07/19/2010 10:37 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is Consumption Consuming You?

Life is precious. This little cliche is thrown around in a world where all the evidence points in the opposite direction. We abuse ourselves, our animals, our neighbors, our planet.

We have heard this before, but when will we pay attention? We make decisions daily. We may not be fully aware of the impact of our choices, even when they concern our very life. And while the impact of these choices may be dictated by culture, emotion, tradition, bad or lack of information, the results are the same. The real tragedy of these choices is much bigger than us. The choices we make ripple out into the world and the lives of others ... our family, society and the environment. We don't live isolated from the rest of the world. Like it or not -- willing to admit it or not -- we are all part of one web of life and all the parts depend on the other parts.

The food we eat, the cars we drive, the appliances we use and the toys (all kinds of "toys") we buy for our kids and families influence the world around us in the most profound ways. We think if we have the resources, we can enjoy all the luxuries we want regardless of the outcome. We think we can buy our way out of anything.

And we keep buying into all the old tricks, like shopping and consuming as an act of patriotism. You know this argument: it's good for the economy to "shop til you drop," even if it means your credit cards are maxed out and you are in debt up to your eyeballs. It's a sad day when the state of a society is determined by the Consumer Confidence Index or the gross national product or the quarterly profits of Walmart.

We were taught that it was all the latest stuff, most decadent food and coolest toys that were our rightful benefit ... the proof of a life well-lived. If we play by the rules and work hard, we reap the rewards of lots and lots of stuff. Right? The problem is the game was fixed, the rules made up as we went along with no regard to the long-term effect.

The game of life is played by a set of rules not for living well, but dying badly. No matter how good we get at the competition we call contemporary culture, we lose ... and we lose big. And on our current path, we'll take everybody and everything down with us. I know, I know, this is dark and heavy, but it's time to lift the veil on all this, take off the rose-colored glasses and see the truth as it is. Even in these times of economic uncertainty, we are being encouraged to shop, consume and acquire.

The real right to life comes to us when every living thing is honored...all plants, all animals, all fish, all human beings. We go along, acquiring, consuming and wondering why we still feel so empty, so unfulfilled, so sick and tired. Modern life as we live it is like committing suicide on a grand scale.

Look, at the end of all of this, we die. But why not value the gift you have been given and enjoy the ride in a healthy body on a healthy planet? Life is such a gift and we squander it as if it doesn't matter.

Why can't we just live healthy lives? It's like we haven't evolved past infancy in our thinking. We want what we want, when we want it and we don't care about the consequences of that desire. We want no responsibility for our actions. We party on, like drunks with lampshades on our heads. We think that someone else, some tree hugger, will clean up our mess. And while I try to resist this train of thought and see the good everywhere, the reality of who we have become stares me in the face day after day, taunting me. We have highly evolved brains and are very good at figuring things out. We build cities; we created math, invented cell phones and computers. We are capable of things like the Sistine Chapel and the David. We can make Twinkies that last for years in plastic packages. We are really good at information. We gather it; we know it; we can repeat it.

But if we were really using our brains, we would only make decisions that served life.

We say we want to be healthy -- that we want to be good stewards of the planet; we say that we want to feed the poor. Yet, we eat processed junk food; we flush toxins into our waterways and a very small number of people insist on gorging themselves on animal foods while most of the rest of the world wonders where their next meal will come from.

Manufacturers love to tweak products in ways that leave our diet largely unchanged, but allow for new "hot buttons" to be added to the product packaging to create a "health halo" and seduce you to buy more of whatever junk it may be. Pharmaceutical companies can then develop more and more drugs to cure us of the diseases that our food choices cause. The health care industry makes more money treating chronic diseases than it does preventing them. And the circle of business goes round and round, with us dizzy with confusion.

The appeal of convenience, low price, added flavor and enriched nutrients is all an illusion to cover up the compromised quality of food. With fat, sugar and salt you can make cardboard taste exciting to the palate. These are the dominant flavors in all junk food and the basis for their appeal. Food companies have figured out ways to make any substance taste like any food. And we are lost in a sea of enhanced flavors. In the hands of the food industry anything can be made to taste like chicken. The food industry is counting on you losing your sense of taste, as well as your good judgment so they can continue churning new and ever more exciting junk food to line their pockets.

Convenience, ease, virulent marketing and instant gratification have hijacked our food. Fresh, local, organic, whole and unprocessed foods appear to have become chic, hip and elitist when nothing could be further from the truth. They are, in fact, our birthright. New, modern foods, junk foods and convenience have ruined our health and our waistlines and created consumer dependence on the food industry ... just the result they had planned. Many of us can't imagine life without drive-through or dinner in a bucket. Many of us can't imagine what it feels like to be well and vital either.

We buy into the propaganda and eat more. The "foodlike" substances that Michael Pollan describes so eloquently in his writing have little or nothing to do with food in its natural state and everything to do with why we are so fat and getting fatter. All our studies, seminars, self-help books and government committees investigate the problem, but we see no solution ... because we do not want to see one.

If we were serious about solving the ills of the world, we would begin to live life as though it mattered...every minute of every day. This may sound simplistic in the face of the complicated issues we face, but simple is good and action is essential if we are to survive what we have created.

Imagine how the world could change if we just ate real food, not too much, mostly plants; if we showed compassion to all beings; if we stopped buying worthless junk we didn't need and realized that without clean air and water we would die. I have a strong feeling that everything would change ... fast.

This is our problem. We have created it. That's the bad news.

We don't make the changes we know we need to make in our diets because we "don't want to give anything up." Uniquely American is the idea that we can have it all and so we want it all. In no way is this truer than with our food. The big business of food (in excess of $800 billion annually) has turned food into a profitable commodity, not the fuel essential to life. The food business loves us to believe that we can have our cake and eat it.

They are counting on it, in fact. They are counting on the belief that going hungry in a wealthy society such as ours is the ultimate sign of failure ... and as Americans we will have none of that! People on a tight budget still want lots of food, exciting food, delicious food and the food business is happy to serve it up...on the cheap. People with money want exotic food, rare food, nuanced food, sophisticated food and the food business accommodates their palates, too.

Only we can change it. That's the good news. In fact, that's the best news. In a world where everyone is out to brainwash you and steal your power, you have the ultimate say. You decide if you will live a healthy life or not. You decide if the planet will be healthy or not.

So what's it going to be?

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