Ways to be the change

Connect and learn about food without growing it yourself


Living in a city isn't ideal for growing your own food. I have been city bound for several years in London and now Vancouver. I have always wanted to grow my own food and become a little more connected to the whole process but time or space has often offered me enough of an excuse to avoid starting. This is the first year I have ever really prioritised learning about food. It's strange, with hindsight, to think it has taken me 32 years to get around to learning about something I am so reliant on and interact with every few hours. I still face the same issue of lack of space but this year I have made more time for learning. That extra time has allowed me to start a Permaculture Design Course and volunteer one day every week on an urban farm. While these experiences have taught me a lot about food they have also made me realise that food production can be very time consuming and some people simply don't and never will have the time. But what I have also discovered is that there is still lots of ways to understand, connect with and learn about food than working on a farm. Here are a list of ways you can learn more about your food without growing it yourself.

Avoid the Supermarket. Supermarkets might give off the impression that they are in it to provide healthy, affordable, nutritious meals for you and your family but lets face it, at the end of day they just want your money. The supermarket experience disconnects you from your food. Too much choice, everything wrapped in packaging so it lasts longer, picked way before it's ripe so it ripens on the way to you, lots of waste and staff who often aren't connected to the food supliers. Buying food in a supermarket is a chore and there is very little opportunity to learn about the food you are buying other than the fact it comes with another one free.

Shop at local stores instead of the supermarket. Buy your food from local grocers, delis and butchers. The experience allows you to connect with the food much more as you can ask the staff questions about the food. You'd be surprised how much information the staff in a smaller grocery store can provide if you simply ask. Most are happy to tell you and can even give you advice on other things you might like to try. There is more of an interaction between staff and the food and therefore there is more interaction between you and the food. It is often locally sourced, less packaging and you can ask them to order things in or offer advice on how it should be cooked.

A typical scene at a local farmers market

Farmers Markets allow you to speak directly to the person who most likely nurtured that carrot from seed to food. You can ask whether it is organic or not, where it was grown, how big the farm is, how many staff, do they have chickens? All of these interactions allow you to understand the process behind your food getting to your plate which makes eating it much more enjoyable.

Community Supported Agriculture or CSA for short raises the stakes once again. The concept is that you sign up in advance for a share of food for a whole season. The farmers get busy growing the food and you collect the food each week. A CSA directly connects you to your food. You eat seasonal produce that was harvested the same day, you share the experience with the farmer of abundance and shortages, and you taste what real, fresh, nutritious food is supposed to taste like. You can ask all the questions you want, you will build up a relationship with the farmers and you can more than likely actually help harvest the food if you can spare a little bit of time.

Fresh CSA food ready for the customers to collect.

Bake, Ferment, Preserve offer relatively quick and easy ways to start understanding your food a little more than just handing over money in exchange. Bake some bread, ferment some cabbage into Sauerkraut or simply preserve some pickles for winter. I can assure you that baked bread tastes considerably better than any store brought bread (N.B. this may only apply to you the baker).

Sourdough bread

Sprout some seeds. While technically sprouting seeds is growing something it is so amazingly easy and quick to do that I can't think of a good enough excuse for you not to try this at least once. It will cost you next to nothing as all you need is a window sill, a glass jar, water and some seeds. They may not feed your entire family but they offer that connection to seeing food, that you have looked after, grow. It will take you back to being at kindergarten growing cress and you will be just as excited the first time you see the seeds grow. Sprouted seeds are also incredibly nutritious for you too. Here are some great instructions on how to sprout.

A jar of nutritious, sprouted, seeds.

I know for some people the cost of food can be the main priority in all of this. While some delis and butchers can be over priced you don't need to buy all of your food from them just a few pieces once every few weeks and sprouting really will not cost you more than the price of a loaf of bread.

If you have any other suggestions for how people can start to better understand their food please share in the comments below.

How to fit a month of waste into a jar


It's been a month since I attempted to reduce my waste and replace my rubbish bin with a 420ml jar. I wanted to share some of the things I learnt during that time. Before I go on, I realised quite early into this challenge that I needed to have some clauses to make it possible.

Clause 1: I did not initially think through the fact that before I started this challenge I already had lots of food, products, etc in my flat. I soon realised that the pre-jar me hadn't been purchasing these products with the aim of fitting the waste into a jar. After almost failing on day 1 due to pre-jar Josh's sins I allowed a clause in the deal. Anything purchased pre-jar went in a separate bin. Anything purchased post went in the jar.

Clause 2: Prior to what you might think from reading these rants I actually don't live alone. Up until now I had shared my bin like any normal human does with their partner. However while my partner was very supportive and got fully onboard with the challenge this jar was only for waste I created. If we shared something that came in plastic it would be cut in half and split into the bins. I realise this seems a bit weird but it's what happened so...

Apart from that everything else went in the jar. It started as only things that I would normally send to landfill would make it into the jar and recyclable plastic would just go in the recycling. But I found that once I had switched my mind to be anti plastic it was just as easy to avoid both forms altogether. Plus while doing a bit of research on plastics and waste I discovered that plastic degrades each time it is recycled and can often only be recycled once at best. So while we think we are recycling and reducing our waste that is often not the case. This article outlines how many times different materials can be recycled.

With this in mind, I found this challenge a little easier than I imagined it would be. I think we are often guilty of imagining the worst of a situation and allow that perceived hardship to stop us even giving something a go. There was even still a bit of space in the jar at the end of the month.

How to fit a month of waste into a jar

What went into the jar?

Here is a list of things I was unable to avoid or find alternative packaging for:

  • 2 pieces of small plastic that go around the top of jars to make them appear sealed. It was only when I got home I realised the jar had this on. I never noticed how many jars have this.
  • 1 energy bar wrapper - I went mountain biking and came close to bonking so had to eat it.
  • 2 crisp packet wrappers. Fair enough, I could have easily avoided these but I am a sucker for kettle chips so I make no apologies for eating them.
  • 1 hidden water filter wrapper. It came in a cardboard box but inside was a plastic bag. It is frustrating how much hidden plastic packaging there is.
  • 1 hidden tea wrapper. More hidden packaging that was inside an innocent looking cardboard tea box.
  • 1 plastic tofu wrapper. I couldn't find a way of buying tofu that didn't come in plastic. It is actually much easier to eat meat plastic free that things like tofu, tempeh etc.
  • 1 sourdough starter wrapper. This has caused endless joy since I activated the sourdough starter so was well worth the plastic. It has also helped me make lots of treats plastic free.
  • 1 plastic wrapper on a torch/flashlight. My camping torch broke and as much as I resisted buying a new one I ended up compromising and found one with minimal packaging.
  • 2 milk lids. I switched to glass milk bottles but even they came with plastic lids. I found bottled milk the only thing that avoided glass. All soy, almond, etc milks come in very hard to recycle packaging.

That was all of it. The whole month.

How to reduce your waste?

If you would like to reduce your waste here some rules I followed that made it possible:

  1. Never take a plastic bag from a store, ever! Always take a reusable bag of some sort with you where ever you go and if you happen to forget then get creative. Stuff pockets, use armpits, teeth, whatever you have to carry your purchases home. It was your mistake to forget the bag so you have to deal with the consequences not the planet!
  2. Never go anywhere without a reusable coffee/tea mug (unless you don't have a  coffee/tea problem like me). It isn't a fair trade in my opinion to have one small drink and leave a plastic lid as memory of that drink for hundreds of years.
  3. Try to keep bags you can use for bulk supplies on you whenever you go shopping.  Ideally the non plastic kind such as cotton, hemp, bamboo etc. But if you already have some ziploc style bags they will work too.
  4. Find stores nearby that sell in bulk. I have been able to find places nearby that sell everything from nuts, rice, pasta and porridge oats to washing detergent, soap, and even toothpaste. It all comes package free as long as you bring your own bag/container (point 3). If you forget your bags then instead of using the plastic bags provided I would just grab a paper mushroom bag from the grocery area and fill that instead. If you live in Vancouver then I highly recommend adding The Soap Dispensary to your shopping routine.
  5. Avoid processed and convenience food. I found, most of the time, if it's processed or convenient it will come in non recyclable packaging.
  6. Try not to buy fruit and vegetables that are wrapped in plastic. It is worrying how difficult this can be. A lot of supermarkets have opted with the philosophy that plastic makes it look safe/clean/new. The food came from the dirt so a little more isn't really going to hurt anyone.
  7. Generally supermarkets = waste so try to find a smaller independent store or market. Often they will buy their produce locally, from smaller farms who don't have the means or need to wrap everything in plastic. Farmers markets are your friend.
  8. Buy less stuff.

I am going to continue this challenge to see how long I can keep it going. Each month I will empty the jar and start again. It's been a great exercise in changing my shopping habits and opening my eyes to just how much plastic is out there. I had never realised just how many things come in some form of non recyclable packaging. Having the waste in a clear jar is also a great reminder that this waste is going to be here for many more years than I will be so it makes it a little harder to turn a blind eye. If fitting your waste into a jar is a bit extreme for you one thing I did before this was to make note of the date each time I had to empty the rubbish bin. I would then challenge myself to extend the number of days before I emptied it again. Just doing this simple exercise helped make me much more aware of how much waste I was creating.

If you have any advice on how you have cut down your waste I'd really appreciate you sharing it below to help both myself and anyone else interested reduce their impact. If you have any questions about specific ways I was able to find package free products then get in touch below too.

The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine


"The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine" 

Like most good quotes you hear them and realise they are so obvious you kick yourself for not thinking of them first. Despite my lifelong fear of the word routine this was no different. Up until hearing this quote I have always thought of routine as a thing people who wore suits to work did and something I would try to avoid in my life at all costs. However when you actually think about it maybe a routine isn't so bad.  Obviously if I have a daily routine whereby I wake up whenever I want, sit on the sofa all day and eat ice cream the future is probably not quite going to pan out how I envisage it. However if my routine was to wake up on my own piece of land, go for a surf with friends, tend to my animals, harvest some fresh fruit and veg before having a nice organic, homegrown brunch with the family I think I would be pretty content. So maybe there's something to this routine business after all.

With that in mind I'm going to start changing my daily routine to see if I can make progress towards being the change I want to see. I'm going to challenge myself to take on a new routine every month that will push me in the right direction. Why a month?  I can't exactly set it at a random number of days! I'm a sucker for a neat bundle of time. So it's either a week, a month or a year.  A week seems a bit too easy and a year seems a bit extreme to get me started. I figure a month will give me enough time to get through the honeymoon faze, into the stage where I wish I hadn't decided to do it and then hopefully at the end will either leave me with a new routine or at the very least with a new lesson learnt.

I was thinking for a while what my first challenge would be, I wanted it to be something that would be a big step towards where I want to go. I have decided to try to watch the sunrise every morning for the month of July.

Watch the sunrise everyday for a month

There were quite a few reasons for choosing this but the main ones are:

  1. Waking and working by the sun is what the majority of the world does. In modern society, especially in cities we have become so used to relying on unnatural light to get by, we go to bed at the same time throughout the year regardless of what the sun is doing. For me this has always seemed strange and is a perfect example of our disconnection from nature. This challenge will be a good reminder and way to spend a little time each day observing mother nature doing her thing. It will hopefully also reduce my electricity usage too as I won't need lights for as many hours during the day.
  2. I have always wanted to get up and do more in the mornings, I'm way more productive in the morning than at the end of the day. I am interested in establishing a morning routine of work, exercise and meditation so this will give me lots more time to do this.
  3. Sunrise is a beautiful time of the day. It seems a shame to miss it for so much of the year.

I'll post a blog at the end of the month to let you know how it goes.