My eco-consciousness was triggered by two types of behaviors that I saw people engage in. First, when I first saw the number of plastic and Styrofoam food containers that people threw in the trash cans in food courts. It was 2003 and the reuse-recycle fever hadn’t reached this town yet—at least not where I worked. ‘It’s a pity to throw away such attractive boxes! I am going to take them home’ I decided. My fellow teachers gave me strange looks. ‘Go ahead! You will need a truck to load them! There are so many!’ They laughed.
Second, when I saw school children dumping huge quantities of left over food carelessly in the trash cans in the school cafeteria. Well, considering the quality of food that they choose to load their trays with, I could hardly blame them. Pizza, processed, fried chicken, tater tots, pasta and sauce, hamburger, soda and potato chips. There was a huge poster on the wall that recommended that you should eat ‘at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day’ but the kids obviously didn’t read the message or chose to ignore it. The school faithfully adhered to the recommendation and offered dry fruits, leafy salad, coleslaw, cooked green beans, mashed potato and corn. But it was a vegetarian teacher like me who usually loaded her tray with these things, much to the amusement of the kids and other teachers. ‘How can you eat that stuff?’ they would ask me. ‘How can YOU eat THAT stuff?’ I wanted to ask them but refrained, as I was new to the place and was trying to make friends.
Grocery shopping was exiting and initially I was tempted to try everything. Soon, I learnt to read the fine print and was horrified to note that many snacks I loved had beef extract in them! Reading the fine print became a ritual before I bought anything to eat. I quickly realized that beef extract was only one of my worries. There was high fructose corn syrup, all kinds of leavening agents, preservatives, artificial flavors and food colors, wax—in fact I could actually conduct a semester’s course in chemistry based on what they added to the food to increase shelf life, enhance the texture and make it LOOK delicious. Inversely, I would be decreasing my life span and that of my family if we fed on this. Slow poison.
Not if I could help it. I thanked my mom for having brought me up on home cooking. I banned my middle schooler from eating any more chips, candy, pizza, processed cheese and fast food. Even though I was working full time, I continued to cook everything from scratch, thanks to my overly helpful husband. To my utter disapproval, they would occasionally order pizza because it was SO convenient and TASTY but I would gag on even a small piece of that poison. I rejoiced when my son told me that caffeinated drinks were banned at his school.
After joining the university, my obsession with healthy food coupled with concern for the environment made me take a critical look at the choices I made in everyday life. Did I need a brand new sofa or was I satisfied with a used one, looked good but had a small tear in the corner? Did I need matching ear rings for every dress or could I manage with what I had? Would anyone care or notice? My son did. I will never forget his words. ‘Mommy, you women are partly responsible for depleting the earth’s natural resources by encouraging mining of gold, silver and diamond for jewelry!’ Should I buy a curio from every place that we visited and fill the face of our fridge with plastic and metal stuff that read ‘Florida’ or ‘Spain’ made in China, or was I satisfied with sticking most essential recipes and notes, a family picture and a couple of mementos on it instead? Should I decorate every wall in my house with paintings encased in more expensive frames or let them look a little bare? Should I buy greeting cards and thank you cards and help stationary manufacturers kill more trees or verbally greet and thank people with the same or higher level of sincerity that the cards proclaimed to express?
Thankfully, I came across the word minimalist and realized that I was increasingly becoming one. Moreover, this town is a highly eco-conscious town that advocates sustainability and that fostered my desire to make more changes in my lifestyle and outlook on the quality of my life in general. So here’s a list of things I have been doing minimize the damage that I am invariably causing the earth, merely by virtue of being born as a human being. Neither do I consider these sacrifices, and nor do I feel deprived of any pleasures in life because I chose to live this way. Although it is more expensive to be eco conscious, investing in healthy choices has considerably reduced medical expenses for my whole family and I am sure you will agree that THAT is a fair trade off! I definitely do not want our bodies pumped with more toxic chemicals in the name of MEDICINE. To what end? To cure us of ailments caused by the chemical ridden food promoted by the industry? No way! Besides, who cares about the tear in the sofa? And bare walls are good for meditation. Staring at a blank white wall can help clear the clutter in your mind.
And thus goes my humble list:
1. I have a very modest wardrobe but hardly buy new clothes unless very essential.
2. I have gradually eliminated processed food from my fridge. I haven’t bought soda since 4 years. I stopped buying ready to eat breakfast cereal, candy, ketchup, processed cheese, yogurt, and jam since 2 years. We have switched to organic milk and buy cage free eggs and unprocessed chicken from the farmers market. I made chocolate at home recently and it was a hit. I also make yogurt and cheese at home. We eat fresh fruits and shop at the farmers market through summer and fall. During winter we try to eat seasonal vegetables and more dried beans and legumes because I deeply dislike the idea of eating unseasonal vegetables (particularly haunting is the image of droplets of Gulf oil sticking to them as they are transported from sunny to snowy regions all over America).
3. I stopped buying greeting cards and gift bags made of paper and plastic. I make my own gifts out of recycled or ecofriendly material or buy handmade gifts whenever I can afford them.
4. We have bought bottled water only 3 times last year for our son’s school band.
5. We gave away our TV and DVD/VCR player to the thrift store.
6. We always remove electric plugs that are not in use from socket.
7. I take the bus to school or walk.
8. We stopped buying plastic cutlery
10. I frequently use a very inexpensive, energy saving, slow cooker that is naturally insulated. Can be made at home by ANYONE!
11. 90 percent of the time, I make all in one meals to reduce time on cooking and dishwashing and save water.
12. I always make cookies at home using whole wheat flour
13. We have drastically reduced use of plastic grocery bags and try to limit the use of toilet paper and paper towel.
14. I always carry my own shopping bag when I go out.
15. I frequently conduct free demonstrations of eco-friendly ways of cooking and serving food
16. We extremely rarely burn candles at home
17. We volunteered at the community garden entire summer and will continue to do so in future.
18. I never bought shower caps. Instead I use grocery bags that have collected over time
19. I stopped buying lipstick and nail polish since 3 years and use chemical free soap and shampoo
20. Last summer, I talked to one person a day from another culture to learn about ecofriendly practices in other countries
21. We wash our car at home
22. We ALWAYS turn off lights that are not in use
23. We purchase only energy saving bulbs
24. We maintain a steady temperature on the thermostat
25. I use vinegar to clean kitchen platforms and stove.
I will keep adding to this post as and when I turn a new, ecofriendly leaf in my life! If you read this, thank you and please share your ideas. Everyone needs them!
5 weeks ago