Greeny Guilt

A few days ago on the Facebook page I shared a link to an article called, How to Create a Zero-Waste Kitchen and asked the question, “how green is your kitchen?” I gave myself a B-, which, in this era of grade inflation, isn’t a particularly good grade.


Really? Do I really work this hard – growing all my own vegetables, sourcing local, more sustainably raised meats, making practically every meal from scratch – to rank only slightly more green than the average American consumer, who’s eating three fast food burgers every week?

Self-assessment is a funny thing, isn’t it? I ranked myself as middling on the green scale because a fair bit of plastic still comes though my kitchen despite efforts to reduce it, and because I have a lot of appliances like refrigerators (yes, plural) and freezers (again, plural) which suck up energy.

All I thought about was the ways I wasn’t doing an A+ job of being a eco kitchen steward. But if I look at the matter more objectively, I think my kitchen is quite a bit greener than I first assessed.

My food has less miles on it than my Grandmother’s last Oldsmobile. If it’s food with a label I probably don’t buy it. With very few exceptions (dish detergent) my kitchen cleaners are all homemade and super green. My food scrap composting system is ridiculous (scraps for chickens, scraps for worms, scraps for general compost, plus an egg shell bin). Our food waste is minuscule compared to the average American family. And of course there’s the basic stuff: cloth rags instead of paper towels, aggressive recycling, reusable containers, blah, blah, blah.

Which I think begs the question: why would I give myself a B- in kitchen greening when I actually run a way, way greener-than-average kitchen?

Greeny Guilt, that’s why.

Maybe you have it too – Greeny Guilt is an affliction that seems to pop up once you start researching ways to make changes in your consumption habits or environmental impact in order to Go Green!

Maybe you just start small, by turning off the lights when you leave the room. That goes well and one thing leads to another and pretty soon you’re reading about some chick who uses a toxin-free squishy cup instead of a tampon, wipes her hiney with cut up old t-shirts instead of toilet paper, unplugged her fridge and hasn’t bought anything even touched by plastic in six years. And this is when you realize that you are but a mere babe in the great greeny forest that is personal environmental responsibility.

When you realize just how many little things you could be doing to be an incrementally better steward of the earth and of your immediate home environment, it starts to feel like you really have no excuse for not doing all those things. They are small changes, after all.

Now add in all the little changes you could, no – should – make to also be: a bit more frugal, a bit more prepared for the unexpected and a bit more holistic in your gardening. While you’re at it, you should work at being a bit more patient and kind in your parenting, a bit more available to your friends and a bit more dedicated to your job. It would be better if you were a bit more aware of world events, a bit more refined in your speech (less fucking swearing), a bit more politically active, a bit more organized, a bit more clean-as-you-go and a bit more in shape too. But it’s important to also remember to be a bit more forgiving of yourself and – here’s the kicker – a bit better at slowing down and relaxing from time to time.

So by the time you’ve made the list of all the goddamned little things you really should be just a bit better at, you’ve run out of time to make dinner and your kid is hungry and you’re thinking – this is why people get drive thru four times a week!

Awareness is a good thing, on the whole. It’s good to know those steps we as individuals can take to build a slightly better world, one small act at a time. But when you know all the things you “should” be doing…and aren’t, because you’re only human and there’s only 24 hours in a day and you’d never be able to do it all, even if you tried, the end result can be a lot of guilt.

I’ve been tired lately. There’s a lot I’m not doing right now. Friends will kindly say things like, “Wow, you do so much!” and all I can think of is how much I’m not doing. I’m not dealing with the great tomato clean up of 2011, I’m not getting those last 8 ounces of garlic planted even though I really, really need to, I’m not cleaning out the chicken coop even though fresh straw is piled up by the front door. And I’m certainly not getting “just a bit better” at anything right at the moment.

Guilt. Greeny Guilt for knowing all those little things I could be doing but am not, and guilt for not trying to do more.

Anyone else?


  1. says

    Yeah, pretty much.

    Until I hang out with friends who can barely get their ready-to-eat soup cans and Twinkie boxes in the trash, let alone a recycling bin. And who have 20 acres of land on which they plant nothing except their butts in front of the TV.

    Then I feel pretty good about myself. Maybe that's why they are still my friends…that feel good factor I get from them…ROFL.

    On a more serious note, just because we can do things to be more green doesn't mean they are in any way practical to our lives or goals. For example, I am all for reducing electricity consumption, but I have no intention to give up my plural fridges. Instead, I'm more apt to look at ways to generate electricity on my own. Until then, I'll do what I can when I can and try not to sweat the rest of it.

  2. says

    Well, you forgot that you should be flossing every day so that you don't have to burn gas driving to the dentist as often where they burn a whole lot more electricity with all their lights and machines and tools.

    I totally hear you on how the list of things we could all be doing to lower our impact can be overwhelming. I think that's where each person needs to evaluate their life and their impact, picking the things that will make the most difference as well as the things so easy to do it doesn't add stress to your life. It's all about balance. Ditch the guilt and find the balance.

  3. says

    Yup, but like everything else in life, it's best to recognize that we are all different and do what works best for us. Even when it comes to things like being 'green' where it does seem to go on a scale of 'good' to 'bad', making us feel bad if we aren't at the extreme 'good' end of the scale. It's not about where we are in comparison to others on their journey, it's about where we are in comparison to where we have been.

  4. says

    Me, over here. My list of should be doings looks a lot like yours! Minus the tomatoes, plus 60 pounds of apples on the kitchen floor. I have 3 coops in need of cleaning. Garlic and onions not in the ground yet. Weight to lose, to say the least! I'm always tired and don't think I could possibly do more, and yet it's not enough. I wake up in the night and go over the lonnnng list of things I should be doing, for at least an hour at a time. But, yesterday, I got up, did minimal animal maintenance, and went for a beach hike with my love, then had coffee and strolled 2 farmer's markets. And it felt really good. Wish I could let myself do it more often. But those great mornings are followed by…today…where I am even further behind and stressing about it. sigh. Yes, this is why people take advantage of the conveniences available to us. I guess I've decided that the trade off is worth it, to me.

  5. says

    "It's not about where we are in comparison to others on their journey, it's about where we are in comparison to where we have been."

    Oh, Jacquelyn, I need to remind myself of that more often!

    Count me in for some greeny guilt. Among many other things, I currently have tomatoes – precious, precious tomatoes that I've been nurturing since I planted the seeds in March – one by one rotting on my counter because I just can't get to them. And with every single one I toss in the compost I think, "That's more non-local tomato sauce I'll have to buy at the store."

    One thing I don't have to worry about right now is greener-than-me people coming to my house and judging me though – because there's no way I'd let guests in my house in the state it's in.

  6. says

    I think that we've (all) got to just pick out battles – look to our values and our research and identify those things that we think are most important and will make the most difference. There are some sacrifices I'm willing to make in a "green" cause, others I'm not. And that doesn't mean I'm lazy or an ignorant DB who hates the Earth – it just means that with my values and my priorities and my research that is the way I've chosen to do what I believe is best for the concentric circles of my family, my community, and my planet.

  7. says

    I managed to make my giant comment disappear. Oh well. Cliff notes: sustainable has to apply not just to the ecosystem but also to your life. I can't sustain an interest in yard work, but love to walk. We live on a small, urban lot, and can walk (or bike or bus) to the store, work, shops, theaters, etc. We don't feel we are sacrificing in order to drive less than the average American, we feel our lives are better because we can walk to so much. Cutting up old tshirts to wipe my butt with would likely lead to greenie burnout and backsliding akin to someone on a fad crash diet presented with a dessert buffet…

  8. Lady Banksia says

    Yeah, me, too…as far as the guilt goes. I have lists of chores, piles of stuff, projects to finish, projects to start, and so on. Being 'green' is relative on so many levels.

    But – I also have a hubby to love and dote on the way he dotes on me, a home that shows that we actually live here, and you can sit anywhere you want (including on the kitchen counter – I do it all the time), veggies on my shelf that I can hear calling my name, two places to clean up after the cat (who ate too much too fast… again… damn it); oh, and about all that swearing – not that we have potty mouths, but ya know – just sometimes… they sneak out!

    I prefer to think of it as "What shade of green are you?" Some days, I'm Kelly Green, some days its olive drab; still others are seafoam, but more often than not, I gratefully accept the entire rainbow. Its how we roll here.

    And then before I know it, its time to leave for work. Ah, another day's attempts. At least most of the fall garden is in, even if some of the seeds were old and not all of them will come true… just another project to be 're-done'…

    Don't worry – we've got your back…

  9. says

    Getting greener was a personal decision for you and your family ( as it was for mine). It didn't start as a competition and I dont feel it should become one. I have learnt to listen more closely to my internal "shoulds". The things that sit right with me, that work for me, that feel right for me. I try very hard not to attend to the external shoulds provided from others. I do read opinion pieces and new information, but run that through my own internal filters for "rightness" and "fit" before trying to incorporate a new behaviour.

    I have a long list of things I know I would like to do and am getting to, slowly. I also know there are some things we are very unlikely to ever do. Surprisingly, some of the things we would like to do sit quite far into areas that some might consider extreme (humanure anyone?) and some of the things we will never do are more mundane. The things we do and do not adopt are unique to, and right for, us. Other people's shoulds are rarely a good fit and adapting from being true to yourself in order to meet the demands of the those shoulds, causes stress and potentially ill health, I think.

  10. says

    Let's see. Green tomatoes (becoming pink then red) in bins on the kitchen floor? Check. Last of the garlic in paper bags on the dusty dining table? Check. Tomato and bean vines collapsing outside and bag of cover crop seeds still in the trunk of my car from when I bought them 2 weeks ago? Check. And what am I doing as I procrastinate? Making my *expansion* plans for next year's garden, of course! :O

    As for the green life, I'm convinced that while the world is in this transition, we must be too–there is no way to be perfect in a world that isn't. So we live the paradox: low-flow toilets that we rarely flush and limited laundry use of our front-load ultra efficient washing machines…and 2 desktops, 2 smart phones, and 2 laptops for 2 people. And 2 cars and 2 long commutes. And we grow everything we can and source everything else as ethically as we can. And we shop at Costco.

    But I *try* my best not to bring guilt into the picture!

  11. says


    I think it's interesting what things are easy for some people and hard for others. I switched to a squishy silicone menstrual cup (Diva Cup) after Alternative Menstrual Product Day on campus (I love you, Seattle), and used it for about 6 years before getting tired of it. Now I'm considering Glad Rags but haven't taken the plunge yet because it seems like SO MUCH work. This was totes easy for me because it meant I didn't have to remember to bring tampons with me.

    Now, gardening, on the other hand, is still so much work for me to get myself to do. Two years in a row I've had one bumper crop (beans, kale) along with a handful of sad non-producers, and I feel guilty for not using my first (teensy) yard in 10 years to grow MOAR.

    It's good to get a reminder like this to look around and take stock of where we're at.

  12. Anonymous says

    When I worked full time, it was a short list: composting, recycling what our city accepts, some carpooling, a little gardening, sewing, maybe 70% cooking from scratch and packing lunches from home, a few other odds and ends.

    When I became a casualty of a large merger/lay-off, I started doing more "green". This because I have more time and because of the need to be super-thrifty. Not sure what grade I'd get, but I just pick through ideas and choose what's interesting to me and brings the most savings. Things added: making vinegar & bread & yogurt & cream cheese, cooking with the whey, 95% cooking from scratch, repurposing/refashioning used clothing & other fiber items, midnight requisition of other people's lawn clippings for compost/mulch, pick up curbside freebies, way less driving, many energy saving experiments, homemade cards, and a few other odds and ends.

    If it's something that's fun or that frees up cash, you're more likely to continue with it. If I blow it during a low energy time, tough shit, just get back on board later. If I try something and it just doesn't work for me, skip it and skip the guilt. I have a huge list of new things to try/learn so lots of possibilities for fun or saving $.

    Don't think I'm guilt free. It just takes a different direction.

    brenda from arkansas

  13. says

    Throw homeschooling into the mix and my days are often extended triage.

    I *think* this comes from David Cain at, but when it overwhelms me I take a deep breath and ask myself “what, right now, is the most important thing for me to do.”

    Some of this may get better when I can finally quite my PT weekend job, but currently that would severely impact our savings goals.

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