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.

Cha-cha changes

Now and then we all get over-extended, don't we? (That's me in a much happier space... Mexico... mere weeks ago. Que paso?) Well, instead of reaching the point of no return where I snap, say f#*k trying to do anything productive in the world, and wile away my life under a nice bottle of scotch, I've decided to call for some backup. So that I can pursue some related projects, keep my job, and hopefully my sanity, I have invited two "guest bloggers" to join me for the time being. May I introduce you to my guest blogging lasses: Molly, my 'lil sis (known here for her dumpster diving college days, video-making skills, and general backbone to the operation), and my friend Becky, (all-around lifestyle inspiration, commenter extraordinaire with her own blogging chops--remember her call to "Feck driving"?). They'll be adding their voices to the mix as they report from the front lines of their own efforts to make their lives more sustainable. Welcome, lasses!

Also, just cuz I'm feeling feisty, there won't always be a "tip of the week". Yes, it's paradoxical: the tips of the week will be occasional. There will sometimes still be broad general themes, but we might focus more on shorter entries, such as the one about the Lush deodorant, below. And aw heck, I might start getting a little philosophical on your arses from time to time. You know, talk about how backwards things are these days. Y'all can handle it, right?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Next post...coming soon!

Work has been particularly crazy lately...sorry for the neglect! Check back soon!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Be Unpackaged

Isn't it affirming when you see an idea you've had (but weren't sure about the viability of) put into action? Over in Clerkenwell, England a woman recently started a company called Unpackaged--which sells food and other necessitities, well, without the packaging. The idea is simple: You show up at the weekly market with your own containers, and fill them up to your heart's content. What's really cool is that in addition to the usual bulk offerings like beans, rice, nuts, teas, and grains, they've also found a way to sell package-free household cleaners, liquid hand soap, and toilet paper. So there IS a way--I knew it! I also love the section of their website titled "Evil Packaging", which is worth quoting extensively:

"The Problem with Packaging--Waste: Unnecessary packaging is a waste of resources at every level: to produce, store and transport, remove and to dispose of. Pollution: The two main methods of disposing of this packaging – landfill and incineration – are major pollutants for humans and the environment and release greenhouse gases. What about recycling? While some packaging is recycled, most ends up in landfill sites and some packaging is just difficult and often impossible to recycle. Recycling is certainly part of the solution, but it will only work if we use less packaging in the first place and adopt more reusable ways of doing things- it is this ethos of reuse that Unpackaged is based on."

Sigh...Why do all the cool things seem to be going on in the UK? Anyone interested in getting the idea going here? Hmm? In the meantime, remember, we've got a viable unpackaged option too: the bulk bins of your local health stores/Whole Foods. Just remember to bring your own produce bags, or reuse the plastic ones over and over...

Unpackaged (via Treehugger)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Smell good AND be plastic-free

A couple months ago, I reported on a Canadian chick who's going "plastic-free in 2007". She's finding ways to shop for groceries and other necessities without feeding our plastic addiction. I got inspired to follow in her footsteps and try to keep myself fresh and dry without the use of plastic.

She offered the tip that Lush peddles deodorant not cased in plastic, so like an addict, I headed to the closest Lush store with much anticipation. I was not disappointed--I had never been inside one of their stores, and was super-psyched to see that most of their products are sold with no packaging! Yes, these are the things that excite me these days, people. The soaps and various "moisturizing bars" are stacked on top of each other, which gives the store an amazing aroma--surprisingly, not in an overwhelming way. The salespeople wrap your purchases in a little paper or small plastic bag, which I tried to refuse, but they convinced me that some of the products would crumble in my bag if left free-floating. (Next time, I'll bring my own). The point is, for the last couple months, I've been using this product, (pictured above), which is not only plastic-free, but also actually works! The added bonus is that it's also a natural deodorant, not a creepy, aluminum-based antiperspirant. But unlike the experience I've had with other natural deodorants (think Toms of Maine) that I have buried deep in my bathroom after failed (smelly) usage attempts, I didn't find myself alarmed halfway through the day. Although, I have found that there has been a week here or there where it seemed to work not quite as well. According to my knowledgeable "skin care coach", Nina Curtis (email me if you're in LA and are want to have the most amazing facial of your life--I'll give you her info), as women, our body chemistry changes throughout our cycles, so it is likely that a natural deodorant will work less well the week before your period. Not sure if guys' chemistry ever changes. So, my plan is to use my Lush bar most of the time, then resort to the old standby antiperspirant at certain times in my cycle. It cost $7.60, but has been going strong for 2 months and looks like it's going to last for several more, so seems to be a good value. Check here to see if there's a Lush store near you. Or, check out your local natural foods store for similiar products that aren't cased in plastic --such as the well-known "Rock" deodorant.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What to do with Fido's Poop WEEK

Of late, my nightmares are not made up of the usual, expected villains (you know--people chasing me, strange animals, old boyfriends, etc.), but rather are comprised of a chorus of voices asking one piercing question: "But what about my dog's poop?".
The question inevitably arrives at the end of a reusable bag pitch and is especially devastating because it's only asked after someone is totally on board with the reusable bag issue, but has one very real, smelly problem. Up until now, I've only been able to give lame, wishy-washy answers, like "Um, I'm still working on that one..." So I figured it was high-time to confront the issue straight on and do some serious research. And I'll just say it now: There is not one, easy, monolithic solution. But like many challenges we face, the answers are more like patchwork that take a bit more effort and thought what we've been used to (in this case, using the "free" plastic bags from the grocery store). Here are some ideas, with the goal of still reducing our overall disposable bag intake. They are listed in order from least to most radical...For those of you who aren't dog owners, please pass this info along to friends who are!

I'm learning that, like me, lots of well-intentioned people have been stashing plastic bags away in a drawer because it just didn't feel right to toss them. These already-in-circulation bags are a gold-mine for dog-owners! Tell everyone in your office that you're willing to take all those unwanted bags off their hands. If even a few people have a stash like mine, you'll be set for months...or who knows, years! And you're doing others a favor by making use of their saved bags, so that they can feel free to go reusable.


While many people are religious about reusing plastic grocery bags for various household purposes, we tend to overlook the other kinds of plastic bags that we end up with. Think newspaper bags, the plastic liners inside cereal boxes, the bags that wrap junk mail, bread loaf bags, toilet paper packaging. Lord knows we could probably heat our homes with all the packaging we end up with just after a trip to the drug store, so start salvaging those less-utilized nuggets of plastic gold. Reuse everything!

There is an emerging industry of "bioplastics" attempting to address the petroleum-based (polyethylene) plastic problem. These bags are made out of various vegetable starches, oils, and soy. Their usefulness is that they biodegrade in a landfill, thus offering a solution to our more ubiquitous never-biodegrading plastic friend. The problem that "bioplastics" doesn't solve is the one of resource-intensive production. Like their polyethylene counterparts, they still seem to require large amounts of water and energy in their manufacturing. They might also increase mono-cropping and use of toxic fertilizers. And, just as we're seeing with the emerging bio-fuel trend, using food for non-food production purposes tends to drive up the prices of crops. Are the problems associated with them worse than with regular plastics? Probably not, but with all this in mind, I can't offer biodegradable bags as "the" solution for our poopy problem. But as a part of an overall "patchwork" strategy, they could ease your polyethylene burden. They are available at many natural food stores and can be bought here.

Remember I said these ideas are moving toward most radical, so with that in mind, what about using non-bag pooper scoopers? This is especially for those of you with yards who don't have to tote the poop with you on a long hike. What about newspaper, old magazine pages, cereal boxes? If it's going straight from your backyard to an outdoor trashcan, there should be no problem utilizing some other piece of household garbage that was headed for the trash anyway, right?


This one if for those seriously committed to addressing the problem of animal waste. Yes, you can compost dog poop, but not with your food compost and not to be used on any plants you will actually be eating from your garden. Learn all about it here. On a side note, I need to point out that leaving poop on the ground wherever your baby happened to go is NOT an environmentally safe option. It will get absorbed into soil via rain or simply time, and we definitely don't want those microbes mixed into our water supply. Remember, this is just a local version of how e. coli gets spread by farm animals into our food and water supplies. But, composting it IS a good and simple solution, so let me know how that goes.

As we've seen, there are definitely viable alternatives to using plastic bags for our poopy problem. But for most people, there will inevitably be some plastic bag usage involved. So while dog owners may not be able to go totally reusable on the bag front, all the more reason to get reusable in other areas. You could have a strict "no plastic water bottles" rule or be religious about always getting coffee in your refillable mug...Offset your plastic bag usage by reducing your eco-footprint in other ways, like drive 10 fewer miles a week. The possibilities are endless! (Check my archives for other ideas!). Let me know how these ideas work, and if you are taking other measures to address the poo problem.

Want to know more about "greening" your pet? Read Treehugger's ideas. There's info for you cat people too.

UPDATE: Here's what my dad has to say about his solution (that's his pup Ruthie, above--adorable, ain't she?): "What I do---in case you want to know---is on my runs, I am on the lookout for bags, and believe it or not, I always find some that are blowing around, stuck in fences, trees, ands so on. I therefore pick up Ruth's poop and take a tacky bag out of circulation at the same time." Go, Papa! Also, just read on No Impact Man's site that he picks up something off the top of a trashcan and uses that to do the business. If he can be "No Impact Man" and still have a dog, we can all find alternatives ways to scoop the poop!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Bolsas, bottles, and mangos

My trip to Mexico was by no means "eco-friendly". I took a variety of planes, buses, cars, vans, boats, and taxis to get to and around the rainforest and ruins of Chiapas. Travel is becoming increasingly recognized as a huge contributor to global warming, for obvious reasons. And I'm sure this is what people say about their Hummers, but damnit, traveling makes me happy like nothing else. Visiting other cultures invigorates me, rejuvenates me, and enriches my perspective on the world. Isn't that important? If I'm good the rest of the year, can I please keep my one international trip a year? Please?! As much as I've been skeptical about carbon offsetting--(I'm still not convinced it does much more than assuage guilt about our privileged lifestyles--please, someone convince me that it's worth it!)--I'm going to look into it to, well, assuage my guilt about my travel pollution. The other thing I have to come clean about is that for the first time since October, I drank out of plastic water bottles. Unfortunately, there was really no other choice. We had no means to boil our water and I'm not sure if it would have been wise to drink iodine-enriched water all week long. But a couple of the places I stayed had water available for tourists, so I was able to refill my bottles several times. OK, now on to the good news. While I was feeling travelers' guilt, I was simultaneously heartened to see some local practices that we could learn a thing or two from. Mexico gets it right in a lot of ways. For your consideration:


Lots of them. I would constantly look up and see them in hotels, bathrooms, and in the most random places, like this fruit stand near a popular waterfall. That's my traveling companera Lori eating a glorious Mexican mango. Why is CFL usage so widespread down south? Because they last longer and undoubtedly save much-needed dinero. It just makes sense!


Clothes dryers are extremely rare in Mexico, as in other countries. In fact, even well off families hang-dry their clothes. It's so much fresher and adds some color to the backyard.


This is a huge one. The bottles don't get recycled, they actually get REFILLED (yes, after extensive sterilization). Refilling beverage containers used to be a common practice in our country too (more on this soon), and still exists in other countries out of economic necessity. People place a deposit on the bottles at purchase, and must return the bottle to not lose the deposit. This exists in some states in the U.S., but none that I've ever lived in...Gee, when I think of fall the beer bottles, over all the years...I would feel better about my own amount of imbibing knowing they had been reused again and again, wouldn't you?


I saw this all over--trash separated into "organic" and "inorganic" or paper and plastic. Presumably they compost the organic matter (food and paper), instead of sending it to a landfill. I'm going to look into this further to see what this program is all about. That's the remains of a mango going into the organic side of an airport trash bin. (BTW, that wasn't even my last mango before leaving the country. I actually cut one open right on my tray table before we landed in L.A. The flight attendants thought I was a crazy person).


Perhaps my strongest memory of visiting Mexico as a child is of women carrying their colorful bolsas at the markets. And while I did notice a plastic ubiquity encroaching on the country this time, I was relieved to see that reusable bags are still alive and well. Women visit the market every morning, and fill their bolsas with some of the freshest produce in the world. The platanitos, nopales, and yes, mangos definitely wouldn't deign to rub skin with plastic.

Are any of these practices a huge inconvenience on people's lives? Would any of them catapult us back to the dark ages? I don't think so.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Treehugger's Convenient Truths Contest

Just got back from Mexico...saw some amazing stuff, including many basic "green" practices that we, their northern neighbors, could learn from. I add the parenthesis because I'm sure most of the energy-saving practices I noticed are done out of economic necessity and because they just make sense, darnit, rather than out of any conscious environmental motivation. Will be reporting on those observations and my attempts to tread lightly while traveling shortly...

In the meantime, check out a video that my sister and I (that's us!) entered in Tree- hugger's Convenient Truths contest. It's a quick and simple exultation of--what else?--the virtues of reusable bags. If you like it, give us some love and rate it. And be sure to check out some of the other videos...Treehugger wanted to know what people are doing to fight global warming, and there are lots of great responses. It's encouraging to see how many people took up the call. Thanks to my sis Molly for doing most (read: all) of the work!

Me on Treehugger