EDITORIAL: Dining and Dreaming at the Top of World

When considered in the context of sustainability, the crowded happy ambiance of mid-scale franchise restaurants seems drawn from a strange, fantastic dream.  It would be a very strange dream indeed were such a scene to drift into the deep-sleep tableau of any of the billion or so residents of the planet living close to starvation, for whom water is scarce, and food an occasional grace.

Yet it must be remembered that for many, even some reading this editorial, such scenes are both commonplace and treasured.  For Americans, they are just part of life at the top of world.  Are they not, however, still quite like a dream?

Sitting in such places with friends amid the laugher and restaurant theme music, enjoying imported wine and beer, appetizers of shellfish and garlic coated bread sticks, older realities of human life are as distant as wakefulness from scenes in our dreams.  As we enjoy a Cambodian beer with our farm-raised Chilean Salmon, we might think of others in the world for which this is so unimaginable a place it could only be encountered in the deep corridors of dreams.  But then again, no; not even there for those living on the fraying edges of our increasingly unsustainable global culture.  It is a dream only available to those of us who live at the top of the world – at least the 91% or so of us who have jobs.

As we move closer to the 43nd Earth Day (April 22), we might consider the dream of life at the top of world.  For many, it is a most enjoyable dream – a dream within a dream as Edgar Poe could say.  It is not, however, a dream even accessible to a nearly a billion other residents of the planet.  It is simply too otherworldly.  Nor is it a dream many at all could have ever dreamed much before the 20th century – certainly not with Cambodian beer and those farm-raised Chilean Salmon.  It is a dream available only for those living at the top of the world in the early 21st century.

So, this is the dream of our time and our culture – sweet, and long, and deep.  Here at the top of the world, we have lived three or four generations largely divorced from certain realities well known to most of the world for most of human history.  Realities like the source of our food and what it should taste like, the consequences of waste, the critical importance of clean water, natural limits on the size of families, sharing with others, what the weather should be like in each of the seasons, how to plant a garden, the meaning of distance and the toll of travel, how a healthy community functions, our debt to previous generations and our responsibilities to future ones, the meaning of vocation, and how incredibly fortunate we are.

Here in America those realities can still be overlooked for many– at least for a little bit longer.  At the top of the world, the food is abundant and very tasty, the air-conditioning works and so does the washer-dryer, there is plenty of water, there are poisons galore to target undesired plants and insects, our cats enjoy chicken processed in Thailand, we wear logo T-Shirts from Bangladesh and buy California oranges in Florida during citrus season, there are few high-speed trains since we all have cars and plenty of gas, we can find 1.5 million sites for “climate change hoax” using a search engine.  We have the world on a string, with Salmon from Chile, and no concern for anything but the taste.  After all, we can always send it back if it does not meet with our approval. What a dream!

At this point, another editorial might opine (not unlike a Buddhist or a Marxist for that matter) it is time to wake up.  While we agree it is probably a good time to wake up, shed the dross of the dream, and climb down from the top of the world, there does not seem any great need to shake awake those who slumber.  Those who are waking up do not need our prompting, and there are more all the time.  Most of the rest will awaken soon enough. In the meantime, what might be done is not to spend too much time worrying about the dreamers or the fantastic power of the dream, but instead getting in touch with those realities lost in the dream world of the last few generations and discovering the power they have to make us whole again.


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