Taking Back Consumerism

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I’d like to tell you about my new pets. I brought them home toward the end of summer, and now that winter is drawing near they’re a warm and cheering presence in our apartment. It’s strange how quickly some creatures can work their way into one’s heart, but it’s also beautiful.

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Or should I say… worm their way into one’s heart. My pets are worms, and they live in our kitchen, in a cupboard next to the baking supplies. These little wrigglers eat roughly a cup of fruit and vegetable scraps every three days, and in return they make us some nice rich compost. All they need is a little TLC (food, fresh newspaper bedding every week or so, and care that their bin doesn’t get too damp or too dry).

In an outdoor ecosystem, worms like these are working hard all the time to transform leaf litter and other dead things into living soil. Soil teems with creatures too small for our eyes to see, creatures that transform and maintain critical balances. This allows plants to take root and draw up nourishment from soil, nourishment which the plants in turn pass on to plant-eating (and plant-eater-eating) creatures like us. Between the soil creatures, the plants, and the plant-eating creatures, nutrients in an ecosystem move through a three-stage cycle.

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So what does all this have to do with consumerism? And why is it that consumerism has come to feel like a dirty word? It’s for the same reason that the word ‘dirty’ has negative connotations for us, when in truth ‘dirt’ is what nourishes us and keeps us alive. Both words have been severed from their roots in ecology.

The three components of the nutrient cycle I described above go by other names: decomposers, producers, and consumers. That’s right- we humans are consumers not because we use up cheap junk, but because our role in the world is to eat other organisms, build their nutrients into the fabric of our being, and later return those nutrients to the soil when we die. For me, that’s a powerful twist on a word that otherwise makes me feel like a mindless receptacle for commodities and advertising.

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I think this reframing is especially powerful at this time of year, when consumerism of the negative kind takes on extra fervor here in North America. In past years, I’ve often felt disengaged during the Christmas season because it seems to embody so many of the things I dislike: needless packaging, shiny new toxic gadgets, and the way advertisers manipulate our sense of tradition and familial duty. Now that I see myself as a key player in life-giving cycles, both ecological and economic, gift-giving means much more to me.

When we consume using our wallets, we build into the fabric of our being the physical or emotional nourishment of whatever it was we bought, but we also contribute financial nourishment to the producers we buy from. Consuming isn’t an unfortunate reality; it’s an opportunity to nourish those who will best sustain the teeming economic soil we depend on.

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That’s why last Saturday I went to the annual local crafters’ sale down the street from my apartment, hosted by the Working Centre and featuring members of The Local Exchange. This is a network of individuals and businesses in the KW area who are practicing producerism: making useful things to sell or trade with their neighbours. When so much economic activity these days is extractive rather than nourishing, it feels empowering to be on either end of a transaction in which the participants not only share an interest in fair exchange, but are committed to the same community- the same soil, you could say.

I look forward to consuming the beeswax tea lights I bought; one of my friends, scheduled to fly to India tomorrow, will think of KW as he consumes the homemade fruit leather I purchased for him. This is what I call taking back consumerism, and it’s one of the reasons I decided to start a business myself. Money doesn’t have to be about greed. It can be about reclaiming our roles in cycles that nourish rather than destroy communities, soil, and life itself.

5 thoughts on Taking Back Consumerism

  1. We made home made gifts for all the adults this year and my kids had a good time and felt empowered that they could also give gifts. We made soap, candles and home made chai tea mix (some of the herbs which we grew in our own garden!).

    Reply
    1. Wow Monica, it sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into gift-giving. Showing kids that they can make things of their own is an awesome path to empowerment.

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      1. Shopping once a month, with a list of all your food/household products nedeed is a good first step. Means only one trip to the store gas saver. Buy loose fresh vegetables rather than those packaged in plastic. Buying at a farmers market is usually a better way to go in that area. You are supporting local farmers and cutting down the need for these products to be transported by truck over long distances. They are fresh, not products that have been treated to retard spoilage or kept in long term storage. Free range meat and poultry is better all the way around. Here again you could inquire as to what is available locally. Buy your eggs locally, fresh. Use canvas shopping bags. IF you are handy you can make them yourself. I did and have used them for 15 yrs. now. Use coolers to transport items that need to be kept cold from the store to your home. Use storage totes to transport other items that are bulkier. Process your fresh veggies when you get home by blanching and freezing for future use. Make your own soups, pasta sauces, etc., and either freeze them or can them for future use. Use freezer paper to wrap your meats, not plastic bags. Buy larger boxes of cereal, etc., then repack them into glass storage bottles (recycled from other products). I lg. box is less waste than a dozen smaller, or individual sized boxes. Rethink using paper towels. They are handy, but how many do you use? Go back to fabric towels that you can wash and reuse over and over again. Think about using dishcloths rather than sponges. By the way if you have bath towels that are a little worse for wear, cut them down and make your own dish towels, dish clothes, wash cloths out of them. Sheets that are frayed at the edges can be cut down and made into spare pillow cases, aprons, place mats, table runners, etc. By the way you could team up with a neighbor to do your shopping. Use one car for the trip, thereby using less gas. Switch off yours one month, theirs the next.

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    2. Perhaps you haven’t yet started rcyecling the many containers that package food purchases. And, maybe you have limited access to some of the greener food products on the market. Yet there are things you can do if you’re interested in a greener, more environmentally friendly household. Read on for some easy steps you can take right now. They also will save you money, adding a little extra green to your wallet! Size matters. When choosing between a large container and several small containers that add up to the same volume: Consider whether buying the large container would serve the same purpose and save you money? For example, do you really need to buy individual boxes (and more packaging) of juice if they all are drunk in the same week and at your kitchen table? It’s in the bag. While we could all carry our own reusable shopping bags when we go shopping, if we don’t we can reuse any plastic grocery bags we might accumulate to line small wastebaskets. Put a few bags in the bottom of the waste basket BEFORE you line it, so there’s another one ready to use after one is filled. Gotta have a plan! Plan ahead and shop less often for groceries or shop in conjunction with other errands taking you near a grocery store. The result is a reduction in the use and cost of fuel needed to transport food.Practice the 3 Rs. Produce less waste AND save money by practicing the 3 Rs of reduce, reuse and recycle.Here are three examples in relation to throwing away leftover food. Not only does tossing leftovers waste money, it also wastes the energy resources and packaging materials associated with the tossed food. Reduce the amount of leftover food tossed by serving smaller portions of foods that frequently produce leftovers OR … Reuse leftovers by serving them again in a day or two or freezing them for future use, OR …Recycle leftovers into a different type of meal; for example – add that extra rice to a soup the next night.Don’t be a spoil -sport. Throwing away spoiled food is related to tossing leftovers. Reduce the amount of spoiled food that gets tossed through such practices as: Read labels for use by, expiration, or best if used by dates. Refrigerate and freeze foods at recommended temperatures 0 degrees F or lower for freezers and 40 degrees F or lower for the refrigerator section. An appliance thermometer assures your refrigerator/freezer is maintaining these temperatures.Follow recommended storage times for foods. For example, some containers may specify a recommended time frame in which to eat a food after it is opened. Avoid buying so much food in bulk that it spoils before you can use it.Drink to this. Buy a reusable water bottle and fill it with tap water. Your investment soon will pay for itself.Bulk it up. Some products purchased at the grocery store, such as hand soap, can be purchased in big bottles that are used to refill a smaller bottle size. Reduce the cost and the packaging by refilling the smaller bottle.

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