Thursday, November 23, 2006

Buy Nothing Day

Tomorrow, 24 November is International Buy Nothing Day.
It really gets most support in Canada and the U.S. In the latter, today is Thanksgiving and tomorrow one of the biggest shopping days of the year. The juxtaposition of the two is interesting.
I have come to understand that learning to be grateful for what we have - no matter how little - is the secret of true happiness and the ability to show gratitude and give thanks for one's life and the people in it is a great blessing.
It is such a pity that in our culture holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas have been hijacked by commerce and people feel that unless they spend a lot of money they are not showing true love or care for those nearest to them. It is particularly difficult for those who have children and do not wish to deny them the expensive toys that their offspring have been manipulated into wanting by the manufacturers.
I am feeling the pressure too from my family who really do go overboard at this time of year and who seem to think that the bigger the heap of presents under the tree on 25 December the better a Christmas it must be. To show any lack of enthusiasm for this consumerist feeding frenzy is to be likened to Ebenezer Scrooge. I am not a christian but I can only commiserate with those christians who lament that the true message of Christmas is lost.
Still, while it is good to give presents as tokens of our love to our nearest and dearest, it is more important to show that love all the year round in moral as well as financial support. The consumerist orgy that we indulge in pretty much nearly 365 days a year is putting us all in peril - including those to whom we wish to demonstrate our devotion.
Do something really nice and really necessary for someone you love tomorrow and buy them nothing.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Meat and the emotions

I was involved in a debate the other day with some people on vegetarianism. I was not being, I hope, in anyway judgemental or pushy about my own refusal to eat animal products but I noted there was a distinctly hostile emotional reaction by a couple of the carnivores to my decision to avoid meat and dairy. I was a bit taken aback.

Eating meat has a particular significance for men in many societies. It would appear that meat is associated with virility and not eating meat is considered, in some circles, unmanly.

I think some people also feel they are made to look uncaring or morally inferior for eating meat and so react dismissively to any suggestion that eating meat is not a good thing to do.

To be honest though, I think most of the hostile reaction come from guilt. I think most people know that meat, dairy and egg production causes massive suffering, ill-health and environmental damage. However, they love the taste of meat and cheese etc. so much that they prefer to shut that reality from their minds. The last thing they want is to be reminded that the lovely food they enjoy is bought at a cost to others and, ultimately, to their own health. We all like to tell ourselves that we are not selfish and uncaring but we all know (or should know) that our indulgence in certain foods often has terrible consequences for other beings.

I think, in a way, for some people meat is like a kind of drug. They know that eating it is not good but what the hell, it tastes soooo good - bugger the consequences!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

River Cottage again

Just saw the 2nd episode of the River Cottage Treatment. It is one of the best food shows I've ever seen - even though it contains no recipes or how-tos. This week's bunch of ready-meal addicts get not only to learn to cook but to see how a couple of sheep they have helped look after are slaughtered on a visit to an abattoir.

This is very interesting stuff. Not only has the show identified the problem that people are distanced from their food and need to understand where it comes from, how it lived and died as well as how to prepare it. I especially like the way in which they go into supermarkets and disparage the crap supermarkets sell. The show also points out how the same dishes can be made from organic produce for the same or less money than the additive-ridden slop that appears in microwave ready meals.

In this week's episode those taking part actually and I think genuinely understood that cooking was a joy not a chore and that cheap pre-prepared meals are nasty and harmful for everybody concerned (except perhaps the manufacturers). What was especially good to see was one person - a month after appearing on the show - having resolved to avoid eating meat now that she knew how it was reared and killed.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Interesting TV series

Channel 4 here in the UK is showing an interesting food series at the moment. I caught last week's episode on YouTube (proabably illegally and so it won't be there for long). It's called The River Cottage Treatment and is hosted by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. He's a chef and advocate for organic and real food. He invites each week a group of fast/convenience food addicts to his farm and teaches them to cook and appreciate real food. It's on Thursdays at 8pm.

He also takes them to a factory farm and lets them see how the cheap chicken they eat is produced. Of course they had never seen or never even stopped to consider where they meat they eat comes from or why it is so cheap (apparently the factory farmers make only 3p a head on each chicken!). They also kill a (fully-grown, organically reared) chicken, pluck cook and eat all of it. This last is yuk but at least they are aware of the full process of how the food they eat is produced.
Hugh FW is a convinced carnivore but refuses to eat factory farmed meat - which, if you gotta eat meat, is the only way to do it, in my book. It is also interesting that a TV chef is actually going against the big supermarkets - one scene has him wandering around appalled at the cheap and nasty food gunk for sale in his local big store.

Interestingly too, he emphasises the using of every part of a plant or an animal that is edible - it's a great money saving tip and a way to make organic produce more affordable. it's amazing though how resistant some of the people on the show were to eating fresh vegetables - they probably had never actually tasted real food and where addicted to the chemical flavours of junk food. I wonder it'll make anyone watching think or have any effect on sales in the supermarkets?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Quarterly Accounts

For the last 3 months I have been keeping tabs on what I spend. Today, I am trying to look at what I have spent. From just a brief analysis of what I squandered money on, here's a rough breakdown:
  • Total Spent: £2062.19
  • Rent: £1260.00 (c.60% of the total)
  • Bus Fares: 197.40 (nearly 10% of the total)
  • Broadband: £74.97
  • Calls: £51.00
  • Organic goods: £43.70
  • Electricity: £40.00
  • 2nd hand goods: £19.78
  • Fairtrade goods: £17.30
Well, the above suggests a few things that I could help organise my finances. First, might be find somewhere cheaper to live. Second might be to get rid of the phone - I don't use it very often. Third, would be to get off my butt and start cycling more to work. It'll be interesting to see how next quarter's figure tot up - especially since Christmas is coming soon.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

No hope for fat kids

I heard a thing tonight on the local news that depresses me. Following a very public campaign by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, schools in the UK started to make a concerted effort to cut out junk food and actually start spending money on decent grub for school kids. At last, I thought, we are trying to do something to do combat childhood obesity and bad eating habits.
And are the little buggers grateful? Not a chance!
Some schools have lost up to a third of their children who had previously eaten schools dinners and who now go off to fast food outlets to get their saturated fat fixes. There had been reports in England of doting parents passing chips and doughnuts to their health averse offspring through school railings.
Since taking up my current simple living kick I thought seriously about my diet - for reasons of my own health and the effects of what I consume on others and the planet in general. I have become more and more convinced that the most sustainable and ethical diet I can adopt is a vegan one.
I think that it is a viable diet for most people and a general adoption of it would help a range of social and ecological problems. However, with news like that above, I wonder if I am on a road to nowhere. Are people in general, and especially young people, so shortsighted and focussed on personal gratification that they are unable to adopt new habits that will benefit themselves most of all?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Politics of Voluntary Simplicity

I have been kicking around the idea for a while of whether living a simple life is enough. I have lived simply in one way or another for several years but, until recently, have not really seriously tried to distil the reasons for what I am doing into a cogent philosophy. Here's what I have come up with so far:
  • Taking responsibility: I suppose from the the standpoint of moral philosphy I am a consequentialist because I believe it is important to be aware of and take responsibility for the harm one actions may do - whether to people, animals or the environment. A simple life therefore means minimising suffering to others even at the cost of some added inconvenience to oneself.
  • Promoting health: A concern for staying healthy is important for everyone - but often our desires lead us to do things that although short-term are enjoyable will, if over-indulged, will harm our quality of life. Simple living, for me, involves eating better, perhaps eating less and getting more exercise.
  • Independence: We are told that we must have or do so many things to live a meaningful life by those who wish to sell us these things. In order to get these unnecessary things we sell our time and energy for money. However if we see through the marketing hype we realise we do not need to buy into other people's ideas of what constitutes a good life. Free from the desire to possess these lifestyle objects we see we need less money and so we can afford to sell less of our time and energy.
  • A more informed life: Living simply means you have to know more about what impact your life has on everything around you. You need to educate and inform yourself about issues you may never have considered before. You spend less time living a fantasy fuelled by your own desire and media marketing.
  • Appreciating life: With more time and more emphasis on see the world as it is that comes with living a simpler life one also comes to appreciate what one has. If your life is spent chasing a dream, living for the future instead of in the present, life can slip buy without ever having been truly lived. Living simply is a decision not to put life on hold.
The above is all fine and dandy but my question is - is it enough?
We live at a time where consumption has put the whole planet at risk and I would go as far as to say that simplifying one's life is no longer a just an option for individuals but an imperative for the whole of society if we wish to avoid the collapse our entire civilisation.
On a individual level, a person living the simple has very little impact on the factors which are leading us into the possible social chaos that global warming and other phenomena will bring. Simple living needs to become a popular movement - not just because it is the best way to live but to salvage our future as a society.
Voluntary Simplicity is no longer just a personal issue but a political one. My thinking on my own motivation is clear enough now that I can try to communicate it to others. There is already a a growing understanding that we need to change our consumption patterns and reign in the power of transnational corportations if things are not to get very ugly in the future. I think I should turn my attention to trying to persuade others of the benefit simple living.
The question is how?