Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Michael Pollan Interview On Bill Moyers' Journal

I watched Bill Moyers' Michael Pollan interview recently; it was an excellent broadcast, and I highly recommend it:

Bill Moyers Journal Two-Part Interview With Michael Pollan

There's more information below on Michael Pollan, and also a podcast to listen to, as well.

Michael Pollan's books have been very inspiring to me, in terms of eating healthier and in a more conscientious way - with regard to using resources and where food comes from. Even Barack Obama has referenced Michael Pollan's papers and articles when attempting to decide what to do about the current food crisis. Like the NY Times Op-Ed here:

NYTimes Op-Ed by Michael Pollan From October 2008

But with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and
abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you,
like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the
fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s
food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand
your attention.

Anwyay, it's definitely worth listening to as the weather gets colder and food production and food security seems more on our minds than ever. Does Dr. Pollan have the answers? Who knows? But I do find his research on the subject, and the human tendency to eat what is virtually inedible and call it 'food', absolutely fascinating.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Unhealthy Food Donations & An Injury: Bumps On The Road to Green

This post I am going to try and tackle the food ethics of unhealthy food donations and talk about my sprained ankle!  The injury has limited my green activities like gardening for the present, so I have been left to mull over the ethics of food donations this Thanksgiving season.

Right now, I'm recovering from a sprained ankle. It's doing much better, though they take a while to heal. I'm walking around, but I have to be careful about doing too much and re-injuring it. So, I've not been able to get to the organic co-op as much as I want. I have been managing about once a week, or so.  So, I've been having a lot of free time on my hands to ponder things like the ethics of seasonal food donations.. I really struggle with being green in light of things like this. Personally, I've done as much organic/free range stuff as I can afford this Thanksgiving, and I'm giving thanks that I can. But should we be so picky when trying to feed the hungry? Yes, a box of Hamburger Helper or instant Mashed Potatoes isn't healthy and its contributing to the environment, but it's also cheap, filling and appreciated by hungry bellies.  It's the whole 'if a vegetarian is hungry enough, he'll eat a burger' argument, which by the way is true. When I was extremely poor, I ate the bland food of the Krishnas for free, gratefully, and whoever else wanted to was welcome to feed me, as well. I wasn't likely to complain or insist on free range, grass fed meat, regardless of how well-intended or important to the environment it might have been.

And yet, eating cheap, industrialized food is exacerbating things. Unhealthy food donations could be part of the problem...It would be nice to wave a magic wand and have all cranberries be organic, and all turkeys grass fed, and all eggs cage-free. But with food prices going up, a 50-cent box of mac-n-cheese is a feast to some.

So, where do you personally draw the line? Ethics? Environment? Full Stomach?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Basic Bread Recipe, or "Hey Man, Can You Spare Some Bread?"

Whenever people talk about how difficult it is to make homemade bread, I always scratch my head. I've always baked homemade bread in conjunction with other activities, so to my mind bread virtually bakes itself. So, for this blog entry, I want to talk about how to make homemade bread and allay fears and anxieties that go along with it.

For my part, I start the yeast and water with a little honey or organic sugar (aka proofing the yeast), put some laundry in the washing machine. Then I come back, add some flour, bran, salt and oil, (or milk & egg, depending on recipe) put it in a greased bowl and cover it with a clean, dry towel. I set the bowl on the top of a warm stove or in a recessed area away from drafts. Then I go do stuff for an hour (vaccuum, play Scrabble, go for a bike ride, whatever...) and come back. I punch the dough down and knead it for about 10 mins until the gluten in the flour is elastic and stretchy, a bit shiny. Sometimes, I enlist the help of the Peanut Gallery™ to help me. Kids love to hit stuff, especially when its sanctioned and legit. Why not bread dough? Then, it's back to the greased bowl for the second rising. I go do more stuff (put away dishes, move clothes to the dryer, do some ironing...) and it's time to shape it, let it rise the last 15 mins and pre-heat the oven. If I want loaves, I grease loaf pans. If I want rolls, I shape the dough into balls, with the ends tucked under, and place them on a greased baking sheet. Then, I let them rise until it's time to place them in a pre-heated oven. If you want a crisper crust, brush with egg or melted butter, and place a pan of water on the bottom baking rack. Voila! Homemade Bread. It's just that easy.

Or, even easier if you use the No Knead Bread Recipe I found.  I will use this one if I don't have the time or energy to focus on kneading.

Now, granted, I don't bake bread every week, and it would be a drag if I had to - which is when I bake homemade bread it is kind of fun still (if utilitarian and useful). It's also cheap. I can make several loaves of bread from one bag of flour. The varieties are infinite. Depending on the kind of homemade bread you want to make, I've used herbs from the garden, or left over mashed potatoes (for potato bread! yum!). I've made challah (it's fun to twist the braids - kids enjoy that, too!) and dried fruit breads, oatmeal bread, millet bread, whole wheat, multigrain...There's something so satisfying to sitting down to a meal where you've grown the food, baked homemade bread and prepared it yourself...and who knows? One day it will likely include fish I've caught and cleaned (though not anytime soon! Haha!)...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Foods to get COOL Labeling

COuntry of Origin Labeling:


Until now, shoppers have had little clue where many everyday
foods --
meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, certain nuts -- originate.
That's what the
so-called COOL law, for country-of-origin labeling,
Those who want
to buy local -- or who prefer, say, Chilean
grapes and New Zealand lamb -- can
more easily exercise their purchasing
power. Those worried about lax safety
regulations in certain countries can
avoid those imports. And the next time
tomatoes are suspected of food
poisoning, consumers may be able to tell investigators they bought only ones
grown in a certain region, speeding the probe.

Great news, yeah? Sort of. There are a lot of exemptions, so please still ask. Supermarkets will do this, but the butcher and the fishmonger will not. Foods mixed together are not factored in; still it's a big step towards helping people eat more locally and to avoid contaminated foods.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Organic Gardening Co-Op

A couple of weekends ago, I signed up for a plot at our local organic gardening co-op. The principle is simple; you pay a deposit, work the land, learn the principles of organic gardening then reap your harvest! Any unneeded food is donate to the local food bank.

Organic Co-Op on 35th Year

The Co-Op's Website.

Anyway, I got 1/2 a plot, and it's fairly large. Certainly large enough to grow the veggies for 2-3 people, which is the size of my family.

We weeded it, and tilled it. Per the Farmer's Almanac, this weekend is best for planting root veggies like potatoes and carrots, so I'll be doing that early on Saturday morning, now that we're prepped.

I'm hoping to spend a semester or two learning about the principles of organic gardening, then applying those to my own plot at home. Having had some success with growing veggies in pots, like squash, peppers, tomatoes and okra this Summer, I am really really stoked about enjoying food I've prepared and cooked that came from the work of my hand, and the sweat of my brow.

I'm thinking carrots, winter squash, potatoes, and I'm still looking for other ideas. Possibly collards, cabbage or kale? Feel free to give me ideas. I've got to get it sorted before Saturday morn! lol Maybe a pumpkin?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Kitchen-Sink Soup, A Crate, A Car

One of my favorite ways to use leftovers, (legumes, grains and vegetables) is in what has been called  Kitchen Sink Soup in my family for at least 3 generations.

The principle is simple; anything can go into it!I made some today, because we went to the Farmer's Market and I needed to get rid of the odds and ends of produce before I stored the new, fresh stuff.

You can start with stock or make your own, it's just a time thing. This soup does well in a stock pot, a Dutch oven or a crockpot, depending on how quickly you want to serve it and how many you're serving. It also freezes beautifully, if you're not going to use it right away. (It's too hot in Florida for soup at the moment, so I'm going to freeze mine for the upcoming cooler days/nights!)

Today, I used organic vegetable broth, because I didn't have everything I like to make stock in the house. Then, I tossed in varying amounts of the following: Squash (I grew it), tomatoes, field peas, onion, okra (I grew that, too!) potato, snap beans, peas and broccoli. I have herbs from my garden, and salt to season. Towards the end, right before serving, I'll toss in some cooked brown rice that has been in the fridge, too.

Once it's done, I'll cool it and freeze it. One of my favorite ways to eat it is with some fresh rosemary bread and farmer's cheese from our local Farmer's Market.

The great thing about this soup is it adapts to you; I've made winter versions with root veggies such as winter squash, parsnips, turnips, onions and carrots. It also is the best prevention of food waste that I know. Just like jam, when fruit has seen a better day, this soup can absorb valuable produce that might not look as good as it once did - but which is still serviceable.


Today, also, I bought a plastic crate that I am strapping to the back of my bike. If I travel down one mile to the store, I can get a small amount of groceries and put that in the crate on the back, instead of trying to balance the bags on my wrists while biking. I think it's a worthwhile investment.


And, last but not least, since my old American GM car has been dying a slow death these last 6 weeks I've been looking for a small, light, Japanese car that gets good gas mileage. Well, I found one and bought it. My new (to me) Nissan is pictured below. It's a standard transmission, immaculate interior. The miles are a bit higher than I'd like but these cars, if well cared for, can do double or more the mileage I have on it right now.

So, I'm content. And I've dumped the gas-guzzler for something more reliable, more efficient and more in tune to our needs. Yay!

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Farmer's Market & The Jones Eastside Eatery

On Saturday mornings, between 8:30am and 1:00pm, we have our local farmer's market. Everything brought to market was raised within 50 miles of its location. My daughter and I bring our re-usable cloth grocery bags, and wagons are provided.

It's a great, affordable way to get fresh, in-season fruits and veggies. The other items offers are soaps, honey, wax candles, fresh baked goods, herbs and plants. This link here also gives you a handy chart to let you know what sold each season, as well as year-round.

Farmer's markets are a great way to go green and save on your food bill. Since we're mostly vegetarian in our household, fresh veggies are important - and yet they can also get expensive. Eating in season keeps us healty, creative and in tune with the Earth.

Besides, it's a lot of fun to see what's brought to market each week and to get to know the people who are directly involved with growing/making the things we eat.


My boyfriend is here with us for an extended stay and this weekend we checked out
The Jones Eastside Eatery on a dear friend's recommendation.

Not only was it vegetarian and organic, but all the tempeh, tofu and other ingredients are local! Wow, what a great place. We didn't have to wait long for service or food.

My SO and I had the black bean burrito, with avocado and sour cream. They were fantastic. If you're in and around the Gainesville area, I highly recommend a visit to The Jones Eastside Eatery.


Next, I want to try Sweetwater Organic Coffee Company. I bet I can get my love to go, as he's a certified coffee gourmandise like me!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Yard Sales, Flea Markets and Second Hand or Consignment Stores

I must confess, I became hooked on yard sales, flea markets and consignment stores years ago when I was a single mom and pretty broke. Buying new anything was simply not an option in my budget.   It took me a while to get used to it, because I came from an affluent home where new was taken for granted, but once I did become used to it, I find it very hard to shop retail now.  Especially because I still like very nice things, even designer items, and find that I don't care much for the designer price tags that go along with them.   I am building resistance to consumerism in the form of cheap, disposable fashion and goods, in favor of well-made, durable and quality items.  Inevitably, that drives me back to yard sales, flea markets and second hand or consignment stores!

Now, even when I can buy new I look for used first, unless the new item is dramatically reduced in price. The impact on the environment from used items is minimal, and something that was formerly shuttled off to no-man's land gets a new lease on life. I've even found most of these items are better than their more disposable, more modern and more more plastic counterparts.

Garage sales aren't for everyone. I realize that, but even those who are retail-a-holics may find it pays to buy tools or baby items second hand.  It helps to have both an open mind and an iron-clad idea of what you're looking for. I can't tell you the number of times I went out in search of something and found another thing I didn't at all expect.  Or just went out, looking for nothing specific, and found something I had been needing for a long time, like a 30 foot locking ladder for $20.   (A fantastic investment and used quite often!)

There are some who object to second hand consignment items, and even I have my limits. Generally, I avoid shoes and intimate items of any kind. No bathing suits, either. The only shoes I've bought 'second hand' or consignment were some still in the box, never worn by the owner to my knowledge. I have bought unused shoes off of Ebay, too.  I have bought a lot of 'gently used' vintage designer clothes, and handbags, though.  But since I have started working towards minimalism, I have kept a light variety (3-4) of handbags of the highest quality and donated the rest to charity and/or hosted a clothing swap.

Flea markets are fun, but the flea markets in Florida around here hold a lot of miscellaneous junk. A lot of old movies, dusty books and things. However, I did buy my best vaccuum cleaner ever for $25 at a flea market; it was an old Eureka upright, all metal parts. It still ran, and I took it to an vaccuum-repair place and the guy reworked it for me top to bottom for $30. That thing ran like a dream for 7 years. When it finally died, I was sad - because all the new one are made entirely of plastic and are of much poorer overall quality. I just wish I'd found that old vaccuum cleaner earlier!

I'm planning on holding a garage sale at the end of August. Having them can be a good way of getting rid of unnecessary items, making a little money and putting items out there to be recycled by others. It takes a bit of work, but if you know what you're doing, you can make a tidy profit.  Hosting a garage sale is easy.  There is a lot of free adversiting available in local newspapers and Craigslist, or Freecycle.  Putting clear, bright and well-written signs out in strategic places also helps.  Make sure to get enough change (I start with $50 in change in a cash box, small bills and coins), so you don't have to continually leave the sale in someone's care to go to the bank or nearest grocery store to get more.   Label things clearly with price, but be flexible.  Also, make your sale easy to navigate and tidily set up.  Borrow folding tables, like card tables, and hang more valuable items of clothing.   Try not to make your buyers work too hard or dig through piles.  At my last garage sale, I netted a $200 profit in 4 hours. That's $50/hr (more than I make at my full time job!)

Monday, July 21, 2008

An Odyssey - Or It's Damned Hard Without A Car!

The US is designed to be traversed by car. From the smallest cow-towns to even the largest cities, most are spread out as to be almost impossible to navigate without a privately owned vehicle of some kind. (Noted exceptions being New York and Chicago.)

My city is like this. A typical college town, any buses provided navigate the city/college center and are primarily for use by college students. The rest of us use private vehicles to get to work and run errands.

I would have never really thought of this, until I decided to green my life. In some ways (gas prices) it was forced on me, but maybe that's what it will take for the majority of Americans to change their habits, their urban planning and their mindsets.

Recently, my car started acting up in a big way. I had been exploring 'greener' options for some time (bus routes, bikes, more fuel efficient cars), but suddenly this was upon me and I had to act fast.

Problem was, there was little to no action to be taken.

Buses did not run from where I live to where I needed to work. I could bike it, it's only 10 miles each way, but what to do with a 10 year old? The highway we live off of isn't geared towards cyclists of any kind; it is solely the province of motor vehicle drivers. I finally landed upon the idea of carpooling.

So, I put up a notice in the main center of my mobile home park, but got few takers. It's still up, so we'll see what happens.

I called the local 'Florida Works' office, and they directed me towards the GreenRide site. I've registered there and also at this place, so we'll see what turns up.

I'm trying to put as few miles on my vehicle as possible until some resolution about the car can be made.

As for buses, I'm a rather disappointed there. Due to budgetary constraints, the city has cut routes and frequency of buses, and increased fares. Which stinks, because as a City employee I can ride buses for free. Unless I want to move into town and rent an apartment again, buses are out for me.

I blogged about it here: I Would Like To Ride The Bus.

Right now we're not investing enough into mass transit, light rail or bus systems. The old mindset still holds true; we cut valuable programs that we should be shoring up in the long run, and we seem still unable to prioritize.

It's a bit frustrating, really.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Green Philosophy

1. Ask yourself to buy new last. That's right. Search thrift stores, consignment shops, garage sales, flea markets and places like E-bay or bookmooch for items that are gently used but serviceable. Not only does it keep the price down, and sometimes you can even barter stuff like on Freecycle, but they don't have to keep making more to keep up with the demand. Maybe even borrow the item from a friend?

2. Ask yourself: Do I really need this? Probably the toughest question of all in a corporate-driven, consumerist culture, but nevertheless an important one. Will something else suffice? If so, use that. Save your pennies and the need to eventually toss it into a landfill.

3. Ask yourself: How much will it cost to maintain it? Are there plastic parts that might break, forcing you to discard them into a landfill? How was the item made? Does it require regular upkeep? All of these things involve time, resources and energy. (I would like to see a sharp move away from the predominance of plastic items, like vacuum cleaners and the like. Metal one work better, longer, and are easier on the environment.)

4. Ask yourself: Does this have more than one use in it? Can it be recycled at all? Styrofoam egg cartons and drink cups, etc. Plastic bags. If you can it's best to get things that have a second or third life that can be attached. I buy plants that are decorative only occasionally; most of my plants actually are either medicinal or culinary.

5. Ask yourself to go natural wherever possible. Cotton, linen, glass, ceramics, wood. These items break down, in the long run. If you can't recycle it, can you return it to the Earth with minimal damage? Low impact products are the key. Can you use salt to scrub a pan instead of a plastic scrubber or 'disposable' steel wool?

So, there you have it. My green philosophy.


And in strangely good news:

India's Temples Go Green.

It's not surprising that religious groups are in the vanguard of India's green movement: India is the birthplace of four of the world's largest religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, all of which revere nature and preach conservation. But the country's environmental practice hasn't always matched that preaching, leaving its air and water woefully polluted. According to the World Bank, emissions increased 57% in the decade following the India's economic liberalization.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Green Tea, Black Coffee And A Sweet Tooth

Good morning, all! On this Monday morning, after a 3-day weekend here in the States, I poured myself a cup of strong, dark coffee and savored it. I love the smell and taste of coffee, and recently felt vindicated after reading an article this weekend by Dr. Andrew Weil in Time Magazine about the benefits of coffee vs. the benefits of green tea.

Newer research indicates that coffee's health benefits are now being brought to light:

Coffee is more complicated. It has received both gold stars and black marks in the medical literature. It too contains antioxidants, although they are less well studied than tea polyphenols. Evidence for the health benefits of coffee is growing, however. In the August issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, for example, a group of investigators from Finland, Italy and the Netherlands report that coffee seems to protect against age-related cognitive decline. The scientists studied 676 healthy men born from 1900 to 1920 and followed them for 10 years, using standardized measures of cognitive function. Their conclusion: the men who consumed coffee had significantly less cognitive impairment than those who didn't. Three cups a day seemed to provide maximum protection.

As a coffee drinker, I think that's excellent. But, what about green tea? We hear all the time about it, and Dr. Weil is an advocate:

That's why I was so interested in a report last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A team of Japanese researchers was able to link green-tea consumption with decreased mortality from all causes--including cardiovascular disease. The researchers tracked 40,530 healthy adults ages 40 to 79 in a region of northeastern Japan where most people drink green tea, following them for up to 11 years. Those who drank five or more cups of green tea a day had significantly lower mortality rates than those who drank less than one cup a day. There were also fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease.

But no such association was seen with deaths from cancer. Nor was consumption of oolong or black tea correlated with any decrease in mortality. Those teas are more oxidized in processing, which not only darkens the color of the leaves and changes their flavor but also reduces their polyphenol content.

Yet, this article clearly states the benefit of green tea on the heart.

Led by Dr. Nikolaos Alexopoulos of Athens Medical School in Greece, the researchers found that among 14 subjects, those who drank green tea showed greater dilation of their heart arteries on ultrasound 30 min. later than those drinking either diluted caffeine or hot water. That's because, the scientists speculate, green tea works on the lining of blood vessels, helping cells there to secrete the substances needed to relax the vessels and allow blood to flow more freely. It's the flavonoids in the tea, which work as antioxidants and help prevent inflammation in body tissue, that keep the vessels pliable. These substances may also protect against the formation of clots, which are the primary cause of heart attacks. "We found very promptly [that] after drinking green tea, there was a protective effect on the endothelium," says Dr. Charalambos Vlachopoulos, a cardiologist and one of the authors of the study.

My only problem? I'm not a big fan of tea, in general. I do come from a tea-drinking family, after all, but it's never really been my thing. I've experimented from time to time with honey in green tea, to make it tolerable. But that's all it is - tolerable. I'm open to suggestions for making it more palatable.


Studies like these can be confusing, though. How much stock should we put in them? After all, it wasn't too long ago that studies came out showing that coffee was bad for you. I ignored them; after all, I like coffee and I had no intention of giving it up. I did moderate my consumption more, but now it seems that may have been a bit unnecessary in light of recent developments. But these tidbits about diet and food have become an obsession in first world countries. Whether it's because the population is aging, or just we're more aware, I don't know.

I suspect we'd all like to stave off illness and aging as long as possible, but is diet primary culprit? Many people think so.


The last link is for people, like myself, who fall victim to 'demon sugar' from time to time. Take heart, as it may be genetic.

Researchers have found that people with a common variant of a gene that helps the body handle sugar are more likely to crave foods like soda and cake. Sucrose, fructose and glucose — if it is sugar, they like it.

Writing in the online edition of Physiological Genomics, researchers from the University of Toronto say the gene, glucose transporter type 2, helps the brain regulate the intake of food.

This isn't a blanket pass on sugar consumption, which should be moderate, but rather as an example of why not to beat yourself up too badly if you 'fall off the wagon.'

I've been experimenting with consuming primarily fruit sugars, and I must say as long as I get adequate fruit during the day, I tend to crave sweets less at night

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Where I came from, where I am now, and where I am going...

Hi, This is an introductory post. I wanted to update myself and any newcomers on what I've achieved so far on my own.

With costs of fuel and food rising, it had become clear to me that the lifestyle my daughter and I were leading was not only increasingly expensive and wasteful, but also something that we were not going to be able to sustain indefinitely.

We came, just a few years ago, from extensive poverty. I am a single parent of limited means, whose paycheck is the only money we have. I've managed to do well enough so far to put us just slightly above working-class. I purchase a small home this year; nothing fancy, it's a mobile home on a lot. But, it's mine. It also affords me a place to garden and compost, and it has a pool, tennis court and a pond. That's important because a lot of our recreational activities take place close to home in our new lifestyle.

The other thing that was bugging me was quality of life. Both my daughter and I have been struggling with weight; mine as a result of quitting smoking 4 years ago and hers because her diet was overloaded with high fructose corn syrup and convenience foods (which I am convinced are from the devil! lol).

It was hard to decide to voluntary increase our food budget, and decrease our expense elsewhere, but I began to think differently about it as time went on. It is an investment in ourselves, in our health, and that was something that seemed more valuable to me than the temporary enjoyment of a few french fries. With health care expenses rising, it makes more sense to do this now to pay less in the long run.

Once we moved out of our bad neighborhood, and into the new place, I figured I'd make some needed changes. I received a couple of bikes secondhand that were in good shape, and I taught my daughter to ride hers in a single afternoon. We began to make more regular use of tennis courts and the pool. I planted a garden. I bought more things secondhand, primarily books and household items. I bought a book on learning to become a tightwad, another on composting. I received a free wire compost bin from the city solid waste department and set that up. We've given up 90% of the meat in our diet; only seafood and the occasional piece of chicken remain. And I instituted a pretty rigorous home recycling program.

But that's not enough, is it? And that's the great thing about this lifestyle; it's a constant challenge. I recently decided to give up plastic containers in favor of glass ones, for health reasons. We no longer use paper goods of any kind, except toilet paper. I've give up paper napkins, paper towels, disposable plates. We have changed my daughter's aftercare program to one much nearer to the house and it cut my commute and my fuel bill in half.

Yet, the challenges and temptatiosn are constant. There is still much debate over these practices and if they do any good at all. I will attempt to explore that here. I may or may not get the answers I seek, and if I do they may not be the answers I want. However, this is an attempt at thinking differently. Learning to live in a new way is never easy, but I figure if I quit smoking, I can handle this, right? Right?!