April 22, 2022
Dear Frenchly Readers,
Since this morning, I have received many emails concerning Earth Day: a kids’ clothing company has suggested I spend my day buying their organic PJs with Snoopy on them to celebrate; another has suggested that I shop their “sustainably stylish” collection; another has told me that to celebrate Earth Day, their entire site is “on sale;” and a shoe company has pledged to donate $5 for every pair of shoes I buy today to a local environmental nonprofit.
It is difficult for me to regard these emails without a healthy dose of cynicism: shopping, after all, will not save the planet. It is our avarice for things and more things that does the exact opposite. Unless you want to shop used and vintage, of course. Keeping clothes, furniture, nick knacks (les petits trucs or, to sound even more French, les broutilles) and everything in between out of the landfill is sustainable and helpful. (We published two pieces this week about how to do that in Paris—one is a guide to vintage stores around Paris, and another an interview with the owner of a vintage store and her argument for making an Earth Day resolution to buy only used or vintage, even underwear!)
Though these are small gestures, I have made many shopping changes in my life: I have not bought a roll of paper towels in over ten years; I use rags made from old t-shirts, kids’ clothes, towels, and threadbare cloth napkins. (Once I handed a good friend who was staying with us an old pair of Dan’s underwear to mop up a spill. The look on his face still makes me devolve into a puddle of laughter. Now, I cut my rags into efficient and origin-unrecognizable big and small squares and wash them in cold water.) I keep two rag bags in the kitchen and use nothing but. I do not buy paper napkins (but I buy stacks of cloth). I have not used plastic wrap in 20 years. I try my best to get to the soap refill store rather than buy dish and laundry soaps again and again in more plastic bottles. We eat very little meat, and only local and grass fed. I’d like to go to more clothing swaps. I use the clothes line when it’s not raining or snowing or hailing. I use reusable bags. I buy many vegetables and fruits at my local and amazing farmer’s market. I travel with a stainless steel water bottle and reusable coffee cup.
But is this enough? Hardly. The changes that need to happen to reduce greenhouse gasses are so much larger and require not just a personal willingness to dry my lettuce leaves in a clean rag rather than a paper towel, but instead call for enormous, far reaching, global legislation and coordination. And I have to admit, that this week, as I edited and published this interview with the incredible photographer and environmental activist Yann Arthus-Bertrand and this Op-Ed from a young French writer based in Paris, I couldn’t help but detect in both a tone of defeat or maybe it was just existential exhaustion: hope is so hard to sustain right now.
What do we do about that? My suggestions are likely feeble: Our family is going to spend an hour this weekend collecting trash along the road. We might speak Robinaise whenever we can. We have our eyes peeled these days for the young eels that come up our river, which I wrote about for Orion last spring and my family is working to protect. We will continue to recycle, despite how confusing it can be. (As this piecein the Times elucidates.) And this piece in the Guardian gives us ten ways NOT to lose hope. I read it today, and it helped.
More we can do: Ask yourself daily, do I need this? Is there an alternative? (For instance, Can I eat vegan, even in France, land of lardons and fromage?) Vote. (The election in France this weekend matters—not just to France and Europe, but the world—France going far-right would be a disaster on every humanitarian, environmental, international and political level.)
I’d love you to email me with your thoughts. And I will include them in next week’s Le Weekend for us all to share and learn from! Tell us what concessions or resolutions you’ve made? What have you gotten rid of or cut back on and how? Who’s inspiring you now? Let’s talk.
Cook, watch & read ce weekend (Cuisinier, Regarder et Lire):
We have two brief pieces this week (here and here) about the election in France and just how scary it could be if Le Pen were to win this weekend. This opinion piece in the New York Times by a Muslim writer outlines as well as anyone can say right now how high the stakes are.
Andrea Meyer’s piece from Monday about the Cannes nominations (and how Cannes fell short on nominating women) is in our top 4 most-read pieces this week–I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the new Claire Denis film. And this 48 Hours in Lille guide by Catherine Rickman is really fun.
This weekend I am going to make this chamomile cake: it looks just splendid. I need to go into the week with a cake on the sideboard to hunk off for late afternoon snacks for my older son, who is going into rehearsals for, not one, but two Shakespeare plays, and my younger son, who will be starting baseball this week. They both (and I, who will be driving!) will need as much fortification as possible.
And this weekend I want to watch the movie, Human, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, whom, as I mentioned above, we interviewed this week. He has offered to correspond with Frenchly readers (his email address can be found here in the story we ran) and he’s offered links to two of his movies (see above.) My interest in him was piqued as soon as I saw his beautiful photographs, some of which we published yesterday…we are going to be putting even more up on Instagram over the next week.
Smell some daffodils this weekend, pick up some trash, make an Earth Day resolution and share it with me and re-read Mary Oliver’s famous poem called “The Summer Day”— it’s about as wonderful a celebration of the natural world as there ever was. Then, ask yourself, what am I going to do with my one wild and precious life? How can I protect other precious and wild lives, too?
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