Amber Webb, a cook at Melvin’s by Newport Avenue Market, holds a shiny, reusable smoothie glass. photo by TL Brown
Amber Webb, a cook at Melvin’s by Newport Avenue Market, holds a shiny, reusable smoothie glass. photo by TL Brown

Sometimes it seems impossible to change things. I mean, it's hard enough to eat better or get more exercise. What about changing the world?

It looks impossible. Governments, businesses, bureaucracies - they seem so huge and impenetrable. We call our senators, send petitions to CEOs, show up to council meetings - and nothing changes.

At least, it doesn't change fast. Our gumption-impaired culture doesn't prepare us for long, complex efforts.

There's a popular saying to express the resulting bitterness: "You can't fight City Hall!"

Oh, really? Tell it to the suffragettes. In 1848 some ladies thought women ought to be able to (gasp!) vote. At the Seneca Falls Convention, they vowed to make it happen.

"You can't fight City Hall" frames government, or some other large and convenient scapegoat, as the bad guy. There's no point trying, in that viewpoint; you'll never get entrenched bureaucracy to budge. May as well stay home and watch Fox News or Rachel Maddow.

Problem with that view? It ain't true.

Things do change. They change because people get out there and make stuff happen.

For the suffragettes, everything went smoothly along, women received equal pay to men's, and a woman president was elected... ha ha, just kidding. No, the movement advanced in fits and starts, complete with hunger strikes and prison sentences.

In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed.

It reads, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." Nice work, gals!

Fighting for what you believe in can be frustrating. It can take a long time. The suffragettes were at it for over 70 years. As an ovary-toting American, I'm awfully glad they bothered.

One cause I care about is reducing single-use plastics. Some view it as a doomed cause; they say Americans will never change. SUPs are great for Big Oil and convenient for makers of packaged goods.

But boy oh boy, are they bad for our health.

Plastic doesn't biodegrade. Instead it breaks down into teeny-tiny particles, releasing toxic chemicals in the process.

The toxins show up in water systems and the bloodstreams of humans and animals. They disrupt our endocrine systems, causing cancer, infertility, birth defects, and other fun stuff.

Even before they break down, SUPs cause problems. They're found inside dead birds and whales. Lightweight plastic bags blow into forests and oceans. Animals become entangled in them; some animals mistake them for food.

They ingest our plastic junk, and it kills them.

Here in Sisters, hardworking students petitioned City Hall to ban those deadly, unnecessary bags. City Hall wasn't up for the challenge.

The answer to that isn't, "Let's give up. Boo hoo." The answer is to keep working, solid and steady. Maybe a more realistic and compassionate City Hall will come into power.

If not? No worries. Oregonians are rumbling toward a statewide ban.

For me, tackling my own family's SUP levels is a challenge. We phased out disposable cutlery long ago. We try to bring our own containers for takeout food or leftovers. Every so often, something irresistible is only available in a clamshell, and I buy the darned thing.

We wash and reuse 'em, but honestly, how many clamshells does one family need?

I also can't seem to kick my Terra Chips habit. Right now I'm experimenting with ways to transform the crinkly silver packaging into bows for giftwrap.

How can I get the food manufacturers to invest in reusable packaging? I mean, if you can't fight City Hall, you sure as heck can't fight Corporate America! Right?

Bzzzt. Wrong.

A few weeks ago I called up Newport Avenue Market in Bend, the employee-owned corporation that now owns Melvin's here in Sisters. I didn't plan to pester them about plastics; I was seeking support for our farmers' market.

But I got chit-chatting with a nice guy named Joe, who turned out to be the general manager. I mentioned that Newport seems to put a lot of stuff in SUPs.

"We just had a presentation about that today!" he exclaimed. Yep, they were already on it.

I figured I'd push my luck.

"My son loves your smoothies," I said, "but I feel so guilty about those disposable cups, we hardly ever buy them anymore."

There was a pause.

"We don't have glasses for smoothies at Melvin's?"

"Not that I've seen."

Another pause.

"I think we can do something about that," Joe said.

Yesterday my family popped into Melvin's to try their new sushi rolls, made on-site every morning. (I must say, irrelevant to this article, they were quite delicious.)

I wandered back to the kitchen and asked, "Are smoothies available in real glasses?"

Yes, they are, a cook named Amber said. I told her of my phone conversation.

"Joe?" she said. "He brought these glasses here himself a couple weeks ago."

Wow. No hunger strike. No jail time. One phone call. That's all it took to encourage a local business to take positive action.

Change is possible. It takes patience and persistence.

And the gumption to make one phone call.