Environmental crisis and the global movement for a sustainable world have always made me wonder about how my actions and choices could contribute to the environment. Trying to find an answer for my question, very often the image of my lovely grandma comes to my mind.
I was born in the 80’s, when many Latin American countries were facing economic crises. To make ends meet, both my mum and dad worked hard to get money and put food on table. And, as a woman, my grandmother was responsible for taking care of me.
Raised in rural South Brazil during the 1920s, my grandmother brought with her to the big city of the1980s and 1990s odd and funny rural habits that I didn't think fit with the urban context.
She always went shopping with a large old fashion bag and would store any kind of package, rather than throw them away, and reuse them instead of buying new ones in shops. When electronic devices were broken, before we consider buying something new, she was chasing someone who could fix the damage. After lunch and dinner, she never threw the leftovers away. She took the reused packages and filled them with the remains of rice, beans, salads, meat and everything else. Then, when the fridge was a puzzle of small plastic pots with different foods, she took everything and made a plate with a bit of all.
I thought all these were quite bizarre and I was not used to seeing it at my friend’s house. Somehow, it seemed to me a reflection of the restrictions of her childhood. But, after a while, I realized that it was not only that.
Although her family of farmers was poor in some sense, they produced a wide variety of goods and in large extent. When there was a surplus production and they didn’t have someone to sell for, her father gave the surplus to poor families in the region. Even in abundance, the trash was not an option.
Time passed and the world changed in so many ways and I began to see those old habits in a different positive way. Also my grandmother was forced to change certain habits (she couldn’t fix anymore things because they were not made to be fixed and she couldn’t keep all plastic packages since they had tripled). It was like if we had found a balance.
That’s when the discourse of sustainability (although born in the 1970s) began to gain popularity in large cities like Rio de Janeiro. For me, it seems a bit funny when western world criticizes their pattern of consumption and reflects upon what can be done to make the world better. They create their own models that create their own problems and then someone needs to create solutions. And since the western world realized they were pollution and damaging too much the world people have been spending a lot of money to come up with innovating solutions. And I feel it would be much easier to look back and be inspired by how other generations and communities (apart from the western) did/do things. If I was talking to my grandmother about sustainability, she would say: Sustain…what? And she would have problems understanding the concept of sustainability in a holistic way that considers all its dimensions. But more than many of us, she was doing it all.