Venture into the world of sustainable living, and you’ll quickly hit upon the idea of seasonal and local food. There is much that can be good about low-impact food. A confidence about how it has been produced. Freshness. Investing in smaller businesses and a food system that works for people and planet. We don’t have an exclusively plant-based diet, but our food ethos attempts to be, in the beautiful words of Yasmin Khan, ‘seasonal, abundant, plant-focused, and communal’*. And so a weekly vegetable box delivery forms the backbone of our meal planning.
My garden is falling apart. The bike basket – the one with a broken attachment which I removed before planting flowering heather in it – is now more absence than wicker. There are old speakers, which a house move consigned to obsolescence so I spent a happy half an hour removing the electronics and planting the box with nasturtiums, and then with sprawling water hyssop. Well, the side has fallen off, now propped back up as a pretence to civilised living. This has been our garden for a few years, and time is taking its toll.
And yet, I’m ok with it. Ok with the fact that one area of life required, enforced, benefited from almost full-time attention for a season. And we are learning to be kind to ourselves. Empty the diary and fill the fridge with tasty, easy food. It’s ok to stop baking bread, to get takeout one more time this month, to cancel or say ‘no’, to read all seven Harry Potter books once again (except the end of book five. He was my favourite character; it’s too much). Kindness comes in many forms.
Throughout the last decade I’ve increasingly kept my wardrobe afloat with second-hand wares – jeans from a clothes swap, a top from a charity shop, a friend’s handed-on jumper. I’ve written before about how I’ve learned to make the most of the sometimes erratic preloved offerings that line shop rails. And in general, I’ve been able to find what I needed.
There have been occasions though, when I’ve picked up something new. A pair of brown brogues, after a nine-month search for second-hand proved unfruitful. A brilliant yellow mac as a birthday gift. There has been a pragmatism in these choices. But I also discovered something unexpected: a joy in wearing something newly, beautifully made. Continue reading →
Add in coffee – which the book does – and you basically have my ideal diet (if health wasn’t a consideration. Which it is). Simran Sethi’s book journeys through the origins, production and threats to some of the world’s favourite foods in this time of monoculture, habitat loss and climate change. She teaches us – with the help of experts – to find the story in every taste, focusing on five foods: wine, chocolate, coffee, beer and bread. But her message is broader than these particular items; by understanding what we’re losing, we can start to claim it back.
I have a story to share. A sustainability fail. It went like this: we needed to buy new brush heads for our electric toothbrush. We decided to put in a bulk order, reckoning that this would mean that less packaging would be used overall (it would also be kinder on the purse in the long run). Good sustainability logic. Total fail in practice. The parcel arrived, and we opened it to find tens of packets containing just a few brush heads each.
Our lives are marked by the decisions we make. Where and how we fill our time, who we spend it with… the answers will sculpt new possibilities whilst excluding others. Our decisions can change the lives of other people too, perhaps never more so than in our increasingly interconnected world. By the time I’ve dressed and breakfasted, I’ve interacted with continents and communities – through the source of my coffee, the makers of my clothes, the components of my phone… This knowledge can sit heavily; we need to be enabled to make daily decisions aware of – but not paralysed by – the impact they will have.
Over the years, I’ve come up with a system; a series of questions I try to ask myself when making a new purchase. It is an evolving approach, informed by conversations, reading, mistakes. And it minimises the helplessness that can arise when becoming aware of how our globalised world means our pop into the local shop can have far-reaching ramifications.
When my parents set off on their greatest sailing adventure* over ten years ago, our belongings entered a storage unit. This summer they opened that repository, and a couple of weeks ago, my childhood was returned to me. It turns out my childhood fits in seven boxes.
Water is life-giving. It’s consistent – in how it flows, fills the space it enters. But water is also fluid, changeable. Abundant in some places, absent in others. It is easy to be casual with water when it springs readily with the turn of the tap. The emptying reservoir lies unseen.
Water is local. The drops we thriftily save will not, then, be available to people in drought-ridden East Africa. That’s not how water works. But it doesn’t mean we should be wasteful with it. The water from our taps has already been through the energy-intensive treatment process to make it safe for us to drink. It seems a shame, after all that, to pour it all over our unfussy vegetable plots.
Garbed in wellies, I feel a certain sense of invincibility. I can stride out, confident that my feet will step sure and stay dry throughout the day’s adventure. Wellies open up new routes. A treasured memory from recent years is of a low-tide adventure at Emsworth. It’s a place that we normally experience from the water, joining the hoards sailing on Chichester harbour. This time however, the water had receded with the tide and we were armed not with deck shoes but with wellies. Standing in the mud that we normally we sail over was wonderfully surreal; an experience heightened by the setting sun, made possible through the humble welly.