A couple evenings ago, I invited an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long while over to my house for dinner. Given that a large portion of both of our college studies concern the social and environmental states of our world, we found much to discuss. Well into our dinner conversation regarding social and political change, my friend presented the notion of introducing “ethics overseers” onto the decision-making teams of corporations and political institutions, so as to prevent such entities from taking harmful actions in the name of material gain. Acknowledging that such overseers would undoubtedly harbor very different sets of ethics, my friend believed that their presence would at least introduce some moral guidance to normally questionable institutions. I found (still find) this idea interesting, but worry that it might serve as a band-aid solution to an underlying culture that conditions its members to prioritize the accumulation of wealth over the advancement of a just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable society. In the long term, I would much rather see the grassroots cultivation of a widespread lifestyle of social responsibility and symbiosis with the earth, rather than a bunch of philosophers raising their eyebrows and shaking their heads at the suit-and-tie folks across the mahogany table.
I completely understand that the former development will not come to fruition for a long time, probably not in my lifetime. But I don’t want to allow the distance of such a necessary occurrence to hinder the work that I do everyday in the hopes of one day achieving it. My friend called this mindset “idealistic.” I call it imperative for maintaining my sanity. If I didn’t let the hope of a better future guide my present actions, I would have long ago devolved into a puddle of depression. I would probably not be vegan. I would probably not be writing this blog post right now. I probably would have thought, “What’s the point? The world’s never going to change.” Through both my individual actions and those taken collectively with others who believe in an improved tomorrow, I maintain hope, I find the strength to continue, I envision the world in which I yearn for future generations to live. In opposition to such active hope (a term from Joanna Macy’s book of the same name that I’ve found hugely inspiring) lies stagnancy. If one does not believe in the possibility for change, the likelihood that they will think or behave in a progressive manner significantly decreases. But surely nothing will change if everyone thought, “What’s the use?”. Change comes from united groups of driven individuals who actively hope for positive social, political, environmental, any reform.
Professor of political science and sociology Frances Fox Piven writes in her book Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America of the effectiveness of grassroots social movements in initiating significant reforms to the American political and cultural system. First highlighting the brokenness of American democracy with its inequality-ridden and corrupt electoral system, Piven insists that “there have nevertheless been periods of egalitarian reform in American political history,” and that such periods occur when “ordinary people exercise power […] mainly at those extraordinary moments when they rise up in anger and hope, defy the rules that ordinarily govern their daily lives, and, by doing so, disrupt the workings of the institutions in which they are enmeshed” (16, 1). Piven evinces her claims with the abolition movement’s success in bringing the issue of slavery to the forefront of political discussion, and later in instigating the enactment of national civil rights legislation; as well as with the labor movement’s success in prompting the expansion of social welfare programs in the 1930s and 1960s. Further, Piven asserts that “disruptive movements are responsible for the truly brilliant moments of reform in American history [because] […] when the movements decline, there are few new reforms, and those won at the peak of movement power are often rolled back” (111). Consider, for example, the fact that the welfare programs launched in the 1930s languished until a new period of protest in the 1960s forced their reenactment, or the fact that as the abolition movement waned in the mid-1870s, institutionalized white supremacy reemerged with a vengeance.
As Piven displays, we cannot remain inactive toward the urgent issues facing our society and our world, for substantial change has historically always and only come from below. While one could never describe actively hoping for change as easy or comfortable, it has proven on multiple occasions effective in the long run. Not only do sustained efforts toward a better future eventually transform hope into widespread reality, they also profoundly impact the lives of the individuals participating in such efforts. As Joanna Macy affirms, “[a] powerful mental shift takes place when we stop telling ourselves why something can’t happen,” such that we “step[…] into a state of aliveness that makes our lives profoundly satisfying” (171, 4). I personally experienced such transformations when I stopped telling myself that my worth as a person depended upon my bodily appearance and ability to closely monitor my eating habits, and discovered in veganism a passion so deeply in and outside of myself that it directed and largely continues to direct the trajectory of my life (read more about my personal story of eating disorder recovery here on Our Hen House). As I mentioned above, I would not have recovered from such a dismal state had veganism not inspired in me the hope onto which I latched.
So I encourage you to actively hope. I encourage you to employ your own personal skills in working toward the change you’d like to see realized. I encourage you to remind yourself that change takes time, and that though you may not see immediate results, as long as you and others continue on the path of intentional and conscious being, change will happen.
In the meantime, we all need a boatful of nutrients to sustain all that active hoping and active doing in which we engage every day! Along with my morning green smoothie, the salad below appears in my meal repertoire on a daily basis, whether tossed in a bowl in the comfort of my own kitchen or shaken up in a Tupperware while I’m on-the-go. Packed with leafy greens, raw veggies, seaweed, plant-based proteins, and healthy fats, this salad serves as a powerhouse of nourishment—both physically and now, for me, mentally, as my daily salad ritual provides a grounding moment midday. Enjoy.
The Everyday Salad—Low Sodium.
2 large handfuls of mixed salad greens
1 handful of alfalfa sprouts
A couple sprigs of fresh herbs, chopped (dill is my favorite here)
Sprinkling of dulse seaweed flakes (about 1-2 tbsp)
About 1 cup of raw veggies, chopped (carrots, bell peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes, etc.)
1/2 cup whole grain (quinoa, brown rice, millet, etc.)
1/2 cup beans (chickpeas, black beans, navy beans, cannellini beans, etc.)
1/4 cup nuts or seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, walnuts, etc.) OR 1/2 an avocado, diced
4-7 tbsp Liquid Gold Dressing (I like mine dressed pretty heavily)
1 generous scoop of sauerkraut or other fermented veggies
In a large bowl, layer the salad greens through nuts/avocado. Drizzle the dressing on top, then toss well to combine. Place the sauerkraut on top. Serve.
Until next time, Ali.
Macy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012. Print.
Piven, Frances Fox. Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. Print.