The environmentally-conscious tend to have a dominant priority when it comes to what they do to minimise their impact on the planet. This covers all aspects of lifestyle and consumerism, but today I’m going to discuss food.
What is your dominant food ethos? Is it home-cooking, sharing with friends and living life to the fullest? Is it living cruelty-free without animal products? Is it living on purely local produce? Is it focusing on products without packaging? Is it using the food to support your active lifestyle?
We all have different priorities when it comes to food. Upbringing – of course – plays a dominant role, but we have a predisposition for a particular way of life dependent on our experiences. Certain lifestyles resonate with us more so than others. We will naturally tweak our lifestyle around our values. This means you’ll make whatever is important to you your key focus.
But what happens when you care about it all and can’t decide what to do because you’re so overwhelmed with it all? This is exactly what happened to me.
The First Shift
My first thought when I became conscious to what foods I was consuming was the issue with battery farming and deforestation for products like soy and palm. I decided to make it my main priority to avoid these products. I felt good about that for a while. Then came dairy.
I made the connection between dairy (for me personally, I appreciate this does not apply to everyone) and skin problems, as well as feeling bloated and generally lethargic. I decided that another main priority for me was to cut this out. Then came my first conundrum. I was in a coffee house and asked for a dairy-free alternative. They could offer me soy milk. I didn’t know where the soy had been sourced from. Was it better for me to choose the dairy which I knew would make me feel bad or the soy and thus potentially supporting harmful deforestation? I decided in that moment that the soy was the better option. There was a 100% chance I would be worse off from consuming the dairy, but only a 50% chance the soy was detrimental to the environment.
Next up: plastic
Some time went by and suddenly I had my eyes opened to plastic pollution and how large-scale the problem is on our land and in our oceans. I decided that I did not want to contribute to one-use plastics. They would sit around in landfill far longer than I would be around on Earth. What gave me the right to leave such a legacy after my time here? And what about future generations? Do they deserve to live their lives amongst trash heap after trash heap? What gives us the right to ruin it for them?
I discovered that food sans packaging is a tiny minority of what is available. ‘What are we doing?!’ I would furiously ask myself. I felt awake to how much we were doing wrong. How could we be so wasteful? I made that the number one priority. I was essentially eating whatever I could get my hands on that wasn’t wrapped in plastic. I took tupperware to the butchers and fishmongers. I went to a greengrocers for my fruit and vegetables. I went to bakeries that would paper bag my bread. It was exhausting.
I had to plan every single meal I was having, I struggled around my work hours to get to retailers that were only open from 9 to 5. I found it difficult to pick up food if I was out and about because almost all of it came in plastic. I also noticed I was having to think about it so much that it was getting in the way of having fun and being carefree. It wasn’t the ideal lifestyle.
So where am I now?
About six months ago I decided to pursue veganism. If animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change and deforestation, surely choosing to not support it was the best thing I could do? Six months prior I had decided to make the commitment to cruelty-free cosmetics, because again what right did I have to support the torture of an animal for my aesthetic requirements? This was a really easy choice to make because there are so many great brands out there who have a cruelty-free ethos.
A vegan diet, however, was much more difficult. I love how I feel and look when I don’t consume animal products. I would say that when I eat a balanced vegan diet, I feel my best: lighter and brighter. But if it’s not balanced and I’m not getting enough iron or B12, I suffer and have cravings for bloody meat. Poor choices and laziness result in this, so this diet – much like one which is plastic-free – requires planning and conscious thought.
My conundrum now is how many vegan protein sources are packaged in plastic. The fruit and veg is fine, but the tofu, or nut cutlets or bean patties or whatever else are often in plastic and not produced in the UK. Therefore, I am supporting the plastic use once more, as well as rejecting local produce.
If I live in England at the moment – a country known for its pasture and temperate climate – isn’t it best to eat whatever grows here, rather than tofu shipped to me from God knows where? What if this includes meat and fish though? I am still processing what my next step ought to be. I wholly support veganism, but not at the cost of rejecting local produce. I am not going to buy Oregon-produced Tofurky if I live in Bristol, England just for the sake of it.
I think I’m coming to the conclusion that your diet must be flexible with where you are in the world. You must be willing to not be too rigid so that you can offer environmental-compassion as it’s needed. Like a good friend of mine who splits her time between Sweden and Cyprus told me: “I’ll be vegan in Sweden because it’s easy and there are so many great foods to eat. But in Cyprus, hell no. I just can’t do that here. It’s just not a part of the culture.”
We all want a fulfilling and happy life. A big part of that is sharing basic things like food with each other. Anything too restrictive makes it difficult for individuals living different lifestyles to merge together. If we focus instead on what’s growing locally and sharing it with our local friends, is that not the most ideal scenario? I think I can do this and still be a vegan. We’ll see how we go.
Food for thought.