A Brief Guide to Dining and Shopping Sustainably in Ghent, Belgium

Planning a short trip to Belgium? Forget Brussels. Ghent, a small city in the Flemish part of the country, is where it’s at, especially if you care about sustainability. Home to countless no-nonsense, plant-based restaurants, bustling local markets and chic fair fashion boutiques, it’s a great destination for the sustainability-minded crowd.

Eat

Often named one of the most vegan-friendly cities in Europe, Ghent has quite a few plant-based restaurants to offer. Le Botaniste, a restaurant that serves 100% plant-based dishes made with organic ingredients, is a popular one. But if you’re looking for a vegetarian and relatively healthy fast food option, head to Tasty World. Their specialities, vegetarian and vegan burgers, are homemade and definitely better than the bready, chewy kind from the vegetarian aisle of your nearest grocery store. If you are craving a vegetarian version of the famous Belgian fries, there are plenty of options. Frietcultuur, for example, fries theirs in plant-based oil and use some organic ingredients.

For those not following a plant-based diet, there are also plenty of restaurants that serve healthy, organic produce on your plates. Le Pain Quotidian is a great one. Cozy and family-friendly, they serve homemade bread in a variety of ways. Their specialty, the tartines, or open sandwiches, are served with fresh, organic ingredients. Their hot cocoa, served with a tiny piece of spiced biscuit, is not to be missed. The salmon and dill sandwich, with quality bread and fresh, flavorful smoked salmon, is also delicious.

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Shop

There are many options for lovers of secondhand and upcycled items. The shop De Kringwinkel has a well-stocked branch near the city center. But if it’s nostalgia that you’re after, head to The Fallen Angels, a shop that sells old postcards, posters and enamel items from bygone eras. In summer months, there’s a flea market in Sint-Jacobs square that boasts great collections of antique items. Meanwhile, book lovers can browse through secondhand books at small stalls along the canal at the Ajunlei area on Saturday mornings.

Speaking of markets, Ghent also has a small organic market, hosted at the Groentenmarkt every Friday. You can get different types of local produce such as veggies and cheese. The Sint Michielsplein is also home to a market where you can browse through fresh produce on Sundays. They can be useful if you’re staying in Ghent for a few days and have access to a communal or private kitchen. If you are visiting in winter, do check out the bustling and very cozy Christmas market, where you can get a variety of locally-made food items and other Belgian specialties.

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Ghent is also home to a great many fair fashion shops offering ethically-made goods. My personal favorite is Supergoods, which stocks a great variety of products from my favorite brands such as Wintervacht and People Tree. If you’re looking for Braintree‘s products, the cozy Fair Eco Fashion, run by a friendly mom and son team, is definitely the place to visit.

Finally, instead of getting uninteresting, mass-produced souvenirs at questionable souvenir shops, why not get unique locally-made stuff to bring home with you? Independent shops such as Nathalie Engels and Elle et Gand, for instance, specialize in one-of-a-kind clothes, accessories and jewelry by up-and-coming independent Belgian designers.

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Have you ever been to Ghent? Have any nice recommendations? Do let me know and I might put them in the post!

My Sustainability Priorities

The other day, I was watching a video by a vlogger called Verena on her channel My Green Closet in which she mentions the need to prioritize certain aspects of sustainability when you make a purchase. She also mentions how priorities differ between people. That got me thinking about my own priorities.

Of course, I go through a mental list of things that are most important to me everytime I buy something. However, I also realized that I have barely mentioned and discussed it here. So I figured that it’s about time that I dedicate a post to my priorities.

Since sustainability is a term that encompasses many different elements, I think it’s important for everyone to have their own priorities, depending on their personal beliefs and values. Your priorities might also change depending on the category of products that you purchase. Mine happen to be geared towards fashion buys, but I do think I also apply most of them to other products.

1. Fairly-produced

Growing up in Indonesia, a country where standards of fair wages are rarely strictly adhered to, I witnessed plenty of situations in which workers were not treated fairly. I won’t pretend to know how it feels to be treated as such in any way, since I was born into a fairly well-off middle-class family, but I’ve met many people who struggled to make ends meet because they weren’t paid fairly.

To be honest, I did not think much about it, until one day last year, when I saw a video about the exploitation of palm oil workers in Indonesia. It made me feel ashamed that I didn’t know about it, or perhaps subconsciously chose to ignore a problem that was right in front of my eyes. That was one of the things that initially motivated me to live more sustainably.

At the moment, I reside in Holland, a country that generally does a pretty good job at upholding standards of fair wages. Still, I refuse to do nothing, knowing that so many people in developing countries are literally living as modern-day slaves. I have the privilege to enjoy relative comfort, but I don’t want that to blind me to other people’s realities.

That’s why the most important consideration in purchasing a product to me is whether or not it is produced in an ethical and fair way. A major part of this is, of course, choosing Fair Trade products. But what defines fair trade, you might wonder. The World Fair Trade Organization, or WFTO, defines it as “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.” It is realized through the act of “offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.”

In other words, as a principle, such trading prioritizes disadvantaged, impoverished workers by ensuring that they work in better conditions and are treated fairly. Ideally, such a measure can improve greater justice as well, since it provides a model in which employers and employees can respect each other and in which employees aren’t taken advantage of in any way.

Purchasing fairly-made products, however, is not strictly restricted to searching for the WTFO symbol. If you live in a country that enforces standards of fair wages, you can choose to buy from independent sellers who produce locally and use materials from trusted sources. The key is asking them how their products are made, which is also great for opening up dialogs about fair practices.

2. Organic

This one is harder to define. The term organic has different meanings, depending on how it’s used. This piece on Ecocult explains different organic labels and what they mean very clearly. Keep in mind, however, that the terms might be used differently in your country.

Generally speaking, however, organic ingredients are produced with the environment and living beings in mind. It means avoiding harmful artificial chemicals that are used in industrial farming and using more natural substances in their place.

Many people choose organic products because they are generally, though not always, healthier for the consumers. However, that’s not the only important thing about organic products. Industrial farming techniques which use artificial chemicals are more often than not dangerous for the farmers and workers as well. Exposure to pesticides, for example, increase the risk of many diseases, from mild allergies to severe disabilities, not just for the consumers, but also producers working with the substance.

Moreover, as previously mentioned, organic methods prioritize the environment and not just people. It means that it’s also more ecofriendly and sustainable than regular farming, which is typically geared towards profits instead of wellbeing.

3. Independent

As I mentioned, buying from independent sellers that you trust has many benefits. First of all, you are supporting artisans who are practicing their arts without the support of commercial retailers. In many cases, you also help to preserve the cultures where the arts come from. Moreover, I believe that when you purchase from an independent, contemporary brands, you help to initiate the move from the profit-based fast fashion towards more meaningful ways of consuming things.

Secondly, products from independent artisans and designers are more unique. So you probably won’t find yourself wearing the same thing as 20 other people when walking down the street. In fact, the majority of my favorite clothes and jewelry pieces are from independent, small-scale brands.

4. Waste minimization

Finally, I think it’s important to care about the amount of waste produced in the process of making the products that you buy. It generally depends on the material. Plastic, for example, is very harmful for the environment. In fact, every piece of plastic produced in the history of mankind hasn’t decomposed. The thought alone is really scary, isn’t it?

There are more sustainable alternatives, of course, but I think most conscious consumers would agree that the best way to combat the issue is using existing materials. Therefore, as much as it is possible, I choose products made of recycled or upcycled materials. It also doesn’t hurt to fix torn clothes instead of throwing them away to avoid producing more waste yourself.

What are your priorities when it comes to ethical, fair fashion and sustainability? Don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Better, though Not Perfect

As you might remember from a post I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve recently stopped shopping at fast fashion retailers. Now, almost three months into my fair wardrobe journey, I’m taking some time to reflect on my experience and the impacts I’ve felt so far.

Of course, there are the obvious positive impacts like minimizing my contribution to the toxic global fashion chain and such. But not shopping at fast fashion retailers has had a lot of personal impacts on myself too. They’re positive, of course, but to be honest, they’re challenging too. They’ve forced me to see things from a different perspective. They’ve forced me to practice mindfulness in everything that I do. But more importantly, they’ve forced me to admit that the process of cutting ties with fast fashion requires a good look in the mirror.

I know, I know. It’s cheesy. But as cheesy it might sound, its’s the truth. Now, let me elaborate on it.

I see my closet and see old items, which are, whether I like it or not, remnants of my fast fashion habit. They’re constant reminders of the decisions I made. Although I know that I’m no longer engaging in the practice of shopping at fast fashion retailers at the moment, these remnants are still something that I don’t want to see.

For many of us, such remnants make us feel just slightly uncomfortable. But that’s good. Because in many cases, discomfort, when paired with good and sincere changes, has the power to create improvements.

My discomfort and sense of guilt have made me question for whom I’m doing all of this. For myself, or for the environment and the workers who have to deal with the impacts of fast fashion? I believe that living ethically and fairly isn’t supposed to be something that you do just to make you yourself feel better. It’s not a hobby that you pick up for fun. It’s supposed to be a fight towards making the world a fairer place. When I put my feelings above that principle, I risk forgetting it.

No matter how much guilt those old pieces of clothing might create, it shouldn’t matter, because the very best thing that I can do for the environment, makers and other people is to treasure them until they’re worn off. If I decided to throw away perfectly fine items just for the sake of diminishing my guilt, I would betray my own mission.

By keeping this principle in mind, I am able to put aside guilty, selfish feelings and start focusing on making positive impacts. It forces me to realize that my pursuit is all about prioritizing others’ needs over mine, which is one of the reasons that I started with it at the first place. It’s challenging, of course, because nobody likes being told that they’re selfish, but at the end of the day, it is this kind of self-awareness that helps us to improve the world. If you want to play your part in supporting fair fashion, continuous self-awareness is imperative.

The way I see it, it’s a process. I wasn’t very mindful of the impacts of my purchases, but I’m learning to do it, slowly and gradually. If I see it that way, it’s easier to realize that I’m becoming better, though not perfect, in my pursuit of a fairer world, and that’s okay.

What have your learned from your journey? Leave me a comment and let me know what you’ve learned through committing to support sustainability!

Building a Sustainable Wardrobe

In August, I decided to stop shopping at fast fashion retailers.

Of course, like most of my decisions (we can’t be sensible at all times now, can we?), this one was motivated by really valid reasons. First of all, I can no longer ignore the fact that my consumption was hurting the environment and the people who make my clothes. From toxic waste to the amount of garments going to landfills, there are so many issues that show that the environmental impacts of our textile consumption are at a very worrying level. With trends that change with every season and the steep prices, it’s so easy for consumers to discard old items after a few wears without considering such impacts. Moreover, the artisans who make our clothes have to face issues like low wages and extremely questionable working conditions, making them victims of modern day slavery.

Second of all, I was simply tired of following the trend dictated by fast fashion. Not only the makers of the products, fast fashion also affects how we behave as buyers. Fast fashion gives us the luxury of buying new clothes with questionable quality very frequently, but they’re quickly replaced by newer trends.

I asked myself, what’s the point? Why do we tend to prioritize quantity over quality? Why keep up with the ever-changing trends if we could invest in long-lasting, timeless pieces? The more research I did, the more convinced I was that I should stop consuming fast fashion and start buying less and buying only environmentally-friendly, long-lasting and fairly-produced products. In other words, by supporting sustainable fashion, which is also popularly known as slow fashion.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m going to discard fast fashion pieces that I have, because that would just defeat one of the purposes of sustainable fashion. I do, however, believe that my wardrobe could benefit from some decluttering. I’m currently sorting out which pieces I actually wear and should keep, and which ones have lied untouched in my closet after one or two wears.

Beside decluttering, I am also starting to invest in eco-friendly, fair and versatile pieces. I’m currently composing a list of sustainable fashion brands which will be up soon. I have also been reading some interesting blogs on sustainable fashion such as Eco CultSustainably ChicEco Warrior Princess and The Saiint Sisters.

I still have so much to learn about sustainability, but I’m excited about it. Do you shop sustainably? Care to share tips on how to do slow fashion? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!