Opinion | Change requires incremental conversion, not overhaul

By Tara Pavithran, Columnist

Over the five-month period from when lockdowns first initiated to school reopening, we’ve been looking for ways to keep busy. People have turned to fitness challenges, obscure diets and mental health care to try to fill the time. There has also been a gradually increasing emphasis on pressing ethical issues.

With the number of changes the world has collectively seen in 2020, it is evident that quarantine brought us multiple opportunities to change our habits and mindsets in all senses. 

It’s never been more important to be open-minded, growing and learning. However, the amount of change needed to actually consider yourself part of a movement is greatly overestimated. 

As soon as the school year ended, I found myself learning more about the health impacts of added sugar in our diet, so I decided to try cutting it out for a period of time. When I first started, I thought it might be a full lifestyle change — meaning no going back to my former post-dinner ice cream rituals, basically ever. 

But the more I abstained, the more I realized how much of an impact food has on my emotional wellbeing. And that is just as important as physical wellbeing. As my Instagram and YouTube recommendations slowly started catering more towards healthy living, anti-diet culture nutritionists who focused on mindful eating found their way onto my explore pages.

Their philosophy was simple: If you want a salad, eat a salad. If you want a donut, eat a donut. There was no use or place for boundaries or feelings of guilt in any attempt to feel better about your lifestyle. As dietitian Amee Severson puts it, diet culture is “rigged to make you believe. . . you have to restrict yourself to it in order to be happy, healthy or allowed to participate in the world around you.”

I ended up just quitting added sugar for 30 days as a fun disciplinary exercise alongside my emerging fitness journey. While I saw the value in going all-or-nothing, once I stopped adhering to such a strict code, I realized that the mindsets I’d gained still stuck with me. And this proved useful when it came to more ideological reframing. 

Over quarantine, I also learned more about what it meant to live sustainably and responsibly. Much to my dismay, a lot of the brands I’ve supported all my life have some sort of record against them either ecologically or ethically, and it was ridiculous to me how deep I had to dig to even find information about this. 

It also seemed hopeless to fully cut certain companies out without a complete overhaul of the way I shop, or fully be zero-waste without restructuring the way I consume. 

But luckily, any effort is a good effort. As it turns out, change does not require full conversion for it to still be meaningful. 

A good example of this is the people who ridicule the anti-straw movement. Obviously, it is more in the hands of corporations and systemic changes to combat climate change. But does that mean we can’t save one more turtle the pain of littered waters? Why do we focus so much on what isn’t being done, rather than focusing on what can be done? 

The same goes for vegetarianism and veganism, or any complete dietary change. It would be ideal for everyone to cut out meat and animal products if that was economically and nutritionally viable for everyone. But in the meantime, isn’t #MeatlessMonday still a beneficial alternative? 

Small changes add up because big changes must start with awareness. Minor-scale conversations are beneficial. In the wake of the largest civil rights movement in United States history, it’s never been more important to start uncomfortable conversations and reorient the way we think about people’s identities. 

There are many implications to the way we approach change, and it can seem overwhelming. But it’s time we start appreciating what is being done and using that as a snowball rather than a blockade to permanent change.

Tara is a sophomore in LAS.

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