It was a fine spring day. I was with my family on our annual “trash cleanup” outing, combing the ditches and culverts around our farm for discarded junk. We already had a couple of good-sized trash bags and a little red wagon full of pop bottles, beer cans, cigarette boxes, fast-food containers, Styrofoam cups, candy wrappers and other garbage, when someone remarked: “Huh, look at all this stuff. Isn’t it kind of interesting that we aren’t picking up a lot of juice jars or granola-bar wrappers?”
A debate ensued about whether healthy eaters might be less likely to be litterbugs, or whether much of the evidence of healthy eating (apple cores, banana peels, wheat-bread crusts and so forth) was just more likely to biodegrade. At the time (the mid-’70s), there wasn’t a great deal of prepackaged “health food” available in stores. Plus the stuff wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now, so it made sense there would be less of this sort of litter, particularly where we lived, in rural Wisconsin.
But the thought sort of stuck in my mind, and as I got a little older, I started noticing that people who were thoughtful and concerned about what they put into their bodies did indeed tend to be somewhat more thoughtful and concerned about what they tossed into their immediate environment.
Not always. But often.
This made sense to me. We lived on a farm where we drew our water from a well, and I knew that whatever got into the soil got into the water and, thus, got into me. But it also occurred to me that healthy folks seemed a lot more likely to spend time in nature — hiking and biking and camping and canoeing, watching birds and frogs and such — and as a result, they might be a bit more concerned about protecting the well-being of these environments. They wouldn’t want to see them uglified by litter or damaged by pollutants, I reasoned. They wouldn’t want to see these beautiful ecosystems disrupted or destroyed.
I was a kid at the time, so aside from the trash in my wagon, I didn’t have any evidence for this line of reasoning. The supposed correlation was just one of my many oddball theories. Then, several years ago, when I came across Paul Ray’s research into the Cultural Creatives, I went “Aha!” There, in plain statistics, was evidence that there was, in fact, a significant body of people (Ray pegged it at about 25 percent of the U.S. adult population) whose concerns about personal health, environmental health and a large number of other quality-of-life issues overlapped in a coherent, powerful way.
A few years later, when research into Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) came out of the Natural Marketing Institute (see page 78), the quantitative data became even clearer: There was a definite correlation between those who were invested in personal health and those who were actively concerned about ecological matters. According to these studies, too, they represented roughly 27 percent of the general U.S. population. That’s a big number. But once you start slicing and dicing the data, an even more compelling picture emerges: Among people who are actively pursuing better personal health and fitness, the percentage interested in most fundamental environmental issues climbs well above 80 percent. This should come as no surprise, of course. Try having a healthy body, raising a healthy family or enjoying the pleasures of your physical health in the face of a compromised, polluted environment, and you’ll quickly run into trouble. Which we do.
This issue of EL covers just some of the challenges — and solutions — that any inquiring, health-motivated person might want to know about. Many of the articles point you in the direction of additional information, should you find yourself curious to know more. But whatever your level of interest in overlapping health and environmental concerns, we hope you’ll take a moment this spring to appreciate the sweetness of the air, the refreshment of a cool glass of water, the delicious pleasures of the fresh produce showing up at your local market. Take some time to savor the beauty of the landscapes just popping to life all around you. And should you decide to head out on a spring trash cleanup in your neighborhood, let us know what ends up in your little red wagon.