Among my Christmas gifts this year was a book from my wishlist – How Bad Are Bananas, something I’d been wanting to read since it came up at a wine-fuelled Big Climate Conversation* in October. It’s a little out of date, having been first published in 2010, but it’s still pretty topical given that the climate crisis isn’t going anywhere. It’s a fairly easy read, running through the carbon impacts of everything from which is better paper towels or dryers for drying your hands (answer: a Dyson airblade, strangely enough, although if you’re taking lots of flights and driving around in a 4×4 then don’t fret about how you’re drying your hands) to volcanoes and (sadly topically as Australia burns) forest fires.
As well as the carbon footprint of the individual items it covers it gives a few useful rules of thumb for everything else, which can basically be summed up as: don’t buy anything new if you can help it (for almost everything the bulk of its carbon footprint is in its manufacture, not its use), buy at the cheapest end of the market if you must buy something (all other things being equal, cheaper things will have been made with fewer inputs and hence less emissions), and buy British or European if you can (not just because of the transport emissions, but because European manufacturers tend to use cleaner energy to produce things).
All of this has provided fuel for thought for some unavoidable purchases we need to make for the house, but it’s also got me thinking about what we eat. Food has a huge carbon footprint, and it’s not exactly something you can buy secondhand. I’ve known for a while that we should probably be eating less dairy – and, much as I love Moo-I-5, having a dairy farm next door has just reinforced that – but I’ve struggled with the thought of giving up milk, butter and cheese, all of which I love. In the end, I realised that I’ve been thinking about it the wrong way. Just as you can benefit the environment by cutting down on how much you drive and cycling some journeys where it’s practical, even if you don’t give up your car, I could cut out some dairy products and cut my carbon emissions a bit, without going completely vegan. After trying various alternatives, I’ve discovered that oat milk is perfectly acceptable on cereal even if it’s rubbish in coffee. It also seems to have few of the environmental downsides of other plant milks – and at the back of my mind is the thought that oats are famously a traditional Scottish food so might actually be a feasible local alternative to dairy farming (I noticed that one of the local farms was growing oats last year). So we’re experimenting with replacing half the milk we buy with oat milk.
The other change we’re trying to make, which might surprise some people, is to eat more seasonally. You might have thought we already ate pretty seasonally, given all the gardening I do, but we certainly don’t grow enough to provide all the veg we eat. We’d never buy anything that had been airfreighted in – no Kenyan green beans or Peruvian asparagus for us – but we do eat things that have probably been grown in heated Dutch greenhouses or trucked in refrigerated lorries from Spain. Those little mini peppers that suddenly appeared in the shops a year or so ago, for example, have become a bit of a staple on our shopping list, and we’ve never really thought about when they might be ‘in season’. Fortunately the book has a handy list of what’s in season in the UK month by month and we’re attempting to stick to that for our fresh produce as well as what we grow already. This will also mean we’re ahead of the game when Brexit starts to really bite – I hope you all like leeks and kale. The one thing I won’t be doing, despite the fact that they’re really not bad at all, is eating bananas, because despite being a cyclist, I really cannot stand the things.
Set down in black and white like this, against the unfolding reality of what’s happening with the climate, it does feel a bit feeble – like attempting to bail out the sinking Titanic with a thimble – but it’s added to my existing commitments to cycle everywhere I can (and campaign for better conditions for everyone), put on extra jumpers rather than turn up the heating, and buy as little new stuff as I can get away with, without risking arrest for vagrancy.
What are your new year’s resolutions, if any?
* We ran one for the Women’s Cycle Forum in Glasgow and I seem to have neglected to blog about it, which is a shame because it turns out that when you get a load of stroppy cycling women together and add a couple of bottles of wine, the suggestions quickly move past ‘topping up loft insulation’ to ‘smashing capitalism’ (and the patriarchy).