Tag Archives: green living

A Plastic Nest

8 Sep

September 8th, 2013

My boxes arrived on Friday, which was like ten years’ worth of Christmases all come together, and brought along at least two weeks’ worth of backache. My apartment happens to be on the 3rd floor of a building that has twisty windy hallways with many misplaced staircases, and of course no elevator. I won’t tell you how long it took me to carry 14 boxes up those stairs, because it didn’t take that long. However, it did make me feel a bit like the Atom Ant, crawling up and down the stairs with boxes almost bigger than my hundred-pound self. Long story short, I made it, the boxes are currently blocking out most of my hallway and probably constituting a fire hazard, and I could really use a new spine.

The process of settling in is a slow and painful one when I don’t have a vehicle. Today I finally got a second-hand kitchen table with a chair, which the gentleman who was selling was kind enough to deliver. I gave up any hopes of being able to scavenge a second bookshelf until next month when more people move in and out of the building, so I resorted to building one from milk crates and cardboard. I covered the cardboard with wrapping paper, so it actually looks better than the wooden shelf I got from the neighbors. The greatest challenge of a car-less life is still the guinea pigs: I like getting their hay and bedding from a feed store (where they cost a fraction of a fraction of the price I’d pay at a pet store), and apart from the feed stores being in the boonies by definition, I can’t exactly walk onto the bus with a bale of hay. Until I get through my Carshare application, the oinkers are getting grass and fancy bedding from the pet store. Such is life.

Trying to avoid plastic is even more difficult than trying to bring a bale of hay into an urban apartment. Part of this is plastic objects, and part of it is the packaging. For example, short of trying to use a quill, I can’t avoid plastic pens. (Pencils are great for everyday use, but don’t work well for letters and documents.) Toothbrushes are plastic, as are mop handles, clothes hangers (even the outer lining of metal hangers), the quills of hairbrushes, and almost all pet accessories. (Leather collars are available, but harnesses and leashes are almost exclusively polyester. I did find one litterbox made of recycled paper, but it looked too flimsy to last over a couple of weeks, so I’m stuck with plastic on that as well.) We’re also wearing a lot of plastic- most knitting yarn is made of polyester or a polyester-natural blend, most socks are made of polyester, and I don’t think there’s such a thing as a biodegradable swimsuit. Even my watch is plastic, thanks to my nickel allergies. As for electronics- let’s not even get into it as I type on a plastic keyboard, shall we?

Still, packaging is what really makes me pull my hair out. Every non-plastic alternative I find (eg. kitchen knife with porcelain handle, wooden cat toy, metal shower curtain rings, bamboo cutting board, etc) comes wrapped in plastic. Argh. And no matter how much I shop in bulk, from independent stores and farmers’ markets, I still can’t get away from it. Cheese and meat still come wrapped in plastic (once I did buy grass-fed beef wrapped in butcher paper, but it seems to be a rare occurrence). No matter how hard I try to avoid it, no matter what I choose to buy or eat or wear, I seem to bring plastic home with me like a parasite hitching a ride. Is it possible to go without it? I’d love to find out. Maybe someday I’ll make a lifestyle experiment out of it, and go live somewhere in the woods without any plastic for a year. Just to see if it can be done.

Anyway, that was my rant for the day. Now I’ll go back to my nesting behavior, preferably with a cup of coffee made in a saucepan- I’ll tell you about that next time.

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The First Days are the Hardest Days (or are they?)

28 Jan

My second week of organic eating is drawing to a close, and so far it hasn’t been half bad. I have been relying heavily on my freezer stash and pantry full of non-organic food though, so I’d say it’s still too easy to make a fair judgment. (Still, I must say, life has gotten significantly better since I discovered the organic equivalent of Nutella, so one span of PMS has been survived without any major casualties…)

So, primary analysis… what’s easy?

1) Organic produce is easy. The veggie delivery service has brought me my first box last Tuesday, it’s a small one-person box that costs $20, and for the time being I’m signed up to receive it every other week. $10 a week for organic fruit & veggies is not half bad.

2) Sprouts are easy. On a friend’s suggestion/reminder, I picked up a small bag of organic alfalfa seeds for sprouting, and they sproute quite well even in the Arctic temperatures of my house. For $3.50, I’ll have enough sprouts for the next month or two. Granted, I haven’t found any uses for them besides salads (which I’m not a fan of) and sandwiches, but it’s still something.

3) Coffee is easy. All the coffeeshops in my area sell organic, fair trade, shade grown coffee, so I don’t have to be the nitpicky annoying customer that asks for it every time. (So far I haven’t been picky about whether they carry organic milk or cream, that’s something I might save for later stages of this experiment.)

4) Yogurt is easy. Organic milk is cheaper in bigger jugs, and homemade yogurt is cheaper than organic yogurt, even when it’s at clearance prices (which happens frequently here- the supermarket overstocks, then sells yogurt at $1-2 a tub). Plus no plastic wasted. Made my first batch today (all it takes is a pot and a blanket, I don’t know why on earth anyone would buy a yogurt machine), and it turned out just fine.

5) Granola bars are easy. Here, organic granola bars are way overpriced, and never go on sale. I found a recipe on the internet that allows me to make granola bars the way I like, for super cheap, minus all the wasted packaging. It does have one catch though- it calls for sweetened evaporated milk, for which there’s no organic alternative. It can be made from powdered milk, which is what I’ve done (Maya, my housemate, has a giant bag of it that she keeps for baking, and lets me share), but as far as I know organic powdered milk doesn’t exist, either. I may have to keep cheating on this one until I find a better alternative.

And here’s what’s hard:

1) Cheese is hard. I’m still going through the conventional cheese I had in the fridge, working my way through as slowly as possible. Once I run out, I’m in trouble. Organic cheese costs its weight in gold.

2) Traveling is hard. I take the ferry to Vancouver about once a week, and there’s absolutely no organic food on the ferry, and precious little that’s vegetarian (fries, soggy salad and sketchy sushi that comes in piles of plastic). I do my damn best to take my own food along, but sometimes I forget. Sometimes I run out, and am still hungry. Either way, the goal of this exercise is to eat mindfully and not to abuse my body, so I refuse to starve myself, and eat some less-junky food anyway. Still, knowing I’m breaking my “organic oath” makes me think about what I’m eating. Where did french fry come from? How did it get here? Where was the wheat for this bread grown? There will come a time, I’m hoping, when I master the art of traveling with enough organic food to last me the trip, but for now I’m still in the training stage.

To finish, a simple recipe that has become my new staple over the past week:

The New & Improved Grilled Cheese Sandwich:

– 2 slices of bread (homemade in bread machine, from the 20lbs of non-organic flour that I’m still working my way through)

– thin layer of tomato paste (organic)

– half an avocado, sliced (organic, stockpiled in our freezing guestroom to ripen over time when the price went down to $1 apiece, which is considered cheap this time of year even for conventionally-grown avocados)

– generous wad of sprouts (organic, homegrown)

– thin slice of cheese (non-organic for now, rationed out carefully)

Pressed in the sandwich grill with a touch of butter on top. Mmm.

 

 

 

 

Oh Dairy Dear…

11 Jan

Before I get into the gristly details of my first excruciating shopping trip for organic goodies, let me set down the ground rules. Here’s the madness I have decided to embark upon:

2012 GUIDE TO MINDFUL EATING

Directions:

– All produce must be organic, and if possible, local and/or in season.

– All meat must be humanely-raised and/or organic, and if possible, grass-fed.

– All seafood must be from sustainable sources.

– All eggs must be from free-range hens and organic, and if possible, local.

– All dairy products must be organic, and if possible, humanely-produced.

– All other groceries must be organic, unless no organic substitutes available. If not organic, must contain:

-No corn or soy products

-No plastic packaging

– All coffee must be organic, shade-grown and fair-trade.

– All tea, cocoa, sugar and chocolate must be organic and fair-trade.

Exceptions:

–          During house visits, it’s ok to eat/drink anything that is served by host.

–          During travel, if organic food is not available, it’s ok to eat conventional foods, but vegetarian/vegan options should be taken whenever possible.

As of yesterday, when I returned from my wild trip east, the game has been on at full strength, along with my determination to do this on a tight budget. The first days, however, are not necessarily the hardest. In fact, they are quite easy, seeing as my freezer and pantry are (not intentionally, that’s how I always keep them) packed full of non-organic food. They need to be used up. In the meantime, though, anything I buy has to be organic. So my first trip to the grocery store involved picking up organic milk, yogurt (mainly to get a starter culture so I can make my own), and fruit. As a bonus, I found a slice of wild Ocean-Wise salmon that was in the discount bin. As a kick in the shins, I realized that the only organic free-range eggs in the store were $7 a dozen, which, to put it mildly, doesn’t fit very well into my current budget. So no eggs. And this is how the rest of the story went:

First meal: Discounted salmon and organic avocado. Not too bad.

Second meal: Chicken from freezer with potatoes and garlic from the pantry- nothing organic there, but I did ration out the chicken as I have a feeling it will become a scarce treat in the not-too-distant future.

First attempt at baking: I made cheese scones to eat for breakfast, seeing as the prospect of scrambled eggs was out the window. Once again, nothing organic except the fresh parsley from the garden. Still, the mindset was already shifting. Organic butter is $10 a pound here, which is close to gourmet delicacies such as chanterelles (which, by the way, I can get for free if I wander into the woods deep enough). I do have a pound and a half of butter squirreled away in the freezer during a sale, but I realized that like the chicken, it had to be rationed out. The recipe I have called for shortening, but I refuse to use margarine on principle (my father, being a unique sort of health nut, banned it in our household long ago, and not having grown up with it I can’t tolerate the stuff). So I ended up going with 1/3 butter and 2/3 oil, all the while feeling like a pre-industrial-revolution farmer’s daughter. Butter = creamed gold. Preeeecious. The scones turned out amazing.

Joys of Travel #1- Analyzing Airport Sushi

8 Jan

After reading a book about the North American food industry, shoved at me by a vegangelist friend, I had the hopelessly hippie idea of making a New Year’s resolution based on eating mindfully and ethically… Details to be announced later, but the gist of it is that I will from hereon buy and eat organic and ethically produced foods only. (And do it on a budget, mind you.)  The exceptions to the rule are travel and house visits (refusing food at a family visit would be the epidemy of rudeness). And since I greeted 2012 visiting my brother in the capital of capitalism, also known as New York City, the year of mindful eating hasn’t officially started. Still, I try to change my mindset the best as I can given the circumstances, and be mindful of what goes through my digestion. It’s been an interesting ride already.

I spent the first few days of the year eating out as per my brother’s head-to-head-opposite-to-mine American lifestyle, trying to keep to the vegetarian options on the menu (to avoid eating factory-farmed meat) and cheating every now and then out of either lack of choice or sheer temptation. (I am human after all, and the point of the resolution is cultivating mindfulness, not self-denial.) Then came a weekend in Quebec, which involved camping out in an old Catholic church for two nights and joining hundreds of jugglers for 48 hours of magic, mayhem and sleep deprivation, also known as TurboFest- the Quebec Circus School’s annual festival. During the festival, most of us subsisted on trail mix (couldn’t find organic trail mix in the Manhatten supermarket where I bought it), coffee, chocolate, and the sandwiches from the school’s cafeteria (hummus and cheese wasn’t too bad). I don’t know if anything beside my Endangered Species chocolate was organic, nor do I have the faintest clue whether the coffee was shade-grown or fair-trade. They were the only options I had though, and my body was abused enough without having to starve it for the sake of ideals. So that was that.

Now, my location is Montreal Trudeau Airport, and I have just discovered an airport food that is a half-decent alternative to grossly overpriced burgers: sushi. More specifically, the one, the only, the magnificent Avocado Roll. In a Comparative Anatomy 101 approach, it has several advantages: it doesn’t contain farmed salmon or other dubiously-sourced seafood, it’s significantly more filling (and tastier in my humble opinion) than the infamous cucumber roll, and only costs $3.50 for 8 pieces. On an Everyday Economics 101 approach, it’s about the same size (and about as filling) as a Starbucks sandwich, and costs half as much. Not bad. From an environmental perspective, it comes in a plastic container along with disposable chopsticks, but so does just about everything else at the airport. Besides, I was able to bypass the chopsticks as I randomly found a pair stashed in the dark depths of my laptop case- don’t ask why. I have no clue when I shoved them there, and for what purpose, but I decided to keep them as my reusable travel chopsticks. Here’s to hoping that all airports I go through have a sushi bar… (Riiight…)