I’m not Extreme, Consumerism Is

single use plastic spoon

A woman rides her bike to the farmers’ market to buy locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. After carefully selecting some apples, oranges, avocados, potatoes and kale, all grown on small farms without the use of synthetic pesticides, she places them in her homemade cloth produce bags. Before she hops back on her bike, she has a drink of water from a fountain (her city still provides these).

When the woman returns to her 900 square-foot home, she eats a bowl of leftover homemade soup for lunch, after which she brews a cup of looseleaf tea and gets to work prepping some of her vegetables for roasting. She cooks the beans that she had begun to soak early that morning and feeds her sourdough starter that she’ll use to make bread dough that evening.

Apparently, she is extreme.

That woman

True story.

My type of lifestyle made front page news in the San Jose Mercury News this summer. When I picked up a copy of the paper at the store and stood in line to pay (wearing the same shirt as I had worn in the front-page picture), the customer in front of me turned around, looked down at the paper and swatted it with her hand dismissively. She looked at me and said, “Oh that woman is so extreme. I read the whole article. I commend her but she is so extreme.” I gasped, covered my mouth with both hands and burst out laughing. She then asked, “Oh is that you?”

I find it extreme that our consumer culture has reeled so far off the rails that someone who leads a simple lifestyle appears extreme when compared to the norm. Not that long ago, we all lived without plastic, ate unrefined foods, dwelled in small homes and made do. Today, these are acts of defiance. 

What is actually extreme

Camping out to shop for a bunch of junk and risking death by trampling when the store doors open

While our insatiable desire to buy more and more stuff plagues us year round, Black Friday epitomizes our consumer madness. Just now I searched for “black friday deaths” and pages popped up such as “Arkansas worst in nation for Black Friday violence, study says.” Worst in nation? There are rankings? “Black Friday Death Count” is another (we’re up to 10 since 2008).

After over 20 years, Buy Nothing Day has become the new Black Friday. Stay home. Eat pie. Make something. Be extreme.

Making every damn thing possible out of plastic

Plastic has infiltrated our oceans, our air, our water, our food and, yes, our poopYou’ve probably seen the meme below that exposes the absurdity of single-use plastic. It has floated around the Internet for many years now.

single use plastic spoon
Just wash the damn spoon

Allowing the food industry to peddle food-like substances that kill us

The Western diet of highly processed foods—foods high in sugar and low in fiber—sickens us and enriches shareholders of the big food industry. It also creates a lot of jobs in the not-yet-bankrupt healthcare industry. And of course, the industry packages these highly processed foods almost exclusively in single-use plastic. Sort of a two-for-one.

According to the CDC, 39.8 percent of adult Americans—93.3 million—were obese in 2015–2016. Obesity increases the risk of premature death from preventable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. In 2008, obesity cost the United States $147 billion in medical costs. And obesity affects certain groups, such as people of color, more than others.

Colonizing Mars

How is colonizing another planet that cannot support life easier than mitigating a crisis on a planet that still can and does support life?

The robber baron tech gods love this. Colonizing Mars sounds way sexier than flying less and eating more vegetables. Those solutions may not capture the imagination the way interplanetary emigration does but they would make a difference in combating climate change. And as for Mars, only the select few would actually flee the planet, leaving the rest of us down here to devolve into The Handmaid’s Tale.

My daughter Charlotte and I both enjoyed the movie Interstellar (I’ve watched it several times) but when I mentioned this blog post to Charlotte today, she said that she was really annoyed by the way the movie depicted the people who wanted to stay on Earth as the crazies, while the people who did move to a new world basically recreated the society that destroyed the previous one.

Sacrificing all living things on the altar of economic growth

The Camp Fire in California, the deadliest fire in the state’s history, has raged since November 8th, burned over 150,000 acres, incinerated the town of Paradise with a population of 27,000, killed 83 at last count (with over 500 still missing), displaced tens of thousands and destroyed over 14,000 homes. (Go here to find out how you can provide free temporary housing to victims through Airbnb.)

I live 200 miles south of the fires in the densely populated Bay Area—a safe distance from the flames but not the smoke. After the smoke blew down and settled over us, our air quality plummeted and remained unhealthy for over a week. Schools closed. Sporting events were cancelled. The San Francisco cable cars stopped running. Many of us wore masks while outside—if we had bought them before every store in the area quickly sold out.

Drought coupled with higher temperatures—both results of climate change—will make these mega-fires more common. But as our life support systems break down, industry and its bought-and-paid-for politicians would prefer we succumb to our doom rather than overhaul our fossil fuel-based, growth-at-all costs economic system. 

Overhauling that system isn’t extreme. Accepting the end of civilization is.

Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. . . . Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.” — Robert F. Kennedy

So go ahead and call me extreme.

35 Replies to “I’m not Extreme, Consumerism Is”

  1. Happy Thanksgiving. Here in Scotland, where neither Thursday or Friday are holidays, even my local dry cleaner has a Black Friday “event”. I can’t imagine. Thanks for your sanity in a world going bonkers.

  2. Thank for your article and inspiring me to try my best to live by your example. You are not extreme.You are courageous.

  3. Great post. I haven’t shopped Black Friday in decades, don’t miss it. As far as your lifestyle being extreme? Crazy. I hope people start taking the obvious effects of climate change more seriously. As much as California does to combat climate change, it needs to be a global effort. In spite of all your state tries to do, you still have devastating and tragic fires. We all need to wake up to this. Love your blog, thanks for all you do to inspire us, Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Happy Thanksgiving! Love your blogs and look forward to each one. You are NOT extreme .. you are intelligent and ethical!

  5. Madeleine Lawrence says: Reply

    Hi Anne Marie,

    I am also considered extreme for not owning a dishwasher or dryer, taking my own food everywhere, stacking firewood, having my kids school uniforms made in cotton to avoid the polyester ones etc…We even had a family member say she probably couldn’t stay with us when she came to town because our ‘alternative’ lifestyle was just a bit….I don’t know. Personally I find it agony sitting by the fire with a pot of tea or eating a home cooked meal or walking to the shops!

    Loved the meme.


  6. Madeleine Lawrence says: Reply

    And I think the idea of vegetarian food was a big turnoff!


  7. I agree with you 100%. And working on doing more myself. Amen. Amen. Amen.

  8. Once again straight to the point! Thanks, Anne Marie.

  9. Brilliant article, thank you 🙂

  10. Every point you touched upon in this post is a thought that I have had. Thank you for articulating these very real points so well. Also, thank you for using your platform as an outreach for those displaced by Camp Fire. Thank you for being a voice of reason, and for sharing your skill-sets and wisdom with me.

  11. Great read, thank you for sharing this and leading the charge in the zero waste movement :)!

    – Belinda, http://ahealthyblueprint.com

  12. You are not alone! Thank you for saying this OUT LOUD! So ridiculous that being logical, sensitive and sensible is so taboo. I’m shaking my head at it all the time. Well… internally! Xx

  13. Love your thinking. Re. GDP, you might like Rutgers Bregman’s take on it, in his book Utopia for Realists. Like Kennedy, he argues that it calculates all the wrong things. If you haven’t read it yet, go for it, it’s a smart book about an alternative to our current economic reasoning.

  14. Jacqueline Galleymore says: Reply

    As always a thought provoking blog post. Here in Australia we a spiraling down the rabbit hole of Christmas Kitsch Over Consumption. I am staying home till it is done.

  15. Black Friday became a “thing” in South Africa about 4 or 5 years ago. It has grown exponentially with some companies advertising “Black Weekend”, “Black Week” and even, yes, “Black Month”. We are in the throes of the frenzy and I’ve just realised we don’t have any milk at home – guess we’ll be eating dry cereal and drinking black coffee until sometime next week.

    Thanks for posting this – it makes me feel less alone in my “wildly counterculture ideas and choices”.

  16. Amen, Anne Marie. This reality floats around in my brain all the time. I’m willing to do something about it but most want to continue what they’re doing (changing phones regularly, accepting that this is life). The alternative isn’t an option to them.

    Lovely front page post you had in the newspaper there! You’re doing a great job of sensitising people to the issues.

  17. Easier to colonize mars. Gawd that hit me. Excellent rant. I work in environmental sector. I am continuously shocked by our unwillingness to TRY. Just this. Just TRY to consider it. I can’t believe that is where we are in this topic.

  18. air quality was bad enough that schools closed and yet farm workers continued to labor in the fields. Consumption (and even the lack of it) can be very classist. I do my best to consume as little as possible, utilize second hand resources, loan/borrow, support farmers markets, make more of my own food, but I know that I’m also privileged to be able do so. So many of those with the worst health outcomes are the poor and people of color. We need to use our privilege to organize and push for living wages, affordable housing, and better access to health care, and not just not-consume our way out of this.

  19. Do you know what’s extreme? Waiting until the next-to-last week of the next-to-last month of the year to expect to make a return on your investment. Black Friday refers to the day when businesses are “in the black” after being “in the red” all year long. My garden does better than that! Also, having a focus on shopping for a holiday that is about the birth of a special infant, or metaphorically and/or alternatively, about the return of light in the darkness that promises to bring the world to life again, just doesn’t make any rational sense. Why don’t we have candle-making festivals, seed swaps, and carols about gardening? Enjoying and Giving Thanks for the beauty of life here on Earth is a much better idea than colonizing Mars, which, if you think about it, seems rather an ungrateful way to go about things. You’re so sick and tired of living on this gorgeous planet that you feel the need to go live on a really inhospitable one, right?

  20. THANK YOU for this! Keep on fighting the good fight and spreading the word! You have support!!! I am thankful for people like you!

  21. Really great blog post. I’m curious, how did the woman react when she realised it was you in the article?

  22. Loved reading this and following your page. I find the amount of waste in our “modern society” extremely distressing. When I say things or try to take action, I feel like everyone thinks I’m the crazy one. But I feel like I’m the only sane one in a world gone mad. Reading this makes me feel less alone in the world. Thank you!

  23. Very well said! I have friends whom I know feel sorry for us because we ‘only’ have one car and the kids and I ‘have’ to use the village bus service. Poor us ! 😉

  24. The Mars thing gets me every time. It is the most expensive, most illogical thing that we have possibly ever come up with and it sends me into a rant every time someone mentions it.

  25. You are not extreme, you are lucid, concerned, pro-active and so inspirational! Thank you for writing this great post!

  26. I loved your rant and have been rolling over bits of it in my mind all week like some kind of hippie prayer. Keep it up. You are not alone in your thinking . Thank you for the post, your blog is an inspiration.

  27. Great post! I don’t live as zero waste as you (I still started doing things like not using plastic bags, buying a reusable razor etc), and still in some settings I feel like the weird person, who is different!

  28. Love this post! We had Black Friday sales here in Melbourne, Australia. Can’t imagine why, as no one here knows what Black Friday is. Ridiculous. I think some people call zero waste extreme because our society makes it so much more convenient to do the opposite. As more of us take on the zero waste life style, this may change. The checkout lady at my local supermarket showed a lot of interest in my reusable produce bags today. She intends to look them up on line. I hope that she not only buys some for herself but some for the shop to sell too so that other customers are soon tempted to buy and use them too instead of single-use plastic bags.

  29. you are so amazing. I have been working to get my house with less plastic and waste. you are such an inspiration and tips would be amazing!

  30. Emma-Lisa Roux says: Reply

    Thank you so much for this article, I will use it anytime someone starts criticising my way of living. It already happened to me that someone said “oh no this is just too much for me” talking about a wooden brush and compostable sponge they saw in my kitchen. Come on.

  31. Perfect! Just wash the damn spoon is my new mantra.

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