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Wisdom in a Bowl of Noodles: A Narrative on Modern Sustainability

Words by Khumo ya ga Seamogano

Article first published in Koktail Magazine, Issue 1.

Image: Mahany Pery by Mate Moro forVogueUkraine, 2020

I slipped out of our perpetually freezing office before anyone else had a chance to extend a lunch invitation I would have to awkwardly decline. I like company. I do. Just that twice or three times a week I prefer to coddle the serene chaos of my solitude.

While sneaking out and coiling up a million reasons why solo lunch should be a thing, I missed the many umbrellas lining the entrance hall. Another slight drizzle in the heart of Bangkok. What harm could come out of it?

Now drenched from head to toe, my only excuse is that tropical rain has no mercy. Thank heavens for the irresistible whiff of delicious comfort that draws me to the warmth behind a pale yellow noren where I’m met by a forest green signage which reads: ‘Sustainably sourced vegetables. Straight from farm to table.’ Great, I think to myself, a pippin’ hot bowl of ramen to warm my cold, pruned fingers makes perfect poetic sense. No later than five minutes seated, a large, earthy traditional tamadon arrives housing what looks like a meal capable of transporting me to another dimension. The green signage catches my eye again. Where else would vegetables come from? I wonder.

My thoughts sail through time and take refuge in memories of my youth. Most spring days were spent barefoot in the scorching hot Kgalagadi sand. My old friends and I dug up herbs, and ate wild fruit. When we couldn’t stand the heat anymore, we made rag dolls under the shade of the mulberry tree. While we are here, I must introduce you to my great-grandmother who preferred to heat bathing water over an open fire. Outside. Petite as she was, she grew the fattest potatoes, and, within arm’s length, her elephant-ear sized spinach dared to compete. The secrets of the soil were etched deep within her marrow; when the time was ripe to plant, she could hear the song of the moon. With her, I learnt to count the stars and go about the days with no sense of Time – a natural flow. There within our mud huts, nature nurtured us and in turn, we honored the land.

Years later, seas and mountains away from home, here I am trying my best to wrap my head around National Geographic’s claim that we are now at a point where one commercial farm ‘sustainably’ houses 8 million hens that lay 5.4 million eggs a day. Over the fence, influential fashion houses seem to have caught the greenwashing bug. An attempt to lure in the conscious consumer has begun a culture of  banning plastic and fur; very few are as enthusiastic to share  real supply chain solutions that are fair to workers and the environment. No doubt ‘sustainable’ is not a luxury to sell. It is a way of life that cannot be captured in a single signage, nor can it be limited to just the food we eat and clothes we wear.

As the world hibernates, modern consumerism has found itself mired in the reckoning of ‘sustainability.’ Gone are the days when consumers would blindly spend their money. Brands across a majority of industries are taking heed and reassessing their priorities and values. An overdue and necessary recalibration, certainly; which in its truest form shuns capitalism and draws from our most basic human instincts: thoughtfulness, kindness, perhaps even gentleness.

On the one hand, I want to believe that this hyper-focus on our reckless over-consumption habits is bringing us one step closer to the greatest reformation of our time. Yet, the more I spiral down this rabbit hole, the more I am convinced that the urgency of the movement is reduced by politically palatable words backed by very little action.

Surely you must be aware of the insane amount of information we digest on a daily basis? Most people – for whatever reason – won’t take the time to deep dive into certain subjects, but are quick to share and circulate snippets of what resonates with them in that moment. Somewhere in between it all, a lot of context about sustainability is lost. Rather than understanding it as complex founding principle of a wholesome ecosystem, ‘influenced’ consumers look at it as a monolithic green way of living, while buzzwords and hashtags du jour earn the best brand exposure on the preoccupied news cycle.

In a nutshell, our misguided vulnerability poses the questions: Who defines sustainability? If The Marketing implies more ‘value’ than the action taken, how do we – as consumers – learn to discern truth from fluff? Of all the material wealth we have and aspire to accumulate, how much of it is at the expense of flora, fauna and the last of the indigenous people? I’ll let you ponder…

We’ve made so much scientific and technological progress that it would a shame to turn back the hands of time just to curb over-consumption, and reintegrate this ‘sustainability’ into our communities. The way I see it, modesty and humility will remind us that we are nature. To restore the relationship between the people and all of Earth’s inhabitants, we need to breathe forgotten wisdom into the heart of all that is ‘civilized.’

I savor the last long slurp of my ramen noodles and think of Robert Wall Kimmerer’s sensible words: “Even a wounded world feeds us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the Earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.”

It’s been a trip.

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