Getting into the holiday spirits in a mindful way

Alcohol production demands various amounts of water, land and energy use, notes columnist

BY MARJORIE STEWART

December includes feasting before facing the last of the dark, marking the turning of the year, a festival celebrating the jumble of interpretations of spirituality called Christianity, all overlaid with manic commercialism.

Into the commotion recently dropped McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality, a book lamenting the corruption of mindfulness, a Buddhist practice of withdrawal from cacophony, using time-honoured techniques to become focused in the moment. Are today’s youths being taught to protect themselves from the impacts of worldliness only in order to keep them functional within a global culture which has lost touch with humanity? Is the mindfulness peddled by corporate mini-courses really just another kind of individual avoidance of co-operative action?

The comparable flavour of the sixties was transcendental meditation, drawn from Hindu spirituality, which seems to have dropped out of favour. Casting a wider net, we see that shamans around the world practise various arts of shifting consciousness at will, entering into worlds of dreams, visions and spirits, using a wide variety of psychoactive substances.

Which brings us to the use of alcohol at this time of year to enhance the enjoyment of celebrations, preferably without driving while under the influence. Much has been written about the impact of food production on the environment, but not so much about the effects of demand for alcohol, made from grains, potatoes, rice, botanicals, sugar cane, and agave. All these require significant amounts of water, fertilizers, land, machinery and energy use at every step. Glass production, refrigeration and distribution each have their impacts. Distilled spirits use the most energy (converting water into steam) and waste the most water.

A study by the Food Climate Research Network noted that “While beer accounts for 80.5 per cent of alcohol consumption by volume, it emits only 62 per cent of alcohol emissions. Wine’s volume share of alcohol consumption is 16 per cent but its emissions contribute over 27 per cent of the alcohol total. For spirits, the total volume of consumption is 3.5 per cent while its share of emissions is 6.7 per cent.”

Since scotch is only made in Scotland, tequila in Mexico and both are transported all around the world, their transportation impact is massive. Cider makes the least impact, due to simple production process.

If we want to release our inner shaman or bring ethics back to mindfulness, we can make some changes. Buy organic liquors, beers, and wines. Avoid mixers in plastic bottles and think twice about sugars and artificial flavourings. Buy local and reduce transportation. Look for sustainable practices. Glass is better than cans, due to BPA in cans. Remember those huge plastic bags inside boxed wines.

We don’t know yet how the legalization of cannabis will play out in environmental impacts. We do know that a single mature weed plant can consume almost twice as much water per day as a wine grape plant and that indoor cultivation uses huge amounts of electricity. Outdoor growing will reduce the availability of land for food production and can pollute the lands and waters in the areas where it’s cultivated, as well as poison wildlife through the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

Marjorie Stewart is past chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandalstewart@gmail.com.

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