The little things still count (and yes! to collective action)

We are often told that individual choices (like waste-free grocery shopping, or cycling instead of driving) are effectively meaningless compared to corporate waste: that individuals can only “start collectively taking on corporate power” to make meaningful change. I fully agree that we must act collectively, and am participating in that. However, our individual, daily actions are not meaningless: they’re the lifestyle adjustments that enable us to feel aligned with (and ease into) the large-scale changes that must occur. These choices make collective actions meaningful to us personally and encourage us to stay engaged.

Growing sprouts for year-round greens – yum!

What kind of collective and individual actions am I talking about? Read on. Also, there’s a recipe for super-simple homemade crackers at the end of this post. It’s the kind of recipe I wish I had when I was a kid: three key ingredients, a low-temperature oven, goo that turns crisp, and an invitation to invent toppings. So much fun!

If you make only one change, let it be eating less (or no) meat. You can make up your own mind about the ethical side of this, but from a purely environmental perspective, this small everyday choice is likely to have the largest positive impact on global climate. Agriculture is responsible for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, two thirds of freshwater use, and massive ecological degradation. Upwards of 50% of habitable land on this planet is used for agriculture, and 70-80% of that is used to raise and feed livestock (see Global Land Use for Food Production for a chart). Read that again: 80% of agricultural land is used to feed and raise livestock. Everyone on the planet could have access to a truly beautiful, varied, healthful diet simply by transitioning livestock-food-land to human-food-land and strategically re-wilding the rest. Solution? Reduce or eliminate your consumption of meat, especially red meat. I’m doing it: this is a simple, everyday choice that we must all make, especially those of us in the global north.

Reduce emissions every day and support waste-free enterprises. 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 (CDP), so my choice to compost isn’t going to single-handedly save the world …but it connects me to regenerative food cycles and reinforces my personal dedication to reducing waste. Every time I decide not to buy packaged goods, or decide to fix or reuse something that our entitled social narrative calls trash, or decide to do without a shiny new thing because I frankly don’t need it, I’m living within my desire for clean air, potable water, and healthy soils. That being said, neoliberalist and capitalist policy deliberately and consistently shifts the guilt for ecological collapse from corporations onto individuals, disproportionately encouraging relatively small changes (like backyard composting) to draw attention away from the gross and deliberate negligence that’s hurtling this planet toward catastrophic climate change. We do have individual agency and we are personally responsible for our actions, but we also need to hold those companies responsible. Make deliberate choices about who you support, why, and how, and be loud about it.

Speaking of which: shout out to local farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, stores like Zero Waste Emporium, and all of the other farmers, vendors, organizations, and governmental policy-makers who facilitate consumer transition. Some of us don’t have time to do extensive research before making purchasing choices.

Stay on course: don’t get distracted. Climate change denial is a big-money corporate strategy designed to stall public action so major companies can continue to make excessive amounts of money at the expense of life on the planet. 97% of climate scientists agree that not only is climate change real, but it’s a direct result of human actions: “there is a robust consensus that anthropogenic global climate change is occurring: the scientific community is in overwhelming agreement.” So – we have the science, we know what has to be done, and we know that we’re at the deadline: we must make major changes before 2030, including reducing global fossil fuel consumption by 50%. Yes, that’s reducing by half in what remains of this decade. The next time a politician or corporation says they don’t know where to start, call them out: scientists, communities, and entire countries have already figured this out. (To hear about a country-wide policy shift, check out Bhutan’s strategy.)

Lend your voice to collective action. If the most obvious solution is to break our addiction to fossil fuels, why haven’t we switched to renewable energy and enforced corporate responsibility? In a political system where professional lobbyists have daily access to governmental officials and legislators, and those with the most money have the largest voices, fossil fuel companies directly affect leadership decisions and lawmaking. Collective action like the #Divestment movement have ever-more impact on sociopolitical triggers, making space for political bodies to legislate environmentally-responsible (and fiscally-responsible) change. By 2018, more than 1,000 institutional investors with more than $6.24 trillion in assets had committed to divest from fossil fuels, which was an increase of 11,900% over only four years (Arabella Advisors). According to gofossilfree.org, $14.48 trillion [USD] has been pledged to institutional divestment. As these institutions (universities, hospitals, charities, banks, national retirement plans…) are choosing to #divest, their peers are ever-more shamed by continuing relationships with fossil fuel companies and are more likely to divest in turn. Yes, my personal investment-portfolio divestment is a proverbial drop in a bucket …but divesting my little portfolio strengthens my resolve to lend my voice to #divestment, and is a solid reminder that I have to practice that fossil-fuel-free lifestyle today.

Have fun! While we’re engaging in these collective actions, while we’re supporting change on a large scale, we get to embrace the everyday effects of those changes. These are the ways in which we divest ourselves of our entanglement with consumptive lifestyles and re-value our daily actions. Have you read The Art of Frugal Hedonism? I heartily recommend it, whether it’s an introduction to the low-waste and high-enjoyment lifestyle or a refresher for those of us who have drifted into consumerism.

Interjection about privilege: I have a full-time job and disposable income, I’m attending university as an older student, I have access to fresh and nutritious food, no young kids to care for, and I look like the dominant normative culture. I have privilege coming out of my ears. I recognize that changes are relatively easy for me to make, especially after having benefited from supportive healthcare in the past few years. To everyone out there who shares this pile of unearned privilege: because we can change, we must change.

Fun, easy food change #1: Grow greens for yourself. As much as I can, I grow lettuce, peas, herbs, and chard in pails on my balcony and a ton of kale in the soil of my community garden plot. Sprouts (little seedlings that are delicious and full of nutrition) took a while to figure out, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to buy them in single-use plastic containers that would last 500 years longer than the sprouts themselves. Eventually, I found a solution that works for us and it’s delightful – especially in the winter!

We bought this Biosta sprouter, and it has worked perfectly. I believe that it’ll last the rest of our lives, so I’m comfortable with having bought this one plastic tool instead of many, many plastic packages. There are other options, like metal screens over the lids of glass jars, but this tray system is a winner for us. We sprinkle seeds in the tray, pour water over them every day, and after a few days we have a lovely little forest of sprouts to add to salads and sandwiches. They’re surprisingly delicious under a fried (organic, free range) egg.

Sometimes we sprout seeds from my garden; sometimes we use organic, non-GMO seeds from companies like Mumms, which are sold in biodegradable packaging. A little sprinkle of seeds, a bit of water every day, and tadaaah – sprouts!

Easily the best part is watching the little dudes grow. There’s something calming and inspiring about having green growing things nearby on the darkest winter days.

Side note: But wait – couldn’t every one of those seeds become a whole plant? Isn’t this a big bourgeois waste of food? Well… maybe. Plants that produce enough seeds to be useful as “sprouts” are r-strategists: they produce a huge number of seeds in the hopes that some of them will grow to adulthood and continue the species. If you want to mimic the plant’s natural reproductive capacity, try buying some seeds and growing a few of them into adult plants; then save some of the seeds from that second generation and start again. The rest of the seeds can be sprouted or given away or fed to birds or whatever’s appropriate for your situation.

Fun, easy food change #2: Make your own crackers (and cheese)
Why yes, I was entirely surprised when I learned that I could make cheese and crackers at home. There are a million ways for you to do this, so I’ll give you a simple example of each.

I’ve always wanted a “cheese bunker”, somewhere I could let hard cheese age and ripen for years. I definitely do not have a cheese bunker in my apartment. Instead, I bought some mesophilic (“medium-temperature”) cheese starter and learned to make simple cheeses, like this lovely cottage cheese. Now I can culture the next batch from the previous one, sort of like sourdough.

I started with this cottage cheese recipe and adjusted it to suit my purposes and tools. The big ah-ha moment for me was learning that we don’t “heat” milk to 70oF: we allow it to come to room temperature and possibly rest it in warm water. That’s convenient: I can cycle to the store and buy local organic milk in a returnable glass bottle and the time out of the fridge is beneficial for culturing. Win!

Once this batch of cheese was salted and had ripened for a day, I put some on a slice of lovely ancient grain sourdough, with a drizzle of fig reduction (all handmade) and some fresh chives from the balcony garden. Delicious!

Crackers always seemed like magical, mysterious, baking-science. I’m sure a million cracker-bakers are rolling their eyes at me right now, but don’t worry: I’ve learned the error of my ways. I stumbled upon this “Flackers” (flaxseed crackers) recipe and video: props to Chef John for creating a totally approachable cracker-making adventure.

My happy-face cracker lunch: some of that cottage cheese, salted, herbed, and smushed into a sort of cream cheese; and a dollop of nut butter.

This is where I think kids could have a ton of fun, mixing up strange combinations of cracker toppings. 😀

Recipe: Flax crackers (with chia and hemp hearts)
At the heart of this recipe is a very simple combination: equal volumes of flax seeds and water (for example, once cup of each). Add spices, herbs, salt, etc. if you’re so inclined.

The recipe below is a double-batch, because I don’t have much free time these days. I switched out some of the flax seeds for chia and hemp hearts, because it’s what I had in the cupboard. Epic!

Key ingredients:
1 1/3 cup whole flax seeds
1/3 cup whole chia seeds
1/3 cup hemp hearts
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt

You can use any combination of herbs and spices for your crackers. I made my first batch with a mix of herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, etc.) and garlic powder, and that was delicious!

If you want to try more of an umami flavour, try this:
1 1/2 tsp tamari sauce
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp kelp in very small flakes or powder (if you keep dried kelp in the house, I suggest having a jar to store the little broken bits, then grind them)

Aim for organic and local ingredients, of course, but first use up whatever is in your cupboard. I’ve found that this is a good way to use up random old spices and have a different flavour of cracker every time.

  1. Mix everything together in a bowl or container. Cover and place in the fridge overnight.
  2. The next day, the seeds will have expanded and will be clinging together in a sort of natural glue (it’s produced by the seeds and is totally normal). Stir this up thoroughly.
  3. Spread this on silicone baking sheets on baking trays. I find that one cup of flax = one baking sheet, so for this double-batch recipe I used two sheets. I like to use a spatula and keep spreading the mix until the seeds are, like Chef John suggests, “piled about three seeds thick” and evenly distributed.
  4. Use a flat tool, like a bench scraper or the dull side of a knife, to divide the mix into cracker-sized rectangles. When they’re cooked, you’ll be able to break the crackers apart along these lines.
  5. Place the baking sheets in the oven* at 200oF for about an hour. Rotate the sheets and turn off the heat for an hour. Turn the oven back on to 200oF for a third hour, and somewhere in there you’ll smell the delicious herbs/spices as they bake.

    *You could probably do this in a solar cooker, but I haven’t built one yet so can’t say that with authority.
  6. Once the crackers are done (which is whenever they’re crispy), take them out of the oven and let them cool. Peel them off the silicone and enjoy. Store for however long they happen to last in your house.

    Serve with anything: cheese, roasted and mashed veggies, bean paste….

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