Zero Waste & Veganism No Longer Cut The Mustard In This Climate Crisis

So much changed in my life in 2019. It was a big year for me and I’m still very much processing it all as I ride the wave into this new decade that promises to be many things, including bizarre and chaotic from what I’ve seen at first glance. The themes that resonate above all else are vulnerability and communication. I’ll elaborate on those in a little bit.

I moved to Arizona a few months ago for an entirely new chapter in my life. I’ll be here a while; I’m in Grad School now. It’s hard. My brain is constantly being pushed to its limit. Plus, I’m in America; the land of “more is more”, “guns = life” and, supposedly, “each man for himself”.

I went through a pretty arduous but liberating process ridding my life of almost all of my possessions before I left Bristol last summer. Only the essentials made the cut and so I’ve been starting life, effectively, from scratch. And do you know what? It has been bloody marvelous.

One of the things that I’ve been struck by is the sheer kindness of total strangers since I’ve moved here. To help me get around, find my way when I’m lost, give me things “to get you started”, invite me to social gatherings, introduce me to people, buy me dinner, ask me about myself and be genuinely interested…the list goes on.

Perhaps it’s because I’m in my spiritual homeland and, if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that when we’re where we’re meant to be, magical stuff happens. Or, perhaps it’s because America has this sense of community and “love thy neighbour” that’s infectious and undercuts the bullshit capitalist/corporate nonsense thrust upon its people by the powers that be. Either way, people have become my priority.

I still call myself an environmentalist; arguably more so now than ever before, actually. And it has always been that way. Ever since I was a kid organising litter-picking groups and volunteering outdoors, I’ve made life choices to study, document and communicate environmental destruction, highlighting the need for greater awareness about a myriad conundrums. I’ve tried to have the lowest impact without infringing on my own happiness or mental health. I can hand-on-heart say that I’ve always try to do what’s right.

Only, I don’t exist in a vacuum.

Over the past few years, I’ve lived a very privileged life. I’ve had a decent job, lived in a great city, had a healthy body and no dependents etc. I’ve spent my days indulging in a trendy and pretentious, “I’m vegan, no thank you, no straw, please” bubble of pretending that that is enough. That eating exclusively vegan is somehow God-like, or lugging my “zero waste essentials” kit everywhere with me is elevating me to Sainthood.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with taking tofu over pork in your ramen or getting a pumpkin spice latte in your own to-go cup, but when these choices come at the cost of isolation and disconnection from others, I’m not so sure I still agree with them. Nor do I agree with blindly accepting anything (no matter how vegan/zero waste-ish) without considering the supply chain. There are huge issues with a lot of soy and bamboo coffee cups – remember that!

Since I’ve lived here, for the sake of maintaining my sanity and not having a total breakdown, I’ve had to adopt a go-with-the-flow mentality. Moving abroad, processing the change in culture, having to make a whole bunch of new friends, learning my way around a new place, navigating a change in career (and not being funny, but, like, a really fucking challenging one at that), it would have just been too much for me to keep the reins really tight on myself and refuse to consume any plastic or animal products, as I was trying my best to do for a while in Bristol.

I’ve attended seminars with free pizza and I’ve eaten it. I’ve been recommended the “best burritos in town” (cheese mandatory) and I’ve devoured them, often whilst sat contentedly staring at a cactus for 20 minutes or more. I’ve purchased nachos in a styrofoam container. I regularly buy groceries packaged in plastic. I’ve eaten fish and enjoyed every bite. There are a bunch of things. But, do you know what? I’ve never been happier in my entire life.

To clarify: I don’t think that you need to eat animal products or consume single-use plastic to be happy; you can do without either when you’re in the groove. Rather, it’s the barriers I’ve done my best to dissolve, allowing for fruitful, meaningful connections with others that has really given me the good feels throughout this settling-in process.

See, we’re all the same. We all want what we think is best for ourselves and our loved ones, based on the ways that we have been raised and the experiences we’ve encountered. Sometimes kindness to the environment factors into that. Sometimes it doesn’t, unfortunately. One thing I have learned is that amazing things happen when people feel a part of something greater than themselves. That old sense of community I mentioned earlier? Yeah, that. We see it most profoundly in times of crisis which – although tragic – warms my heart. Just take a look at Australia right now.

We live in a time where the societal constructs favour isolation and loneliness. Depressing as that is to consider, lengthy work weeks and life within a cell phone do not equal the magic formula for love and connection. Neither does an economy built on the absolute requirement for its participants to perpetuate the high turnover of cheaply made, disposable items once coveted, rapidly diminished to garbage.

It’s not enough that we try to do our bit in isolation. It’s easy to be able to go to the grocery store, fill the cart with plant-based foods, pack the stuff in reusable totes and be done with it. We desperately need more than that, though. We need to work towards healthier communities where no person is left behind. We must listen better, prioritise healthy minds and spirits, fight constantly for equality amongst all peoples and most importantly find common ground where it appears – on the surface – as though there is none.

A few weeks ago, I saw a group of people picketing for veganism on a street corner outside a major grocery store. While I considered myself vegan for a long time and think it’s great to forgo animal products in the name of a healthier planet, this tactic as a means of converting the masses simply doesn’t work. In the same way that it’s ineffective to ram your religion down another’s throat and expect a positive response, so too is trying to shame others into eating what you eat. Your intentions might be pure and the message important for the collective wellbeing, but if you don’t convey it in a way that’s digestible, it’ll stay solely in your sphere.

I have a friend that works for a company that specialises in helping organisations in disagreement over environmental issues find common ground and rationally work towards solutions that everyone can agree upon. They consider the concerns of all parties involved with equal respect. This is how we need to approach all of our issues when it comes to the best path forward through our current climate crisis. We all think we know best; that our facts are the right ones to be taken as gospel. Scientific evidence must be brought to the table, though, and used at the basis of any decision-making. That’s where we’re tremendously lacking and it’s a total embarassment considering the mind-blowing bounty of resources available that all point at a different way of doing things despite leaders creating policies based on opinions.

Find. Common. Ground. Do what these leaders aren’t doing, because you’re smarter. Share your struggles, embrace the hardships and know that it’s OK to lean on others for support. Be open to having your opinions swayed. Be receptive to learning new things. Be comfortable challenging the very foundations upon which your beliefs have been built.

In one of my cell biology classes this past semester, we delved into the mechanics of actin and myosin filaments in helping cells do stuff like contract and move things around. The take-home message was that cells must be dynamic in order to be healthy. Nerdy as it sounds, I very much take this as a metaphor for life. Nothing is static. What can you think of that does well when it stagnates? Nothing. No, we like fresh and flowing and I encourage you to approach your thoughts and beliefs with the same logic. Be open to moving with the times; the survival of this planet depends on it.

Overtourism, Underappreciation: How Do We Tackle Our Travel Crisis?

There’s a very particular type of learning that comes through travel; in particular venturing to a faraway place where the culture and language are entirely different to your own. I like the way that it puts you in your place a bit: shows you how much you really don’t know about the world. It also challenges you on the most basic levels of communication and navigation – things we take entirely for granted and spare little thought in our day-to-day lives.

I’m very fortunate to have grown up as a third culture kid, because despite the longing for home and loneliness I battle with at times, I traverse through life fairly open-minded and interested in others whose lives are wildly different to my own. And honestly, without tooting my own horn, I think it’d be pretty stellar if more people were as curious.

With the internet bringing us ever closer together, the world seemingly shrinking before our very eyes and platforms like Instagram unlikely to disappear any time soon, we have at our disposal access to travel unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. All the flight deals, phenomenal ease of staying connected even in the most remote of locations and enough FOMO-inducing travel inspo pics to scroll through for the next 100 years.

I feel bittersweet about it all, to be honest. On the one hand I think about the ways in which travel has enriched my life and shaped me into the person I am today (and God, I wouldn’t trade that for anything.) But on the other, I gingerly peep at the harsh reality that perhaps the world’s beautiful natural spaces aren’t abundant enough to go around. We’re at 7.7 billion people on this planet and while each deserves an enriching experience during his or her time on Earth, is it really doable? Is there a way to keep doing all the travel while avoiding the plight of overtourism?

Overtourism has trashed our beaches, national parks and cities and while the average person truly means no harm, there’s an unfortunate “mob mentality” that kicks in when we see one person disrespecting a space; it suddenly seems to send a wave of permission through the masses that a free-for-all is totally acceptable. Look at what happened with the US government shutdown earlier this year? National parks now face years of damage that is, tragically, thought to be irreversible in some places.

So who stays and who goes? That’s the uncomfortable question. Or is there a way that we can still travel freely without leaving our footprint in the sand, as it were?

The obvious first step in responsible travel is to do so with the environment at the forefront of your mind. Before the photo-ops are explored and the bar has been located, I wonder how things might be different if we weren’t so entitled. It’s a complete privelege to visit another person’s land (or sea) and we must do so with immense respect. We need to adopt humility and pause to face the reality that those places don’t need any sign of us after we leave. None of us are that special. And while other nations kindly welcome us in and let us stay for a while, exploring what they have to offer, we will eventually leave and they do not wish to be stuck with the house left trashed by the party, if you catch my drift? Neither would you, I’m sure.

But let’s say everyone transformed overnight into respectful tourists, sticking to the footpaths and leaving no trace of their plasti wrappers, we still face the harsh truth that the numbers are staggering. The number of flights and pressure to expand our airports. The number of Air Bnb’s forcing out locals from their hometowns. And the population density that doesn’t go unnoticed by local flora and fauna, reshaping wildlife communities in search of tranquility. These things will still exist.

And so I pose the question – even if you have no answer: how do we stop the death and destruction that overtourism has caused and is popular culture ruining the world more today than it ever has?

Photo by Febiyan on Unsplash

“Clean Eating” As Dirty As The Trash – Our Obsession Has Got To Stop

I spend an awful lot of time thinking about food. From what treats I might whip up for a friend’s birthday to how I can use up an obscene quantity of [insert fruit here] that I bought discounted at closing time, cooking and eating are sacred pursuits in my books. My idea of downtime consists of attempting a recipe that’s been on my radar and thus far remained out of reach. A creative challenge, if you will. Or a stroll around the farmer’s market scouting out the freshest and juiciest. And to me, the best part of family time is the pot-luck style weekends we spend together where we each prepare and share something with the clan. Food is life and life is glorious.

There’s an additional set of rules that I play by though, as well as navigating a never-ending sea of deliciousness. They are as follows: sustainability is key and maintaining excellent health paramount. The non-compromisables are:

  1. Ingredients purchased must be naked or housed in minimal/recyclable packaging
  2. Ingredients purchased must be organic and/or local wherever possible; ideally both
  3. No meat, no dairy

I straddle the fence on:

  1. Honey: I’ll allow it if it’s local and/or organic
  2. Eggs: I’ll eat them occasionally if they’re from chickens who live in my neighbourhood, such as those that belong to a friend
  3. Sugar: I am a baker through and through, so I don’t treat it like the devil. I simply keep a check on how much I consume because I’m also trying to heal my endocrine system post-HBC

But something has been on my mind lately; something that worries me so. As I scrutenise the faddy food vibes of the times, I realise that there’s an undeniable impetus in our collective gravitation towards ‘clean eating’ or ‘superfoods’ as if they alone will be our saviours. As I’ve just mentioned – I have rules too, sure. But I worry when I see and hear food being treated as something that has a defined good and bad side. As if devouring a donut is akin to dancing with the devil.

An obsession with healthy eating (formally known as orthorexia) is an interesting one. Give it a cursory glance and you might wonder how on earth it could be a bad thing, but take a closer look and you see that it’s an addiction no better than any other. How can you expect food to save you if your entire body is riddled with anxiety swimming around every mouthful?

Have you seen that coconut oil is now considered akin to poison by Harvard scientist, Karin Michels? I mean, the statement is a little attention-grabbing in my opinion, but Michels highlights the important point that coconut oil does indeed contain 86% saturated fat, which is approximately 1/3 more than butter. And what do we know about consumption of saturated fats? They increase our risk of heart disease and stroke. The word butter is synonymous with obesity these days and coconut oil, well: the lean, mean millenial. But really, when you break it down chemically, it’s all much of a muchness, yet coconut oil has a remarkable cachet that fools consumers into believing that it can do no wrong.

These findings conflict with earlier studies that suggested that coconut oil may lower the risk of heart disease. We also known that it boasts antimicrobial properties which are excellent for the body. But to be treated as a panacea? That’s where things start to fall apart. Why is it that we’re so credulous?

Just as we want our skincare to miraculously perfect us, so too do we want our meals to cure all ailments and help us achieve the kind of perfection that we are exposed to every day via social media, television and the occasional glossy magazine. Unachievable perfection is the thing to strive for. We’re told that it’s real and well within our reach, if only we juice one more jug of greens.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I am a firm believer in the healing powers of food. A big vegetable soup sorts a cold right out and a homemade pesto pizza offers soul food not quite like anything else. But it’s foolish of us to think that eating well can compensate for other areas of our lives that need changing. It will also not help heal of all the inflammation one experiences by panicking that one too many grams of fat or sugar might have been consumed that day. All that stress, all that cortisol in the body, well….no amount of avocado-quinoa-kale salads are going to counteract that.

Optimal health is a multi-faceted state of being that depends upon adequate nutrition, but also mental and physical wellbeing. We know that stress leads to disease. Our lives are busy and they always will be. But if we’re not allowing meal times to be enjoyable and indulgent experiences because we’re too worried that what we’re eating might verge on dirty, we’re missing what’s there; what’s sacred: an opportunity to relax and enjoy ourselves, hopefully in good company.

I also wonder this: why is food getting all the attention? Am I the only one that thinks it’s just a little bit silly that we see no issues with continuing to pollute our seas with ton after ton of plastic and our air with an array of noxious fumes, cut down our rainforests and flood our coastlines and somehow focus all of our attention on what we eat as though it will somehow rectify the deeply unhappy state that we – as part of a collective organism that is life on Planet Earth – find ourselves in? Woah, took a dark turn, right? I don’t beat around no bush. If that’s what you’re after, probably better to go check out one of those clean-eating bloggers who will tell you that green juices are the answers to all of your problems.

Holistic health is the only approach to our wellbeing. True wellbeing. And part of what we need is an environment that is clean and supportive. In its current state, it is blighted; on bowed legs and desperately in need of the respect it deserves. As long as we continue to exploit it as we do, we continue to hurt our health. Yes, no matter the amount of fad foods that we force-feed ourselves. Glyphosate, a decline in bees, air pollution from all the VOCs, microplastics, light pollution, noise pollution…and we think that the quinoa will save us? It’s time to wake up and take a look around. If we spent half as much time on environmental preservation as we do obsessing about our daily juice, we might have a real shot at saving ourselves.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

 

 

There Is No ‘One Size Fits All’ For Sustainable Living

I’ve had a collection of jumbled thoughts tossing and turning in my mind for the past couple of weeks. I’ve been struggling to articulate what they are exactly and why they’ve been bothering me so much, but a long walk in the sunshine yesterday helped me make sense of it all…I think…Let’s have a go, at least. Apologies if this is still somewhat jumbled *shrugs*.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been passionate about making the world a better place. Or rather, protecting the planet. I love the great outdoors, having been fortunate enough to grow up traveling frequently and seeing some true wonders in my lifetime. Nature is my greatest inspiration and where I try to spend as much of my free time as possible. When you love something that much, you want to preserve it, right?

Kennedy loves nature –> Kennedy wants nature to be there forever –> Kennedy fights to protect nature

I don’t actually know where it comes from (my love of the great outdoors and subsequent obsession with environmental conservation) because the rest of my family aren’t like me at all. I mean, they care as much as the next person who cares an average amount I suppose, but it’s certainly nowhere near the top of their priorities list. I try not to let these differences cause too much friction, but when you’re passionate about something (and I’m a Scorpio, so make that like x10), it inevitably causes at least a little discomfort. A difference of opinions always does. On the one hand, there’s me wishing they saw things from my perspective and on the other, them feeling like they have to walk on eggshells around me for fear of judgement. Any one else in a similar position? It’s hard, right?

As time passes, I realise that it’s important not to let it come between us. We’re all on our own individual journeys, facing very unique struggles and thus priorities. We each care about different things that we think are going to make us happy and serve the greater good. They just don’t happen to all tick the same boxes and it’s learning to accept that and work around it that’s key.

It’s actually something that I’m trying to work on in 2018: learning to communicate more effectively with those people who don’t see eye to eye with me. (The daughter of a diplomat; you think I’d be better at that, huh? Not really.) Again with the passionate Scorpio-ness, I guess. Plus, I’m still in my twenties….I hear we learn that stuff a little later in life (she says with fingers firmly crossed).

It’s easy to get yourself caught in a bubble – especially in this crazy time of social media where you quite literally pick and choose the kinds of people you let yourself be influenced by. Not interested? Unfollow. Annoyed by the negativity? Unfriend. The result is, however, that you find you’re rallying up people who are already passionate about the same things that you are. You form this mob of egotistical people who each pat themselves on the back, not having anyone challenge your thinking because you’ve strategically selected the people comprising this group in the first place. You form a collective who are already on the same wavelength, but aren’t reaching out and effectively communicating with those who need persuading (and will therefore stimulate real change).

Don’t get me wrong. Social media has a lot of power that certainly works for good. When eco-friendly stuff becomes trendy, everyone wants to jump on board and ultimately that works out better for the planet. But it is still a bubble. A small one.

I’ve been through so many different thought processes when it comes to how I can live most sustainably. No one could ever criticise me for not trying, that’s for sure. I’ve ebbed and flowed through all the usual dietary things (vegan, local, organic etc), the plastic I consume and waste I produce, the power I run my life on, my choice of transport, where I vacation, which charities I donate to, what I write about etc. The list goes on and on. Everyday I question my actions and try as often as possible to challenge myself when faced with a new decision. How can I do better?

I know living in perfect harmony with the planet whilst simultaneously not offending anyone is not an achievable goal. I know that there’s always something that I can do better and I’ll damn well keep trying til I’m dead, but what I want to articulate today is that it’s the trying that counts.

I can’t tell you the number of posts I’ve seen on social media by people sharing a little snapshot of some part of their life and efforts at reducing plastic waste, but also feeling the need to apologise for something in the photo which isn’t fashionably ‘zero waste’. It’s this silent pressure that sits there and holds standards out-of-reach. “Sorry about [insert object here], I bought it before I went zero-waste” or “Ignore [insert object here] I’m just using it up” So, why the pressure? Where does it come from? Probably from the same place that my getting into fights with coworkers who don’t believe in recycling comes from: a place of passion.

Passion makes people do crazy things. It is good, bad and ugly all mixed together in one cataclysmic bundle. But the truth is that no one has the right to judge you. I know it feels as if they do and trust me, I’m guilty of living with that fear too, but the fact is that they don’t. And just because something is right for them, doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

This is where I’m at with so-called ‘sustainable living’. There is no ‘one size fits all’, unfortunately. I wish it were that easy, but it isn’t. And as much as we all like to pretend that we’ve got it all figured out, I truly believe that living sustainably means being open to adaptation and being flexible. Being vegan, for example, might be the very best way that you can reduce carbon emissions based on your current circumstances as a city-dweller where everything is available to you. But what about if you moved to a tropical island where fish was plenty and tropical fruits and vegetables bountiful? Would you still choose vegan and import all foods that you were eating previously so as to maintain the status? No, of course not. The air miles would be killer and completely contradict the whole ‘sustainable vibes’ thing that you’re striving for.

None of us are living the exact same lives and none of these lives set in stone. We each have different financial constraints and health conditions and physical impairments and complicated emotions and hopes and dreams and lives that change like the weather. What is right for us today might not be tomorrow. And it’s this that I know truly resonates with me. The only thing that I’m certain of is that times change and that I need to be ready and willing to adapt as they do.

I hope that we see a shift towards encouraging each other to do our very best in the situation that we find ourselves in. Lower the bar a bit. Remember empathy. Don’t judge them or inflict your views upon them until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

Photos by Sphynx and Relentless Church on Unsplash and Chester Ho on Unsplash

People Are Dying Trying To Save The Planet, But You Can Help

We’re consistently told that standing up for what we believe in is the most honourable path to choose. Even if we stand alone, we must do what’s right by our internal guidance system. Live by our values. But is there a limit to this? Is there any point at which it’s no longer worth it? Would you stand up for your beliefs even if it meant risking your life?

The Guardian has been keeping pretty solid tabs on those individuals who have been killed for doing exactly this: standing up for a healthy environment. The figure stands at 197 courageous men and women in the year 2017 alone, with the rate expected to continue at 4 individuals per week for the forseeable future. These are sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers whose voices have been silenced by those who put capitalist interests before environmental preservation and it disgusts me.

On almost every continent there have been people standing up against logging, land degradation, water pollution and poaching, with Brazil the most dangerous place to be at present. It’s nothing new – since the dawn of time there has existed conflict over land and its many uses. Only, it’s 2018 and there is clear evidence that the planet’s on its last legs. Bar terraforming a new one (and quick!) unless we want to suffer a slow and painful demise, we’ve got to start getting our shit into gear.

From my safe little house in my safe little town on the (relatively) safe little English isle, I go about my days trying to lead by example. I eat a vegan diet, I only consume cruelty-free cosmetics, I recycle, I try wherever possible to avoid plastic consumption and especially the single-use kind, I promote self-care and mindfulness and I make time to help others with making more environmentally-friendly choices whenever they express an interest in learning more. But above all this (because really, none of those things are superpowers), I educate myself as frequently as I’m able to. I absorb every story and statistic I can get my mitts on.

That yearning to know more can be insatiable – is, insatiable. How can I possibly do better if I’m not learning the facts? Blame it on the scientist in me. Once you learn the truth about how devestating our consumption habits are on the planet and how problematic the animal agriculture industry is (yes, I’m a big Monbiot fan) to name just a couple, you see that you have no choice but to alter your lifestyle. It’s either that or live a miserable life. Rejigging everything is a smaller burden than living in conflict with what you know has to be done.

I am incredibly fortunate that I don’t live my life on the firing line. And you are too, if you’re in a similar situation to me. But we have an absolute responsibility to share the truths that the deceased no longer can because we owe it to them for their strength and undeniable bravery for standing up for what they knew to be right.

Indigenous people in sacred places across the globe are having their ancestral lands being destroyed quicker than they’re having time to process the trauma. From the Sioux at Standing Rock to the Ka’apor in Brazil to the mighty women of the Zambezi, the planet is littered with people trying to protect their homes however they can, even if it means their inevitable demise. If home is all you know, how can life go on without it? Home is, after all, more than a physical place. It is the history that goes along with it, the memory, the culture, the family and the soul.

As a human, you have a responsibility to do no harm to another. That’s just how it is. Many don’t live this way, of course and that’s a terrible sadness, but we know how things ought to be. And if it pains you to know that there is all this suffering going on around the world and you feel helpless and incapable of making a difference, know that that couldn’t be further from the truth. Like ripples in a mill pond, your actions can inspire others in ways that you’ve likely never considered. All you need to do is plant the seed.

What changes do you want to see? An end to logging? Buy reclaimed timber furniture. Better air quality? Support renewable resources. The end of climate change? Stop supporting animal agriculture and eat plant-based. Clean seas with healthy marine populations? Cut down on your plastic consumption. Lead by example and others will follow. Your voice is louder than you know.

Photos: Sphynx & MeltingPotSoul via Instagram

 

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