“We are our choices.” —Jean-Paul Sartre
Food, Martial Arts, and Climate Change
It’s 2017, and this year, I want to dedicate my time to being a better human for the planet.
Maybe you feel something similar to what I’ve felt in 2016, but among the many emotions in what was a very challenging year was “helplessness”.
My name is Catherine. I’m an artist and writer, and most of my current work deals with raising awareness about climate change. Last year, the world’s temperature reached the highest on record, the Arctic became warmer, lots of species became extinct, and politics were tumultuous. I admit feeling very down at seeing how the world went to hell last year—not just with actual events, but being stuck asking, “Now, what?”
But in the midst of all the challenges of 2016, the one thing that helped me keep it together was taekwondo. I felt that if I just committed to my 1-2 hours a day, training in an empty dojang all by myself, then I was going to be ok.
Kicking my feelings
I’ve been practicing taekwondo for more than twenty years now, and among the many things that this sport has taught me is to be accountable for my actions. If you’re bad at something, it’s ultimately up to you to change yourself if you want to progress to the next belt. It doesn’t matter how much your coach screams at you or if you buy a nicer uniform—the only way to improve yourself is to take actual steps to reach your next goal. Sometimes it takes longer than you want to, but as long as you keep at it, you’ll eventually get there.
I also learned that once you do get your black belt (or proceed to a more advanced level), it’s important that you practice to maintain your skills. The sport is always changing and the rules do change.
What if I could use the approaches I’ve learned in martial arts to being a better human for the planet? I see the path to sustainability like a progression in martial arts. I can start where I am and steer myself to my goal. After all, the science of learning tells us that intentional practice will make us better.
Goals: I want. I want. I want. I will.
So if I want to get a black belt in being a better human, here are my goals:
I want to fix my bad habits that are making the planet unsustainable.
I want to be and feel healthy.
I want to stop being afraid each time some world leader does something nuts.
I want to feel like I can do something.
Even though I work to raise awareness on climate change, the fact that I’m a human being engaged in modern-day consumption makes me a part of this problem.
I grew up in Manila, the Philippines, a former US colony and one of the places that still sees Spam as legit food. I also grew up in both Filipino and Chinese cultures—two cuisines that can be both delicious and deadly at the same time. I also grew up on a lot of processed food, which terrifies me now as an adult, but back then that was what most people’s lifestyle was. I am way healthier now, thanks to a lifetime of martial arts and living in multiple countries, but I do still feel the consequences of poor food choices.
We do not choose the circumstances we are born into. But we can change our world views, one bite at a time.
Habits and the Planet
So for each year, I want to change my bad environmental habits. I want to do it with a theme, so it makes it easier to focus. This year, it will be food, because it feels like the easiest thing to opt into—and yet possibly the hardest thing to improve.
I’ve read lots of articles about needing only 30 days to make a habit and 66 days to make them stick. But I want a whole year because changing oneself needs way more than a month—it should take a lifetime to commit to something, whether it’s turning vegan forever, or committing to eating meat only on the weekends. Also, each industry, whether it’s food or clothes or transportation, will give me mountains of information to wade through, and 30 days will likely only scratch the surface.
I’m not promising to save the world, and I know this is so… practical… compared to my other recent projects in art, like making perfumes of scents we’ll lose from climate change, or turning sewer grease into soap, or getting scientists to model climate change couture. Unless you believe climate change is a hoax, no one will be clutching their pearls at this project. (What a nice change, for once!) But I do want to see how little steps in self-improvement can make me live better. And maybe in the process, I can be a more effective artist and writer. If anything, I’m really looking forward to living healthier—it will likely make writing grant applications for art a lot less tedious.
Rules of Engagement
For any project, there must be rules. So, let’s break it down:
1. I must work on my food choices with the goal of producing less or zero waste, of eating food that has low planetary impact, of supporting local food communities, of eating just enough.
2. I must learn about food choices, histories, cultures, and systems along the way.
3. I must write about and document this process every week for the whole year.
4. It is okay to make mistakes, but I have to fix it, and report back.
5. I must seek help from others if something is confusing.
6. I must be clear on the answers I have in the end and what questions are left.
7. I must specify in the end what worked for me and what did not.
8. I must listen to people with different opinions with respect and empathy.
9. I must not force what I learned on other people.
10. I must in the end choose to do things that I would actually enjoy to do for the rest of my life.
Before you can fix the world, you have to fix yourself.
Okay, girl, go!