Wednesday, May 29, 2013

eco/ethical living

I found this post half written in my 'drafts' dating back to when I was in Wellington, but it is just as relevant today so I figured I'd finish it off! Over the last few months I've been doing the bulk of the shopping so I've been 'greening' the household - I'm not sure I'll ever convert the homehelp away from using Jif (yes it is still called that here!) but at least she's using it for fewer things these days and there are some more environmentally friendly alternatives around.

Our news this week has been full of the controversy around Dole bananas and their self appointed 'ethical choice' sticker despite child labour and spraying crops whilst workers are still in the fields etc. They have now removed the labels, whether their practice will improve remains to be seen. I was very glad to know that in recent months our banana consumption had been of organic bananas from Ecuador, high in food miles, but you can't win on all fronts.

Living in as ethically and environmentally friendly manner as I can is important to me and is partly why I board, alongside financial reasons and not actually liking living alone. Two of us sharing a house has a far smaller environmental footprint than two people living alone in separate dwellings.

I've been trying to remember where it started and have decided I can't. Having been brought up vegetarian and a member of the Vegetarian Society (who for some reason still send membership cards for my brother and I as part of our parents 'family membership' - you'd think their database might have twigged after 40 or so years...) it meant I had an awareness of ethical living issues fairly early on from discussions at home and reading the Vegetarian magazines (me being the kind of child that read anything left lying around).

I can't underestimate either the influence of growing up through British Young Friends - being a large, strong group with a fairly broad age range (then 16-30's, plus the likes of Dave and Horace...) it meant that I was socialising with people who had salaries and mortgages as well as students and so on in shared housing living off grants, unemployment benefit (in the days when students could sign on through the summer so that they could study rather than work) or low income jobs like clowning, peacework, or whatever gave them time and energy to be active YFs! Not only did ethical issues of daily living come up in conversation they were on our business agendas at YFCC (now YFGM) - ethical banking is one I remember clearly - moving our banking away from the originally Quaker Barclays Bank because of their involvement in apartheid South Africa to the Co-operative Bank.

Flatting with Quakers (as they say here! Sharing a flat with...) and like minded folk meant it was easy enough in principle to have a fairly ethical household, our restriction was financial but we did what we could, always aware that there was more to be done. Recycled loo roll was a given - Andrex was a no no, no matter how cute the puppy or any appeal to send in wrappers for guide dogs. Going to the 'Scoop Shop' was not only avoiding heavily packaged goods, it was cheaper as was going to the local veg shop rather than buying at the Supermarket. A flatmates diet for medical reasons which avoided all tinned foods did wonders for our collective cooking skills.

Seven years of working for a Steiner organisation and getting the task of the bulk shopping without having to worry too much about budgeting meant I became used to automatically selecting environmentally friendly products, organic food and drinks. I'd always been used to preparing meals from raw ingredients rather than living off pre-packaged foods and buying them always felt wrong, like cheating. Sensitive skin has meant that I can't use cheap toiletries anyway and an abhorance of the thought of animal testing for beauty products had me at the Body Shop's door as soon as I was buying my own (in those days of course it wasn't owned by L'oreal!). These days I either buy ecostore or make my own.

Being on a much tighter budget these days often means bulk buying from the local wholesaler wins over organic but it is still something I try to do as much as possible, I console myself with the thought that the 1kg snaplock bags (which get reused) use less packaging than smaller quantities from the supermarket! The Rainbow Falls organic cows have been dried off for the winter so I'm making my own almond milk, the liquid goes on my porridge and in my bread etc and the left over nut pulp gets turned into nut loaves, fruit and nut slice etc.

As ever there is always more that could be done, but with almost all the lightbulbs now being energy saving, a bigger and more productive veggie garden and various other minor changes around here at least I feel like progress is being made.

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