Research Ethics Officer Sam Waldron returns with Part 2 of her Eco Warrior journey. Part 1 is here
Part 2: How has change affected my life?
Becoming an eco-minded vegan has definitely impacted on my life in some good ways but as with all good things, bad also rears its ugly head.
The best bits of being an eco-warrior:
- Personal development
I have more compassion to not only animals but also people. When you look at the damage being done by the climate emergency in developing countries (and now first world countries such as Australia) how can you not help but feel compassion for them? I also have a sense of satisfaction and pride knowing that I am doing as much as I can to help make the world better for current and future generations. It fills me with hope to know that I am not the only one.
Since my toothbrush awakening, I have armed myself with a host of knowledge on health and environmentalism that I didn’t know before. I have a much better understanding of how the world works (for example food production) and plastic pollution (even micro and nano plastics could be detrimental to life on Earth!) I have sharpened my critical thinking skills, I am always looking at where information comes from and who funded any research to check there are no biases in reporting. These skills come in useful for many reasons; assessing how true newspaper articles are, debating with people online and in person, and also within my job more broadly (being an ethics officer requires me to analyse a very broad range of research topics and methodologies).
Because I am so conscious of waste, I rarely throw things out. I repurpose as much as possible (recently old wardrobes becomes planters), sell/give things away online and buy second hand (gumtree, e-bay). I shop as much as I can from zero waste supermarkets so I only buy what I need. When I do need to buy something new (no one wants used underwear… well I don’t) I will now check the ethics of a company so I know that any money I am spending is being used responsibly (the clothing sector has a scary amount of waste/pollution) and this has led me to discover lovely and quirky companies.
- Friends and partners
When you start making significant changes to your life you quickly find out who your friends are. I am so lucky that I have friends and family who didn’t judge me for my diet and didn’t start screaming at me because I refused to use wrapping paper at Xmas or buy obscene amounts of ‘stuff’. When I started dating my boyfriend (of at least 7 years at that point) our relationship was built a lot around eating and when I made a huge change to my diet this not only impacted me. It started out with an agreement that if I did the cooking he would eat anything I made (within reason) which slowly built into us jointly doing the cooking. For the most part my partner eats what I do purely for ease and I am lucky he has been so accommodating (as soon as they crack a good vegan cheese I will convert him!)
The middle ground:
I was lucky enough to come to the eco-vegan table when veganism was just starting to bloom and as a result I am never short of cook books to use or restaurants to eat at (and this is getting easier by the day!) When I first went vegan I did occasionally miss bacon but, over time this has lessened and lessened and has led me to discover other exciting foods like BBQ jackfruit! The only time this has been an issue is when eating out for work (when you have no say in the menu/location) and on occasions like this I do have to go mentally prepared to have a discussion with the chef (no, I can’t just have a little bit of butter!) or, with a packed lunch.
So, I gave up flying, bummer! People find this the hardest part (I know people who will take 4-5 holiday flights abroad in a year) and can’t believe that I am willing to make this sacrifice. Sadly, until travel becomes more sustainable, I just can’t morally justify travelling via plane. On the upside, I did actually have more holidays last year and experienced things in the UK I haven’t done before; I walked up Snowdon, saw wild boar in the Forest of Dean and visited Thor’s cave in Buxton. I saw beautiful sites, reduced my carbon footprint, did more walking (hello good health), saved money (and thus could do more holidays) and didn’t have to spend any time in an airport! Overall, that’s not too bad in my opinion. This year plans include visiting Edinburgh Fringe and taking the Eurostar train somewhere (might wait till Brexit is cleared up first though); so, don’t feel bad for me because I can’t wait.
The hardest bits of being an eco-warrior:
- Learning curve
There is so much wrong with the world, where do you start? Meat? Plastic? Oceans? Wildfires? Whilst I love learning, there is a niggling feeling of ‘nothing will ever be good enough’. The best thing to do, is pick an issue you feel strongly about and educate yourself on that first. I personally educated myself by reading academic journals and blog posts written by academics, but, there are also many documentaries, Twitter, Facebook and easy to read blogs (from reputable sources such as charities) so don’t fret, you do not have to access the information in a ‘elbow patch-y’ way. Just remember, you cannot do everything at once. You are only one person. You cannot magically turn into an eco-god/ess overnight.
The hardest bit about the learning curve is when you think you’re doing well and then someone comes along as goes ‘oh didn’t you know X is also bad’ (I didn’t know that not all sugar was vegan for a long time)! Be honest when you don’t know something, be open to new ideas but don’t feel you need to do everything at once (then you are more likely to give up).
- Ease of access to products
I boycott Amazon for many reasons (packaging, workers’ rights, lack of paying tax, selling dangerous fake products etc.) Not only do I boycott Amazon, I try to ensure that I only buy products from more ethical companies. This means that when I do need to buy things it isn’t always the easiest process. Second-hand on Gumtree, E-bay & Freecycle are usually my first ports of call. If I need something brand new, then I’m likely to try Etsy, and after that it’s researching individual companies. Unsurprisingly, this can take some time however, it does leave me with a good feeling inside. Knowing that I have helped to contribute to a safer environment for workers or, supported a small company feels fantastic(it is especially good when you end up with a one of a kind item, or something which is so well made you know it will last).
- Lack of fitting in
Sometimes people look at me as if I’ve lost my marbles, when all I’m thinking is why is everyone else so bonkers? I am not the sort of person you can take on a fun day shopping (sorry mum) because I will just question where everything was made, and why for the love of God is everything in unnecessary plastic wrapping? At Christmas this year I managed to upset all the families by refusing to pull crackers, I am the mad one for not following a tradition, yet I know within 10 minutes of being pulled all of those crackers are going in the bin along with the plastic toy. My mum did eventually take my concerns on board and instead of a cracker gave me a tiny stocking with miniature bottle of gin (winning) and she will re-use the stocking next year! Sadly, everyone else still pulled crackers but, maybe next year we will all just get drunk instead of pulling crackers? Expect everyone to judge and question you, hold you to ridiculous standards and on occasion get angry at you.
Unfortunately, the side effect of learning more about the world is that you know what is wrong with it. I sometimes feel like I am living in a perpetual state of anger at large corporations, the government and sometimes people (mostly, the wilfully ignorant). I cope with this by listening to loud angry music (I thoroughly recommend In Heats Wake as an environmental metal-core band), running and hiding from the world for periods of time. Anger does however keep me going, it gives me passion to fight for what I believe in and that passion has already started to affect those around me in small ways (such as eating less meat or thinking about the impact of their wrapping paper); these wins are small but they are only the start.
If you want to make a personal change, my two key pieces of take home advice are:
- Change is easiest with friends and a community to fall back on for advice (it doesn’t matter if this is online community or real life people).
- Do not judge yourself against others. Judge yourself against your own past, so long as you are improving you are on the right track even if you aren’t as good as Mr/Ms/Mx. Instagram Eco-vegan warrior extraordinaire (no one is that perfect in real life, surely?)