the ethics of austerity

This is not a post providing intelligent macro-level critique of neoliberal economics and capitalism. This is just some good ol’ micro-level whining. I am quite fine living on a serious budget. I’m okay making do with the clothes and shoes that are already in my closet. Although it would be nice to have a computer that wasn’t eight years old or a pay-as-you-go flip phone, they are both doing what I need them to do. And books? Movies? More than happy to be getting those from the library.

My problems are food and beauty products. I need to eat, obviously. Maybe some would disagree, but I think being clean and presentable is also a necessity. These are the two areas of my budget where there is some room for savings. And these are the two areas where, in order to spend as little cash as possible, I make choices that I hate.

Food… I’m vegetarian. I chose not to eat meat for a variety of reasons, and one of those reasons is the way animals are treated in industrial agriculture. I do chose to eat eggs and dairy, fully aware that both of those industries also have some pretty questionable and, okay, downright shitty, practices. I try to limit my dairy purchases but omg, I love cheese. And eggs are just a super easy and convenient source of protein. My dilemma now is that as an unemployed student, I can’t really afford to buy free-run, organic eggs from a local producer. We’re talking the difference between $3.59 and $6.99 per carton. Or, yes, I can afford the $3.40 price difference, but where do I stop? With eggs? Cheese? My organic apple habit? At some point it isn’t a few bucks anymore but an extra $15 or $20 per shopping trip.

Beauty…. Besides the fact that I don’t want to drench myself in a bunch of chemicals, I also have had problems with eczema since I was a teenager. I have a very simple beauty routine and I stick to very basic products. Like the $24 bottle of argan oil. Or that $16 tub of coconut oil. And just like that, I’ve spent $150. The only up side is that the products last for ages so I spend that amount a couple of times a year.

With the beauty products, I suck it up. After years of experimenting, I’ve found a handful of products that don’t make my eczema flair up and I’m sticking to them. With food…. I stand in front of the dairy case wrestling with my conscience and wishing that we lived in a kinder world. Sometimes my desire for yogurt wins out. Sometimes I spend the extra on the organic option. Sometimes I just skip buying it altogether. And none of those choices feel good. The last one seems easiest, but I still have to eat something and every choice opens up a whole new round of questions. How much fuel was used to ship this? Were the workers paid fairly? Was rainforest cleared to grow this crop? And on and on. While all of these issues are so much bigger than my monthly food budget, having money at least provides me with the option of making more ethical choices. Or at least the illusion of making ethical choices….. I’ll get on my greenwashing soap box another time!

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happy waste reduction week!

Given the City of Winnipeg’s recent garbage collection woes, I’m surprised they aren’t doing more to promote this event. Okay…. I’m not really surprised. The whole switch to this new system has been a bit of a fiasco from the start. Our neighbourhood was one of the first to receive the new bins and there was all kinds of fuss. Having lived in Brandon, where they’ve had these bins for years, I was not fazed. I was annoyed, however, that they rolled them out in March after a winter of piling snow onto the only spot the bin would fit in the back lane. We either had to put the bin in our parking spot or shovel a heap of snow over the fence. If the City had waited six more weeks I think people would have been a lot less upset. But I digress…

One of our New Year’s resolutions this year was to waste less food. I had worked on a major school project in November on fossil fuel use in the food system and was appalled to learn that almost half of food produced is thrown out. Much of that happens during processing, transportation and in the supermarket but lots happens in the home, too. Just think about what is in your fridge right now. How much of it is growing mould? How much of it smells so bad you don’t want to lift the lid off the container? I can proudly say that there is nothing in our fridge that has gone bad, which is true. But I’d also have to say that there is basically nothing in our fridge right now, period.

The 2010 report Food Waste In Canada says that “more than 50% of the $27B in food waste originated from food thrown away in Canadian homes” and that most of that waste could have been avoided. Very roughly, that works out to about $400 per person, per year. Aside from the environmental and social benefits, who wouldn’t want an extra $400 in their bank account? Or in the sock between the mattresses…

We have put a lot of thought and effort into using up food before it goes bad since making our resolution but more importantly, we’ve put more effort into planning what we’re going to eat. An article on the CBC website show 7 ways you can reduce food waste and the David Suzuki Foundation also has a handy tip sheet on ways to store food.

bike benefit calculator

CBC Manitoba has added the Bike Benefit Calculator to their website. This fun tool gives you a idea how much you can save over a year (in calories, bucks, and CO2) by riding your bike to work. Just enter the distance to work. Easy peasy.

There is lots “wrong” with this calculator, of course. It doesn’t take into account the type of car you drive, for example. And it rates your carbon footprint on the bike as zero. But it is still interesting to see what a BIG difference there is between the various modes of transportation.

number seven: be an eco-freak

In honour of Earth Day, I’m skipping ahead to number seven. Ever notice that a lot of stuff that’s good for the environment seems to costs a fortune? Installing solar panels? Expensive. Buying a hybrid or electric car? Expensive. Buying organic food or clothing generally costs more.

But on the other side, there are a whole bunch of things you can do that not only save resources, they also save money. Here are a few ideas that cost absolutely nothing:

  1. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. I know some people think this is really gross, but we cut 1/5 off our water bill just by selective flushing.
  2. Shorter showers. Yep, it is possible. And use the pause button on your shower head if you have one.
  3. Turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater.
  4. Or conversely, turn off the air conditioning and take off some clothes!
  5. Hang laundry on the line to dry.
  6. Some people are freegans. I am not. But I have joined the local Fruit Share. For a bit of my time, I get fresh local fruit for free.
  7. Compost!
  8. Beware of energy vampires. Unplug or use a power bar that can be turned off.

And a few more that might cost you a bit in the beginning:

  1. Plant a vegetable garden. Will save you money on fresh produce as well as save the fossil fuel that would be needed to get those Gala apples from New Zealand to your supermarket (unless you live in New Zealand in which case change that to “from British Columbia to your supermarket”).
  2. Use rain barrels for watering. These can be expensive to buy, but the city where I live subsidizes them so they are quite affordable.
  3. Transport yourself actively. There may be some start-up costs if you don’t have a bike or good walking shoes, but you will make it up quickly in gas savings. Heck, this might save you the cost of a gym membership too.

Any other ideas?