Monthly Archives: July 2011

No Impact Experiment: Food

I’m rather insistent that Bug’s summer vacation be educational as well as fun. I’m one of THOSE moms. This week, we’re taking part in the No Impact Experiment, a 1-week carbon cleanse, and learning (hopefully) why it’s important to be more conscious of the environmental impact of seemingly mundane daily decisions. 

Today’s challenge was about eating local, which is something we try to do all the time… but not exclusively. In other words, if I have the choice of buying a Washington apple or one shipped in from New Zealand, I’ll go with the Washington apple 99.9% of the time. But if I’m somewhere that only sells New Zealand apples, I won’t not buy an apple. I’m a lazy locavore.

On Wednesday, we wrote down everything we ate throughout the day and where it came from. (Of course, I wrote down the store name instead of location. I don’t know why I thought that was what was intended. Surely that’s what’s important: the name of store. Pssssh.) Today we reviewed the list, wrote down the city it came from, and were tasked with selecting 5 items that were not produced locally and swapping them out for 5 local items.

As it turns out, there were only 3 items on our list that were not local:

  1. turkey sandwich meat
  2. Pop chips
  3. tortillas
Note that these were all packaged foods, which we’re supposed to be avoiding anyway – so double bad on us. Normally I get our sandwich meat from a shop that sources local meats, but I hadn’t this time. This meat came all the way from Jersey, which kind of grosses me out on a few levels. The pop chips were a weak moment. And I have no idea how to purchase tortillas without a package. But, despite the packaging shame, I should be able to find local substitutes for all three of these things. I think. Actually, I’m not sure about the tortillas. I’ll have to look into that.
Next, we were tasked with defining our own food limits for the week. Will we only eat food produced within 100 miles of our home? Maybe go vegetarian or vegan for the week? We initially set our limit at 200 miles from home, but that proved difficult to follow in practice because once we were at the grocery store we had no way of knowing which cities fell inside those 200 miles. To make things easier, we decided anything from Washington or Oregon would be acceptable.
Our first local meal didn’t actually happen until dinner tonight. Breakfast and lunch were made of things already in the house – some of which weren’t local but were in danger of spoiling. I decided eating food with more impact would be better than wasting that food in favor of purchasing new food with less impact. So we only managed to pull off one 100% local meal today consisting of sausage, couscous, peas, mint, dill, garlic, eggs, sour cream, and beets – all produced in Washington with the exception of the couscous and sour cream, which came from Oregon.
Honestly, I live within walking distance of one pretty hippied out grocery co-op (Hi, PCC!) and another pretty yuppie grocery store, both of which carry a lot of locally sourced goods. I can also walk to an all local butcher. So buying local is actually fairly easy if I just put in a little extra effort. I’m struggling much more with packaging.

 

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No Impact Experiment: Transportation

I’m rather insistent that Bug’s summer vacation be educational as well as fun. I’m one of THOSE moms. This week, we’re taking part in the No Impact Experiment, a 1-week carbon cleanse, and learning (hopefully) why it’s important to be more conscious of the environmental impact of seemingly mundane daily decisions. 

Today’s challenge was to burn calories, not fossil fuels. The first step was to reflect on our transportation habits by making a list of everywhere we needed to go today, and how we typically get there. Here’s our list:

  1. Destination: Coffee shop. (I’ve been trying to cut this habit down to only once per week, especially this week given day one’s challenge (consumption). Normally I can sate my craving – or at least ward off a headache – with a cup of tea at home, but Baby Jupiter got up extra early this morning and my reward for not pelting him with obscenities was an extra day at the coffee shop. Don’t judge.) Normal mode of transportation: Feet.
  2. Destination: Grocery store for lunch and dinner fixin’s. Normal mode of transportation: Feet.
  3. Destination: Doctor for Bug’s suspected eye infection (turns out, it’s not infected – yay!). Bug’s normal doctor is located 40-minutes (by car) south. I’ve thought about switching him to a new doctor closer to home, but Bug loves his doctor all most as much as I do. And since we usually only visit his doctor once a year for a check-up, the distance isn’t really that much of an issue. Normal mode of transportation: Drive.
  4. Destination: My ex-husband’s house (so Bug can spend the afternoon with his dad). Normal mode of transportation: Dad’s truck.
  5. Destination: Guitar lessons. Normal mode of transportation: Dad’s truck.
The second step was to come up with alternate modes of transportation. Since I’m currently working from home (read: no pesky commute) and we’re lucky to live in a very walkable neighborhood, our feet (sometimes aboard a bicycle or scooter) typically take us everywhere we need to go, so numbers 1 and 2 on our list required no adjustment. For number 3 (the doctor), I decided to make Bug an appointment  with Baby Jupiter’s regular – and much more conveniently located – pediatrician. We were able to walk instead of drive. Numbers four and five are beyond my influence, but Bug was quick to point out that he and his dad could easily walk to guitar lessons since the lessons are so close to his dad’s house. But since his dad needed to transport Bug back to my house immediately following the lesson, they decided driving would be best. Maybe next week.
In the end, this was a day not much different from any other day – probably the easiest challenge for us so far.

Of course, we haven’t forgotten the previous days’ challenges regarding consumption and trash. Bug did break down and buy himself two packs of Gogos yesterday, but he made up for it by talking me out of impulse buying at the grocery store. “Mom?” he’d ask. “Do we really need chips, or do you think we can live without them?” And I did buy Baby Jupiter some more summer clothes today since he owns only one pair of shorts, but we bought from a local 2nd-hand store (AND it was a buy one get one free sale) so I feel okay about it. We also continue to accumulate trash at a very slow trickle in our special collection spot in the kitchen. I’m interested to see where we net out with our garbage at the end of the week.

Tomorrow’s challenge involves taking action to make a change in the community. Activist training 101, if you will. Stay tuned!

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No Impact Experiment: Trash

Today’s challenge was to stop making trash. This is, as you might be able to guess, WAY easier said than done.

Yesterday we collected the day’s recycleables, food waste, and garbage in one container in the kitchen. The first step in today’s challenge was examining what we’d collected. Here’s what we had:

  • 2 recyclable take-out food containers
  • small paper bag of food waste
  • 3 used kleenex tissues
  • frozen pea bag
  • string cheese wrapper
  • plastic lid (too small to be recyclable in Seattle)
  • dryer lint
  • 2 dryer sheets
  • 3 disposable diapers
The second step was to sort the pile into things we’d used for more than 10 minutes and things we’d used for under 10 minutes. This proved difficult as I wasn’t sure how to classify most of the items (how long did I “use” the dryer lint, for example), so we made a different observation altogether: our pile consisted of almost entirely food-related waste. We decided we didn’t feel too bad about that – we have to eat, right? And most of our food waste was compostable and consisted of things like banana peels, onion skins, and mango pits (as opposed to wasteful food waste like half-eaten sandwiches or the remnants of leftovers allowed to mold in the fridge). But a few were those difficult to get away from bits of plastic, like the string cheese wrapper, which led to Bug’s epiphany: “But… we don’t have a choice! You can’t buy string cheese without a plastic wrapper. No fair!”
Step three: put together a no waste travel kit with things like reusable water bottles, utensils, reusable produce bags. This was easy because we already have  a “kit” created. I call it The Diaper Bag.
And the final step: stop making trash. This, of course, was the tricky part. Anything that couldn’t be reused or recycled ended up in yet another collection bag in the kitchen, where we’ll be adding to it through the week. So far, we’ve done reasonably well. I’ve paid even more attention than usual to the food I buy and whether or not there will be packaging to dispose of. The (pleasant) side effect has been better thought-out, more nutritious, and tastier meals. Win, win, win.
But some things we just haven’t been able to escape, like more dryer lint. (I considered using this as an excuse to stop doing laundry, but that doesn’t seem like something that’s going to work out well long-term.)  We’ll continue to collect our “unavoidables” over the week and will share the results, as well as any particularly ingenious reduce or reuse ideas.

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No Impact Experiment: Consumption

Bug is enjoying his first summer vacation with a work-at-home-mom, which involves far more “summer school” than he anticipated. It’s really not so bad. For the most part, I just drill him on his times tables and make him write an occasional journal entry. But sometimes I insist on a more involved project, and that’s how we found ourselves participating in the No Impact Experiment, a guided one-week carbon cleanse.

The first challenge involves consumption. We were asked to make a list of everything we intended to purchase during the week, and then think about ways to limit our consumption of new “stuff:” can it be purchased used, can we make it ourselves, can we simply make do without it? Here’s our list:

  1. Sippy cups
  2. Noise generator
  3. Baby gates
  4. Jammies for Jupiter
  5. Baby food – vegetables
  6. Groceries
We’re generally not gratuitous shoppers, so our list is already on the slim slide. We can hold off on items 1 and 2 for now, though we’re currently using a humidifier for a noise generator (to help Baby Jupiter sleep at night) which is not the best solution.
The baby gates (item 3) are a must. We need two to completely block off the kitchen, and since Jupiter is now obsessed with things like climbing inside the oven’s warming drawer, digging in the garbage, and attempting to turn on burners, the gates are needed STAT. Because we have larger than standard doorways into the kitchen, I’m having a terrible time finding gates that will fit properly. I’m simply not willing to wait until a properly sized gate becomes available on the used market, so we’ll be going new with this one.
I don’t think Jupiter has a single pair of weather-appropriate jammies that fit him. This should be remedied soon, but we will go used on these as we do with all his clothing.
Baby food is also a must: Jupiter is all out of vegetables. We always make our own baby food anyway, so no big shift here.
Item six (groceries) is where we’ll focus most of our attention for this challenge. Obviously, we can’t simply go without! But there are several ways to reduce our impact. Here’s what we did for today’s trip to the grocer:
  1. Shopped our own pantry, fridge, and garden  first. A quick scan revealed that I already had goodly amounts of staples, including lentils, black beans, wheat germ, and corn meal, plus some leftover tomato, lettuce, and onion, and garlic threatening to move past their prime. I decided on black bean and lentil “burgers” for dinner, which would only require the purchase of a few additional items.
  2. Made a list. I’m terrible at remembering what I need once I get to the store, and I almost always forget something important and instead buy something that we already have plenty of (which explains the multiple cans of tomato paste in the pantry).
  3. Bought organic and local. I missed this week’s farmers’ market, but my favored grocer labels all their produce with location, so it’s  easy to select local goods.
  4. Bought whole foods (in this case, baking potatoes) instead of processed (frozen french fries), and cooked from scratch. (I did not, however, bake my own hamburger buns – but I did opt for buns baked at a local bakery with only “real” ingredients.)
All in all, I’d say challenge #1 was mostly a success. Tomorrow’s challenge has something to do with trash, and I’m enough of an eco-nerd to think that’s neat!

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Change the World Wednesday: Water conservation

I recently discovered the Reduce Footprints blog, and decided to join last week’s Change the World Wednesday Challenge. The challenge: take only showers for the week and limit them to five minutes. I thought this would be an easy challenge for me since Baby Jupiter generally sees to it that I never have more than five minutes to do any one thing anyway. I’m also a habitual over-sleeper, so I’m extremely experienced in the fine art of a speedy shower.

But…

It finally decided to be sunny in Seattle this week, so I shaved my legs. Five-minute shower fail. And then Mr. Legume and I shared a shower, and that always makes them last longer (though not for any of the steamy reasons you’re imagining, much to Mr. Legume’s chagrin). Five-minute shower fail again. I think I’ve come in at the five minute mark once out of four attempts. But I have been using the low water flow setting on the shower head, so surely that counts for something.

Sigh.

To make up for my (so far) epic fail, I thought I’d share a water-saving shower tip with you. If your house is old an inefficient like mine, a fair amount of perfectly good water goes straight down the drain while you’re waiting for it to warm up to a suitable temperature. Stick a bucket under the faucet to collect the water (remove the bucket before you start actually bathing so that you don’t end up collecting soap suds as well). You’ll be amazed (and shocked and dismayed) at how much water was previously going down the drain. Use your bucket o’ bath H20 to water house plants, soak dirty pots and pans, add it to your rain barrels, or use it to flush your toilet (pour the water into the toilet bowl – carefully, until you get the feel for your toilet’s “flush point” – and it will flush without using the water from the toilet tank).

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