It’s not easy. Keeping an eye on the news recently, it’s hard not to despair at all that is going on around us. Australia has been decimated by fires for weeks and is now dealing with floods. The US President thinks that Global Warming is a hoax while the UK Police has placed Greenpeace on a Counter Terrorism list along with Neo-Nazi groups. It’s not easy.
This blog hasn’t moved into the political sphere but in this day and age, it’s hard for a food lover to stay out of politics altogether. Food is politics. The protesting beef farmers have shown as much over the past number of months. Just last week they brought the M50 to a standstill by driving at approximately 5kmph from start to finish – a dangerous stunt to pull when you want public support but it also shows how desperate these people are to change the broken system that we currently have. How can we expect people to produce food to the standards that we require if we, as a society are unwilling to pay a fair price?
At the start of this year, we decided to become more sustainable. Not only in our eating but in our everyday life. Reading the numerous websites dedicated to such things, it would be easy to think that to do so, you would need to change your life in a drastic way. This simply isn’t the case. Here’s how we’ve decided to do it:
- Buy Irish Food! We have cut a number of unseasonable foods from our diet. There’s no more green beans in January or fresh tomatoes in February. Numerous websites tell you to stop taking aeroplanes but what about the amount of air miles on that avocado on the header image? I would rather take my one holiday per year but know that my food isn’t coming from South America or Africa because I can’t go a few months without produce that won’t grow close to me. For me it’s Irish first and then European. If it’s not European, it’s not going into the trolley.
- Buy Loose/Eco Packed – This is surprisingly difficult especially if you do the bulk of your shopping in a supermarket. Single use plastics are a scourge on our planet and one which we have managed to cut down on massively. I go to the farmers market for fruit and veg, the butcher for meat (my butcher has switched to paper bags) and have managed to find alternatives to most of the other products I used to buy in plastic. Somewhat surprisingly, this has also had the effect of reducing my shopping bill – although loose items can sometimes be more expensive by weight (why??!), you also only buy the quantity you need.
- The Question of Meat – My biggest issue with the majority of people pushing the sustainability cause is that they advocate a meatless diet but say nothing of importing food long distances to make up for it. To me, a locally reared, free range pork rasher on toast will always be better than a Peruvian Avocado (flown 10,000KM) on toast. Factory/Intensive/Industrial farms are no doubt horrendous not only for the environment but also for the animals imprisoned in them. It’s important to support those people in your locality doing things in the correct way. Good farmers don’t mind being asked difficult questions so ask them if you are unsure. We have switched all of our chicken supply to a free-range farm just 10km from my house (Feighcullen, available in Dunnes Stores in Newbridge and Naas) and my pork comes from Pigs on the Green Free Range Pork, 50km away in Tullamore. Beef has turned out to be more difficult than I imagined – feed lots are now rampant in Ireland and something that I am not prepared to support. As a beef farmer told me recently – watch out for deep coloured, blood red beef – this was, more than likely produced in an intensive feed lot system. I am lucky to have a great butcher (Nolan’s of Kilcullen) close to me which produces their own beef and lamb and doesn’t mind being asked questions.
- More on Meat – Meat is something that should always be respected – a life was brought to an end so that you can eat that steak. An intelligent animal was the source of that sausage on your breakfast plate. Well produced, free-range or organic meat IS MORE EXPENSIVE than the intensively farmed alternative. This being the case, we have cut down on our meat consumption accordingly. I would rather eat less of a good thing than more of a poor thing. Use every morsel of what you have – make stock from the chicken carcass, use up the offal in a paté, slow cook that shin of beef. If we all stick to the “prime cuts” then more animals have to be killed for less and less cuts. Eat the bits that people have no time for anymore – it cuts waste and also revives more of our food culture that is sadly vanishing from sight.
- Compost, Recycling and The Ecobrick – Although we have always been pretty good for using our compost bin, we have tightened up on it now to reduce our landfill waste while also paying extra attention to the recycling bin. Did you know that despite the majority of vegetable packaging claiming to be recyclable, it actually isn’t recycled in Ireland and ends up in landfill as a single use plastic? Our bin used to be full of these single use plastics. Where we can’t eliminate it entirely (like we can with food), we started to make ecobricks. Ecobricks remove all of this plastic from landfill and turn them into a building material. It’s a pretty simple technique (see here) and there is even a collection point at The Cottage Market in Newbridge and others around the country if you don’t want to use them yourself.
We have made other, smaller changes too – carrying a reusable coffee cup to cut down on disposable cups, cooking extra food to bring into work, cutting out cling film (is it ever really necessary in the home?!), always having a few shopping bags in the car etc etc.
Every Person Counts
It can sometimes be disheartening to see all that is going on around us and it’s easy to feel like one person cannot make a difference. “What’s the point in me changing if the US and China are still filling our atmosphere with toxins?” The truth of the matter is that, like voting – EVERY PERSON COUNTS. Set examples for others to follow, show people that it’s actually not that difficult and always support those who do things in line with your beliefs and priorities.
Sustainable for You
We will continue to make small changes to our eating and lifestyle habits. Next on the list for us are bigger issues like heating our home and more sustainable transport. These are much bigger things that will take a long time to save for and implement but for now, the choices above have put us on a better path. Getting onto that path will take time, like quitting any habit, there will always be slip ups and mistakes, we won’t always make the correct choices and the current approach isn’t the very best it could be. Sustainability only works if it’s sustainable for you aswel as for the planet, the environment and the people around you.