Ethical, Eco and Effort Series – Part 1.

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It has been hard to miss the conversations about Ecology and the Ethics of our spending.
From single-use plastic, waste production and food waste, to the anti-health and anti-environmental chemicals in many of our household cleaning products and cosmetics, to sugar and obesity, and the impact of unethical food and clothing production. These conversations are everywhere, frequently generating heated and emotional reactions.
They can feel shaming, insurmountable. too expensive and frankly too hard to do much about.

I understand.
We are a family of five on a single income. We live in an affluent area, but where there are a good percentage of people who are nothing like as affluent as the area suggests, and the cost of living is expensive.
We rent our home, are grateful for the child benefit and tax credits that the state supplies, and whilst we are solvent – praise God! – we have very little margin.
Holidays are rare and always done on the cheap/free, and going out for a meal or even to the pub is a treat rather than something we can do on a regular basis. If we are able to treat ourselves, we will be far more likely to have a takeaway, or a ‘Dine In For Two for £10’ from a supermarket – it is far cheaper than going out.
We are very happy and richly blessed, but we have to be frugal.
I know that many of us are in the same situation.

From this perspective, the idea of paying more for our food and clothes in order to be ethical and ecologically responsible, can seem like a waste of precious resources and a case of putting other faceless people before our own children.
The financial, qualitative and convenience implications of choosing this approach can be very off putting – however I would argue that starting with a little at a time, it is not that hard or expensive to do.

Before Husbandman and I were married, he announced that as a matter of principle, all the tea and coffee in our house would have to be fairly traded.

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I responded that I was happy to do that, but that he would have to find me a very tasty loose-leaf tea. I like a properly brewed cuppa and many of the Fairtrade teabags I had tried were pretty disgusting. I didn’t (and still don’t) see the point of buying substandard products, just to support people, without the option of feedback, but I would have been reluctant to give up tea altogether.
Thankfully he succeeded and we found a few, and 9 years later, I am still drinking my favourite.

THEN CAME CHOCOLATE.
I really miss Snickers bars and many other types, but I cannot justify buying and eating chocolate that is both directly and indirectly involved in slavery – and to be clear, when a company has committed to good practice and transparency  – they really shout about it. It has been a bit of a sacrifice over the past 10 years, but not that hard, and as the awareness has grown, so have the ranges of things I can buy.

Fairtrade, Tradecraft, Rainforrest Alliance, Cocoa Life, Ubuntu, UTZ  – are all massive clues. They are regulated and follow certain standards which are open to scrutiny. They are not perfect. But they are transparent, and they are a crucial step in the right direction.

If there is no symbol, then it is UP TO US to research the company before buying from them, not to turn a blind eye, telling ourselves that it is probably ok.

 

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Because as much as I might like them, how can I possibly justify the expense of human indignity in order to enjoy a treat?

We are all selfish, this is one of the factors of being human. One of the most selfish comments I ever heard about this issue, was from a woman who would argue that she definitely supported social justice, but who when faced with the evidence said,
“Well I like Mars bars, so I am going to continue eating them”.
It was an honest response. There was no BS about it. But it wasn’t good enough.

Our pleasure is never of more value than someone else’s dignity, or their fundamental human rights. We may be selfish, but we are all capable of change, and the first step is to start with ourselves.

This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
Zechariah 7:9-10

For us, this past decade has been a journey of committment and awareness. With Husbandman and I growing in our understanding of Human Trafficking, where our food comes from, what we are using and consuming and why we buy what we buy.
So over this series, I will share some of our discoveries, the way God has broken our hearts for justice, challenging us to see where our treasure and hearts really are.

As far as food shopping has gone, we started with tea, coffee and chocolate, and as our budgeting adjusted,  it became easier to add things like bananas, avocados, pepper corns and spices, cotton wool and wine (from some South American and African countries, where there is less worker protection) to our Fairtrade groceries list.

We haven’t finished, are definitely not perfect, but we are committed to putting one foot in front of the other.
It has taken sacrifice, but has also grown a deeper heart of compassion for our brothers and sisters around the world, a desire to uncompromisingly do what’s right and to more fully become who God has called us to be.

I know that you too can do the same, so I encourage you to begin where you are, and move forward from there.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

 

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Sneaky Veg Flapjacks

I struggle to get my youngest daughter to eat any vegetables, except for peas – for some reason these are enjoyable! She is 3 and would prefer bread and cereal, or cake and biscuits, to most things and since heading into this especially fussy season, it has made dinner time quite frustrating.

So, the other day I decided to adapt a recipe for savoury cheese flapjacks that she loves, and see if I could hide some more vegetable goodness.

I made these flapjacks with grated courgette, ground up linseeds and ground pumpkin seeds. Amazingly they were a hit and she has devoured them.

Sadly The Boy and Eldest don’t like them, but Husbandman and I do. They make a great snack or sandwich alternative for a lunchbox, and are jam-packed with energy, as beside the cheese, pumpkin seeds are almost 30% and linseeds 20% protein, and oats are a slow release food which therefore keep you fuller for longer.

This recipe is quick and easy to make, even quicker if you can use a food processor to grate your cheese and courgette, and the nut/coffee grinding attachment to grind the seeds. You could leave the seeds whole, if you prefer for extra crunch, but I suspected that Mini One would be less inclined to eat them.

As the courgette is quite a wet vegetable, these flapjacks are less dry than usual, but softer and more cake-like, which is good too.

Feel free to experiment with other soft veg and see how it works out.

Cheesey Courgette Flapjacks

(makes 12-15)

Ingredients

150-160g Grated Courgette

100g Grated Cheddar (mature)

50g Grated Mozzarella (I buy this pre-grated. You could use all Cheddar, but it makes the flapjacks much saltier, which is not so good for children. Alternatively you could just use a very mild Cheddar.)

2 Eggs

45g Butter

140g Porridge Oats (not instant oats)

2-3 Teaspoons Linseeds (ground optional)

2-3 Teaspoons Pumpkin Seeds (ground optional)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.

2. Line a shallow baking tin with grease proof paper.

3. Mix everything together in a large bowl, until everything is well meshed, then press into a tin, roughly an inch high.

4. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

5. You can cut them into slices, once they are cool.

Enjoy.

Celebrations, Honeymoons and Rest Days

Saturday we went to my cousin’s wedding and it was lovely.
The bride was glowing, despite having had barely any sleep all that week, the groom was happy, and their parents were proud and moved by the occasion. It was a big wedding, the bride’s side of the family being a pretty extensive tribe, so it was wonderful to catch up with cousins, aunts and uncles, some of whom I haven’t seen in a few years.

We had dealt with an early start, bad traffic and a diversion on the way down, a very carsick boy, and the wonderful temperatures of a sudden heatwave, after the seemingly permanent winter, all making us late to the ceremony, but we were in time for half the sermon and the important bit – the vows. It was beautiful.
In the gap between the service and the reception, I headed off to hospital to briefly visit my brother, while Husbandman took the kids back to my parents for a couple of hours to play in the garden and attempt to relax – Ha!

I am pretty certain that Husbandman and I spent most of the reception following The Boy and Mini One around the inside and outside of the venue, attempting to pause to have conversations with various family members and friends en-route, or taking them with us as we walked. It was exhausting, but we all got a good dose of vitamin D, so that was a definite bonus.

Eldest, who is most definitely a people person, spent most of the afternoon and evening running off with my cousins, making friends and playing with another couple of children, and introducing herself to every adult she had the opportunity to meet. We checked in with her every so often, but she was so happy hanging out with my cousin whose album she loves, and she got to dance during the Ceilidh – “I did Ballroom dancing Mummy, like in Jane Austen!”, that when I finally told her it was time to go, she was red faced, exhausted and just about to tearfully conk out – just in time.

The three of them, despite requiring a lot of energy to follow (and I had a pretty tough 25minutes trying to keep the younger two together on my own, whilst Husbandman went to fetch the car), I was so proud of them. They were a delight to be around and all handled the huge occasion beautifully, each in their own way. All three were fast asleep in the back of the car by 9:15pm and when we arrived home at 10pm, tired after the long day, they were unusually transferable as we put them to bed.

Bizarrely on Sunday, Husbandman woke at 5:30am unable to return to sleep, followed by The Boy and Mini One an hour later. Despite attempting to doze, I had to be up much earlier than usual. Eldest is the earliest riser of our kids at around 8:30am most days, so with the extra early start, Sunday was very much a rest day.

With Husbandman at work (exhausted) and me dead on my feet at home with the kids, we managed a trip to the park in the sunshine, but otherwise contented ourselves with being dressed and fed, watching tv, and playing with water.

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The house was a state, the washing up piled by the sink and I had no energy to tackle it. But it didn’t matter. It could wait.

We each need a Sabbath.
For Husbandman, Sunday is a work-day, so Monday has become his Sabbath, a day to flop, with very few demands on his time. Having at least a day with nothing planned each week is so important, because we are designed to work from a place of rest, not to rest from our work.
But how often do we get this balance out of kilter?
God rested on the seventh day. HE stopped ‘being productive’, and simply was.

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
Genesis 1:31-2:3

Even within a normal day, we need Sabbath moments, half an hour here or there to stop, rest or pause, so that when we do return to our work, we are better for it and more effective in our tasks.

However this Sabbath design to work from rest, rather than rest from work, has another vital benefit. It serves to remind us that we are not slaves, that first and foremost we are human Beings not human doings. Our identity is not found or forged in our work, but in our inherent dignity as children of God. This is something that God had to teach the Israelites once He had delivered them out of slavery in Egypt – where there had been no break from the daily grind. Work is something we do to use and hone our skills, to bring glory to God and to bless the world. This is why he has it written into the Law.

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
Exodus 20:8-11

Work may generally function to pay the bills, in our money-based culture, but it is not something we are to be enslaved to. Adam and Eve in the Garden had no pressure, but they still had work to do. It was only after the Fall that it became a toil.

This all made me reflect how rest and Sabbath should mark the start of all new relationships and enterprises. This is reflected in our wedding tradition, as (usually) after the wedding day, the first thing the bride and groom do is take a honeymoon, a holiday with no work or any other demands on their time. Just the space to have a week or two to be husband and wife, to find out what it means to be a new unit, before all the stuff of life kicks in.
Starting marriage, particuarly after the huge undertaking of a wedding, from a place of rest, gives the relationship and the individuals within it a healthy boost of nutrients at the beginning, and if the couple continue to honour the Sabbath and build it into their married lives, they will flourish.

To keep Sabbath Holy means to keep it set apart from all that is usual.
I know that I am getting better at honouring the sabbath moments in my life, stopping to simply read or listen to something for half an hour with only a cup of tea to be busy with, yet I still struggle against the pull of the lie that I am only what I do or produce.
However I am discovering how vital rest is, to do something that feeds my soul, pressing pause on the duties of life, if I am to function healthily.

So I am practicing forgiveness for the messiness, giving myself permission to flop, because there will always be more work, but I don’t want to miss all the life that happens in the smaller moments, because I was too exhausted to take it in.
This is something I want to pass on to my children, so unless if I learn to model it by doing, how can I expect them to value it’s importance?