Thursday, 16 February 2012

freedom ahead

Six weeks in, and my Year of Buying Nothing New is going pretty well. Some things, like white paper, have been hard to source. Freegle this week yielded two bird feeders, and chicken wire for the allotment. I’ve been borrowing and lending a lot more things like books, and giving away quite a lot of stuff including my own produce and preserves. I’m buying the seeds we need this year, though – aiming to save a lot more next year. My Saturday Guardian has mainly been sourced from the Ellie where I have started to lurk, beer in hand, towards closing time.  Generally, though, I lack for very little.

Being in my early 50s, I find that I already have enough ‘stuff’ and clothes, probably, for a lifetime if carefully looked after and mended. But age isn’t the only factor: buying second-hand and making do with less seems to come naturally my 22-year old daughter and many of the younger people in our 36-strong Facebook group. Perhaps it’s because they have less money and are also more canny and more aware of the problems of the throw away culture.

I can sense that some of my contemporaries are uncomfortable with this little experiment and project on to me that it’s an exercise in righteous self-denial and even self-punishment. Far from it. As anyone who has experienced fasting or conscious simplicity knows, there can be an increase in connection, joy and freedom.

Freedom Ahead is the title of a lovely new film being shown by Transition Town Lewes this Friday; see here for the trailer. It documents the lives of a growing number of people across the world who are turning to the land and a simpler life, with fewer overheads, less stress and more community and more security. As an eloquent young Indonesian says in the film, ‘Security is in seeds, not money’.

Friday, 20 January 2012

checking out from the checkout

Today I’m celebrating liberation from supermarkets. I last stepped into one of these cathedrals of consumerism three months ago, before the Lewes Octoberfeast. Far from being difficult, it’s been a great relief  - as though I’ve finally come off a toxic addiction.

Looking at a recent questionnaire about food shopping by Transition Town Lewes, it appears that I’m joining a growing band of people seeking supermarket freedom: there are at least 32 people in Lewes who buy almost all their food from our two markets and local shops. The others stated that the main barriers to supermarket freedom are convenience and price. I’m going to argue that this doesn’t have to be so.

In the spirit of enquiry, I’ve kept a note this last week of all my food spending in my little diary. The backbone of our household’s food spend is a quarterly delivery from Infinity Foods of grocery items, including pulses, grains, tins, sauces, chocolate, teas, toilet paper and cleaning products. Everything that’s not fresh gets delivered to our door, for free; being wholesale it turns out incredible cheap, apportioned weekly here:
£25 Infinity Foods chickpeas, lentils, oats, rice, pasta, noodles, sauces, oils, spices
£50 weekly food market (£6 bread, £8 apples and eggs, £13 meat, £8 veg, £15 cheese)
£26 Pleasant food stores (oranges, lemons, milk, butter, biscuits)
£11 Lansdown (veg sausages, yoghurt and tofu)
£4 potatoes from sack from Ashurst Organics

Backed up with plentiful greens and some frozen fruit from the allotment, this weeks’ total  food supply, for a family of four adults came to just under £120 or about £30 a week per person for a diet that’s entirely organic or biodynamic and where all the fresh stuff is local. 

I think it's so cheap compared to supermarkets because little of this food is processed or part of the industrial food chain and because I'm not temped to just buy a few extra treats.
It's also convenient: I shop at to the market every Friday and bike down to Lansdown every Saturday. For dairy and some treats, one of us drops in at our lovely new Pleasant Stores.
It’s bliss not to have to deal with supermarkets, which are designed to dupe us into spending more on things we think we need and bombard us with choice. I hate all the packaging waste and the lifestyle messaging that we are fed in a zombie-like accepting way - including the idea that Waitrose is really much better than the other supermarkets. I’m also delighted to withdrawing my support of the industrial food system with all its own fat cats and hidden costs to the earth and people.

Most importantly, people I know who are shopping this way say they like putting their positive energy and money into systems worth supporting: local farmers and shopkeepers, wholefood coops with strong ethics and a resilient food system that is fit for purpose.

Photo by Emily Faulder

Thursday, 5 January 2012

bye buy

A few years ago a group of friends in San Francisco formed The Compact. Their quest was to buy nothing new for a year. Inspired by them, some of us here are inviting others to join us in A Year of Buying Nothing New. Our plan is to limit our shopping during 2012 to essential consumable items such as food, drink, vital health items and certain necessary things we can’t fix, get second hand or do without.

So yesterday I bought some stamps at the post office but  packed my parcels in old cardboard as I’ll not be buying brown paper this year for packaging. Nor will I buy a food dryer I’ve been coveting or a new pair of sandals this summer; the old ones will do. Perhaps for me the challenge will be not to buy newspapers or new books. But maybe not: there is so much you can get for free.

Call me a domestic extremist, but this kind of exploration excites me. It feels good, and like an appropriate response to our broken civilization. We all now know that our level of consumption is fast eating up our non-renewable resources, including minerals, topsoil and water. Making new things uses fossil fuels that have become so scarce that we’re turning to even dirtier means such as tar sands and fracking. And the waste creates toxic landscapes and, worst of all, CO2 which threatens runaway climate change in our time.

The Story of Stuff is a lovely little film that explains all this quite simply and why buying less – much less – is necessary. It’s pretty obvious now that our leaders, our corporations and our media are not going to encourage this behaviour – it’s almost unpatriotic to not help our economy grow. But in this time where we’re having to choose between economic growth and life on earth, I know where I’ll be placing my vote.

Perhaps the most persuasive reason to live with less stuff is that we’re heading in that direction anyway. It may be better to ride the crest of a wave of change than be sucked under it.