Posts Tagged ‘green food’

Hardcore Ways to Go Green

I saw an article on The Atlantic a few days ago  called ‘The Most Hard-Core Ways to Go Green,” and frankly, it was a bit rubbish. The suggestions were either not very low impact or not very hardcore. An expensive shower that forcibly ejects you after a few minutes? Unnecessary. DIY cleaning supplies? Check. A menstrual cup? Pfft.

Let me translate what hardcore seems to mean here: further than the writer is willing or able to go right now. In other words, hardcore is in the eyes of the beholder. Some of my lifestyle choices that seem very ordinary and do-able to me, like not eating meat or line drying my clothes, might seem hardcore to people more entrenched in a standard American lifestyle. And some choices that I haven’t wrapped my head around yet, like going car-free, no doubt seem very normal and unexceptionable to people who have been living that way for a while. Wherever you are on the green spectrum, hardcore is a moving target.

As it should be. Nonetheless, here’s a fun thought experiment: How far is too far for you right now? Here are a handful of changes that I consider hardcore. I have two basic criteria: 1) It has to be something with a significant impact on my environmental footprint, and 2) It has to be something that I haven’t done already. Ask me again in five years, and I hope I’ll have moved on to new standards of hardcore-ness!

Jennifer’s Hardcore Ways to Go Green

Switch to a composting toilet. Even with high efficiency toilets, we use gallons of clean, potable water to flush our toilets every day. If you don’t have a high efficiency toilet, it’s likely your biggest indoor water user.  A composting toilet takes water out of the equation. I was incredibly grossed out by the idea of one until I realized that the simplest ones were basically litter boxes for humans. Although I’ve never used one personally, I am in regular contact with a litter box. It doesn’t smell. It’s not a big deal. But my current home has flush toilets that I’m not intending to switch out.

Go plastic free. Beth Terry has my sincere admiration for remaking her life in a plastic-free form. When I look at how pervasive plastic is and how much time and knowledge is needed to avoid it, I feel a little daunted. I’ve cut down on my use of plastic greatly and choose plastic free options when available, but the issue doesn’t reverberate with me the way it does for her.

Swap my car for a bike. My car is one of the least environmentally friendly pieces of my life. I don’t drive very much, and I could theoretically bike or car share for the errands I need to run. I’m reluctant to; I have a completely irrational affection for my old ’97 Taurus and an equally irrational fear of biking in a busy street. Actually, it’s not totally irrational. Drivers here aren’t used to bikers and frequently don’t look when entering the bike lane. I’ve seen enough close calls to be worried.

Never fly again. As an acknowledged shut-in, I take about one round trip plane ride a year. In May, I’ll be heading back to the Big Island, Hawaii. According to the TerraPass carbon calculator, this equals  1,857 lb of carbon dioxideOuch. I don’t even like flying, though I do like looking at new and different plants and have favorite spots several places around the world. I’d be sad never to visit Durham Cathedral again, but I might eventually give up flying.

Get off the grid. Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic panels, rain water catchment system, composting toilet, the whole nine yards. I’m interested, but not quite going for it. For anyone who knows me, the thought of my voluntarily roughing it is laughable. I’m a suburbanite in the early stages of recovery.

Eat the pet. I came across this chillingly rational idea a while ago and was utterly revolted. I have a carnivorous pet who can’t fend for herself. Brie’s meaty diet has a significant impact; I acknowledge the fact that it makes ecological sense to have pets that double as food, but I absolutely refuse. I won’t do it. I can’t. And if I could, I think you should be scared to know me.

Boycott the grocery store. I used to enjoy looking at supermarket ads. Now, on the rare occasion that I have a flip through, I find that they rarely advertise anything that I buy anymore — it’s all high profit processed and packaged food. I’m not quite to the point where I get everything from the farmers’ market and the bulk bins, but I’m inching closer.

Grow most or all of my own food. I haven’t been bitten by the gardening bug yet. Partly because I live in a condo with no land, but partly because I’m just not that motivated. (If you want to see how another apartment-dwelling green blogger gets around her restrictions and grows tons of food, visit Living Lightly in a Wavering World.)

Buy nothing new. After I was patting myself on the back for going all of March without buying anything, I came across a year long buy-nothing-new challenge. Hardcore? Harder core for sure. I was getting a little antsy at the end of the month, although the terms of my challenge (buy nothing, including used items) were a bit stricter. I’d be up for a longer challenge, but a year or more is intimidating.

Reach out in my community. If you’re an extrovert, reaching out to, you know, actual people instead of words on a screen might not seem very hardcore at all. I’m on the extreme opposite end of extroversion. I hate talking to people I don’t know; I haven’t got the faintest idea how to network and make a difference for the people I actually live among. I have vague ideas of volunteering to be a naturalist docent at my local open space, or doing something with our urban tree organization, or helping promote scientific literacy. Instead, my volunteer work is currently limited to socializing cats, which involves — you guessed it — zero interaction with humans.

Get sterilized. This might seem like the hardest core action the list, but honestly, the only reason I haven’t gotten myself sterilized is that low cost spay/neuter days are limited to quadrupeds. Apparently humans don’t qualify for the discount, even though I’d argue that human overpopulation poses far more problems than cat or dog overpopulation. If it were only a matter of shelling out $50 to ensure that my carbon legacy ends with me, I would do it tomorrow. Or on Earth Day. I can’t think of a more effective way to ensure curbing my total impact.

That’s what hardcore looks like for me. What about you? What’s pushing your green envelope?

A Zero Grocery Week Challenge

Our freezer has spoken. It said, “You put too much stuff in me, and now I’m going to spontaneously un-seal and ruin your fancy schmancy local ice cream, organic frozen broccoli, and yearly Energy Star savings!”

We caught it before it could make good on its threat, but it’s true: we have too much stuff in our freezer, and if that weren’t enough, we have plenty of food in the cupboard and fridge, too. Everything we really like gets eaten and replaced. Everything else, which includes:

  • Food that we bought because we know we should eat more of it but don’t really like very much
  • Convenience foods like cooking sauces that I always think I will be happy to fall back on in a pinch (and never do)
  • Food that was given to us
  • Food that looked good at the store but wasn’t that enjoyable
  • Food that I bought for a particular recipe that I never ended up making
…tends to sit. Eventually some of it gets eaten, but some of it also ends up getting tossed. You’d think that since I know about the environmental impact of wasting food, I would be better about it. I’m not. I am an impulsive cook: if I find out about an exciting new recipe, I want to make it. Now. Even if I had something else planned that I bought all the ingredients for. I’ve been slightly obsessive my whole life; that’s probably not going to change.

But maybe I can fix the problem in another way. This week I’ve declared a zero grocery week — my first, or at least my first deliberate one. We’re going to use stuff up in the freezer and cupboards, get creative, and spend no money on food this week.
So far, things are going well. I’ve had:
  • Leftover Ethiopian stew (shiro wat) (3 days) over whole wheat couscous (1+ years in cupboard)
  • Popovers with homemade strawberry jam (thanks, Emily!) using the last of the milk and pantry staples
  • Mock tuna with canned garbanzo beans (2 months), homemade mayo (2 days), and other things in my fridge, on top of
  • Whole wheat pitas (freezer history: 3 months)
  • Miso soup with slightly wilted green onions (2 weeks), dried shiitake mushrooms and kelp (3 months), and freezer vegetables (1-4 months?)

Coming up later this week (possibly):

  • Matzo ball soup with onions, celery, carrots, lentils, and freezer vegetables
  • Pesto with whole wheat pasta, canned artichokes in the fridge,white beans, and whatever other vegetables I can dig up
  • Home made pizza using frozen tomato sauce and porcini and shiitake mushrooms
  • Potstickers with the wonton skins and seitan I stuck in the freezer months ago, plus shiitake mushrooms
A little lower on fresh vegetables than I’d usually like, but it’s not like we’re eating PB&J sandwiches day in, day out. By the end of the week, I hope to have made enough progress in the freezer to see what we actually have back there. I’m also hoping I’ll start to make better decisions about what to skip at the store.

Have you ever done a zero grocery week? Did it cut down on your food waste or make you more creative in the kitchen? How do you buy smarter at the grocery store?

Lower your impact: learn how to cook

As Michael Pollan famously quipped, America has a national eating disorder. We live in a country in which everyone can, and plenty do, eat without growing their own food, not care where it comes from or how it was grown, and never cook an entire meal from scratch.

On the other hand, if you do grow, care about, and cook your own food as Barbara Kingsolver recounted in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, you’re seen as a smug, privileged elitist who doesn’t need to have a day job and can go flitting around on a hobby farm. In other words, being able to connect with our food has become a luxury —  in terms of both time and money. We’ve lost most of our connection to our food and the planet and people that produced it.  To me, the local/organic/ grow-it-yourself movement is really about reconnecting through food and making conscious choices that are better for your own world and body.

It’s true that not all of us can afford to buy a farm and move there with accommodating work-from-home-when-we-feel-like-it day jobs. But all of us should care (can we really afford not to?) about our food, and everyone with a kitchen can, at least theoretically, cook. Basic cooking skills (or a long suffering spouse who cooks) are pretty much essential to a whole foods diet.

Can you really save the Earth by learning how to cook? Well, no. That’s going to take a whole lot more. But here’s what making the time to cook at least a few meals a week from whole foods will do:

  • Reduce use of resources required to process, package, and transport processed food.
  • Reduce money spent on restaurant meals and frozen dinners (which, pound for pound, are not such a good deal as the .99 price tag may seem — to say nothing of their impact on your health).
  • Reduce your exposure to a slew of chemicals: preservatives, additives, plastics like BPA, and pesticides (if you choose mostly organic whole foods).
  • Reduce the amount of non-compostable garbage you produce.
  • Probably (unless you really, really go overboard) reduce your salt/fat/sugar intake.
  • Probably increase your vegetable intake.
  • Improve your (and your kids’) life expectancy.
  • Make you more independent of the industrialized food system, which really doesn’t give a damn about your health or the planet we live on in its pursuit of profit.
  • Support farmers rather than processors and corporations. (Yup, the same ones who spend billions lobbying Congress against reform to protect consumer health.)
  • Teach you to slow down, reconnect with your food, and appreciate it more.

It’s actually not hard to learn how to cook. Help for tyros is everywhere — friends, family, internet. You don’t have to be a great cook, or ‘into cooking’ to be able to cook well enough to keep your tastebuds and body happy. You don’t even have to cook more than a few times a week (3x a week, with leftovers, salad, sandwiches, and fruit works for other meals works fine for me). And you definitely don’t need to move into your kitchen permanently; there are plenty of meals that can be thrown together from whole foods in half an hour or far less.

Cooking may not be a viable option for everyone. If you work two jobs just to keep the bills paid, spending more time and money on food may not be possible for you right now. But for most of us, it’s a matter of making food a bigger priority. Bigger than shopping, TV, or browsing the internet. Bigger than the big ticket items we spend our money on. Somewhere along the way, Americans decided that good food was less important than cheap, convenient food, and we’re only now starting to see the full impact — on ourselves and on the planet.  

Learn how to cook. It’s a small move, but an important one.

Vegan Sunday

OK, so it doesn’t have the alliteration of Meatless Monday, the environmental movement that operates on the principle that industrialized animal agriculture is one of the biggest sources of carbon and pollution. Cutting meat out even once a week (Monday, for example) makes a major difference. It’s been estimated that going meatless even once a week lightens your footprint more than eating entirely locally.

I’ve been vegetarian for a few years now, so every day is meatless Monday (or Tuesday, or whatever), but I sometimes feel like I’m keeping the letter but not the spirit of Meatless Monday. Dairy and egg products, while perhaps less ethically problematic for me, are almost as bad for the environment as meat. I don’t eat either in huge quantities (yay for being mildly lactose intolerant!), but I do tend to have maybe 1-2 servings a day. A splash of milk in my tea, yogurt, scrambled eggs, the odd baked good. You get the idea. 

So, in a fit of environmental zealotry, I declared Sunday my vegan day of the week. Instead of my usual yogurt and black tea, I started my day with green tea, a bowl of Life cereal, almond milk, and a slightly overripe pear. Things went well until about lunch time, when I bought fresh francesi rolls at the farmer’s market and then recalled that I had a wedge of triple cremYummy forbidden briee brie waiting patiently in the fridge. 


All afternoon I fantasized about making a brie bowl, brushing one of my rolls with olive oil and garlic and big chunks of creamy brie, toasting until the cheese melted into gooey gobs and the bread toasted up crisp and brown on the outside. I was borderline obsessed. I don’t actually eat brie that often. It’s certainly not a daily staple. But somehow, knowing that I couldn’t have any made me crave it madly. I contemplated cheating on my one day veganism. I even briefly considered staying up until it was technically Monday. I resisted and went to bed unsatisfied.

I suddenly feel a little more sympathy for omnivores who can’t face the thought of giving up meat for even one day. I’m sure I have days in which I am almost or entirely vegan without thinking about it, but the actual prohibition of all milk and egg products was…well, harder than expected. I’ll try again this Sunday, this time planning my meals in advance.

Things I learned from Vegan Sunday:

  • Asian food lends itself much more readily to vegan fare. For dinner I had colorful stir-fried veggies with dark mushroom soy sauce. I could also have had noodles, curry, or fried rice. Since there’s no dairy culture in East Asia, most Asian dishes that are already vegetarian are also already vegan.
  • I need to duct tape the cheese/butter compartment shut. Dangerous.
  • Planning out my meals in advance could make a big difference in how deprived I feel. If I filled the day with vegan meals I loved, I probably wouldn’t think twice about dairy products. It’s worth the experiment.
  • I should just buy fewer dairy products. Easier, more effective, and better for the environment.

But tonight? I am so making that brie bowl.

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