Deconstructing Dinner: What is ‘Convenience’?

Should our interest to lead more responsible lifestyles begin with how we define ‘convenience’?

Fundamental changes to how we live are ongoing topics of discussion these days both within and outside of the home. Are we at risk, however, of exploring these changes while remaining within the same ‘box’ that contributed to this need to rethink our lifestyles? 

  Using food as an example, fundamental change is likely not as easy as reaching for your favourite brand of ketchup that is instead labelled ‘organic’. For one, the ketchup is still in a plastic container; it followed the same long-distance distribution channels as the conventional version; and is sweetened with corn-based ingredients that continue to originate on large and unsustainable fields of corn which is reliant on off-farm inputs. 

  Instead, it would appear that more deeply-rooted change is necessary; change that goes beyond the example above, which is more appropriately a mere ‘substitution’. Such shifts are not really much change at all, but are appealing because they still seem to be convenient. 

  So if this is the case, that in our interest to change what we drive, what we eat and what type of light bulb we use, are all suggestive that we’re unwilling to give up ‘convenience’, then perhaps fundamental change won’t come from what we consume, but instead come from how we define ‘convenience’? After all, our continual interest to seek this ‘convenience’ has left us with a pretty inconvenient state of ecological and economic affairs. 

  Socially speaking, it also doesn’t appear that our consumption-driven culture of convenience has increased well-being and happiness either. 

  Families seem to struggle to remain together; rates of depression are an ongoing concern; youth are glued to cell-phones, video games and televisions. The spin-offs of consumption and convenience are not pretty! 

  So in addition to redefining ‘convenience’, perhaps we’re also in need of questioning whether consuming our way out of these challenges (as is being suggested by our national leaders) ignores some of the easily-accessible options for ‘investing’ in ourselves, free of charge.

  One well-known thinker who addressed these questions and concerns decades ago, was author Euell Gibbons in Stalking the Wild Asparagus (Alan C. Hood and Co. 1962). 

  The book is a comprehensive guide to gathering wild foods and is introduced with some interesting questions that one might expect from any skeptic of the fundamental changes of perception and how we live that I’m suggesting above:

  “Why bother with wild food plants in a country which produces a surplus of many domestic food products?

  With as much reason, one might ask, why go fishing for mountain trout when codfish fillets are for sale in any supermarket? Or why bother with hunting and game cookery when unlimited quantities of fine meat can be purchased at every butcher counter? Why do millions of [North] Americans desert their comfortable and convenient apartments and split-level houses for a time each year to go camping under comparatively primitive conditions in our forests and national parks? For that matter, why does anyone go for a walk on a woodland trail when one could be speeding along a superhighway in a high-powered automobile?

  It appears Gibbons was on to something. 

  In our drive to seek greater convenience, we’ve found it at the expense of our more spiritual side, and have lost touch with the earth that feeds and nurtures us. 

  “We live in a vastly complex society, which has been able to provide us with a multitude of material things, and this is good, but people are beginning to suspect that we have paid a high spiritual price for our plenty. Each person would like to feel that he is an entity, a separate individual capable of independent existence, and this is hard to believe when everything we eat, wear, live in, drive, use, or handle has required the cooperative effort of literally millions of people to produce, process, transport, and, eventually, distribute to our hands.”

  So instead of choosing the hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicle, maybe we’re better off choosing the bicycle, or better yet, seeking a vacation in our local area than one abroad. That’s convenient!

  Instead of purchasing a more energy-efficient clothes-dryer, perhaps we can dry our clothes on a clothesline and benefit from that time outdoors where we might also say hello to our neighbours? That’s convenient!

  Instead of purchasing a small cardboard box with twelve tea bags filled with mint leaves, we could plant some mint in our front yard and watch it vibrantly and vigorously return each year? That’s convenient!

  And instead of teaching children about plants and animals through photographs and diagrams in a book, our schools and backyards could instead become home to chickens, tomatoes and fruit trees – a far more appropriate education and experience. That’s convenient too!

  As Gibbons would likely agree; health & happiness = community = sustainability = convenience.


Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast.