My daily struggle in the supermarket

And once again I’m standing in the supermarket. People swirl around me, an impatient energy hovers in the room. Since the pandemic, every trip to the supermarket feels like a battle. I look down at my sloppy written shopping list: I still need milk.

Milk. And again, I’m faced with a dilemma I encounter almost every day: Should I go for the sustainable alternative, or do I try to ignore my conscience and opt for the non-environmental choice that I actually desire?

You have to understand, I love coffee. Coffee with milk. With a bit of milk topping. A little cinnamon on top. Every morning I look forward to it anew. And I know, I know, there are many barista edition milk alternatives. And yet, the best cappuccino is still made with cow’s milk; that’s just how I grew up.

So, I’m back in the supermarket, standing in front of the milk shelf. It doesn’t make a real difference in the end, does it? Whether I buy the cow’s milk or the oat alternative. On the whole, nobody cares. It has no impact in the long run. Only a drop in a huge stream.

Just the other day, I calculated my ecological footprint. Of course, it didn’t surprise me that my lifestyle takes more than one Earth. But as the number has always been too abstract to me, I also calculated how many Earths I would need if I behaved perfectly in every aspect – living, heating, consumption, nutrition, mobility. And it turns out: Even if I shared the smallest apartment in the world with 12 people, would restrict myself in every possible way, I would still need 1.46 Earths. Great, so in the end, it doesn’t matter what I do; it’s not possible to live genuinely sustainably. So why even try?

Didn’t I also read somewhere that the CO2 footprint (an adaption of the ecological footprint) was also used as advertising material to shift the responsibility for global warming away from the fossil fuel industry to the citizens, mandated by the oil and gas company? So why even try?

We all know that while each individual can influence a part of their emissions, unfortunately, a large amount cannot be controlled. This is because private actions always refer only to the individual person’s decisions, i.e., the use of consumer goods, environmental goods, or services. However, it must be noted that this decision of the private person is only the last one of a whole series of decisions. Procedures of their entire life cycle determine the sustainability of products, systems, or services. Even if consumers had all the knowledge about these procedures at their disposal, their influence would be limited only to the final decision of whether to buy or not to buy the item. Thus, the system has to change, not me, the individual, right?

But then I remember the story of a friend of mine: the other day, her roommate, with whom she had been living for a good year, came and told her that he had now decided also to live more environmentally friendly and that she had been a great inspiration for this decision. And I still remember how I also decided to go vegetarian at that time as I became friends with people from a Greenpeace group. Environmental awareness came to us through a typical snowball system, one that has long since taken on a life of its own. The topic of sustainability has penetrated all social strata in the last 20 years, and I am sure that dealing with the issue and living a sustainable life will get through to the citizens more and more. Perhaps one should not see oneself as a single person but also as a role model. As a role model that is part of a huge network, interconnected on many different levels, interconnected with the most diverse people, and thus various possibilities of positive influences.

And something else comes to mind while I’m still staring unconvinced at the milk offer. I’m going to vote, too, aren’t I? Not only that, I even condemn people who don’t vote. Don’t the same arguments apply here? The individual vote basically has no effect; only the mass has one. It makes no difference whether I, as an individual, vote or not. My vote basically has no impact on politics, on the system as a whole. And still, it is completely natural and crucial for me to vote. I vote because it’s a privilege; because it’s our duty as citizens. That’s what we need in terms of sustainability, too, right? A change in the system?

Of course, my decision to buy the more sustainable milk is not a political vote that is officially counted. But, well; maybe not a political one, but an economic one. The market for vegetarian and vegan products has been rising steadily in recent years. Because just as politics must act on votes, economic companies must act on their customers’ purchasing decisions. Each purchase decision is an economic vote. And that’s why we should vote here, too. Again, it is our duty as citizens.

I sigh. It’s been a long time since I’ve made myself a perfect cappuccino. I reach for the oat milk. At least the carton will be prominent and exemplary in the fridge for all my roommates to see. At least I’m hereby voting one more time for the fight against climate change.

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