hiking outdoors

Over the past six months or so I’ve been paying more and more attention to where the things I buy are sourced from. This covers everything from tofu to trainers, candles to concealer. I realise that I find myself in a highly detached society: one that thinks Amazon pulls products out the air and ships them to us.

This isn’t a good thing. If we’re unaware of the process of getting whatever item it is to our doorstep, how are we monitoring whether the supplier is doing a good job or not? Just as we don’t think about where our trash goes once it’s collected from the kerb, we’re not thinking of the entire process when we purchase a shirt to wear. At least, not most of us.

This kind of blissful ignorance is what is fuelling bad practices across many (if not all) industries. Consumption is greater than ever and the demand to push prices down also greater than ever. Suppliers want to accommodate and so if this means forgoing ethics, many will unfortunately comply.

I know marketing is a clever industry and it’s aim is to convince us that we need x, y, or z. But I didn’t realise until recently just how wrong I was about one particular industry: outdoor clothing & technical gear.

From the months of March-November (though sometimes in winter too) I look for any opportunity to pack up the tent, don my gore-tex and get some fresh air in my lungs. Whether it’s hiking a mountain or getting some waves, I thrive in the great outdoors.

In order to participate in these kinds of activities, appropriate “technical” clothing and kit is often required. Up until recently, I’ve purchased whatever is on offer in my favourite outdoor chains. I guess I had this idea that brands producing items for allowing one to be more comfortable/prepared in nature must also care about nature. See the link there? Sadly, I’ve discovered that this truly isn’t the case. It seems outdoor brands are closer to the fashion industry in terms of ethics.

This excellent round-up from Ethical Consumer goes into detail about a variety of brands and aspects of  what is considered ethical manufacturing & supply. I highly encourage you check it out.

There are some new items that I’m due to be purchasing very soon. But with this now knowledge floating around my brain, I refuse to simply purchase the next thing I see that looks nice and fits well (or is technically-sound). There’s a lot of research to be done, but watch this space because I’ll be bringing my findings to you. The ethical brands are not the mainstream ones, but it’s important that they get a voice. If we talk about them more, they will become more widely acknowledged.

Photo via Unsplash

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When it comes to ethical food, there are a plethora of things to consider. These include: origin, fertiliser run-off, pesticide, packaging, cost, health, intolerances and so much more. Shopping locally, growing your own, and dumpster diving are some ways of trying to be more environmentally-friendly. It all depends on what matters most to you and what you have available.

Like most people, I want fresh, healthy, delicious food. But considering environmental factors, I also want organic, local and packaging-free as far as possible. I consume a mostly vegan diet, although I do sometimes eat eggs from local chickens. Therefore, the majority of what I consume is plant-based. This is stuff out the ground or from a tree that really has no reason to be packaged in plastic. Yet if you step into any supermarket, a sea of packaging is what you’ll encounter.

One way I can choose to reduce my waste is by shopping at a farmer’s market. I’m pretty lucky living where I do in Bristol, because there are some great ones available within walking distance or easily accessible by public transport. Throw a car into the mix and Somerset is my oyster.

Below is what I picked up from the market today. It cost a total of £13.70 and most of it is sans packaging.

fruit and veg from market

To put this into perspective, if I went to my local supermarket and spent the same amount of money, it would have only included the items below:

fruit and vegetables

So, that’s no parsnips, potatoes, carrots, garlic, kale, bananas or leaks. And one less beetroot. A bit sad, really.

What does this tell us? It tells us that supermarket shopping your way around a plant-based diet isn’t such a smart move. It offers convenience, of course, so late night desperation shops are possible. But for the weekly shop of produce, markets are simply the better choice. Produce is fresh, generally local (well, whatever is in season) and they don’t force you to pay for the unnecessary packaging. Therefore, the bill is so much cheaper!

Whilst buying all this deliciousness, I spent a while talking to the owner of the place. I wanted to find out more about the trade, how long he had been in the business and whether he enjoyed it. I found out that he started the company with his then-wife 25 years ago. Back then it was a roaring trade. A couple a week in different parts of Bristol and he was raking in the money. It was very profitable, apparently. So much so that he was able to take 5 holidays a year in some of the most exotic places around the world!

Then, fast forward to the early 2000’s when supermarkets began opening on Sundays and it crippled them. Sunday markets – including his – were suddenly dying out in the blink of an eye. Supermarkets offered convenience: a place to get everything under one roof. So to the consumer, there was no longer a reason to purchase from the farmer’s market. It was no longer the only option. And stall-owners felt powerless to this change in shopping mentality.

Did he enjoy it, I asked. The response was oh yes, very much so. He just wished that the business was still booming, but that it was nice to see young people still choosing to shop for their produce this way.

This isn’t a lesson in history, but rather a look at where we can go from here. Whether it’s zero waste, local, organic or whatever else, farmer’s markets can offer it to you in a way that mainstream supermarkets simply can’t. Sure, we’d probably all like to grow our own or have a neighbour provide us with our goods each week, but let’s be realistic. Urban dwellers have more limited options.

I look around at my peers now and more of them each day it seems are finding a penchant for plant-based eating. With diets switching, now could be a great time to look at a lifestyle change as well. Can we go full circle and revert to more wholesome, intentional consumption habits? Support local and ditch the packaging perhaps…?

The only thing that I can’t recycle from my above bounty is the celery packaging. The kale and mushroom bags can be recycled and the rest will be making its way into my belly this week. Compare that to 10x more packaging from the supermarket equivelant and I honestly cannot fault it. You could argue that ‘well, everything isn’t organic is it? Or local?’ but I ain’t a saint. To me, right now, this seems like the best possible way of consuming my five-a-day given my options.

It can be easy to slip into feeling powerless as a consumer. You cast your eye on the sea of packaging and feel as though you’re fighting a losing battle. But remember that while you might not be able to change what the supermarkets are stacking on their shelves, you can choose what you buy and where you buy it from. There is mighty power in that; in marching to the beat of your own drum.

Use this exciting time while we’re still in ‘new year’ energy to perhaps re-think who you are supporting and where you’re spending your hard-earned cash. How would you like to look after our environment? Choose to support a local market stall and you’ll be sending less to landfill, that’s for sure. And that’s only the beginning. You’ll probably have a great conversation and a smile thrown in too.

 

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Christmas-ethical-gifting

Christmas is two weeks away and the feeling of pushing against the colossal force of consumerism is strong.

This year has been a constant quest and assessment if you like into my role – my life – on this planet and how it fits into everything. Not only that, but how my actions implicate the health of us as a collective people and place. It’s one gigantic learning curve. Life, I mean. You’re never just ‘there’ in terms of knowledge accumulated. There’s always something new you can do to educate yourself. There’s always something more intricate to study or focus on.

It’s so normal for us all to spin out of control in stress and anxiety this time of year. We’ve been force-fed this atrocious idea that Christmas  goes hand in hand with breaking the bank – with spending. And it’s not just Christmas, is it? Every single holiday is an opportunity for retailers to play on our weaknesses and convince us that we can always spend more.

It really is time to stop. And not just for Christmas. Spend these next few weeks, if you can, making conscious purchases. And not just in the gift department, either. Start looking at what you’re buying, when you’re buying things, and how the purchase makes you feel the moment you make it, 1 hour later, and 1 week later. We’ve got ourselves into this rut by over spending and then basking in the stress of a busted bank account. What if I told you that it doesn’t have to be that way?

Below I’ve listed some different ways you can tackle Christmas gifting this year, in case you’re dying of stress and hopeless as to what to buy:

  1. Do a Secret Santa. Instead of buying everyone in your family or friendship group a gift, each draw names and buy one present for somebody. Make this something that they would really appreciate. You can even reveal who has who and straight up ask the person if they need anything. Britons spend an average of 2.4 billion pounds on unwanted presents each year. Why not simply ask?
  2. Give your time. Relieve the pressure of spending money you may not have and donate your time to your loved ones. I guarantee it will be more appreciated than a flashy material present. This could be in the form of a voucher for a day in the park together, concert tickets (if you can afford it), or a homemade dinner. These gifts mean the most.
  3. With the upward trend of minimalism, people wanting to simply have less stuff can be tricky to buy for. If you know anyone passionate about a particular charity or cause, consider donating in their name. Give the funds to someone who truly needs it.
  4. Handmade consumables always go down a treat. Try getting creative and making some delicious homemade treats for foodies or beauty junkies. You can have fun, it doesn’t break the bank, and the fact that you took the time to make something yourself says a lot about how much you care.
  5. Pool together for adventure. If you’ve got a tight-knit family or group of friends that normally spends a hefty total on each other, consider pooling your funds and putting down the deposit on a yurt, lodge, beach house or any other place you might want to venture! Travel is one of life’s greatest experiences, so consider planning a trip together.

Rather than having to endure the time-consuming process of clearing out the crap once Christmas has passed, try to prevent the unwanted purchases from being made in the first place. We all focus so much on liberating ‘closet clean-outs’ and ‘spring cleaning’, but we must stop and access our relationship with purchasing in the first place. 2017 is going to be a year of making this my primary goal. I have a choice with each purchase I make and the repurcussions are huge and can make a difference. Ethical purchasing inspires others and gets the word out there that things can be different. If we each speak up about it loud enough, real change can happen.

 

Photo: Flickr

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