Leading an ethically conscious life can be a little harder than the life you had before the decision to change. Friends may make “ew” noises when your food contains more soy than theirs, and parents can frown and scowl when you choose not to accept a gift of tickets to the circus or a sweater made by a company known for horrendous human rights violations. Social outings to restaurants become a game of “please, let my friends choose somewhere vegan-friendly to eat!” and some people just straight out stop talking to you after they realize you are an environmentalist, animal rights activist, or humanitarian. Some people expect detailed 10-page essays on why they shouldn’t laugh in your face regardless of what else is going on in your life.
One of the major reasons people cite for not choosing a more ethically considerate lifestyle, other than the above social issues, is financial issues. Seeing a $6 cube of vegan cheese or a $200 shirt from a company that promises fair wages and treatment to its workers with ethically sourced materials can really nail in the idea that maybe you can put a price tag on morality. Your eco-friendly shampoo might cost a fortune, your organic pastry may be twice as much as a mom and pop doughnut shop snack. But just because there is an expensive way of looking at conscious decisions, doesn’t mean that this is the only way.
Being Eco-Friendly Doesn’t Mean Buying More
While consumer companies choosing biodegradable, organic ingredients that reduce packaging may be a huge step towards creating a culture of eco-consciousness, there is also something misleading about “green-labeling” or “green-washing.” Namely, that buying more eco-friendly products means that one is harming the environment less. There are two ways we can understand this statement. One: in order to be eco-friendly, one should opt out of buying non-environmentally aware products or possibly environmentally damaging products, and replace them with eco-friendly counterparts. Two: one should buy eco-friendly products whenever they see them, and that buying more eco-friendly products is good regardless of other purchases.
I think it should be clear, but buying more (especially disposable everyday items) produces more waste, whether it is mindful waste or plentiful waste. When we buy a product that promises to have the least environmental impact, we’re still contributing to our waste output. So it seems to be that a stronger environmental impact can be made from withholding purchases rather than purchasing more. Choosing to reduce puchases, reuse and refurbish old or used items, and learn proper recycling practices costs far less and may even save money for the individual. Keeping a real perspective on the goals of green labels is key to understanding that environmentalism is a form of minimalism and cost-efficiency at its highest level.
Low-Cost, Animal-Free Meals Might Just Be More Common
Ask someone who leads a plant-based lifestyle some of the core staples of their diet, and they are likely to mention food ingredients that, not surprisingly, are also considered the most cost-effective. Beans, rice, carrots, basic grains, potatoes, and other foods rank highest both on low-income meal plans and plant-based nutrition plans. While the cost of certain ingredients can change, sometimes drastically, depending on one’s location, there is often a well of foods that stays relatively cheap for many people. Unseasoned, unpressed tofu costs only one to two dollars a block in my city, with TVP (textured vegetable protein) being even cheaper. And buying either canned or fresh vegetables of certain varieties is typically cheaper than buying already prepared meals, particularly when one seeks out large local food markets.
Anecdotally, I would consider low-cost vegan living healthier than intuitive low-cost non-vegan living. Having been under the Low-Income Cut-Off of my country for a greater portion of my life, my health has suffered in the past due to the poor food options available to low-class families. Heads of low-class families are tempted to believe that fast food meals are their only option, and some classist affluent individuals are tempted to say that these nutrient lacking foods are all the poor deserve. Making the switch to veganism under the same economic circumstances opened up my eyes to a world of possibilities that gave me the energy, prosperity, and motivation to be a student, an employee, a friend, a colleague, and an individual who actively promotes healthy change in an urban environment.
Whether it’s homemade meals or homemade face masks, do-it-yourself techniques put two aspects of living directly in your control: cost management and waste management. Skip buying a frozen tofurky pizza (as delicious as they may be) and learn to make your own animal-free pizza at home using simple ingredients. Find out how to reuse coffee grinds for a facial scrub or foot massage. Many of our luxury preferences can (and some might say should) be reduced to a more hands-on approach. In this way, we often cut out excess packaging, unnecessary animal ingredients, as well as the impact of mass production and transportation of a given product.
Image source: 401(k) 2012/ Flickr