Recently I got the chance to travel to East Saint Louis with my church for a week-long missions trip. We got to work with the youth of a community center to build chess tables, computer tables, and hydroponics carts.
Often people see missions trips as this: a group of people take something they have to other people who lack that thing. It’s seen as a one-sided ‘benefit’. We tried to reverse that, and (at least I) believe that we succeeded. I took away so much from that trip- in fact, it’s probably the reason I’ve gone on this self-sustainability rampage.
So, in essence, what is self-sustainability? It is the practice of living independent from outside resources. Those of us who attempt to achieve it recognize the chemicals used in the making of the foods and products we use every day, and decide what we want and don’t want to have in our bodies. We spend a little bit of time each day working towards that goal, and finding that we don’t have to depend on products containing things we don’t recognize.
We don’t need mass-retailers. In fact, making your own products instead of buying them lets you stretch creativity to the max. Honestly, when was the last time you saw lemon-basil ice cream in the freezer case at WalMart? If previous experiences are any indication, probably never.
Self-sustainability gives you something stores can’t- choices. Before I tried making my own, I couldn’t take a box of dried pasta and decide if it was spaghetti or ravioli. I couldn’t take a loaf of bread and decide if it was a bag of rolls or a baguette. I can do that now, and so much more.
Most importantly, self-sustainability is about community (in fact, it shouldn’t have very much to do with ‘self’!). It allows you to have as little impact on the world as you want. Concerned about the environment? It addresses that. Have a child with severe allergies? You can be the one regulating their diet- not what’s stocked at the store. It allows communities to grow closer, and eventually, to depend on each other. Self-sustainability isn’t necessarily about independence- it’s about inter-dependance within the community.
I know people who do a little, I know people who do a lot. You might have the coworker who has a little potted basil plant on their windowsill. You might know someone (like the incredible Martin Wolske) who has backyard chickens, rabbits, and bees, along with an incredible garden. With the rising of the urban farm movement, more and more people are joining communities of urban food-producers.
It’s a bit late to change much with the garden, but I’m hoping to do some winter beds this year. I’m making homemade toothpaste (hopefully more on that later!), yogurt, cheese (sometimes), ice cream, pasta, et cetera. I’m doing my normal baking, and am hoping to cut processed foods from my diet. With the toothpaste especially I’ve noticed differences from the store-bought stuff- my homemade works so much better. I don’t have any essential oils, so it tastes awful, but I’m getting used to it, and I feel much better about it. Being able to choose what I want in my cabinet has taught me so much- once you get into it, you can go anywhere!
Where are you on the spectrum of self-sustainability? What are your thoughts on its relation to community?