In the meditation school where I sit, we have formal Zen meals during retreats. Each of us sets out four bowls in front of the mats on which we sit. Water is placed in the furthermost, right-hand bowl. Different types of food go in the other bowls.
But what is fascinating from a conservation perspective is how we wash our bowls.
First of all, you should know that everyone is expected to eat all the food they take. Waste is simply not allowed. When you’re finished eating, only bits of food and grease and liquid of some variety is left.
Next, tea is poured in the furthermost, left hand bowl. You then pour the tea from that bowl into the near, left bowl and then into the near, right bowl. Before pouring, you swill the tea in each bowl so that the tea carries any food particles along with it to the next bowl.
Finally, you drink the tea and, along with it, the last bits of food. There is no waste.
Once the tea is drunk, the water from the upper, right-hand bowl is then poured successively through the bowls, like the tea, to clean away the tea and any remaining particles. You then drink the water and dry your bowls.
Think about what is happening here from a design standpoint. The effluent of one process–cleaning–actually becomes the raw material for the next–drinking tea. Similarly, the water becomes the effluent of the cleaning process which becomes the nutrition for quenching thirst.
Honestly, the first time I ate this way I had a moment of revulsion. Bits of food in my tea? Yuck. Then I realized that I was eating the food and drinking the tea and that they were going to end up mixed together in my tummy anyway.
Besides, I came to love the simplicity and poetry of the process. The efficiency of resource use, of cost, and of action is pleasing. To have the drinking of tea and the cleaning of bowls be the same action is so elegant.
And I can’t help thinking, if effluent can become nutrition in a meal, why can’t we design our industrial processes to work that way? It’s nothing more complicated than design.
PS Check this out: maybe you’ll want to participate in the Interdependence Project’s Responsible Consumption Month.