Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 09

Today is Blog Action Day, which means that lots of bloggers are taking time out from their usual topics to write about the environment. I've been pondering exactly WHAT about the environment I was going to write about, what I could encourage readers to think about and perhaps to take action on. My topic of choice was going to be food. If you know me well, you may know that I'm vegetarian. There are many benefits of being vegetarian, with one of them being a smaller environmental footprint. I had decided that my aim from this post was to encourage readers to try and cut meat out of just one of their meals a week - if you eat meat regularly 7 days a week, try and cut it back to 6. If you currently eat meat 4 days a week, cut it back to 3. I still want to encourage you to do that.

But I went looking for figures - something that showed numerically the difference this would make - so that I could say something like "If just 50 people reduced their meat consumption by one meal a week, then ... (insert fabulous result here)." In the process of looking for this information, I went through an Ecological Footprint quiz.

Do you know, that even though I had a smaller footprint then the Country Average in all categories (especially food), the results were still disheartening. If everyone in the World had a Global footprint the size of mine, we would need three and three quarter worlds to sustain us. This actually is no surprise, considering how our affluent lifestyles are so dependent on other people living in such poverty and oppression.

This is something that I think about a lot. So many of the consumer items we buy are only cheap for us because they are "expensive" - in quality of life, environment, etc - for others. We have cheap clothing because of sweatshops; we have cheap electricals because of environmental and labour exploitation; etc. I feel upset (upset isn't the right word, but I can't think of a better one)when I hear about what a bargain there is available somewhere - some cheap clothes - t-shirts for only a couple of dollars and similar. How could anyone have been paid properly in the stages of creating those clothes. People don't always understand why I sew all of our clothes - apart from the few clothes that we buy from "ethical" stores - organic, fairtrade items, and the like. Especially it can be hard for people to understand why I make basics like t-shirts when they're so easy to buy.

It is a similar situation with toys. There are good quality, nice toys available. They are even available in natural materials - fabrics, nice wood, etc. But being mass produced and cheap, I have to wonder who is paying the real price for a lot of these products - especially when there are so many hands that these items have to go through, all skimming off their share of the $$$, to get to me. How can the few dollars that I pay for these items really pay the full "cost" of them? I'd rather buy a few, more expensive (and usually more beautiful), handmade items, direct from the craft person, then have lots of mass produced items. Or I'd rather buy the materials and learn how to make some interesting toys myself. Or we can do without.

There are lots of toys in my house. There are lots more toys then we need. Over the years we've been given lots for presents, hand-me-downs, etc. I'm trying to cut back. If you know me personally and have been in my house (particularly in my son's room!) you might not believe me, but it's hard when the kids have grown up accumulating all these toys.

How can we live like this?

Please don't think I'm judging any individual people. I'm judging all of us. How did we get to this stage? I'm judging myself mostly. How can we think this is all okay? How can we not even worry about it? How can we continue to just consume at such great speed, without even giving a thought to the impact?

I really was just going to talk about food, but now I've wandered way off that topic, so I'll pull this back now briefly again to my food discussion, and try and give you a few ideas and links.

This is the Ecological Footprint calculator that I used (click anywhere on the sentence). One of the things I liked about it was that it asked questions I could easily answer without leaving the computer, so I actually completed it. For some of the other calculators I had to go and find electricity bills and similar, so I didn't get through them. I'm sure they introduce a further level of accuracy, but what I wanted was a quick snapshot of how I was doing and the difference some changes might make.

So with the calculator that I used, there were multiple choice options. I could chose each option and see straight away the impact it would have. Here is an example. This is copied straight from the calculator, which I hope is okay to do as I'm referencing it.

On the food footprint page it says:

"Next we estimate your food footprint. Your food footprint includes the area needed to grow crops, fish, and graze animals and absorb carbon emissions from food processing and transport."

And this is the first question:

"13. What best describes your diet?
Vegan – plant based foods only
Vegetarian – primarily plant based foods, but some dairy
Omnivore – an assortment of meat, seafood, vegetables, dairy and grains
Carnivore – meat, seafood and dairy several times a week
Top of the food chain – meat, seafood or dairy at almost every meal"

Now, I played with my answers. The country average on this is 26.88 gha.
When I marked
*Vegan, my food footprint was 13.40 gha
*Vegetarian, my food footprint was 18.20
*Omnivore, my food footprint was 26.88
*Carnivore, my food footprint was 35.57
*Top of the food chain, my food footprint was 40.37

So I could see clearly the impact of the different diets.

There is also an explanation link if you want it ... "A plant-based diet is significantly less land and energy intensive than a diet with a high proportion of meat, seafood, and dairy. A recent study found that a low-fat vegetarian diet needs 0.18 hectares per person per year while a high-fat diet with lots of meat needs 0.85 hectares because animals need so much more room. And because meat production drives deforestation and requires high inputs of energy for processing and transportation, it also comes with a high carbon footprint price tag. Globally, it has been estimated that up to 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions are associated with animal product consumption."

There are other interesting food questions too.

So go and take the test yourself, and play around with your answers to see if making any changes would make much of a difference. Don't be scared off by an all or nothing mentality though. You can just cut back a bit on the things that are harmful, and do a little more of the things that are helpful. It would be good if we could all be 100% perfect, but that just isn't going to happen, especially if we're too scared to take a little step to get started.

I have another link for you. If you haven't already seen it, you must watch this online video - The Story of Stuff. If you can't find a link there to view it online, you can download it if you scroll down the page after following the "downloads" link.

Try and buy items that have less stages in their production before they get to you - like food that is nearer its natural state or toys and clothes direct from craft people/made by people who work from home. There are plenty of people selling their stuff online, or you can go to stores that sell fair trade stuff. Just think about where your products come from and what impact their production might have on people and/or the environment.

If you are visiting this blog because you actually know me in life outside the internet, I have DVDs about clothing and food production (that sounds really boring, but their actually very interesting videos) and the like that you are welcome to borrow, or talk with me about any of the other stuff.

Finally, back to my initial aim. How about having a vegetarian meal (if you're usually a meat eater, or perhaps a vegan meal if you're usually a vegetarian)? There are heaps of recipes online.

Here is a suggestion that my kids love. I often make them "balls" - these are like meatballs, but of course contain no meat. My favourite version contains nuts, but these days I make them nutfree so they can take the leftovers to school. The recipe varies depending on what I have on hand and how much trouble I feel like going to. Basically, the nut free version is Brown Rice and Lentils, with other things added.

Cook up some brown rice and brown lentils. Just do about half and half, rinsing them all first and putting them together in the pot. You can use a rice cooker for this or do them on the stove. Add whatever you like - raw or sauteed onion, garlic, leftover mashed vegetables, etc. I generally use mashed veg to hide them better from the kids, but you could grate in some carrots or zucchini or whatever you have. You can add some curry type spices if you like, but I tend to keep these quite plain so the kids will be happy with them. Mix in the food processor so that your lentils and rice get a bit pureed, but keep some texture. Add breadcrumbs (put leftover bread in the freezer ready to use for breadcrumbs before it gets mouldy) and then add something for "glue" - I use "egg replacer", but you can just use egg. Depending on the texture you may not even need the "glue". Shape into balls and roll in flour before frying. Make heaps and freeze some for a quick reheat later to save buying a packaged frozen meal or getting take away. Save some for school lunches. When you get sick of shaping and frying them, make the rest into burgers and freeze ready to take to a barbecue or use for another quick meal. I serve them with tomato sauce and some veggies on the side.

If you want a "proper" recipe, you can find one at "Dance of the Vegetable Patch".

This is a lot longer post then I intended, and if you've read this far, congratulations! Thank you. Leave a comment if you like. Don't forget to head on over to the Footprint page and also to watch The Story of Stuff.

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