Upcycling is the process of turning materials from the wastestream into new materials of higher environmental value.
Upcycle Yourself is a similar concept on a human scale, turning from agents of pollution into agents of environmental change.

Jan 25, 2011

November's resolutions: choco out (and vegan in)

In November I decided to give up chocolate for a year. This is one of those challenges that I've considered and avoided for a long time, though the moment seemed right to embrace it.

Why now? Because I've been watching people around me struggle with their own addictions--cigarettes, alcohol, coffee--while I keep stuffing myself with chocolate with the justification that it's fairtrade. And in November I was interviewed by the Institute for Humane Education, and when they asked me to list my "guilty pleasure", the obvious answer was "chocolate". If I have genuine misgivings, why not let go, and then see how I feel?

Why a year? A month would be short enough that I'd be in anticipation of an upcoming chocolate fix at the end of a mini experiment. A year feels like I'm doing it for life. A year needs to be explained to my friends, my family, my wonderful health food store folk... it's an attempt at change.

And why chocolate? This is the question that people are asking me. The shortest answer I can come up with: it seems inherently problematic to be addicted to substances that displace ecosystems, and to substances that are produced outside of our bioregion. As a society, our chocolate and coffee consumption keeps rising. It seems difficult to objectively evaluate my relationship with a substance that affects my brain chemistry, so through letting go, perhaps I'll be in a situation to appropriately assess my future relations with chocolate. And while I've been a supporter of fairtrade chocolate for years, I would often eat non-fairtrade chocolate in social settings, which is made in part by child slaves. Yet another reason to call it quits for now.

Some people promote the health benefits of chocolate for its antioxidant content, as antioxidants help eliminate free radicals, which are involved in degenerative diseases and cancer. While there is truth in this, there is a current cultural trend toward imported high-antioxidant foods, like chocolate, a├žai berries, and gogi berries, while somewhat ignoring the wealth of antioxidant-rich foods that grow easily in our backyards, like kidney beans, red cabbage, russet potatoes, and the myriad berries that grow in North America.

We've already become culturally dependent on noxious forms of energy (nuclear, foreign oil, tar sands) by overlooking regionally-appropriate solutions that could have been integrated from the beginning (passive solar, insulation, shared resources), which could have dramatically reduced our energy use. Let's not do the same thing with diet and health trends, compelling foreign ecosystems to be replaced by monocultures, for health benefits that we can attain easily at a local level through sustainable means.

I appreciate the reflections of Sandor in the book Wild Fermentation, which have helped shaped the way I feel about chocolate, sugar and coffee: "We the consumers of the affluent West have come to take for granted the constant flow of pleasure-gratifying products from faraway lands, at the great cost of precious resources such as fossil fuels (for shipping), land (which could be used to grow real food to feed people), labor (which would be better directed toward local needs), and global biodiversity. Globalized markets amount to cultural decadence. Decadence (from the word "decay") is unsustainability: behavior likely to contribute to biological or social decline or collapse."

I find there are complicated questions when it comes to our relations with foreign countries and economies, especially when many cultures have already wiped out their sustainable relations with the land and have become locked into financial dependency with rich nations. As an individual from a (financially) wealthy nation, what is the best way that I can engage in solidarity with distant cultures and distant individuals, if I'd ideally like to see a world where communities are sovereign and self-directed? Is it by minimizing my involvement with their economy, so I'm not contributing to the export of their resources to rich nations? Or is it through purchasing fair-trade products, which has some advantages over the free market system though still compels people to labor on our behalf? Or...? Or...? There are likely other approaches that I haven't been presented with or haven't thought of yet. I think these are questions that I can only fully engage in when I'm free from addiction and desire for imported products, rather than when I'm attempting to justify their consumption. Hence, a year without chocolate, giving me time to distance myself and evaluate.

Choco has been out for two months now, and all is going well, other than a dream about eating some (unfortunately dry) chocolate cake. And, as always, one joy out should be heralded with another joy in. I've recently rediscovered the joy of fresh-squeezed carrot juice (are carrots squeezed? whatever). Coming straight from my favorite family farmers, using the uglier carrots that no one is likely to eat straight up, and fresh squeezed (fresh pressed!) at home, this is a delight... especially with a little red cabbage added to up the antioxidant content.


Ah, this posting is called "choco out, and vegan in"... Chris, who I was cycling around the world with in my last blog post (well, *he* was cycling around the world... I just tagged along for a few days until we got to Montreal) became vegetarian, and then vegan, after watching the film Earthlings in November. I'm glad to have been part of that path for him, the first person to answer his curious question in October, "What's a vegan?"