The Better Life Challenge

Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want

Anna Lappe
Man leaning over fence with canopy of trees above hom

It’s amazing what setting a challenge will push you to do. I don’t think we do it enough, or at least I don’t. For so long I’ve considered getting the kids to school on time a challenge, or making sure dinner’s on the table or we’re all dressed before we leave the house but as we get older these things become easier and we just slip into the habits that become our life. 

Now challenge-wise I’m not talking about climbing the twin peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro and we’re lucky to be high enough up Maslows Pyramid of Needs to not have to dodge nazis and lions every time we need fuel  or water.

I can see however that the world needs improving and I think I know how it could be done hence the challenge we’ve set for ourselves this month, knowing that every penny we spend is a vote for how we want the world to be, is to shop responsibly. Thinking about each item we buy from the beginning to end, who it affects and who it benefits and what its value is to us.

With this in mind we started keeping a diary detailing what we spend and where. We also made a list of our grievances and what we think is wrong with modern life. Obviously Laura was really good at the first thing and I absolutely excelled at the latter.

Looking at the start of a products life you have the ingredients and raw materials. Questions we asked were how were they produced? Is it sustainable? Were the peoples lives at this stage improving or are they getting exploited? Were the animals treated well, free of cruelty and allowed to be themselves? How many chemicals were used? Antibiotics? Effluent? How was it disposed of? If you can’t answer these questions you’re too far removed from the source and you need to try to find a more local supplier, someone you can look in the eyes and ask if they are happy with every process this product has been through.

A biggy for me was ‘Has this product been through a factory?’ Why am I so bothered? I used to eat a lot of Soreens Malt Loaf until this happened. No no, it wasn’t me that found the mouse but come on, ‘it must have snuck in some time between the tins being sprayed and being filled‘ just doesn’t wash with me. Because nobody noticed? No, nobody cared. I’ve worked in food factories and I know that despite the hair nets and nitrile gloves the person holding the metal detector over the line of food on the conveyor belt will get his minimum wage paycheck even if he ignores the odd bleep in his ear.

Free Range Eggs from a local farm at Withies Delicatessen in Somerset

Another biggy was ‘Does the company I’m giving my money to pay it’s taxes? Ie does the money stay in the local economy and make my fellow citizens better off?’ Is it part of this shame list or does it syphon most of it’s money offshore to make the super wealthy super wealthier?

And finally what happens to all the packaging that came with it? Now I’m not one of the plastic vilifiers, I think plastic is a remarkable material that has done huge amounts of good for our society and that most of the plastic in the much publicised oceanic whirlpool is actually produced by the fishing industry. However until the plastic industry uses recovered oils or infinitely reusable plastic then I’ll do what I can to avoid it, especially if I think it’s use is wanton or wasteful.

I’m not going to lie – it has been quite difficult, but then who ever thought that changing the world was going to be easy?

So where has this challenge taken us? Well first of all we’ve rediscovered the delights of chatting to our fruiterer about what’s in season, what’s going out and what’s coming in etc. And the quality of the fruit and veg is unbelievable. I actually feel like an idiot having taken the measly, ripen at home tut that’s been foisted on us for so long. We’ve cut down on our meat consumption and are probably averaging what the ecologically sustainable recommendations are per person, with many of our meals now being vegetable based with a little meat as an accent or flavouring. The meat that we are eating has been reared by ourselves or by people that we know such as Jeff Cracknell and Jonathon Corpe. We have plans to expand the selection we have on offer at the deli… more on that at a later date!

Our biggest problem has been that we have four fussy-ish eaters. 

Honestly, it would be easier to cram a hundred feral cats into a pillowcase than to get our lot to agree on a standardised school lunch or snack.

The end result is that we’ve been cranking out the flapjacks, cookies and cheesy crackers at the deli. We’ve also developed our own no-sugar added peanut butter and cereal, which is hard work but tastes amazing with a mix of almonds, oats, coconut and dates in it. Salted Caramel and Lemon Curd have made it onto the menu and our nightly Fair Trade Cocoa wouldn’t be the same without one of our Rainbow Marshmallows melting in the top.

Rainbow Marshmallows. Seriously.

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