It’s hard to escape the sustainability message these days. What used to be made fun of as ‘tree hugging’ is now considered standard practice. It’s the norm to recycle, minimise waste and consider the environment. It’s expected of each one of us. Even the word ‘sustainability’ has become normal parlance, along with ‘ethical’ and ‘eco’.
I’m all for it. As a student, I was inspired by Swampy and his eco-warrior protests in the mid-1990s. Now a ‘proper’ grown up, I do all I can to minimise my impact on the environment.
Most of the time I’m conscious of eco credentials. I catch the cold water at the beginning of my shower in a bucket and use it to flush the loo. I get my electricity from a green energy supplier and turn everything off when I’m not using it.
I eat a mainly plant-based diet full of seasonal produce and usually carry a reusable water bottle and cutlery. (You never know when you’re going to get hungry!) I don’t drive and I’m fortunate enough to be able to work from home. I generally plan my social life around my local once-an-hour bus. My chosen lifestyle makes it easier to do all these things.
It’s not always easy though, is it? Sometimes, Saint Hannah goes out of the window. Often, this is because I’m out and about for longer than planned and have to resort to a plastic-packaged meal. Or I’ve been too busy to prepare an on-the-go lunch.
Other times, it’s because I want to join in with a plastic flute of prosecco at a festival (and I haven’t thought to bring a reusable one). In other words, like for so many others, life has a habit of getting in the way of ideals.
How do we deal with this struggle between being sustainable and being practical?
Why Ethical Choices Count
With the world’s population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, we need to be doing all we can to minimise our impact on the environment. This means using our purchasing power to do everything from refusing plastic covered cucumbers to demanding sustainable food options.
Anyone like me wanting to do their bit can make a difference to the environmental ills of the world. Especially when choosing what to eat. We can avoid palm oil, go plant-based, eat locally sourced, seasonal food and opt for food brands doing good.
Why? Because shopping, eating and living in such a way helps the survival of the planet. It supports better animal welfare and sustainability, and minimises the effects of climate change.
Quick Wins for Avoiding Not so Ethical Choices
There are so many ethical initiatives popping up all over the UK. We can drink beer brewed from discarded bread or smother our chips in mayo made from chickpeas. We have a plethora of dairy free milks to choose from and we can even choose to eat insects, the sustainable food touted to be the future of protein.
On a standard weekday lunch time though, we might need to look closer to home to be ethical. I tend to batch cook and chill portions to eat later or to take with me if I’m out for the day.
If I don’t have food to hand when I’m out, and I don’t want to reach for the plastic bowl of salad, I’ll go hungry. Not really, I’d expire, I love eating too much. Instead, I’ll go for the least offensive option, a sandwich usually, and take the wrapper home to recycle.
I like to plan meals around what’s in season too. That means plenty of salads, greens and beans in summer, and root vegetable based meals in winter. Eating seasonal food grown in the UK reduces food miles and makes me feel very virtuous.
Pimping up Veg – My Go-to Tahini Recipe
Like many Brits, I love a roast dinner on a Sunday, but I usually have some leftover veg. On a Monday, I whip up my make-it-up-as-I-go-along tahini sauce, which jazzes up any veg.
It changes all the time, but consistent ingredients include lemon juice (a hefty squeeze), red wine vinegar (a dash) and a sprinkling of dill and sumac. (Sumac is a Middle Eastern citrusy spice and is gorgeous.)
Of course it also contains tahini, as much as you like. Put everything into a mug, and add some warm water from the kettle. About half as much as you have tahini should do it.
Stir everything together. Don’t be alarmed when it splits, because it will. Keep stirring and after a minute or two you’ll have a super creamy sauce. Warm up your veggies and pour the sauce over them. I promise it’ll become a firm favourite.
Don’t Let the BS Grind You Down
Aside from busy lives getting in the way of living completely ethically, there are other barriers.
I’ve got a friend. A dear friend, but an annoying one. He always tries to trip me up on my ethical adventures by questioning everything. He once questioned why I said I’d choose paper packaging over plastic all day long. (Yeah, he’s that annoying. The term devil’s advocate was definitely created for him.)
Generally we’ll end up having a long and passionate debate, with all our other friends making a hasty exit. But I make a good argument. Our debates generally end with him walking away clutching a reusable coffee cup or a vegan burger, with a “how did I let that happen” look of confusion.
The point I’m making is that we’ll always come up against doubters. The people who, well-meaning and lovable or otherwise, will roll their eyes and laugh at ethical endeavours.
Those who might say something like, “Ha, trying to be an all-natural eco warrior huh? How can you be, with your fake nails and silicone b**bs”. (I have neither. But I have had this said to me, by someone who was trying to sell me a St Bernard puppy. It’s a long story.)
We can turn these doubters around though, and it’ll make us feel empowered. The power we have to persuade others to think more mindfully about what they consume is huge. (Perhaps the ill-informed and judgemental are a much bigger task.) Getting one person to switch to organic milk, or taking part in Meat Free Mondays deserves a pat on the back.
Besides, getting others on board takes the pressure off you a bit! It could also help you feel better about not being perfect. (None of us are, just so you know.)
Quit the Self Doubt – Leave That to the Haters
Don’t be harsh on yourself if you fancy a ready meal. Don’t feel guilty if you have to buy a plastic water bottle once in a while. Life has to be lived. Until the whole country is geared up for 100% sustainability, and it’s cheaper to eat ethically, we can’t be angelic all the time. We all have a moral debate raging in our heads, but remain proud of all the good that you do.
None of us are actual saints and we need to be gentle with ourselves. Do what you believe to be right. Eat mainly plant based if it means you can enjoy fresh seafood when you’re on holiday. Take the bus then indulge in a plastic-boxed takeaway when you get home. (The boxes are great for storing everything from leftover food to spare buttons.)
Don’t be embarrassed by what you believe. We can all only do what we think is best, and we can’t do it all. You’re already an ethically minded person, because you’re here on Eco & Beyond. Swampy will be proud of all of us!