Green living can create some tensions between the choices that are available to you.
Live lightly, own little, do everything the slow way and by hand, walk, handwash, grow your own veg, upcycle things, don’t own a car. Unless you’re very lucky, it’s hard to put this kind of light living together with a well paid job. Most of the people who do it manage by being self employed, and are low paid. It’s hard to sustain conventional employment without a car, in fact if you look at many job applications, you’ll be asked if you have one.
Buy organic, fair traded, buy local (often nigh on impossible for rural people without a car, most villages do not have farmer’s markets I have to say). Buy high quality food products that don’t have palm oil in them. Buy eco friendly washing powders, cosmetics, home cleaners and so forth. They cost far more than the regular versions. Veg from the farmer’s market is much more expensive than veg from the cheaper and nastier supermarkets. Milk is the same.
Of the available diets, vegetarianism is without a doubt the most affordable for someone on a low income. Good quality, responsibly sourced meat is really expensive. Good quality vegan proteins are also more costly, as are the products that don’t have dairy products as fillers. It’s surprising how many cheap things turn out to have whey powder and the like in them, once you start looking.
So, here’s a conundrum. I don’t have a fridge, because I think that’s a greener choice. I don’t buy cows’ milk unless I have guests (I am vegetarian). I would like to keep my use of dairy minimal anyway. So, I can have low cost UHT cow milk at less than a pound a litre, it will keep until I open it and be good for a day or so in the cool box once opened. I can do the same with low cost soya milk, but in both cases, I’ve got no chance in warm weather of keeping the milk for more than a day once open, and I don’t reliably use that much so there’s a high risk of unacceptable food waste.
For a couple of pounds, I could buy a tin of dried milk powder (cow) and make it up with water at need. For about five times the price I could buy a smaller amount of dried soy or coconut milk.
So we have a situation where the person with the high powered job, driving a car, and actively participating in the capitalism mainstream probably can afford seitan, dried coconut milk, ethical cosmetics, green cleaners, and all the other things that go into having an apparently responsible, vegan shopping basket. The person who lives lightly and close to the earth and who is trying hard not to participate too much in consumerist culture, probably doesn’t earn enough to shop this way.
Is one choice better than the other? Are ethical consumer choices sometimes just window dressing for otherwise largely unsustainable lifestyle choices? Is the farmer’s market really that good an idea if you have to drive twenty miles to get to it? I don’t have any answers, just the sense that if we want something sustainable, it has to be possible to both live lightly and source ethically, and if we’ve got to choose between the two, we’re collectively getting it wrong.