Green Matters: Do The Right Thing

By: Sean MacInnes

Over a decade ago when I was in grad school, I took an eco-literature course in which we watched the movie Baraka. In it there is a scene filmed inside a poultry factory in which the camera follows thousands upon thousands of cute little furry yellow chicks tumbling down conveyor belts and landing in a contraption that burns the tips of their beaks blunt so they won’t harm each other in their confined feeding operation (CFO). It wasn’t so much that I was suddenly turned into an empathetic bleeding heart liberal animal rights activist because of the poor little chicks – I understand the hierarchy of the food chain – but a feeling rose up in my gut.

I asked myself, “Has it really come to this? This is how our food system operates?" It seemed unnatural.

At that time in my life I ate fast food nearly every day. After learning that my burger or chicken patty was made from various parts from numerous cows and chickens which were fed unnatural diets and pumped full of antibiotics and then processed and washed in ammonia to make an amalgam now well-known as pink slime, I couldn’t stomach it anymore. Add to that manufacturing process the byproducts of extensive methane production and chemical run-off from the CFOs, and I was convinced removing meat from my diet was a healthy choice for me, physically, spiritually, and politically.


It only takes having one meal with me for someone to ask why I’m (mostly) vegetarian. When I tell people the above story, I frequently hear the response, “Yeah, but I love ribs!” And I can empathize with that. It’s the same reason I still eat fried food even though my doctor tells me it’s not good for my cholesterol or occasionally eat fish because I love sushi and can use a dose of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Old habits and old flames die hard. But ultimately, I have to recognize that if I eat too much fried food I’ll pay the price or if I eat too much processed meat or fish then the environment also pays the price. So I take things in moderation, make purchases of sustainabily sourced products, and try not to beat myself up too much when I don't or can't. 

It’s the same reason I let people know I’m not really bothered if they don’t believe in global warming. Their disbelief doesn’t particularly make sense to me, but I’ve found my response lets them know I respect their position and opens a path for a less argumentative conversation. Too, hearing those words fly out of the mouth of an eco-activist tends to be a real attention grabber. In that context, it’s kind of an outrageous statement. Certainly, some of my fellow tree huggers would not agree with my approach. But I tell people this not for shock value, but because I feel anyone’s disbelief in global warming shouldn’t be a reason for their inaction to protect our environment, which it often is. 

I do, however, ask people if they believe in pollution.

It’s a question that brings the issue down to a local level and is much more difficult to deny. One need only step outside to see the garbage in the street and the smog in the air. And because we actually have a historical record of successful remediation efforts, I think most people feel they can do something about pollution. We, at one time, shrunk the hole in the ozone layer. We’ve engineered new technologies that produce cleaner energy. We can clean up trash in our waterways, recycle, ride a bike more often, eat less meat, and start a garden. These actions do have a positive impact on the environment, and on our health and spirits, individually and communally. 

Too often in today’s political culture we’re dogged by one harangue after another and pitted against each other by an “us vs. them” mentality. Proselytizing is, after all, practically an American past-time. But if we are ever to make progress on any issue we have to work within a context wherein we take opportunities to do the right thing by making choices that are conscientious of each other’s well-being. 


Sean MacInnes holds a BFA in Theater from The University of Memphis and an MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University in Boulder, CO. He is a former writer in residence at The Kerouac Project in Orlando, FL and previously served as the chair of the Alternate Transportation and Fuels Working Group for the Mid-South Regional Greenprint Consortium. Currently he is also member of the Memphis MPO’s Active Transportation Advisory Committee.  
Posted by Josh Colfer at 10:14 AM

The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.

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