Category

Environmental Awareness

One of the questions I’m constantly asked about my diet is how expensive it is. Today, I’ll address this question by breaking down what I eat, how and where I buy it and more.

Let me begin by saying that there are 3 main things that raise the $$ of food:

  • Eating out frequently and eating processed foods
  • Splurging on superfoods
  • Eating all organic

I don’t think anything is wrong with either of those habits but we all have different reasons on why we would prefer to spend less. For some people, it is not an option, they just really cannot afford it. But most people claim that it’s not affordable to them while it really is.

Here’s how I eat wholesome vegan food without breaking the bank.

Pick your produce one vegetable at a time

I personally prefer to go to the farmers market and pick my vegetables. I pick food that is rich in color, for example, if I’m buying tomatoes, I’ll pick the reddest, most plump ones. Shopping that way means that most of the food I get is package-free and that I don’t end up with any bad produce. Less bad produce means less waste. Less waste means spending less money on food. If you can spend less money on food by adopting this technique then you can spend the same amount of money on organic produce (no waste) and non-organic (with lots of waste).

Since I eat 60% fresh vegetables, this accounts for the bigger chunk of my food budget.

Top tip: at my favorite market, the one at Nun Center, I start at Sara’s Organic Food and My Kitchen Garden, because most items are not packaged. I then make my way to Makar, Thai Farms and Tabi3y to buy whatever I couldn’t find at the first two vendors.

Grow your own

I don’t think I know of an easier crop to grow than arugula and its one of the healthiest. Most vegetables and herbs are extremely easy to grow and many can grow in pots. I would recommend you start with mint and arugula. Then add zucchini, eggplant and romaine lettuce. Tomatoes need a bit more work. Root vegetables need a bit more experience. Basil, oregano, rosemary and most herbs can grow in small pots. If you have a garden, I highly recommend investing in a mulberry tree. They grow very fast and produce insane amounts of fruit. Lemon trees, and citrus in general, are invaluable, especially since we use lemons every day.

There are endless resources online on how to grow your own food. I think this is a skill we should be taught in school but even if we’re not, it’s very easy to learn online and from experience. On the short run, it saves a lot of money. On the long run, it saves your life.

Buy local grains, buy nuts, seeds and legumes in bulk

We buy ridiculous amounts of brown rice and quinoa, which we can’t find unpackaged or in bulk, unfortunately. But we do buy the ones produced locally. I honestly cannot find a difference in quality that justifies the price difference or the extra CO2 emissions.

As for nuts, seeds and legumes, we buy those in bulk. It is definitely much cheaper to buy from the attar 2 kilos of whole flax seeds then to buy them packaged at a supermarket. Same goes for dried legumes and pulses. Why buy a can of chickpeas with added salt and sugar and packaged in a can while you can buy them dried, in bulk, for much cheaper?

Grains, nuts, seeds and legumes account for about 25% of my diet.

DIY everything

We make our own nut milks, we cook our own legumes and pulses, as previously mentioned and I even tried making tofu. Here’s the thing about making your own food from scratch, it’s a relationship. It’s a give and take. It’s an exchange. You give your food love and in return, it gives you a lot more than energy, it becomes supercharged with good stuff and nourishes you from within. Now, that’s not exactly science so you don’t have to believe me but you can try it for yourself.

I understand that it is time-consuming, I can’t pretend like it’s not. But being organized is key here. For example, I soak my chickpeas overnight and then boil them in the morning while I’m practicing yoga or even if I’m working from home. If you can’t do that, try switching this out by soaking the chickpeas before you leave to work and then boiling them as soon as you’re home, as you shower or make dinner or watch a movie. The point here is that it works, it’s cheaper, it’s healthier and it’s over all kinder to you, your wallet and the environment.

Avoid processed foods

The number one reason I try to avoid packaged food is because they’re mostly processed with palm oil, an ingredient I avoid at all costs. This isn’t one of the items I allow myself every once in a while, or anything of that sort. It is not a joke. Palm oil is an environmental disaster to produce and I will never, knowingly, pay for that.

Back in the day, I used to walk into a supermarket and buy snacks for hundreds of pounds. This wasn’t a daily habit but it really adds up. This habit is now replaced with splurging on artisanal vegan foods or sweeteners; items like maple syrup or matcha tea.

Splurge smart

Now, believe me when I say I splurge big time. But I’m also extremely smart about it so here are some examples.

I love berries, but why buy fresh if the frozen is riper and is much cheaper? Both are packaged anyway so the best deal is to buy frozen.

I prefer hass avocadoes but they’re only in season for about one month of the entire year. During that month, I eat a ridiculous number of avocadoes. For the rest of the year, I think I eat an avocado once every two weeks. I know that when I buy other varieties, I waste a lot so why bother?

I know that the cleanest brand of coconut milk is available for much cheaper at a small shop in an area I almost never go to. So instead of buying it whenever I need it, I go once and buy a few.

When traveling somewhere I can get a good deal, I allow myself to go all out. For example, I discovered that I can buy a kilo of coconut sugar in Germany for 9 euros. How’s that for a deal?

I also buy maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar and other expensive items but if I also know that consuming lots of those means that I’m not getting enough fresh produce. I now eat pancakes or waffles with maple syrup once or twice a month, which means I go through 150 EGP worth of maple syrup in about 4 months. Now, is that really expensive?

In a way, we’re lucky the vegan industry isn’t thriving yet in Cairo

When I’m in Germany, I buy all sorts of vegan chocolate bars, donuts and pizzas. Because plant-based milk in available everywhere, I have too many cappuccinos. In Cairo, the options are much limited, which means I mostly eat my fresh produce at home. Needless to say, I eat more at home when I’m in Egypt than Germany. And even though vegan food in restaurants in picking up in Cairo, I still make sure I eat out less to benefit from all the points I mentioned before.

I hope this essay answer the question of whether or not a vegan diet is expensive. I would love to hear from you if you have any other opinion on the topic. I’m also very interested in discussing the topic of the real value of food, so stay tuned for that!

 

Much love,

Amira

Part (II): Zero-Waste Essentials

Be sure to read till the end. I have a BIG surprise for you!

Imagine no trash? Imagine no animals ingesting plastics? Imagine a world free from pollution? Microfibres? Non-biodegradable bottles?

What a world that would be!

Zero-wasting basically means producing no waste. You carry your bag to buy groceries, you purchase sustainable fashion items and so on. It is pretty much one of the most controversial movements in the environmental fields of study. Can we truly be zero-waste? But what if we can not, do we stop trying to reduce our waste?

Here is where conscious consumerism steps in. The movement is not asking you to stop buying nuts because they come packaged in plastic. I am asking you to take your own bag or jar to buy nuts. I’m also not asking you to stop wearing socks because they come wrapped in plastic. I am just asking you to either find ones that aren’t wrapped at all or not to hoard on socks. You get the drill! Reducing our waste is vital for our own wellbeing as much as it is for the planet and everything around us.

Now, let’s go through the list of “zero-waste” essentials I personally think should be on everyone’s shopping list.

Soapberries or Soap Nuts

Did you know that the detergents we use on a daily basis are loaded with harmful chemicals? Your body does not know all those synthetic fibres and so it mistakes them for hormones and acts accordingly! No wonder we live in the age of manmade disease! Soap nuts are basically nature’s soap, free from any chemicals or processing. They grow on a tree and they are naturally foamy and have a plain clean scent. They’re also cheaper than most soap or detergents. Now, I won’t lie, soap nuts are a bit tricky to use. The best way I found when using it as laundry soap is to soak the nuts for about 30 minutes in hot water before using the soaking water along with the soap nuts in the washing machine. It is also recommended to use them with hot water, never cold, or else they’re soap won’t be activated. As a shampoo, I boil about 5 nuts and let them simmer for about 20 minutes. I then squeeze out as much foam as I can from the nuts and I used the liquid to massage my scalp for a few minutes. I then leave it on for about 20 minutes, if possible, and then I rinse it out. My hair is usually very soft, clean and shiny after I do this.

The best bit? You can reuse the nuts a few times and then compost them!

Where to find: Online and in health food stores in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. My friend Manon said you can buy them fresh in Indonesia, which makes using them so much easier.

 

Bamboo Toothbrushes

I’ve been using bamboo toothbrushes for years! I haven’t bought a plastic toothbrush in a long time and I can’t imagine ever buying one again. Not after I learnt that there are entire beaches covered in used toothbrushes in South America! Did you know that your own toothbrushes could have traveled from anywhere in the world to be washed up there.

There’s nothing different about them in terms of use. They just feel slightly different but you adjust quickly. Some come with compostable bristles and others not but in all cases, the rest of the brush is compostable. You just add it to your compost pile or stick it in the ground. It’ll disappear before you know it!

Where to find: Most health store or green beauty stores around the world and online.

 

Bamboo Ear-picks (Mimikaki)

Cotton buds? What’s that? I believe the last time I picked up a box of cotton buds was almost three years ago! The ear-picks are a Japanese tool that can be purchased in plastic, bamboo or stainless steel. And while they look like medieval torture devices, they’re actually pretty easy to use.

But aren’t we supposed to avoid sticking anything inside our ears? Well, yes and maybe, but if you’re going to stick something inside your ears, you better make sure it doesn’t harm you or the environment.

Where to find: Asia obviously but also any Asia town in Europe and North America will stock them. I got mine in Japan town in Düsseldorf. You can also find them online.

 

Menstrual Cup

The first reaction I usually get to those two words is “eww.” But let’s break it down. It is your own blood. No, it isn’t disgusting. And it remains your own whether you discard of it in the toilet or the trash. Having your trash travel distances doesn’t mean it’s any less your own trash. Not to add how toxic those chemical-laden pads and tampons are to your health!

Getting the hang of it takes a couple of cycles but once you get used to it, it becomes so easy and comfortable. You don’t feel it’s existence, it’s pretty hygienic and it actually helps you understand your own cycle and detect any abnormalities. It’s basically a win-win for your health and the environment.

Where to find: Online and in health food stores in Europe and North America.

Update: OrganicCup is now available in Egypt.

 

Straws, Chopsticks, Utensils, Coffee Cups and Water Bottles

I know a lot of people say it’s a hassle to carry around extra items in their bags but I also know that those people never tried. While moving my items from one bag to another, I’ll move my wallet, my pot of shea butter, my keys, my straw and my chopsticks. Sounds easy enough? yeah, I thought so. Little switches with big impact.

I use 24 bottles and BKR but I also highly recommend Klean Kanteen and Two Thirds‘ bottles. I also use a medium-sized Keep Cup. I’ve had it for about 4 years and I gotta say, it’s chic and indestructible!

 

I’m glad you made it till the end! Here’s the big news: UrbanEarthlings will soon be an online shop for all things sustainability. All the items on this list will be available through the shop. Not only that, but most items will be manufactured locally and the shop will be a non-profit, which basically means that all profits will benefit charities around Egypt and the world!

I can not announce the launch date yet but I’m already receiving samples and working on the packaging. It will probably be right after the summer holiday. Please, let me know if you have any questions, comments or requests here. Anyone as excited as I am?

 

Much love,

Amira

 

Last week I got on a flight feeling as prepared as I can be. Reusable shopping bags: check. Reusable straw and cup: check. Soap nuts order: check. Patagonia store locations pinned: check.

As we took off, I started thinking about a carbon emission test I had taken a while back and as our plane climbed higher, so did my feelings of guilt.

While most of my numbers are pretty low, I drive a pretty polluting car and I fly quite often.

I came back home last night only to realize that I didn’t prepare anything for Earth Day. Honestly, Earth day is depressing for me.

This morning, I woke up feeling down and tired, I kept going in and out of bed for at least three hours. Occasionally, I wake up feeling helpless. What can I do for humanity? How do we save the animals from the most dangerous species in the world? For how much longer can Mother Earth be so resilient?

I dove back under the covers.

A few minutes later I stumbled upon Haley’s instagram story and picked up this line, “Do you have time to feel like shit?” Well, of course I do!

Then maybe I also have time to do something about it.

The truth is: I try. Every.Single.Day!

I remembered I picked up the latest issue of National Geographic magazine at the airport last night. I was so excited to read “7 Climate facts you need to know now,” hoping that it can rid me of my feelings of helplessness. As expected, it didn’t. My cheeks were flooded with tears upon seeing a picture of a beautiful polar bear, knowing that his species will go extinct during my lifetime.

I am often told that we have “bigger problems” and that “I’m privileged” and that’s why I can “afford” to think about such things so here are the facts:

Yes, I am absolutely privileged. I have a warm bed, running water, a roof over my head, clothes to wear and enough food to sustain me for years. Oh, wait… That’s also you and everyone you know! Every single day, we make excuses as to why we cannot afford to think about climate change because we have other priorities. The truth is our priorities come in the form of real jobs so we can eat real food, dress in real clothes and buy more real things. But also, our real jobs cost real animals their lives, cost real farmers their lands and cost real children their last hopes for a chance to live like we do. Our very “real” lives are costing everyone else theirs. This is how we truly pay for it. The only “real” thing you need to know right now is that we pay to kill other beings every day and this process is really easy to understand. We eat animals, we wear animals and we use animals to make most of out products. We emit so much greenhouse gases and then use air conditioning to condition our spoiled selves, without realizing that we’re polluting further. Industrial waste, pesticides and animal agriculture are real. Climate change is killing off entire species. Climate change is murder and we should be charged.

Still doesn’t sound like a priority? Climate change is flooding agricultural lands, leaving poor families in rural areas hungry. Climate change is the reason why entire islands are starving because they cannot find enough resources because we have taken all that away. Climate change is why your children will not know the penguin and the seal and the sea turtle.

Pessimistic much? No, there’s so much we can do and it’s actually easier than you think. Cut the meat in half, cut the AC in half.

Want to do more? Eat mostly local.

Not enough? Cut back on the chemicals, including soap, detergents, shampoos, etc.

 

Now, I’ll go back under my covers so I can get a week’s worth of crying over with. Tomorrow will be a better day.

I’m sorry, Mother. We should’ve known better.

Happy (not really) Earth Day!

 

If you’d like to read more about some of the facts mentioned please check this and this for AC facts, this and this for our meat consumption and this for the UN’s recommendation.

Disclaimer: I think a lot about filtering my content before publishing but I don’t. This is as raw as can be. This is who I am on an angry day and I don’t feel the need to mask it.

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1- Stop using plastic bags to shop
Plastic bags are a relatively cheap product. We use and abuse them but the moment one flies away, we don’t even blink, not realizing that they end up in the oceans and deserts and are usually ingested by innocent animals. I could go on and on about whether they’re biodegradable or not and how our landfills are dotted with them but honestly we all know that plastic bags are a pain by all means. We all know it yet we chose our own temporary convenience over everything else that matters.



2- Buy more local produce (and have less waste)
The closer it’s farmed, the less time and energy it takes to reach you and it’s kinder to your wallet and the environment. It’s also important to note that produce is most likely picked before it ripens or else it’ll spoil on it’s way to you. Eating local is means less pollution and more nutrients.



3- Stop buying plastic bottles
I remembered a day in the desert when all of my friends went back to the city and I stayed. I went on a short hike and guess what I found? Hundreds of plastic water bottles! They’re also lightweight so they get picked up by the wind easily and settle in groups in remote areas. I remember one bottle specifically because it looked new but I knew that’s its been there for a long long time because the same company changed the design a while ago.



4- and when you do, recycle, if possible!
When I started moving towards a greener lifestyle, I realized that most products and packaging cannot be recycled in Egypt, at least for the time-being. The second best option for me was to avoid buying certain things all together. But what I’ve been learning is what ever you want will be created, just be sure to take all necessary action towards it. For me, this was avoiding certain products. For someone else, they just start a recycling company.



5- Park your car and take public transport. Or even better, cycle or walk!
I’m not asking you to ditch your car completely, although feel free to do it if you can. I personally find it hard to take any kind of transport other than that if I’m spending the day out and will need my laptop and do groceries and all that but what about the days when you’re lighter? I know public transport is a nightmare in Egypt simply because it isn’t available everywhere, but if you try hard enough you will definitely find a way to cut things short and well, using your car one or two times less every week could help us all. Many of us have a bicycle that’s gathering dust somewhere and most of us have a pair of healthy legs so we might as well use them! Besides, it’s getting colder so excess sweating isn’t a problem anymore!



6- Cut back on your use of toilet and kitchen paper.
Reusable kitchen towels are the way to go. Enough said!



7- Buy nuts and grains in bulk! Go with your own containers if you can!
I did the experiment so you don’t have to. I tried taking my own jars, I realized it’s a hassle because things get a bit two heavy. Cotton bags though.. these are a game changer for me. Just ask them to weigh the bag and then reset the scale to zero and start filling up! It takes them a couple of times to get used to this but eventually they get to know you and we all know how everything is easier in Cairo when “you know someone.”



8- Use water efficiently!
Do you really have to eat that sandwich on a plate? Is washing the mug before refilling it with tea necessary?
Top tip: keep a glass of water with a spoon or two near your tea/coffee making area and just reuse the spoon for stirring.



9- Don’t over cook!
Overcooking is a typical habit among the people of the Mediterranean. Yeah, you look all so generous but over doing anything just ruins all your efforts. Over cooking means over consumption of food and more that usually goes to waste and packaging that goes to landfills.



10- Limit your use of electricity! We all have that one thing that we abuse, be it your TV or AC. Some of us scroll up and down facebook all day and we end up charging our phones 2-3 times. Some of us always, no matter what, forget the lights on. Others will re-boil the water in the kettle again and again just because they forget that it was on. Who else leaves the TV on while doing other things just to feel the company?


We overdo so many things just because we can afford them now. What we don’t know is that our children won’t be able to afford them later. We confuse generosity with exaggeration and consumerism.



I wrote this is an introduction to how we are ruining our cities and environments ourselves everyday. I do believe that the way we live now will shape the future and our daily habits have a bigger impact than that once a year environmental crisis accident.
I will definitely be following up with more elaborate articles on each of the mentioned topics so be sure to check back in!

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