Water or Wine?

My quest for a more sustaineable life started about 3 years ago. This was when I started my Masters in Environmental Management. I soon found out that one of the major challenges in moving towards a more sustainable world is the way we consume. And more precisely, the fact that we don’t know what products are made off, where they come from, and how they are made. I can honestly say that the most useful piece of advice I can give you is to question everything you buy. 

As I said before, there are more things to sustainability than just the environment: It for instance also involves equal rights, making sure that everyone has a humane life, racism, etc. And this simple question doesn’t solve racism problems, or wars, or equality. But it surely is a big step in the right direction. As soon as I started asking myself this for every piece of clothing, food, drinks, electronics, … I realised that I did not know the where/what/how/who of these objects. And it scared me. It really did.

The chemicals in our clothes, the prison-sweatshops in which people are in risk of death just so we could wear that cute/cheap Primark top, the chemicals used producing meat, the pollution caused by meat production, the abuse of fruit/vegetable-pickers, the distance our food covers before it reaches your local supermarket, the wars over certain chemical elements needed to build smartphones and computers,… the list could go on for ages. The worse part of this was, that I already knew these things somewhere deep down, but somehow they never really got to me. Was this because I used to be a heartless person? I don’t think so. My guess is that for some reason I didn’t let it get to me. It was too scary to know the truth. Once I did open this door, and made myself feel how wrong this way of consuming was, it wasn’t all that hard to change the way I buy: I just didn’t want to be a part of that system anymore. I couldn’t. I will never be able to again.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m no saint. I do eat meat sometimes. And it happens that I buy a dress at H&M just because it’s cute and cheap. But it happens less and less. I feel more and more guilty every time I catch myself buying something like that. And that feeling of guilt is exactly what pushes me to buy more responsably.

I can already hear you coming: “yeah but just me buying differently isn’t really going to change anything”. 

Before I explain, let me tell you a parable (I’m no religious person, but you gotta give ‘m, they have a way to teach people morality) I try to live by:

“There was once a wedding and all of the numerous guests were asked to bring a bottle of wine to help with the celebrations. They would all be added together into one giant cask, and then served to everyone through a spigot. One guest, upon thinking about how expensive a bottle of wine is, decided that he would take an old bottle and fill it with water. He rationalized to himself that one bottle diluting so many wouldn’t make a discernable difference.“On the day of the wedding he dutifully emptied his bottle and then stepped back and everyone else added the contents of their bottles. The top of the barrel was closed, and it was tapped. The groom and bride came forward to pour the first glass together, and much to their surprise, out of the tap poured pure, clear water.


Now, ask yourself: who do you want to be in this story? The one person that does bring wine, or a part of the herd that thinks no-one will notice if you bring water? To me the answer has always been clear: I’d rather make a small to slightly unnoticable difference, than no difference at all. And hey, if everybody would think like that, wouldn’t everybody at the party be drinking wine instead of water?

Compare this to buying food/clothes/… If everybody would chose the more responsable way of consuming, wouldn’t the world get a whole lot better? And wouldn’t the responsible products get cheaper? And wouldn’t companies feel forced to produce responsably because no-one would care about their -sorry for the language- cheap crap?

That’s all I’m asking folks: ask yourself these simple questions whenever you buy something:

-Where does this product come from?

-What does it contain?

-Who made it?

-How was it made?

I hope I got to you at least a little bit.

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