Reflecting on Consumption: Forget the Marshmallows

October 23

I forgot the marshmallows! Well, I didn’t really forget, though I was pretty tired in the morning not having slept well. We had an unseasonable high of 22 degrees and I didn’t really think we needed a fire. Besides, I reacted badly to the smoke of the fire yesterday and my head still felt thick through the day.

I apologized about the marshmallows, citing my reasons. I’m not sure my son is convinced.

We drove back and forth to the Centre. I fondly remember when I used to bike up this way when I had my office across the street at the university. I even have a pair of studded tires hanging in my basement, which I didn’t use much because I was afraid a wipe-out would wreck the laptop in my panier bags. I miss biking. There is a beautiful freedom in getting on your bike and going. And it helps immensely to improve one’s mood.

Today, I carted two kids up to the Centre for 9 o’clock in our 2007 Prius. It takes me 20 minutes to drive from my house and about twice that to bike. It takes my kid at least an hour. But I wonder about biking. Yes, we have a Prius, an older, much cherished vehicle whose hood opens with a bit of wire rather than the internal latch. That broke a year ago and my husband, handy person that he is, fixed it with a modified latch and a bit of wire. I feel good about that. But I love biking. So does my son. We bought him a very nice bike (I’m don’t get sucked in by most advertising but I’m a sucker for top quality long lasting gear). And we’re not biking, despite the fact that my paniers won’t be carting any precious lap top to and fro and, more importantly, all my work is backed up on the cloud and on an external drive. 10 years ago, I wasn’t as good at backing up and I was terrified of loosing the hours of work housed in my laptop.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

But my son is not one to rush. Biking anywhere is enjoyable. Just not fast. 12 km one way would take him an hour. Is that too long? Right now it is. But is that my perception of time? Does that reflect hyper-consumption? I am stressed and not sleeping. I do not pause in the day. Cycling would improve that. My mind chugs in slow circles. 2 hours of cycling. More in the winter. I can hear the gears grinding in my brain. I think there is a bit of smoke.

Lunch, again, is a mixture of fruits and veggies and chocolate and a Wow butter sandwich packed in our Planet boxes. Breakfast was yoghurt and nuts. The nuts are peanut free as my son has a peanut allergy. They come in plastic containers sealed for our protection. I have written the company, Royal Nuts, about this. They didn’t reply. I should write them again. Or call. Surely, there is a way to loose the packaging.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

We didn’t use the lanterns. That’s fine. They will be there for next week.

Dinner is homemade hamburgers made from local organic grass-fed beef. With potato home fries and cauliflower. There is ice-cream for desert for my Dad and son. I wince, remembering the 11 billion dollars spent in Europe on ice cream as listed on Global Issues ‘Consumption and Consumerism’ page in 2014. According to them, it would take 6 billion and 9 billion dollars respectively to achieve basic education and water/sanitation for all. This disparity has likely increased by now. They also list the difference in global meat consumption between wealthy and poor communities. We try to buy local and organic but we still eat a lot of meat. My husband and I have a few squares of Cocoa Camino chocolate for dessert. I’m sure there are hidden costs there as well, despite the Fair Trade logo.

I bought nothing today. But I did consume. That consumption came with a price: plastics and movement of food from one locale to another. It brought single-use containers into our house that will end up in the blue box, hopefully to be recycled, but not necessarily. Hidden costs which contribute to lack of education and clean water in the world. I resolve to make our own ice-cream more often.


Shah, Anup (2014, January 5). Consumption and consumerism.

Reflecting on Consumption: Beginnings

October 22nd

This is the beginning of a multiple week reflective journal on consumption that I am doing for my Fundamentals of Sustainability course at Cape Breton University. In it, I am suppose to track my consumption, reflecting on the patterns and behaviours I notice. This is very much linked to techniques in mindfulness and neuro-biology, where journalling is used in very similar ways (see Rebecca Kochenderfer’s conversation with Dan Seigel). I am also supposed to make some changes to my behaviours and to see where that takes me. Through this practice of being critical and thoughtful of how and what I am consuming, I aim to become more aware of my behaviours and feel more empowered to make changes.

Today, I bought nothing. Not even the marshmallows I had been thinking about for my son so he could have something to cook over the fire. He said he was fine with not having any -as long as we have some tomorrow.

I thought we might do leaf and flower lanterns with the last of the fall foliage. So, I went downstairs to see what glass jars we had. My co-leader was also bringing some. I had, of course, forgotten to ask parents and the recycling had gone out yesterday. I gathered up some mason jars and put them in a box. I have no candles to put in them. Hmmmm…. perhaps it is enough to make the lanterns.

What I do need to consume more of is sleep!

We drove to the Centre and back again at night. The day was spent in to woods. I fed some chickadees, giving them some sunflower seeds. This was very special, the exchange between two different species. I love this connection. I hadn’t expected to be able to feed them this far from the Centre and I appreciate their bold willingness to trust.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

My lunch, lovingly packed by my husband, was a selection of fruit and veggies, hard boiled organic eggs, and a few small squares of gluten free fair trade chocolate. We’ve had to make some dietary changes over the last fee years which has curtailed much of my indulgent spending. My husband has also taken over the shopping with my life being more busy. He’s much less tempted to buy treats for everyone. I like giving, which I am reflecting, means buying more often than not.

 Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

The kids play and learn and get wet in the swamp and we head back to finish their volcano project. These are made of recycled newspaper, old flour left over from our gluten friendly days, water and water bottles (mea culpa Nancy!) to provide enough upthrust for the vinegar, baking soda and flour mixture, tinted with red food colouring. I had run out of yellow. Pink lava is just as exciting as orange! We went through the baking soda and vinegar like whoosh! I got more from the Centre and will have to replace it next week. Neither costs very much from my pocket, but I reflect on the plastic bottle that contains the vinegar. Hidden costs here. I reflect on the Story of Stuff where Annie Leonard talks about externalizing the costs of production and distribution (2007, timestamp 8:12). This is what I am literally ‘buying into’ here.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

We didn’t end up making the lamps. Perhaps tomorrow with my other class. Or next week.

We had a meeting. I came home and ate dinner (organic chicken breasts, tomatoes, mashed turnip and potatoes and broccoli). Another lovely meeting after dinner with Amy and Nancy and the day is done.


Kochenderfer, Rebecca. (2019, October 8). Discover Journaling’s Positive Effects on the Brain, with Dr. Dan Siegel.

Leonard, Annie, Fox, Louis, & Sachs, Jonah. (December 2007). The Story of Stuff. Free Range Studios.

Opening my eyes: some reflections on Netukulimk, Reciprocity, and Two-eyed Seeing

I love the way Robin Wall Kimmerer, in her popular book, Braiding Sweetgrass (2013), speaks of weaving Western science, Indigenous wisdom and the reciprocity of plants. This, my heart sang, was a path towards healing our troubled world, that brought understandings from both cultures together in harmony. Two ways of seeing. Two languages groups. Working towards a common goal of a healthy, happy planet.

We need this right now.

I recently listened to Elder Albert Marshall and Kerry Prosper speak about netukulimk (Steigman, 2014; Marshall, 2011; Prosper et al., 2001). Netukulimk is the Mi’kmaq word for sustainability. Marshall eloquently expresses this: “… I cannot take too much of anything. I cannot take it all. I have to make sure it will grow back and that it will continue to grow in the future” (Stiegman, 2014, Timestamp 4:45). Netukulimk is a way of life that the Mi’kmaq (and Indigenous cultures worldwide) have been struggling to maintain in the face of Western concepts of appropriation, commodification and superiority.

This approach is vitally needed in Western culture. We need to enter into a relationship with our planet that is steeped in reciprocity and respect rather than commodification and appropriation. We need to understand netukulimk. My classmate, Charlene Sacher, recently highlighted the distinction between a Western mindset of ‘rights’ and an indigenous mindset of ‘obligation’ (Charlene Sacher personal communication, September 18, 2020). As humans, we have an obligation to this world and all its peoples, not just in this generation but those that come after (Mulligan, 2018, p.28).

Figure 1. Whatcha Doing? (copyright Leigh Symonds)

A key ideological difference between the Indigenous and Western worldview is the definition of people. This needs to shift before we can even start thinking about reciprocity or netukulimk. Western culture is still grappling with how to treat other humans with respect: racism and cultural disparity must be resolved before we can live harmoniously on this planet. Indigenous understandings are way ahead of us here: they maintain that humans are only one type of people. Even strawberries are “sovereign beings, with their own intelligences, their own wisdoms, their own responsibilities” (Kimmerer, 2012, Timestamp 2:30). As Kimmerer puts it: plants “know how to make berries out of light. We might do well to listen” (Kimmerer, 2012, Timestamp 5:25).

When I listen to Kimmerer, I am reminded of Leanne Simpson’s (2013), The Gift is in the Making. This rich ensemble of stories, beautifully incorporating the Nishnaabeg language, is written from this peopled perspective of the world. In these pages, Zhingwaak (the white pine) gets truly annoyed with Wiigwaasaatig (the birch), and the Hoof Nation leaves because they aren’t being respected. While primarily written for Nishnaabeg children, as a non-Indigenous person, I have found them pivotal to my own teachings, though I am still learning (and struggling with) how to bring this wisdom to kids.

Figure 2: Early morning meanders (copyright Leigh Symonds)

These days, I find myself opening my own eyes, learning what is called ‘two-eyed seeing’ or etuaptmumk (Marshall, 2020). This was originally a way for Indigenous peoples to embrace their own cosmologies and learnings while pursuing Western education (Hatcher, 2012). But it can – and needs – to work both ways. In a recent talk, Elder Albert Marshall introduces this concept by speaking about the importance of “invoking” two-eyes, of looking at “everything from another perspective” (Marshall, 2020, Timestamp: 8:10)

Good advice for anyone, really.

I am reminded that it is not just Indgenous voices that are advocating for respect and reciprocity to this earth, but astronauts. Kimmerer tells the story of Skywoman Falling (Kimmerer 2013, pp. 3-5). Astronauts have achieved the perspective that Skywoman had before she fell to be cradled on the wings of Geese and to dance upon Turtle’s back. They look at the world from a different perspective, one where there are no national boundaries and where the hospitality of our blue world is so very clear in the darkness of space. They too, speak of the interconnectedness of life, of the reciprocity between the winds of Amazon and the diatoms in the oceans (Aronofsky, 2018). We would do well to listen to those able to see with more than one eye.


Aronofsky, Darren. (Executive Producer). (2018). One Strange Rock [TV Series]. National Geographic.

KImmerer, Robin Wall. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. (2012, August 18). Reclaiming the Honorable Harvest: Robin Kimmerer at TEDxSitka. [Video]. TEDxTalks.

Hatcher, Annamarie. (2012). Building cultural bridges with Aboriginal learners and their ‘classmates’ for transformative environmental education. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 2: 346-356.

Marshall, Albert. (2020, February 20). Etuaptapmumk: Two Eyed Seeing With Albert Marshall. [Video]. Humber College.

Marshall, Albert. (2011, June 17). Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall explains “Netukulimk, [Video]. UNIRTV.

Mulligan, Martin. (2018). An Introduction to Sustainability: Environmental, Social and Personal Perspectives (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Prosper, K., McMillian, L. Jane, Davis, Anthony A. and Moffitt, Morgan. (2011). Returning to Netukulimk: Mi’kmaq cultural and spiritual connections with resource stewardship and self-governance. The International Indigenous Policy Journal , 2(4).

Simpson, Leanne. (2013). The Gift Is In The Making: Anishnaabeg Stories. Winnipeg, MB: Highwater Press.

Stiegman, Martha. (2014, March 19). Seeking Netukulimk. [Video]. YouTube.