Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reading List: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Barbara Kingsolver, 2007)

Continuing with my habit of reading any book that consists of an environmentally-themed personal challenge, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, fell right into that category. Kingsolver (most notably the author of The Poisonwood Bible) sets out with her family to eat only either what they can grow themselves or what was created locally (150 miles seems to be their “local radius”) for one year. Unlike the couple in Plenty (known as the “100-mile dieters”) Kingsolver and clan have a Kentucky farmhouse and enough knowledge of animal husbandry and agriculture to support it. (They also seem to handle issues with each other much better than the Plenty couple did.) Their admirable quest is made even more interesting by their commitment to heirloom varieties. Anyone can throw a handful of agro-conglomerate seeds in the ground and tend what grows, but it takes real patience to hunt down and nurture varieties that are all but extinct and unknown to the average American. (Most notably, instead of raising Broad-Breasted White Turkeys [which is what over 99% of all American turkey meat is] and instead raise Bourbon Reds, an heirloom variety. They must try to re-awaken the mating instinct that has essentially been bred out of the bird due to artificial insemination.)

While she insists that their lives were more than planting, hoeing, weeding, watering, picking and canning, the reader is left somewhat in doubt. (There are just not enough hours in the day to hold down a full time job and support a farm this size.) But for the average American with a small corner of land or room for a few containers for gardening, it is an otherwise inspiring tale of truly creating your own food supply.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Simpler or Too Fast?

So I got this new little toy for my computer… A wireless USB connection card that allows me to be online wherever I want (provided there’s a cell phone signal in the area). After spending the last 10 years dialing up whenever I wanted to be online at home or having to stop at public libraries while driving cross country to check my email, this is a radical change for me. I’ve resisted upgrading for years in order to save money ($20 for a phone line sure beats whatever the going rate for DSL and wireless networks are—over that 10 year period, I’ve easily saved thousands of dollars) but now it’s time to enter the 21st century. I’m a little saddened that I will lose that time that I would spend waiting for websites to load that I would usually get up and move around the apartment, multi-tasking as I waited. Will I fill that time that I don’t need to wait anymore with something productive? Or will I just waste more time online looking for things I don’t really need or want? Will the fact that I got impatient that it took 5 minutes for a page to load before be supplanted by getting upset if a page doesn’t now load in 30 seconds? Will this new technology really make my life simpler or make it go too fast?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Farmers Markets, Food Waste and Getting the Garden Growin'

For a while now, I've been planning on finally 'walking the walk' and getting myself to a farmer's market in the area. Of course, all the procrastinating was unnecessary since there is one right in my town, not 2 miles from my house. Every Saturday morning (rain or shine!) local vendors set out their pop up tents and display their horticultural wares. Some are organic, some merely boast they are pesticide-free, but all are merchants that are hands on participants in their products' creation. (Take that Ralph's produce department!) Okay, so I have some work to do to learn more about where my food comes from, but the farmer's market is the right step in the right direction. After perusing for a bit, I settled on a basket of strawberries (lots of fresh smoothies this week), a basket of grape tomatoes (good in Mexican dishes), and a couple organic pears (which I don't know why I don't eat more of, they are one of my favorite fruits). My fear with the quantities they sell is that I will end up tossing most of what I buy because I'm just one person that doesn't eat it fast enough before it goes south. (The tomatoes are the only thing left, but they're starting to get pretty squishy) So I'm trying to plan out meals before I select a particular produce for some variety. (Strawberry smoothies are great, but 3 days in a row seems to be the maximum amount of time I can stand them). I pride myself on not needing a garbage disposal, mostly because I am very conscious of how much food I waste, and whatever food that starts that detour south before I can eat it goes directly to the worm bin. With any luck this year's garden will start to take root shortly: Pea plants and sunflowers have started to sprout, a few other seedlings have begun germinating (oh why don't I label them better!) and once the worm castings are spread out on the new plants, mystery plants will also start cropping up as well. It is the most wonderful time of year. :)

For a farmers' market near you: click here for the searchable site.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

2009 Resolutions: Give a Little Bit

After my trip to Ye Olde Tax Preparer this year, I was stunned to see how little I made in charitable contributions last year. And in this “ECONOMIC CLIMATE” what’s going to suffer most are the organizations that rely on contributions to survive. So this year, I’m going to challenge myself to make at least one donation a month, for 12 months to a cause near and dear to my heart. January I’ve already written about my fated donation to the team behind Gregg’s documentary, but February I think I’m going to select my local YMCA. I’ve been pretty much a lifelong member of one Y or another (back when mom threw me into swim lessons at 6 months of age), and I have seen first hand what a membership can for a person. Bally’s or 24 Hour Fitness may be the place to be if you’re looking to turn your workout into a social event, but the Y is the place to be if you want your membership dollars to directly benefit your community.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reading List: "Confessions of An Eco-Sinner" & "Where Am I Wearing"

While being waylaid with a chest infection, I’ve had plenty of time to sack out on the couch and catch up on some light reading. Well, and with the absence of any fluffy tomes on my reading list, instead I picked a couple of “where my stuff is from” books. Both “Where Am I Wearing: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories and People That Make Our Clothes” (Kelsey Timmerman, 2008) and “Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff” (Fred Pearce, 2008) give the reader an insight into where and how everyday items are created. Both books covered “sweatshop” conditions but both challenged the notion that “sweatshop” is always a bad concept. Timmerman traveled to China, Bangladesh, and Honduras to uncover how his favorite items of clothing were made. What I liked most about his book was the photographs and stories he included about the real workers. And while the conditions that these workers are exposed to are what we consider low pay, long hours and toxic working conditions, he debates that if there was a boycott on the items that they make, these people would have even less than they have now.

Pearce’s book expands the search from clothes to other consumer goods such as coffee, computers, where his trash goes and even where his wedding ring came from. His book also opened my eyes to things I never knew existed (did you know there is a gold mine in South Africa that has supplied more gold to the planet than anywhere else on earth and that at any time there are 60,000 men working underground?) but also changed my mind on conventional thinking: (they have noted that it takes less energy to make virgin paper from trees than it takes to recycle old paper into new, that if everyone on the planet emitted as much carbon as the average Chinese person, there would be no climate crisis, that around polluted sewage drains there seem to be a higher abundance of thriving wildlife as compared to clean areas, and that if current population rates continue, the only population crisis will be that there are not ENOUGH people to support the human race.)

Both books are good examples on why we should never stop learning about where our “stuff” comes from and where it goes to once we’re done with it.