When I was a kid, we lived in a suburb about an hour south of Chicago. In the summers before we moved to California, my parents used to drag me to a “you pick it” farm all the way in Indiana. After hours in the car, we’d spent the rest of the day filling trash bags with different vegetables. My mom would wash and freeze them so that we’d have fresh vegetables all through the winter (it wasn’t uncommon for us to get completely snowed in for days at a time). My parents, along with three of their best friends, would also buy a side of beef, have it butchered and divided among the four families. It seems my parents were locavores well before the term existed.
I will raise my hand right now and admit I am not the most conscientious consumer. When I’m shopping, be it for clothes, shoes or groceries, my focus is on finding the best value for my dollar. If I have to drive around town or spend time doing research to get the best deal, so be it. I happily donate items to Goodwill and sell Tyler’s gently used clothes on Craigslist. I’ve purchased from a thrift store only twice in my life because the deals were too amazeballs to pass up. I am a creature of shopping habit.
But, for the past few months I’ve been re-evaluating my habits. I’ve been paying more attention to the articles appearing in my Facebook feed with subjects about sustainability, ethics, and responsibility. I’ve read up on slow food, fair trade, farm to table, CSA’s and even composting for city dwellers. It’s a lot of information, and frankly a little overwhelming. So much of the information I’m finding seems to be about living a certain lifestyle and making very deliberate choices.
I’ll be honest; a lifestyle overhaul is not going to happen. I won’t say I’m too lazy to make big changes, but I have to acknowledge that some of the stores we shop in, like the Commissary and Exchange, aren’t going to have a large selection of socially conscious items. At the end of the day, my bottom line is still a top priority. I do know it’s time to start reducing our footprint and paying more attention to what we buy and who we buy it from. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Small shifts can add up.
I’ve made a list of 10 easy, manageable steps we can start taking toward a more sustainable household. Some cost a bit more, some require a bit of effort and some are only a matter of creating new habits.
1. Join a CSA. This one won’t be easy for my family to implement. We’re not very adventurous when it comes to our vegetables. We tend to eat the same things over and over again. I’ve seen a few of my friends’ boxes and have had to do an Internet search to find out what some of the items are. If I could find a fruit only CSA, that would be a big hit at home.
2. Follow the Rule of Three when clothes shopping. Last year I went to an event for My Sister’s Closet (an upscale retail shop, where I found one of the amazeballs deals), and a personal shopper/stylist spoke to us about creating a user-friendly closet and how to put outfits together. One thing she said stuck with me: when you're out shopping, if you want to buy an item, you have to be able to picture it working with at least three other items you own. I’ve taken that to heart and become less of an impulse shopper.
3. Make friends with your grocery store staff. We’re really lucky we live in an area with easy access to stores like Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Fresh & Easy and Whole Foods. It’s usually really easy to spot locally made products and most of the staff are more than happy to make a recommendation.
4. Consider buying into a local, grass-fed farm program. This is the one that can get pricey depending on what farm you choose. We’re not going to go vegetarian, but I feel it’s irresponsible for me to not at least look into buying meats that have been raised locally and ethically. If we decide to try this, we’re going to split the order with another family to keep the monthly payments reasonable.
5. Switch a few of your pantry staples to Fair Trade and/or Certified Organic. I’m embarrassed I never though of this before: I typed “fair trade certified pantry” into my search engine and wouldn’t you know? Amazon has an entire section for this! Seasonings, coffee, coconut oil, baking spices, sugar; the list was pretty impressive. My husband’s favorite salsa, from Costco, is Certified Organic under the Kirkland brand. I have a feeling if I paid more attention to labels I would find that many of my pantry items can be easily swapped.
6. Do the same for your beauty cabinet. This is another that won’t be easy for us. My skin is pretty sensitive and my husband has eczema so we have to be really careful about bar soap, face wash and laundry soap. Once, I switched his deodorant because there was a great sale to match my coupons (same brand, but a gel not solid). It was a disaster. Fortunately, our son has been able to use them with no problems, but it was a lesson learned the hard way. Still, I’ve added coconut oil as a moisturizer, Vitamin E oil as a leave in conditioner and I’m experimenting with brands of cruelty free deodorant (so far the crystal is pulling ahead). I read a statistic that the average woman puts 500 different chemicals on her body each day. That was sobering. All those chemicals are being absorbed through our skin and washed down our drains. Limiting them is good for our health and the planet.
7. Give gifts that give back. A few weeks ago, a friend was wearing a really pretty necklace. I asked where she bought it and she told me about a store that sells goods handmade by the Maasai. She’d just come from a warehouse sale. I hightailed it over there and bought two packs of greeting cards, five necklaces, two bracelets a cutting board and salad tongs for $52 total. Wedding gift and stocking stuffers? Check.
8. Make the Farmer’s Market a habit. Here’s another one I waffle over. I live in between several weekly markets, but not close enough to walk. It seems counter intuitive to drive 5-8 miles for breads, fruit, flowers and tamales (so good!), but at the same time, we’re supporting local businesses and eating fresh, preservative-free foods that are roughly the same cost as what I’d buy at the store. Every time we do make it to the market, we enjoy the foods we buy and new vendors keep the market interesting. Plus, it's good family time and a chance to be outdoors near the beach (don't hate).
9. Be selective with your charitable giving. Our contributions are almost always to organizations that support military families. I’m sure I could also find an organization that supports sustainability where our dollars are much needed, will go far and will really have an impact.
10. Give in to the power of suggestion. Seriously. I’ve added so many new Facebook pages, followed new people on Twitter, liked Pins and added magazines on Flipboard that are related to sustainability that it’s changed my feeds. I’m consuming more information on these subjects and the companies, brands and products are slowly starting to seep into my consciousness. Repeated exposure has made me so much more aware of issues that used to get very little of my attention. I’m even considering downloading two ethical shopping apps. Will any of this influence my purchasing? Who knows. But now when I shop I ‘spot’ things I might not have paid attention to before. Baby steps.
As the saying goes change doesn't always happen overnight. I believe everyone needs to start somewhere and it's usually the smaller, simpler changes that lead us to make even larger ones.
October is Fair Trade Month and Halloween is one of the largest candy consumption days of the year. Consider buying sustainably sourced treats for Halloween and holiday parties, and sustainably sourced cocoa, sugar and spices for baking. Some facts and statistics about chocolate and Halloween:
75 percent of households plan to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters this year. Candy sales are expected to reach $2.5 billion this Halloween.
About 4% of all candy consumption in the USA occurs on Halloween
Nearly 3/4 of Americans (72 percent) say that chocolate is their favorite Halloween treat. Chocolate scored top points among all age groups, but was most popular among those ages 45 to 60 who preferred it over other candies by 78 percent.
Theobroma Cacao is the tree that produces cocoa beans, and it means “food of the gods.” The most common tree is Forastero, which accounts for nearly 90% of the world's production of cacao beans.
It takes 400 cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate. Each cacao tree produces approximately 2,500 beans.
There are an estimated 1.5 million cocoa farms in West Africa. The average size of a cocoa farm in West Africa is 7 to 10 acres.
This post was sponsored by Nestle on behalf of their Cocoa Plan. Nestle uses 100 percent UTZ Certified cocoa in its Nestle Crunch bar as part of its $120 million sustainable Cocoa Plan launched in 2009. Read more about fair trade and sustainable cocoa initiatives on sites like FairTradeUSA, the Fair Trade Federation and BeFair.org.
Statistics from The Chocolate Council, USA Today, Exploratorium, The National Confectioners Association. Image courtesy of Sujin Jetkasettakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.