It all began at the sight of an empty toilet paper aisle during the early days of the pandemic. An unknown virus, the long lines for bottles of water, the closing of businesses, and the disruption in the supply chains brought fear to many individuals.
But several months later, a new concern arose. When would the supply chains reopen? Would there be food shortages? If so, how can we minimize the impact in our community?
It was these compounding threats that triggered a movement toward sustainability. If we have learned anything from the past three years, it is that the global market is fragile. A market that heavily relies on consumerism reached a tipping point that forced a shift in the American culture.
What is the shift? It’s a mindset shift toward growth in respecting God’s creation with the desire to seek the basic skills to provide, produce, and preserve for our families and local communities. It is a shift based on obtaining personal independence from globalism (yet, dependence upon God), supporting local communities, and building a lifestyle based on self-sufficiency. This lifestyle focuses on local consumption and a movement to produce rather than solely consume. This is the journey that many of us encountered as a result of the pandemic—the journey toward sustainability and a deeper gratitude for God’s gift of creation.
What is sustainability? It’s a search for independence with the desire to preserve God’s creation of life and the resources around us. This model may appear slightly different for each person or family, depending on their culture, environment, available resources, economics, etc. It is incorrect to state that sustainability is a one-size-fits-all theory.
There is a misconception that sustainability only refers to the recycling or the preserving of resources. As these are important, sustainability reaches beyond consumables. Sustainability is a way of life that seeks to find balance in a consumer-driven world. It is to question the efficiency of the global market, to desire a more localized system, and to learn the necessary skills to produce from the resources given by God to mankind.
The Catholic Church emphasizes charity and the implications of stewarding the gifts given to us by God. In the parable of “the unjust steward” it is stated that “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater: and he that is unjust in that which is little, is unjust also in that which is greater” (Luke 16:10, Douay-Rheims).
This theological belief explains that we are to care, instruct, and utilize God’s gifts to us in a useful and resourceful manner. It is to step away from the material world’s “throw-away culture” and to embrace a lifestyle of prudence for ourselves and those around us. It isn’t difficult to meld quickly into the secularism of today’s society. The “throw-away” theory of always desiring the newest, name-brand item has unfortunately engulfed daily habits.
Previous generations would be appalled to see the amount of clothing, household items, food, and basic goods that are thrown out each day without a second thought. The mentality of using (or barely using) and tossing away without a care is reminiscent of the “unjust steward.” In modern society, with an abundance of modern conveniences, we have accustomed ourselves to a system of quick fixes but also subject to quick failures.
What is wrong with the system? The answer is not simple and cannot be satisfied within the confines of this article. But the effects of the pandemic have exposed weak links in the globalist market. The global system failed during the pandemic as shortages began and continue to affect countries. It can be claimed that such extensive shortages would not have been experienced if companies in one area of the world were not forced to wait for parts from another hemisphere. These delays were and still are part of the shortages experienced worldwide.
As many people foreshadowed food shortages, seed companies began selling out in unprecedented numbers. Difficulties drive perseverance and “Victory Gardens” popped up in many neighborhoods. Sustainability spread faster than dandelions on a beautiful spring day. (Dandelions are a great fertilizer for the lawn, in case you didn’t know. Don’t spray those beauties away!)
So, were you one of those people purchasing the seeds, up-potting the plants, building the raised beds, and learning basic home skills? Our family was not going to sit by and contribute to the consumption problem. Instead, we sought a means to a solution—the road toward sustainability. To be honest, living a self-sufficient lifestyle was part of my upbringing.
My personal journey began in childhood. I grew up in the middle of a big city. My family was rooted in traditional Catholicism with a focus on seasonal and community living. This included growing and preserving much of our own food. It was part of our life.
Every late-winter, my father planted seeds that sprouted in our home awaiting transplanting season. Every spring, the ground was dug up, the beds were readjusted, and the plants were transplanted. The summer months brought endless amounts of raspberries, beans, and carrots that we ate fresh from the garden. In the fall, we harvested the fruits and vegetables and peeled apples and pears with the goal of preserving food to eat throughout the winter.
It was a cyclical calendar, very much like the liturgical calendar. There are seasons of growth (Ordinary Time), seasons of peace and solitude (Advent and Christmas), and the barren seasons (Lent). This was a way of life for my family (on a quarter of an acre) and something that I (regretfully) did not continue the first 10 years of my marriage. Instead of continuing the producer lifestyle of sustainability, I became a consumer like most of society.
But 2020 rejuvenated my childhood skills, and we rejoined my parents in sustainable living: to live consciously in accordance with the seasons, to expand our gardens and grow more food, to support the local community, and to preserve the homegrown food by canning, freezing, and dehydrating.
Obviously, self-sufficiency is not possible without community support on both a physical and spiritual level. It is through sustainability that we can assist each other physically, and it is through the Communion of Saints that we can support one another on a spiritual level. Community was an important aspect of our ancestors’ lives, and it is necessary today also. No one is skilled at everything, but we each have our own talents to assist in producing and providing for ourselves and others.
This is the beauty of sustainability. It’s the desire to return to our roots—to our communities where the food is tastier, the work is local, and the ability to preserve and reuse is more accessible. This is the future—to find God in the gifts of His creation, to expand our skills through charity, and to gain personal independence by producing rather than only consuming.
[Photo Credit: Unsplash]