10 vs. 100 Mile Diet

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Food consumes me even when I know that I should be consuming it. I really never thought too much of food until I stopped smoking almost thirty years ago and immediately put on twenty new pounds which were neither needed, nor good for my health.

In today’s TEDx Talk one of my favorite authors, Vicki Robin, co-author of Your Money or Your Life, shares her relationship with food and gives us a few interesting facts like: the local grocery store has only three days supply of food on hand; 30% of our food is thrown away; agriculture accounts for more greenhouse gasses than transportation… YIKES!

Ms. Robin talks about her experience with the 10-mile diet. In his “landmark work” The Dream of the Earth, Thomas Berry in 1988 suggests a 100-mile diet or a return to an understanding of bioregions from which we came and according to Berry we must return if we are to save our beautiful “garden planet earth”. He writes that we must turn from our anthropocentric thinking to a biocentric norm, saving not just humans, but the entire life community:

The solution is simply for us as humans to join the earth community as participating members to foster the progress and prosperity of the bioregional communities to which we belong. A bioregion is an identifiable geographical area of interacting life systems that is relatively self-sustaining in the ever-renewing processes of nature. “ (p. 166)

Three eating actions you may enjoy trying to adjust to our new post-industrial world:

  • Dine out at a restaurant featuring “Locally Grown” food.
  • Learn about your own bioregion, i.e. Chicago is neighbor to the Indiana Sand Dunes State Park.
  • Cooking from scratch using as many local ingredients as you can find.


On The Importance of Content

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

In 1974, Patty Hearst, grand-daughter of William Randolph Hearst, a publishing magnate on the west coast, heading up the largest newspaper establishment in the country at the time, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in San Francisco, and held captive. Her captivity lasted for 17 months, and eventually the question arose as to whether all this occurred against her will, or did she, perhaps through a brain-washing technique, gradually consent to the activities and rationale of this radical criminal organization?

If her consent could be proven and established, would that implicate her in the activities of the SLA, which, in large part, were criminal in nature. That is to say, in agreeing to join its membership, she was in agreement with its agenda. Her eventual consent would have stood out as the primary issue, regardless of what eventuated subsequently from her membership. One incriminating action that spelled out the criminal agenda of the SLA and her obvious role in it involved the hold-up of a bank that was at least partially photographed, showing her holding a machine gun in the course of the robbery. Was her consent to join the SLA, if it occurred, the dominant factor controlling whatever else occurred subsequently, such as her role in some of the criminal activity the SLA performed, such as this bank robbery, so that the focus of our attention and concern should be on her consent to join, rather than any of the other subsequent activities engaged in by the SLA? Or was she a victim of some type of brain-washing during her captivity which would have exonerated her from any voluntary membership of the organization and any subsequent law-breaking, whatever that might have been? In this scenario, it would have been the presence and quality of her consent to membership in the SLA more than any subsequent wrongful activity that would be the dominant consideration.

As a matter of fact, following her capture and separation from the SLA, she was found guilty of bank robbery, and sentenced to seven years in prison, though after two years President Carter commuted the remainder of her sentence.   So even the aftermath of this episode shows the mixed reaction to the role of her initial consent in ascertaining the morality of her actions, more than any specific activities in which she and the SLA subsequently engaged. Does its presence or its absence make all the difference in making such a judgment?

Comparable questions arise around other types of behavior. E.g., is a sexual act between an unmarried (or married) man and a woman good if both agree to it, or is it evil regardless of the presence or absence of consent on the part of either party? In the current legal debate on rape, it is the presence or absence of consent that determines a judgment about the goodness or evil of such an action, in the eyes of the law. But in another context (ethics, religious belief) the presence or absence of consent may not be the sole determinant of the goodness or evil of the action.

Or, in a professional prize fight, where one boxer is being mercilessly beaten to a pulp by the other boxer, does the willingness of the winning opponent to continue the fight, and the losing boxer’s agreement with this (e.g., for the sake of the money), justify the referee in extending the fight, regardless of the injury being inflicted or sustained by the boxers?

Or in a casino, does a player’s willingness to continue gambling regardless of the losses he/she is sustaining justify “the house” in accommodating the losing player’s willing consent or is something else needed to make an adequate moral assessment of the action underway?

In each of these cases, is the crucial issue the consent of a participant to an action or situation sufficient to reduce or eliminate assignment of any significant evil to an action agreed to, whether the context be one of captivity or sexual conduct or bodily injury or loss of property? And does the presence of two or more participants in the kind of actions just described make any difference in assessing the presence or absence of goodness in the situations described? Or does the agreement of two parties to any loss or injury underway constitute the central issue in establishing the morality of an action? The issue is one of CONSENT to an injury one sustains, and whether its presence or absence is sufficient to legitimate or not the action, or is something more needed to render it legitimate and justifiable.

In the Catholic tradition, of course, something more than consent is called for to legitimate any action (or omission) fully engaging any person. While consent is necessary, it alone is insufficient to make an action good or evil. We also need some content to what consent applies, such as, for instance, the ten commandments provide. But In a society where the rule of civil law is important, the presence or absence of consent to a situation seems to be paramount, so that litigation often proves to be the last and best determinant of the acceptability or unacceptability of an action, or its omission.

At the last judgment, Jesus teaches us that it’s not just the issue of willing consent to be of help when situations call for it, but it is also the ability to recognize needy situations presenting themselves to us (“when did we see you hungry, or naked, or imprisoned?”, Mt. 25.31, ff.). It is not “consent to whatever…” but consent to certain specific issues that determine one’s entrance into the kingdom.

Consent is important, but it needs content.

Mom Says: Nothing is Impossible!

I’m not sure my brother Terry remembers it, but I remember it as if it was yesterday. Terry was struggling with one of the large storm windows he had just washed, trying to hang it on the hooks meant to keep it in place. Our mother was at the foot of the step ladder, encouraging and giving advice when Terry finally blurted out: “This is impossible, mom, it just won’t fit!” Mom told Terry to come down off the ladder. When he and the window were safely back on terra firma, she took the window in her hands, climbed the ladder and as she set it on the hooks said: “Nothing is impossible!”

To this day, I still believe nothing is impossible, even when it comes to solving the problems of violence in our city, the loss of jobs despite the ever-increasing availability of goods, or the isolation so many of us feel living in our megalopolis. Kirsten Dirksen, a Harvard graduate and co-founder of faircompanies tells another story of overcoming the impossible in today’s YouTube selection. While it’s in Spanish, there are subtitles. I hope you can enjoy it.

Let’s Try Integrity When Attempting Community

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

I believe relationships, while the basis for happiness according to a 75 year Harvard study, must be honest and free of fear. If they are not, we all lose.

Robert Waldinger has received 2½ million views of his November 2015 TED Talk: “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.” In this talk Waldinger tells of a 75 year Harvard study of 724 men from their teenage years into their 90’s. The men studied came from two groups: a class of Harvard sophomores; and children from the poorest neighborhoods in Boston. Sixty of these men are still alive. Basically the study discovered that our relationships are the single most important element accounting for our happiness.

Would if these relationships are contrived and don’t accurately reflect who we are, what we think and believe? In short would if we find we’re just playing a game?

Trevor Laffan recently retired after 35 years from An Garda Siochana, the national police service of Ireland. Garda has a stated purpose of Working with Communities to Protect and Serve. Writing for theJournal.ie, an Irish online post similar to the Huffington Post in the U.S. he laments the demise of community policing. He spent 20 years there. In his article he describes how his fellow officers desire for advancement led to the community policing’s demise. Basically he writes that his fellow officers were fearful of reporting what they experienced at the grass roots level for fear of upsetting those above them in the hierarchy, and limiting their chance of advancement.

We can each do something to reverse the demise of our institutions, increase our own job satisfaction, and to build lasting relationships. Here are just a few examples:

  • When you disagree with the boss, or anyone for that matter, respectfully tell them you see things differently.
  • Always put your integrity first and trust this will serve all concerned.
  • Let advancement happen. If it doesn’t, find a new job or in my case a new volunteer position.

2016 Time to Let the Wind Blow

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

The New Year (2016) has just rounded the corner, putting us again to the task of a new series of resolutions about making life become better, bigger, and happier than it has been. It’s remarkable that so many of us go through this routine year after year, reformulating the resolutions about what we’re going to be and do. But we seldom succeed. If we compared this exercise to a ball player’s batting average, it would be around 180. And this is nothing to brag about.

Perhaps we have to engage in this process differently, for we are not hitting the ball successfully. This process could possibly begin with an automobile drive through some areas of the countryside, in a number of our states, that have begun to feature huge windmills, sometimes extending over large areas of land for several miles–gigantic windmills, with impressive dimensions extending over several miles, presenting what initially stand as an ugly eyesight, compared to the pleasant farmland they’ve replaced. But, their saving feature is that they’re productive energy resources, which more than compensate those who have invested time, money, genius and perseverance in supporting this new energy resource, to complement traditional energy resources that are diminishing, such as coal, oil, gas, waterways. For wind can be an effective and economic generator of electric power, for instance.

Why is it that it took us so long to discover and take advantage of such an available energy resource? For the Dutch have successfully done so for decades. Surely we have felt the power of wind sweeping across the landscape, bending tree limbs to the point of breaking, even stopping us in our tracks, especially if we live in such windswept areas as residents of the “windy city” do.

Eventually a consortium of like-minded persons emerged to collaborate to take advantage of this overlooked energy resource, developing it into a helpful energy source to meet our energy needs. And, for the most part, this resource is not significantly injurious to the landscape, other than withdrawing the land on which it sits from agricultural use, and, in the estimation of some, turning it into an ugly blemish on what had been a pleasing pastoral scene.

It is likely that Pope Francis’ recent encyclical letter extolling the role of mother nature in our overall well-being can strengthen this innovative development, supporting his attempt to elevate our esteem of nature in our overall assessment of helps available to us to live in a way that is responsive to our available resources. In recent decades, we have been so preoccupied with improving on what nature can provide us in our effort to lead satisfactory lives that we have left unexplored and untapped resources untapped within nature, that can reward our attention. The Catholic tradition in the area of moral theology has called upon “natural law” as a fundamental guide in discerning goodness and evil in human behavior and conduct, and natural law is nothing other than an appreciation of mother nature to help us in addressing the dilemmas of moral goodness and evil. The Pope’s letter, entitled LODATO SI, (“Worthy of praise and esteem”) carries on this tradition of appreciating nature in its genesis and development as instructive in our understanding of how things ought to be.

So, as we stand on the cusp of a New Year in our lives, we again face the formidable task of making this year better than previous years have been. The “discovery” of wind-power as an answer to our diminishing energy supply should bolster our conviction that ways and means are available, remaining to be (re-)discovered, in our effort to fortify New Year resolutions to achieve some improvements in our lives, possibly goals that we have consistently failed to accomplish. The reassessment of wind-power is a simple example of an overlooked resource, in this regard. We may be recharting a nautical development that itself was an improvement on sailing the seas, replacing the wind-dependent sailing vessel with the steam engine. It may call for a renewed appreciation of one of nature’s primal forces (the wind) to reappropriate a place in powering over the oceans, in conjunction with nuclear generated sources of power and energy.

To enrich our appreciation of nature’s resiliency as an energy resource, we can enrich it with a faith reflection pat to the purpose of commencing a New Year enriched with God’s role in empowering us. This flows from our Catholics, and indeed Christian, understanding of the mystery of God as trinitarian, that is, as one God Who is a trinity of Persons. And our appreciation of One of these Persons as the Spirit of God, whom we frequently identify as God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. For the most part, most of us have a poor record at acknowledging the role of the Holy Spirit, in our lives, perhaps in a way comparable to our recent oversight of the significance of wind as an empowering element in mother nature. And, yet as God’s Holy Spirit, He is identified as the energy, the power, and the pent-up potential of God available to us throughout our life. He is the divine resource to move us ever closer to our destiny with God facing us at death. We might enrich our New Year’s resolutions by  invoking God’s Holy Spirit to empower us in this New Year of 2016. For the Holy Spirit, as God, is an inexhaustible energy resource Whose power is comparable to wind, for did not those assembled together on Pentecost Sunday share this experience: “…there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were…and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…”? (Acts2.1-4)

How to Move From Otherness to Likeness

For much of my life I’ve seen myself as “other”. I’ve defined myself not by what I am, i.e. my talents, my idiosyncrasies, or my shortcomings, but by how I compare with you. Frankly, that has turned out very negative for myself as well as for you.

Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, addressing today’s very serious problem of Altruistic Evil in his book “Not in God’s Name” writes about the problem of “other”. He calls it sibling rivalry. He gives us an alternative to this by convincingly arguing, for this reader at least, against dualistic thinking in favor of seeing how we are alike. “…we are each blessed by God, each precious in his sight, each with our role in his story…” (p 893)


Alex Llanera an intern for Homeboy Industries in the Jesuit Post “Fine by Me? The Grace of a Traffic Ticket” gives us a good example of how to move from “otherness” to “likeness”. He tells an attention-grabbing story of how a homeless, undocumented, 24 year old Latino interrupted his packed-filled day’s agenda and brought home the lesson of how he moved from client/intern to “just two guys” to friends. Alex learns how the young man deals with the pain and anger in his life. He also learns how the young man’s demeanor wins over the traffic court clerk and is not only relieved of paying for the ticket, but gets a big hug as well.

This week I’m going to work at being a friend by:

  • Stopping to listen – When the homeless person on the street asks for a handout, I’m going to say yes, but only after you tell me a little about you first.
  • Ask for advice – Instead of always offering my opinion, I will first ask someone who says something I immediately disagree with to help me understand.
  • Smile more – Smile at people as I pass them on the street whishing them a “Good day!”.

Want to join me?