Out of the blue I was asked on Friday to appear on a national TV show on Network Ten called 7PM Project. They would like to do a segment on frugal living, which I agreed to of course. Seeing that I am one of the writers at the Simple, Green, Frugal Cooperative, I think that will be simple enough to get the message across. Filming is this Wednesday, and I will let the Australian readers know when it will be aired. Apparently, Melissa of Frugal and Thriving blog passed on my name to the producers. Thanks Melissa! 🙂
Then I started thinking, as I do. How does one compare a frugal lifestyle to a sustainable lifestyle that I strive to live. Are the two actually compatible? Lets investigate further, shall we?
My definition of sustainable living is one that lowers inputs and outputs with a view of reducing your environmental footprint. A frugal lifestyle, on the other hand, is one that attempts to reduce your outputs of cash, whilst still living a happy and simple life or other words live within your means. Well, even though the objectives are somewhat different, the outcome is nearly the same.
To put it into perspective, my grandparents and parents were very fugal. I remember as a child, both Mum and Nanna used to make jam, preserve fruit, repair clothes, make dresses, cook all meals for the family, not waste anything, save leftovers, keep anything that looked useful and found a use for it. Both Dad and Grandpa grew fruit and vegetables, worked on a modest dairy farm and took care of livestock. We always had fresh chicken and duck eggs, lamb, beef and of course dairy products that were all ethically cared for and slaughtered when necessary to put on the table. They even had names for all the cows. Their carbon emissions were quite low, they rarely drove cars, all kids rode bikes to school and everywhere else mind you, hardly used electricity, and all other food was sourced locally. That sounds very much what I have tried to recreate in my own family’s lifestyle. Life in the past was frugal and most probably quite green. Even most families in the city had a backyard veggie patch and chickens, and most had a fruit tree or two.
So what about today? Can frugal still be green like it was in the past? I believe that it can, but only if you are selective in what you buy. This is mainly because of the way our present food system works. A trip to the supermarket will confirm this. Cheap canned beef from Brazil, Ham from Denmark and France, canned pineapple from Hawaii, canned beans and crab meat from Thailand. Even the frozen fish in the deli is rarely locally caught. Fresh food is imported in the form of oranges from Argentina or California, Cherries from the USA, Ya Pears from China, Kiwifruit from New Zealand etc,. Food miles and carbon emissions galore, and not very green nor sustainable. There are no longer any seasons, and you may only notice a drop in the price of fresh food when a glut in the market is caused by over production all throughout Australia.
Same goes for manufactured goods. With a flood of cheap plastic crap from China that adorns the $2 shop shelves at Christmas time, discount variety stores are a frugal shoppers haven.
So, in my opinion, to be frugal and green today, you would have to avoid discount variety stores, buy local food in season and preserve the excess, or grow lots of your own. Even a farmers market is fairly cheap and has local fare. Of course, it goes without saying that all the other frugal ways would still apply. Like repairing in lieu of replacing, living within your means, shopping second hand, cooking your own meals, bake bread, knit stuff, essentially all the nanna technology that helped our grandparents survive.
In summary, frugal vs green is not really that different if you are aware of the environmental impact of your frugality, and as with leading a green or sustainable lifestyle, less consumption means that you would be able to live within your means, and live a balanced, happy and fulfilling lifestyle.
Does anyone disagree or can see flaws in my logic?
No flaws. You rock! Cant wait to see you on TV (again!). You are becoming the poster boy for sustainable living Gav.
If I am to be the poster boy, I better work on these abs!
Frugal Life UK says
No flaws at all Gavin, I really , really try to buy local. I know a lot of our food comes from Spain, in an overnight truck and on the ferry but that lorry brings tonnes at a time. I can buy cheap British meat, it has red tractor and union flag on it, so it hasn’t come far and it has the RSPCA freedom food logo on it too. Not perfect I know, but somewhere between raised in a barn or crate? I can buy a kilo of English carrots for 69p and english chicken for £5 – I try to be frugal and ethical, I don’t always succeed but I buy far less than most people, cook from scratch and so on – I’m trying my best.
YOU FORGOT TO MENTION HOME BREWING!!
Only thing I would add would be to mention that living frugal you wouldn’t want cheap plastic stuff anyway, because it would break and you’d need to replace it. It’s more frugal, and green to buy it right the first time (or to live without).
louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife says
I do agree but like Frugal Life UK, I often find myself having to make compromises when it comes to shop bought stuff – I can be frugal or I can be sustainable but it’s often very hard to do both.
The farmers markets around here (Yorkshire, UK) have a good quality of locally grown items – but they seem to be aimed more at foodies than frugal people. There isn’t really a vegetable or fruit farming area – far too hilly for that sort of thing – and the produce farmers from further afield (100miles away) prefer to stay closer to home so we don’t get many seasonal produce gluts to take advantage of there either. The stuff we do get is good quality and sustainable – just not cheap. I’m just glad I have enough time to be able to grow our own/forage so we can have local and organic food regularly without breaking the bank.
One kind-of related question which I’d love to hear your thoughts on Gavin (and other people’s thoughts too!) – at the supermarket, a lot of the “quick sale, reduced to clear” items that are about to go out of date are things that are far from local, for example, salad and other things flown in from overseas – Spain for the salad, Kenya for a lot of the hot-house veg. In the normal course of things, I’d avoid that stuff because of the environmental impact and inevitable expense – but I sometimes feel it’s better to buy it and use it, than letting it become food waste at the store — imagine, all that effort to just be thrown away! Does anyone else have any thoughts on this? Should I keep avoiding it on principle?
Congrats on the upcoming TV appearance. You’ll definately have to announce when it will be on, as we don’t watch TV otherwise! Great post. To add a third dimension and complicate matters more, is to add consumer ethics to the soup pot. Trying to be ‘green’ frugal and ethical. -its a fine line you walk -choosing a brand that may be more ethical, but costs more -or is locally produced, but costs more. Or avoiding supermarket labels. And on the weeks when cash is tight, sometimes being frugal wins over being ethical or green. I like to think its not an all or nothing debate. Every bit helps. Each time you chose ethical, or green, you cast a vote. If you can be frugal about it at the same time, all the better!.
Ultimately, with education, skills, and dedication all three can be achieved … Most of the time. And a whole lot of people making 80% ethical or 80% green choices goes a long way to making a very real difference.
Way to go, Super Star!
Everything made perfect sense to me.
I’d love to have a farmer’s market here and there’s someone trying to get one started but our idiot council is making it hard for him.
I’m hoping he doesn’t get sick of their BS and stops trying.
Now all we have to do is convince the majority of the world that frugal and green is not that hard to achieve. Which you will do on the 7pm Project, of course.
The Walnut Tree says
I look forward to hearing you on the 7pm project Gavin. I follow your blog and really enjoy it. I think you are basically right but I start to wonder, as you do, what about things like Australian grown rice? We use mega amounts of water to grow rice and I believe that in many ways it would be better to import such products. I agree with the preserving, growing our own, food swaps within a community, which means that you can access some fruit or vegie that you don’t have in your backyard. We are incredibly lucky here in Australia as we can probably grow most things but what about places like Finland where fruit can’t be grown and many months of the year it is covered in snow? Anyway maybe away from the subject a little so – yes in many ways frugal could mean green as per dictionary: Economical in the use or appropriation of resources; not wasteful or lavish; wise in the expenditure or application of force, materials, time, etc.
To return to the days of mindful living would be a much greener world I believe. Have fun on The Project.
Jon W says
I’m in definite agreement about the cheap plastic crap that is cheap because the environmental costs are externalised, but I have to raise some objections to the food issues.
The significance of transport related emissions is usually exaggerated for food. According to Michael Velders, who heads Arup Sustainability’s food department, the transport component of food emissions is currently only at about 10%, with the balance made up of chemical production (40%) and heating and cooling of both livestock and produce (50%). Much more important is the choice of food with 250g of beef, for example, contributing the equivalent of 3.3kgCO2 compared to 250g of chicken at 0.88kgCO2 equiv.
Much of Australia is marginal for food production with poor soils, low rainfall and high labour costs. Unless you’re growing organically in your own back yard, using your own wastes, then in many cases you’ll find a lower net impact with imported products grown in areas with better soil and rainfall and lower labour costs that facilitate less capital intensive agriculture.
The significance of emissions associated with rumens is due to their synergistic relationship with bacteria in their digestive system that allow them to utilise otherwise unavailable sugars in the pasture. Unfortunately the by-product is methane. Raising cattle and sheep in Australia for domestic consumption might be all fine and good in a less carbon-constrained world, but the reality now is that choice of diet is perhaps the biggest single factor in a person’s contribution to climate change. If you believe the eco-footprint people, 49% of the Australian person’s footprint is food related.
As for frugality, I imagine you’re familiar with this great blog: http://down—to—earth.blogspot.com/
Gavin definitely no flaws in your logic, and I whole heartedly agree.
Can’t wait to see how you go on the 7pm project, convert the masses…no pressure.