Ecojustice08’s Weblog

A Slow Start by Emily
May 6, 2008, 7:10 am
Filed under: Black out night, Eating organic/local, Emily | Tags:

All right, so I have two confessions to make now that we’ve finished two weeks of the ecojustice ’08 challenge. The first is that, although when I first chose the eat local/organic option, I had fears of days spent fasting on nothing but water and milk, underneath, I knew that I probably live in one of the best areas of the country when it comes to eating locally and organic, especially now we’re into spring and will soon be into summer, and that doing so probably wasn’t going to be extremely tough.  For instance, right now it’s asparagus season. Here’s what we’ll be having for dinner: fresh asparagus bought from the cutest little Amish kids, racing to sell it to me as soon as they saw me come up the drive, topped with poached eggs right off the farm (love that orange – not yellow — yolk) and grated raw cheddar cheese. I bought the asparagus and eggs off farms that are within a four-mile round trip distance from my home, which could easily be turned into stops along an afternoon “commute” home from work. (For those of you who don’t know this, when I began telecommuting full-time, I built exercise into every morning and evening by instituting a walk on both ends of my workday (thus, my “commute”). Since the ecojustice challenge began, we’ve had friends give us two tomato plants, one asparagus plant (they must be hoping we’re going to stay here for a while, since asparagus takes a few growing seasons to be ready), and fresh-baked bread. So, that’s what happens when one lives in farm country.

My second confession is that the food is all fine and dandy, but I forgot all about drinks when I made this choice. Specifically, I forgot that I’m not a big fruit juice drinker, and that I am a huge flavored seltzer water drinker, as well as a huge tea drinker. And then there’s alcohol. Last time I was in New Hampshire, where alcohol practically flows from sink faucets, I seem to recall having seen some organic gin, which I wish now I’d bought. Here in PA, where liquor is practically still hidden way back in the hills in stills (come to think of it, that’s local, isn’t it?) somewhere, I doubt I’m going to be finding any. Thus, I was patting myself on the back for three successful days of organic/local eating the other day, when I realized the martini Bob had just fixed me was anything but local/organic, which then made me realize that, with the exception of tap water, I hadn’t really been drinking much of anything that was local/organic. I do buy organic coffee (and fair trade when I’m at the grocery store that offers that), but none of my tea is organic. And the seltzer water is a huge problem, because not only is it shipped from a distance, but it comes in plastic bottles. I’m thinking now that I might get a soda making machine. After about a year, not only will I be reducing all that plastic bottle waste, but I will recoup my costs and begin to save quite a bit of money. Now, I’ve just got to find some organic tea.

One thing that’s happening, though, is that I’m becoming far more conscious of what I buy and from where it comes. Right now, I’m defining “local” as “made in PA.” I know that isn’t really a fair definition. Most define “local” as being within a less-than-50 mile radius. And something shipped here from Pittsburgh is coming much farther than something from Wilmington, DE. However, I have to start somewhere, and this seemed like the easiest distinction to make (especially for someone who does not yet know the names of every little town that’s less than 50 miles from here). I’m pausing now, though, when I buy strawberries, because they aren’t in season yet around here. That means any strawberries I buy (organic or not) are coming from California. That’s a long way just to satisfy my own desire to top my (local) yogurt with strawberries. Still, I bought them. I wouldn’t have if they hadn’t been organic, but they were. It’s easy to be all romantic about eating in season and farming your own food when you’re sitting around reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s even easier, once you start trying to change your own eating habits and are dying for some strawberries to exclaim, “Barbara Kingsolver and her family are all nuts!” Awareness is key, though, and I am sure I will start reading more about eating seasonally and locally and will stop buying those strawberries from California (probably right around the time strawberry season arrives here).

Now, let’s take a look at blackout night. It hasn’t happened yet in this household. Here’s why. This week is sort of a typical week for us:

Sunday evening – hymn sing at the old church

Monday evening – dinner at friends’ house

Tuesday evening – Bob has Presbytery meeting

Wednesday evening – Emily has mother/daughter banquet

Thursday evening – Emily is helping lead youth group (a black out with them might be fun)

Friday evening – Emily will be in NYC

Saturday evening – cookout with friends

In other words, we very often aren’t home in the evening. I’m rationalizing that we’re out of the house so much, and the house is blacked out when we’re gone, so maybe all that time equals one black out evening. Lame excuse, I know. What we’ve decided is that we need to sit down, take a look at our calendars, and plan some nights, which may differ from week to week, although we think we’d most like to try making Saturday nights a regular black out night. That will provide us with a little calm before the storm of Sunday. (Have I just made everyone glad not to be ministers/married to ministers?)

Finally, the book I chose to read seems to be on a slow boat from Amazon. However, the package tracker tells me it should be here by this weekend. I’m eager to get going on that one, so once it arrives, it won’t be a problem.

All this is to say that if you’ve gotten off to a bit of a rocky start with the ecojustice challenge, don’t despair. Your fearless leader is right there with you. However, we’ve all made a start. I’m assuming we will learn and grow. And that’s really all that matters. I’d love to hear how everyone else is doing.

14 Comments so far
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Although I started reading a book related to the topic, and I’ve planned a possible bike-to-work route that mostly takes me off high-traffic streets (no bike paths available to use to get to my office), I really haven’t done anything but be aware of my actions. Mostly I’ve been aware of how much packaging there is at the grocery and am trying to avoid it, considering alternatives. There are simple things that I hadn’t thought of before, like because I like hummus and buy it regularly — in non-disposable plastic containers — I could buy garbanzo beans and make my own hummus. It isn’t that difficult.

I’m not sure what I think about the practicialities of eating local. It will be easy here in a few weeks, but I don’t think that I can eat a balanced, nutritious meal all the time on only local items.

Comment by Cam

Becoming more aware of our actions, their consequences, and our options for doing better (regarding packaging, eating locally, commuting, energy use)is all a very good thing.

I think it’s great to define local in a way that works for you, Emily. My own “local” is a little larger perhaps than most people define it. But my feeling is if I can cut the average number of miles my food travels by even 80% (300 miles vs. 1500 miles)I’ve done a very good thing. I live in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the country and the nearest metro area is 150 miles from me; add to that I enjoy a growing season of only 4-5 months. But there is nothing more local than a backyard garden, so I grow and eat, as well as freeze, can, dry, store as much food as I can. Because so much of my food travels zero miles or 5 (from the farmers’ market) or 20 – 50 miles (from nearby farms), I don’t feel too badly about the occasional bit of seafood, olive oil, coffee, citrus, nuts, etc. that travel quite a lot further. And I do make sure this longer distance foraging is comprised of sustainable or organically grown goods that are at least local-to-somewhere.
I’m learning a lot in my efforts. Awareness is a very good thing! Thanks for a great post!! TJ

Comment by toujoursjacques

This post was great. 🙂 My very favourite tea is Ceylon, which has to come all the way from Sri Lanka. *gulp* But if I stopped buying it, I’d put the Sri Lankans out of business, right? (I’m kidding of course…I realise that I’m actually buying my tea from British companies left over from colonialism days) But on a more serious note, how about if you look into buying Freetrade organic drinks? That way, even if your coffee isn’t local, you’re supporting local people in Kenya or Colombia or anywhere else you choose.

I haven’t joined this challenge yet, but I’m eagerly following along with everyone else’s journey, and it’s certainly inspiring me to take some of those baby steps!

Comment by Eva

I have the same problem with wine, beer, cider. We have found local organic beer, local organic wine, but the cider I will have to make myself.

I had planned on starting blackout night yesterday evening, then changed my mind. But then my laptop battery unexpectedly died on me at 8. No charger. Off to bed.

Comment by mandarine

Eva brings up a good point. No joking, our actions to not by imports has an impact on workers in those industries (such as tea growers who hire tea pickers and sell to tea brokers, etc.) That is why free-trade is so important. Goes back Emily’s concept outlined on her original post about just — not just care for the environment but eco-justice. Sometimes there are tough tradeoffs. Take the case of biofuels — may lessen dependence on oil, but the amount of corn used for biofuels impacts people who are starving. Big issue especially for people who live in corn-growing country like I do. There are lots of incentives for farmers to grow hybrids to use for biofuels, which equals less growing of corn to feed people. Even among corn used for food, there is issues with what is used for high-fructose corn syrup vs what is used for other food uses. I don’t know all about these complex issues, but I want to find out more!

Comment by Cam

Beware of the old “if I stop buying stuff from poor countries, it will put the farmers there out of business” motto. Those people need jobs growing coffee to earn money to pay for food that they import and we produce. Poor countries stopped growing their own food because we needed them to pay the interest of their debt in hard currency, so they turned to export crops to get those dollars to give them back to our banks. Why are they indebted to us? Because they needed help, but we never gave help for free. And the biofuel catastrophe is the final blow, because now we say “sorry, we’ll be keeping our cereals for our cars (and beef) this year”.

Comment by mandarine

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, living where I live, is the idea of growing my own food. Now, here is an instance in which I think one could argue that I am cutting into the livelihood of local farmers. If I, who am perfectly capable of buying tomatoes from the farmers around here, decide to grow my own (which I’ve already noted I’ll be doing, since a friend gave me two tomato plants), then I won’t be buying them from local farmers (provided I can keep them alive, always a big “if” when you have a brown thumb, as I do) who may need my money in order to sustain themselves and their farms. I don’t have an answer to the question, but I have been wondering: should those of us who can afford to buy food from others really be growing our own food? Or maybe I should be growing it and then giving it away to those who can’t afford to buy it. If nothing else, I’m certainly doing a lot of THINKING these days!

Comment by Emily

Interesting point, Emily. Mandarine’s comment & yours shows just how complex & interrelated the economies around the world are — and that the reasons for some of those dependencies — especially on a country-level — is not a pretty history. I don’t know if it is a definite should or should not question in terms of growing your own food. I don’t know that I am obligated to grow or not grow my own, just as I am not obligated to buy from any one person. I do know that growing your own food entirely is something that many people could not do, due to land, resources, time. It’s hard work and those of us who do other valuable work may not have the skill, stamina or time to do it. I don’t think that is wrong.

One summer, several years ago, my garden provided 80% of my food due to some financial issues I was having at the time. That was tough, the food was limited to a few items, and although the food was nutritious, it probably wasn’t a balanced diet. And I wouldn’t have been able to raise enough to sustain my small family of 2 through the winter.

Comment by Cam

Emily, if you are worried about growing food that you could buy from local farmers, something you could do is figure out what your local framers aren’t growing that you would really like to have and then grow that. For instance, maybe no one near you is growing strawberries so a strawberry patch would be a good thing. Or perhaps you really like jalapeno peppers but or you want to make your own pickles so you grow your own pickling cucumbers and dill.

Comment by Stefanie

I think the most long-lasting changes start slowly.

And your schedule makes mine sound rather slow. Wow, you’re busy!

Comment by ZoesMom

Hi, everyone. I’ve been following the posts on this challenge for a while, and would just like to drop a note about how encouraging it is to see people making the effort for a change.

Like Emily wrote, “Awareness is key” – and you guys have helped me pay more attention in my consumption here, in my little corner of the world.

Comment by Dark Orpheus

Geez, I’m exhausted just reading this and the comments…can I just keep not driving? Just kidding. In actuality I’m struggling with the organic drink situation too. In the end I honestly think we can only do the best we can. I am not giving up coffee, but I will buy fair trade and there is even a roaster in Pittsburgh. I will not give up tea (especially since you told me about Yogi ginger/lemon!!). And as for wine and martinis? I’m keeping those too. Some things just AREN’T local.
By the way, Presbyterians drinking martinis? We are such stereotypes (I’m presbyterian too 🙂
Anyway, just keep on keeping on. I think you are doing beautifully!

Comment by Courtney

Cam, trying to get a balanced diet is hard, and I notice that even Barbara Kingsolver and her family aren’t eating completely locally/homegrown in that book. For instance, they use spices and things like olive oil.

Stef, ooh, good idea. Strawberries will be around in spades soon, but I doubt the local farmers grown many jalapenos and habaneros (peppers Bob and I loved to grow in CT) for their PA Dutch cooking.

ZM, yeah, but, you know, I’m a telecommuter, so I do nothing but sleep all day :-)!

DO and Court, you’re both right. Awareness is key, and all we can do is the best we can do. I have to remember to be happy about what I AM doing, compared to most, and not to beat myself up over what I’m not doing. Court, let’s raise our Presbyterian martini glasses high to that.

Comment by Emily

Well, I can safely say that we haven’t really started yet on what I said we’d for the challenge, and that’s because I haven’t pushed it forward. Must get on with that and actually, it shouldn’t be that hard because we tend to buy a lot of organic/local/fairtrade anyway (but I’m with Courtney on the booze – until CT wineries match Italian ones, I’ll keep buying the Montepulciano). Mike has started cycling to work again and is aiming for twice a week and we are discussing getting rid of one of the cars (gasp) and replacing it with a motorbike.
But outside the challenge, our recent electricity bill showed that we used only half the amount of electricity this April compared to last; that’s through the energy-efficient bulbs, the no zombie appliances, and cutting down on the amount we use the tumble dryer. Oh, and no TV.

Comment by Becky

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