By Léo Azambuja

Some of the exotic tropical fruits grown at Lydgate Farms in Wailua.

Before Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, many children — and adults — would find entertainment by reading comic strips in the newspaper. As a child, we always had an entire page of comic strips to read. Nowadays, we are lucky to get a single tiny square.

I’m not going to get into my favorite strips, that’s not the point (OK, Spiderman ruled). But I will talk about a comic strip that resurfaced years later during my college years at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa: Calvin and Hobbs.

My whole life, I was taught to share. I was taught to share my food, my toys, and even my clothes. Well into my 20s, if a friend complimented my shirt, I would literally get it off my back and offer it. By the way, that doesn’t work anymore; I stopped doing that a long time ago.

So when I took an ethics class at UH Manoa, I was surprised to learn that being selfish is a good thing. Beyond that: everything we do is a selfish act. How could that be? How could I be selfish for donating money? How could I be selfish for helping a homeless person? And why is being selfish a good thing?

Calvin, the naughty and mischievous kid in the Calvin and Hobbs cartoon, had the perfect answer in a comic strip: “I was only looking out for myself.”

I realized I had heard Calvin’s message in many different forms my entire life. I was always told to love myself first; we have got to be selfish, we have got to love who we are before we can love anyone else. Even on airplanes; we are told over and over that in case of an emergency we have to put an oxygen mask on us first and only then help others. The logic is simple: if we pass out, we can’t help anyone else. Or look out for ourselves first, be selfish, and then help others.

Everything we do, whether it’s good or bad, has a potential reward for us. We may get revenge on someone and feel good about it. Or we may help someone and still feel good about it. Either way, we are satisfying our egos, whether we want to admit it or not.

Even after all this, I admit I never got the full concept of one of the most famous buzzwords in Hawai‘i; sustainability.

To me, sustainability was about caring for the Earth, preserving the environment, making sure we find a viable balance between the natural environment and the needs of our society.

Not even when a former governor explained it to my face years ago, I got it. When I asked Hawai‘i Gov. Linda Lingle why, being a Republican, she pushed so aggressively for clean energy in Hawai‘i, she said it wasn’t about the environment; it was about sustainability. She said what she really wanted was for Hawai‘i to not rely so heavily on fossil fuels — which come entirely from out of state — for power generation.

Tiana Kamen shows early childhood educators how easy it is to plant lettuce, during a workshop at Na Pua Keiki Preschool in February.

While talking to nutritionist Tiana Kamen, featured in this month’s cover story, the real meaning of sustainability finally clicked. We need to look out for ourselves, just like that naughty kid Calvin once said.

Tiana pointed the buzzword sustainability has been big for a while, and that it really means to care for yourself. It should be the number-one thing we learn as young kids, she said, to care for ourselves. And when we grow our own food, it’s the most nourishing thing we can do, we will always be secured as far as providing food for ourselves, she said.

Of course this shouldn’t be taken out of context as a reason to destroy the natural environment for the sake of progress and looking out for us. It’s just the opposite. In looking out for ourselves, we should connect with nature, and find a balance where we are able to nourish ourselves with the healthiest, most nutritious food we can have, while not destroying entire ecosystems.

For the sake of looking out for ourselves as individuals, and as the human race, we need to achieve this very attainable balance between food supply and preserving the environment. We can grow our food here in Hawai‘i, and still keep this beautiful environment we have.

As Tiana said, “we don’t have a choice not to do that.”

There is nothing more beautifully selfish than that.