Sustainability

This is a piece written by a member of our AM in 2012.  Jamie Wrench had represented us at "Meeting for Sufferings" which is the executive committee of Friends, its role, since George Fox and Margaret Fell set it up in the 17th Century has been to record the sufferings inflicted on Friends because of their beliefs and to define the corporate direction of Friends.  The second purpose has outlived the first, but the name still refers to the first.  In spite of the urgency to which Jamie refers, the Religious Society of Friends has not moved as quickly as many Friends have rightly demanded we should.  We are small in number, a characteristic that has defined us for most of our 350 year history, but our effect in matters such as slavery, peace work, prison reform, mental health and, more recently equality in marriage for same sex couples, has not been restricted by numbers.  In the matter of sustainability we continue to be concerned, many of us work tirelessly to affect it, and the corporate directions that Jamie's piece refers to are still in place, however, Jamie's points are even more valid now than they were in 2012.  We do not add to his apologies for re-publishing it here, but we echo his apology to the next generations.

FIVE APOLOGIES
- and those numbers nobody wants to talk about

First, an apology. At the last meeting for Sufferings I allowed myself to remain on my feet for a few seconds longer than was deemed appropriate, and incurred the displeasure of the Elders. I was desperate to speak – no, in humble truth I felt the Spirit was desperate to speak through me, and it seemed the Clerk kept looking beyond, above, past and through me. Worse, no-one else was saying what I had to say, so I had to keep getting to my feet. I’m not blaming the Clerk, and I’m not so arrogant as to expect that whenever I deign to rise to my feet I should immediately be called. But when you really really REALLY have something that must be said and you don’t get the chance to say it, it can be frustrating.

As you can imagine, I feel very embarrassed about not sitting down quickly enough when the Clerk stood up. George Fox would have sat down straight away, I’m sure… Actually, no he wouldn’t; he would have stood his ground, shouted something like “In God’s name, I shall be heard!” and would have said his piece fearlessly and prophetically (before, probably, being ejected).

So, a second apology. I’m very sorry I failed to follow the example of our prophetic, visionary founder. And, most importantly of all, apology number three: on behalf of my generation I apologise to the generation below mine, and to their children, for our collective inability to believe just how serious things have got and our collective failure to respond quickly enough to the dangers of global warming. I hope you find some way to cope with the horrors we shall have visited upon you. I cannot ask you to forgive us for our selfishness, our greed and our stupidity. It’s part of the human psyche to respond only to things that are a clear and present danger, things that are personal and intentional, violate our moral sensibilities or things that happen quickly rather than slowly; global warming is none of these, so it just kind of crept up on us. It’s a lame excuse, I know, for the most intelligent species on the planet, but it’s the best I can come up with.

As Franny Armstrong* once put it, we are like yeast. Given energy in the form of sugar – just another form of carbon – yeast gobbles it up as fast as it can, reproduces out of control and dies in its own waste products. The human race, having discovered fossil fuels, is doing exactly the same thing. In 2007 the average carbon footprint of a UK household was 9.6 tonnes. In 2010 it was 10.17 tonnes (or 13 tonnes, according to QPSW’s carbon calculator). We have to halt the increase by 2015; and then, in common with the rest of the world, reverse it, to 1.2 tonnes (yes, one tenth of what it is now) by 2050, by which time I shall be either 102 or dead; my grandchildren, however, will be in their forties and the world will have become a very different place. Whether it is a place that is merely more challenging to live in, or a place that it is impossible to live in, depends entirely upon me and my generation; those who came before us did not realise what was happening, and for those who come afterwards, it will be too late.

Meeting for Sufferings is supposed to be prophetic and visionary, but it’s neither at the moment. It’s rather worried about local meetings going their own way and doesn’t want to upset them too much, so we had a lot of ministry about encouraging Friends to act rather than asking or even demanding they do, about not setting targets which set people up to fail, and being tender with those who didn’t feel they could go along with reducing their emissions as quickly as we felt they should, about stressing the spiritual and moral dimension. So, here’s my fourth apology. Sorry, but when the building’s on fire you don’t have time to be tender with those who don’t feel ready to get out; you just push them. And this global building is smouldering dangerously. According to the World Health Organisation, there are already 150,000 people who die each year because of the effects of global warming. If those deaths were caused by a dictator, or a civil war, Quakers would be expressing their distress and outrage and demanding that something be done. Yet these deaths go on year after year with not a peep out of anyone.

Humans have an inbuilt reflex that rejects arguments they don’t like, often by rejecting the person who makes those arguments (Jesus Christ and George Fox, for example). A recent piece of attitudinal research about global warming produced these three comments:
It’s probably a problem, but not as big as they’re making out”
It won’t happen for a long time so there’s no need to worry now”
If it were time to panic, it would be too late (ha hah hah)”

Therein lies the rub. Most social change comes slowly. It took over a hundred years to abolish slavery. It took decades to achieve an end to child labour and something approaching equality for women, even in this country. We now have three years in which to stop our increase in carbon emissions. Then we have all got to start reducing them radically. Many of us, including the government, signed up to ‘10:10’, in which we undertook to reduce our carbon footprint by 10% in 2010. If we were to pledge ourselves to reduce our carbon footprint by another 12% in 2012, 13% in 2013, 14% in 2014 and 15% in 2015, we would just about be on track to achieve that 1.2 tonnes per person by 2050.

There’s another human trait noted by social scientists; it’s the ability to disbelieve something for a long time, then to believe it, throw up one’s arms and say it’s all too big and there’s nothing we can do about it. Both avoid responsibility for doing anything.

In 1988, Britain Yearly Meeting agreed an eloquent minute on the dangers to our environment. 20 years later in 2008, Yearly Meeting Gathering at York agreed an eloquent and longer minute on climate change. In 2010, somewhere in the middle of 1043 words of even more lengthy and eloquent prose, we said “…The action we are ready to take at this time is to make a strong corporate commitment to become a low-carbon, sustainable community…”

What I was led to offer was the fact that it’s not enough to be ready. We’ve got to get on with it, quickly, and it’s a huge, huge challenge. We have got to do a lot more than recycling cardboard, insulating our roofs and putting low energy light bulbs in our Meeting houses. We’ve got to contemplate, prepare for and implement a completely different way of life, one in which within a few decades fossil fuels play no part whatsoever; or we get to do the yeast thing. Sorry (number five), Friends, but that’s just the way it is.
Jamie Wrench is a member of Southern Marches AM
*Franny Armstrong is writer and director of “The Age of Stupid”. 


What should we do about decreasing our carbon footprint and increasing our sustainability?  The decisions referred to above in Jamie's piece came as gusts of fresh air.  Quakers, as a body would become a low carbon organisation.  So we put time and energy into measuring our carbon usage and we made the sort of small changes Jamie mentions as not being enough. We realised that we use our cars too much, going back and forth to meetings.  It is a round journey of 104 miles from my house to the Hereford Meeting House, which is the most central point of our Area Meeting, that is more than two gallons of petrol, plus wear and tear on tyres and motor.  We heat our Meeting House once or twice a week from very cold to too hot, the worst way of using heating.  
So, we are in a quandary, we know what we need to do, we know that if we do not do, as a species, what we need to do we are endangering our survival, and yet we are are so addicted to using fossil fuels that we stumble on towards self annihilation.  There is one thing that we can do which would make a huge difference.  We could without too much difficulty change our diet.  If we all gave up eating animal products, and just ate vegetables and fruit, that would go a long way towards what we really need to do - which is to give up using fossil fuels.  Below Jack Monroe writes on her society changing blog about the veganism, not promoting it as a way of life, but honestly looking at the the fact that it is something only the privileged can afford.  
Personally I have never kept to a vegan diet, but I prefer a vegetarian diet to a high meat diet and understand that that is an insufficient change to achieve what I would like to achieve, however, a substantial number of people eating less meat in their diet would have an amazing effect on human sustainability.
 The Only Way Is Ethics?
by Jack Monroe

Choosing to go vegan is a privilege. An uncomfortable statement, and one that will undoubtedly cause a great deal of consternation among my peers, for nobody likes to be told that they have a degree of privilege, no matter how small the degree appears to be. ‘But some of the poorest diets in the world are vegan’, I hear some of you drafting your indignant replies. And there, dear reader, does the distinction lie. Poverty diets are not a choice. A diet lacking in meat and dairy products for wont of the finances, resources and availability of them, is not the same, not remotely the same, as having access to these products and choosing not to use them.

I have eaten a vegan diet since January 2016 – with the odd slip-up because nobody is perfect - and I wrote about that decision for the Guardian, and have written hundreds of low cost vegan recipes, available for free online. At the same time, I took the decision not to reissue my two previous cookbooks as vegan titles, not to rewrite the half-a-book that was tested and completed before I eliminated meat and dairy products from my diet, and not to remove the non-vegan recipes from my website, Cooking On A Bootstrap.

I received a minor backlash for this at the time, with posters in a Facebook group called ‘Vegan UK’ seizing on an old photo of a paella dish I had cooked for a friend with the ‘spoils from the sea’ from the local fishing village that I live in, in Leigh on Sea, in Essex. I received messages wishing that I would be boiled alive, graphics mocked up of my own face with a fish hook piercing through it, grotesque and threatening. I stood my ground, explaining that my recipes were aimed primarily at people living in or on the margins of poverty.

My audience consists of ex-military men teaching themselves to cook for the first time after decades of being served their dinners. Single mums at childrens centres taking twelve week courses that I have written, to teach the basics of shopping on a budget, planning, cooking, and making the most of whatever happens to be in the cupboard or, increasingly, the food bank parcel. My recipes are handed out at food banks up and down the country, sometimes as recipe cards in conjunction with The Trussell Trust and Oxfam, sometimes as a result of food bank volunteers emailing and asking if they can just print out a handful and leave them on the side for people to help themselves. (The answer is always yes, by the way. If you are a food bank trustee or volunteer and you are reading this and you think my recipes would help the people you are helping every day, feel free to print them off with a link to my website at the bottom so they can find the rest of them.)

So while I am vegan in my personal life, I have found it a difficult shift to make in all of my work. Poor people don’t need to be moralised to about what they are eating; we have enough of that with other smug celebrity chefs finger-wagging about sugar and fat and ready meals. Sure, too much sugar and fat causes health problems. So would too much kale, or too many brussels sprouts, but nobody’s taxing that. Again, having choices around the food you eat is a privilege. Not having to shop exclusively from the white labels of the value ranges, or raiding the battered old veg at the end of the day at the market, is a privilege. Not mentally calculating the pennies difference in every item that goes into your shopping basket is a privilege, and one that millions of people in the UK (and across the world) increasingly do not have. Access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and the means with which to buy them, is a privilege.

Arguably, and it is an argument I have made myself time and again, beans and pulses and lentils are cheaper sources of protein than their bovine, porcine or rather fowl counterparts. But at the same time, being able to take a risk on new recipes, new tastes and flavours, knowing that there is something in the cupboard as a backup in case it goes wrong, is a privilege. Confidence in the kitchen, the gadgets and utensils and pans required to cook from scratch, are both barriers to affordable and creative cookery. I try my best to make my books and recipes as simple and accessible to as many people as I can, but even I get emails in the middle of the night asking what could be used instead of a masher (a fork, by the way), or ‘if I could only have one knife, what should it be?’ (a reasonable sized chefs knife with a bit of heft to it, and you can pick them up cheaply and reliably from most major supermarkets). It took me until my third published cookery book to think to buy a rolling pin, growing so accustomed to using the side of a clean jam jar for pastry and cookies and pizza dough. I have a rather large collection of beautiful kitchen utensils nowadays, mostly gifts from friends and the odd high street brand angling for a mention somewhere, and I give a lot of them away to food banks, charity shops and friends in need.

I posted a recipe this morning for a sausage and bean Bolognese, devised and cooked by my eight year old son who, despite my best efforts and gentlest scare stories about my visit to an abbatoir, still wants to eat sausages. I told him he had to buy and cook them himself, hoping it would put him off, and he pulled on his shoes and went to fetch his pocket money. I thought it would all come undone at the cooking stage, as I made him twist the gristly sausagemeat from its skin with his little hands. He rose to the challenge, and I found a compromise in my parenting. I will continue to remind him that I don’t eat animals when he offers me his jelly sweets, but if he is willing to buy and cook animal products himself, as his mother, I will afford him the agency of his body and the supervised freedom to do so.

If people cook my recipes on a regular basis, they will be inadvertently cooking a mostly vegan diet. I use applesauce in place of eggs in my baking and pancakes. Suggest plant based milks where they are cheaply available. But there is a limit as to what is affordable, when you are living on benefits, or off food bank parcels, or on an insecure income, and fairweather veganism is still making a dent in the meat and dairy industries, even if it doesn’t come with all the vegan gold stars and plantbased brownie points.

While Sainsburys Basics hard cheese is a sixth of the price of its vegan counterpart, not everyone will be able to go vegan. While vegan options are more expensive – and shockingly so – not everybody will be able to go vegan. I can make vegan recipes very cheaply, but I can’t make all of my cheap recipes vegan, and I suggest that people who take issue with that would be better off donating Nooch and Sosmix and other vegan staples to their local foodbank, than shouting at poor people on the internet for daring to give their children chicken nuggets and ham sandwiches.

This website is free to those who need it, and always will be, but it does of course incur costs to run and keep it running. If you use it and benefit, enjoy it, and would like to keep it going, please consider popping something in the tip jar, and thank you.

 Jack Monroe (born 17 March 1988) is a British food writer, journalist and activist known for campaigning on poverty issues, particularly hunger relief. Monroe has published a blog and several books of "austerity recipes", and has campaigned alongside various British charity organisations. Monroe initially rose to prominence ... Her recipes can be found at:
https://cookingonabootstrap.com/
 

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