I found myself thinking about donuts recently. There was a time when we worked on a farm and every day on the way home, we would pass a Dunkin’ Donuts store. After a ten hour day of heaving, hefting, hauling, and horses, the neon pastries sounded like the best thing on the planet. We resolved to have a day where we’d wake up early, buy a dozen of our favorites, and eat them in bed. The plan worked splendidly.
Recently, though, I remembered that the gas station near our house was also one half Dunkin’ Donuts store. I thought, “Man, it was kind of silly that we drove to the other one all the way across town when we could’ve just walked around the corner.”
Then I started thinking that it was actually odd that there is no difference in the food served at either location. Then I thought how odd it was that there was no difference between the donuts we got and the ones I could buy back in the Midwest. Same experience, different climate zone. Convenience.
Terrible things have been done for the sake of convenience. Food, energy, education, medicine. Every industry had been polished by our ever-increasing need to have things quickly and homogeneously. I mulled over this idea of the negativity associated with convenience in my last paper on biological ties to behavior.
I remember my friend Jose finishing up the last portion of the Wilderness Survival Immersion Project where he spent three weeks in the woods, surviving on the primitive skills that he’d learned up to that point. He’d described how strange it was to leave that experience and jump right back into society.
“It was strange getting in the car. Like, ‘Whoa, this is really comfortable’ and then going into town and seeing everything was crazy. Everything was High-Res, like my vision was still really tuned in and I was still really aware of everything. It was kind of overwhelming.”
So, there’s the big thing: Awareness. We’re conditioned out of it.
In the woods, living by the little bit of gear that you’ve crafted, you’re tuned in. Your entire body is tuned up to help you survive. Your vision is clearer, your hearing is better, and your memory is more exact. With more convenience, these senses get diluted. You don’t have to focus as much when everything is clearly marked with bright signs and clear pathways straight to it. Focused hearing is no longer needed for survival and is used just for communicating. Your memory gets spotty from never having to suffer the consequences. Even if you leave your lunch behind when you go to work, there are grocery stores, vending machines, and delivery services available if you don’t decide to take the extra ten minutes to turn around to get it. If you somehow miss your exit, despite the four signs leading up to it, it only adds another five minutes of driving to your trip. All of these built in second chances keep us from feeling the consequences of our actions and keep us from planning ahead.
Naturally, I think about the implications on food culture.
People are living meal to meal, not because of shortage and poverty but because of too much convenience. Why do I need to think about baking bread a day before when a loaf of bread is two dollars? Why should I worry about canning vegetables in the summer when I can get produce at the grocery store in the dead of winter?
Three reasons. The first is energy. Think of all the energy in the form of electricity and oil that goes into the making and shipping of food at an industrial scale. You can take that out of the equation and replace it with your own energy to plan and work ahead to make the things that you need in your life and to make sure that come from near by. Honestly, though, this point has been argued for decades and doesn’t seem to be working. The global energy crisis is too vast to be felt and care about in daily life and will always lose against general convenience.
So let’s talk about quality. With time and know how, I can turn three cups of flour, a teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of yeast into a loaf of bread that I would expect to pay five dollars for. The ingredients cost me the change that I gather from my pockets before laundry day. While this is an argument that feels much more relevant, it still tends to lose in the face of convenience. After all, what I’m saving in money I’m paying in time and the cheap loaf of bread isn’t poison.
Beyond the quality of the finished product, though, there is the quality of the experience.
This is what changes minds. If you make something yourself, it might take a while before you can get the same quality that you would demand from a professional. What’s remarkable, though, it the reluctance to throw away that bad loaf or that kind of wonky box or that bag that has some uneven stitches. There’s a pride in being able to make something. It’s the side effect of testing our skills and seeing them work. There’s something phenomenal in that.
So, yes, you can argue that making things yourself has less environmental impact and that you stand to save some money, but it’s the personal impact, the feeling of empowerment, that changes minds and behaviors.