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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!

6+ Zero Waste Plastic-Free Snack Ideas

This week, I’m talking snacks. Specifically, zero waste snacks that you can make at home. If you have access to a bulk store, then you’ll have access to heaps of delicious plastic- and packaging-free snacks. For example, we can buy vegetable crisps, flavoured nuts, rice crackers, protein balls, and chocolate-coated everything (not to mention chocolate itself).

If you don’t have access to a bulk store, then this is not the least bit helpful. I realise that!

Rather than bore you all (or make you jealous) by telling you how wonderful bulk stores are, I’m going to focus on things that you can do and snacks that you can make without access to a bulk store. Level playing fields for all!

Zero Waste Snacks: Fresh Fruit

I know, I know. Boring! But also very good for you. Extremely easy to find without packaging.

Zero Waste Snacks: Fruit with Extras

I get it. You don’t want fruit. You want chocolate. You want something satisfying. I hear you.

But fruit is very versatile, and can easily be jazzed up. One of my favourite things to make fruit a little more filling (and tasty) is to slather it with nut butter. Apple slices spread with almond butter is the best. (If you’re allergic to nuts, or want a cheaper option, consider seed butters.)

Literally, nut and seed butters are just blended nuts or seeds. The natural oils are released with the friction, so there’s no need to add anything else. Generally toasted (and cooled) nuts will blend better than raw ones, so unless you have a super fancy blender, stick to toasted.

Another favourite is chopping bananas into rounds, and filling two rounds with peanut butter to make a sandwich.

Talking of bananas, I’ve also seen them peeled, dipped into chocolate (maybe half the length) and then nuts, seeds, coconut or other sprinkles used as a topping.

Orange segments, strawberries and raspberries can also be dipped in chocolate (assuming you can find berries packaging-free).

Zero Waste Snacks: Nice Cream

“Nice cream” is often used to describe vegan ice cream, but actually it’s not really ice cream – nothing so complicated. It’s actually just blended frozen fruit, which makes a soft-serve sorbet / ice cream that is eaten straightaway..

This one is mango and banana. A spoonful of nut butter or coconut butter adds a bit of creaminess. Literally take frozen fruit out of the freezer, and blend. Then, eat. So refreshing on a hot day!

Another favourite “nice cream” combo of mine is chocolate banana peanut butter : literally 2 frozen bananas, 1/3 cup cocoa powder and 2 tbsp peanut butter, blended. Yum.

Zero Waste Snacks: Vegetables

Yes, vegetables can be a snack. Carrots, capsicum, cucumber, radish, celery can all be chopped into crudites – although I tend to just chomp on carrots as they are. If you’ve got a dip (such as hummus – see my recipe here) all the better, but they can be good on their own. Pesto and even peanut butter (yes, carrots and peanut butter are a “thing”) also make good dips.

Broccoli has to be my favourite vegetable ever. I could eat bowlfuls of it… and I do. I like to fry it on a high heat so it chars a little, then add a big squeeze of lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of tahini and mix together. Yum.

If you’ve never made kale chips, you are missing a trick. Yes, they look green and a little too healthy, but actually they are oily and salty and very tasty. I add to a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle a little salt and pepper and bake in the oven on a low temperature (100ºC) for about 30 minutes.

(The low temp dries them out whilst keeping them green. If the oven is too high they will dry out and be ready quicker, but they will also be brown – not nearly so attractive.)

We don’t buy potato chips as they don’t come without packaging. Sometimes as a treat we’ll make a bowl of roast potatoes (chopped into small cubes and roasted to increase the crispy surface area) and snack on them. Probably not the healthiest option, but potato chips aren’t exactly either!

Vegetable peels also make great potato chips / crisps. I don’t tend to peel my veggies often (who can be bothered?!) But sometimes a recipe calls for peeling. If that’s the case I give the veggies a good scrub, peel and then put the veggies in a bowl with a small amount of olive oil. Mix, lay out of a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 10 mins or so, turning half way through.

This works for most veggie peels: potato, carrot and parsnip are my favourite (and the tastiest), but beetroot peels and sweet potato peels also work.

Zero Waste Snacks: Other Crunchy, Salty Things

When I crave snacks, it’s not necessarily that I’m hungry. (Usually I’m procrastinating!) Often I just want something crunchy and salty. For me, my go-to option is popcorn.

Even if you can’t buy popcorn from a bulk store and without packaging, a 500g bag of popping corn will make a LOT of popcorn. If you were to buy that many packets of pre-popped popcorn or even potato chips, the waste would be enormous. Even if it comes in plastic, popcorn is a very low-waste snack.

I always make mine in a saucepan. Heat enough oil in the bottom of the pan to coat the kernels (but not so much it covers them) and heat until the kernels begin to pop. Rather than use a saucepan lid, I use a tea towel to stop the popcorn pinging out of the pan. Whilst popcorn is doing its thing, it releases a lot of steam. I find with a saucepan lid the moisture condenses and drips back onto the popcorn – cue soggy popcorn. The tea towel allows the steam to escape and gives you crispy popcorn. Hurrah!

(As soon as the popping slows down, take the pan off the heat, otherwise the popcorn will burn. You can always save unpopped kernels for next time.)

Roasted chickpeas are another snack I make. I tend to buy chickpeas in bulk and cook them up a couple of kilos at a time, so I’ll often make a batch of these. If you have access to dried chickpeas, either in bulk or in large bags, this is a great option. If you can only buy the tins, I probably wouldn’t bother (you’ll end up with way more packaging than snack). You can find my roasted chickpea recipe here.

Zero Waste Snacks: Really Simple Making & Baking

When I think of snacks, I think of something quick and easy. Baking is great, and I love it, but it often requires a little time. However, there are a few things that you can pull together and bake very quickly, so I’ve included a couple of ideas.

Bliss balls are the first option. All you need is a blender or food processor. They are typically made from nuts and dates blended together and rolled into balls. The less ingredients the better, in my view.

These are macadamias, shredded coconut, rice malt syrup and the juice and rind of a couple of lemons. Macadamias, dates and fresh ginger are also a great combo. And anything chocolate-flavoured, of course. Simply google “bliss balls” and you will find millions of options.

Cookies are another simple, low fuss baking solution, and 84th & 3rd’s 3 ingredient emergency cookies are a great zero waste option, requiring oats (these can be bought in cardboard only if not in bulk), pears and chocolate. You can substitute the pear for banana, switch the chocolate for nuts, add a couple of spoonfuls of nut butter to increase the flavour.

I’m not going to delve into full-on baking in this post, but of course, your imagination is your only limitation. Don’t be afraid to google recipes, or even inspiration for single ingredients and see what the internet has to offer. Or even better, experiment!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your favourite zero waste and plastic-free snacks? Any recipes that you’d recommend? Any tips and tricks to share? Any particular struggles that you have? I’d love to know more so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Food Diary (Part 1): Mealtimes

I get asked about this a lot and I’ve been intending to write about this for ages: the kinds of things I eat in a typical week. I confess, I tend to get stuck in a rut of eating the same 5-7 meals week in, week out until inspiration strikes again. (Can anyone else relate to that?)

Even though there is a whole plethora of things I love to eat, my brain seems to forget them all save a few. Then I’ll glance on a long-forgotten recipe, and that will become the new staple for a couple of months, and something else will fall off the list.

So what I’ve shared below isn’t a typical week, so much as a collection of the kinds of things we eat.

I don’t tend to meal plan, at least not week by week. We get a veg box delivered once a fortnight (from The Organic Collective) and we never know exactly what we are going to get. We also have a veggie garden that does not ripen according to any meal-planning schedule. Fortunately, I do have a knack for being able to whip up a meal even when my husband assures me that there is simply nothing to eat in the house.

Organic Collective Veg Box

The veg box arrives on a Tuesday, and I’ll open it up to see what we have and make a rough meal plan in my head for the next fortnight. There will be things that I need to buy to supplement what I want to make. I also tend to buy avocados (we eat a LOT of avocados; grateful they grow here in WA), mushrooms, onions, garlic and tomatoes from the store fairly regularly to supplement the box.

In my veggie garden there is always a variety of greens, plenty of herbs, chillis and some seasonal vegetables. (I recorded a garden tour video last week for my Patreon page; you’ll get access to this and additional content if you become a member.)

Garden Pickings

Sometimes I make my own sourdough, but recently we’ve been buying bread from Escape and Rebellion, a local microbakery. My bulk goods come from The Source Bulk Foods (specifically the Vic Park store), which has everything I could ever need… and plenty of things I don’t but that I buy anyway (hello, enormous and delicious chocolatey section.)

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Breakfast

Porridge is one of our staple breakfasts. I cook the oats on a very low temperature with water, and stir through a little cashew milk as soon as I’ve taken it off the heat. I often add hemp seeds, chia seeds or flax seeds. Sometimes I add fruit: chopped banana or mulberries (when in season).

Toast comes and goes as a breakfast item. I don’t think it’s really that healthy; but it’s easy, and since we discovered the new microbakery we have been eating it a little more. We generally top our toast with mashed avocado, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of hemp seeds.

Muesli is another breakfast basic. I make my own using this no sugar muesli recipe. Sometimes I’ll use it as a topper for porridge or a smoothie if I want some extra crunch.

Smoothies and smoothie bowls tend to be more a summer thing than a winter one. Smoothie bowls are simply smoothies that are thick enough to eat with a spoon. Adding half an avocado and a few spoonfuls of nut butter helps bulk it out.

It is worth noting that I am a huge fan of leftovers, and will quite often have leftovers for breakfast: salad, rice and vegetables, etc.

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Lunchtime / Light Meals

It is actually quite hard to distinguish between lunch and dinner in our household, as lunch usually consists of last night’s dinner or other leftovers. We don’t tend to eat sandwiches or wraps or other lunchtime-y things.

One of the reasons I don’t love having bread in the house is that it is all too easy to have toast for lunch as well as breakfast. Sometimes we will have bruchetta at the weekends, but not often during the week.

Great things to put on bread / bruschetta (aside from avocado): dips (hummus especially), pesto, fresh tomatoes, fresh mashed broad beans, lots of herbs.

Dips are really easy to make from scratch. I make hummus often (you can find my hummus recipe here). To make beetroot hummus I simply add finely grated beetroot to the regular hummus recipe (both raw and cooked beetroot work). Hummus freezes really well, so make more than you need and freeze the rest.

To eat I either slather on toast, chop up veggies to make crudites or make my own sourdough crackers.

Salads tend to be a side serve rather than a meal in themselves, unless it’s a 40 degree day. Salads do not have to be boring. If they are insipid and without any flavour or substance, it just means you will spend all afternoon eating chocolate.

I’m a big fan of a colourful salad, but I also like making green salads where the only ingredients can be green. This can include: lettuce, kale, pan-fried broccoli, lots of herbs (ideas include coriander, parsley, Thai basil and mint – probably not all at once!), cucumber, green capsicum/pepper, green jalapenos, avocado. I always add some kind of fat (avocado, nuts and/or seeds) and try to include different textures. Capers add a bit of punch.

For salad dressing I add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, maybe a dash of apple cider vinegar and a drizzle of tahini.

Colourful salads can contain everything! Don’t be afraid to add apple or pear, strawberries (which go amazingly with tomato) or mango to a salad. Roasted vegetables that have cooled are a great addition too (think butternut squash, sweet potato, beetroot). Always add some kind of crunchy topping – nuts or seeds, even croutons.

I often eat salad with a side of quinoa. Generally I mix it all up in the bowl, but here I was being all fancy-like. It’s simply green lettuce, cucumber, avocado, roasted zucchini, quinoa, roasted carrots, olives, chickpeas and sauerkraut (DIY sauerkraut recipe here).

Soup is another lunch option. I tend to like soup that only has one or two vegetables in it (rather than generic chunky veg soup), so it tends to be made if I have a glut of something. I often have a corn cob with soup for lunch, and have been known to use soup as a pasta sauce.

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Dinnertime / Heavier Meals

I take a lot of my inspiration from Yotam Ottolenghi. The man is a vegetable-cooking genius, and he is not even vegetarian! An Israeli-Italian living in London, he knows how to use vegetables, pulses and beans to create filling, tasty, flavourful dishes. I own a couple of his cookbooks (and as a minimalist, that’s saying something!)

Some of his recipes can be a little fiddly but most are easily adaptable. If you’re unsure how to get started with vegetarian cooking, or using chickpeas and other pulses, I’d recommend his books Plenty and Plenty More (check your library).

These falafels are not from Ottolenghi, but it’s the kind of thing you’d find in his books. (I suspect he has a recipe somewhere.) After struggling to make falafels several times, I’ve finally nailed a recipe and these have become a staple in our house.

(Back when I lived in the UK, before I went plastic-free / zero waste, I used to eat a lot of falafels. They came in a hard plastic tub, with a plastic film lid, then with a cardboard outer. You’d get 8 in a pack. I bought them often. Cringe!)

I almost always serve with roasted cauliflower (not tried roasted cauliflower? You’re missing a trick!) and a rice salad which I’ve talked about below.

This rice salad definitely draws inspiration from Ottolenghi: he has a bunch of salads that look like this. I’ve made most of them over the years: these days I follow a general formula rather than a recipe as such. As a minimum I cook white rice, lentils (usually puy lentils) and quinoa. I cook all three separately and combine when cooled). I’ll thinly slice and fry onions until caramelised. Then I add heaps of herbs (coriander, parsley and mint tend to be the ones I have; I don’t necessarily use all but at least two). Finally I add something for sweetness (pomegranate, cape gooseberries, dried cherries) and something for crunch (roasted almonds, occasionally pine nuts).

Sometimes I’ll add wild rice, or use red rice instead of white rice. The puy lentils can be switched for beluga lentils, or green lentils, or even chickpeas. I’ll use spinach or mizuna lettuce instead / as well as herbs. Sometimes I add cumin or lemon zest. I find it pretty flexible.

I also make an enormous bowl and we tend to eat it for lunch and dinner for a few days.

We also eat a lot of stir-fries and one-pot vegetable dishes. This one below was inspired by Ottolenghi – I didn’t have half of the ingredients, but had similar things so I looked at the picture and made my own version. It’s white sweet potato (pre-cooked) fried in a pan with onion, chard and chickpeas, and lots of lemon juice.

More vegetable one-pot meals: this would be the kind of filling I’d use for baked potatoes or sweet potatoes – topped with avocado and drizzled with tahini.

This is literally a use-up-whats-in-the-fridge meal. I used two pans to try and keep the flavours different and make it a bit more interesting.

We eat pasta occasionally, usually with a tomato-based sauce (we chop up fresh tomatoes), or with pesto (made with herbs from the garden) or a creamy sauce made with avocado. This is chopped greens (kale, spinach and parsley), fried in garlic, drizzled in lemon juice and mixed with some pesto.

We also eat a lot of dahl (which is basically Indian spiced cooked lentils). I tend to use yellow lentils for this. I first made dahl using Nigel Slater’s recipe way back when. I still use it as a base recipe, but mess around with the spices, or add coconut milk (probably not a very dahl thing to do) or add lots of kale.

Usually I don’t mix dahl with rice, but this was a case of reheating leftovers and only wanting to wash one saucepan.

Roast vegetables are a winter staple in our house. I roast a lot of butternut squash and other pumpkins, sweet potato, beetroot, carrots. Once roasted I use in salads, as a side, or with puy lentils to make a more filling dish. Alternatively I used leftover roast veggies to make soup, or add to hummus.

I have a guilty pleasure of roasting actual potatoes and then eating out of a bowl as a snack.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this isn’t a complete food diary of what I eat in a week – rather I’ve tried to show you as many ideas as possible. There’s plenty more I could talk about. Plant foods are so versatile, it is truly impossible to run out of inspiration!

In part 2 I’m going to be talking about zero waste snacks: in particular, snacks to eat when you don’t have access to a bulk store. Until then, I’d love to hear from you! What are your go-to zero waste meals? Any quick and easy ones you recommend? Or anything that takes a bit of effort but is totally worth it? Any flavour or ingredient combos you love? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!