Book Review: Cradle to Cradle

>> Monday, June 29, 2009

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
by William McDonough & Michael Braungart

Rating: **** (would have given it five stars but I felt like the book might be dated)

Synopsis:

The first thing you notice when you pick up this book is that it's really heavy. It's less than 200 pages and slightly larger than an average paperback, yet it weighs as much as a small textbook. That's because it's not printed on paper...it's made of plastic.

Now before you go all Fake Plastic Fish on me, let me explain why.

McDonough, an architect and designer, and Braungart, a chemist, met in the early nineties and quickly discovered that they share a passion for rethinking bad design. Why not design a shoe with a biodegradable sole so that instead of adding toxic chemicals to the soil as you walked, you added nutrients to the soil? Why not design packaging out of materials that could safely be burned for fuel? Why not design buildings to use fuel and water effectively, like a tree? Why waste precious trees on books when you could print books on plastic that could be infinitely recycled into new books?

McDonough and Braungart envisioned a new school of design that eschewed the old "cradle to grave" philosophy and began instead to design objects for a cradle to cradle lifecycle. They explain that products should be designed so that "when their useful life is over, [they] do not become useless waste but can be tossed onto the ground to decompose and become food for plants and animals and nutrients for soil; or, alternately, that can return to industrial cycles to supply high-quality raw materials for new products."

How could we achieve such smart design? (Or, as the authors prefer to call it, eco-effective design?) McDonough and Braungart offer a number of valuable ideas:

  • Resources should be divided into two categories and never the two shall mix. The first category is made up of biological resources such as trees, plants, food waste - or those that will biodegrade and return to the earth. The other category they call technical resources, including metals, glass, and plastic. At the end of their useful life, biological materials should be returned to the soil to decompose and create new biological resources, whereas technical resources should be recycled.
  • When they say recycled, they really mean recycled. Not downcycled. Products should be designed so that when they are disassembled, their original technical resources maintain their integrity. That way steel always remains steel, aluminum remains aluminum, copper remains copper - not a mixed and inferior composite metal.
  • McDonough and Braungart suggest that this system could only be practical if we introduce a concept they call the "product of service." They explain that customers would "purchase the service of a product for a defined user period - say, ten thousand hours of television viewing, rather than the television itself. They would not be paying for complex materials that they won't be able to use after a product's current life. When they finish with the product, or are simply ready to upgrade to a newer version, the manufacturer replaces it, taking the old model back, breaking it down, and using its complex materials as food for new products."
Throughout the book, McDonough and Braungart provide examples of projects they've worked on that exemplify the ideas they explain in the book: furniture upholstery that is so safe, you could eat it; carpeting that can be infintely recycled into new carpeting; buildings that clean and recycle their water.

But the most visual example of their philosophy is the book itself. A book made out of "polymers that are infinitely recyclable at the same level of quality - that have been designed with their future life foremost in mind, rather than as an afterthought...The inks are nontoxic and can be washed off the polymer with a simple and safe chemical process...The cover is made from a heavier grade of the same polymer as the rest of the book, and the glues are made of compatible ingredients, so that once the materials are no longer needed in their present form, the entire book can be reclaimed by the publishing industry in a simple one-step recycling process....Books become books become books over and over again, each incarnation a sparkling new vehicle for fresh images and ideas."

Such a radical idea, and yet so simple and absolutely right.

My Opinion:

I loved this book. I would say that anyone in business, art, architecture, design, agriculture - pretty much anyone - should read this book, except that it's kind of old, and I don't know how much of what they say has changed in the past seven years. For example, they say that aluminum cans are downcycled, but I was under the impression that aluminum cans are highly recyclable and can be made right back into an aluminum can. McDonough and Braungart, maybe it's time for a new edition?

(Maybe this would be a great opportunity to put that "product of service" idea into practice and have everyone who bought a copy of this book upgrade to a new edition...)


Next up on my reading list...The Creative Family by Amanda Soule


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Weekend Ramblings: Big Business

>> Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sometimes on the weekends, I will be rambling about thoughts I've been having that week. Feel free to comment, add to my thoughts, or disagree with anything I say. But please remember that I don't like being called an idiot, even if I'm being one. So keep your comments respectful.

My husband and I have an ongoing argument about whether or not an environmentally or socially responsible company should get big. My feeling is that when a company gets too big, it loses sight of its original goals and values. And when there's too big of a gap between the people at the top and those at the bottom, the people at the top care less about how their actions affect those at the bottom.

I sometimes talk about "evil companies," which annoys my husband. He argues that businesses either have to get big or die, though frequently that involves selling out to a larger company that might not share its values. I say, Why can't they just get big enough? He says that's not the way our economy works. Etc., etc., etc. We've had this conversation a dozen times.

Some examples of companies that frequently enter into our discussion: Burt's Bees sold out to Clorox. Tom's of Maine is owned by Colgate. Dagoba Chocolate is owned by Hershey. Chipotle sold out to McDonalds. Ben & Jerry's is part of Unilever. I could go on...

I've been thinking about this topic this week for a couple of reasons. One is because I was writing about saving money on organics, and unfortunately, I think one of the ways we will see price drops in organic foods is when big business really gets involved. Namely, Walmart. And as much as I'd like to see cheaper organics, that thought still makes me sad.

But the other reason I've been thinking about this topic is because I've read a few related quotes this week by big name environmentalists who surprisingly seem to side more with my husband than me. For example...

From Josh Dorfman, the Lazy Environmentalist:

As we transform our economy—which I really believe is what we have to do—into sustainability, I just think that these large corporations are going to be part of that change. They have to be. Some of them will go out of business, but most of them are going to be here and they have to transform. These are the steps corporations have to take to transform and sometimes it’s hard for us as environmentalists to operate in this gray area. We want to see the world in terms of good guys and bad guys, black and white, and that’s not a luxury that we have if we’re really serious about creating change that’s going to make a real difference.
From Jeffrey Hollander of Seventh Generation, on whether or not they will do business with Walmart now that he's stepped down as CEO:
[Up] until a year ago while we were in a very close dialogue with Wal-Mart and working to help them become a more sustainable and responsible business, we were not comfortable selling to them. But the progress that Wal-Mart has made in the past three to four years is astounding and absolutely an incredible inspiration for what’s possible of a large company. Does that mean they’re perfect today? No, but they have made more progress than just about any company that I can think of and that progress has led us to experiment with them in a small group of stores....

I don’t believe that we can solve the urgent problems that face us—whether it’s global warming, or whether it’s a crisis of fresh water or species disappearance—without aggressive leadership from the business community. Part of the role that Seventh Generation wants to play is showing business that being responsible is good business and being sustainable is good business, and that we can’t afford to have business stand in the way of the progress we need to make to become more sustainable.
From William McDonough, respected architect, designer, and author of Cradle to Cradle:
[Just] as industrialists, engineers, designers, and developers of the past did not intend to bring about such devastating effects, those who perpetuate these paradigms today surely do not intend to damage the world. The waste, pollution, crude products, and other negative effects that we have described are not the result of corporations doing something morally wrong. They are the consequence of outdated and unintelligent design.
And also from William McDonough:
"How can you work with them?" we are often asked, regarding our willingness to work with every sector of the economy, including big corporations. To which we sometimes reply, "How can you not work with them?"...

Eco-effectiveness sees commerce as the engine of change, and honors its need to function quickly and productively. But it also recognizes that if commerce shuns environmental, social, and cultural concerns, it will produce a large-scale tragedy of the commons, destroying valuable natural and human resources for generations to come. Eco-effectiveness celebrates commerce and the commonweal in which it is rooted.
Where do your opinons lie in this argument? Are big business and environmentalism at opposite ends of the spectrum? Or can they work together toward a sustainable future?

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12 Strategies to Save Money on Organics

>> Friday, June 26, 2009

Earlier this week, I offered some suggestions for adding more organics to your grocery cart. But if you're a budget conscious shopper, you might still be having trouble looking beyond the price. Organics are definitely more expensive than conventional products, so first I want to offer some strategies for saving money on organics, and then I'll touch briefly on why organics are more expensive.


12 Strategies to Save Money on Organics


Strategy #1: Be a smart shopper. I've already listed some ways you can save money on your grocery bill by not following my example. Other smart shopping strategies include keeping a price book, making a list, stocking up when items are on sale, using coupons, and buying store brands.

Strategy #2: Waste not, want not. Avoid letting food go to waste before you use it, and eat up leftovers.

Strategy #3: Find amazing deals with bulk bins, the bins of grains, nuts, and dried fruit at Whole Foods and other natural food stores. I wish I could buy everything from a bulk bin!

Strategy #4: Buy in bulk. If you can't find it in a bulk bin, buy the largest size you can find. But remember to keep your eye on the unit price! Sometimes, the bigger package has an inflated price.

Strategy #5: Choose less expensive fruits and vegetables. Around here, greens and sweet potatoes have the biggest nutritional bang for your buck.

Strategy #6: Eat less meat (especially cow). A serving of organic beans from a can is about $0.30. An organic egg costs about a quarter. A serving of the cheapest organic ground beef I've seen is $0.75.

Strategy #7: Buy a share of a cow. If you're not keen on going completely vegetarian, you can save money on your meat products by buying a share of a cow directly from a farmer. Search for local farms at www.eatwild.com. I've also heard of cow-shares for dairy products.

Strategy #8: Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Pay a fee at the beginning of the year and get a share of the farm's produce. Two years ago, my family paid $400 to participate in a CSA for roughly 20 weeks. So for $20 a week we got a cooler full of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and a dozen farm-fresh eggs. You cannot match those prices at the grocery store!

Strategy #9: Join a buying club, a group of people who place huge orders directly with food distributers, saving costs by buying in bulk and cutting out the middlemen. The biggest supplier of natural and organic foods to buying clubs is United National Foods. I don't have any experience with them, but I have successfully found some savings on organic grains and legumes through a buying club with members of my church. They order from Walton Feed.

Strategy #10: Pick your own fruits and vegetables. If you do the harvesting work yourself, you can typically save a lot of money. Find an organic pick-your-own-farm near you by visiting www.pickyourown.org.

Strategy #11: Plant a garden. Go beyond harvesting and do all the work yourself. If you have limited space, use the square foot gardening method, and focus on those varieties that will give you the greatest yield with the least work. Save even more money by growing from seed. And make sure you use sustainable gardening techniques!

Strategy #12: Raise your own chickens or bees. With a little work, you can have your own fresh eggs and honey. And if you're really committed, you could also save money by raising your own goats, pigs, or even a cow.


3 Reasons Organics Cost More

  1. Scale. Growing crops without pesticides and chemical fertilizer is more time-consuming and labor intensive and generally has to be done on a smaller scale. All of these factors increase costs.
  2. Niche Market. So far, the organics industry has been catering to a niche market made up of people who are willing to pay more. In some cases, organic foods are priced higher to match the expectation of it as a "luxury" item.
  3. Subsidies. Conventional industrial ag receives massive subsidies from the government. Organic farmers do not. Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat, explains:
Until the latest farm bill, which has a small provision for promotion of organic agriculture, organic farmers received not one break from the federal government. In contrast, the producers of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton continue to get $20 billion or so a year in farm subsidies.

Industrial agriculture also benefits from federally administered marketing programs and from cozy relationships with congressional committees and the USDA. In contrast, the USDA considers fruits and vegetables "specialty crops." This kind of food politics shows up as higher prices in the grocery store.

The first reason is an integral part of organic farming, but the other two reasons can be changed. And this is the point I want to emphasize most:

If more people buy organics, the prices will drop.

I truly believe that. Every time you go to the grocery store and every time you eat, you are casting your vote about the nature of our agricultural system. If you want to see changes in the price of organics, find a way to afford at least some of them now. Save money by using energy wisely, choosing better transportation, and buying less, and shift your savings to your grocery budget.

Photo by Mjorge


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Noteworthy Green: Food Inc, Rooftop Gardens, Outdoor Urination, and More...

>> Wednesday, June 24, 2009

::Spotlight on Poverty shows how Kansas City is using part of their stimulus money to "green" a low income neighborhood.

::The Oregonian demonstrates how to have a picnic for 3,000 people, producing only one bag of trash.

::Take the quiz at Grist: Should I see the critically acclaimed documentary Food, Inc.? (Their answer is "yes, if you eat," but as I discovered by checking the film's showtimes, the real answer is "yes, if you live in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.)

::The New York Times discusses the new trend to plant gardens on rooftops.

::The San Francisco Chronicle includes a Q&A with Marion Nestle about the real definition of organic.

::Tiny Choices asks if peeing outdoors is more green.

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I Need...Organic Food

>> Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Yesterday, I listed reasons why you should think about adding more organic foods to your grocery cart, and today I'm going to give some suggestions for how to get started. As I've said before, I don't think you can suddenly wake up one morning, snap your fingers, and say, "Voila! I'm green!" Going green is a process, and you can take it slowly if you need to.

Certified Organic Defined

So first of all, what does that organic label mean? The USDA has defined organic crops as those "raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. The NOP [National Organic Program] regulations prohibit the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge in organic production and handling."

For animal farms to be certified organic, the animals "must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones."

A couple other things to note:

  • Products labeled "100 percent organic" must contain only organically produced ingredients.
  • Products labeled "organic" must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients.
  • Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase "made with organic ingredients" and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel.

What Certified Organic Does Not Mean


As I said yesterday, the system for certifying organics is not perfect. The purpose is to protect the consumer, so you know what you're purchasing when you see the "organic" label. But the organics program is mainly concerned with health issues and is less concerned with sustainability or other environmental issues. For instance:
  • Certified organic is not the same as grass-fed or pastured. Animals on certified organic farms must be given "access" to the outdoors, but the form or amount of that access is vague.
  • Certified organic does not mean small farm. Becoming certified is costly, which means that many small farmers are financially excluded from certification.
  • Certified organic farmers can only use certified seed, so their options about varieties to grow are limited. People who prefer heirloom varieties are probably not going to find much choice when shopping for certified organics.
  • Certified organic restricts the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers but does not provide specific guidelines for sustainable farming practices.
Because of these and other considerations, I think it's less important to look at the label and more important to know your farmer. Ask the farmers at your local farmers market about their methods for pest management and fertilization, and make an informed decision, even if they're not certified.

Another option is to look for the label "Certified Naturally Grown," a certification system created by a non-profit in New York focusing on small organic farmers but following the same standards as the USDA program.


Now that You're Ready to Go Shopping...

BABY STEPS
  • Start with the Dirty Dozen. According to the Environmental Working Group, these are the fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide residue. They include peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, pears, spinach, and potatoes.
  • Look for organic baby food. Studies have indicated that young children, and especially babies, are more susceptible to the negative effects of pesticide exposure than adults.
JOGGING STRIDE
  • Switch your animal products to organic. Levels of chemical toxicity get more concentrated the higher you get up the food chain. Additionally, factory-farm produced meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs are full of extra yuckies like antibiotics and hormones. For more information about dairy and eggs, check out my posts I Need...Dairy and I Need...Eggs.
MARATHON RUNNER

Tips for the Budget-Conscious

The steps I listed above are prioritized by pesticide exposure and other health concerns. However, if health is not your primary reason for choosing organics and you are on a limited budget, here are some alternate suggestions and observations:
  • Produce: Often, organic fruits and vegetables on sale can rival the cost of conventionally grown produce. If you're on a limited budget, keep your eye out for sales on organics since often they aren't included in the sales flier.
  • Beans, Rice, and Oats: Organic beans, rice, and oats from the bulk bins at a health food store or Whole Foods are similar in price to their conventionally grown counterparts elsewhere, and in many cases they are cheaper. So although from a health standpoint, buying the organic versions of these products might be a low priority, you can actually switch to organics very painlessly in these categories.
  • Meat, Dairy, and Eggs: Organic meat, dairy, and eggs can be double the cost of their conventional counterparts. This is a larger price gap than I've noticed between any other organic products, and while I think it's important to purchase these products, if your budget is limited, you might want to save the organic switch in this category for last.
In a few days, I'll provide some more tips for the Budget Conscious.


Where I'm At

Most of the items on my grocery list now carry the "organic" label. I could do better with produce, but very few of the farmers at my local farmer's market carry organic produce, and I have decided it's more important to me to support my local farmers when I can than to buy organic. If I buy it at the grocery store, it's organic.


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Seven Reasons to Eat Organic

>> Monday, June 22, 2009

This post was included in the Carnival of the Green #186 at Conserve Plastic Bags.

For years, I had a hard time getting over the price hurdle of organics. The only reasons I'd ever heard for avoiding pesticides were health-related, and I tend to tune out when people step onto their "This is really bad for your health" soapbox. Let's face it, everything is bad for our health. It's overwhelming! You don't even want to know what I learned the other day about cell phones...

So if health was the only reason to switch to organics, I would have kept on saying that the price wasn't worth it. But since starting this blog, I've learned that there are plenty of other reasons to choose organics over conventionally grown produce and factory-farm raised meats. Maybe one of these will appeal to you:


1. Organics taste better. Many top chefs prefer using organics in their cooking and restaurants, citing superior quality. I can't say I've noticed a taste difference in all organic products, but I can vouch for organic cheese over conventional cheese. And if I had known how much yummier organic sugar is over conventional sugar, I would have started buying that years ago.

2. Organics pack a nutritional punch. Recent studies have found that organic foods contain more nutrients than conventionally grown and raised foods, including Vitamin C, iron, zinc, and cancer-fighting antioxidants. Nutrient-rich soil equates to nutrient-rich plants, which leads to healthier animals and healthier people.

3. Organics protect soil quality. Years of monocropping and intensive use of synthetic fertilizers depletes soil quality and leads to massive topsoil erosion. On the other hand, sustainable farming methods generally used by organic farmers - such as rotating crops, planting cover crops, and composting - protect and replenish the nutrients in soil.

4. Organics protect water quality. Chemical fertilizer run off causes algae overgrowth, leading to huge ocean "dead zones" (areas where the water on the ocean floor has so little oxygen that marine life can no longer survive there). Scientists estimate that there are now 400 dead zones in the ocean, covering a combined area half the size of California. Additionally, chemical pesticides and intensive livestock farming contribute to water pollution.

5. Organics promote biodiversity. Industrial farming focuses on a handful of crops, choosing the varieties that are hardiest and stand up to shipping rather than those that taste best. Many organic farmers, on the other hand, grow a variety of plants, including heirloom varieties with interesting colors, textures, and tastes.

6. Organics support small farmers. Although more and more large, industrial-type farms are becoming certified organic, most organic farms are still small-scale, independently owned, and family run. Keep in mind that not all farmers that use organic farming techniques are certified organic. Becoming certified is a cost many struggling small farmers can't afford. So ask your local farmers about their methods for pest control and fertilization, focusing more on sustainability and less on certification.

7. And, oh yeah, organics are grown without all those unhealthy chemicals. Some studies have indicated that children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of pesticide exposure because their bodies are still developing and they eat more for their size than grown-ups. (My five-year-old and four-year-old generally eat more calories a day than I do, and they are walking sticks!)

I'm not going to pretend that the organics system is perfect. In many ways, Big Organic Ag is treading along the well-worn path of traditional Industrial Ag. (An organic CAFO is still a CAFO, and "organic" junk food is no healthier than any other junk food.)

But organics are one step toward fixing our messed-up agricultural system, and it's a step we need to take if we want a better future for our children and for the planet.

Photo by thebittenword.com


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Late Spring/Early Summer Seasonal Recipes

>> Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thanks to everyone who answered my call for seasonal recipes this month!

This will be an ongoing series of posts throughout the year. If you would like to participate, you can:

  1. Post a recipe on your personal blog, and add the link to the comments of this post.
  2. Email your recipe to consciousshopperblog [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will include it in the next post.
  3. Post a recipe on your personal blog, email the link to consciousshopperblog [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will include it in the next post.

What's in season in June/July?

To find out what's in season in your area, you can google "produce availability" and the name of your state, or choose your state on PickYourOwn.org. The latter has to be the worst designed and yet most valuable website I've seen. Anything you want to know about pick-your-own farms and preserving foods can be found there.

If you live in North Carolina, you will likely see the following fruits and vegetables at the farmer's market this month: green beans, blueberries, cabbage, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, leafy greens, lettuce, peaches, green peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, strawberries, and watermelon.

I've also found that the farmers are able to push the limits of the seasons pretty well around here by using greenhouses and cold frames.


Late Spring/Early Summer Seasonal Recipes

I really wanted to try this first recipe, but we got to the farmer's market too late in the day to get any strawberries. Strawberry season is petering out around here.

Strawberry Pavlova
contributed by Maren


SERVES 4-8

4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 C granulated sugar
4 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c heavy cream, chilled
2 to 3 cups strawberries, sliced and sprinkled with sugar
  • Preheat oven to 275F.
  • Beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar together in a bowl until the whites hold a stiff peak. Add the sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, beating until mixture is stiff and glossy. Beat in the cornstarch, then the vinegar and the vanilla.
  • Butter and lightly flour a loose-bottomed 8-inch cake pan (or just a pie pan will do), and fill gently with the meringue mixture, spreading it higher around the edges than in the center of the pan to form a depression.
  • Bake cake for 1 to 1.25 hours or until meringue is firm and lightly browned. Pavlova will remain moist inside. Cool slightly, unmold, slide onto a serving plate (or leave in pie tin if preferred), and cool completely.
  • Whip the cream, and add sugar to desired sweetness. Just before serving, spread the Pavlova with whipped cream and then with the strawberries. Serve immediately.



Frank says this recipe will work with any type of berries. He didn't call it "rumtopf," but I did a little research, and that was the name I discovered. Is that what you call it, Frank?

Rumtopf
contributed by Frank
  • Fill mason jar with 2 inches of sugar.
  • Fill the rest of the way with berries.
  • Fill the jar with as much 151 as will fit.
  • Seal jar and turn over each month.
  • Open and share with your adult friends starting with the Thanksgiving holidays and lasting through New Years.
  • To share open the jar pass out the berries for eating, then pass arounf the jar or pour shots or make daiquiris.



Lettuces and greens are my cooking nemesis. I'm always looking for new ways to serve them. When I fed this salad to my boys, First Son said, "You can't put strawberries in a salad!" Yes, you can...

Crunchy Romaine Strawberry Salad
(from Allrecipes.com)
contributed by Conscious Shopper

SERVES 12 (If you click on the recipe title, it will take you to Allrecipes, where you can adjust the serving size to a more reasonable amount)
COST: $0.57 per serving*

1 (3 ounce) package ramen noodles
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
8 cups torn romaine
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
  • Discard seasoning packet from ramen noodles or save for another use. Break noodles into small pieces.
  • In a skillet, saute noodles and walnuts in butter for 8-10 minutes or until golden; cool.
  • For dressing, in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the oil, sugar, vinegar and soy sauce; shake well.
  • Just before serving combine the romaine, onions, strawberries and noodle mixture in a large bowl. Drizzle with dressing and toss gently.



A delicious way to get your kids to eat spinach. When I made this, I left out the sun-dried tomato pesto because I didn't have any (I might have increased the butter to compensate), and I used my homemade pizza crust.

Pizza without the Red Sauce
(from Allrecipes.com)
contributed by Conscious Shopper



SERVES 8
COST: $1.13 per serving*

2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato pesto
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 unbaked pizza crust
1 tomato, sliced
1 bunch fresh spinach, torn
1 sweet onion, sliced
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 (6 ounce) package feta cheese, crumbled
  • Preheat oven according to pizza crust package directions.
  • In a small bowl combine butter, olive oil, garlic, pesto, basil, oregano and Parmesan cheese. Spread mixture evenly on pizza crust.
  • Arrange tomato, spinach, onion and jalapeno on pizza. Top with crumbled feta cheese.
  • Bake according to pizza crust package directions.



We tested out this recipe and really enjoyed it. We don't have a grill, so I roasted the vegetables instead, and I used zucchini instead of asparagus because I got confused when telling my husband what to get at the farmer's market. But it still worked out great!

Spring Asparagus and New Potato Salad
from Andrea Chesman's 1998 book, The Vegetarian Grill
contributed by Going Green Mama

6 T. olive oil
Juice of one lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 lb. new potatoes, halved
1 lb. asparagus
12-16 c. salad greens
parmesan

  • Combine olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss potatoes and asparagus to coat.
  • Grill potatoes, turning every 10 minutes or so, about 30 min. Grill asparagus until limp, about 8 min. (Be sure to reserve marinade.)
  • Arrange salad greens on plates. Top with grilled asparagus and potatoes. Drizzle remaining marinade on top. Sprinkle with parmesan.
Going Green Mama has many seasonal recipes on her blog, and I'll be trying out and including more throughout these posts.

If you try any of these recipes, let me know what you think!

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


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June Round-up

>> Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Moving has got to be one of the most wasteful things we do, speaking both environmentally and economically. The only reason we're overbudget this month is because we rented a moving truck and bought food for the people who helped us move.

The energy amount is lower than usual this month because it doesn't include our gas bill. I think we'll be charged double next month because we transferred our service. Also, this electricity bill is for our apartment. I'm scared to see what it's going to be like in our house, which has an attic and a crawlspace.

Monthly Spending (budgeted amount in parentheses)

  • Groceries: $690.73 ($500)
  • Transportation: $145.34 ($300.00)
  • Energy: $61.90 ($150)
  • Water/Sewer: $20.26 ($50)
  • Entertainment/Miscellaneous: $530.12 ($300)
  • Clothes: $0 (no set budget)
  • TOTAL: $1,448.35 ($1,300)

Trash Report: My careful record of our trash bags got lost in the move, so no report this month. But exciting news - I now have my very own recycling bin!

More whining...My list of blog ideas is trapped on my dead laptop, and my brain isn't working well enough to come up with some new goals right now, so I'm leaving that part out of this round-up also.

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It's here! It's here! It's here!

A few months ago, I mentioned that I was interviewed by the organization formerly known as Co-op America (now Green America) for their quarterly magazine, and it's finally available online! The article is great, and the whole magazine is filled with valuable information about shifting to a green economy. I hope you enjoy reading it and that you'll also consider joining Green America, which is one of my favorite organizations.

And by the way, my technical difficulties have been sort of taken care of. And by sort of, I mean that my dear husband set up our seven-year-old computer for me, so unfortunately, there's a good chance it will die on me. But I'm very grateful to have it.

If you're wondering why my laptop's death was so cruelly ironic...A week ago, my husband mentioned that he'd seen a place selling my laptop online for less than half the price I paid for it. Plus, it was the newer model. The only catch was that it was a one day only price, so I had to buy it right then if I wanted it. I replied that I did want it, but I wanted a pressure cooker more, and I also wanted to landscape my new yard, hang up a clothes line, and get a worm bin going. So I'd have to pass....Two days later, my laptop started acting funny. Two days after that, the funny started getting annoying. And two more days later, it was dead. Just cruel.

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Technical Difficulties

>> Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I wrote the previous post about AHA on Sunday and I was saving it for a day when I couldn't blog. Well I wish I had written a bunch of rainy day posts because in a cruelly ironic twist (that I'm not going to go into right now) my laptop went kaput yesterday so I guess I'm on another forced blogcation for a few days. I'll get back to blogging as soon as I have regular access to a computer again. Stay tuned for delicious seasonal recipes, my monthly roundup, and ways to improve our flawed agricultural system.

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Profiles of the Green and Frugal: Advocates for Health in Action

They call themselves AHA, as if they're saying, "Aha, I've got it!" And what they've got is certainly important - an organization that encourages Wake County to eat healthier and increase physical activity.

Since its inception in 2007 by WakeMed and the John Rex Endowment, thirty-five organizations in the area have gotten involved in the Advocates for Health in Action, including Alliance Medical Ministry, City of Raleigh Planning Department, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, Marbles Kids Museum, and Wake County Public Schools.

Says Laura Aiken, the organization's director, "We saw a need for our community to have an organized and unified response to the policy and environmental issues that negatively impact the ability to eat healthy and be physically active."

What Do They Do?

AHA has focused their efforts on the following four categories: community gardens; access and environment; engagement and inclusion; and public relations and communications.

According to Aiken, the organization is taking action in these categories through the following goals:

  • "Increase the number of informed, engaged and involved public that support healthy eating and physical activity.
  • "Increase visibility of community assets – showcase and celebrate existing people, places and programs that increase access to healthful foods and physical activity opportunities.
  • "Identify and recommend locally supported approaches to increasing the number of families that eat healthy and get recommended amounts of physical activity.
  • "Identify and recommend community improvements that will enable equal access (affordable and available) to healthy foods and physical activity environments (parks, playgrounds, trails, greenways).
  • "Maintain and increase the number of organizations actively participating in AHA work groups.
  • "Increase the number of community leaders that champion healthy eating and physical activity as a way of life and actively support policies that make these options more available within Wake County.
  • "Establish a youth advisory council and advocacy group – Youth Advocates for Health in Action (YAHA).
  • "Work with youth serving organizations to shape policy that creates a healthy food and physical activity environment."
What Have They Done?

You might be familiar with one of AHA's initiatives through Marbles Kids Museum: the Power2Play exhibit, where kids can swim in peas and carrots, play hockey in their socks, and climb a rock wall.

One of AHA's best resources is the community gardens page of their website, which includes information on area gardens, farmer's markets, pick-your-own farms, and CSAs. The organization is also putting together a map "
with all healthy food and physical activity resources highlighted for advocacy and community use," according to Aiken.

AHA has also organized interactive workshops with area PTAs called "
Brains and Bodies: How the community can influence the health and academic success of children." Attendees of these workshops disccuss methods for reducing childhood obesity and encorporating health and physical activity into Wake County schools.

In addition,
Aiken states that "work has initiated to increase access to affordable local, fresh foods to citizens of Wake County," "to promote ideas and provide resources for children to walk to school safely," and "to facilitate the conversion of unused land to community gardens."

How Do I Get Involved?


Anyone can get involved with the Advocates for Health in Action through the contact page of their website. You can also use the contact page to sign up for the ListServ.

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Weekend Ramblings: Waste Disposal

>> Sunday, June 14, 2009

Being a stay-at-home mom has many benefits, but intellectual stimulation is not one of them. I spend two to three hours a day cooking and cleaning and an hour or more driving or walking - in other words, a lot of time where my mind is left to solitary wandering.

Sometimes I wish I had some feedback to my wandering thoughts, so I thought I'd occasionally start doing some rambling on the weekends, just to get the thoughts out there to someone besides my husband and maybe provoke some conversation as well.

I would love to hear your comments, but I don't like being told I'm being an idiot, even if I am. So please keep your comments respectful.

This week, I was thinking about JessTrev's suggestion that the government should offer tax incentives for conscientious waste disposal, and also an article I read that said San Francisco was going to start fining people for not recycling.

It reminded me of a debate class I took in college where I debated about waste disposal. My argument was that a program should be implemented in Kentucky (where I was living at the time) allowing people a certain number of trash bags a week, and if they went over that amount, they should be fined. This kind of system would encourage people both to recycle and to use less in general.

But I lost the debate because all of my evidence to support my argument came from case studies and examples in California rather than Kentucky, and according to my professor, if you say the program should be implemented in Kentucky, you have to show evidence that it would work in Kentucky. Personally, I thought that was totally stupid because no one had ever proposed it in Kentucky so of course there were no studies showing how it would work there. But anyway...

Thinking about all of these things, I had the following thoughts:

  • What if we were responsible for disposing of all of our waste? If something could be recycled, you would be rewarded for disposing of it, or maybe you wouldn't get anything, but if you had to landfill it, you would be fined.
  • Would that kind of system encourage people to buy more responsible and quality products, since they wouldn't want to pay a fine?
  • Or would people just end up illegally dumping a lot of things (which was one of the arguments of the other side in my debate class)?
  • Would knowing that they were responsible for disposal encourage people to buy less in general?
  • If people were responsible for the dispoal of their own products, how would that influence the marketplace?
  • Should the responsibility for waste disposal lie with consumers or producers?
  • If producers were responsible for waste disposal, would they just end up cutting corners, sending things to countries where there are less strict laws?

So these are thoughts I was having this week...Any comments?

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How Industrial Ag Is Like Boston (But Should Be More Like Salt Lake City)

>> Friday, June 12, 2009

In a way, industrial agriculture reminds me of cities on the East Coast. They started out with a little settlement here, a little settlement there, a little settlement farther on. After awhile, they built roads connecting the settlements. Sometimes the roads took a detour around some farmer's cow pasture. Sometimes they jaunted off toward the mill or the river. Sometimes they looped around to gather together a bunch of outlying settlements. Often the roads intersected at a central point and spiraled outward like a great interconnecting spiderweb.

If you look at an aerial view of an Eastern city like Boston, Philadelphia, DC, even New York, it's a big jumbly mess of roads and neighborhoods - arguably a beautiful mess full of character, but a mess nonetheless. The streets are narrow, bursting with congestion, and inevitably you will get lost your first time there.

Contrast that with a Western city like Salt Lake City, Denver, or Milwaukee. These were planned cities. They started with a few blocks in a grid pattern, and as more people came, more blocks were added. The streets are wide, the addresses directional, and the traffic flows with greater ease.

Industrial agriculture reminds me of an Eastern city because it has sprung up in a jumbly mess, reacting to specific, immediate needs without anticipating the future.

Without pretending to be an expert on the subject, here is a brief history of what I know about industrial agriculture:


How Industrial Ag Is Like Boston

Before industrialization, agriculture depended on the whims of Mother Nature and the labor-intensive work of farmers. In the latter half of the 19th Century, scientists discovered that certain chemicals aided plant growth when added to the soil and that certain other chemicals wiped out pests and weeds. Many of these same chemicals were used in munitions manufacturing during World War II, and after the war, chemical companies turned their research from weapons to chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides.

Use of fertilizers and pesticides freed farmers from the necessity of crop rotation and diversity, and they began specializing in only a handful of crops - particularly corn and soy - encouraged and subsidized by the federal government. Innovations in antibiotics and vaccines also allowed farmers to take animals off the land and cramp them indoors, and cheap oil coupled with improved shipping methods enabled farmers to ship their crops over vast distances. In a short time, farms transformed from diverse microcosms to vast monocultures.

As agriculture became more efficient and mechanized, fewer people were needed to maintain it. In the past 100 years, the number of farmers in the U.S. has dropped from two out of every five Americans to two out of a hundred. As small farms disappeared, large farms gobbled up their land so that now most of American agriculture is concentrated in the hands of a very few.

The goals of industrial agriculture were to increase efficiency and productivity while decreasing costs, and with these goals, industrial ag has been extremely successful. Despite the ever-growing world population, food for most people is prevalent and cheap.

But consider the unintended consequences: Loss of biodiversity. Degradation of topsoil. Pollution of land, air, and water. Confinement of animals. Massive farms controlled by only a few.


How Industrial Ag Could Be More Like Salt Lake City

I think it's time to take a step back and ask ourselves, "Is this what we want our city to look like?"

It might be too late for Boston, but in the case of agriculture, I think we still have time to redesign the city. Do we want a jumbly mess with no eye to the future, or do we want an agricultural system with a plan - one that shows concern for its impact and seeks for sustainability? Is cheap food worth the price we are paying?

Industrialization has swept us along so speedily toward comfort and ease that we haven't taken the time to plan. But the path we are on cannot hold up long term. We need to pause, reconsider, and redesign, until we have created a system that will carry us far into the future.


Related Posts

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Noteworthy Green: Gardening Benefits, LEDs, the Joy of Less, and More...

>> Wednesday, June 10, 2009

::Kate at Simple Green Frugal eloquently describes a rarely mentioned benefit of gardening - food becomes more precious because of all the work you put into it.

::Grist reveals that Seventh Generation CEO Jeffery Hollander is stepping down to be replaced by...a former PepsiCo exec? Really?

::The New York Times discusses some promising LED technology in development.

::The Simple Dollar gives suggestions for areas in which to spend your money that will increase in value.

::Pico Iyer writes beautifully in the New York Times about the "Joy of Less."

::Alice in Blogland reminds us that refusing to buy is more green than eco chic (and that we need to avoid the Shoe Event Horizon).

::Free Organic News provides a handy guide for finding essential oils that match your skin type.

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Wanted: Seasonal Recipes

>> Monday, June 8, 2009

Do you have great recipes for using seasonal fruits and vegetables? Do you want great recipes for using seasonal fruits and vegetables? If so, read on!

I had this great idea a few weeks ago for a post called Strawberry Season! (In Which My Family Proves It's Possible to Eat 12 Pounds of Strawberries in a Week).

Yes, we really did that.

Strawberries are cheapest if you buy a flat instead of the little quart containers or even the five pound buckets. The first week that strawberries appeared at the farmers market, I bought a flat and froze most of them. So the next week, our freezer was full, but I still bought a flat for the best value, and since I still don't have my canner to make jam, we had to eat them. All 12 pounds of them. We ate strawberry muffins, strawberry yogurt, strawberry salad, strawberry crisp, and just plain strawberries. I know, I know, pure torture...

Anyway, the post was going to include all of the strawberry recipes we tried, but with moving, I never got around to it, and now strawberry season is over (at least around here).

But thinking about our week of strawberries reminded me of the summer we participated in a CSA (community supported agriculture). We paid a fee to a small farm in Maryland and in return got a share of their crops. Great idea - I highly recommend it.

But if you've ever participated in a CSA, or just had a garden, you know that eating a seasonal harvest is nothing like picking out vegetables from the grocery store, where you have access to any ingredient in any recipe. When you have to cater your cooking to the season, you realize...

  • Just because you planned to have corn for dinner does not mean you will get to have corn
  • Strawberry season goes by way too fast
  • And there are a couple of weeks late in the summer where you have to get really, really creative with zucchini.
So as my family continues to try to eat more seasonally, I thought it would be fun to share some of the recipes we find super yummy, and to get ideas for recipes from others.

I plan on posting recipes once a month to take advantage of the seasonal harvests. The first post will be added next Monday.

If you would like to participate, you can:
  1. Email your recipe to ena [dot] peters [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will include it in the post.
  2. Post a recipe on your personal blog, email the link to ena [dot] peters [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will include the link in the post.
  3. Post a recipe on your personal blog, and add the link to the comments of the post.
Looking forward to good eatin'!

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Noteworthy Green: Cameron's Dad's Ferrari, Trash in Japan, Coke and a Smile, and More...

>> Thursday, June 4, 2009

::A day late and a dollar short, my favorite reads from the week. If all goes well with the cable guy, I'll be back to regular blogging tomorrow...

::Mother Earth News provides an in-depth look at home energy audits. Very detailed and valuable information.

::Peppermags reveals that Cameron's parents house is for sale (think Ferris Beuller). I love this blog!

::No Impact Man shares his top ten eco-lifestyle changes (not what I expected) and a guest post about waste disposal in Japan.

::New Dream Blog provides insight into why Coke makes us smile, and why we might want to look for other reasons to smile.

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Big Move Blogcation

>> Monday, June 1, 2009

We moved this weekend from our apartment into a small rental house in downtown Raleigh, and since we won't be getting Internet access until Friday, most of our belongings are still in boxes, and I have to plan a graduation party for the preschool class I teach, I'm taking a blogcation this week.

(I might get one or two posts in anyway because I'm addicted to blogging, but that's it, I promise!)

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You're welcome to link to any posts at The Conscious Shopper, but please do not use images or content from this site without my permission. Contact me at consciousshopperblog@gmail.com.

Disclosure

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.

Disclaimer

The ideas on this blog are my opinion and are provided for informational purposes and entertainment only. I am not a financial advisor or medical professional. Please do not misconstrue the information on this blog as advice.

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