Noteworthy Green: Green Collar Economy Giveaway, 13-Year-Old Hamburgers, XtraCycles, and More...

>> Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I'm giving away a copy of The Green Collar Economy at The Green Phone Booth. If you haven't read it yet, here's your chance to win a copy of your very own!

And elsewhere on the Internet:

:: Best of Mother Earth shows us what a hamburger looks like after thirteen years.

:: The Greenists recommend saving money on homemade personal care products by having a Make-Your-Own-Products party. Love it!

:: Maya*Made says you can keep your pins from rusting by putting used coffee grinds in your pincushion.

:: The U.S. Department of Energy is offering $10 million dollars to the first company to build a better lightbulb.

:: The New York Times gives us a glimpse of a school that has traded processed food for fresh ingredients in the cafeteria.

:: Simple-Green-Frugal Co-op lists ten ways to live sustainably in the city.

:: I am drooling over this bike from Xtracycle.

I'm now using Twitter to keep track of my noteworthy green reads. If you'd like instant knowledge of what I find interesting, you can find me on Twitter as consciousshoppr.

Looking for something to do? Check out my More (Fall) Fun, Less Stuff event guide!


The Green Jobs Gospel

>> Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Earlier this month, I was really upset when the conservative media used smear tactics to force Van Jones to resign from his position with the Obama Administration. Jones admittedly had past affiliations with the radical left, but he left that past behind many years ago to focus on a new goal. Not to spread communism, as Glenn Beck claimed, but to help create a new future for capitalism by building up the green sector of our economy.

I read Jones' book, The Green Collar Economy, several months ago, and I loved it. Throughout the book, my thoughts were a constant chorus of yeses and that's rights and exactlies.

Environmentalism covers a very broad range of ideas and goals. It would be nearly impossible to be actively involved in every environmentally-related movement, so we greenies tend to focus on one or two areas that really get our blood boiling. Some people care most about food policy, some about water conservation, others about climate change. For me, I have to tell you, this is it. More than anything, I believe in clean, green, and fair for everyone.

I don't believe that everyone should have equal everything, but I do believe there are certain rights that all human beings are entitled to, and those rights include access to clean water, healthy food, and an unpolluted environment. For too many people, those rights do not exist. For too many years, poor communities have taken the brunt of our environmental damage.

I found The Green Collar Economy so inspiring because it is a capitalist solution to two of our biggest problems. Fix our ailing economy by saving the planet. What a beautiful, beautiful concept that, as Jones says, should be common ground for both the right and the left:

We’re not talking about expanding welfare, we’re talking about expanding work. We’re not talking about expanding entitlements, we’re talking about expanding enterprise and investments. We’re not talking about redistributing existing wealth, we’re talking about reinventing an existing sector, and creating new wealth by unleashing innovation and entrepeneurship. This should be common ground. We should be able to stand together and be one country on this.
A couple weeks after his resignation, Van Jones asked his supporters to "spread the green jobs gospel." I strongly support a green collar economy, and that's why I've decided that for the next month or two I'll be devoting several posts here and at The Green Phone Booth to explaining what a green collar job is and how we can make this country a little cleaner, greener, and fairer for everyone.

If this is a subject you care about, help me spread the word. Grab a copy of The Green Collar Economy and start preaching the green jobs gospel.

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Double Documentary Weekend, Part 2: God Grew Tired of Us

>> Friday, September 25, 2009

As I wrote yesterday, I was in a documentary watching mood last weekend, so on Saturday night I watched The Disappearing Male (about the effects of chemical use on the male reproductive system) and on Sunday night, I watched God Grew Tired of Us.

My husband has this annoying habit of adding documentaries to our Netflix queue, but when they arrive, he doesn't watch them. So they sit on top of our TV for weeks, sometimes months (completely negating the value of renting from Netflix rather than a video store), until finally I beg him to watch them so I can get some cheesy chick flicks.

When God Grew Tired of Us arrived in our mailbox, I showed it to my husband, and he said, "I don't remember adding that to the queue." It's from 2006, and it has probably been in our queue for about that long. Knowing that meant he was going to hold up my video enjoyment again, I almost popped it right back in the mailbox. But then I read the description and thought it sounded pretty interesting and green-related in a round about way, so I decided to watch it.

Documentary #2: God Grew Tired of Us

In the 1980s during a bloody civil war, over 25,000 boys in southern Sudan were orphaned or fled their homes during attacks on their villages by government troops from the north. The boys, dubbed the "Lost Boys of Sudan," wandered for five years across Sudan into Ethiopia and then down to Kenya where they found refuge in a UN camp. In 2001, the United States invited 3800 of the boys to relocate to America.

God Grew Tired of Us introduces us to three of the Lost Boys (by this time, grown men in their twenties) who have been chosen to journey to the U.S. to make a new home for themselves in a completely foreign environment. The film follows them for four years as they transition into their new lives, get jobs, attend college, and finally work to improve the lives of the boys they left behind in Sudan.

I had a number of thoughts as I was watching this film. First, as the young men were shown around their new apartments and cities, with all their technological modern conveniences, I was struck by how lucky we are to have such bounteous wealth. For instance, these young men, who had struggled to survive for five years in the wilderness and who had watched many of their fellow travelers starve to death (children watching children die and then having to bury them) - these young men marveled at all of the foods in a supermarket. How do you eat this? they kept asking. What do you do with this?

Watching the young men discover supermarkets and refrigerators and TVs, I felt so blessed for all we have available to us and that most of us here in the U.S. don't have to struggle to survive. And I thought that even as we work to make the world greener and cleaner, we can't discount the fact that technology has in many ways made our lives better.

But as the movie went on, I was surprised to see that although the three young men were grateful for the opportunity to be in the U.S., they weren't really happy. They deeply missed the other boys and families they had left behind. One young man found his lost family through the Red Cross, so he dropped out of school and worked three jobs so he could save enough to bring them to America. The other two young men planned to return to Africa as soon as they could - one to establish a school and the other to marry his girlfriend.

That brings up the question - what makes us happy? Supermarkets and refrigerators and TVs? Even after living through the terrible trauma of their childhoods, all the Lost Boys wanted was to be reunited with their friends and families.

My final thought was that although the subject of this movie seems more like a social justice issue than an environmental issue, the two subjects are actually entwined throughout this movie, as they are in so many aspects of life. According to the film, two of the main causes of the war were oil and gold. Our dependence on cheap fossil fuel and our insatiable appetites for stuff has a much farther reaching effect than just polluting the air or filling up landfills. There is also a human factor, and I hope we environmentalists never forget that.

This film was a deeply moving account of three amazing survivors, and I definitely recommend adding it to your own Netflix queues.

Related Posts


Double Documentary Weekend, Part 1: The Disappearing Male

>> Thursday, September 24, 2009

For some reason, I was in a documentary watching mood this weekend. Maybe it's because No Impact Man and The Age of Stupid both came out but aren't playing anywhere near me, so I felt like I needed some sort of green documentary fix anyway I could get it. Or maybe it's just that I was feeling really lazy this weekend but couldn't watch TV because hubby had dibs (football). Either way, I watched two very interesting documentaries this weekend, and I wanted to share.

Documentary #1: The Disappearing Male

EcoYogini wrote about this CBC documentary last week, and her description had me intrigued.

The Disappearing Male examines the effect of our widespread chemical use on boys - particularly hormone-mimicking and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. According to the video, boys today are more likely to have low sperm count, genital deformities, and testicular cancer than previous generations of males. Plus, the number of male births worldwide has decreased over the past few decades by millions, and the World Health Organization has drastically lowered the level at which a male is deemed infertile due to low sperm count (because they couldn't go around declaring that half the male population is infertile).

My husband joined me for the last ten or fifteen minutes of this documentary, and when it finished, I turned to him and said, "Watching this kind of thing makes me feel completely hopeless."

I absolutely believe we are manufacturing and using chemicals that are harmful to our bodies. But they are everywhere - not just in the products we make, but in the air we breath and the water we drink. Avoiding them is impossible, so it feels almost like a pointless battle. Like when people switch to a stainless steel water bottle to avoid the BPA in plastic water bottles. Probably a good choice.

But did you know that due to all of the birth control pills we're popping these days, you're probably drinking estrogen in your tap water? Did you know that your wall-to-wall carpet is glued down with toxic glue, your mattress might be coated with a toxic flame retardant, that new car smell is actually the scent of toxicity from your vinyl seats, and your nonstick pans are adding a toxic seasoning to your foods? Did you know that due to the offgassing of all the stuff we fill our homes with, there's likely more air pollution inside your home than outside?

It feels like people have latched onto this small handful of chemicals - BPA, pthalates, parabens, etc. - when weeding out those few chemicals is going to make so little difference. We need an entire system overhaul!

Anyway, small rant aside...even though this documentary made me feel hopeless, it was an intriguing look at this subject. If you haven't heard much about the harmful effects of these chemicals on boys, if you've heard a little but weren't convinced, or especially if you have sons, you'll want to set aside 45 minutes and take a look.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you about the other documentary: God Grew Tired of Us.

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Noteworthy Green: Car Talk, Rain Barrels, Size Matters, and More...

>> Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Check out my latest post at the Green Phone Booth: Car Talk.

Yes, folks, we are a minivan family.

We are also a one-car family, and in the past, I might have argued that the fact that we only drive one vehicle balances out the fact that it is a minivan. But that argument was based on the assumption that our minivan was achieving its optimum gas mileage. It's not.

A 2004 Honda Odyssey should be getting 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, 18 or 19 mpg on average. Last month, our lovely vehicle got 14 mpg.

And elsewhere on the Internet:

:: Peppermags found the coolest rain barrel I've ever seen, including a built in pitcher.

:: Aiko Schaefer reminds us that climate change is a poverty issue. [via Grist]

:: Newsweek ranks the S&P 500 by their green impact and performance. [via Grist]

:: It's Not Easy Being Green has a great tribute to Mary Travers of Peter, Paul, and Mary.

:: crstn85 is hosting this month's APLS Carnival on Size Matters.

I'm now using Twitter to keep track of my noteworthy green reads. If you'd like instant knowledge of what I find interesting, you can find me on Twitter as consciousshoppr.

Looking for something to do? Check out my More (Fall) Fun, Less Stuff event guide!


Early Fall Seasonal Recipes

>> Friday, September 18, 2009

I doubt anyone but me cares, but I had said I would be posting seasonal recipes last Thursday, and I'm just getting around to it more than a week later. If anyone has anxiously been awaiting seasonal recipes - I'm so sorry!

What's in season in September/October?

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 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: apples, cabbage, corn, grapes, green beans, leafy greens, peaches, peanuts, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

Seasonal Recipes for Early Fall

This first recipe is a sneaky way to add more veggies to your kids diet. It's a type of macaroni and cheese, but the sauce also includes butternut squash. You can see in the picture that I actually didn't use macaroni - we didn't have any, but I'm not sure what kind of pasta I substituted.

Macaroni in Butternut Squash
(modified from Fresh Choices)

COST: $1.10 per serving*

12 ounces elbow macaroni
3 cups of peeled, seeded, and chopped butternut squash
1/2 c. parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. tahini
2 tsp. mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/2 c. milk
2 Tbsp. seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Cook the macaroni according to package directions.
  • Meanwhile, microwave the squash in a casserole dish with a little bit of water for 10 minutes, or until the squash is very soft.
  • Transfer the squash to a food processor. Add the parmesan cheese, tahini, mustard, salt, and black pepper. Process until smooth.
  • Blend in enough milk to make a sauce the consistency of very thick soup.
  • Put the pasta in a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Add the sauce and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle evenly with the bread crumbs.
  • Bake until the top is lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

This is basically a giant pancake. The original version of this recipe called for bananas, but we've tried peaches and apples, and both worked great.

Another great choice for brinner is this recipe for mango pancakes - you can substitute peaches or apples to make it local and seasonal.

Peach Cinnamon Dutch Baby
(modified from Fresh Choices)

COST: $1.21 per serving*

3/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
4 eggs
2/3 c. milk
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 peaches, chopped
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, eggs, milk, and 1 Tbsp. butter
  • Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. butter over medium heat in a 10" oven proof skillet. Add the peaches and 1 Tbsp. brown sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until heated through and the sugar melts, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon.
  • Rewhisk the batter and then pour into the pan, stirring briefly to scrape the fruit from the bottom. Transfer to the oven and bake until the pancake begins to puff around the edges, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 Tbsp. brown sugar and bake until very puffed and golden brown, about 5 minutes more.
  • Serve immediately and cut into wedges.

Other great recipes for late summer:

:: It's Frugal Being Green has a scrumptious-looking recipe for butternut bisque.

:: It's Not Easy Being Green has been working her way through a harvest of giant zucchinis.

:: Farmer's Daughter is making apple walnut bread.

:: Going Green Mama remembers making apple streudel with her grandmother.

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

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Noteworthy Green: Strong Communities, A Responsibility Revolution, Freak Flags, and More...

>> Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Check out my latest post at The Green Phone Booth: A Strong Community Equals a Happy Planet.

On Saturday, we headed downtown for our favorite local festival: Bugfest, a celebration of all things buggy - even down to the food (chocolate chip cricket cookies and mealworm hush puppies....Mmmm!) This weekend, we'll probably head back downtown for SparkCon to celebrate our city's creative side, and later this month, we'll be helping KaBOOM build a playground around the corner from our neighborhood. We also have plans to host a block party for KaBOOM's Play Day 2009, and we're still debating whether or not we'll be able to participate in the Raleigh Typhoon, a scavenger hunt to see how well locals know their downtown.

As I was brainstorming blog post ideas, both for this blog and my personal blog, all of these events came up as possible subject matter. But as I skimmed through the list, I realized that writing about these events on a "green blog" might be a bit of a stretch. Chocolate chip cricket cookies? Maybe if I spun it into an argument that eating more bugs and less meat would help save the planet...

And elsewhere on the Internet:

:: Andree Zaleska battles her son's gaming addiction by cancelling the cable and making him play outside. [via Grist]

Toxic Free NC has a video about the effects of pesticide use on farmworkers.

EcoYogini reminds us to remember the big picture and lists 10 of her favorite eco changes. This is possibly my favorite post of the week.

:: Time Magazine tells us "
we are seeing the rise of the citizen consumer - and the beginning of a responsibility revolution."

:: Van Jones sends a message to his friends and fans and tells us how to support green jobs now. [via Grist]

:: The Grass Stain Guru lists ten things she wishes for today's kids. I especially like: "
That you learn to be fearless, bold, and let your freak flag wave. I don’t mean live dangerously — but I do mean have the guts and gumption to really live and don’t be afraid to be yourself."

:: Mindful Momma is the host of this month's Green Moms Carnival on the subject of "conserving resources."

I'm now using Twitter to keep track of my noteworthy green reads. If you'd like instant knowledge of what I find interesting, you can find me on Twitter as consciousshoppr.

Looking for something to do? Check out my More (Fall) Fun, Less Stuff event guide!


The Common Ground

>> Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The following is a guest post by my cousin Matt (who occasionally blogs about politics at United, but is lately very busy with school, moving, and a pregnant wife).

I've been frustrated lately by all of the lies and accusations coming from both sides of the political divide. We seem to be so caught up in our own agendas that we aren't recognizing what really matters and seeking to find common ground to make those ideals reality. I asked Matt to write a post for me because he and I have different political views, but there is also a lot that we agree on. I personally tend to lean toward the left, and although my cousin Matthew and his wife are more right leaning, I can recognize worth in their beliefs, particularly those values that we both share. We may not agree politically on the methods for bringing about change, but we can agree on the importance of issues like frugality, sustainability, and living consciously.


"Tree Hugger!"




The political tit for tat is tiresome. The networks have driven hard into the political foray where they appear to have convinced many that pundits and politicians should be partners in chasing the ratings. They’ve turned the news into entertainment and Washington into Hollywood. The divisiveness is not only dizzying, but dangerous.

Somehow caring about the environment was drug into the mess as one of the hot button issues of the decade.

Stupidity in action.

Sometime after Al Gore invented the internet he invented global warming as well, but to the chagrin of many conservatives this claim had some traction. Why?!? How could anyone latch on to this liberal ‘going green’ ploy!?!

Because it made sense.

Forget the details. Forget the scientific research. Didn’t your mom ever get after you for leaving the lights on after you left a room? Didn’t she ever tell you that there were starving kids in Africa who would love to eat what you were leaving on your plate? Doesn’t frying green tomatoes out of your own garden always taste and feel better than a super-sized order of fries? Do you like paying $4.00/gallon for gas?

It just makes sense. That is why conscious and low impact living, of all issues, should be a common ground for the right and the left. Living consciously is just that – living so that we are aware of how our everyday actions impact those in our town or on the other side of the globe or our children or our grandchildren. What we buy and how we buy it. What we eat. What we wear. All of these have an economic, social, and environmental impact that should be the common ground.

Photo by purpleslog

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September Round-Up

>> Monday, September 14, 2009

I wrote my first blog post on The Conscious Shopper on September 9, 2008, so I've been recording my monthly spending on this blog for a year now. We're way over this month - a visit from my older sister, lots of unexpected school expenses with First Son starting school this month, and new shoes for me - but we're still on target with our goals. Our monthly average for the year is $1,409.89 - more than our original budget of $1,300 but very close to our current budget of $1,400.

The main thing that I'm concerned about this month is how high our transportation expenses still are. With this house being so close to downtown, I had expected to be driving a lot less, but so far the amount we're spending on gas has stayed about the same (not good since I cut the transportation budget in half after we moved). Also, if you compare the amount we spent on gas to the number of miles we drove (listed in the "Numbers" section), you can see that we are getting really crummy gas mileage.

Monthly Spending (budgeted amount in parentheses)

  • Groceries: $651.36 ($650)
  • Transportation: $150.55 ($150)
  • Energy: $125.59 ($150)
  • Utilities: $58.50 ($50)
  • Entertainment/Miscellaneous: $585.65 ($400)
  • Clothes: $62.90 (no set budget)
  • TOTAL: $1,634.55 ($1,400)

The Numbers:
  • Trash: 4 bags of trash (13 gallon bags); 1 recycling bin with plastic, metal, and glass; 2 paper grocery sacks of paper
  • Miles Driven: 778
  • Average daily electricity use: 32 kWh
  • Average daily water use: 111 gallons

Best of...

Next Month I'll Be...


Faux Camping Trip at Jordan Lake

>> Saturday, September 12, 2009

We had planned to go camping for Labor Day Weekend, but the threat of rain changed our minds. We've done that before, and camping in the rain with small kids is a surefire way to have a terrible weekend.

So instead we decided to take a faux camping trip: All of the fun of camping without the actual camping. We spent Labor Day at Jordan Lake, did a little hiking, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, hopped back in the car before the rain started, and slept cozily in our own beds. Perfect...

The temperature was in the low 70s, so we planned to look at the lake but not swim. Try explaining that to a five- and four-year-old. "But other people are swimming!" After maybe five minutes of "wading", all three of them were soaked through.

Right after I snapped this photo, Third Son went charging after his brothers and wound up face first in the lake. A short break on the beach, and he ran right back into the lake. Oh, to have a child's resilience!

The boys exchanged their wet shirts for sweaters and jackets, and we set off in search of a hiking trail. "Is this one?" First Son asks. I know there are hiking trails somewhere around Jordan Lake, but we never found one. Instead we took a short walk along the edge of the wood and then returned to the beach for dinner.

We were hoping there would be fire pits for our faux camping experience, but we only found the typical park grills. No problem. My husband was a Boy Scout and can get a fire going anywhere. And the boys were not picky as long as we got to have S'mores.

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area
is located in Apex, NC. At the lake, you can boat, camp, fish, hike, and swim.


Noteworthy Green: The Curse of Caring, Van Jones, No Impact Man, and More...

>> Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Check out my latest post at The Green Phone Booth: The Curse of Caring.

I spent Labor Day weekend on an emotional roller coaster.

Without digging too deeply into my political opinions (because I believe that environmentalism can and should be a bipartisan endeavor), let me just say that it started with a certain news channel launching a smear campaign against one of my green heroes. I was pissed off.

And elsewhere on the Internet:

David Roberts from Grist tried to set the record straight on Van Jones, and then posted some thoughts on his resignation. My sentiments exactly.

:: Peppermags found a great video about the White House Garden, including commentary by the First Lady.

:: No Impact Man takes a position on the stunt or no stunt question. And in other No Impact news, Beavan's wife Michelle weighs in on the year with no toilet paper.

:: Greening Families lists seven benefits to going green - some I wouldn't have thought of.

:: Bob Herbert at the New York Times says the U.S. is having a nervous breakdown. We need therapy.

:: Fake Plastic Fish announces that I am the winner of the No Impact Man book giveaway. I'm so stoked!...But really, I'm trying to tell you that you should join in her book discussion with me.

(Looks like most of my interest this week was divided between my green heroes Van Jones and No Impact Man. Don't worry, hubby, you still have my heart!)

I'm now using Twitter to keep track of my noteworthy green reads. If you'd like instant knowledge of what I find interesting, you can find me on Twitter as consciousshoppr.

Photo by Tanki


Book Review: Nickel and Dimed

>> Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
by Barbara Ehrenreich

Rating: ***


In the late 1990s, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich sat down with Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harper's, to discuss possible future articles she could write. The conversation made its way to poverty, and Ehrenreich wondered, How do people live on the meager wages of the unskilled? Could someone really get by on $6 to $7 an hour? Lapham challenged Ehrenreich to find out.

Over the next year or two, Ehrenreich joined the ranks of the low wage worker, finding employment as a waitress, maid, and finally Walmart associate. She moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, searching for the highest paying available work while struggling to pay rent and afford food. Along the way, she met women who bypassed the rent problem by living in their cars. She lived for almost a month in a hotel room with a window with no screen and a door with no bolt in a room with no air conditioning or fan. And she did physical, mind-numbing labor - sometimes holding down more than one job at a time while still barely making ends meet.

At the end of her experiment, Ehrenreich concluded:

I grew up hearing over and over, to the point of tedium, that "hard work" was the secret of success: "Work hard and you'll get ahead" or "It's hard work that got us where we are." No one ever said that you could work hard - harder even than you ever thought possible - and still find yourself sinking even deeper into poverty and debt.

My Opinion:

I bought my first car by doing temp work one summer at a factory - one of four factories that employed me during college. I saved up for my semester abroad by working as a maid for Motel 6. And I earned spending money during college as a sandwich artist at Subway. I have a lot of experience with unskilled labor.

So rather than opening my eyes to some hidden aspect of America, this book brought back a flood of memories of all of those past jobs. I've often compared working at a factory to snapping beans for canning. It's repetitive, dull, and requires no skill whatsoever. But imagine that instead of snapping beans in front of the TV, or with the radio on, or with a group of gossipy friends, you have to snap beans standing up in one spot for eight hours straight (or twelve hours at night, as in one of my factory jobs). There's no air-conditioning, you can't stop to pee without asking for permission, and every now and then, a manager walks by to tell you to move faster. And you do this every. single. day. all. day. long...

For years after, I went around saying that every person that worked in management should have to spend a day or two a month in the factory. Just so they would know what it was like. Just so they would give their employees a little respect.

Did I think we factory workers should have been earning wages equal to management? Definitely not. Our jobs were physically hard but took no skill and we were easily replaceable. But surely, we were worth more than we were paid. The lowest I earned at a factory was $7 an hour, the highest was $12. And we factory workers were lucky - at $12 an hour, you might be poor, but you could get by. Unlike at $5.50 an hour like I earned at Subway.

And I might have forgone any dreams of higher earnings if they would have at least let me sit down when I was doing a job that could have been done sitting down. Or installed air conditioning. Or at the very least turned on the radio.

My point is that none of Ehrenreich's descriptions of her jobs, co-workers, or bosses were new to me, and I'm sure they weren't new to many of her readers. Her experiment was entertaining, but beyond that, it was almost pointless. She didn't need to go undercover to find out if a healthy person with a middle class background could survive the physically intense demands of most minimum wage paying jobs. She could have asked me, or any number of people who've worked those jobs to get through college.

And struggling for one month to make ends meet on minimum wage doesn't shed any light on how millions of people do it every single month. Particularly single mothers with children. How do they get by? I still don't know the answer.

Overall, I enjoyed the brisk and light pace of this book. But it wasn't the expose I expected it to be.

Up next on my reading list...No Impact Man

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Seasonal Recipes Time!

>> Monday, September 7, 2009

I'll be doing another post with seasonal recipes on Thursday, so if you have any awesome recipes, email them to me at consciousshopperblog at gmail dot com. Or post them on your personal blog and email me the link.

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 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: apples, cabbage, corn, grapes, green beans, leafy greens, peaches, peanuts, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

Related Posts:


Weekend Ramblings: Time Magazine Got It Right...Almost

>> Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sometimes on the weekends, I ramble 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.

I have a bone to pick with Time Magazine. In their August 31st issue, they had an article called "The Real Cost of Cheap Food." Overall, it was a great article - kind of a watered down version of the documentary Food, Inc, and it shows how mainstream the food debate is getting.

But on the third page of the article, there was an illustration that drove me batty! The left column of the illustration was titled "Organic" with a picture of common items purchased at a grocery store and a sample receipt totaling $33.32. The same products, though conventionally grown, were listed in the right hand column with a receipt totaling $15.88. With these sample numbers, the article goes on to explain, the annual cost of buying the organic products would be $1,732 while the annual cost of the conventional products would be $825. "Is sustainability worth an extra $900 a year?" the caption queries.

Picture me reading this article a year ago before I greened my grocery bill: "What??!! The cost of organics is twice as much as conventional products???!!! Who can afford that? Not me!"

Except, wait a second. I have greened my grocery bill, and I now know that going organic isn't that big of a cost differential. So when I read this article earlier this week, my reaction was, "What grocery store are they shopping at?!"

It's no wonder that people assume they can't afford to go green when even an article that supports organic agriculture and ag reform claims that organic foods are so expensive.

If they had included my grocery receipt with the same items in this article, it would have looked like this:

  • homemade bread containing all organic ingredients: $1.80
  • 1 pound of locally produced, grass fed ground beef: $5.99*
  • 3 organic apples: $1.80
  • organic grape tomatoes: $3.99
  • a dozen locally produced, free range eggs: $3
  • 1 gallon of organic whole milk: $4.99
TOTAL: $21.57
Annual cost: $1,121

*The article includes chicken breasts instead of ground beef. I've never bought chicken, so I'm not sure how much it costs.

And that doesn't even include the fact that since I'm a vegetarian, we barely ever buy beef - beans are soooo much cheaper. Or that I wouldn't buy those expensive grape tomatoes that come in a plastic pint case because the regular or roma tomatoes are much cheaper and float around in the nude.

The article proposes that if we "factor in crop subsidies, ecological damage and what we pay in health-care bills after our fatty, sugary diet makes us sick, conventionally produced food looks a lot pricier." Great point. The cheap cost of conventional food leaves out a lot of factors.

But please, Time Magazine, don't scare people away from organics with such ridiculously high prices.

(And since I'm on a rant, I was also annoyed by the sentence "no one goes to farmers' markets for bargains" and the fact that the author didn't even touch on the issues with farm labor.)

Did you read the article? What did you think?

Photo by Kables

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Make Your Own: Worm Bin

>> Saturday, September 5, 2009

We set up our worm bin today! I'm not sure who was more excited - me or the boys!

The following are the steps I followed to set up my worm bin, and I'm too excited to wait to share them, but I'm adding a warning that you should probably wait to see if I kill off all my worms before trying this yourself.

STEP 1: Read Worms Eat My Garbage.

STEP 2: Obtain a container. I used an 18 gallon plastic container with a lid, but Mary Appelhof (author of Worms Eat My Garbage) says that a shallow container would be better. The size of container you will need depends on how much food waste your family produces a day. Appelhof recommends that you "plan on one square foot of surface for each pound of garbage per week."

STEP 3: Drill ventilation holes in the sides and lid. A friend of mine put this container together for me as part of a class for the Raleigh Community Gardens Meetup Group, and she used special grommets to fill in the holes, but you could also just use some wire mesh.

STEP 4: Obtain worms. You need red wigglers, which are available at bait shops. The goal is a worm to garbage ration of 2:1 (2 pounds of worms for every pound of food waste your household produces a day), but because worms multiply, you can start with less if the worms seem too pricey. We bought a pound of worms for $17. The sales clerk asked us if we were setting up a compost bin "because fishermen never ask for worms by the pound."

STEP 5: Prepare bedding. We used eight pounds of shredded newspaper for our size of container. You need three pounds of bedding per cubic foot volume of the bin. Appelhof implied that newspaper was the best type of bedding, though you could also use a mixture of newspaper, leaves, manure, and wood chips. Avoid newspaper with colored print.

STEP 6: Wet the bedding. For plastic containers, you need to add water equal to two times the weight of the bedding. So for our container, we added 16 pounds of water. If your container is made of another material besides plastic, add water equal to three times the weight of the bedding. (Plastic bins tend to accumulate more water over time.)

STEP 7: Add one or two handfuls of soil. Mix well.

STEP 8: Add the worms on top of the bedding. Leave the lights on in the room, and the worms will move into the bedding within an hour. If any are left on the surface, remove them.

STEP 9: Feed your worms by digging a hole big enough for the amount of food you're going to add. Put the food in the hole and cover with bedding. If you're using a plastic container, add dry shredded bedding to the surface every two or three weeks.

What can you feed your worms?

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • coffee grinds
  • tea leaves
  • pulvarized egg shells
Do not feed them too much citrus, meat, bones, feces, and preferably no dairy.

Cost: $10 for the bin + $17 for the worms + FREE newspaper obtained from friends = $27

I'm thinking we're going to need another bin or two for the amount of food waste we produce, but I'm going to experiment with this one for now and see how it goes. Wish us luck!

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Noteworthy Green: Bean to Bar Chocolate, Jeans Quilts, Back to School, and More...

>> Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Check out my latest post at The Green Phone Booth: Chocolate: From Bean to Bar.

Several weeks ago, my local science museum hosted a special lecture by Raleigh chocolate maker Hallot Parson of Escazu Chocolates. The ad promised "sample chocolates made from several varieties of bean sourced from Costa Rica and Venezuela." No way will you ever see me turning down free chocolate, so hubby got babysitting duty and I headed off to my very first chocolate tasting. Read more...

And elsewhere on the Internet:

:: Man vs. Debt suggests 25 ways to save money with do-it-yourself projects in the kitchen, in the bathroom, and during the holidays.

:: Garden & Gun Magazine includes a lovely piece explaining why Chapel Hil is the "pat of butter in a sea of grits." I think a lot of this could apply to Raleigh as well and explains why I love this area so much.

:: It's Not Easy Being Green lists several projects for repurposing old jeans. I have a jeans quilt that my mom made out of the jeans we wore when we were growing up. I love it!

:: The New American Dream has a handy checklist for environmentally-friendly back to school supplies.

:: The Purl Bee provides a tutorial for making an adorable cloth lunch bag. I want a sewing machine!

:: The Grass Stain Guru asks us to stand up for childhood! Will you take the pledge?


The Envelope System for Managing Money

>> Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When my husband and I got married, we were both still in college. He had a job in the computer lab on campus, and I arranged my schedule so I could go to school two days a week and substitute teach on the other three. We were struggling newlyweds, and I spent many stressful evenings trying to figure out how to make the numbers work. When I think back on those days, I'm amazed that we always (if barely) managed to get by.

Back then, the envelope system was one of the methods we used to keep our meager earnings in check. We estimated how much we would need for groceries, gas, and miscellaneous expenses, and we withdrew that amount in cash from the bank every month. The cash was divided up into envelopes - one for each category. When we needed to make a purchase, we would grab the appropriate envelope before heading to the store.

The point of the envelope system was to keep us from going over budget. We always paid in cash, and when we ran out of money, well, that was it. No more money.

Sounds like a smart idea, right? So why did we give it up?

After awhile, when money was a little less tight, it started to seem like we were actually losing money by paying in cash. Back then (though that seems like such a silly phrase since it was only seven years ago), using a debit card was less common. A lot of places - especially fast food restaurants - didn't take them. And many places would only take cash or checks.

So if I only had my debit card, I couldn't spontaneously decide to swing through the drive-thru on the way home from work. But if I happened to be carrying an envelope full of cash...pretty soon the envelope would be a little lighter and I'd have a tummy full of french fries. (This behavior was especially common when I was pregnant with First Son.)

There was also the change issue. I've never been good about holding on to small bills or coins. Every quarter I would get in change was like an excuse to buy a Coke. And if I had a twenty and the total came to $19.25, you can bet I'd be tossing a candy bar onto that conveyor belt, just to round out the bill.

So the envelope system seemed to have some downsides, but lately, paying with a debit card doesn't look any better.
I can't think of a single place that doesn't take debit/credit, so walking around with a debit card in my purse is like an invitation to start spending money.

I don't think there's really a point to this post except to say that I'm still trying to figure it out. We've been experimenting the past couple months with moving back to the envelope system, and I'm not sure yet how well I like it. It's kind of scary - I'm constantly paranoid that I won't have enough cash to pay the grocery bill. And now that I have kids, it's not like I can say, "We're running low on cash so we'll just eat ramen the rest of the month." Cash also makes it difficult to stock up on sales.

On the other hand, I'm much more aware of how much I'm spending. When I was paying with my debit card, it was always a bit of a guessing game.

Do any of you use the envelope system? Or pay for most things in cash? What do you think?

Photo by

This post was included in the Festival of Frugality at The Centsible Life.

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