Sunday, January 25, 2015

what canst thou say, and do?

Somehow I managed to find myself on an email list this week to whom a discussion document was circulated by the Futures Committee (a national Quaker committee looking at issues around global change etc and what we can do about it). It was addressing issues around climate change and what we as Quakers were called to do collectively and individually.

 "Can we work together to develop ways in which we can cope with this daunting challenge and bring it on board as a part of our everyday life? Can we develop ways of expression that makes the story accessible to our community, even to the extent of changing our priorities and world view? Can we develop ways of taking the message outside the Quaker community and help other organisations to “break the silence” in such a way that it enables them to address their challenges more effectively?"

And if Quakers can't stand up, speak out and take action on this who will???

So here's my tuppenceworth for now.... For many years I've been slowly chipping away at 'bad' habits, rethinking my consumption patterns, decluttering so I need less space, taking part in 'Plastic free July', weighing up the pros and cons of various travel options etc etc. It is, as the document says, a daunting challenge, as nothing is ever straightforward. We've reached the point now where the carbon footprint of keeping the internet functioning internationally is becoming significant, so skyping instead of flying somewhere isn't necessarily always the answer! This doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying to work towards zero carbon travel, or finding more sustainable means to keep the worlds' servers cool, or that we should all just jump on a plane anyway regardless. It's about weighing up the pros and cons and each doing the best we can. And that is where the importance of support comes in and sharing different ideas and experiences.

One of the choices I have control over again in my life is food shopping. For several years I wasn't the one doing the shopping so I had less say in the matter, but over the last four years that ball has been back in my court again. Eleanor's recent post covers some of the dilemmas and thought processes that I've worked through over the years. I have to say simply cutting out a lot of processed/pre-packaged food from my life makes supermarket shopping much quicker again! Luckily my life is such that I have the luxury of time to cook all my meals from scratch and I don't have to convince anyone else to change their habits to match.

A couple of years ago I switched to buying organic raw milk from Rainbow Falls Farm over near Kerikeri. It gets delivered to local drop off points, ours is the health food shop, in glass jars which are returned each week and reused. I could get non-organic raw milk more locally (fewer food miles) but I'd have to collect it from the farm which is way further than I could get to under my own steam, so I'd need a lift in someone's car... I decided to get raw milk as unlike pasteurised it doesn't make me sick (literally if I consume enough!), and it replaced the soy or rice milk I'd been buying. Pricewise it was comparable with what I was already paying per litre even though compared to ordinary milk it is more expensive. The soy/rice milk came from Australia (more food-miles) in tetrapaks (not recyclable locally). I had to balance that against the down sides of dairy farming, even organically, and the ethics around animal farming. Oh and the fact that medically adults simply don't need to consume the liquid intended for baby cows, and indeed there are plenty good reasons for not doing so! 

But, I like some yoghurt on my porridge, it is one of the few ways I consume probiotics (although Marion would argue that the quantity in yoghurt is negligible I reckon it is still better than none!), and the paneer I occasionally make tends to get used instead of tofu which whilst I can buy Kiwi made (and from a company that pays a Living Wage!), the beans still come from Australia.

One alternative is make my own almond milk which I have also done, especially over the winter when the cows are dried off, but generally almonds aren't grown commercially in this country so they too are shipped in from who knows where and I can't really afford large quantities of organic nuts, so who knows what nasties are involved in their growing?

Another alternative is use coconut cream, and water it down for using as milk. Yes I can get organic, but organic or not it is still in tins (recyclable at least) or in tetrapaks, still comes from the South Pacific if not further afield, and those food-miles have crept right back up again...

So, as with Penn and his sword, for now I'm sticking with my one litre of organic raw milk a week as long as I can! 

I came across another interesting dilemma recently, it was an infographic (which of course I now can't find, but this is similar) about the environmental cost of alternatives to plastic bags. Basically cane, and for us here harakeke (flax), baskets are best. If locally sourced, sustainably harvested, and handmade they come up trumps in terms of mileage, water usage, and production/wages/working conditions are hopefully at least liveable with, given that handcrafts are seldom lucrative sources of income! Cotton/calico bags often come at a higher ethical price than you'd expect - producing cotton involves a lot of water, and cotton often comes from factories paying very low wages and with poor working conditions etc...

That made me think about my main hobby of sewing, as I tend to use mostly cotton fabric. For a many years I've tried to use what I have rather than buy material specially for a project, but that has primarily been for financial and space reasons - I have a lot of material! It isn't that I buy a lot, it often gets given to me, plus there are old clothes, linens etc that can be re-purposed but meanwhile take up room in my cupboard/under the bed, which kind of goes against the whole not collecting 'stuff' idea! So when no matter how much I tried the different options on hand and there still really wasn't anything suitable in my stash for my current project, I headed to the market and bought a second hand duvet cover (for a whopping $3!) which I unpicked to use for the extra material I needed. Re-purposing something already out there rather than buying new. Another ongoing project is making a ragrug doormat out of old t-shirts, leggings etc and some long since inherited fabric of a similar ilk. My challenge for that is not to buy anything at all for it. I might need to start putting the word out though if I'm to find any brighter colours for it!

A lot of the changes I, and many others, are consciously making in our lives harkens back to the way our grandparents' generation lived. But for us it is through choice, rather than necessity. Sure I could buy imported fruit and vegetables to ensure I had the same variety available to me year round, but actually I'd rather just eat fresh tomatoes from our garden in the summer and autumn that taste like tomatoes than eat the watery alternatives the rest of the year. Here in the Far North the growing season is year round so I could have lettuce every day of the year (if we water it through the summer!) if I really wanted to, but we still have seasons where some stuff grows better than others and I like that changing variety. I'm sure I'll be sick of beans soon, but that's okay, I'll have plenty of months without them before long! Yes I could have half a dozen scooshy bottles of assorted cleaning fluids in the cupboard, but you know what? I'm discovering that there's precious little you can't get clean without some combination of white or cider vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, salt and lemon juice.

There are some good local websites for Kiwis also working towards a more sustainable life, whether for economic or sustainability reasons, a couple I keep track of are Wendyl Nissen's (whose book A Home Companion I really enjoyed and I use her recipes for cleaning/toiletries regularly) and Lyn Webster's 'Pig tits and parlsey sauce' - she's also written a similar book. Lyn moved up here not that long back, hopefully our paths will cross at some point!

None of us are wanting to sound sanctimonious or self-righteous about the changes we have made. As Ben Pink Dandelion said in his 2014 Swarthmore Lecture giving up the Bentley can be a challenge, especially these days when our lives are no longer under the scrutiny of Elders making sure we're being 'proper' Quakers living out our Testimonies! (He wasn't joking by the way, he really did have an old Bentley!). Both Britain YM and the YM of Aotearoa New Zealand have made a commitment of working towards sustainability and included it among out Testimonies. Australia YM calls it 'Earthcare'. Whatever we call it, it is becoming an increasingly important part of our Quaker journeys, and as with any other aspect of spiritual journeys they aren't all the same; they twist and turn around each other, often covering some of the same ground but in a different order (or direction!). Sharing our journeys towards a more sustainable life, as with sharing our understandings of god, the inner light, what we do in the silence of Meeting for Worship etc adds different perspectives, strengthens and enriches our collected witness; and helps us get to know each other better in that which is more mundane as well as eternal.

Our lives are all different and what might be easy for one can be a huge challenge for another. What is important is doing what we can in our own lives, making the changes and the commitment to keep that a process rather than just recycling the milk bottles and considering that's the end of it. There's always something more that can be done... by sharing our stories hopefully we'll inspire each other and provide some moral support along the way, especially when it all starts to look 'too hard' to make any further progress.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm also collecting old teeshirts for a rag rug - but I do have the advantage of my mother's discards too which tend to be a lot brighter than mine!