Ecojustice08’s Weblog

Oh Joy! Oh Bliss! by Emily
July 4, 2008, 10:01 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Since making the decision to eat 80% local/organic, I don’t feel as though I’ve been deprived of too much, especially right now when farm stands are overflowing with cherries and blackberries and things like corn and cucumbers and tomatoes have begun to materialize (and I can see the peaches on the trees as I drive by the orchards, so I know they’re coming soon, as well). Here’s what I had for dinner last night: a local steak, slices of locally grown potato, tomato, and onion drizzled with organic olive oil and organic balsamic vinegar, and locally grown sweet white corn on the cob. For dessert, I had local Swedish fish. Yes, you read that right: local Swedish fish.

I’m so happy about that. In fact, I’m so happy, I think I’ll say it again: I had local Swedish fish. You see, one of the things I’ve been resigning to the 20% non-local/organic category has been candy and chocolate. I can get organic chocolate, so it’s really been the candy more than anything else. We do have this little place nearby called Hershey’s, where I could also get local chocolate, but I don’t happen to like Hershey’s chocolate, which is all just so much sugar and no cocoa to me. I’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t just give up candy, since it has no nutritional benefits whatsoever, and I’ve never seen organic gummy bears. An argument can be made for buying something like bananas that have to be shipped long distances, because at least I’m getting something healthy. But Swedish fish and gummy bears?

Last week, though, the whole dilemma was resolved, and I’m now in 7th heaven. We have a little local candy manufacturer that I never bothered to visit, because I thought they were mostly just an ice cream parlor for Turkey Hill ice cream. It’s practically next door to me. They make all their own chocolates with chocolate not from Hershey’s but from another local chocolate manufacturer Wilbur. And it’s good. They also make their own Swedish fish and gummy bears. Who would have ever thought I’d be eating local Swedish fish and gummy bears? And I can walk to get them. Now, if I can just get the candy-makers to use organic sugar…


The Joy of Cast Iron Cooking by Stefanie
June 25, 2008, 9:12 am
Filed under: Easy to Do, Stefanie

Things have been going pretty well at the ol’ homestead and I want to share a recent success with you.

We purchased cast iron pans. Yeah, they weigh a ton, but wow, do they ever cook things up nice! My husband and I have used nonstick pans for years–skillet and griddle that is, we have copper bottomed pots. We made the switch to a cast iron griddle and skillet a couple months ago for a few reasons. My husband is hard on nonstick pans and even though he doesn’t use metal utensils on them, the coating would inevitably get worn and start flaking and then we’d have to throw out the pan and get a new one. Cast iron is virtually indestructible. We will never have to throw out these pans thereby saving ourselves some money and not adding another pan to a landfill.

There is also some question about the safety of the chemicals used in the coating of nonstick pans. PFOA, the main chemical used in Teflon, has been classified as a carcinogen by the EPA and companies like DuPont that produce it have been asked to voluntarily eliminate the chemical by 2015. PFOA has been found in drinking water and in the bloodstream of 9 out of 10 Americans and most newborns. The chemical also does not break down in the environment.

Cast iron, it turns out, is highly energy efficient and diffuses heat evenly making for better cooked food. Cast iron cookware is also non-toxic and healthy–the cookware leaches small amounts of iron into the food, a nutrient we all need. Cleaning is also a snap, and after the pan has been seasoned it really is nonstick (and you can buy pre-seasoned pans).

We like our pans so much we will eventually get a dutch oven. We also have our eyes on a stove-top waffle iron.

On Being Vegan by Stefanie
June 14, 2008, 3:36 pm
Filed under: Eating organic/local, Stefanie

Emily’s talking about food reminds me that I was going to write about being vegan. I am generally hesitant to talk to most about my food and lifestyle choice because I have found people tend to a) get defensive and say things like “I hardly ever eat red meat” b) make stupid jokes like “but carrots can’t defend themselves!” or c) think I am a weird hippy chick and/or am trying to convert them. Sometimes though people are genuinely interested and I thought this ecojustice group may at least be interested in the environmental aspects of my vegan choice.

I’ve been vegan so long I have a hard time remembering how long it’s been. 1994 I think. I have the date noted in a journal somewhere if I ever care to truly verify. Before vegan came vegetarian. Both my husband and I came from meat and potatoes make a meal families. I grew up spending long and happy vacation hours in a boat in the Gulf of California fishing with my dad. I could even fillet the fish I caught. My dad also hunts elk and I have fond tastebud memories of smoked venison. It was a bad Cupid’s Hotdog experience followed closely by being grossed out by the veins in the chicken I was pounding out to make a chicken recipe my husband invented. For him it was a bad In-N-Out burger experience that got him thinking.

We both thought separately about going vegetarian but neither said anything. I thought my husband wouldn’t go for it. Then one day he said “I was thinking…” and it steamrolled from there. We were vegetarian for a year, weened ourselves onto it by allowing ourselves to eat all the meat products in the refrigerator and freezer and just not buying more. I remember that last glorious can of tuna and looking at each other saying, this is it.

We subscribed to Vegetarian Times magazine. We ate lots of bean burritos and lots of omelets and more pasta than you can shake a stick at. But we learned slowly, how to cook with tofu and how to eat better.

Then there was an article in Vegetarian Times about dairy cattle, their treatment, and what happened to them after they stopped giving milk. We were horrified. We had no idea. Over the year we had come to decide that one of the reasons to not eat meat was because we didn’t believe killing animals was a good idea anymore. And, as we learned about how agribuisness mistreated animals we became stronger and more confirmed in our new belief. So when we learned about the dairy cattle we could not in good conscious continue to participate in a system where cruelty to animals was ok.

Being vegan is hard. We had to learn how to read labels. We had to learn what the ingredients on those labels were and how they were derived. We had to learn, again, how to make a meal. Our families freaked out. Holiday meals with my family in which turkey or ham would be served, and beef brisket with my husband’s family and in both all the side dishes with cheese and eggs and butter and milk were no longer on our menu. They were offended and felt accused and condemned even though we never said a word to them about their food choice. They are over it now and my mom, still confirmed in her meat eating, brags to people that I am vegan.

When we became vegan we had no idea that it meant we also had to examine other parts of our lives besides the food. If we didn’t want to kill cows for food we had no right to kill them for belts and shoes and other things. Bye-bye silk. Wool was easy since I am allergic to it and didn’t have any wool anything. What’s in my shampoo? My cosmetics? My moisturizer and hand lotion?

As our awareness grew, so did our commitment. Not wanting to kill animals is a good reason not to eat meat but in my opinion, it cannot sustain a commitment to a vegan life. So we made it a point to learn more. We learned that the consumption of animal fats and proteins has been linked to heart disease, various types of cancers, diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure (my dad has both high cholesterol and high blood pressure and my grandpa died from heart disease), not to mention obesity (also an issue in my family).

There is also the environment. Had to get around to that eventually. According to a recent article in Heifer International’s magazine, World Ark, the animal farming industry is responsible for nearly 20% of greenhouse gases released worldwide (cars and trucks and other transportation produce 13%).

The livestock industry also pollutes and depletes the water supply. Animal waste from feedlots and factory farms is the leading cause of pollution in groundwater and rivers. To feed a person on a meat-based diet for a day requires 750 gallons of water. Livestock production also relies on fossil fuels which are needed to make the fertilizer used to grow and transport the grain that feed the animals. Meat processing and distribution also requires fuel.

A 1993 UN report (old yes, but still relevant I think) estimated that the 1992 food supply could have fed about 6.3 billion people on an all-vegetarian diet or 4.2 billion people on an 85% vegetarian diet or 3.2 billion people on a 75% vegetarian diet. The current world population is about 6.7 billion and food production has increased since 1992, yet there are people in the world who go to bed hungry.

I didn’t toss out all those numbers to try and shame those of you who eat meat to stop. Or to pat myself on the back for being vegan. Even being vegan is not necessarily positive for the environment especially these days when agribusiness has gone organic and there is even highly processed vegan food with synthetic additives neatly wrapped in three kinds of plastics in plastic coated boxes in the freezer section. I toss out the numbers because they shocked me and still do. I think it is important for everyone to know how the choices they make affect the world and vegans and vegetarians have no right to be holier-than-thou just because they don’t eat meat. The longer I am vegan the more I learn and the more aware I become. There are also spiritual elements I have come to discover over the years but I will save that for another time.

I do not wish for all farmers to immediately stop raising animals. I think there are small farms, sustainable farms, that can be and are good animal and land stewards. Our current food production system, however, is all out of whack. It is killing us and killing the planet. I felt, and still feel, the best way for me to make an impact is to opt out of the system as much as I can by not eating or using animal products and by buying local, organic, in-season food and even growing some of it myself.

It’s still not easy being vegan even after all these years. There are things I don’t have to think about as much anymore, that have become second nature. Traveling is always a challenge but not impossible. Visiting family and going out to dinner with them even if they are now accepting, makes for interesting and uncomfortable conversations as they assume since I am vegan I don’t mind having a plain iceberg lettuce salad for dinner while they chow down on their steaks at the steakhouse.

And I am always trying to think of ways to educate those who are willing to listen, especially those who think being vegan means deprivation. I have lost track of the number of people who have said to me over the years that they could never be vegan because they couldn’t give up cheese. Being vegan, I have learned, is not about giving up anything. It is about choosing something different. It is about opening myself to the idea that the world does not revolve around me and I do not deserve everything I may want; about reconnecting with nature and the natural cycle of the seasons; about paying attention and being aware; about being willing to change and grow and learn; about living a life that celebrates life. I am definitely not deprived.

It’s Okay (In Most Cases) by Emily
June 14, 2008, 7:26 am
Filed under: Emily

So, during the first half of the first quarter of the ecojustice challenge, I’ve found myself having to learn to say, “It’s okay.” After all, I’m doing much more than most people in this country are doing at this point, and if I follow Mandarine’s original question of “What if 7 billion people did what I’m doing?” we’d be slowly but surely shifting the economy here (and doing quite a lot of damage to big business). If I hadn’t adopted this “it’s okay” attitude, being the high-strung, type A personality that I am, I think I’d be dead from a heart attack, despite eating almost-all natural and organic food.

At some point, I decided it’s okay only to choose two actions from my original list and to focus on them for now. Originally, I had chosen three, but we just were never getting around to the early blackout night once a week with all we’ve got going on here (our schedule is just way too unpredictable), and I decided it was okay to drop that one. I’m envious of those of you who can do it, as I think it probably goes a very long way in slowing down the pace of life. I can pretty much say I’ve replaced it with the no driving one day a week, as during the average week, I probably go at least two days without driving, but there have definitely been some weeks when I got in my car every single day.

Then my copy of Much Depends on Dinner arrived. To read the back cover copy, one would think this book was nothing but an amusing little history of food. I began to wonder if I’d been mislead by the colleague who’d recommended it to me years ago, telling me it would completely change the way I think about food. I kept telling myself, “Well, it’s okay if this book doesn’t really meet the challenge.” It really was okay, because when I started the challenge, I had just started Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I’ve now finished, and that book certainly made me think, as well as giving me ideas for this challenge. Anyway, I finally got into the introduction of Much Depends on Dinner to find that it is what I thought it was, but I haven’t yet gotten much past the introduction. Which is okay.

Finally, there’s the eat nothing but local and/or organic two days a week. I decided it’s okay to turn this one into buying 80% local and/or organic, which I have definitely been doing. I’m also adding buying seasonally. No longer will I buy strawberries except in May and June, not after picking them on a friend’s farm and discovering something that tastes like a strawberry, something that is small and juicy and oh-so-sweet. Forget those monstrous, dry things labeled “strawberries” in the grocery store (even if they’re organic). No longer will I buy those long, anorexic-little things in the grocery store labeled “scallions,” not even when the recipe I’ve got calls for them. Ditto the anorexic, floppy “asparagus.”

I heard something on our local NPR (Negative Public Radio) station, which seems to be jumping with joy to report every other minute how food costs are on the rise due to oil costs (I know, I should be happy about this, but I do wish the station could be a little more optimistic about things) that got my blood boiling. It was another one of these “food is so expensive” reports in which they were interviewing different people at different grocery stores. (Sometimes NPR really does seem to be a parody of itself. You couldn’t have picked more typecast people if you’d had tryouts with thousands of wannabes). Anyway, when they got to the “I –guess-you’d-call-me-upper-middle-class” woman, who owns two homes (one for which they paid cash) and some “building” (also paid for with cash) who had decided she could no longer shop at Whole Foods, because she realized she had over $300 worth of food in her cart and didn’t even have three meals’ worth of food for her family, I found myself wishing I could call in and give them a piece of my mind.

Where had they found her? Why standing in front of a rotisserie chicken at some grocery store that wasn’t Whole Foods, but where such things are much cheaper. Well, yes, if you’re going to buy fully-cooked rotisserie chickens instead of spending ten minutes to prep an uncooked bird to stick in the oven, I suppose maybe you do have to decide that “the first thing to go is organic food.” I was so mad. She’s doing exactly what the big food companies want her to do: she’s decided organic is what’s expensive, not buying already-prepared foods. Meanwhile, is she even bothering to check out her local farms and farm markets? I get free-range eggs for $1.50 a dozen (that’s not a typo). I get beautiful heads of just-picked lettuce (not certified organic, but I’ve asked and know that the farmer is using no pesticides) for $1.00 (nor is that a typo) a head. I can get fresh-baked bread for $2.00 a loaf. Fresh-picked strawberries are $2.00 a quart. Organic does not have to be more expensive, and buying locally is certainly cheaper than any grocery store I’ve ever used.

Still, I’m driving all the way to the nearest Trader Joe’s (a forty-minute, one-way trek) on occasion to indulge my Greek yogurt cravings. Trader Joe’s is not the only thing that’s out that direction. I do tag my visits there on to other expeditions, and at least I’m driving a Prius, but still, that is not okay. I think I’m going to have to learn how to make my own yogurt.

Twenty thousand miles on the meter and counting by mandarine
June 13, 2008, 4:37 pm
Filed under: Mandarine

This is a report on my insane riding habits. For those who did not read my foundation article, let me recall the previous episodes: I have been riding a bike to and back from work for ten years now (and before that to and back from school). Up until 2006, I lived in the same city I was working, therefore I had a 15-mile daily ride. But then I moved to the countryside, with an 80 mile train ride in between. I kept riding my bicycle from the destination station to the office (7 miles and back), and in January 2007, I also decided to ride the stretch between my home and the train station, which is as steep as it can get (down and up a canyon). I started doing this in the middle of winter, riding in the dark and the cold at 6:30 in the morning, and coming back home the evening of the next day at 19:45 (again in the dark).

And I made it. It’s now been two winters now, and nobody will make me drive the van again (unless it is pouring down, or I oversleep, which has happened one in ten times on average). Let me list a few of the advantages of riding, even in the extreme conditions of winter:

  • The duration of the ride is extremely predictable. With the van, I can get slowed or stuck by a fallen tree, a tractor, road works, fog.
  • If I skid on snow or ice, I fall and that’s it. With the van, I could end up tumbling down to the river.
  • The scenery is fabulous. Some mornings, when shreds of fog are lingering in the hollows while the sun is rising and the wind is whispering in my half frozen ears, are just plain ecstatic. Too bad I am not the sort of guy who can woohoo my enthusiasm.
  • I have lost ten pounds and have managed to stay there. A bulging T-shirt after the age of thirty is not a fatality. Note that I still do not picture myself as athletic. I am just a fit commuter.
  • People around me consider me as a sort of superman. It feels good, especially on the days I believe this myself. Unfortunately, a couple of neighbours have started to ride their bikes too. Now there are two more superpeople and I feel I have been demoted.
  • Outside of downtown traffic, riding takes a lot less concentration than driving. No more unexplained gaps in the plot of the audio-books I am listening to.
  • I can mend my vehicle myself. It does a hundred times the mpg of my van, with the added benefit of running on whatever I like to eat
  • But the word that sums it up best is FREEDOM

And if you think you cannot commute by bike because it’s too slow and you do not have the time, think twice. I think the bicycle is the coolest invention of the twentieth century. That and semi-conductors.

Comment While You Can by Stefanie
June 12, 2008, 8:55 am
Filed under: Stefanie

I just discovered the EPA as part of the National Dialogue on Access to Environmental Information, has a blog on which “everyone is invited to use this site to identify and share their best resources, tools, and ideas for improving access to EPA’s environmental information.” The blog will be open to comments through June 13th. So quick, click over there and say something.

A Call for Posts by Emily
June 9, 2008, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Emily

We’re about halfway through the first quarter of the challenge, so this is a call for all participants to try to post this week, either here or on your own blog, to let us know how it’s going, if you can. I will be posting this week as well. I think my post is going to be entitled something like “It’s Okay.” (That should give you an indication of how it’s been for me so far.) Can’t wait to hear from those of you who feel like posting.