The ethical journey

Today, a non-yoga post. Or maybe an Ahimsa-related post (is there such a thing as a non-yogicly relevant post?).

Last weekend, I went shopping for boots at mooshoes, as the inside of my previous pair of boots was so worn out that it made my feet hurt, and I had already had them repaired  once.  I found a nice pair of wood and faux-leather boots, made ethically and sustainably in Portugal, for $150. While it’s not cheap, this is around the price I would have paid for “regular” boots (aka leather boots in any fashion shop). And it made me wonder: if the price and quality are the same, why are ethical and sustainable options not more widespread? If faced with two similar-looking boots, one ethical and the other not, would people still buy the non-ethical option?

Thinking about this made me realize how far along the way I’ve come in terms of values. Being ethical has not always been one of my core values, or rather, if you’d asked me I would always have thought it was important but I was not always acting in agreement with it. Simple exemple: I’ve not always bought ethical chocolate. If the supermarket didn’t carry fairtrade cocoa, I would buy the regular one. If they had both, I would have likely bought the fairtrade one, but not really thinking about it.

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to live ethically in today’s society. First, everything is aimed at consumption. More, more, more. Buy more things, eat more food, produce more. So it’s kind of weird when suddenly you wake up and want to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. Suddenly, all of your purchases become an act of mindfulness. Do I get the out-of-season veggie that’s not wrapped in plastic, or the plastic-foiled in-season veggie? What about vegan junk food as you want to support vegan brands, yet are obviously more wasteful than eating unprocessed plant foods? Or fruit that might spoil while being transported to work vs packaged dried fruits? What if your ethical item is not available at the moment, do you change your whole plan or do you buy the non-ethical version? And if you order your ethical groceries online, is it really better than buying regular groceries near you?

I realize some of these question are more practical issues compared to not knowing what the best option really is. But even the definition of veganism includes “as far as possible and practicable”. At some point, when you have two hours of your day spent commuting, 8-9 hours of work, one hour cooking, 1.5 hours working out or teaching, spending one hour comparing products at the grocery store feels exhausting. And that’s all the while being privileged, and having enough money to choose what I buy and where I buy it from.

Some days I feel as someone who has the money to support ethical brands, I am morally obliged to do so. And I often do. But there is also an incentive to consume less, get rid of what we don’t “need” and live a simpler life. Which I also try to do. Finding the sweet spot is sometimes difficult. A while ago, I was at a friend’s place for dinner and other friends of this friend I didn’t know asked me about my fairphone, and veganism. They commented that if everyone cared as much as me, the world would be a better place. While on the one hand it made me happy that they acknowledged my trying, on the other hand I just wanted to say “it’s not that hard! Everyone can do it!”, and while that might not be completely true, I do believe that everyone can do something better. We make so many choices everyday, yet we rarely think about them. And I think that’s where the bottleneck is: how do you get people to start to think and be more conscious about all these decisions they make everyday?

Definitely not by retiring out of society, while it sometimes seems like the best way to have the least impact on the planet. I tend to think that leading by exemple is the best option, showing that you can still live “normally” yet make better choices for the planet and its inhabitants. So far, it’s been the extent of my activism. Yet there are issues which this approach too:

  • I’m not perfect. No one is, and I’d like to think that makes me actually relatable, and empower people to change what they can. But I’m clearly privileged, and I flew transatlantic a few times last year due to my boyfriend and me living on different continents. So there’s ground for criticism, and some people would easily jump on the occasion to say that since they didn’t fly, they can eat all the meat / use all the one-use plastics they want / etc. And I get it, changing something you do on the daily  (habits, yogis, habits!) is much more difficult than forgoing one flight. But I think that’s missing the point. We should all be in this together, and if you use less resources than I do, kudos to you!
  • I tend not to speak much about these choices I make, with the exception of a few friends and on this blog. And it can be depressing to see people get a take-away plastic lunchbox and/or coffee everyday. It does feel like all the efforts I make are for nothing…
  • Some things are definitely NOT practical. Or cheap. For exemple this year I wanted to plan holidays without taking the plane. I figured that from NYC I should be able to go to a couple of nice places with the train. One plan is to go to New Orleans. The trip takes 30 hours and costs upwards of $800 for two people in a cabin one way, while the plane takes an hour and is $100. While my boyfriend is on board with being eco-friendly, that discrepancy was a bit too much for him (He’s what you’d call frugal, too). We compromised on going one way with the train and back with the plane (plus some greenwashing donations), yet I feel most people would not hesitate and book a return ticket with the plane.

 

Anyhow, what are some things you feel you could do better ethically-wise? How do you deal with these daily dilemmas? And how far have you gone if you look back a couple of years? What type of activism do you think is most effective? Does your ethical living  bleed into your work too?

PS: I’m trying to gather the courage to become a Terracycle recycling collector for toothpaste and snack wrappers. Will probably do it soon, just need the nudge…

PPS: if someone knows of a solid toothpaste which contains fluoride, please let me know in the comments below!

Advertisements

Self-improvement

It’s this time of the year again, when everyone takes new resolutions to better themselves in the coming year. It’s been many years since I have taken new year’s resolutions, and this year is no different. I see self-improvement as something I do continuously, so I don’t generally have something specific on my resolutions list.

It’s funny that these good resolutions are so ingrained in our culture, yet most people do not think about self-improvement on a daily basis. Worse, most people are resistant to change, not only for themselves, but also for others. “Oh, you changed” is rarely a compliment (unless you’re back from the hairdresser… and sometimes not even). I personally get a lot of resistance to my changing of certain things, even from family members or friends (though I do feel quite lucky to have a generally very open-minded support group, which I attribute to having met most of them in an academic setting). One obvious point of contention is my veganism, but I’ve also experienced it with my journey of reducing waste, weightlifting, or even my yoga practice.

I think part of it comes from the fact that I’m trying something new, which often doesn’t fit with the idea they have of who I am. And they might be right sometimes, and I won’t stick with what I’m doing (looking at you, pole dancing – I have way too slippery hands). Other times it does stick, and funnily sometimes people who met me later in life cannot imagine me without it: for instance people who met me during my PhD have always known me as “the yoga girl with the allergies”. People who will meet me during my postdoc will likely have a hard time imagining me eating meat.

Conflict also comes when I do (or start doing) something others feel like they should be doing but don’t. I also have this, for exemple when it comes to zero-waste lifestyles, but I try to see it as inspiration instead of judgement. Because I cannot commit to a fully zero-waste lifestyle now does not mean that I cannot do anything. I can do research, I can change some things, I can limit my waste, I can talk to other people about the simple changes I am doing and how they can implement them too. And maybe one day I’ll be able to be fully zero-waste, but meanwhile I’ll be reducing-waste.

quote-you-are-personally-responsible-for-becoming-more-ethical-than-the-society-you-grew-up-eliezer-yudkowsky-81-90-22

I try to keep in mind that even though every little thing helps, in the grand scheme of things most people are not gonna become fully vegan or zero-waste. However, most people might become flexitarians or reducetarians. By striving in a lifestyle that is more compassionate and better for the environment, while still being relatable as fully part of society rather than an outcast (and hopefully a useful contributor to society as both a researcher and a yoga teacher), I hope and aim to inspire people to make small changes in their own lives. Even in France, I do see that things are changing, even for veganism, as usual slower than anywhere else (how dare you touch upon French Cuisine!), but at least in Paris, and in supermarkets, vegan products are becoming more broadly available.

I’ll still be taking the plane to move to NYC. I am convinced that we can live a modern lifestyle while being more respectful of our surroundings, and I don’t see flying stopping any time soon. However, I will not take the plane when it isn’t necessary: for exemple I went to Berlin by train a few weeks ago. The inconvenience+price VS ecological impact wasn’t enough to convince me to get a plane ticket. I would also like to see more initiatives limiting flying for science conferences for exemple, with all the options that new technologies such as Skype (and who knows, soon holograms?) offer.

’tis a complicated time to be alive, that’s for sure. Even when you want to make the right choice, and you do some research, there is so much conflicting information on ze internet that I cannot blame people who do not take the time to go through dozens of article, without any scientific training, and synthesize the information to make an educated choice. This is why I believe that we have to push for more certifications -even though there are already so many. I realize that more labeling might confuse consumers even more, but I am rarely as annoyed as when I am looking for information on a product and cannot find it. At least if it is there, you might or might not look at it, or spend much time comparing products, but you can do it. And there are often great people on the internet who will take upon themselves of making comparisons and come up with the best choice depending on both your budget and your values.

Anyways, are you readers taking new resolutions? Why / why not? And if so, what are they?

What’s the best way to promote a lifestyle (aka: to instagram or not to instagram)

I’ve been considering starting an Instagram account. I keep on toying with the idea, yet not actually doing it.

On the one hand, Instagram clearly is an easy way to promote a healthy lifestyle, and inspire people. I believe that I am somewhat out of the regular yoga-crew, even though I am white, female, and relatively slim, since I also happen to be an Iyengar practitioner, who are relatively unknown on the interwebs, and I did my training while getting a PhD in structural chemistry, which I will defend and receive in November. I’m also a French vegan, which is still a rarity (though that is changing).

I genuinely would like to make Iyengar yoga more known and attract younger practitioners (I talked about age issues in the Iyengar community here). Few teachers are known outside of the Iyengar community, I would say Patrica Walden for sure but still mainly by older practitioners, and Carrie Owerko who is doing hell of a job at spreading the Iyengar world while making it seem fun and attainable.

CV1_yoga_SIP5_17.jpg

Interestingly, when I saw this cover of Yoga Journal, I did not notice it was Carrie Owerko initially, but my first thought was “wow she’s got her front foot really activated, really nice to see that in a yoga pic’ for once!”

Anyhow, the Instagram world, while full of yogis, is pretty void from Iyengar yogis, with the exception of yogi Zain who makes beautifully edited videos, and Fanny from Iyengar yoga notes. If you know of other follow-worthy Iyengar yoga instagrammers, by all means please leave a message in the comments.

So why am I not doing it? Well, I’m still wondering if having an Instagram wouldn’t make me addicted to a) taking pictures all the time and b) external validation. While I started this blog with the only intention to write down my thoughts, I would start my Instagram account with the idea of spreading my idea of yoga, veganism and generally my lifestyle to as many people as possible. First, I’m still not convinced I’m that worthy of an inspiration. Second, well, this blog is not getting many viewers, which I’m fine with, but what if my Instagram doesn’t either? Third, if it does get some traction, is it really promoting what I want to promote? Instagram posts are very short and centered around a picture. While it is easier to communicate and attract people through images, is an image-only medium really the best? Finally, the Iyengar community itself is quite critical about form. And I am too. If I would want to post picture of poses, they’d have to be pretty-near perfect… which might take a lot of time and fun out of my practice.

So overall, I’m thinking of changing the blog a bit, with maybe more short, Instagram-style posts. Maybe some “progress pics”. Maybe advertise my blog a bit more. But not a complete switch to Instagram.

What’s your opinion? Do you use Instagram? Do you wish there were more Iyengar yogis on Instagram? And what’s the best way to promote Iyengar yoga or simply a healthy lifestyle on the internet? Where should I promote my blog?  Looking forward to reading your comments and suggestions.

 

 

Being a gluten-free vegan in France

I’m back home to my parents’ for 20 days. I usually never stay home that long anymore, but since I’m about to move to the other side of the ocean, and I won’t be there for Christmas for the first time ever, I decided to spend some quality time with my parents. I was also hoping to go swimming at the beach, but so far the weather hasn’t been very compliant…

Veganism in France is still pretty much seen as a thing crazy malnourished hippies do. The culture is so centered around food, and the food so centered around animal products, that being vegan pretty much prevents you from going out to the restaurant, unless you are in Paris. Since I also can’t have bread, it gets very difficult to eat out. I often joke that my French citizenship was revoked the day I got diagnosed with a dairy and gluten allergy : “Quoi, tu ne peux pas manger de pain-beurre-fromage?!“.

That said, I was happily suprised to see many more vegetarian options both in restaurants and supermarkets, and I was even floored to find FIVE different types of vegan spreading cheezes at the supermarket in my small hometown’s supermarket. I wasn’t convinced at first, but the one I tried was actually really good.

IMG_20170808_183633

Interestingly, I thought this cheeze tasted a lot like… saucisson. Guessing because of the garlic and pepper combo. Note the pun “tartine et moi” (bread slice and me) “tartinez-moi” (spread me). Puns are a national sport in France. 

That said, I cook most of my meals from scratch at home. I’ve noticed that my parents are getting a bit more curious about what I eat, I guess since they realize it’s not a phase and they know how much I love to cook and eat. However they stay so very French in that trying non-French cuisine at a restaurant is impossible. I made this mistake recently when they were visiting me and I brought them to a non-vegan restaurant which I thought could catter both to their taste and mine. Having them choose something on the menu wasn’t easy… they ended up eating the first hamburger of their lives (yes, a classical one with meat). I guess this was a good reminder that people around the world eat very differently, but this is also quite comical when you know my dad travelled all through the middle-east in the seventies and had to eat snake and lamb’s eyes.

 

In any case, I feel that times are changing and veganism is becoming more mainstream in France too. Hopefully the health and environmental messages are reaching more “omnis” who are reducing their animal product intake. I do think that my parents have reduced their intake, but in any case I can see that my brothers and friends are definitely more open-minded about not eating animal products, and even regularly choose the vegetarian option – with no intention however to stop eating meat, at least for now. When I see how far I’ve come and how the environment in France is changing, I am hopeful for the future of veganism. Cause if veganism gains the strength to become somewhat mainstream in France, if vegan options are available in supermarkets and restaurants like in the US, there will be no excuse not to at least try to be vegan.

 

 

 

2 years!

I can’t believe it’s already been two years since the experiment. I don’t think when I started, I ever imagined it would turn out into a permanent thing. Now I can’t imagine going back to eating meat!

So, what changed during the past two years?

I read. A lot. I informed myself about the different reasons to be vegan, and I realized that I was lying to myself. Even though I care a lot about the environment (see below), I am an ethical vegan. I recently came to this conclusion, partly after watching many of Unnatural Vegan videos, but also reflecting on my feelings towards animals (even though there is evidence that it can be healthy and in some cases environmentally neutral to incorporate some animal products into one’s diet, I would not do it) and reading this interesting piece on vegetarianism and the yoga sutras of Patanjali (please let me know if you cannot access the article).

People started to ask me questions about veganism, and I am slowly openning up to the idea of being an “activist”. At least with friends, I am ok explaining why I am vegan, and also not having all the answers. Planting a seed and sometimes admitting I’m not perfect has its role in promoting veganism, if only for making it more accessible and not-all-vegans-are-assholes. #leadbyexample? Interestingly, I’m the only vegan I know. And I used to think vegans were crazy, so I can relate to non-vegans. Arguing is getting easier as I get more informed, and I have to give a shoutout to r/vegan for its very well maintained wiki. I once too thought that animals were mistreated only in the US, that no harm was done to dairy cows and free-range chickens. And back in 2011 when I watched Earthlings (don’t you love that it’s classified as horror/documentary?!) for the first time, I got easily convinced to eat animals again “because you can’t survive without animals products”. Worst is, I totally believed it. But I know better now,  and I also know to do my research on pretty much any claim before taking a decision.

Which leads me to: making better decisions as a consumer. To reduce the harm I create, both to animals and to the environment. What am I doing about that?

I started looking into the zero waste movement. I replaced my plastic toothbrush with a bamboo humblebrush. I was already using a menstrual cup, but I’m trying to switch most of my other beauty products to plastic-free ones (think soap bars and homemade deodorant – I used to use coconut oil only, but it’s not strong enough for me). I’m planning to buy a safety razor when I’m done using the plastic ones I have. I stopped using plastic bags or plastic-wrapped fruits and veggies, am planning to start bulk-shopping, and near-stopped buying organic products once I realized that:

1) they’re not pesticide-free

2) they’re not vegan

3) they’re often not better for the environment

4) organic produce is almost always wrapped in plastic!

Ideally, I would grow my own veggies in my garden, but yeah, this is not gonna happen before a while. Even though I moved to a place which has a small garden with a compost bin, and I’m very happy to finally be able to compost most of my waste since I eat mainly whole foods!

Image result for zero waste

Illustration by Maddie Bright

Generally I’m trying to be more conscious of anything I’m buying and limit what I do buy. Do I really need it? Can I buy it second-hand? What about fairtrade / slave-free / etc? (I got a Fairphone 2). Food-wise, I sometimes have to make “hard” choices. I’m already very limited between allergies and veganism, so sometimes I will by a gluten-free vegan good that contains palm oil. Because my mental health is also important 😉

Alright I think that’s all for now, if you have advice and/or questions please leave them in the comments below, I’d be happy to hear what you do to limit your impact on this planet 🙂