Saturday, 17 December 2011

Long post on my environmental conscience and a new year's resolution

I probably haven't spoken enough about the fact that I try to make environmentally conscious choices. I am not perfect, but I am constantly trying to improve myself. But I'm not one of those militant greenies that's always attacking people that aren't doing their bit for the environment. Of course it really upsets me when I see rubbish left lying around or shop assistants using 5 plastic bags to pack 10 items, but I just don't have it in me to go hassle others to do better. Many people don't genuinely realise that what they're doing is having a negative impact on the world, and sometimes the best thing you can do is to set an example, or to just talk about what you do, rather than criticising and attacking others for what they do/don't do.

Probably my environmental conscience is stronger than I realise: after all I stop and think about EVERYTHING that has to go in the bin. I call it Mother Nature guilt...
I am very concerned about not creating too much landfill; and I do try to use and reuse before I recycle. Having said that, some days the house is so cluttered that I have to clear out and make a choice between being kind to Mother Nature and being kind to myself... So I end up having big bags of goodies for the op-shop, and lots of bits and pieces going directly from our "useful box" to the recycling bin. After all, the kids are 2 and 4, there are just so many toilet rolls, bottle lids, jars, containers you can use for craft...

Clearly we are buying or receiving too many things, if I am so concerned about our impact on the planet. But even cooking from scratch, you still need to purchase everything in packaging that will end up either recycled or in landfill. My dream would be self-sufficiency, but we are still so far away from it... I need a bigger block of land where I can grow all our fruit and veg and grains... One can only dream...

In the meantime, I am being very aware of our choices. These are not things that I've done from day 1, I'm still working on improving myself and our family's choices.
If I'm buying staples at the supermarket, I check the country of origin and purchase the one that has travelled the fewest miles.
I never purchase out of season produce.
I purchase the items that have the shorter lists of ingredients and the least amount of chemical additives (this is both a health concern and a stance against the manufacture of dubious chemicals).
I buy at farmers' and local market frequently and I'm trying to fully boycott big supermarket chains.
At the moment I'm using biodegradable nappies and cloth wipes (have a full stash of cloth nappies for Casi but haven't been able to keep up with the washing for a couple of months).
We frequent op-shops, which is just a great way to buy and to teach kids the value of re-using and donating/passing on to others. And our money is going to good causes.
We don't buy battery operated devices and limit the use of those already in existence in the house.
I use natural or environmentally friendly products in the home; D uses Jif to clean the toilets, and that is the only harsh chemical in the house. Except for a can of Mortein that gets used once every 6 months when there's a redback hiding in a tight spot in the garden. All other insects get the Vegemite jar treatment (put them in the jar, release them in the garden) or the fly swat, but as a European who grew up in a country devoid of highly venomous arachnids, I do get very edgy when I see redbacks near my kids' play areas!
And whenever I make a choice I'm not completely satisfied with, I always buy more edible plants or sow more seeds: I figure, if I'm adding so much to the landfill, at least I'm also adding more oxygen in the air :)
archive photo: my 2007 bean crop :)

But remember how this year has been one of deeper understanding? I decided to really put my money where my mouth is and be true to my beliefs.
So for Sosi's birthday party I decided I wouldn't purchase any disposable cutlery or plates or cups, as we'd done in the past, instead I purchased dishwasher-safe plates/cups that will be reused at our next parties. I really wish I'd purchased an old dinner set from an op-shop, but one also has to think about the practicality of transporting lots of crockery to a park for a 4 year old's party. As I said, I'm still a work in progress, one day I'll be able to throw a fully environmentally friendly party :)

And the other big thing is Christmas. Now, I'm not going to get into the whole Christmas thing in this post, suffice to say that for D and I it's just a day to spend with the family. But for the rest of our families it is a big deal, and we still feel an obligation to be giving presents.
But I'm tired of feeding capitalism and purchasing useless trinkets just for the sake of it.
So this year we are making food hampers. Mostly goodies that I will bake. And many yummy things purchased from the markets. So local farmers/producers/crafters will be getting our money.

But next year I want to be better. Next year I want to make the kids and I more clothes. And I want to make sure we buy less and less. All this stuff we end up needing to donate makes me really think that we purchase far more things than we actually need. And I also want to rip out half the grass in our backyard and grow edibles there! Still negotiating that one with D....

What about you? 
Do you feel guilty every time you throw out something that could be reused?
Do you have an environmental new year's resolution?

Monday, 12 December 2011

To market to market

We have lots of markets in Italy, it is a much more traditional way to shop there than it is here.

You can essentially buy everything at a local market: hats, shoes, haberdashery, pots and pans, fresh produce (loads of fruit and veg stalls), deli produce, meat, poultry, toys, jewellery, underwear, plants, I even remember stalls selling small appliances.

image source here

I worked in one in my hometown when I was in my late teens; it was held every Saturday afternoon and I was employed at a leathergoods stall. We all knew each other at the market and there was a great sense of camaraderie.
It was my first real job, which I held for a couple of years, and was an invaluable experience: that's where I learnt what REAL customer service is. You are building a true relationship with all of your customers, most are local and you will probably see them week in week out; you are the face of your business, no hiding behind the anonymity of a big employer; you must provide a courteous service and good quality goods, as word of mouth is the only advertisement that stallholders can afford.
My boss was a lovely guy with exceptionally polite manners; he had a young family to support (a sweet wife and a little daughter); often his elderly father would come to market too, mostly to get out of the house and meet people, he was such a pleasure to talk to. We became good friends, and I felt a bit like I was extended family, you do when you work the markets together.

winter does get nippy in Northern Italy

Life of a "vagrant" stall-holder is tough, there are so many more variables and hardships than in a shop.
You have to set up your stall every day (or twice a day if you go to two different markets). It takes a long time to set up the stall, it takes a long time to pack everything up in the van at the end of the day (particularly if you haven't sold all your goods, which happens most weeks).
I remember the winter markets, with extra woolly socks and thick boots, the cold in northern Italy really bites at your toes when you're standing for hours on the pavement.
Livelihood is dependent on the weather as most markets are not under cover: many times we had to pack things earlier because of particularly inclement weather; sometimes we wouldn't even unload the van if the weather was that bad, like a lasting thunderstorm. Thankfully that didn't happen often, but when it did, it was such a big loss: it meant zero income for the stall, and only losses because the boss still had to pay for petrol and my "wage". Which used to be around $50 cash in hand, some days more depending on the takings. I was happy with that sort of arrangement, it made me work harder at my sale skills... 
But because of the closeness to them and the fact anyway I had nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon, on the bad days I really couldn't bring myself to pocket the whole amount knowing he hadn't earned a thing himself: he was supporting a family, I was a 19yo uni student living at home and just working for pocket money for booze ;) So if it was one of those really bad no income days, I just told him not to worry about and "see you next week and let's hope the weather's better". 
I know he felt awful about it, but he also really appreciated the gesture. So on those days, we'd just call it quits and go to the cafe near the markets, with all the other stallholders that just like us could not work with the downpour. And we'd have a panino and a beer or a coffee, which he'd always pay for because even if he couldn't afford my wages, he was always a decent person. 
It was sad having to quit but Australia was calling me...


I love farmers' markets. I love all the fresh produce. I love seeing products that are someone's labour of love. I love talking to people that are passionate about their job and produce, because really, if you're selling at markets you're not really doing it to get rich...

It is just so much more human than some establishments where the shop assistants seem bothered by your presence, and a much better shopping experience than supermarkets. Particularly if you have kids: no over-crammed shelves full of items that mummy has to put back every 2 seconds, no trolleys to watch out for, no stupid trinkets and treats neatly positioned at a toddler's eye level...

The market has a slower pace, a bouncier rhythm about it, it has enticing smells and colourful people, and often has a child-friendly entourage of petting zoos or bouncing castles.

The kids and I have made it part of our routine. Our first market was a bit daunting, but I soon realised we were onto a winner: the kids were so happy with the open spaces, they felt free to explore everything (and of course, because there are less restrictions, there are fewer temptations to touch everything!) and they were overjoyed in sampling produce and products, and most of all they loved talking to all the stallholders.
petting zoo at the market, back in April: how little does Casi look!

We've now become market pros. The kids are always excited to be going to market, regardless of which one it is. There's always something interesting to see and do and eat. The only downside is that Sosi has an obsession with handmade soaps, possibly inherited from me, and every market has a handmade soap stall, and she always has to buy at least 2 soaps every market we go to... Guess what all our family members are receiving for Christmas? ;)

If you've never been to a farmers' market, you should! These are Victorian websites I check out regularly to see what's on, have a look to see which market is nearest to you, and then start venturing out and trying new markets.    this is a great website if you're in greater Melbourne and further: you can select a date and it'll bring up almost everything you can do around town, from markets to exhibitions to festivals, museums, fetes, sport, arts, seminars, tours etc etc

Don't be shy, come say hi if you see us at some market stuffing our faces with lemon tarts :)