Recently, an IF Campaign was launched throughout the United Kingdom. It’s a massive, national campaign to address the fact that in the rest of the world nearly 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night and 2 million children die from malnutrition every year.
The IF Campaign is calling for government-level reform globally by encouraging regular citizens in the U.K. to campaign and lobby for justice. I am completely behind them, but I think there is more we can do.
Integrity demands that we don’t just point the fingers at others, but look at our own lifestyles.
How am I attempting to live in a collaborative, ethical, earth-friendly kind of a way, minimizing my damage of the planet and the waste of resources, for the sake of others?
Trying to tackle the gargantuan realities of unjust trade laws, land grabs, unsustainable farming, child labor, corruption and tax dodging through your weekly food shopping is clearly ambitious, optimistic and, most of all, complicated.
It often feels a little pointless when there’s a supermarket on every corner. But I stubbornly believe in doing things not just because we hope they will change the world. I do them for the sake of my own soul (and body), and because I’m the only one I can change.
So, here is a list of four ways my husband and I try to shop and eat in a “greenish” manner, and why.
1. We try to assess cost in a holistic way.
Being raised by a Scottish mother means I have an eye for a bargain. My husband will similarly gravitate to the “reduced to clear” section of any given shop much faster than me. So, I have a moral compass that says it is always right to spend as little as possible.
But that becomes complicated when spending as little as possible means that other people suffer: farmers haven’t been paid fairly; poorly waged children have worked in factories or fields to make the saving possible; dangerous chemicals have been used to make crops more durable.
There are other costs that I am forcing others to pay.
Now, spending more is no guarantee of those factors not being present. But taking up those clichéd middle-class shopping habits of buying fair-trade and organic – for those who are able financially – seems to me a better choice, and a way to influence the market toward that kind of production.
For us, that means a fortnightly organic fruit and vegetable box, and stocking up on other locally produced basics – eggs, organic milk, some meat and fish. The added cost means we probably eat a bit less than we used to, especially when it comes to snacks.
It’s a full-time job to source everything locally and organically (I only work part-time, and it’s too much for me) – which is why companies like Riverford/Abel & Cole and even some of the better supermarkets like Ocado – are very helpful, especially when they deliver.
2. We only eat meat at weekends.
I once participated in a debate over vegetarianism at Tearfund, one I (shamefully) didn’t take very seriously. I seem to remember using bacon as my main argument.
But hearing the other side’s arguments about our unsustainable level of meat production around the world convinced me that some big habits need to change. The environmental cost of eating meat every day is just too high.
It’s a tough habit to break, so we have given up meat Monday to Friday, meaning that when we eat meat on the weekend we can afford to buy organic/free-range meat.
3. We try to minimize the links in the chain between earth and table.
When I first travelled to Brazil with Tearfund in 2006, one of the things that took me by surprise was how much I loved the closer connection between land and table.
What we ate in small, rural communities was usually what we had seen growing outside – or running through the yard. I realized just how many complex processes and journeys separated what I ate in London from where it had originated.
I miss the connection; so, there are a few things we do to reinstate it.
We grow veggies and herbs on our tiny balcony; buy locally sourced, British food; make things from raw ingredients rather than getting them ready-made; and avoid heavily processed food.
4. We are trying to simplify our tastes and be more grateful.
There is such a raft of exotic and extraordinary food on sale everywhere, and for someone whose emotional well-being is strongly connected to her diet, it’s pretty exciting.
I could eat a different style of cuisine every night of the week. But when you can always eat anything, nothing feels special.
It’s harder to appreciate the simple things and be grateful for them. So we are trying to impose some limits.
My husband has never liked drinking plain old water, but over time he has resolutely trained his body to drink little else. (I am trying.)
He has also taken to eating plain porridge for breakfast every day, only drinks tea if he’s at your house and you want to make him some, and never coffee.
I’ll be honest that I find this one harder because I derive more pleasure from food than he does. But simpler doesn’t mean less fun. It just involves a bit of retraining to appreciate things that are less complicated.
I’m on a journey with it, and I would love to hear what you do to try to shop and eat green.
Jenny Flannagan is part-actress, part-writer, part-filmmaker and part-Tearfund employee. She lives in South London with her husband, Andy, and blogs at JennyFromTheBlock.co.uk, where a version of this column first appeared.