By Elana Kirshenbaum, VegFund’s fall 2012 intern
For many activists, veganism is a way of life that extends far beyond our food choices. It’s a philosophy of living that embraces compassion and reverence for all species. And since we have reverence for all species, it’s important to consider how our choices impact the planet we share. When buying materials for events, concerns of price are always a factor, but what about the costs to the air, forests, rivers, oceans, and wildlife caused by sourcing ingredients and manufacturing? For example, one of the materials you may be using regularly during food sampling events is plastic. While convenient and cheap, our modern dependence on plastic is devastatingly harmful to the oceans and many species. When event items are thrown away throughout the day and during cleanup, do we stop to consider where it goes? While it certainly can be overwhelming to gauge the best ways to minimize our environmental impact, here are some tips to get you started and help make your activism kinder to the earth and all beings.
Bring Your Bags: When shopping for food sampling events, bring your reusable bags. Store them in your car or leave them in a visible place near your door so you don’t forget them. If you don’t have any, they can be purchased inexpensively at many supermarkets. Natural foods markets and online sources sell bags made from recycled fibers such as Chico Bags that easily stash into a small pouch. In fact, many organizations give reusable bags away to promote their business or cause, and friends may have extra bags that they would be happy to give you.
Easy on Earth Set Up & Storage: Reusable tablecloths spruce up your display, keep trash out of the landfills, and reduce our reliance on disposable plastic or paper tablecloths. You can also try reusable storage containers (e.g., used boxes, large canvas bags, recycled content plastic bins) to neatly store cutting boards, knives, literature, etc.
Trade in the Plastic: Food samples that can be eaten without plastic utensils reduce the garbage produced and the amount of plastic that gets into the ocean. Quartered sandwiches, ice cream sandwiches, and dips/spreads with crackers etc. are great because people can eat them without utensils. Other bite-sized samples can be held together with toothpicks. For scooping, earth friendly wooden taster spoons work well. If you are serving soy milk samples in small cups, or need small plates for food samples, consider post-consumer paper goods or bio-plastics made from wheat, corn, or other starches that claim to biodegrade more quickly. These can be purchased easily online, and you can save money by buying in bulk from online sources such as Green Home and Eco Products, where shipping is typically free. Buying in bulk also saves time as it allows you to have materials in stock for future events.
Choose to Reuse: When serving food, consider using serving utensils, platters, trays, and bowls that can be washed and used repeatedly. While VegFund is typically unable to reimburse for these items, they can be purchased inexpensively at discount or thrift stores and yard sales. Even better, you may already have some items at home that you don’t use or don’t want anymore. These items can become dedicated outreach-ware!
Clean Up With Kindness: Reusable cloth towels to wipe down your table and keep your area clean can be laundered with other items and save money in the long term. A spray bottle with equal parts water and vinegar is a great homemade, non-toxic, and inexpensive cleaner to keep on hand as necessary. Garbage can be placed in plastic bags made from 100% recycled plastic which are readily available in many natural foods stores and online. Just make sure that the bag is tied securely when full to prevent garbage from escaping.
Seek Donations and Older Models: Technology is changing fast. Many people are frequently upgrading to the latest equipment, and plenty of perfectly fine but used equipment is trashing the earth. Some local companies or friends may be happy to donate laptops that they no longer want. If you are interested in doing paid-per-view events, consider seeking a donation or buying used electronic equipment on eBay, craigslist, or Affordable Used Laptops to help ease the electronic pollution burden on earth.
What is Your Paper Trail? As we all know, paper comes from trees. Half of all the world’s forests have been cleared or burned already. For event flyers, brochures, recipe cards, and signs, invest in paper that has a 100% post-consumer recycled content which harms less wildlife habitat. Soy and vegetable based inks are less polluting, and there are more and more printing companies adhering to greener principles. To learn how to save money, the article, A Nonprofits’ Guide to Green Printing offers great information, tips, resources and ways to save money on earth friendlier printing. If serving food, napkins and paper towels made from post consumer fibers and no chlorine bleaching as whitening agents are readily available. You can purchase them in bulk online and in natural foods stores.
The materials we purchase and use have an impact on the earth and all living beings. When planning future events, ask yourself the following three questions before making a purchase:
- Do we really need this particular product?
- How does this product impact the earth, people, and other species?
- Can we find less harmful alternatives?
These questions can go a long way toward shifting our perspective and developing creative solutions. If you have additional suggestions, resources, or ideas on making activism more earth-friendly, we welcome your comments!