I believe our society has its priorities wrong. Yep. A nice big bold statement with which to open. ;) It’s something I’ve been trying to grapple with and understand for some time. I’ve had thoughts about some aspects of it for some time, others have come to me as I’ve written this post. But the one word that I believe I can use to describe western society is “outsource”.
Western society seems to focus on outsourcing everything. We outsource much of our food production. We outsource our call centres and when ringing a utility company I am never sure in which country my call is being answered. We outsource our entertainment as most of our television and movie entertainment is either British or American. We outsource our clothing production with cotton clothes being made in China in most cases, and likely made with cotton grown in India.
On a smaller scale we outsource too. We work to earn money to pay others to feed, clothe and house us. We work longer hours than our predecessors (so much for the 8-hour day celebrated on labor day this coming Monday (for Victorians at least) :( ) in order to pay for others to grow most if not all of our food, to raise and educate our children in schools or child care centres, to buy ever bigger houses with ever bigger mortgages, to buy more clothes than ever before and to continue to go shopping as a way to pass the time instead of as only when truly needed. We work towards larger wages so we can shop to fill our large houses with ever more appliances and larger ones at that as well, and more. We outsource everything we can in order to lead easier lives but I wonder if truly they are easier given the long hours and stress we spend and accrue in jobs that often we don’t like or downright despise but that we cannot leave as we are tied there by the bank. We sell off or lose our skills to be able to make our own and then are forced to outsource even more. We work so hard to pay for outsourcing that we don’t have the time to pursue the skills we would like to learn or continue to use those we have. How many of us have unfinished projects that we can’t complete due to lack of time? Instead of fixing something that we have the skills to fix but not the time we discard it and buy new. Companies that sell products know this and build to accommodate our willingness to replace rather than repair and they build things to be unfixable or unaffordable to fix. How often have you looked to getting a mobile phone or TV or something fixed and found out it will actually be financially cheaper to buy a new one rather than to fix the existing one? It’s faster and easier to buy a new pair of trousers rather than fix a broken zip and I am sure that some people could admit to throwing out a shirt for lack of a button?
And food. We outsource growing our own food too. In order to maximise food production and sales, farmers use sprays of questionable safety tom minimise insects. They maximise sale crops and minimise varieties for sale. They maximise the area given to a single variety too. Everything is mass-produced. Apples are all the same handful of varieties – Gala, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Jonathon, Fuji and a handful of other varieties. Did you know that Granny Smith apples made up 40% of apples sold in 1975! Pumpkins I might see in my local supermarket are likely to be Butternut, Jap or Queensland Blue. What about Buttercup, Turks Turban or Crookneck? Our carrots are all those long orange ones. Have you ever seen a purple or white carrot in a supermarket? It’s rare to buy through a supermarket something that is different. Cauliflowers are white, broccoli is green and tomatoes are red. When you buy potatoes from the supermarket have you noticed they’re all roughly the same sizes too? The normal handful to large or the chats? I know from my harvest on Sunday that when they grow they do so at different times. I have some massive ones and some barely formed tiddlers as well as every size in between. What happens to the potatoes that are sizes that aren’t conventional?
Our clothes are all the same too. Black or grey business suits for men and a white, grey or blue shirt in most cases. Black or grey pencil skirt suits or with trousers for women although we can get away with a little more variety I know.;) Shoes though are generally brown or black. Women wear stiletto shoes although I despise them. Try buying jeans. Yes, there are several shapes and sizes but I reckon if I wanted to get a high-waist pair of seriously wide bell bottomed jeans in pink I would have zero chance of finding them. I think I may struggle to find them in black too although I may have luck in blue. Whether you shop in K-Mart or other high street stalls or mall shops most things are, in my limited experience, fairly similar. I haven’t been on a true shopping trip in a few years at least and it’s been 6 since I went shopping for or needed to wear corporate attire. The last time I was in a shopping centre I kept my head down and headed for my target in order to escape as quickly as possible (I truly despise shopping nowadays) but from the tiniest glimpses I caught it seems fluorescent colours are back in vogue. I saw enough of them in the 80’s thanks very much. ;) Could I hence buy something in indigo this season aside from jeans? Or in slate grey? I don’t know.
Even houses are all pretty much the same. Check out any new housing estate and they are all almost identical. It used to be the weatherboard house on the quarter acre block. Now it’s mass-produced McMansions crammed onto a much smaller block than the quarter acre. In inner suburbia it’s townhouses. I’ve seen what happens to houses purchased in Spotswood where we used to live. They are torn down and replaced with 2 or even 3 townhouses built of timber, polystyrene and a render over the top. All with similar to identical water-wise gardens (at least they are water-wise ;) ).
We can no longer build our houses ourselves either. Setting aside the regulations that sit in the way, how many people these days can wield a hammer or a saw? Sufficiently to build a house? I know I don’t know how to lay bricks properly. I don’t understand insulation R-values particularly or the angles required to prevent snow from collapsing the roof or to best set a gutter. I don’t understand the maths enough to be able to draft plans either and I was lousy at graphics in high school. ;)
If you think about it we even outsource our health. We visit doctors to maintain our health. We take tablets created in laboratories and mass-produced in factories. It’s dosed for a fit-the-majority approach. We often don’t actively do what we can to maintain our immune systems. I know I don’t do what I should. Even when we take those inner health plus capsules or yakult drinks or eat yoghurt they are all mass-produced. We no longer have expansive herb gardens where we grow the medicines to treat the ailments we may get. Culturing foods to harness the power of probiotics is rare (although becoming more common, at least in my circles). Now we also have a whole range of different ailments which I wonder if some of them may well have come about due to our food systems of mass-produced-minimal-variety-food-full-of-pesticides-herbicides-antibiotics-and-genetically-modified-to-boot and many of these ailments may not be able to be treated from the garden any more. A self-perpetuating system of outsourcing.
We outsource our fitness as well. We pay for someone else to have the equipment and expertise to tell us how to exercise and get fit. We outsource much of our physical labour to machines, driving cars or motorbikes, using leaf blower/vacuums instead of a broom, washing machines instead of a washboard (thank goodness for that one ;) ) and lawnmowers and whipper snippers instead of scythes or even at times a ride on lawnmower.
We outsource for our amenities too. Water is pumped to our homes. Who can say they know exactly where their water is collected and what treatments are applied before it is pumped to our houses? I think mine comes from one of the 2 reservoirs close to my house but I couldn’t say for sure :( and I definitely couldn’t tell you what treatments are applied. Fluoride? Chlorine? Something else unknown? Our household waste is pumped off site or carted off in trucks as well. My electricity is created and shipped in and if we’d had the gas connected it too would be supplied from external sources. As we cook much of the year with wood we have either had to collect it ourselves or have it delivered too. If I choose I can easily be completely ignorant of its sustainability levels.
What I truly believe will save our beautiful planet and our societies is learning how to insource. Yes spell-check, I know that’s not a word. I made it up! ;) Well, I’m sure I’m not the first to use the word but spell-check doesn’t like me saying it clearly. Too bad! :P I want to insource. I want to create my own electricity. I want to insource water collection and supply. I would love to insource waste management too. Perhaps if I had to deal with my own waste I would be more careful about what I brought in or what I discarded and I would have to learn to safely deal with my own bio-waste too.
We try to insource what we can or what we feel comfortable doing or if we can’t do it ourselves we outsource to friends and family first. If I can keep it local I will. We’ve made the decision to home educate our children – insourcing education to a degree. Both Martin and I grew up with father’s who knew a little more than just one end of a hammer from the other (my dad’s family owned a cabinet making business and Martin’s dad was a handyman)so we both have more than just a passing knowledge of tools although mine is more theoretical than practical but I can use a saw and I can hammer although my works of construction are more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa than the Eiffel Tower. ;) Plumb lines and leveling things seems to escape me. :P
Insourcing amenities is on the list but both solar panels and water tanks take time and money. One day, sooner rather than later I hope. :) I have plans for a herb garden and an extended vegetable garden and although we do treat what ailments we are comfortable treating at home and as naturally as possible I have a long way to go and a lot to learn before I can insource my family’s health. We are getting into the fermentation though and with fermented garlic on the go, fermented onions (just like pickled onions but a heap better) being eaten faster than I can make them and with kefir milk and now a kombucha scoby doing its thing in the pantry I know we are making a reasonable effort to actively maintain our good health. I am trying to insource our food production but to do so means eating 100% in season and at the moment would mean we would starve if we needed to live purely from our gardens. We’re getting there though. I hope one day to have a gloriously beautiful and productive (and large) herb garden, orchards and vegetable gardens, all mixed through to form a thriving food production garden of annuals, perennials and medicinals that all complement each other in organic symbiotic bliss. :) Growing your food takes time to reach self-sufficient levels although we’re likely come close with garlic this year. Still, that’s insourcing education to a degree too. ;)
Changing our lives to begin insourcing rather than always outsourcing is a scary process. It can be overwhelming, frustrating, hard work and stressful. It means stepping outside of your comfort zone. It means taking a lot of responsibility at times. It means changing habits too. Council and government regulations often seem to me to sit squarely in the way of insourcing too. I mean, doing everything ourselves would remove us from a consumer based economy and it would then, with sufficient numbers, crash out. Governments don’t want us to do this. There should usually be a way around though. ;)
Learning to fix our broken appliances might be beyond many people but think about it this way, if it’s broken, you either have to do without it, fix it or replace it. Having a go at fixing it won’t cost anything bar some time and if you stuff it up further, what loss really? Just be sensible and safe and pick your opportunity. We recently had a go with our old printer when it bit the dust. We had no success but it was worth a try.
Gardens are a great place to start insourcing. Renting and can’t dig up the lawn or have no space? There are ways around this with portable garden boxes and growing in pots. You can grow most things in a pot and if the variety you like can’t be then often there is a variety that can be. And start small. Maybe a lemon tree in a pot and some herbs on the window sill.
Give insourcing a go. See if there is something you usually pay someone else to do that you feel you could give a go at home. Learn to sew? Bottle tomatoes instead of buying cans, wash clothes at home instead of dry cleaning, keep a few chickens for eggs. Even just insourcing your evenings entertainment by turning off the box and playing a board game or having a conversation. :)
Give it a try. What have you got to lose? :D
What have you started to insource or what would you like to learn to do yourself?