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Thoughtless Shopping a Form of Pillaging
In caring for the environment, every bit helps
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-09 07:03 (KST)   
They call us consumers. Is that what we are? Marketers (and once, I was one of them), referred to us as market segments, grouping us into LSM's based on our consumption habits, among others.

To consume means to devour, to munch through, and to guzzle. Is that what we are, guzzlers? Well, some people --you'll find them in glitzy fast food parlors like McDonalds especially -- are vulgar and rapacious in their consumption. Why care when it's all out there for you, on the shelves, in the stores, being served on a tray?

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Well, if the cashier was friendly, and you were being served quickly and efficiently, would you really care if you were eating meat that might turn your brain into a sponge? Would you really mind if the food you ate made you go mad?

There are quite a few reasons to care. The first is that if we care about ourselves, we ought to care about what we are eating, where it comes from, how it is made, and certainly, what impact collective demand is having on faraway environments. We also ought to care whether what we're eating (or reading or watching) is garbage.

Being a good consumer really means being conscientious. For example, when buying tuna, take special care that the tuna you're buying describes itself as "dolphin friendly." This means, you're not eating pieces of dolphin mixed into your tuna.

It's a small step, but an important one.

You may not think so, but when you start paying attention to all your daily buying habits, when you pay attention to how much of what you're consuming is just packaging, when you notice how much throw away garbage one person can accumulate, you begin to realize that on a massive scale, this must be having a huge impact.

In caring for the environment, every bit helps. Instead of buying sardines that come from Canada or Portugal, buy local. Why waste so much energy to bring a tin of sardines all the way here?

My personal feeling is that in South Africa especially, we base our meals, most of them, around meat. Meat is the focus, and around it we have a few smallish portions of vegetables. Wrong. It ought to be the other way around. Meat ought to be just a side dish, even an afterthought, maybe a few strips on a salad. The reason for this is twofold: First, our digestive system is long and convoluted; in fact, it more closely resembles a cow셲 than it does a lion's.

Our bodies are better adapted to digesting vegetable matter. In fact, we probably only went after meat in the first place in times of drought and famine. Second, there is sufficient protein in a balanced diet, emphasizing fruit and vegetables, as long as we are not drinking copious amounts of alcohol, coffee and sodas, which collectively impact on the body's ability to maintain protein levels and in the case of soda consumption especially, maintaining calcium.

Beyond human health, the implications of a predisposition to carnivorous intake means that huge herds of cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens have to be kept -- often in Auschwitz-like conditions -- and pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to keep them alive and growing quickly so they can be slaughtered and transferred to hamburger buns and kitchen crockery. It is not for nothing that advertisers call cow flesh beef, sheep tissues mutton, pigs pork and chickens poultry. We're meant to think that milk comes from supermarkets, or a place called Dairyland, and meats come from the meat section, not from real animals, real lives.

Diehard meat lovers -- and hey, I'm a South African that really enjoys a braai -- will find their rapacious appetites suddenly mollified when exposed for a few minutes to a local abattoir. These merchants of death have turned mass slaughter into industrial art, the picture of painful efficiency. There are countless documentaries showing footage of chicken's having their beaks snipped off (the equivalent to having your fingertips chopped off), and of "dead" carcasses still moving while suspended on meat hooks.

I am not a vegetarian, but I try to moderate the portions of meat on my plate. If at first you don't succeed in doing this, practice wondering about the animal as you swallow its flesh. How long did he or she (it?) live. How old was it? Was he or she perhaps unique in some way? Would -- let-s call her Shirley -- would Shirley have minded being packed on Styrofoam, wrapped in cling wrap and ending up as offal for the cat?

Another reason to avoid excessive consumption of meat is that meat acts as a sponge for industrial poisons. Animals consume gallons and gallons of water in their lives, along with artificial foods, and plenty of toxins and impurities are caught up in their tissues. Nuts, fruits and vegetables are far cleaner foods, in the closed systems that many farms have become. The other aspect is that the energy required to farm with fruit and vegetables tends to be less than the energy required to keep a herd of cattle on its feet.

Common sense is a good rule of thumb when shopping. Go shopping with a friend, and learn which products, foods and combinations work best. Don't forget about fiber. Fiber is what cleans our stomachs; it's the fiber that scrubs all the yucky stuff out of our internal plumbing. The intestines act as a kind of sewer, especially at one end. Eating fiber is like giving your intestines a facial. Buy high fiber cereals, wholewheat breads, wholewheat rice and wholewheat pastas. Avoid buying what you don셳 need.

One of the most important areas, and potentially harmful to the environment, for consumers, is buying and furnishing a house, and buying and driving a car. A house should fit around its occupants, that is to say, two people don't need a castle. Houses with natural lighting and heating are more comfortable and eco-friendly than houses that are intended to impress, at the expense of a small piece of Amazonian rain forest. People ought to shower rather than bath no more than once a day. In terms of cars ? one really is enough, per person. Ideally, one car ought to be shared between three or four people. Whatever is the case, the number of trips per day ought to be kept to a minimum.

If you manage to pull all this off, tell me how. In the meantime, let's see if we can change ourselves, from consumers, to conservers. Instead of simply taking for ourselves, can we give up some of those things we've become accustomed to, letting go of some of our privileges and entitlements? Perhaps we can still learn to share our world with each other, and with the birds and the bees, the animals and the trees. I for one would like to believe so.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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