I love to live for the early mornings. It’s 6am and I have my cup of coffee in my Unicef mug that my co-troop leader of Girl Scouts gave me years ago. It’s an image of kids holding hands of multi-ethnic dress encircling the mug. It’s been 1.5 years of being Dr. Plastic Picker, and I asked Mr. Plastic Picker last night how old my eco-avatar was and he said definitely at least two. I looked back at my blog post and indeed this blog is only 1.5 years. This is evidence that this journey has slowed down time. It seems like I’ve been this identity for two years, but it has only been 1.5 years. Is it possible? It seems I have been Dr. Plastic Picker for glorious decades.
When I first met my environmental mentor Dr. Bruce Bekkar, we met at True Foods in Fashion Valley. I met him with Dr. Dave Niesen who is a young ED physician and in charge of wildfire responses. It was the retired ob-gyn climate activisit founding member of Surfrider, the young blond ED physician wildfire expert, and me – middle aged litter picking pediatrician and self proclaimed Dr. Plastic Picker. It was at a vegan restaurant and at that point I was not #tryingvegan. We met in one of those surreal moments ala Matrix, where Bruce Bekkar looked at us younger physicians. Bruce had given ground rounds 10 years ago at our HMO on climate change, and the profound lack of interest among the physicians was profound. And now here we were, two younger physicians from complete opposite ends of the healthcare organization had separately found him. He looked at us across the table and said, “I’ve been waiting for you two for 10 years.” And this is when this group of concerned climate activists was formed to try to move health care organizations within our region to a more sustainable model. But one of the most powerful memories I had during this vegan meal at this vegan restaurant with these two already vegan physicians, was how non-judmental their veganism was. They recommended a certain tofu broth dish. I was intrigued. I ate it, and mostly it was the conversation that I came for. We were planning, and dreaming and discussing the climate. But I left with a normal sized restaurant bill, a sense of wellness and I felt light but also full – if that makes sense.
One of the most powerful things that has happened to me during this journey of becoming Dr. Plastic Picker, is that I’ve been able to now reframe my tasks. I used to feel so busy, always so overwhelmed. Yet I wore that badge of busyness as a symbol of pride. But thinking of the world and plastic and litter and the earth and people as all interconnected, and then trying to figure out my place in decreasing the plastic and the litter and trying to help the world – has made me less busy and given me freedom. Picking up litter is the most empowering act because one chooses to pick it up or not. And knowing that it is a choice and it’s an act of benevolence and love for the earth, has spread that love to all other parts of my life. I think that is why I am happier now. This also enables me to reframe my previous onerous tasks in life as voluntary acts of love.
The country is hurting so much right now. I posted about #blacklivesmatter to be on record that I support racial equality and equal representation. I had friends who had reminded us on social media that silence equals consent for the status quo. As someone who is trying to influence people to decrease their plastic use, I know that this is true. But I did not physcially go protest. We stayed home. Like everyone else, I worry about the increased spread of COVID-19. with the mass demonstrations. But the truth is, this was going to happen because COVID-19 presents a real danger as does institutional racism. People had had enough. How much racist rhetoric and brutality can people take? I will go to work today and I am sure it will come up in clinic.
Sometimes you need to meet the right person to nudge you over to do what you have been wanting to do for a long time. My grandmother died in 2019, and she was Buddhist and vegan for most of her life. You could say then, that veganism runs in my family. I remember going to temple with her for a short time and meditating with a group of aged Asian grandparents, I also became vegetarian for a very short time in high school. It didn’t last long since I was too squirmy at that point to meditate and I couldn’t quite identify with my then 60-year-old temple-mates. So I returned to the normal American teenage life and started going with my friends to their Christian church. I have always admired vegetarians and vegans and Buddhist. It has always to me seemed a more efficient and kind way to live, but I never really thought much more than that.