One of the most consistent comments I have heard from people of my grandparents’ generation is: ‘when I was young, nothing was wasted…we found a use for everything, or we fixed it.’ My grandma still has a set of old flour sacks that when emptied, were used to make clothes. “Momma would buy our flour in these sacks and then someone would get a dress out of the fabric”, she said. What a brilliant example of how we can use and reuse. These clothes were handed down in the family until the threads weren’t mendable. It was a time when labor was felt. Hard work gave light to preciousness and simplicity. I admire this connection…it seems like the majority of our generation has lost it.
Back then, they wasted not. Pages of the Sears catalog served as toilet paper, entrails of animals were made into delicacies, intestinal linings were cleaned and used as sausage casings, mason jars preserved things…and doubled as drinking glasses. Spoiled leftovers were given to animals which eventually came back around to feed the people. Needles and thread fixed holes in britches. Quilting passed time and kept the family warm. Decorations were made of ‘trash’. The list goes on. Appliances were made to last and easy to fix. People didn’t recycle…they reused. Money was scarce but people made do. I have heard these words repeatedly: we didn’t have much…but we didn’t know anything else, it was just the way things were. Life has changed rapidly. How do we honor these changes? When have we gone too far? When is too much, too much?
In today’s world, most items are made or wrapped in plastic. This includes the water we drink. We buy it as disposible. We consume. We throw it out or ‘recycle’. If this bottle makes it to the recycle bin, it ends up on big ships that float out of the Mississippi River and onto China…where it’s melted back down, made into another item that we then buy back. It’s the same old story: our waste clogs the environment, keeps us working countless hours a day to buy our own ‘waste’ back from a country that continues to abuse their people and pollute their air because we. continue. to buy. it. We sell the raw material for much less than what we buy it back for….think about the shift this is creating economically.
And environmentally, most of us have already lost connection with the land around us. Farming has become big business. The empty rice mills in most every town of southern Louisiana blatantly show us this reality. Small farms do not have the support to stay running. The organic industry began out of desperation to offer an alternative to big-business farming. It used to be about supporting a way of life, too. And now that this industry is growing, we are faced again with a shift: Does buying organic mean that we are supporting small farmers? Organics can be big business, too. What does it mean to support farmers that choose a simple lifestyle, people who are growing quality food that we need to nourish our bodies? Supporting farmers who go out of their way to provide meat or vegetables grown in a healthy way is not only better for us, but it’s also better for the environment. It supports the thriving of culture, it gives us options. When things get too far gone, maybe then huge vehicles that consume twice as much gas will get tossed for a tomato that actually tastes like a tomato. I am constantly asking myself where my priorities lie. Often I’m disheartened by the critical thinking that goes into our systems and how this negligence informs how many choose to spend their money. The concept of owning your own power goes a long way. Sometimes we think we’re trapped. But maybe we’re not.
I hear it from my grandparents. And others. Spanish moss used to cover the trees…and everything. Pesticides that get sprayed from airplanes have killed most of it. Many cypress trees that were slaughtered in the swamps beginning in the 20’s were left to sink. Did you know cypress trees take thousands of years to grow? One hopeful twist on this particular story is that crawfisherman, author and environmentalist, Greg Guirard has been pulling these logs out of the basin for decades and making things with the wood. Cypress stays preserved when under the water so some of the logs he removes are hundreds of years old. He makes tables, chairs or other useful things….or sells it so he can put money back into preserving the Atchafalaya Basin. Not only this, but Mr. Guirard has planted 40,000 trees on his property in the last 30 years. A sign in his house reads, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
What does it mean to value the food you eat, the environment you live in…to take care of what’s around you? When my grandpa went to France a few years back, one of the things that he noticed was how clean everything was. He recalled, ‘The farms were spotless, the countryside was kept so clean…people did not throw things on the side of the road.’ It is not the same here. Take a look at the coastline. People throw their waste everywhere. What is it? Convenience? Selfishness? Lack of understanding how we all share these resources and land? Our actions are part of systems. We depend on these systems but we also feed them. What if planting trees was part of our plan to give back?