Food goals: harvest local olives

Last summer I made it a goal to harvest and prepare my own olives. And before I knew it, that’s just what I was doing. Zero Waste olives coming right up. 

In February a few of us stayed down the coast in an Airbnb owned by an eccentric and charming fellow named Sveti – a real talker. Everything he told me was fascinating, including stories of rampant food fraud in the olive and olive oil industries. Long story short, buy Australian olive oil! It’s some of the best in the world. Sveti should know, he’s an olive estate owner who wins foodie awards for his wares. I came away from the conversation with a huge jar full of delicious olives and a strong desire to harvest my own. I had an open invitation to join for the fall pickings at the estate near the NSW/ Victorian border.

Turns out I didn’t have travel that far to get mine. They grow semi wild all over the Eastern Suburbs. Some trees were probably intentionally planted, but most are likely the result of birds eating the fruit and depositing the seeds at random. Which means lots of trees are growing on verges.

With Australia’s many climactic zones, olives ripen at different times – the farther north, the earlier. Around Sydney, this turned out to be late March. I started to notice the fruit had turned black and the tree branches had become heavy. They were falling on the ground. I collected nearly 1.5 kilos.

Brining olives is a wonderfully low tech, non-refrigerated process. Everyone seems to have a different method, and some do a good job make it sound overly complex. At the end of the day, you’re using salt to draw out the bitterness from the raw fruit. Call me lazy, but I like simplicity and decided on this Milkwood method where you slit each olive to allow the brine to permeate.

I made a strong brine, 20% salt. I used pink Himalayan salt for this, but in future would go with a local sea salt.

Then I poured the brine over the olives to cover. I used a cabbage leaf to submerge the olives completely, where they sat for the next few months.

You can start tasting at any point after a month or so to see how the flavour is developing and the bitterness subsiding. Once they’re to taste, drain and transfer the olives to a lower brine concentration and add flavourings like lemon, bay leaf and chili peppers.

The other day I made tapenade with my free, foraged, local and Zero Waste olives. Next year I’ll do it all again. Food goal: accomplished.

Delayed influence and the power of consistent persistence

If helping others to adopt more sustainable lifestyles isn’t working out that well for you, maybe behavioural psychology can help.

In spite of good intentions, our efforts to influence others can easily go awry. The passionate among us are prone to argue, spew facts, feel rejected, become dejected, and even give up in the face of resistance by those who don’t share our enthusiasm. With the exception of the giving up part, this has been me at one point or another.

One reason that we have trouble influencing others is that people react differently to the same information. To understand why, we’ll need a primer in identity constructs.

Identities > facts

Facts served cold are unlikely to change behaviour. More often, when we receive new information, it is simply processed through our existing world view, explains Niki Harré in her book Psychology for a Better World. The book is aimed at those of us who want to encourage others to adopt more responsible lifestyle habits in our home, work or social groups.

You see, we humans also have a propensity to seek out information that validates our pre-existing beliefs, and ignore the rest, and this means identities are reinforced rather than routinely challenged.

Acknowledging differences in identities is undoubtably a better place to start than dismissing everyone who disagrees with you as a crackpot. If you don’t understand what someone believes themselves to be, you’ll be overlooking the barriers they face to change.

First, a mindset shift.

Perhaps the most important thing to do before attempting to influence others is to change your own mindset. Harré emphasizes that it’s crucial not to expect quick wins in situations where we need to reach people with different and conflicting identities.

Instead, persistence and consistency are key, because initial resistance by others to an idea is less about the validity of the proposed idea, and more about the identity of the person making the suggestion. The medium is the message.

How to influence someone’s behaviour

There are a number of persuasion strategies we can use without attempting to directly change someone else’s identity.

Find or create a new common identity. An example is when people of all stripes come together for the conservation of a special place, like a local beach.

Choose a messenger the audience can relate to. We react to the same information differently depending on the source. I.e. if Sea Shepherd announced that whaling was no longer an issue, I would be more likely to consider it to be true than if the statement had come from the Japanese government because of the historic positions of both. If you are a sustainability program manager, this trojan horse method is worth considering when picking the right ambassador to achieve your campaign goals.

Create the conditions for delayed influence. If you’re trying to get your workplace to stop using single use coffee pods in the staff room, or to convince your roommate to start recycling, chances are you’ve already blown your cover as and they think of you as an eco-warrier type. It’s an identity clash – what to do? In this case, Harré suggests the following:

  • Persist. Negative initial reactions from others are inevitable, but studies show that resistance weakens over time once the brain takes time to process new ideas. In advertising, the saying goes ‘familiarity breeds trust’. If you accept the likelihood of initial friction, you might be better mentally prepared to keep going.
  • Be consistent. Inconsistency in your message over time makes it easier for others to dismiss your point of view. It’s never a bad idea to live in alignment with the beliefs you espouse, and especially so when you’re trying to influence a group with different views to yours.
  • Focus on the facts, not opinion. If you can show someone that sea levels are objectively rising, you are focusing on something more less challenging to their existing identity than the causes behind sea level rise. As chapter chair for Surfrider, volunteers who were comfortable turning up to meetings or beach cleanups still felt compelled to clarify for me that they weren’t ‘an activist’.  While the label was a siren call for those already dedicated to the cause, it was limiting reach to those just beyond, whom we needed to grow the reach of the group. So instead of inviting someone to ‘become an activist’, chapter comms focused on communicating shared love of coastal places, and the very tangible fact of beach pollution.
  • Be a role model, find allies. By being consistent, factual and persistent in your goal for sustainability, you build a bridge for others to ally with you. Your actions are a beacon to others who may not feel comfortable starting , but would readily join in.

When we understand how identities shape behaviour, and some strategies for working with instead of against them, we are better equipped to win someone over to a sustainable behaviour.

Psychology for a Better World is full of useful insights into how we can better communicate messages of sustainability. If you’d like to read the full book, it’s available for free online download here.

Mottainai: could wistfulness be the remedy for compulsive consumerism?

Mottainai is a Japanese term that neatly sums up the regret of wastefulness. Maybe if we cared for our objects as though they had souls, we would waste less?

Mottainai, simplistically

The basic idea of mottainai is this:

  • to waste a resource is shameful
  • waste is something to regret
  • objects have a spirit
  • they are judging you

I made up the last one – but you can start to understand where Marie Kondo’s cultural logic and penchant for thanking her things comes from. I like the concept of mottainai, because it gives us a reason to consider the object’s feelings, not just our own, the true beauty of which being that it – by proxy – calls us to consider what other living beings might make of our disposal choices.

We often rank disposal options by convenience, or if we are further evolved, by how much or little harm will be done to the environment into which will receive our discard.  But what of the harm to the object’s esteem, and its desire to be useful?

Which leads me to a philosophical question:

Is the solution to our society’s wastefulness in finding detachment from our things, or in fact the opposite – to become more attached to our things? 

I.e. does a practice of gratitude for the objects in our lives lead to a more consumerist mindset or less?

I’ve found that the more I cherish and care for what I have, the less I look for more (both for practical and emotional reasons). An inadvertent sort of minimalism. A byproduct of the pursuit of less waste, not the other way around.

My minimalism (stretching the term here) isn’t about aesthetics, counting my things, or finding detachment. It’s more to do with using the things I already have, and helping materials that are already in circulation to have a second life.

If I need something, I look first for secondhand because I can’t bear the mottainai that results from materials destined for landfill.

If they have souls, let’s not let them suffer. Mottainai.

Banana bread with aquafaba (do it)

This was my first attempt at using aquafaba, a byproduct of cooking chickpeas, as an egg substitute. 

Aquafaba is simply chickpea cooking water. Why use three words, when one will do, someone must have said to themselves. The stuff is basically free if you’re already making chickpeas. You could use the liquid from the canned variety, but since I’m in the habit of periodically batch cooking legumes in the slow cooker, the latter is how I came by mine.

Chickpea cooking water has the gelatinous texture of an egg white, but wouldn’t have the fat content of the yolk. This can make a difference in baking, which is not always as forgiving as straight up cooking, or assembling, or whatever you want to call making bliss balls. Proportions of wet to dry, leavener to flours, even hot to cold can make or break a recipe. So why replace eggs? I asked myself, and my sister did too. I’m not vegan and I love eggs.

Partly curiosity. I love finding ways to reframe and make use of waste materials. I’m also on board with reduce-atarian diets. Other times I just run out of eggs. It’s good to have options, and to be able to cater to a variety of diets.

I attempt to make banana bread with aquafaba as an egg substitute

I’d been planning to make banana bread anyway. Serendipitously, in the same week my bananas turned black and saggy (good), I also made a large batch of chickpeas, and I also had no hen’s eggs. Perfect time for some foodsperimentation, right?

aquafaba banana bread
Not pictured, my crossed fingers.

I riffed on this recipe, skipped the almond meal ’cause I didn’t have any, used a mixture of whole wheat, buckwheat and all purpose flours instead of gluten free (no) and used 3 TBSPs of aquafaba instead of the egg. I also didn’t melt the coconut oil, because that would be another dish and not exactly keeping it to one bowl there Dana…This is me, begging to fail.

All the ingredients went into my well loved Gumtree sourced food processor. Blitzed and poured into a metal baking pan, which in hindsight I would have greased. Baked at 160 ish celsius for 45 minutes. Done.

The verdict

I was not expecting this to work, but was prepared to eat my failure anyway. I faced no such punishment and was pleasantly surprised to pull a lovely, lightly browned loaf out of the oven.

The end result was moist. Fluffy even.The oats in the recipe added some nice muffiny texture. Sorry if that’s not apparent from my terrible food photography, but I assure you, one could feed this to anyone without apologizing first, or revealing the secret ingredient. It would taste amazing with some fresh local berries tossed into the batter.

It didn’t involve any sort of special equipment or preparation and was made with something I used to toss away. Verdict: Aquafabulous.

Next up with this so far magic ingredient, I’m looking forward to testing an eggless mayonnaise recipe, and maybe a fritter or two. The rest of the chickpea water – there was a lot from the one batch – will go to the freezer in egg sized portions for future use.