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Western Consumption

The Guardian is forever churning out articles that really resonate with me. It’s actually a pretty depressing article, but  the ‘action’ bit i.e. what you (individuals, governments, businesses etc) can do, is as follows:

‘The behavioural changes that are required of us are so fundamental that no one wants to make them. What are they? We need to consume less. A lot less. Less food, less energy, less stuff. Fewer cars, electric cars, cotton T-shirts, laptops, mobile phone upgrades. Far fewer.And here it is worth pointing out that “we” refers to the people who live in the west and the north of the globe. There are currently almost 3 billion people in the world who urgently need to consume more: more water, more food, more energy.’

I believe tackling overconsumption (not so much overpopulation, which is an issue, but not as critical) in Western societies is URGENT. I am very keen to do my bit, as this blog documents, and inspire others to do the same.

Pavan Sukhdev Quote

The rules of business urgently need to be changed, so corporations compete on the basis of innovation, resource conservation and satisfaction of multiple stakeholder demands, rather than on the basis of who is most effective in influencing government regulation, avoiding taxes and obtaining subsidies for harmful activities to maximise the return for shareholders.

Charity Shop Love

I LOVE charity shops. I think they’re great because:

  1. They’re green – I have so many lovely 2nd hand clothes which I use for work, many of which are high end brands that I wouldn’t otherwise have bought. I’ve not needed to buy clothes from conventional clothes shops for over a year 🙂 Clothes require energy to make (which means CO2 emissions) and plenty of water (to grow crops e.g. cotton, and to process in the factory).
  2. They’re ethical – the profit (or surplus, as it is known in the charity sphere) is going to a good cause. Since the vast majority of clothes are made in sweatshops, being able to boycott clothes shops is important to me.
  3. They helps the community, providing volunteering opportunities for locals.

I can personally relate to the third point. Volunteering at a charity shop helped me to get my internship at an environmental charity (which I loved, but it sadly ended – my aim is to get back in the sustainability sector though!). These are the skills that I honed during whilst volunteering at a charity shop:

  • Training and supervising younger volunteers – the charity shop that I volunteer at is understaffed so younger volunteers don’t always get the guidance they need to contribute to the shop’s operational activities, which is a shame.
  • Organised and hosted a fundraising event (managed to raise £366 in one evening)
  • Interacting with customers
  • Recruiting volunteers
  • Educating volunteers/ customers about the charity’s work
  • Perhaps more mundane, yet essential day-to-day tasks such as sorting donations (deciding what can be sold, and at what price), ensuring that the shop floor looks good and ensuring that the back room of the shop is kept tidy and organised – these areas require personal initiative and innovation

I genuinely enjoy helping out because I know I add ‘business value’ to use business speak. I feel that I contribute positively and help the shop make more money when I’m there, and help support other volunteers to get the most out of their opportunity. It’s a very empowering experience, I recommend it!

 

How I became vegan

Trigger

I was interested in eating healthier and so I read a book that suggested that eating meat, dairy and eggs, particularly in the quantities that the average person living in the West consumed wasn’t a healthy lifestyle choice. I gave veganism a go. I didn’t find it too difficult because I didn’t particularly like meat. I found it much harder to give up foods like chocolate and cake (luckily I can eat dark chocolate and vegan cakes). It wasn’t easy – when I first started university, I started eating salmon and milk chocolate again. A couple of months later I watched ‘The End of the Line’, a documentary about overfishing, and I found it so shocking I stopped eating fish (the Guardian has lots of articles about overfishing which are very good). I can’t remember how I managed to give up milk chocolate, but I think it was a combination of deciding to boycott Nestle (I used to be very fond of kit kats) and gradually getting used to dark chocolate (I was never a fan of it before).

Motivators (what motivates me to sustain the behaviour)

  • Enjoying the challenge of living life differently and learning new things, trying new foods  e.g. I didn’t know about raw food before I became vegan, and I hadn’t tried many of my now favourite foods (e.g. oyster mushrooms, kale chips, raw chocolate, nutritional yeast)
  • Remembering that it’s not a competition – I’m motivated more by the thought of improving myself than what others are doing.
  • Googling – reading articles on the environmental benefits of vegetarianism/veganism (the Guardian has some particularly good articles on environmental benefits)
  • When I started uni, I was amazed at other student’s dietary choices, who had grown up eating meat every day. I thought it was very strange, having grown up in Greece, where most of my peers had meat-free meals regularly. This motivated me to continue being vegan as I thought of the enormous quantity of meat, dairy and eggs that were being eaten throughout the country every day.
  • Watching documentaries that reinforced the message e.g. Food Inc, The End of the Line.
  • Meeting other vegans at uni – they made it look easy and normal.
  • Being stubborn.
  • Knowing exactly why you are vegan at all times e.g. memorising a few facts about the environmental impact of dietary choices, reminding yourself and others of these reasons. Veganism is often regarded as extreme, but I think that it is a rational response to our very broken food system – environmentally and socially (meat, dairy and eggs are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, which is a shame because there are so many other areas that the money could go towards. I think these foods should be subsidised (or else they would be a luxury that only the rich could afford), but not to the extent that they are today).
  • I was never particularly interested in animal welfare/rights before I was vegan, but after I became vegan I read more about these issues and I now feel more strongly about them.
  • Knowing that I’m not depriving myself in any way – I make sure to treat myself to delicious snacks and going to restaurants. Remembering that it’s not a punishment, it’s a choice and it’s something I want to do.
  • Positive response from other people – my friends and family were very supportive of my choice, and most people respond positively and usually have lots of questions for me.
  • Becoming vegan helped me overcome other challenges in my life. A friend of mine once pointed out to me that yes, being vegan was a positive thing, but had I considered the carbon footprint of buying new clothes? What about boycotting Amazon, Apple, Pret, Play and all the companies that decide not to pay their fair share of tax? I don’t think that I would have been able to act in these areas, which are difficult to do something about, had I not managed to become vegan.

Enablers (What might help you)

  • If you enjoy cooking & enjoy the challenge of cooking with different ingredients (e.g. using flax seeds instead of eggs when baking) you’ll probably find it easy to make more vegan meals.
  • Sneaking more vegan foods into your diet e.g. lentils (there are so many great varieties), quinoa, beans, milk alternatives (rice, oat, soy, coconut, almond, hazelnut, hemp) etc. From my personal experience, I find that people whose diet is meat/dairy/egg heavy find it difficult to imagine what they would eat otherwise. I ate a lot of veggie food growing up, so wasn’t especially difficult for me to transition to a vegan diet. Getting yourself used to veggie food could help you make the transition in the future.

Barriers (and how I overcome them)

  • Inconvenience – I try to plan ahead for this one. I know that I will get annoyed if there’s nothing for me to eat and I’m hungry, so I will usually pack snacks or google restaurant menus in advance to make sure there is a vegan option when I am out and about.
  • Not wanting to seem rude at work or in front of family/friends – I try to speak positively about being vegan and explain to people why it’s important to me
  • Not being able to cook – I cook almost every day and I’m not particularly good. I’m usually rushing so the meals I make are edible, but not delicious.
  • Not being willing to cook – personally I don’t have a choice because I don’t like sandwiches and there aren’t many vegan ready meals that are easily accessible.
  • Being thought of as an outsider/  as someone who looks down on others – I try to speak positively about being vegan
  • Going on holiday – some places are amazing (American cities such as Boston, New York, Seattle are incredible – there’s so much vegan food and vegan junk food in supermarkets and restaurants that London is really put to shame) and other places are terrible (Norway- not a country for vegetarians or vegans). I usually research restaurants before I go on holiday.
  • Enjoying the taste of meat/dairy/eggs. This is a tough one. On the one hand there are some really great meat and dairy alternatives, but I know that many people think that these aren’t the same as the real thing. From my personal experience, your tastes can change. I couldn’t stomach the bitterness of dark chocolate before I was vegan – now it doesn’t seem especially bitter at all. It’s all in the mind.

Just a little something I live by…

Food miles is defined as the number of miles (kilometres) a product has to be transported from the farmer/grower to various stages of production until it reaches the supermarket and finally the plate of the consumer.

This study suggests that considering the energy use and carbon dioxide emissions associated with transportation and production paints a more accurate picture of the carbon footprint of a product than considering transportation (food miles) alone. Their results indicated that:

  • The UK uses twice as much energy per tonne of milk solids produced than New Zealand (NZ), even after including the energy used in transporting NZ dairy to the UK. This is because the UK has a more intensive production system than NZ, and requires more energy to produce dairy.
  • The UK uses four times as much energy to produce lamb than NZ does, even after including the energy used in transporting NZ lamb to the UK.
  • The UK uses 1.6 times as much energy to produce apples than NZ does, even after including the energy used in transporting NZ lamb to the UK.

New Zealand has greater production efficiency in many food commodities compared to the UK because:

  • NZ agriculture tends to apply less fertilisers (which require large amounts of energy to produce and cause significant CO2 emissions)
  • NZ animals are able to graze year round outside eating grass instead large quantities of brought-in feed such as concentrates.

Conclusion

Local UK food isn’t always the most sustainable option.

Action

“If you want to wipe out all the food miles in what you eat, all you need do is swap one day’s red-meat eating a week to white meat. Not even to a vegetarian diet. Just to white meat.” Professor Tim Benton, UK Champion for Global Food Security.

Wouldn’t choosing the most sustainable products be easier if every product stated its carbon footprint on its label?

A cigarette butt is the small part of a cigarette that is left after smoking and contains the filter. Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic product which is not biodegradable. Instead, the filter will break up into smaller and smaller fragments but these will never disappear or break down into naturally-occurring substances; essentially they become diluted in water or soil. This is because the filter fragments cannot be broken down by micro-organisms such as bacteria.

Cigarette butts that are discarded on the street are often washed down drains ending up in streams, rivers and the ocean. They pose a problem to wildlife that ingest the filters and are toxic to certain marine micro-organisms.

Action

Dispose of cigarette butts responsibly in rubbish bins – never throw them on the ground.

Did you know?