Last week I was invited to take part in a two-day creative workshop to identify ways to re-categorise plant-based food for non-veggie and vegan audiences. As it stands plant-based options in supermarkets and restaurants seem to be relegated to the 'vegetarian' box on the menu or the 'free-from' section in the supermarket. This segregation of plant-based foods turns off many who don't claim a veggie or vegan identity. The aim is not that everyone gives up meat completely but rather to broaden the options available to meat-eaters and to make plant-based foods accessible in a language and format that appeals to them.
The challenge is huge, but so are the potential rewards. Beef and lamb farming in particular have catastrophic effects on our environment. It takes 28 times more land and 11 times more water to rear beef than chicken or pork and compared to potatoes, wheat and rice, beef requires 160 times more land and generates 11 times more greenhouse gas emissions. If Europeans alone were to reduce their their beef and dairy consumption by half it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 25%-40%. And sorry veggies this doesn't only concern the meat-eaters amongst us, cheese is the third highest product contributing to CO2 after lamb and beef. That means we have some work to do too!
With a growing global population, millions of people still facing a day without enough to eat, and industrialising countries demanding access to more meat, not less, the western, developed economies have to lead the way in changing our relationship with food to secure a sustainable food future for the world.
Jumping back in after 6-months off this sort of work felt amazing. It was like coming home to a cause I care passionately about and to a continuation in the career I worked my ass off for for ten years. I was fresh, enthusiastic and calm in a way that I haven't always been in the past. There were moments when tensions ran high - this was a room full of passionate creatives after all - but it was interesting to feel completely in control, and able to see events unfolding in order to choose my responses and reactions appropriately. This has not always come easily to me.
In the past I've rushed into these events, either as the organiser or a delegate, exhausted having been preparing until midnight the night before whilst also struggling to handover other client work and knowing that I'd be coming back to a nightmare inbox after a day or two out of the office. This intensity up until and after an event wouldn't be a one-off, it would be day after day of long hours, ungrateful clients and demanding bosses resulting in extreme tiredness. Is it any wonder that someone under this sort of pressure and stress would (a) not always perform to their best ability (b) be snappy and sometimes darn right unpleasant to work with (c) potentially be on the edge of a breakdown?
I was lucky in that I had developed (for whatever cultural, personal and environmental reasons) a lot of resilience. For example before I was promoted to lead one of my teams, over a 12-month period I was the only person who had not taken time off sick for reasons related to stress. I did however, for the first time in my life, have three weeks off sick with tonsillitis, sinusitis and then a chest infection. If the mind doesn't register it the body will. And mine simply refused to play ball.
But the balance of power is shifting towards employees, or maybe better put, workers. For those of us ready to chance our arm out in the world without a contract, pension or any other benefits, and this is quite a big gamble, the lifestyle and wellness rewards can be significant. We can balance different sorts of work and satisfy our own multi-faceted needs. Who really is satisfied doing just one thing for the whole of their lives anyway? The gig economy allows us to use our skills and experience to tap into opportunities from any sector, in multiple locations, and with different hats on.
How has it changed things for me? My stress levels are close to zero - yes ok I still get a little stressed about my own events, or making sure I can pay the bills but this is not akin to the constant draining stress I have felt in the past. I set my own pace and workload. I can work flexibly when I need to. I can set and manage my own expectations around how I perform. I still have clients but I can choose who I work with and on what, and that makes a huge difference to how I feel about what I'm doing and how this relates to my identity.
All of this means that when I show up for two days that require my full attention, I can provide it, without distraction. I can be 100% present for the work that I'm there to do and I can really enjoy it.
Am I rich? No. Do I drive an expensive car? No. Do I own an expensive pair of shoes or handbag? No.
Am I happy? Yes. Am I fulfilled? Yes.
We need to ask ourselves and encourage others to ask what really matters, what are our objectives in life. And then decide if what we are spending the majority of our time doing is contributing towards achieving those things or holding us back. Then its time to take a breath and step forwards. You won't look back.