Years ago, at my mother’s recommendation, I devoured her copy of Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat and it has stuck with me ever since. Not only influencing my eating and drinking habits, but everyday life through the ways in which the French make their existence on this little old planet a very sensual thing. The reputation is no secret, but it’s one we’d be wise to study closely if we are to have a hope in hell of clawing our way out of this whole millenial burnout/environmental trauma situation we seem to have found ourselves in. Don’t get me wrong; there’s a time and place for the strikes and the campaigns and the marches, but lately I’ve been pondering this idea of how placing more emphasis on pleasure might work wonders in driving the social change that we so desperately need for a healthier planet.
Many of us who consider ourselves environmental activists are prone to the dangerous pitfall of becoming consumed in the various plights that frequent the headlines. The toxic air in the lungs of urbanites, the pesticides being ingested by the kale-consumers and the microplastic mayhem messing with everything from the microscopic to the massive. It really is overwhelming trying to digest one horrifying statistic after another and we’re often left with an overall sense of dread, guilt and hopelessness that renders us skulking around in a low vibrational state, from where we can’t do much good. Don’t worry though—this is totally normal. You’re a human with emotions and there’d be something wrong if you weren’t worried about it all. How is one supposed to face the reality that his or her habitat is in grave danger?
Solving any kind of problem requires a comprehensive approach; there’s the finding the solution part which draws upon lateral thinking, implementing the solution that uses savvy engineering, and also asking how that problem arose in the first place. What use is a solution if the problem isn’t tackled head-on?
I’m generalizing, of course, but if we look at a hearty chunk of the environmental issues we now find on our plates, many can be attributed to a consumerism that has robbed us of our pleasure. The spread of corporate agendas and an ever-increasing pace means that the average person is running around exhausted—purely trying to cope, rather than living intentionally. It’s a sad fact, but one that we simply must admit to ourselves if we want to change things for the better.
The truth is, we are far gone to the other side to try to save the world with conscious consumerism. It may be the better option, but our current paradigm of make, buy, consume, repeat is exactly what led us here in the first place. So instead of trying to fill a void with things, we have to turn to a new model of want—a desire for pleasure and good life.
We have to start with one of life’s most basic pleasures: food. Inspired by the French, but really drawing on the ethos of much of the world, meal times gift us with the opportunity to pause, relax and nourish our hard-working bodies. Whether it’s in the company of loved ones or a solo timeout, food is a gift to be enjoyed, yet the media is plagued with one diet after another and unattainable ideals that leave us feeling anything but beautiful.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about psychoneuroendocrinology, or how our thoughts about foods impact the way our body metabolizes them. If we maintain deep-rooted beliefs that certain foods are “good” and others “bad,” this will impact our body’s response as we attempt to digest them. Ingest the former and relaxation will support a smooth transit; scoff the latter and the meal will likely be accompanied by indigestion and all that goes along with it. All because we’ve conditioned ourselves to see some foods as acceptable and others as quite the opposite.
Then there’s the most awful habit that we ever decided to adopt: eating on the go and at our desks. Blasphemous to the French, transforming what should be an enjoyable experience into a chore that’s to be tackled as quickly and quietly as possible, is it any wonder that we then binge on junk food to try to get us through the remainder of the day? There’s nothing conscious about our consumption; only an attempt to cope with a void that only continues to widen.
As the demands of work become more apparent and we are expected to be glued to our phones 24/7, overtime has crept in and replaced the 9 to 5. The pressure to be the last woman standing in the office at night is felt by more than would probably care to admit, but are we asking ourselves at what cost? The precious time with family, friends, partners and ourselves to do things like exercise and pursue creative, fulfilling activities. These days, we lack basic listening skills, we’re under the sore impression that multi-tasking is both doable and productive (PSA: it isn’t) and we wonder why we’re fighting with each other all the time, struggling with back problems and pent up frustration because we’ve thieved ourselves of the outlet through which to channel our feelings.
The money comes in and the money goes out, spent on those things that we think will make us feel better: clothes we don’t feel good in because we’re permanently battling the bloat, make-up to hide the dark circles and give us a glow that we hope will hide the tell-tale signs of too many late nights and cups of coffee, gadgets that promise to help us organize better and finally get a grip on our lives and home decor for an apartment we spend all this money on keeping Instagrammable and not nearly enough time relaxing in. It’s all madness, I tell you!
Imagine how things could be different if we slowed the pace. That’s where we need to start. If we took the time to really listen to our partners, immersing ourselves in their experiences and learning from them, could the better romantic connections fulfill us in a way that the junk food never will? If we left the phone and laptop in the office and let the bedroom be a sacred space of intimacy, what’s the worst that would happen? Not a lot, I hear you whispering. In fact, the sexercise would give you the glow you’re spending $40 on a tube of for free.
The more of our time that we sell for a paycheck, the less pleasure we are able to experience and you’ve got to ask what the point is in that kind of existence, haven’t you? It renders us numb to our personal lives and numb to the world at large; preoccupied with that which will never be able to fulfill us. Pleasure-seeking is not a selfish lifestyle choice. It’s one that forces us wide awake and able to interact fully with the experiences we encounter in our daily existence. Replacing the material with immaterial, things with time, and money with values is what the planet desperately needs right now.
How could you focus on more pleasure and less panic in your life?