Green Christmas Killjoy?

>> Saturday, November 29, 2008

Last year, the New York Times had an article around this time of year called "Jolly and Green, with an Agenda" about environmentalists who were using Christmas as a platform for selling their anti-consuming message but were just ending up driving their families crazy. One example they relate is of a woman who gave everyone in her family a compact fluorescent bulb for Christmas. She thought it would convey her "deeply-felt environmental conviction;" her family "thought she was nuts.”

I read that story and thought, "Ugh." Compact fluorescent light bulbs are a lousy gift. And some people might be able to eschew all gift-giving at Christmas, but my family (including me) would find that pretty disappointing.

As a religious person, I think it's important to preserve the spiritual side of Christmas. As an environmentalist, I hope people will avoid consumerism during the holidays. But as a normal person who loves to give and receive, I say, "Why kill Christmas?"

The problem I see is not that Christmas is a consumer holiday, but that we Americans consume and consume and consume all year long. We buy ourselves the newest and latest whenever we want it. We spoil our children, giving them whatever they want because we want to see them happy but also because it is easier than dealing with a temper tantrum, and we Americans have also become lazy. So then when Christmas rolls around, we have to go over the top, buy huge extravagant gifts, and spend hundreds of dollars to make it seem more special than any other day of the year.

There's a scene from an old book I read as a child - I think it was Little Women but it might have been Little House on the Prairie - where all of the kids got oranges in their stockings at Christmas, and they were ecstatic over the oranges. Christmas was the only time of year they ever got to taste that delectable fruit that we now can have anytime we want.

I'm certainly not nostalgic for the days when oranges were a special treat, nor am I saying that you should only give your children oranges at Christmas. But maybe Christmas would be a little more special if we didn't consume so much the rest of the year. Maybe we wouldn't have to blow Christmas so out of proportion if we practiced some restraint January through November.

As a Conscious Shopper, I think the solution is not a no-present Christmas or a green-message Christmas, but just a downsized Christmas, a responsible Christmas, and an in-the-budget Christmas.

Message to all of my friends and family: please don't get me lightbulbs for Christmas.

Photo by tsuacctnt


Grocery Shopping Week 8: Weaver Street Market (Chapel Hill)

>> Sunday, November 23, 2008

Weaver Street Market scores: As a food co-op, this store gets an A from both Better World Shopper and Co-op America's Responsible Shopper.

Distance from my apartment: 32.1 miles (42 minutes)

Obviously this store is too far away from my house to do my weekly shopping, but I've been hearing how great this place is ever since I moved to Raleigh, so I decided to check it out.

As a food co-op, this store is owned by the people that shop there, and the profits are put back into the community. If you have a food co-op in your area, it's the ideal place to grocery shop because it supports your local economy and you get a discount for shopping there if you have a membership, so it can be affordable as well. Plus, as a member, you usually get some say in the kinds of products they carry.

Weaver Street Market has a great produce section, including local and organic produce. I even found organic fair trade bananas, which I haven't seen anywhere else (not even Whole Foods). Their prices are reasonable, and they carry a large variety of organic and all natural food items. The store itself is pretty small, as grocery stores go, but it has a good open feel. The aisles are nice and wide, so I didn't feel like I had to worry about my kids knocking things off the shelves.

The absolute best part of this store is their candy aisle, where they have a huge variety of organic and fair trade chocolates. Even if you live in Raleigh like me, it would be worth the trip out to Weaver Street Market for Valentines Day or other special occasions.

Weaver Street Market has two locations: one in Chapel Hill and one in Carrboro. I visited the location in Chapel Hill but plan to make a trip out to the Carrboro location in a few weeks. Wish there was a Weaver Street Market in Raleigh! Anyone know how I can get a food co-op in my area?

The bill:

organic cheese (3 cups)
organic juice (1 big bottle)
organic butter
organic milk
organic applesauce
organic baby food
organic baby cereal
organic cereal
organic tortillas
organic yogurt
organic carrots
organic/fair trade bananas

Total = $67.73


A Little More Action

>> Thursday, November 20, 2008

My cousin's wife posted the following comment on my last post:

It's good to know that there are other people out there coming to the same realization as we are and wanting to do something about it.
Amen to that.

Until I discovered all the eco-bloggers out there, I always felt like I was alone in my opinions. It was a pretty great feeling to find other people who think like me.

Now that I've been blogging for a couple of months, sometimes I become delusional that everyone is making or has made the same changes I am. I'm surrounded on the Internet by so many awesome people doing so much good in the world. My inbox is constantly overflowing with newsletters and email from Grist, New American Dream, Co-op America, and the Sierra Club. I follow several blogs on a daily basis, and spend more time than I should thinking about the ideas I've read and the ideas I have for my own blog.

And then I'm forced to make that occasional foray into the real world...Like when I had to go to the mall a month ago...Woah, that was a wake up call that not everyone is avoiding consumerism.

So back to my cousin-in-law's comment.

I bet there are more people than we realize out there who have the same beliefs as us. I bet there are plenty of people who would agree that in this time of economic turmoil, it's time for some serious changes. So why do we sometimes feel so alone?

Maybe it's just that we're not talking loudly enough.

If you have an opinion, speak up. Tell people about it. And not just on your blog. Make a spectacle of living green. Get active in making the change happen. And as we transition to a new presidential administration, make sure your government officials know what you think.

If you're like me and have never written a letter to anyone in government before, here's some helpful information:
I know what I want to see from our next Administration. I want a President who reinstills confidence in America. I want a President who's more concerned about doing what's right for the American people than in whether or not he's going to get a second term. I want a President who cares more about what the average American thinks than about what the mega-wealthy with the funds to support his campaign think. I want a President who does not believe that the American dream is based on consumerism or that the way to survive a national crisis is to encourage people to spend more money. I want a President who sees global warming as a real threat and who builds up the United States as a leader in environmentalism. I want to see some huge changes in our agricultural system.

I know what I want...What do you want?


Alternate Thanksgiving Recipes

>> Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You probably wouldn't see the following recipes at a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but hey, if you're eating vegetarian, you're probably not traditional anyway!

Walnut Oatmeal Burger
(from the Laurel's Kitchen cookbook)

This recipe won't fool anyone by the taste, but it sure looks like hamburger and has a meat-like texture.

COST: $1.00 per serving (not including buns or toppings)*

3/4 cup walnuts
1 c. quick oats
2 eggs
1/4 c. milk
onion, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. sage
1/2 tsp. salt
black pepper to taste
oil to brown patties
2 c. vegetable stock
  • Grind walnuts in a blender and combine with oats, eggs, milk, onion, sage, salt, and pepper. Form about 6 patties.
  • Brown patties on both sides in a lightly oiled skillet, then pour the stock into the skillet and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.
  • Serve on buns with "the fixin's" or crumble and use as you would hamburger in chili beans, spaghetti sauce, etc. (We also eat it with gravy like in the last recipe.

Vegetarian Collard Greens

Traditional Southern-style collard greens are made with smoked ham hocks. This recipe makes up for that flavor with smoked sesame oil and red pepper flakes. It's delicious!

1 bunch baby collards
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked sesame oil
2 vegetarian boullion cubes
2 tsp. garlic
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Wash the collard greens in a big sink of water.
  • Cut the leaves from the stems, chop the leaves, and place in a large pot.
  • Fill the pot with water. Add the rest of the ingredients.
  • Bring the water to a boil and then simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. When done, the greens should be tender and dark green.
  • Drain and serve.

Roasted Potatoes

1 1/2 pounds of new red potatoes, cubed
1 onion, sliced
2 Tbsp. oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. garlic
1 tsp. rosemary
2 tsp. oregano
salt and pepper
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Combine potato and onion in a baking dish.
  • Mix together oil, lemon juice, garlic, rosemary, oregano, salt and pepper. Drizzle mixture over potatoes.
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender and brown on the edges.

*Costs are estimates based on prices in my area. Your costs may vary.


Time to Save Some Money

>> Monday, November 17, 2008

I picked up some booklets from Co-Op America while at the Green Festival and have been perusing them the past couple days. One is about Sweatshops, and is amazingly depressing, and the other is about Fair Trade, which I already know a bit about so that makes it a little less depressing but still guilt-inducing.

I got some birthday money from my dear mom and dad and was planning on heading over to the Gap Outlet to pick up a couple pairs of much-needed jeans, but after reading about sweatshops and how much Gap pays their CEO, I don't want to give them my money.

On the other hand, sweatshop free clothing is sooooo expensive, and I'm still getting over issues with thrift stores (to be discussed later).

This is my constant dilemma. I want to give my money to companies I like, but they're always more expensive. I don't think I can afford them. On the other hand, buying sweatshop free, fair trade, organic, etc. is the right thing to do, so shouldn't I find a way to do it?

I'm determined to find a way, so I'm on a quest to save money. One of the other booklets I picked up from Co-Op America was about energy efficiency, so here are their recommendations:

Baby Steps

  1. Turn off lights you're not using.
  2. Schedule an energy audit.
  3. Don't heat or cool empty rooms.
  4. Let your dishwasher breath. (Air dry your dishes.)
  5. Shift your load to off-peak times.
  6. Turn off your electronics when not in use.
  7. Eliminate "phantom load."
  8. Eliminate your second fridge, and show the first a little love. (Clean the coils every six months.)
  9. Wash clothes in cold water.
  10. Give the dryer a rest.
Jogging Stride
  1. Plug your air leaks.
  2. Reduce your water use.
  3. Cut waste through windows. (Seal the edges of your windows.)
  4. Help your water heater. (Add an insulating cover.)
  5. Install ceiling fans. (And reverse the direction in winter.)
  6. Get a programmable thermostat.
Marathon Runner
  1. Upgrade your appliances.
  2. Upgrade your water heater.
  3. Green your roof.
  4. Save energy through landscaping.
  5. Replace your windows.
  6. Don't waste energy on TV.
So I'm going to start with the baby steps, and I'll see what I can do toward saving me some money.

How energy efficient is your household? Do you have any other energy saving tips?

I'm grateful to have energy to keep my house warm and cool, to power my oven which I used all day baking bread and muffins and pitas, to power my washing machine and dryer which got my clothes clean today, to give me lights so I can see after sunset, and to power my computer so I can write this blog. Now, if only I can learn to use that energy more efficiently.


November Round-Up

>> Sunday, November 16, 2008

I'm embarrassed to reveal this month's spending. I don't know how we could have gone so wrong! I can't even blame it on going green because that only accounts for part of it. The rest I'm guessing must have been celebratory spending because my husband and I thought we would be closing on our house this month, which would have given us a little wiggle room in the spending department. But we didn't close on our house, so instead we just ended up spending money we didn't technically have. Thank goodness for that cushion from the economic stimulus check!

Monthly Spending (budgeted amount in parentheses)

  • Groceries: $751.56 ($500)
    • Okay, I admit when I first saw this number, I started hyperventilating a little bit. But then I remembered that this was a five-shopping-trip-month, which happens about four times a year (I really ought to figure out a way to budget it in). So if you subtract $125, the amount of an average shopping trip for me, you get about $625, which is still scary, but not as scary. And at least I know now that if I really want to retarget my grocery spending, it's gonna cost at least $100, probably $200, more than I have budgeted.
  • Transportation: $205.80 ($300)
    • Another good spending month in this area, and this is even considering that we took a trip to DC to see the Green Festival, so that added another $60 to the usual spending. Of course, gas prices are hovering around $2 in Raleigh these days.
  • Electricity: $89.39 ($150)
    • Good times here again, thanks to Raleigh's temperate climate.
  • Water/Sewer: $19.51 ($50)
    • Again, good here.
  • Entertainment/Miscellaneous: $595.45 ($300)
    • Here's where we really went wrong. Again, there was the trip to DC, and it was my birthday, but that only accounts for about $100 of it. The rest is itty bitty spending here and there, all adding up to a whole lot of money we don't have.
  • Clothes: $0 (no set budget)
    • I don't have any idea what happened to that suit I mentioned last month because it never showed up on Wesabe. Therefore, I don't have to report that spending, right?
  • TOTAL: $1,661.61 ($1,300)

Changes I Made This Month:
  1. Bought recycled paper towels, and tried to decrease my paper towel usage by sacrificing some of Third Son's diapers to rags.
  2. Bought recycled copy paper.
  3. Took some steps to decrease my junk mail. This will be an ongoing process.
  4. Started making yogurt again!
Goals for Next Month
  1. I have one more paper-related change to make.
  2. I had planned for my next change to be food, and originally, I had intended to completely change my grocery spending all at once, no looking back, and then figure out how to get my spending back under budget a little bit at a time. I think that would make my budget list on my sidebar look a lot cooler, but unfortunately we are still paying for two houses (sorry to keep harping on that), so I don't have the money to do that right now. Especially if we're going to keep blowing it on the entertainment/miscellaneous category. So for now, I'm going to have to make small changes a little bit at a time. This month, the plan is dairy and eggs.
  3. I'm going to start keeping track of how many bags of trash/recycling we go through a month.

Gratitude Today: My bathroom cleaner smells like peppermint (which is my absolute favorite smell in the whole world) because I made it myself. And because it's nontoxic, Third Son can play on the floor next to me while I clean the bathroom.


Go Veggie for the Holidays

>> Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ever since reading Garbage Land, I've been mulling over one particular quote that really stuck out for me:

“According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, which made exhaustive studies of consumers' environmental impacts, the things that make the biggest difference to planetary health are transportation, housing, and meat-eating.”

Who would have thunk: meat-eating?

I saw a statistic the other day that the average American eats ½ a pound of meat a day. That's phenomenal!

I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that number gets even higher during the holiday season, starting with the gluttonous turkey feast known as Thanksgiving and ending with the New Years Day brunch. So I'm proposing a radical idea: Pick a holiday, any holiday, and eat less meat. Or go whole hog, pardon the metaphor, and skip the meat completely.

When I shared this idea with my meat-eating husband, his response was a downhearted, “So I don't get turkey on Thanksgiving?” If you had the same reaction, how about this instead: Pick a few nights in the coming months and commit to preparing some vegetarian meals to offset the turkey and ham you'll be consuming over the holidays. And of course, make sure the animals you choose for your feasts are raised humanely.

So to help you out, I'm going to do a series of blog posts over the next few weeks with some of my super delicious vegetarian recipes that are sure to please even the most meat-loving crowds.

Today's subject: the Thanksgiving “turkey”

A few years ago, somebody asked me if I eat “tofurkey” on Thanksgiving. I generally stick to side dishes, but their question got me curious, so I spent the day before Thanksgiving hopping from Whole Foods to Trader Joes to the local food co-op in search of a tofurkey. I finally found one, ate it that Thanksgiving, and decided to go back to eating side dishes.

If you really feel like you need a “meaty” main dish, you could try making your own tofurkey (I still say steer clear of the store bought varieties), or you could try this:

Golden Chickpea Patties with Gravy

This recipe makes enough for my family for a regular night's dinner. If you're making this for thanksgiving, I suggest doubling or tripling it, depending on your crowd.

Golden Chickpea Patties

COST: $0.45 per serving*

2 c. cooked chickpeas (or 1 can, drained and rinsed)
3/4 cup quick oats
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 Tbsp. oil for frying
  • In a food processor, process the chickpeas with 1/2 cup of water to make a smooth, thick paste.
  • Place the chickpea puree in a mixing bowl andd add the garlic, salt, and pepper.
  • Mix well, adding additional water or oats as necessary to make a mixture that keeps its shape.
  • Shape into patties. I usually get about six patties.
  • In a frying pan, heat a small amount of oil.
  • Fry the patties until golden brown, about 10 minutes on each side, adding more oil as necessary.

Vegetarian White Gravy

COST: $0.20 per serving*

2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
  • Melt the butter in a frying pan.
  • Slowly whisk the flour into the butter, adding a little bit of flour at a time and stirring constantly to keep it from getting lumpy.
  • Let the flour and butter mixture bubble for a minute, stirring constantly.
  • Add milk a little bit at a time, whisking well after each addition to keep it from getting lumpy.
  • Continue stirring until the gravy starts to thicken. This is a runny gravy so it will not be too thick.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste, or alternately, you can add a vegetable bouillon cube.
Serve chickpea patties with mashed potatoes and gravy and rolls:

*Note that costs are estimates based on prices in my area. Your costs may vary.


Changing Directions

>> Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I never had any plans when I started this blog to mention that I am a devoted Christian who attends church every Sunday (even when I'm travelling). A desire for a better world is nondenominational and nonpartisan, so I never thought about bringing it up. But as I'm thinking about gratitude this month, I think I would end up falling short if I didn't mention how grateful I am for my faith.

I tend to be a person who doesn't mention my faith outside of church. I don't like to offend others or feel that I have to defend something so personal, and those traits generally lead me to the extreme of not mentioning my faith at all.

But the truth is that all of my other beliefs – about kindness, fairness, and justice for all people, animals, and the world we live in – stem from my faith in God.

We just found out yesterday that the buyer who put an offer on our house in Maryland has decided to withdraw her offer. I am honestly devastated. I am having to reconsider whether I really can afford to make some of the changes in my life that I was hoping to make, buying local, organic and fair trade. I am hugely disappointed in this setback toward our ultimate goal of having a small farm and passive-solar house.

But I also have faith that it will work out the way it's supposed to in the end.

Bear with me as I may be changing directions on this blog in the coming weeks.

Photo by Phillie Casablanca


Eat Conscious and Local, Part 2

>> Monday, November 10, 2008

A comment on my last post got me thinking more about what I wrote, and as long as my last post was, I've found that I have more to say on the subject. Actually, the "local" topic is so broad that I have tons to say on the subject (and believe me you'll hear it at some point). I tried in my last post just to kind of introduce my thoughts, but now you get to hear even more.

I think it's easy to hear a new idea, think "That sounds like a good plan," and jump right in before hearing all sides of the argument. Then when you finally hear the other side, you're so deep into your own opinions that you don't want to listen for fear you might find out you could have been wrong.

I've been guilty of this mistake many times. Just ask my husband. But I try to look at both sides of an argument before making an opinion, and that's why you're often going to hear me say, "These people say this, and these people say this, and I think this..."

There are two sides to every argument, and most of the time, both sides have some merit even if I don't agree with them. Consider these examples.

1. Taking animals off of farms and feeding them government subsidized corn has made food unbelievably cheap, virtually eliminating hunger in the United States. On the other hand, the animals are cramped into too small spaces, corn is not their natural diet, and cheap food has contributed to rampant obesity.

2. Big businesses exploit workers all over the world and create a huge disparity between the really rich and the really poor. On the other hand, big businesses provide economic security both at an individual and nationwide level.

3. Cheap plastic crap wastes natural resources and energy and takes up space in the landfill. On the other hand, as Arduous so elequently puts it, "American demand for plastic shower curtains produced in China is helping to pull many Chinese young men and women out of poverty. While I might not encourage people to buy new plastic shower curtains from an environmental point of view, I cannot deny that shower curtain factories produce jobs for people who desperately need them."

If you're keen on the idea of eating local, at least make sure you're aware of the other side of the argument:

"As concerned consumers and environmentalists, we must be prepared to seriously entertain these questions. We must also be prepared to accept that buying local is not necessarily beneficial for the environment. As much as this claim violates one of our most sacred assumptions, life cycle assessments offer far more valuable measurements to gauge the environmental impact of eating. While there will always be good reasons to encourage the growth of sustainable local food systems, we must also allow them to develop in tandem with what could be their equally sustainable global counterparts. We must accept the fact, in short, that distance is not the enemy of awareness." - New York Times, Aug. 2007

"We find that although food is transported long distances in general (1640 km delivery and 6760 km life-cycle supply chain on average) the GHG emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83% of the average U.S. household’s 8.1 t CO2e/yr footprint for food consumption. Transportation as a whole represents only 11% of life-cycle GHG emissions, and final delivery from producer to retail contributes only 4%. Different food groups exhibit a large range in GHG-intensity; on average, red meat is around 150% more GHG-intensive than chicken or fish. Thus, we suggest that dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household’s food-related climate footprint than “buying local.” Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food." Environmental Science and Technology, April 2008

There's also this article I read in The Economist which I can't access anymore, but if you have a subscription to The Economist...

Personally, I think it's great to buy local: It supports your local economy. It may save the family farm. It's fresher. There's more variety in the types of fruits and vegetables available. The ultimate local - planting a garden in your backyard - will make you more self-sufficient, and if you have kids, will teach them where their food comes from and give them a connection to nature...But I think the jury is still out on whether it's best for the environment with our current infrastructure. And as I already said, I think it's also important to buy organic and fair trade, to support small businesses, and to build community by buying from people you know. Local is just one item on the big menu of good things you can do for people and the planet.


Eat Conscious and Local

>> Sunday, November 9, 2008

This post is my submission for this month's APLS Blog Carnival. The subject is buying local. Check out all of the APLS bloggers on November 15 at the Green Phone Booth.

At the DC Green Festival this weekend, I attended a presentation by Co-op America's executive director, Alisa Gravitz, about the 12-step program to reversing climate change. The 12th step she outlined was to eat locally grown food, which she said uses less energy because it cuts down on “food miles,” the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is consumed.

I've read several reputable sources disproving the “fewer food miles equals less carbon” assertion because of the current infrastructure of our food transportation system. Lots of farmers driving long distances to farmers markets and lots of individual cars making individual trips to farmers markets have a bigger impact on the environment, local-eating opponents say, than big trucks delivering tons of food to the grocery store.

I'm sure local-eating enthusiasts have their own argument against these findings, much like my own insistence that cloth diapers are better than disposables (despite the evidence that they are equal) because I've committed to using cloth. Frankly, I don't really care which argument is right. I think there are many, many more reasons beyond the environment to jump on the local-eating bandwagon. And I also think there are many reasons to think beyond local when choosing foods to eat. That is why I've developed my own philosophy regarding food. For lack of a better term, I'm calling it Conscious Eating, and it basically goes like this:

Eat food that is grown sustainably on a small-scale farm by a local farmer who pays his workers a fair wage and whom I know personally. When all of these qualifications cannot be met, try to meet as many qualifications as possible. But even one is better than nothing because all of these qualities are good.

1. Grown Sustainably

I read in a New York Times article by Michael Pollan recently (please please read this article) that “[In Argentina], in a geography roughly comparable to that of the American farm belt, farmers have traditionally employed an ingenious eight-year rotation of perennial pasture and annual crops: after five years grazing cattle on pasture (and producing the world’s best beef), farmers can then grow three years of grain without applying any fossil-fuel fertilizer. Or, for that matter, many pesticides: the weeds that afflict pasture can’t survive the years of tillage, and the weeds of row crops don’t survive the years of grazing, making herbicides all but unnecessary.”.

That system sounds so perfect, so naturally designed, that you've got to wonder why we ever moved away from it. The answer is that people got greedy, people got lazy, and the farther we've gotten away from the old ways, the harder it is to go back.

2. A Small-Scale Farm

It seems to me that most of the problems with our current agricultural system stem from the fact that we've let the farms get too big. Farms are not farms anymore. They are agricultural factories. Because of subsidies and various other legalities, it has become much more cost-effective to grow all of our food on a ridiculously large scale by drenching them in pesticides and chemical fertilizer and to raise all of our livestock in inhumane conditions. The little man only has a chance of survival if we give him our support.

3. By a Local Farmer

You want to know how to ensure that there will be jobs in your area? Support the economy where you live by buying local. And I'm not just talking local farmers. Support your local food co-op, your local restaurants, your local artisans, your local musicians, your local clothing makers, your local furniture makers. You might be surprised what you find. As I have tried to buy more locally in my area, I have discovered an unexpected outcome: I am loving where I live. In keeping with the gratitude challenge this month, this is my thought about gratitude for the day: I am so grateful that we had the opportunity to move to Raleigh.

4. Pays His Workers a Fair Wage

I read an article a few months ago about a farmer in Florida who was practicing slavery. He had hired some migrant workers, but he soon stopped paying them and instead started beating them and locking them in boxes at night. If there's any reason why I think it's more important to eat consciously than to eat locally, it is this.

If my main qualification for food was that it came from within a 100-mile radius from my house, it might never cross my mind that the workers on the farm where I'm getting my local oranges might not be treated fairly. Slavery is an extreme example, but farm and factory farm workers are regularly paid poor wages and forced to work under poor conditions.

Also, even as I become more and more committed to eating locally, I'm not about to give up tropical fruits. Bananas are one of the few fruits that everyone in my house will eat. And mango pancakes? Oh, my, divine....So what I am going to be concerned about is that the banana farmers and the pineapple farmers and all those other wonderful fruit farmers way down south are being paid a fair wage.

5. And Whom I Know Personally

Last year, my family joined a CSA, and for me, the best thing about it was that we knew the farmer and we regularly visited the farm. I knew how dedicated our farmer was to organic farming, I got to see first hand that her chickens were indeed “free range,” and I knew how much she was struggling to fulfill the CSA quotas because of the drought. It is amazing to have a close connection to the source of your food.

In my perfect scenario, I would be the local farmer with that sustainable, small-scale farm. In my other perfect scenario, all of my neighbors would have gardens and everyone would stop wasting precious land on lawns that are never used and we would all swap vegetables and farming techniques. But right now, I have to be content with CSAs and farmers markets and doing my best to get to know the farmers I buy from every week. It's not a perfect situation, but at least I'm doing it consciously.

Update: If you've never read anything discrediting the "fewer food miles equals less carbon" statement, you can see some examples on my post "Eat Conscious and Local, Part 2," which I posted in response to one commenter's request.


Did He Know I'd Go So Green When He Married Me?

>> Saturday, November 8, 2008

I signed up for a challenge from Joyce over at Tall Grass Worship to blog about gratitude for the whole month of November. I think this is an awesome challenge that will set the right tone for the upcoming Christmas holiday.

I promise that in the future, I will tie the gratitude theme more into the theme of this blog: going green on a budget. But today is my birthday, and today I feel awe and gratitude for my amazing husband, who knows me oh so well. So today you get to read about that.

Although the budget is really tight right now as we're struggling to sell our house in Maryland and also pay for an apartment in Raleigh, my husband asked me if I would be very upset if he got me a small something for my birthday. The very fact that he asked me shows how well he knows my frugal side, but guess what he got me (without any prompting from me)? A stainless steel water bottle. The perfect gift! (Except maybe a compost bin for some red wrigglers, but maybe I'll get that next year.)

He also talked me into heading up to Maryland for the weekend so we could attend the Green Festival in DC. I had decided that we shouldn't go, but he reminded me how much I really wanted to and helped me figure out the money issue. So we left the kids with a friend and spent the afternoon amongst the DC crunchy crowd learning about cradle-to-cradle design, compressed earth bricks, and the 12 step program to saving the planet. I'll blog more about those later. Right now the point is simply this:

After almost seven years, I still really love my husband.

Happy 30th to me!


The Conscious Shopper Reveals Her Secret Identity

>> Friday, November 7, 2008

In case anyone out there was wondering what I look like, I posted a picture of myself over there on the sidebar. This picture was taken by my three year old on my cell phone. Pretty good, in my opinion! Now if only I could figure out how to make my header more attractive...


Put an End to Junk Mail

>> Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Besides my children's endless artwork,the other big culprit in my paper recycling bin is something that I cannot be blamed for in any way, and that really annoys me. But junk mail is not just annoying, it's bad for the environment. According to Treehugger, 100 million trees are destroyed to make junk mail every year, which creates greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 3.7 million cars.

With Christmas coming, the contents of my mailbox have doubled with catalogs and advertisements that I don't even look at before tossing them into the recycling bin. So it's time to take some action.

Here are some steps that I plan to take to solve my junk mail problem:
  1. Send it back. Write "Return to Sender - Refused by Addressee" on the envelope and pop it back in the mail. This method will not stop the junk mail, but at least it sends a message that the solicitation was not desired.
  2. Remove your name from the list. Register with the Direct Market Association's Mail Preference Service, which supposedly takes you off mass market mailing lists for up to five years.
  3. Opt-out of credit card mailing lists. Call 1-888-567-8688. This service asks for your Social Security Number, but you don't need to worry about giving it to them since credit bureaus have access to Social Security Numbers already anyway.
  4. Cut out the catalogs. Register with Catalog Choice, who will supposedly contact catalog companies for you. Unfortunately, the catalogs don't have to listen to Catalog Choice, so I've read that this service doesn't really cut out too much junk mail. The other option is contacting the companies yourself. Call the customer service number and request that your name be taken off their mailing list.
  5. Put an end to coupon flyers and weekly circulars. Register with ProQuo, another online service that claims to cut out junk mail but has a much wider scope than Catalog Choice. Again, this may not work 100%, so you can also contact each company yourself and ask to be removed from their mailing list.
  6. Pay someone else to do all the work. For $41, pledges to reduce your junk mail up to 95%.
  7. Sign the petition. Visit New American Dream to sign the petition requesting the creation of a Do Not Mail registry that would be similar to the Do Not Call registry created a few years ago.
One other thing to consider is that the fewer credit card applications that appear in your mailbox, trash can, and recycling bin, the less susceptible you are to identity theft.

I'll be working on this over the next few months and will let you know if my junk mail is actually reduced. And of course I'm challenging you to do the same.

Got any other suggestions for reducing junk mail?

Photo by Andrew Currie


Grocery Shopping Week 7: Harmony Farms

>> Sunday, November 2, 2008

Harmony Farms scores: Since this is another locally owned grocery store, it gets an A from both Better World Shopper and Co-Op America's Responsible Shopper.

Distance from my apartment: 10.1 mi (20 minutes)

This grocery shopping trip was a little different because I could tell as soon as I walked into the store that it wasn't a good place to do your weekly shopping with three kids in tow. The store is very small and cramped, and it has those miniature shopping carts that topple over if one of your kids hangs on the side of the cart (true story, and luckily Third Son was not sitting in the cart at the time). Also, my boys were being particularly awful that day, so a quick trip around the store was all I had time for.

On the other hand, Harmony Farms is a great place to shop if you live in the area and can pop in frequently to pick up a few things, or if you can do your shopping alone, or if you have freakily well-behaved children. The food selection there was small and a bit pricey, but if you're not picky about brands, you'd be able to find pretty much everything you need. Also, they have a huge section of all-natural health and beauty supplies, essential oils, and supplements.

I emailed Harmony Farms and asked them a few other questions. Here are their answers:

  • Who owns Harmony Farms and why did he/she decide to open a natural foods store in Raleigh?
    • Nancy and Steve Long purchased Harmony Farms roughly three years ago. The store itself has been open for almost thirty years. Nancy is a Naturopathic Doctor, and Steve a Reiki Master. They decided to purchase the store because of their passion and commitment to educating others about a natural lifestyle.
  • What does your store specialize in? (ie, are you more of a health foods store or more like a small grocery store?)
    • Our store specializes in ALL organic produce (which is as often as possible local), wheat and gluten free products, supplements, cruelty/chemical free cosmetics, and natural grocery items.
  • Do you carry any local products?
    • As often as possible, the produce is local. Also, we are the only local retailers carrying local organic beef.
  • I am looking to decrease the amount of packaging I buy, and I noticed you have a very tiny bulk foods section. Could I bring in my own containers, or must I use the plastic bags?
    • Yes, you are more than welcome to bring in any container of your choice to fill with our bulk products. We will simply weigh your container and subtract that weight from your total purchase.
  • Have you considered expanding your bulk foods section?
    • We would be more than happy to accommodate any sort of special request you have for bulk products. We specialize in customer driven and special orders at no extra cost to you. If we can find it, we can order it. Please let us know of any product we are lacking that you simply must have. (Note that their website states that they offer a discount if you order a case.)
I was impressed that they responded to my email, and in such a friendly and descriptive manner. Who at a big chain grocery store is going to do that? It's that nice touch of customer service that will bring me back to their store, but next time I'll go without my kids.


The Sad Tale of the Broken Yogurt Maker (and a bonus yogurt recipe)

>> Saturday, November 1, 2008

While unpacking boxes after our move (back in July), I dropped the lid to my yogurt maker, and it cracked in half. This was terrible because I was in the habit of making one or two batches of yogurt a week to satisfy my family's smoothie needs. I would have to start buying yogurt. (aargh) In nonrecyclable containers. (double aargh)

I had the option of trying to repair my yogurt maker or buying a new one, and being the thrifty, environmentally-conscious person that I am, I chose repair.

So I emailed the company that made my yogurt maker, and received a reply back that they didn't have the part I was looking for and I would need to contact another company. I called the second company, where a costumer service representative informed me that they did indeed have the part, and it would cost $15.

My original yogurt maker only cost me $25. (aargh aargh aargh)

Still $15 was an infuriating yet small price to pay to save an otherwise perfectly fine yogurt maker from the landfill.

A month later, my new lid arrived...with a small problem. It was the wrong lid. My particular style of yogurt maker has an inner lid for the quart container and an outer lid for the incubator. It was the outer lid that I needed, and the inner lid that I got.

Now by this point, most people would have given up. To be honest, the amount of yogurt containers we had gone through by now was probably going to take up more space in the landfill than if I'd just thrown out my yogurt maker. But it was the principal that drove me on.

It makes me crazy that we live in such a throw-away culture. Most people, when faced with the option of trying to track down a replacement part that costs minimally less than a brand new item, would choose to buy the new item.But that's not the way it should be. Products should be made to last, and when they break, we should be able to get them fixed.

Remember back in the old days on Sesame Street when Maria ran a Fix-It shop? Characters on the show would bring in their old blenders and toasters and TVs, and Maria would fix them. Well, guess what. Maria doesn't run a Fix-It shop anymore. She runs a Mail-It shop. Our kids don't know what a Fix-It shop is. Let's face it, the grown-ups my age don't know what a Fix-It shop is. If something breaks, we toss it.

So in defiance of this attitude of disposable consumption, I went through the whole song and dance again, this time carefully explaining exactly which lid I wanted (and I was pleased to hear that the cost of the lid would be waved since I'd already purchased one replacement lid). Another month later, I'm making yogurt again, using my three-year-old yogurt maker, which still works perfectly fine.

(And for the record, I've actually saved all of my yogurt containers with the hope of eventually finding a TerraCycle yogurt container recycling location.)

How to Have Homemade Yogurt of Your Very Own

(Cost: Depends on the cost of the milk you use, but for me using organic whole milk, it's roughly $1.50, compared to $3.99 for a quart of Stoneyfield Farms yogurt.)
  1. Buy a container of yogurt from the grocery store with the words "live active cultures" on the package. Set aside 1/4 cup of this yogurt to be used as your starter.
  2. Before you start making yogurt, set your starter out on the counter to warm up to room temperature and plug in your yogurt maker if you're using one.
  3. Start with a quart of milk. Whole milk works best. If you're using skim milk, you may want to add 1/3 cup of powdered milk to thicken it.
  4. Sterilize the milk by heating it to almost boiling, about 180 degrees. (I generally do this in the microwave, but if you plan to use the stove, I advise using a double boiler so you don't scald the milk.)
  5. Put the milk in the fridge and cool down to about 110 degrees. (This takes about 30 minutes. Set a timer so you won't get caught up doing something else and forget that you were making yogurt. Been there...)
  6. Stir in the starter.
  7. Incubate your yogurt anywhere from 6-12 hours, depending on how tangy you like it. You can incubate it in a yogurt maker (the foolproof method I prefer), in an oven with the pilot light on, or even in a thermos. The trick is to maintain a temperature of about 110 degrees.
  8. Save 1/4 cup of yogurt to use for your next starter. You need to use this starter within 5-7 days or it will not work and you'll have to buy a new starter. But otherwise, you can use your own yogurt starter almost indefinitely.

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I do not accept money for writing reviews, but I do accept products for review and to giveaway. When posting a review, I fully disclose any free samples received from the company. I include information provided by the company in my reviews, but all opinions about the product are my own and I will not provide a good review for any product or company just because they sent me some free samples.


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