Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about conscious consumption. Health issues have forced me to become more aware of and selective about the foods I eat (goodbye, dairy) and drinks I drink (goodbye, beer). While researching ingredients, I started thinking more about where my food comes from, how it’s made, and who grows or makes it. I’ve done this to varying degrees several times over the years, but I guess being preoccupied with grad school more recently made me forget. This year, I’ve (re)realized how similar the food industry is to the clothing industry in many respects: the final product often contains ingredients that hurt consumers, the manufacturing/harvesting process harms the environment, and workers throughout the chain are widely mistreated and underpaid.
Chronic illness has forced me to become more conscious not only of what I consume physically, but how I spend my time. Fibromyalgia often limits how long I can look at a computer screen, engage in physical activity, be “on” in social situations, etc. By necessity, I’ve learned to become more aware of and discerning about what information, entertainment, and social events I “consume.”
“Conscious consumption” doesn’t have a single, agreed-upon definition. For me, engaging in conscious consumption means trying my best to first become aware of what I am consuming, and then, to purposely choose to consume things that are healthy for me and the planet, and are in line with my values.
Reflecting on consumption has also made me realize how much of my time I spend consuming. Consumption is one of my primary modes of being. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the primary mode of being in the United States. Think about how much time you spend not just eating or shopping—the things most commonly referred to as “consumption”—but drinking, reading, watching TV, listening, looking, or in some way taking in something (physical or virtual) created by someone else. I’m also trying to become more aware of how much time I spend consuming. Consuming is a natural part of life and isn’t bad, but it is inherently passive, and I don’t want it to take up the majority of my time. I am working on spending more time operating in different modes, spending my time in nature, writing, creating art, conversing with close friends, exercising, etc.
I’m recognizing that conscious consumption is closely tied to the narrative I tell myself about my experiences with fibromyalgia. I received a fibromyalgia diagnosis in 2008, at age twenty-seven, but probably had it for a couple years prior to that. In 2016, I am still grappling with the illness, still processing the fact that it’s chronic and will possibly last my entire lifetime, and still accepting that unlike acute illnesses, which require a search for a cure, fibromyalgia requires I learn how to manage and live with it rather than try to get rid of it altogether.
Learning to live successfully with fibromyalgia requires heightened awareness. When my body goes into a sensitive mode, one wrong move—staying out too late, eating the wrong meal—can have dire consequences that will affect my ability to function for hours, days, or even weeks ahead. Paying close attention to what I consume is vital if I want to feel consistently healthy and balanced.
For years, I hated this situation, this sensitivity, the effort managing it all requires. I rallied against it emotionally. When feeling bad, I mentally whined about the unfairness. When feeling well, I denied that I had an illness at all. Now, I’m rewriting my story. I’m softening, I’m accepting. I’m searching for the silver lining, the benefits I receive from this difficult challenge. I’ve stopped angrily focusing on my limitations. The biggest benefit I can identify is increased awareness and, by extension, more conscious consumption. The biggest benefit I can identify is an increased motivation to seek out information about all I consume, an increased commitment to make changes in my lifestyle that not only benefit me, but benefit others and the earth.
I’ve agreed with the principle of conscious consumption for years, but my most recent health flare-ups have pushed me to really reflect on and examine my lifestyle and habits, and to commit to living a life that promotes health and is in line with my values. I have a long way to go, but am becoming more aware daily. I wrote this blog post as a preface—I plan on exploring the many facets of conscious consumption and writing more about these ideas in the future.