Green Consumerism Diary – Day One

Posted on August 2, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Background Information 

I became vegetarian when I was 19 and vegan when I was 20.  This was the beginning of the self regulation of my consumption on ethical grounds.  I was evangelical for the first few years of my vegetarianism and was very strict about my veganism.  However over time I was more relaxed on the issue, happy to answer people’s questions about my lifestyle choice but less inclined to push it onto others.  I also relaxed my veganism when on foreign holidays and then as my life became busier I relaxed it a little more.  I would now describe myself as ‘mostly vegan’.

I have subscribed to the Ethical Consumer magazine from the year 2000.  I suspect that I saw it advertised in the ‘Animal Free Shopper’, which I used to describe as the vegan bible (it lists all products and ingredients that are vegan and those that are not, and the introduction answers “why vegan?”), but the truth is I cannot remember how or why I started to subscribe to it.  I used to read it cover to cover but now I scan through it for updates and articles of interest.  I occasionally refer to the EthiScore website when making major purchase but generally I know the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ and my purchasing habits are pretty set.

At the onset of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 I asked to have my pay reduced to below the level required to pay income to tax and wrote to each of the political parties and the Prime Minister about my decision.  I also limited myself to essential purchases (food and travel) to avoid paying VAT.  Essentially I wanted to send the message “Not in my name and not with my money”.  I continued this until the end of the bombing campaign, which lasted just over two weeks if memory serves me correctly.  However I felt this kind of individual action was ineffective and I joined the Green Party after meeting then Party Leader John Barry at a peace march against the invasion.

I have been a Green Party member ever since and have stood in three elections to date.

I have a (loose) hierarchy of categories of product:

  1. Second hand
  2. Fairtrade
  3. Local
  4. Organic

I would also pay more for a product from an independent retailer rather than buy it from supermarket.  However my partner D does most of the shopping and she tends to go to large supermarkets (this has caused more contention than it should have!) though would buy organic and Fairtrade if it’s available.  We get a bag of veg delivered fortnightly from Helens Bay Organic Farm.  Our son who is 22 months old is vegetarian, except that the omega 3 in his formula milk is sourced from fish.  We also suspect that his maternal grandmother gives him meat on occasion when she is babysitting.  We have agreed that we will let him eat meat if he chooses to do so when he is older but that we will not buy or cook meat in the house.  We will see how this works in reality.

Our house is quite modern and is well insulated.  It has a condensed gas boiler.  We would both like a more eco friendly house but we are not committed to living in this one long term and are therefore reluctant to make improvements.  All the light bulbs are energy saving except for the spotlights which are still the original ones which came with the house.  We compost and recycle.  We grow some fruit and herbs in our garden but it is a tiny proportion of our consumption.

I drive a 1.2 litre Fiat Punto which is 12 years old.  It is my first car.  I purchased it in November 2009 shortly after I passed my driving test at the age of 29.  I had never wanted or needed to drive as I lived in Belfast but I then moved to Bangor and became a father and not driving became increasingly impractical.  I still try to use public transport when convenient but I do use the car more than is absolutely necessary.

Monday 2nd August 2010

Breakfast:  Jordan’s Strawberry Country Crisp with Alpro Soya milk, both bought in Sainsbury’s.

I have just discovered that Jordan’s cereal which used to be an Ethical Consumer ‘best buy’ is now rated 5 (out of 20).  While the founding company Jordans gets a rating of 16 the brand is now part owned by a number of different companies.  I suspect that I will continue to use the product as the product itself still seems relatively ‘good’ (it uses conservation grade oats) and is made in the UK, however I will keep an eye out for a ‘better’ product.  However many of the higher rated cereals are muesli which I don’t find appealing and the others are not widely available.

Alpro Soya gets a rating of 9 which is lower than I would have expected.  Again the higher rated brands are not ones I know.  Alpro is widely available in supermarkets but I tend to do a monthly shop in Eatwell, an independent health store, so I will check it for the other brands.  I generally find one brand of soya is as good as another taste wise, so long as it’s sweetened.

Sainsbury’s is rated 3.5 by the ethical consumer but to put this in context the highest rated supermarket is the Co-op with 7.  If D does the monthly shop it will mostly be from Sainsbury’s possibly supplemented in M&S and Tesco.  I would always buy as much as I can from independent stores and the rest in the Co-op.  D has almost completely boycotted Asda (0 out of 20) for the passed two years and Tesco (0.5) is next on her list.  My supermarket hierarchy would be:

  1. Co-op (Good)
  2. M&S
  3. Sainsbury’s
  4. Tesco
  5. Asda (Evil)

I used Co-op toothpaste to clean my teeth, which is BUAV approved ie it does not contain products tested on animals.  I usually buy Kingfisher toothpaste (15.5 and an EC best buy) but I can only get it in Eatwell which is in Belfast so buy Co-op own brand as my second choice.  I have a toothbrush which has a changeable head which I got from Honesty Cosmetics.  All Honesty products are vegan and eco friendly and the company is an EC Best Buy (14.5).  My shower gel, shampoo and conditioner are all from Honesty.  All my Honesty products are mail order and I realise that as well as the impact of the shipping I am not supporting my local retailers.  However vegan, eco products are not widely available in Bangor, or Belfast for that matter, and when they are they are often more expensive than I can justify paying.

I work in Stormont and drove there today (9.5 miles).  There are two buses that I can get to Stormont; one which leaves at 0815am and the other at 0930am.  Realistically I am unlikely to get the earlier bus especially on the days (usually Tues and Weds) when I get my son ready and take him to nursery before leaving for work.  The other problem is that the only bus back is at 5pm.  My work schedule is quite flexible and I can do a certain amount from home but it is rare that I finish in the office before 5pm.  My boss also lives in Bangor.  However he works equally erratic hours and travelling together does take a level of organisation.

When I first moved to Bangor I did use public transport to get to work and/or lifts from my employer.  However when it came to election time I increasingly needed my car during working hours.  Currently work is more predictable and there is no good excuse for me to take my car every day.  Maybe time to break this bad habit.

I had lunch in the Stormont canteen.  The only veggie main was a vegetable lasagne and I didn’t feel like the lentil soup so I had chips and beans.  I have spoken to the catering staff and they are aware that I am vegan, though I am the only one they know of in the building.  I have asked that they keep this in mind and when possible with keep cheese as an option on the veggie choice.  When the veggie option can be made without cheese they do this on request and are very helpful in general.  As part of my more relaxed attitude to my veganism I do not ask about the stock used in the soups (some veggie stocks would contain milk protein and/or lactose).

D and A (my son) had lunch with me today as we had to take A to the hospital.  A had creamy mash and peas and D had a prawn salad.  There would have been a time when I would have refused to buy someone lunch unless what they had was vegan, and much of what I/we buy A involves compromise as will be apparent throughout this diary.

I believe that the caterers are asked to source as much of their vegetables as possible locally but I have never looked into this.  I am not aware of any of the produce they use being organic though they do sell Fairtrade tea, coffee, chocolate, biscuits and fruit.

We drove to the hospital and back in D’s car, to get public transport would have been completely impractical in this case and there was no dilemma.  On the way back we stopped at Tesco and bought Huggies (9) nappies for A. They are the highest rated of the widely available brands.  We did try using reusable nappies when A was first born but stopped when he got nappy rash for the first time.  It was a lot more effort though it was doable.  However when we started to uses disposables for when we took A out they became increasingly the more practical option.  We did have a lot more confidence in them and they are more convenient.  I also suspect that A would not have slept through the night as early as he did if he had stayed in reusables.  I have the utmost respect for anyone who uses reusable nappies.  We have tried different brands of ‘eco’ nappies with mixed success.  The best were Sainsbury’s but we were unconvinced as to how ‘eco’ they actually are.

For dinner I had homemade (by D) sweet potato soup with Irwin’s (local) wholemeal bread with M&S Non Dairy Sunflower spread.  I usually buy Suma Organic Sunflower spread which is an EC best buy but D prefers M&S for taste.  I can console myself in the fact that were it not for me she’d be eating butter from flatulent mistreated cows.

After dinner D and I ate some chocolates from a box of Cadbury’s Heroes that she was given as a gift.  This is one of the ways in which I have relaxed my veganism out of plain, simple weakness.  When I lived alone I would never have had dairy chocolate in the house to tempt me but now that this is not the case I cave in all too easily.

A had Hipp Organic (6.5) formula milk for supper.  He was solely breastfed for the first three months and part breastfed up to six months.  I did some research into soya formulas but there is very little info.  NHS advice is not to use soya formula unless advised to do so by a GP.  I suspect that this is due to a lack of research as opposed to evidence that soya formula is dangerous but the only source that I could find that said soya formula was safe was through the Vegan Society which is hardly an independent source.  While I had major concerns about the links with dairy to allergies and asthma as well as my own ethical objections (which are slightly mitigated by Hipp formula being organic) the warnings about soya formula were so severe that I did not wish to experiment on my own child.  This was a very difficult choice for me.  Recently Hipp changed their formula and it is no longer vegetarian as it contains fish derivatives which really annoyed me, but as A will be coming off formula soon we have decided not to change.

Finally for today, I am using a power hungry lat top (provided by work) but I have been using battery power after it was fully charged.

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