Greener Than Thou


I recycle. I stay away from aerosol cans, the kinds that reduce the earth’s rapidly depleting ozone layer. I try to choose sustainable foods off the menu if I eat out and I don’t let the faucet run while I’m brushing my teeth. When I’ve finished with the day’s newspapers, they go into the recycler. Ibid the empty wine bottles, tuna cans and salsa jars. (Rinsed first, of course.) So you’ll see me doing all that. What you won’t see is me lecturing you about doing it. Because that’s ineffective. And it’s rude. “You know eating meat is a prime cause of global warming, don’t you?” The people who say that while you’re deciding between a burger or grilled veggie melt are way more interested in pointing out that they’re greener than you than they are in changing your eating habits for the sake of the earth. (And really, how motivated are you going to be to do that if you feel you’re being nagged and condescended to?) “I could never drive a SUV again—hybrid is the only way to go!” is probably not going to encourage your friend to trade her cushy Navigator for a Prius or a Civic. (Sometimes it’s easier to give up running around with a preachy friend than it is to give up heated seats.) And banging on about the chemicals in Nana’s favorite glass cleaner is not going to inspire her to switch. Especially when she’s doubtful that the green stuff will do the job as well as her cherished Blue Stuff. I prefer Mark Bittman’s approach. Bittman is a food writer for the New York Times; his column "The Minimalist" appears weekly. And over the last year or so, he has changed his eating habits because he started thinking about the effect they were having on the global economy, the environment, and his health. He’s been on the lecture circuit for a few months now, talking about how he made the change, which he’s outlined in his newest book, Food Matters. The thing that most impressed me about Bittman’s approach is how non-judgmental it is. No nagging was involved. He’s not telling us we have to give up animal flesh-in fact, he does the opposite: “if you feel like a great chunk of steak, have it.” But he offers his own experience for our consideration: eating less animal flesh and enjoying it more when he does has been worth it. For him. He’s encouraging people to think about it and try it when they’re ready. One meal at a time. One day a week. Whatever works. If you apply Bittman’s philosophy to other things, you may find yourself reusing that paper towel when possible, instead of tossing it. Or gifting Nana with a bottle of green cleaner that smells good and works well to see if she agrees that her windows look just as good as they do when she uses the un-green competition. So yes, go to it, go green. Just don’t nag us about it, because every time someone does, it makes me want to borrow a Hummer, drive it to a barbeque joint, and let the motor idle, gently spewing exhaust while I wait for my to-go order of charcoal-grilled cow. Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Bsic Black: Home Trainind For Modern Times (Doubleday). She drives a Prius, but she shuts up about it.

is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).