As I gulped down my coffee this morning I thought about the chapter we read last night in the thin light blue paperback book titled “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things.” I thought about the life of my coffee beans, and the countless miles they’d traveled. I reassured myself that my two small mugs of the black liquid hadn’t done as much damage as the chapter about the horrors of coffee by Ryan and Durning suggested. I trusted that Bon Appetit had minimized the horrors of coffee for me. Afterward, I bought two packs of trident whitening gum. I had been reminded of the closing sentence of the of that chapter: “caffeine makes you jumpy, coffee stains your teeth, and who likes coffee breath anyway?” I’m pretty sure that this closing statement was not intended to make its reader drink coffee and then purchase gum packed with promises of a whiter smile, but that was its effect today. What does that say about me and the way I have been conditioned by our culture? Why couldn’t I abstain from drinking coffee today? In thinking about the effects of my morning beverage, why did I end up drinking two cups when I normally have one? It’s a bit like eating when you’re bored–you know that the calories are empty and doing nothing for you, but you continue to move hand to mouth just the same. Afterward, you feel a heavy shame. This should not be the attitude when it comes to living a more sustainable lifestyle. Awareness is the first step, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to a change in behavior.
An article (http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/117188963.html) in the Star Tribune this morning addressed a new sustainability program taking place in the dorms at the University of Minnesota. This program transforms dorm life into a lesson in environmental impact–teaching students practices like buying food locally, unplugging as many devices as possible when it’s time to finally hit the hay, and biking or walking as much as possible. The program is called Conservation Madness, and uses student leaders to help dorm students live more sustainably. Of course, there is incentive too. This year it is in the form of an NCAA basketball championship party and free pizza. The number of pizza boxes that will inevitably be present at this party don’t really lend themselves to the cause of the reward, but I guess you have to start somewhere. This sort of program is a good first step toward more sustainable living. College students are an important category when it comes to adjusting the system of consumer buying power, and education is key. Though short term goals are necessary, this type of education demonstrated by the U of M also pushes long term goals. It makes me want to set a few of my own. Here’s one: over the coming months, I’ll cut down on my coffee intake.
It’s a start.