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Of Feasts, Famine, and Waste in a throw-away society - Reducing your Carbon Footprint at Christmas

© Kat Morgenstern, December 2007

EggnoggAs our taste buds have grown more decadent through the ages, we are compelled to invent ever more tantalizing culinary creations, stuffed with extravagancies. Christmas and Thanksgiving epitomize our food fetishes, with such seasonal delights as 'triple heart by-pass eggnog', loaded with eggs and double cream, ice cream, whipped cream and brandy, and similarly rich fare. In Britain this is a favourite accompaniment to steamed Christmas Pudding, which comes with a lavish serving of brandy butter. Although such seasonal delights have become traditional, they merely reflect our need to mark the feast as something special. In an age where foods from around the world have become permanently accessible with as little inconvenience as a trip to the supermarket, making something truly special has become quite a challenge and all too often special translates into 'richer and bigger is better'. Combine that with the stress of it all and it is little wonder that the incident of heart attacks spikes over the holidays.

Although we undoubtedly have gained much in terms of the everyday culinary experiences that are available to us these days, we have also lost something of the appreciation of food and their seasonal cycles. Few people are even aware of which foods are local to where they live and what their natural seasons are.

Picking through garbage for survivalIt seems obscene that increasingly obesity is posing a major threat to health in the western world, and may be accountable for as many as 365 000 death a year, while elsewhere (and in some cases, quite nearby) people are also dying from malnutrition and starvation or have to pick through garbage for survival. Meanwhile, tons of food are destroyed each year merely to keep prices stable, while more still is thrown away because they have gone past their sell-by date, or because they are considered 'imperfect' and thus 'waste', by the food industry. This scenario has taken on epic proportions. Some people have countered this wastefulness by taking up 'dumpster diving', also known as 'freeganism', not so much because they have no money to buy food, but because they object to the terrible waste that goes on.

But beyond the shame of letting all this food go to waste while millions of people around the world are starving, also consider the ecological impact of all the food and/or its packaging, which had to travel half way around the world just to end up on a dumpster near you! Throwing away locally produced food items is bad enough and of course produces the same amount of garbage, but the ecological impact is much less, just because it did not have to travel so far to get to its final dumping place.

Garbage Dump - Suffocating in our own wasteWaste is a big problem in our world. Not only does waste mean 'wasted money', both at the production as well as at the consumer end of the chain, but above all, it also means yet more garbage in a world that is already drowning in its own junk and all the resulting pollution. Worldwide, the United States is the number one leader in waste production, with 760kg per person per year! This is a shocking figure that signifies one environmental impact that could immediately be tackled, simply through consumer choices and less wasteful habits. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and share - give away those 'want-nots' rather than throwing them in the bin. And, conversely, consider shopping at charity shops and flea markets, or get creative and find new uses for old junk. Find out if there is a food co-op near you where you can buy food in bulk and without all the packaging. It will save you money and reduce the throw-away factor, since you don't have to get rid off all that unwanted packaging later.

All these simple things seem like major steps in a consumer orientated world where everything comes packaged and shrink-wrapped. Packaging has become much more than simply a utilitarian necessity - it has become a sales tool, designed to catch your attention and persuade you to purchase something, whether you need or want it or not. It takes some serious de-programming to veer away from these consumer traps and return to more sensible, earth friendly buying habits.

So, as we are at the peak of the consuming season, here are some tips for a greener, more sustainable Holiday

Chocolates
Chocolates and Christmas seem as inseparable as Easter and eggs. But did you know that the majority of the world's most popular chocolates is made from cocoa produced by child labour? And, as if that wasn't enough, of course cocoa plantations are also treated with a bunch of agrochemicals (or produced from gene-manipulated varieties). The good news is, dark chocolate is actually good for you, so don't feel to guilty over this naughty pleasure, just find some organic, fair trade varieties.
Christmas Lights
I know, everybody loves the warm cheer of Christmas lights, and I like them too. To some extend. However, some people, and businesses, are making every effort to compete with Las Vegas in terms of their energy consumption, which seems just a tad over the top. How about turning it down a little? Using fewer, more subtle lights can have a much greater and more beautiful effect and won't necessitate the building of a new nuclear power station near you just to supply the power for this annual over the top indulgence.
Christmas Tree
When buying a tree, see if you can get one that can later be planted out, instead of one that just has to be thrown away. Or perhaps, just decorate one that is already growing in your garden.
Responsible Buying
While doing your Christmas shopping, spare a minute to think about where each item came from and how it was produced. Can you buy organic, Fair trade, or, second-hand alternatives? Try to buy locally produced items, for example from local crafts people, rather than mass produced items that came from the other side of the planet. Or if you have time, why not make some gifts yourself?
Packaging
Take bags with you when you go shopping so you don't have to accept new ones every time you make a purchase. Consider how much packaging comes with your purchase and if there is any alternative that uses less. Just think about it: the more packaging the more you are paying just for stuff that will immediately be thrown away once your gift is opened. Get creative when you wrap your presents. Is it really necessary to use glossy wrapping paper that is destined for the bin anyhow?
Christmas Cards
Make your own Christmas cards or send e-cards.
Christmas Dinner
See if you can create a Christmas dinner menu with predominantly locally grown food, organic if possible.

In this sense - have a beautiful, 'evergreen' holiday season of love - and spare some love for our planet too!

Here are some wonderful websites resources with nifty tips and tricks on how to live more lightly and become more self-sufficient, even if you live in an urban environment.

This little animated presentation about 'the story of stuff' where it comes from, how it is produced and where it is going, is absolutely great, simple and to the point, and every child should watch it. The Story of Stuff

Fair Trade

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For questions or comments email: kmorgenstern@sacredearth.com

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