About Nukleus

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Can 'healthy' living save the Planet? 5 things you need to know before you buy anything!

You want to be healthy. You care about your own and your family’s wellbeing. You buy organic, exercise and sometimes even look out for ‘eco’ products. You know that deforestation and plastic bags are bad, that veggies are good, and fast-food is generally going to make you fat. You take less sugar and try to avoid sodas and drinks loaded with sugar.

But what happens when you shop, and how much do you really know about how, where and by whom, the products you consume are made? Watching the coverage of the Bangladeshi garment factory collapse in Dhaka, bodies and survivors of mainly poor, young women being clawed out of the wreckage by rescuers with their bare hands,  makes us wonder where ‘healthy’ begins and ends.

Is it just in our own lives, and those of our near and dear ones, or do we have an obligation, a responsibility even, to expand our vision of a healthy life to encompass a much wider realm of systems and processes, the ecosystem of consumer production?

And what are the health implications of this, on both a personal and wider scale, not just physically, but emotionally and for society too? What is the bigger picture when it comes to making healthy choices, for ourselves and the Planet?

We’ve come up with a mental checklist of questions to ask when we’re shopping, to help understand how lifestyle choices impact on the health of the Planet and people.

1) Do I want it or do I need it? Is it true that the only way to ‘progress’ or ‘develop’ is to buy more? On a finite planet, with limited natural resources and a growing population, it’s obvious that infinite growth is not possible. Simply buying more stuff locks us into a merry-go-round of ‘work-buy-consume-die’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLBE5QAYXp8. So when you’re thinking of buying the next X, the newest Y, or the trendiest and most hip Z, stop, take some deep breaths and think: do really I want or need this?

2) Who made this? The supply chain may seem like a boring concept, but it’s key to understanding where the stuff we buy comes from and how it’s made. The Fairtrade Foundation in London interviews coffee growers and small scale banana producers struggling to survive. Gambling on the futures market, or MNCs unfair pricing policies put small producers at a huge disadvantage. Do you know how items get from producers onto supermarket shelves?  Do you really want to be buying cheap, disposable fashion, made by poorly paid, and, apparently disposable people, like the young Bangladeshi women being pulled from the rubble? So when you’re thinking of buying something, think about who made or produced it.

3) Where was this made? A friend commented recently how, looking shiny plastic toys in a street market in London, or Mamallapuram in India, she was hit by a lightning flash of revelation. Everything is made in a sweatshop in China. The realisation was a game-changer. Obviously some things are made in sweatshops not in China, say in Bangladesh, or in China in well-regulated working conditions, but as a mental rule of thumb, it works pretty well. So when you’re contemplating a purchase, take a deep, relaxing breath, and think: where was this made and how comfortable will  I feel wearing or using things produced in sweatshops?

4) Hello Environment! OK, you’ve gone through steps 1-3. You know you need it. You’ve checked out where it was made. Ok, China, but the label says sweatshop-free. You find your hand hovering towards the item like a zombie living dead thing approaching a tasty human snack. STOP! Just one tiny point more. What are the environmental impacts of this lovely shiney/soft/trendito item you’re gazing at with such hopeful lust? What went into the smartphone/ garment/ snack’food’/ trinket? Metals, mined in dangerous conditions, in mines which disfigure the landscape and pour a toxic chemical cocktail into the rivers? Cotton drenched in pesticides and consuming many times more scarce water resources than food crops? Mysterious chemicals whipped into food-like entities, turning consumers (you) into lab rats? If you don’t know the answer to any/all of these questions, how much are you willing to trust the company who’s selling you the item?

5) Is there another way to get this? Must you buy new? In Europe and the US charity shops selling second clothes, books, and household items are a much-loved feature of town centres. Why pay RM 150 for a dress when you can find better quality and new-looking iems in the Kawin or Salvation Army shops?  Check out local flea markets, garage sales or get together with friends for a ‘swishing/’ session, where you swap unwanted items. You will save money, have fun and get creative too. Think before you buy : can I make/grow/upcycle/buy this second hand?  Why waste money on new if you don’t have to?

We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this approach to a healthy lifestyle. Maybe you have some tips you’d like to share? Or maybe you think you don’t have time, you’ve got a busy life, with obligations and responsibilities. Tell us about it, and we’ll see if we can help you think of some new, effective approaches to living a healthy life.