Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Making the Move Enivornmentally-Friendly

As some of you know, I've been "offline" the last couple of weeks because we moved to a new house! I have been packing, re-packing, moving and un-packing for what feels like months now.

For four weeks in a row I made calls to our local stores asking if they had any empty boxes that I could take and I am proud to say that I moved our entire house without purchasing any "packing supplies" other than my packing tape! My dad gathered used newspapers from around his office and my mom helped me haul empty boxes from the local stores. We discovered the liquor store was a great source for those divided wine crates, which are great for packing breakables like stemware and drinking glasses in (great idea, Kath!).

When we got to our new place and were setting up all of our new services, including trash, I was so excited to learn that we have an awesome curbside recycling program! Not only will they accept A LOT more materials than our previous service, but they also provide free of charge the lovely blue recycling boxes (two for me, please!) and we don't have to sort our recyclables!

They also accept corrugated cardboard, so we were able to unpack all of our belongings, and put the (already reused) cardboard boxes and the (already reused) newspaper right into our recycling!

I'm sure with all the gas we consumed, our "carbon footprint" was still the size of Jack's beanstalk buddy's, but we did what we could!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A reader responds!

Gail Jenner replied to my post about Organic Meat with additional information & a different perspective. She posted this as a comment, and I am merely copying it here so that it is more accessible to other readers.

Thanks to Gail for taking the time and energy to craft this response! She writes:

It took me a day to put this together, but let it first be said, I'm not saying NOT to eat organic meat! First of all, WE raise organic beef and as a wife, mother, rancher, teacher, writer, concerned citizen, I want the best for my family -- as do you and everyone!

What I was responding to was the list you gave; the items were NOT based on facts, but on fear. I hope you will check out my blog: whatsthebeeffromsouptotnuts.blogspot.org

I apologize for making this such a long entry! But here goes anyway ....

1. In regards to Mad Cow Disease or BSE: Check out the 2007 Center for Global Food Issues website: http://www.mad-cow-facts.com/

"With many special interest groups hoping to benefit by generating public alarm over mad cow disease, facts can be quite hard to find. Even the name "mad cow" has been used because of the emotional reaction it produces. The real name for mad cow disease, after all, is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, BSE. Despite the detection of a single case of the disease in the United States, BSE does not present a public health risk for the American population. Through mad-cow-facts.com, the Center for Global Food Issues hopes to provide concerned beef consumers with credible mad cow disease facts and related variant vCJD from recognized academic and industry experts."
"’To become infected with vCJD you would need to eat an enormous amount of brain, which is not possible.’ French Prion Researcher, Dr Jean-Philippe Deslys"

BSE is a chronic degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system of cattle. Cattle can become infected with BSE by eating feed contaminated with the infectious BSE agent. In 1997 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibited the use of most mammalian protein in the manufacture of animal feed intended for cattle and other ruminants. BSE is not a contagious disease. There is no evidence that the disease is transmitted through direct contact or animal-to-animal spread. BTW, there is no easy test for the disease, only a post-mortem autopsy, and that is true worldwide.

As to other bacteria: According to USDA, 35.2% of chicken broiler samples contained salmonellae; 12% of pork contained salmonellae; 1.8% beef samples contained salmonellae.

2. What do you mean ‘modified’ beef? There is no modified beef. Cattle are vegetarians and their meat is actually very clean and easily digestible. It is full of trace minerals, plus protein, iron, which is the BEST kind of heme-iron which augments the body’s ability to absorb other minerals, zinc, selinium, and other things—many of which our children are suffering from a lack of in this country! IN fact, check out my blog on this very issue.

Primary causes of food contamination come from HANDLING of food, or improper handling, and storage – not in the food itself. As to pesticide residues, there are more micrograms of naturally occurring carcinogens in one cup of coffee or slice of bread than in beef.

As to the use of hormones, more and more ranchers are avoiding any and all growth hormones, however, implants have the same effect on cattle as natural hormones produced by the animal’s body. In truth, the use of them produces leaner meat. Even a man’s body produces 15,000 TIMES more estradiol in a day than he ingests in a pound of meat, and a woman's produces several MILLION more times that amount. Europe’s distrust of hormones, btw, stems from the use of ILLEGAL stimulants a number of years ago, called DES, found in veal calves raised in ITALY, not the U.S. DES was been banned in the U.S., but as a result of Italy’s scandal, all imported beef had to be hormone-free.

But, again, producers on a large scale have stopped using any growth stimulants in their cattle, and others will continue to do so.

As to pesticides used in the U.S., far more are used in vegetables and plants than in animal production, but there are also thousands of times more natural pesticides in our environment than man-made; these include natural "toxic chemicals" that appear in plants and serve to protect them against fungi, insects and animal predators, as per a report by Biochemistry Dept., UC Berkeley, 1987.

3. Regarding the "humane treatment of cattle", animal welfare is a HUGE issue for most cattlemen! Basically, herds are kept on ranges and in pastures, not "holed" up somewhere.

Even time in the feedlots, if/when sent there, are for a limited time, perhaps 30-45 days. And most -- I wish I could say all -- these feedlots are characterized by large open lots. Not only do ranchers and producers care about their animals for the animals’ sakes, but "abuse and neglect of animals constitute or lead to severe stress and thus are clearly counter-productive; this practice by farmers would be just as clearly irrational," states Dr. Stanley E. Curtis, University of Illinois. And, according to Dr. Gene Rouse, Iowa State University, "We need to provide the best care in order to get maximum gain and the most efficiency."

But most of all, "We wouldn’t be in the business if we didn’t like animals," states Connie Grieg, Chairman of the NCA Animal Care subcommittee. One animal health expert, Dr. John B. Herrick reported, "I think the health of our cattle population is better than that of our human population."

4. Cattle are ABSOLUTELY "environmentally friendly" and are efficient recyclers!! Oh, this myth is so ridiculous!!!!

Most of the feed they consume is forage and grass/hay or byproducts, but not grain. And only 15% of all feed grains produced in the U.S. are fed to beef cattle. Cattle, or bovine, are ruminants, with four stomachs, just like the buffalo, thus they have the ability to convert forage and roughage, including discarded agricultural byproducts, eg: almond hulls, potato remnants, sugar beet pulp, corn stalks, grain screenings, oil seed residues, brewers’ grain and millers’ residues, then convert them into human food. They can use wheat and other grains that have been discarded because of early sprouting or as a result of adverse weather conditions. What better way to recycle what would otherwise by waste products? Harmless, natural, then converted into a sound and wonderful food. God made a miracle when He created the Cow . Cattle can also take dry matter in rangelands or on hillsides that are actually FIRE HAZARDS and convert them into muscle/meat.

Grass-fed cattle live in regions NOT conducive to crop production, whether because of elevation, water-accessiblity, or climate/topography. In fact, of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the total U.S., about 470 million are listed as cropland; approximately 19% of that is used for feed grain production, thus there is NO LARGE DISPLACEMENT of acreage from production of human food into production of feed fo animals. More than 85% of all grazing lands in the U.S. are actually not suited to crop cultivation.

Again, rather than consuming HUMAN food stuffs, almost 85% of the nutrients they consume comes from unusable (edible) sources or from regions not suitable for farming.

As far as water "consumption" and production of beef:
It takes 200 gallons of water to produce a pound of hamburger, but it takes 39,090 gallons to manufacture a car; 11.6 gallons to process one chicken; 1,500 gallons to process a barrel of beer; 1,851 gallons to refine a barrel of crude oil; 28,100 gallons to process a ton of cane sugar; and it takes 9.3 gallons to process one CAN OF VEGETABLES. It takes 137 gallons of water to produce a pound of irrigated wheat.

As to land that COULD BE a BETTER utilized RESOURCE (But which extreme enviros have eliminated), especially on this HUNGRY PLANET, is the issue of rangeland. More than 1.1 billion acres are listed as grazing land, roughly one half of the entire area of the U.S. Out of that 787 million acres are considered rangelands (and 82% of these rangelands are located in the 17 western states); 131 million acres are pasturelands; 157 million are grazed forest lands and 64 millions acres are croplands. More than 85% of all grazing lands are not suited for crop production, according to the USDA.

Grazing rangelands is an environmentally SOUND management tool, however; it converts dry matter, that could be called FIRE HAZARD, into a meaningful food source; ruminants can convert the roughage easily into muscle/meat.

According to one Oregon range manager, "Without controlled grazing, the forage on public lands will become wolfy (Not succulent), [and] big game will move to private lands." Moreover, grazing protects the environment by "building soils, protecting water and riparian areas, and enhancing habitat." In Canada, ranchers and farmers are PAID to take cattle, sheep, and goats into the mountains to help protect from major wildfires.

Wouldn’t that be a great PROTECTION tool for OUR mountain and hill regions????? Especially in 2008 as the West burns up.....where, oh where, are those cows now?????

As to the relationship of cattle to wildlife?

More than 75% of ALL WILDLIFE in the U.S. (excluding Alaska) is supported by PRIVATE, NOT PUBLIC land. Private land, eg: ranches and farmlands, provide habitat, water, wetlands, and food for big game and waterfowl. In the eastern U.S., that figure increases considerably; almost all wildlife is dependent on private lands. Most of the spawning and rearing habitat for migrating fish also occur on PRIVATE ranch lands. Yet we've been condemned over and over.....

From 1960 – 1990, it was estimated by BLM that public lands (rangelands) had seen a marked improvement in habitat and herd restoration: elk populations increased by nearly 800%, big horn sheep by 435%; antelope, by 112%, moose by 500%; and deer by 33%.

Note: Their hooves act to stir the soil, move and transplant grass seed. They do not overgraze, by nature; they roam naturally and continually. They are also creatures of habit, crossing streams in a line, not damaging the banks like many people assume. MOREOVER, according to recent studies, GRASS-FED BEEF ARE BELIEVED TO HELP REVERSE THE GREEHNOUSE EFFECTS. Pastures and grasslands store carbon, vs. releasing it into the atmosphere!

As to nutritional value, the nutrient content of 1 lb. of beef is superior to humans for its mineral/protein content than the 4.1 lbs. of grain or the 20.3 lbs. of grass used to produce that 1 pound of beef. In addition, the fossil fuel energy used to produce 70 lbs. of beef (retail) is equivalent to 12-25 gallons of gasoline per year.

As to global methane production, this argument is really up for grabs!

According to Texas A & M University experts, cattle are NOT a significant contributor; it is responsible for 2.9 Tg per year – which translates to about 0.5% of the total estimated world production of methane each year. Only 7% of world methane production likely comes from cattle. Driving to the store to shop for groceries accounts for 100 times MORE "greenhouse gas" than a hamburger. Moreover, centuries of buffalo/bison across the North American continent would have been just as culpable as today’s cattle.

In addition, claims that U.S. forest land converted to grazing/farm lands has been spurred on by cattle, are misleading. Between 1900 and 1980, the number of U.S. forest lands converted to other uses was 64 million acres; in fact, forest land decreased by only 9 percent. Millions of forest lands are reforested every year, which means that timber is a resource that is being conserved, not used up.

Much more important and significant have been the conversion of woodland and FARMLAND lands into urban HUMAN development. Farmers are under attack in this area and succumbing daily.

5. As to helping neighbors, by all means, YES! But recognize that MOST producers do NOT live near large population centers and cannot participate in open farm markets! They are dependent on the market price they get and they have little control over those variables. Animals and plants cannot be set on a shelf to 'wait out the bad times....' Unfortunately, agriculturalists have to make it despite the double-digit increases in costs, etc., with the dips in income. Helping one's neighbor might really mean giving credit to ranchers and farmers who voluntarily work for the improvement of habitat (at their own expense) and for the improved quality of their products.

In truth, support for agriculture is more important than ever. More than 75 farmers leave the business daily; agriculturalists represent less than 2% of our total U.S. population, and YET, 1 out of every 4 jobs is dependent on farmers/ranchers. ALSO, agriculture constitutes the most efficient and positive aspect of our export trade balance. In CA alone, agriculture is the #1 industry and if CA were a country, it would be 6th in the world. At the same time, farmers and ranchers there are facing increasing regulations about water use, development pressures, taxation and fees payable to the state, and very LITTLE support from the average consumer.

And yet, cattle sales actually represent one of the largest portions of the total farm market sales; cattle are produced on farms and ranches in more states than any other agricultural commodity, and is the largest segment of the farm economy. Unfortunately, prices for live animals are WAY DOWN and farmers/producers in this country are quickly falling into the lowest economic category. Rural poverty rates are higher and on the increase; more farm wives work outside the home than in any other ‘occupation’. The average farm/ranch in the U.S. is about 400+ acres and MOST corporations are FAMILY-OWNED (in fact, more than 95% of them!). These are not huge conglomorates taking over the world of agriculture; these are neighbors and generations of farm families who are beginning to go under.

U.S. Cattle and Beef Industry, 2002-2007

* Retail equivalent value of U.S. beef industry:
2002: $60 billion
2003: $63 billion
2004: $70 billion
2005: $71 billion
2006: $71 billion
2007: $74 billion

It would be good for consumers to also know that some 97-99% of EVERY ANIMAL is used, whether as food or in some byproduct. Some of the lesser known byproducts supplied by beef animals include: fats and fatty acids for cellophane, ceramics, cosmetics, crayons, detergents, insecticides, insulation, linoleum, paints, plastics, shaving cream, textiles, floor wax. Material from hooves and horns is used in making piano keys, combs, imitation ivory. Hair from cattle goes into brushes; leather goods are important in sports equipment, boots, luggage, upholstery. Collagen is used in adhesives, wallpaper, and other products. Gelatin is used in photographic film and other products. Fats go into heavy lubricants, while tallow is used in the steel and textile industries. Glycerin goes into nitroglycerin. Blood is used in pigments and other kinds of manufacturing. Insulin is used for diabetics, although synthetic insulin is growing in popularity. Cortisone is used for pain and arthritis and other kinds of treatments. Epinephrine is used to arrest hemorrhage and for other purposes. Thrombin from the blood is used in producing blood coagulants. ACTH, from the pituitary gland, is used in treating anemia. Beef aorta valves are used in heart surgery.

Some of the sources I’ve used include: reports/resources produced by Cornell University, Texas A & M University, University of Illinois, USDA reports, State and County Soil Conservation District materials, Department of Animal Science, Iowa State University, EPA materials, FDA materials, Department of Food Microbiology and Toxicology, University of Wisconsin, and many others.

FINALLY, here is a list of recent facts released about agriculture!

In the United States, 98 percent of farms are family farms.

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture decreased 4.2 percent from 2001 to 2006.

From 1990 to 2005, overall methane emissions decreased 11.5 percent.

Most large feedlot owners have a dedicated environmental engineer either on staff or on contract who ensures the operation is in compliance with strict government regulations
This year, 46,000 upland acres of private land, mostly on working farms and ranches, were restored to benefit the grizzly bear.

U.S. consumers spend a smaller percent of their disposable income on groceries than consumers anywhere else in the world.

This year, 120,000 acres of private land, mostly on working farms and ranches, were restored to benefit the bald eagle. In the Eastern and Central United States, wildlife is almost entirely dependent on ranch, farm and other private lands; so, ranchers play an important role in the survival of native species.

Grazing cattle can minimize the invasion of non-native plant species.

Farmers’ and ranchers’ landowner agreements restored or enhanced 445,000 acres and 885 river miles of habitat for fish and wildlife.

Today's American farmer feeds about 144 people worldwide.

Today versus 1960: 1.8 million less farms are feeding a U.S. population that has increased 61 percent.

Controlling dust has been a priority land-management practice on cattle operations for generations.

Agricultural productivity in the United States has more than doubled in the past 50 years.

Grazing cattle reduces the risk of wildfires by decreasing the amount of flammable material on the land.

Because 85 percent of U.S. grazing lands are unsuitable for producing crops, grazing animals more than doubles the area that can be used to produce food.

Rangelands and pastures provide forage and habitat for numerous wildlife species, including 20 million deer, 500,000 pronghorn antelope, 400,000 elk and 55,000 feral horses and burros.

Cattle serve a valuable role in the ecosystem by converting the forages humans cannot consume into a nutrient-dense food.

Last year, more than 2,000 ranchers and farmers entered into landowner agreements with the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

About a billion acres, or 55 percent of the total land surface in the United States, is rangeland, pasture and forages

Calculate your personal greenhouse gas emissions using EPA’s calculator: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ind_calculator.html.
EPA’s Clean Water Act sets forth requirements for protecting our nation’s water resources. Animal manures are a valuable fertilizer and soil conditioner.

Beef producers consider the rate of growth and consumption of plants in a given area when deciding how to rotate cattle to new pastures.

Cattle grazing plays an important role in maintaining the wetland habitat necessary for some endangered species.

The United States has 16 million more acres of forestland than it did in 1920.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Slow Cooking is Green Cooking

I just loaded up our Crockpot with tonight's supper and I was wondering if crockpots would be a more energy-efficient (and thus lower-cost AND more eco-friendly) way of cooking.

Survey says: YOU BET!

I found info on ConsumerReports.com and various other consumer sites. PlanetGreen.com noted that a slow-cooker uses approximately one fifteenth (1/15) of the power of a stove or oven. Now, you will run the slow-cooker for a longer period of time, but even if you are running it 3 or 4 times longer, you will still come out waaay ahead on the energy use front.

A way to cook that is easy, saves money and uses less non-renewable resources...sounds like a winner to me!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

5 Reasons to Spring for Organic Meat

First off, I need to disclose that in a former life (i.e. before I met my husband) I was basically a vegetarian. I didn't like to eat a lot of meat (just didn't taste good) and then was a little freaked out about the whole concept of chewing on animal carcas. That said, I slowly incorporated meat into my diet for a variety of reasons over the years and now enjoy bacon, pepperoni on my pizza, turkey on my sandwich, meat sauce and even the occasional steak. There are a lot of compelling arguments for paying a price premium to buy organic meat - whether it's the treatment of the animals, the potential damage to field & stream, or the grossness that causes mad cow disease - just take your pick! Until now, I have largely ignored these reasons because in our grocery stores we do not have organic meat options. I knew there was no way to convince my husband to live the Veggie life, so I just chose not to think about it. Ignorance is bliss, right? I have compiled a list of the 5 Best Reasons to switch to organic meat (believe me, there are more than 5 reasons - these are just what did it for me). 1. Prevention of Mad Cow Disease: apparently a cause for the disease is fedding cattle ground up bits of other cattle (yes, cowabalism...gag! hurl!). Organic cattle are fed only 100% organic feed - with no ground up cow bits. 2. No antibiotics, added hormones, or genetically-modified feed or meat. I want to avoid this for the same reason I want to avoid it in my dairy products. The amount that can be passed on to humans through consumption may be "small" but it is also largely unstudied as far as long-term effects go. 3. Treatment of the animals. Look, I know they're all headed to the big slaughterhouse in the sky, or whatever, but the way animals are "raised" on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO's) would make your stomach turn. They are confined in spaces too small to turn around, standing in piles of their own manure and being fed a diet composed in part of their fellow species, along with a healthy dose of chemicals. Would it be flippant of me to create a bumper sticker - "Happy cows taste better!" 4. Damage to the environment. Yes, vegetarians will argue that cow flatulence is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. I'm not even going to go there. I just wanted to address the effect our current 'animal farming' system has on the environment. According to the CDC's website "Pollutants possibly associated with manure-related discharges at CAFOs include:
  • Antibiotics, which may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens
  • Pathogens, such as parasites, bacteria, and viruses, which can cause disease in animals and humans
  • Nutrients, such as ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus, which can reduce oxygen in surface waters, encourage the growth of harmful algal blooms, and contaminate drinking-water sources
  • Pesticides and hormones, which researchers have associated with hormone-related changes in fish
  • Solids, such as feed and feathers, which can limit the growth of desirable aquatic plants in surface waters and protect disease-causing microorganisms
  • Trace elements, such as arsenic and copper, which can contaminate surface waters and possibly harm human health

Researchers do not yet know whether or how these or other substances from CAFOs may affect human health. Therefore, CDC supports efforts to address these questions."

'Nuff said. 5. Support your neighbor. Buying local organic produce has impacts beyond your own individual household. Not only do you get fresh, healthy food, but you are supporting your local economy. To the right on my page you will find a link to Local Harvest where you can find organic growers near you. Using this website, I found two farms that sell organic beef, poultry and lamb all within a 30-minutes drive of my house. There is one remaining issue I would be remiss to leave unaddressed. Money. I am not going to lie, organic meat & eggs are more expensive. The organic eggs I just bought at Wal-Mart cost just over twice as much as our normal 12-pack. For meat, it's not quite as bad. The price of organic beef appears to be running right around 1.5x that of our local grocery. Now I am trying to do this economically, so I have two plans of attack for this month: a) I am going to try to go in with a few friends and buy some meat in bulk from our local producers, which will lower our price per pound and b) I am going to EAT LESS MEAT. Yes, you heard right. I think having one or two days a week that I commit to not eating meat of any kind is a great way to improve my family's health, try out new recipes (pasta anyone?!) and reduce the infamous "Carbon Footprint". Here is a link to a great article "Vegetarian is the New Prius" which explains a little about how meat production affects our planet. I have a couple of quick and easy weeknight recipes that are meat-free, healthy and economical:

1. Garlic beans & rice.
  • Make brown rice according to package directions (we make a whole box, but only use about half for this 'recipe')
  • Warm 1 Tbs Olive Oil over medium heat and sautee 1 or 2 cloves of chopped garlic until translucent - about 1 minute.
  • Rinse 1 or 2 cans (we like 2) of Red Kidney Beans and add to the garlic and oil. Sautee over medium heat until warmed through.
  • Serve garlic beans over rice with a side of steamd broccoli
2. Ridiculously Quick Pasta al Pomodoro. Bon Appetit!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Don't go Bananas!

Or at least don't blow your grocery budget on organic bananas!

Okay, I know that sounds harsh. Organic farming is still widely-acknowledged as being better for the soil and water, so organic bananas DO provide a benefit.

If your specific concern is the ingestion of pesticides, bananas are a low-risk produce item. My daughter loves bananas and can eat 1 a day herself, so I bought them a few times at our organic foods store...for $.99/lb, roughly twice what they go for at our other market.

Although non-organic bananas are treated with pesticide, the sprayed pesticides remain on the skin, leaving the fruit 'safe' for consumption. Bananas have appeared on multiple lists of "XX number of foods you don't need to buy organic" including this one at The Daily Green and this one on MSN Health & Fitness (thanks for the link, Andrea!). Paying twice as much for no health benefit...not worth it on my budget!

Another way to save on your banana grocery budget is to REDUCE your waste. I have been guilty more than once of letting the last two bananas go brown and then they are slipped into the garbage (*gasp!*). Here are two great ways to prevent yourself from committing this most heinous produce sin.

1. Reduce your waste by extending the life of your produce. I have not yet tried this method, but am looking forward to trying the Green Bags recommended by fellow-blogger Chele.

2. If you still aren't able to eat your 'nanas before they turn all brown and blotchety, then for heaven's sake make Banana Bread!

This is the recipe I use - an amalgamation from several cookbook recipes.

Emily's Best Banana Bread

  • 3 or 4 overripe mashed bananas, well-mashed
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 and butter a loaf pan.
Mix together butter and mashed bananas in a large bowl. Add sugar, eggs and vanilla and stir until mixed in. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients until just blended. Pour into buttered loaf pan and bake 45 - 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool loaf in pan on the cooling rack for 15 minutes, then take the loaf out of the pan and allow to cool on rack.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

July Project: Greener Groceries on a Budget

I'll be an honest critic of my own blog and say that my posts have felt a little helter-skelter. I've got so many ideas floating around in my head - some that I'm starting to experiment with, some that I'm not (yet) - but I want to write about them all right away!
For the benefit of you, my loyal reader (singular?) I am going to try to focus on one area each month. Because I LOVE food, I decided to pick groceries as my first area.

My goal this month will be to make changes to my shopping and consumption in order to make more ecologically-friendly AND healthy choices. I will attempt to do this in as budget-neutral a method as possible.
I've tracked my grocery spending in previous months, and I'll track it this month as well. At the end of the month, we'll review and see how well I did.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

To Be or Not To Be - Organic?

This is something I've been struggling with for a while. I know organic is often touted as being "better" but the price premiums on so many of the foods makes it just seem like too much money for too little benefit. As a parent of a baby/toddler this past year, I assuaged some of that guilt by buying as much organic foods for my daughter as possible, but left the 'regular' stuff for the adults.
I've been reading a lot about pros and cons of organic foodstuffs. My current thinking is that the most cost-effective way to get the health benefits of organic while staying within my grocery budget is to make informed purchasing decision. Sounds like common sense, right? It is, but it just takes time to do the research, and who has time? I've seen lots of lists on the web of which organic foods to "splurge" on and I'm collating a lot of that information here.
The first change I am going to make is to organic Dairy.

I found this info on The Daily Green.

"Pesticides and other man-made chemicals have been found in human breast milk, so it should come as no surprise that they have been found in dairy products. While any residues detected have been rare, and of low concentration, milk is of special concern because it is a staple of children's diets.
Organic dairies cannot feed their cows with grains grown with pesticides, nor can they use antibiotics or growth hormones like rGBH or rbST."

In addition, I've read from various sources that the hormones in dairy are being linked to early puberty rates in girls. WHOA. I am NOT okay with that. My daughter gets most of her protein from yogurt, cheese and milk and I shudder to think that there could be chemicals in that affecting her so deeply.

I went to our discount grocery and found 1/2 gallon of organic milk (2%) for $2.99. YIKES! I was buying a whole gallon of 'hormone milk' for $2.50. This one is going to hurt, but I would much rather spend the cash now than have it adversely affect my daughter's health.

I was thinking of ways to make this change budget-neutral. I thought about just posting "we'll buy one less liter of soda" but that would be a lie, since we don't normally buy soda and you, my readers, deserve full-on honesty. I think we'll buy less juice. I always swore my kid wouldn't be a juice addict, but when other caregivers come into play, you let some things slide. Once she discovered juice at daycare, I decided to give her some at home, too. I think we'll buy one bottle of juice each week, and when it's out, her options will just be water or milk (or mom's V8, which she loves, bless her heart!).

Something else to think about: The more demand there is for organic milk, the more producers will jump into the game. As that continues to happen, supply will increase and drive the price down. We're actually already seeing the benefits of our economic system in the widespread availability of organic foods.

We also buy organic yogurt from Stonyfield Farm Organic Yogurt. We can find it at our local grocery and big chains like Wal-Mart.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day

We had a sunny, cool day (a rarity in July) today and enjoyed a nice, small-town parade and dinner with the extended family.
Because it's July 4th, I was thinking of my college friend who is currently serving our country on his second tour in Iraq (the picture at left is from his send-off party earlier this year). He read on my blog about the Shower Challenge, specifically the part where I wrote how I couldn't imagine turning off the water while I lathered up. He said that is what they are required to do for every shower. Well, if that didn't make me feel like a class-A whiner.

At the very least, it reminded me that the sacrifices made by the men & women in our Armed Services are so complete, it permeates every aspect of their daily lives. Not only are their lives at risk every day, but they are far from home, working without weekends or vacation days, without all the comforts of home, family, friends and possessions, and having every aspect of their lives governed and inspected.
So today I just wanted to send out a big "THANK YOU!" to all of the men and women who have served and are serving our country in the Armed Forces. You truly are heroes!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Bright Idea and a Coincidence

Whatever the reason, I received my power bill in the mail today and it contained a nifty little sheet on the many wonders of the Compact Flourescent Light (CFL) bulb.
With credit to Ameren, here is what it said:

"Even one person switching to compact flouescent lighting will save money and give the environment a boost. If every American home replaced just one traditional bulb with an Energy Star-qualified CFL, we would save more than $600 million on annual energy bills and enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year. Why CFL's are a bright idea
  • CFL's use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs
  • CFL's last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, and produce less heat
  • You can save $30 to $60 over the life of each CFL bulb you install
  • CFL's help reduce the demand for electricity, which in turn helps delay the need for new power plants."
We already have approximately 50% of our lights using CFL's. I made a trip to the local discount grocery and bought a single CFL bulb for under $2. Yes it's a little more than an incandescent, but it definitely more than makes up for it in energy bill savings. There really is no excuse NOT to use these nifty little bulbs.

Shower Challenge - Day 2 - Improvements all around?

Hmmm. What to make of this. First off, today *I* forgot to time my shower, but Husband remembered to time his. He apparently is sneaking peeks at this blog and suddenly decided on the day he times his shower to NOT shave until afterwards! He was pretty proud of his 3:42 shower. I have to admit, I was secretly impressed. It almost made me forget how annoyed I was that he only "half-listened" to my instructions (which was to time a 'normal' shower first).

It must have flustered me, because I forgot to time my shower. I know it was shorter than usual though, but that's only because of the psychic connection I share with my daughter. Yes, that's right. Allow me to explain: She has the uncanny ability to sense when I'm about to relax/take a shower/fall asleep and that is the exact moment she decides to wake-up crying. So this morning, as soon as I turned the faucet on, she let out a wail over the monitor. I hopped in and did an speed-suds-and-rinse routine and by the time I got out, she was back to sleep. I can't complain, though, because she slept a whole hour later than usual!

Tally: I'd have to say Husband and I were both under 5 minutes today, but I'm inclined to call it a fluke. We'll see how we fair tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Shower Challenge - Day 1

Well, I accomplished half of my mission. I forgot to time my husbands, but I did time my shower this morning and it was right at 8 minutes. I'll be honest, that is A LOT better than what I thought it would be.

Just knowing I was timing it, I was thinking of what I could be doing differently. One thing I came up with was to wash my face in the sink, after I get out of the shower. That will save maybe 45 seconds or a minute? Hmmm. I was thinking 8 minutes was pretty good, but I'll be honest, I'm not sure about making it to 5 mintues.

Quick sidebar here: I've looked at some of the suggestions on other blogs. I've seen gems like "turn off the shower while you lather up your hair and body, then turn it back on to rinse"...um, no thank you. Can you imagine doing that in the winter?! Let's get real. This is what annoys me about so many of these Going Green blogs. Unless you are uber-dedicated and/or don't work outside the home, it's nearly impossible to achieve their standards of "green." Maybe I'll never be a nice, deep forrest green. I can be happy with chartreuse. I just want to keep it real, folks.

Okay, well, I'll take out my face-washing and try to streamline the shower process and see where that leaves me tomorrow...I'm always game for a challenge =)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Let's Take a Shower...

and make it shorter! (where did you think I was going with that?!)

I was reading on another "green mom" blog -apparently I've joined an army - about the idea of shortening your shower to 5 minutes. I currently have no idea how long I spend in the shower. All I know is that my shower's are shorter than my husband's! I am going to see if I can get him on board with my plan to shorten our showers for the month of July to only 5 minutes.
I think the biggest obstacle for both of us will be shaving, since we both do it with the water running (yes, I'm still talking about shaving.) I could easily let the tub fill while I shower and shave with the accumulated water. Maybe he could shave in the sink, post-shower (isn't that how guys are supposed to do it anyway?!)...

I'll have to time our showers tomorrow so we having a starting point to measure our progress against.
(I'll be honest, I'm doing this as a preemptive cop-out, because the thought of only 5 minutes to shower just sounds plain unreasonable. If I can't get it to 5, at least I'll be able to see how far we cut down.)

Anyone care to join me? Post your current shower length and we'll see what we can do!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

An argument for the Green power of..*gasp*..Capitalism?

Yes, you read that right.
Capitalism. It's often a dirty word in the green scene. I'll spare the editorial or spouting of my (still-evolving) beliefs. Instead I would just like to cite an article that confirms something I had been observing. As the price of gas soars, as yet unhindered by government action, it is actually making 'green' goods more affordable (our Toyota Prius is no longer just a cool ride - it's an economical choice!).

Here is a summary of a Wall Street Journal article I read on WSJ.com:

With soaring energy prices pushing up the price of mainstream goods, green products are becoming just as-or even more-affordable than ever. The reason is that green products, by their very nature, have less fossil-fuel content than competing non-green brands. Their manufacturer also tends to consumer less oil, since green entrepreneurs favor renewable-energy and energy-saving practices. For example, Eco-Products, a company that makes compostable dinnerware, expects sales to jump this year to an estimated $50 million from about $11 million last year. Its products are made from a corn derivative rather than petroleum, which is standard in the industry. As a result, Eco-Products has been able to hold its prices steady while its competitors prices are going up. Similarly, TerraCycle, a maker of fertilizer from worm castings, plans to market an article fire log this winter that has a soy wax as a key component. Its biggest competitor makes a petroleum-based version.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pride goes before a (eco-) fall

Yesterday I was all high & mighty over my big reusable bag discovery. Today I am taking my daughter to a craft program at our local library and it reminds me of something I need to confess.

I am a book collector.
Yes, I like to read. However, I will buy a book even when I'm in the middle of reading four others. I have books on my various bookshelves that are years old and have never been read. Yes, that would be money, trees and oil...wasted by me. *sigh*

My maternal grandmother was a librarian by trade, and growing up my family and I were regular library users. Somewhere along the line, though, I stopped borrowing and started buying. We are preparing to move and I have FOUR bookshelves to pack up. No Barnes & Noble bargain bin went un-perused, no gift card unspent, no Amazon wish-list ignored. I have amassed a collection of paperback, hardbacks, fiction, non-fiction, self-help, self-indulgence...it's a mess.

So how to I correct this? Obviously, I need to stop buying every book that is recommended to me (be it friends, family or Oprah), has a pretty cover or a catchy title. Okay, that's Step 1.

Step 2 - find a way to recycle the books that a) I'm never going to read or b)I've already read & won't re-read (yes, I'm so nerdy that I re-read books). I suppose I could make a generous gift-in-kind to my local library, right? I mean who wouldn't want to read "A Year of Health & Beauty" by Beverly & Vidal Sassoon. Is the "Da Vinci Code" still popular? Hmmm...hopefully they'll accept my donation.

Step 3 - how do I address my insatiable lust for new books? No amount of green-lecturing is going to keep me from wanting new books. I think this is going to have to be a two-step program. First, use the library for any books that I am ready to read right now. Second, find a way to get those immediate gratification books that I'll end up reading "someday." I am looking into a website called www.bookmooch.com where you can swap your books for others you'd like to read. That sounds like a good plan. I'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's in the bag, baby!

Everyone knows plastic bags are wasteful and take up way too much space in our houses, but I did a little research and found some stats. According to deliciouslivingmag.com (great name, huh?):
  • Plastic bags don't biodegrade - instead they slowly break into little toxic bits that contaminate our soil, water and food (oh, and it takes 1,000 years to fully decompose - what's filling up our landfills? These suckers.).
  • Paper bags aren't much better because they are so bulky and take more energy (OIL) to transport
  • 12 million barrels of oil are used to produce the plastic bags used in the U.S. in one year
But I also loathe those bulky, awkward reusable bags that "big box-mart" sells. I bought one on a guilt-trip day and it sits at home because I never remember to bring it with me when I run errands.

At our local organic grocer, I found a great solution. It's a big, nylon, reusable bag that collapses into a teeny bag that clips onto your purse (or fits nicely inside). I have mine stuffed in my purse and it's with me at all times. I use it for groceries, of course, and to round up the trash that accumulates in my car. Best of all, it was cheap ($5, I think) and I've had mine for almost a year now and it's still going strong.
I found the bag-makers website online - www.chicobag.com and have attached a pretty picture from their website.

Just for fun, I am also uploading a picture of mine.
Here is a picture of my purse & my bag
(and yes, that's really my hand...).
That sucker is tiny, isn't it?

Oh, and I also unfolded it and put it next to my purse so you could see how big it gets.
It holds probably twice as much as your average grocery store plastic bag.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Now don't get me wrong, I still use those plastic suckers.
But I use fewer and fewer all the time. And the ones I do bring home, I use to line our diaper pail, bathroom trash cans, and as spare bags for dirty/wet clothes when we're out and about. And when my little plastic bag full of plastic bags is overflowing, I take it to our grocery store and let them recycle it. Now excuse me, I have to go pat myself on the back... ;)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lord Help Me - I'm becoming My Mother

Or my father to be more accurate. And my grandparents who grew up during the Depression. I spent the day in a house that was too warm, turning off appliances and lights in a manner that even annoyed me. This all reminds me of the things my parents and grandparents used to harp on "us kids" about growing up. I remember going to grandma's house in western New York state in August and thinking "PLEASE turn on some air conditioning!" Why was she so cheap? And my dad, always nagging us to "turn off a light when you leave the room." He couldn't figure out what was so difficult about that, and we couldn't figure out why he cared. Even when I started to pay my own bills, I just didn't think about it. Ever wonder what shape the Earth would be in if we still followed the principles so many of the Greatest Generation learned the hard way?

I spent the day trying to be very conscientious about my water and energy use. It was a rainy but muggy morning - nonetheless, I left my windows open and kept the A/C off. That lasted until my daughter and I were both overwarm in the mid-afternoon. I tried to delay the evil air conditioning by heading outside. Bad move. It was now sunny and HOT! The breeze was good, but not enough. We turned on the ever-popular Elmo sprinkler and ran through that a few times. After about 5 passes and one insulting spray in the face, Elmo was disconnected. We were cool - for all of 5 minutes. Back inside for drinks and...we turned on the air conditioning. Drat. My compromise was to only turn it on upstairs (we have separate controls for up & down), since we were probably going to want it on for baby bedtime anyway. As a result, we spent about an hour cleaning and packing (getting ready for the Big Move) in the cooler part of the house. Got stuff done, and didn't turn on the whole house a/c. That counts as a win right? Or at least a draw?

Hey, it's a start.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Eating Seasonally

This is something I'm just beginning to learn about. I'm about 100 pages in to "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. The concept of eating seasonally makes sense to me. Eat it when it's fresh and move on to the next big thing when the seasons over. Doing this would definitely expand my fruit and vegetable consumption - I'm currently stuck on the apple, orange juice, banana, broccoli, baby carrots and salad routine beget of convenience. Feeling adventurous today, I hauled my quasi-agreeable daughter out of bed early to go to our local Farmer's Market. You know, that place you always mean to stop by on your way to work, but never remember until it's too late? Anyway, apparently a lot of good stuff is "in season!"

1. Basil. To symbolize my "turning over a new leaf" I bought myself a basil plant (yes, I'm rather literal) for a whopping $1.50 (see profile photo).
I love cooking with basil, and HATE buying those awful little pre-packaged plastic boxes with what has to be stale-imitation-basil, which is the only basil I can find in our local grocery stores. I am known to have the blackest of thumbs, but the friendly vendor assured me that I just needed to plant it, stick it in the sun and pick from it when the new little leaves were starting to sprout. Here goes nothing!

2. Cherries. With stems and seeds and NOT the kind that comes in fun mixed drinks. Hmmm. I bought a big bag full (for $5, I think). Too big, as it turns out. I need to do some research ahead of time. Anyway, I got home and looked up cherry recipes and found an easy one for Cherry Clafouti (basically a giant cherry pancake). I started slicing and pitting cherries, and my daughter sat on the floor at my feet gobbling down as many quartered cherries as I could hand her!
The recipe for Cherry Clafouti couldn't be easier and is as follows:

3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. flour
4 eggs
1 c. milk
3 c. fresh, halved & pitted cherries

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a pie pan with butter.
Dump cherries into greased pie pan.
In a mixing bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and eggs. Slowly stir in the milk to make a runny pancake-like batter.
Pour the batter over the cherries (the cherries will float to the top.
Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Allow to cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.

In France, this is a dessert, but it makes a pretty fantastic breakfast, too. ;)

3. Summer Squash. Two green and one yellow - all three were good sized and had a beatiful unmarred skin - for $1.75. My 20-month old daughter sat and watched Barney today while noshing on some raw zucchini stick. I offered her some ranch dip, but she turned up her nose. She likes her "keenie" straight, apparently.

4. Beets. I know this is going to be a tough sell to my husband, but I love beets. Unbeknown to me, beets do not grow in a can. Additionally, they come with stems and leaves attached (and are one big bunch for $1). Puzzled, I asked our friendly farmer's marketress how to cook these things. She recommended cutting off most of the stem (more on that later) and steaming the beets in about an inch of boiling water. The dunk them in some cold water and the skins will slip right off and you'll have beets that are closer to my canned favorites (but hopefully better tasting and more nutritious.
Now, back to the stems. One of my biggest goals is to reduce my waste, so I asked her if the leaves or stems were edible. Yup! She said to sautee the leaves much like you would spinach - some butter and garlic and cook until tender.
So yes, that would be TWO vegetable side dishes for $1!