Saturday, July 30, 2011

This is The End My Friend

Hello all. I just wanted to check in here and let you know that I've decided to close up shop here. 

It's been an amazing ride for me. Because of this blog, I've done so many things I never thought I'd do. I've met some amazing people through this blog, and made some great friendships. I even ended up getting a job because of this blog!

But as you all could probably tell, I kind of burnt out talking about environmental matters all the time. I didn't have much more to say about it, and I felt like when I did write something, it was often haphazard and not very well thought out.

So I decided to stop blogging here though the archives will be available indefinitely (at least until Blogger decides to purge them all.) 

But! I'm not entirely gone from the interwebs! I may not blog about environmental matters, but I will be blogging about ... stuff? I haven't really figured out what ... on my new fancy schmancy personal blog.

Basically, it will be a space for me to talk about whatever is going on in my life or anything I'm currently thinking about. I can't promise that it won't be a lot of wedding talk, but the good news is that I'm getting married in November, so it won't be about wedding talk for too long. 

So, if you're interested, come check me out there. And if not, well, we'll always have the memories (and archives.)

Thursday, April 28, 2011


I feel the need to clarify my last two posts.

I intended them tongue firmly planted in cheek, but sometimes that kind of thing doesn't transmit across the internets.

A#1, I think suburbs can be green. I just personally prefer to live in cities. Which can be (in some cases) not so green. So.

A#2, I don't think yards are bad or un-green. Nor Yosemite, nor pot smokers. Ritual suicide on the other hand? Not a huge fan. I'm agnostic on Oprah.

So where do I think you should live?

I think you should live where you are happy. Really, truly happy.

Because the truth is, I think there are some decisions we have to make about ourselves and our lives and we can't make them from a martyr-for-the-Earth point of view. We make them because they are the right decisions for us.

The problem becomes when we fail to recognize that. When we fail to recognize how our own internal preferences shape how we think. Then we become smug and say things like how cities are so sustainable and how awful suburbs are. And we believe we are superior because we live in cities.

And that's just b.s.

I can guarantee you, no one writing an article about how cities are more sustainable than suburbs is someone who REALLY wants to live in a suburb but is living in a city against their will because they think it's better for the Earth.

Mostly, when we make sweeping generalizations like suburbs are better than cities or that cities are better than rural areas, we're just validating our own personal preferences. Because the truth is that there is no way for me to say what is better for you, Joe Schmoe.

Live where you are happy, and do your best, okay? Or do as good as you can considering we are all messy, imperfect beings. (Let's not talk about the sheer volume of plastic in my trash can now.)

Hope that clarifies things.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

What does Green Mean?

Ever since my last post on sustainable cities, I've been thinking ... what does sustainable mean anyway? What does it mean to be green? What is the point of Earth Day?

Heavy stuff?


A lot of people associate being green with nature. One person on Jenn's original post about the suburbs versus cities argued that cities might be less green because they lacked yards to grow food or for children to play in.

Which made me wonder: is having a yard a green attribute?

The reality is that greens have a fairly incoherent relationship with well ... greens. By which I mean, ya know, trees, and shrubs, and grass, and dear little woodland creatures.

Let's take yards. Yards are considered wonderful because they allow us to grow food and allow our children to play in nature. Enviros will take pictures of their gardens, their fruit trees, their flower bushes to show the world the beauties of nature. Yay yards! Let's build more yards!!

But wait! Before we rush out to build yards! We must remember that yards are terrible because they require so much water. Lawns are a waste of such a precious commodity. Also, gardens hardly constitute "nature" because they are human constructed. Rows of heirloom tomatoes aren't "natural." Nor are those peas growing on that human-built trellis. Yards are not nature!

No, to find nature, we must go to Yosemite. Or Yellowstone. Or some other national park. That's where NATURE is.

Except, that's not nature either! Look at all those stupid campers sitting there. They are destroying the nature with their ENJOYMENT of it. Look at them smugly sitting on that log. They are SITTING on NATURE.

Nature is somewhere else. Somewhere where humans have never been. The real nature, the nature we need to save, is actually the nature we've never seen. Because if we see it, WE RUIN IT! Do you hear me?!!! We must save it from us!! STAY AWAY FROM THE NATURE!!!

Actually, maybe those lawns aren't so bad. But maybe instead of lawns, we could just let our yards run wild. Except that, hmmm, then it might become "nature" and our kids couldn't play there. Alternately, it might become filled with tumbleweeds and the local high school kid might smoke pot back there.


Is pot nature?

Ultimately, this gets carried forward to the inevitable conclusion, which generally results in ritual suicide because, let's face it, there'd be a lot more "nature" around if humans were all dead.

Kidding. About the ritual suicide.

But the truth is, there are greens who do think there'd be a lot more "nature" if the human race went extinct.

Personally, I think there would be a lot more of somethings ... certainly there are some species that would multiply without humans and there are others that would probably die off without us.

But as for nature?

Well, I'd argue that "nature" is a human construct. Without humans, there is no nature.

The truth is that from the moment humans first roamed the Earth, we have had an impact on the non-human world. We shouldn't aim to separate ourselves from our world for a multiplicity of reasons, and honestly, we CAN'T separate ourselves from the world.

We are humans. We are nature. And, as Oprah would say, if we want to love and protect nature, we are going to have to learn to love ourselves as part of nature first.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In Defense of the City

A couple days ago, Jenn wrote a post asking whether cities were so much more sustainable than suburbs?

And of course it got me thinking.

The first thing I thought was, well, it depends.

Which is pretty much the obvious answer and also my knee jerk response to just about everything. (I must be so annoying to read with my, oh well, it's complicated, and my, oh, what we really need is institutional change. Blah dee f**king blah, can't I say anything definitive?)

The truth is, that sure, some suburbs can be sustainable. And if you want to live in a suburb, you should do it, and do your best in your situation.

But eff it. I don't feel like writing the, "Cities are great, but suburbs are fine too," post. So instead, I want to write a post about why cities are awesome. Because I live in a city and I think everyone should be like me. Validate me, internets!!

I've lived in cities for most of my adult life. I adore cities. I think everyone should want to live in cities because cities are where the cool people (meaning me) live. Truthfully, though, none of the four cities I've lived in has been perfect, sustainability wise, nor has my behavior been perfect in any of said cities.

In Los Angeles, the weather is great meaning that you rarely turn on the heat or the a/c. But of course the public transit sucks so you drive everywhere,

In London, the weather is pretty wet and miserable so the heat is on more often. On the other hand, the public transit is great.

New York is both cold AND hot meaning a/c in the summer and heat at night. Plus, I'm sorry, but New York is TERRIBLE about waste. Forget about composting, no one seems to even recycle.

San Francisco is a green mecca with temperate weather and industrial city-wide composting. But the public transit still isn't great. And also, sorry, but San Francisco just isn't that awesome a city compared to LA, London, or New York.

But there are many ways in which almost all cities excel. Most cities, though not all, have good public transit. Cities pack lots of people in dense areas. And contrary to what some people have argued, cities also have places to garden (our neighborhood has two community gardens within walking distance), places for kids to play (they are called parks and playgrounds and they are better than backyards, fer reals). In some cities, you even have space, or rather "space." You are rarely going to get a five bedroom house in the city (unless you are a gajillionaire) but in some cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, you can buy actual houses. You will have to sell your right kidney on the black market to pay the down payment, and your master bedroom will be the size of a medium-sized walk in closet in suburbia, but you will get your house, maybe even with a garden and a deck for your dog to lay on.

My point is that cities (where I live) is awesome (I am also awesome.) Plus, according to Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, people's happiness is greatly affected by short commute times. But overall happiness is actually relatively unaffected by having more space. So if living in a city reduces your commute, but living in a suburb gives you more space, you might want to think about the city over the suburb.

But if you recoil at living in a city and love the suburbs? Then, find a suburb where you can be happy (ideally one with SOME public transit and one that is not TOO far from your work) and don't worry about it. Because in the end, when people claim that cities are more sustainable or suburbs are more sustainable or farms are more sustainable?

We're often just trying to validate the preferences we already hold.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Risks of Parenting

I've been mulling over a post that Erin wrote a while ago about cherry picking science. In it, she admitted that though she sometimes can't believe that people don't trust the science behind climate change, she doesn't always trust science herself.

Even among those of us who love science, our relationship with it can be quite fraught.

Consider this article from the LA Times which notes that children using a rear-facing car seat until age 2 are 75% less likely to die or suffer serious injuries in a car crash. In spite of this seemingly overwhelming evidence, the article notes that many parents have chosen to ignore the recommendations and are placing the car seats in a forward facing position.


I can't speak for all those parents, but there are several possible explanations.

One is that they are either scientifically illiterate or don't understand the risk as my friend Abbie suggested when we recently debated this on Facebook.

The other is that they do understand the risk, and have decided that it's minimal enough that they choose ... to risk it.

Now the latter might seem like a pretty absurd position to take given that the research shows that your child is 75% less likely to die in a crash if they are facing forward. 75%! That's huge, right?

Well ... sort of.

The reality is, your child would be 100% less likely to die in a vehicular car crash if you never put them in a car. But most people wouldn't consider that. It's too difficult, too inconvenient, too absurd.

Life involves risk. Everything we do involves risk. Driving to work. Drinking a beer. Eating a hamburger (you could get mad cow, dontcha know?) Having sex. Flying on a plane. No matter how you try, you will never live a life that is 100% risk free. And frankly, sometimes it's better not to try. Because to try to live a life with as little risk as possible ... well you could do it, but would you be really living at all?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic fatalities in 2010 dropped to their lowest point since 1949, when there were a LOT, LOT fewer cars on the road. Now according to the American Association of Pediatrics, there are roughly 5,000 deaths in the U.S. among children and teenagers due to traffic fatalities each year.

The AAP doesn't break down those deaths, but according to some 2003 data by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 1,500 children under fifteen died in 2003 due to traffic accidents. And among one to three year olds, the number of children dying annually from traffic accidents has declined from 1993 when about 600 children 1-3 year olds was killed to roughly 400 in 2003.

Are 400 deaths a year 400 too many? Yes. Are those 400 deaths utterly horrible for the parents involved? Yes.

But considering how much we Americans drive, it seems that dying in a car accident is a relatively uncommon event for 1-3 year olds.

Now, as Abbie argued, keeping a child rear facing an extra year is pretty painless. So, in some senses, why not keep your kid rear facing an extra year? Even if the likelihood that your kid is going to die in an accident is small, why take the risk?

And I'll be honest. Knowing all the numbers, if I were a parent, I think I would probably opt to keep my kid rear facing until they were two.


The problem with parenting is that it seems to be a world filled with little (and gradually diminishing) risks. Yet it always seems like even those little risks are too big to take chances.

Yes, it's true that your child is unlikely to be kidnapped. But why take the risk and let them play outside on their own?

Yes, it's true that you are EXTREMELY unlikely to get listeria. But why take the risk and eat unpasteurized cheese when pregnant?

Yes, it's true that some germs are probably okay for your kid. But why take the risk when you can Purell, Purell, Purell?

Ultimately, life comes with risk. It just does. And the sooner we can accept that, the better. So if some parents think that keeping their kid in a rear facing car seat for another year is too onerous, I understand.

Friday, March 11, 2011

And Ode to Bloggers Gone By

Most long time bloggers are used to the unfortunate consequences of blogging. The reality is, blogging day in and day out is hard, time consuming work, and the majority of us do not get millions of dollars, book deals, or cars out of the bargain. In fact, most of us don't earn a single penny from blogging.

Nor do we try to. I think, actually the majority of us mostly do this for the love of writing and for the community we grow. And I think that for most of us bloggers, love is enough reason to write.


Except that eventually you burn out. Life takes over. Transitions happen. And it can be hard to continue blogging. And once you get out of the groove, it can be really really hard to find it again. (This blog being primary evidence of that truth.)

And so, most long time bloggers know that gradually a large number of their blog friends will vanish from blog land. Maybe they will start gradually, dropping down to two-three posts a week. Then it becomes two-three posts per month. And then they go a whole month without blogging until visiting their blog is no longer a comfortable part of your routine.

Others simply decide to go at a designated time. These blog euthanizers if you will shock at first. What?!! No more blog?!! But perhaps in the end their blogs die a more merciful death than they would have.

It can be hard to be a blogger. One's blog roll turns into a veritable blog obituary. Blogs defunct. Blogs ignored. Even worse, blogs attacked by viruses! Occasionally you will reread the archives, familiar things, and you will feel like you are being wrapped in a warm comforting blanket. But the feeling is fleeting.

And once in a great while, a miracle! On of your favorite blogs is resurrected!! "Hooray," you cry!

Of course, at this point, you have reconciled yourself to its death. And you know just how hard it is to get back into blogging. You have been trying for months with only limited success. Still, you can't help but hope and remain happy for every last post you get....

... In totally unrelated news, Green Bean wrote about The Enemy Within. I think you should read it. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On Communication, Science, and Vaccines

Andrew Revkin has a fascinating post on scientific communication where he admits to being a "recovering denialist."

No, not of climate change. Instead, Revkin was in denial about the influence of scientific communication. He writes:
"My denial, I said, lay in my longstanding presumption, like that of many scientists and journalists, that better communication of information will tend to change people’s perceptions, priorities and behavior. This attitude, in my view, crested for climate scientists in the wake of the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Eating Right With Ruchi

In the comments to my last post, Alex asked me if I could write a diet and nutrition book and called it "Eating Right With Ruchi." Initially I demurred. How could I wade into such contested territory? But then I realized that I'm arduous ... how could I not wade into contested territory? So I give you Ruchi's manifesto in ... however many words this blog post ends up being.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Food as Religion

My article on veganism definitely got a few people riled up. My fiance for one, who I have decided that I am going to call Seamus for the purposes of this blog (no, he is not Irish, but I don't have a better name and I'm sick of not calling him anything.) Seamus has always said that veganism was too much of a life-style change for him and that it was a deal breaker. So there was some eye-rolling at my house over that post.

In addition, I had several friends tell me that if I became vegan they could never hang out with me.

Now before anyone rushes to condemn my friends/fiance who are all fine people for their supposed close-mindedness, I'd like to say that food has a way of getting all of us, even those of us who are most open-minded, riled up.

Food, it seems, is like politics or religion. Everyone thinks their worldview is the best one. And, I'm guilty of this too, no doubt about it. Hell, just look at the post on veganism.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Happiest Day of Your Life

Today, I was talking to a very good friend of mine who is about to give birth any day now. She told me that she had gotten a super cute hair cut today and she joked that she was now well prepared for the baby to arrive. The baby should try and be born tonight because her hair would look hot.

"That's important," I remarked. "Got to look good for the post-birth pics."

We continued in this vein until I suggested that she might want to get a Brazilian bikini wax for the big day.

Shockingly, she did not think that was a good idea.

"Come on!" I insisted. "Where's your commitment to looking good on THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF YOUR LIFE?"

And that's when I realized why the day your first child is born isn't the most important day of your life. It can't be. Because come on. There's a whole industry around looking good for this MOST IMPORTANT DAY, and even as masochistic as we women can be, most of us aren't going to agree to some waxing at 39 weeks.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Fiance Is Going to Kill Me For Writing This

... but more and more, I'm starting to feel like veganism is the healthiest, most ethical option.

No, I'm not becoming a vegan. I don't think.

But about a year ago, I dramatically changed my diet to reduce my cholesterol. I've almost completely cut out cheese and butter from my diet. I only consume fat-free milk. I started eating fish twice a week, poultry a little less than that, and red meat on rare occasion.

As a result, I dropped my cholesterol by 100 points.

My diet now is fairly healthy. I think I could probably drop my cholesterol further if I cut out meat products completely, but for now I'm okay with the results. Health-wise I'm doing okay, but....

There's that small little nagging problem with the fish. You know, no big deal, we're just severely depleting the world's fisheries and driving some fish to extinction.

So, you know, while I think eating fish is a HEALTHY option, I'm not sure it's super ethical.

The truth is, aside from the fat-free milk and yogurt which I eat with my cereal, my diet leans towards veganism anyway. Most of my cooking is vegan, most of my lunches are vegan. My meat consumption is pretty much limited to eating out. I eat limited amounts of dairy and meat. And while it's not the healthiest choice nor what I would argue is the MOST ethical choice, for now, I'm okay with the choice.

My fiance feels (probably correctly) that my going vegan would seriously impact both of our lifestyles. I think it's a fair point, and given that he is perfectly happy eating mostly vegetarian food at home, I'm loathe to press him on this. Plus, there's that little niggling truth: I don't want to become a vegan either. As little as I eat meat, I'd miss it if I didn't get to eat it at all.

But for now, I'm redoubling my efforts to eat sustainably caught fish and organic meats. I'm not a vegan, or even a vegetarian. But for me, being a mostly-vegetarian is the sustainable path. For now.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Want People to Stop Driving? Cut Down on Parking Spaces.

A new study confirms something I've believed for quite a while: the more difficult parking becomes, the less people will drive.

The study mostly focused on European cities because ... well, here in America not having parking is considered heretical.

I've written before about how when I lived in LA, I used to consistently drive places an easy walking distance from my apartment simply because I could. There was always ample parking. It was faster to drive and more convenient, so why walk to the sandwich shop a couple blocks away or the pizza place or the laundromat? Why walk to the grocery store, even if I am only picking up a couple things? I have a car and it has a huge parking lot.

On the other hand if parking had been scarce or expensive? You bet I would have walked.

Cheap and easy parking changes the calculus we make when we are deciding whether to drive or to walk or to take public transportation. For example, right now I take public transit to work every day. Public transit is almost as fast and it's relaxing. I'd much prefer to read a book on the subway than fight traffic.

Public transit is also cheaper. But it's ONLY cheaper when I factor in the cost of parking all day in a garage. Without that cost, even with the sky-high price of gas, it would probably be cheaper for me to drive. (Factoring in the cost of wear and tear on my car might change the calculation, but let's face it: most people don't factor wear and tear in when they're making these back-of-the-envelope calculations.)

When you make parking scarce and expensive, you start to then build your city for walkers and bikers and public transit. Without massive parking lots everywhere, your city may have more room for parks and gardens and playgrounds.

We don't have to make parking cheap and easy. No one really wants to pave paradise to put up a parking lot.

So let's not.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mattresses and More

via XKCD

You know, I totally meant to spend some time on this blog writing about my search for a new eco-mattress, a search that I undertook in ... September. But then I got engaged in October, and then the holidays came up not long thereafter, and then I went to India, and pretty soon, it's January and I haven't started that set of posts.

But in a way it's a good thing because we've had ample time to break in our mattress so I can give a really full review on that. First things first, though, so I'm going to tell you a little bit more about our search. I'm not going to go into the specifics in terms of comfort (because that's so personal) but mostly focus on the eco-aspects of the different mattresses.

We are lucky living in the Bay Area, so we had a LOT of options for eco-mattress stores. No need to wander Mattress Discounters in search of their ONE eco-mattress. If you don't live in the Bay Area, finding a mattress might be slightly harder, but luckily, almost all of the places we looked at deliver, and they usually have a fairly decent return policy.


One of the first places we ended up looking was Keetsa. Keetsa came at the recommendation of a friend and their store is located not too far away in San Francisco itself. Though they have one full latex mattress, they are mostly known for their wide range of memory foam mattresses. (You may know memory foam by the brand name Tempur-pedic. Tempur-pedic mattresses are probably the most well known memory foam mattresses, but they aren't the only kind out there.)

Here is the good about Keetsa: their mattresses are reasonably affordable as far as eco-mattresses go. And while most memory foam mattresses often off-gas toxic levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Keetsa ran a test that shows that their mattresses do not emit VOCs, and they put that test up on their website.

Most memory foam mattresses are made with 100% petroleum, but Keetsa substitute 20% of the petroleum in their mattresses with castor bean oil. And -this is kind of fun- they stick their mattresses in a box so that you can fit your mattress in the back of your car saving time, energy, money, etc.

BUT, their memory foam mattresses are still 80% petroleum. And while they say they don't emit VOCs (and put up a test to prove it) I wasn't entirely convinced. Ideally, I'd like to see a third party independently conduct a test and see what they say.

The other thing that was slightly hilarious was how all the other green mattress stores really, really dislike Keetsa. When we went to one store, the proprietor told us that he had a mattress that came in a box and I immediately exclaimed, "Oh! Like Keetsa!" and he went really quiet and it was really clear that he did NOT LIKE the comparison at all because his eco-mattress was NOTHING like Keetsa even if it did come in a box. In another instance, a saleswoman basically cautioned us against green-washing and then said, "I mean they're affordable, but they only substitute 20% of the petroleum in their mattresses."

Which is fair enough. Keetsa is not a perfect option, but we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. They produce reasonably affordable mattresses, I do believe they strive to be as Earth-friendly as possible, and their mattresses appear not to emit VOCs. And according to Yelp, a lot of people find their mattresses really comfortable. Plus, you do always have the option of buying their natural latex mattress which is 100% latex and thus has no petroleum nor VOCs.

Ultimately, though, we decided to keep looking. More mattresses coming up later this week....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My War with Plastic (and other stuff that makes me nervous)

I gotta tell you, for years I was that environmentalist who didn't give a crap about all that toxic buildup worry. Was Teflon giving you cancer? What about BPA in cans? Don't ask me, I didn't care.

Oh sure, I tried occasionally. I made the obvious changes. Studies say dryer sheets are carcinogenic. I feel like I derive very little utility from dryer sheets. So I tossed 'em.

But I kept my non-stick. I kept my plastic. And I sure as hell didn't worry about BPA.

But lately, I dunno, something's changed. Maybe it's all the attention being paid to this kinda stuff by bloggers I respect. Maybe it's that diseases like cancer are suddenly more real for me now that I personally know a number of people who have or have had cancer. Maybe it's just turning thirty and being struck by the weight of my own mortality. Or maybe it's all my pregnant friends who are uber careful with what they eat and what kind of chemicals they expose themselves to.

And suddenly, I've started to worry a lot more about plastic, BPA, and everything else.

I'm torn between my desire to throw out a ton of potentially toxic crap out and my belief in consuming less. Sure my cutting boards are plastic, but is that so bad? Do I really want to get rid of them? What about the energy waste in making wood cutting boards?

Similarly I'm torn between my (maybe somewhat justified?) paranoia and my rational feeling that I need to think critically about risk. Do I prefer to eat organic vegetables? Yes. Do I think conventional vegetables are better than no vegetables. Yes. Do I think my plastic cutting board might give me cancer? Maybe. Do I know that people die in car accidents all the time? Yes. Do I still drive a car? Yes. Do I even think twice about that? No. Do I understand the cognitive dissonance here?

Look, I'm not saying here don't worry about BPA. I worry about it. I worry about a lot of things. But I'm also learning that excessive worry is not good for me ... in fact it might be just as bad for me as BPA. Seriously. There are lots of interesting articles out there on the effect of worry and stress on the body.

So I think there has to be a balance. Between caring about potential toxins, and not letting them run your life. Between dealing with stuff like BPA in a cautious fashion without keeping yourself up at night.

I mean, I haven't yet found that balance. But I'm workin on it. And if you know what it is, give me a shout.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On Food Waste (Again)

On Sunday, we went to the Trader Joes.

I'm not sure what it is about Trader Joes, but going there always inspires in me this desire to buy, buy, buy. I can't tell you the number of times that I've gone in there to pick up one solitary item, and ended up with about two bags full of groceries. Something about Trader Joes simply awakens my consumeristic instinct, and because it's food, I let myself go crazy. Sure, why not buy some mango chutney and some Thai red curry sauce and some little cranberry bran muffins. It's food!

Except, of course, that when we buy too much food. Food that we probably cannot consume before it goes bad.

But I didn't care on Sunday. I was hungry (which is a bad time to shop) and I was at Trader Joes! I love Trader Joes! We only come here once a month or so! And so I bought, and bought, and bought as my fiance looked dubiously at our cart. "Put that back," he'd sometimes say. But I didn't.

As we waited to get rung up, he muttered under his throat about all the vegetables we'd have rotting in our fridge at the end of the week.

I felt indignant. I can eat all those vegetables! I will show him!

So, I made dahl. Used up some tomatoes and onion. Ended up with an enormous pot of food (seriously, how does one cup of lentils turn into a week's worth of food? People who say you cannot feed a family nutritiously on the cheap have clearly never seen the power of lentils.)

I ate carrots with hummus. Snow peas with nothing. A whole box of crackers (okay clearly that wasn't supposed to happen.) I emptied a bag of mushrooms into our pasta sauce last night.

And I am pleased to say, that I think I am winning. Ruchi: 1, Rotten Vegetables (and cynical fiance): 0. (The fiance actually forgot to eat his dinner last night and left his bowl of pasta on the table uneaten all night long, but that's not my fault.)

I am pleased that I have managed to succeed (so far) in my war against rotting food, but I also feel exhausted. The sheer weight of trying not to waste is tiring.

And yet, you know, I think this is important stuff.

A couple days ago, Andrew Revkin posted an interesting conversation on Dot Earth about the future of food. In it, he featured two thinkers, almost diametrically opposed to each other. One (Lester Brown) believes we will soon be unable to produce enough food for the world, the other (Vaclav Smil) patently disagrees. Yet, as Revkin points out, both "agree that today’s norms for food in developed countries won’t hold up in decades to come. These include a disregard for waste and a seeming inability in many countries to divert from overindulgence without seeing that as some kind of sacrifice."

What does that tell you? Doomers and non-doomers alike agree that we can't continue on the path of America. We must learn to waste less, to eat less meat, and to not stuff ourselves sick.

So while my constant scheming to keep our vegetables from rotting may seem over the top and require too much energy, I'm going to keep it up. It's important.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Weddings and Feminism

We have a pretty equitable split in the household chores over here. All the cooking, the cleaning, etc, gets done in what I would imagine comes close to a 50/50 split (but I don't really know because we don't actually track every minute of household work to find out.) We don't both do the same work ... it's not you do the dishes this week and I'll do them next week. It's more like we split the work based on what we're good at and what we like doing. I'm better at the larger broad-based, organizational kind of thing, whereas my fiance is much, much more OCD than I am.

So, for example, I'm more likely to search online for recipes, come up with potential meals for the week and put needed ingredients on our shopping list. But we *have* a shopping list because my fiance is compulsive about keeping one. And in terms of the cooking, my fiance is much better at chopping and more attentive to detail than I am. (I'm more likely to throw things in with reckless abandon, figuring, whatever, it'll work out!)

It's similar with the wedding stuff. On the surface, most of our wedding vendors probably assume we're the stereotypical couple where the bride does all the planning for HER big day, because I'm the one in communication with all of them. I'm the one who does the research, sends the emails, and keeps on top of scheduling meetings.

But my fiance has opinions on EVERYTHING, and every decision we make is a very joint decision. He's the one who spent time to really sit down and format our receipt tracking system, our guest list system, and he'll be the one to deal with a lot of the website formatting. Again, with the small details, he's much more particular than I am.

And it made me wonder. I can't imagine we're alone. This is 2011 after all. How come, if there are so many couples out there with equitable arrangements, are most of the cooking blogs, wedding blogs, and personal sustainability blogs written by women and commented on by women? How come wedding websites always seem to be told from the woman's point of view?

It's weird. My fiance is JUST as invested in wedding planning as I am. Like, when I hear a bride talk about how she tries not to bore her fiance with wedding stuff he doesn't care about, I am always like, "Wow, there's wedding stuff her fiance doesn't care about? How refreshing" followed by wondering if her fiance is similarly considerate about details she doesn't care about. (Or are women just naturally interested in each and every aspect of their wedding?)

But, my fiance does not think it's fun to read wedding blogs or do wedding vendor research or anything of the kind. He will do it if and when he needs to because party ain't gonna plan itself. He's more than happy to discuss weddings we've been to and talk about what he liked and disliked, but he doesn't want to troll Martha Stewart Weddings to find the latest on wedding trends. (Although, I don't particularly want to do this either. I still don't really know what bunting or poms are and I really don't care.)

I think this is fine, mostly. I don't need him to read wedding blogs; I need him to be invested in our own wedding. But I really do wonder why I love reading about wedding stuff for fun even, whereas he doesn't really care. And I do wonder if we sort of do a dis-service to the world by falling into strict gender roles when it comes to the "public face" of our wedding.

On the other hand, it seems silly to make my husband-to-be act as the communications person and me act as the organizational person just to show the world at large that we're not the stereotypical gendered couple, we're not! when it's so clear that our strengths lie in the reverse.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Is Quick Cooking a Myth

Yesterday, as I was making my soup at 5:00 am (carrot and mushroom because that's what I had on hand, and it turned out delicious), I was meditating on the time that cooking takes.

There's a post that Sharon Astyk wrote at some point that has always stuck with me about how cooking takes time, and how those recipes that claim you can cook something in fifteen minutes are pretty much a myth.

It's a great post, and if anyone knows where it is on her myriads of different blogs, please let me know so I can link to it.

Sharon basically argues that meals made in fifteen minutes are called salads. I'd argue that you can also scramble an egg or make a very simple omelette in about fifteen minutes, but other than that, things take time.

Of course, Sharon makes food from scratch, from scratch. I don't do that. I don't can pasta sauce, or make my own butter or yogurt, or my own bread, or anything of that sort. I'm perfectly happy to buy ready-made hummus and sauces and jams and breads.

Still, I find that cooking (as opposed to say assembling a sandwich or what have you) inevitably takes me at least twenty minutes if not more.

On Wednesday night I made spaghetti. This is probably the simplest thing that I can claim that I "cook." I buy whole wheat pasta and canned tomato sauce. All I have to do is cook the pasta and chop some vegetables to add to the sauce, cook the vegetables, and heat the sauce.

I've made this meal a bajillion times over the years. It requires no spices, no looking up recipes on the internet, just chopping and cooking.

It took me 20 minutes.

Perhaps I am slower than most people. I would argue that that's very probable: if you cook every day you probably are a faster chopper than I am. But it's hard to be faster about things like getting your water to a roiling boil or cooking pasta until it's the right level of tenderness. While some people can probably make spaghetti in fewer than 20 minutes, I'd venture that it's hard to make it in much fewer minutes.

Of course, as Sharon points out, some things require forethought and not much more. The soup I made yesterday took me about half an hour all told, reading the recipe, chopping the vegetables, adding spices, blending the soup when it finished cooking. But it also simmered in my slow cooker for twelve hours. I didn't have to think about it while it was cooking, but I did have to have the presence of mind to start cooking early enough that the soup would be ready to eat for dinner.

Ultimately, I think the idea of "quick cooking" while super-appealing is pretty much a myth. Which isn't to say that you can't feed yourself quickly: make a sandwich, make a salad, make a scrambled egg. But if you're actually cooking food? I find I have to block off at least a half hour.

What's your experience cooking? Can you prepare a meal in under half an hour?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

January Resolutions

I'm still working on figuring out what my New Year's Resolutions are but 2011 is shaping up to be a pretty eventful year. I started a new job yesterday and, of course, this fall I'm getting married. Given that, it probably makes sense to keep the resolutions on the light side.

Looking back, I didn't really succeed in my resolutions from last year, but I don't really mind. My issues with cholesterol really sharpened my focus in March of last year, and I managed to develop a consistent exercise routine and really shape up my eating habits, all while losing about 10 pounds. It's not exactly what I aimed for in January, but physically healthier and stronger in nine months? I'll take it.

I do have a resolution for January, and you've heard this one before... it's to cook more.


Some people are yo-yo dieters, I'm a yo-yo cooker. Every six months or so, I realize I've been eating out way too much and begin to go on a cooking binge. I scour internet cooking websites for new favorite dishes, and experiment with my own recipes. I assiduously meal plan and grocery shop regularly. And I get in a habit of cooking dinner for myself, a habit that lasts until I go out of town two weekends in a row or I get sick or there's a crisis at work, and all of a sudden I'm back where I started. Eating out several times a week.


I'm not sure how to get out of yo-yo mode, but for now, I'm back to the kitchen. Last night it was pretty simple: spaghetti, sauce, added vegetables. Today, I took advantage of my jet-lag to make some soup at 5:00 in the morning. This weekend, I'll make some dahl maybe or another batch of soup.

And maybe, just maybe, this time my resolution will stick. But I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Life List Accomplishments

I've been reading a lot lately on the internets about life lists, and now that it is January (actually it's December, but I'm scheduling this post ... shhhh!) I figure there will be a lot of goal oriented posts out there. What do I want to accomplish this year, and the rest of my life?

I'm going to think it over and post about it ... maybe even make a life list or a 40 before 40. But, I also think we sometimes give short shrift to what we've already accomplished. January is all about new resolutions, and not enough about goals achieved.

So I thought, instead of a typical New Year resolution post (I'll still write that ... just not now), I'd do something a little different.

The last time I moved house, I found an old list buried away entitled "By 30." It's a list of things I wanted to accomplish by the time I was thirty that I wrote with my roommates one drunken night right around the time of our college graduation.

I initially approached the list with a little trepidation. I hadn't really read it ... probably since that drunken night almost ten years ago. Was this going to make me feel bad about myself? Was I going to feel like my 22-year old self would find my thirty-plus self sort of pathetic?

Turns out ... not so much. I was surprised to find how many of the things on the list I actually did achieve. And of the stuff that I have not, some of it no longer matters to me, and some of it ... well it's going on my by 40 list. I haven't done everything I wanted to do, but I'm definitely not pathetic.

Here's the list with my notes:

By 30, I want...
1) An exciting life - Yes. Well I think it's relatively exciting anyway, and I'm all who matters.

2) To have lived in Europe- Yes! Best decision ever.

3) To be an activist- Yes, I think what I do here (and elsewhere) counts.

4) To be a social worker- No? This is very weird ... I didn't know I ever wanted to be a social worker. But I do like to help people, and I think I have done that from time to time.

5) To work for Miramax- Sorta? I never worked for Miramax specifically, and I really don't care. I have worked for a number of other film and television companies in various capacities.

6) To be creative- Yes, I think I've been fairly creative, though perhaps not as much as I would like (2nd barely written novel looks forlorn in a corner)

7) To be well liked - Yes? I think I'm reasonably well liked, and at least by the people that matter to me, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that I love and feel loved

8) To be successful at work- Yeah, I think I've been reasonably successful, but I also feel like this is a constant goal to be successful and to continue to be successful.

9) To know how to play guitar- No. BOOOOO. This is something I've really wanted to learn for years now. Time to finally make time.

10) To be on the cover of a magazine- No. Don't care.

11) To be sexy- Heh. Well, my fiance finds my sexy, and that's kinda all that matters.

12) To be thin- Yup. Of course, I no longer eat cheese. Or butter. Or a whole host of other delicious foods. But I am think. And more importantly, my cholesterol is relatively in check.

13) To be married- Not quite. But this fall!

14) To be a mother- No. I'm okay that this didn't happen by 30, but it's on my life list.

15) To find my great love- Yup.

16) To be happy- Yup.

17) To be content- Hmm... I'm pretty happy often, but content? Content is something I need to work on.

18) To be able to speak Hindi- Well, it's pretty rusty ... This is another one that I want to work on.

19) Some answers- Sure, I guess I have some. Not all. But some? Yeah, I think so.

20) Money- Heh. Well, I'm not Scrooge McDuck, but I do have more money than I had at 22.

21) To be successful- Yeah. I feel generally successful, but again, I think this is an evolving goal.

22) A house- Not yet. Hopefully in the next ten years.

23) To have good friends- Yes. I am blessed with the most amazing friends that walked the planet. And for that, I am forever grateful.

24) To be an actor- Been there, done that.

25) To have been acting- Not sure what the distinction was supposed to be here... I'm chalking this up to my drunkenness.

26) To have seen the top 100 movies- No. Don't really care.

27) To be singing again- Well, not as of this moment. And it's something I really want to get back into more seriously.

28) To have helped- I'd like to think I have helped a little in some way. I hope to continue to help in the future.

29) To be settled- Yeah, I'd say so.

30) To be smart- Well, I guess I'm smart enough. I still have a lot to learn though.

31) To use tampons- Heh. This is funny because I always hated them but also hated maxi pads. Luckily, my life, in this aspect, is even awesomer than I could IMAGINE when I was 22, because I use a diva cup.

32) To not be afraid- Mmm. I think I still am often rooted in fear. But maybe fear is okay ... as long as you accept your fear and don't let it prevent you from acting. I don't know. I think I still have work to do on this one.

So ... out of 32 goals (really 31, since one was basically a repeat), I've accomplished or somewhat accomplished 20. Of the remaining 11, I hope to accomplish 8, and I don't care about 3.

Not bad for a drunken life list that was shoved in a box for the past nine years. And what I love about the list is that it also reminds me that, at my core, I'm much the same person who I was at 22. I may be wiser, saner (I hope), and more confident and at ease with myself, but ... I'm me. Even several career changes and dreams later. And there's something so comforting about that.