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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Is Green a Hokey Western Invention?

GrandmaMy Grandmother

I received a thought-provoking email recently that I’d thought I’d put to you all to answer.

Hi Melinda!

I am soooooo not a blog-commenter, you cannot imagine! Pretty safe to say this is my first.

Your site is so real and honest. I was browsing purely for research yet the character ringing through these pages was so… crystal, I think?… I couldn’t help but engage.

I live in the Philippines, a developing country in Asia. While my family is in that slim ratio of the more materially fortunate, our country is beset with poverty, corruption and moral decay. As such, the ideals on this site sound removed from reality, as esoteric as a new religion. Even as IN PRACTICE it all comes down to things our pre-colonial ancestors took for granted! Conditioning shampoo made from tree-bark, leaves/roots/flowers in everything, water kept cool in clay jars, giant palm fronds pulled manually to cool the room, wood-burning stoves… my own grandmother was a poster girl for green!

It’s when we think of it as modern or alternative or even Western that it feels hokey. Being poor and still agricultural, maybe we don’t need to call it “green”. It’s just what our mothers did.

And then I wonder: isn’t that true even for you guys???

Best of luck with this undertaking!
If there’s anything I can do…

Adele

What I Believe

Thank you for your thought-provoking question, Adele!

First off, I don’t want to make anyone feel bad about their lifestyle, because whether or not it’s a Western invention, I think it’s necessary given how far our Western culture has gone astray.

Secondly, I also believe that back to the basics or living as our mothers did is a bit artificial, because our lives ARE different than our mother’s and grandmother’s, and I don’t believe it’s realistic nor healthy to be always looking back.  There are many things I learned from my grandmother and mother that I do want to return to my normal life.  But there are a lot of aspects in the contemporary world that are essential to understand and be a part of in order to change society.

For example, I can’t blog if I go back to the simplicity of life during my grandmother’s time.  Yet I feel I’m creating great change in my life as well as thousands of others’ lives by blogging.  I also can’t run a business that creates wide-spread change without utilizing modern tools and reaching people where they are, which often means reaching people with technology.

And finally, my mother and grandmother didn’t always have it easy, and didn’t have time to do some of the things I do today.  I did try to live a lifestyle that was self-sufficient and idolized an old way of doing things. But I found that I didn’t have time to reach out to others, I didn’t have enough money to survive as a family, nor did I totally enjoy a lifestyle that so fully centered around my own daily life.

So I see living a sustainable lifestyle as utilizing the tools we need to use in order to generate change, while reincorporating some of the timeless values of our ancestors.  In other words, taking the best of both worlds, both generations.

What Do You Believe?

Are we just creating another artificial, hokey alternative?

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9 comments to Is Green a Hokey Western Invention?

  • Anne

    Nope, doesn’t feel “hokey” to me. I have family in the Philippines so I should know. My grandmother’s daily way of life was just that. That’s her daily way of life. I understand that living without the luxuries of the overly abundant western world, life may seem more simple. I am also sure that other developing countries have the same practices. Every way or style of living has it’s up and downs. It doesn’t matter where you live. Everyone is different.

    What it comes down to is this. Anything that us humans can do to save the earth and minimize our carbon footprint is a good thing regardless of how you label it “green” Eco-friendly” and such. What ever you call it or where it came from really shouldn’t have a particular bias towards a generation or country or origin for that matter.

    As for the ideals on this site being removed from reality; is this not reality? Do we not live in the real world? In my opinion, people that share a common interest in helping the environment, everyone who reads and shares this blog to other networking sites is doing their part in helping and spreading the word, they are trying to preserve our planet the best they can. This blog is free to read and for anyone to read, it’s not for the exclusive few. We are uniting together and trying to show others a way of living kindly and more gently.

    Some people have no idea how to tread lightly on the earth, some don’t even care but hopefully we can make them aware of our environmental situation and make them more knowledgeable to it. Everyone has a different level of environmental awareness. Some of us have been aware for generations, some people have to start from scratch. At least they are doing something and that’s the most important thing.

    This is what I believe.

  • Adele said that the ideals on this site sound far removed from reality. I think “reality” is the operative word here. Everyone’s reality is different. Here in the US our reality is (and has been for 50 – 60 years now) one of unlimited excessive consumption at all costs. We measure our “success” by how many toys we own, how big our houses are and what kind of monster SUV we drive. So when an American starts to get that this lifestyle is completely unsustainable, the realities of living on a finite planet finally sinking in, we realize we have to do something and the name for that is “going green”. From my viewpoint, the concept of trying to live sustainably is anything but artificial or hokey.

    Unfortunately, as more and more Americans develop this awareness, they’re pretty baffled as to the steps they should take beyond changing their light bulbs. Because they don’t know how to think outside the “buy stuff” box, their solution is to just keep buying, only now they look for green alternatives. That IS artificial and hokey. The term to apply here is “greenwashed”.

    Real going green means stepping back and realizing that some of the “old ways” were better and the only reason we abandoned them is because we fell for the siren song of advertising. A case in point: baking soda. As a direct result of discovering this site, I experimented with a baking soda paste to remove a burned on ring around one of the burners on my glass range top. The paste turned out to be just as effective as the mysterious white goop in the little bottle that came with the stove. While I haven’t researched the white goop, I’m reasonably sure it’s not as environmentally friendly as baking soda and probably a lot more expensive. Switching to baking soda is definitely a green move, and not the least bit artificial and hokey. It’s just a common sense thing to do, now that I’m aware of it as an option. (The White Goop Manufacturers Association would no doubt disagree with my decision.)

    It’s making people aware that there are other options that’s the hard part in all this. And when we’re talking about a bloated, high-on-the-hog society like ours, that’s a tough job indeed. I can certainly understand why someone living in the developing world would be a bit baffled by our situation!

  • In complete agreement with you. I think this is a very important perspective to consider, but describing my lifestyle as green or sustainable doesn’t seem artificial to me. And as a lifestyle, it does need a label of some sort. Within Western Culture, it is a choice for many of us. There are a lot of difference in how I approach life and how my grandparents did. I actually think my lifestyle is more sustainable (especially compared to one set of grandparents).

  • I do worry that greenness can seem hokey sometimes but I think part of it is because it’s in the mainstream culture/economy’s interest to sideline us and label us old-fashioned, rose-tinted glasses-clad kooks.

    For example, a few months ago, I mentioned in passing to a friend of mine that I’d just finished cleaning the windows with vinegar and newspaper. She laughed and called me old fashioned so I asked her what she used to clean windows – name brand window cleaner (which is, essentially, watered down vinegar and colouring) and kitchen roll/paper towels. I think she thought I was being hokey but we were essentially using the same stuff, just mine had a slightly lower footprint, both for the environment and my wallet. I was a little offended by her attitude (no one likes being considered hokey!) but I realised she’s had 30 years of indoctrination about, for example, cleaning products. She’s bought the products she’s been told to buy so she’s invested in them financially and the choice to buy cleaning product 1 over cleaning product 2 means she’s made some emotional investment in it too – so it’s not surprising that she’s kicking out when I opt out of the system she’s blindly following.

    Going the other way, I feel affected, like a dilettante, when I’m talking to more hardcore greenies or larger scale food producers – I’m messing around with a two dozen courgette/zucchini seedlings when they’re thinking of two hundred, two thousand, two hundred thousand. On our site Recycle This, we talk about reusing things from around the home and garden but I regularly get emails from people in industry looking to reuse thousands of rubber gloves a week – they can’t all be turned into jar-lid grips. But we all have to start somewhere and I believe people should just do what they can – then push themselves further to do more.

  • I think we’re redefining our reality, and so we create a new term for our new lifestyle to distinguish it from the mainstream lifestyle. Some call it green, others use different words. I don’t think the term matters, what matters is the fact of redefining.

    I also don’t think we’re moving back to the ways of our mothers/grandmothers, although we are relearning many skills they knew. Like you wrote in your post, we have modern technology that we have no plans to eschew, such as the internet, which is a marvelous way of disseminating ideas, creating our own content as well as community.

    Further, most older people I talk with wonder WHY I bother with my ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ pursuits. I was talking with a 97 year old man in a care home last week. He has been a dairy farmer, amongst other things, and I was telling him about my veggie garden and my hopes to have laying hens soon. He laughed and said I could buy all that stuff at the store!

    So we’re creating something new, even if it harks back to the past.

  • John

    A lot of old knowledge is very useful for green practices. But there was a lot we didn’t know at the time, so modern influence is important, too.

    For example, I’ve been working on non-plastic rain gear just for the challenge! I don’t drive, so I need something that’ll hold out for hours in the rain, wind, cold, etc. Treating fabrics wasn’t well recorded before modern materials got involved. Most of it’s something that’s been passed on word-of-mouth decades past actual practice. Often using boiled linseed oil containing heavy metals, or pine tar which can be carcinogenic with enough exposure. (like a pine tar soaked garment…) So modern knowledge is important too, this kind of thing wasn’t known so much way back when.

    It’ll turn into a blend of better understanding and old know-how in this case. So far, it’s turning out easier than it sounds, a lot of forgotten things are like that.

  • Rose

    Maybe it’s because the Western Green movement seems to act sometimes as if it invented being “green”? As the email suggests, what we’re doing in the West can sound rather idyllic and zeitgeisty, but in Third World Countries, being “green” by raising veg and animals and recycling is what you do for survival. I read a blog a while back about the Dig for Victory in WWII and it praised the ingenuity of the forefathers during such a trying time- and forgive me, but I saw a lot of white faces in that video. My Afro-American heritage was already gardening during that time, had been for years, but not because of the war effort and not because of patriotism; plain and simple, they gardened because they would have starved if they hadn’t. In Brazilian favellas, eating black beans is something people are ashamed of as they’re considered poorest-of-the-poor food – but in the west, black beans are now considered rather posh. I’ve seen that happen with dandelion greens, black eyed peas, chitlins, and so on. I am sometimes bewildered that people can talk about keeping hens as pets; to many of my family members down south, they can’t afford to keep hens as pets – you feed something because you’re going to eat it. Keeping a chicken as a pet is considered a luxury, like a pot-bellied pig or pet rabbits.

    Different mindsets, I agree, and I have been privileged enough to walk a lot of different paths and therefore have maybe a different perspective to a lot of people. I think it’s worth remembering that we haven’t really created anything new, but have merely elaborated upon something which, quite honestly, has already been done quite a bit by others. If anything, the West is only just started to catch on. We may be putting our own spin on it however, but this is due to us having a choice to be able to do so. Others aren’t so lucky – and I think that was the original point which was being made by Adele. To the older people who laugh or are bewildered that we’d ever consider being farmers, it’s worth remembering that we have the option of going to the supermarket if our crops fail. Back in the Day – and now in these other countries – there’s no such thing. There’s a stress level as a result on living that kind of life which most of us have probably never experienced, which is I think why a lot of blogs can seem rather idyllic to others.

  • Rob

    I honestly believe if my Grandma had a cuisin art she would have been more happy. I agree we aren’t trying to go back to the way grandma did things- all though some do and are quite successful, I prefer to do things grandma did with a few new tools! And if grandma had a showtime rotisserie, dinner would have been on time!

  • That’s an interesting question. What I have noticed in the area I live in is the older generation already practiced many of the “green” practices that seem new today.

    For generations people around here have gardened, canned, reused (I have seen bread bags drying on a clothesline), hung clothes on a clothesline, turned lights off when leaving a room, etc. When I go to the recycling center I see more older people there bringing their recyclables than younger.

    My generation moved away from some of these practices and I am so glad to see them coming back. Both my daughter and daughter-in-law (in their 20s) garden, knit, crochet, sew, cook from scratch, shop at thrift stores, etc.; some of the old arts have come back and that is good, but we can incorporate the new technologies while still being mindful of taking care of the earth.

    There are differences in the thinking and the reasons for these practices have changed. It is not just about saving money or not having as much materially, it is a choice we make. I can afford to buy new clothes, but often I chose to buy used to reduce the number of products being produced. I can afford to buy premade, prepackaged food and I have it readily available to me, but I choose to spend time canning so I know my food is healthier and my carbon footprint is smaller.

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