Taking the ten percent shift a little further.

I’m at home today, hoping to battle off the sick-ish feeling I’ve had all week: exhaustion, scratchy throat. Not really flat-out with it, but limping along the way we get with the onset of a cold. It’s lots of vitamins here and good food, a sick day from work and hopefully I’m on the right track again by tomorrow.

I’m thinking this morning about a new campaign started by a provincial union called The Ten Percent Shift which is all about pledging publicly to buy local — a shift in itself as the union movement has traditionally run “buy Canadian” and “buy union” campaigns without ever giving the environmental impacts of shipping a second thought. But in keeping with “greening” the labour movement and revitalizing our local communities, CUPE is putting itself out there to encourage shifting 10 percent of our purchases to local goods and services. An admirable goal to encourage, but one that I don’t think goes far enough.

About a year ago now, Brian and I pledged changing some of our consumer habits in order to reduce our own carbon footprint after we read Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth (which presents the need to do so in the most urgent of ways). I’ve always considered myself a somewhat ecological consumer – but the reality is, North American consumer design pretty much works against being so at every turn – and to get out of that trap you’ve got to work at it a little bit.

While we are far from perfect, some of what we’ve elected to do to reduce our carbon footprint in the last year includes:

  • Planting a garden.
  • Canning our own food in the summer from local produce. We purchased most of our produce in Keremeos where it is very cheap (on our way back from camping) and put up tons of food inexpensively.
  • Buying local and in-season as much as is possible. To do this, we signed up for the NOW BC Co-op and when the Main Street Farmer’s market was open, I also shopped there once a week. The only fresh food we are getting these days that does not come from BC or Washington is bananas and avocados, and those we purchase fair trade through the co-op. This of course means eating lots of canned local foods in winter.
  • Switching back to using dried beans instead of canned. We eat a lot of beans in our house, and although I used to always buy dried beans I got lazy over the years and went with canned. Which essentially means shipping water all over the place, and eating food loaded with salt for preservative. I’m really pleased we’ve switched back on this, even if it does need a little more prep work (our beans and lentils come from Saskatchewan and Washington State primarily).
  • Making our own beer and wine. Again, we don’t need to ship water all over the place and beer-making in particular is so uber-cheap it’s ridiculous.
  • Taking more books out of the library rather than purchasing them.
  • Buying bulk and storing food. It’s just much easier on the environment to purchase larger bags of things like flour, barley, rice, oats etc – and set up proper food storage at home then making multiple trips to the grocery. It also gives us the chance to source and buy local – and it brings down the price of organic goods significantly, which your chain grocer doesn’t really provide for.

Over the next year I’d like to work on consuming less overall, canning double the amount of food we did last year, and growing more food as well as getting the honey production started in our backyard. I’d also like to get back to cycling and walking for all local errands rather than getting in the car because I feel pressed for time.  When we do consume, I would like it to be from locally-owned business as often as possible – which means paying more for things (Walmart is cheap for a reason – and that reason is usually the tiny fingers of children making your goods) and buying less of them.

I get the ten percent shift though, because for a lot of people moving away from Walmart, Costco, Safeway, IKEA, and other convenient and cheap retailers is inconceivable. How do we get buy without uber-cheap food and goods given that wages are generally low and the cost of living so high in areas like housing? To which the answer for each of us is to look at how we consume. Do we need so much? Do we throw out a lot of the cheap food we do buy? (Stats say yes, that Americans and Canadians throw out on average 50% of the food they purchase because they won’t eat leftovers or let food go bad before using it). Is it possible to purchase items second-hand rather than new?

Really, it’s all in the questions we ask ourselves and how we answer them which gets us to shift any of our lifestyle behaviours. In our household, we have a *long* way to go before I will consider us truly ecological (as evidenced by my Cash Diet post of last week) but for the moment, at least we’re asking the questions and trying to figure out where the answers take us.

6 Comments on “Taking the ten percent shift a little further.

  1. Great post! We are working on being greener and more conscious consumers. We did away with our garbage pickup in August and try to recycle most everything. So, when making purchases, packaging is as important as the product.
    Need to work on my canning skills. I seem to have this fear that I’m doing something wrong, but what I have canned tastes good. We have been doing an organic garden for several years now. Hopefully by fall we should have a green house done out of mostly recycled materials.
    Will be interested in your progress in this lifestyle.

  2. Excellent post! I wish more folks had gardens since this gets them thinking in the frame of mind of feeding themselves and relying less on the big box stores to survive. Once they experience first-hand the rewards of growing their own food, the excitement builds and they conserve in many more ways. The farmer’s markets and CSAs have really taken off in the past few years here… plus it is all SO much more healthy. The children need to be taught this lifestyle in school and from their own homes.

    • I agree on the gardens – study after study shows that not only do gardens help people shift their thoughts to self-sufficiency, but people who garden eat more vegetables as a result (because you’re not going to grow it and then let it rot, right?). So having a garden = healthier, happier and more self-sufficient. I can not extoll the virtues of veggie gardening enough!

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  4. Those are great ideas on your bullet list. It’s so rewarding picking your own vegetables, especially knowing that there are no chemicals in or on them. Plus you’ll find you have lots extra for families and friends not to mention being able to freeze or can some of them. Go for it!!

  5. It is inspiring to read of your process. Asking questions and thoughtful response is the way to lasting change, at least from my perspective.

    Excellent work.

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