food_environmental-awareness

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.

Photo: Flickr

 

cookies

In our never ending quest to look our very best, there is always some new fad  cropping up in our commercials and in our magazines and on our billboards which tells us how we can be the next very perfect version of ourselves if we just buy into the lifestyle choice of another. The quest for self-improvement – in theory – is an honourable one. Wanting to become the best version of yourself possible in this time on Earth is a wonderful thing. A person in alignment with themselves is at their most creative and capable. However, our human nature can’t help but put us at risk of self-deprecation by being so willing to ‘buy into’ any old fad.

You see, we each have different metabolisms, builds and lifestyles. There is no ‘one size fits all’. And you’re probably sick of hearing it, because thank the Lord there are so many voices speaking up now against things like the fashion industry and popular media publications that easily influence young souls into thinking that they are not classically beautiful. However, I do see it going the other way. I don’t think that everyone has to be stick-thin and willowy, but I also don’t think that for argument’s sake we should be telling obese people that they are healthy. A person at their most aligned will be a healthy weight for them. And shocker: it isn’t obese. It comes from eating foods and doing exercise that nurtures you.

Instead of showing someone images of body shapes varying across the spectrum and working from the outside in, we should be getting to the core and working on our emotions, trauma and life choices that are getting us to a state where we are torturing ourselves with our diets. It involves being conscious to each decision we make, in all aspects of our life. But for the sake of this post, paying particular attention to the foods we put into our mouths.

When it comes to food, be mindful of every single thing you are eating. You may think you have an uncontrollable sugar addiction that forces you to eat an entire pack of cookies, but tune in to the process of eating those cookies and you may be surprised at how you truly feel consuming them. And by the life force (or lack of) that they provide. I encourage you to give this a go. Set some time aside and pick the junk food that you feel controlled by.

  1. Look at the packet and read the ingredients list (yep, every single ingredient, even the ones with names that you can’t understand) and look at the advertising used which convinced you that this would satiate your needs. What do you think about it? Does anything on the packaging play to your emotions? How does that list of ingredients make you feel? Why do you think so many ingredients were needed to make those cookies? Key: these are because of two requirements: cost-effectiveness and preservation. The manufacturer wants to put in the cheapest ingredients to create the best-possible end product, increasing their profits. And a combination of the ingredients and packaging enables that packet of cookies to sit on the supermarket shelf or in your cupboard for a pretty good length of time without spoiling.
  2. Open the packet and look at the cookies. The key to this is to put the food into context. We are living beings and need sustenance that will help us to sustain our life force, right? Look at the cookie and ask yourself if it looks like they came out of the ground or fell from a tree. Do they look like they were ‘alive’ once? Would they fit in a natural setting outside? The answer is no, of course. Raw ingredients had to be processed to make those cookies look the way they do. Now, ‘processed’ need not be a bad thing and I think we get caught up and confused with our terms much of the time. Putting chickpeas, tahini and some spices into a food processor to turn into hummus makes that hummus processed, but the cookie and the hummus vary tremendously, obviously!
  3. Now, eat one of the cookies really slowly, paying attention to the way it tastes, feels in your mouth and feels in your mind. You’ll get an initial ‘wow this is great!’ sensation as the sugar hits your taste buds, but keep going and see if you hit a wall of sweetness overload, or decide that they don’t feel good working their way down your oesophagus and into your stomach.
  4. Keep eating them really slowly and with a break in between until you don’t crave any more. Then record how you feel. Record how you feel instantly after eating them, writing down all the feelings that come to mind. Then record how you feel half an hour later, an hour later, 2 hours later, 3 hours later, and finally 6 hours later. This may seem like a lot of work, but trust me if it involves changing the way you encounter food in a way that is much better for your well-being, you’ll be grateful you did this.

This practice doesn’t just apply to sugar. It applies to any packaged, preserved food that fell far from the tree if you know what I’m saying. There’s a fantastic TED talk (below) that I encourage you to watch. It’s all about changing your habits and being mindful, which is actually the way to self-improvement. You can live action-to-action by what truly feels good, not by what you’ve tricked yourself into thinking will make you feel better.

You can apply this mindfulness to all aspects of life. You’ll find some things are harder to be honest with yourself about than others, particularly when you broach bigger lifestyle choices and relationships. For now, start with food; small steps.

Photo via Unsplash