Creating not Consuming

Conscious consumerism is a lie. Small steps taken by thoughtful consumers—to recycle, to eat locally, to buy a blouse made of organic cotton instead of polyester—will not change the world. 

We pat ourselves on the back for making decisions that hush our social guilt instead of placing that same effort in actions that enact real environmental change. Alden Wicker

I’ve been irked by these words since I first read them a few weeks ago. Is Alden Wicker right? The more I reflect on her article, the more I conclude that she is being deliberately controversial to provoke people into action. Conscious consumerism is a valid and powerful tool but it does need to co-exist with seeking systematic change.

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I’m spending the next three weeks investigating clothing supply chains as part of the Who Made my Clothes? course. Today I’ve been reading about the April 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in which 1,134 people (mainly young women) died in a garment-making factory. I want to ensure my clothes and my family’s clothes are not made in similar conditions through shopping ethically, but at the same time I want to campaign for just working conditions.

Alden Wicker’s article challenges me not to become complacent and is a reminder that seeking to live justly is not about me. It’s about women like Shima, Lisa and Pakhi.


I agree with Wicker’s statement that ethical living is an issue of privilege: The sustainability movement has been charged with being elitist—and it most certainly is. You need a fair amount of disposable income to afford ethical and sustainable consumption options, the leisure time to research the purchasing decisions you make, the luxury to turn up your nose at 95% of what you’re offered, and, arguably, a post-graduate degree in chemistry to understand the true meaning behind ingredient labels.

I have a growing unease in how I am ‘a consumer’ and I’m mindful of how my lifestyle alterations have been dependent on my privilege: many of my recent ethical changes have involved buying new (and expensive) things: a organic cotton hoodie, Fish 4 Ever tuna, Method washing up liquid and laundry detergent, a Mooncup and a deodorant bar.

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Often the most sustainable action is not to purchase anything – the ‘make do and mend’ approach. This is why we have a tiny dishwasher bought for when Team Pilgrim was only Mr and Mrs Pilgrim and we lived in a flat – we’ll replace it with a larger one when it breaks but not before.

The reality is that if we are to live in a way that seriously responds to the global challenges around us – a vital component of which will include reducing our resource consumption significantly – then that may well lead to us needing to live life below a level that some of us might find acceptable.” Ruth Valerio Just Living p. 147

Buying new items gives me a buzz but I’ve discovered I can actually get some of this short-lived emotional high by simply adding things to a wish list. Most of these items are then deleted a few weeks later as I realise I don’t actually want them.

I want to stop impulse purchases. I no longer use my credit card so for online shopping I need to use Mr Pilgrim’s – which usually means I have to wait to ask him for the card. The pause gives me time to reflect and often I change my mind.


For me producing something is in many ways the antithesis of purchasing. I’m not very good at creating items – that’s not to say that I’m not creative but I lack the dexterity and fine motor skills to draw, knit, crochet, craft, woodwork, bake etc.

Yet, I do want to create rather than simply consume. I’ve thought of a few items that I can and do produce: Small Boy and I have been making simple pizzas together since he was quite young – an activity we both enjoy – and we recently baked butterfly cakes to take to a church barbecue. Our small contribution felt more meaningful because we had made them ourselves. I’ve also learnt to make smoothies rather than purchasing them as a way of reducing waste – although these aren’t very popular yet!

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I’ve also chosen A Creative Hobby to pursue – more on how this has been going soon!

Going Wild

As I mentioned at the beginning of the month, Family Pilgrim are taking part in the Wildlife Trusts 30 Days Wild.

Our wild activities have so far included:

  • Finding a tickly spider on a picnic
  • Watching ants climb a tree
  • Looking at sparrows having dust baths
  • Exploring slippery seaweed on the Cumbrian coast
  • Climbing trees, scrambling over rocks and paddling in Derwentwater
  • Walking through a tree tunnel in the woods
  • Being surprised by a barn owl flying past one morning
  • Observing a snail moving across a wet pavement
  • Giggling at a pink flower
  • Marvelling at the wild strawberries growing on our road
  • Searching for the Gruffalo in Whinlatter Forest

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Ruth Valerio writes in Just Living about ‘nature-deficit disorder’ – a term coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, which I am now reading (bought from an independent book shop – I’ve been Amazon-free since 10 April!).

The impact of [this] lack of connection with the outdoors has been memorably summed up by Richard Louv in his phrase “nature-deficit disorder”. We are the poorer where we are separated from the natural world, and it impacts us on all levels: psychologically, emotionally, physically and spiritually.” (p.7 Just Living)

There’s something so beautiful watching children enjoy nature: the joy and wonder of Little Miss as she explores grass or touches a flower for the first time. Small Boy’s excitement as he hurtles down the stairs to get a better look at a robin on the fence. When do we become blasé about the wild around us?

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My heart is growing softer and more childlike towards the natural world. I found myself welling up watching Sammy the Turtle and rescued a snail from the hot pavement earlier this week. (I’m becoming increasingly fascinated by snails! – did you know they’re omnivores and can move at 1.3cm per second?)

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Ecological concern in one of the seven areas of practical response Ruth Valerio focuses in on the third section of Just Living. It’s the area where I have the most to grow as in common with many evangelical Christians, environmentalism as a ’cause’ has been a lower priority. I’m learning how this view is erroneous: God wants me to care for and delight in all he has created.

I’m a list-maker and so here’s my next activity list:

  • Subscribe to a magazine for a year such as BBC Countryfile with the aim of developing ecological literacy (I’ve already done this for free by using Tesco vouchers)
  • Make a bug hotel
  • Take a reusable coffee cup out with me
  • Visit the butterflies at the Natural History Museum with Small Boy and Little Miss

I’ve been shocked to discover that every straw I’ve ever used and every toothbrush I’ve ever had still exists – and I don’t just mean the collection in our shed saved for cleaning bikes. It takes 200 years for a straw to decompose and many of them find their way into the ocean. Read more about the problem of plastic debris in our oceans.

  • Buy loose leaf tea (there’s plastic in tea bags!) Who knew?!
  • Begin the zero waste journey

I’m also going to:

  • Get outside more and notice the wildlife around me
  • Learn about the theology of caring for creation

As I discover more about living justly, I realise there is always more that could be done and it’s so easy to feel a failure, or conversely feel smug or even judgmental. But living in grace (there’s nothing I can do to earn God’s love and nothing I can do to make him love me less) means neither polarity is accurate. I don’t have to try to earn love or Divine Eco-points – which can be cashed in at a later date for a blessing of my choice. Instead I choose to live gratefully, generously and with a global perspective, in the reality of God’s grace, neither berating nor congratulating myself.

So right now I’m going to step away from my computer, pick up my Bible and go and sit outside.

30 Days Wild: Day 1

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I thought it would be fun to get involved with 30 Days Wild as part of my quest to find out more about the natural world and the environment.

Today Small Boy and I found oxeye daisies growing on a roadside verge near our home. I didn’t know that’s what they were called but now I do!

According to the Wildlife Trusts, more than 95% of UK wildflower meadows have been lost in recent years.

I’m also trying to identify the bees who are visiting my sage plant.

(I won’t be posting every day of June!)