14 February 2011

Christmas Baking Day

Christmas Baking Day is an annual baking extravaganza held at our house. This year we had about 22 people, other years it has got up closer to 30. Kids and adult come together. It includes a wide range of friends and family, many of whom don't know each other as we have so many circles of contact from which to invite people. I provide all the ingredients, and I make people work really hard all day baking gourmet biscuits and confectionery. There is a lot of chocolate involved and, I discovered this year, a lot of nuts (amazing what a friend with a nut allergy will bring to light!).


Is this a sustainable act? We use the oven for up to 6 hours straight and make the poor fridge work harder than it does any other day of the year. However, our energy bill for the period didn't have a spike, so this musn't be too much of a strain on our overall usage total. We end up with quite a lot of packaging rubbish, but we re-use washed and saved take-away containers (saved all year) to package up the resulting goodies. Many of the ingredients I cannot guarantee are fair trade. The chocolate in particular (this year close to 5kg worth) is not fair trade sourced - mostly because I have not found a fair trade source for decent cooking chocolate that melts and resets appropriately. 

The reason I have included Christmas Baking Day as part of this blog is that I believe it does contribute towards sustainability in a number of perhaps more subtle ways than changing light bulbs or taking shorter showers.

Firstly there is the basic good of many people coming together to share work, food and conversation. I see Christmas Baking Day as a living experience of what might happen if we let down our barriers a bit and got involved in each others' lives - stuff I consider essential for living sustainably together on our planet. 

The Day also contributes to sustainable thinking about Christmas, as it provides nearly all of what we give as gifts, and models to others a way to make gifts with our own hands, rather than buying manufactured items. We don't wrap the biscuits we give out, and many of those who bake bring their own container to take their share home in. 

Over many years I have also overheard some quite remarkable conversations taking place around the baking tables, including friends opening up concepts of justice, equality and the mess we have our world in with others who have had less experience of these issues. It seems such conversations are easier to have while working alongside one another elbow-deep in chocolate - perhaps less threatening? Perhaps less needs to be defended? 

And then there is the value of sharing an experience of abundance and generosity. Not just that we are being generous in offering to our friends the space and the ingredients, and most of the produce, but the generosity of our friends in giving us their time and friendship and hard work and joy, all of which are essential to the day. Generosity I think is also essential for sustainable living.

Finally I think it is important to demonstrate that living sustainably doesn't mean being misers and doesn't mean having no fun. I suspect some of our friends or family sometimes think our life choices and attempts to live sustainable must make our life awfully drab, tight and limited. Grey. Christmas Baking Day is the antithesis of grey, and I delight in sharing that with my friends, especially those who think our lifestyle is perhaps just a little odd.

Initial Time: About 4-5 days. We rearrange our entire living space to fit in 20+ bakers. Sorting out an ingredients list and doing the shopping is another day. The actual day is a marathon beginning about 8am and often not finishing until we collapse into bed about 10pm. Delivering goodies afterwards takes varying amounts of time depending on how far away people live this year. Lets just say that cleaning up a living space after it has hosted 20+ bakers, including children, is no quick nick around with a broom either!

Initial Cost: Around $300.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: zero (until next year...)

Impact: I guess that's what I've been trying to tease out above. Also I think I put on a couple of kilos each year in the week following...

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