Re-Defining Sustainability…Again…

16 12 2007

By Derek Beres

I read this enlightening piece by journalist Michael Pollan in this morning’s Sunday magazine. After having read, and thoroughly enjoyed, The Omnivore’s Dilemma last month, I enjoy Pollan’s ability to condense the concepts he explores in-depth in his books to gem-sized nuggets like this. In a few thousand words he touches upon the buzzword of the day, and all the perils that entails: sustainability.

He nails the hammer when he brings up an important point: what company would today claim its not sustainable? Like the terms “spiritual, not religious” and “organic,” sustainability has come to mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean in the context of what they’re trying to sell which, in effect, means not a lot at all. The idea holds a spell over us – we can get something and return something at the same time. The reality, as Pollan shows, is anything but.

I have found myself often using this very word lately in my yoga classes. It is not only sustainable, it is also preventative, two foundational concepts in Asian and South Asian medicine and nutrition. It is in nature to recycle; it is who we are, an emergence and return of the elements. The industrial model – as Pollan discusses, factory farming – does not take into consideration many and varied factors, here relegated to pigs and bees. The sustainability of yoga is in the constant maintenance of your total body: muscles, ideas, emotions. Same for our food industry, or, at that point, every industry.

In Omnivore’s, Pollan spends a week on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, where the man has created an entire structure and community on one basic principle: let each element be what it is, naturally. This does not imply that there is not a lot of work; in fact, the opposite is true. Factory farming is easy compared to the lengths and depths it takes to be natural. In yoga it is called the path to self-realization, and is equally arduous. Yet if we want to embody that famed buzzword, and allow it to mean what its supposed to mean, the task is well worth the effort.

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