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Tired of ‘eco-judgement’? Here’s how I’m tackling it

Have you ever made a deliberate choice to do/not do something because of the environmental, ecological and/or social impact, and then mentioned that choice to a friend, shared it on social media, or made a comment to a colleague, only to be told:

That’s not the best* thing you could be doing’ / ‘your actions don’t matter’ / ‘why did it take you so long to start’ / ‘what about doing x instead’ / ‘don’t you know y has a bigger impact’ / ‘it’s not perfect’ / ‘you’re not perfect’ / another equally frustrating and deflating thing?

Oh you have? I had a feeling it wasn’t just me.

I don’t know about you, but I do not find it the least bit motivating to be told all of the gaps in my effort, nor do I get inspired after hearing all the ways I’m doing everything wrong.

And yet… it happens. To all of us.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this (well, one of the reasons) is that I’m currently in the process of redoing my website (it’s long overdue). Part of that means updating my ‘about’ page, which I last touched circa 2015. Not even kidding.

Writing an ‘about’ page isn’t just writing about me. It’s introducing the website and the ideas and topics I cover to new readers, explaining the types of things I write about, and giving a good idea of what to expect.

As you can imagine, over the last four years, things have evolved a little, and I want my updated page to reflect that.

Now I’ve always tried to keep this website reasonably upbeat, and focus on the positive and practical. I also try to be gentle in my approach. I’m not perfect (and really, who is?), plus I still remember the time before I went down this path, when I did all kinds of things and made all kinds of choices that I wouldn’t now.

I’m sure I’ll be able to say the same thing in 10 years time about choices I make today.

But over the years I’ve softened a little more in my approach and outlook. The more I see other perspectives, the more I see that change is a process, it’s not always easy, and everyone has a different capacity to do so.

This website has always been about the choices I make, why I make them, and how I go about doing what I do. It’s a reflection of the way I think and my personal navigation of the issues. My hope of course, is that you find this useful and practical – but there is no expectation that you will be able (or want) to do everything that I do.

I am not the zero waste police. I want people who visit my site to feel supported, without any underlying tone of judgment. Something I’ve been really trying to do in my vocabulary over the past year or so, and in anything I write, is remove the words ‘should’ and ‘should not’. These are judgment words, full of opinion and swayed by the values of the person doing the judging. I don’t find them helpful.

And so, I am declaring this space a ‘should’ and ‘should not’ free zone. That’s not to say I’ve never used those words in the past, but I am trying not to use them now. My place is to tell you what I do, not tell you what you should do.

Removing judgment words from your vocabulary – you should think about doing this, too. (See what I did there?! There is absolutely no ‘should’ about it. You might like to think about it. I found it helpful. That’s what I really mean.)

One of the reasons I wanted to do this, is because more and more I see and hear about eco-judgment and eco-oneupmanship in the sustainability space – and it makes me sad (or is that mad… maybe both).

Aren’t we all meant to be on the same side – team planet?

Yes, if you have the capacity to do more, then do more. No need to gloat, however! And it isn’t realistic or fair to expect that everyone will be able to make those same choices.

Nor is it realistic to expect everyone to be at the same point in the journey. I know that so often these critiques are given with the best of intentions; but at the start of the journey, when everything is already so new and overwhelming, being bombarded with a whole other set of ethics/morals/values/opinions that weren’t even on the radar a minute ago isn’t usually that helpful.

I feel lucky that when I started out with living with less waste, back in 2012, there really weren’t that many people ahead of me in the journey. So by default, I had the space to find my own way, discover things I could change and make progress at a pace that worked for me.

Now I feel like it’s a little more tricky.

Just today I read an article published by the BBC (no less) declaring that asthma sufferers had as a big a carbon footprint as people who eat meat. But the article was not about reducing air pollution. Instead, it seemed to be entirely the fault of asthma sufferers, for having asthma. Apparently some could switch to ‘greener’ medication.

I don’t know why this ‘eco-guilt’ and ‘eco-shaming’ is on the rise. In the case of asthma sufferers (and is this reflective of these issues in general?), maybe it is simply easier to blame individuals than address the systems that need changing.

Anyways, in my own small way, and in the spaces I hold, I am taking a stand.

There is no room for eco-guilt, eco-shaming, eco-oneupmanship and generally feeling bad whilst trying to do good over here. We’ve got to keep that room available for creating positive change and motivating others, not dragging them down!

When other corners of the internet start to get a little shouty, know that this is my pledge to you.

That’s not to say I don’t want to hear your opinions, especially if they are different to mine! Now I love the comments section of this website. It easily doubles (triples!) the value of anything I write when others share their perspectives, experiences, and yes – opinions. You’ll notice that at the end of almost every post, I invite people to share their thoughts and leave a comment.

Yes, I want to hear from you!

Comments are great. Opinions are welcome. Alternative experiences being shared is encouraged. There’s plenty of room to disagree and offer alternative viewpoints. And I’ve no plans to change this. It creates a richer experience for everyone, and I’ve learned a lot from the comments that you all leave.

This isn’t the same as judgment. That’s when people rock up and start telling others (often people they’ve never met) what they ‘should’ do. I don’t really even need to say this, because we already have such a positive and judgment-free space, but when addressing others, I’m going to encourage you to leave your ‘should’s and ‘should not’s at the door.

Change can be difficult. Eco choices aren’t always straightforward. People have different energy levels, priorities, budgets, commitments, accessibility and skill levels. Everyone is at a different stage of the journey.

Personally, I think we can get a lot more done – and have a much nicer time doing it – if we spend less time looking out for failings, and more time being supportive of where people are at.

Others make choices we wouldn’t make ourselves, but that doesn’t make them wrong. We’re all just imperfect humans in an imperfect world, living in a system where sustainable solutions aren’t always within reach. We are all doing what we can. That’s not a reason to feel guilty. That’s a reason to feel good.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you ever feel guilty about when it comes to trying to be more eco-friendly or live with less waste? Do the opinions of others add to that guilt? Any tips for dealing with negativity? How have your views changed over time? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!

Permaculture Principles for Modern (Zero Waste) Living

Have you heard of permaculture? Founded by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, permaculture was the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. The term came from “permanent agriculture.”

Let me tell you, it’s actually about a lot more than gardening.

Since the 1970s, the idea has expanded and grown, as has the movement. At its core it is a ‘systems thinking’ approach, and the design principles can be applied to anywhere where sustainability is the focus.

But many people would describe permaculture as a “philosophy” – a set of guidelines to live by. Many people would describe zero waste in the same way. Both have the idea of fair share, not taking or using more than we need, not wasting resources or people.

Because of this, I think permaculture principles (and ethics) are just as relevant for plastic-free (and zero waste) living. They are relevant to people living within cities, and without so much as a pot plant to their name.

But many people without gardens simply don’t know enough (or anything!) about it.

Let’s change that! I’d like to introduce the permaculture principles, and their relevance (as I see it) to the zero waste movement.

Permaculture Living: The Three Ethics

At the centre of the movement are three ethics: people care; earth care; and fair share. I would argue that anybody who believes in sustainability believes in these three ethics.

Permaculture Living: The 12 Principles (And How They Relate To Zero Waste Living)

The 12 principles of permaculture, developed by David Holmgren in 2002, are described as “thinking tools”. Used together, they can enable us to re-design both our environment and our behavior in a world of less energy and resources.

They are guiding principles for an ethical lifestyle.

Observe and Interact.

To me, this is about taking the time to look around us, to explore our surroundings and learn from others. We often learn good habits from others, or we find answers simply by watching and thinking.

By asking questions, seeking out information and being open to learn, we can come up with solutions that work for us.

Catch and Store Energy.

To me, this is about efficiency. Making the most of things when they are abundant, and being able to use them when they are not.

We think of energy as electricity or power, but it’s just as true for water and food, and the energy embedded in resources. From a zero waste perspective, maximising the use of anything is encouraged.

I like to think of reusables as “caught and stored energy”. An item, build to last and used forever. Rather than single use items that require energy to make, energy to ship and then are gone from usefulness forever. Wasted energy.

Obtain a Yield.

In gardening terms, this principle is pretty obvious. Actually, it should apply to everything we do. Money is another obvious yield, but it goes deeper. We don’t have to be paid for something to get pleasure from it. Yield can also mean enjoyment, satisfaction, motivation, and fulfillment.

When we love to do something, the pleasure of simply doing it can be its own reward.

There is a danger of doing things that bring us no pleasure, satisfaction nor other reward: they ultimately leave us burned-out, demotivated, resentful and frustrated.

That’s not sustainable.

Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.

Permaculture looks at this from a systems perspective, but I think it’s just as relevant for individuals.

None of us are perfect. We strive to do the best we can. When we receive feedback telling us there is a better way, or pointing out something we hadn’t thought of before, we can begrudge and feel judged and not take action; or we can embrace the challenge to improve ourselves a little more.

Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services.

This is definitely a principle that underpins both the plastic-free and zero waste movements. Most plastic is made from non-renewable fossil fuels, and recycling options for all plastics are limited (and result in downcycling).

The zero waste movement embraces a circular economy, and aims to see nothing sent to landfill.

Both movements value choosing materials that are natural, renewable, reusable, recyclable and biodegradable.

Produce No Waste.

My favourite principle! Clearly the zero waste movement is built around “produce no waste”, but permaculture has a different (broader) perspective.

Whilst permaculture recognizes there is a bigger system, the zero waste movement can lean towards individualism.

In permaculture, reusing and repurposing other people’s waste is a huge part of reducing our impact and use of resources. The zero waste movement celebrates individual action and achievement: it focuses on reducing personal landfill waste, but doesn’t always recognize that waste is still produced upstream.

Personally, I think they both have a place, and I think both ideals can learn from the other.

Design From Patterns to Details.

This principle recognises the value in observing before doing, and the importance at looking at the bigger picture before making choices.

From a zero waste/plastic-free perspective, I see the patterns as “habits” and details as “stuff”. Rather than deciding to embrace a low-waste lifestyle and then spending hours choosing the best mason jars to equip the pantry with, it is better to look at our habits first.

Take time to look for the patterns, and then decide what fits best.

It’s another way of saying: take time, observe first, and do second.

Integrate Rather Than Segregate.

Integration is important for any community. It’s what glues community together, and it’s what creates a movement. To get the best outcomes, we need to work together.

There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. There is only ‘us’.

Whether we teach, motivate, encourage or provide support, communities are best when we embrace networks, share freely and collaborate.

Community is strong in both permaculture and zero waste, and for many of us, that’s the best part.

Use Small and Slow Solutions.

Bigger isn’t always better. Small and slow solutions are at the heart of the zero waste movement. Taking time, making do, thinking creatively; embracing local and seasonal.

Use and Value Diversity.

There is never a “one-size-fits-all” approach. There is rarely a single way to do anything. There are different voices and different perspectives, and different ways of doing things, even when the outcomes are similar.

We connect with different stories, and everyone has something to add.

Use Edges and Value the Margins.

In permaculture, we talk about the interfaces between things being where the most valuable, diverse and productive elements lie. The edge of a pond, lake or river; or the edge of the forest where the trees meet the grassland.

In zero waste, I think of these “edges” and “margins” as the parts that are often seen as waste – things like offcuts or scraps. Yet they have just as much potential and are just as valuable – it often just takes a little creative thinking.

Creatively Use and Respond to Change.

“Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be.” Both the permaculture and zero waste movements are build around a desire to do things differently; to do things better than the “status quo” of overconsumption and exploitation.

Both embrace creativity, not at an artistic level but at a solutions-based, practical and ideas level. Looking at the system, and creating new ways to do things better. Seeing things that aren’t working, and coming up with better ways.

It isn’t about having all the answers, or creating change on a global scale. It’s about being creative with what we know and what we see, and doing things differently.

For me, both permaculture and zero waste living offer practical solutions for those of us that feel dissatisfied with the current ways of the world, and want to  create a more positive future. Neither are perfect, but they enable us to do things differently, and encourage those that follow to go one step further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is permaculture new to you or old news? How do you think the permaculture principles compare to zero waste living? Which principles do you personally see as the most important – or do you think all of them? Do you have any personal principles that you live by? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Can You Have A Dog and be Zero Waste?

My husband and I have been wondering about adopting a dog for a long while. The shelters are full of unwanted animals, and we felt that we now have the energy, time and space to give one a loving home. Having never had a dog before (the only pet I had as a kid was a hamster) I wasn’t sure what the reality would be.

How do you prepare for something you’ve never done before, and make such a commitment?

Then we came across greyhound fostering and adoption. Despite greyhound racing being banned in many countries across the world, it is very much happening in Australia (New South Wales announced recently that they will be banning it – it is being appealed, of course). Greyhounds are overbred to increase the selection pool, and bred solely to run fast. Those that aren’t fast enough, or won’t chase, are disposed of. In fact, 17,000 healthy dogs are killed ever year in Australia.

Greyhound rescue charities exist to try to take some of these dogs and rehome them. Some more conscientious trainers will arrange for charities to take unwanted dogs; other times it is the vets that pass these dogs on to spare them. These rescue organisations don’t have kennels of their own so the dogs go straight from the racing kennels to foster families.

Sometimes there is less than 24 hours notice that a dog will be needing a new home.

My husband and I decided that fostering a greyhound might be a good way to see if our home and our lifestyle is suitable for a dog. We have a small fenced-in yard that wouldn’t suit a lot of dogs, but greyhounds (surprisingly) don’t need much space. They need walking, of course, but 30 minutes a day is adequate. They are indoor dogs as they feel the cold.

They are different to other rescue dogs in that they are used to human contact and other dogs (although, only other greyhounds). They are gentle, calm and unfazed by most things, plus they are toilet-trained.

It happened really fast. We called to say we’d installed a gate so our yard was secure, but we still had a few things to source – like a bed, food bowls and food. The next thing was, they called to say they had a dog and we could expect him the next day. I’m sure you can never be totally prepared, but my, did I feel woefully underprepared!

Hans arrived at 6pm last Tuesday. He’s 3 and a half, so we think he’s been racing for 18 months. We don’t know much else about him. He’s calm, placid and settled in quickly.

Of course, I want to keep things as waste-free as I can. But is it possible?

Hans Greyhound Rescue Hans Side View Hans

Is it possible to have a dog and be zero waste?

Bedding, Bowls and Toys

Zero waste and plastic-free living is important to me. I’ve spent the last 4 years living like this, and I can’t just undo it or not think about it. Even the idea of buying things new really stresses me out, let alone wrapped in or made from plastic.

We’d hoped to source the food bowls second-hand and use a second-hand cot mattress for the bed, but there were none on Gumtree at the time and with less than a day to find something, we had to buy new. We found 100% stainless steel bowls (one water, one food) and a mattress covered with hessian, which I could replace with upcycled hessian coffee bags if need be (our local cafe sell their old ones).

We’re using old bedding on the mattress to extend its life – the bedding is washable, whereas the mattress isn’t. Fortunately none of these things came with extra packaging.

We found a toy made from 100% rubber, but all the soft toys were polyester. It is possible to buy natural ones on the internet, but after being given a soft toy by a colleague we’ve discovered that any soft toy will not be worth the investment – it will be gone in 5 minutes! Greyhounds don’t really play, so we’re not too worried.

Dealing with Dog Poo

I built a dog poo worm farm in the back yard using a white “builder’s bucket” donated to me by my local bulk food store (it previously had washing powder in it). Worms will eat dog poo provided there is no other food in there.

I won’t be adding the castings to my veggies but it will break down into nutrients and go back into the soil – better than the bin. It’s safe to do, and I have plenty of friends with dogs that do this. (Here are the instructions if you’re interested in how to make a DIY dog poo worm farm – I realise it’s a niche area!)

Digging In DIY Dog Poo Worm Farm

White “builder’s bucket” with the bottom cut out, dug into the ground with 2 inches showing on top.

Worms for DIY Dog Poo Worm Farm

Adding worms, and shredded paper to the dog poo worm farm.

DIY Dog Poo Worm Farm

The finished dog poo worm farm. If I could be bothered I could paint the lid – I could even stand a plant on top. It could be very discrete : )

I pick up the waste with newspaper. If we’re out and about I can put in dog poo bins – there are a couple close by – and we are lucky that the domestic waste in our suburb actually gets put through an industrial composter.

In fact, as Hans had worming tablets when he came, I can’t use the worm farm for two weeks, so I’ve been putting it here. No, I’m not keeping it for my waste jar!

Food and Treats

The lady that placed Hans with us brought dog food with her, so it was one less thing to worry about. At least, it should have been. But I’ve realised that as someone who doesn’t buy meat because I don’t want to support industrial agriculture, I’m going to struggle with this.

I’m also going to struggle with the packaging, and the “processed” nature of dog food.

Kangaroo meat is a possibility here as it isn’t farmed, it’s wild. But do I want to cook and handle it myself? I’m aware that dogs have thrived on vegetarian and vegan diets but it takes sound management and doesn’t work for all of them. Racing dogs are often fed cereal (cornflakes and Weetabix) with milk for breakfast, and pasta for dinner -greyhounds will eat most things. But should they?

They need a complete food, and to be healthy. A local bulk store is looking into stocking dog kibble – it will contain meat but there will be no packaging. Lots of options, but none are perfect.

I don’t have the answer, but I have enough kibble here to spend some time looking into this further.

The Stuff I Didn’t Think About

After three sleepless nights, we learned that leaving the light and radio on overnight is necessary to maintain calm. I am someone who never leaves unnecessary lights on! Whilst I know that it’s negligible in terms of waste, it still stresses me a little, and it’s another adjustment I have to make.

I also didn’t expect to be thrown into a whole new world. The last week has been eye-opening, stressful…and emotional. I’m not talking about my lifestyle now, I’m talking about the world of greyhounds, and greyhound rescuers. To have met so many people who are completely dedicated to saving these beautiful animals has been humbling.

They open up their homes and give up their weekends to try to find forever homes for these dogs.

They are all volunteers. They are doing everything in their power to save as many animals as they can.

Whatever my personal dilemmas are about waste, ethical living and sustainability, clearly none of this is Hans’, or any other greyhounds’ fault. They are part of a broken system that breeds dogs simply to make money and provide entertainment for a few, and then discards them when they no longer perform.

I’d never really given greyhound racing much thought before, but having seen and read what I have in the last ten days, I’m appalled. For all the dogs that are rescued, many more won’t be. In Australia, it’s estimated 50% of dogs are destroyed. I hope that the NSW greyhound racing ban remains, and that it is the start of the end for racing dogs in Australia.

Stuff shouldn’t be wasted. Resources shouldn’t be wasted. Lives shouldn’t be wasted, either.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever fostered or rescued a dog before? What was your experience? Do you have any tips to share? Are you trying to live plastic-free or zero waste with a pet, and what have your successes been? What about your dilemmas and struggles? Are you vegetarian or vegan with a pet, and how have you made your choices regarding the food you give them? Did you know about the reality of the greyhound racing industry before, or was it something that you never considered? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Why I Choose a Plant-Based Diet (but no, I’m not a vegan)

The food choices we make have an impact on the planet. There’s 7 billion of us, and we all need to eat, so we’re talking a huge impact. When I quit plastic in 2012, I stopped buying food products in plastic packaging, which meant processed and mass produced food. Initially I was motivated by waste, but then I began to think about how sustainable my food choices were in other ways.

I started shopping locally and buying whole foods and the environmental impact of my diet reduced as a result.

Recently I’ve started hearing more and more about choosing to go vegan to fight climate change, and “eating for the planet” and it got me thinking about my own diet and whether being vegan was the most sustainable choice for me. I’m 99% meat free and this year I committed to aiming for fish-free too. I avoid dairy.

I guess you’d describe my diet as plant-based, but I’m not a vegan. Here’s why:

Why I Choose a Plant-Based Diet

Plant Based Diet Not a Vegan Treading My Own Path

I love vegetables.

I mean I really truly absolutely love vegetables. They are friggin’ delicious. Give me all the vegetables any day! I love the fact they are so varied, so versatile – you can eat them boldly, or you can sneak them into anything.

I love making vegetable-based desserts (it’s far more possible – and delicious – than it sounds).

Did I always love vegetables? Not particularly. But when you step away from the supermarket and go to the Farmers’ Markets and grow your own you discover a whole other world of taste and satisfaction.

Creativity in the kitchen.

Experimenting in the kitchen is my creative outlet. I love mixing things together and trying new combinations, or new ways of doing things…and vegan cooking is a world of opportunity.

Vegan food in the 21st century is super creative, with raw desserts that rival conventional desserts, dairy style products made of nuts that are a million miles away from those processed-fake-cheese-vacuum-packed-blobs and clever ideas like making meringues from leftover chickpea brine that make my mind run overtime.

Fish and plastic in the ocean.

I stopped eating meat a long time ago, but my husband and I have always eaten fish. More and more though, when I see the reports of how much plastic is in the ocean, and in our fish, it makes it seem less appetizing.

If you’ve taken part in a beach or river clean up then you’ll know exactly what I mean! That plastic is being ingested by fish (a study showed 25% of fish contain plastic) and what that means for human health is still being researched.

Plastic aside, the other question is whether there really is sustainable seafood. There’s plenty of issues with fishing – like overfishing, using indiscriminate nets and bycatch.

I’m happier sticking with my vegetables.

Bottle Return Schemes are a pain.

Until recently, my husband still bought dairy milk for his coffee. We bought the milk in glass bottles and returned the containers. Simple – except without a car, returning the bottles was difficult, and we’d end up storing several months worth before we could return them.

Cue a cluttered kitchen and much grumbling. We did it because we cared.

Eventually he decided to switch to nut milk (we use cashew nut milk for coffee, or a blend of 50/50 almond milk:cashew milk if I make both at once). The clutter-free kitchen, the fact it is much harder to run out of cashews than milk and the general ease means he won’t be going back.

The Ethics of the Dairy Industry.

If I’m completely honest with myself, I always knew that the dairy industry wasn’t all happy cows and green grass. But I ate so much dairy (milk and cheese) and liked it so much that I never thought I’d be able to give it up – and so I didn’t think about the ethics. (There’s a term for that. It’s called cognitive dissonance.)

I didn’t want to think about it.

What changed my mind was Plastic Free July. It changed the way I shopped and the types of meals I cooked, and I started buying less dairy and experimenting with nut milks and other alternatives without really intending to.

Once I realised I really wasn’t consuming that much dairy any more, I finally opened my eyes to the dairy industry. Cows produce milk after having a calf, but the farmer doesn’t want the baby drinking the milk, he wants to sell it to us. So the calf is removed (sometimes only hours after birth) – and if it’s a male calf it will often be destroyed (and we’re talking millions per year worldwide). Mothers get no time to bond with their young.

To keep a cow producing milk she needs to give birth every year, as milk production declines over time. So 305 days after calving, she is taken off milk production to gestate another calf (she is given 60 days to rest prior), and the cycle begins again.

It’s industrial agriculture.

Cow Angelina Litvin

There’s plenty more I could say, but I’ll just say this: personally, supporting the dairy industry doesn’t make me feel good, and I don’t think (in its current form) it’s a sustainable industry in the 21st century. I try to consume as little dairy as possible, and we no longer buy dairy for home.

Out and about, it’s hard to avoid completely and we do what we can.

Why I’m not a Vegan

I’m motivated by sustainability principles.

I’m also motivated by ethics and health, but my guiding value is sustainability. Living in a city in a country with an abundance of fruit and vegetables, it’s very easy for me to choose to eat a plant-based diet.

Were I to live somewhere else where vegetables weren’t so prevalent, my diet would probably be different. I value local and seasonal over big business agriculture and industrial food systems, and that means I won’t rule out non-vegan alternatives. I’m always open to new ideas.

I still eat eggs.

It’s not possible to get B12 from a plant-based diet without eating fortified foods (mass-produced chemical laden cereal and bread? No thanks) and I’d rather get the nutrients I need from food than take supplements.

That said, I’m pretty fussy with my eggs. There is no way I’d eat a battery egg (despite being banned in the EU since 2012, they are still available to buy in Australia) and after the controversial press surrounding labelling of free-range eggs I stick to super local, organic, clearly labelled eggs – or get them from friends.

Eggs Autumn Mott

I still eat honey.

Bees are amazing, and honey is a superfood – full of nutrients and thought to be immunity-boosting. I love that it can be produced locally, whereas other minimally processed sugars like coconut sugar are imported. The other alternative? Big business sugar cane sugar with all the nutrients stripped out. No thanks.

I still buy non-vegan fabrics.

As I’ve mentioned before, my goal is to have a wardrobe comprised of almost entirely natural fibres. This means silk and wool (both no-nos for true vegans) will be a part of that. I’ve bought leather in the past but since I’ve learned more about how polluting the leather industry is and the toxic effects of chromium poisoning, I’m avoiding this until I learn more.

I’m a ‘freegan’ more than a vegan.

I’m definitely not into labels or trying to pigeon-hole myself into any kind of category, but I can’t bear waste, and this includes food waste. I’m not bothered so much with the waste of food-like substances like pre-packaged, processed junk food (well, I hate the waste of course, but I’m not gonna eat that stuff!), but if I had the choice between eating a grass-fed organic steak or watching it go in the bin and going hungry, I’d probably opt for the former. Fortunately that kind of dilemma doesn’t happen very often.

To sum up, I’d say that negotiating ethics and morals is a minefield, and there’s almost always compromise somewhere. I’m comfortable with the choices I’ve made. Eating locally produced food as much as possible, seasonal always and small-scale and independent as an ideal, a plant-based diet works for me. But no, I’m not a vegan.

Now it’s your turn to give me your thoughts on this! How would you describe your diet? Do you eat a plant-based diet? Would you call yourself a vegan? Whether yes or no, tell me your reasons! Why have you made the choices you made? Have you changed your diet due to environmental, ethical or sustainability reasons, or is food an area that you’re not willing to compromise with? Is it something you want to change in the future, but you haven’t begun yet? Does the place you live restrict the choices you make? This is such an interesting and juicy topic and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Ethical Chocolate

When we gave up plastic, it was a massive relief that we could still buy chocolate. Plastic-free bars of chocolate wrapped in foil and paper were our salvation. I’ve tried making my own, messing around with cocoa butter and cacao powder but I just can’t make something that I like anywhere near as much as the stuff I can buy.

Once we started down the plastic-free path I became a lot more aware of the additives, preservatives and other nasties in food, and slowly made the switch to the whole foods approach to eating. I now make most things from scratch, but I can’t make everything, and I want the things that I do buy to be as healthy as possible. For this reason I’m making the switch from milk to dark chocolate, and we stopped buying any chocolate made by Cadbury’s at the start of the year – have you looked at the ingredients list on those bars?!

Now we’ve made a commitment to go one step further. I firmly believe that every time we spend our money we are voting – for the kind of businesses we want to support and for the kind of products we see on the shelves – and these choices define our futures. So we’ve made a commitment to only buy chocolate that is organic and fair trade.

This seems like an obvious choice. But here in Australia, the confectionery aisle is dominated by Cadburys and Lindt, both of which are massive global companies. In the UK, it is much easier to support smaller ethical chocolate brands as they are more readily available. The bigger stores seem to offer so much choice, although it is often only a small handful of different brands, and the choice is actually between which additives (cunningly disguised as flavours) we prefer. Faced with so much “choice” it is easier to opt for whatever brand is on special offer. This is where the big companies (who can afford to sponsor promotions) win and the small guys lose out. We do it without even thinking.

Well, now we’ve started thinking.

We want to support fair trade because it pays a fair price to farmers, and supports ethical and sustainable practices. Child slave labour, exploitation and trafficking are issues linked to the cocoa industry, and supporting fair trade is one way to protest this. The international fair trade logo is something to look out for, but it is worth remembering that suppliers have to pay to receive certification, and smaller companies may not be affiliated due to the costs involved whilst still having fair trade policies – and if they do, they’ll be telling you on their packaging or website!

Supporting organic is one way to avoid additives and preservatives, which are not allowed in organic produce, whilst also supporting sustainable agricultural practices. It’s still worth checking the ingredients list to make sure the cocoa content is high, sugar content is low and there are no cheap fillers like oil that offer no nutritional benefits. Not all producers can afford certification, so for very small companies do your research and use your judgement.

Yes, organic and fairtrade chocolate costs more. Seriously though, how much are we talking? A 100g bar of Lindt costs $2.49 on special offer. Organic fairtrade chocolate may cost you $5. (For readers outside Australia, yes, the prices here are much higher than everywhere else!) Whilst that may be 100% more, in actual money we’re talking a couple of dollars. That extra couple of dollars is ensuring the farmer gets a fair wage. How much chocolate are you eating, anyways? Shouldn’t it be a treat, not a staple?!

Step away from the supermarkets, and there’s better choice. Our local independent grocery store has these to offer:

chocolate

Mmm…chocolate!

Green and Blacks was my favourite brand in the UK. Their Maya Gold bar was the first product in the UK to be labelled fairtrade, back in 1994, and I remember buying their chocolate when it was only available in health food stores. They actually sold out to Cadbury in 2005, however the original owner remains President and it still runs as a stand-alone business. Cadbury has since been sold to Kraft…so whilst it still has great eco credentials, it now lines the coffers of a multinational company.

Alter Eco is a company I only found out about a few months ago, although according to their website they’ve been around for a decade. Their headquarters are in the US. They seem committed to fairtrade and sustainability, but I don’t know much about them.

As for Oxfam, being a global not-for-profit organisation committed to poverty reduction, social equality and fair trade, they probably have the best credentials of all… except their chocolate is nowhere near as nice.

Of course, it would be much more sustainable to not buy chocolate at all, seeing as it all comes from across the oceans. I’m not ready for that yet. Small steps, eh?

Take one thing you do that’s not sustainable, and make it a bit more sustainable. And then move on to the next thing. And just keep going.