By: Annette Cottrell
There is so much buzz in the media these days about being green: green products, eco houses, hybrid cars. Every time you turn around there is a new chance to “do the right thing” by spending money. I think many of us are unsure about what the right thing to do is, so we plunk our money down and substitute the new green thing for the old not-as-green thing and carry on with our lives.
It’s been said that eco buying is elitist because only those of us with expendable income can afford to buy organic food and special biodegradable garbage bags. But it’s precisely those of us with expendable income who are doing the most damage to the planet. We are buying more stuff made from finite natural resources that will end up in landfills mere months later. We all need to realize and admit that We. Are. The. Problem.
Why should we care that the world’s natural forests are nearly all gone? Or that animals in the Amazon Rain Forest and indigenous peoples are becoming extinct when it’s not happening in our own backyards? Because our consumption and disposal habits are doing this. We are the problem.
And because we are the problem we need to be the solution.
Why Green Products are Not the Answer
At some point we need to take a hard look at our behaviors. Maybe merely swapping labels isn’t the answer. Green products are one of the fastest growing trends today. But do they really help? They may use fewer chemicals and toxins, although there is no requirement for “green” manufacturers to do so.
Much like the high fructose corn syrup industry, which launched an ad campaign last year claiming to be healthier than sugar because you use less of it, the “greenness” of these items may be more in the marketing message than the actual product.
Certainly green products use the same packaging, distribution channels, and disposal processes that conventional products do. So are they really that much better than?
The Lost “R”
Anyone who came of age in the eighties or later has had the credo “Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle” drilled into their heads.
What you may not remember is that in the late seventies, when this campaign began, it was originally “Refuse, Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle.” Somehow the Refuse part conveniently disappeared from the slogan.
It’s precisely the Refuse part that we need to practice and that will do the greenest good.
You’ll find several days’ worth of reading on how to reduce, re-use and recycle all over the internet so I won’t re-hash those fine and worthy tips here. Instead I’ll share my story with you and hope that it inspires you to refuse some level of consumption in your life.
A year and a half ago I read “Animal Vegetable Miracle” followed by “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and they shook my world.
I vowed not to give a single dollar to a food company or feed lot operation again.
I drew a line in the sand and have crossed it with only a few exceptions since then.
I bought a counter top grain grinder for about the same chunk of change that I had previously spent on my espresso maker. I found a local grain farmer and bought 50 pounds of wheat berries from him. I learned how to use those wheat (or spelt or emmer or rye or oat) berries and a few other ingredients that everybody has in their cupboard to make almost any non-refrigerated processed food product you could buy at the grocery store.
It’s the greenest thing I’ve ever done.
What’s in Your Garbage?
Look at your recycling and your garbage can the next time you take out your trash. If you’ve already contacted http://opt-out.cdt.org/ and you aren’t using disposable diapers on little ones it should be mostly filled with food packaging. Imagine if there were no cans, tetra packs, boxes, or plastic wrappers to throw away. What would you have left?
A Shrinking Problem
Once we had eaten down our cupboards of existing food stuff and stopped buying unnecessary household cleaners, our garbage virtually disappeared.
Suddenly I was not creating demand for the manufacturing of boxes that felled trees, cans that mined the earth, waxy tetra pack linings that required the manufacture of BPA and other toxic chemicals or plastics. I was not creating demand for food companies to create synthetic ingredients, preservatives or additives for processed foods. I was not supporting a distribution system that flew or trucked non-local -or worse -out of season foods grown in heated greenhouses half way around the world.
I was not supporting feed lot operations that were not only inhumane but destroyed watersheds and ozone layers. I was not supporting a commodities market that destroyed small and diverse farmland. And I was not supporting seed companies that threatened the survival of open pollinated, heirloom seeds with GE varieties which then required more pesticides to bring to market than heirloom, organic crops did.
I was becoming less of the problem but I knew I could do more.
I took out my lawn and planted an organic fruit and vegetable garden. I grow all of our produce and can some things, but have learned to eat seasonally since it requires no canning and less effort on my part.
Any plant parts we don’t eat go to our backyard chickens. I grow forage for the hens who eat my cover crops, scratch it up while hunting for any bugs that might destroy my crops, and till it in. They poop while tilling and thereby fertilize the garden for me. In addition to that gardening help, they give me beautiful organic, free-range eggs the likes of which you will never find at a grocery store.
Any food we don’t eat the hens eat or we compost to fertilize the garden. The garden feeds us and the hens, who feed us and the garden.
I have completely re-thought food.
Re-thinking Food Leads to Re-thinking Consumption
I’ve done lots of other things like only using cloth diapers, rechargeable batteries, and LED lightbulbs. I turn down my thermostat, turn off unnecessary appliances, carpool, wash my car less often, do not use chemicals on my lawn. These things are important too.
But something happens to you when you rethink food. It makes you rethink your whole life because food is the most fundamental thing there is. It’s the fastest way to change behavior, or build community, or create happiness.
Somehow we’ve lost the connection with food and it’s filtered through to every aspect of our lives. We are disconnected with what we eat and what we are doing to the planet.
Once you stop going to the grocery store for food you will look at every item in your cupboards. You might learn to make toothpaste from salt and baking soda, or lotion from olive oil and beeswax. You might start cleaning your house with baking soda and vinegar and feel confident doing so because those two, non-toxic items, when used in tandem, kill more germs than bleach. You just might refuse to buy all those other unnecessary products, rather than trying to swap a white-labeled product for a green labeled one. You might just refuse.
My message to you is this: rethink food and refuse. It will be the most powerful, greenest thing you will ever do. And if everyone did it we could change the world.
Annette Cottrell blogs about living sustainably in the city at www.sustainableeats.com
. [green image: flickr member Dylan 66]