When working on posts for this blog, Anna and I often find ourselves questioning the true “sustainability” of a recipe, DIY or product we are posting about. We realise that many of our foods come wrapped in plastic, that making flowers made of cupcake liners requires using paper, and that cooking with chocolate, soy and dairy brings with it a whole assortment of ethical and environmental dilemmas. “Why are we posting about making paper flowers, when most people will have to go out to buy cupcake liners, tape and straws? Why is that sustainable?” Anna asks me.
This question really gets to the heart of why we are writing this blog. The very basic issue that we are confronted with is: “what does ‘sustainability’ really mean when put into practice? How can we, as consumers and moral agents, understand our role and responsibility within a complex and globalised world?” In a world where the individual has become synonymous with the consumer, where the variety and vastness of global issues like climate change, child labour and exploitation is overwhelming and we are detached and physically distanced from the sources of the products we consume, it is easy to become paralysed and alienated in the process of consumption. When voices from all sides are telling you what you should and shouldn’t buy and when you are disconnected from the process that brought you the products you purchase, it is easy to admit defeat and push those niggling thoughts to the back of your mind.
I hope that this blog is not just another voice in the crowd of people with placards telling you what to do. We are trying to grapple with these issues, trying to work out what it means to live more sustainably and ethically on a student budget and hopefully our attempts might help you in your own quest in understanding your role as a consumer. Even if sustainability is not something you think about on a daily basis, we want our cheap and seasonal vegetarian recipes to look delicious enough to tempt you into becoming aware of the power of your choices.
I still haven’t got it all figured out, but I will share with you a couple of the insights I have made into my own role as a consumer:
1. There is no such thing as “being sustainable”. There are only choices, and our principles can act as a map to guide us through those choices
2. Even though we cannot be perfectly “sustainable” or “ethical”, that does not mean that good choices aren’t valuable
3. Making something yourself instead of buying it can be a way to reconnect with a production process, and reassert ownership over the knowledge of where that product came from.
4. “If consuming anything is less sustainable than nothing, then why do anything at all?” adopting this kind of logic can be paralysing and defeatist. It is ok not to want to live in a bare flat with no heating wearing 10 second-hand jumpers.
And, incase you’re wondering, in answer to Anna’s question above, we decided that our way of understanding the paper flowers was as a year-round alternative to fresh flowers, which are often imported from distant countries. We decided to situate our consumption within the fact that we preferred it to an alternative. It is ok to want flowers in your house. Its even ok to want real flowers in your house. We just decided to search for a creative and cheap alternative to fresh ones.
I suppose what I’m seeking is empowerment. not judgment or prescription, but a reassertion of ownership over my choices. Make the choice you want, but know why you made it, what the alternatives were, and what the impact on yourself and others was.
In the film Food Inc. an American farmer remarked on his role in the agricultural industry: “people have got to start demanding good, wholesome food of us, and we’ll deliver.”
So don’t forget that as a consumer you have the power to vote . When change is demanded, change will happen.