We live in a world made for convenience, meat and animal products, and fast fashion. These issues (and many others) are just a few reasons why life as a zero-waste vegan can be difficult. Then, factor in the holidays—arguably the most wasteful time of year—and you might ask yourself if it’s surviving the season with your ethical restrictions is possible. The answer? Yes! With just a few simple changes to your lifestyle, you can still enjoy large family meals, gift giving and receiving, and decorating in ways that just might convert your loved ones to your eco-friendly ways.
1. Do your research
According to Geevie and Sophie Wood from the website Sustain Yo Self, living a zero-waste, vegan lifestyle requires people to “do as much research as possible on both subjects. If you’re going to choose this life, you should be educated on it as well.” Knowing what you should be avoiding, which alternatives are available, if you have access to them sustainably, and, most importantly, why you are doing this will keep you from giving up after one week of complete culture shock. Get creative, and look up ideas for gift wrapping that don’t require the single-use paper. Keep an eye out for gifts at the secondhand shop. Think about giving the gift of an experience rather than a material item (eg, coffee date, show tickets, or hiking). Or, simply spend time with your loved ones you might not see often, which is always much more valuable than trinkets. Bonus: when your family members start to grill you about your lifestyle choices, you can give informed answers they can think about later.
2. Accept the role as black sheep
Brace yourself for the “plants have feelings too” jokes (to which you reply, “But a lower carbon footprint”) and sideways glances when you emerge from the kitchen with 20 dinner plates as opposed to the easy-to-clean disposable ones. Lauren Bowen from The Zero Waste Memoirs says her biggest struggle was accepting the fact that she will always be going against the norm. The world we live in today was not designed for people like us, and some won’t understand why you are making things more difficult. People will stand impatiently behind you at the grocery store while buying Christmas dinner. At the end of the day, do what you feel is right because you made these choices for you and your happiness.
3. Perfection is not the goal
Eco Goddess’ Marina Qutab moved from Rutland, MA to San Diego, CA, where the health-food bulk stores didn’t require an hour-drive one way. This opened her eyes to the geographic and demographic disparities that factor into people’s access to zero-waste and vegan lifestyles. Qutab’s situation is a reminder that not every person has perfect options available, which means there has to be some compromise. For example, if you find the perfect gift for your loved one and it doesn’t happen to be zero-waste, that’s okay because sometimes the joy it will bring is more important than if it came wrapped in plastic. There is not an achievable utopian, nirvana state we can realize through reducing our waste and carbon footprint. These lifestyle choices are a journey, and we learn by making mistakes. Accepting that there are some things that are out of your control is a key part of every lifestyle choice, as it is more important to focus on the aspects you can control, make better choices, and compromise in certain situations for your overall peace and sanity. Especially, during this time of year (when stress is already high), change what you can control, and do what you can for the rest.
Kathryn Lunger started Redhead Envirovegan to inspire and inform people working toward eco-friendly lifestyles