Monday, September 22, 2008


I saw an excellent documentary yesterday, titled "FLOW" (FLOW stands for "For Love Of Water). I thought to myself, man, I must be getting old if I'm voluntarily going to watch a whole movie just about water. But I'm really glad I did!

It was a compelling look at water systems around the world, and a call for action. I thought I would walk away feeling badly for all the people who live in third world countries without access to safe, clean drinking water. And I did. But I also received the rude awakening that our own water systems here in the US are not as safe or as clean (or as stable) as we'd maybe like to believe they are. As if to underscore this point, the AP ran this article today about rocket fuel in public water supplies.

The threat that is posed to people around the world if we don't reign in the power of some of the large global corporations is made clear. Coca Cola's actions in Plachimada, India is an issue that I've addressed previously. What I didn't know is that the Nestle Corporation has threatened and abused local water supplies right here in the United States (namely Michigan).

This is a wonderful film that I would encourage everybody to see if they have the chance. As alarming as the world water situation is, I didn't leave feeling despair. I left feeling that we haven't yet passed the point of no return. There is still time for us to fix what we've broken - and doing that will require, to paraphrase one of the interviewees from the film, for all of us to decide what we value, and to begin acting accordingly.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Posts are due today for the second APLS blog carnival on the topic of affluence! Make your submissions to aplscarnival [at] gmail [dot] com.

The response last time was amazing; I can't wait to see what everybody comes up with this month!

Also, don't forget to check out the APLS blog to see if a regional group has formed for your area yet - it's a great way to connect with other APLS living near you. If a group hasn't formed, you can always start one! Just send us a note and we'd be happy to get you started.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

give me a break...

I'm not one who normally watches a lot of television, especially during the day. Every now and then, though, a good dose of Judge Judy can restore for us the illusion that we are far more normal than the rest of the population. So yesterday, I caved.

What horrified me most was not the woman who was fighting with her deceased fiance's mother over the property purchased with the income from his drug dealing business prior to his death, but an advertisement I saw during a commercial break.

The ad featured a bunch of kids playing in a park, with two moms standing by a picnic table. One of them starts pouring cups of some sort of red juice drink from a gallon jug. The other mom questions why she doesn't seem to care what she lets her kids consume, including high fructose corn syrup.

The mom pouring the crap responds by indicating that corn syrup is all natural, (made from corn!), comparable in calories to sugar, and fine in moderation. The other mom stutters and looks stupid before finally saying, "hey, that's a great blouse you're wearing."

I hate to break it to all of us, but this is America, and moderation is not something we're particularly good at.

Apparently the fact that a food is comparable to sugar is the new standard. The fact that it is devoid of other nutritional value is not relevant.

What bothers me about this commercial is that there are people out there who will see it and use it as an excuse to continue making poor dietary choices for themselves and their children. I guess that's kind of the point, though.

Did anyone else catch this commercial?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

we should be scared

I've been thinking a lot these days about the connection between our ability to gather together to build community and our ability to create a better world. There is absolutely a link between our ability to freely exercise our rights as guaranteed under the constitution (freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly) and our ability to make a lasting change in the way we protect (or refuse to protect) our planet.

I'm beginning to doubt whether substantive changes will ever take place after some of the news out of Minnesota this week. We keep hearing about the gradual erosion of our civil liberties, but most people don't actually seem all that concerned. Why?

A journalist named Amy Goodman was arrested with two of the producers of her news show while they were recording protest events at the RNC, despite wearing their press identification and verbally identifying themselves as press. Do your own homework, but if you think this is wrong, consider contacting the District Attorney or other public officials and demand that they drop the charges against these journalists.

There were many other abuses of power and authority in St. Paul last week - this is an excellent editorial that looks at some of the arrests and the reasons behind them.

I'm disgusted and appalled. I don't even have the stomach to write more.

Friday, September 5, 2008


APLS stands for “Affluent People Living Sustainably.” The part of this acronym that consistently makes people cringe and consider opting out is the “A” for Affluent. Some may confess that they haven’t reached a totally sustainable lifestyle yet, and are still working towards it (which is true for almost all of us, by the way!) but nearly everyone protests at the use of the word affluent. “I’m not affluent” is very often the immediate reaction. gives the following definition of the word: “having an abundance of wealth, property, or other material goods; prosperous; rich.” Within the context of one’s town, state, or even country, many of us could rightly claim that, relatively speaking, we are not affluent. As APLS, however, we recognize that a global perspective is crucial to healing the problems faced by our world today, like climate change. Taken from a global perspective then, there are very few people living in the industrialized world who are not affluent. Assume for a moment that you make $6 an hour. This is certainly not enough money to be considered affluent by US standards. But when looked at from the global point of view, that income still would place you in the top 12.88% of the world’s wealthiest people. Check out the globalrichlist and play around with the numbers. It’s scary and interesting at the same time. Let’s skip past the “wealth and property” section of the definition of affluence for a moment, and focus on the other aspects, which include having an abundance of other material goods. Most of us in this country, regardless of how small our incomes, have enough money to own more than one pair of pants, and more than one shirt. If we were honest about it, most of us probably own more shirts than we can readily list. We therefore have an abundance of clothing. Most of us also own many other material goods. For example, I don’t eat my dinner on the floor, because I have a table to sit at, and chairs to sit in. I eat baked items when I want to because I have an oven to cook my food in. I am entertained at the push of a button because I have a television. None of these items are markers of affluence in North American society, where I live, but they certainly would be in many parts of the world. Any travel to parts of the globe that are still industrializing quickly reveals that there are many, many, many, people today living without a change of clothes, even while the ones they are wearing are dirty and torn. Countless people live in shacks and huts that are too small to contain a kitchen table or chairs. Even if they somehow made space for an oven, electricity is not reliable and fuel is too expensive to run such luxury appliances. Even as communities, we are wealthy. We have no shortage of hospitals, schools, roads, police, fire departments, safe drinking water, and on and on. It seems hard, then, when we really consider our fortune compared to the rest of the world, to claim we are not affluent. Even those of us who are voluntarily leading simpler lives are still affluent in the global context. Yet there does seem to be some resistance still to this word. Is it a collective guilt? Does the idea of our being affluent somehow run counter to the ideals we thought we adhered to and lived by? Are we worried that assuming this label puts us in the company of people like Imelda Marcos and Kenneth Lay? If that’s the concern, it seems a bit unfounded. We don’t live in a black and white world. There are a million shades of color. Just because we aren’t Bill Gates doesn’t mean we aren’t wealthy. If we have a change of clothes, or a car, television, refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, dvd player, or computer, we are affluent compared to most of the world. To deny that in some ways takes away from the experience of the person who truly does live in poverty. Living on very little money in an industrialized country is not really comparable to being poor in Sub-Saharan Africa, or southeast Asia, or many other places around the world. As APLS, what we must come to terms with is not whether or not we are affluent, but how to deal with our affluence. And that is the power of this community. With affluence comes choice – the choice to live sustainably or not. Looked at another way, if you are choosing to live sustainably, you are privileged in a way that many in the world are not. We are the privileged few in this world who can afford to live unsustainably. Yet we are choosing not to. Rather than deny our privilege, we must accept the responsibility to live our lives in the most sustainable manner possible, and to encourage others to do so as well, in whatever way is comfortable for each of us. What most of us are finding is that we are even more affluent than we thought after making the choice to live as sustainably as we can. Because the realization that we all keep coming to is that more money doesn't make us feel any wealthier, for the most part. A more sustainable lifestyle, however, frees us from the burdens of material things and allows us to spend more time having experiences and being with people rather taking care of things and acquiring new things. More sustainable means more living - and that makes us feel privileged beyond belief.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


sometimes it's our time to talk. and sometimes it's our time to listen. right now, I feel like it's my time to listen.

so no, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. but I'm listening, with not too much to say right now.

enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The First APLS Blog Carnival

The big day is finally here - our first ever APLS blog carnival! I am thrilled to have the honor of hosting, and equally pleased with the absolutely amazing response we've received to the first topic - What does living sustainably mean to you?

The answers were surprisingly more varied than I might have expected - I encourage you to take the time to look at each and every post if time allows.

The highlights, in no particular order:

Lori at Life in Webster Groves starts us at the beginning, walking us through the various definitions of the word "sustainable" and and explaining, quite eloquently, how those of us who self-describe as APLS meet the criteria for each of those subtly varying definitions.

Green Resolutions uses the analogy of parenting to illustrate the point that the question of what constitutes sustainable living is one that has to be answered by each family based on their unique situation.

Farmer's Daughter approaches the question from a teacher's point of view and looks at personal sustainability through the textbook Four Basic Principles of Ecosystem Sustainability to share what sustainability means for her.

Green Bean very convincingly argues that a sustainable lifestyle is not the same thing as a self-sufficient lifestyle, but rather that the sustainable lifestyle actually leads to an embracing of other members of our community and building of relationships.

Eco Burban Mom explores how living in our disposable world actually keeps us busier than a more sustainable lifestyle, and opts to trade more stuff for more time.

Surely You Nest gives us permission to embrace (or at least periodically snuggle with) our inner junk food lover - and tells us why it's not necessarily incompatible with living sustainably - I for one appreciate that!

Arduous explores balance and compromise in relation to sustainability, and acknowledges the importance of recognizing what works for you and your lifestyle, so that the changes you make can be long-lasting.

Going Green offers pictures (and oh what pictures they are!) to answer the question - along with the now expected healthy dose of levity and humor, of course.

Simple-green-organic-happy answers the question in a delightful manner, couching her answer in the context of a wonderful children's novel, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - I've ordered a copy to re-read already!

Chez Artz reminds us that sustainability is a continuum and that walking down the road gradually is okay.

Fake Plastic Fish avoids almost all mention of plastic (or fish, for that matter) and discusses the importance of awareness while attempting to live more sustainably.

Civic Lessons discusses her history as a small "e" environmentalist, her desire to be a big "E" environmentalist, and the joys of being called a dirty hippy.

Mindful Momma explains that trying to keep up with the Joneses isn't always such a bad thing - especially if the Joneses are living more sustainable lives.

Going Green Mama explains how sometimes sustainability can be forced by circumstances beyond our control, but no matter the route, a sustainable lifestyle is often a much happier lifestyle.

One Size Fits All discusses the concept of "enough" and how a true understanding of what this means can help lead to a more sustainable lifestyle.

Heather at Simple Green Frugal discusses the importance of recognizing your place in the grand scheme of things, the fact that living more sustainably is a process, not just a decision, and acknowledges that the "why" of living sustainably may be different for each of us.

Melinda at Elements in Time challenges us to prove that we can change our unsustainable behaviors without being faced with a major disaster or crises, and to look at sustainability in all aspects of life, such as body, food, and products.

The Purloined Letter probes the link between justice and sustainability and provides an excellent analysis of Richard Heinberg's axioms on sustainability.

Greenfluencer makes an analogy between sustainability and dieting, and encourages us to consider whether our newly adopted behaviors can be continued indefinitely, and to make sure we ease into things at a pace that's right for us.

Greeen Sheeep illustrates how sometimes, when everything gives, we can be unexpectedly blessed with a more sustainable lifestyle.

Lynn at Organic Mania is striving to live more sustainably, even if her son does think she's a meanie, and even if it means a little more planning and organization.

What's Your Name, Mommy? reminds us that living sustainably is a practice, not a competition - and if it stresses us out, it's not sustainable.

Inner Monologue of a Madwoman explores sustainable living against the backdrop of Christianity and finds that the two are very compatible.

Crstn85 has been watching the Olympics and thinking about sustainability on a global scale.

Organic Needle offers a beautiful look at the ways in which sustainability has led to a happier life for her and her family - a life that is rich with both connections and experiences.

Simple Living in a Complex Society examines how small steps compound each other and can have larger impacts than we might have expected - but we must decide to take the small steps.

Bobbi at To Live Local walks us through the major phases of her life to share how she's arrived at her current state of synthesis between her economic, political, and social values.

Home Is... shares how her path to a more sustainable lifestyle began when she realized that she was a part of the problem, not the solution - and then began working to change that.

Will at Green Couple explores the differences between local and global sustainability, and looks at how a focus on money can lead us down that path via the king of the 3Rs, Reduce.

Green Arizona looks at sustainability through the lens of health concerns, and reminds us that education is the key.

IB Mommy wants to be a sustainable pirate (and yes, there is such a thing, as she shows us!)

VWXYNot outlines some of the changes she's made on her path to sustainability - and turns out to be a much darker shade of green than she gives herself credit for, in this APLS opinion!

Greene Onion also shares some baby steps being taken towards sustainability, recognizing that gradual change is most likely to be lasting change.

Ecoinhabitant looks at sustainability in the context of our alignment with nature.

Mother Earth shares with us some of the ways she is working to achieve sustainability in both her personal as well as her professional life, and reminds us of the importance of maintaining flexibility in how we define things.

and, last but not least, Kneedly Knots reminds us of the importance of a balance of giving and receiving, and ethics in our quest for sustainability.

That wraps up this month's APLS blog carnival - don't forget to check out the Facebook Group, and of course the APLS blog page to catch up on all sorts of other exciting activities going on! If you haven't been added to the Bushel Basket yet, please leave a comment letting us know that you'd like to be included, and we'll toss you in!

THANK YOU to each and every contributor who took the time to write such thoughtful posts - you've helped to make this first APLS blog carnival an overwhelming success!

Friday, August 8, 2008


My little brother and his wonderful fiance will be married tomorrow! I couldn't be happier!

I'm not eloquent when it comes to serious life events, but congratulations to both of you, and welcome to the family to my new sister in law. Love you guys!

I'll be back for real, very soon!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

come visit me over at the Blogging Bookworm!

My review of Jonathan Raban's "Bad Land" is over at the Blogging Bookworm today. This book was a surprise green read for me, by which I mean that I didn't know it was about green issues until after I started reading it. I won't say much else about it here, because that would sort of defeat the purpose of posting it over there, wouldn't it?

Stop by and check it out - and if you're not a regular visitor over there, do browse through some of the fabulous past reviews and find some inspiration for your next green book! A lot of very bright, well spoken people have reviewed an incredible variety of books (even some for kids)!

Thanks again to the wonderful women who keep the Blogging Bookworm alive: Chocolate Crayons, Going Crunchy, Green Bean, and kale for sale.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Digging through the trash

I was out exploring with my Dad today, and he took me to one of his favorite spots: an old trash dump! He's quite the treasure hunter!

It was amazing looking at what had been chucked. We weren't sure about the exact age of the site, but we're guessing it was not used after the 1950s, and we really have no idea when it started being used.

The most common items there were bottles, in every shape, size, and color. There were also a lot of pieces of broken dishes, a lot of shoe parts, many rusting out metal pots, buckets, cans, and even an old Model T Ford chassis, with the license plate still attached. Things were still recognizable, but were definitely well on their way to decay and decomposition. Nothing was bagged up. I guess garbage bags weren't invented back then.

I was thinking about all the plastic in our lives, and what one of our trash dumps might look like in a hundred years. I fear that it won't be evident whether our trash was left a year earlier or a century earlier. I worry that nothing in our landfills will be slowly returning back into the earth, but will be sitting there perfectly preserved as if in an Egyptian tomb.

It reminded me all over again just why it's so important to be cognizant of what materials the products I buy are made from. Sure it's great if I can recycle a plastic milk bottle when I'm done with it, but if a glass version is available, wouldn't I rather have that? Serving utensils in my kitchen will eventually break. When this happens, don't I want to worry about how to dispose of a piece of wood rather than plastic, even if that plastic has another use before it's finally thrown away? I know I'm not the first one to think about this issue, but sometimes we need our own experiences to make things hit home for us. Looking at a pile of somebody's relatively sustainable garbage made me realize that although I've cut my trash output drastically, what trash I do create isn't going anywhere anytime soon. That's not the kind of legacy I'm hoping to leave.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

um, seriously?

OK, I was flying today, and I never leave an airport without being irritated about something.

You know that rule they have at the airport now about no liquids over 3 ounces can be carried past the security checkpoint? Things like plastic water bottles are strictly verboten past the metal detectors these days. Well, if you've been in airport recently, you've observed the tossing of countless contraband bottles. Straight into the TRASH CAN.

Can somebody get the TSA a couple recycling bins? Please? I mean, they have these giant garbage bins there anyway for people to toss the bottles into. Couldn't they make it a recycling bin as easily as a trash bin?

Or is recycling some kind of a security threat now too?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Trim your waste (and your waist)

I'm off today for a whirlwind tour - I have three weddings to attend in the next three weeks, for two great friends as well as my brother. It should be a lot of fun with a lot of opportunities to catch up with friends and family I haven't seen in a long time. I hope to be able to post over the next three weeks, but at best, it will be sporadic.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a quick tip. When eating in restuarants lately with the picky eater, we've noticed that we often don't need to both order our own entree. We'll start with an appetizer to share, then move on to one entree, and then if we're still hungry, we'll order something else. Sure, it takes a bit longer, but the point of going out to a restuarant with somebody else is often to spend quality time anyway, right?

This method reduces our waste and saves us money, in addition to giving us a little extra time to linger and chat - I can't complain about any of that.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Can't get enough APLS?

If, like me, you've been loving all the activity of the APLS lately, you're going to love this! For those of you who are just arriving to the party, APLS stands for Affluent People Living Sustainably. There's been lots of good bloggy discussions on the subject, and we've even got a facebook group going with lots of great conversation and interactions. But the fun doesn't stop there!

Green Bean, Arduous, and I have teamed up to create the APLS Blog - a home base of sorts for a monthly blog carnival on issues surrounding being an affluent person and living sustainably (and if you're cringing at the use of the word affluent, or thinking it doesn't apply to you, I really encourage you to check out the global rich list, as well as some of the assorted blog discussions or the facebook group).

This blog is designed for anybody who is trying to live more sustainably. If you're trying, you qualify! You don't have to own a composting toilet, or power your home with solar panels to be an APLS (although if you do, that's awesome too!). You don't even have to have a green blog - or any blog at all. We want anyone and everyone who is interested to come and join us.

I'll be hosting the first carnival on August 15th, and am really excited to see what you all come up with. As we've all been learning, APLS are better together, and this is just one more way for us to share our knowledge, our questions, our inspirations, our concerns, and our hopes.

We also are hoping to eventually use this blog to organize some regionally based community building opportunities. There's been a lot of interest expressed in this area, and we think it's pretty exciting too - if you'd like to be involved in getting APLS organized in your area, send us an email. We'll definitely need your participation to make this work!

Hope to see you at the APLS blog!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

pat yourself on the back day

Various bloggers, myself included, have recognized our green "failures" from time to time - we forget to bring our reusable bags into the store, we make an unplanned stop for coffee with friends and don't have our reusable mugs along, or we indulge in a can of soda even though we've sworn it off. Acknowledging these little lapses is an important thing to do so that we can move forward past them. We recognize that overall, our efforts and successes are more important than our slip-ups in the end, and we move on.

Today, though, I'm declaring an official "pat yourself on the back day" - a day to acknowledge one thing that you're proud of yourself for doing this week, or month, and to give yourself credit for it. As important as it is to acknowledge the little mistakes we make, I think it's equally crucial to reflect on the things we're doing right.

My pat on the back is for something pretty simple really. My book club meets at the biggest Whole Foods I've ever been in. They have two cafe / bistro areas in there. The first serves ice cream, pastries, coffee and such, and the second serves sandwiches, fries, wine, and more entree like items. I've figured that if I enter the building at the end near the ice cream, I can enjoy one scoop by the time I get to the bistro at the other end where we meet, just in time to enjoy a glass of wine over our book discussion. Mindful eating? Not really. Discretionary eating? Absolutely. But I really love their cardamom ice cream, and I haven't found anywhere else to get it, so I'm probably going to continue this little habit.

On the other hand, I remembered to bring along the (washed) disposable plastic cup they'd served it in last time, and when I ordered, I handed it back to the girl, who looked shocked for a second, then thanked me for bringing it, and filled it up for me.

It's a little thing, but I was very proud of myself, for some reason, of having remembered to bring that little cup along.

So let's hear from you - what's one thing you'd like to pat yourself on the back for? It can be a little thing or a big thing, but leave a comment and tell us what it is, and give yourself some credit!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

well that was easy!

I've given up microwave popcorn. Since I'm the one who does the shopping in this house, we've both given up microwave popcorn. It hasn't been a very popular decision around here, and it means I've spent more time than I'd like shaking a heavy pot with oil and popcorn seeds over a hot burner.

So today, I tried a little experiment. I reused a small brown paper bag (we get lots of these in our CSA share holding tomatoes, squash, and such) and placed about a quarter cup of plain old yellow popcorn kernels into it, and folded the top shut. I read online that one staple would be ok in the microwave, which I believe, since my tea bags have small staples that don't do any damage, but we actually have a cool staple-less stapler that I used just to be on the safe side.

I put it in for a little over 2 minutes, and voila! freshly popped popcorn, ready to be seasoned however I wish.

It's definitely a good way to save some money, and it absolutely cuts down on waste. Plus I've heard some concerns lately about commercially produced microwave popcorn, and this way I can be sure there are no nasty chemicals in there.

I'm glad I figured this's way too hot to be shaking that pot over a hot stove today!

Monday, July 21, 2008

any volunteers?

The 30-Day No Trash Challenge is looking for its next challengee. It's a pretty cool way to examine your habits, especially if you're just getting into raising your awareness about your impact on the environment.

They say it better than I could, so from their website:

Various authors embark on a 30-day challenge to be trash-free and blog about it along the way. You can be next!
In the end, it's not just about a 30-day challenge. That's just the beginning. It's about learning how to be mindful of the waste you create on a day to day basis and using the 30 days to pick up new habits, incorporating those changes into your daily life & hopefully making an impact in the long run. How It Started: One day, on a whim, Miss Dayva decided it would be interesting to challenge herself to go sans trash for a month. And so her quest to be trash-free began. Anything that cannot be composted, recycled or reused in a meaningful way, is considered trash that would end up in a landfill and that's what she wanted to avoid. She has since completed her challenge and has now passed the buck. Ashley is the latest 30-day No Trash Challenge participant but we hope there will be more to come.

So if you think you're up for it, check out the blog, drop Ashley a note and give it a try!

don't hate me because I'm basil-ful

I've fallen in love, all over again. Basil is my new passion.

It started off innocently enough, with a simple pasta dish featuring goat cheese, grape tomatoes, zuchinni, and basil. Things started to heat up when I whipped up this lovely salad starring nectarines and basil.

This week, with the delivery of my CSA box, the fates seemed to be begging us not to let our love die, when I received another enormous bunch of the sweet smelling stuff. Tomato sandwiches, featuring just-picked tomatoes, local sourdough, a drizzle of olive oil, thick slices of mozzarella, and of course, basil, have been the featured item on the lunch menu for the past several days. The logical progression of our relationship led to some delectable bruschetta, featuring the same ingredients as the sandwiches, minus the mozarella, with a healthy dollop of garlic in its place.

I was on a roll at this point, and found so many recipes online for pesto that I couldn't help whipping up a batch to throw in the freezer.

I had some slightly sour blackberries from last week's farmer's market sitting in the fridge, and decided to introduce them to my new love...and with a little inspiration, was soon enjoying a delicious blackberry basil sorbet.

It's been a whirlwind few days, and I've enjoyed every moment that I've been blessed to spend with my basil. There's still a healthy sized bunch sitting in a vase of water, making my kitchen smell heavenly. Like all good food things, however, I know the season of the basil won't last forever. But until the season is officially passed, I plan to enjoy every minute we have together. And when we must say goodbye, I'll probably shed a tear or two, but I know that fate wants us to be together, and I am sure our paths will cross again around this time next year.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

the (almost) zero waste watermelon

Watermelon is in season here, and it's one of my favorites. Next time you enjoy one, though, don't throw the rind away...use it to make preserves! They're delicious (probably because of all the sugar), it's one more way to cut down on food waste, and it wasn't too much work at all.

The recipe is here - the only advice I would give is that although the finished product is quite soft, the rinds were still rather crispy for me until I let it cool and sit for a while. Then, however, they were wonderful and delicious. And now the first batch is gone. Guess I'll just have to eat more watermelon.


Friday, July 18, 2008

today was a good day

Do you ever have one of those days where everything just kind of works out really nicely? I know we've all had the other kind, where nothing works out, but I think it's important to stop and appreciate the days we do have where everything just flows.

I had some errands to run this morning, one of which included mailing a rather bulky, though not heavy box. I had some other errands to run afterwords that made walking out of the question, and I was a little nervous to try to balance this box and ride the bike, but I figured I'd give it a shot. So I did, and was so glad I didn't break down and drive, because it turns out I was able to finish all my errands in the strip mall where the post office is. So I decided to take advantage of the sudden free time and the fact that I was already out with the bike and go exploring.

There's a very cute neighborhood about 3.5 miles away from us with an adorable Main Street feel to it, and I've been meaning to go spend some time down there for about a year now. So I hopped on the bike and started pedaling. I didn't get lost, and I managed to avoid the expressway (a scary mistake I'd made once before!). I arrived at my destination a little sweaty but otherwise doing fine.

I immediately found an adorable little thrift store I'd never seen before. I popped in to see if ther was anything I needed. I found two wonderful books. The first, published in 1974, is titled "English Crewell Designs". I didn't really even know exactly what crewell was (it's a type of embroidery) until I opened the book, but I'd picked it up because the picture on the cover was so cool looking. I'm going to use this book for inspiration and guidance when I start designing my own patterns for hooked rugs. The other book I got is called "Homemade Bread" and is even older than the first, having been published in 1967 - but still in great condition. I was thinking I should buy it when I read on the inside flap "For everyone who is tired of 'instant living'", but I was convinced when I flipped open to a random page and found myself looking at a picture of the same Easter Egg Bread my mom used to make when I was little! There are a ton of other recipes in here, and I'm psyched that the book was written before bread machines were even invented! In total, I spent $1.62 on these two books!

I puttered around a while longer, popping into an independently owned bookstore that I try to support, having a snack at a small, locally owned deli, and finally hopping back on the bike and heading back home. When I was just over a mile from home, I noticed a sign I hadn't seen before, reading "India Mart" and I decided to investigate. Apparently they've just opened within the past month, and the woman working there was super nice! She was obviously very proud of her shop and took me on a tour of the small aisles, explaining all the items they planned on stocking in the future. They had a good assortment of all the basics needed for Indian cooking. She told me she wanted this to be a community shop and to please ask her if there were things we wanted her to stock that we didn't see and she'd order them for us. I bought a few things that I didn't necessarily need but knew we'd use eventually and went on my way, feeling like I'd made a new friend. I'll definitely be shopping there again!

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better today, I arrived home, and in my mailbox was sitting the copy of "New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant" that I'd been waiting for several months to pop up on paperback swap (if you haven't checked it out yet, I can't recommend it highly enough!).

Now I'm off to make some sorbet and continue enjoying this wonderful day. By the way, don't forget to check out the APLS group on facebook if you haven't yet. There are some really wonderfully interesting discussions happening there, and we'd love to have you chime in!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

a blanket, some music, a bottle of wine...

...and you've got yourself a great evening in the park! Where I live, there are TONS of free events in the summer time. Jazz on the Plazz, Concerts in the Park, Music in the Park, it's hard to keep them all straight! If I wanted to, I could attend at least two nights of free music every week (and yes, a lot of the parks around here let you bring wine, as long as you're responsible, whatever that means)!

I've always enjoyed these events, and have been attending them since we moved here over a year ago. It's a great way to spend time with friends without spending money, and also to get outdoors and enjoy the summer. I love sneaking peeks at what's inside other people's picnic baskets, and chatting with friends, running into people we weren't expecting to see, meeting new friends, watching kids running around and playing. Oh yeah, and listening to the music, too. Sure beats sitting home watching TV! (Besides, we have one of those recorder things, so when the concerts happen to fall on the same night as "So You Think You Can Dance" I'm not forced to make those hard choices. Now you know my guilty TV love).

This year, I've noticed a much, much larger crowd at these events each week than ever before. So many people that blankets literally overlap each other, leaving no space for people to pass in between. Is it the economy? Are people trying to find cheap entertainment? Or have the masses started realizing that the best things in life really are free?

What's great is that it's totally not focused on spending money. Sure, people bring food and drinks that they've bought, but we were all going to eat dinner anyway. A lot of people bring food that was obviously cooked at home, and even among those eating take-out, there's not a lot of chain restaurant food to be found in the areas around the parks. Where the jazz concert is, they don't even allow vendors into the park.

And I even get a chance to do my small bit of leading by example too. I make sure to bring my cloth napkins and my sigg, as well as non-disposable cups, silverware, etc. And this is California, after all, so of course they have giant recycling bins to collect the wine bottles and keep them out of the landfill.

Sure, I could meet my friends for a movie, and we could spend $50 in the process, but in the end, we wouldn't have actually spent much time together. And when I look back a year, or two, or ten from now, I know the concerts in the park will be much more memorable.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

the silence is deafening

Just an update on the situation with Coca Cola in India - after receiving a form letter response to my letter to them, I wrote back, as I didn't find their answers satisfactorily addressed my concerns.

It's been almost two weeks now, and they haven't responded. Either a real person is taking the time to write an actual well thought out response and actually address the issue, or they're ignoring me.

I have a guess which it is, but I certainly will be sure to post about it if I do receive a response.

The good news is, I think I'm over my love affair with Diet Coke once and for all as a result of this!

Come hang out with the APLS

Carrying on with the theme that building communities of all sorts is an important part of living a more sustainable lifestyle, Green Bean today introduced the apple bushel. APLS was an acronym created a few months ago over on Arduous' blog to describe those of us who live an (at least relatively) affluent lifestyle and strive for sustainability (APLS = Affluent People Living Sustainably). Hence, the apple bushel is a place for us to introduce ourselves and to meet some new APLS.

As a continuation of the community building efforts, we've created an APLS group on facebook. It's an open group, so anybody can join. Come check it out! (And if you're not on facebook yet, it's probably time you got an account!)

EDIT to apologize for messing up green bean's's not the apple bushel, it's the bushel basket. I knew it sounded wrong as I was writing it and now that I've had a nap, my head is much clearer. Sorry bout that!

Monday, July 14, 2008

rock the vote

I've been fairly busy lately, in part because I've been participating in a few events for the Obama campaign (despite the controversy of the recent vote on FISA). I'm not trying to sway anybody to vote one way or the other, but rather to explain how being involved in a campaign has been a very positive experience for me.

Most of what I've been doing thus far has been registering voters. This isn't strictly campaigning, because we register anybody during these events, regardless of what their political leanings are. We usually have a little table of some sort set up, with the voter registration cards, and some buttons and bumper stickers for sale. This is done at places like free outdoor concerts in the park and at the farmers market. People stop by and chat while they browse and fill out voter registration cards. I've spoken to people of all different ages, and races, political afiliations, and nationalities.

Perhaps one of my favorite conversations I've had while registering voters was with a five year old girl. She seemed pretty bright, and asked me about what I was doing. I explained the presidency and elections to her as best I could, and told her the names of the two candidates. I showed her a picture of Obama and had to apologize to her when she asked me to show her a picture of McCain. I could tell she was still confused about something though, and, making a sweeping gesture that encompassed the whole table I was sitting at, she asked, "But why are you doing all of this?"

What a fair question, I thought. I explained that we really liked one person more than the other to be our next president, and that we just wanted to tell other people that and answer any questions they might have. But that's not really a reason, I thought. Why was I doing all of this?

What inspires me to be involved now, at this moment, is that for the first time, I feel like I really care about an election in a positive way. In the past, I've only really wanted certain individuals to not be elected (and yes, I am referring most specifically to Bush here, especially since I'm too young to have done any presidential voting before him), and have never felt passionately that I cared whether any particular person take office. This time, it's different. I really want this man to be my next president.

I'm sick of not caring, and sick of expecting the worst from our "leaders". I'm sick of being cynical and waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm sick of the apathy, and of expecting to be disappointed. I'm sick of the intolerance, and the institutional condoning of intolerance. This is not what I expect from my political system or from my country. It's not what I was taught to expect growing up. I realize that utopia is not just over the horizon waiting for us to elect the right leader, but I also realize that as a nation, we have a lot more potential than an outsider might think to look at us right now.

All this thinking about why I care now about the presidential elections in a way I never had before reminded me of a post by arduous, in which she stated "We can't resign ourselves to doom AND also believe in a brighter tomorrow" - I guess I'm not ready to resign myself to doom. Sure, this country is a big old mess in a lot of ways. I'm not so naive to believe that it's even just one big old mess. We've got lots of messes (Iraq, social security, health care, and of course, the environment, for starters). I don't feel a sense of doom about any of these things. I realized that what I've always felt in the past was a sense of fatigue with the status quo.

I don't believe in magic "president fairies" that wave a wand and make everything alright. I actually am one of those cynical people who believe that a person's electability as president automatically makes him or her a less than ideal person for the job. I also, however, recognize the reality of the world in which I live, and realize that the system we have in place now is what we have to work with. I do believe also that change is possible. I know it's what I want, and I know it's what a lot of other Americans want too. Whatever candidate you support, and in whatever election, be it local, state, or federal, I believe that we need to start becoming more involved in our political processes. By doing so, we are actively helping to shape our future rather than passively waiting for it to happen to us.

That, my little friend from the park, is why I am doing all of this.

(And no more politics for a while, I promise!)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

please try not to lick the plate

I was at a local farmer's market today to do some voter registration, and couldn't help picking up a few items. I had this thing about basil paired with either nectarines or blackberries stuck in my head. So I picked up a big bunch of fresh, local, organic basil and brought it home.

I wish I could take credit for the rest of the inspiration, but I must give credit where it is due. The name alone was enough for me to fall in love: nectarine and basil salad with goat cheese. I was lucky to have a goat cheese on hand already (although not the specific one mentioned in the original post, but it was local), and I didn't even know what Prosecco was, so I asked my friend wikipedia and decided I could make do with about a quarter teaspoon of white balsamic vinegar, which I did have on hand. The total prep time was under five minutes, and the only non-local ingredient was the balsamic vinegar.

This isn't one of those salads that you eat when you're really hungry. It's one of those salads that you make because you want to enjoy the flavors of the season. It's also one of those salads you can make if your spouse's boss is coming for dinner and you want to serve something local, yet pretty and fancy and impressive.

I'm not sure I've ever felt so happy eating local before. It was heavenly.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

check it out...

There's a cool site for all of you who enjoy reading the green's Alltop - it's like one big giant aggregator of a whole bunch of different green sites (and actually, they have lots of other topics too!).

You'll probably see some of your old favorites there, and you may even stumble upon a new gem or two.

Another great website to check out is WalkScore - it'll give you a score on how "walkable" your current or potential neighborhood is - just enter the address and it'll give you a map with results of all the different things that are within walking distance. It's a great tool to scope out a new neighborhood if you're considering a move in the near future, and it's also a neat way to find some hidden gems if, like me, you're still relatively new to the area you live in. One more way to help reduce car use and energy consumption!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Nordstrom, I'm voting you off the island

Nordstrom is a place that I'm officially declaring I won't shop at. OK, it's true that I can't really afford to shop there anyway (seriously...a Juicy Couture Baby 2 piece fleece set, on sale for $64.90, back up to $98 after the sale!?!?!?!? And girls jeans on sale for $86.90, back to $130 post sale!? Obviously somebody is buying this stuff, but man. I guess I'm cheaper than I thought!)

So anyway, I got this catalog because it was addressed to the woman who lived here 2 or 3 owners back. So I went on to catalog choice to opt out. Guess what? Nordstrom doesn't choose to participate in that program. So I called them and asked them to stop sending them, but it really irritates me that I had to take the time out of my day to do that - and then, of course, to complain about it here!

The irony is they are definitely trying to greenwash their customers, by putting a note on the back cover of the catalog stating how their catalog is 30% recycled content and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, but if they really wanted to help people be more eco-friendly, they'd make it easy for people to not get the catalog in the first place.

This is my first experience with a merchant not participating in catalog choice. For those of you who haven't found this little gem yet, go check it out. For those of you who are already using it to manage which catalogs you receive, have any other merchants refused your requests? How successful do you feel it's been in cutting down unwanted catalogs in your mailbox?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Potty Training

I'm in the process of potty training right now. No, I don't have any kids. I do, however, have a cat. For the record, I'm not one of those people who thinks of my pets as a substitute for children, and I don't dress him up in little outfits. Although he is pretty cute.

But yes, we are potty training the cat. Why, you ask? Well, many reasons, but basically, in the long run, if this works out, it will save me time and money, reduce waste, and is healthier for the cat. How? Well, let's take a look at cat litter. It requires that I clean a litter box every day or two. That takes time that I'd rather spend, anything else, really. Cat litter also costs money. It's not crazy expensive, but money is money, and I like to save it where I can. Of course, when I clean out the box, the used litter has to be disposed of (read: sent to the landfill), so cutting out the litter box will cut out this waste, and the waste of the packaging for the litter. Not to mention that cat litter is really heavy, so I'm cutting out all the energy of transporting it from wherever it is made to my home. Plus, another big consideration is that the method for extracting the clay used to make cat litter is strip mining. Not cool. Finally, there are reasons to think that the fine dust particles in cat litter is harmful to your cat, and possibly even you.

So yep, I'm potty training the cat. Well, I'm trying anyway. I'll save you the long drawn out details of how it all works, but somebody got me this wonderful little system as a's actually a pretty simple solution, wouldn't you agree?

If nothing else, I figure this is good practice for if we ever have kids.

Edit: One reader was right to point out that there is some concern that cat feces (specifically, the germ named Toxoplasma gondii, the same thing they warn pregnant women about when dealing with cat litter boxes) may be responsible for killing sea otters here in California. She is absolutely right, this is a concern, although at least one source mentions that things like a colony of 40 - 50 feral cats in Monterey and storm drain runoff contaminated by cats who do their business outdoors, are at least of equal concern at this point as household sewage. That's not really a good answer though - as long as we don't really know where the problem is stemming from, we can't just cross our fingers and hope it's not something we're doing. I checked the American Veterinary Medical Association website, and I'm no scientist, but I think this system will be safe for my cat, since he never goes outside, and he eats only packaged food. Here is what the AVMA has to say:

The most common way that cats become infected with T. gondii is from eating infected mice, birds, and other small animals.
For indoor cats, the most likely source is uncooked meat scraps. When a cat eats meat or other tissues from infected animals, it becomes infected with T. gondii and can excrete millions of oocysts in its feces each day. This release of oocysts can continue for more than two weeks. After the initial infection and shedding period, most cats will not pass oocysts in their feces again, even if re-infected.
Basically, I can't be 100% positive that my cat is not still excreting these cysts (this really sounds so gross; there's a good reason I'm not a doctor), but I can be fairly certain that he's "clean". If I had an outdoor cat, or lived in an old house where my cat was constantly killing mice, I would not find the risk acceptable. I think in this case, however, the small risk is outweighed by the benefits of another 8 - 15 years worth of environmental impact that would be caused by keeping him on the litter. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sea Salt Scrub (in under 5 minutes, for under $5)

I've been wanting to write about some homemade health and beauty products for a while now, but the thing is, I like to actually try stuff before I write about it. And the problem is, I'm a bit of a hoarder. And, well, ok, I'll confess: when we moved to California (over a year ago), we were moving from a state with no sales tax. And what's more, we had a moving company, all paid for, to move whatever stuff we had. So, I headed over to Costco and stocked up. Like a crazy lady. I must have bought at least 100 rolls of toilet paper. Enough dishwasher tablets to stock a busy restaurant. So much lotion that the woman at the checkout probably thought I was filming another Silence of the Lambs movie.

Point is, I haven't needed a lot of cosmetic products since we've moved (and there's a lot that I still don't need - I predict that at current rates of consumption, I'll have celebrated my first and possibly second wedding anniversary before I need to buy more deoderant).

Finally, though, yesterday, I found a need for a product I didn't have stashed away! We were all out of exfoliating scrubs of any kind. I saw my chance and jumped on it, whipping up this batch of sea salt scrub super quickly - and cheaply.

Here are the directions:

Take 1 Cup of sea salt, and mix with 1/2 Cup of grapeseed oil (heads up on this one, I thought it came in a green bottle - nope, the oil itself is green! Which is a little odd, but now you know what to expect). Add 5 drops or so of essential oil (I used lemongrass). Mix it all together really well.

To use, just rub into skin, and rinse off (don't use on open cuts - that'll really hurt). It exfoliates and moisturizes! Also, I haven't tried it with this particular scrub, but I was at a spa with a friend recently and they used a salt scrub to clean her rings and make them all shiny and new looking.

And the best part is, I know there are no little plastic particles hiding out in there waiting to make their way down my drain and into the oceans. The packaging is reduced, because I'm buying stuff I'd either buy anyway, like the salt, or buying in larger quantities than if I purchased a scrub from a salon (to make 5 or 6 batches of this, I'll have one salt container and one grapeseed oil bottle to recycle, rather than 5 or 6 scrub bottles to recycle). The final cool thing is that the ingredients cost me about $22 - but I have enough left over to make a few more batches of this stuff, and the essential oil, which was the most expensive at $10.50, will last for many many batches. Plus I can use the grapeseed oil and the salt for cooking as well. I'm certain this is cheaper than buying a salt scrub at a spa, and I'm also certain it works just as well. Even if it is the color of pistachio icecream.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

From zero to hero

A lot of what I've learned lately has focused on failing. Failing at things is fine; it teaches us what not to do, so that when we try again, our results are even better than we may have initially expected. Or at least what we wanted the first time around. The only big problem with failing is that it often creates waste - and food waste at that, which is my personal least favorite type of waste.

I, like everyone out there, have experienced my share of failures. I've made tortillas so brittle they'd crack if you dropped them. Loaves of bread that can prop a door open. Last weekend I bought strawberries at the farmer's market, and got sidetracked when I got home - and didn't remember the berries until two days later, when I found that a huge bunch of them had already started to mold (despite my best efforts, yes, my house is often so messy that I can overlook a flat of strawberries for two days. Sad, but true).

Two weekends ago, my picky eater brought home a big bag full of plums - somebody on his cricket team had a tree in their yard and decided to share. Only problem was, there were too many plums for us to eat before they became worm food. No problem though; I knew what to do with these - make jam! We green bloggers are jam making experts.

I, however, am also supremely lazy. So I found a recipe for no chopping, no peeling, plum jam.

I followed the directions. Well, mostly, anyway. I didn't have a thermometer, but I cook enough, so I was sure I could tell when everything was ready.

Problem was, even after adding all the sugar I had in the house (literally) and boiling for a really long time, it never turned into jam. It was just a sort of sour, plum sauce.

Sour like rhubarb.

Wait a second...

Rhubard. I love rhubarb!

This stuff was runny though, so I needed to get creative.

I found this recipe for rhubarb cake. Instead of the rhubarb, I substituted half a pint (or so...I'm not exact when it comes to cooking, as you may have noticed....) of the plum sauce for the fruit, and baked this puppy up (minus the orange zest). Picky eater gave it the veto, but in my own mind, I went from zero to hero in sixty seconds flat...this was a winner for me!

The point is, we all fail sometimes. The challenge is not to beat ourselves up over how we fail, but to ask ourselves how we can turn these failures into something succesful. We all try to reuse other things in our lives, why not reuse our food flops to make something useful? Like that delicious cake. I'm going to go have another piece right now...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday Monday...

I figured you might need a good laugh since the end of a long weekend can be a bit depressing, so I highly recommend that you check out the Farmer Love posts at Food on Food. It is some of the funniest writing I've come across yet.

Another one of my random frugality tips for those of you who don't always make your own butter: save the wrappers for greasing baking sheets. I fold them in half and seal them inside a ziploc bag, stored in the refrigerator until it's time to bake. Simply let sit at room temperature for a few minutes, and wipe across the baking sheet. It's something that would be thrown away otherwise, and it helps me avoid some of those mystery ingredients in those spray on it eliminates the waste of the spray cans.

Finally, as promised, a photo of my current project:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What would you choose?

There was an interesting post the other day by Sharon Astyk entitled "Is Electricity Really the Lifeblood of Civilization?" She, like me, ultimately concludes that it isn't as essential as many of us might believe. Of course, right now, it's all theoretical, but there was much discussion about what our world might be like if we don't find a solid alternative energy source. In the course of this discussion, one commenter suggested giving up one appliance in each room.

I probably won't actually do this - mainly because I don't live by myself, and I think it'd be hard work to convince the other occupant of the house to give up any of his toys. I thought it would be a good self-reflection exercise, however, to come up with a list. Below, I go through each room and list what I'd be willing to give up, and which I couldn't bear to part with.

Living room: I could give up the tv and dvd. I'd have a pretty hard time giving up the "stereo" - which for me is my ipod attached to a portable speaker.

Kitchen: I actually think I could give up the refrigerator. A lot of what I keep in there is leftovers, which I only make because I know I can store them. Milk and cheeses would be tough, but I could put these in a cooler along with veggies that need cooling. Most of the condiments I have in there I have only because, again, the refrigerator is there, so why not store them? The freezer would be very tough for me to give up. I store a lot of veggies in there, as well as an assortment of beans and frozen soups and breads.

Bathroom: I've already given up all my electrical appliances in the bathroom. I freecycled my curling iron, and the hairdryer is on a top shelf in the closet for emergencies, but hasn't been used in over a year. That leaves nothing that I couldn't live without.

Laundry room: I'm already using the dryer an average of about once every six months. The washing machine, I'd have a pretty hard time parting with.

Bedroom: the only electric appliance is our alarm clock, which as Sharon's commenter mentioned, could easily be replaced by a wind up version.

Office: I could easily give up most of the stuff in this room, but most of it isn't mine. It's a lot of various games and other small electronics. The one thing that I use that I could maybe part with is the printer. I don't use it much as is, but if I had to bike the three and a half miles to Kinkos every time I wanted to print something, I'd probably make sure only to print really essential things. The one I couldn't part with? That's a no-brainer...the laptop!

What are your must-haves? What could you do without? What are you already doing without?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I'm either a genius...

or the last one to the party. Either way, I wanted to share this little gem I stumbled on today:

If you are out of fresh fruit, you can mix jam with yogurt - and it's delicious!

I didn't have time to defrost any berries this morning, and I'd eaten all the fresh fruit that we had in the house, so I dropped a teaspoon or two of black cherry jam into a cup or so of plain yogurt, added my sunflower and flax seeds, and it was wonderful. Sort of like that stuff you buy in the store that advertises "fruit on the bottom" - except I know exactly what the ingredients were when I enjoyed this. And with a lot less waste. And it's a lot cheaper. I'm guessing kids would really like this, especially if they find regular plain yogurt with fruit mixed in not sweet enough.

In some ways it was better than using fresh fruit because everything was a more similar consistency. And there was no washing or chopping to do. I love figuring new stuff out!

I'm off to enjoy the rest of this long weekend - I hope you all do too!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Here's what I think about that.

Below is the letter that I sent to Coca Cola today regarding the response they've e-mailed me. For any of you particularly interested in labor issues, you may also want to check out this site.

Also, as Organic Needle reminds us, the Coca Cola company owns countless brands. See a really big list of brands owned by Coca Cola here.

To Whom It May Concern:

I received your response to my inquiry regarding the village of Plachimada in India.

Your response was much what I expected, explaining how you hadn’t actually violated any laws. I understand that the court decided you have the right to use local aquifers, but that does not absolve you from your responsibility to do the right thing – and draining a community’s water resources to the point where they can no longer sustain themselves is not the right thing, regardless of what the court says.

Your argument that the water tables would not be adversely affected in conditions of normal rainfall is empty, as you yourself point out that the last few years have not been ones in which normal rainfall has occurred. Apparently your strategy in this case is to carry on as usual despite the fact that the conditions you’ve established to avoid negative environmental impacts have not been met?

I understand that a court ruling in your favor means you may never be held legally accountable for your actions, but I am not bound to judge in accordance with legal rulings, and I am holding you accountable for the damage you’ve done to the community of Plachimada.

Your contention that your biosolids are not hazardous is not comforting. Why were they distributed to farmers in the first place? Because it was the cheapest, easiest way for you to unload your waste? Do you honestly assert that the high levels of cadmium in these solids are not dangerous? If so, you’ve lost all credibility with me. I highly doubt that you’d spread this sludge in your own backyard and allow your children to play in it.

Your product quality information, although interesting, was not the focus of my concerns about your activities in Plachimada.

To reiterate the point of my original letter, which I do not feel has been addressed at all by your response, I would like to know what are you doing to clean up the mess you have made? Although I’m glad that you’ve figured out that in normal rainfall years, you wouldn’t be draining the water tables, and you’ve stopped dumping biosolids on people’s farms, I don’t see anywhere that you’ve addressed the fact that you’ve stressed community water resources in low rainfall years – what are you doing to remedy this? What are you doing to clean up the cadmium in the soil that you are responsible for?

You stated that you do "business around the world honestly, ethically, in compliance with applicable law, and with respect for the basic principles of human decency and justice." Excuse me for saying so, but I disagree. I'd say the only one of these you've got done perfectly is the compliance with applicable law, with some sort of misguided assumption that the rest will follow. Unfortunately, compliance with written law is not a guarantee of honesty, ethical behavior, and certainly carries no assurances regarding basic principles of human decency or justice - that is up to you, and in this regard, you are failing.

Corporate responsibility does not mean telling the world that you are doing the right thing, it means actually doing the right thing. Thus far, I see a serious lack of responsibility on your part.

Thank you for your additional time, and I await a response.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

and the answer is...

Below is the response I received from Coca Cola. I'm working on a reply, which I'll post when I've got it done.

Thank you for your email to The Coca-Cola Company, Melissa. We take your concerns very seriously, and are glad you took the time to contact us. We want to assure you that the Coca-Cola system does business around the world honestly, ethically, in compliance with applicable law, and with respect for the basic principles of human decency and justice.
In connection with our operation in India, concerns have been raised about the amount of groundwater used to produce Coca-Cola beverages, solid waste disposal, and product quality. I want to assure you that we have one set of environmental standards that we follow throughout the world, including India.
Groundwater: An independent study commissioned by the High Court of Kerala found that under normal rainfall conditions, the Coca-Cola bottling facility would not adversely affect ground water levels. The High Court determined that the primary cause of the water shortage in the local Kerala area was reduced rainfall for several years and ruled that the Coca-Cola plant has the right to use water from the local aquifer. Additional steps have been taken throughout our operations in India for rainwater recovery systems and water efficiency gains in the production process.
Solid Waste Disposal: The Coca-Cola Environment & Water Resources Department has reinforced standards with our plant managers in India in connection with the generation, composition and management of biosolids, which are the organic and inorganic materials that remain after the wastewater treatment process. Even though our biosolids are not hazardous, since 2003 we no longer distribute biosolids for agricultural purposes to any area farmers. We also are furthering our work with industry associations and the Indian government to encourage the development of additional solid waste disposal sites and clear government policies regarding disposal.
Product Quality: Pesticides are widely used in agriculture in India, and if misused, have the potential to contaminate water sources and agricultural products. However, we constantly monitor our ingredients and products for quality control and continue to strengthen our processes and procedures to ensure that involuntary contamination by pesticide residues is reduced to a level well within safety limits. Water used in our products is passed through a multi-barrier water treatment system which includes an activated granular carbon filtration and purification process designed to ensure every drop is safe for use in our beverages. We test for traces of pesticide residues in water to the level of parts per billion, which is equivalent to one drop in a billion drops. Other ingredients used in our soft drinks are also safe and meet applicable regulations.
In closing, let us assure you that we are committed to ensuring the quality of our products, adhering to rigorous environmental standards, and responding decisively when our exacting standards are not being met.
Again, thank you for the time to contact us. If you have further questions, please visit
LesleyIndustry and Consumer Affairs
The Coca-Cola Company

Monday, June 30, 2008

Weeds for dinner!

For all intents and purposes, Chile practically came to my house and made my dinner for me last night. OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I do have to say thanks for two fabulous posts that inspired dinner around here last night - the first was about how to make stock.

I was excited when I first saw this post because I love making soup. I gave up buying cans or boxes of stock a while ago - too package intensive. I switched to the little bouillon cubes. A lot less packaging, but check out the ingredients sometime - disgusting. Well, I don't know if disgusting is the right word. To be fair, I don't know what most of those things actually are - like silicon dioxide and disodium guanylate. I think I'll pass, thanks. The other nice thing about Chile's stock recipe is that it gives me a way to use up those onion bits that normally are the one bit of food waste in my trash (I've heard worms don't like onions). So I'd been saving up bits of onion, squash ends, tomatoes and such for the past week, I threw it all in the pressure cooker and made what is hands down the best veggie broth I've ever tasted in my life.

Making my own stock is great for a few reasons, besides the fact that it is delicious - I'm using something that otherwise would have been waste, I'm saving money (not tons, but a penny saved and all), and I'm able to reduce my consumption of prepackaged food items.

I didn't let the inspiration stop there, though. Chile also wrote about a veggie (weed) called purslane last week. Hm, interesting, I thought. I didn't run out to buy any though - but it showed up anyway, in my CSA box this week. A gigantic pile of it, in fact. I normally would have pushed this to the back of the fridge, not knowing what to do with it, and probably end up freezing it just before it went bad. But I felt encouraged yesterday, and found two great recipes yesterday: one for purslane and pea soup and the other for a rice and purslane melange. Both were relatively simple - especially the rice, which was super easy. They also both had a surprising creaminess to them (surprising to me anyway, because, aside from the small amount of butter used in the soup, they are both entirely vegan recipes). Lucky for me, they were also both pretty forgiving recipes - I substituted onions for leeks in the soup, and I had a lot less peas than what it called for. No matter. I also used brown instead of white rice for the rice dish.

The best part? I've mentioned before that someone around here (hint: not me!) is a picky eater. He's declared repeatedly how he finds brown rice disgusting and has no interest in eating it. Well, I gave him a spoonful of the rice with purslane, and he proceeded to polish off the entirety of what was to have been my lunch today. That's ok, it makes me happy when people like the things I cook - and I have plenty of purslane left, so I'll be making more of the rice today. I think I might try freezing some for the next time I have a lazy day and don't feel like cooking.

I liked this stuff so much that I am going to try to grow some in one of my containers. I figure if it really is a weed, I should be able to keep it alive. Has anybody grown it before? Where do you get seeds? I've never seen them for sale before. Any growing tips?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Creating Pause Points

One thing that was interesting in my recent read, "Mindless Eating" was a discussion of creating pause points for ourselves as a strategy to be more mindful of what we eat. One example is taking a large bag of chips and, rather than eating straight from the bag, portioning them out into individual containers - creating a point at which we'll be forced to pause before eating more (the pause point here is the opening of a second container).

I didn't feel super psyched about this book because it was more of a diet than an eco book, but nevermind - our brains are amazing things, and I guess mine was working without my knowledge, because today I realized that we can create pause points for the other parts of our lives too. We've probably all heard the advice that if you want to stop charging things, put your credit card in a bowl of ice and freeze it. You're creating a pause point (a pause iceberg, more than a point, actually).

I realized I've done some similar things for myself in respect to my "green goals" - I made a rule that I only buy an item after I've placed it on a written list for a minimum of two weeks. I finally put the paper towels in a cabinet high above the refrigerator - I need to really want to use those before I haul out the stool and climb up to pull them out. I close, unplug, and move my laptop into another room when I'm done working so that it has to be worth the effort of retrieving it, plugging it in, and waiting for it to boot up.

My fellow Silicon Valley resident Pete Kazanjy had an "ah ha!" moment while dining out at one of my favorite spots, In N Out Burger, and noticed that virtually everyone there would grab a pile of napkins, not use most of them, and toss them in the trash when cleaning up their tables. He designed a simple sticker reading "Remember, these come from trees" to be affixed to paper towel and napkin dispensers, which, in effect, creates a pause point for us. Check out Pete's blog for lots more info about the project.

We all know that paper napkins and towels come from trees, just like we know we shouldn't eat an entire bag of potato chips. But not all of us are mindful all the time, and these stickers create a pause point for us - they provide a physical, visual cue which remind us to stop and think before proceeding with our intended action. These stickers have the potential to be incredibly effective - it is estimated that each sticker placed on a dispenser will save up to 100 pounds of paper each year!

I like the way the message is phrased; it's not saying "Hey, I can't believe you didn't bring your own cloth napkins, jerk, why are you destroying the environment by using these disposables?" Instead, it's just a gentle reminder to consider the resources consumed in the item about to be used.

There is a small fee for the stickers, to cover the cost of producing them, with any overages donated to the Sierra Club. I'm going to order some - I'll be asking permission before slapping them up, but I'm thinking about the libraries, grocery stores, and coffee shops in my area. Schools are actually offered the stickers free of charge!

I'd also like to encourage all of you to decorate your world, so if you'd like some stickers, I'd love to provide them! I'll place my order next Friday, so sometime between now and then, send me an email letting me know how many you'd like and your mailing address (my email is on the sidebar there). I'd also love to hear about your plans for where you'll be stickering - a lot of you are much more creative than I am, so you'll probably come up with all sorts of ideas I'd never think of.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Book Review: Mindless Eating

Since I'm still a bookworm, I've read "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" by Brian Wansink.

It's an interesting read, but when I think of mindfulness, it implies a connection between all things - myself, the environment, other people, and so on. This book seems to be focused strictly on how we mindlessly eat too much and how this leads to people being overweight. So I guess it's not really an ecologically focused book. It seemed like it could (and should) be from the title, but that was my big disapointment.

The research is still very interesting, and just because the author doesn't focus on the relationship between mindless eating for an individual and the impact that has on the world at large, doesn't mean I couldn't think about those issues as I was reading.

I have to question some of his research (I know, I'm not the one with the PhD, but still, bear with me). A lot of the research had to do with participants estimating caloric content of different foods. Maybe I'm an exception here, but I have no IDEA how many calories are in anything. I know what foods are good for me and which aren't, but I really don't know or care how many calories they contain. I care about whether they contain iron, protein, calcium, and other vitamins, but even then, I couldn't tell you how many of each of these are in any given fruit or veggie. So calories? Couldn't be less interested. Does this make me an anomaly? Can most Americans tell you how many calories are in a slice of pizza or an apple?

One very interesting point that he discusses is consumption norms - basically the idea is that when a product is in a larger package (and this applies to non-food items like shampoo, as well) we use or eat more because the packaging prompts us to. I think it's worth considering transferring some food items to smaller containers with this in mind. I actually purposely, for some time now, have purchased walnuts from the bulk bin in fairly small quantities (they're expensive, for one thing - about $10/lb.) and I find that I use less when I have less of them on hand - but it's still enough to make my salad plenty tasty.

There were a few things that I thought were pretty bad in this book, like his suggestion that if you're going to eat at McDonalds, throw half the fries in the trash before you get to the table. The idea is that we'll mindlessly eat whatever is served to us. Sorry, I can't sign up for this about realizing that McDonalds isn't exactly a great diet choice in the first place, but since you've chosen it, eat the fries, and enjoy them? Or order a smaller size? Being wasteful isn't, in my opinion, an acceptable response to the realization that we are mindless.

He has done a lot of research that shows that people do make mindless food choices all the time, but I guess the part that I didn't really like was the acceptance that we have to continue being mindless. It was an interesting look at how we make some of the choices we make regarding food, and it was an interesting subject to ponder, but I was underwhelmed and wouldn't consider this a must-read unless you're looking for suggestions on how to control your eating.

Next up on my bookworm reading list will be "The End of Nature" by Bill McKibben. If you haven't yet checked out the Bookworm Blog - thanks to everyone who organized that, it's great! Happy reading!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Coca Cola - tsk, tsk

We all know that giant corporations are often not the most environmentally or socially responsible. I also have seen a lot of efforts of late from some of these large companies to convince us that they are more "green" than we may have believed.

Well, time to put your money where your mouth is, guys!

This article explains in detail how Coca Cola has behaved less stellarly than they would have us believe, polluting and destroying the water supply of an entire community. The irony here is that the Coca Cola web site actually goes to great lenghts to detail all the efforts they make to be socially and environmentally responsible. You can't have it both ways - either say you care about the planet and act accordingly, or don't care - but don't lie about your green cred just to boost sales. That's just obnoxious.

The other reason this bothers me, aside from the big, obvious fact that there are real lives being ruined through these careless actions, is that after reading "Fast Food Nation" I realized that large corporations really do have the power and the leverage to make lasting changes in the way businesses treat people - but they'll generally do so only if it is in their financial best interest.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I get upset by lots of things, but do very little to actually complain to the appropriate people about those things. So I drafted my first letter, hoping to convince this company that it is in their best interest to start carrying through on some of the promises they're making:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to ask you simply to clean up the mess you have made in Plachimada, India.

I understand that there is a case pending with the Indian supreme court on this matter, but regardless of how they finally rule, I cannot absolve you of responsibility to attempt to repair the damage brought to this community by your actions.

Water is polluted, and toxic sludge has been dumped into the ground, and you are responsible. This seems ironic, given your claim that you “aspire to give back by supporting healthy watersheds and sustainable community water programs”. Faced with such a statement in contrast to the reality in Plachimada, I must wonder whether you actually aspire to these goals or whether you realize such statements will make you more attractive to your target markets.

I would appreciate a response detailing your plans to fix the problems you have created in Plachimada.

Until I have received such a satisfactory response, I will cease to purchase any of your products and will urge others to do the same.

Your consideration of this matter, as well as your time, is appreciated.



So if you have the time and/or the inclination, please cut and paste this letter, tweak as you see fit, and send it to Coca Cola directly - you can access the contact form here. It'll take less than five minutes, I promise!

It's time to let big business know that we mean business - being a responsible steward of the environment means a little more than slapping some content up on a website saying you care. I for one am ready to see some actual corporate responsibility.

Unite for Change

I don't like to talk politics, and I'm not trying to turn this into an opinion poll on the candidates...

but I do want to say that I'm attending a Barack Obama Unite For Change event this weekend.

The reason I bring this up is because I think anyone who is unhappy with the city/state/country/world we live in has a responsibility to work to change that situation - and one obvious way to do that is to get involved with politics. Imperfect as our system may be, it's the one we have to work with, and I believe in doing the best with what one's got.

I've never done much before besides voting, and making a few get out the vote phone calls for state elections, so I'm kind of excited to be doing this.

This will not only be a good chance to work to ensure the election of my preferred candidate, but it will also be a good chance to build community with a new group of people, one with whom I share at least some fundamental political views that I probably wouldn't meet otherwise.

So whatever your personal politics, consider getting involved in the process. I used to believe that I only had a right to complain about the government if I had voted in the election. I still believe that to be true, but I've come to realize that I can't be disapointed with the way others vote unless I've actively worked towards the outcome I desire.

OK, no more politics today!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On the menu...

I haven't written much about what we've been eating lately, but I've made a few good culinary discoveries of late.

First: Goat cheese, when mixed with hot pasta, veggies, and some fresh herbs and garlic, makes a wonderful sauce! The heat of the pasta should melt the cheese for a nice thick, creamy sauce. If the cheese is too thick, add some of the hot pasta boiling water to thin it a bit. We had this last night, using only basil (which smelled so good I almost ate all of it before it ever hit the pan), grape tomatoes, and sqaush (lightly sauteed first). I have a picky eater on my hands, so when he asked for a second serving I knew I'd done well! Credit for inspiration on this one goes to "Serving Up the Harvest" by Andrea Chesman.

Part of the aforementioned pickiness is a strong aversion to salad. This is balanced by a fierce love of any food that is Indian. So I thought I'd see which side of his personality would win by making this curried chick pea salad - the Indian food lover totally beat up the salad hater! Another victory! (Hint - my picky eater hates anything sweet in his meals, but the raisins really do add a nice touch in this dish. I used the golden raisins rather than the traditional dark ones...they blend right in with the chick peas and I don't even think he realized they were in there!)

I mention this salad not only because I am very proud that I have finally made a salad that somebody in this house besides myself will eat, but because it's a great example of how I've learned that recipes are suggestions, not laws. In this recipe, I substituted lemon juice for the lime, skipped the red peppers altogether, and used green onions instead of red. I also don't buy curry powder (this is sort of a made up thing, it's really just a combination of other spices) so I threw in some ground cumin, ground coriander, garam masala, and a touch of red chili and turmeric for good measure. Really, my recipe was fairly different, on paper, than what the site instructed - but the end product, I'd venture to guess, was substantially similar. What's more important, it was really good!

These culinary triumphs aside, what I'm surprised to find in the past few weeks is that I've run through my vegetarian repertoire, and since deciding to cut out most meat at home, I am scrambling to find more good vegetarian main course recipes. I guess I'd never realized how cooking meat once or twice a week really gave me a lot more variety of choice in my menu planning. I don't miss the meat itself, I miss the options it gave me in deciding what to cook, if that makes sense.

Breakfast and lunch are easy enough - I've never really eaten a lot of meat at breakfast anyway, and lunch is easy enough to eat salads with lots of nice eggs, nuts, and beans thrown in to make sure I'm getting enough protein so my mom won't worry about me. Dinner is where I'm struggling, though. I like a fair amount of variety in my diet, and I've made all the chili, tacos, eggplant parmesan, calzones, bean soups, and fritatta recipes that I know recently and feel like I've hit a bit of a wall.

I guess this is where I should confess I'm a bit picky too. When I eat meatless meals, I don't like to feel like I'm eating a large portion of a dish that should really be a side. I also don't like meat substitutes. Soy products really bother my stomach. So that leaves me with lentil or pea/bean based meals, for the most part.

So I need your help! My sister is sending along a recipe for black bean fritters, which sound awesome, but I'd like some other suggestions too. Please share! What is your favorite vegetarian main dish recipe that doesn't contain tofu? I'd love some creative ideas! Do you have a recipe laying around that you've been wanting to try but haven't found time for yet? Let me know...I'll test it out for you!

If you'd like to leave a comment with your favorite or just something you're curious to have tested, please do so, (or email me...the link is on the sidebar) and I'll try one each week and review it. I'm looking forward to everyone's ideas!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Drink beer, save the planet?

We were in Colorado for a wedding until yesterday, and after all the wonderful festivities wound down, we had a day to poke around. We were staying about ten minutes from the Coors brewing company, it turns out, so we decided to go for a tour.

It was the typical stuff for the most part (not that I'm complaining - free beer is a good thing for me!) I certainly didn't expect to be too inspired while I was there, but I saw a quote on the wall that grabbed my interest: "Waste is a resource out of place."

The tour went on to explain the various ways in which the company minimizes waste creation - selling grain leftovers to cattle farmers for feed, selling "sad beer" to ethanol plants, and even using their cooling ponds to generate a small amount of electricity. I'm not writing this because I necessarily think this is the most environmentally responsible company in the world or anything, but because I really like that philosophy of rethinking waste.

The idea that all waste is just a misappropriated resource could fundamentally change the way we deal with our trash. Some of my fellow bloggers are already doing this: Chile is making stock out of veggie scraps. Heather is eating fruit scraps. They are doing what this philosophy asks us to - looking at "waste" and finding a place where it is no longer waste, but rather a resource. Freecycle does just that - although it can be tedious and tiresome at times - after we've decided we have no use for a resource, this site aims to help us find others who are eager to put it to use.

I'm going to be making a very conscious effort in the near future to re-think waste. In fact, I'm going to try to eliminate it from my life. Instead of seeing trash, I'm going to start looking at all those homeless resources and try to help them find their place. I think we need to start thinking this way on a larger scale as well. We need to start seeing the opportunities created by these orphaned resources rather than think of waste as something that is no longer useful, and in need of disposal.

After all, think about what the word waste actually means: to consume, spend, or employ uselessly or without adequate return; use to no avail or profit; squander. The very definition of the word tells us that when we create waste it means we have not used something to its full potential. Why is our attitude towards trash so casual? If someone were to tell you that you were using your money in your retirement account uselessly or without adequate return, you'd make adjustments, right? Why should we not approach the resources of physical things with similar care?

The western world creates a lot of waste. Imagine if we were able to view all of it instead as a resource. I wonder if then we'd finally realize how much we truly have.