Making the consumer difference, one free-range egg at a time

‘If you’re so against animal cruelty, why aren’t you a vegan?’ Said the carnivore, to the vegetarian.

Lately, I have spent a lot of time beating myself up about my own hypocrisy in making better choices as a consumer.

  • I take reusable ‘green bags’ to the supermarket, but use masses of cling wrap and freezer bags at home.
  • I buy local, free-range eggs but frequently buy garlic at the supermarket, which is imported from overseas.
  • I avoid buying products that contain palm oil, but use chemicals to clean the toilet.
  • I make my own baby purees, but there are thousands of dirty nappies in landfill from my two children.
  • I very rarely use my clothes dryer, to reduce power usage, but even as I write this the heater is on.
  • I avoid buying Nestle products, but my son wears Nike shoes.

The time I have spent agonising over the impact of my damaging consumer habits has not been good for my mental health. And then, there are those other times – such as when watching the crises unfold in Ukraine, the Gaza Strip, our own asylum seeker detention centres, and even just the horrendous nightly news – that I hopelessly wonder if all our well-meaning efforts are a bit futile anyway, eventually coming to the conclusion, over and over again, that of course they are not futile.

I’ve observed myself, and other people, judging others’ consumer choices and behaviours, which is probably just a reflection of our own feelings of guilt, inadequacy and jealousy. If someone writes about consuming meat sustainably, others descend upon them to shout judgmentally at each other from their respective ideological corners.

I saw this in myself when reading Sarah Wilson’s blog post about what she doesn’t own in her house. She doesn’t own a microwave, a toaster or electric kettle. She doesn’t buy tissues and has never bought a magazine. Instead of using an air-conditioner or fan in summer, she lies on wet sheets. When I first read this, I discarded it as something that was just too extreme and over-the-top. But then I sat on it, thought about it, observed my own feelings about it, and realised, that I actually admire it enormously. My negative reaction was due to my own feelings of comparative inadequacy and gluttony. Which is solely my issue. Because, while I could judge one person for being ‘too’ ethical (crazy!), I could then turn around in the same breath and be critical of someone buying palm-oil laden spreads. How ridiculous am I!

So, I have come to a place now where I am letting my personal guilt go. With it, my judgement of others’ decisions. I can accept that everyone else is on their own journey, and has to go their own distance at their own pace. Improving my personal consumer choices is important to me. But I’ve also accepted that I cannot drive myself crazy about it, because I will never be a perfectly ethical consumer. I can continue to push my own boundaries, little by little. Last month, I stopped using my array of cleansers and moisturisors, and started using only jojoba oil. I no longer buy quinoa imported from South America. Eventually, I’d like to look at making my own cleaning products, but I’m not quite at that point yet.

I’ve also realised, that it IS worthwhile. That even if it is out of our current capacity to make ‘all the changes’ – the ones that we do make are valuable. We all just keep trying.

5 Comments

  1. I love this because you put into words exactly how I feel – angry at those who don’t even try (or take pride in making wasteful choices!), defensive against those who are further along than I am, all while either weighing up every decision carefully and beating myself up for how much I’m not doing, or drowning out my conscience with my own bad choices. It’s exhausting!

    • Samantha says:

      The moment when you find your close friend is reading the same great blog, hi Esther! 😉 Back to Erin’s post…. I’m in the same boat as a lot of people, for every ethical/sustainable choice I make I know there’s about 5-10 unethical/not so sustainable I’m making, but this whole issue reminds me of something my meditation teacher once taught me.

      She asked the class to close their eyes and indicate with their hands where they think they ‘should be by now’ on their meditation practice – I put my hand to my forehead. Then she asked ‘now put your other hand where you actually are in your meditation practice’ – I put mine below my neck. She said ‘where you actually are, is where you are meant to be at this moment – it’s a journey.’

      I think the same thing can be applied to trying to be more sustainable/ethical, yes I bring reusable bags when shopping, recycle my soft plastics and compost my veggie and fruit scraps – but it took time to get into those green habits and I also use ziplock bags, unintentionally waste food sometimes and use tampons. But I know I’m slowly adding more and more ethical habits to my life, and each habit takes time before it becomes second nature. If we all keep adding little habits, I believe we will all make a difference in different ways.

      • Erin says:

        Oh how nice that you two know each other! Thanks for your incredibly thoughtful comment Samantha, I agree 100% with you. Your meditation teacher sounds pretty excellent, what a useful perspective to have. I think I’ve come to the same place as you – I’m still so far from ‘perfect’, but happy with making small changes, and building new habits, a little at a time.

  2. mmmarzipan says:

    I am so with you! I get the guilts too, but I do what I can with what I have here and now and I am a big believer in progress not perfection. I soooo want to be where Sarah is at, in many ways, though… getting there slowly 🙂 xx

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