency! But these boxes are not just inconveniences we can ignore: they are made from trees. Trees killed so that those who sell cereal can sell more cereal. So even though I loved my cereal, and I confess that I still do, I swore off cereals that came packaged in individual boxes some fifteen or twenty years ago. It didn't happen all at once, but I gradually came to not buy boxed cereals at all, and in the process discovered that bagged and bulk cereals are generally much healthier than those that come in boxes, and, further still, that pre-made cereals themselves are not very healthy at all. What I read on the boxes as a child were all lies.
That was probably my first step, the first time I made a conscious decision to do something different for reasons that were not directly related to my personal self-interest. And it was, as such, perhaps tone of the smartest things I've ever done. When I talk to people now about making a shift away from self-centered consumerism, I suggest that they find one thing, one relatively simple thing, to do differently. Today. Then we'll see what happens tomorrow.