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Sunday, 19 June 2011

My Cypriot grandparents lived a self sufficient and sustainable lifestyle.

Our way of life is unsustainable, as we cannot go on forever with our high energy and consumerist lifestyles because the resources we depend on are not limitless. We must break away from our dependence on oil, on which our food systems are especially reliant.

The world's food supply is heavily dependent on vast amounts of oil to manufacture fertilisers and pesticides which are destroying the soil we depend on. Oil is needed in all stages of food production from planting to harvesting and from processing to distribution. Agriculture and the industrialised food system is now one of the biggest consumers of oil and one of the biggest contributors to global warming.

This is why a growing numbers of scientists are telling us that our way of life is ecologically and economically unsustainable. A few rich countries are depleting the world's resources whilst the majority of the world lives in poverty. And it would be impossible for all the world's population to all rise to the level of the rich because the earth's resources could not sustain it.. Minerals and fossil fuels are being depleted towards exhaustion and if everybody on the planet consumed as much energy as Americans do we would use up all fossil fuels within 35 years.

We will eventually have to move from fossil fuels to greater use of renewable energy but it's impossible to expect to live our high energy lifestyles on renewable energy sources.

Unfortunately any suggestion of a move to less affluent and simpler lifestyles are usually met with horror in the developed world whilst developing nations also ignore the impending problems as they strive to reach the same standards of living as the richer nations in the shortest possible time.

We have in the last 100 years distanced ourselves from the realities of nature and perhaps by looking back to how life was we could learn some lessons.

My grandparents were from a small village in Cyprus and lived off the land. They produced most of their own organic food without any machinery by using manual labour. They kept pigeons, chickens, goats and sheep. My grandmother used a hand loom to make their own clothes from their own wool and cotton. They ground their own flour from their own grain and baked their own bread, using an outdoor mud-brick oven fuelled by gathered wood. They also heated their home in the winter using local wood. Their local transport was by means of horse and cart or donkey and the horse was also used to plough the fields. They needed very little money but any surplus milk or crops they had were sold or bartered for goods and services they needed.

Their diet was based heavily on olive oil, olives, vegetables, fruit, unrefined cereals and foraged wild food. Consumption of meat and dairy products was minimal and food was seasonal. This Cypriot Mediterranean diet resulted in good health and longevity and scientific studies have shown that this traditional diet was nutritionally very balanced and met the bodies needs.

There was no electricity or running water in the village until the late 1940's. Village life was simple and communal, the villagers worked the fields daily and tended to their animals and chickens which provided them with meat, eggs and milk. Goats milk was their most valuable product as it allowed them to produce halloumi or hellim a Cypriot cheese used for centuries. Winter diets were predominantly made up of preserved dried pulses and legumes.

They had vine groves and as well as enjoying the fruit, they made their own wine and zivania which  is a traditional Cypriot distillate produced from the residue of grapes pressed during wine making.

However, it was not all good and my grandparents generation sometimes suffered hardship and deprivation if crops failed.  Their children, like many thousands on Cypriots, left for a better life to the UK, Australia or the USA. Although we cannot go back to being subsistence farmers, we can learn some lessons from our near past:

We can reduce our consumerist lifestyles, be more self reliant, and live more cooperatively in small scale local sustainable economies.

We can focus on providing a life which is safe, comfortable and efficient but which is not wasteful or damaging to the environment.

We can as individuals and nations focus on growing as much of our own organic food as possible and move away from the madness of transporting food all over the globe.

Maybe this is all a bit idealistic but will we have a choice.

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