Category Archives: Green Living

In Defense of Food

My journey towards being a locavore began with Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” I eagerly awaited his latest book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.” This book takes nutritionism to task – the reduction of food into nutrients, and marketing foods based on what they do or do not contain. (Contains: vitamins, omega-3 oils, etc. Does not contain: carbs, fats, sugar, etc.)

Pollan has a simple 7 word mantra for how to eat: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. I think I shall take to chanting that as a pre-meal prayer. Or, a pre-shopping prayer as the biggest hazards to your health and waistline are found on the supermarket shelves marketing pre-processed foods — many with nutritionism-based claims.

Most enlightening was the chapter on the sad state of nutrition research. We see this all the time as yesterday’s nutrition villains, such as eggs, are today’s heroes. Yesterday’s answer to high cholesterol – margarine vs. butter – is today’s villain – trans-fat! Do we really now know the whole truth, or is this just more over-hyped research? What should we eat?

Pollan says – eat food. Get basic and eat only foods your grandmother or great-grandmother would recognize as food. Cook and eat meals rather than snacking. Don’t drink sodas filled with high fructose corn syrup.

Don’t eat too much food. Ay, carumba, there’s the problem. My husband claims he’s gotten fatter since I joined a CSA and began cooking real meals with real food. The problem – too much food! Too tasty! But this is something we can address with portion control rather than going back to packaged foods.

Mostly plants: our Western diets are too full of meat. In our quest to eliminate carbs, we have replaced plants with meat, and even with plant-based foods we have replaced leaves with seeds. We eat too much processed flour and polished rice, not enough leafy vegetables and whole grains. The solution? Pollan touts CSA farms, for the same reason I found. I eat a much wider variety of veggies because my farmer puts them in my share and I have to use them. Just going to a farmers market, I came back with the same thing every time until the CSA introduced me to a wider variety of veggies.

I listened to the Audiobook Version, read by my favorite reader, Scott Brick. But in truth, I would prefer a different reader. Scott Brick ended up sounding strident and every statement sounded ironic or sneering. Love you Scott, but it got overwhelming. I would prefer a gentler reading of this book.

No Free Drinks – Less Trash?

Last weekend we flew US Airways to Phoenix for a walking getaway. I knew we would have to pay $15 for any checked luggage, so Rich and I shared a single checked bag. But I was surprised to learn on board that any water or soda would be $2. Luckily, I had brought along my reusable water bottle and had filled it at the water fountain before boarding. Thank heavens they eliminated that rule that prohibited taking fluids on board.

US Airway says this has reduced trash and aisle congestion. I have to agree with that. There seemed to be less of a line for the restroom, and it was nice not to have the drink cart going up and down the aisle.

The plane was full coming and going, and I was very happy that we had checked one bag and had only small carry-ons rather than roll-aboards. The people in the window seats had effectively filled all of the overhead baggage storage by the time the middle and aisle seat people were allowed to board. The only storage was under the seat. This was fine for my Swiss Army bag and Rich’s day pack. I wonder if they charged people who had to check their baggage at the plane door because the storage was full? That might be a way around the charge!

With these charges, the air line saves a lot:

  • Drink, snack and drink cart weight: somewhat offset by wise travelers bringing their own water and snacks aboard.
  • Drink expense, snack expense while also making some money on them.
  • Trash weight and disposal expense: while people may bring aboard their food, I noted far less trash being collected than ever before.
  • Luggage weight and handling expense: People pack lighter to fit it into fewer bags and attempt to carry it all onboard.
  • Flight attendant workload: I don’t know if there are regulatory standards for how many flight attendants must be on board, but those who are there have far less to do. They can concentrate on customer assistance rather than drink service.

Overall, I’d say it is “greener” to eliminate the free drink and snack service and impose fees to make people rethink and reduce their luggage weight.

Locavores are Less Trashy

Trash and recycling pick-ups have been delayed for over a week throughout Oregon and SW Washington. That would have been a bigger problem before I started the locavore lifestyle. After two weeks, we have the trashcan just full – and that includes the leavings of a Christmas dinner and celebration for my extended family.

The only container overflowing is the can and bottle recycling, because Rich waits till it’s full to put it out and it was mostly full a week ago. He drinks canned soft drinks, while I do not. I stick with filtered water from the refrigerator, coffee, wine, and the occasional beer.

How did we make it through gift-giving without tons of trash? My sister, Verla, has always saved and reused Christmas wrap. In fact, hilarity ensued when she had wrapped a present to one person and tagged it, but the paper still had somebody else’s name in felt pen on the paper. Any large wrappings were carefully folded to go home with her to see another year’s gift-giving. My brother Randy gave mason jars of chocolate chip cookie mix, a lovely homemade idea. I gave cash in envelopes plus had a basket of Mary Kay cosmetics for everyone to choose from. Similarly, Mom had a bag of homemade potholders and pot scrubbers for everyone to choose from. Others like using reusable gift bags instead of wrap. We had very little packaging to recycle. Another fun idea is to wrap your gifts in a reusable scarf – furoshiki. I really should look for close-outs on Christmas-design scarves and do that in future years.

Back in Tualatin, we would fill a larger trashcan to overflowing each week, mostly due to styrofoam takeout meal containers from the Aloha Grill or Panda Express. I’ve reduced our waste stream considerably but cutting far back on takeout. In fact, one thing that keeps me from buying takeout is thinking about the darn containers. I wonder if it’s possible to bring my own reusable containers for takeout? Or order it eat-in and transfer it to my own containers so I don’t ask them to violate any health codes.

Back in Tualatin, the recycling and trash container were inconveniently stored next to the garage door, and the garage was down a hallway from the kitchen. Here, we have the trash and recycling conveniently located right next to the door from the garage to the kitchen. Now I never hesitate to collapse and recycle any cardboard packaging or junk mail. Convenience definitely helps me keep recyclables out of the trash.

I heard on NPR’s Planet Money podcast that the recession may wreak havoc with paper and cardboard recycling. China is the biggest buyer of our paper recycling, because they don’t have their own sources of fiber. They turn it into packaging to send stuff back to us. Since we American consumers aren’t buying much stuff any more, they don’t need our recycling to make packaging.

The Benefits of a Delayed Christmas

I attempted to get to the post-Christmas sales on Dec. 26. I made it a half block to the corner and became stuck in the deeply rutted snow. It was melting, but there was still a foot-high ridge of ice and snow between the ruts. After much forward/reverse, I managed to get moving again and pulled out to a road that had been plowed. Whew. I continued on to Fred Meyer, only to discover their parking lot was in the same poor condition as the side streets. I didn’t stop and kept going. I made it back into the driveway on the second try, having had to circle the cul-de-sac on the first try.

Rich went to work, first taking a bus to downtown Vancouver, then another bus to Delta Park Max station, then Max to the Rose Quarter, then bus 8 up Marquam Hill, but the road to the hospital was blocked by three previous buses, so he had to walk the final 1/4 mile up the hill. Coming home was a similar odyssey. When you have to make 3 transfers to get to your destination, public transit is a poor option.

Walking was also a very poor option, as the sidewalks along major streets were still buried under a foot or more of rotten melting snow and ice. The only place to walk was in the car ruts on side streets, which now were growing slick as they melted.

I stayed holed up until Saturday and the meltdown was in full swing. I was finally able to buy the deeply discounted Christmas decorations I wanted for next year, but could actually use this year for our family celebration on Sunday. While a true locavore might cut her own swags each year, I’m just not crafty, and the branches on our Douglas fir are up over 50 feet, so I can’t harvest them in my own yard. I prefer to go the “re-use” route so I don’t have to buy them each year and recycle them each year. I didn’t buy any lights or lighted ornaments. I liked our “green” non-electric Christmas decor and I think we’ll continue that for next year.

Due to the weather delay, I was able to cook the Christmas dinner for my family today, on Sunday. I used the local organic potatoes I bought at the harvest farmers market before Thanksgiving. They were just starting to sprout eyes. I have enough gravy left that I’ll be cooking up the rest in the next few days.

Everyone in the family had their tales of weather adventures from the past two weeks. Since I ordered a snow shovel online, I doubt we’ll see any such snowfall again in my lifetime.

Another One Rides the Bus

We have a near-record 10-inches of snow, last seen around 1968. I remember that storm in 1968, it was fun if you were a kid with a big backyard in which to build a snow fort and cavort with your giant Siberian Husky named King while being off from school for a week. And we did. But now I have responsibilities to get to work by any means necessary, as medical centers don’t close for bad weather. During our winter blast of 2004, I stayed home because the drive was too far and the buses would have taken 4 hours each way. Now, I had the choice of putting chains on my SUV and driving to work, or walking a little over a half mile to the bus stop and taking the bus. I decided that the bus was the safest option. Although I’ve trained to drive in slick conditions at Pro-Drive, I know that many other drivers have recently moved here from California and other points south and have a lot of guts but little skill. I fear for the safety of my vehicle in their vicinity on the road or in the parking lot. They don’t have the benefit of 18 years of Dad saying, “Drive like you don’t have brakes,” and being a role model in how to drive in ice and snow.

Snow on Fourth PlainThe snowy neighborhood was gorgeous in the pre-dawn light at 7 am. It took me about 12 minutes to tromp to the bus stop, wearing Stabilicers snow cleats on my shoes and using ski walking poles for stability. The snow is so deep that you post-hole into it on the sidewalks, so it is best to walk in the street where traffic has beaten down a lane. But this is only safe if there are no cars on the road. There weren’t at 7 am. The C-Tran bus cost $1.30 and it goes directly from the nearest bus stop to my workplace, although I had another couple of blocks to negotiate once I got there. The bus even seemed to come on time, although they run every 15 minutes and it might just have been an earlier bus that was very late.
Photo: At the bus stop on Fourth Plain Boulevard, 7:20 am.

We were dismissed early, at 2 pm and I caught a ride home with a couple of gals from our division. While they had chains on an SUV, the driver had just moved here from Arizona. I almost asked to be let out before we were out of the parking lot, as she was doing a lot of quick maneuvers that are extremely unwise in ice and snow. They kindly deposited me at home safely, but white-knuckled. Tomorrow, it’ll be the bus both ways. Besides, I have errand to run at the shopping center mid-way.

Weird Al Yankovic’s “Another One Rides the Bus” in his first-ever TV appearance. It’s a parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

My C-Tran riding experience was of sparse passengers, but probably typical. Homeless-looking man in the very back seat. Blind young man in the front seat. Pleasant looking middle-aged gal got on, maybe a crazy cat lady. A couple more typical Vancouver-ites got on, but from the discussion with the driver they probably were, like me, not usually bus riders. All of the women admired my Stabilicers and ski walking poles.

I was reassured that the bus would be a good option for me under many conditions. This bus connects up with MAX in Delta Park, which might be useful for attending events in downtown Portland.

Decorating Decisions

I am looking at Christmas decorations from the viewpoints of going local, going green, and going frugal. My husband and I also feel the pressure of wanting to fit into the neighborhood, which seems to be of the electric decoration persuasion. Giant light displays are in my genes. Dad always outlined the entire house and yard, except during the energy crisis in the 1970’s when that was forbidden. Even now, he hires one of the grandkids to come do the ladder climbing. That’s dad’s side of the family. Mom’s side of the family, all of the cousins in Roy, Oregon, suddenly when Christmas extravaganza nuts for several years in the 80’s and 90’s. They strung lights all along their farm properties and composed moving light sculptures using farm equipment. It became a real holiday attraction.

But our new house is of a design where you would need a crane (or a very tall ladder) to put lights up on the front. Our neighbors with the same design have been content to outline their garage doors and front window and to put lights around their front yards. But we are averse to using cup hooks or staples to attach the lights, which would be necessary as there isn’t any lip to attach light clamps to around those areas. I decided it was best to go as “green” (as in non-electrified) as possible.

Taking a cue from another neighbor, I bought large red felt bows at Michaels to place beneath the carriage lights on each side of the garage. Then I went to Shorty’s Garden Center for a fresh wreath for the door. I was taken aback at the $59 price tag for the wreaths I liked best and settled for a $19.95 wreath, deciding to add my own bow and other decorations to it.

I bought a wreath hanger for the door that says NOEL in red letters. My plan is to shop the after-Christmas sales and buy any further decorations at half price or less. I would like to get a silk wreath so that I wouldn’t need to buy a new one and recycle it each year. That would save both money and space in the recycling. I had such a wreath 10 years ago that I bought at a craft fair. But my husband tossed it in the trash without considering that it was supposed to be used year after year. I’ll have to coach him better.

I bought a large poinsettia for the Great Room and a small one for the dining table. Those are my other two recyclable items. I wish they grew here like they do in Los Angeles. Houses in my mother-in-laws neighborhood have giant, gorgeous poinsettias growing in the yard.

I put up my artificial tree, enjoying the ease of it all. But I am thinking that I should look into replacing it with one with LED lights, if I can find one at the after-Christmas sale. The little tree lights do give off plenty of heat, a sign of wasted energy. It’s fun to decorate the new house as we have more surfaces that can be used to hold my nativity set, etc. But my plan is to take it slow and steady, looking for items after Christmas such as and advent candle holder and a nice artificial garland for the mantle.

I would like to buy locally crafted items, but for some reason I have missed announcements for holiday craft fairs. I’ve done some web searches but haven’t come up with any conveniently located. I shall continue to keep my eye out for those.