Have yourself an ethical little Christmas…

christmas pig

As Christmas approaches, I am feeling very passionate about reducing the amount of cruelty-created products in my life and the lives around me, so I’m hoping you’ll take a PLEDGE to try to do this yourself this season.

Christmas represents a time when people gather for meals, share gifts and eat too much chocolate. All I am hoping is that you’ll consider reducing your intake of animal products and if you do, then source Fair Trade or ethical/humane options (see options below). And with the gifts you purchase, please consider where it came from and reduce the likelihood that it was procured using slave labour.

Some suggestions:

— chocolate: please avoid milk chocolate as the milk comes from antibiotic-filled, tortured animals. Especially the cheaper chocolate which will also be using cocoa beans picked by slave labour. With cheap chocolate, you are usually also supporting a multinational company that cares nothing about welfare and only about bottom-line earnings. Aim for dark chocolate with the Fair Trade logo on it http://fairtrade.com.au/  If you think you can’t afford to pay a bit more, chances are you should just save your money altogether and not buy ANY chocolate as neither you, nor the planet, can afford the cost of this luxury!

— meat: try to find alternative options to meat altogether. With everyone ramping up with their traditional of consuming a bounty of meat they usually eat this time of year, the number of animals slaughtered reaches an epic and horrifying high (Kill Counter: the moment you open the following web page, it tells you how many creatures have been killed from that moment on to deliver you the range of foods that humans have come to expect. I challenge you to watch it for 1 minute and then honestly assess how you feel about the totals you see: http://www.adaptt.org/killcounter.html )

If you MUST have some meat, please don’t buy the cheapest cuts which will definitely come from abusive factories. It’s not just how MANY animals are consumed, it’s how miserable they lived their lives. Why would you want to eat something that was terrified, miserable, orphaned and murdered? Look at the Humane Choice website ( http://www.humanechoice.com.au/ ) as an example of where to get ethical meat and eggs. Remember: every creature on this planet has the SAME RIGHT to be on this planet as YOU DO.

— consumer products: here’s a great guide to why it’s important and what/where you can buy to ensure a better chance that you’ll be getting stuff not made by slaves: http://www.ethical.org.au/consumer/christmas/christmas-gifts.htm There are also lots of charitable organisations like TEAR’s Useful Gift catalogue ( http://www.usefulgifts.org/ ) where you get to give something that actually helps someone else in a life-changing kind of way. It is after all the season for GIVING, right? 🙂

I try to live by these examples but none of us are perfect. However, if we all pledge to try to eat 50% less dairy, 50% less meat and be wary of where are other ‘stuff’ is coming from, that will already represent a positive change.

Will you take this pledge?

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Aussie vegan products reviewed – part 1

food-reviews logo

Since I am very fresh rolling with my recent decision to become a vegan/vego, I figure that I may as start classifying what I eat not only for helping people out there but even just to remember what I’ve liked and haven’t on my journey.

It’s early days and I haven’t gotten any further than the local Woolies so the variety is pretty non-existent so far. But it’s somewhere to start and to be fair, Woolies seems to be trying hard to do the right thing with their ‘Macro‘  line of goods, and clearly identify non-dairy options within that line. Woolworth’s has strikes against it however which may preclude shopping there much, as they contribute heavily to gambling addiction in this country and own an awful lot of pokie machines. Buying goods is never as straightforward as you think, now is it??

NOTE: I am coming from the perspective of a recent/former meat-eater who is not trying to show how much different vegan products are from their original counterparts, but rather if they can stand alone as decent things to eat, while still trying to somewhat satisfy my cravings for the originals. So I’m not going to come down too hard on them unless they are just truly nasty-tasting, but they will get top marks if they are both delicious and provide a great replacement for the original meat or dairy product.

To kick veganism off, I wanted to replace certain things right away: milk, yogurt, cheese and no meat of course.  So I started with:

  • Macro (Woolworth’s) Vegetarian Soy Cheese with chives. FLAVOUR: Quite nice, subtle chive taste; not too sharp. Slightly bland otherwise. TEXTURE: good cheesy character; grates easily; melts pretty well and has a cheese-like mouth-feel. PRICE/VALUE: $5 for 200g so expensive-ish
  • Parmalat Soy Life Yogurt – Vanilla Creme flavour. FLAVOUR: I like vanilla so it was quite faithful to that. Vague soy element but overall quite yogurt-like. TEXTURE: very yogurt-like in texture and consistency. PRICE/VALUE: $3 for 2x175g so not much more than other individual-pack yogurts. I couldn’t see a bulk one but would buy that next time.
  • 730941Macro (Woolworth’s) Organic Almond Milk (sweetened; tetra pack) FLAVOUR: Other than subtle almond/soy flavour, very milk-like when drinking straight. I imagine you could easily disguise it as milk in anything. TEXTURE: same consistency. Would be hard to detect as not milk in tea/coffee/cereal, etc. PRICE/VALUE: $3.39 for 1 litre so about 2.5 times the price of a Devondale tetra 1 litre. I like that it is organic though as its competitors aren’t.

I couldn’t find any other cheese or yogurt substitutes in Woolies, and they didn’t do a mayonnaise alternative there. I did buy a Sanitarium Soy Milk (So Good) but haven’t tried it yet. I’ll be seeking other replacements this week at a couple of dedicated health/vegan shops and online.

My meat-eating lately really had been restricted already to once a week or so with beef and chicken but nearly daily with fish (smoked or tinned salmon). I decided to try some meat-like soy items as I wanted to make pizza. So I got some pepperoni and also some bacon:

  • Sanitarium Bacon Style Rashers. FLAVOUR: Kind of not really bacon but also just bland. Bacon has such an intense flavour that it really needs to be amped up here. In a BLT type sandwich, you could barely tell it was there. On the fry-pan, it does manage to get that bacon smell though and if you cook it to near crispy it’s a bit better. TEXTURE: as I would expect, simulating bacon’s texture and mouthfeel iVD_Deli_Luncheon_Henchen_375gs tough, and this doesn’t really come close or tries to really. More like a processed sandwich meat. PRICE/VALUE: $4.50 for 145g so expensive-ish compared to real bacon and doesn’t really deliver.
  • Sanitarium Pepperoni (spicy). FLAVOUR: Better than the bacon for sure. Pleasant to eat directly and on a pizza it was quite effective. Not as intense as real meat, but pretty good substitute. TEXTURE: a bit similar to the soy cheese in texture. Or the bacon perhaps, but that is more like real pepperoni. PRICE/VALUE: $5.75 for 200g so about twice the price of normal pepperoni.

I’ve heard about a chicken product by Beyond Meat in North America which is supposedly the first non-meat product to have nailed the mouthfeel and flavour of chicken. This makes me very excited and I hope it’ll make it to Australia in the near future. I’ll be in Canada/US mid-year, so if not before then, I’ll see what it’s like when I get there!

EDIT: Some research on soy has alerted me to just how bad these unfermented products are for us except in extreme moderation. Check out my blog entry on this!

I’ll keep updating reviews as I get products over time!

Swirly lifey stuff

I’m on the eve of my tenth move in 2 years, weary at the thought in principle but on further reflection, relishing the idea that I have very little “stuff” to actually move. What a change!

As recent as 2 months ago, I had to haul things I had in storage at a friend’s place in Brisbane over to another friend’s place (bless their hearts for being so kind to make room for my crap) which took a 1 1/2 ton truck and about 10 hours of my time to load and unload. This is of course stuff that I am not using, just towing about from one location to the next with consideration of using it at some point. Meanwhile, I have been successfully living my life for the past year and a half with none of it. Sure, I miss the odd thing like when I say “oh, I have a Breville in storage; would be good to have a toastie right now” or “my golf clubs are in storage,” but these things happen so infrequently as to not recall thinking of them moments later. So when I thought “oh here we go again, another bloomin’ move (substitute “bloomin” with a more colourful term), I was pleasantly surprised to find when I really thought about it, I have about 4 or 5 boxes of stuff, clothes and 4 or 5 items of furniture and that’s it. Easy. Yay!

Interestingly, I’m possibly moving out with my girlfriend’s friend (my beautiful Heidi is old-fashioned so we cannot live together yet and thus the living with her friend 🙂 ) who is very much a simple-living-eco-friendly-sustainability-loving-community-oriented person like I have become, which is a new experience for me. Perusing potential dwellings with someone who heads out to the backyard first to see where the veggie patch might go before looking at the house itself is different but refreshing; I like her priorities! After many years of looking at things through the standard lazy commercialised-living lens as many other people do, I’m truly starting to consider things like: hoping for rainwater tanks and solar panels on the property; how passive heating/cooling will work effectively in the house; what fruit trees exist on the land and how much space is there for growing veggies; ensuring there is opportunity for community gatherings and sharing meals with people; and making sure that shops are walkable/rideable to conserve fuel. Whereby I was quite happy to live alone until recently, I’m now reveling in the opportunity to live with someone else and develop a greater sense of community; something I’ve spoken about but not really put into practice yet. It’s quite exciting!

I’ll update when I find a new place and we’ll see how many of these new thoughts have been put into practice.

All of this moving comes amidst a push for funding on my human trafficking film which we’re starting to work on. My feelings about the environment and climate change became blurred when I was away looking at people dying or screwing up their lives from poverty, but I’ll save that for my next blog entry. G’night! 🙂

Letters of concern

I recently had an email conversation with someone about corruptible actions and thinking in our society and why making positive change in the world is critical, albeit challenging. To me, this type of conversation illustrates the type of thinking that is common these days when trying to get people to consider change. People think that one person’s voice isn’t strong enough to be heard so what’s the point in trying, whereas I believe that change can happen but each individual has to have the strength and courage to move against the trends and face possible backlash for supposed unpopular thinking. Here’s how the conversation went; it all stemmed from my opinion that the whole Royal Wedding is a blown-out spectacle which celebrates the vast gap between the monarchy and celebrity with everyone else, lavishly spending money on a diversion from the UK (and the world’s) much bigger problems (I was probably feeling a bit grumpy to equate these things so adamantly, but I don’t think it’s untrue):

~ Correspondent:

…it’s nice to see some happy news from Britain as they have had lots of negative news in the last few years. Who cares anyway if this is what makes people happy! ….your opinions…makes you sound very preachy/lost your sense of humour…

~ Me:

Just because I don’t agree with the “distraction” of spending huge amounts of time, money and effort on some out-dated show of wealth and pomp doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of humour.

This wedding is just another example of how people get sucked in to spending tons of time and money because of “celebrity” and “glamour” which is a HUGE part of why everyone in the Western world is quite complacent that this has become “normal” activity and someone like me is a freak if you think otherwise. I find it frustrating. Had the monarchy said publicly that they were deliberately scaling back this multi-million dollar wedding production so that they could support a good cause with the money that they would’ve wasted on nothing but a showy display of excess, then I would have been right there to support them. But they didn’t and this is just more rich people throwing their money around and giving everyone else an excuse to do the same.

Do you ever just sit and wonder why you live where you do or have what you have while many people – most people – in the world don’t have the same? Should we in the Western world feel that it is our right to be able to live the comfortable life of excess? Why are we so privileged? And yet, that’s exactly what people think; they don’t give a second thought to buying a new giant tv or expensive car because what’s important is themselves. If everyone just shared this wealth around a bit, the world wouldn’t exist with such extremes and so many people wouldn’t be living so miserably.

This wedding itself isn’t just the problem I have with all this but rather the cynical corporate marketing, television and broadcasting, celebrity-idolising, glamourising and bandwagon-jumping that goes along with it. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of problems being ignored because everyone is having such a grand old time.

I guess I can call myself an activist these days as I don’t mind being a bit preachy as long as someone occasionally listens. I try not to be too judgemental, but as soon as you take off the blinkers and really look at the world, you can’t help but feel this way. I want to make a difference. I desire change. I want people to be able to have both personal enjoyment but also really, truly care about their fellow global neighbour and the planet we live on and actually take action against injustices. If everyone did their part, we’d all be a helluva lot better off.

~ Correspondent:

I fully sympathize with your activist stance. The problem lies with the human race itself. If you compare the earth to a healthy cell, then the human race can be compared to cancer, and the cancer is growing exponentially. We are an overwhelming force that is mowing down everything in it’s path and it’s virtually impossible to stop it. The fact is that once those loveable people in the Third World get their hands on the same goodies that we in the Western World have, the planet will start deconstructing even faster than it is now. For the last several hundred years every successive generation has been more spoiled (if you want to call it that) and destructive than the previous one. Concepts such as “religion” and “progress” have driven us down this path.

Anyway, all I’m saying is that I understand the problem but, while I admire the work of activists everywhere, I think that it’s going to take something cataclysmic to turn things around.

~ Me:

The feeling I get from you seems bleak: are you saying that humanity should throw in the towel as we can’t fix ourselves anyway? While it is a challenge to see positive potential from a world that cherishes materialism and rampant excess, I believe we need to use the idea that every lit bit counts and that some of the biggest revolutions the world has seen have come from as little as one person (eg. Gandhi). If we just give in, then we’re all doomed to living a very dark, joyless existence so why not just kill ourselves now to avoid having to live in such a world?

I’m sure you’d agree that there are many wonderful things in the world and life that are worth standing up for and preserving, and it’s that kind of motivated and positive thinking that needs to propagate broadly throughout all people. In order for that to happen, people need to be reminded of their obligations to their fellow humans and to the rest of this one planet we have at our disposal, and start showing respect to it at the expense of some short term pleasures. Sure, they may have to give up the odd possession to ensure that we’re not overburdening our resources, but that gaining back of one’s integrity through self-restraint will ultimately be more rewarding than the material possession. Of course, it’s hard to show someone that money isn’t everything and that they can gain a lot more out of life by looking into other areas.

You might think that the Third World is doomed to making the same mistakes as we have, but I think the opposite: we have a huge opportunity to show them the err of our ways, but it requires each person to make a small sacrifice in time, energy, money and willingness to confront those around them to make the change happen. I really like the saying “Be the change you want to see in the world” as it so aptly describes where those improvements have to stem from: you. And me.

Throwing in the towel in my book is unacceptable if for nothing else than to have respect for this planet. I’m the same as you when it comes to the human race: we are a cancer that has ravaged the planet and who treat each other terribly. I’m not always a huge fan of our species. I have a lot of respect for other species and their ability to not impose themselves beyond certain boundaries. The trouble is, we need to rely on our species to do the hard work to make the world a better place for them, and then, in turn, for us. But like the animals, I believe that there’s a lot of people not being given a fair go either and so I’m a big proponent for equality: for people’s working conditions, wealth distribution, basic needs and well-being plus their general right to have a life filled with security and love.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

What do you think? Am I out of line to press these issues or is it high-time people start opening their arms and embracing positive action and try to make the world a better place? If we stop fighting for something more, something better, then what’s the point to our very existence?

Actions + words

Sometimes I think it’s easy to say but not do (when really you should), while other times you do but don’t tell (when really you should).

I find it’s so easy to either say or think that I should be doing something a certain way (like being more ethical, doing more exercise, helping people, eating more healthily, being more pro-active with many things, stopping unproductive behavior…to name a few), but then get stuffed up when it comes to putting these things into practice. Conversely, some activities are easy to do (eating unhealthily guilt-free, spending too much time on Facebook, enjoying the company of friends), even ones that might have been difficult in the past or are sometimes difficult for other people too (living simply with less stuff, earning less, shopping a bit more ethically/organically/fairly, focusing more on other people than myself), but don’t get talked about.

For example, today I woke up with a wretched pain in my back from an albeit long, 13-hour workday shooting a wedding yesterday. Fair enough, I was on my feet nearly the whole day, but the pain was made worse due to my aversion to exercise. Even simply doing a few crunches every day will strengthen my torso and keep my back from bearing all the load. I know this stuff, but I don’t just do it. A few minutes a day will save my ongoing pain and yet I just can’t get myself to expend the effort. I even say these things to myself while sitting in the kitchen eating a block of chocolate (Fair Trade chocolate, at least!). Sigh. These words are something that need some action attached to them!

On the contrary, I have surprisingly easily slipped into a low-consuming life, becoming quite adamant about staying away from consuming holy lands (aka. shopping malls), taking a hard line about racking up credit card debt, building my own furniture, being careful what I eat and how much I eat out, and being satisfied in general with less. While I act this out every day, it wasn’t until very recently that I’ve been talking up this lifestyle (in this humble little bloggie-blog!), something I still feel a bit funny about though as I am not pretending to know what I’m talking about.

Perhaps what I’m trying to decide is when is it important to just act with no words, when is it good to have words but no action and when do you need both?

I’m always quite happy to lavish my lovely girlfriend, Heidi, with lots of thanks and praise for guiding me into this more responsible world of frugality and giving, but she has learned with her lifestyle choices that sometimes actions need to speak for themselves. As I believe she quite rightly assumes, people are very reluctant to be told that they are doing something wrong and should change; they need to just see how it works for someone else and feel inclined to question why you do what you do. Seeing that this way of living or things that you’re doing makes them happy or less stressed or just feels right, might incite them to do it themselves, or at least ask more questions. One can always hope that if it’s a good thing, the idea or action will cascade through to their friends and so on and so on

Maybe words and actions are both required sometimes though; I was just reading from a brilliant and well-written book The Rough Guide to Ethical Living, and they suggest that it’s all well and good to eat organic, shop Fair Trade and make other ethical decisions about where your food and products come from, but sometimes the action of making the right choice needs to include a message that communicates what you’re doing. Simply making the choice doesn’t specifically tell one brand or retailer why you’re not shopping with them (if it’s due to their brand/product being seen as having poor production practices, eg. treatment of people or animals, poor emissions, or marketing practices); you need to not only make the purchase, but indicate what your problem is with the other brand/product. Even more ideal and impactful in terms of acting and telling is to cut your own carbon emissions then writing to your local MP and “encouraging them to lean on the government to pass legislation which requires everyone to reduce their greenhouse emissions.”

This is sound advice; I think I’m going to get into the habit of regularly writing to retailers (like, Coles – boycott Nestlé!), writing to brands (like, Nestlé – irresponsible marketing practices!) or MPs about a variety of green/sustainability things. I hope anyone reading this can challenge themselves to put into action at least one thing that they have been telling themselves to do but haven’t acted on it; or conversely, if you’re doing something great but no one knows about it that’s ok but you could be influencing a whole lot more people with being a bit more pro-active with letting them know about it! But don’t listen to me (yes, listen to me! heehee).

Not Buying It

I’ve just been going through a mini bout of poverty: no jobs rolling in, Christmas costs just past, bills to pay, etc. So I’m down to a few cents in the ol’ bank accountaroodle. But it’s all good. Great actually to be firm with myself about delving into credit just so I can live comfortably rather than tightening up and just doing less, spending less and eating what’s left in the cupboard Not Buying It book cover(it’s surprising how many meals you can make when you think the cupboards are empty! In fact, during my housesitting period, I chucked out countless boxes worth of old food from people’s cupboards that could’ve saved them $$ heaps on buying new stuff when they didn’t need to…anyway, that’s another story!).

Coinciding nicely with buying less and just dealing with it, Heidi and I have started reading a book called Not Buying It by Judith Levine. It’s started off a bit doom-and-gloom as many of the books I’ve read of late about climate change and unsustainable practices are, but it looks to be an interesting read as she chronicles a year of her life not buying anything that is “non-essential”. She keeps a chronological journal that shows how she does through a whole year of reducing her consumeristic behavior.

In general, but especially when money is hard to come by, I like this thinking. I’d love to try doing a whole year of buying only “essential” stuff but I imagine it’d be hard. With less income rolling in, I guess you’re forced into that kind of action anyway, made even more obvious when you see how homeless and under-developed nations live like this all the time. Of course, this sort of “experiment” is the extreme as most of us don’t choose to live such a hard life, but I suppose if we all pulled back just that extra bit and reconsidered the true necessity and impact of every non-essential thing we buy, we’d be making some headway with the global crisis.

Do I Need It? poster

Do I Need It?

web version of Do I Need It? poster

Here’s a poster that I designed which was conceived of by my friend Penny. I think she’s done a great job of streamlining a path that everyone should go on to decide on whether to make a purchase or not. It essentially allows you to follow a flow-chart style path to determine whether or not you can really justify purchasing that new so-and-so that you’ve got your eye on. If everyone just diverted from that new item path more often, we’d become more responsible shoppers!

I made it into a print-quality A3 poster size in PDF format (link below) which would be perfect for posting somewhere influential where people will see it (hint hint!).

Do_I_Need_It-poster – A3, 300dpi PDF