Tag Archives: environmental

Lifting each other

We live in strange and challenging times, full of uncertainty and reasons for fear. It can be difficult to know what to do in face of such enormous challenges. My advice is, think small. It’s perhaps more obvious to think that you, personally should be doing something dramatic. To feel that you personally should be sorting out climate change, or fixing your country’s political system, or ending the pandemic or saving the rainforests… And, unable to see what you can even do on that scale, you may end up paralysed and doing very little.

Think small. Ask yourself what you can do today that might make the day a bit better for someone else. Maybe it’s a cat photo on Facebook. Maybe it’s amplifying a cause on Twitter. There is undoubtedly someone you can help in some small way. Do it. Do it every chance you get and use that focus to make sure you don’t end up overwhelmed, frozen and unable to do anything at all.

Ask how we might lift each other. Look for the projects, the activities and the opportunities that lift more people, create support or visibility, do something to make change. Again, you do not have to be engaging with a global crisis directly for this to be worth doing. Look for local projects that help people in your area. Look for local environmental and sustainability projects. Often there’s overlap – the project getting kids on bicycles will help with social issues and environmental issues at the same time. These things are all related, social justice and environmental care go together so start where you can and trust that it will help with wider issues too.

It is so easy to be pinned down by fear. It is so desperately easy to be persuaded of your own powerlessness. However, if everyone got stuck in and did whatever small things they could do, we would see rapid change. We can make significant cultural shifts out of people being kinder to each other – just that alone would do a tremendous amount of good and help push our societies in better directions. Think small, it can be a powerful, radical ambitious choice that gets a lot done.

Hail Seitan!

As a household we took the decision some months ago to reduce the amount of animal products in our diet (2 vegetarians and one omnivore). We haven’t gone vegan, but have changed the overall balance, so I suspect that puts us in the rare position of being able to offend everyone with a strong opinion on diets!

The primary motivator for us was the environmental impact of animal based food. Animal welfare is also a major consideration. As cheese is rising in price apace, that’s also been a factor. So has boredom – we wanted to eat more interestingly, and for that matter, have more good stuff.

When we look at taking up a more ecological way of doing things, one of the household rules is ‘no hair shirt’. If it feels like we’re being noble and suffering, we’re doing it wrong, and we won’t be able to sustain it. Getting it right means a sense of improved quality of life. We try to do this without it costing vast amounts more money.

Seitan has been good to us (and we insist on pronouncing it ‘Satan’). Seitan is a vegan protein – vital wheat gluton and can be bought as a flour-like substance. Health food shops may have it, the internet certainly does, and if you buy in bulk it works out cheaper than Quorn. The internet abounds with recipes, but basically you can make up a dough, flavour it with whatever you like, braise it in the slow cooker and then give it a second outing, and it is a wonderful, endlessly variable thing. Not that hard to make, and the omnivore in the household is happy to accept it as a substitute.

My latest venture is into the realm of shneese. Which isn’t cheese. The attraction of dairy products, I eventually worked out, is as much the fat content as the protein. Vegan proteins can be short of oil, and thus the idea of shneese was born. There are (I have since discovered) lots of recipes out there for home made vegan cheese substitutes, but the key thing is to use a gelatine substitute so it will set. Some kind of nut or seed to provide the protein – I’ve used sunflower and cashew to good effect thus far. Some kind of oil. And something else – thus far olives, avocado and mushroom have been employed to good effect at different times. Their role is to give the oil something to make friends with. Nutritional yeast is also a good idea. A blender is required, to make the whole array of things into a single, settable gloop.

Last night we put shneese on pizza. Now, I’ve seen vegans with grated carrot as a pizza topping, and it looks the part… and even though I like grated carrot, I’ve never been able to face this as a prospect. The whole point of a pizza is that sense of indulgence. A mushroom and sunflower shneese, tomato, olive, artichoke hearts… it didn’t feel like a downgrade.

I like knowing that I can throw together really good food for vegan guests, should I need to. I like having the increased diversity of diet. I love that this is working out cheaper than buying dairy products. I like the idea of having cheese as an occasional luxury, not a staple, and only using eggs when I want them as eggs, not as an ingredient. Also, I’m enjoying the names. Notzorella, anyone?

Neither use nor ornament

I don’t know when the phrase ‘neither use nor ornament’ entered my awareness, but it was early on, and applied to me. The first sense of my appearance I had, was the description that I am ‘funny looking’ and I have understood for most of my life that as I am not ornamental, I had better throw everything I have into being useful. It’s been a life defining sort of phrase.

The idea that things should either be useful to us, or visually pleasing, not only informs many human interactions, but is central to the relationship we westerners have with the natural world. We prioritise the pretty things, the charming and the lovely, and we ask what the point of wasps is. Thus to be neither use nor ornament, is by this measure, to be nothing at all.

I wonder sometimes, how different my life would have been if I’d grown up feeling good enough, innately worthy of love, and confident of my place in the world. I would have been an entirely different person, I would have made different choices, expected better treatment, walked away from things that did me no good, I suspect. I would have been much happier, and maybe defaulted to thinking that mattered.

What happens to our relationship with the world when we let go over the narrow constraints we so often have around valuing? When we stop demanding to know the utility and the cost, and start thinking about a much broader kind of worth. When simply existing becomes a valid form of worth, to be respected and taken seriously. The environmental implications of that would be huge. So would the political consequences, because this whole language around who is undeserving would simply go away.

Speaking as something that has understood itself to be neither use nor ornament, doing away with those measures would make the world a kinder place, and, I think, a better one.