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Let’s be honest, Episode 16: It's okay to not be perfect

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):

  1. Driving of diesel & petrol cars

  2. CO2 emissions destroying the atmosphere & creating a greenhouse effect

  3. Plastic in the ocean

  4. Coral Reefs Bleaching

  5. Natural disasters increasing in frequency; due to climate change

  6. Countries like Kiribati & Tuvalu are at risk of literally no longer existing due to rising sea levels, caused by climate change (What!?)

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:

  • Tobi Luke

  • Elon Musk

  • Mr Beast


  • Sneaker trees

  • Discovery channel

  • Verizon

  • 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?"