I hope I don’t come across as high-headed in what I’m about to write, but sustainability is something that I think about often and that I feel deserves mention. Please keep a curious and forgiving mind while you read and hopefully take some positive measures that can make a difference. Also, just to be clear, what is written here is my perspective of things, my opinion, and by no means meant to be an absolute truth. The whole premise of this section is that we, as a species, could work much better alone and together to make this world a healthier and more balanced place to live. Our planet is ageing, and I mean us, we are ageing to live well into decades after retirement. At this point, the world can’t afford the luxury of supporting so many old people that are inactive and in increasing need of care for many years. The good news is that there is no doubt that humans can be active and useful to society at any age, and often almost up to until the day they die. Unfortunately, and for many complex reasons, our society does not empower the elderly.
Regarding our planet, the positive news is that each of us can make a difference by making healthier decisions on how we live our day to day lives. This is important on many levels, both personal and societal, as it can greatly reduce the period of morbidity (time that we are dependent on others for care) at the end of our lives. Collectively, we can make an impressive difference by individually taking small steps. And I am not talking about feeding the existing multi-billion dollar industries such as the cosmetic, and anti-aging businesses. Also, I am not referring to spending more time and/or money to find out what could possibly be wrong with each of us as individuals by doing various fancy biotech tests. What I am talking about is the serious need for much simpler individual immediate actions, involving the incorporation of more grass-roots lifestyles. And I hate to be cliché, but more integration. We all know what we could do to better our health as well as what small steps we could take towards environmental awareness and to save our planet.
We are a mortal species, which means aging and death are a normal part of our process. As a quick aside, I must mention a book that I think everyone can benefit from reading by the surgeon Atul Gawande entitled “Being Mortal”, where the author confronts the realities of aging and dying in our modern society. For me, aging gracefully and sustainably simply means continuing to learn and to push beyond current personal limits. And this means resisting our natural tendency to avoid new experiences and to look towards routines as we age. This unfortunate tendency for the safe comfortable old shoe has many limiting effects on us, including that we do not expose ourselves to the possibility of learning new things and therefore forget the pleasure of learning. And then, eventually, we start to be afraid of new experiences. Thus, the natural age-related narrowing of our limits, such as physical capacity for example, narrow even more.
I have no doubt of the huge societal impact that would result from all of us actively avoiding letting life take over to narrow our capabilities as we age. Pushing ourselves and consistency is the way to contradict the decay, to lengthen capacity. And since our food, brain, body, and emotional selves are in truth one, we must not lose sight of the “whole person” and maintain a balanced positively challenging life. Eat well, move, sleep seven to eight hours a day, love, laugh, and think about our planet… walk when you can, buy locally grown organic foods, avoid processed, recycle. Of course, not every day is a good day, but in the end, it is what we do as part of our routines that makes a difference.
Are you wondering how this all ties in to 30-day food challenges? Here goes my perhaps loopy logic. Trying different healthy diets is a fantastic example of a positive way to fight the resistance for change. Not only that, trying different ways of eating is a great reason to learn new recipes and to experiment with new healthy foods. Variety in what we eat is great for us and for the microorganisms that live in our gut. And, in the end and perhaps more importantly, the capacity to change and to stick to a plan is hugely empowering, and a fantastic exercise in discipline. Altogether, what I am trying to say is that one small step often results in a ripple effect of good health-promoting behaviors in other areas of our lives. I believe that similarly to it being the small changes in our actions that make a difference in our lives and our health, it is what we do as individuals that makes the difference in society. And it is always worth it and never too late to start.
This story is an excerpt from the book The Food Anthropologist… a one year journey through food challenges, published on Amazon in July 2017