I wish I could say I was the greenest-living, most eco-friendly little baby child that ever grew up in North Idaho. That from my birth, I was plucking my salad leaves from the garden outside my solar-paneled house every night before dinner. But nah. That didn't happen.
But I was so fortunate to spend my wonderful childhood surrounded by a loving family that found joy in the outdoors. I also grew up in a world of convenience without even realizing it; modern day technology and innovative science made things like cooking, cleaning, shopping, traveling, driving, calling, surfing the web, and connecting with friends just so simple. It was the age of Costco...online shopping...cell phones...mass agriculture...rapid globalization...It was so easy to do things quick, easy, and cheap. Sure, I'll eat this mango from South America in the middle of a North Idaho winter. Yeah, I'll buy those brand new boots online and watch them appear at my door in two days time. It's cheaper than going shopping at the mall! And so convenient. Surrounded by all of these options to do things inexpensively, I learned that choosing the cheaper routes would allow me to save money for my future. And therefore, it wasn't too farfetched that the idea that cheaper is better became ingrained in my head.
Once I struck out on my own, I become quite the little thrifter, as many college students will do. I continued to discover the best ways to save money in my day-to-day life, and with hindsight, I realize they were not at all the best choices for the environment. Bad online shopping habits soaked up fossil fuels as items I didn't really need were shuttled to me from across the country. As much as I wanted to eat organic and healthfully, the dining hall was right across the street from my dorm with free, abundant, non-sustainably sourced food just begging to hop onto my plate. I still had the mentality of “the cheapest option is best, and it's silly to spend more money than you need to." My spending habits reflected this. Even after college, my main focus was keeping my head above water - when an expensive move to Hawaii meant buying a used island car and shopping for groceries in one of the priciest places to live, I was searching for all of the deals and trying to be as mindful of my spending as possible. This meant grocery runs to Costco (the king of wasteful product packaging), driving across the island for the cheapest stores, and ignoring the local businesses across the street who charged much more (as they should, and needed to!).
And then came the slow, but jarring, wake-up call. I was starting to make connections through my naturalist work and exposure to new people, ideas, and research that revealed how intricately tied our lifestyle choices are to the ocean's health. Cheaper is definitely not always better from an environmentalist's perspective. As I learned more about the massive amount of trouble facing the environment and spent time appreciating the marine mammals and other organisms that call the ocean home, I found my passion and motivation for living a more eco-friendly lifestyle. I also realized...it sure as hell ain’t cheap! Alternatives to plastic, eating organic and unprocessed foods, and driving fuel-efficient or electric cars aren’t exactly the cheapest options out there. Even today, I still face a constant internal battle between the “this is SOOOO much cheaper!” justification and the “this is way better for the environment!” argument. But I always make sure to ask myself on a day-to-day basis, what is one thing within my power to change, today, to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle?
I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I do know, for me right now, it’s about balance, and about being open to trying new and greener things. It’s buying the local food items, even if it is at Costco or Fred Meyer or wherever, when you just can't afford to stock up at the farmer's market. It's realizing that it isn't always about spending more to be eco-friendly...it's about doing away with some things or activities that you don't really need in your life. It’s cooking at home and inviting friends over for wine instead of going out (or saying buh-bye to alcohol). It’s hiking with your friends on the weekend instead of going to see movies or attend concerts or go shopping. It's making decisions to spend your money well and not feel bad about it, like paying for your monthly yoga studio membership because it fuels you or going to see your favorite artist that you've loved since you were a tween. When you do go out to eat, it’s about choosing restaurants with good ethics and responsibly-sourced food. It’s remembering to shop local, because supporting a local economy is one of the greenest ways to cut back on the exorbitant amount of fossil fuels that go into packaging/shipping and import/export while showing support for your entrepreneurial neighbors.
To the millennials out there: we were raised in a different time with different priorities, and we don’t exactly have a blueprint to look to as we navigate these new and constant environmental challenges. It's a huge task, managing and instigating all of this change. But for those of us who care about the environment to any degree at all, which I truly do believe is most of us, we can start shifting our habits to live a greener lifestyle. We might have to start small; everyone's personal and financial situation is different. But when we continue to demand green alternatives and use our purchasing power to support what we believe in, we are going to keep seeing changes. So start where you can. Do what you can. And at the very least, keep up-to-date on environmental issues and talk about them with your family and friends.
We’re doing it already. We’re making waves. We’re all surfers out there on a rather unsteady sea, and we’re in for the ride of our lives.
Cook some delicious local dins at home. For us in the Northwest, we're taking morels (freshly foraged!) and local asparagus.
Pilgrim's Market in Coeur d'Alene is a locavore's wonderland. Bring your own bag (if it supports wildlife conservation, even better!) and get a token at checkout to donate to your choice of charity.