Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Freezing Yer Buns?

It's cold out!

Okay, it's San Francisco, so it's not THAT cold out, but you know ... it's coldER than it is at other times of the year, and also I am a big, big pansy, so anything less than 60 degrees = cold in my book.

Now I would like to say that, being a pansy non-withstanding, I have been a Freeze Yer Buns star and have been diligently keeping the thermostat at some obscenely cold temperature.

But I have not.

Instead, my thermostat has been hovering between about 65-70 during the day, and sometimes a bit lower at night.

I have to admit, I haven't been putting as much thought and effort into it as I have in years past. When it gets cold, I turn the heat up a notch. At night, when I go to bed, I'll often turn it down a notch.

The truth is, now that I'm not trying to be SUPER HARD CORE about everything, it's a little hard for me to get up the motivation to freeze my buns off. While there are plenty of people who save tons of money by keeping the thermostat down, we don't save that much money. Living in San Francisco means that even heating the apartment to 70 degrees doesn't take THAT much energy if it's 50 degrees outside. And, oh yeah, I live in an apartment. Heating a smaller space just involves less energy.

As I make these justifications to myself for why I don't WANNA freeze (waaah!) I can't help but think back on this Washington Post article about the rebound effect. The article basically states that though our appliances have become much more energy efficient in the past forty years, Americans still use as much energy as we did in the early 1970s. The idea is this: when we purchase more energy efficient appliances that save us money and energy, we will often end up a) using them more, getting something bigger because it will now "cost the same," or turn around and buy yet another energy sucking device.

Energy efficiency can produce a number of these kinds of unintended consequences. A classic example is captured by Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, who writes in the Wall Street Journal:

The biggest energy drain in a home is for heating and cooling. We opted to heat our home with a system that runs warm water through all of the floors. The system is energy efficient, I'm told, and wonderfully comfortable, but it's powered by gas. So while our photovoltaic system will someday help during the summer, it will never help much in the cold months when the sun is wimpy and we're burning gas to heat the floors. Worse yet, the heated floors are so pleasant that we probably overuse them compared with a forced air system. That's a classic unintended consequence.
When Adams opts for a more energy efficient system for his heating, he ends up using more heat than he would have if he had gone for a less energy efficient system.

Bringing it back to Freeze Yer Buns, I'm finding that I'm just like any other American. Given a situation where my heating needs are already fairly minimal I choose to keep my apartment heated to a level that I like it.

Which is fine for my buns, but sort of problematic if the goal is to combat climate change by limiting energy use....

What would you do? If you got a super-duper energy efficient heating system that would allow you to keep your thermostat at 70 without using any more energy would you continue to freeze yer buns? Or would you say "eff it" and get those buns nice and toasty?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gift Giving: The Honeymoon Registry Edition

So, one thing I have learned since getting engaged: there is a ginormous wedding blogosphere.


I'm actually not sure why this surprised me; after all, this is the internets. There is every kind of blogosphere you could imagine. If there are bloggers out there writing about giving up toilet paper and refrigeration, why wouldn't there be bloggers out there writing about marriage and weddings?

So, because I like reading new blogs, I've been wading my feet in, reading blogs here and there, making new finds, and just generally soaking up the really great writing that you can now find all over the internet.

It's interesting. It's challenging. Because, frankly, sometimes, here in the eco-blogosphere, we're sort of caught in our own little bubble where pretty much everyone shares our own values. The marriage blogosphere? It's a little different. Not that there aren't plenty of men and women out there planning sustainable weddings ... but that's not everyone's goal, nor is every decision made with the ethos of the alt-consumerist eco-nut in mind.

For instance: a recent controversy that erupted on East Side Bride over whether or not it was tacky to register for a honeymoon.

Honestly, the alt-consumerist in me literally *could not fathom* how registering for a honeymoon could in any way be controversial. As someone who always prefers to gift experiences over material goods, I freaking LOVE honeymoon registries. LOVE.

But as I read the comments on this post, I started to see why people felt the way they felt. One commenter wrote:
"Your getting married means that I want to do something to contribute to your marriage over the long long term. Think of it like a barn raising. Do I want to buy you a butter dish that your grandkids will eat out of? Yes."
And see, I GET that. Material goods are tangible. You can hold a butter dish, you can feel its slight heft, and every time you use it, you can think, "Aunt Sue got me that."

On the other hand, experiences are ephemeral. They're held only in our memories, and even those dull over time. In fifty years, you may still have the butter dish (though possibly not- hello planned obsolescence) but your memory of that snorkeling trip you took or the museum you went to may have faded. So I completely get why giving something physical is so important to so many people.

Still, I stand by my support of honeymoon registries and other experiential gifts. As a giver, I still want to contribute to someone's marriage over the long term. But, for me, the way to do that is through experiences. Even if that honeymoon, or date night at a fancy restaurant, or those tickets to the theatre is a distant memory fifty years hence, I believe that those experiential gifts contribute to the sustenance of a marriage. After all, what is marriage, but an agreement to experience life together?

You can raise a barn in many ways: some people will do so by giving you nuts, bolts, and rafters, others will do so by playing the fiddle because barn ain't raised without a dance. It's the same thing with weddings. Some people want to give the nuts and bolts of your daily life: the butter dishes, the tea cups, the pots and pans. Others want to fill your life with music, travel, food, a night out from the daily grind. It's all good. It's all so valid. And all are contributing to a barn being raised, a life being lived.

So, not that anyone asked me, but if someone were to ask me about honeymoon registries? I'd say, go for it. But maybe include a small physical registry too. After all, we all want to give in different ways.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How Do You Feel About the Charity Gift?

Beth of Fake Plastic Fish has a brilliant post up about charitable gift cards where she calculates exactly how much of your money is going to said charity versus to the intermediary company, because she's mathtastic like that. Go read it and then bookmark it for later.

But her post made me wonder ... how do you all feel about the charity contribution gift?

In some ways, I like it ... especially if it is a thoughtful one. For instance, if I know my friend is very involved in a particular non-profit organization, I think it's a very nice gift to support said non-profit in their honor.

I also love how many brides and grooms these days are registering for charity donations in lieu of yet another crystal vase.

That being said, I still very very rarely get people charitable contributions as gifts.

It's not that I don't love supporting charity. I do. And it's not that I feel the need to get people THINGS, because I totally don't. But I guess when I'm getting a gift, I want it to register longer than the millisecond it takes someone to read that I paid X dollars to a charity in honor of them and think, "Oh, that's nice."

Which is why I sort of think the charity gift card or a gift certificate to an organization like Donor's Choose is preferable ... at least in those situations the recipient gets to be an active participant in the charity process.

Still, there's something that sits wrong there for me. Maybe it's because in my mind a gift is a gift and charity is charity and I'm not sure there's a need to conflate the two. Give a gift to someone because you love them, give to charity because you support the organization, but a gift of charity feels ... I dunno, a little 'moralistic' maybe. As much as I believe that we as a society are over materialistic, it breaks my heart just a teeny tiny bit when I read about parents who request no gifts for kids birthday parties or ask for charitable donations instead. As a kid, I *loved* picking out gifts for my friends. I guess I still love picking out gifts, when I'm not super pressed for time and stressed out, that is.

But maybe I'm being a charity curmudgeon. Maybe so much of gift giving has turned out into an obligatory hassle that, frankly, a charity gift is just as good as the Starbucks gift card, and is probably more helpful to the world to boot.

What do you all think?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Amazing News

Guys, guys, I have some amazing news that is so amazing that I forgot to blog about it for three weeks, and am finally getting on the ball now. But seriously, don't let my tardiness detract from the awesomeness that I will unveil in this post.

So, you know how you are always whining about how you wish that you could PAY for things that are FREE? Like air. I mean, I get air for free all the time, but wouldn't it be awesome if I could pay for it and get new, trendy air?


Well, I can't help you on the air front, but I can help you with something else:


That's right, a new company called Boxed Water is Better is now selling tap water. In a cardboard box.

See, now, there are lots of places where you can buy BOTTLED water, and that water is sometimes from the Alps or Fiji, but is also sometimes tap. But that water is BAD because you know, it's in plastic bottles and plastic is bad, and because sometimes it comes from Fiji and water from Fiji is bad.

But Boxed Water is Better is ... well, better. Because it comes in a BOX. I'm telling you, Fake Plastic Fish guzzles down thousands of these a day. And because their water is DEFINITELY tap which is better for the environment. Sure, it would be even better for the environment if you just drank your tap water from the, you know, tap (saving on energy costs, etc) but where's the fun in that?!

And also Boxed Water is Better has a beautiful minimalist website and they even talk a lot about the environment on it.

Really, how could you NOT love this product?

Now, some of you might say, "Ruchi, can't I just get tap water for free? Why should I pay someone to package tap water in a cardboard box?"

And to that I say, for shame. Is it really ALL about the money? Doesn't anyone care about STYLE? And by style I mean drinking out of boxes?

So, people who drink Boxed Water is Better, I salute you. You obviously Care About the Environment. Now, since you seem to enjoy just giving away your money for nothing, would you send me a twenty? Thank you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Sustainable Wedding?

I've been reflecting a lot on weddings and eco-weddings, and what it means to throw a "sustainable wedding" or what the hell that phrase means in the first place.

Weddings are ... difficult. For me, the past month has meant realizing more fully than I had ever truly realized how a wedding really isn't about me. I know, Modern Bride might beg to differ, but it's not just MY special day. It's a lot of people's special day, including, of course, the groom. And those people also have opinions about what the wedding should look like. Especially the groom.

I had ideas about what I wanted my wedding to look like, and I had to pretty much toss them out the window immediately. A lot of my friends (who like me, tend to run pretty indie and eco) incorporated a bunch of Do It Yourself projects into their weddings. In my head, I liked the idea of setting up the wedding with friends and family. But I'm not very crafty, my family is not really a "DIY" family, and we're having a fairly large wedding. DIY ain't happening here.

So, fine, I thought. I have always said that you don't have to be a cowboy, you don't have to do things yourself. Living sustainably can also involve hiring others who share your values. Maybe I can hire a "green caterer" or a "green florist." We can do email save the dates, or maybe not do them at all.

And maybe we will do those things. Or maybe we won't. Maybe we will be constrained by our budget and won't be able to afford the "green caterer," or maybe our attempts to be eco will end up saving us money.

I just don't know, and to a certain extent, I have to let it go.

In a lot of ways, I think weddings are inherently unsustainable from an environmental perspective. They are big shindigs that typically involve a lot of traveling by a multitude of people. It's a lot of money, a lot of energy, a lot of hassle, a lot of stress, a lot of crying. For what generally amounts to ONE DAY.

On the other hand, weddings are sustaining. Not just for one couple, but for entire communities. Weddings are our way of saying together as a community, "Yes. We're here for you. We love you. We're with you."

Look. We're inviting people from four different continents to our wedding (pretty sure there's no one from Africa or Australia on our lists, though I could be wrong.) I don't know if all those far away people are going to travel, but it's probable that some will. And the uptight crazy eco-nut that still exists inside of me to remonstrate when I do things like use paper towels or sleep in and drive to work feels pretty bad about all the energy that will be consumed so people can come to my wedding.

But the rest of me can't get too worked up about it.

I read a post somewhere about someone's wedding (vague I know, if anyone has any idea where the following came from let me know) where they talked about the oft given advice to not invite anyone to the wedding who you weren't sure you would be friends with in three years. And they said that that advice ignored the fact that some people WOULD be your friends in three years BECAUSE you invited them to your wedding.

There are few events where all the people you love make a point to gather in one room, and weddings are one of those select few events. And at the end of the day, that's what it's about for us. It's not about the chairs or the music or the cake or the invitations (though we have opinions on all those things), it's about the people.


I'd like to promise to myself right now, here on this blog, to keep that in mind for the next several months. That, at the end of the day, our wedding is about us, our friends, our family, and our joined community. And as long as I keep remembering that I know, that while our wedding might not the most environmentally sustainable thing in the world, it will be emotionally sustainable. And that's what matters most to me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Zapped by Ann Louise Gittleman

It seems lately like people are increasingly worried about cell phones, wireless routers, and other kinds of electronic pollution. In the week I agreed to review Zapped, I coincidentally heard an NPR piece on cell phones and cancer, had a co-worker mention her fears on the same, and witnessed a friend turn off her wireless router to protect against electronic pollution.

It seems Ann Louise Gittleman's latest book, Zapped, which discusses the problems of electronic pollution, is nothing if not timely. In the book Gittleman outlines the various problems with electronics (and according to Gittleman, it's not just the cell phones and the routers that are problematic, but ceiling fans, hair dryers, and microwaves to name a few.) She then offers some solutions for how to reduce one's exposure to dangerous electronic pollution, while not going Amish.

Gittleman's book is essentially based on the precautionary principle: if we don't entirely know what the danger is, we should act with caution. Although Gittleman cites numerous different studies in her book, the reality is that the science is still out. We don't really know what the effects are of electromagnetic exposure. We don't know what the relation is between cell phone use and brain cancer. We just. don't. know. And studies on these issues are difficult to design for a variety of reasons, which is also why any studies on the subject need to be viewed with a fairly critical eye.

In some senses, then, it seems rational to follow Gittleman's cautionary stance. Why take a chance? If we don't know whether electronics can harm you, shouldn't we air on the side of caution?

Well, maybe. The precautionary principle isn't a bad one, necessarily. But on the other hand, we, as a society, all need to appropriately assess risk. And as a recent article in the New York Times by Lisa Belkin indicates, we are often pretty crummy at doing just that. Belkin writes:

And while we certainly make constant (mis)calculations in our adult lives, we seem all the more determined yet befuddled when it comes to the safety of our children. For instance, the five things most likely to cause injury to children up to age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are: car accidents, homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know), child abuse, suicide or drowning. And what are the five things that parents are most worried about (according to surveys by the Mayo Clinic)? Kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers and drugs.
Right. Notice how those lists do not coincide at all?

Here's the point. If you are seriously worried about electronic pollution and want a few pointers for how to reduce your exposure, sure read Zapped. Get a head set for your cell phone. Turn off appliances when you are not using them (that's good for the environment and for your electricity bill anyway.)

But before you spend thousands of dollars and hours and hours of time with an electrician trying to protect yourself, I would ask yourself to think critically about the risk here. Before you campaign to get rid of the wireless internet at your child's school, I would contemplate the relative risk of wireless internet versus the risk your child assumes every time she gets in the car on the way to school.

We cannot live in a bubble, nor would we want to. Every action we take involves some level of risk. And at the end of the day, to be a functioning member of society is to, on some level, accept a level of risk.

So, you know, if you want to read more about electronic pollution, there are definitely some interesting things about Zapped. I was particularly interested in the chapter in which Gittleman touches on the dangers associated with too many medical tests. And I appreciated some of her nutritional advice (Gittleman is actually a trained nutritionist.) I believe only good can come from eating better and exercising.

But, if you do read Zapped, I would advise you to read it wearing an analytical, questioning hat. Don't succumb to paranoia. And remember to think critically about risk.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

So This Happened....

Yup. I am now an engaged woman. The whole engagement thing was totally perfect. My boyfriend, now fiance (except I hate that word ... can I call him my pre-husband?) surprised me totally and completely, which is hard to do, especially when we had been out ring shopping the week before. Suffice it to say, we are both pretty darn happy.

I've always had mixed feelings about the whole engagement thing. Back when I was single and the whole engagement thing was completely theoretical, I wrote this post about the ring dilemma. The post was one of my most popular posts ever, and the comments are still some of my favorite on this blog. Everyone seemed to do something different, and yet everything that people did, traditional or no, was so lovely and special.

Still, when it came time for me to get engaged, I had misgivings. After all, I spent a year as a non-consumer and an engagement ring seemed, in many ways, to be a wasteful extravagance. I love rings. I love jewelry. I adore other people's engagement rings. And yes, I'm going to be honest, I secretly DID want one myself. However, I also do like to live by my principles and sometimes that means saying no to yourself especially in our consumer-driven culture.

My pre-husband, on the other hand, felt pretty strongly about it. And what he felt was that he wanted to get me a ring. After some half-hearted negotiation (Are you sure you don't want to get me an engagement mattress? What about an engagement trip to Detroit for Thanksgiving?) I agreed to the ring. And so I set about finding a ring that I would love and that would also fit in with my principles.

There are an increasing number of options available in the "green engagement ring" category and it took a while for me to sort through my options and figure out what was right for me.

Conflict free diamonds (such as the Canadian diamonds offered at Brilliant Earth) are a nice option for those wanting to avoid blood diamonds (and come on, who really wants a blood diamond, no matter how beautiful it is?) But, even conflict-free diamonds do have to be mined, and any mining process is going to have some environmental impact.

I flirted with synthetic diamonds for a while too. But once again, synthetic diamonds have some impact, even if it's less than that of a mined diamond.

In the end, the choice I made for myself made the most sense given my history. I chose a used diamond ring ... or in fancy terms "vintage." The ring is estimated to be from the 1940s, and although I don't really know the history, I can make it up. Maybe my ring belonged to the bride of a World War II vet. Maybe they wrote impossibly beautiful letters to each other during the war. Maybe their letters were totally boring: "Dear Barbara: France is hot. Love Ralph." Maybe Barbara worked in the war factories. Maybe Ralph almost died. Maybe they had a long and beautiful fifty plus years of marriage. I don't really know, but I like the idea that my ring has a story to tell if only I could hear it speak. Point being, I love my ring. Also, it's super shiny! I'm getting a little distracted right now looking at it.

The past couple weeks have been total engagement bliss. We've been lucky enough to get to celebrate with many of our friends and family members over the past few weeks, and it's served as a reminder that we're not just marrying each other, we are marrying each other's communities. And I have to say, I think we both lucked out in that we are both marrying amazing communities of people. I feel completely confident that I am READY for marriage.

A wedding, on the other hand, is a total different ball game. But that's the subject of another post.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Waste Not, Want Not

I couldn't help but be amused by Alison's post over at the Green Phone Booth the other day on her borderline pathological aversion to wasting food. Alison writes that her dislike of wasting food has led her to eat when she's not hungry, ignore sell by dates, and otherwise risk serving friends and family a delicious serving of pollo y coli.

Personally, I feel Alison's pain. I hate wasting food as well. AND I do think that, in many cases, those sell by dates ARE ridiculously short. Come on. Eggs last forever. And that guacamole isn't actually BAD, it's just oxidized. You can cut the mold off that piece of cheese and the rest of it should be fine. Ditto for that bread.

I think we are a little too paranoid about our food spoiling.

BUT, at a certain point, you have to let go and throw that rotten food out.

So what do you do?

Well, I, like Alison, have a compost bin. So at least I can take some comfort in knowing that my rotten food isn't going into the dumpster.

Composting is better than sending food to the landfill. But better still would be to reduce: reduce my food waste, reduce my food bought and produced.

Except ....


First of all, we are a two person household. Which means that, frankly, a small tub of hummus can last two weeks and that's if I eat a good amount of hummus every day. Sometimes, I don't want to eat the SAME THING every day. But, I do love hummus, and I like having it around to put on my sandwiches, and to snack on with carrots.

Second of all, my boyfriend receives free lunch at work. So any leftovers get eaten by me. Who is one small person. The other day, my boyfriend came home, and we made some quick pasta with veggies that had been sitting in the fridge for a week. All part and parcel of my continual efforts to not waste. He proceeded to not eat his dinner because apparently he had eaten a few brownies at work. Of course this irritated me, because what is he, six?! Does he not get that eating a few brownies will spoil his appetite for dinner?

Now obviously, I would prefer that he eat pasta with veggies instead of brownies. However, from a food waste perspective, I kind of feel like either way food would have been wasted. Either there would have been left over brownie, because I suspect that his office is awash with dessert on a regular basis, or left over spaghetti. As it was, I ate his spaghetti the next day for lunch.

My point is this: not wasting food is hard. We should all learn to meal plan, eat leftovers, and cook a few recipes that essentially allow you to dump all leftovers in one big pot, but at the end of the day, some food may still go to waste. At those times, all we can do is compost, and give thanks that we are so fortunate as to live in a land of plentiful food. And yell at our boyfriend for eating too many brownies.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Is Guilt Good For You?

Recently, Crunchy Chicken posted about an article in the New York Times about guilty eco-nuts: those that were doing their best to go green, yet still felt guilty about their transgressions.

Crunchy argued that guilt was unproductive, and that when we feel guilty, we should examine our guilt. Are we committing "eco-sins" out of laziness? Are we just making excuses? Or are our reasons for committing said eco-sin really valid? If they are, Crunchy argues that we should let the guilt go.

When I first read this, it sounded like a very reasonable argument. What is the point of guilt anyway?

And then I started thinking about it ...

I remembered this article in The Washington Post (hat tip Charles) about how going green in one area often makes people feel that they have the moral license to go un-green in other areas. It's like eco-nut off-setting: if you're really diligent about composting, then it's okay to waste food. If you drive a hybrid, it's okay to drive instead of walk. Sometimes the off-setting isn't even that related: for instance, bringing your own plastic bags might be used to offset driving an SUV.

So it's not surprising that researchers are finding a rebound effect when it comes to energy efficient appliances. It goes something like this: Zev buys energy efficient appliances, Zev ends up saving money on his electricity bill, so Zev decides to use his savings to buy a new HDTV.

The end result is that our efforts to "go green" may be having next to no effect.

Which brings us back to guilt.

Maybe guilt isn't so bad after all. Maybe that constant nagging guilt I feel: when I use a paper cup (minor guilt) or when I fly in an airplane (major guilt) is actually more productive than I thought. Maybe that guilt is reminding me that there really are no eco-nut off-sets. That composting does not give me allowance to waste food. Nor does taking public transit to work give me allowance to fly.

I still might waste food. Or fly. But I feel guilty about it. I realize that every action matters. That one "good" action does not just balance out a "bad one." That I have no moral license.

So maybe guilt isn't so bad for you after all.

What do you think?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Random Friday

Hi guys. Happy October!! I really can't believe that 2010 is nine months over. Where did the time go?

In any case, I'm happy to be back here blogging semi-regularly after taking much of the year off. And I hope to be blogging even more this month. (This is sort of a side note, but looking at my blog I realized that my inability to blog for much of this year may have had something to do with my initial reluctance to blog about my boyfriend. I'm not really one to blog too much about my personal life, but I realize that it's really frickin hard to write blog posts day after day without including him since you know, I live with him and he's in my life and is now part of the whole nutty adventure. Which isn't to say that I want this blog to be a big huge schmoop fest. In fact I really don't want that. But it's now much easier to blog when I feel comfortable talking about how we watched a movie and had a conversation. ANYWAY.)

Oh wait! One more side note! One of my favoritist bloggers in the whole world is blogging again! So go read Green Bean's post about channeling her inner Jamie Oliver and welcome her back to the blog world! No, but wait! First read the rest of my post, and THEN go to the Green Phone Booth.

I'm sorry. I would say I had too much caffeine, but so far this morning, it's only been 1.5 cups of tea.

Okay, anyway, I'll let you get to more exciting things on the internet in a minute, but I wanted to give you a taste of some of the things I'll be blogging about in October.

1) Mattress shopping. Yes, we finally bought a new mattress. And after the weeks of freaking research, I now consider myself a God damn eco-mattress expert so I figure I should share. So expect a post, or perhaps three on the topic. I probably have enough to say.

2) Thrift store comparisons. I visited three thrift stores in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood. I'll let you know my thoughts.

3) Riot for Austerity! Well sort of. I decided that I'm a really competitive person (you think?). And as such, I accomplish more when I have goals I'm trying to hit. Right now I'm doing pretty good about trash, electricity use, car use, etc, but there are areas where I backslide simply because I'm not accountable to anyone. For instance, I've been using paper towels at work. And I've gotten lazy and am sort of throwing whatever in the bathroom trash instead of separating out the compostables (tissues) from the recyclables (toilet paper tubes) from the garbage. I bought a TV that can be set so that when it powers off, it doesn't suck any stand-by power from the outlet, but I haven't figured out the setting. Stuff like that. So I'm going to track my trash, electricity, car use, food consumption, and durable good consumption this month and see how I do.

4) Talking about how I'm an eco-hypocrite! Because I am one! See above: not sorting trash. But also I sin in many, many, many, MANY other ways. I would like you to know this. Because frankly, I don't know if it is just me, but I tend to assume that all eco-bloggers are perfect and never buy plastic, and never slip up and have to buy bottled water, and always buy bulk, organic, local food, etc, etc, etc. This may be true of other bloggers but it is NOT TRUE OF ME. I am a HUGE hypocrite. HUGE. Bigger than huge. I just think you should know.

All right. That's all for today, but hope you're looking forward to this month of posting. I know I am. Have a happy Friday, and, well, this is random, but if you need a good cry, watch this:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Adventures in Craigslisting

So my boyfriend and I have been on the lookout for a little cart for our kitchen for a while. Now, we could have just gone to Ikea, and picked out any number of these kitchen carts, but as much as I'm now a normal little consumerist just like anyone else, I made a pledge to myself that this move was not going to involve a trip to the Ikea store. Every other time I've moved (except when I moved to London), I've worshiped at the Ikea altar. But that was all BEFORE. Now, I can't help but feel like Ikea represents some of the worst excesses of our throw-it-away culture. Because they make furniture SO cheap, everyone just buys it, and then dumps it a year or so later. As much as I am willing to shop and buy new, even venturing into the big box stores now and then, Ikea is my current line in the sand. The one I'm not yet willing to cross.

So, instead I hit Craigslist for kitchen carts. I quickly found that even if I were willing to go to Ikea, it would be completely foolish to do so: there are a plethora of Ikea kitchen carts on Craigslist for dirt cheap. Why pay $60, when you could pay $10? My opposition to Ikea doesn't extend to used Ikea furniture on Craigslist, but honestly, neither of the ubiquitous Ikea kitchen carts were quite what we wanted.

So, we kept looking. This one was too small, another too wide. Another too ugly, another too far away. Meanwhile, our microwave continued to sit on the floor. Finally, I was ready to call it a day, and just pick up one of the many used Ikea carts, when we found it. A nice, fairly solid cart with a couple of drawers and extra shelving.

Excited, I quickly made an appointment to view the cart. I gave my boyfriend the dimensions and asked him whether or not he thought the cart would fit in the back of our car.

"Yeah, it should," he said nonchalantly. And I, eager to pick up the cart, believed him.

I know. Big mistake.

So, we find the cart, and it looks as advertised, and is clean and in good shape. We pay the nice couple some cash, and wheel the cart into the warm San Francisco night to our car.

Where it turns out, that, in fact, no, the cart will NOT fit. We try the trunk. We try the back seat. We try multiple configurations, saying "Pivot" really loud, but nothing seems to work.

So now, we're stuck on some random street with our kitchen cart.

My boyfriend suggests we call a friend with a station wagon. I suggest we hire a taxi mini-van. He pulls out his cell phone to call his friend, while I stand on the street corner to hail down a cab. He's on the phone with his friend when a taxi mini-van pulls over. I grab my boyfriend and we explain our situation to the cab driver. The driver seems dubious about the whole endeavor, but agrees that we can bring the cart over and try to load it into the van. We run to the cart and grab it to bring to the taxi, and ... he's long gone.


Round two. My boyfriend tries to call his friend again. I head back to the corner to try and find yet another cab. After a minute or two, I manage to hail another mini van. Again, the cab driver is dubious, but this one pulls over and puts the seats down in the back. We bring the cart over, and the cab driver shakes his head. "It's not going to fit, but you can try," he says.

We tip the cart gently into the back of the minivan and it fits!! Success!!

Relieved to no longer be stuck on the street, I get in the cab, and my boyfriend follows behind with the car.

We get home and quickly wheel the cart into place, satisfied that our Craigslisting adventures paid off.

I guess that's one more advantage to not going to Ikea. While going to Ikea means you're less likely to wind up stranded on the street with a kitchen cart, you also do have to get home and assemble said cart from ancient Scandinavian scrolls. Given my proclivity for immediate gratification, it was nice to have the cart look like this five minutes after entering:

Cute, huh? Thanks, Craigslist, my microwave appreciates having a real home.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Quick Note

I just wanted to alert any interested readers of a contest running on the Nature Conservancy website right now.

Most of you are probably familiar with the Nature Conservancy which is one of the leading conservationist organizations in the country. They are also known, at least around my house, for their really gorgeous nature photos that are featured in their magazine.

Well, they are currently running their 5th annual photo contest, and are inviting everyone to submit their favorite nature pics online. The winner will be featured in the Nature Conservancy calendar for 2012.

If you're interested, visit this website for all the details. The deadline is October 4th.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Last night, I had one of the most fantastic meals I've had in a long, long time.

And the kicker?

It was all vegan.

Yup, last night, my boyfriend and I made it out to Millennium Restaurant, which is perhaps one of the most famous vegetarian restaurants in San Francisco. In fact, by the end of the second course, my meat-loving boyfriend was making multiple comments about how if all vegan food tasted this good, he'd be okay going vegan.

And of course I was happy because at a vegan restaurant I didn't have to worry about animal fats lurking in my food. No need to offer a laundry list of things I can't eat: cheese, butter, cream. No need to worry that we'd get three courses with bacon. Instead, we sat back, ordered the tasting menu, and let the deliciousness unfold.

Millennium's success (can we talk about how crowded this place is?) demonstrates that ultimately, we are all happy to eat good, healthy, sustainable food. If it tastes good, that is. Judging by the Yelp reviews (and my boyfriend) a number of meat eaters have been good and satisfied eating at Millennium.

So why are we all stuck in the meat paradigm? Why do so many of us feel that we need to eat meat with just about every meal?

Is it because that's what we know? What we grew up with? Is it just plain easier to cook with meat?

When we think of a vegetarian dish, are we stymied at pasta or a salad?

And how do we change the paradigm so that instead of focusing on meat, butter, and cheese, we focus on vegetables, lentils, and whole grains?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Going Car-Light

When we first met, neither my boyfriend nor I had a working car, not that I knew that right away. My boyfriend picked a restaurant near the train station for our first date; I assumed he just liked Mexican food. I drove to the restaurant in my mom's car, and he walked from the train.

At the restaurant, I was ... well me, which means that my eco-nuttiness slipped out in some way. I mean, I don't go around being like, "Hello my name is Ruchi and I don't use toilet paper*," but I also don't tend to hide the fact that I like to be green. My boyfriend, perhaps emboldened by my environmentalist talk, mentioned that the last time he had driven to work had been, irony of ironies, Earth Day two years ago. Since then, his car had sat in the garage, unloved and unused. It no longer started, and probably needed a few repairs.

My boyfriend likes to joke that I am one of the few women on the planet who would have viewed this state of affairs as a plus. After all, this story is really a story of a guy who was too lazy to fix his car, so he decided to just keep it in the garage for two years and take the train. It's not like he was making a political statement.

But, of course, I, because I am an eco-romantic thought this was a great story. Plus, I am lazy too. And when you break it down, a lot of my habits such as not shopping and wearing my clothes multiple times before washing, are as much green as lazy. Yes it's greener to wear my glasses instead of disposable contacts, it's also lazy.

So, hell, if people are going to cut down on carbon emissions out of laziness, I'll take it!

But as we started dating, things got complicated. At the time I lived in a place with almost no access to public transit, so, I would have to borrow my mom's car to see my boyfriend, or get her to drop me off to the train. When we went skiing, it was now two people bumming rides, instead of just one. As Charles can no doubt attest, being car-free is difficult if you spend much time in the South Bay as we did.

So, finally, after a couple months of aggravation, my boyfriend got his car fixed. And now we use it to visit friends, my mom, drive to Tahoe, and generally make our lives a little easier. It's not ideal, but between two people, we probably have to get gas every two weeks, which is less gas than I was using in LA, even once I started taking public transport to work.

So, while we're no longer completely car free, we are fairly proud to be a one-car household, and hope to stay that way for a good, long time.

*I do use 100% recycled toilet paper now.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Response to Jenn the Greenmom

This morning I read Jenn's post over at the Green Phone Booth about "The Junk Food Dilemma." I guess it touched a nerve, because I started writing a comment to her and then kept writing, and writing, and writing, and writing. In fact, when I finally went to post the comment, I found out that I'd exceeded the comment limit. I'd never realized there was a comment limit in all my time blogging. And I've written some seriously long comments.

But, ya know, that's what I have my own blog for. So, read her post, and then read my response. If you want.


Sometimes I have serious concerns about the enviro/foodie movement. The vibe often seems to be that you can eat whatever you want as long as it's not processed junk food and it's local, organic, etc.

Couple reality checks here:

1) The problems with animal products aren't just with the meat. Raising animals is an energy-intense process, and that goes for both dairy cows and cows for slaughter. Most enviros, even non-vegetarians argue that we need to cut down on meat consumption. We eat too much meat, no question, but I would argue that we probably also eat too much animal product period. I'm not a vegan, hell, I'm not even a vegetarian, but I think it's important for us to recognize this point.

2) Even organic whole wheat chocolate chip cookies are bad for you. Yes, you can eat some in moderation. But, honestly, moderation does not mean you can eat three cookies a day. Or even two cookies a day.

I changed my diet because I felt I had to. I got the results of a cholesterol test back and they were alarmingly high. So I began to add a ton of fiber to my diet (I already ate a good amount of fiber, but now I eat double the daily requirement.) I only eat non-fat dairy. I also eat about three or four servings of fruit a day and try to eat three servings of vegetables a day. I eat a lot of hummus and guacamole. I eat a lot of lentils and beans. I rarely eat red meat (aside from bison which is super high in omega-3). I eat a lot of fish, and a little poultry. I probably average three vegetarian days per week, and then two days with fish.

I cut out cheese entirely. And butter. Occasionally I will eat a bite of cheese at a restaurant but it's rare. (When we go out to pizza, I ask for an individual pizza with no cheese.) Likewise, I'm sure there are times at a restaurant where I accidentally end up with something with butter, but it's not something I use to cook with at home. I eat chocolate sparingly: sometimes in dark chocolate form, and sometimes in the form of low-fat frozen yogurt. But it's not a daily treat by any means.

I do miss cheese and butter and ice cream and all the rest. Sometimes I long for some mac and cheese. BUT, by eliminating things, I think it actually makes it easier than if you try to figure out "moderation." Moderation is hard, because it's so easy to slip back into old ways. There's a reason alcoholics are told that they can never drink again.

And most of the time, I'm happy. I love fruit. I love hummus and avocado. I have found a ton of super tasty, healthy veg dishes. And yes, I allow myself the occasional slip up. I also allow myself (though I know I should not) a couple vices: since my problem is cholesterol which has to do with fat, I let myself have soda and juice which you know, are really just sugar. I also let myself have sugary candies occasionally like sour patch kids. I know, I know, I shouldn't do that, but sometimes I'm just dying for something bad! And, for me, (not a diabetic) this is not THAT bad.

In the process of this new diet, I've lost about ten pounds. I feel super energetic (although that's probably also due to my exercise regime).

And frankly, now that my body is acclimated to healthy non-fatty stuff, a little fat goes a long long way. The other day, a friend offered me a mini banana-nut muffin he had baked. It was all warm from the oven and looked delicious, so I couldn't resist. I had half of a mini-muffin and felt really satiated.

I've also noticed that I've become very sensitive to butter and cheese and stuff. A little bit starts to feel like a LOT to me. So I enjoy it, but only in very limited quantities.

Anyway, that's my very long-winded response to your post. My advice to you: don't do a cleanse. Instead, do exactly what Chile suggested. Choose only healthy foods for a month. Eat no unhealthy foods. Then gradually add the unhealthy stuff back in. HOWEVER, whenever you sit at the dinner table, take stock of your plate. It should be one half veggies. The other half can be composed of carbs/protein/meat/dairy. But fully one half of it should be veggies. This is a tip a nutritionist gave me, and I think it's pretty brilliant. That means the occasional Alfredo pasta is fine, but make sure you are also eating a ton of broccoli, etc, that day as well.

Hope this helps!


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Moving is Hard

We have internet!!

Finally. After several desperate days without, I am now free to procrastinate all the live long day online.

Actually, it's probably a good thing that we had no internet at the new place because it allowed me time to, you know, UNPACK, and that kind of crap.

So, I'm sure you're wondering how the move is going, or maybe you're not because who really cares about other people's moves? But I am not deterred by your lack of interest and I will happily tell you this that you already know, but forget when you decide to shift house.

Moving blows.

It is a lot of carrying things, and shlepping. There is a lot of frowning as you wonder where to hang that picture. No, not there. Not there either. Nope. Oh forget it. Your apartment is never going to look like those Apartment Therapy pads no matter how you try.

And of course there is a lot of buying.

Yesterday, I impulsively bought a super ugly blonde wood bookcase and file cabinet off of Craigslist. To be fair, they're not actually that ugly. They're perfectly respectable Ikea-esque specimens. And they're the exact right size for what I needed in the office. But the wood definitely doesn't match the rest of our furniture, not to mention the floors. So now, I've been racking my brain trying to come up with ways to make the furniture less attractive.

So far, I've thought about painting, wallpapering, or decoupaging.

Either way, it seems like an awful lot of work.

Did I mention that I am really not crafty?

So internets, if you had boring blond Ikea furniture that you wanted to jazz up what would you do? What would you do if you were extremely lazy as I am? And what would you do if you didn't want to spend too much money?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Balancing Out the Nuttiness

‎"Oh my God. Is this going to be my life forever? It's like we go to the environmental store and what's there is still not good enough."

The following is a quote from my poor, beleaguered boyfriend. Who has to put up with me and my eco-insanity more than anyone else.

In most cases, my boyfriend approaches my eco-nuttiness with good humor. And honestly, we live in San Francisco, where many aspects of my eco-ness are par for the course. My boyfriend already used reusable bags when he went grocery shopping. Everyone in the city composts because it is mandated by law. Most people I know here buy organic.

So, in a lot of cases, he goes along with my crusade. Sometimes willingly, sometimes rolling his eyes. He doesn't bat an eyelash about buying organic milk. He religiously composts and knows all the rules. And he even calls me on my eco-sins. Like the time he reminded me that if I don't get out of bed in time, he has to drive me to the train station, and the car isn't meant for those walkable journeys.

But in other cases, my choices do definitely cause him some frustration. He misses the Pantene. He likes having an emergency stash of paper towels. He can't believe it when I tell him that only one mattress at the eco-mattress store is eco enough.

The other day we were watching the No Impact Man movie, and I couldn't help but watch the whole thing from his eyes. Of course, I knew a ton about their project, I had followed along on the blog, and I've read Colin's wife's writing about the subject. So, I knew how the whole project had been an evolution for her from a somewhat unwilling participant to an active, involved, collaborator. But a whole lot of the movie seemed to focus on the unwilling participant part, probably because it provided some drama. So it felt a lot like she was being dragged along through this torturous project and that she had very little say in the matter. As I watched my boyfriend cringe when Michelle's toilet paper was taken away from her, I wondered, "Where's the balance?"

I started my eco-nutty phase when I was living alone. This had its own struggles, but, by and large, it made things simpler. I did what I wanted. If I wanted to not use toilet paper or paper towels? It didn't affect anyone else. But now, every choice I make, whether it's to use vinegar as a cleaning solution or to turn off the air-dry on the dishwasher, affects someone else.<

And while I think some of the changes are fair and justified, like say eating all organic, sometimes they are perhaps a little overzealous and unnecessary. When my boyfriend convinced me to buy a roll of paper towels, we bought an unbleached, 100% recycled roll that lasted us three months. I guess I can agree to buy four rolls of recycled paper towels a year.

I guess like all things, this is about finding the happy medium. Because after all, there's no point "saving the world" if everyone gets so pissed off at you that you have no one to share your world with.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I'm a Believer

Yesterday, I was at my mom's house going through all the crap I've stored in her garage for the past two years, and I found these pretty wood flowers I had bought at Ikea four years ago.

Yeah I know, wood flowers, but trust me, they are pretty! They are bright blue and red. And they liven up a place. And I'm bad with real flowers.

Anyway, here they were in the garage collecting dust. (I'm surprised they survived the purge two years ago when I moved out of LA ... I guess this tells you how attached I am to stupid $2 wood flowers.) But other than the dust, they still looked good, and I decided that I wanted them for the new apartment. I figured I'd rinse them in the kitchen sink, let them dry off, and I was sure they'd look as good as new.

I had almost finished washing the flowers when I noticed to my horror BRIGHT BLUE DOTS all over my mom's WOOD floor. The stupid Ikea flowers had leaked dye onto the floor. My MOM'S FLOOR.

Now, many of you are moms. And when your children do something, like say, ruin your wood floors, you probably sigh, and are sad, but mostly let it go. Because it was an accident, and they did apologize, and also, your child is four.

Let me tell you, that I am pretty sure this doesn't work when your child is 31.

When your child is 31, I am pretty sure you get REALLY REALLY MAD at said child because HOW DID THEY NOT NOTICE THE BLUE DOTS EARLIER?! And what were they doing washing the flowers in the kitchen sink? After all, said child has her own kitchen sink. Why didn't she go home and wash her flowers there?

(I would like to state for the record here that my mom is actually very, very nice. But she does think both of her daughters are prone to extreme carelessness which may or may not be fair. Also, I think she incorrectly assumed that once her kids hit ten they would stop destroying her kitchen floor.)

So, I freaked out for a few minutes, and then ran to the laundry room to find some cleaner. I got out the nasty, toxic, wood cleaner, dumped as much of it as I could on a rag and set to work.



Then I got some regular soap and water, and tried that.


Then I decided that the Internets must have a solution. So I got online and frantically searched for how to remove dye on wood.

One website advised me to create a paste with a tablespoon of baking soda with a table spoon of vinegar and then scrub the paste on to the wood with a tooth brush.

I honestly had pretty minimal hope for this. After all, the nasty toxic chemicals hadn't worked. Why would stupid baking soda and vinegar? I know people claim they are natural cleaners and work wonders, but I've never completely bought into it.

BUT, at this point I was frantic and desperate.

So, I grabbed a toothbrush, the vinegar, and baking soda and started scrubbing.

And, I am not kidding you, it worked like an eraser on pencil.

It was THAT easy and THAT instantaneous. The vinegar and baking soda picked up ALL that nasty blue dye RIGHT UP.

Ten minutes later, the kitchen floor was completely clean but smelled like fish and chips. Fifteen minutes later, the smell was gone. Twenty minutes later, my mom was home, and I was bragging to her about the miracle that is baking soda and vinegar.

Crisis averted.

And now I'm a believer. No more spending tons of money on expensive eco-cleaners. I'm going with the vinegar and baking soda. Cuz they're safe, cheap, effective, and while I'm cleaning, I can dream of fish and chips. What else can you ask from a cleaning solution?

What are your homemade cleaning recipes and do they work?

Thursday, August 26, 2010


So I don't know if I mentioned this, but I'm moving. My boyfriend and I are moving out of the current place we share with a roommate to a place of our own.

We're very excited ... the new places is super cute, and two bedrooms which means we get an office/guest bedroom. It has a nice large kitchen and also a little outdoor space.

But it's also a little nerve-wracking. No, not because I'm worried about living by myself with my boyfriend or anything. But because, well ....

The other day I was talking to my friend about the move, and she said to me, "So you do know that you are going to have to BUY things, right?!!"


Yes, yes, I know I have to buy things. I know, I know.

And I know that I'll likely even have to buy NEW things. We'll still probably buy some used furniture, but since we are planning to stay in the Bay Area for a very long time (read: possibly forever) we also want to buy stuff with a sense of permanence.

So, you know, we need a bath mat. Hand towels. A doo-dad to hold soap so that the sink doesn't get gritty and soap-scummy. And since we're putting our old bed in the guest bedroom, we need a new mattress, sheets, and pillows.

These are things that we have to buy new. Because, frankly, used bath mats are kinda gross, and what with all the bed bug pandemics, I'm not taking my chances with a used mattress.

Plus, there are the kitchen appliances and accoutrements we will now have to buy. And some of these we can buy used, but some of them will prove difficult.

So my point is, I have to shop.

And guys? I am *not* good at that.

Like, the other day, I spent several hours researching a new electric kettle. I want one with as little plastic as possible, that has no plastic coming in contact with the water. After hours of reading and reviewing and debating, I finally just gave up. And made a cup of tea in my old, completely plastic-and-likely-leaking-toxic-chemicals, kettle.

Luckily my mother came to the rescue with a stainless steel electric kettle that is sitting around in her garage. I haven't looked at the reviews, but I don't care. After all it's used.

And that's the problem. Used stuff is so easy for me to buy. If it breaks after six months, I care a lot less. After all it was used. I probably spent $10. And while I'm obviously concerned about toxic chemicals leaching, I don't care as much about manufacturing impact when I'm buying used. After all, I'm not contributing to the manufacturer's profit, I'm delaying a product's trip to the dump.

With new, I feel like I need to do the research and MAKE IT PERFECT. You know, perfectly environmental, perfectly healthy, perfectly manufactured with fair wages paid to laborers, etc, etc, etc. But it's hard. There's a lot of information to dig through and while that's easy enough when you're buying one thing, it's a whole lot harder when you have to buy a dozen new kitchen things.

And that's the other thing. I am unsure of all the things I NEED and what I can at least put off buying. You don't know how much agonizing I had to do to convince myself that yes, a bath mat is NECESSARY. Because I don't want to live in a FRAT HOUSE.

What do I buy new and what do I buy used? Do I bite the bullet and buy a new trash can? (Those things are surprisingly expensive.) Or do I scour Craigslist and hold out for a used one? What about canisters for sugar, flour, and rice? What about wooden hangers and picture frames?

And, and, (I understand that this is turning into a long, babbling post, this is what the prospect of shopping does to me) WHERE do I buy all these things? I'm not shopping at Target (see previous post) and I am kind of philosophically opposed to Ikea, which I believe makes crappy, cheap furniture enabling too many college students to adopt a "buy new and dump it next year" approach to furniture when they could be buying stuff off Craigslist.

So what does that leave me? Is Bed, Bath, and Beyond okay? Do I want to know if it's not? Can I buy a bath mat at an independent store? Will it cost me $50?

The point is people, that THIS IS WHY I DON'T SHOP. Because it makes me a nut case. So if you see me at the store staring vacantly at the trash cans for an hour, do me a favor and give me a hug. And then tell me which trash can to buy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Boycotting Shopping

The recent boycott of Target has reminded me of how difficult and pointless I used to think shopping boycotts were.

Back before I became a non-consumer I considered information about corporate misdeeds overwhelming. It seemed like every company was doing something it shouldn't. I mean I couldn't just STOP SHOPPING, could I? So I might as well just keep shopping everywhere. They're all bad, but what can I do?

And then one day the lightbulb turned on and I realized that yes, in fact, I could just STOP shopping. So I did.

Now, I'm not going to tell you that you SHOULD boycott Target. That's your own business and you have to base that decision on your own political, moral, and ethical beliefs. I will say that, in my personal opinion as a bleeding heart liberal, I think Target may have cuter clothes than Walmart, but it ain't much better from a progressive politics point of view. Target's recent political donation was one instance in a larger stream of troubling actions.

As I said, my opinion on Target is based on my liberal bias, a position I certainly don't expect everyone reading this blog to share. However, if YOU want to boycott Target, but aren't sure if you can, well then keep reading.

Because I am here to tell you that you most certainly CAN boycott Target.

"How?" you may be wondering. "How can I boycott TARGET? They have everything. Especially cute purses. And they are so conveniently located in the urban/suburban environment where I live, unlike Wal-Mart which is easy to boycott because it's not located anywhere near me!"

It's true that Target has everything. It's very true that they have cute purses. Nonetheless, I promise you that if you want to, you can do it.

Here are my tips for avoiding Target:

1) Stop shopping. Okay, kidding. I know that it's not totally realistic to expect everyone to stop shopping. But seriously, it can be done. Just ask Megan. Or Colin. Or Katy. Or even me! Even if you don't stop shopping you can seriously limit your shopping. I typically don't buy something without several weeks (sometimes months) of consideration. You will be amazed by how much you don't actually NEED. Like that cute purse.

2) Shop Craigslist. And thrift stores. And eBay. And Amazon Marketplace. You will be amazed by how many awesome used things you can find for super cheap. Even cute purses!

3) Use (some) of the money you've saved from buying less and buying used to support local businesses. The sad truth is big box stores like Target can often afford to charge much less than your local mom and pop. But if you're saving money by consuming less, you can also afford to pay a little more on the few things you DO end up buying.

4) Do your homework. Are there big companies with good practices who you are willing to support? For example, Costco has been profiled as a company that is good to its employees. If so, shop there.

5) Don't go there. Or near there. Avoid temptation by not driving past Target every day. Out of sight, out of mind.

As for me, yeah, I probably won't shop at Target. Although I do love their purses.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

More Thoughts on Budiansky

Budiansky's article certainly generated a lot of criticism both here and over at Crunchy Chicken. Probably one of the most oft-repeated themes was "I don't trust statistics."

Which is fair, I suppose, but makes things difficult. I mean, I get that it's really damn easy to lie with statistics which is why I would want to know exactly which studies are being cited and then go and review the methodology before I accepted someone's statistics at face value.

The problem is though, if we want to answer these complex questions about carbon efficiency and energy use, and we want to do them fairly, we do have to sort of agree that we can study them with some sort of method. It's fair not to accept uncited and unverified statistics, but at the end of the day, social policy can't be determined on a wing and a hunch. It's fine for YOU to FEEL that local is the most carbon efficient, and for you to then make your decisions accordingly, but that doesn't NECESSARILY make it true.

Now the other criticism that came up was, "Budiansky is missing the point! This isn't about carbon miles it's about a food REVOLUTION!"

And it's fair, that the locavore movement is about many things, and about many things to many people. However, I also think it's fair for one article to address one facet of the locavore movement, which is most certainly about food miles. Now you may say that you're a locavore because you want to know the farmer who grew your food, and that's valid. But that doesn't mean that it's illegitimate for Budiansky to argue that locavorism isn't NECESSARILY more carbon efficient.

But back to Budiansky, who I think, sort of deserves a lot of criticism himself for issuing a stream of statistics without any mention of his sources (I know that this is totally kosher for an op-ed piece, but if he wanted to, he could have mentioned a study or two.) One of the things that struck me the most about the Budiansky piece is his findings that most of the energy consumption in agriculture comes from us, the consumers. From our fridges, stoves, dishwashers, and car trips to the grocery store.

And actually, given his findings, it's a little surprising that most personal environmentalists are railing against the article because in fact, the article, is, in many senses, a call to arms for personal environmentalism. What Budiansky is saying is, we're not going to reduce the energy consumption associated with food until WE the consumers start acting differently. What he's saying is that each of us, as individuals, can make a difference, by walking to the grocery, turning off the "heat dry" on our dishwashers, and yes, by turning off our fridges.

Of course, I suspect, that if there was a mass movement to turn off our fridges, some other op-ed writer would respond by calling us eco-nuts, and unveiling a heap of statistics that show that refrigeration constitutes a minor portion of America's energy use. But that's another story.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What's The Most Efficient Use of Energy?

I've been thinking idly of getting a CSA box for some time for a variety of reasons. One, I think it would force me to eat more vegetables and to become more adventurous in my meal preparations. Two, I like the idea behind Community Supported Agriculture and would like to support it. Three, it's just so convenient. To have produce delivered to my door seems like such a luxury.

Plus, it's good for the environment right? Isn't that what everyone's saying?

Well, after reading this article, I'm not entirely sure anymore. According to Stephen Budiansky, food transportation, fertilizers, and chemicals only make up a small share of food's energy use. Instead, Budiansky says, "The real energy hog, it turns out, is not industrial agriculture at all, but you and me. Home preparation and storage account for 32 percent of all energy use in our food system, the largest component by far."

Now I have no idea where Budiansky got his statistics from. And frankly, I'm not really sure how meaningful they are ... are his statistics on industrial agriculture solely about crops? Is meat included? And, if so, can we conflate growing lettuce with producing hamburger patties in one statistic?

But Budiansky does have a point when he notes the energy costs required to drive five miles and back from the grocery store or farmer's market. (Note: I've never had to travel five miles to get to a grocery store. Farmer's market, maybe. Grocery store, definitely not. Does this mean I'm spoiled living in the city or is five miles a sort of weirdly large estimate?)

So I started thinking about it. Right now, we get our produce from Whole Foods which is blocks away from our house. Generally speaking, my boyfriend is able to pick up things we need on his walk home from work. We go through produce, especially fruit, very rapidly, so we shop several times a week, and don't use any transportation energy to do so. At Whole Foods, we buy primarily organic, and usually local/in state. The organic is a deliberate choice, the local partly choice, partly happenstance. Since California is the heartland for Industrial Organic, most of our produce just winds up being local. Earthbound Farms spinach? Local. Driscoll's berries? Local. We're lucky. I've been to Whole Foods in Florida and they carry the same Industrial Organic from California that we have in our Whole Foods. As for the produce taste itself? I have to say, I'm extremely happy with it.

Our other options would be farmers markets or CSA. Since we don't have a farmers' market in walking distance, either of these options would require us to expend some form of transportation energy. There are several farmers' markets within a half hour bus ride. But they are generally only once a week or in working hours, so we would either need to buy a lot and hope stuff didn't spoil, or supplement our farmers' market purchases with grocery store produce. Not ideal.

With a CSA, we'd have the convenience factor, but it would come at a cost. I don't know how much energy CSA trucks expend delivering grocery bags across the city, but I'm sure it's a decent amount.

All of this leads me to believe that actually Whole Foods may actually be the most efficient choice for us: efficient in terms of energy and also our time. It seems a tad heretical ... (but it's INDUSTRIAL ORGANIC!! WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL FARMERS?!!) And yeah, I know there are other things to consider. In an ideal world, I would support the small farmers. I would go visit exactly where my food was being produced. I would form a personal connection with the people growing my food. And I'd figure out a way to support small farmers in an energy efficient way.

But, I don't live in an ideal world, I live in a world with a lot of resource constraints. And when I'm thinking about the best use of my limited resources, Whole Foods just seems like the better option.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Plastic Covering the Planet

So, the good news is, now that we compost, we generate very little trash.

The bad news is, most of the trash we do generate is plastic.

Plastic bread bags, plastic tags on bread bags. Plastic bags that come with our New York Times. Plastic shrink-wrapped around boxes of tea for God knows what reason.

Plastic around milk containers. Plastic rings encircling glass bottles of jam and peanut butter. Hello food producers!! We're buying glass for a reason.

Now I'm not a crusader against all plastic. I love Fake Plastic Fish, but we all have our battles to fight, and I'm not ready to add plastic to mine. We go shopping several times a week because I go through fruit literally that fast on my low cholesterol diet. Because of that, we shop at Whole Foods which has the advantage of being four blocks away from our apartment. The berries all come in plastic containers, and we buy plenty.

I buy the pre-packaged organic baby carrots because they're an easy, healthy snack. And the pre-washed organic spinach because, frankly, if the spinach isn't pre-washed it's a lot more likely that I just won't eat it. Plus, the plastic keeps the vegetables from spoiling prematurely.

But even with all that plastic that I'm not willing (yet) to do without, there still seems to be so much excess plastic ... plastic we could get rid of. Plastic that I'm flummoxed is there in the first place. Like the box of tea that is shrink-wrapped in plastic, and then when you open it, you find out that inside the box, each INDIVIDUAL TEA BAG is also wrapped in plastic.

Seriously, is there some pandemic of unsanitary tea that I don't know of? (I no longer buy this brand.)

Plastic is piling up ... in our apartment (literally, for whatever reason my boyfriend sees fit to keep all the New York Times bags like we're suddenly going to come up with a use for them), in our landfills, in my mind. The other day, one of my contacts fell off in the sink, and because I was getting rid of them anyway, I almost let it go down the drain. And then I realized ... "Oh wait. That's ... plastic." And with visions of endangered fish choking on my contact, I scooped it back up.

Saturday, at the grocery store, my boyfriend reported that he stared at the milk for several seconds, trying to figure out if he should buy the organic milk in the plastic container or the non-organic milk in the paper container. Unable to deal with this Sophie's Choice, he fled from the dairy aisle and found, to his relief, that I had already picked up the milk: organic in plastic.

One more plastic container to add to my heap of plasticized guilt.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Building Exercise Into Your Commute

The past few days I've felt a little bit restless, sorta like a dog that needed to be walked.

I was wondering what was going on, when I realized that I am, in fact, like a dog that needs to be walked.

You see, I've had to drive to work the past couple days. And generally, I take the train to work, which involves about 5 miles of walking (.8 miles to the train station then 1.75 miles to work and then back again.) In fact, I walk to work, and then after work change into my running clothes and run the way back.

As a result, I'm in probably the best shape of my life.

When exercise is built into your commute, you can't procrastinate it, or avoid it. If I don't walk, I don't get home.

Now, it's not a pretty walk really. In fact, people who know the area are sometimes taken aback that I walk it. There are short parts of it where there is no sidewalk, and I'm forced to trespass through parking lots to avoid walking in the middle of the road. At these times, I channel my inner Beany getting annoyed at all the drivers and the wide swathes of the road we have allotted them, leaving none for little old pedestrian me.

And it makes for a long commute, especially in the evening where I have to wait a good while for a train.

But I can honestly say that I am so much happier with my commute than I would be stuck in a car in rush hour traffic. I love having time to read on the train. I love that I am getting good exercise. And I REALLY love that I don't have to pay an arm and a leg for a gym membership.

Once again: what's good for the planet is good for me. Funny how that works so much of the time, isn't it? ;)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Food, Inc

Saturday night, I finally got around to seeing Food, Inc. For those of you who haven't seen the movie yet, Food, Inc is a documentary about, yes, food. Or rather, it's about the modern, American food industry, which is really a whole 'nother can of tomatoes.

Now, obviously, I agree with most of Food, Inc. And I think that it's certainly valuable and meritorious for the filmakers to continue our national conversation about food.

But, I also think that, frankly, so much has been written and filmed about this subject, and thus we can differentiate between This-Movie-Has-Educational-and-Important-Content-So-It-Must-Be-Good and This-Movie-Is-Actually-Good. And unfortunately, I think Food, Inc falls into the former category and not the latter.

Firstly, there was no narrative. The film sort of jumped around from subject to subject without any sort of cohesive thread that I could discern. And as The Boy (who really needs some sort of cute blog pseudonym ... any suggestions?) commented, "This movie really rests upon the backs of Crunchy Chickens."

By which he meant that the movie provided interesting visuals for people who had already read Omnivore's Dilemma or Fast Food Nation or Crunchy Chicken. But for those who had no prior information, the movie glossed over too much. As an example, The Boy noted that he had really enjoyed the section in The Omnivore's Dilemma in which Pollan explains Joe Salatin's farming technique and why it works. Without that background, the scenes on Polyface Farm just turn into Joe ... talking.

And speaking of things that were covered better in The Omnivore's Dilemma, let's talk about Food, Inc's rhapsodizing about organic food. Now I freely admit that I am, of recent, a slave to Whole Paycheck and Earthbound Farm. However, I really appreciated the way Pollan dealt with Industrial Organic, and the complexities and contradictions that lie therein.

I get that a movie may not be able to handle that complexity in quite that depth, but I figured some attempt would be made. And I certainly wasn't expecting the head of Stoneyfield to get to expound on how he was SAVING THE WORLD by getting his line of organic yogurt in Walmart ... I mean, again, I appreciate the lack of pesticides used, and I eat and enjoy Stoneyfield, but buying yogurt from a company owned by Groupe Danone isn't exactly a revolutionary act.

So overall, I think Food, Inc covers an interesting and important subject in a rather banal way. If you are interested in the American food industry, go read Omnivore's Dilemma or Fast Food Nation or watch King Corn instead.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Nutritional Rules 2

A few months ago, I mentioned that I was, on the recommendation of my doctor, taking a number of supplements. Calcium. Omega 3. Plant sterols. And Metamucil.

Yeah, that lasted about a week.

See, I had a physical in early April and found that my cholesterol was very high. So my doctor recommended a number of different supplements that are designed to lower my bad cholesterol (Metamucil and plant sterols) and raise my good cholesterol (fish oil.)

Plus, she recommended I take a calcium supplement on the grounds that almost everybody is calcium deficient.

Now I'm not very good at taking daily pills, but I figured that this was important. So I dutifully went out and bought all the different supplements ... fruit chewy calcium supplements, Metamucil pills, and plant sterols in Emergen-C packs.

I was determined to take them all.

Except that one night I gagged on the Metamucil pills and cried for half an hour because I could barely get them down. And then I checked how much fiber they had, and determined that I would just rather eat an extra serving or two of fruit and vegetables. And that was basically the end of that.

And I was still trying to drink three cups of plant sterol-infused Emergen-C a day, except that it tasted really gross and made my tea cup at work all gritty. And then I looked up plant sterols on Wikipedia and found out the potential risks associated with them. I talked to a few friends and decided that, you know what, I'm not going to take plant sterols anymore.

The calcium fruit chews were in annoying packaging that I never bothered to open.

And I couldn't figure out what Omega-3 pills were the least toxic, so I ended up just making sure I ate a lot of fish.

Meanwhile, a commenter on this blog, Daharja, had suggested that supplements were basically ... stupid. And that the best course of action would be to eat 90% vegan, and that actually "food, not too much, mostly plants," was actually a totally reasonable and healthy mantra.

So I did it.

Well, not exactly.

I cut out cheese, red meat, eggs, and butter. I ate fish religiously twice a week. I ate poultry once or twice a week. And I limited my dairy to non-fat or low-fat milk and yogurt.

But mostly, I ate plants. Carrots and broccoli. Berries galore. Hummus and guacamole. Lentils and tofu. And whole-wheat everything ... pasta, bread, buns.

And funny thing. I rarely felt deprived.

At the end of three months, I had my cholesterol checked. And, without the help of any pills, supplements, or cholesterol medications, I had been able to lower my cholesterol. By 100 points.

Yes, in three months.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, I was wrong to doubt you Pollan. You were right. And I was wrong.

In fact, I can eat food. Not too much. And mostly plants.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dear Eco-Pals,

The problem with not blogging regularly is that, as any blogger knows, writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised. The more you do it, the easier the words flow. The less you do it, the more you strain to eke out a few words.

I've been lurking the blogosphere lately, and I've realized that in my blogcation, I've missed a lot. ZOMG, Ecogeofemme got engaged! Chile moved! And it's sad because I realize that once upon a time I used to know intimate details of so many of you, and now I don't. I once had a strong online community, and now, not so much.

Meanwhile, I've been busy planning my own move to another apartment in San Francisco. After two years of sitting in storage, I will finally have a place for all my stuff. On the one hand, being apart from my stuff for two years, and doing FINE, is confirmation that actually, I don't need too many things to survive. On the other hand, in the past two years, I've never been able to shake my feeling of being a wandering nomad. I've never felt totally at home. I'm hopeful that with a new place, and my things finally around me, that I will feel that yes, I am HOME.

But of course, what you really want to know about is the boy. He is funny and sweet and has crazy hair. He is also mostly supportive of my eco-nuttiness ... we enjoy taking the train and composting, but he prefers my deodorant with aluminum and he is extremely thankful that I'm back on the (recycled) toilet paper.

Neither of us shop much.

Hope you all have been having a wonderful summer. Talk soon.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Not Dead Sire, Merely Wounded


I know I haven't posted for a majillion years.

It's funny actually. There have been times where I haven't felt like posting. Where I've gone weeks without posting, or where I have posted out of guilt, but where I felt like I didn't have much to say.

This hasn't been one of those times.

In fact, the posts have been building up in my brain. So many things I wanted to tell you all. So many questions I wanted to ask.

I made Melinda's pan-crack the other day (remember those?) I used one egg instead of two for cholesterol reasons, and stuffed tons of raspberries in each one. They were as delicious as ever.

I have continued to experiment with deodorants. Wasn't a fan of the Crystal. Liking the baking soda better.

And I now compost!! After years of being scared that worms were going to eat my face, I solved my composting problem by ... moving to a city that does industrial composting. Woohoo for living in San Francisco!

In fact, dear readers, I wanted to tell you all this and more. I've missed the online community here. I just ... and trust me, I know this is a lame excuse, but believe me dear readers, it's all I got.

I just haven't been able to find the time.

In brief, since I left London in September I have:

Spent a couple weeks in India
Moved to New York for two months for an internship with the UN
Moved back to California after internship ended
Met boy
Learned to ski, fall down, learned to not cry so hard when I fall down
Moved in with boy
Got a job
Got another job

Basically, for the past several months, life has taken over. In a good way, mind you, but it's been a struggle to keep my head above water.

So, I'm not sure what the future is for my blogging. I'd like to say, "I'm back!" but I'm not sure that's realistic.

I do know that my brain is full of blog posts itching to get out. I do know I miss writing on a daily basis. And I do know I want to come back to blogging.

So, you should see posts here now and then. They may be irregular and infrequent, but ... that's what Google Readers are for, right?

And now, dear readers, I am out to enjoy the (comparatively) rare San Francisco sunshine.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nutritional Rules

I've been thinking a lot about Michael Pollan lately.

That famous line.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Were it that easy!

I know, I know, some of you are thinking, "Oh but it IS that easy, Arduous, it IS!"

And I admit it SHOULD be that easy.


I recently went to the doctor and was advised that I needed to lower my cholesterol. So I've embarked on a pretty serious diet in order to lower that number FAST.

What do I eat?

Well, plants mostly. Today I had an apple, three oranges, and a banana as snack. Most days I eat a nice big spinach salad or a vegetable stir-fry. Something with plenty of veggies and a little helping of nuts for taste, texture, and protein.

And a lot of whole grains. Cereal, whole grain bread, etc.

And for good measure, I take a fiber supplement.

Except that apparently if you eat a lot of fiber, some vitamins might go unabsorbed. So, since I eat all the fiber and the fiber supplement, I also need to take a multi-vitamin.

And the doctor also said I should take a calcium pill.

And then there are the supplements I take because well, I should be having fish daily, but I can't, because of the mercury. So instead I get my omega-3 in a fizzy drink.

So, I have fiber supplements. Multivitamins. Calcium. And fizzy drink with omega-3.

I tell you, it's pretty exhausting.

And I've realized, in the past few weeks, that really, we DON'T know how to eat any longer. Because, for the life of me, I'm not sure how I've ended up with all these supplements and why.

But I also want to follow my doctor's instructions.

So ... I guess I'm eating food. Not too much. Mostly plants. And a whole lotta supplements.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is Not Shopping Sustainable?

A lot of times when a person engages in a one-year challenge, it's assumed to be a stunt. A stunt that cannot be continued over the long term.

When I began my non-shopping challenge I wasn't sure how long I could keep it up, but I assumed that it would be hard to continue for more than a year.

However, two and a half years after I started this challenge, I'm beginning to believe not shopping is a fairly sustainable option.

Sort of.

Let me explain. I still rarely shop. When I do, I engage in throes of agony. Do I really, really, REALLY need this shirt? I know it's only $20, but do I really need it? Do I love it? Will I wear it a lot?

Most of the time I don't need or love the shirt enough to deal with the ensuing guilt. So I exit the store sad and empty-handed.

But I still need to, you know, wear clothes. And clothes wear out. Weight fluctuates. Put simply, one cannot just rely on one's wardrobe from 3+ years ago.

Enter my friends.

See, most of my friends still shop. They're not shoppers, per se. They don't go to the mall every weekend. They aren't competing with Carrie Bradshaw for number of shoes. But still. They do buy new clothes and then they have old clothes that they want to get rid of.

So they give them to me.

In the past year, I've revamped my wardrobe simply by going through my friends' Goodwill bags. The white and black cardigans I wear everyday? Came from my friends. The black ballet flats? My sister. Those nice work pants? Yup, that once belonged to a friend.

So, yeah, I can continue to update my wardrobe and not shop ... with a little help from my friends. It's not a sustainable life for everybody ... obviously if all my friends were like me and never shopped and wore their clothes until they were falling apart, I wouldn't be able to pick up new clothes from their Goodwill bags. And every so often, I do cave, and buy that $20 shirt from Banana.

But the truth is, I need fewer clothes than I ever thought before I started this challenge.

So, not shopping. Sorta sustainable. At least for me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Building Up My Cooking Muscles

As most of you know because I whine endlessly about it, I hate to cook.

But I like food.

And honestly there is nothing about the cooking process that I inherently dislike. It's just that I don't think I'm a great cook, it is time consuming, and it involves constant grocery shopping. It's just easier for me in many ways to say, "Screw it," and just go out to eat.

But eating out isn't sustainable in a number of ways. And frankly, I know that I don't want to always be the person who doesn't know how to cook. I don't want to be feeding my children (if and when I have them) microwave dinners because I don't know how to cook. I want to be able to cook. I recognize the value of the skill.

And that's why I'm making a concerted effort to cook at home more. Sometimes, dinner is pretty simple. Last night, we had grilled chicken and a salad. Sometimes, I'm up for something more complex. But I realize that ultimately, I just have to stop whining and DO it.

Cooking is like working out. At first it sucks, and you're terrible and you feel gross afterwards. But after a while, it gets easier and you actually enjoy it. (So I'm told. I'm also horrible at working out.)

So, we're starting small. Baby steps. Simple things. And hoping that one day, I'll have built up those cooking muscles and have a lovely repertoire of recipes I make well.