These are some of the most frequently asked questions I get on my youtube channel. And here are the answers!
1. Am I Vegan or Intend to Become One?
No I am not and this will not change for the foreseeable future. This doesn’t mean however that my diet is less sustainable or that i have not considered these things or tried going vegan. I am vegetarian have been for around 17 years. Within that time 2 years I was vegan. This was while I was living a more suburban lifestyle. At some point into my pregnancy with my son i had big egg cravings. I had promised myself not to be too restrictive during the pregnancy so began eating organic free range eggs.
Shortly after my son was born we moved to our 20 acre property to start building our permaculture food forest and living self-sufficiently. It had always been part of our permaculture design (as is very common in permaculture in general) to incorporate having some free range chickens to help us compost, fertilise the soil and act as tractors preparing the ground for planting. We now have 10 chickens to fulfil this function for us and we eat their eggs as well as give some to family and friends. The chickens primarily eat a diet of compost, bugs in the garden and food scraps. At the moment as we are just starting they do eat minimal grain but this will not be a long term thing as we build up more compost and will grow some sunflowers for them and ourselves to eat on our property. There are many other examples where chickens can live solely on compost. This is a system obviously only possible on a fairly small scale and not something massive commercial chicken operations could do. Therefore the arguments raised by the documentary Cowspiracy against the sustainability of animal products including eggs do still apply for the eggs you may buy at the grocery store. However our chickens exist outside this system. They make a great contribution to our sustainability. They are helping us to grow our own food rather than have to buy transported food that is probably grown less sustainably than ours (including organic food), they mean we do not have to own a fossil fuel burning tractor. They also convert compost and grass which are things we can’t directly eat into high energy food. The compost still goes on the garden too but with added chicken manure.
From an ethical point of view I am content with my chickens. They were obtained from small local breeders and were extremely cheap because they were unwanted. They are random mixed breeds which collectors aren’t interested in, they aren’t the breeds bred for intensive egg laying and many of them were quite old when we got them. We view that we are providing them a loving forever home as part of our family. They will never be eaten, they have an enormous coop and can free range as they please on our huge property.
In terms of other animal products i never eat meat. I avoid dairy as much as possible both for ethical reasons and because it gives me asthma and chronic bronchitis. On occasion i will eat something with dairy or eggs not from our property if it is served to me outside of the home. I have found that making these compromises allows me to stick in the long term to a more sustainable and ethical diet. It is not perfect, however from my experience being vegan for 2 years and vegetarian for 15 i know what works for me and how far i’m prepared to push ‘being weird and difficult’ in the greater world around me. In the community in which i live i am extremely unusual and are surrounded by people who eat very large amounts of animal products. I only know personally 1 other vegetarian person in my ‘real life’ who does not live near me. My husband is an omnivore with no interest in changing however eats a 90% vegetarian diet as i do all the cooking at home. So having a diet different other others can be exhausting and given the other things i wish to devote my energy to how I eat is a happy medium for me that i can maintain for my whole life. Despite all this I fully support a vegan lifestyle and applaud those who can maintain it in the long term.
2. Am I Plastic Free?
No. I think some people have misunderstood what it is to be ‘plastic free’ in much the same way as ‘zero waste’ is perhaps a poor term to really describe what the lifestyle is about. Plastic free lifestyles generally involve avoiding all disposable plastic items and when purchasing new items getting things made from other materials as much as possible. It does not involve avoiding all plastic completely in life. This is impossible unfortunately in our present day world as there is plastic in everything from mobile phones to the bus seat you sit on to toilet roll holders. It is also completely counter productive to throw (including recycling since it is downgrading) plastic items away just to replace things with non-plastic equivalents. I still have plenty of plastic in my life from things i have owned for many years and will continue to use as long as possible. When these items are at the end of their lifespan i will look at other options however I also do not have an unlimited budget to buy some of the higher end plastic free options that may be the only alternatives available. I will do what i can with this and certainly avoid single use plastic as much as possible but I have limits including my location (in Australia) where not all products are available or environmentally friendly to transport items to.
One area that i probably don’t do so well plastic wise is my clothing. I buy almost all our clothes 2nd hand. Unfortunately this means that we have less options to choose from and by far the majority of items available have a synthetic fabric component. Buying 2nd hand makes a significant contribution to reducing the environmental and social impact of producing new clothing however synthetics do produce microfibres of plastic that can contaminate waterways when they are washed. So this is a bit of no win situation as the alternative would be to throw away the clothing (or donate) in which they are either not out of the system or in landfill and create a negative impact by replacing everything with new natural fibre clothes. I can’t afford a whole new, organic natural fibre wardrobe for myself and my whole family so we are sitting tight on this one and waiting for the technology to be available to capture the fibres with filters.
3. Am I Zero Waste?
No. And i’m not even close to many of the bloggers you might also read who can get their trash into a single mason jar. We are on a journey and ours is perhaps a bit different to many who live in a city. We do the best we can with buying food in bulk for example and purchasing biodegradable options for household items where we can. However the primary means we are working to reduce our waste is using permaculture and become self sufficient on our 20 acres. This is a long slow process, but a very rewarding one so stay tuned.
4. Do I Count My Items as a Minimalist?
No. I have had varying phases in my life as as a minimalist. There was a time that i had only a bicycle and clothing that fit into a backpack and bike panniers. At that point in time i didn’t even know what minimalism was! Today our home may not look all that minimalist and the challenge particularly comes from things associated with gardening and building on our property. ‘Homesteading’ or permaculture is difficult to truely meld with minimalism as you really do need to keep quite a few ‘in case’ items to run a property affordably. Thus the compromise since we moved here as been to try and keep the house more minimal and the shed where we keep our tools not so much. Another reason we might look less minimalist is that our house is relatively small. We had a lot more open space when we rented a larger home and now we have put the same stuff into a smaller space it is less so. Regularly i will go through my stuff and donate anything i think we don’t need. I imagine this will be an ongoing process especially since we have a child who grows and changes so quickly.
5. How can We Afford to Live Rurally?
My husband and I have a long term goal of true financial independence. We are far from this point however have got ourselves into a very secure financial position in our early 30s. This was done through hard saving, living below our means and earning good money during the mining boom in Australia. We paid for our home over about a 3 year period with 2 years saving for a deposit and 1 year paying off our small mortgage. We made some very calculated decisions about the property we purchased with helped. Living a minimalist lifestyle made us realise we didn’t need a big house. It is 3 bedrooms which is more than enough. We also chose a location that is 1 hr from a major capital city where we could theoretically work if need be by commuting. We are also 20 minutes to a smaller city where my husband currently works. Living rurally property is significantly cheaper so you don’t need to earn as much money, especially since we are completely debt free. Once we are growing all our own food it will get even cheaper. We made sure when we picked a location to live that it had internet access. This was for our own use but could also be a means to work from home online in the future. My advice for anyone wanting to live rurally and concerned about being able to afford it is to make sure it is within a reasonable distance to somewhere you can have a regular job. Homesteading woudl be much more stressful if you have the added pressure of needing to make an income from it right from the beginning or to fully cover your needs to reduce all your expenses. Building up a property to be self-sufficient is also quite expensive so we are glad to have a regular income coming in.
6. What debts did we pay off to become debt free?
Our mortgage which we paid in 1 year. I had a student loan with the Australian government that is also paid off. We are lucky that student loans in Australia do not accrue interest and can be paid off slowly once you earn over a certain threshold. So i paid mine when i have a job and it was automatically deducted from my income so i barely noticed it. We have never had any credit card debts, car loans or any other kind of debts in our lives and will never going forward.
7. How do I afford Studying for a PhD?
Again i’m lucky in Australia PhDs for Australian do not cost. In fact i was paid in part to do mine as it was industry based and like a job producing a service for a company that required my work. There have been several years during my studies i haven’t been paid or on a scholarship and I afforded these by doing short-term consulting contracts and living off my savings.
8. How do I affording being a Stay at Home Mom?
I received about 3 months paid leave when i had my son. After that i was not paid and we live solely on my husband’s income. I will go back to some kind of work in the future once my PhD is completed. We are able to comfortably live on just the one wage by cutting our expenses however since we have big goals for financial independence it is in our interest to have a 2nd wage in the future coming in. At present we save about 30% of our income for our future but this is a struggle as it doesn’t leave much else for other projects we’d like to do on our property.