Alicia's Food For Thought


No Impact Man – Film Review

Hi readers,

After spending a lovely time in Union Square Park with Jamie yesterday, I watched No Impact Man, a 2009 documentary about Colin Beavan and his family going through a social experiment of having “no impact” on the earth (i.e. eating sustainably, producing no garbage, not spending any money on new clothes, no electricity, etc.). You follow their journey in answering the question, “Is it possible to enjoy a good life without wasting so much?” Usually I watch documentaries that revolve around food and the social/political/cultural implications food has on our lives, but this film really encompasses the whole gambit of consumption (electricity/energy, food, garbage, etc.) and how each individual person/family is affecting the environment.

I applaud Colin for wanting to actually live out the values he believes in and for recording his journey (I’m including his book No Impact Man to my list of books to buy). When I hang out with my friends, we sometimes talk about how we want to help the Earth and that we wish we could actually do something. We do our part in recycling… but that’s about it. It seems like the Earth’s (and consequently ours) problems seem to be looming overhead. We know that they are there, and we know they need to be addressed, but I feel like I have no tools to bring those problems down into my hands so that I become a part of the solution.

Here is the trailer to the documentary if you are interested:

Colin does a really good job at researching different techniques and ideas as to how these “no impact” phases are going to pan out over the year. As a writer, he is obviously well versed in finding resources to help him with his narrative and he writes in his blog in hopes to inspire and influence others to make their footprint smaller on the world. It is almost ironic how “No Impact Man” really does want to make an impact on the world but in a way that it doesn’t actually impact the world in a harmful way. I think his emphasis on research is really important because before we can do anything, we first need to know what we are talking about. In order for him to measure the changes his one family has on the waste of the world, he needs to know how many pounds of garbage they produce in a day, he needs to know how many joules go into making producing a hamburger patty versus a root vegetable, and he needs to know which vendors he can buy sustainable products from. His devotion of time and effort to finding out and figuring out how to live out his values speaks volumes to how much he cares about this issue.

My favorite person in the documentary was Colin’s wife, Michelle Conlin. She is a writer for Business Week and really brings humor and the difficult aspects of this experiment to the documentary. The dynamic between Colin and Michelle almost makes this documentary into a romantic comedy. Colin acts as the wide-eyed idealist that wants to change the world and that change can be easily implemented while Michelle has a realist’s perspective and questions how they are going to survive as a family living a “no impact” lifestyle aka not having a cup of coffee (because it is not locally grown) or ice cubes (because she doesn’t have a refrigerator let alone a freezer to have them). Michelle goes a long with most of the experiment but “breaks” the rules by “taking care of me” such as dying her hair at a salon, or grabbing an espresso shot in order to meet her story’s deadline. She makes the whole situation seem very human. Colin is almost too extreme and it almost takes away the feasibility of living a “no impact” lifestyle. I personally would not be able to have a box of compost and worms in my apartment (especially during the Summer months when they are not allowing themselves to use the AC)- but Michelle convinces me that you can work through the struggle and get to the other side of the changes.

In the documentary they reference this article, “The Year without Toilet Paper,” from The New York Times, and I think it was an eye-opening experience to see Colin go through the process of becoming this big story and having dozens of new networks, television shows, and radio shows contact him to talk about his family’s experiment. They talk about a lot of backlash and all the haterade that bloggers and writers had on Colin. Did Colin have motives behind this stunt? Yes. Did he want to see more books? Yes. Is he a self-promoter and self-proclaimer? Yes. But at the end of the day, are all those things bad? Did people start thinking about how much garbage they produce? Yes. Did people start talking about our consumption issues? Yes. Did people know what composting is? Yes. Do I think Colin had more of a positive influence than a negative one? Yes.

After watching this documentary, I am going to implement a completely plastic free/as waste-free as possible rule when it comes to buying food. Colin and Michelle spend a lot of time in the Union Square Green Market (which happens to be conveniently located in front of my residence hall) and explain to the vendors that they can not purchase individually wrapped goods or having things wrapped up in paper. Instead, they bring their own bags and cloth to wrap things in. I never realized how much waste goes to putting all our groceries in plastic bags, boxes and containers. I also wonder how much we are spending on each product on just the packaging alone.

Another cool thing about this documentary is how NYU is everywhere in this film. I see Carlyle, Kimmel, Bobst, Washington Square Park, and they live close to Rubin Hall. Colin even speaks at an NYU event and my friend Stephanie is in the scene! Even though I like the the topic of this film, it just made it even better to see my school and basically things I walk by everyday in this documentary. It made things very real, but at the same time very surreal, because this was all happening while I was a Freshman/Sophomore.

The biggest take away I conclude from this documentary is Colin’s quote on the purpose of life: “Doing more good than harm in the world.” And really, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t that what we all strive to do? To leave the world in a better place than when we found it?

Thanks for reading and hope you have a tasty but a low impact meal today… actually make that everyday.

Alicia Kim
Food for Thought Resident Assistant
alicia.foodforthought@gmail.com

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