Taking Shorter Showers to the Next Level

“Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth.”

“Bike everywhere!”

“Don’t leave lights on.”

“Reduce reuse recycle.”

Environmental activist or not, you’ve probably heard every one of these classic sustainability-action driven messages a thousand times. These catchphrases get throw around so much that it’s easy for them to lose their meaning and weight. But what would it really mean to take them seriously? If you believe that individual lifestyle shifts can make a difference for our planet, as I do, each of these messages is truly a call to action. This blog post is about my experience living out the commonly heard environmentalist message: “take shorter showers.”

cold-shower-300x204

All “take shorter showers” means is, well, shorten the length of time you spending showering. It also implies no baths. But I take the message of “take shorter showers” more broadly: make showers as environmentally neutral as possible. You might laugh, but it is my belief (I’m probably going to get shown up by a reader), that I am now on the cutting edge of shower sustainability. Over the past four years, my shower routine has undergone a complete transformation.

But first, let’s be real: lengthy, hot, soapy showers are awesome. Nothing wakes you up better in the morning or relaxes you more after a long day of work, school or exercise. A proper shower makes you feel clean, fresh and happy. But lamentably, showers are not the most sustainable activities. They involve hot water, typically heated with energy. They involve soap, usually packaged in plastic. Sure, not as bad as driving a Hummer everywhere or consuming cattle products thrice a day, but not great. Other than shortening our showers, how else can we improve?

My quest for sustainable showers had humble beginnings. In fact at age 17, I was a regular shower criminal. Obsessed with singing opera in the concert hall acoustics of my bathroom, I let my showers drag on and on. My water was scorching hot and pressure colossal. I generously oozed out body wash, shampoo and conditioner, all indiscriminately purchased from brands evaluated solely on their coolness and cheapness, with no considerations for ethics or the environment.

Then I heard about the “No Poo” method, and my bathroom life was forever changed.

The revolutionary insight of this movement was not to stop pooping in the shower, because I didn’t do that before. No one does. No Poo is actually short for No Shampoo.

Indeed, I do not use shampoo (or any hair product for that matter). I have only had shampoo or conditioner in my hair once in the past four years, and it was not by choice (see Appendix A). I’m guessing you’re now imagining my hair to be super greasy and gross. Well, I promise it’s not. It’s probably as clean and healthy as yours!

img_20170201_080323642-1
Does this picture constitute proof? (No filter)

The No Poo method involves cutting out shampoo completely and just rinsing your hair with water. While there may be more grease in the first few weeks, it doesn’t take long for your scalp to learn to regulate both the good and bad oils in your hair. At that point, taking a soapless shower provides the same feel good cleanness as the shampooy version. If something nasty gets in your hair, like chlorine, natural solutions like apple cider vinegar work splendidly.

Whether you believe the quasi-scientific explanation of improved scalp health or not, ditching shampoo has many benefits, including affordability and convenience. But sustainability is a main driver for my water-only showers as well. As someone who’s working hard to reduce their waste output (see blog posts about Plastic Free July), I’m grateful I’ve saved so many shampoo and conditioner bottles over the past 4 years! Moreover, the next 60-100 years won’t need shampoo either! You also guarantee no animal testing or unwanted chemicals. Going soap-free completely is another story, but I only buy bar soap to reduce packaging, and only use it when I really need to. Maybe I’ll go soap-free eventually, I’ll keep you posted.

2013 was also the year I was struck by another fascinating shower trend: cold showers.

I was originally inspired by this Ted Talk by cold shower advocate Joel Runyon. I’ve also heard a lot about the potential health benefits of cold showers (improved circulation, etc.) but for me it’s really about two things: willpower and sustainability. As you can probably imagine, after waking up shivering in the middle of winter, undressing and hopping into a freezing cold shower is not the easiest thing to do. It can be uncomfortable, even painful. It truly does require a psychological push. Fortunately daily practice builds the routine, and eventually the fear wanes.  You also come to enjoy the cold water. If you’ve ever taken a polar dip in a cold lake or ocean, you knowing the feeling of overcoming that fear, and how rewarding it is after (see Appendix B). I step out of the shower feeling alive, alert and ready to take on the day.

But chilly showers are also fantastic because a) they use no hot water, and b) tend to be short! I don’t even have time to get through my favourite opera pieces! Over time the energy and water savings are quite significant.

The final, perhaps most important step in my sustainable shower quest is simply reducing the frequency of showers. I know it really does depend a lot on the person and the level of daily activity, but I’ve managed over the past few months from relying on a daily shower to wake me up and launch me into my day, to only showering a few times a week when I really need a good clean. I miss taking cold showers every day, but because they’re more irregular now, I am always sure to make them extra frigid.

Maybe the environmentalist catchphrase should say: “take short, freezing cold showers infrequently and never use soap or shampoo.” In the end, I admit that even if all of us did this, we would hardly be tackling the major global problems of water shortage, excess indoor heating demands, and consumer waste. But maybe it’s just a small piece in the larger sustainable puzzle. And if you do want more tips on sustainable lifestyle changes that make a difference, stay tuned to this blog!

-George Radner
Common Energy | External Team & Zero-Waste Team Co-Coordinator

Appendix A – The Tragic End of My No Poo Streak

Sadly, my shower resume recently endured a massive blemish. While on exchange in Sweden last fall, I avoided getting a haircut at all costs. Men’s haircuts couldn’t be found for less than $40 CAD, an exorbitant price I was never willing to pay (I usually try to keep it below $15). But the perfect opportunity for a cheap trip presented itself while I was travelling in Rome, Italy. The problem as I strolled into Machete Barbershop on the last night of my trip was language. The hair stylist spoke no English, and the receptionist only knew a bit. But not to fear, I was prepared for this reality: I had googled key words like “razor,” “scissors,” “top,” “sides,” “flow” etc. before entering the shop. My desired haircut description, a mix of English, broken Italian, and hand symbols, was on point. But what I didn’t plan for was the pre-cut hair wash.

The hair dresser took me over to those reclined neck chairs with sinks in the back (you know what I mean). He started rinsing my hair, then reached for the shampoo. I protested with all the expressiveness I could produce. “Solo acqua” I pleaded! Surprised, he seemed to agree. A breath of relief. He then proceeded to lather my hair with shampoo and conditioner! Streak over! 3.5 years of No Poo ended by an Italian hairdresser. Fortunately I’m back on track. I’ll be sure to post when I beat my high score of 3.5 years sometime in 2020!

Appendix B – The Coldest Shower Imaginable

Daily cold showers fostered in me both a tolerance and appreciation for cold water. This made my experience polar bear dipping in the Arctic Circle near Kiruna, Sweden, all the more meaningful. Imagine the most spectacular wood-fired sauna, floating (but stationary) on a large dock on a frozen lake. If it’s hard to imagine that, look at the picture below. On the floor of the sauna was a trap door that opened directly into the lake water beneath us. The water temperature was barely above freezing. My body temperature was barely below boiling! Jumping in and out of that astonishing cold water was among the most heavenly mind-body experiences of my life. When going from boiling to freezing to boiling got tiresome, we would simply step outside, look up, and bask in the glory of the northern lights. Incredible.

img_20161217_120452367
It looks like just a building on some snow. But it’s really a floating sauna on a frozen lake.

Advertisements

The Trials and Triumphs of Only Eating Plants

Would you rather:

-Eat thick greasy American-style pizza in Estonia OR eat cold kidney beans in Estonia?

v-blog-beans-pizza-edited
Beans vs. Pizza

-Enjoy whipped cream on your stack of delicate Swedish pancakes OR enjoy your weird looking vegan pancakes plain?

v-blog-pancakes
As sad they look, the vegan pancakes weren’t bad!

-Start a three-course meal with a fancy cheesecake and smoked salmon OR start a three-course meal with basically just glorified lettuce?

v-blog-gasque-salad
Presentable, elegant, but hardly satisfying.

Comical contrasts, I know. But these conundrums are common for committed consumers of exclusively plants. Choosing option number two has been my reality as a vegan for the past month.

In this post, I want to lay out what I see to be the hardest and scariest parts of veganism. Part of my decision to go vegan was to become an activist for others to reduce the meat and animal-products in their diets. But it would be misleading to sell veganism as an easy and convenient lifestyle shift. I have found the conversion relatively painless, and I think anyone is capable of making the switch. Nevertheless, it is worth acknowledging the aspects of the plant-based diet that may turn people off.

The most obvious one is taste. That’s probably why most people would choose the former option in the would-you-rathers posed above. Giving up many foods and dishes from your diet is a huge sacrifice for the taste buds. It would be futile to try to convince a meat or cheese lover to eat beans instead of pizza, salad instead of cheesecake, or straight up worse pancakes on the basis of taste alone. But I will point out that vegan food does not have to be bland. There are so many ways to make plant food delicious, and it’s been a joy to explore new recipes in my first month of veganism. It’s also probably healthier and cheaper.

Second, veganism requires so much more effort! I really do think this is a major deterrent, especially for people who aren’t used to the extra planning and need for foresight that dietary restrictions demand. The beauty of omnivorism is the assurance that even if you didn’t pack lunch, you have a million food options wherever you go. Vegans generally do have options eating out, but they’re limited. Planning for every meal seems daunting, but once you get in the routine of making all your meals and always having food to bring on the go, habit takes over and it really does become easy! Sometimes that means relying on just beans, nuts and fruits for an afternoon. But most of the time, it’s delicious, and once again, healthier and cheaper!

A last potentially terrifying reality of veganism is the risk of inconveniencing other people or creating awkward social situations. “George, if you ever come over, you will have to eat meat,” my one friend warned me. I don’t have too many wise words on how to handle situations like that, as I have not yet encountered many. But I think being flexible and potentially even breaking the veganism for a meal or two to avoid conflict isn’t the end of the world.

I knew giving up animal products was going to involve sacrifices. My main reason for going vegan, to avoid the massive environmental damage done by the livestock industry, has superseded all the inconveniences and made the switch completely worth it. But I’m surprised to say I’m actually enjoying veganism so much. I feel better about the food I’m eating than ever before. Being forced to cook all my meals and try out new foods is a great thing. I’ve still found food to still be a source of great pleasure and satisfaction. I crave eggs every morning, but am content with tofu scrambles instead.

The title of this post alluded to a triumph or success story from my experience only eating plants. What could be more triumphant than hosting non-vegan guests for several vegan meals, and actually satisfying them (unless my friends are lying to me)? It’s been a pleasure to share my favourite vegan dishes, and it’s my hope that discussing my veganism has brought environmentally conscious eating to the attention of those around me.

The triumphs have ranged from simple veggie stir-fries, to a multi-course Yom Kippur break fast feast, all the way to a pizza party featuring six unique and mostly tasty vegan pizzas for ten guests. Some claimed it was the first vegan meal of their lives. Changing that is what vegan activism is all about.

Please feel free to comment on anything you agreed or disagreed with about this post!

-George Radner

Common Energy External Team

v-blog-pizza-party
Visual proof the vegan pizza party happened. I’d say the guests look pleased.

 

 

Why a lover of pancakes, fresh sushi, and cheese-covered pizza would give it all up to go vegan.

 

seattle-breakfast
Delicious breakfast in Seattle. Sadly, I am giving up many of these foods.

 

Croissants dipped in latés.

Bagels with cream cheese and lox.

Challah French toast.

Scrambled, fried, boiled, poached and omelette’d eggs.

Buttery desserts.

Cottage cheese…

A crucial part of my identity is my love and passion for food. I gain immense pleasure from tasting delicious food. I adore stuffing myself, probably more than I should.

Veganism, first and foremost, is a far-reaching constraint on the food available for consumption. It eliminates a huge swath of standard dishes across most cultures. It drastically limits possible food combinations. It is a pain for cooking, eating out, and eating in general.

All that said, last Sunday, September 4th, 2016, I ceremoniously ate my last non-vegan meal: cheese pizza with vegetables and cheese.

pizza-1
Poorly lit picture of said ceremonious final pizza.

Questions you are surely asking yourself:

Why is this dude going vegan? Also, why is he blogging about it???

It’s worth mentioning that I am not going from carnivore to vegan. I became a vegetarian at the age of 11, and since age 16 I have been a pescetarian (vegetarian who eats fish). For the past year I have attempted to limit my animal-related consumption to free range eggs, organic/grass-fed milk, and ocean-wise seafood whenever possible, though have been far from perfect. I see veganism as just the next step!

I am blogging about my veganism experiment for a few reasons. First, I enjoy blogging about it. Second, I want to deconstruct many misconceptions about veganism, primarily that it is impossibly inconvenient, alarming unhealthy, and overall just unpleasant. More than anything, I want to raise awareness about environmental issues surrounding food and encourage my readers to eat more consciously.

That finally brings me to the actual reasons why I am going vegan. There are two and a half…

I am going vegan primary for environmental reasons, as you may have guessed. Compared to plant-based foods, animal products pollute enormously and require much more water. According to a study in the UK, the dietary greenhouse gas emissions of vegans are nearly half those of meat-eaters! The greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t just include meat. The production of animal derivatives such as as cheese, milk, etc. also pollute! Vegetarians produce about 35% more emissions than vegans.

Second, I find the treatment of factory farmed animals to be immoral.

The last reason only counts as a half reason because it is less of a reason to go vegan, more of a reason to vegetarian. That reason is health! I believe animal products, especially red meat, are more harmful than helpful health-wise, especially given the wide availability of other nutrient-rich foods and supplements.

I plan to address each of these three reasons at greater length in a future post. The environmental, ethical, and health issues surrounding food consumption all deserve attention and critical thought!

I imagine that many of readers already know the reason to go vegan. Many of you already eat consciously by going lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, ovo-lacto vegetarian, pescetarian, pollotarian, and/or flexitarian!! (This website explains what all of those mean). A smaller proportion of my readers are vegan, including my younger sister Claire who is my main inspiration for doing this. Also shout out to Keila Stark who decided to go vegan because I told her I was going vegan. Good on you all!

I do not look down upon people who do not make restrictions on their diet because I understand how delicious food tastes and how strong societal and cultural norms are. But I encourage everyone to think hard about their diets and make an effort to eat more consciously. This does not involve giving up meat, cheese, fish, eggs, or anything altogether. Veganism is an extreme position. If average citizens in rich countries reduced their consumption of meat from 3 meals a day to 2 meals a day, or 7 days a week to 6 days a week, it would make a difference.

I myself may not succeed in pure veganism. Maybe I’ll only manage to cook vegan, but become a vegetarian while out. Or have rare exceptions to veganism in the interest of taste and convenience. Perhaps I can invent a new cool label. Or maybe I’ll fail completely!

I imagine my vegan experiment will be full of challenges and (hopefully) humour. This ongoing blog will follow all transpirations closely. I’ll throw in recipes, tips, and more food for thought!
-George Radner, Common Energy External Team.

 

References:

Scarborough, P., Appleby, P.N., Mizdrak, A. et al. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climatic Change (2014) 125: 179. doi:10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1