On Ethics and Environmentalism

I mentioned in our March wrap up, I’ve been interested in learning how to live more responsibly and taking my “shopping vote” more seriously (though I suppose I’ve always boycotted companies whose policies I disagreed with…). And, like I said, I moved pretty naturally from looking into minimalism (for my own convenience) to slow fashion (considering the societal and environmental consequences of my—primarily clothing-related—shopping choices) to zero waste (an (arguably) extreme extension of the environmentalism).

I’m always a little wary when talking about this kind of thing, not just because it feels very personal to me, but because (1)I feel like it’s easy to give the impression of being hokey when actually I’m a notorious researcher; I read scientific articles and papers about these things to figure out what is based in science and what is based in garbage (read: uninformed opinion). (2)I am also wary talking about all of this stuff because I don’t want anyone to think I’m trying to tell them how to live or anything of the sort. I was really hesitant about making this post at all, but this is a lot of what I’ve been looking into recently so I thought I might share to invite conversation, not to be judgemental or preachy.

I’m still largely at the research gathering point in all this and I’m not sure where any of this research gathering is going exactly, but I thought I’d talk about some of the books I’ve been looking at buying (post-payday). Maybe you can get something out of it. Hopefully it will at least be interesting. I’ve split the post into some key areas I am interested in tackling in my own life: slow fashion, plastic reduction and food. At the very least, new fashion brands, simpler living ideas and some new recipes await in this book list.

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Sara Minney is the founder and CEO of People Tree, an ethical clothing company. She has a lot of good ideas about how an ethical, sustainable, slow fashion clothing company should work and seems to put emphasis on community.

[She] argues that the future of brick and mortar retail is in the best in fair trade, sustainability, and organic products, together with vintage and second hand goods and local produce. Restorative economics, the well-being of our planet, and our bodies and minds can be inspired by this growing sector, one that is shaping big business. This book curates pioneering people and projects that will inspire you to be part of the change.
Verena Erin’s YoutTube channel is a wealth of information about slow fashion (and slow living in general to a lesser extent) if you want to look into it there before checking out the book.

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I don’t really like how this cover describes it, but I suppose for marketing purposes it is more effective to appeal to consumers’ more “selfish” (for lack of a better word!) motivations. I think trying to produce less waste (in particular plastic waste) is actually a necessity and our waste production is an environmental hazard that is already causing many problems and is only going to get worse if left unchecked.

I can’t imagine being as extreme as Béa Johnson, but there is definitely a lot that each person can do to cut down significantly without putting themselves out very much at all. It all pretty much comes down to avoiding plastic wherever possible. For example, rejecting plastic shopping bags and carrying your own cotton or canvas tote bags makes a big difference. Or buying loose vegetables instead of veggies wrapped in plastic. Package-free soap instead of shower gel in a plastic bottle. Another big difference that can be made with little action is to buy a glass or stainless steel water bottle instead of buying water/drinks in plastic bottles all the time. Bottled Life (on Netflix) was a good watch.

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In the documentary Cowspiracy (on Netflix), it really stood out to me that we rear 70 billion animals for meat and dairy and other animal products, and cows alone contribute to more than half of the world’s carbon dioxide per year! Seems like our collective meat habit is pretty destructive. I already don’t eat red meat but I can’t quite imagine being vegan…(I like dairy and fish a lot!) That said, I think I could still cut down on non-vegan aspects of my diet and I’m willing to look into adding more vegan recipes.

It seems like some vegetarians and vegans sometimes have a way of acting like everyone else is a terrible person, but that’s not only ridiculous, it’s also unfair. Obviously nobody wants to assure our mutual destruction, but there need to be viable options in place and manageable ways to change longstanding habits. I’ve heard people sniff at the idea of “part-time” vegetarianism or veganism, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all. On the whole, if everyone did that, a difference would still be made. (After all, two people halving their meat consumption is like gaining one whole vegetarian, right!?) I’ve heard the term “Meatless Monday” (contemptuously) thrown around enough times now to assume it’s a quote from some book or something and, although when I personally think of “part-time vegetarian/vegan” I’m thinking more like half a week rather than one day a week, I think any small change is still change and shouldn’t be jeered at.
The short of it: I’m looking into more environment-friendly recipes.

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8 Responses to On Ethics and Environmentalism

  1. Pingback: Claire x Nikki Review May (and April) 2016 | Bitches With Books

  2. Mahima says:

    I agree with the part-time vegetarian thing. It seems a bit frowned upon, but to be honest I thought that one of the main points for being a vegetarian in the first place was to reduce the amount of animal suffering that occurs because we want to eat.
    When I think about eating meat, or fish, or consuming diary products I personally don’t want to become a vegetarian. I used to, but the main reason was because I wanted to reduce animal suffering in the world in my part – but to be honest cutting back on eating meat is a really good thing to do. Some of us just don’t want to subscribe to the lifestyle choices of a vegetarian for whatever reason, but cutting back on meat means that the meat you do eat, you firstly eat it more mindfully conscious that this is a living thing that has been killed for you to eat, but also keeping in mind that you’re not trying to be wasteful. It’s a waste, the thousands of animals that have to suffer because some of us like to eat a lot – and I guess this goes with the whole minimalist vibe – but it is incredibly wasteful. It’s a waste of life, and so cutting back makes a helluva lot of sense.

    • Nicole says:

      For people who find it really difficult to go without meat or dairy altogether, reducing consumption is definitely a great option (way better than not doing anything for sure!! haha). Personally, I’m still figuring out what my limits are. I didn’t think I could switch to a dairy-free breakfast, but I’ve managed to give myself vegan breakfast options which seemed ridiculous just last week. Veganism still seems a bit extreme for someone like me though (at the moment??). I think I could probably be vegetarian…(it wouldn’t be too bad giving up poultry, but might be tough giving up seafood…!), but I understand that’s not something everyone is willing to do. I think most people go vegetarian or vegan for reasons of animal suffering, but that’s not actually my main motivation. I mean obviously I don’t want animals to suffer if possible, but my main reason for looking into changing my dietary habits is the environment so that will partly shape the kinds of changes I bother to make as well. But, yeah; just the decision to eat more mindfully and be more conscious about choices will (hopefully) make us all think about where our food is coming from, how it’s being made, and the choices we’re making in choosing that food. And you bring up such a good point about waste! Generally speaking, we (I guess mostly in the West, but also in some parts of the east too) are very wasteful and irresponsible with our resources (not just food!) and that’s a big problem too. If we get that under control, that’ll also make a big difference.

      • Mahima says:

        It always seems a bit over the top or at least beyond doing until you actually start it.
        Hope all the changes go well for you. We all I think have wishes about what we as a group of people should be doing but rarely do we act on them. Kudos to you Nicole!

  3. cowspiracy! yes, yes! it’s been on my radar for quite a while now. my sister told me about it. it’s actually pretty scary what we’re doing to the environment. climate change is a topic that both frightens me and intrigues me. you should get NatGeo’s magazine, “Cool It”. it’s very informative and helpful. anyway, i am so glad you posted this! i want to be zero waste and vegetarian but seriously it’s so difficult. i live in the Philippines and the nearest recycle place is miles away. 😦

    again, wonderful post!

    • Nicole says:

      Oh! I have that one actually! I feel the same way about climate change; it’s definitely both frightening and fascinating. And I find it frustrating when people act like it’s super easy to just change everything about how you are used to living. There are definitely a lot of things that *are* easy…but also a lot of things that take more research, time and will power. And, of course, available resources. It’s easier for me to work towards a zero waste and vegetarian lifestyle in the UK than at home in The Bahamas, so I definitely feel you there.. But I do hope you find some ways to try new things that align with what your views too! And I’m sometimes pleasantly surprised to see what difference speaking up can make. If customers ask for more green practices and it seems profitable/practical to them, they will change…though there’ll often be compromises on some things too, right?
      Thanks so much!! 🙂

  4. imyril says:

    It’s something I try to be conscious of, although I’m generally aware I’m reducing my damage rather than ‘getting it right’ (that’s… incredibly hard). Like you say – for me it’s about my impact, not about preaching to others about how they should live, although I will admit to not having time for people who refuse to sort their rubbish. Recycling = not hard!

    Packaging, food miles and energy generation are probably where I try hardest. It feels like some of the more manageable ways to make quite a big difference at the personal scale? I pay higher electricity bills to go with a 100% green energy provider (because I can afford to, for which I’m immensely grateful).

    I miss old-school fruit and veg shops with paper bags – so rare in London (or at least this part of London). But I try really hard to be seasonal in my purchasing rather than buying southern hemisphere fruit at midwinter, and I’m totally a tote bag-lady.

    …none of which makes up for the fact I’ve got a vampiric streak. Bright sunlight makes me ill, and if you don’t feed me a little bit of rare red meat (at least) once a week I go a bit funny. So, err, cows. Even if I didn’t have dairy farmers in the family, I’d be a fan of keeping a few (unless we have kangaroos instead. They don’t fart, and they taste great). I do like your idea of reducing meat intake overall though. I can get behind that (if I can secretly be vampiric once a week).

    I think portion size has a part to play too. I tried explaining the NHS guidance on red meat to some American friends last summer and they just looked at me in horror as they tried to figure that out in terms of their typical diet – my chef friend puts more ham than that on a sandwich!

    • Nicole says:

      Yeah, there are always compromises. Most of the time it’s trying to do as little damage as possible with the options given. The flat I’m renting currently is the first flat I’ve had where the letting agent hasn’t let us choose our own electric and gas providers which means our energy is definitely not as efficient as it could be! So we try to do other things to compensate for that as much as possible. There’s always going to be some give and take with everything.. But there’s definitely always ways to do things better. Like if I buy fish, I go for sustainably fished brands with official Marine Stewardship Council labelling rather than ones that just say “sustainably fished” with no official proof of that. Obviously it’s not as good as being vegan…but it’s better than supporting unsustainable fishing and it sends a message that sustainable practices are important to consumers. And, of course, local is usually better but I haven’t checked out my local fish options yet… Working on it!
      Hope you’re able to find solutions for the greener aspects you’re grappling with. I’ve found a lot of great ideas (and some that aren’t so practical for me) trawling for zero waste videos on YouTube.

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