Conscious Shopping Tips

>> Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I was interviewed recently by a nice woman from Co-op America, and hopefully (fingers crossed) there will at least be some mention of me and my blog in the upcoming issue of their quarterly magazine.

I don't say that to gloat. No, no, no, quite the contrary...It was a phone interview, and for some reason, I am not very good at talking on the phone. This is an affliction that I've had my entire life, and I'm not sure why. I do fine in person, I do great by email, the blog is my domain, but put me on a phone, and my mind stalls like a teenager learning to drive a stick shift.

So I've been thinking a lot since then about what I could have said better. And here it is...

To anyone out there who uses the excuse, "I can't afford to go green," this is what I would say to you:

1. Take it slow. You don't have to go green all at once. Because of budgetary limitations, I am taking it very slowly. Right now, I buy a lot of locally grown food, but not a lot of organic food. I hope to be able to buy more organic food in the future, but right now, that's not possible for my family. Think about what small changes you can afford, and do them!

2. Do the money savers first. A lot of so-called "green" changes actually save money. Making your home more energy efficient, driving a more energy efficient car, walking more, riding a bike, taking public transportation, using less water, buying less or not buying at all...These things save money.

When people say that going green costs too much they're generally thinking of organic foods, beauty supplies, and clothing. But think about this: I estimate that I can save $150 to $200 a month (maybe even more) by making changes in my transportation, energy use, and spending habits, but rather than blowing that money on something useless, I plan to shift that spending to the food and clothing categories of my budget. Voila, I can afford to go green!

3. Shop smart. Organic food is expensive, I admit that. But there are ways to make it cheaper. Just as with all grocery shopping, you need to shop smart. Buy on sale and buy in bulk. Avoid processed foods. Avoid non-nutritive foods (sodas, candy, chocolate). Know which grocery stores in your area carry the cheapest organics. Make food from scratch. Join a food co-op or a buying club.

You can also save money in the food category by planting a garden, visiting u-pick farms or orchards, canning or freezing surplus produce, and raising chickens, bees, or goats. Even though I'm in an apartment, I plan to try some container gardening on my balcony this year.

4. Buy used. Organic, sweatshop free, and fair trade are expensive labels, but there are ways to save on clothing and house decor also. Think of thrift stores, consignment stores, and yard sales as your new favorite place to shop. Take advantage of our wasteful society and discover the bounty of like-new items on Craigslist. Experiment with Freecycle or start your own Swap Network (I'm planning to try this soon and will report my findings).

5. Adopt an attitude of non-consumerism. The less you buy, the more money you'll save (and the more money you can shift to food and clothing). Think about what stores are your downfall (in my case it's Target, maybe yours is the mall), and don't go there as often. Stop looking at catalogs and don't watch commercials. Believe me, the temptation to spend money drops to almost nil when you're no longer surrounded with enticements to buy, buy, buy!

6. Build a community. You don't have to do everything all by yourself. Go green with your neighbors and swap garden produce, skills, and time.

7. Do the big four. If you've tried everything I've already mentioned, and you still can't afford to go completely green, then just focus on the big four: energy efficient housing, energy efficient transportation, less meat-eating, and buying less.


Conscious Eating

>> Saturday, December 27, 2008

This is a list of the recipes I've posted to this blog. All of these recipes are vegetarian. Most can be altered to fit a vegan lifestyle.

Approximate price per serving is in parentheses. Note that all costs are estimates based on prices in my area and that I use organic ingredients whenever possible. Your costs may vary.

This post will be updated on a regular basis. Click the link to view the recipe.

Baked Goods

Main Dishes
Side Dishes


Conscious Reading

This is a list of books I've read since starting this blog. It will be updated on a regular basis as I read more. Click on the title for a review of the book.

Currently reading:
Big Box Swindle
by Stacy Mitchell

Cheap by Ellen Ruppel Shell
The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn
Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart
The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule
Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte
The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
No Impact Man by Colin Beavan
Real Food by Nina Planck
Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof
Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez


What do you say?

>> Sunday, December 21, 2008

The following are real conversations that I have been part of since I started this blog...

  • Woman 1: I've been looking on Craigslist for a bike for my son's birthday.
  • Woman 2: Why are you looking on Craigslist? You can get a brand new bike from Walmart for $40.
  • Woman 3: Because it was built by some little ten-year-old in Guatemala.
  • Woman 2: Well, yeah, but that's not our fault. We're only pawns in the system.
  • Woman 1 and Woman 3: Yeah, you're right.

  • Man 1: Did you hear Bob's trying to sell his Prius?
  • Man 2: What would you need a Prius for right now with gas prices at $1.50?

  • Woman: How's your green blog going?
  • Me: It's going great.
  • Woman: I could never go green.

  • My sister: You know, Erin, sometimes it's just better not to know.

I never know what to say in these situations. What I really want to say is, "No, no, no! You don't have to be a pawn in the system and just because gas prices are lower doesn't mean climate change has gone away and how can you not go green and it's better to know about things so you can change them!"

But except for my sister, the other comments were made by people I don't know well, and I don't want to offend them or be pegged as "that weird lady with all those weird opinions."

Or the other reaction I get from people when I start talking about environmentalism or social responsibility is that their eyes glaze over and I can tell they're not really listening. I don't think I'm that boring - it's just that most people don't want to hear it.

I've had this dilemma ever since I became a vegetarian. I've found that when people ask, "Why are you a vegetarian?", they don't want to hear the real answer. I even had a friend in college who became antagonistic about my vegetarianism once I explained about factory farms, and it led to the erosion of our friendship.

After enough negative responses, I started replying, "I decided that with all of our modern conveniences, it wasn't necessary to kill animals to eat." This answer satisfies most people without riling them up and potentially spoiling the evening, but it also has never ever made anyone consider going vegetarian.

I guess I've always been of the "lead by example" opinion, but I'm starting to think maybe that's not enough. You can't force people to change, but how do you convince them to want to?


Laundry Day

>> Thursday, December 18, 2008

I hate, hate, hate doing laundry. It is my least favorite of all chores because it is so mindlessly time-consuming. If I were ever to consider paying someone else to do my household work, laundry would be the first chore to go.

When my husband and I first got married, he was assigned to laundry duty, but he never did it the way I wanted (nothing ever got folded and put away), and since I am a control freak, I decided to do it myself.

Since laundry is such a time-consuming task and relates to three of my Baby Steps toward energy efficiency, I've thought a lot about laundry over the past month, so I wanted to share some thoughts and also get some feedback.

  • Shift your load to off-peak times.
    • I halfheartedly attempted to do this at first by waiting to toss a load into the washer until right before I went to bed. Then I got the bright idea of looking on my energy company's website to figure out when times are off-peak in my area. Turns out that you have to sign up for a Time of Use policy to get off-peak rates, and since I'm in an apartment, this isn't really an option for me. It's worth looking into in your area, though.
    • Question: Even though I'm not saving money, I'm assuming it would still be saving energy to do loads at off-peak times, right? Is it worth the hassle? Update: Yes, it still saves energy to do loads at off-peak times. I've found though that I never remember to turn the dryer on at the end of the day because I'm tired.
  • Wash clothes in cold water.
    • I had long ago switched to doing some of my laundry in cold water. Our weekly laundry includes about three loads of colored clothes washed in cold; one load of white clothes (mostly underwear), two loads of towels and cleaning rags, and a load of sheets washed in warm; and two or three loads of diapers washed in hot. According to my energy company, by doing those three loads a week in cold, I'm saving $4.80 a month. If I were to wash the whites, towels, and sheets in cold, I would save an additional $6.40, for a total of $11.20 a month.
    • Question: Is it safe to wash underwear, towels, and sheets in cold water? Seems like that wouldn't kill all the nasties. Update: I ultimately decided that it wasn't worth the health risk to me to wash underwear, towels/rags, and sheets in cold. My kids don't always wipe well, I use rags to clean the bathroom, and I have bad allergies. Lots of people do it though, so give it a try.
  • Give the dryer a rest.
    • I've been saying forever that I would line dry my clothes if only I had a yard. I decided it was time I stopped putting it off, so I've worked out a system where I can line dry all of our clothes and some diapers (excluding small things like underwear, socks, and cloth wet wipes) by hanging them on hangers over shower curtain rods and empty spots in the closet. I was worried this would end up making laundry time last even longer. So far, that doesn't seem to be the case, but I have had to spread laundry out over the week instead of doing it all on one day. Eventually, I'd like to get one of these so I can do towels and sheets and such too. (Luckily, my older sister does not read this blog, or at this point she'd be dying over my tackiness.)
    • Tip: To keep your clothes from getting wrinkly while line drying, pop them in the dryer for about 10 minutes before hanging them up to dry. This seems to be working for us, and I've discovered something amazing: some poly/cotton blends are dry after only 10 minutes in the dryer!

Some Thoughts on Laundry Detergent
I've been using Charlie's Soap ever since I switched to cloth diapers because it's supposed to be good for people with sensitive skin. Yesterday, I went to Whole Foods to pick up some more and discovered that they've changed their packaging from paper bags to cloth bags. This seemed like an odd switch, so I emailed the company to find out more. Here's their response, which they posted on their website:

These new cloth bags were developed because many of our customers were having trouble with breakage. Too much money was being lost in soap spilled all over I40 and beyond from the back of UPS vans. These new bags are much more durable, and yet since they're natural cotton and contain no plastic, they can be thrown away and will go right back to nature. If you wish, you can use them for small item (glasses, credit cards, marbles?) storage. We'll even run a promotion for a free gift to the person with the best story of how they used them.

Then they emailed me this additional awesome response:

Above is what was posted online. To expound on that, the company that provided the paper bags for us has time and again shown themselves to be not worth doing business with. First they kep pushing their delivery dates back every time we asked for an update. Then when the finally did deliver, each time since the first order placed with them a few years back, the bags themselves got shoddier and shoddier. Since we could not find another domestic source for paper bags, we made the decision to step away from them altogether and go with something that would ultimately hold up better during shipping, be more pleasing to the eye, and yes, be reusable. Many other vendors are thinking of providing Charlie's Soap in buckets that their customers would come back and fill their bags from. This is something we're pursuing with Whole Foods.

The bags are honestly very cute (they're about the size of a one pound flour bag), and I have always had great success using Charlie's Soap on my clothes. Plus, anyone who reads my blog knows I'm a sucker for great customer service. So...

Last Question
: Any ideas for how to reuse the Charlie's Soap laundry detergent bags? Update: These would make great produce bags, but I'm really hoping Whole Foods will start selling Charlie's Soap in bulk as mentioned in the second email.


December Round-Up

>> Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monthly Spending (budgeted amount in parentheses)

  • Groceries: $594.77 ($500)
  • Transportation: $225.55 ($300)
    • Although still way under budget, this is our highest transportation spending in Raleigh so far, mainly due to a trip to Philly for Thanksgiving.
  • Electricity: $81.03 ($150)
    • Ha! Even better than last month, even with the heat turned on. Hope that means my efforts in energy efficiency have been paying off.
  • Water/Sewer: $20.07 ($50)
  • Entertainment/Miscellaneous: $263.90 ($300)
    • Aaaah, much better....We still have room for improvement in this category, though. We have a problem with itty bitty spending here and there that all adds up to a whole lot of wasted money.
  • Clothes: $85.36 (no set budget)
    • This was all birthday money for me and First Son, so I didn't include it in the total. About a third was bought at thrift stores.
  • TOTAL: $1,185.32 ($1,300)

Trash Report: 6 bags of trash (13 gallon bags); 2 bags of plastic and glass each, 3 bags of metal and paper each (reusable bags about the size of a paper grocery bag)

Changes I Made This Month:
  1. Wrapped up my paper changes, so now I'm a 100% recycled girl.
  2. Committed to buying eggs and milk from the farmer's market. Also buying organic cheese at the grocery store. Still working on finding a good source of ice cream.
  3. Worked on cutting back my energy usage.
Goals for Next Month
  1. I plan to take a look at some of my beauty and hygiene products in the next few months. I already do pretty well in that area, but I've been experimenting with some DIY projects and want to report my findings.
  2. It's Christmas, so the big goal is to stay in the budget!


Recipe: Mango Pancakes

>> Monday, December 15, 2008

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled programming (my attempt to convince you all to eat less meat over the holidays) to bring you this special recipe. These pancakes would be perfect for a Christmas morning breakfast and are sure to please anyone in the house, vegetarian and meat-eating alike, though locavores beware...they do include mangoes. If you are a hardcore local eater, the mangoes can be substituted with peaches or even apples.

This recipe says it serves four, but my family of two adults and three small children always doubles the recipe.

South Pacific Fruit Pancakes
(from The Book of Yogurt)

4 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 ripe mango, peeled, seeded, and cut in julienne
1 egg
1/2 c. unflavored yogurt
2/3 c. unsifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
  • In a heavy skillet, melt 4 Tbsp. butter over moderate heat. Remove 1 Tbsp. melted butter and reserve.
  • Stir the brown sugar and 1 1/2 tsp. of the cinnamon into the melted butter in the skillet. Add the mango and cook a few minutes, stirring gently until half-tender. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, beat the egg well. Stir in the yogurt and the reserved 1 Tbsp. butter.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 Tbsp of the powdered sugar. Add to the egg mixture and blend until the batter is the consistency of heavy cream.
  • Add the mango and mix lightly.
  • In a small, heavy skillet, melt 1 Tbsp. butter. Drop the mango batter, a large spoonful at a time, into the hot butter and cook until lightly browned on the bottom sides. Turn and lightly brown on the other sides.
  • Repeat until all the batter has been used, adding more butter to the skillet as necessary.
  • Mix together the remaining 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and sprinkle over the pancakes. Serve at once.


I Need...Eggs

>> Friday, December 12, 2008

Closely related to my post about dairy products last week is the subject of eggs.

I have found that people are more likely to feel bad about the treatment of cows than chickens in factory farms - maybe because cows are big mammals with huge, sad-looking eyes and chickens are small birds with sharp beaks. Or maybe it's just that people consume so much chicken (50 pounds a year) that they don't want to think about it. All I know is that when I tell people about the terrible treatment of chickens, the answer I most commonly get is, "Well, it's just a chicken."

I think that's sad, but since I've been trying to justify my own egg eating for years now, I don't have much room to talk. In some ways, egg-laying hens have it worse than chickens raised for their meat:

  • Factory Farm egg-laying hens are packed into tiny cages that are about 18 by 20 inches with five to ten chickens per cage. Picture that! Even with only five hens in a cage that size, they would have no room to move, no room to stretch their wings, and they spend their entire lives in a cage that small. It's not like they're being let out a few hours a day to get exercise.
  • The cages are stacked on top of each other, which means that the poop from one cage can fall into the cage below it. Besides being gross (the birds spend a lot of time standing in their own feces), this lack of cleanliness leads to disease in both chickens and humans.
  • At the end of the lives of egg-laying hens, they are sent to a slaughterhouse. Because they are not raised for meat and spend their lives in cramped conditions, many hens have emaciated bodies and suffer from broken bones by the time they are killed.
  • Salmonella poisoning is most commonly associated with eggs and poultry. Safe handling and thorough cooking can reduce the risk of food poisoning, but it's worth noting that salmonella is more common with factory farm raised chickens than traditionally raised chickens.
  • Like cows, chickens are given antibiotics to increase their growth and prevent illness (remember that they're raised under germ-friendly conditions). The average chicken is given four doses of antibiotics a day. Overuse of these antibiotics are making bacteria more and more resistant, and both the antibiotics and the resistant bacteria enter our water supplies.
  • Most poultry farms in the United States are owned by just a couple of companies, the biggest being Tyson Foods. Workers at these farms suffer one of the highest rates of injury in the U.S. and are paid extremely low wages.
For more information, check out Go Veg: Chickens and The Green Guide: Poultry and Eggs.

  • Eat fewer eggs. Eggs make a great binding agent in cooking, making them hard to give up completely. But if you're in the habit of eating a lot of eggs every week, could you reduce that amount even a little?
  • Check your label. If you've ever gone shopping for organic eggs, you know that there are so many choices, it can be confusing. Should you buy certified organic, cage-free, free range, certified humane, pasture-fed? Well, it depends...Rather than repeating information already out there, I suggest you read this guide from The Humane Society or check out The Green Guide's guide to poultry and eggs.
  • Know your producer. The only way to verify for sure how your eggs are being produced is to know the person who's raising them. Talk to the farmer at your farmer's market about how they treat their chickens, mentioning free-range, antibiotics, pesticides, and food.
  • Raise your own chickens. If you have a backyard, you can raise chickens. Be sure to check the laws in your area, though (including the rules in your homeowner's association). If you're interested, look to Urban Chickens for all your backyard chicken-raising needs, including basic information on chicken care and the type of coop to choose.
  • Go Vegan. When I was a vegan, I found eggs a lot easier to give up than dairy products. The important thing to remember is to tailor your egg replacer to whatever you're making. For example, pureed tofu makes a good egg replacement in soft foods like breakfast burritos and egg salads while bananas or applesauce can replace the eggs in baked goods. Check out this guide for more information.

Tips for the Budget Conscious
Many mainstream grocery stores now carry their own store brand of organic or free-range eggs. However, no aspect of the commercial egg industry, including organic eggs, is perfect. For example, organic egg-laying hens are required to have access to the outdoors, but that doesn't mean they actually go outside. Also, male chicks are useless to a commercial egg farmer, so they are killed soon after birth with methods ranging from suffocation to grinding. If you're really concerned about humanely raised chickens and eggs on a budget, your best bet would be to raise your own.

Where I'm At
I buy my eggs at the farmer's market rather than the grocery store even though they're a little more expensive because I feel more confident that the chickens are treated humanely. Plus, I get the bonus of supporting a small family farm. Someday, when we are no longer in an apartment, I plan to raise my own chickens.

Photo by angela7dreams


Last Child on the Urban Farm

>> Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This post is my submission for this month's APLS Blog Carnival. The subject is "children are our most precious resource." Check out all of the APLS bloggers on December 15 at Going Green Mama.

Yesterday was a fluke warm day (nearly hit 70 although the high was predicted at 57), so I took the boys outside to let First Son practice riding the bike he got for his birthday. We rode along the sidewalk in our apartment complex, and then the boys asked if they could park their bikes and play for awhile. There's an island of trees in a cul-de-sac-like part of our complex where the boys and I played in the leaves a couple of weeks ago. There weren't any leaves yesterday, so the boys played in the dirt, stacked rocks, and pounded sticks together.

I am pretty sure we are technically not supposed to play there, but I'm also pretty sure that the management of our apartment complex frowns on children playing anywhere on the complex grounds.

None of the apartment complexes we looked at within walking distance from Raleigh had playgrounds. This one was better than most with its pool, tennis court, volleyball court, and grassy areas, but people never pick up their dog's poop in the grassy areas, and a month ago, the complex put up a sign on the tennis court basically stating that the court was for tennis only. (I had been letting the kids play in there since it was a flat, fenced-in area good for bouncing balls and not getting run over by cars.)

There is a nice wooded playground within walking distance from our apartment, but we would have to risk our lives on a dangerous road to walk there. There is another small playground that's part of an apartment complex down the street (again I think technically we are not allowed to play there). The street to get there is not safe for small children riding bikes, but we walk there now and then.

My kids are five, three, and one, and because of the urban lifestyle my husband and I have so far chosen to lead, my kids are growing up with very limited outdoor experience.

I compare this with my own childhood and feel a deep sense of remorse. I can remember being as young as five and playing freely in the field in front of our house with my older sister. Later, my friends and I ran wild in the woods, building treehouses, climbing trees, occasionally falling into the pond, bringing home toads and frogs and snakes, getting covered in poison ivy.

I can't imagine letting my kids have the kind of freedom in nature that I enjoyed. Not only because the world seems less safe now, but also because there's just no place like that around here where they can play.

In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv points out that children today are taught about the rainforests and global warming, but very few of them are having real, hands-on experience with the outdoors. They have an intellectual connection to their environment, but not an emotional connection. And when they grow up, they will have memories of books and pictures and classrooms, but not memories of tangible experience: swaying in the branches of a tree, squishing in the mud, being peed on by a frightened toad!

The modern disconnect from nature that our children are experiencing makes me wonder what the future holds for environmentalism. Without experiencing nature, will the next generation have any desire to preserve it? As Louv says, "No child can truly know or value the outdoors if the natural world remains under glass, seen only through lenses, screens or computer monitors."

While reading Last Child in the Woods, I contrasted the neighborhood I live in with some European neighborhoods that Louv mentions while describing Timothy Beatley's book Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities:

"He describes an astonishing array of European green-city designs: cities with half the land areas devoted to forest, green space, and agriculture; cities that have not only preserved nearby nature, but reclaimed some inner-city areas for woods, meadows, and streams. These neighborhoods are both denser and more livable than our own. Nature, even a suggestion of wildness, is within walking distance of most residences."
Louv goes on to describe several cities' greenways, city-encircling bike paths, and urban farms. My first thought when I read this was, "I need to move to Europe." That's not a very practical solution, though, and a better one would be to work to make that kind of green urban development happen here in the United States.

Here are some ideas on how to do that:
  • You can get involved in your area by contacting your city's planning commission and letting them know of your desire for more green spaces, pedestrian and bike friendly streets, and natural play areas for children.
  • You can attend town meetings and voice your opinions about green building and park planning.
  • You can also join the 40 million Americans involved in the No Child Left Inside coalition, whose goal is to create outdoor learning opportunities in classrooms and schools across the nation.
  • Or you could start a farm to cafeteria program at your children's school or help them plant a school garden, both of which help children understand the source of their food and provide them with a healthier alternative to typical cafeteria lunches.

I think it's simple and logical to say that children need to spend more time outdoors, but it's harder in our increasingly urban society to provide children with outdoor experiences. It's important, though, for us as environmentalists to find ways to increase children's connection to nature if we want our torches passed on to the following generations.

As one woman in Last Child in the Woods explains, "Connecting [our daughter] with nature offers...a place to learn about love and respect for all of life - to see, touch, and smell where it all comes from, and to understand why she'll be called to do her part to take care of things."

Photo by lepiaf.geo


Experiments in Anonymous Kindness

>> Monday, December 8, 2008

In a post I wrote awhile back, I asked, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if the holiday of Thanksgiving were accompanied by a season of kind-giving?"

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I'd like to rephrase the question: Wouldn't it be wonderful if every day were a day of kind-giving?

That's the goal of one group of people I discovered at the Green Festival in DC. They call it the SmileCard project, and their slogan is "Kindness is contagious! Keep it going."

Their idea goes like this: You perform an anonymous act of kindness for someone, leaving behind a card that says, "Smile. You've just been tagged. Experiments in Anonymous Kindness is the name of the game, and now - you're it." Then hopefully that person will perform an anonymous act of kindness for someone else, who will perform a kindness for someone else, and so on and so on.

Want to play? Visit their website at where you can print Smile Cards and read hundreds of suggestions of ways to be kind.

Here are some of their suggestions to get you started:

  • Donate your unused winter-wear to those who might not have a home.
  • Arrange a clothing drive in your neighborhood.
  • Become a 'secret santa' for a family in need.
  • Next time you're on the streets, take some soup or hot chocolate for a homeless person.
  • Clip all the positive news stories you read this season, make a nice album and leave it at your dentist's office.
  • Teach a child about generosity by asking them to donate one of their toys this Christmas.
Christmas is a great time to get into the habit of kind-giving. I'm helping my boys and a few of their friends put together a little Christmas program that they'll perform for a couple of homebound elderly people in our area. The Nativity Story performed by a bunch of three year olds is bound to be a disaster, but I'm sure the people we'll be visiting will love it anyway.

What suggestions do you have for spreading kindness this Christmas?


I Need...Dairy

>> Saturday, December 6, 2008

When I wrote my post about going vegetarian a few months ago, it was the first time I'd thoroughly researched reasons to be a vegetarian in several years. Researching the subject reconfirmed my decision not to eat meat, but it also left me feeling really guilty that I still eat dairy products and eggs.

I tried going vegan early on in my years as a vegetarian, but that lifestyle change was short-lived, lasting barely a year. Frankly, it was just too hard. There are hidden animal products in foods you would think have no reason to have animal products in them. Like cold cereal, for instance. Bread. Tortillas. Even some so-called vegetarian cheeses are still made with rennet, which comes from the stomach of a cow. It took me forever to go grocery shopping because I had to read the label of every product I picked up off the shelf.

Then there were the intense cravings for cheese and ice cream every time I ate around non-vegans - including my husband who still kept cheese in the house and indulged in the occasional ice cream treat. I honestly don't crave meat like some vegetarians, but giving up cheese and ice cream was painful. And SoyDream just does not do the job.

So I gave up my short-lived veganism, rationalizing that my dairy consumption was a necessary, though admittedly bad, habit.

The problem with being a Conscious Shopper is that once you're aware of the dark side of something you're doing, it's hard to rationalize it as necessary. Dairy consumption is inextricably linked to the meat industry, and also has a list of problems all it's own:

  1. The bucolic image of a field of cows is a thing of the past. Most dairy cows today spend their lives in huge manure-filled feedlots or sheds where they are fed grain that has been treated with pesticides and fertilizer.
  2. To be able to produce milk, the cows are repeatedly impregnated through artificial insemination.
  3. After a cow gives birth, her calf is taken from her within a day. If the calf is a male, he is moved to a veal crate, where he will only live for a few months before being slaughtered. If the calf is a female, she'll grow up to be a dairy cow like her mother.
  4. To get the cows to produce more milk, many factory farmers inject the cows with a hormone called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). The FDA approved rBGH for use in the early 1990s with no prior safety testing, relying on the results of one study conducted by Monsanto, the creators of the hormone. In recent years, use of rBGH has been correlated to tumors and cancer in humans, although the health risks associated with the hormone are still being disputed. It is indisputable, however, that cows treated with rBGH have an increased risk of infected or inflamed udders, ovarian cysts, and reduced pregnancy rates.
  5. Dairy cows raised in factory farms have an average lifespan of 5 years, a quarter of the lifespan of a traditionally raised cow, and their lives generally end in the slaughterhouse.
  6. Unlike human waste, treatment of animal waste from factory farms is not adequately regulated. Animal waste is pumped into huge open pits where it releases methane gas, and much of the waste ends up running into water supplies.
For more information, check out these resources:

Go Veg: Dairy Cows
The Green Guide on rBGH
Pollution Locator: Animal Waste
101 Reasons to Go Vegetarian

So what's a dairy-loving eco-conscious animal lover to do?

Baby Steps
  • Avoid recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). Many brands of dairy products are now labeled as rBGH-free.
  • Eat less dairy. Try eating more Asian or Indian cuisine, both of which tend to use less dairy.
Jogging Stride
  • Buy organic. Organic dairy cows are not given hormones or antibiotics, must be fed organic feed, and must spend a certain number of days in pasture.
  • Support a local small farm. Small farmers have trouble competing with the big factory farms, especially those that use growth hormones. Give a guy a chance!
  • Give organic soymilk or goat's milk a try. It takes fewer natural resources to grow soybeans or raise goats. You can even raise your own goats – I hear they make a great fossil-fuel free lawnmower!
Marathon Runner
  • Go vegan. I tip my hat to all the vegans out there, and if you think you can do it, go for it!

Tips for the Budget Conscious
Many mainstream grocery stores are now selling their own store brand of organic dairy products. They're still expensive, but cost less than the name brands. You can also save money by trying out some DIY projects such as making your own yogurt, soymilk, and even cheeses.

Where I'm At
I've started buying organic cheese, but I'm also trying to decrease the amount of cheese my family eats overall. In the past, we've tended to think, "If it tastes good, it will taste even better with cheese!." Also, being a mostly vegetarian family, we are big fans of the beans and cheese combination. To get around this, I started buying a smaller package of cheese, and when we run out, that's our cheese quota for the week.

In the milk department, I've decided to splurge on the Maple View Farm milk. It's a dollar more expensive and not organic, but I discovered that I can buy it at the farmer's market and return my glass bottles there. Plus, it tastes really good. I also discovered this week that my kids are big fans of soymilk. First Son actually begged me to buy it for him at the grocery store today.

I'm still trying to work out the ice cream issue...

Photo by JelleS


Recipes for Sweet Potato Lovers

>> Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sweet potatoes are plentiful at the farmers market down here in Raleigh, and they make a perfect side for a holiday meal. This recipe for Stuffed Sweet Potatoes is my favorite way to serve sweet potatoes for the holidays. They are filling enough to make a good "main dish" for a vegetarian who is making a meal of side dishes. They're also sweet enough that they could work as a dessert.

If you're like my husband and prefer your sweet potatoes savory, just bake for 50 to 60 minutes at 400 degrees and serve with butter and salt and pepper.

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

12 small sweet potatoes
3/4 c. butter at room temperature
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
2 c. pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 c. mini marshmallows
1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • Place potatoes on baking sheet. Pierce in several places.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for an hour.
  • Meanwhile, stir together butter and sugar until well-blended. Gradually stir in pecans, marshmallows, and flour until mixture forms loose crumbs.
  • Remove potatoes from oven. Cut a slash lengthwise in each one using oven mitts, gently push together ends of each potato to open slash.
  • Season potatoes with salt and pepper.
  • Stuff opening with marshmallow mixture.
  • Return to oven and bake for 5 to 7 minutes at 400 degrees.
Sorry there are no pictures today. I fully intended to make baked sweet potatoes for dinner tonight, but being sick wipes out all of my motivation for cooking.


I Need...Gift Wrap

>> Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I know my posting has been rather slim the past couple of weeks with the Thanksgiving holiday, and now my whole family has come down with a cold. Being sick is not good for the environment or the pocket book. I'm planning to head over to Target later today to pick up some drugs and some Kleenex (the recycled toilet paper is killing my nose). Sorry to everyone for the small backslide, but I have never been of the opinion that environmentalism should make you miserable.

So anyway, with the holiday season coming up, I wanted to make sure I got this post in about gift wrap. According to Earth911, "as much as half of the 85 million tons of paper products Americans consume every year goes toward packaging, wrapping and decorating goods. Also, wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for about four million tons of trash annually in the U.S."

Just think about that huge mound of wrapping paper that tries to take over the living room every Christmas, and you'll understand why it's important to be conscious about your wrapping paper purchases this holiday season. So here are some ideas to get you started:


  • Make sure the wrapping paper you purchase is recyclable. Mixed content is difficult to recycle and will not be accepted by any recycling centers that I know of, so for example, paper with a shiny metallic, plastic, or waxy surface or glitter is a no-no. Also, in my area, only white paper can be recycled (including white paper that has been printed on), so any wrapping paper that has been dyed would be out for me.
  • Reuse gift bags. I think reusing wrapping paper is a little more difficult, so I'm including it as a step for the more gung-ho environmentalists below. But reusing gift bags is as simple as emptying the bag. I have yet to have to buy a gift bag for a baby shower gift, and I think I'll be good for at least 15 more friends' babies.
  • Reuse wrapping paper. If you carefully unwrap your presents instead of tearing through them, you can successfully use the wrapping paper again. However, I think this would work better a) for adults than children and b) for gifts that trickle in like on birthdays or weddings rather than on Christmas morning. (Otherwise you'll end up annoying your family with your eco-obsessiveness.)
  • Buy wrapping paper with recycled content. This takes some advance planning however, since I haven't seen any stores carrying this yet. But if you Google "recycled wrapping paper," you'll find a bounty of beautiful papers to choose from. Also recommend this for scrapbookers.
  • Wrap gifts in newspapers, magazines, calendars, or maps. Small caveat here, though: When I was a kid, we always had to wrap our presents in the comic section of the newspaper, and I hated it. I always felt like my present came off looking cheap next to all the shiny wrapped gifts my friends brought. Umbra Fisk over at Grist gives the following suggestion to solve this problem: "The trick of making decent wrapping out of newspaper or magazines is in the choice of photo or section. I learned this from an actual Artist who wraps his gifts this way, I promise. A newspaper will yield interesting photos, or advertisements, perhaps even germane text, that will look slick and nice on presents if the following conditions are met: the attractive part of the photo is centered on the top of the gift in plain view, the paper is carefully wrapped, there is a separate gift tag, and bonus points for some ribbon-type of finish."
  • Make your own wrapping paper. Decorate recycled paper with stamps, markers, paints, etc. This works really well for gifts from one four-year-old to another, but for older kids or adults, see the caveat above.
  • Wrap your gift in a gift. For example, wrap your gift with a towel or tablecloth that can then be used.
  • Wrap in cloth or use a cloth bag. But make sure you're giving the gift to someone who will reuse the cloth, and not someone who's just going to throw it away. If the gift is for a disposable fan, you'd be better off using wrapping paper that can be recycled, I think.

Tips for the Budget Conscious
Using paper you already have lying around (like old newspapers) is the most budget-friendly option, and that's the reason we always did it when I was a kid. But if you prefer your wrapping paper to look more traditional, I'd say reusing gift bags or wrapping paper is your best option.

Where I'm At
I still have a huge roll of recyclable wrapping paper left over from last year as well as the aforementioned gift bags (although most are not very Christmasy), so I'm set for this year. In the future, I think I'm going to go the newspaper route, following Umbra's advice to make it more attractive, and keep letting my kids make their own wrapping paper until they start complaining.

This is just what I thought of. Any other suggestions for budget-friendly/eco-friendly wrapping?

Photo by Manassas Cakery. It's a cake!

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