What’s an ecotarian?

For us being ecotarians means that whenever we make a decision about our consumption (be that of food or any other product) we try to consider a whole myriad of ethical issues that relate to the impact of our choice on the earth. These issues include:

  • How far the product has travelled to get to us?

(Wherever possible we buy locally produced goods rather than those that have been transported halfway across the world to us).

  • What kind of labour has been used to create the product?

(Wherever possible we ensure that we know goods have been produced using ethical labour practices. For goods like chocolate and coffee, this means ensuring that they are certified Fair Trade.)

  • How much packaging has been used and is the packaging is recycled and recyclable?

(We try our best to avoid packaging, by always bringing our own bags and jars while shopping, and by buying foods in bulk from our local farmer’s markets & food co-op.)

  • Were chemicals used in the creation of the product?

(Wherever possible we buy organic or pesticide-free goods – especially fruit and veg – it is better for our health as well as for the planet.)

  • What kind of impact the product had on animals?

(We avoid products that are tested on animals or that we produced by animals under cruel conditions. We don’t eat them either.)

  • How much energy and water was required to create the product?
  • Is the product is brought to us by a corporation that is highly unethical in its business practices?

(We try to avoid supporting corporations like Kraft, Nestle, Coke or Monsanto, and even the large supermarket chains like Woolworths and Coles. Clearly this is a big challenge and one that we are still working on.)

  • Finally, and most importantly, do we actually need the product or are we are simply consuming for the sake of it?

(Clearly less is better both for us and the world.)

This may seem like an incredible pain to some people. It may seem like it would involve a life of constantly reading labels and standing, frozen with indecision, in the aisles of the supermarket. However, it is really not like that. Like any lifestyle decision it is something that becomes a natural part of your day-to-day routine. Good brands and products become familiar and what you buy becomes second nature.

So, for example, on Saturday mornings we go to the Farmers’ Market to buy our fruit and vegetables. We try to focus on buying things that are in season and we prioritise the produce that is available from the organic sellers. We often pick up some locally made tofu from a gorgeous Chinese couple and they always give our daughter a sticky rice ball filled with red bean and a ‘high five’. We also get our olive oil from a local grower (and it is amazingly good, because it is so fresh). Then we get our coffee from a coffee stand that stocks fair trade organic coffee. We buy the coffee from East Timor, because it is our closest neighbour and can do with the trade. We all enjoy the morning out: lots of our friends are there, there is good coffee, buskers and lots of friendly dogs for our daughter to pat.

During the week, we are also lucky enough to have a local farmers’ shop (Choku Bai Jo) that stocks fresh fruit and vegetables direct from farmers. They concentrate on products that are produced by local farmers, and those that are produced organically. They also have a small range of other goods – like biodynamic flours, organic pastas & cheeses, organic/free-range eggs, local honey, and fair trade/organic chocolate.

For dry goods we go to our local food co-op. We take along our jars that are already labelled with the foods that we typically buy – lots of nuts, spices, dried fruit, chai tea, lentils, quinoa, rice, tahini, tamari, etc – and we also place bulk orders for organic almonds, and biodynamic oats and flour. The volunteers that run our co-op are a lovely group of people, and there is a large kids’ corner full of toys for our daughter to play in. Unlike the supermarket, it is a pleasant shopping experience and all the

It’s true that sometimes the best choice is extremely expensive. For some of the changes that we have made it has taken us a while to get our heads around the price difference. The first time we went to the supermarket to buy fair trade cocoa (back in 2003) we came back with Cadbury’s instead. It was $2 and the fair trade organic one was $10 and we couldn’t bring ourselves to pay five times as much. But then we started thinking about the fact that each time we save money by buying unethical products we are simply externalising the cost to someone else. In the case of the cocoa we were externalising the cost to the slave workers that produce the cocoa that goes into all chocolate and cocoa that is not fair trade. For the non-organic products we were externalising the cost in damage to the earth and to the local environment of people that lived near the industrial farms. Slowly we are starting to be more consistent in living up to our own values.

It is still a challenge sometimes. Sometimes I baulk at the price of eco-friendly products and want to buy the regular one. However, other changes have made things cheaper (cleaning with bicarb and vinegar is much cheaper for example), others more satisfying (growing some of own veggies has been so fun and organic seasonal products taste so very good), and all of them have made us feel better and made us all healthier – so the advantages really do make it worthwhile.

Sometimes we do end up in the supermarket and there is no perfect choice. So, for example, we can choose between SunRice, which is grown relatively locally, but in an area that really doesn’t have enough water to sustainable farm rice, or Basmati rice, which is grown in Pakistan and transported a long way, but grown in an environment that is more suited to rice farming and in an economy that could do with our support. (At the co-op they only buy Australian rice if it is rain-fed rather than irrigated, so that is much easier!) Sometimes we find ourselves stuck out without our water bottles and have to choose between buying something made by Coke or going thirsty. Sometimes we are just lazy…

Finally, I like to think of ecotarianism as a flexible approach. The aim is not to be perfect. The aim is simply to bring a conscious mind to our consumption and to try to live up to our own values. What this means will change with each situation and will our own awareness. I also think that this means that what ecotarianism would mean to anyone else would also be quite varied – which is why, for example, it is not a very useful label to use if you are going to someone’s house for dinner, but this also means that it is a ‘label’ that makes you only responsible to yourself. It is simply irrelevant for someone to point to the inconsistencies in your lifestyle and call you a bad ecotarian the way that some people seem to feel compelled to do with veganism or vegetarianism, because the whole point is that you are simply taking each choice as it comes and making the one that feel right to you in the moment.

Hopefully, however, the end result is that we will leave a smaller footprint on the earth than we would have otherwise and we will set a good example for our daughter to follow as she grows up and makes her own consumption decisions.

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