A natural reaction to learning about widespread issues, whether they’re about the environment, animal welfare, or our society, is to feel overwhelmed. Some people may immediately give up, thinking, “I get this is an issue, but do my actions matter?” This logic can lead us down a slippery slope. Should we throw litter in the trash? Should we volunteer? Should we vote?
Consumer purchases (or decisions not to purchase!) can be thought of as 'voting with our dollar'. One common argument against voting with our dollar is that it can lead people to engage less in broader political actions. For example, if we spend all our energy at work, we may come home and watch Netflix all night.
I think that it's good to be aware of this human tendency, and develop strategies, such as habit building, to overcome this (more below). Undoubtedly, I agree our end goal should be to influence policy. Encouragingly, we’re already making strides in this sphere, for example, with many cities banning plastic bags.
Luckily, we don’t need to choose between taking political action or becoming more conscious consumers. Below, I'll describe a couple more reasons why I think it’s important for us to do our best to reduce waste.
Our Actions Influence Others
I mentioned above that environmental movements ultimately seek to change policy. However, an evolving cultural attitude precedes political change. Kurt Lewin, a famous psychologist, was one of the first people to discover that it is often easier to change a group than it is to change an individual. We often look towards others to reference what is appropriate. By changing our lifestyle, and being open about it, we can help normalize conscious consumerism, spark change in others, and shift our collective cultural values. These actions also influence the corporate ‘supply and demand’ chain, sending clear messages to companies about what we do and do not condone.
Aligning Actions with Values
Aligning our actions with our values creates internal harmony. Our actions allow us to ‘claim’ an identity. If it’s important for us to be voters, we vote. If it’s important for us to be environmentalists, we try to create less waste, eat minimal animal products, etc. Ultimately, our individual actions won’t change the world. Nonetheless, there’s an intrinsic value in trying to navigate our way through the world as kindly as possible. And, importantly, we’re not individual agents in this world, we’re part of a movement. We're part of a collective of people who can inspire us, and who we can inspire.
At first, changing your lifestyle will require intentionality and some effort. But virtually every single thing we do today was once an effort, from our first steps to our routine tooth brushing. I find that focusing on building mindful habits can help combat feeling overwhelmed. Habits can make powerful actions effortless. For example, cooking vegan for me is no longer an effort. In fact, it would be more of an effort for me to shop for and cook with animal products. Below, I’ll explain how you can slowly transform eating vegan, and reducing waste into habits.
Learn to Cook Vegan
Start out by swapping one meal a week for a vegan version. Get comfortable cooking in a new way. And then swap a different favorite dish with a vegan version. And then another. Alternatively, you can try out a 30-day vegan challenge, which could just be the amount of time you need to build a new habit.
Build a Less Waste 'Starter Kit’
Think about the items you use daily when you’re out and about, and then find reusable versions of these. Place these items in your bag so you always have them handy. These could include: reusable shopping bags, a reusable water bottle, a fork, a coffee mug, a metal straw, mints in a metal tin (rather than gum), or reusable cloth pads. Once it’s a habit for you to use these ‘starter kit’ items, find another household item that you frequently use and swap it out. And then another.
I hope this post gives you some hope or ideas.
Peace and plants,
Interested in learning more about veganism? Check out some of the links below:
>> For ethical questions <<
>> For tips on cooking without animal products <<
>> For health questions <<