I want to be more environmentally conscious

and I need to pay more attention to the politics behind what and where I consume things

and by that I mean I need to stop shopping at Wal-mart.

At this point, everyone in the US knows about “going green” and the green movement. We’re bombarded with it on our televisions and product labels– things you didn’t know weren’t green are now being labeled as green products. The problem is that because ‘green’ has become a buzz word, it doesn’t mean much any more. It actually raises a lot of questions like, what does ‘green’ even mean?

I grew up in a family that is very pro-earth, you know, believers in humanities inner light– “we’re one with the planet” types. It’s actually something of a paradox since my father is a right-leaning “independent” who supports capitalism and frowns on social programs, and my mother (though a big proponent of all-natural and organic) shops at pretty much wherever has the best deal. Our ideologies didn’t necessarily match up with our practices, but I think life is like that for a lot of people– what we believe or how we think things should be do not necessarily align with what might come most easily or what seems most convenient and sensible at the time. Life is complicated enough without having to worry about what country your squash came from or what kind of politics the stores you shop at employ.

The more I get out into the world on my own the more I have to think about what kind of person I want to be– what I want to support, what matters to me, and what kind of world I want to live in. Spending my freshman year of college at Hampshire were the major drinks out of mason jars, wears clothing from thrift stores, and protests our cafeteria’s catering company for unethical business practices and the failure to use local foods definitely planted a lot of seeds, but at the time I was so overwhelmed and people seemed to crazy and radical and different from me that it was hard to really take things in. Critical distance has allowed me to sort through things a little more, and I can appreciate and understand the good things more.

I was reminded of Hampshire the other day in my English class when someone from the Great Basin Food Co-op came to speak with us. She was wearing two zip-up hoodies and a leather jacket, an off-color beanie, and drinking from a mason jar– she also went to Evergreen College, the Hampshire of the West Coast. It’s funny that I immediately felt a connection to her as “one of my people” since I always felt like an outsider at Hampshire.
Her name is Amber, and she talked to us about the founding of the food co-op, their incredible growth over the last seven years, their mission, and what food co-ops mean for communities and the country. (Check them out at greatbasinfood.coop, maybe do a Bing search of your own to find out if there’s a co-op in your area) Her talk got me totally jazzed and also really got me thinking about changes I can make in my own life to be more environmentally conscious and support businesses that support my community and things that I believe in. Here’s part of a conversation I had with Alex about being “green” and making better choices.

Alex: yeah its tough though. Although I read an article in the NYT that says the whole green shopping thing doesn’t really do anything. But I think not shopping somewhere because they abuse employees is a good reason or because they are a monopoly or whatever.

Chelsee: What does it mean by ‘green shopping’? Like shopping at co-ops, or buying things labeled as ‘green’?

Alex: Buying things labeled as green. Yes, they are green, but they said it doesn’t make a difference. They said that sometimes things are green or eco-friendly or whatever, but that A its a lot more money and B for instance 7th Generation– it’s just as “green” to use vinegar and anyways they say it doesn’t make a difference unless every product became green.

Chelsee: But the only way every product would ever become green is if that was all people bought,
because then green would be profitable.

Alex: right right, or laws and regulations.

Chelsee: But I honestly don’t think green is possible at a multi-national corporate level– at least not the way things are now.

Alex: Yeah. I mean, technically we don’t even need all of these products. We have so many and we need none of them,

Chelsee: Even if you make a product and it’s 100% environmentally friendly, the minute you ship it across the country you’ve just undone all that with the petroleum used to ship it.

Alex: Ha. True. Plus packaging and shit.

This is usually the point where I would feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the massiveness of it all, but instead I’ve come up with some little ways that I personally can do better.

1) Buy local whenever possible. I’m hoping I’ll be able to go down to Great Basin Food Co-op today or sometime this week to check it out, and with any luck I will be able to start doing grocery shopping there. The great thing about co-ops is that you can buy in bulk, which is ultimately cheaper. If I buy a membership I also get a say in what the co-op buys, who it’s run, e.t.c and I can volunteer there in exchange for a discount on the food I buy. All this means that not only will I know where my good comes from, but I also know that is local and not killing the environment with the shipping process.

2) Eat fruits and veggies that are in season. This is be especially easy if I’m buying local, but in general eating things that are in season just means that they’re not being shipping from another hemisphere– no shipping to worry about, and less pesticides and chemicals from all the different places the food has travelled through.

3) Start shopping at the thrift store. There are a few near the university, and the ones I’ve been in are all nice places– a lot of the clothing still has the original (designer) tags on them. This means too things: easier on my wallet, and I am essentially recycling clothing.

4) Put on a jacket instead of turning the heat on high. I definitely learned this from Captain Planet– it was a kid’s cartoon about these teenagers who were basically environmental superheroes– unfortunately it took like 10 years for that to sink in. Still, this winter I’m going to focus on keeping the heat low and making use of my jackets.

5) Think of my dollar as a vote– every dollar I spend is a vote in support of a companies politics. It’s impossible to know everything about every place you ever shop from (or the suppliers that they shop from), and some times it can also be really difficult to avoid places (like Wal-mart), even if you know they have terrible business practices, because they’re convenient/cheap. But by cutting down on how much money I spend at places like that, or making little changes to where I do my shopping, it can make a big different in my life which hopefully spills over into my community and so on.

6) This one is a two parter: a) Be conscience; b) don’t get discouraged. A) consists of doing all the things I listed here. B) May be a little harder. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to live this one out on a regular basis– maybe by watching Food Inc. and rereading this blog.

If you’ve got suggestions on little (and big) ways to do better, I’d love to hear ’em.