Obesity through a straw

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

Have you ever drank a 20-ounce soda? That’s the size many adults and teens are drinking today. Or would you ever sit down and eat 16 teaspoons of sugar from a sugar bowl, one spoonful after another? When you drink a 20-ounce soda, you’re consuming 16 teaspoons of sugar, the equivalent of a third of a cup.

In the 1950s, the typical size of a serving of soda pop was 6.5 ounces. Since the 1980s, when serving sizes of sweetened beverages swelled, they’ve continued to increase, with our body weight growing right along with them. For example, in addition to the amount of food you need to eat, if you drink one 20-ounce bottle of soda every day for a year, you’ll gain 26 pounds.

Because beverages don’t fill your stomach the same way solid food does, you can drink many calories without being aware of it. This makes it all too easy to gain weight. A 12-ounce can of Coke or Pepsi contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar. Twelve ounces of lemonade, fruit punch or soda pop contain anywhere between 120 to 180 calories, attributable to the high sugar content of eight to 11 teaspoons. One level teaspoon of sugar equals 16 calories. When you do the math, you see that drinking one 12-ounce can of sweetened pop every day for a year is the equivalent of eating 76 cups of sugar.

A 20-ounce serving of lemonade, fruit punch or soda pop contains 200 to 300 calories. With just one of these drinks, we get 10 to 15 percent of our required daily calories. If you drink several cans or bottles every day, you could consume as many as 900 calories, depending on your choice of beverage.

Research has shown that children who drink large quantities of sweetened drinks receive less of the important nutrients they need – protein, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus – and gain excess weight because of the high caloric content in the sweet beverages.

So-called sports drinks and fruit punches can be expensive and as far as nutrition goes, you’ll do better if you drink water and eat a banana with a handful of salted nuts. At least you’ll be hydrated and have a healthy snack that provides protein, energy and B vitamins along with the minerals. Sports drinks and fruit punches, on the other hand, are comprised primarily of water, sugar, two minerals and perhaps some artificial colouring.

Read labels. The ingredient in the largest amount is listed first. Avoid drinks where sugar is the first ingredient or where it is the second ingredient listed after water. On some labels, both the second and third ingredients are sugars. When listed on a label, sugar can have many names. Look for words ending in “ose” in the list of ingredients: sucrose, fructose, dextrose and maltose. Also look for syrups, such as cane syrup, rice syrup, corn syrup and maple syrup. Watch for honey as well.

Some beverages that depict fruit on the label may contain very little fruit, if any at all. You have to read the label to see which ingredients the beverage contains. Avoid beverages such as fruit cocktails, fruit nectars, fruit drinks, fruit punches, slushes and those made with flavoured drink crystals. All of these contain too much sugar.

Artificial sweeteners have names like Splenda, sucralose, NutraSweet, aspartame, Sweet’N Low, SugarTwin, acesulfame potassium, Ace K, cyclamate, sucaryl, maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, polydextrose, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates and isomalt. The soft drink industry would have us believe that a “diet” drink loaded with chemical sweeteners is healthy for us because it contains no calories!

The healthiest, calorie-free beverage you can drink is water. For added nutrition with very few calories, I would recommend you try drinking a vegetable juice. Tomato juice can be very refreshing.

Vesanto Melina is a BC-registered dietitian and co-author of the following nutrition classics: Becoming Vegan, the Food Allergy Survival Guide andRaising Vegetarian Children
www.nutrispeak.com

Grow beauty and eat it too

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

To understand just how disconnected we are from food today, consider that in the 1930s, 30 percent of Canada’s population was actively involved in farming, while today it’s only 1.6 percent. Also consider that while gardening is a major leisure activity in North America, only 10 percent of gardeners grow food. This shows how seriously disconnected we are from our food source, which has become an industrialized commodity shipped around the planet, thereby contributing to climate change.

It’s amazing to think that activities as basic as growing and eating locally grown food could contribute so profoundly to the climate change solution. Think of the fossil fuel saved by not shipping the average plateful of food 2,000 kilometres. Think of what would happen to our collective consciousness if city dwellers grew their own food and reconnected to nature.

Is the abundance of cheap food nourishing us or compromising our health? We know that health is intrinsically connected to what we eat. When I see what’s happening to kid’s health – obesity, Type II diabetes and neurological learning disorders, such as autism and ADD – I think we should look more carefully at what we are eating.

I have come to the conclusion that food can only be REAL or not real. REAL conveniently stands for regional, environmentally responsible, agricultural land use. When organic farmers get back on the land and gardeners go back to organic vegetable plots, we’ll get more “real” food on the table.

The good news is that reconnecting with food and health – and saving the planet in the process – is really simple; all that’s required is a paradigm shift in thinking. For instance, if we start 2009 thinking about edible landscaping, we can have beautiful gardens and eat them too. If we planted food gardens in public spaces for all to see, and fruits and vegetables in our front yards, we would soon reconnect people (children especially) to the source of their food.

For specimen landscape trees, think figs, cherries, plums, almonds, olives, apples, crab apples, apricots and peaches. For groundcover, think strawberries, Miner’s lettuce, chamomile and thyme. For hedges, you can have Sunroots (Jerusalem artichokes) – they fast-grow to six feet – ever-bearing raspberries and lavender or rosemary.

For vines, think Red Malabar climbing spinach – it grows 15 feet a year – hops Humulus lupulus (20 feet) and showy Painted Lady scarlet runner beans (10 feet). Thornless blackberries, kiwis and grapes make perfect edible ornamental vines and don’t forget Vitis purpurea for its showy, deep purple leaves and grapes.

For a bright splash of colour, plant clumps of chives with edible purple blossoms. Garlic chives are very attractive for their showy white or mauve starburst flowers. Grow calendula for its edible flower petals and borage for its blue cucumber flavoured flowers.

For a colourful border, plant a row of purple lettuce; lettuce comes in every texture, shape and colour. Last year, I came across several eye-catching food gardens on the boulevard and in people’s front gardens. The sight of them stopped me in my tracks because I realized all it takes to move food from the back yard to the front is a transformation in thinking.

When people grow food in their front gardens, the result is colourful and ornamental. This brings neighbours together and soon leads to food and seed sharing and building friendships, which eventually leads to community. Small-scale regional food production puts the culture back into agriculture; it’s what we can do by growing food up-front and personal.

I believe there’s nothing better for us than the food we grow ourselves. There’s no question that it’s real and, best of all, it nourishes communities as well as individuals.

Happy edible landscaping in 2009!

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.

Ego and parenting

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. 

– Kahlil Gibran

More than ever before, there now seems to be greater awareness about the ways in which an unchecked ego can create havoc in our lives. When we strive to remain conscious, we can utilize our inner observer to keep ego in check.

There are times, however, when ego’s reaction is so strong and so swift it is as if the observer gets knocked out, perhaps not regaining consciousness for hours, days or even much longer regarding that particular situation. This is most likely to happen in our closest relationships.

One area where unconsciousness can show up in an otherwise evolving individual is parenting. When a child is born, this new soul comes into this world to make its own particular journey. Parents, of course, are a very important part of this journey, but it is not as much about them as they would like to think.

When people become parents, or sometimes even during the pregnancy, a couple begins to have visions for their child and, early on, they begin to shape the child according to their wishes and aspirations.

As the child grows, the parents’ egos become very satisfied to the extent that the child’s behaviour and ways of being are in alignment with what the parents want for the child. If the child does not live up to parental expectations, there is often dissatisfaction, frustration, disappointment and even anger. If the parents’ egos are in full swing, they see the child as a reflection of themselves. They redouble their efforts to make the child “look good.” I am reminded of a friend who, years ago, when her five-year-old daughter had dressed herself in a most “creative” ensemble, told the child that no daughter of hers would go out of the house looking like that!

As the child gets older, the involvement of parental egos may intensify. If the dad wants his son to be a hockey star, he can be hard on the child when he does not perform well. If the parents want their child to be an academic star, they may, when presented with a mark of 80 percent, ask why it was not higher.

An unaware ego can be very determined to get its way. It can “know” which career path is best for a child, despite the child’s differing interests and protestations. This causes the young person to surrender and follow the career path that will please the parents, or go her own way and live with guilt and a feeling of letting down her parents, or become immobilized and depressed and do nothing.

Ego can also do serious damage to the parent/child relationship when it has a strong negative reaction to the child’s choice of life partner. Once again, the child can be made to feel guilty for following his or her own heart and true path.

To honour the souls of children, parents need to strive to maintain awareness of ego and when it is trying to satisfy itself through the child. It is helpful to think of the child as a plant that begins as a seed, with all of its potential and characteristics already locked inside. It needs only proper care, loving nurturing and attentiveness in order to blossom fully into its natural beauty.

As children grow, I think asking them more questions is more important than what we tell them. Ask them what they think, what they like and what they want to be when they grow up. When they are older, ask what inspires them, what they are passionate about, what gives their life meaning and what they would like to be remembered for.

As parents, our job is to give children good roots, but they must find their own wings and fly where their spirit leads them.

Gwen Randall-Young is a psychotherapist in private practice and author ofGrowing Into Soul: The Next Step in Human Evolution. For articles and information about her books and “Deep Powerful Change” personal growth/hypnosis CDs, visit www.gwen.ca

Whose NSF?

 

Dear sirs:

In view of what seems to be happening internationally with banks at the moment, I was wondering if you could advise me correctly. If one of my cheques is returned marked “insufficient funds,” how do I know whether that refers to me or to you? Thank you.

A customer

The year of innovation

 

 

INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson

 

In my January 2009 column, I encouraged readers to make opening up the media in Canada their 2010 resolution. I asserted that 2010 would be a pivotal year for communities working to open communication in Canada and beyond. And so here we are at the end of the year and it appears that, indeed, there is a growing community focused on openness, with the open Internet at its core.

For example, more than 22,000 people (and counting) have signed the Stop The Meter petition (http://openmedia.ca/meter), demonstrating widespread discontent with big telecom companies that are attempting to hogtie competing indie Internet service providers (ISPs) and make the Internet much more expensive to use.

What about 2011?

While the open media community will likely continue to gain momentum, I believe that, in 2011, innovation will take on an increasingly central role in defining the future of communications and society in general.

 

Here’s the situation:

1. Big Internet service providers (Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Videotron) plan to make Internet access more expensive by imposing usage-based billing (charging per byte). According to StopUBB.ca, this could cost Internet users $60 more per month starting this year.

2. Many of these same providers continue to slow access to innovative online content and services. Most recently, Rogers’ customers reported problems accessing content after the company experimented with its traffic-slowing technology.

3. Major Internet service providers are investing in and experimenting with a new, more controlled version of the Internet, delivered through TV and mobile devices.

What this amounts to is a campaign to make the Internet more expensive and circumscribed while providers experiment with their “managed” TV/mobile Internet services. The market is being structured so that, either way, the big telecom companies win. They either successfully corral us into their TV version of the Internet, make the Internet more expensive and restricted, or both.

What does this have to do with innovation?

The main challenge with initiatives designed to preserve and build on the open Internet is that people take the Internet for granted. This is where online innovators play an essential role.

Big telecom companies will make deals with Facebook and other big players so that you’ll find them on your Internet TV. However, you might have trouble finding the small, independent online services like those that carry this column or the new crowd-sourced journalism project OpenFile, CBC Radio 3 and innovative services like HootSuite.

Innovation takes centre stage

Canadians need to understand the value of online innovation. Innovators in Canada need to be, well, more innovative. They need to be de facto champions of openness – just as many of their predecessors have been.

Canadians will step up to defend the open Internet more whole-heartedly when its value is more clearly demonstrated. Online innovators and the community that support them need to capture more audience from big media.

If Canadians en masse are more deeply engaged by, and fall in love with, innovative online services and content, they will be better equipped to defend the open Internet when needed. More importantly, Canadians will actually notice that “Internet” services provided on TV don’t include their favourite online services.

Innovation isn’t just an awesome thing to do; it has played and will increasingly continue to play an essential role in ensuring that the revolution unfolding in communication continues.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.
steve@democraticmedia.ca
www.FacebookSteve.com
www.SteveOnTwitter.com

 

not so happy meals

 

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

 

 

 

 

Over a 15-year period, studies show a dramatic increase in the number of overweight (tripled) and obese (quadrupled) Canadian children. (1) In the US, which has similar statistics, the Centers for Disease Control states that one child in three born since the year 2000 will develop diabetes during his or her lifetime. In many families, even young children consume too many calories, too much fat and far too much sodium. Studies show that at one to three years of age, sodium intakes averaged close to 2,000 mg a day (double the recommended level). Among four to eight-year-olds, the average daily sodium intake was 2,700 mg and 93 percent consumed more than the upper limit. Trans fats are harmful and, young or old, we have no need for dietary cholesterol.

  Calories Fat 
grams (g)
Sodiummilligrams (mg)
Day’s 
Recommended 
Intake

(Calories vary 
with activity)
Age 2-3 yrs: 1166 gradual increase to age 19 years: female: 2000 male: 2600 Upper limit:
Age 2 yrs: 39 g; gradual increase to age 19 years: female 71 g or male 88 g
Age 1-3 yrs: 1000 mg
Age 4 to 8 yrs: 1200 mg 
Over 9 yrs: 1500 mg
McDonald’s Mighty Kids Meal: Double cheeseburger, fries, low fat choc. milk 840 37 g (14 g saturated; 
1.5 g trans; 85 mg cholesterol)
1460
Wendy’s Kids’ Meal: Chicken sandwich, fries, small chocolate Frosty 860 32 g (10 g saturated; 0.5 g trans; 
55 mg cholesterol)
1210
KFC Kids Meal: Popcorn chicken, potato wedges, string cheese, small Pepsi 800 34.5 (7.5 saturated; 0.3 g trans; 
65 cholesterol
1800
A&W Kids Meal: Cheeseburger, fries,
soda pop
780 29 g (9 g saturated; 0.4 g trans;
70 mg cholesterol)
1360
2 Bean Burritos 
(recipe below)
with avocado, lettuce, tomato
461 17 g (3 g saturated; 
0 g trans; 0 mg cholesterol)
459

References
1. Tremblay MS et al. Temporal trends in overweight and obesity in Canada, 1981-1996. Int J Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders 2002, 26(4): 538-43.
2. Stats Canada Health Reports 82-003-XWE 18(2) www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2006004/article/sodium/4148995-eng.htm#3
3. PCRM Doctor’s Report. Pediatricians vs Junk Food Giants. 2010. Good Medicine. Volume XIX Number 10. www.pcrm.org/magazine/gm10autumn/junkfood.html

Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and co-author of nutrition classics Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Becoming Raw, Raising Vegetarian Children,the Food Allergy Survival Guide and the Raw Food Revolution Diet. For personal consultations, phone 604-882-6782 or visit www.nutrispeak.com


burritosBean Burritos

Makes 4 burritos

Children need about 15 g of protein at two years, gradually increasing to 50 g for females or 58 g for males at 19 years. A serving of two of these quick-to-make roll-ups provides 20 grams of protein. They are good for lunch (even in a lunchbox), as an after school snack or for supper.

THE WRAPS
4 wheat or corn tortillas or chapatis

THE BEAN FILLING
2 cups cooked pinto beans
(or drained 15-ounce can)
2/3 cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup finely chopped
red or green bell pepper
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. each:
garlic powder, oregano, cumin

TOPPINGS
(optional)
Chopped avocado, lettuce, tomato, olives, onion

Warm the wraps in a dry skillet, if desired. Keep them warm by stacking and wrapping them in a clean kitchen towel. Put the beans, tomato sauce, bell pepper and seasonings into a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and mash beans with a fork or potato masher. Place one-quarter of the bean filling onto each wrap, placingit in a strip along one side, slightly off-centre. Add your favourite toppings and roll the wrap around the filling.

Enlightened agriculture

 

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

 

It is evident that globalization is not working well when it comes to feeding people. Last year, the number of hungry people in the world topped one billion, which means that, under the current system of industrialized agribusiness, one in six people are going without food. Not to mention that the safety and nutritional quality of the food supplied is being questioned due to all the medical ramifications of eating it.

How different it could look if, instead of treating food as a commodity, we adopted an “Enlightened Agriculture” system, as outlined in Feeding People is Easy by Colin Tudge (www.paripublishing.com). Tudge notes that small-scale systems of diversified food production guard the safety and quality of food, while ensuring a healthy lifestyle that is not rooted in injustice and poverty for others.

Rather than the present monoculture scale of production, smaller scale farmers would join together to form cooperatives to meet distribution and marketing requirements. Countries would continue to benefit from the fair trade export of foods – grains and legumes from temperate climates and mangoes, avocadoes and coffee from tropical countries – but only after the people who live in those countries are fed first.

hands holding seedling

Another benefit of “Enlightened Agriculture” is the renaissance of all the various skills and crafts employed in our going back to basics. Traditions of winemaking, beekeeping, sewing, weaving, cheese making, cooking and preserving would be resurrected. Imagine how a simple paradigm shift like this could return us to a culture that slows life down from the frantic, overwhelming pace of modern life. I can’t wait.

Going back to the land to grow food begins and ends with seeds. Without a secure source of seeds (and water), there can be no such thing as sustainable agriculture. What better month to start planning your garden than January and there’s no better place to start than by checking out www.seeds.ca/ev/events.php to see if there is a Seedy Saturday in your area. Last year, 100 Seedy Saturday shows were hosted across Canada, with people coming out to share their seeds through community seed exchanges. Halls were packed full of local seed savers and farmers. At Seedy Saturday, you can find local, organic, open-pollinated varieties of seed that can be saved.

The fact that Seedy Saturday shows are springing up in so many communities shows that people understand the current threat to global food production and their own local food security. (Russia stopped exporting wheat this year due to extreme heat in the mid-40s that caused fires to burn down their wheat fields).

If we intend to feed ourselves by growing more food, we’ll need varieties of seed that produce maximum yields for home-grown food production and which can withstand the vagaries of ever changing climate conditions. The best seeds to start with are those that have become adapted to regional conditions, which is why we’ll have a much better chance at success if we create local seed banks in our communities. Happy enlightened New Year.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path, a 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide and The Zero Mile Diet, a Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food (Harbour Publishing). She grows ‘Seeds of Victoria’ at The Garden Path Centre in Victoria, BC. earthfuture.com/gardenpath/

Finding our true purpose

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.

– Maya Angelou

Often, my clients who are on a path of conscious growth struggle around the idea of their purpose. They are living their lives reasonably successfully, but they still feel there is something more – something meaningful – that they should be doing with their lives.

When I question further, they say they have absolutely no idea what it could be and they don’t know how to go about finding it. It is as though the answer is out there somewhere waiting to be discovered. What they do know is that what they are currently doing in life does not feel like their true purpose.

True purpose might imply something that we were meant to do. This suggests an agenda, perhaps set by our own souls before we came here. Depending on our spiritual beliefs, it might be what God intended for us. Unfortunately, we can’t do a Google search or look in the back of a book for the answer.

The problem for many is that they look out into the world at all the options, trying to find one that seems to fit. They are using their head, their logical mind to try and figure it out. True purpose, however, is more about the heart and soul than it is about the head. Living in the Western world, we have learned to let the head take the lead and often overrule the heart or the soul’s whisperings, which we assume, belong to the realm of dreams or the impractical.

Logical thinking often takes us along the path of living up to cultural norms or the expectations of others. Most people have lived their entire lives this way; it is hard not to. They are unaccustomed to giving credence to the nudgings of heart and soul. The sense that one is not living one’s purpose is about not having truly charted our own path. Yes, we made our own decisions, but we likely eliminated many possibilities before they even made it to the drawing board.

Finding our purpose is a journey that involves going within, rather than looking outside of ourselves. It can begin by becoming aware of which activities and people seem to nourish and energize us and which seem to drain us. It can involve contemplating the things that make us the happiest and which things we have always dreamed of doing but for one reason or another dismissed as impossible.

It is about living at least part of our lives intuitively – following the gut, going with things because a part of us is saying “yes.” It is also about being authentic. This means learning to say what we really think and not doing things out of a sense of obligation rather than true desire. It is about honouring ourselves.

As we begin to live this way, we will take pathways that will lead us to new people, new activities and new possibilities. This, in itself, is living our purpose for part of our purpose is to evolve into the unique beings that we are. Our lives become the creative expression of our spirit. If, in the process, we find that one thing to which we passionately devote our lives, then it is for us, but it does not have to be for everyone. Simply being true to ourselves is purpose enough.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

The Illusionist

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

 

Alice in The Illusionist.

Screenwriter-director Sylvain Chomet chose to go the old-school route when he adapted French comedy legend Jacques Tati's previously unmade script into an animated feature.

The creator of the wonderful The Triplets of Belleville harnessed a small army of animators to hand-draw much of the film, frame by frame. The production team had to hunt high and low for artists with the requisite drawing skills, computer generated images having made many such animators redundant or, at least, forced them underground.

The tortuous creative process paid off. The Illusionist (opening January 28) is a work of art you could hang on the wall. It's a lovely film to look at, with its vivid, romantic imagery of fifties Scotland, especially of Edinburgh where most of the action is set. There's a fluid movement to detail work, such as the movement of the magician's large, long-fingered hands or a crowd of people in a street.

The main drawback is that the story is slight and there's a sense that perhaps more substance could have been added to Tati's melancholy ode to the passing era of Music Hall entertainment.

At the centre of the film is an old Jacques Tati-esque illusionist who has discovered there is waning interest for his sleight of hand tricks in the new era of cinema and rock 'n' roll.

In his quest for greener pastures, the gangly, ageing magician quits Paris for London and ends up performing in Scotland's rugged Western Isles. In that windswept Scottish hinterland, evocatively rendered in misty, hilly landscapes, he is adopted by a naive, young Scottish girl who fully believes in his magical powers and follows him to Edinburgh. The two stay in a lowly hotel occupied by washed-up performers and as the old man struggles to please his number one fan, they learn about the shallowness of material trappings.

As with The Triplets of Belleville, there is little dialogue spoken. People do more grunting and muttering, barely comprehensibly in French, Gaelic or English. The story unwinds at a gentle pace with its subtle, nostalgic tone punctuated with the kind of amusing slapstick sequences you might find in old black-and-white comedies. There's a playfulness to the film, while the central theme – being careful about keeping up appearances – could be directed at both adults and kids.

But there's also a dark side to the vision that comes out in the visual humour involving a drunken Scotsman, namby-pamby rock stars, a gang of thuggish school kids and my favourite, the magician's demonic rabbit.

The original script was actually set in Prague, but Chomet was so impressed by the changing light in Edinburgh that he set up base in the Scottish capital to make the film. His team have done a brilliant job capturing the changing hues, the up-and-down landscape and the mystique of the UNESCO World Heritage city from the tumble of domes and steeples of the skyline to the smoke-fogged interiors of fifties train carriages. With its beautiful visuals and tender, melancholic centre, this gentle comedy is a rare family treat.

Also, look out for the latest movie from Mike Leigh, Brit master of the soulful, melancholy movie. In Another Year, he explores suburban unhappiness (from January 21).

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never Bike Alone.www.youneverbikealone.com. He writes at www.2020Vancouver.com.

Learning from our elders

 

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

As I approach my 75th birthday, I find myself often thinking about mortality. I’m in the last part of my life and that’s reality. This is the time when we must fulfill our most important duty: to reflect on a lifetime and then sift through the detritus of experience, observation and thought in order to winnow out lessons to pass on to coming generations.

The most influential elders in my life were my parents. Although they were in their 30s and 40s when I was a child, they seemed much older and wiser. They taught me lessons that have guided me and that I have tried to pass on to my children: “Respect your elders.” They weren’t referring to themselves but to older people, who by virtue of having lived a life, deserved respect.

“You are what you do, not what you say.” With today’s barrage of information, spin and propaganda from politicians and corporations, it’s important to look at a record of action rather than be deceived or confused by words.

“If you want everyone to like you, you will not stand for anything.” When I was in high school, I was elected president of the student body. I told my dad that I wanted everyone to like me. He told me that no matter what one stands up for, there would always be those who disagree with you.

“Whatever you do, whether it’s washing dishes, scrubbing floors, or working at a job, throw yourself into it with all your energy.” I have learned that when I do a half-hearted job, I get a half-hearted experience.

My parents lived through the Great Depression, which shaped their values and outlook. They taught me those values: “Save some for tomorrow.” This was a recurring theme and, of course, a value held by any true conservative “Live within your means.” This meant that if you didn’t have the money to buy something today, you saved until you could. This notion goes against today’s easy access to credit, which encourages going into debt.

Perhaps, most importantly, they taught me that I had to work hard to earn money to buy necessities in life, but that I mustn’t run after money as if having more than others would make me better or more important. I’m lucky to have arrived at a time in my life when I am freed from the encumbrances of making money, seeking fame and power and showing off. We elders have no hidden agenda and can speak the truth.

During the ‘80s and ‘90s when battles raged over forestry practices, one of my most formidable opponents was the CEO of a large forestry company. On retiring and being freed from the corporate game, he became a generous supporter of my foundation. Maybe someone should start a Retired Corporate CEOs and Presidents for the Environment. In First Nations communities, elders remain the bedrock of society. In conversations with First Nations people, I am struck by how often they tell me, “The elders say…” or “I have to ask the elders.”

In today’s youth-obsessed world of rapid technological developments, we too often marginalize elders when their experience is most important. Elders remember a world that changed more slowly, when “disposable” was not a description of products, when sharing, reusing and recycling were simply the way we lived. Elders remember a time when family and social activities were the central focus of life, not shopping and owning stuff. Elders remind us that life can be rich and fulfilling without all the toys.

davidsuzuki.org