Monday, October 8, 2007

Gone fishing...

Sorry for the lack of posts lately but I am currently traveling around Argentina. It's time to *disconnect* from the world of computers, so please check back in a few weeks!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Death to the oversized t-shirt!

Maybe it's not a great idea to take scissors to fabric after midnight and/or a couple glasses of wine, BUT I think I'm on to something here...I've repurposed 3 oversized t-shirts into tank tops! Problem 1: I have a gazillion XXL t-shirts that I only wear to sleep in or to exercise. How do we end up with so many free t-shirts that get consigned to the sleepwear/exercise/bum around the house category? (I want to see companies/events start to give out shirts in women's sizes and if they're too small for guys, tell THEM to deal with it--give it to a girlfriend, use it for when you dress up in drag on Halloween, whatever. I'm tired of men's sizes hegemony. Hmph.) For some reason I brought 3 of these offending shirts with me on my trip to Argentina, ostensibly to sleep in. I mean, these are bad--so unflattering that I would probably not even wear them around my own family. Problem 2: I need tank tops for my upcoming travels to other parts of the country and don't want to spend the money on cheap, poorly made ones. So now I've killed 2 birds with 1 stone and have 3 tank tops that I would actually wear out of the house, and 3 fewer unflattering sleep-only t-shirts. The sample shirt pictured was actually my dad's around the time I was born. It's quite sentimental because the Univ of Arkansas is both his and my mom's alma mater. I hesitated to cut into it, but I'm pretty sure they would rather me actually get good use out of it and "represent" the Razorbacks in public, even if it means altering its original shape, right? Let's hope so. Here's what to do to make your own original (albeit, quite "funky") tank tops.

1) Find a "real" tank top with a shape you like to use as a pattern. Place it over the t-shirt so that you can visualize the shape you want, and start cutting. I do the neck first, and you can get creative with that shape. So many choices: v-neck, crew, zigzag, whatever! I've been cutting the necks out of shirts for years because tight necks happen to be terribly unflattering on me. A word of caution: On your first pass, cut less than you might assume you should, unless you're going for the Flashdance look.

2) Cut the arms off. This is the point of no return, and results in a look that I can only describe as "all-American dude barbequing on a speedboat". Yes, the arm holes will extend well down your ribs. But don't worry, you can fix it if you move on to the next step...

3) Sew the arm holes together. Try on the shirt and pin the arm flaps together. This is your chance to get creative with the stitching.

4) Optional: For a more fitted look, gather the fabric at the center of your back add a few stitches. This is what I call the Gap mannequin phenomenon: You know how their shirts always seem so well fitted on the mannequins, and then you feel misled when you walk around to the back and see that they are clipped? Well, there's nothing stopping you from doing this to your own shirts with a few stitches. Maybe it's the wine talking but I like the way this one turned out. Sorry about the bad shadows--the lighting in this room is not so great.

Here's the new and improved Razorbacks shirt. I don't have a "before" pic, but trust me, this is a big improve- ment. It's settled...I'm never buying another tank top again. Oh, and the scraps from the neck band? Headbands, of course.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Repurposing junk mail

Bulk mail. Perhaps the most annoying daily reminder of useless waste and pathetic, uninspired advertising. I just always wonder, what percentage of the population actually pours through these mailers and runs out to snap up the bottles of Miracle Whip for the bargain price of $1.89? Undboubtedly, most pieces of junk mail travel a short distance from mailbox to trash can. A while ago, I spent the few minutes it took to stop the various bulk mail bundles from arriving at my apartment--If you haven't already done the same, the info is here. The good news is it worked, and fairly quickly. But I moved into a temporary housesitting situation for a couple months and was faced with the massive amounts of "fresh boneless meat flaps!", "2 for 1 cans of creamed corn" announcements all over again. I finally got around to submitting my friends' address to the companies' "do not send" lists, but in the meantime, for weeks the mailers piled up. I refused to throw them away, vowing to find some use for them, damnit. Running late to a birthday party one day, I ended up wrapping the present with some grocery store's weekly specials, and I must admit I was incredibly pleased with the way it turned out. The same glossy, pandering ads for pork chops and bell peppers that made me cringe at the mailbox actually looked pretty cool around sharp corners. And as my friend Tracy says, wrapping is all about the ribbon anyway (so save every ribbon you get and reuse those too). I was so pleased with the result that I found myself looking forward to the next opportunity I had to wrap something--anything--with salvaged bulk mailers. I have enough just from one month's worth of mail to wrap every present I'll ever give out. So first things first, get on the "do not send" lists. But while the flow of waste is still coming, find a use for the bright colors. They'd make great matting behind photos in a could cut them into thin strips to make bookmarks, or make them into unique envelopes...What else?

Monday, September 17, 2007

And the winner is...

So I got 30 entries with the correct answers: The Lunapads kids are Aiden, Genevieve, and Garrett. In case you're wondering, I wrote all of your names on strips of paper, and did the old fashioned thing--pulled one out of a hat. And that lucky name was...EMILY B. from L.A.!! Congratulations, Emily! And thank you so much to everyone who participated. The best part was reading about why you're interested in trying reusable menstrual products and your experiences of trying them already. It was so encouraging to hear from all of you, so thanks for sharing your thoughts! And, for all those who participated but didn't win, I hope this is just the beginning of your relationship with Lunapads...Order some now! Remember, while the initial cost is a little more than what you pay for disposables, after a few months you will actually be saving money by using them. And we know all the other benefits, of course! So thank you, spread the reusable word, and let me know how you like your new Lunapads...

Read the original Lunapads post here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Last day to enter Lunapads contest

I'll be drawing for the winner tomorrow, so send me your answers before the end of the day! If you haven't already entered, read about Lunapads and the contest here.


Read it: "Plenty"

Right before I came to Argentina, I read “Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally", the book by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon that has brought much recent attention to eating locally grown food. It was a great, fast read, and details how the authors spent one year eating only foods whose origins they could trace to within 100 miles of their Vancouver apartment.
While cynics might dismiss their experiment as just another gimmick in the “let’s try something sustainable for one year and write a book about it” trend, it’s clear from the opening pages that this was anything but that. “Plenty” is an authentic and heart-felt attempt by one couple to wrestle control back from our highly flawed, destructive, polluting and wasteful agricultural system. Ok, this is starting to sound like a newspaper book review, but bear with me. They trace how an impromptu feast from all local ingredients illuminated their lurking suspicions that something just isn’t right with how we eat, and that they could do better. The book details their journey from subsisting primarily on potatoes for the first month…to educating themselves about what is grown around them and the satisfaction of knowing precisely where each apple and onion came from…enjoying the abundant months of farmers’ discovering how grounding and enjoyable some old-school culinary arts can be: Think canning tomatoes for winter, turning cabbage into sauerkraut, and making cheese. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?!

By now you’ve probably heard the statistics. The average ingredient in any given North American meal travels at least 1500 miles--and often many more--to get to our plates. Think about all the fossil fuels used up and burned just to bring you a tomato that never gets ripe in December. And why? Somewhere along the way we’ve gotten spoiled, expecting oranges in january and tropical bananas year round. Does anyone actually recall the days of seasonal fruit? I am not old enough to have that memory…And as any foodie will tell attest, it’s a gastronomic crime to eat out of season, mediocre, unripe produce that is a poor imitation of its seasonal counterparts. On the other hand, eating locally can be as gourmet as it gets, like at Chez Panisse, the original regional foodie restaurant in Berkeley. A couple months ago, I got treated to one of the best meals I've ever had...Just look at that dessert!

But Alisa and James didn’t just eat locally grown produce. We’re talking grains, eggs, fish, and dairy products too—their entire diet. That meant honey instead of sugar, and they went without any wheat products for almost the entire year until they found one lone wheat farmer at the edge of their 100 miles. But they discovered other grains, and other ways of making balanced meals. Obviously, their experiment automatically ruled out supermarket food, chocked full, as it is, of a medley of ingredients and “flavors” of whose origins are unknown (and disturbing to ponder). Eating locally necessarily means eliminating processed, factory made foods, which is not only healthier, but also makes a statement for a smaller, healthier, and more connected food production system.

What’s most illuminating about "Plenty" is that Alisa and James discover that eating locally is not any kind of deprivation or punishment. On the contrary, they found eating a more joyful experience and became not only more connected to what they put in their bodies, but also to the very specific place they live and to the conditions that make their food possible. When a toxic spill killed the area’s salmon supply in a nearby river, they felt it deeply, and went without salmon for the year. I suspect that if we were all eating more locally, we would more quickly see how dependent we are on the delicate balance of nature that makes our nourishment possible. If we knew where our food came from, we would undoubtedly be more alert to the early signs when something is off balance, and we would hopefully be inclined to react more quickly.

So what to do? The easiest step to eat locally is of course, visiting our farmers’ market regularly. Most have way more offerings than just scrumptious produce—at mine I can get eggs, honey, the best cheese in the world, milk, hummus, bread, nuts and dried fruits. I’ve yet to try the grass-fed bison, but I bet it’s juicy. Discover what your area has to offer! (See below for how to find local food). Host a local-foods potluck, which will be a good excuse to hunt down some local wine or beer. As summer comes to a close, get crazy and can some fruit to enjoy in the winter. I can already see it—canning parties becoming the newest hipster pastime...And be sure to check out the 100-mile diet website and get inspired by how many people are taking on the local eating challenge, at some level or another. Eating as locally as we can is one crucial step towards creating a more sustainable way of feeding ourselves.

P.S. Eating in Argentina has been an adventure. On the one hand, out of economic necessity, everything is much more local—I’m pretty sure most of the food I’ve eaten comes from within a couple hundred miles, because they just can’t afford to truck food thousands of kilometers. But on the other hand, there’s not much diversity—tons of pizza, pasta, meat and bread, and not many “whole foods”, as we would call them. So I’ve found myself almost obsessively searching for decidedly unlocal foods like, peanut butter (I’ve heard tales of its existence in at least one store in Buenos Aires, but have yet to find it), which is somewhat legit because I need protein. A little less justified was my quest for salsa, simply because I’ve been craving some spice and in my normal life I subsist on Mexican food. When I finally found some “Newman’s Own Chunky Salsa”—I know, not even the good stuff--in the “Imported Foods” aisle of a huge supermarket, I unthinkingly snapped it up. Yikes—I can’t imagine the thousands of miles that jar traveled! Woops. Ironically, far from being the satisfying and familiar explosion of flavor I was anticipating, eating it has been a reminder of why it’s a good idea to eat locally. You see, you just can’t find good tortilla chips here.

Check out this great resource to find locally grown food near you, at farmer’s markets or through CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture): Local Harvest. Just type in your zip code...You can even search for specific foods and it will tell you if there is anything in your area!

The 100-Mile Diet.. Has lots of fun features and lets you find your own 100 miles.

Ask your local bookstore to order "Plenty", or order it from Powell's.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Pop your own: DIY popcorn

Scrolling through Treehugger today, I was reminded of one of the many tasks on my blog to-do list: Spread the word about making your own popcorn!
A few months ago at work this became my favorite mid-afternoon-slump snack when some bulk kernels and paper bags surfaced in the kitchen (I think a coworker was trying to avoid the caloric-rich microwavable stuff). We should all be avoiding it, and not just for our own health. You've probably heard by now that the "butter" is well, quite artificial--its real name is diacetyl, and that workers who handle the stuff are developing a kind of lung disease. Definitely not something I want to be contributing to, or ingesting. Besides, the real stuff tastes so much better. It's easy: Get some bulk kernels at your favorite health food store (another point for ye 'ol bulk bins), and put them in a small paper bag. You pop it for about the same amount of time you would do a pre-bought bag, but stay close to listen for the pops slowing down. Treehugger suggests adding a slab of butter at the beginning, but I prefer to melt the butter separately and pour it over once I've transferred the popped corn to a bowl. That way you can save the bag for the next popping, and there's something delightfully gluttonous about pouring melted butter over, well, anything. An alternative, as one smarty-pants commenter noted on Treehugger, you can avoid the paper bag by heating some oil in a pan and cooking your kernels that way. I've yet to try it the slower way, but I do have vague memories of my dad popping corn over the stove, and I'm sure it doesn't really take that much longer. Add some salt and it's a totally delicious snack (and low-cal if you forgo the melted butter). Not only are you avoiding a nasty "butter-like" chemical that I can't even pronounce, but anytime I replace food from a factory with something I "make" myself, things feel a bit more right in the world.

Here's an incredibly sad Washington Post article about a worker with "popcorn workers' lung". The stuff still isn't regulated.

And here's Treehugger's take on DIY popcorn.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

This post is about women's periods. Read on.

Ok, this is ridiculous. For a couple months now I've been trying to write about my experience of starting to use reusable menstrual products, and for some reason, I just can't do it. The problem is, when I've broached this issue with friends, the reaction has been less than enthusiastic. There seem to be really deep-seeded assumptions that women's periods are "gross", something to just suffer our way through every month--and that the last thing we'd want to do is reuse anything associated with them. There's quite a duality when it comes to our thinking about our nether regions, isn't there? They have their acceptable functions (sex), and the gross ones (peeing, periods). Of course, as we know, sex can also be lumped into the "dirty and gross" category, and has been historically for many cultures.

But we are postmodern and it would be sexist to classify women's sexuality as dirty. We know better than that, and indeed, in popular culture, the female orgasm has lately become synonymous with feminist empowerment. But while the covers of women's magazines are plastered with headlines about achieving the perfect orgasm and helping your partner find your g-spot, we never question the assumption that menstruation is something dirty that needs to be sanitized. At least, I didn't give much thought to the assumption, until I started using reusable menstrual products--specifically, Lunapads products. I'm not saying that I wish my period was all month long, but my relationship with it has completely changed over the last year since I began using reusable menstrual products. A dissertation could be written on our fixation with sanitizing menstruation (and I'm sure plenty have been), but for now, I'll just talk about why I no longer use tampons and why this post isn't titled "Girls only! No boys allowed!" Let's grow up, folks!

A couple years ago my sister told me that she had started using a cup to catch her menstrual flow, which at the time, seemed like the most crunchy granola thing I’d ever heard. I had never given much thought to what might be wrong with tampons or pads (besides maybe that one "dangers of tampons" email that went around a few years ago), and I definitely didn’t know there was an alternative. Then last year, as most of you know, I started swearing off all things disposable: bags, silverware, bottles, cups, chop sticks, you name it. So one day when I was browsing the aisles of my local health food store and came across The Diva Cup--a reusable alternative to tampons, suddenly the idea of a reusable menstrual product didn’t seem so far out there—it actually made a lot of sense. So, I made my purchase and haven’t looked back since. (Full disclosure: I was a guest blogger on Lunapads' blog and they sent me additional products to try out. But I would still be raving about their products even without the free schwag--I swear!)

Here are the stats on disposable menstrual product usage: The average woman will use about 12,000 tampons or pads in her lifetime. In the U.S. alone we use--and of course throw away--around 20 billion tampons and pads a year. That's a lot of waste, and doesn't even count all the individual packaging and boxes. And don't forget about all the pollution caused and resources used in the manufacturing of single-use products. Switching from disposable to reusable in as many areas of our lives as possible is an important piece of the sustainable puzzle.

If the waste issue doesn't convince you, maybe the health angle will. Turns out there seems to have been truth to that email touting the dangers of tampons. To start with, contrary to the pure, white image Tampax and others would have us believe, tampons are chock full of chemicals and bleach. They're not even 100% cotton! Synthetic fibers are added to increase absorbency but also amplify toxins of a certain bacteria and that’s what can cause the dreaded Toxic Shock Syndrome.(Remember, tampons actively absorb the flow, they don't just catch it naturally.) So in the last few years, when people started realizing that these synthetic fibers weren't really the best thing to have inside us, they've phased out all but one kind--viscose rayon. Manufacturers say it’s harmless, but the FDA relies on testing by the manufacturers themselves, and we all trust what companies say about their products, right? Also, while tampons are no longer bleached with chlorine, the "chlorine-free" bleaching process can still generate dioxin, aka, a scary, known carcinogen. Then there are the chemicals that are sprayed on the cotton in the farming process, etc. etc. Funny what we let inside our most intimate areas without questioning the origins, isn't it? :) Here's more info on tampon safety.

Enter Lunapads. Founder Madeline Shaw--a former fashion designer from Vancouver--was having health problems associated with her periods and sought an alternative. She started using cloth pads, then created her own product that turned into her own company. Not only did she start a thriving company with a great product, but she also created a great model for running a sustainable business--good for the earth, good for our health, and good for the workers (kids are welcome in their office). All in all, it seems like a totally rad company that I am happy to be supporting, and the kinda warm and fuzzy place I only dream of working at.

So, what is the Diva Cup? It's a small cup made out of medical-grade silicon, which means nothing will leach into your body. (This is the same kind of silicon used in baby bottle nipples and joint replacements--NOT in bad '80's boob jobs). It catches the flow, and you empty it every 12 hours. You wash it and store in a little pouch. It's that easy. Here's more info on the Diva Cup.

The Diva Cup did take some getting used to after a lifetime of tampon usage. Difference #1: You actually have to touch yourself. Scandalous, isn’t it?! The only thing I can say about that is, if you let others touch you there, you should be comfortable in the area also! Difference #2: Using the cup, you get to see your flow. Amidst our hide it-clean it-bleach it culture of female “hygiene”, this is a radical moment. Not only is it simply cool to see the amount of flow, but there’s also something totally liberating about it being visible. It’s not something to be hidden away like a dirty little secret. Anyone who’s been in psychoanalysis knows that it’s what we keep hidden that is what really traps us, so taken on a cultural level, as long as our periods are something to be hidden and cleaned up, as a culture we’re ashamed about the essence of our womanhood. So, without question, using The Diva Cup has made me feel much more connected to my femaleness, and has brought me face to face with the sexist presumptions lurking in my unconscious.

In addition to the Diva Cup, Lunapads also sells actual Lunapads (pictured above). I'm not a huge pad person, but these are amazing for night usage. They come in great bright colors, and you simply rinse them after using them, then wash them in a normal load. Oh, and they also have really cool products like Lunapanties which are underwear with a thin liner sown in for backup purposes. You can tell this is a company run by women.

I can say "it's not gross" until the cows come home, but it's a bit of a catch-22: Using the Lunapads products is what has caused the paradigm shift in my thinking on this issue. All I can say is give them a try. And, since I was a guest blogger on their site, Lunapads is offering a special contest for my readers! Check out their website and send me the names of the owners' children. The winner will be drawn randomly from those who send me the correct responses. The winner will receive a package of sample Lunapads products...woohoo, who can resist schwag?! DEADLINE: September 15th, so check out their page and email me your answers!!


Also, I'd love to hear why you guys think we've collectively swallowed the "periods are gross" pill...

UPDATE: Here's the link to my post on the Lunapads blog...and a big picture of my head!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Make your own... Sweatbands!

A couple weeks ago, someone had the audacity to steal my gym bag out of my car. I actually can't complain too much because the lock on my passenger door has been broken for months, and I've neglected to fix it. You could say I have a lackadaisical approach to non-essential car maintenance, so it was just a matter of time until someone benefited from my laziness. Luckily, my running shoes weren't in the bag, so said person made off with some pretty valuable booty: an old sports bra, sweat pants, and t-shirt that had been demoted to the exercise wardrobe. Annoying that I'm down one rotation of workout gear BUT, the worst part of the incident is that they got my headband. Now, THAT pisses me off. I've only been a serious exerciser for about a year, but I've learned a couple important things since then: A) I am a much happier person after a good run, and B) I sweat profusely and am miserable without a headband. The ladies with long hair know what I'm talking about here. Nothing ruins a good workout like your sweat acting as an adhesive between your bangs and forehead. The point is, the headband--yes, I only had one--was exceedingly valuable and I needed to replace it immediately.

I realized that instead of a headband, what I really needed was a sweatband that does double duty--keeps the hair back and absorbs the sweat. Just as I was about to dash off to American Apparel and pony up $8 for a piece of fabric that had been given the "cool" stamp of approval, I thought better of it. The headband/sweatband is such a basic shape that surely, I had something that could do double duty. That's right, it was time for a little DIY fun, folks! (For those readers not in their 20's, DIY is hipster-short for old-fashioned "do it yourself". The term has gained mainstream popularity in the last few years--there's even a DIY network and a magazine (Ready Made).) Since we are so completely dependent on huge corporations for the majority of the "things" in our lives these days, the idea of refashioning and repurposing--doing anything yourself instead of buying it--is a radical act. And of course, when we reuse something we already own instead of buying a new product, we avoid using up more resources and energy. Read more about DIY culture gone mainstream on Wikipedia.

Turns out I had several headbands just waiting to be cut out of the waistbands of old tights. This has to be the easiest DIY project ever: Cut the waistband out and, voila, you have a semi-absorbent headband. Since mine were ballet tights that I'd been carting around for, oh, 10 years, my headbands are now black and ballet pink. I'm the least crafty person EVER, but this tiny accomplishment has inspired me to scour my closet for any bits of clothing that can be repurposed to a better use. Second discovery: scraps of cut-off t-shirt necks give a boring ponytail pizazz! Also, I've declared the next few weeks "Make do with what I have month", as I'm attempting to spend as little money as possible before my sabbatical. It's interesting how creative you can get out of necessity. Next step: Make potholders out of the rest of the nylons, like my sister and I did as kids, and deplete all the food in my kitchen before I buy more.

Oh, and among its varied headband offerings, American Apparel is selling a style that is undoubtedly the cut-out waistbands of tights for $3.50.

UPDATE 6/9--Ok, now this is a real coincidence. What are the chances that within a couple days, I happen upon two totally distinct styles of DIY sweatbands?! So I was cutting a pair of old sweatpants into summer running shorts, and as I trimmed them down to get the right leg length, noticed that I had two totally perfect ABSORBENT sweatbands!!

Now, unlike the bands featured above (which I still totally heart, don't get me wrong), these can handle some heavy-duty sweat. Just make sure you use a thinner part of the sweatpant leg, such as the area close to the knee, so that the band fits tightly. And, as tempting as it might be to have your very own unique sweatband, please don't take scissors to a perfectly good pair of sweatpants. Only use worn ones that don't serve full-leg coverage well anymore. And use the rest of the leg material for something else...I'm saving mine for some yet unforeseen purpose. I think I have enough sweatbands for now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Squeeze your own

A couple months ago, I made the best purchase I can recall in a long time: a stainless steel hand citrus squeezer for a whopping $5. In no time, I was in the habit of squeezing my own orange juice several times a week, which felt downright luxurious.

More accurately, it felt simultaneously indulgent--given that fresh-squeezed OJ is a favorite of the yuppie set-- and thrifty for exactly that same reason. It felt like I was bucking the system--like haha, see if I ever pay $4 for a glass of fresh-squeezed OJ at brunch ever again! (I use 2-3 organic oranges for a glass, which according to my calculations, is about a pound...which I paid $1.40 for today at Co-Opportunity). That being said, I do appreciate the labor involved--some serious elbow-grease is necessary. But I've come to quite enjoy this little morning ritual--both the amazingly fresh, tasty result and the squeezing process itself. There's something so satisfying about squeezing every last drop out of each orange half. I must admit I've found the whole process quite grounding and invigorating. It's like a whole new juicing world has opened up to me! Of course, an added bonus is that you save a carton or plastic bottle every time you squeeze your own. And if you aren't a failed composter like me (no negative self-talk, no negative self-talk), then you compost the rinds and are totally zero-waste!

I was recounting my recent citrus adventures to a coworker the other day, and his response was "Cool, but I would never do that because it takes too long". Well, yes, it takes a few minutes, depending on how many oranges you use. You have to wash, cut and squeeze them. It takes more planning and energy than grabbing a Naked Juice from the store. On the other hand, I know I've gained a tiny bit more of a connection to my food supply and that fleeting sense of satisfaction that settles in when you are present for a few moments, concentrating on a task. Perhaps if we had a few more moments of presence rather than convenience throughout the day, we would all be a tad more grounded.

At any rate, I'm hanging onto citrus season as long as I can. My farmer's market is still selling some wonderfully juicy blood oranges, which also make for amazing mimosas, as I discovered a couple lazy Saturdays ago. This year, I luck out because I'll be catching the citrus season again in the southern hemisphere in a couple months. Woohoo! Until then...can you juice nectarines?

Late-night breakage

Does anybody have suggestions for ways to clean up large, chunky spills with something other than paper towels? I just shattered a full bottle of salad dressing and found myself using a massive amount of paper towels. But it's 1 in the morning, and the thick dressing was all mixed in with shards of glass...I guess I could have used a rag? But what about the glass shards? To add insult to injury, it was a full bottle of Annie's Goddess Dressing (you know, nectar of the gods) that I got on sale. Boo!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Long time, no...

The other day, a friend confronted me with the question I've been dreading for a while now--why had it been 1 month since my last blog post? My answer was..."I don't know--I think it's the worms." Yes, folks, ever since the worm incident, I must confess I've lost--or rather, misplaced--my green mojo. First, a quick update about the compost bin.

A couple weeks ago, I moved into a temporary housing situation for the summer before I spend some extended time abroad. My new digs are not "worm-friendly", i.e., there is no outside area, and since the little guys had been escaping, methought locating the bin outdoors was a must. So, unsure about how many were still living, I was hoping I could give them to a more experienced composter who could integrate the ones I hadn't murdered into his/her well-balanced, thriving bin. Luckily, a friend's father knew someone who was looking for a worm bin and was ok taking it "as is". So my no-nonsense friend Heather came over one night, noticed the odd make-up of the bin ("Is there supposed to be that much newspaper in there?"), loaded it into her trunk and off the worms went. It was a bittersweet goodbye: I was relieved to have their fate out of my hands, but also guilt-ridden that I had been so irresponsible with life. Especially when that life arrived on my doorstop in a clump of dirt in a cardboard box.

I don't know why "the worm incident" has left me feeling like such a failure. Although I think I now understand what former Catholics feel when they hear "confession" or "hell" because the word "compost" suddenly causes me to question the very essence of my character. Perhaps the melodrama was heightened because several years ago I adopted a Siberian Husky, loved her mucho for a year, but ultimately realized I was in no position to have a 70-lb dog in a studio apt when I was 23 and never home. I found a good home for her yet have still been riddled with guilt ever since. I'm sure the worm incident compounded the lingering feelings of guilt about being a bad steward of life. And since then, I haven't been able to muster the enthusiasm to cheer others on in their own greening.

Maybe the problem is that I can't always be the cheerleader. A lot of the time I'm actually more like the kid who snuck out of the pep rally to go smoke and criticize "the system". Wait, I WAS that kid. And hey, I had good points to make--all that school spirit crap WAS really creepy, after all. So perhaps the point is, some days I like wearing my green, pleated skirt to chant "Go G-R-E-E-N!". Other days, I'm overwhelmed with how almost everything seems to be the opposite of the way it should be, how did we arrive at such a staggering mess, and who the hell ever thought it was a good idea to make kids go to pep rallies?

Monday, May 7, 2007

Worms gone AWOL

The honeymoon was short. After our initial rocky start (documented here), I thought we had an understanding. I chopped up my banana peels and leek leaves, fed them every few days, and sprayed the bedding when it seemed too dry. And in turn, they behaved and stayed alive.

I won't say I totally overcame my fears of their sliminess, but we were cohabitating, or so I thought. Then, last week, I got back from a long weekend and found a grisly sight on my balcony. I shudder to think of it now. Eek. There were a few dozen carcasses strewn all over my balcony. At first glance, I thought they were plant droppings, but within a few seconds, the disturbing truth set in: My worms were escaping, dying and shriveling up on my balcony. How horrible is that?! I mean, first of all, that can't be a pleasant death. And so dramatic! What it said to me was that the conditions in the little world I created for them were so bad that the better option was to fling themselves out of the air holes I had drilled. Agh! I took on the responsibility of life and clearly was a terrible steward of nature. For the last few days I've been walking around with a cloud of guilt above my proverbial head. I finally mustered the courage to check out what was going on in the bin (sounds lame, but remember how long it took me to open the box they came in?) and although I saw some live worms, I also saw uneaten food, which is not a good sign. I've been convinced that the worms that didn't jump to their deaths must have just resigned themselves to a less dramatic end, kind of like that old couple in "Titanic" that stays in their bed (that was the one scene that got me in that movie). Anyway, today I finally did what I should have done a few days ago and actually did some research. There's lots of composting troubleshooting info out there. The good news is, I might not have killed all my worms in a few short weeks. But now, I have to figure out exactly what was wrong in the bin. From the symptoms and my own guess-work, I've surmised that I let it get too acidic (too many coffee grinds and orange peels), and that because the weather has gotten hotter, I should have been keeping it moister. So...I'm going to buck up, figure out what I can do, and attempt to salvage the rest of my little friends. If there are any composters! (Practical advice and moral support both greatly appreciated!). I'll keep you posted...

Friday, May 4, 2007

Earth to recycling

Ah, remember those halcyon days when you recycled your bottles and cans and could feel good about doing your part? The world made sense back then, didn't it? Actually, I admit I'm idealizing the good old days. If I'm honest, I always had a lingering suspicion about whether my milk jugs, aluminum cans, and paper--all mixed together, mostly rinsed out--were actually making it from my curbside to anywhere other than a landfill. I mean, come on. Were workers really paid to sift through and separate my colored paper from my cans of black beans? As we often do to get through the day, I squelched those doubts and continued to go through the motions of "doing my part", not really knowing what could or couldn't be recycled in my area. And in the last several months, I've steered clear of even mentioning the "R" word, well, because we know we need to be focusing our efforts on the first 2 Rs--Reducing and Reusing, of course.

But, we obviously shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water. After I've reduced and reused, I still have plenty of materials that can be recycled. So I was thrilled to discover an exhaustive, invaluable resource-- Earth 911. Ever wanted to know exactly what types of plastic and glass your curbside recycling service accepts? If you can mix newspaper with white and colored paper?

This site is amazing because you simply enter in your zip code and get a list of the curbside services in your area and what materials they accept. THEN, if you have still have materials that they won't pick up--like packing peanuts, or green glass, you can search for drop off centers in your area. But the most invaluable aspect of this site is that, in addition to the basic items we all know we should be recycling, it provides recycling/reuse information for all those miscellaneous materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill or rotting out on your curb. Metal clothes hangers, inkjet cartridges, old telephones, musical instruments, mattresses, floppy disks, cooking oil, magazines...that's just the beginning. Remodeling your house? There are sites that will accept your old carpet, ceramics, linoleum, and roof shingles. What a revelation! Check it out and forward widely. This site should be at the top of everyone's bookmarks. Go forth and recycle everything!

Earth 911

Maybe because of all the attention they got on Oprah's Earth Day special, Earth911 has totally revamped their website in the last couple weeks, so much so that I thought I had the wrong site when I needed to look something up today. Unfortunately, it is much less user-friendly. You can still get the info you're looking for, it just seems to be a little more obscured.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Symptoms: pasty skin, buggy eyes, coffee breath, muscle atrophy, slack jaw, prolonged staring out of windows. Diagnosis: office-itis.

A couple of weekends ago, I was suffering from an advanced case of office-itis. I couldn't remember the last time I had been outdoors, breathing air... not counting, of course, the 30 second walk from apartment to car, and then car to office. I was answering my cell phone "Thank you for calling Market Wire, this is Rebec -- DOH!"

So I dug my hiking shoes out of the back of my closet and headed for the Malibu Creek State Park. I picked an amazing day to go -- not a cloud in the sky, warm, with a slight breeze. I'd never been there before, and I couldn't get over the fact that just a few miles from the smog and traffic and concrete of L.A. there was all this nature. Just sitting there! Every few minutes I would stop and go, "WOW. Wow. This is so beautiful!"

After a relaxing afternoon filled with real, live oxygen, I headed back to the parking lot where I saw something that got me really excited. It was a sign for the ParkLINK shuttle. Apparently, the parks department offers a FREE shuttle to the Malibu Creek recreation areas, and it circles all around Malibu Canyon on weekends. There are park and ride lots, or you can catch it from a couple of different metro buses. This is fantastic because it means next time I'm itching for a hike, I can hop on a bus -- and no aggravating traffic or extraneous fossil fuel usage will bring me down from my natural high! Take THAT, office-itis!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Celebrating the ripples, big and small

In celebration of Earth Day (a couple days late--that's how I roll), allow me to indulge in some old fashioned sincerity, Oprah-love, and at least one metaphor. In the last few months it seems that the whole world has "gone green", doesn't it? Frankly, it's hard to keep up. Numerous major magazines have put out their "green issue", giving various advice about what we can all do to lessen our footprint, and several green-themed tv shows are debuting. There's no doubt that green has gone mainstream, which is what we want! On the other hand, I've been noticing a little voice in my head that fears what's on the other side of this trend: over-saturation, backlash, and worst of all, an unthinking substitution of extraneous "eco-friendly" products rather than a deep look at our consumption habits. You know, "green" shopping. So it was with conflicting feelings that I watched Oprah's Earth Day special the other day. Was she simply going to tout green weddings, carbon offsetting, and biodegradable water bottles? Much to my surprise and elation, Oprah opened the show by advising people to say "neither" to plastic and paper and to bring their own bags! She proceeded to give out reusable bags to every audience member--produce bags as well as larger grocery bags. Woohoo! The rest of the episode was--ok, I'll say it--what I would have written if I worked on Oprah. With the help of Treehugger's Simran Sethi, Oprah moved on to the cover all the basics--refillable water bottles (she even gave out Sigg bottles, like the one I use!), non-petroleum based cleaning products, CFLs, using fewer paper napkins, refillable coffee mugs, buying recycled paper, reducing packaging, and stopping junk mail. Simran even mentioned that she tries to take her own container for take-out!! It truly was "Going Green 101", and I was pretty ecstatic...can you tell?

As much as people poke fun of Oprah's influence on our culture, it's extremely heartening to think of the ripple this is going to create. The however-many millions of viewers she has will at least think a little bit differently the next time they're at the grocery store and are considering buying a cup of noodles wrapped in styrofoam, cardboard, and plastic. The most exciting element of the show was that she highlighted "What families like yours are already doing". We got to see that there are mainstream families (read: not liberal-looking Californians) out there who have recently been inspired to move towards more sustainable habits. It was refreshing for me to be reminded that underneath all the media hoopla and the trends, the "basics" are sinking in on a very grassroots level. It was also very cool to see how excited the audience got when they got an insane amount of green swag--reusable bottles, bags, smart power strips, CFLs, green cleaning products. So maybe they were just excited to get free stuff. But those couple hundred audience members undoubtedly left psyched about everything Oprah taught them and will go home and give the reusable bags and refillable bottles a try. And they will influence their friends and family and so on. Today, I am grateful for the small ripples that all of our actions are making, and the huge ones, like when a big rock hits the pond.

What ripples have you noticed lately? Talk to me!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Get out! (updated)

So you've been making some changes in your daily routine -- you almost always remember to BYO bag, coffee mug and water bottle. Maybe you're driving less and/or eating less meat. You know that all the little things you're doing add up, and that you're becoming more a part of the solution and less a part of the problem. But still, there's a faint, nagging disappointment in that you don't really get to see the impact of your efforts, not in a very concrete sense, anyway. You want to be changing the world! With your own two hands! Well, my friend, you are in luck.

April offers an incredible number of opportunities to get out into your community and get your hands dirty in the fight against global warming. If you are in need of some environmental instant gratification (instant grassification?), check out all the events happening this month...


Step It Up is a nationwide campaign made up of hundreds of different groups with one unified message: they want Congress to pledge an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. On April 14, people in cities and towns all over America will get together to show their support for these efforts -- it's very grassroots, and the activities vary depending on who is organizing the local "action," as the web site calls it. You can visit their "Join an Action" page and enter your zip code to find out what people near you are doing, and how you can join in.

Some of the bigger Actions in Los Angeles that sound cool are:
Earth Day on the Promenade in Santa Monica. It's an all-day, free festival that sounds pretty fun, and they promise that it's carbon neutral.

A Convenient Truth - It's Easy to be Green is a forum and resource fair happening at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies. The National Resources Defense Council will be offering ideas for greening your home, car and garden, and the California Food and Justice Coalition will provide information on making sustainable food choices.

EcoArt is an art show consisting of eleven active eco-artists who are confronting core environmental issues at the Barnsdall Junior Arts Gallery on Hollywood Blvd.


Earth Day began in 1970, and it came out of the "power of the people" vibe that the Vietnam protests had created. Inspired by the influence that large anti-war demonstrations were having on political policy, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson sought to harness that power on behalf of his own cause -- conservation. He mobilized an incredible number of Americans, 20 million, to participate. Nelson says of his efforts, "The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political arena. It was a gamble, but it worked." Um, yeah, you could say it worked -- we have that inaugural Earth Day to thank for the formation of the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

No subsequent Earth Day has matched the scope of the original, but the legacy lives on. With increasing public concern over environmental issues, the social temperature might be just right for a revival.

If you live in Los Angeles, EarthDay LA is where you can find all the various enviro events happening during the weekend. I've highlighted a few below, but there are tons more on their site:
L.A. Works Earth Day Hands On Schools Transformational Project. This is one of those instant grassification opportunities I was telling you about. Volunteer at a South L.A. middle school to plant a butterfly garden and a literacy garden (don't know what those are, but they sound awesome, right?) as well as paint environmental conservation-themed murals.

California State Parks Restoration and Clean-Up. Check the site for projects at a state park near you. Last year, over 4,500 volunteers planted 2,159 native trees, removed over 3,000 bags of trash from parks, beaches and waterways, restored close to 15 miles of trails, and that's just the beginning.

Some "fun for the whole family" options are the L.A. Zoo's Earth Day Expo (Rascal the Recycling Raccoon! paper made from elephant poo!); the Trash to Treasure ECO ART Exhibit (recycled-material sculptures made by Studio City 4th and 6th graders; Ed Begley, Jr. to speak); STAR ECO Station Children's Earth Day (rescued wild animals as well as an educational, entertaining carnival-type event).

[UPDATE] Saturday, 4/21, Create:Fixate is presenting a night called "Down to Earth." It's an art and music event that happens periodically, and this time several eco nonprofits are involved. I found out about this via Flavorpill, which means there will probably be hipsters a-plenty.


BIG SUNDAY is an annual volunteering day co-sponsored by the Los Angeles mayor's office. It's non-denominational and non-political -- a day when Angelenos of all walks of life come together to improve their city. Donate an hour, donate your entire weekend; it's up to you. I counted close to 100 different opportunities in the "environment" category alone, but there are several other categories including "health," "arts & culture" and "literacy."

Search their site for a project that sounds good to you: paint a Head Start pre-school, plant some trees, clean a beach.

If you aren't in L.A. but want to get out and get greening, is a great resource for finding local volunteer opportunities in areas you're passionate about.

Now, get out!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Notes from an unlikely vermicomposter

The second post on composting in 2 days! For as long as I can remember, my dad has had a back-yard composting bin. This is yet another one of his habits that I must admit I wasn’t always a willing participant in (like the reused wrapping paper), since he made us trek out to the yard and dump the stinky scraps.

But, not surprisingly, with age I realized how amazing it is that we can “close the loop” on at least some of our trash—not only keeping some of our food scraps out of landfills, but also turning them into super-rich soil. Eventually I started to long for the day when I have a house/yard and can build my own composter (will go nicely with that laundry line I’m waiting for, too). I assumed there was no way I could compost in an apartment. But, my sister has had a long-time interest in composting (see below!) and started nudging me about worm composting. For a while I resisted, because, well…as “treehugging” as I may appear, I’m really not a creepy-crawly kinda person. I was never one of those kids who was all cool with letting bugs and worms crawl all over me, ya know? And to have them in my apartment? Ewwwww…But, a few weeks ago I decided that keeping a portion of my waste out of landfills was more important than my personal phobias. It was time to grow up, face my creepy crawly fears, and set up my own worm compost in my apartment.

So this is what I did, and what you can do very easily too. I ordered one pound of red wiggler worms. I got mine from Happy D Ranch. If you live anywhere near a farm, you can just go and ask for some red worms and they will probably accommodate, which is cheaper and less energy-sucking than mailing. Just make sure you get red worms (Eisenia fetida) or red wigglers (Lumbricus rubellus) because other worms are not suited for composting. I couldn't find anywhere near me that has red worms, so I paid $38 (including shipping) for my pound. Happy D also threw in a "Promote Global Worming" bumper very clever.

I got a wooden box, and drilled some holes in it for air and drainage.

I made the bedding, out of newspaper, cardboard (I knew I’d been saving those toilet paper rolls for something), a little sawdust from drilling the holes, and a couple handfuls of dirt. All the websites I read instructed me to get the newspaper strips wet, like a wrung-out sponge. I was super-paranoid about the level of moisture (what if it's too wet and they drown, too dry and they dehydrate?), but I think I eventually got it right, and after all, worms are hardy. Only use black and white newspaper--put those "adult ads" at the back of the Weekly to good use.

So there was only one thing left to do. Open the worm box. Perhaps I shouldn't be admitting this publicly, but I almost had a nervous breakdown before I opened it. See, throughout the week, I started to realize that I was filled with dread every time I approached my door at night, for fear that they had arrived. Although I was anxious to get my composting going, I was secretly grateful each day that they weren't there. I figured, by the time they arrived, I would have done some mental strengthening exercises or something to prepare myself, right? So then, Friday night, I get home following after-work drinks, and there it was. I rationalized that they'd be ok for a few more hours until I was in a better state to deal with them in the morning, and after all, the box wasn't totally ready yet.

The next morning, after much hand-wringing and pacing, I finally approached the box. Although severely irrational, I was afraid that as soon as I cut the tape on the top of the box, worms would start pouring out, crawling all over my hands and covering my body. First cut. Nothing. Open flaps. Instructions from the ranch. Remove paper. A cloth pouch. Ok, I can deal with this. Unless they're all dead. I saw no movement. What if I've killed them before I even started? What if it was those few extra hours that killed them? I can't be going out for drinks now that I have life to sustain. Ok, I hovered over the bin, cut the pouch open and dumped the contents into the bin. It was a clomp of dirt. I saw no worms. After stepping back and realizing the worst was over, I approached the bin and used a wooden spoon to break open the dirt. Worms came cascading out. By this time, my fear of vermi-infestation had been replaced by vermicide, so I was just relieved to see life. I hadn't killed them before I started, after all...hoorah!

The rest was cake. I fed them the scraps I had been saving for the past week. Banana peels, apple cores, wilty leek leaves, and coffee grinds. I covered the layer of scraps with another layer of moist bedding, and covered the bin. In case you're wondering, there is no smell, since the food is buried. Per Molly's suggestion below, store to-be-composted scraps in the freezer to prevent odors before they get buried.

It's been a week now, and I've checked on them every day or so just so see what's going on in there, but I actually can't see much other than wiggling, which is always a relief. I'm just about to add my second round of food.

They can eat up to thrice their weight in food every week, which means three pounds for now. (Eventually they'll reproduce and I could feed them even more than that.) I still am unsure about how I sustain the moisture level going forward, so I'll be doing some vermi-research going forward. After a few months, I'll be able to start harvesting the worm castings--the super-rich compost that the worms poop out. Since I don't have a garden, I'll be doling out this rich, natural fertilizer to friends who do grow things. Want some?

Btw, unlike the city-wide San Francisco program Molly describes below, for your own home vermicomposting, you can only include the following food scraps:
fruit and vegetable scraps (chopped up as small as possible)
crushed egg shells
tea bags
coffee grinds and filters

I'll keep you updated on how my wormies progress. Moral of the story: In nature, nothing is waste--even what we consider trash has a vital role in the life cycle. Composting is an essential we can get the balance a little bit more right. Vermicomposting is an easy, viable option for urban dwellers. If the biggest wimp in the world can allow worms into her home, anyone can. Maybe I'll even let them crawl on my hand one day soon.

More specific info on making your bin:
City Farmer
Good Wikipedia article
How to make a worm bin
Worm woman

Friday, April 6, 2007

My chemical dependency

I'm a sucker for beauty products. You know all those commercials for products that promise shiny hair, bigger lips, smaller pores, mile-long eyelashes and basically a first-class ticket to the Miss America crown? Those commercials are made for people like me. I "ooh" and "aah" and instantly slink off to Target to get myself some pretty.

This habit of mine has created an enormous amount of clutter -- every available surface in my shower is taken up by various sizes, shapes and colors of plastic bottle. Do I use half of this crap? Uh, no. I'm a huge waster.

My beauty regimen needed some major greenification, so I consulted Treehugger's very thorough Women's Personal Care Guide. (Even if you're a dude you should still read it -- most of the info applies to both genders, and not to fear, the word "tampon" is only mentioned a couple of times.)

It's a really useful article, but their diatribe against certain chemicals sent me into freak-out mode. Number one and number two on their list of chemicals to avoid are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and parabens: they link them to cancer and various other scary words. And they're in every. thing. I. own. Every single day I was rubbing evil, cancer-making devil juice all over my unsuspecting body.

Excited by the packaging-free offerings from Lush Cosmetics, including their awesome natural deodorant, I scoured the ingredients on their solid (no plastic needed!) shampoos. SLS was in eeeeverything. It made my heart hurt, because I'd really believed in their lofty declarations on using organic ingredients, making things by hand, not testing on animals, and being people- and earth-friendly. So I wrote them a letter (like the giant dork I am), expressing my concerns about their use of SLS and parabens. Completely restoring my faith in them as one of the "good guys," Lush wrote me back within a day. They assured me that the FDAs in both Canada and the U.S. have approved all of their ingredients, and that they perform their own independent tests for safety as well. Their stance on the use of parabens (preservatives) is endearing: "We understand that preservatives are designed to kill life, and are therefore unsavory, which is why we make so many of our products in solid form." (Liquid products require preservatives because of the potential for bacteria growth.)

But I was still wary of these chemicals, and decided to research them further. Snopes, the urban legend site, has a very informative article on the (largely unfounded) SLS scare. Yes, it can potentially irritate sensitive skin -- but it's not actually associated with cancer. What really convinced me was the American Cancer Society's article "Debunking The Myth." They also set the record straight on parabens. If the American Cancer Society isn't too worried, neither am I.

Lush is still the only cosmetic company I know of that offers so many packaging-free options. Even beyond their earth-friendliness, they're really quality products -- they make my hair and skin feel, well, lush-ous. So now I'm replacing all my plastic bottles with Lush's solid shampoo, conditioner, face wash, and body butter. (Links are to my personal picks!) Their solid shampoos were actually designed for backpackers -- they can be used for washing hair, body, dishes and clothes. AND, if you buy 2 solid shampoos at once, Lush will throw in a free shampoo tin that you can keep reusing instead of amassing the little plastic bags they try to give you. Added bonus to solid beauty care products -- you can take them in your carry-on luggage when you travel!

City-Wide Composting

Hi, my name is Molly, and I am pleased to be living in a city where:

  • I don’t need a car (can get by walking and taking the bus)
  • They’ve just passed a law prohibiting plastic bags (see Sara’s earlier post with her appropriate concerns about replacing these with other disposable items).
  • There is city-wide composting!

If you guessed I live in San Francisco, that blustery coastal bastion of liberalism and yes, hippies, you're right. But once again, this hippie haven is leading the nation to greater environmental and consumer awareness.

City-Wide Composting!!

It’s true. The city provides complementary plastic bins where you can put ALL food scraps. This includes usually-unorthodox items for compost like meat, cheese, grains and even brown paper! I think this is because these items do biodegrade and relatively quickly, but they emit a bad odor, which is why they’re not recommendable for household composting systems.

So San Franciscans dump their food scraps into these green bins, which get collected along with the garbage, and all this compost is shipped off to one of three locations, all less than 70 miles away, where organic farms dump all the compost into these long bags and pump them with oxygen.

This aeration speeds up the decaying process. When you compost in your backyard, the matter goes through the same process, just more slowly. Because the aerating machines require energy, I see this as a slight kink in the system, but it's still far better than other systems that do not productively use this delicious, carbon-rich matter! The thoroughly converted matter—having spent but two short months in the conversion process—is then used as top-notch fertilizer for organic farms! One lucky farm in particular, Jepsen Prairie Organics, facilitates this whole composting process and sells the compost to other organic farms. I’ll say that’s a sweet deal they’ve got! These organic farms then sell their goods to, hopefully, San Franciscans and other locals. In theory, this is a closed-loop local food production system, and proponents claim it is. For more info., check it out:

If you do NOT live in San Francisco or a city with a composting system, do not despair! You, too, can compost! You have a few options:

  1. Set up a worm composting system. This is a great way to deal with your household food scraps. Stay tuned for more on this! If you are simply too squeamish about wormies, though:
  2. Find your local community garden and ask if you can compost your food there. I bet they say yes!
  3. If there’s no community garden, pool together with friends and neighbors to start a common compost pile where someone has a garden. Set up a rotation, and I bet you only need to tend it a couple times a year. Depending on how much fresh produce you eat, you could probably last a while, too, before taking your food scraps to this common place. In other words--It's easy and low-maintenance!

Here’s a tip that I’ve learned from my fellow San Franciscans: Keep your in-the-meantime compost bin in the freezer so you don’t smell the decaying food. (And for household and community garden compost piles, avoid composting meat and dairy products because of the stench).

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Hot or not?

The first of a recurring series where I implore you, the reader, to evaluate whether a certain action is a sensible step in the direction of sustainability, or is barking up the wrong, crazy-person-making tree. Several weeks ago, fed up with how many paper towels I was using at work, I brought my own hand towel from home and hung it up in the bathroom.

Let me back up. I ran the idea by my coworkers first as a joke, then as it became a recurring lunch topic, I started thinking seriously about the viability of the idea. My theory was this: You only need a towel if your hands are wet. Your hands are only wet if you have washed them. Maybe I'm naive, but I assume that most people do wash their hands with soap, or would be prompted to if they're using a communal towel. And yet, the idea of sharing a towel freaked some of my coworkers out-namely, the men. (We have a unisex bathroom, and believe me, it's not nearly as cool as it was on Ally McBeal.) All the men were grossed out by the idea, but eventually some agreed to use it with provisions. One said he would use it if got washed every weekend. Fine. Another would if there were 5 towels, for each day of the week. Ridiculous! Some said straight-up that they would never use it. So I ended up bringing a towel in one day, hanging it on a hook that just happened to be in the bathroom, and putting up a sign inviting everyone to use it after washing hands with soap. I noted that it would be washed every weekend, and to please, not be afraid. The results have been...well, mixed. I know for sure that at least one other person uses it regularly. Better than nothing, right? One other colleague admitted to using a dry corner of it, once. Others have welcomed it when we run out of paper towels. However, I can't help but notice how many paper towels there still are in the trash, so I'm not claiming a major victory here. At the same time, I hold strong in my beliefs that in recent years we have become an overly germophobic society, which has fueled our disposable addiction. I think we obsess about germs way more than we need to. I should add that it's a small office, I don't think anyone has questionable hygiene habits, and heck, I have and would take sips out of their drinks at happy hour. So why not share a towel? My question to you is: Would you use the towel and why/why not? Hot or not?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

On becoming a veggiebuffalowingatarian

This is going to make me sound like a loony, but at the start of the year I had a really intense nightmare that seemed to have a very clear message: stop eating meat. In reality, I think it had much more to do with the giant beers and platefuls of buffalo wings I had before going to bed than any sort of cosmic communication from the universe. My body was whimpering "must... have... leafy greens," and I decided to listen -- I swore off meat the very next day.

At first my reasoning for not eating meat was shaky to say the least... I had a dream that told me eating meat was wrong? Okay, crazy lady. Since I have all the willpower of a wet noodle, I needed a better reason than that if I was going to stick with vegetarianism. I did really well the first week or so -- no desire for meat whatsoever. But then I started to feel like my options were kind of limited... maybe quitting meat cold tofurkey wasn't for me. I decided I would start eating fish again, since fish are not particularly cute and in fact, I've always thought they were a little creepy. I realize that "high creep factor" is a terrible justification for eating something, so I came up with other reasons, too: fish is much lower in saturated and trans fat than other meats, plus we're always hearing about the benefits of omega-3 acids.

But one day as I sat staring longingly at the tantalizing orange-ginger chicken my boyfriend had ordered from a local Chinese place, I remembered that chicken? It's delicious. And I love it. I began to panic a little as I realized how difficult it was going to be to keep up a meat-free diet. This radical life-change stuff couldn't be done on a whim.

Over the last several months, I've become much more aware of my relationship to the environment, thanks to some general waking-up I've done on my own and a lot of inspiration from Sara. And as I considered my personal impact on the environment more and more, I couldn't help but begin to apply that same critical thinking to other facets of my daily life. Like, where did my food come from? I had always disassociated the end product on my plate with the journey it took to get there. I started to think long and hard about the implications of being a carnivore. I did a little internet research, and after seeing some pretty disturbing stuff on PETA's web site and reading Sara's post about the effect of unsustainable agriculture on the environment, I had some compelling reasons to go veg.

But anyone who was raised on a meaty diet knows that deciding to be veggie is a huge deal -- and you're confronted with it three square times a day. Even though lots of animal rights organizations and environmental groups urge vegetarianism, and it's a highly commendable lifestyle, I know it's not for everyone. And it's not entirely for me.

Factory farming seriously gives me the willies for what it does to the animals, the environment and our health -- but there are alternatives. Lots of farmers, grocery stores and restaurants employ methods that respect animals and the environment. is a great resource for learning what exactly sustainable food is, why it's important and perhaps most helpful of all, where to buy it. This handy feature allows you to enter your zip code and find all the places near you offering earth-friendly foods.

Obviously my "no meat" policy has undergone several revisions in the last couple months, but I think I've finally settled on something I can feel good about. My plan is to only eat meat that is sustainably produced. Sustainable meat isn't available everywhere you go -- you kind of have to seek it out. That works really well for me, actually, in that my meat intake is already being limited just due to availability. It's great in terms of health (I have a med-student friend who completely stopped eating red meat after dissecting a couple cadavers and seeing what it does to the body... umm, ew) and it also means that my contribution to greenhouse gases from unsustainable agriculture is seriously reduced, too. AND, when I do get to eat meat (yay!) I don't have to feel guilty because the entire process has been as kind to the animal and the planet as possible. Plus, it makes me more creative when preparing non-meat meals. I've discovered all kinds of delightful foods I've never had the motivation to try before. I've included some recommendations and tips below:

-- Trader Joe's has tons of organic, meat-free and animal-friendly foods -- and they're cheap! I'm totally obsessed with their veggie buffalo wings, as you can probably tell from the picture above.

-- The Audubon Society has prepared this pocket guide to knowing which types of fish are most eco-friendly.

-- There are some great imitation ground beef products out there -- I like Smart Ground. It tastes fantastic and is a great meat substitute in tacos, enchiladas, shepherd's pie, and pretty much anything you'd normally put ground beef in.

-- Go out for Indian food. Most of India is vegetarian, so Indian food restaurants have tons and tons of veggie options. The flavors are mind-blowing, and you'll experience mouth-watering dishes you'd never dreamed of.

-- I'm going to say with 99.9% certainty that if a restaurant/grocery store/etc. doesn't explicitly state that their meat is organic, free-range or in any way sustainably raised, you can bet that it's not eco-friendly. Establishments that sell sustainable food are proud of that fact, and they'll definitely tell you about it up front.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

San Francisco bans plastic bags!!

It's not often that I do a double take while scanning the Yahoo news before logging into my email. But today there was actually some news of consequence. Yesterday, San Francisco passed the long-awaited plastic bag ban. This is a happy day, folks! My only concern is the focus in the articles I've read is being placed on biodegradable bags, which as we know, are NOT the solution. They are resource intensive to make, and what's the point, when we have such a viable solution in reusable bags? Hopefully future coverage will focus more on reusable bags, and in the meantime, it's still as step in the right direction.

The Yahoo article is not great...this LA Times story is better.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Kinda like my own milkman

A couple weeks ago, while perusing my new favorite grocery store, Co-opportunity in Santa Monica, I was reminded that it's still possible to buy at least one beverage in a refillable container here in the U.S.
Yep, the picture doesn't lie: It's 2007 and milk can be bought in a glass bottle, folks. This is no revelation--I've definitely seen the bottles in natural food stores before. But for some reason I never considered taking the plunge-- I must have always assumed it would be too much trouble to remember to return the bottle. Isn't it funny how we remember the sub-plots of long-cancelled TV shows but fear we'd never be able to remember to take an empty a milk bottle to the store? Well, I can assure you that the process is quite simple. I bought the milk, paid an extra $1.10 for the bottle deposit, enjoyed its freshness--it really does taste better in glass!--rinsed the bottle and returned it tonight. I wasn't quite sure what to expect on this end, but was pleased to receive my $1 back (don't know what happened to the 10 cents...). No more throwaway cartons for me! They even have a pricier chocolate version, which I'm already fantasizing about. Added bonus: The milk company--Broguiere's--is in Montebello, which is just about as local as a dairy farm can get. Can't beat reusable AND local. Ooh, a quick google search reveals that their choc milk is divine and seasonal egg nog is a fav among foodies...has even been profiled by our man Huell Howser. More on Broguiere's.