Family Mission Statement – Part 3: Produce
Sustainability often calls for tried and true practices passed down from generation to generation that allow a particular group of people to flourish in their environment. In more recent and developed human history, tossing out the tried and true to make way for the newest process or technology has become common practice. What’s defines one generation may be in no way applicable to what defines the next. So much so, that just a few generations removed and the entire way of life for say our great grandparents has become all but lost.
As we’ve considered this phenomenon, a chief factor that rises to the forefront is outsourcing. A year ago, one lone thought would have come up when I heard the word outsource – sending off our local jobs to places like Mexico and China for cheaper labor and therefore cheaper products. But, when considering the unprecedented turnover of values, thoughts, and methods each individual generation is experiencing in our modern world, we’ve discovered the definition of outsourcing to be much more vast. It penetrates deep into our societal fibers with so few even knowing where to look!
What do we mean by outsourcing?
Let me jump around our house a bit to explain. Starting in the kitchen we have a blender, food processor, and coffee grinder. Each performs a task that could previously have only been accomplished through hand chopping, mixing, mashing, whisking, grinding, etc. To apply our theme, each of these movement based tasks is now outsourced to the push of a button. Step into the living room and our TV and computer has outsourced creative, self taught, and often communal forms of entertainment. Run out to your car and probably most of us now have outsourced turning a key in the car door for pressing a fob button.
I think it’s best to take a quick sidestep here to explain that we’re not at all suggesting you throw away every appliance and get all Little House on the Prairie! All the examples above are literally sitting right here in front of me as I type this out… and I didn’t even get into some more obvious ones like the dishwasher! These modern luxuries each offer benefit but it has become almost laughable to consider what we are giving up in using them. Each click of the button there is a natural movement lost. Each hour in front of the screen there is an opportunity for exercising our mind and imagination wasted. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to paint a picture of all good or all bad. What became apparent to us only recently is that a trade off occurs each time we outsource an area of our lives.
What has outsourcing cost us?
To answer this question we have to go well beyond the home to look at some far stretching categories of our lives and society. Four key areas that come to mind are Movement, Skills, Health, and Connections.
Think about a manual chore or task in your life. Now, is there currently an option to automate that task? Think pressing a button for an electric toothbrush, auto-open blinds, or a robot vacuum. Convenience continually breeds new markets of outsourcing our movement. It has become second nature to drive everywhere, sit all day in our comfy desk chairs at work with 37 different back configurations, or get home and spend the majority of our time reclined on the couch. That’s just looking at my own sedentary tendencies, which I’m sure none of you share? 😉
Before cars were around people walked. Before desk chairs…. quite frankly, people didn’t have office jobs that confined them to a tight space in front of a computer screen. Before La-Z-Boy recliners and even chairs in general people sat on the ground. And while it seems like the present is better than the past we fail to comprehend the repercussions this has on our bodies.
As one NPR article recently stated, “In a study of Americans ages 20-34, occupational therapists found that men younger than 30 have significantly weaker hand grips than their counterparts in 1985 did.” My sister-in-law who is a chiropractor can confirm that a good majority of patients persistently return with ailments resulting from their desk job alone. The loss of movement comes at a huge tradeoff and if we regularly outsource different movements for comfort, ultimately our movement is the very thing that suffers.
Skills are being rewritten at a remarkably rapid pace. Millennials especially are killing off skills from their predecessors with a vengeance. There’s a good reason I wasn’t taught how to butcher a chicken as my Mom learned from her Busia (Grandma) – it just wasn’t applicable. Although I think that sounds awesome now! This skill that used to be common household practice is now outsourced to a farm, butcher or more than likely, a factory. Throw car washes, house cleaning services, and even restaurants into the mix and we quickly find that we can outsource nearly every one of life’s practical skills for a monetary value.
There is no one skill that is wrong to outsource and I fully understand capacity and skillsets in general are limited. Professionals exist for a reason. But we have become quick to give up on skills from generations past. It is a dangerous thing when we forfeit a skill and don’t seek to understand why the skill was previously important. Would Busia approve of the $1.99/lb. boneless skinless chicken breast after taking a tour of the factory it was processed at and the conditions it was raised in? I don’t know, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t cause her to value her own chickens she raised and cared for herself any less. Life skills are valuable. We learn these values to understand which skills are worth holding onto.
The outsourcing of health in our culture is a cause for serious concern! Instead of seeing a shopping cart full of Pop-tarts, yogurt cups, and deli meat I see individuals saying I’ve hired Kellogg’s, Yoplait, and Oscar Meyer to tell me what real nutrition is. Somewhere along the way when food switched from being biologically grown to scientifically formulated, I just don’t think these corporations continued to hold my health and our nation’s health at the utmost importance. I’ll admit, a few tears might have dropped from the corner of my eye when the Cheeto’s, cereal boxes, and other processed foods vanished from our house, but there is no denying the life altering benefit of eating a balanced and real food diet from trustworthy sources.
I just used a restaurant as an example of outsourcing skills but we can also apply this to health. For instance, do any of us ask our waiters what type of oil the chef’s use to saute our porkchop in? Or, how about the agricultural practices used to grow the lettuce in my salad? More than just a form of entertainment and a chance to not cook a meal, is it a stretch to view dining out as outsourcing our nutrition? Maybe. But it is also a reason that when our family chooses to dine out we go out of our way to support places that meet the same standards of both food production and preparation that we use at home. Why outsource our health and nutrition when we cook darn good food at home!
Another area we tend to lose when we outsource is in interpersonal connections. Here are a few examples. Online shopping can be a form of outsourcing as we give up purchasing each item from a local vendor. Or, maybe instead learning from a relative or someone in your community how to make the product yourself. Social media is another great example of how we can outsource real social interaction. Joelle just told me how she observed while taking our daughter to a local children’s play spot that literally every Mom gathered in the same space were fixated, looking down at their phones while their kids were running around playing. I wish I could say I’m not a guilty party here! The monopoly technology has in our face to face connections (or lack thereof!) as we outsource to more convenient but less personal methods seems to be ever increasing.
We Produce With Our Hands
I’ve done a lot of talking about outsourcing and very little about producing with our hands. For us it is simple; if we have the capability and capacity to produce or accomplish something on our own, why outsource it? Often times, the ability to outsource gives the promise of a more lavish and comfortable life. What is clear to us now is that in outsourcing, we are entrusting to others the movement, skills, health, and connections that have defined and sustained generation after generation before us.
One major benefit we have found as we produce with our hands is that things no longer become disposable. When we buy something cheap, if it breaks or no longer meets our tastes, odds are it will soon end up in a landfill somewhere. However, if we take the time to learn the skills necessary to produce something on our own (or purchase at face value from someone in our community who has done the same) we are more likely to be motivated to maintain, repair, and take pride in what we own.
We completely get that each individual and family needs to do what works for them. For us the process of deciding when to outsource and when to produce with our hands all ties back to what our family values. You may or may not share these same values but I hope you will begin asking yourself the question of what am I giving up each time I outsource and does it outweigh what I am gaining? Keep in mind that often what is given up may not take immediate effect. And also remember that the immediate effects that appear as gain often come with hidden costs.