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Tied Up In ‘Nots’

By SARA ADHIKARI

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WANTING to live by self-imposed ethical rules has never been more difficult than now.

The other day, post demonetization, I decided to dump the idea of taking an Uber or an auto to shop for pillows, sheets, towels and other essentials I needed to cater for the sudden influx of winter visitors – and buy them online instead. I reasoned this way I would not only be saving my time and energy but also doing my bit to save the planet. One less taxi ride meant a little less fuel consumption and pollution.

Then, this happened: Every item I had ordered from the same portal arrived separately, at different times, on different days, brought to my door by different ‘delivery executives’ and using so much packaging I had no place to keep to later recycle that I wanted to scream. Especially when two vacuum-packed pillows arrived in their own flat cardboard box about four-inches deep inside another cardboard box, more than three times the depth, filled with large plastic bubble wrap!

My attempt to reduce my carbon footprint had backfired – and this is not the first time I’ve been in a pickle over the kind of armchair activism so many of us participate in these days.

Some years ago, while living in a village just outside Cambridge, UK, food shopping had become a personal nightmare. The doctor had prescribed high calorie food for my husband who was ill. After my mother-in-law called me “beefy” my diet was on the other side of the spectrum, i.e. low calorie. One daughter had embraced ‘no cruelty to animals’ and vegetarianism, the other Islam, so no pork.

Add to that mealtime conundrum, my urge to follow best practices when choosing products on the supermarket shelf that were ‘good’ for my family, good for someone else’s family and good for the planet.  So I could either opt for food that was ‘organic’, ‘local’ or ‘Fair Trade’ – nothing was all three. And if it was, it would not have been good for my purse.

Plus, of course, to cut down on all the throwaway packaging, I gave up the ease of whizzing around grabbing pre-packed kilos of fruit and veg, and instead chose each item individually and had them weighed before joining the queue at the till.  Once, after an hour of walking around the supermarket aisles I had one corn-fed organic chicken, a kilo of handpicked King Edwards English potatoes and a packet of Fair Trade Ethiopian coffee in my trolley. Then, spent a litre of petrol going to the local farm shop to buy some vegetables.

And this was before Buycott.com appeared asking you to vote with your wallet. Basically the app helps you sort your consumer spending according to your principles – buy from companies who support issues you believe in, and avoid funding those that don’t. I won’t bore you with what’s on (or off) my shopping list now – suffice to say ‘it’s complicated’ like the relationship status on Facebook.

The easy option is of course to simply do what’s best for you, help yourself and forget the backstory or the future one.  But how can you unless you are on a desert island?

It seems as though we are all individually and collectively unpicking the knots of unchecked and uncharted civilizational growth that we have tied ourselves up in. If we all believe for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – and act on it – we can make change happen, untying one knot at a time.


profile picSara Adhikari has worked as a journalist for almost 30 years with publications such as The Sun, The Khaleej Times and The Sunday Times Of India. She is now the Founder of Small Change. 

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