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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

see you in a few!

I'm off to the wedding of one of my best friends. I am very anxious to spend some quality time with her and share this exciting event in her life!

I'm not sure how much time or internet acces I'll have for posting during the next week, but I'll be mentally composing lots of great posts for when I return.

Enjoy the first day of summer!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

It's the thought that counts...

...and handmade gifts require a lot of thought.

My room mate from college came for a visit this weekend, and she brought me a wonderful gift. It is a tres chic handbag. It's a lovely deep pink, almost red color, knitted, with a super cool chunky cable down the middle. The inside lining is a very funky geometric pattern with several colors that match the outside beautifully. It is probably the best looking purse I own at the moment.

But the best part? She made it herself - from completely reused materials! The yarn was salvaged from a sweater that was taken apart for the purpose, the liner was a shirt that was no longer wanted, a piece of cardboard was saved from the recycling bin and sewn into the bottom to help it keep its shape, and the handles got their structure from a piece of old wine making tubing. It makes the gift that much more special to know that there was a lot of thought put into it, from the sourcing of the materials to the actual construction.

How cool is that? I'm not quite sure I have the level of talent required for this particular project myself, but it has re-inspired me to try to give more handmade gifts. Since the primary rule in gift giving is that it's the thought that counts, I'd say handmade gifts count for a lot.

Friday, June 13, 2008

New traffic laws

I was thinking about my fellow bloggers the other day. I decided there was no good reason I couldn't do a 12 mile round trip (distance to the grocery store). So I hauled the beast out of the garage and started pedaling.

Heather, I've got a whole new respect for your commitment to getting around without a car now that the temperatures here have started climbing. And Green Bean, I thought about your beautiful sounding bike ride, wondering what I was missing, because mine wasn't that lovely at all. And I thought about Charles, and vowed that triahlete was never going to be a word to describe me.

To be fair, I was probably a little jaded yesterday. I had only gone about 1/2 mile, when I heard a car approaching behind me. I could tell it was moving pretty quickly, which I thought was odd since there was a clearly red light not far ahead. Next thing I knew, this guy was flying by me, leaning on his horn, and coming really really close to me. Like he wanted to scare me into thinking he was going to hit me.

Well, it worked. He scare the daylights out of me. I usually avoid confrontation like the plague, but I was MAD. So I did what any angry, overheated woman would do. He had come to a screeching halt after nearly sideswiping me, so I started yelling at him. Really loud. More like screaming, I guess. I think it went something like this "EXCUSE ME. EXCUSE ME. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? I SAID WHAT IS YOUR DAMN PROBLEM? HEY! HEY! YOU CAN'T JUST TRY TO RUN PEOPLE OVER BECAUSE THEY'RE IN YOUR WAY. JERK! HEY! WHERE ARE YOU GOING THAT IS SO IMPORTANT THAT YOU NEED TO BEHAVE THAT WAY? HEY! JERK! HEY!"

Well you know what, he wouldn't even look at me, much less respond. After I tried so nicely to communicate and all that. I will admit that I have a bit of the proverbial Irish temper, and it was all I could do not to smash in the windows of his ugly ass fire engine red mini van, or let fly every curse word I know. And I know a lot. But I restrained myself - but I needed to retaliate in some way. I don't have a great ability to let things go right away. So I called the cops on him. I'm sure they didn't do anything - after all, a drunk lady smashing into my house with her gigantic SUV was a problem they "didn't have the manpower to deal with" so I'm sure this wasn't at the top of the pile, but a girl can dream.

At first I thought maybe I was over reacting, and although I will admit that my motivation was that I was really really angry, I actually believe this was an appropriate response. After all, a car is a deadly weapon if not handled responsibly. There's a reason that the term "vehicular manslaughter" exists, after all. Not only was this guy not driving in a manner safe for existing conditions (the condition being that I was also on the road), I consider what he did to be threatening with a deadly weapon.

Am I bit dramatic? Well, yes. But on the other hand, (mom skip to the next paragraph, please) there have been close to 200 bicyclists killed in my county in the past ten years. The problem is bad enough that there's going to be a Town Hall Meeting to Discuss our Bicycle Safety Crisis.

So without further ado, drivers, please follow the new traffic laws I've made up. Or I'll give you a fake ticket. And yell at you too. Here they are:

1. If you park on the street, open your eyes before you open the car door. Sure, bikes don't go as fast as cars, but we also need more than a foot of stopping distance. If you open a door into a biker you create a very dangerous situation.

2. Be aware of the bicycle rules in your area. It doesn't matter if you don't want to share the road, if the laws say that bikes need to ride on the road, that's the situation. Just like it doesn't matter whether you want to stop at a red light. That's what the law says. Deal with it. Or get off the road.

3. Don't intentionally try to scare people on bikes. It's not funny and you might get somebody hurt.

4. If there are just a few parked cars ahead that a bike is passing, don't squeeze yourself into the mix too. Slow down and let him or her finish passing the parked cars and pass the bike when you have a wider space to do so. It won't make you any later than you already are.

5. If you see a pothole, or a piece of garbage, or other crap ahead in the road, be aware that a bike can't just blow through/over/past that stuff like a car. We need to go around it, so if you see a biker ahead, don't assume he or she is going to keep to an arrow-straight path.

6. Right turn on red requires you to come to a complete stop first. Do so. You can't be sure of what is around you unless you do. This is for the safety of pedestrians too. I've seen several nearly taken out because various drivers were in too much of a rush.

I was thinking a lot yesterday about our human resource infrastructure (I made that up - basically I mean public employees like police and fire fighters) and how it needs to be overhauled to make it safe for people to be more environmentally conscious. Our city always talks about various green issues, but the vulnerability of the non-motorized vehicles on our roadways is a serious problem that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. Pedestrians and cyclists should be fiercely protected, as should public transport passengers, especially when it's dark outside. That's called putting your money where your mouth is, and it's time we start doing it.

After I finished writing this post, but before I actually posted it, I saw on the news that today in my city a 12 year old girl was riding her bike home from the last day of school and was hit by an SUV and later died at the hospital. I will be keeping her and her family in my thoughts, and hope you will too. I don't know the details, so I'll try not to pass judgment on the driver, but what a tragedy - and how unneccessary.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Secret Tip

Here's one of my favorite food shopping secrets - if you want to buy more things in bulk, but don't have a bulk food store in your area, check out ethnic grocery stores in your area. In the past, I've had good luck with Indian grocery stores here in CA as well as in NH with a sort of hybrid North African / Lebanese / Indian store.

These stores can be a great source for things like dried beans, lentils, nuts, and spices. Although they will probably not be from a bulk bin, they will likely be in a much larger package than what you are used to finding in the grocery store. Larger packages mean a reduction in total waste. For example, I spent about $8 for a bottle of ground cumin in the grocery store a few years back. I found it at the Indian grocery store, in a bag with probably five to ten times the quantity of cumin, for about $3. You'll have to supply your own pretty bottles for storage, but just reuse one next time you run out of something.

Other things I buy at my local Indian grocery store, Kumud, include turmeric, cumin seeds, whole coriander, ground coriander, cinnamon sticks, cloves, whole black pepper, red chili powder, sesame seeds, peanuts, cashews, and fennel seeds.

Make sure to do your homework first, though. I find that prices on dried beans actually tend to be cheaper at my local Whole Foods, and the organic option doesn't exist at Kumud. The other thing that is helpful to know is if the item you are looking for, especially if it is something like lentils, has more than one name as things are often labelled as something you might not be expecting - urad dal, black gram, and minapa pappu, for example, are all the same thing, so if you're using a recipe that calls for something that's new to you, do a quick search to see if it's known by any other name.

It's also fun to poke around and see what they have for sale that might be new to you. For example, I found a packet of pre-mixed spices for tea (tea masala). Before, when I had wanted an authentic masala tea, I'd roast cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon, then grind them all together (meaning I almost never actually made it!). Now I can buy it all ready to go - this is one of my favorite finds, but there have been lots of others.

Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help! Whenever I go into Kumud, the same five or six people are working there. After I had shopped there a few times, they remembered me and are always more than happy to help me with any questions I have, as is very often the case with small business owners and employees.

All around, it's a great option! I save money, save on packaging, find foods I've never tried before, and I get to support a store that's not a huge national chain.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Send a letter to your mayor!

Wall of water
Originally uploaded by fhemerick
If you live in a place big enough to have a mayor, send them a note asking them to support this resolution, encouraging all cities to phase out bottled water in city hall and promote safe tap water as the best source of drinking water.

The letter's already written for you, and there's a link on the page giving contact info for your mayor...does it get any easier?

The website is here, but here's the text in full:

Contact your Mayor
Ask him/her to support Resolution 70
The bottled water industry is up to no good, once again. For months, you have helped us turn the spotlight on the impacts of bottled water – from extraction to transportation to the way we all think about water – and you have encouraged your cities to take action.

Now, the industry wants to stop our mayors from protecting the environment, saving taxpayer dollars and promoting strong public water systems. This month mayors from across the country joined together to spearhead a resolution calling for a phase out of bottled water in city hall. The American Beverage Association, the trade group representing Coke, Nestlé and Pepsi, hired a team of lobbyists to oppose the resolution, concerned that it might further tarnish the industry’s image.

Ask your mayor to support city water and vote for Resolution No. 70 - here is the letter to send to your mayor - copy this into an email or mail it to him/her:

Click here to find contact information for your mayor:

Dear Mayor:

I am writing to ask you to please support Resolution 70 at the upcoming US Conference of Mayors’ meeting. This resolution encourages cities to phase out, where feasible, government use of bottled water and to promote the importance of municipal water.

Bottled water has an impact: from extraction to transportation to the way we all think about water. I truly believe that this resolution is good for taxpayers, for the environment and for our public water.

I hope that you will join me in thinking outside the bottle. Please vote yes on resolution 70.

Thank you for your attention.


Resolution 70
Submitted by:

The Honorable Gavin Newsom
Mayor of San Francisco

The Honorable Michael Bloomberg
Mayor of New York City

The Honorable Thomas Menino
Mayor of Boston

The Honorable Laurel Lunt Prussing
Mayor of Urbana

The Honorable Martin Chavez
Mayor of Albuquerque

The Honorable Dan Coody
Mayor of Fayetteville

The Honorable Will Wynn
Mayor of Austin

The Honorable R.T. Rybak
Mayor of Minneapolis

The Honorable David Cicilline
Mayor of Providence

The Honorable Joseph A. Curtatone
Mayor of Somerville

The Honorable Richard M. Daley
Mayor of Chicago

The Honorable Marty Blum
Mayor of Santa Barbara

The Honorable Michael Nutter
Mayor of Philadelphia

The Honorable Manuel Diaz
Mayor of Miami


WHEREAS, the United States' municipal water systems are among the finest in the world; and

WHEREAS, high quality, safe drinking water is already available at most public locations; and

WHEREAS, mayors are responsible for delivering safe and affordable water to our citizens; and

WHEREAS, bottled water is regulated by the FDA and municipal tap water is regulated by the EPA and has more stringent requirements for testing; and

WHEREAS, local governments invest approximately $82 billion a year to provide water and sewer services; and

WHEREAS, bottled water often costs more than an equivalent volume of gasoline, equivalent to 1,000 to 10,000 times more than tap water; and

WHEREAS, up to 40% of bottled water on the market comes from municipal water systems and the bottled water industry generated $15 billion in revenues in 2006 from U.S. consumers; and

WHEREAS, bottled water often travels many miles from the source, resulting in the burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels, releasing CO2 and other pollution into the atmosphere; and

WHEREAS, plastic water bottles are one of the fastest growing sources of municipal waste; and

WHEREAS, in the U.S. the production of plastic bottles for bottled water currently requires the energy equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil per year – enough to generate fuel for over a million cars for a year – and generates more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide; and

WHEREAS, we applaud the US Conference of Mayors for its National City Water Taste Test, which recognizes all of the great work municipal water systems do for its residents on a daily basis, year after year; and

WHEREAS, the US Conference of Mayors, per Resolution #90 adopted in June 2007, has compiled much information regarding the importance of municipal water and the impact of bottled water on municipal waste.

WHEREAS, the evidence suggests that banning bottled water from government use highlights the importance of municipal water and decreases the impact of bottled water on municipal waste.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the US Conference of Mayors encourages cities to phase out, where feasible, government use of bottled water and promote the importance of municipal water.

I highly recommend...

these organic cotton produce bags from Organic Needle - I'd been trying to reuse my plastic bags as much as possible in order to reduce overall waste, but when stuff would go mushy and moldy sometimes (even if just a little bit of lettuce slime) it became really hard to get them clean, they didn't dry properly, etc. I'll use up the ones I still have kicking around before saying goodbye for good, but these cotton bags are just lovely! I used them for fresh produce as well as dried beans from the bulk bins, and I couldn't be happier, plus I got to support a small business owner. The large ones were also great to put my empty milk bottles in when I biked to the store. It kept them from banging together in my backpack. Check them out!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My take on fair trade

Fair trade is a concept I want to embrace whole-heartedly. But I have questions, and I have concerns.

Wikipedia defines fair trade as “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, which seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers - especially in the South. Fair trade organizations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.”

OK, sounds good. Sustainable development, rights of marginalized workers, securing rights, these all sound like good things.

Basically the way that it works is fair trade purchasers work with producers to figure what it actually costs them to produce the commodity in question, and then set that dollar amount as the starting point for sales of the commodity. So it ensures that farmers don’t have to take a loss if there’s a year in which prices drop. If it’s a year in which the commodity is in high demand, they can still make a profit.

This is important for many reasons, but the one situation that immediately comes to mind for me is the suicides of cotton farmers in India, most particularly in the states of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. There were many, very complicated, reasons that farmers began killing themselves, but to oversimplify, it had to do with the costs of farming versus the small income farmers were earning while the global prices for their product was falling. This led to a cycle of debt and despair, in which it was ultimately more profitable for farmers to take their own lives than it was to continue farming, due to government compensation packages that provided cash payments to the survivors of farmers who had taken their own lives.

Clearly, at least to me, determining what the actual cost of production is, and promising to reimburse the farmers at least that amount should global prices plummet, is a good thing. Why should poor farmers all over the world be taking a financial gamble each planting season just to offer us the chance to buy (or not buy) their goods?

Some critics have argued this creates an artificial subsidy for these products. First, this is a non-argument in my book, as long as we’re subsidizing our own agriculture in this country, how can we criticize a voluntary subsidy undertaken by individuals who make the choice to pay that subsidy each and every time they purchase a chocolate bar or a pound of coffee beans?

The second, and in my mind, more compelling response to this argument of an artificial subsidy is that it’s not the fair trade price floor that creates a price distortion, but rather that the current free trade system is, and has been, creating price distortions for years because of the unequal balance of power between the purchasers (global conglomerates like Nestle, for example) and producers.

Some actually criticize fair trade practices for not going far enough to right this distortion of power, arguing that as long as fair trade continues to negotiate within the status quo, for example, by selling to multi-national corporations, no real change will take place. I’m not convinced that this isn’t true.

I am concerned that fair trade organizations, by implementing a power structure that still leaves farmers and small producers in a position of subservience, have the potential to permanently disenfranchise small producers. In effect, power is being shifted from purchasers (seen as evil, multi-national corporations) to the fair trade labeling organizations (which are seen as much more benevolent) but fundamentally, I’m not sure that from the farmer’s perspective, there has been any actual change in the amount of power they wield – they receive a more equitable price for their crops, but to me, it doesn’t seem that they’ve actually been much empowered.

I hope that the steps being taken now are just the beginning of a journey towards new global economic models in which small producers all over the world eventually learn to bargain and negotiate for themselves rather than always working through North American and European based labeling organizations.

It seems to me that the manner in which this relationship has been established works simply to preserve a relationship that is still, at its roots, imperial in nature. Who will stand up and question whether the best thing for farmers in Ghana to produce is cocoa beans, when almost no chocolate is consumed in Ghana? Why is nobody questioning why Guatemalans are producing tons of bananas, but not eating any?

Maybe I want too much too soon. Maybe I should be glad that there are alternatives out there. I think this is closely connected to larger issues of greenwashing though. Buying a brand new set of organic cotton sheets doesn’t help the environment at all if you don’t even NEED new sheets in the first place. The point is, as long as Ghana is producing cocoa beans and Guatemala is producing bananas, yes, they should be paid fairly for their products – but that cannot be the end of the story. We then have to ask ourselves why it is that we get to decide what these countries produce in the first place. Those of us who make an effort to shop for and eat locally produced items whenever possible are, I believe, taking a step in the right direction. If you’re like me, though, you make an exception for items that cannot be purchase locally – like coffee and chocolate.

Another concern that I have also ties in to issues of imperialism. One area with which fair trade standards are concerned is child labor and education. In my ideal world, children would never have to work to feed themselves or their families. They’d play and go to school and enjoy their childhood. Unfortunately, we live in a world far removed from my ideal. The fair trade standards state that in the production of fair trade goods, it is verified that “The participation of children (if any) does not adversely affect their well-being, security, educational requirements and need for play.”

I think the sentiment behind this idea is lovely. What concerns me is who is deciding what the educational needs of a child are when there are real choices involved between a child’s school attendance and a child’s working to buy food for a hungry family, or to buy medicine for a sick family member? It is appalling that these choices have to be made, but that is the world we live in. Until we have addressed some much more fundamental issues like global hunger, health care, and education, it seems patently naïve to assume that a regulatory body located in North America or Europe is at all qualified to weigh real life or death needs against a child’s educational requirements or need for play.

I also find it a bit too idealistic that they state that “fair trade means that women’s work is properly valued and rewarded.” Again, I think it’s lovely that that is what they are working for, but I don’t believe that there is a place in this world where women’s work is REALLY properly valued and rewarded. But I guess that’s another dissertation altogether, so I’ll leave that one alone for now.

Another concern I have is that fair trade producers don’t have to practice fair trade standards for everything they produce, just everything they produce to be sold under the fair trade label. I have fearful visions of women being sent to pick coffee from the non-fair trade coffee plants so that the farmers can get away with paying them less. I guess I really am cynical, but I don’t see the point in enforcing a standard like equal pay for equal work when it only applies to a portion of the total output.

Lest I sound like I hate the idea of fair trade, now that I’ve aired all my reservations, I will say that in the context of what is available on the current market, I will continue to purchase fair trade items. There are very few things in this life which are perfect, and there are a lot of things that are right about fair trade, not least of which is the sentiment behind the idea. In fairness to the spirit that first inspired the creation of the fair trade labeling system, however, I believe we must acknowledge what work we still need to do in pursuit of a more just and equitable world for all its citizens, and then do that work.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Fast Food Nation (continued)

Here is just one more reason why those of us living in this Fast Food Nation should be thinking very very carefully about where our food comes from these days - an outbreak of food poisoning linked to sliced tomatoes on McDonalds' sandwiches.

If you've read the book, you know that a precautionary measure means they're pretty sure it's their fault but instead of allowing the government to investigate and prove it, they'll take a preemptive measure. The tainted food has probably already been shipped backed to the distributors it was purchased from - since school is still in session, they may even re-sell the food to school lunch programs somewhere. Nobody dead yet doesn't mean that nobody will have long lasting health problems. And let's not forget the ultimate gross factor, which is that many of the germs that cause food poisoning, come from sh*t. On your food. You want fries with that?

Still a bookworm...

So it's June, and along with Green Bean and the others who are Still Bookworms, I've been working on increasing my ecological IQ by reading an ecologically relevant book.

I just finished reading The No-Nonsense Guide to Fair Trade by David Ransom. I almost always buy fair trade when that option is available, but other than knowing that treating people fairly is a good thing, I don’t really know too much about the details of fair trade and what is actually involved. I also have a few questions and concerns about fair trade that I was hoping to have cleared up after reading this little book (stay tuned for more on this tomorrow).

But alas, no such luck. I guess I should have had a clue when there was no waiting list for this title on paperbackswap. Perhaps I’m not all that smart, but what I heard after reading this book was basically “Free trade is bad. WTO is bad. Structural adjustment programs are bad. Almost all big corporations are bad. The northern world takes unfair advantage of the southern world. Fair trade is good.”

What disappointed me about this book were two things. The first is that he sort of assumes that the reader already knows a fair bit about why free trade, structural adjustment programs, and so forth, unfairly benefit developed nations at the expense of countries in the southern part of the world. I’ve done a fair bit of prior reading, though, so I was able to fill in the gaps with my own knowledge.

The second, and perhaps more disappointing issue with the book, though, is that he never actually makes the link between fair trade and the problems created by free trade, and how fair trade will actually fix those problems. This may be in part due to the fact that he never actually defines what fair trade is in any detail.

The book is basically a collection of anecdotes about producers of coffee, cocoa beans, and bananas all over the world, accompanied by descriptions of how poor they are and how the prices set for their commodities by free trade markets are not enough for them to live on.

I left this book with more questions than I started with, and frankly, I wish I’d invested the time elsewhere on a volume that would have actually answered some questions rather than just giving me mini-bios of fair trade farmers around the world.

Thumbs down - but thumbs up for the challenge! Since June's not over yet, I'm still a bookworm, and I'll post a review of the next title as soon as I'm done with it.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tin cans are made of plastic????

Since my decision to become a flexitarian a while back, I've been cooking slightly differently. We're still eating fish and seafood, but no more meat purchased for cooking at home. I’m so grossed out by what I read in Fast Food Nation that I frankly have no desire to buy, touch, cook, or eat meat anytime soon anyway.

The result, for the most part, has been great. I’ve made delicious eggplant parmesan, a spicy vegetarian chili, and this week, some wonderful tacos.

Part of the challenge for me has not been simply not eating meat, but what to eat in its place. I really don’t like tofu, or any of those other soy fake meat products. They hurt my stomach, for one thing. I never feel good after eating that stuff. Ever. Maybe I have some sort of intolerance, who knows? I also don’t care for the textures, or for the most part, the tastes. Beyond that, they just don’t seem like real food to me. I know lots of people really enjoy them, but for me, it’s just not a good option.

So I wanted tacos this week. Obviously ground meat was out. I considered fish, but didn’t really want the battery stuff with all the oil and fat involved. There’s fake taco meat out there (I think it’s called Smart Round or something), but that’s one of the worst on my stomach, so no way. That basically left beans – which is totally fine, except for now I’ve been reading about how cans may actually pose a danger to us because of the plastic (?!) lining, which contains potentially hazardous levels of BPA. BPA is the chemical you’ve probably heard of that can leach into your drinking water if you use plastic bottles. Bad news folks…it can also apparently leach into your food from tin cans! What’s really scary is that according to one site, one of the food items that is almost always guaranteed to contain BPA in the can linings? Baby formula. Scary isn’t it? See this article for more on BPA. It sort of makes me think that any health benefits of eating organic canned foods are probably cancelled out.

So anyway, I didn’t have any canned refried beans for making tacos, and I didn’t really want to go out and buy any after all I’ve been reading. I’ve also been trying to buy less canned food and more bulk items for environmental reasons - less packaging, less energy to transport, less waste. Cooked beans actually freeze pretty well, and although they take a while to cook, it’s easy to do large batches all at the same time.

Assorted varieties of beans account for probably 2/3 of the canned items I use. I’m a bit of a food snob, so I refuse to eat canned mushrooms, peas, carrots, etc. I do occasionally buy canned beets to throw in salads. I’ve been trying to get away from that, but this one is more of a pain. It takes what seems like forever to cook them, and it really heats up the house. The end result is a fair bit better, but I’m concerned about the energy costs of doing it this way. More research would be needed.

The other items that I eat canned are artichoke hearts, corn, and tomatoes. I’m not sure that there are any easy solutions other than a radical change in what I cook. I go through a fair amount of artichoke hearts in a year. I froze some from my CSA this spring, but it won’t be enough to get me through the year. Tomatoes will be the same issue. I use probably a can a week in sauces, soups, curries, etc. Unfortunately, according to Organic Grace, there is virtually no brand guaranteed to be BPA free. I’ll keep looking – does anybody know of any guaranteed BPA free brands out there? I know glass is a reasonable alternative for items that aren't sold in bulk. Although the lid may contain BPA as well, if the jars are stored upright, the lid shouldn't actually be touching the food, and it's a much smaller area than the entire container.

In the meantime, I’ll be avoiding canned items as much as possible. For my tacos (which were Delicious!) I made the following, super easy refried bean substitute:

1 C. (approx.) cooked chick peas
½ onion, chopped
1 T. (approx.) chopped fresh cilantro
½ t. red chili powder
½ t. cumin powder
½ t. coriander powder
½ t. salt
Olive oil for sautéing

Saute onions until just starting to get soft. Add beans, heat until warm. Add spices except fresh cilantro. Mix, and mash the peas a bit using a fork. Add water about 1 T at a time until desired consistency is reached. Add fresh cilantro just before serving.

This was barely enough for the two of us, they were that good! Next time I’m going to try making a double batch and freezing some for an even easier meal when I’m pressed for time.

I had previously tried making my own tortillas as well, but that was less of a success, so this time I just stuck with a pack of the pre-made from Whole Foods. One cooking adventure at a time!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

gentle reminders

I've seen this idea several times, and have always forgotten to mention it. Most email programs allow you to attach a permanent signature - why not use this for some info that goes beyond your name, job title, and phone number?

After all, a signature, as defined by, is "A distinctive mark, characteristic, or sound indicating identity" - don't you want your signature to say something about who you are, and what is important to you?

My personal email has a link to my blog...hopefully people may see it, click out of idle curiosity, and begin thinking about some things they hadn't before.

I've just added a signature to my work email (where I don't feel a blog link is appropriate) that says "Please consider the environment before printing this email." I totally copied this verbatim from somebody who sent it to me...sorry!

Burbanmom also suggests using your signature to give a "tip of the month" - she even gives step by step instructions for the technologically challenged on how to add a signature in outlook. If you use gmail, click on "settings" in the upper right corner, then the first tab says "general" - there's a box there that says "signature" - type it in, click "save changes" at the bottom, and you're good to go.

It took me about fifteen seconds to add this to my signature, and no ongoing maintenance required. Plus it's free. I like being able to do something good without spending money. So what if only two people ever decide not to print because of it? That's two less sheets of paper that we need to cut down a tree for, spend resources making, transporting, and later recycling.

More importantly, this can serve as one more reminder filtering into the subconsciousness of everyone I email with on a professional basis that we need to be aware of how we use resources. And these days, we can use as many of these reminders as we can get!

Friday, June 6, 2008

just wanted to say thanks...

CFL lightbulbs…tires properly inflated…bamboo cutting boards…turn down the water heater…blah blah blah blah blah.

This is what my mind was hearing several months ago when I first realized I really wasn’t living a very sustainable lifestyle. I scoured the internet, searching for any tips and tricks to make the transition to a more sustainable lifestyle more bearable. I got so bored, that I almost decided that I had two choices: sell my house and all of my belongings, kiss my family and friends goodbye, and live inside of a hollowed out log in the forest, or resign myself to the fact that that’s just the way it is for people like me in this country.

Then I stumbled upon a blog that gave me reason to keep on going…horrifyingly enough, the post that pulled me back in was entitled All Natural Bush – it was a piece all about hair dye for “down there” – it, sadly enough, was what made me realize, like a smack in the face, that our society is compulsively drawn to buying crap…no matter what the product is designed for, you can find a market for it in this consumer culture.

I signed up for the Buy Nothing Challenge just a few days later, and it was a wonderful learning experience. Even more importantly, I was able to tap into a community of people who were struggling with similar issues, and dealing with them all with humor and grace, and without the holier than thou attitude I found so off-putting.

I learned the value of community – had I not been able to witness the successes and shortcomings of others undertaking the same challenges, I would have thrown in the towel.

Had I not been able to laugh and chuckle with others, and at myself, I would have found no joy in the process.

So instead of giving up on this adventure of going green, I find myself constantly looking for new challenges and ways to improve myself and the world around me. I’ve tapped into a network of likeminded individuals. And I’ve seen the bar set for what I’d like my blog to be.

Crunchy has recently been discussing taking a break from blogging...for reasons I would fully understand - but I hope she carries on. Whether or not Crunchy Chicken continues blogging for another week, six months, or years to come, I’m grateful for the thought-provoking and insight that’s been provided – thank you! You are an original!

Check out the tribute site and consider making a donation to help girls in Africa stay in school.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Keep your conventional hands off my organics!

While shopping the other day, I noticed the following sign in Whole Foods’ produce department regarding organic foods:
“Customer Responsibility
Although we at Whole Foods Market do all we can to protect the organic integrity of our products, once the decision is made to purchase an organic pear, loaf of bread, or pound of coffee, the product — and the protection of its organic integrity — passes into the hands of the customer. At this time, it becomes each individual customer's decision as to what steps they wish to take regarding their organic purchases. You may choose to:
• Bag and separate your organic produce selection from conventional produce prior to placing it on the produce scales, in the shopping basket or onto the register belt.
• Grind whole organic coffee beans at home since our grinders are used for both conventional and organic coffees.
• Please be patient when our team members need to clean their equipment before giving you a special cut of organic cheese or meat.”
I had never thought about this before, but it’s an excellent point. OK, the phrase “organic integrity” makes it sound a little too serious, but just as a vegetarian wouldn’t want their eggplant slapped on a grill right after a steak and flipped with the same tongs, I don’t want the organic produce I purchase rubbing up against produce swimming in nasty chemicals.

In addition to the above, I’d add:
- If you use re-usable produce bags, make sure to wash them between uses if they’ve held conventional produce – preferably with an eco-friendly washing soap.
- If you’re deciding between conventional and organic (maybe the conventional is the only local form of peaches available that week?) pay attention to where you’ve picked up any fruit you’re testing for firmness, and be sure to replace it in the appropriate bin.
- If you’re buying bulk, use the right scoop (this is important because of allergies too).
- When storing organic produce in the fridge, keep it in the bag or in an “organics only” drawer if you buy both organic and conventional stuff.

Are these measures over the top? Maybe for some, but not to me. Organic stuff costs a lot more, in general, at least where I live. If I’m paying for it, I want to keep it that way. Of course, then we get into the question of why not buy only organic, which gets into problems of whether organic trumps local. What’s funny is that I could actually get by on just the organic AND local CSA shares of produce almost all the time, I think, if they only had a bit more fruit. I love fruit…so until that day, I’ll be over here, trying to maintain the organic integrity of my veggies.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Adventures in Hooking

So my resolve to spend les time online is going...okay. Problem is, I'm not really working all that much these days, and what work I do is from home for the most part. I'm sort of like a stay at home mom - with no kids. The idea of going into an office every day and wearing business casual clothes makes me feel like vomitting, to be frank. I could do it, if I had to, but I have absolutely no desire, and am lucky enough to have a significant other who doesn't think this is the end of the world.

In fairness, though, I thought I should at least make a token effort to bring my income above the official poverty level and contribute something to the household income. Hence my return to rug hooking. So far I've actually just spent money. I bought two hand drawn patterns ($32 each) from a fiber artist named Martina Lesar - I love the patterns I selected and can't wait to get to work on them. Plus I like that I got to support another artist in the process of my own creating.

I found a very heavy wool shirt/jacket at a high school rummage sale for $1 and purchased three pairs of pants for $3 each at Goodwill the other day. The wool content of the fabric has to be at least 80%, and a lot of clothes out there these days are all sorts of weird blends of synthetic things, so it takes some hunting to find the right stuff.

This past week, I've been dis-assembling the clothes with a seam ripper I purchased for $2.99. I can say with complete confidence, LL Bean makes some tough clothes. No wonder they guarantee them for life. I'd guess it took me close to five hours to take their shirt apart. I tend to have an overactive imagination, so the five hours went by pretty quickly when I found a Peace Corps button in the pocket - I spent the whole time imagining the fantastic adventures the shirt and its wearer had been on all over the world. Then I felt sad it had ended up in a heap at a high school rummage sale. Then I decided I was glad that at least I could give it a chance at a new adventure as part of a treasured piece of art in somebody's home (I told you I have an overactive imagination).

I have one and a half pair of pants to finish taking apart, then I need to go back to Goodwill and find some crappy old pots to do the dyeing in. And research how to do the dyeing. I want to use all natural materials rather than synthetic chemical dyes, but I've heard some concerns about how color fast they are.

What I've already come to appreciate, without actually starting the project in earnest yet, is that it's no wonder hand made stuff is expensive compared to what they have at Target and such places. It takes a lot of time to carefully source materials. It takes a lot of time to do quality work. And it's not cheap to do things well. I already have a new appreciation for the value added when a person makes an item versus when a factory makes an item. The funny thing is, I'm not new to this craft. The difference is, it's always been a hobby for me, so I've never dwelled on things like the value of the time that I put into it too much.

With that in mind, I'm off to buy those handmade produce bags I've been thinking about for the last two months. I'm sure they're well worth the cost.

Sorry, only for those in the Bay Area...

check out GreenFair Silicon Valley if you're going to be in the 408 area code this weekend.

San Jose put on a great Earth Day event, so I'm hoping for good things from this event also.

Thanks to car(bon) free in California for the heads up!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Calling all scooter drivers

Does anybody out there drive a scooter? I'm considering buying one. I have the bike, but this city isn't quite set up for easy biking everywhere, and the public transportation has limitations, especially if you go out at night. But I really hate driving the car - even though I think we get close to 30 mpg, it seems wasteful, especially when I don't really need a car for the storage space or anything, it's just that I don't have the energy (or the interest) to bike 30 miles on a regular basis.

Plus biking still freaks me out a little. I'm not convinced that the cars are actually looking out for me, and I'm not convinced I won't tip over at any moment in front of a moving car. I'll admit that I often get off the bike and walk across intersections because I'm not ever too sure when I first get going that I'll be able to keep the thing in a straight line and not fall off.

So does anybody have any suggestions? I'm definitely going to get something used, but aside from that, I don't really know what I want. Have you owned a scooter? Did you like it? Hate it? What kind did you have? Would you recommend it? Would you buy one again?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

...and that's the way it is

I've never been a huge fan of mainstream media. I was curious what new state of chaos the election was in today, however, and since I'd decided to spend less time surfing the web, I switched on CNN while working on a relatively mindless project.

I won't make that mistake again anytime soon.

The election coverage was fine. Uninspiring and predictably dumbed down, but nothing I didn't expect. It was what came next that had me really irritated.


My summary, (not verbatim), of the show, is as follows:

Rick Sanchez informs us that the government body that is in charge of stuff like commodities is investigating to see whether anything fishy is going on that could be causing oil prices to get so high. He is barely able to conceal the despairing tone in his voice as he asks expert after expert if some vast conspiracy could be responsible for the price of gas being so high. He points out that supply and demand seems like just such a "simplistic" explanation for why gas prices have reached the point they have. I nearly choke on my sandwich. Rick points out that since people are so angry about the price of gas, those guys better watch out when the government finds out who is responsible for all these high prices because boy oh boy, they are not going to be popular at all.

This is followed by a segment in which a field reporter goes for a drive with a guy who gets awesome gas mileage - almost double the miles per gallon than what the manufacturer of his Accord promised. All he has to do is certain "advanced techniques" like TURNING OFF HIS CAR ON THE FREEWAY when he is behind a large tractor trailer, and using the draft to coast a while. He cheerily honks his horn back at everyone beeping at him as they whiz past, as if he thinks he's being applauded for his efficiency. The field reporter admits that he's probably beyond help as he doesn't think there is much he can do to increase the efficiency of his YUKON that he drives in MANHATTAN. I am very close to choking again.

I'm sorry about all the yelling here, but these people have got to be kidding. Are they showing Candid Camera or something on CNN? Nope, there's more! They're actually serious about this crap.

They spend a short while making fun of an (unemployed) guy who drives a scooter, then make fun of a guy who has a pedal powered enclosed bicycle-type thing that he commutes in (who'd want to get around a city in a scooter when you can have a Yukon, hellooooo).

Hey guys, guess what, Rick Sanchez has some news that will probably solve all our fuel problems - there's oil off the coast of Latin America!!! Brazil, to be exact. Well, it is below like ten million miles of water, and a 40 mile thick salt crust below that, and it's under about 500 billion tons of pressure, and it's crappy quality, but there's definitely some oil there. At this point, one of the expert guests is actually asked if this will be "enough". I am so close to choking on the sandwich for the umpteenth time, I decide it is safer if I finish eating once this show is over.

They have a short bit on the dilemma faced by all those poor people who payed over $50,000 for trucks last year and now can afford neither to sell them (because they owe more than they're worth, and with gas prices being what they are, values on SUVs and trucks have dropped) nor can they afford to continue driving these trucks. Cry me a river.

I hear Rick mention to some woman on his show that we've all heard talk about red states and blue states, but this is clearly one issue about which Americans are united in anger.

Rick, I need to correct you here. I cannot let this go on any longer. I resent being lumped with everyone who is angry because they feel that cheap gas is their entitlement, some sort of basic human right along with food, shelter, and freedom of speech. Rick, I am angry because there are so many people out there who bought trucks and SUVs in the first place, for no reason other than that they thought they were cool looking. I'm not talking about people who need four wheel drive because they live on top of a mountain, or people who need trucks because they use them on their farm, or people who have a truck or SUV for any other number of legitimate reasons.
I'm talking about the people who like having an Escalade or a Navigator, and feel like it's the government's responsibility to make sure they can afford to drive those obnoxious things as much as they see fit. Rick, I'm angry because none of these people seemed to give a crap about how their driving choices might affect anybody else, but now we're supposed to be all concerned because they might have to actually give something up to continue being able to afford their choice. Don't look to me for sympathy. I'm all tapped out.

I think these high fuel prices are the wake up call we sorely need. I regret that these prices are causing healthy food choices to become unaffordable for many working class families in this country, and feel sad that it is the unemployed, underemployed, and lower middle class who will probably be affected the most. But I don't feel angry about gas prices. Anger is an illogical response to something like a market force such as supply and demand (simplistic as some may believe those forces to be).

Furthermore, it has become exceedingly clear that if something doesn't happen soon to force us to re-evaluate our lifestyles and habits in this country, we'll never do it. We've been steadily increasing our consumption of oil in this country for decades. If it takes us getting to the point of not being able to afford to drive to make us figure out another way to do things, fine. So be it.

Rick, you stand corrected. I am proud to count myself as one American who is not angry that my fuel costs more. Please excuse me if I don't tune in again any time soon.

EDIT: Apparently a Sunday Post Secret reader has the same sentiments.