This summer, knowing that drinking Diet Coke does not fit in well with the rest of my sustainable, environmentally friendly food values, I tried to do teshuva (repentance); I tried to give up Diet Coke….[Drinking Diet Coke is] only sustainable if what you are trying to sustain is corporate profits. And then there is the carbon footprint. As Grist wrote in response to the pleas of another environmentally tormented diet pop addict (apparently I am not alone), drinking several cans of soda a day for a year is equivalent to flying round-trip from New York to Cleveland.
What does it mean to do teshuva for the food we consume? Right now, we are in the Jewish month of Elul, the time of year when we are supposed to consider our actions, repent for what we have done, and make amends so that we can start over. The word teshuva means to return—to go back to the beginning to try again. The daily morning sound of the shofar this month is a constant reminder that each day we have a chance to change our lives just a little bit.
She speculates about what would happen if we regarded nonsustainable eating or drinking as a sin on the level of cheating or stealing. We would probably stop drinking carbonated sugar-water much more quickly than we would now in our collective addicted and consumerist states. However the flip side of making eating nonsustainably more of a sin is that we would feel a lot more guilty about what we consume.
I’m of two minds on guilt and food. Maybe it’s a genetic thing, but I believe that a small amount of guilt can be a motivating force and can encourage us to do the right thing. After all, part of being a localvore is thinking about what you eat. But it’s a delicate balance, because second guessing every single bite of food that goes into one’s mouth can be dangerous. Too many people, women especially, spend too much energy feeling guilty about how they eat or, more appallingly, whether they eat.
The main point of the post is not that we should become guilt-ridden consumers, but that this is the time of year when many Jews reflect on their choices over the past year and decide which to keep and which they need to change. I’m not religious, but a time to recognize my choices and reaffirm or reject them seems right to me. It’s easy to be a localvore in the summer when local vegetables appear on every street corner, practically, as well as in the office kitchen. However, it will take more planning and effort to keep up my localvore tendencies through the winter. Some reflection and rededication may be in order.
(The title refers to the old joke that you can summarize most Jewish holidays as “They tried to kill us, but we survived! Let’s eat!”)