On How Grandparents Can Teach Us A Thing Or Two About A Better World

Is it a coincidence that the Lorax reminds us of a lovable grandfather? We think not 🙂 Source: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/418834834076379316/?lp=true

VASU: Today morning, in my daily video chat with my parents I had an interesting conversation with my grandmother. Usually she’s based in our hometown (which is a few hundred kilometers away from Mumbai), but has been temporarily visiting since temperatures have soared up (with 40 degree Celsius days – which is unusual even for us tropical folks) and water availability has gone down (currently the State of Maharashtra in India is facing a bad drought – and climate change makes it worse). I usually make it a point to call her once a month and catch up, but in these last few days in Mumbai she seems less of her usual self. Which makes sense given that her routine is interrupted and she’s had to adjust to a different sort of life (even though it may be temporary).

I think we all know the feeling when that happens – our routines are important reminders to us that life is all about having safety, security and a sense of certainty that tomorrow is not going to look any drastically different than today. For me routine is a concept I’ve had to grapple with for several years as I lived on an 8 month lease during the school year and on a suitcase that changed depending on the season (whether it was in Canada or in India). However, that is a different story for a another day 😉

Today’s story is actually based on some thoughts reading this book called Doughnut Economics (by Kate Raworth) and the idea of living in within the Doughnut or this “safe and just space for humanity” and also why connecting with our grandparents or a previous generation might teach us a thing or two about inspiration and the road ahead.

Raworth makes an interesting case for how society is functioning on economic models and ideas that were written 70 years ago. These theories fixated on abstract things like GDP as an indicator of human progress. She mentions that in the current world, progress indicators need to look quite different if we are to save our futures in time from climate change. Her solution is to simply start caring more and use these “touchy-feely” economic ideas (of social, environmental and human progress) to ensure that our decisions are actually humanistic in nature. She says, “today we have economies that grow, whether or not they make us thrive; what we need are economies that make us thrive, whether or not they grow”.

Around the same time that these traditional ideas of economic growth took off, some of our grandparents lived through one of the most turbulent times in the world – with World War II just ending and the birth of modern globalized society starting to emerge from its ruins. We all know how far we’ve come in that short span of 7 decades – where collectively humanity has overcome some of the greatest obstacles such as worldwide health epidemics (small pox, polio, Ebola just to name a few), travelled to the moon (and now Mars), reduced poverty a great deal and innovated technology that makes connect with each other than ever before.

But yet, we see countries are trying to build walls to keep diversity and change out. One example is India – where general elections just took place and the grounds for winning was nationalism (which in India means a religious majority winning on regressive cultural issues like cows, patriarchy, among other things). It took me a while to accept the fact that the world’s biggest democracy (consisting of millions of educated individuals) choose to elect a government based on this notion of so-called Indian tradition and why things like climate, food, water and good jobs were not the most important issues for the future.

MATT: For several people that are educated, empowered and consider themselves to be global citizens, it becomes hard to understand why others do not think that way when it seems more progressive, fairer and more inclusive alternative than the opposite. Yet we see populist politics rising every where – from Trump’s US to UK’s Brexit and from India’s nationalism to other authoritarian governments around the world.

VASU: I’ve been trying to figure out why and what is making people think that being regressive is the best option. And one thing crossed my mind as I was talking to my grandmother – is that people do not like change, but more importantly if they have to change (as the future will be when it comes to climate change) it will only happen when they feel safe, a sense of belonging and have certainty that their future is secured. And with all the things that globalization and capitalism brings, it has also brought with it a sense of uncertainity, insecurity and unreliability on those that are around us – making it the opposite environment to foster a safe space for large-scale and systems-level change.

As humans, we have a strong need to belong and feel accepted. But more recently, in the age of changing cultural identities and technological distractions, our sense of community has definitely taken a hit. It is in uncertain times like these that talking to our grandparents might teach us a thing or two about dealing with change. A good quote from another blog that we follow says this:

It’s the duty of Millennials to offer a wormhole, via our personal memories of our grandparents, that keeps alive the reality of certain truths: that there are times when the forces of good and evil really do starkly collide, all men (and women) must be ready to serve as citizen-soldiers, and mass solidarity and sacrifice is required. And that it’s possible to make such sacrifices and then modestly act as if doing so was really no big deal.

Similarly, my grandmother is someone that has lived through such times of volatility, raised four children mostly by herself and even managed to start farming afterwards. She’s been inspirational when she has shown confidence in the face of adversity. But today when I asked her about taking a walk in the park next door, she answered that she wouldn’t feel comfortable going alone.

For a woman who has led an unapologetic life and broke some stereotypes along the way, it made me wonder when did she start needing someone to be there when things changed. She, like the world war veterans, has had a life of ups and downs and yet now she falters when it comes to change. We often forget that grandparents are a vital source of knowledge of the past, of mistakes to avoid and of adventures to have. For anyone, old age is scary enough – but combine that with climate change and extremes (whether it is ideological or weather-related), it makes me realize that keeping those wise-old branches nurtured and feeling treasured is an important means of dealing with change.

MATT: But getting people involved in change can be a difficult task when you are dealing with someone who is more set in their ways of thinking – especially those that are one generation apart. For instance, I remember talking to my Nana about climate change more than a decade ago. We were in the middle of a cold winter and a cold spring, and she mentioned that she found it interesting that people talked about global warming considering it was so cold that year. But even as a 13-year old I knew that climate change and global warming were not just linked to the weather getting warmer. It had an impact on the earth’s climate – making hot days hotter and cold days colder. I remember saying there might be less of a distinction between seasons in the future, and now decades later we are finally starting to see it happen. Of course my Nana listened as any grandparent would, but I feel just talking about it regularly with someone who might be very set in their ways (a grandparent, parent or even someone older than you), can make a bit of a difference.

VASU: Yes, I think we need to remind those of an earlier generation that doing new things shouldn’t have to be necessity or anxiety-driven. By keeping a connection with the old and the new, we can prove that the future is better when we aren’t looking back at out-dated traditions (like in the case of India or other populist movements) or making mistakes of a past that isn’t sustainable anymore.

Today I also heard a podcast on this new book called Power of Agency – The Seven Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions and Create a Life on Your Own, and it made me realize that change often comes when something matters to you. This book is really interesting as it talks on the power of agency or confidence to do something different without feeling overwhelmed about it. It describes that isolation is the kryptonite to human agency – where it diminishes our ability to accept change/evolution. And who better to understand the cycle of change better than our grandparents.

I found it interesting that the booked talked about our ability to adapt to changing times through the 7 Principles of Agency, which are:

  1. Control our stimuli (keep those phones and distractions away!)
  2. Associate selectively (surround yourself with positive people)
  3. Move (endorphins through exercise make people happy!)
  4. Position yourself as a learner (in all situations – no exceptions)
  5. Manage your emotions (as though it is a balancing act)
  6. Check your intuition (not impulsively but as a source of additional data)
  7. Deliberate first and then act (think -> deliberate -> action)

MATT & VASU: So keep your phones down and take a walk (maybe literally) with your grandparents down the memory lane – ask them what stories they have, how they learned to accept change and make them feel valued before you start expecting them to understand today’s problems like climate change. These very human and personal connections are what will keep us going when change (including climate change) inevitably arrives in our lives.

The Plastic Dilemma

MATT: With the weather getting warmer and summer finally around the corner, it has been great to get outdoors and go for walks around town on weeknights and weekends. While its always nice to get out and enjoy a beautiful sunset and some fresh air, it is also fun to treat yourself every once in a while. On one such walk, we went to our local Dairy Queen for the first ice cream of the summer.

Of course my sweet tooth was absolutely craving more than just an ice cream cone – and given this long cold winter, it had been months since we had gone out and enjoyed a nice cool treat in the sun. Since this was the first ice cream of the season, I went all in and got a chocolate fudge cookie sundae 🙂 Not only was it delicious, but I couldn’t wait to go back and have another one. On finishing the delicious chocolate sundae, I realized that it had come in a plastic container, and there was nowhere to put that plastic container (and plastic spoon) other than in the garbage. Since started this blog, I have become more aware of things that are bad for the environment and one of the biggest culprits is the abundant use of plastic.

Sad to see plastic bags lining the branches of a beautiful tree on our evening walks 🙁

VASU: With each year almost 8 million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the ocean, it is no wonder that even the deepest parts of the planet are now plagued by plastic. Recently I saw how plastic wrappers and bags were found in the deepest part of the ocean – in the Mariana Trench, where even light doesn’t reach!! Imagine that, our destructive habits are now changing vulnerable ecosystems that have existed for thousands of years, even before our species came into existence.

According to a California-based non-profit called Plastic Oceans, microplastics are now found everywhere – including in food, drinking water and even our blood streams. Countries like Canada are big waste producers and those of you that follow the news must have heard about the recent scandal about how Western countries are exporting their plastics to developing ones like the Philippines.

This definitely makes us think that the blue box (plastic recycling we all feel so good about) is now ending up half way around the world – creating different problems (like a public health crisis due to plastic burning and land contamination). I hate to say it, but this is a classic example of a “not-in-my-backyard” attitude and it is definitely not helping reduce our plastic addiction.

Here is an excellent article in the CBC that talks about how our consumption-based lifestyles (where even small things like buying take-out) are making recycling products like plastics unsustainable. This article also talks about how the recycling industry is unable to keep up the demand that every disposable plastic (think about what’s in your fridge – from yogurt containers to individually wrapped cheese slices to frozen veggie bags) is now bringing. Yet governments or municipalities are not creating more recycling centres or even changing the supply chain (from plastic to zero waste) to meet this demand.

MATT: When you really think about it, there is plastic that comes with all foods that we buy or things we use. When we go to the grocery store, basically all the processed food is packaged or wrapped in some sort of plastic and so is the produce. Cucumbers, peppers, coconuts, even avocados are individually wrapped to “preserve freshness” and provide “appropriate portion sizes” to the consumer. Foods that are wrapped in plastic and then boxed in plastic are then purchased and placed into plastic grocery bags. We then take it home and throw that plastic away.

MATT & VASU: And with more and more landfills getting filled up and even other countries (like China and the Philippines) are finally saying no to waste – does the responsibility not lie with our elected representatives or even our large grocery-chains to deal with the plastic problem. So here you may ask, if it is their issue, why should we individuals care? Well, simply put, you are the ones that elect them or end up buying your weekly groceries from them. And these elected representatives or large grocery-stores need to respond to changing customer and social values if they are to stay relevant. Times are changing, especially with more and more young people getting access to information on harmful impacts of plastic.

We found this really interesting video from CBC marketplace which shows how different families and individuals are changing their habits when it comes to plastics at the grocery store.

CBC Marketplace video on how buying plastic-free groceries is harder than you think, but the solution lies in individual and collective action on demanding change.

Sadly, we have all seen the videos of how disposable single-use plastic straws can create havoc on marine life. The plastic dilemma is not an issue for just the government or companies. It is a question for all of us that use it in our daily lives, as to how much do we think we can do something about it?

MATT: Even if we put in the extra effort and sort and recycle that plastic most of it doesn’t end up being properly recycled. People are aware of all the needless plastic we consume and are willing to use less of it, however retailers find it cheaper and easier to use plastic to ship and sell foods so they keep doing it. When we go out shopping, we need to make a conscious effort to choose foods that have less or no plastics – that way retailers will notice our changing purchasing habits. It is a small step, but it definitely has a big impact on how many plastic bags we use!

MATT & VASU: So here are some tips from our life that can help you reduce your own plastic footprint:

  1. Bring reusable plastic bags when you go grocery shopping – now we are buying reusable cloth bags to bag produce (like carrots, peppers, beans, tomatoes, apples etc) at the grocery stores. You can check similar ones on Amazon or Well.ca.
  2. Go to your local farmer’s market to buy fresh and non-packaged food. Bring your reusable bags and don’t forget that supporting local is another step towards reducing your grocery’s carbon and travel footprint.
  3. We are looking into switching from plastic resealable bags to getting a compostable and natural alternative called bees wrap. However, this is a choice you can make by looking in the pros and cons of it. If not, try to rewash your plastic reusable bags and reuse them more than once.
  4. Know which plastic can be recycled and which cannot. This is very context and region dependent so make sure to check out what your municipality recommends. For us, here is what the Region of Waterloo recommends.
  5. One interesting tip is to reuse those milk bags and other plastic bags. Here is an article that talks about repurposing them in 11 different ways. If you are into arts and crafts, think of ways you can repurpose them into artwork or even mattresses. Here’s one resource to check out how to turn grocery bags into a rug.
  6. We recently switched from using plastic tupperware to glass tupperware for our lunches as well as in storing things. An excellent online store that is solely dedicated to not using plastic is Life Without Plastic! Check them out and see what cool home and wellness products you can buy, that will make you feel good about taking baby steps to cut your plastic lifestyle.
  7. And lastly, start talking about it! Even if it is just with your friends, partner, kids or colleagues. The first step is always awareness. And the second step is sending a letter or calling your local politician or grocery store to find out what they are doing about transitioning away from plastic.

Food Waste to Food Research

Shopping at the local farmer’s markets is a great way to make sure you have quality, delicious produce for the week.

VASU: This week started off with two things going bad in the fridge. The spinach went soft and the corn on the cob went kinda mushy – not the most ideal week when we were looking forward to having some palak paneer (pureed spinach and paneer) as well as pairing the corn on the cob with our Taco Fridays.

As upset as we were at the Kelvinator aka our fridge (the landlord refuses to upgrade or respond to any of our non-urgent requests), we also shared the blame in this week’s food disaster. To be honest, there have been times before when the food has gone bad due to the Kelvinator having a mind of its own (being from the late 90s, it sometimes gets super cold and other times it goes to room temperature – no wonder food goes bad!). And although we always feel guilty and a bit upset about having to throw food out, since starting this green life challenge to reduce our carbon footprint it makes us even more guilt-riddled than ever. So by sharing even our bad experiences, we hope that you can be inspired to make a change (like we are doing) when it comes to food waste!

Meet the Kelvinator! Okay we are guilty of overstuffing the fridge here -but hosting dinner party’s is no joke 😉

MATT: Another helpful way to look at food waste is how it affects your budget. Throwing out food literally feels like you’re throwing your money in the garbage. In Canada, more than half the food that is produced ends up going to waste at some point in the cycle, whether it be during production, retail or after the consumer has purchased it. It may seem like we’re just throwing out a little bit here and there every week, but the average Canadian household has over $1700 worth of food waste ever year.

Second Harvest, a food rescue organization, estimates that there is over 56 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions are created every year from food waste in Canada alone. A study done by the EU also says that 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by food waste. The amount of energy that goes into food waste is shocking when you think about all the processes in place from when food is produced to when it is brought home. All the energy that goes into producing the food, then shipping the food to retailers and then transporting it back home for it to not even be eaten is crazy. I remember working my first job as a butcher at the local grocery store and even meat (which has the highest carbon footprint) was thrown out on a daily basis.

Two of the main culprits for avoidable food waste have to do with buying unnecessary amounts of food and not understanding proper storage shelf life for food. People tend get all excited when food items go on sale and end up buying bulk amounts – some of which eventually gets thrown away if it is not eaten in time. We also go to the grocery store and buy food without a plan for the meals we will make that week – this is something we are trying to change in our own lives now. We found that sometimes we bought unnecessary foods that didn’t get eaten because they didn’t go in the meals we made that week.

A simple fix is to plan our meals throughout the week better so that we buy properly for the week ahead. We also need to improve our understanding of how different foods need to be kept. The shelf life of food is drastically impacted by the conditions it is kept in, whether it’s the fridge or at room temperature. Having worked at a grocery store, I know that sometimes we are also too strict about “best-before” dates and take it to mean that after that date the food is automatically no good. These dates are usually very conservative and nothing will happen once it hits midnight on the best before date. If we just make a few simple changes daily in how we purchase and eat food it can have a big impact on the environment in the long-run.

MATT & VASU: The following are some tips we found on this awesome website called Save The Food, which not only helps with food prep ideas and meal plans, but also how to store your food the right way (who knew that eggplants and tomatoes needed to be stored at room temp)! We came across this website while doing research on food waste and how to reduce it when you do meal preps. Another super helpful resource is this video by a YouTube food vlogger called Fablunch: 10 Food Waste Hacks.

A good way to eat different kinds of produce (that is about to expire) is to experiment and make recipes – here is an avocado toast with eggs and cherry tomatoes for breakfast!