Year for a Planet is a personal challenge to be a better human for the planet for a whole year. This year, 2017, is where I deal with my food choices.
Ahh, Week 37. It’s the final quarter of the year and since the holiday season in the Philippines starts in the -Ber months, plastic waste and unhealthy eating are on the rise. But thanks to this project, I feel quite immune to all this Christmas advertising. Never in my life have I ever recognized (much less cooked and eaten) so many fruits, vegetables, and spices in my life. Every day, it keeps getting easier to stick to habits whose foundation I have laid earlier this year. But conflicts do arise in any project, and for this one it’s because of the opposing lifestyles of the people around me. This week, I explore the emotional ways we can help our family, friends, and community shift to a healthier, planet-friendly diet and lifestyle.
We are an emotional species, and I’ve discovered that there are buttons we can press in people to help them make better choices. Let’s take some cues from advertising and marketing—they have strategies that, when you decouple them from the ugliness of capitalism, are genius in helping the planet. Let’s get people to feel some feelings:
A development director I know who is pretty cool for someone in development once told me that in all the years he has worked in the field, he realized that shame is a strategy that works for getting individuals to change their habits, especially in Asia. This has worked for me when I go grocery shopping or in a restaurant, such as when explaining to the next person why we should say no to at least 1 plastic bag that day or to lay off the straws.
I’m not thrilled at all the anger I have felt in this project and I promise I only did this during desperate moments, but when I really wanted to hammer the point in, I allow myself to get mad. Asian women are raised to be “nice” and “pleasant” but I credit some of my taekwondo coaches who taught me how to get royally pissed when the situation warrants it. You see, some of the people I observe with bad environmental habits are also some of the nicest people I would meet that day. I realized that little shots of anger can actually hammer the point in—it jolts them out of autopilot. These are the times when I’m happy to release my Chinese Dragon side, which is thankfully balanced afterwards by the Philippine Ms. Congeniality side—there are empathic cues you pick up from being raised in a country where beauty pageants dominate. Woe to the poor guy who insists on giving me a double-layered plastic bag for my bananas especially when it’s that time of the month for me.
Environmentalism is dead; we live in a world of narcissism, self-promotion, and social media likes. So let’s hear it for the dopamine hit that the internet gives us, people. Let’s all do the #SaveTheEarth hashtags and watch the notifications roll. Kidding aside, it does feel good to see that there are other people out there whom I will likely never meet who are also into #ZeroWaste. More than a feeling of community, I also get some tips from them. Year for the Planet: The Food Edition will end for me in a few months, but sustainability takes a lifetime, and I’ll need to build on these habits. A few years ago, I was embarrassed to find out I was actually a millennial, but I realize that as a member of a generation who finds part of its identity in a personal cause or life purpose, there are some things going for us.
Related to pride, vanity is great to think about when selling a healthy lifestyle to people. I sometimes do that to my brother, who is getting married this year and who is religiously at the gym. “That will make you fat. You want to be fat at your wedding?” I once asked while he was reaching for something processed and sugary and wrapped in plastic. And thus a mental image may give someone a pivotal moment of hesitation. Obviously, as someone who embraces all body types, I was not at all keen on using this—and I caution you, too, in case you unwittingly get someone to develop orthorexia. But to be honest, among all of these emotional strategies, this is what I found to be the most effective on people, at least for that brief moment of interaction.
This is my favorite on the list, and one that I think will get positive environmental habits to stick for a lifetime. I love telling people how eating healthy and saying no to plastic make me so happy! I get into a bubbly monologue of all the recipes I cook and all the money I save and all the new energy I have. But it’s also the hardest one to sell, since the temporary hit one gets from gluttony and consumerism is stronger at least for that moment of impulse spending or eating. There are so many broken systems that people have to navigate through in a day that most people are just too overwhelmed to do better. “I wish I could do that but…” is the typical response.
The last point brings me to the most important—love. I love my family, my friends, and hey, even my fellow human beings. We aren’t just “part of nature”—we are nature. If all of us could see beyond greed and envy, our species will likely stand a chance. But until then, alas, I don’t mind making people feel things if it will help make things better.