I’m not really sure what possessed me to do this. I think I was just feeling a little mischievous at the time and was curious to see how it would work out.
But looking down at my handiwork, here’s what I discovered: Sweeping dirt under a rug leaves a little lump. And as you walk back and forth across the lump, trying to flatten it out, little plumes of dust escape from under the rug, essentially undoing all of the sweeping work you just did. And so it’s really not a very satisfactory solution.
This is a lesson that stuck with me. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been amazed at how many ways we adults continue to try, figuratively, to sweep things under rugs — even when the lumps abound, even when the little plumes of dust are popping out all around us.
“But it’s so much cheaper and more convenient to eat fast food,” we say — as our weight goes up, as our health goes down, as the trash piles up sky high, and as factory farms crank out misery and pollution by the metric ton.
“But I don’t have time to exercise or de-stress,” we say — as our circulatory and cardiovascular systems falter, as our metabolisms slow, as our endocrine systems lag, and as we have less and less energy and optimism to accomplish much of anything.
“But eco-friendly and organic goods are too expensive,” we say — as we spend millions trying to mitigate the environmental messes we’ve made in the past, and as we meddle dangerously with a delicately balanced global eco-system without which we’d be — well, we wouldn’t be.
And yet, as these growing plumes of dust surround us, something exciting is happening. Many of us are bending down, pulling back the rug and saying, “Um, excuse me, but it looks like someone’s missed a spot here. Dustpan, please.” We’re tired of treading over and living amid these darned lumps, and little by little, we’re collaborating to cease creating them.
Late last year, New York City banned trans fats in restaurants, and now a great many restaurants and food manufacturers are following suit. In March, a huge fast-food chain announced it would be sourcing more humanely raised eggs and animals, and experts began predicting that whole agricultural sectors would soon shift their methods in response. San Francisco is now on the verge of becoming the first city in the United States (following the example of Taiwan and Bangladesh) to ban plastic shopping bags because of the prohibitive environmental costs and hazards they present.
And one by one, a growing number of mainstream companies are trying to outperform each other in the realm of corporate social and environmental responsibility.
The best part is, in many cases, the positive changes now being embraced by so many businesses, organizations and governmental bodies are being driven on the front end by normal, average people — those of us who don’t want to live with physiological, moral and environmental messes if we don’t have to. And as we’re cleaning up the little dust piles in our own midsts, we’re causing the industries that serve us to look under their rugs, too.
Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic (a food research and consulting firm that serves, among other things, the fast-food industry), was recently quoted in The New York Times as saying: “I think the whole area of social responsibility, social consciousness, is becoming much more important to the consumer,” and, “I think that the industry is going to see that it’s an increasing imperative to get on that bandwagon.”
The thing is, though, it’s really not so much a bandwagon as it is just a bunch of regular folks like you and me who believe that cleaner, more honest, more responsible alternatives generally turn out to be better deals in the long run.
And whether we’re looking to sweep up some little messes in our own lives (see “Eat Clean,” “Mind Over Mess,” and “Spring-Clean Your Fitness Routine”) or wanting to be part of a larger cleanup effort (see “Take Me to the River,” “True Cost” and “Start Seeing Toxins”), we’ve got some very satisfying work ahead of us. Here’s to bravely peeling back the carpet, dustpans at the ready.