Pesky unecological habits

April 14, 2010 | By | Reply More

William James once wrote that “habit” functions as “the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent.” (Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1, p. 121). With regard to transportation, I’d like to think that I’ve taken care of more bad habits than most people. For instance, onimg_2231 most workdays, I commute by bicycle, and it’s a 10-mile round trip (my odometer just rolled to 14,000 miles, accumulated over 11 years).  Although I don’t often go on trail rides for fun, I do ride 5-miles to work, 5 back home again, 5, 5, 5, 5 . . . . I also pride myself on walking one or two mile distances every few days, distances many people would insist on driving.

A couple days ago, I was buying a replacement hard drive at a local computer store.  After coming out of the computer store, I decided to pick up a few food items at a Trader Joe’s that was located about 100 yards away, across a big parking lot.   It occurred to me that I should get in my car and drive the 100 yards in order to shop at Trader Joe’s, and I almost did get into my car for that purpose.

Then it occurred to me what an absurd thing it would be, so incredibly unhealthy, to not walk 100 yards.   To fail to walk would be to turn down a chance to get the blood flowing–free exercise.  After scolding myself, I walked briskly across the lot, which took all of one minute, and then wondered how it ever got to be this way that anyone would consider driving such a short distance.   I took a photo of that “long” walk after returning to my car (see below)–I wanted to drive the point home with an image, to remind myself that it should never be an option to drive a car 100 yards.   Never.  Yet I know that numerous people would have driven 100 yards rather than walked.  It’s part of American culture to waste fuel and avoid exercise. distance-to-trader-joes

I used to live next door to a family that often drove their cars 1/4 mile to the nearby church and school, even though they were perfectly able to walk.   I often see another neighbor taking almost 45-minutes to cut his small lawn with a power mower.  He’s needlessly out there breathing 2-cycle engine fumes three times longer than necessary.  What gives?  For some people, I think the problem is that they forget how to walk fast. Walking fast turns walking into a bona fide mode of transportation (the Obama Administration has recently recognized this).

I know people who will always wait for elevators rather than walk even one flight of stairs.   The St. Louis County, Missouri, Courthouse escalator has been broken for a few months, and I have seen dozens of people dragging their bodies up a single set of stairs as if they were about to die.  I know what the problem is:  they are not used to walking up stairs.  Much of the time, these people weigh 50 – 100 pounds too much.  Two-thirds of Americans are not physically active on a regular basis, and one-fourth get no exercise at all.  Two-third of Americans are overweight or obese.

It’s so easy to slip back into bad habits, especially when in a hurry.   We’ve designed our environment so that it’s easy to not walk and it’s too easy to eat lots of high-calorie non-nutritious food that we pop into our mouths with or fingers while we watch television.   Anyone looking at our situation and our physiques from the outside would immediately know that we are living an unhealthy/dysfunctional lifestyle.   It’s not just a matter of opinion.

I think that I’m getting more and more tuned to these issues of bad eating and poor exercise because I’ve been watching a fantastic new show called Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (on ABC).  Check it out, and you’ll be amazed at the dozens of hurdles we put up to keep ourselves and our children from being healthy.  It’s truly mind-twisting.  And I’ve decided that Jamie Oliver is one of my heroes, and I’m not alone in this thinking–he was recently awarded the 2010 TED Prize.   You can watch the Food Revolution trailer and all of the individual episodes on the Internet here. It’s time to get angry about the way that we are abusing ourselves and our children, just like Jamie says on his show and at his recent TED lecture–it’s time to join Jamie’s revolution.  Give just 20-minutes to watching this video and get angry enough to do something.  Talk it up with the people you care about.


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Category: Education, Food, transportation

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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