Let’s be honest is a Food Circle project with the aim to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to making life more sustainable, as well as the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try, instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world creating a uniquely multicultural environment.
Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!
What are we talking about today?
Many of us at Food Circle are passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. For many reasons this has it's difficulties. We are challenged by peers and overwhelming problems and it can be hard to see the difference that we are capable of making. I will share my own experience of despair, perfectionism and guilt with living sustainably and try to offer some remedies for these unpleasant feelings. I also spoke to some of the team at Food Circle, to gather their thoughts.
Why it is difficult to live a sustainable lifestyle?
1. Social pressure
Socially it isn't always easy to talk about your values if they aren't in line with the rest of the group. Being the only vegan at the dinner party makes you an inconvenience. I don't think it's always intentional, or consciously done, but the reality is that if you don't eat meat (at least in the UK where I'm from) you are massively in the minority and can be treated unfairly. People might make jokes, poke more fun at you, or exclude you altogether due to your dietary preferences. It's safe to say that by choosing something that goes against the rest of the group, you will meet your fair share of frustration and invalidation. Confrontation from others is often a good enough deterrent, and can make us afraid to go against social norms.
At least we have the individuals and organisations that have consistently raised awareness for climate action to thank. They have given us ammunition to fight back against critics. Due to the exposé of the meat industry, I can more easily defend my choices when challenged by others. I am grateful for that.
2. The scales are heavily weighted
To continue to bolster my argument, you don't have to look long at the world we live in before it becomes very logical to lose some amount of hope. Let me list a few of the glaring problems that we are facing. (Just the ones that came off the top of my head):
Driving of diesel & petrol cars
CO2 emissions destroying the atmosphere & creating a greenhouse effect
Plastic in the ocean
Natural disasters increasing in frequency; due to climate change
And I bet now you're feeling overwhelmed. Look at all these headlines, how can I even begin to start making a difference? The scales are stacked with some pretty substantial problems, and it is incredibly difficult to not feel overwhelmed. This is why I will talk later about how important it is to reframe things. Looking at the big picture, isn't the way to go.
3. Politicised climate issues
Sustainability and the condition of the planet has been politicised by world leaders. Trump in 2020 pulling out of the Paris agreement, and world leaders using the state of the planet as some kind of political leverage is just irresponsible. Don't even get me started on climate change deniers.
The UN develops sustainable development goals for countries around the world, but rather than doing what's best for the planet, countries oppose the goals for various economic reasons, but also for very political reasons. Many countries in the world directly oppose sustainable development, because they do not want to do as the west recommend, viewing the goals instead with scepticism. have the UN Sustainable development goals really been devised with deceit? Or is it more likely that they are motivated by the survival and inhumane suffering of animals living on our planet (Including us)?
It has to be said though that while there is a lot of disappointing news out there, the awareness raising initiatives of the last few decades are seeing massive results. While some countries might have politicised the issue, the fact is that many individuals and businesses are taking climate action into their own hands. You have to commend the actions of the teamtrees programme which has seen incredible generosity from all kinds of people. To name a few:
Plants versus zombies
There is some more hope in humanity with the philanthropist's billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Bill & Melinda Gates. Who have the power, influence and responsibility of entire countries and choose to make decisions that will have a real difference.
Jeff Bezos for example has committed, $10B in one decade. So far spending a total of: $1.39B on replanting trees. So it has to be said that not all of the role models and powerful individuals are ignoring these problems.
(I hope this restored some of your hope after the last couple paragraphs)
My co-worker Teressa summed things up well: there's a feeling that being sustainable is being against the odds, like things are weighted against us. She said "I was thinking about my struggle with plastic waste, striving to live a zero waste life and [I had] the realization that our society is just not set up for that lifestyle. Every little decision is daunting because it's like you have to go against the grain of the natural order. You are constantly pushed outside of your comfort zone when confronting others about your lifestyle".
It can be difficult to see the difference that we are capable of making
A couple of years ago my attitude towards being sustainable, recycling and plastic waste was along the lines of: "I am being wasteful because everyone else is". and "it's pointless to even try".
This attitude of defeatism is not helpful, but it is very logical. Individuals aren't stupid for thinking this way, they're completely right. One person cannot control and change what the rest do. One person cannot expect their single decision to be enough to see a difference in the context of some of these gigantic problems. But at the same time, their actions still matter. I will explain further what the difference is that individuals can make, but first I want to share more about this hopeless feeling. As I said earlier, I think it is rooted in being overwhelmed when observing the big picture.
How I learned to manage the "big picture" and my feeling of being overwhelmed
Obsession with the big picture will stop you taking action today. I understand it as being overwhelmed into submission. If you agree with me and taking action is better than inaction, then understanding this trap is very important. Managing these emotions is important, and the first step is to understand where it comes from.
"Don't be overwhelmed into inaction!"
I learned that to get things done, I have to zoom in, and look at myself. To manage my own life because it's not helpful to think about all the work that everyone else needs to do. And it's not helpful to think about the work that needs to be done tomorrow. I zoom into me, in the present moment, what can I do to make a difference? I believe that choosing this perspective helps me in the day and in the moment to make real change. To live my values and not be overwhelmed into inaction.
I choose to manage my self-talk, asking myself questions like "What can I do today to move myself in the right direction". And set myself up for success using SMART goals. I will set an intention, try to build a habit and to follow through, investing my time and doing my best to make that personal difference.
Once you've done this, it feels a lot better to take a step back and to look again at the big picture. I now see myself contributing to something that I believe in. The problems have become "work in progress", instead of catastrophic world-ending mass extinction events.
Olympia, one of our talent coordinators, has the right idea. She said: "About plastic usage, you can do more. I used to buy coffee every day and lots of companies still use a plastic cap on their coffees. So I decided to buy a reusable cup. In general, I try to think that even small things matter".
Once I am embodying my own values, It naturally becomes part of my conversation. I like to think that when I talk about it, I am inspiring others, spreading awareness and I do feel incredibly satisfied when I can list off the things that I'm doing to tackle the big picture.
Also check out this video by Kurzgesagt. That was helpful too :)
How I learned to manage guilt, "what is in my control?"
When I decided to let go of my defeatist attitude, and started to see some progress in my actions, a new problem manifested. Instead of feeling hopeless, and allowing myself to do nothing, I started to feel a large sense of responsibility, guilt and perfectionism.
I became obsessed with: "being the model, perfect sustainable person who is free of guilt and acts ethically". Teressa related to me about this. "[it's common for you to] feel like you can't be perfect or at least good enough, it invokes guilt for buying things with plastic packaging".
I looked for a way to feel a bit more comfortable with the waste I produce and to find some middle ground between these two stances. To show myself some compassion, to recognise the effort that I am putting in and the odds that are stacked against me. But, even with this understanding I do still find it difficult throwing anything away that could be repaired or re-used. And my heart still sinks when I see others wasting more than they need to...
In hindsight I can see that living up to my sustainable values is impossible with the current government legislation, the way that products are produced and shipped, with existing recycling initiatives, and habits of the majority of individuals. Our project coordinator Precious, related to me that she "feels the same cognitive dissonance in relation to sustainability". Where she holds a particular value, but when looking at her actions, it doesn't feel like it reflects these values. Because it's impossible to, because the odds are stacked against us.
Naturally, the realisation that there is a limited amount within my control helped here. I can choose who I vote for, the values I choose to share and encourage with others, the products that I buy, the businesses I support, the cars I drive (or don't). I can't control the legislation that my country passes, or the actions that my friends take. I can influence them and I do my best to do this every day, but in the end these decisions are not completely mine. And it's ok. I'll do my best tomorrow, and the day after.
So what's within your control?
It has to be said that this depends on what stage of life you're in. Naturally, if you have the financial means of Jeff Bezos or Mr Beast, you can do a whole lot more than a student can. But don't be disheartened!
1. Changes that we can make: "Voting with your wallet"
One way that we have power is with how we spend our money. By choosing who we want to support, and choosing the industries that we believe in. To a degree this is down to us as individuals. And individual choices matter! We are able to buy and support electric cars, we are able to invest in stocks of start-up companies that we believe in. We can choose to fund the projects that we want to see succeed. Practically creating change is not easy, and an inspiration of mine who talks about this in a practical way: is my co-worker Majid. You should read his blogs on sustainable product design.
"We are able to support what we believe in!"
2. Making change as a student, or an individual with limited finances.
Coralie from our social media team shared with me: "I personally struggle with trying to go towards a sustainable and zero-waste life as a student".
This inspired me to thinking about what students can really do, and to explore the emotional conflict of: wanting to make a difference but not having the means to do so.
One of the things I thought about was how we have these values to live a sustainable life, and as a student the funds aren't available to us. So for students who are reading this, who feel bad because they don't have the financial means to live the sustainable lifestyle that they might want to, I would say "it's okay not to be perfect". Practically, make a plan for when you do have the financial means, volunteer with NGOs, become a Food Waste Hero on Olio, help out at a food bank, go litter picking and plant some trees at your local nature reserve.
Reflect on what you can do better right now, you will have your time to choose your lifestyle of choice. It's okay to feel guilty, but your lifestyle isn't something you can completely control yet. You haven't yet gained the ability to "vote with your wallet" but we can plan and research, learn and determine our values. To make sure that we're voting for what we believe in when the time is right!
Written by: Henry Mitchell
Want to do more?
Read our other blogs:
Check out our recipes to reduce food waste:
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Donate to TeamTrees:
Download and use applications to reduce food waste
Download the international “Too good to go”
The community app, Olio, has a broader goal of sustainability. Where you can find furniture, food and all sorts, completely free! You can even borrow things from others and engage more with your community!
Download "Treeapp" and plant one tree completely free each day