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Fork in the Road: Spring for sufficiency, and the satisfaction it brings

‘Enough is enough’ brings a bold welcome to the season of renewal
REINING IT IN Simply realizing that you have enough can tame all sorts of demons. Spring for sufficiency, and the satisfaction it brings.

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, and if you’re wondering where those cheerful birdies is, you’re not the only one. Once again this year, spring—the season of renewal, of light, of a return to growth and optimism—is seemingly being escorted in by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. 

Conquest: tick. War: tick, tick, tick. Famine: tick. Death: tick and double tick. And what’s that you say? We need a fifth horseman since temperatures in Antarctica reached a shocking 40—count ’em, 4-0—degrees above normal and those at the North Pole were 30 C above normal last week? 

Bring it on, horsemen, for there’s an attitude adjuster out there that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately for contending with all kinds of seemingly unconquerable things—the wonderfully simple and satisfying idea that enough really is enough.

The hellish war in Ukraine—and to that we should rightfully add the equally horrific war in Syria, now in its 11th year and still aided and abetted by Russia; the civil war and famine in Yemen, Afghanistan, in Ethiopia and Eritrea… the list goes on, but it’s the vicious war in Ukraine that has many of us recalling war stories right now, stories from family, friends, our elders, stories often filled with scarcity. 

For me, it’s a story my dad told, I don’t know how many times, of being in the mess hall during naval training for the Second World War. Officers would tell the gangly young recruits, over and over, to push away from the table before they were full. 

That’s right, the patter went, don’t stuff yourselves, boys. You’ll be sharper, leaner, meaner on the battlefield, readier to act and react, if you keep yourselves just a little bit hungry. 

I so liked that story when I was a kid, and while I can’t say that I’ve stuck to it assiduously, ahem, my dad surely did. He never got above his navy weight his entire 93 years, and had a bounce in his step almost to the end. 

Try it! Don’t go for that extra spoonful of porridge in the morning. Just say no thanks to that whopping hunk of cake, or put a little less on your plate because by the time the dishes are cleared you really do feel satisfied. The bottom line, as marathoners and other athletes know, is you’ll be livelier, sharper, more energetic and focused when you’re not weighed down by a gutful of food and a digestive system working overtime. 

The idea that enough is enough is applicable on so many levels right now, and when you bring it on home to your personal choices, it can make you feel so much better—including turning down that guilt thermostat—you might wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. 

Food waste alone is such a huge contributor to the climate crisis and so many other problems that Whistler, like many other jurisdictions, is working hard to reduce it

In North America, what with 40 to 50 per cent of food wasted, “enough” should be our constant bellwether, especially now with the threats to our global food supply. There’s food loss in the supply chain, say, out in the fields; there’s food waste when you drag too much food home and later find the moldering results in your fridge. Wasted farmland, wasted energy, wasted labour, wasted fuel, and a host of other hidden wastes would dry up if only we practiced sufficiency.

Lloyd Alter is an extraordinary Canadian—a writer, public speaker and instructor in sustainable design at Ryerson School of Interior Design (now there’s a career path for any bright students graduating from Whistler Secondary this year!). He’s rejigged the public conversation around sustainability with a very practical notion—the simple idea of sufficiency. 

In Alter’s lucid book, Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle, I was excited to see an idea near and dear to my heart: We North Americans (and pretty much anyone lucky enough to live in a developed nation) use too much of everything. Too much food, too much water, too much space, too much money, too much wood and concrete to build too big houses and fill them with too much crappy furniture. In a nutshell, we’d all be much happier, and better off, if we only consumed enough.

Mr. Alter points out that serving sizes in the Joy of Cooking cookbook, for one, have increased by one third since 1996. A recipe that serves seven today used to serve 10. Imagine how many people that recipe would have served in a Second World War mess hall, or a bomb shelter in Mariupol today.

Then there’s all the waste involved when we simply eat too much—waste that costs us money, our health, our shared carbon budget and natural world. A 2010 study of the carbon footprint of obesity in the Medical Journal of Australia concluded that a human population with 40 per cent obesity and a high BMI, or body mass index, needs 19 per cent more food energy—read, more carbon emissions, more fuel, more everything—to sustain itself. 

Most of us are lucky. Very lucky. We have enough, dare I say, plenty of everything, if this spring finds us living anywhere in the Sea to Sky. That alone is reason for hope and optimism. Making small adjustments to what we think we need to be satisfied can have huge positive impacts once it all adds up.

Start eating, and using—even doing—just enough. As for the “extras” you’ll save? Share them, of course. You’ll figure out a way, and you’ll feel better, act better, know better once you do. 

You’ll also be distinguishing yourself from the tyrants of the world driving the horsemen, who don’t understand when enough is enough. 

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who definitely has enough.