I grew up in an environment that valued what is now referred to as “green living.” My parents weren’t tree huggers, but immigrants who had grown up on a very small island.
In the summer, my father would only run the air conditioning on the most brutally hot and humid of days. Half of the backyard was devoted to growing an assortment of fruit and vegetables that included tomatoes, lettuce, squash, cucumbers, peppermint, strawberries, Asian pears, and grapes. We did not eat out. Ever. McDonald’s was a rare and exotic treat.
Leftovers were fed to our German Shepherd or used as compost for the garden.
Every bag we brought home was reused to collect trash. We turned off lights and electrical appliances when we weren’t using them. If the shower ran for more than 10 minutes, my dad would bang on the door and yell at us to turn off the water. My mom spent endless hours cutting patterns and sewing clothes at night. We planted trees, bushes and flowers all over our yard.
In the winter, trees were chopped down for firewood. Instead of running the furnace, we’d light a fire in the wood stove which was miraculously sufficient to overheat the entire 1900 square foot house.
Books were borrowed not bought. Money was saved not spent.
And though I never really felt like I went without, I went bananas when I entered college. Finally I could crank the air conditioning as low and as long as I wanted. To study, I’d turn on every light in the room. The radio, television and hairdryer would be used simultaneously, each drowning the other out. And if I had time, I could stand beneath the shower for an hour if I wanted to.
Fast forward 15 years and you’d think I never learned my father’s lessons of “save today for tomorrow.” The bad habits I picked up in college are still with me today. Bad habits I wasn’t conscious of until my mother stayed with me for one week this past June.
My bare kitchen cabinets and empty refrigerator made her shudder. “What will we eat?” she’d ask. And I’d drag her down the block to Cosi or to one of Dupont’s fine eateries. “Where do you you keep these bags?” she’d ask, holding out three or four rumpled CVS plastic bags. I’d point to a trashcan wrapped with a super duty Glad bag. And when she reached out to turn off the thermostat on our way out, I nearly had a stroke. “Are you crazy? You can’t turn that off. It’s June. In DC. We’ll suffocate when we get back.”
She just shook her head and frowned.
I think of all this now because I just read about Raina Kelly’s Freegan experiment. I wonder how well I’d do if I tried to live carbon neutral?