– Carl Sagan
At the end of this post is the Nepali fable with moral.
10th grade English class. Assignment: come up with an idea that could solve two of society’s problems simultaneously. It’s an opportunity for students to use their imagination and to think critically about the woes of society. Could one problem be the solution of another?
You can find the original modest proposal by Jonathon Swift here.
Not a single grain of rice or slice of cilantro
In order to persuade her young boys to finish their food on their plate, Mom used to ask us to think of the starving boys in Africa and India. Maybe Mom wanted to make sure her money didn’t go to waste. Growing up on low income could drive a mother to really make every penny count (the luxury to have a can of soda every night with dinner was one Mom didn’t want us to be deprived of bubbly fun. She wanted us to grow up having the American Dream she dreamed of having.) I was sensitive when I was young. I am sensitive. It was easy for me to step into the shoes of a slim Indian boy and feel his hunger. Sometimes I think I have a certain ‘wear-other-people’s-shoes’ empathy syndrome favoring someone else’s sneakers over my own.
Warm welcome from the neighborhood kids of Eluru
Young adult life in Vijaywada. Four of us slept in this small little room like we were long-lost brothers.
I annoyed the heck out of my Bro when I ate. He’s probably both happy and sad that I am no longer living with him because although I am not there to challenge his ideas, he can watch TV in peace and quiet. The spoon no longer scrapes against the side of my bowl. “Dude, would you stop? There’s nothing left!” It probably gave him nightmares. Maybe I should have used chopsticks?
(Licking your bowls and plates clean is not only easier on the dish washer if you have one but you are also not generating any food waste. Whenever we took more than we could finish, Mom would get upset and say, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” People say it’s rude to finish what’s on your plate, and in some cultures it probably is the case. ‘One ought to show some restraint by not finishing what’s on the plate.’ ‘It’s impolite to eat every single bite.’ Seriously? How much money do we want to throw away? How about cooking less food and finishing everything instead? How about showing some restraint at the refrigerator or the supermarket? Being overweight doesn’t even justify showing restraint at the dinner plate. It’s absolute ludicrous to throw away food when your neighbor (India) is starving. (As our egos grow larger, the world gets smaller. It’s a small world – everyone is your neighbor.) There are plenty of areas in my life where I show restraint, but wasting perfectly delicious food is not one of them. When I was younger, leftovers were on the menu the next day. Maybe we wouldn’t have to brainstorm how to generate energy from our food waste if we threw away less food? When are dishes the easiest to clean? Right after you finish eating, so don’t let that tomato sauce go crusty.)
Liposuction to implants
Over a decade ago I started hearing about liposuction on TV. ‘Wow,’ I thought. Just like that, you could go from fat to skinny in a matter of hours. Sure, it was not that simple and nowadays, you don’t even hear about liposuction (at least not in my three-foot-world). Deep in my subconscious an idea was bubbling underground before, like Old Faithful, it broke to the surface of my conscious mind.
From Dennis the Menace, IMDB:
Dennis: [brushing his teeth spots Mr. Wilson’s nasal spray. He opens it up and squirts it] Cool! Old faithful! [suddenly it runs out]
Dennis: [uses the mouthwash to fill it back up. But now the mouthwash is empty]
What if we used liposuction on people and implanted the fat onto starving children in India? If people were willing to have their fat removed surgically, maybe hungry kids would be just as willing to have nutrition implanted on them. Or to ‘Make America Great Again’ we should direct those implants to the American kids in poverty.
Yea, this over-a-decade-old-idea of mine would probably not fly with the medical community today but maybe in some sci-fi novel it’d be just one small cinderblock in the foundation of a formidable skyscraper.
What is fat anyway? It is a the body’s evolutionary designed mechanism to store energy in times when calories are scarce. The standard diet is to eat 3 meals a day – 5 or 6 if you’re on that ‘keep-your-blood-sugar-high’ bandwagon (you’re in for a bumpy ride). We never have the opportunity to starve ourselves. We never have the opportunity to turn on some of the machinery inside our bodies. Take the issue of glycogen for example. It’s stored in your liver. When blood sugar is low, glycogen is released from the liver and skeletal muscle (the stuff around your bones) and broken down into glucose molecules which our cells use for energy. Now, if we keep pounding our system with glucose do we ever give the glycogen inside our liver a chance to come out and play with the rest of our organs? I don’t have an M.D., but I don’t think I want the same glycogen in my liver from the rice that I ate when I was 15 years old. Or worse, from the trick-or-treat candy I ate when I was 14 – maybe that’s when I stopped trick-or-treating? Not sure.
Think of having an old Mazda RX-7 from the 80’s. The mechanic will tell you to run the engine every now and then just to keep the juices flowing. Can we not apply the same concept to our bodies? i.e. turn on your fat-using machinery.
Fast. Don’t eat. Skip breakfast (and lunch if you’re a badass). Re-awaken your liver glycogen. If this guy can live for a full year without eating, you’ll survive (but probably be emotional) for a day. Now, I’m not talking about losing weight. That’s a different story and newsflash: exercise is not an effective way to lose weight. I’m simply recommending you do what your body was designed to do: use fat for energy when food is scarce. Make food scarce.
Back to that medically and ethically awkward yet humorous and somewhat logical method of slimming down Americans and fattening up Indians. Maybe what we can do is convince overweight people to skip their hearty American breakfast of milk and cereal and whole glass of sugary orange juice and ask them to add half that money to a ‘feed the starving children in India’ fund. You don’t sell them the idea by showing them starving children on TV (not sure how successful those campaigns were/are). You sell them the idea by telling them, “it will make you healthier for only half the price – it’s a steal!” (Milk and cereal and orange juice for breakfast? Insulin spike? FDA, what certain food surplus do we have now that determines what we should eat for the next couple of decades?)
Being a cashier at Whole Foods-Montrose was an amazing experience. I learned your skills at Tetris actually had real life applications. I also got to see how much money you could raise for the Whole Planet Foundation (top fundraiser in the store, 5th in the Southwest region, $4,160.66, 2013). The people were great – customers and co-workers. I had some of the best leadership while working for the Guest Services Team and the store manager at the time would advise me, ‘Never lower your standards for anything.’
Across the street there was a Jack-In-The-Box. Before long, you kept noticing a girl wearing a Jack-In-The-Box uniform (let’s call her Jaqueline) that would come in to have her lunch at our store. One day she came to my line and – you know, curious me – I asked her if she ever thought about working here. It only made sense if she kept coming here for lunch. And as a Whole Foods employee she could even get a discount every time she bought lunch here. Here I was trying to sell her a job at Whole Foods. And on the flip side, I had co-workers who were going to Jack-In-The-Box across the street for lunch. They even parked there because they were too lazy to walk to the Whole Foods parking lot which was a little bit further across the same street.
The bright idea I kept to myself: Jaqueline and my Whole Foods co-workers simply needed to switch jobs. They would be supporting the businesses they believed in with both their time and their money. Maybe Whole Foods had better health benefits. Then one must ask themselves, do I want to support a business that does not compensate its workers well? Maybe the compensation package of the workers at Jack-In-The-Box is correlated to the quality of the food being served at Jack-In-The-Box. Is that a signal that I shouldn’t be eating at Jack-In-The-Box?
Jaqueline liked my idea. She applied for a job. Don’t know if she ever started working at Whole Foods because I had left Houston and was on my way to the Chicago chapter of my life.
How great it would be if we could be employed by the companies we supported with our dollars. Some people might stop supporting these businesses once they discovered first hand what really went on behind the nice packaging. Other people might support them even more.
Machine boom and job gloom
Maybe the problem of Americans not having enough jobs goes way back in time, even before there was cheaper labor in foreign countries. This conundrum stems all the way to when humanity invented the chair and began to sit down a little too much and to think a little too much. What is a chair? It’s a place to rest one’s body after some exhausting hunting and gathering. The first chair-like piece of furniture was likely a large stone or fallen tree – anything but fancy. But now, our chairs are comfy and adjustable, and we’ve designed them using fancy materials and sturdy woods and metals.
Now, most people spend most of the day sitting in a chair. You’re probably sitting in one right now. I personally think we’ve gotten a little too comfortable sitting in our chairs. We have designed a way to turn on lights from the seated position. Mr. Musk can be seated quite comfortably while his machines behind him slide to-and-fro. Don’t get me wrong, we need some baseline of comfort to allow for our intellect to innovate. But maybe it’s because of our intellect that we have so many problems today?
Take a look at this list of products for some evidence:
- Barefoot shoes
- Blue blocker glasses
- Blue Blocking phone screens
- Stand-up desks
- EMF filters
- Air tube headsets
- BPA-free plastic (is your pasta colander made out of plastic?)
(This list screams run away from tech. What other items can you add to the list?)
All these products are like ‘damage control’ for their predecessors or against some other innovation. It’s like we’re running in circles with our intellect… (Story of Stuff, anyone?) Don’t spend a ridiculous amount of money on a stand-up desk. Why not just ask your local carpenter to build you a tall table? Or better yet, buy some barefoot shoes (before you transition to barefoot) from Amazon and they’ll ship you a big cardboard box you can use to make your one-of-a-kind stand-up desk. Use short table.
Think about the movies you watched in the past. iRobot, Wall-E, The Matrix. Machines and robots are replacing humans in almost every way of life. There’s no wonder there’s a paucity of jobs for humans. We’ve become so intelligent, that we’ve excised people from our businesses. (This is just Amazon. I am not saying that there could be 45,000 more jobs if it weren’t for Amazon. But if those 45,000 robots could be replaced by maybe 20,000 people then maybe it’s worth it. Or maybe it would take 50,000 jobs to equal those 45,000 robots – some would argue it’s worth it.)
John Legend sang it best when describing his woman in his song, ‘All of me.’
“Love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections.”
When something is handmade, there’s likely to be some inconsistencies from item to item. But that’s what makes each one unique – the fact that it was made by hand. Sure, an engineer may feel proud that at the push of a button from his chair, he didn’t have to exert more than 10 calories to build and fly an airplane. But there’s a different feeling of pride following a period of endurance and testosterone infused sweat. Think the Pyramids in Cairo, The Great Wall of China in China. Man made. Can we build something great again with our bare hands? Where does that engineer go after work? The gym.
Maybe the way to ‘Make America Great Again’ is to bring people back to the fields and to get everyone to produce an essential for life: food. It’s all a matter of mindset. Remember, one man’s work/livelihood/bliss is another man’s punishment. We need to stop demonizing manual labor. Handmade noodles sound delicious. Robot-made noodles sound like I’ll be getting a dose of radiation and maybe some heavy metals.
It’s great we can use our intellect to discover how to get a car to drive itself. But if people don’t care to drive anymore, why not hire a driver? Plenty of good drivers in India. My friend’s chauffeur in Mumbai was a former race car driver and he drove really well. I didn’t see any accidents on the roads while I was in India for a month… Maybe a no-rules on the road is a better system than what we have in the US. Do we have a system where the police can just make money off of us for breaking rules that seem to be hurting us more than helping? Having rules allows our minds to give less awareness to the roads than driving without rules.
Self-driving cars…..do we even need cars in the first place? Maybe one day everything we need will be within walking distance and we could use public transportation for longer distances. Sure, it might be an investment to turn our cities into these models, but in the long haul it may turn out more efficient for humanity.
- Can we shift gears and reorganize the current infrastructure in order to eliminate waste rather than stay in current gear and generate more waste?
At the tail end of Wall-E we finally see humans. This might be us one day. And maybe that’s OK. Maybe this is what it looks like when we automate everything – we become automobiles.
Crazy: wasn’t expecting to see obese people in a hotel breakfast buffet in Vijaywada, India.
How to stay one step ahead of the game: buy a plane ticket to Europe or Asia
To those who want to not have to use a plastic colander: bring your pot to the sink with its lid and tilt the pot with one hand. Using your other hand, hold the lid with a slight opening to release the water. You’ll never have to buy a colander again nor worry about melting the plastic. You might lose a few noodles in the beginning. Practice makes progress.
Nepali Fable Moral:
Once there was a small little turtle that lived at the bottom of the ocean. He spent all his days of the year at the bottom of this ocean where it’s cold and dark. But once a year he would make a journey to the surface of the ocean. Swimming and hoping as he kept his head up towards the surface, he would avoid the big fish and paddle hard against the currents. He would reach the surface, take a nice breath of clean air with the sun shining down, and then dive back down to live at the bottom of the ocean for the rest of the year. But every year, he made the same trip.
Now, on the surface of this big vast ocean there floats a small ring. Like a lifesaver ring. Imagine how big this ocean is and how small this ring is that’s floating on the surface with the waves and the storms pushing and pulling at this ring.
What are the chances that the little turtle pops its head up out of the water right when the ring is overhead so that he finds himself with the lifesaver around his neck?
“It’s a miracle, Dad, that the little turtle surfaced inside of the lifesaver. The chance that it could happen is so small, almost no chance of happening at all!”
“Exactly. It’s a symbol of you being alive today – it’s a miracle. So make the most of your life because it’s a miracle that you are here with us.”
Make use of your miracle.
If you don’t change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. Is that good news?