Last week I started talking about my journey towards becoming an ethical omnivore and why I think it’s the best option if you care about the planet and the animals. I also pointed out how our consumption choices matter more than we can imagine, and celebrated the fact that so many companies are taking steps to become better because they realize there’s a demand for higher environmental standards.
Today, I’ll analyze the problem of greenwashing and then share the guidelines I’m following to have a more eco-friendly life:
Granted, the fact that big companies realize that consumers are demanding some sustainability and animal welfare standards entails a problem: that they deceive us through greenwashing. That is, that they want to just put a label that sounds good (bio, eco, natural, green…) or release a press notice promoting with trumpets and drums an action they’ve made, and make us believe that they are super committed when in fact the change is small or insignificant. Many times, it’s more important to look at what they don’t say than at what they say.
For example, if a brand says they guarantee “excellent life conditions for animals” but they don’t specify that they spend time outdoors or how much time they do, we must conclude they live shut in.
For example, since 2003 McDonald’s doesn’t use growth promoting antibiotics on its chickens, but this is in fact a smokescreen: most antibiotics administered to animals aren’t for that, but for “health”. The health they don’t have because they’re forced to live in conditions of overcrowding, with a diet they’re not designed to tolerate, submitted to stress, etc.
Why it doesn’t matter so much
However, greenwashing isn’t one of my main concerns. There are people that totally distrust big brands and despise all their small improvements, when I believe they’re very meaningful. When one giant of the industry makes a small change, it has more influence globally than when several small companies make big changes. In addition, the impact of the news encourages other big companies to do the same so as not to fall behind and get a bad reputation, so the effect can be awesome.
So, of course we need to support the little ones, for many reasons, including the promotion of entrepreneurship and the acknowledgement of the efforts, innovations and courage of creative minds. But I think we don’t have to go against the multinational system; we have the chance to transform it from inside.
Little step by little step, greenwashing by greenwashing, we achieve things that the environment and the animals can be grateful for. For example, now McDonald’s has announced that they’re also going to reduce the use of antibiotics on bovine cattle, and this time they don’t mean growth promoters only, but they specify they won’t allow the routine use of antibiotics against the development of infectious illnesses on the whole flock; each sick animal will be examined and treated individually.
My guidelines… for the moment
Ethical omnivorism (like veganism) isn’t just a way of eating, it’s a lifestyle. Therefore, it’s not just about choosing certain foods over others, but about taking into account in all our daily actions the impact they have on other people, the environment and the animals.
*Before I start, please note I live in Spain and many things I mention -brands, supermarkets, etc.- might only be available here, while other options that exist in your country might not exist here.
I wish I didn’t even have to name the basic stuff, but I do it because, for too many people, they aren’t basic yet:
- Recycling: I separate paper, plastic, glass and recently, thanks to the implementation in Madrid of the organic waste dumpster, those as well.
- Lights: I don’t leave the lights on when I leave a room; y turn off and unplug the electronic devices at night; I raise the blinds to have lights if it’s daytime instead of hitting the switch.
- Water: I take showers and I turn off the tap when I’m soaping my body; I try not to stay longer than I need to in the shower reflecting on life; when I’m washing the dishes, I turn off the tap between one plate and the next and I don’t open it all out; I only turn on the washing machine when it’s full.
Those are the things I’ve always done. But now, as I’ve said, I’ve taken the leap to apply these principles to the sphere of food, which is without a doubt one that has a huge impact since we need to make decisions about it every day. The center of my quest are animal products, choosing just those that guarantee some animal welfare standards:
Carrefour is a supermarket that’s doing things very well, I think it’s the most advanced one when it comes to its big bet on bio products. Here you can see the meats it sells. I eat chicken and rabbit since I’m not a fan of red meat.
I only eat eggs with the number 0 or 1, which are the ones that come from hens raised outdoors (3 means they live in cages —and, despite the pressures to forbid them and the rejection to sell them by more and more stores and restaurants, they make up 90% of the eggs sold in Spain—, and 2 means they live indoors, not in cages but still jammed and without seeing sunlight).
- Milk: Central Lechera Asturiana and Pascual are the ones that offer certifications of farming guarantees while keeping competitive prices.
- Cheese: in the Carrefour website you can see several good options, I always but it there. I recommend the Gouda cheese by Carrefour Bio and the goat cheese by Vrai. Another good brand is Pastoret, their cottage cheese is delicious. It’s sold at Mercadona.
- Yogurt: in addition to the brands previously mentioned, I like the one by Las Dos Vacas (available at Carrefour).
- Kefir: the only one I’ve tasted is the one from Carrefour Bio and I’ve found it highly recommendable.
I buy almost all my fish at Mercadona, since they apply a sustainable fishing policy. Carrefour has some good options as well, but the cool thing about Mercadona is that you can buy whatever fish product they sell without having to search for any specific seal.
What else can you do?
Of course, there are many more options, not only at supermarkets but also at markets, organic shops and herbal shops.
The key is getting used to asking. Here you have an article with 5 questions you can ask the salespeople about their animal products. They should be able to answer them, or to refer you to their supplier so you can look up their website and/or contact them. If there’s secrecy and difficulty to trace the origin of the product, it’s a bad sign.
A very cool option is to join a cooperative near you. For example, I like very much the idea of La Colmena, which allows you to know beforehand the products that will be available each week, and to choose which ones you want to buy. That makes meal planning and the organization of the rest of your grocery shopping easier. Is there anything similar where you live?
When I eat out, I don’t leave my principles at home. In these cases it’s more difficult to inquire into the animal products, especially if the restaurant is decided on the go; or you directly look up the website and see they don’t have any commitment about it.
Therefore, unless I’m 100% sure their animal products are organic, I opt for vegan dishes. It might seem like, since veganism is fashionable now, that should be easy, but it isn’t at all, which is very frustrating. They understand when you say vegetarian, but not vegan.
Many times when there are set menus, not only all the seconds are meat or fish, but all the firsts contain some animal product too. Again, what matters is asking, because most time they won’t mind adapting the dish for you; in fact, it’s good that you do so so they see there’s a demand for vegan options.
It’s not always possible, though. At fast food places (McDonald’s, Burger King, 100 Montaditos, etc.) you better settle for a mini salad and fries.
At others’ houses
However, when I go to eat at other people’s houses, I put this topic aside a little more. Perhaps because for me what matters isn’t so much the specific animal as changing the system through my consumption choices. I can’t control other people’s. I think that whatever they might have bought “extra” for me isn’t significant, and I don’t like to be annoying telling them to buy something different specifically for me. Although it is a topic I talk about with the people I know, I make sure they know my convictions… if that makes them change their diet even for one day, the day I visit them, then great. But I don’t impose my criteria.
Perhaps vegans may say that I give up my principles too easily. Perhaps they’re right, perhaps I care too much about just getting along with people (digression: in fact, I’m amazed when at restaurants if someone asks me why I’ve ordered a modified dish, I explain it to them, and still that person orders a meat dish… but I can’t judge it either since until now I also used to eat without thinking about these things, and our social structure is designed to instill in us that it’s normal). We’ll see in the future.
I have lots of clothes, but I don’t buy lots of clothes. About 1/3 of my clothes have been passed down from my cousins. Swapping clothes with people from your family and your circle of friends should be a widespread practice, I think it’s fun, it allows you to renew your wardrobe for free and it gives you the satisfaction of prolonging the life of your clothes.
I also have several items bought at second-hand shops or flea markets.
When I buy new clothes, now, I only buy either from sustainable brands or sustainable collections by big brands. Both are growing fast. In the second group I highlight those:
- The Join Life collection by the Inditex brands (Zara, Bershka, Stradivarius, Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti, Oysho).
- The Conscious collection by H&M.
- The Committed collection by Mango.
- The Reconsider collection by Springfield.
They use materials such as organic cotton or recycled polyester, and/or optimize their production processes in order to reduce water waste and promote the use of renewable energies.
I must confess I haven’t yet applied these guidelines to sport clothes, which are more difficult to find. I’ve seen Oysho has options, although I’d still need to find good shoes.
I’m not against leather, as long as:
- It comes from animals we eat. I understand it’s ok that, once they’re death, we take advantage of their skin too; in fact, I think that the most we can take out of that animal, the better. Throwing it out would be an unnecessary waste.
- They guarantee the same animal welfare standards I demand with foods. I believe that taking action when it comes to food is the most important thing, because after all leather is a sub-product… But I don’t want to give my money to suppliers whose practices I don’t know.
In this double sense, among well-known brands, I like Inditex, because of its animal welfare policy.
It’s true that the process of dyeing the leather can be very toxic, especially in those countries in which the laws aren’t as restrictive as in the European Union. But synthetic leather doesn’t seem like a great option to me, because it’s made of plastic, and that’s even worse for the planet. In addition, a piece of clothing made of leather lasts for a lifetime and more, while one made of plastic becomes useless soon.
I’m neither against wool per se, but again, it’s hard to know the life conditions of the sheep and how careful the workers are when they shear them.
I haven’t bought new cosmetics yet since I become an ethical omnivore, but I already have a list of acceptable brands. I want the products to be vegan and not tested on animals (cruelty-free). You can find many lists on the internet, but I think the most reliable ones are those released by PETA. You can check them out here. You’ll see not all of them are vegan, but you don’t have to limit yourself to those, because there are brands that aren’t 100% vegan but have many products that are.
This other list includes some more brands sold in Spain and in South America. And I’d add Herbera Biocosmética. If you don’t want to memorize brands, just take a look at the logos when you’re buying: most cruelty-free brands usually indicate clearly that they are.
Also, we need to take into account that everything made in Europe is cruelty-free; so another way to be sure something’s cruelty free if you live here is to buy products made in Europe.
Then, to see if they’re vegan, you’d just have to read the ingredients. That’s not so easy, they aren’t always obvious. This list of animal products that are often used in cosmetics can help you. Generally, if a product doesn’t have them you can deduce it’s vegan.
Or, speaking clearly. what to do with your period. Look at the huge amount of plastic waste you generate every month. I think that, after food, this is the sphere where our consumption choices can make a bigger impact towards a real change for the planet.
Until now I’ve only used pads, so I plan to go little by little. To start with, I’ll substitute conventional pads (which have over 90% plastic in their composition) with organic pads, made with biodegradable materials such as cotton and cellulose pulp. The next step would be organic tampons, just as an intermediate step towards the end: the menstrual cup. I consider that, given its durability (about 10 years), it’s the more eco-friendly option.
As I’ve said, this is just for now. This is a phase of experimenting, learning, improving and digging deeper. I’ll share my advances with you!
Take green action!
I hope these 2 posts about ethical omnivorism have made you think, and perhaps encouraged you to start implementing a small (or big) change in your life. As I always say, what matters is starting, even when you don’t have everything clear or you’re overwhelmed if you think about the future. Join the efforts to make a better world and to look after creation!