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How Do We Move from Saying What to Do to Doing What We Say?

Giorgio Gotra, Italy

This question is the one I prefer the most among the ones that have been stuck in my head for the past couple of years. That simple concept, which targets the coherence of people’s lifestyle choices and their personalities, has popped up frequently over the past while, especially during the global pandemic time.

Obviously, the publication of the encyclical Laudato Si’ prepared the ground for such questions, but I have always thought that I was too busy to take the right time to look for answers. The pandemic and, more precisely, the lockdown measures imposed by national governments gave me time to reflect on some of the questions I have been putting off. I suddenly realized that the only way to go through the hard times of the lockdown (far from my family and from my homeland) was to reverse my point of view on my current way of living.

Those months at home were the perfect opportunity to rethink my current lifestyle choices. Fun fact: I did not know that the word “crisis” comes from an ancient Greek word that means “opportunity.” I found that out later, and I could not disagree with the connection, as during a crisis, people often change their ways of behaving.

How did it happen?
Using Pope Francis’s language, I have to admit that I had already put quite a lot of effort into “seeing” and “judging” (accumulating a lot of theory and saying what to do), but at this point I finally felt ready for the “acting” part.

Alone in my apartment, I did not know where to start. I wanted to change our common home, but I found it difficult to even change my own living space. In addition, I felt so much pressure even to take just the first steps. The fear of failing was too big. Rereading Laudato Si’ motivated me, but at the same time I felt I was doing so little compared to others.

I always wanted to put what I learned into practice, but what was the best way to start?
My former Scout chaplain always told us, “If you want to change the world, start in your bedroom.” With these words in mind, readapted to my context, I started with the most accessible action. In my case, this was the reduction of single-use plastic/packaging from my weekly consumption of food.

Working from home made me aware of the quantity of waste produced each week, probably because being at home all the time forced me to throw stuff in the same garbage can without using the one in the office or in public spaces.

I started looking around for food without packaging. Fruits and vegetables were an easy solution, as there are many local organic markets near where I live, but things got more complicated when I started looking for pasta or similar products. In less than a week, I managed to map my neighbourhood and found several local organic markets selling products in bulk. My kitchen started to be decorated with jars containing everything: rice, seeds, pasta, cocoa, coffee, coconut powder… ingredients that I never imagined finding packaging-free.

At the same time, I started considering the seasonality of food and where it came from. Within a few weeks, my diet changed – and so did my well-being. I discovered that the region where I live offers dozens of varieties of potatoes and local vegetables that could be cooked in ways I never dreamed of!

Without even paying too much attention, I drastically reduced my meat and fish consumption. Guess what? Comments I had heard so often, like “Organic food is good, but it is so expensive,” “Only rich people can afford it,” “Local shops are good, but the discount markets are even better because I can buy much more for the same price,” suddenly disappeared. In some of the local and organic shops I went to, I received some food to consume right away, and I learned many recipes to reuse leftovers. In less than two months, I started my own milk kefir and a small apple cider production – what an adventure!

Several weeks after my first step, I did a quick check of my wallet. I found out that the money I spent during that time for my new habits was the same (in some cases, even less) than what I spent before my change in approach. I could not really explain to myself why, but I would understand soon.

Changing my food consumption even had an impact on my daily habits and my time management. While I baked flatbread twice a week, I would listen to the radio or call some friends while preparing the ingredients or waiting for it to bake. Looking for new recipes pushed me to contact some relatives more often, read cookbooks, and share recipes more often with friends. I spoke with friends in India, Armenia, Jordan… it was impressive to see how the same simple ingredients can be combined in so many ways according to the different cultures!

Little by little, I started noticing how my life was rapidly changing thanks to a set of simple (daily and weekly) choices. In a way, I experienced a personal “butterfly effect.” I spent several weeks exploring, being curious and looking for alternatives, listening to ordinary people and avoiding social media influencers – those who pretend to show how everything is easy and ready right now.

The next step was removing disposable packaging from my whole apartment, starting with the kitchen and bathroom. I found soaps, solid shampoo, loofah sponges… packaging-free! I even spent some time trying to make my own cleaning products; after testing a couple of different recipes, I found the one I am still using and I realized how easy and accessible this was. A shelf in my apartment is now a space for sodium bicarbonate, vinegar, salt, ascorbic acid and other essential products. My self-confidence has never been so high!

Exploring, testing and trying to improve recipes turned into a game. Most of my friends became curious as they witnessed my new passion. Some of them took their first steps, too, and started implementing changes in their daily routines. Looking at the path so far made me feel proud and more aware of my ecological impact. The big obstacles I had at the beginning disappeared. I learned so many things about myself and about our relationship to the planet and to others.

After a couple of years of this new way of living, I can say that I feel much more connected to nature and to its spiritual dimension. I even started to value time itself in a new light, and I started to prioritize relationships over goods. As Pope Francis says, everything is interconnected, and this is one of the clearest demonstrations of that truth. Now it is your turn: Where are you going to start?

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