Seasonal Excess: Who needs trimmings?

As the Christmas spending frenzy peaks, four people who put seasonal excess behind them tell Lucy Mayhew why they are a lot happier now
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The Independent Online

John Vincent

John Vincent worked for a top management consultancy firm servicing the likes of Burger King and Tesco. When he began to witness the motivations of big businesses at boardroom level, he grew disillusioned with, what he terms, their amoral stance. In 2004, he opened Leon, a growing chain of healthy, sustainable and ethical, fast-food eateries. He's lives in West London with his wife, the ITN newsreader Katie Derham, and their daughters Natasha, six, and Eleanor, one.

Old life

I used to spend huge amounts in Harrods about three days before Christmas. All our food used to come from the supermarket but worst of all was the way I'd wolf way too much down and eat so unconsciously I'd suddenly realise the plate was empty and I had hardly paused to appreciate the meal.

New life

I'm interested in living The Good Life but believe it's important to keep food and things we buy sexy, beautiful and lovely. I love the website stylewillsaveus.com because lovely things should still be given for Christmas. Electricity wastage is not seen as a social faux pas but Christmas lights won't be left on indefinitely. And this year we're all wrapping up something we own to donate to charity.

If there's one thing I could change about Christmas: media and retail have made Christmas a byword for 'busy sales period'; it's a cliché but it'd be nice to re-institute a sense of goodwill to man.

Favourite Christmas food My mother's chocolate yule log

Favourite Christmas tipple Glayva whiskey liqueur

Juliet Davenport

A physicist, Juliet Davenport, 36, worked in Brussels for the EU on their Energy Charter before growing disillusioned and founding Good Energy - Britain's only electricity supplier to provide 100 per cent renewable electricity. Winner of this year's Women in Ethical Business Award, she lives in North Wiltshire.

Old life

My entire Christmas shopping list would start and finish at Brussels airport, where I'd spend far too much out of guilt for not buying anything more personal. I never considered the environmental impact of any of the presents or the working conditions of the people who made them.

By the same token, the food that appeared over Christmas wasn't my concern. Christmas always takes place at my parents in Wiltshire and my father did the cooking and invariably bought too much - I noticed the wastage but never said anything as he spent his life pressing me to turn off the lights, which I didn't see the point in doing because electricity was so cheap.

New life

I shop for the meal at farmers' markets. My godson will one day inherit a large tract of woodland, so I'm buying him a subscription to The Woodland Trust. And my father's getting a membership to Friends of the Earth in the hope he'll learn enough to stop pestering me with questions about climate change.

Instead of a Christmas tree, I'll decorate a Bay tree and plant it in the garden. Nigelsecostore.com and naturalcollection.com are my back-ups for when I run out of ideas.

If there's one thing I could change about Christmas: get every house to use low-energy Christmas lights.

Favourite Christmas food My seed-based Christmas cake

Favourite Christmas tipple Camel Valley's sparkling wine

William and Gaby Lana

New Yorker William Lana and his German wife Gaby worked on Wall Street, and then in Brussels for the European Union and World Savings Bank respectively. They were both on six-figure salaries and owned a vast apartment in Brussels before they turned their backs on the high life and moved to Totnes in Devon. William became the director of the textiles division of the Soil Association and they founded Greenfibres, an organic textiles company. They live with their children Megan, nine, and Max, three.

Old life

Over Christmas, we'd visit friends and family across three or four countries. We wanted to feel Christmassy but never had time to do much, so we'd buy a tree the day before and scoop up foodie trimmings from a luxury food hall.

Our presents were very brand-centric. We didn't have children so Gaby and I would buy about 10 presents each: designer sunglasses, cufflinks, watches, handbags, with maybe this year's must-have electrical gadget thrown in. It usually came to about £1,000 and we'd spend another £1,000 on a New Year's Eve party.

New life

Today we spend about £750 on everything and focus on presents which won't require a lot of energy to produce and which won't be relegated to the clutter pile. We need a warehouse for the business and want it to be built as sustainably as possible, so I've asked for the Green Building Bible or a weekend course on environmental building. Gaby doesn't take enough time out so I'll probably give her a spa day. Max will get a fair-trade football and Megan a digital printer - I'm not sure how eco that present will be.

Gaby and I never cooked but now we take time to prepare the meal together. Virtually everything will come from small, organic supermarkets and local suppliers, though two special cakes are sent from the children's grandmothers in New York and Frankfurt. So we do indulge but every year we try to make a bit more time to reflect on the impact of what we're buying.

If there's one thing I could change about Christmas: I'd ban all Christmas advertising until 1 December.

Favourite Christmas food Stilton and Christmas cake

Favourite Christmas tipple Organic port

Renée Elliott

Renée Elliott spent the 1980s in the wine trade, and her husband Brian worked in property. Together they had so much money there were hardly enough dinner parties, holidays and fast cars to spend it on. Then, in 1995, she founded Planet Organic, Britain's first organic supermarket. It now has a turnover of £10m a year. She lives in London with her husband and their children Jessie, four, and Nicholas.

Old life

We used to have Christmas with friends and spend about £400 on wine alone. I loved to be given expensive jewellery and I used to give Brian watches, stereos and the most fabulous electrical thing I'd seen advertised on TV. I've never bought pre-packaged food but around Christmas there'd be a lot more sugar, nothing was organic and there'd be hideous mounds of chocolates, which is the most highly sprayed foodstuff in the world.

New life

I have three brothers and sisters, but we only buy for our own children, partners and parents. Christmas now costs half what it used to. I'll buy Brian a pair of slippers, a CD and a razor (I'm anti throw-away plastic ones). The children's presents will include a wooden bicycle, some organic tights, pyjamas and socks.

I'll take a load of food with me - treats but healthy treats - and I'll provide organic Californian wine for us all and organic Champagne, which is rounder and softer than the Bollinger I used to fill up on.

If there's one thing I could change about Christmas: I'd shift the focus from junk food and indulgence to food and family.

Favourite Christmas food baked sweet potato with mixed spices, nutmeg and cinnamon

Favourite Christmas tipple Georges Laval organic champagne

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