Category Archives: food

Paper Towel Moratorium

We participated in the Change the World Wednesday (#ctww) challenge hosted by Reduce Footprints again this week. On the chopping block: paper towels. We’re not particularly paper towel dependent around here, having a plentiful supply of dish towels, sponges, and cloth napkins. The only real challenge I ran into was bacon. You know, the whole paper-towel-lined-plate-to-soak-up-the-grease thing. I couldn’t quite figure out how to get around it, since I didn’t much care for the idea of sticking in on a  dish towel to degrease. So, I asked the Internet.

Most recommendations were to bake the bacon in the oven on a broiler pan, letting the juices simply drip through. Others suggested to let the bacon drip dry on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet. These are both excellent suggestions, but I needed to render the fat in the pan to use for cooking up some other ingredients. And the recipe instructed me to chop the bacon and then cook it, so I just couldn’t figure out a way to get small pieces to drain. Now, why it didn’t occur to me to just cook the bacon whole, drain it, and then chop it we’ll never know. But I didn’t and the whole house was anxiously awaiting dinner, so I caved and used paper towels. But only two.

Sigh. Bested by bacon.

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No Impact Experiment: Energy and Water

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. 

We fell a bit behind on our experiment over the weekend because Bug had some social engagements that kept him out of the house. Since this is his educational activity, I decided to wait until he was back home to continue. But to make up a bit for lost time, we decided to do two days’ challenges in one: energy and water.

For the energy portion, we wrote down every item in every room in the house that is using energy (electricity, gas, batteries). I’d show the list here, but it’s long and, really, not that important. Next, we starred those items that we would normally use in the remaining days of our experiment (which was pretty much all of them). Then we decided which items we would eliminate and which we would mitigate. Interestingly enough, it was my iPod I missed the most. I hand-pounded pesto with a mortar and pestle in order to avoid the food processor, and still it was the music I missed the most. Bug reports missing his DS the most. (No surprise there.) We didn’t do anything terribly unique in order to cut back on our energy usage, we just…. used less. It was warm and sunny, so Bug was outside most of the day while I worked. Hand-pounding pesto is about as exciting as we got on this one.

As for water, we practiced our usual conservation techniques: collecting water from the tub faucet while waiting for it to warm and using it to water plants and flush the toilet, letting it mellow when it’s yellow, using the low-flow feature on the showerhead, washing pots and pans by hand so there’s more room for other dishes in the dishwasher, washing only full loads of laundry (which takes no effort, since there’s always plenty of laundry with Baby Jupiter around), reusing the same dishes throughout the day so the dishwasher fills less quickly… again, nothing particularly out of the ordinary for us on this challenge. I did introduce Bug to the water footprint of our food, which he found mildly interesting, and we opted for chicken instead of beef for dinner, but we rarely eat beef anyway. (I could go vegetarian or nearly-vegetarian  myself, but Mr. Legume – a former vegetarian himself – finds that he’s always starving without meat in his meals.)

So, as I write this, I’m realizing we could’ve challenged ourselves more. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I see that we kind of regressed today. Poor planning on my part led to a trip through a drive-through for lunch (which is something that very rarely happens around here even when we’re not in the middle of a no impact experiment) and more poor planning had our garbage production up as well. Maybe we’ve hit mid-week fatigue?

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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: 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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Antibiotics Lawsuit

We’ve all heard tales of doctors over-prescribing antibiotics to their patients, often for viral illnesses (the common cold, for example) for which antibiotics are not even effective. Even so, humans consume a mere fraction of all the antibiotics in the United States. The rest? Well, we feed that to good ol’ Bessie, naturally.

Photo by JelleS

Depending on the source, a reported 70 – 80% of all antibiotics in the United States are fed in low doses to healthy farm animals with the goal of staving off illness and speeding growth. This is despite the overwhelming (and long-standing) evidence that doing so breeds super bugs – bacteria resistant to antibiotics, which are growing more prevalent and ever more dangerous to humans.

After 30 years of fighting for stricter controls (the FDA acknowledged the link between antibiotics and super bugs waaaaaaay back in the ’70s), there may be hope on the horizon. A suit has been filed against the FDA by environmental and public health organizations in an attempt to force the agency to ban the “therapeutic” use of antibiotics in farm animals.

In the meantime, opt for certified organic meats whenever possible.

This excellent article by Barry Estabrook details just how much evidence the FDA has, and is ignoring.

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Book Report: In Defence of Food

I admit it: I’m way late to this party. Michael Pollen is kind of a big name in the food activist (for lack of a better term) circles, and I only just got around to reading one of his books.

I started with In Defence of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, which was published waaaaay back in 2008, because it was available first at my local library. In it, Pollan explains his food mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” which is fairly similar to my personal food mantra: “Eat food. Like, real food. [heavy exasperated sigh when people ask what, specifically, I mean] You know, fooooooooood.” But while I just keep repeating and elongating the word “food” and making increasingly emphatic hand gestures, Pollan actually takes the time to clearly describe what he means, making his argument far more convincing than mine. Because he’s a journalist by trade, and I’m a former dance major. Also because he’s a showoff.

Pollan begins by shedding light on the faulty science behind what he terms “nutritionism,” a reductionist approach to food, eating, and nutrition on which the entire Western diet is based. He suggests (rather convincingly, I might add) that fat and cholesterol in the diet do not cause higher rates of coronary disease, that, in fact, the lipid hypothesis is erroneous and unsubstantiated. He then goes on to suggest (again, rather convincingly) that studying the individual elements of a particular food ignores the more important interaction of the whole, leading to fads (low fat! more antioxidants! dha supplements!) that simply don’t work out of context.

In the remainder of the book, Pollan expounds on each of three main points. “Eat food” becomes a discussion on the difference between food and food-like substances. “Not too much,” obviously, focuses on quantity, serving sizes, etc. And “mostly plants” discusses the ratio of meat to plants. Which makes this an entirely unnecessary paragraph because you could’ve figured all that out for your own. Right then. Moving on.

The book, perhaps, goes on a bit too long (in that those three points described in the previous paragraph don’t really require much elaboration) but Pollan’s writing style somehow manages to be studious and conversational, so it’s hard to mind a few extra pages. And really, the book is pretty short and a quick read even at that. I found it informative and enjoyable enough to move his previous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, to the top of my library queue.

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