Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Whatever Happened To ...

It's surprising how much sustainability has been lost in a couple of generations. Fewer people garden than they did in our parents' and grandparents' days. Clothes and shoes are thrown away rather than mended at tailors and cobblers. When I was growing up in Brighton, England, "rag and bone men" still collected metal scraps for smelting and old clothes for the paper industry. Sustainability—eating local food, making do and mending, recycling everything—wasn't a lifestyle choice, it was life.

One of the strangest "steps backward" I noticed on my last trip home has to do with milk delivery. In my neighborhood there used to be a local milk distribution center—The Dairy, as it used to be a real dairy—from whence every day at about 4 am little three-wheel electric milk trucks would trundle to delivery milk in foil-top bottles and collect washed-out old bottles for re-filling.

Local food, local distribution, re-usable bottles, electric vehicles—sounds like a dream for today's sustainable community movement. Except that my neighborhood, town, country turned away from this model. My mum now gets milk in plastic containers from a supermarket.

No doubt the economic model for this kind of distribution couldn't compete. But that's an economic model that can't or won't take into account the lifecycle cost of milk that is distributed in polluting trucks and drunk from unreusable plastic bottles, or the lifestyle cost of losing a center of community life—not to mention the butt of many British jokes—that is the milkman in his blue and white uniform and his sputtering electric truck.

--Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

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