31 December 2008

On the eve of the new year... a Reality Check

Does the fact that you turn off your light for an extra ten minutes really make that much difference?

Overall, no. We’re not going to lie to you and say that the 10 kWh you saved are really going to prevent global warming. They are, however, going to get you and those who will see what you do and follow your example in the right mindset, and that is that we need to start taking responsibility for our actions. That’s right, I’m about to be perfectly honest with you:

If we aren’t going to have a huge collapse, whether economic or ecologically or otherwise, we (as humans) can not go on living the way we have been, as if there are no consequences to our lifestyle and complete disregard for the balance in which every other living creature manages to function. If you use more resources than are required to support your population, you die. Period. No way around this one, no easy technological fix that is going to let us replace petroleum with solar panels (which are, by the way, made from petroleum), we simply can’t go on the way we are now if we want the human species to survive. It’s a simple matter of biological feedback. It doesn’t take a scientist to see we’re not only shooting ourselves in the foot, but we’re steadily drawing the barrel up to our figurative head.

This does not mean we are all bad people. This is what all those “Green Thoughts” are about. We are in fact an “invasive” species. But here’s where we differ from phragmites: we can make the conscious choice to get back in balance. We have the ability to realize we are on a one way path down catastrophe street, and that the answer isn’t so much as to turn the car around but to get out of the car and walk away. Time to find a new mode of transportation. Time to find a new street.

And here’s where I’m hopeful. Humans are innovative. We are immensely creative, when we aren’t fettered by our fears and the blindness induced by our culture. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, after all. Humans actually lived for millions of years without upsetting the natural balance- and if any particular group of people happened to do so, they died out. Pretty simple arrangement. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, I’m referring to the people we frequently call aborigines, or tribal peoples. Where they are still to be found, and by that I mean still found living the way they’ve always lived without interference from our culture, they manage to do the same thing that elephants and birds and fish have done all along: live without upsetting the balance that not only allows other species to continue to survive, but assures their own continued existence.
But we can’t live like that! We can’t live like elephants and birds and “primitives”!
Ok, fine. See you in the afterlife.

Living like elephants and birds does not mean we have to go back to living in the woods. For one, this is completely impractical. There isn’t enough space on the planet for nearly 7 billion people to go back to living in the woods. What we do need to do, instead, is figure out how to live without using more resources than our landbase can support. That means no more fossil fuels, for one. But it also means that everything we do, and I mean everything, needs to be examined from the perspective of its long term consequences not only on us (humans), but on our landbase and on the other species that live there. If we want to ensure our continued survival, we need to consider our actions in terms of not their economic viability or their efficiency (short term consequences) but of their ability to help us sustain human life for as long as possible (presuming this is the goal). To preserve human life, you need a planet to live on. Simple as that.

So let’s return to turning off the lights. I’m not asking you to stop having lights. I’m typing on a computer, clearly I am not running around in the wilderness without any electricity, nor am I suggesting you do so. I am, however, asking that you think what having a light bulb means. For a light bulb to exist, there must be a source of electricity to power it. This can come from any number of places, but aside from nuclear, solar, hydroelectric and wind, they more or less come from burning things to make steam which then powers lots of little machine bits and makes electricity. These things are not necessarily bad, unless you’re burning things that you don’t have an infinite, renewable supply of, like petrol. They also have the nasty side effect of filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, and we all know what that means. The effects of hydroelectric power- meaning damming rivers- we all should know is bad for the environment. The fate of salmon should be enough to remind us that dams kill rivers, and everything that relies on those rivers, including, eventually, humans. As for solar and wind- well, you have to build solar panels and wind turbines out of something, and usually those things are mined and manufactured using, you guessed it, petroleum. Not an elegant solution. And anyone who argues nuclear power is a solution to the problem isn’t thinking in the long term, or is ignoring the fact that we can’t live on a planet filled with leftover nuclear waste.

The light bulb itself isn’t much better. It had to be manufactured, with more stuff mined up from the ground, not to mention the energy required to convert raw materials into a light bulb, and then it had to be packaged, shipped, sent to a store (this is also not mentioning the resources required to build the manufacturing plant, and the equipment inside, and the equipment used to mine the materials in the first place, and the materials and energy that went into building the vehicles used for transporting raw materials and equipment and finished light bulbs), and finally, eventually, taken home to be put in your lamp (which went through a similar process). And this is STILL leaving an enormous number of steps out of the process. You have a house to put the light bulb in, presumably.

So when you turn out the light for ten minutes, does it make that much difference? Not compared to the process required for there to be a light for you to turn on in the first place. Does this mean you should just give up, and not care? No. It means every single one of us needs to rethink how we (as a species) are living, and whether this whole mess we call civilization is really working out for us in the long run. If, after looking around for a bit, you conclude, as I have, that its time to get out of the car and make a run for it, you will begin to think about things a little differently. It doesn’t mean you won’t turn out the lights when you leave the room- because no matter what, there’s no reason not to live responsibly- it just means you’ll see the bigger picture. You turning off your lights will not make so much of a difference as light bulb manufacturers coming up with a light bulb without so many unpleasant consequences for ourselves and the environment. And no, I’m not talking about CFLs.

On campus, this means turning out your light will not make so much difference as the college itself switching to a better source of power- and let’s pause to define better as one with fewer long term consequences for ourselves and our planet- and beginning to think about our practices in the long term. Individual actions DO make a difference, because all the so-called green power in the world will not make up for millions of people acting irresponsibly with their light switches- but we also have to see the bigger picture, and know that individual actions are not going to save the world unless we also make some changes to the heavy hitters. For example, residential water usage accounts for only about 13% of the total U.S. water use- the other 87% comes from agriculture and industry. Your shorter shower may save a few hundred gallons over the course of the year, but if we aren’t also working to reduce the amount of water used by industries, we’re missing the bigger picture.

It’s not impossible. We invented the light bulb, didn’t we? I have every faith possible that we are more than capable of uninventing it as well.


30 December 2008

Deep Green Thoughts, Pt IV

So, we had last established that humans are just as much a part of biological diversity as any other species. What does that mean in terms of the way we live?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize we have been squashing diversity for several hundred years now, if not longer. Take a look around the Eastern Shore. Massive plantings of corn do not lend themselves to much diversity- especially when other species are ruthlessly eradicated by means of herbicides. If you travel the country, you will find more of the same. Corn, corn, and more corn. At least half the food in the grocery store is corn based, if not more. We rely on it for everything. Now imagine for a moment a disease sprung up that targeted corn, and it all died. Uh oh. We’d be in big trouble.

This is the benefit of people all living in different ways. If some people depended on corn for their major food source, and some other people depended on potatoes, and a corn disease came along, not all the people would die out. The potato people might be able to help them out, or a new group of people would spring up in their place.

Now we’re back around to the question of what we do about all this. And the answer, at least in my humble opinion, is that there’s no one single answer. This is what I always tell other vegetarians when they come up with the idea that everyone in the country should go vegetarian. Clearly that wouldn’t work out any better than everyone in the country thriving off corn-fed beef. It would certainly help with the massive environmental damage caused by industrial cattle operations, as well as the numerous other concerns attached to factory farmed beef (this is such a well covered subject that I don’t feel the need to elaborate here). But if everyone went vegetarian- well, problem number one would be the dependency of most vegetarians on soy, which isn’t all that much better a crop than corn when grown in mass quantities- especially when grown as a monoculture. Same goes for most of the vegetables: massive fields of nothing but spinach aren’t going to solve the problem of needing to maintain biological diversity in order to survive.

By the same measure, there’s no silver bullet to the energy crisis. If everyone in the country installs solar panels, then yes, we will use less petroleum (ignoring the fact that solar panels, of course, require petroleum in their manufacture). But first, if we all started using solar panels the demand for the resources involved in the manufacture of solar panels would increase astronomically- threatening, I have no doubt, another slew of limited natural resources already taxed by our current means of energy production. Second, not every location makes sense for solar panels. Some places receive less sunlight (obviously). The same logic applies to windmills and biofuels and all the other “alternatives” they’ve come up with for energy production.

But there’s no one, single answer. Native Americans on the Eastern Shore of Maryland ate deer (among numerous other things). Native Americans in say, Arizona, did not eat deer. Because there were none. This may seem blatantly obvious, but then fast forward to modern America. People on the Eastern Shore eat beef. People in Arizona eat beef. They in fact eat the exact same type of beef, possibly from the same location, most likely distributed by the same corporation. When approached from the angle of biological diversity- and by extension, our own survival- does this make the faintest amount of sense? Keep in mind the possibility of a corn disease- and what happens when an area inhabited entirely by phragmites is suddenly deprived of sufficient nitrogen.

The pieces, if my narrative skills are at all functional, should at least be starting to form some semblance of a picture at this point. But let’s keep forging ahead, and see if we can’t make some sense out of the puzzle.

…to be continued.


26 December 2008


Two clarifications in reference to the rather lengthy series of blogs under the title “Deep Green Thoughts.” One, when I say the planet can save itself, I mean the entire planet. Not life as we know it on the planet. If we fill the atmosphere with so much carbon that it kills off all life on the planet, the planet will still exist. If even some life remains, it will find a way to recuperate. An asteroid killed off all the dinosaurs and dramatically changed the climate, and life went on. The planet will be fine. We, however, require a certain climate to survive, and a certain set of conditions- temperatures that allow us to grow food, for example. Most of the other species on the planet share these needs for survival, so by saving the planet in a manner that allows us to survive, we are also saving it for the vast quantity of other species that depend on this particular type of climate to thrive.

Second, you will never, ever, hear me say humans are more important than the other species on the planet. I have never once in my life believed this. If this was in any way implied by my argument that it’s ok to save the planet so we can continue to live, it was unintentional. I believe all living creatures have a right to continue living. I also believe all living creatures will by nature compete, and some will live and some will die and that’s just how it is. The thrust of this argument, however, is not whether it’s right or wrong to deprive millions of other species the right to live, but whether it’s right or wrong for us to stay on a path that has us barreling headlong into our own destruction.

I don’t personally think it’s right to drive other species to extinction for our own gain. But more importantly, and this is where value loses meaning, I think it’s incredibly blind of us to drive other species to extinction. Take sharks, for example. Shark populations are plummeting, mostly due to over fishing. Considering most of them are slaughtered for their fins and thrown back in the water, this is a complete waste. But not only is it wrong because sharks have the right to live- but because if all the sharks die, we have taken out the top predator in the ocean. Which means all the fish that would have been eaten by sharks will breed out of proportion, and they in turn will devour their favorite foods, all the way down the chain to plankton, out of proportion. And do you know what happens if all the plankton in the ocean are devoured? They stop producing oxygen. And do you know where the vast majority of the oxygen we depend on to survive comes from? The ocean. So, from a human perspective, and we are human, it may be wrong to kill off all the sharks in the ocean- but more importantly, it’s incredibly stupid to do so.

We are all connected, and not just in the cosmic, spiritual sense, which is up for debate- but in very, very tangible and scientifically provable ways. Ignoring those questions just may cost us our survival.


24 December 2008

Deep Green Thoughts, Pt III

At the conclusion of the last segment, we had just established that saving the earth so humans can still live on it is in fact ok. We have also, if you missed it, established that we (humans) are not the enemy (and neither are phragmites). So it’s no use taking the extreme approach of laying the blame on the species as a whole. We are subject to the same laws as every other species on the planet, and that leaves us with a choice: a) keep going the way we’re going, and allow the species to die out in some form of massive catastrophe as our resources run out, or b) change our ways. There’s no particular ethical value to one choice or another, unless, of course, you place value on the preservation of the human species (I do).

So where do we even start, if we want to save our species? Well, it would make sense to start with the root of our ability to survive. What do we need that we absolutely must have not to die out? I’ll give you a minute to think about it.

Ok, if you said food, you’re close. But there’s something we need in order to even procure food. Have you guessed it yet? Air and water. And not just air and water- but clean air and clean water. Without air- well, we’d be dead, and without water, we’d have no means of growing food or catching food or whatever method you choose. I leave it up to you to come up with anything more basic that isn’t elemental (or just plain silly, like gravity. Obviously we rely on gravity not to fall off the planet. This is a given).

So presuming we need these two things to survive, and in a usable state, ie clean (because air laden with cancer causing chemicals doesn’t do much for the survival aspect), we can finally get into the ethics. Presuming again that our cause is to keep the human species going, in some form (and really, who could blame us?), something that is essential to our survival would fall under the “good” category- while the opposite would apply to something destined to kill us off. I realize, really I do, that this is absurdly simplified. But I’m writing a blog, not a treatise, so please forgive.

Step two. If clean air is good, and polluted air is bad, does that mean the act of polluting the air is bad? A-ha. Now we’re getting somewhere. But here’s where the grayscale comes in. Technically, you could argue that breathing pollutes the air. Carbon dioxide, in mass quantity, clearly causes us some problems on the survival front. By the same reasoning, most means of food production, staying warm, and moving about also cause ‘pollution’ of some degree. It seems we need at least one more piece before we can go further.

Let’s look for a moment at how others have gotten around this problem. Eastern Shore Native Americans burned fields when they started to become forest. Fairly often, actually. If you’ve ever seen a burning field, it gives off an enormous amount of what could be called pollution- ash and carbon dioxide and so on. They did this to maintain open grasslands to attract big game, for hunting. Incidentally they also encouraged biodiversity and caused hundreds of species to flourish that would have died out otherwise, but that was not their goal. And, even more amazingly, they didn’t cause global warming with these huge burns. Hmmm.

Where’s the difference between this and say, slash and burn in South America? Scale. The Eastern Shore Native Americans were burning fields, but to my knowledge, the Western Shore were not. By the same measure, if one group of people built a small coal burning power plant to create electricity, the air would more or less still be ok. But when an entire planetful of people do the same thing- aha. We have found our problem.

Let’s return momentarily to our friends the phragmites. If, under normal circumstances, there was a sudden influx of nitrogren, the phragmites would flourish. If the nitrogen then disappears, they die back. But this is presuming there are only phragmites in the area. Say there are also other water based plants- and some of these absorb nutrients that might kill the phragmites, and some of the others in fact fix nitrogen in the ground for phragmites to absorb- well, that will increase the phragmites chances of survival, and maintain the integrity of the wetland as a whole (rather than leaving it as an empty waste if all the phragmites die).

Do you see where I’m going? If one group of humans decides to clear cut to grow crops, while the one across the way decides to encourage the growth of forest to provide a lot of game, then it balances out, and you don’t end up with massive, endless clear cuts. In addition, if the group who clear cuts suddenly runs out of food and dies out, the group across the way can fill in the area and the overall integrity of the ecosystem as a whole is maintained.

We have, if you’ve been paying attention, just established one of the main principles of ecosystems: biological diversity. The important feature is that it doesn’t apply just to wetlands. We (humans) are a part of it too.

…to be continued.


22 December 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

An intriguing article: Click here.

Waste is a unique concept.

It really only came into use within the last century. Prior to that point, everything that wasn’t used more or less decomposed. Except, you know, pottery. And rocks and things.

But things are no longer so balanced. Even when we produce biodegradable materials, we produce them in such quantity that they can’t possibly be reabsorbed into the natural ecosystem. Take the so-called biodegradable plastics they’re producing now. Mostly they just break down into really tiny pieces, which is not actually biodegrading so much as- well, as getting really small. But all those tiny, tiny bits of plastic are still there- and what’s worse, they get eaten by tiny little creatures and then passed along up the food chain. Even to you.

Don’t believe me? Take mercury, for example. Mercury is a great example of why I get really irritated when people start the natural vs. artificial argument. “But mercury is natural!” they say. Yes, well, mercury is naturally occurring in the ground. It is not natural for it to be dragged up to the surface in massive quantity and pumped back out into the air. Yes, a stubborn person (and I know many) could even argue plastics are natural- they’re made out of petroleum, which is technically a natural substance. But plastics do not spontaneously occur in nature, we rearrange the molecules of petroleum to produce them. Therefore they are not natural, by dint of their rearranged chemical structure.

At any rate, mercury, in the small quantities that it exists in nature, is fine and dandy and does its thing. But when released in large quantities into the air- mostly from industrial sources- it falls back down to the earth in rain, where it flows into rivers and streams and eventually the ocean, and is absorbed by the plants in the water, which are in turn eaten by fish and other organisms, which are eaten by bigger fish, which are eaten by us. And on each step upward the quantity of mercury increases- because a big fish eats a lot of little fish, all of them contaminated. So when we eat a big fish- well, it's why you get those mercury warnings on seafood.

Plastic, at least for me, is even more horrifying. The numbers of how much plastic is currently in the environment are unbelievable. In the last fifty years humans have produced something on par with 1 billion tons. And it will never, ever, go away. At least not in any amount of time we can comprehend. And all of that will slowly move up the food chain, into our bodies, and remain there after we die. Pleasant thought.

So now we have all this waste, and nothing to do with it except wait for it to overcome us. But we (humans) are perpetrators of this mess we’re in (literally). We could stop producing plastic at any time. Oh, I realize this thought sounds horrifying to most people, and the typical response I get is a very mature, “Not-uh!” But we started making it, didn’t we? What’s keeping us from stopping?

Or we could keep going, and wait for the day when our own mountain of waste comes crushing down on top of us.


19 December 2008

Pick Ups and Palm Fronds

I spent three years living in Georgia (hence the name) and I must say, it changed me. Going in, I was young, naïve, fresh out of high school, and convinced that better emissions standards and universal recycling were the solution to the world’s environmental problems.

Boy was I wrong.

Savannah, where I lived, is occasionally called the “Little Easy”, the smaller, quainter version of New Orleans. Take everything you know about New Orleans and distill it (and take away most of the jazz and the Girls Gone Wild and insert Paula Dean) and you’ll end up with Savannah. There are still arguable differences (not much French spoken in Savannah) but the underlying concept remains. Centralized, historic downtown, built on a filled in swamp that doesn’t like to stay down. Sprawling, more or less modern suburbs that back up against an often disturbing industrial presence- in this case, dominated by the paper mills. And widespread, in your face poverty, typically divided on racial lines.

If you drive into Savannah the back way- not on 95- you will witness a startling introduction to what is otherwise a charming, slow, beautifully restored historic town. Row after row of government built housing, most of it in shambles, crumbling schools, abandoned vehicles, empty storefronts and lots everywhere you look- it still maintains a certain beauty, as does all of Georgia, but there’s no denying something is deeply wrong.

A few facts: “In the 2000 census, the rate [of poverty] was 22 percent for the city overall and significantly higher in five census tracts… Nearly 35 percent of the city’s households earn less than $20,000 per year.” (http://www.stepupsavannah.org/) The current federal poverty line, in other words the amount the federal government deems sufficient for a family to survive, “out of poverty,” is $21,200 per year for a family of four.

Imagine, for a moment, a place where over a third of the population lives in poverty. Possibly you have had this experience in your life, and possibly it changed you the way it changed me. It took a little while to sink in, and my constant volunteering exposed me to it more directly than the majority of the students who lived ensconced in the historic district.

There was one moment, early on, that set the wheels turning. I was with some friends, and was complaining that Georgia does not have emissions testing. In Maryland, where I am from, you must have your car tested every few years to determine if your emissions exceed the quantity set by the state government. If you fail to comply, you must have your car repaired to meet the standards, or you can’t drive. None of this exists in Georgia. After watching a particularly run down pick up drive down the road, spewing fumes, I asked how this could be- especially with so many trucks on the road clearly in need of repair. One of my friends, herself from Georgia, replied: “They can’t afford it.”

This didn’t make immediate sense. But then I thought about it- of course, if you fail an emissions test in Maryland, you are required to take your vehicle to be repaired. But the majority of people in Georgia who were likely to fail an emissions test wouldn’t be able to afford repairs. The poverty level is astronomical. The state, obviously, wasn’t willing to mandate a law that would take at least a quarter of their drivers off the road.

It was then I realized there are more immediate issues in the world than better emissions standards.


18 December 2008

The Anti-Gift List

I think this person and I would really get along. Here it is, the Anti-Gift list. The one thing I disagree on, is that he mentions gift cards, and how they are made of plastic that ends up in the landfill. This is mostly true. Especially when they are for useless, overpriced places I would never set foot in otherwise. Unless you get one for amazon.com or something, which is virtual! And sends wonderful books to your doorstep. I also look forward to two of my favorite gift cards every year: one to my massage therapist and one to my favorite restaurant- two things I would do anyway, but love even better when someone else pays.

The Anti-Gift List: 15 Things Everyone Gets and No One Needs

Also, I'd personally like to receive any of the items on this page for Christmas.


16 December 2008

Deep Green Thoughts, Pt II

Months ago I wrote a blog about environmental ethics… and I’m finally picking up where I left off. We ended by noting that we are not in fact saving the planet, but saving the planet in a state where we can still live on it. It’s important to have your goals defined when you start in on questions like, how should we live?

I should probably state my assumption that our current state of living is a mess. I don’t just mean the energy crisis, I mean anything and everything which contributes to the destruction of the environment, and I include in that the destruction of communities, families, and personal well-being. I will save how those tie in for another blog. But let’s take a moment and see how we got here. Long, long ago, everyone lived differently. People lived in tribal societies, and each one had their own way of living. Some were nomadic and relied completely on hunting and gathering. Some farmed. Some did both. All of them had to live in a relative state of equilibrium with their environment (by which I mean their surroundings). Otherwise, they would have died back, the same way any animal species will die back if it uses up all the resources in a particular area.

And then some groups of humans figured out that if you put in hours upon hours of extra effort, you could grow more food from the ground than you actually needed to feed your tribe. This, in effect, meant members of your tribe could travel at will, without having to stop and hunt, because they could take food with them. This was a revolutionary concept, because it led to, you guessed it, the ability to form armies. Which led to the necessity to build fortifications, which led to the creation of cities, which led- well, you get the point. We called this the agricultural revolution.

Fast forward several thousands years. We have expanded our population to such quantities, and concentrated them in such small areas, that there is in fact no alternative except intensive, industrial (or, to be PC, conventional) agriculture. We could not survive with this many people without mass production. Only, we have a problem in that there are more people on the planet than there are resources, especially since in our system of mass production we forgot to include the key concepts of any functioning ecosystem: not using resources faster than they can be replenished, giving back as much as you take, and not killing off all the other species competing with you (because an area filled with one species alone is far more susceptible to disease and pests).

Now, does this make us bad people? No, I don’t think so. We’re doing the same thing any species would do given the ability to adapt as quickly as we do. And we are subject to the same laws of nature that govern every other species, ie we can use as many resources as we can get, but eventually we will run out and suffer massive die back.

But there’s a key difference between us and say, phragmites. We can make choices. We can look around and think, uh-oh, we are heading for disaster, maybe we should do something about it. And we can. But we need to realize we are not saving the planet, at large. We are saving the planet so that we can continue to survive on it.

Why does this make a difference? In many ways, it doesn’t. When you come down to it, we’re still trying to keep whales alive. But there’s a difference between trying to save the whales, and realizing that the same things that threaten whales (pollution, overfishing, global warming) are also killing us, but more slowly. It’s also a difference between some abstract, noble quest- “saving the environment”- and trying to save our own asses from certain destruction. And that makes a big, big difference when it comes to helping others to see just why we’re fighting pollution and global warming.

Does that make us selfish? No. We’re doing what any species would do- try to survive. Only somewhere, somehow, we seem to have forgotten the key piece of the puzzle that allows us to do that: living in balance with our surroundings, not just because it’s “right”, but because it would be stupid to do otherwise.

… to be continued, again.


15 December 2008


Well, isn't this intriguing. Apparently, if you use this font it saves 20% of the ink you'd normally use in printing. That's because the letters actually have tiny holes cut in them, which your eye, in one of the magic tricks of optics, fills in because they're so small.

Mostly, I think its a beautiful website.



12 December 2008

Survival Crafters

No, we’re completely serious.

You take survival skills- and by survival skills I mean actual, if civilization collapsed tomorrow I’d be able to get by survival skills, not how to get a job survival skills, because if civilization collapsed tomorrow that would get you nowhere- and you combine them with the quilting bee or knitting circle concept. Throw in some snacks, and you’ve got our group.

We (students and staff at the college) have started an informal group of people who are interested in learning more about primitive techniques for making stuff- from tools to rope to nets to dishes to food to clothes- whatever catches our interest. Relying on the knowledge of our members and whatever we can scrounge together- we are embarking on an adventure in learning how to survive the way others have for centuries (and more environmentally friendly, to boot). We'll probably spend half the time on campus and half out in the field, learning to collect and test out the things we make. A group for people who like the outdoors, extreme camping, and crafting.

And why, you say? Well, the reasons I’m sure vary- some people are just really interested in recreating Native American techniques (that would be the anthropologists of the bunch). Some people are hardcore campers and want to know how to get by if they’re stranded in the wilderness. Some people have watched too many episodes of Survivor Man.

And still others of us have taken a look around at our society and figured, hm, something’s not quite working here. You can spend a lot of time arguing the what and the why, but we’re choosing to spend our time studying how societies have worked in the past- and worked so well they’ve lasted for thousands of years, without completely destroying the environment on which they depend. They had to be doing something right. And we intend to recreate it, to the best of our modern, unskilled abilities.

If that’s not enough incentive, hanging out with a bunch of cool people, relaxing, keeping your hands busy, and eating cookies should do it for you.

We hope to see you in the new year. If you’re at the college and would like to be kept apprised of our activities, join our facebook group, Survival Crafters.


10 December 2008

Go Grinch Green This Holiday

I have to admit that I used to dread the holiday season with the same amount of trepidation I typically reserve for getting fillings, or visiting the MVA. I worked retail through high school and most of college, and the holiday season from behind the counter was one never-ending nightmare. The amount of things purchased- the quantity of paper used to wrap purchases, and the bags to cart them home, and the wrapping paper and the bows and ribbons and all the multitude of trappings that seemed to accompany the holiday turned my eco-sensitive stomach on an annual basis.

Now I flat out refuse to set foot in a store from November onward- and I’ve found this to be a much better approach to the holidays. What shopping I do I manage during the year- either from local vendors, where I find unique hand crafted items for the people on my list, or, for the more difficult giftees (my dad), I use the internet to find ecofriendly stores who ship with a minimum of packaging and donate proceeds to minimizing their carbon footprint.

But really, by and large, I don’t buy gifts at all.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute. No, I’m not a Grinch- I just know that most of my friends share my sentiment for gifts that have no particular purpose- bottles of lotion and the umpteenth scarf and who knows what else. I have more than enough STUFF, thanks. When I give gifts, I aim for things I know will be appreciated. This is why most of my friends receive cupcakes, often accompanied by a bottle of wine.

We prefer to take a more traditional approach to the Christmas season, making it more about visiting and spending time together, celebrating the season over a good bottle of wine and delicious baked goods, preferring to exchange cookies and clementines rather than objects we know none of us will use. If you think about it, this is how Christmas used to be- a celebration of the season, where people exchanged special treats of cakes and candied fruits and spirits, and all the children got a new toy to last them until the next year. Possibly immediate family members would make something special for one another, or include a small gift carefully selected for the recipient. But gift giving was not an obligation in the sense that you had to go out and buy something for every person you crossed paths with on a regular basis (and especially not for people you saw maybe once a year).

This method is not only less stressful (and in my opinion, far more enjoyable than endless hours spent stressing over what to buy the people in my life), but is much more ecofriendly. Most websites will offer holiday green tips such as reusing wrapping paper and packaging materials, but I find I don’t use them at all. There’s nothing to throw away (we recycle the wine bottles) and nothing leftover to clutter our lives except the warm memories of evenings spent laughing and eating.

It may take some doing to convince your family to go more traditional, but I find most of the people I talk to are more than willing to adopt a less materialistic attitude toward the holiday- only they are afraid their own families won’t go along with the plan. I suspect we are all wishing for a way out of the hectic, stressful, topped with a bow holiday lifestyle we seem to be stuck in- and if this holiday, we turned and reached out to one another with our hands instead of our wallets, we’d find others just as willing to accept our gifts of good cheer. There’s a lesson to be learned from How the Grinch Stole Christmas: “He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming- it came! It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags! Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before- maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store- maybe Christmas perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Remember the Grinch, after all, is green.


04 December 2008

How to Have a Green Holiday.

It is getting close to the holidays, and that time of year that is filled with good cheer, giving and snow, but it also the time where people have additional opportunities to recycle and may not be aware of them. Check out Earth 911's website that has lots of tips on how to make your holiday as green as possible.

Also, those of you that are still confused about whether to get a real or artificial Christmas tree, will want to read the National Christmas Tree Association's annual report on the pros and cons of both types of trees. So, although getting the snow needed to have a white holiday is no guarantee, we can all do our part to have a green one. However, I must admit that some snow would still be nice.


24 November 2008


Readers of this blog will have figured out by now how much I enjoy food. You also may have teased out the fact that I find eating locally and seasonally to be not only a good idea, but nearly imperative. I can no longer imagine living in a place where I cannot walk to the farmer’s market on a Saturday morning to be greated by the farmers I see every week and peruse the selection of mouth watering produce. For this reason I am constantly shocked (and somewhat appalled) to find that many, many people live in Chestertown and somehow never find the farmer’s market, and in fact spend quite a bit of time complaining about the lack of decent food in Chestertown. Really.

But this isn’t another rant about why local is better, in my rather loudly voiced opinion. I want to take a minute to reflect on why food itself is important, and how, when you stop to think about it, it is a momentous reflection of who we each are as individuals.

I, personally, am incapable of making dishes that feed fewer than 6-8. I have no idea how I developed this tendency, but it reflects my personality. I love nothing so much as feeding people, and I will force dishes on whichever of my friends are nearest (I have yet to hear a complaint). I am always making oversized lasagnas or immense pots of chili with homemade bread, or stir-fries full of crisp, fresh veggies seasoned with ginger, teriyaki and lime or curry and masala. Part of this I’m sure is that I belong to a CSA and therefore receive my veggies in bulk, and have to find creative ways to use fifteen pounds of eggplant before it goes bad. Part of it is my desire to share good food with everyone I meet.

My mother, by contrast, dislikes cooking, and as a single mother with an absurd work schedule I really don’t blame her. She loves food as much as me, but tends toward things with minimal preparation- her cabinets are full of unusual bottles of sauces and spice mixes that she picks up in her insatiable quests for new things to taste. Her favorites, however, are dips and things to dip with, and the door to the fridge is always filled with jars of mustards and salsas and tapenades, while the counter is littered with bizarre chips and flavored pretzels and wasabi crackers. If you had ever sampled my grandmother’s cooking you would understand this tendency. Growing up, my mother’s family didn’t have much money, and so ate the American staples for struggling families: pot roast and meatloaf and potatoes and unexciting, overcooked vegetables. My grandmother was actually a fairly good cook, but had a rather small repertoire.

Speaking of which. Though I prefer curry and falafel to- well, for a lack of a better word, “American” foods, the meals my grandmother prepared for us still resonate in my memory. Occasionally my sisters and I will get together and prepare our favorites, with a twist, while reminiscing about how my grandmother always had honey buns in the freezer for sleepovers and would make us popcorn while we curled up on the couch with her to listen to stories. We still make her famous fried potatoes, and though I have taken to making a simple chili to put over them, the taste still brings back nights of arguing over who would get the last potatoes, while trying to hide green beans under our napkins. For holidays, though I now do the cooking and typically feature curried squash or aloo gobi with our meals, I still make green bean casserole the way she always did, with extra worcestershire and fried onions, and mashed potatoes with extra milk and butter (no one notices when I use soy milk and margarine).

Food tells a story, it is part of who you are. What you eat says as much about you as your job or your clothes or your car- in fact, it says much more. The difference between fast food and a home cooked three course meal, between Ethiopian and Japanese, even between spaghetti sauce recipes, can reveal entire cultures, personal preferences, the entire history of an individual.

If your meals tell so much about you- and I highly recommend taking even a few minutes at your next meal to think about what it says- doesn’t it make sense to choose wisely, and make every meal one worth having? After all- we all have to eat.


21 November 2008

Running the Numbers

A very interesting artistic take on how much stuff our society uses. I'm curious as to how he figured what 2 million bottles looks like, as this was clearly done with a computer program.



20 November 2008

The Farmer’s Market (An Interlude)

Speaking of the farmer’s market, I want to take a moment to share a story that indicates why I love it so much. I won’t name names, as it's better you meet the farmers on your own- just keep in mind that I’ve worked with many of them, and see the rest every week at the market.

This past Saturday I had it in my mind to make chili- the temperature is finally right where nothing is so satisfying as a hearty bowl of chili. I was dreading breaking into my cans of tomatoes, as I only can a small number every summer (small kitchen) and hoarde them throughout the winter, but I won’t abide the suggestion of making chili with store bought tomatoes. So imagine my surprise when I came across a crate of late tomatoes at the market- beautiful, plump red tomatoes, fresh as can be. I quickly loaded up my arms with as many as I could carry and made for the “counter”- the table set up for taking money. I laughed with the proprietor over the number of tomatoes I set down, explaining my chili dilemma, at which news she immediately disappeared to find me a few unusual peppers to go with the tomatoes. She gave me one of the purple ones, a pepper the color of eggplant on the outside but green inside, with a tart, sharper taste than a regular bell, and told me it was on the house- I needed a little color in my chili. She also regularly pushes the more unusual squashes into my arms as I stock up on my usual butternut and acorn, telling me just to try it, and waving away my attempts to pay for the additional bounty. She knows if I like it I will be back to buy in quantity.

The other vendors are just as giving- if you are doubtful as to which variety of apple you like best, most likely they will hand you one of each and make you try while they stand and watch, anxious to see your reaction. Each farmer grows something a little different, something you may not have tried before- whether it’s a variety of pear or a purple tomato, or cobs of corn meant for popping- and they are all happy to explain the best way to eat it, and usually happy to let you give it a try as a “bonus” with your regular veggies.

Therefore I always walk away from the farmer’s market with a bag stuffed with more than I can eat in a week, usually for under $10, and a huge, grateful smile on my face. Nothing beats the feeling of being a part of a community, of talking to the people I know as I browse, of sharing recipes and stories with the farmers as I fill up my bag, of petting dogs and smiling at wide eyed little kids, mouths stained with blackberry juice or covered in crumbs from an apple tart- unless it is the looks on my friend’s faces when they sit back after a meal, glass of local wine in hand, laughing over a shared joke.

Here’s my chili recipe, if you’re curious. Everything came from the farmer’s market except the beans, though if anyone starts growing them I guarantee I will switch in a heartbeat. The sugar is raw, from the Natural Food store.

3-4 medium cloves garlic
1 onion (I prefer yellow)
8-ish pounds of tomatoes, skinned*
2-3 carrots
1 cup vegetable broth or water and bouillon
1 can each black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, drained
2-3 bell peppers
optional: other veggies, such as celery, green beans (cut small) or eggplant
hot peppers, to taste
spices: cumin, chili powder, oregano, coriander, salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp sugar
½ can tomato paste

In a large pot, sauté the garlic and onion in a little oil, until translucent. Add the tomatoes, carrots, broth and spices, simmer 10 or so minutes. Add the beans and additional veggies, simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed (but not all), and the veggies are tender. This is a matter of personal preference more than anything. Finally, add the hot peppers, sugar, and tomato paste, and simmer an additional 5 minutes, covered. Serve with bread and topped with cheese (I recommend Eve’s Cheese jalapeño Colby, also from the Natural Food store, and local). Depending on the quantity of tomatoes, can feed up to 6-8 people.

*If you’ve never skinned a tomato, the process is simple (and I find, very enjoyable and stress relieving). Core the tomatoes (cut out the hard bit where the stem was). Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and turn down to about medium heat, then drop in the tomatoes for about three minutes each. Transfer to a strainer (a slotted spoon helps) and let cool for several minutes. The skins should slide right off, and you can squeeze them a little (be careful not to squirt yourself in the eye) to get out the majority of the water and seeds, before mushing them and adding them to the chili, or sauce, or what have you. If done over a bowl, this leaves behind a delicious juice you can strain and drink, or pour over your garden (its full of nutrients- but also acidic, so use sparingly).


17 November 2008

Living in Ctown, Pt. 2

The other aspect of Chestertown life seems to be the startling lack of places to eat. While it may be true that there is no Indian food (a fact that constantly haunts me as I am overcome by waves of cravings for samosas and naan) or decent Asian (King Buffet really doesn’t count- though it is possible to drive to Middletown for OK sushi), it is also true that we are not in India. Or Asia. We are on the Eastern Shore, and there is plenty of quality Eastern Shore food to go around.

Unfortunately the best food is slightly out of reach for the average college student, which is why I (though no longer a student, still not rolling in disposable income) avidly look forward to visits from my parents when I can drag them out to all my favorite restaurants without footing the bill. Even if this is not an option, there are still ways to eat well in Chestertown, the most overlooked of these of course being cooking for yourself. If you want Indian or Asian (especially Thai or Chinese), these are surprisingly easy meals to prepare on a very, very small budget. I’ll post a few recipes soon enough.

In the meantime, a quick guide to the best places to eat in Chestertown. You will notice I place an emphasis on locally owned businesses, as well as those who support local farmers by serving seasonal and locally grown foods. The benefit here is that though there are very few restaurants, the menu constantly changes. It’s like a new place every time you visit.

Brooks Tavern (at Radcliffe Mill)
My all time favorite, Brooks Tavern features the previous owners of the Kennedyville Inn (my former favorite). The menu changes constantly, depending on what’s in season, which, right there, is enough to draw me in. The produce is local, the meat is mostly local, and the chef cooks according to what’s available (imagine!). I’ve never had anything I didn’t like. Though there appears to be nothing vegetarian on the menu, by simply asking you will be provided with the option of pasta or a vegetable plate, an ever changing surprise (and delight) that has forced me to try previously suspicious vegetables (such as brussel sprouts) and find, even more surprisingly, that I like them. It is, unfortunately, on the pricey side. But worth it for special occasions.

Brix (High Street)
A new restaurant featuring tapas and wines, this is another that is a little pricey but worth it for the right occasion. The portions are smaller than you would expect (even if you have had tapas before) but well worth it none the less- my mother and I made our way through three plates of veggie empanadas in one night, they were that good. There is also a wide variety of food, which, for me (a staunch vegetarian), is a rare novelty that never fails to have me bouncing in my seat with joy.

Andy’s (High Street)
You have to be 21 to enjoy Andy’s. But here you will find well priced food, a wide variety, and the thing guaranteed to make me give a restaurant five stars: a seasonal menu. Not only are there specialty drinks (if you haven’t had the spiced, spiked hot cider it is not really winter), but there are salads and wraps and quiches that change with the season. Again, local produce, local meat. Perfect place to stop in after work, sit at the bar, and chat with the locals. My personal favorite are the wraps (or the cheese fries, when it’s been a long day).

Sam’s (Cross, off High)
Now that Sam’s has FINALLY added a veggie sandwich to the menu, I will happily endorse what has long been my favorite place for smoothies, but not much else. Here is a place that is slightly more affordable for students, and the sandwiches are always fantastic (as is the tea selection). If you haven’t sat out back, especially in the summer, you’re missing out. It’s one of my favorite places in Chestertown.


07 November 2008

Two Sides to Every Story

Working in the Miller Library on campus has me riddled with two inquiries . First, why does no one seem to be using double-sided printing? Second, why is the temperature of the library controlled by another building? However, let us focus on the double sided printing dilemma.
Initially, I suspected no one would use double sided printing because they were unaware of its existence. I then took it upon myself to design advertising to promote eco-friendly printing, but much to my dismay posters to this effect were already strategically placed throughout the library. Not only were there posters in the library, students were aware of their printing options.
Trying to recover some dignity, I assumed students on a campus that emphasizes saving the environment must have a valid reason for not using double sided printing. Perhaps, the process of switching from single to double-sided printing is too complicated or time consuming. Further research led me to conclude that this process is neither complicated, nor time consuming. I managed to make the switch with about three extra steps. It took about a minute, but I am technologically challenged, and do not follow directions well.
Being absolutely beside myself I decided the students at WAC do not realize just how many trees are being destroyed due to their lack of consideration. Subsequent to a great deal of homework I discovered that there are about three thousand sheets of standard A4 paper per tree. I then set up the following statistics: there are approximately 300 seniors who all print say an average of 50 pages for their thesis, along with 100 pages in drafts and research articles etc. For those keeping score at home that amounts to 45 thousand pages, which is 15 trees; double sided printing reduces this number by half. So if every memeber of the senior class used double sided printing they alone could save eight trees. Not to mention every other student printing play scripts, power points, term papers, or other lengthy documents.
In addition, I found out that it requires 13 ounces of water to produce one sheet of paper. This is more liquid than is in a standard can of soda. Combine this with the above 45 thousand sheets of paper, and that is 585 thousand ouces of water, roughly 4, 570 gallons of water. This is enough water to fill an above-ground swimming pool that is 15 feet in circumference.
We all enjoy having unlimited free printing at the library. I myself often take advantage of it, but do everyone a favor, take the extra minute, change the print settings, save a few trees, and a great deal of water. It is not complicated, it does not hurt, and there are posters with directions for those who are computer illiterate such as myself. Also, if anyone is ambitious enough to install a thermostat in the library I would be grateful. This idea may seem far-fetched , but I think the librarians are responsible enough to regulate the temperature of the library.


03 November 2008

Take a Bite

Where's the Beef?

Finally, an article that acknowledges the fact that there’s more to global warming than planes, trains and automobiles…

Also, here’s a great blog by one of my favorite authors, Anna Lappé, daughter of Frances Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet.

Take a Bite out of Climate Change

And here's a new one: calculate the carbon impact of your food choices! This one is a lot of fun to play with.

Eat Low Carbon


31 October 2008


I've seen some pretty pathetic graffiti around campus lately. Glad that everything I've seen was done with sidewalk chalk.

I don't endorse the destruction of public property, but really, folks, if you want to make a statement, why don't you do it with style? Treehugger recently published a news report about eco-graffiti, a new trend that has hit cities like London, Amsterdam, and New York. It is, in a sense, beautifying vandalism. And it's super cool.

While spray paint contains tons of harmful chemicals, tools used for eco-graffiti are one hundred percent safe and natural. Artists culture and grow moss, cut it into letters and images, and then use a sugar-yogurt mixture to paste it onto walls. Eventually, the moss colonizes and takes over the area where it's planted. But no worries: It's still removable.

Examples of eco-graffiti can be found here.


27 October 2008

Living in Ctown

I’m more or less a Baltimore native. We lived in a suburb, however, so my friends and I spent plenty of time whining and complaining about how there was nothing to do- a common activity among teenagers. Even when I lived in Savannah, Georgia, a city similar to Chestertown but about twelve times its size with at least that many more restaurants, bars, clubs, and things to do, we used to sit out on the street on many a Friday night complaining of the lack of options.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I moved to Chestertown that I found I was never without something to do.

I know, from having been a student here myself and from the students (and staff) that I still hang out with, that many (most, all) of the people at WC have at one point or another complained about there being nothing to do. And yes, it does sometimes seem as if on a Friday night the option is, sit at home watching movies, or go out and get trashed for the 27th time this month. However, I’d like to take a minute and be an advocate of making your own fun. Not only is this more green than driving to Annapolis, Dover, Philly or DC, but at the root of sustainability (in the opinions of myself and many others) is a love for the place you ARE. When you are invested in one place, and put down roots, and I don’t even mean a specific city so much as a general area, you find that you will do anything in your power to protect it. Think about it this way: Native Americans, even when they were nomadic, were absolutely dedicated to their land, and as a consequence, were much less likely to abuse it.

Plus, its much more fun. You’d be amazed and astounded to learn how many things there are to do in Chestertown, once you get over complaining about it and running away to a “city” every weekend. When I have visitors from out of town, I find I can never fit everything I want to show them into the amount of time my visitor is staying. I still haven’t even explored all of the nooks and crannies myself. It took me years to find a place I loved, but now I’m happier than I ever have been before. This place speaks to me. And I will defend it against all comers.

So, here’s a (brief) list of the things I usually do when I have visitors:
-Walk through town at night.
I absolutely love walking through town at night. It is so, so quiet, and so mysterious and beautiful. Especially the water, with all the ducks all asleep under the dock and the bridge all lit up. The fountain is also amazing (and kind of creepy) at night.

-Walk through town during the day.
A completely different experience. If you haven’t done it, wander through College Heights, and make sure you walk down Queen Street where it becomes Byford Court. Some of my favorite houses in Chestertown are there. The bottom of Queen Street (incidentally where I live) is one of my favorite spots: the houses all have steps down to the street, and this somehow reminds me of a fairy tale. Maybe I just have an overactive imagination. Or walk down Cross Street to Wilmer Park, and make sure to check out Stepne Manor across the street (horses!).

-Sit on the porch (preferably during a thunderstorm)
This is what my friends and I do during most of our spare time. It may sound boring, but this is what I mean by making your own fun. We always have the best, rambling conversations on the porch. Or we sit and watch the stars. Have you seen the number of stars visible over Chestertown?

-Check out the farmer’s market
Open every Saturday morning from March to November, the Farmer’s Market features everything from produce to fresh bread to preserves, homemade soaps, flowers, and crafts. I make a habit of walking to the Chestertown Natural Food store on Cannon first, getting an all natural ginger ale, and drinking it while doing my shopping (and usually munching on a muffin from Sam’s or a croissant from the bread guy).

-Go to First Friday
On the first Friday of every month, the shops downtown open their doors and provide free wine, food, and usually music, all available while you browse the work of local artists. If you aren’t 21, this is slightly less exciting, if you are, I don’t think any more needs to be said than “free wine.” Make sure to hit Antiques on Cannon and the Art’s League next door. My favorite part of this experience is running into so many people I know.

-Visit any of the multitude of events that happen every week
The college campus is packed with events. There are free movies, every weekend. There are free lectures, almost every night. The Students Events Board has been going crazy bringing comedians and musicians to campus. There are musicians at Andy’s and O’Connor’s almost every weekend. The Prince has a constant run of plays, music, and other entertainment. Plus, the town goes all out every few months for a packed weekend of events- this coming weekend is Downrigging, where you will find free films, a chance to board the tall ships (including the Amistad, the one they made the movie about), and fireworks, in addition to all the Halloween related events. chestertown.com for details.

I could go on. And on. And I probably will, in a later entry, but for now, take this as a starting point. Make your own fun!


One day only e-recycling in Easton




SATURDAY, NOV. 1 - 8 am to 2 pm - EASTON, MD - Free !

A one day collection of old fuels, solvents, lawn & garden pesticides, oil-based painting products and many more items, including Mercury Thermometers.

A Recycling event for electronics such as computers, computer peripherals, TV's and many other electronic items.

Directions to 7341 Barkers Landing Road, Easton, MD (Yellow Signs will be posted):

From Route 50,
East on Rt.331 (Dover Road),
Right onto Dover Neck Road,
Left onto Barkers Landing Road,
Left into Landfill
Follow directional signs and instructions to the drop-off area.


23 October 2008

May the Thrift Gods Smile Upon You

On occasion, the thrift store gods smile down upon us, reminding us of their presence more than ever.

I should back up a little. My family has long been devoted to finding things in the most “thrifty” way possible- my mom and my uncle used to take me and my cousins out behind the strip malls dumpster diving for thrown away crafts supplies, picture frames, even cameras and film- anything we could find, really. We always make whatever we can ourselves, shunning the prospect of spending money on something unnecessarily. From my grandmother I also inherited the tendency to save everything compulsively, in case I might be able to use it later, resulting in the absurd number of boxes of bits and pieces, as I call them, filling my apartment workroom.

So when I found the perfect pair of shoes seven years ago I did not want to get rid of them. I am not one of those girls that really obsesses over shoes. I want a pair that I can beat to death, because I walk everywhere, and that matches the majority of my clothing so I don’t have to alternate shoes every day just so I match. I will admit an addiction to vintage heels, but when it comes to the shoes I wear on a daily basis I want one, maybe two options. This particular pair turned out to be so comfortable, and matched so much of my clothing, that I wore them every day until literally the bottom started falling out this past winter. The strap also came apart, and I fixed it back on with safety pins. I tried fixing the bottom of the shoe, with duct tape, with those plastic shoe things, with anything I could think of, but to no avail. I had to stop wearing the shoes on rainy days for fear of getting my toes wet.

This may all seem absurd to most people, who would say I should just go out and buy a new pair of shoes. And I did look for new ones, across two countries. I hate shopping in regular stores, but I suffered for the sake of finding shoes at least vaguely similar to mine. I even checked eBay. Alas. After months of searching, I finally gave up, resigned to only wear the shoes on sunny days. I considered having them fixed professionally, but considering the shoes originally cost me $10 at Payless I figured the shoe repair people would probably laugh at me for bringing them in.

And then- this past weekend- while scouring Goodwills for clothing for the upcoming MPC Photography Marathon (this Friday)- I happened to glance at the top of a rack, where Goodwill keeps the shoes, and what do I see, but my exact pair of shoes, except magically returned to their original condition, shining and in one piece. In my size.

I really couldn’t believe my luck. I hadn’t ever expected to find the shoes, ever again. The thrift store gods always provide, however. Just not always when you expect it.

My cousins and I have discovered this superstition, and liken it to the gods of prehistoric hunter-gatherer tribes. If you really need something, really need it, not just want it for some superficial reason, the gods will provide. You may have to patiently search, you may have to go a little out of your way, but with an open mind and the right attitude eventually everything you need will come your way- be it a new pair of shoes, the shelf you needed for those extra boxes of books, or even food. There is so much abundance in the world, that you will find when you aren’t trying to force it- when you aren’t demanding everything, right now, the way our society seems to encourage- the right things will eventually find you.

Advice we can apply to the rest of our lives as well. When it comes to the environment, things tend to work on their own, without intervention- the planet has had millennia to experiment and get things just right. If we’re willing to work within that system, and maybe accept that having oranges in a climate like Maryland’s in winter maybe just doesn’t make sense (and value them in summer all the more), the land will provide. The only rules: don’t take more than you need, and give back more than you take. I always make sure to donate two or three things to a thrift store for every item I find.

If you want to try your own luck with the thrift store gods, you can get started right here in Chestertown with our three lovely thrift stores:

Hidden Treasures
711 Washington Avenue
Phone: (410) 778-1219
Web: www.kentcenter.org
Hours: Mon. - Thurs. & Sat. 9:00am - 4:00pm Fri. 9:00am-5:00pm

The Nearly New Shop
320 High Street
Phone: (410) 778-1781
Web: www.chesterriverhealth.org
Hours: Mon. - Sat. 10:00am - 4:00pm

The WIN Thrift Store
106 Philosopher's Terrace
Phone: (410) 778-5999
Web: www.win-foundation.org
Hours: Thurs. & Fri. 10:00am - 6:00pm Sat. 10:00am - 4:00pm


15 October 2008

Bins Magically Appear

Bins, suddenly appear... every time... you come neaaaaar.....

Last week, many of you may have noticed beautiful new recycling bins around campus in Goldstein, Miller, and the CAC. I meant to post about them at the time, but I had a big blister on my thumb from assembling the things and was trying to cut back on typing. Actually I kind of forgot.

But no more! The bins are here! And next semester you will see them in the rest of the academic buildings as well. What does all this mean? How is it that after years of haphazard voluntary recycling collection we are suddenly getting our act together? Well, I’ll tell you. The college has instituted a spanking new recycling program, orchestrated by the Center for Environment & Society and Buildings & Grounds and the President’s Climate Action Committee.

And what does that mean? Well, slowly but surely we will be putting new bins in all the academic buildings on campus. These will be collected by students and taken to a central location on campus for sorting and pickup. As we add bins, we expect to see recycling INCREASE. A lot. If there are bins all over campus, there’s no reason for bottles and cans to end up in the trash. So let’s all help George Go Green and use the brand new, painstakingly assembled recycle bins… after all, it’s about time!


13 October 2008

It's Easy Going Green. No, really, it is.

Standing outside the dining hall today at lunch, I heard a number of interesting responses to the new, reusable take out containers. I feel that about half the responses were “FINALLY! What a great idea!” and the other half were a little more concerned with the change. I’d like to address some of those concerns at length here on the blog, before the reactions really take off:

1. “We already pay for so much! Why do we have to buy something else?”
This is true. You all DO pay for a lot of things, and as a former student I can understand being rather concerned with how expensive it is to be in college. However, it’s only $4. This literally only covers the cost of the container, the dining hall is not making any profit on this deal. In addition, your meal plans barely cover the cost of running the dining hall, and it really doesn’t make sense for them to keep buying case after case of throw-away containers when they can purchase one container for every student one time. Think of it this way: if they save money, they will probably spend it on improving the food.
2. “Why don’t they just give them away?”
If the dining hall gave away reusable containers, would you still bring them back? Or would you throw them away? I had one student suggest putting a cap on the number given out to each student, but there’s really no way for the dining hall to keep track of this. Remember, limited staff, limited budget. There’s only so much they can do to feed hundreds of hungry students three times a day.
3. “Can we throw them away?”
That would rather defeat the point, now wouldn’t it? But yes, if, in direct defiance of being environmentally conscious you would like to throw the containers away, by all means. It’s your money. Or possibly your parents’.
4. “Do I have to take it to class?”
Not if you drop it off in your dorm first. Otherwise, yes, you have to take it to class. Get a backpack. They aren’t heavy, I promise. They also won’t spill or break or leak like those disposable ones, and there are three advantages right there.
5. “It’s not fair!”
This one I’m almost not sure how to respond to. Is it fair to the dining hall to pay thousands of dollars every year so you can conveniently throw away a take out container? Is it fair to the environment to use enormous amounts of resources to make all those containers? Is it fair to the environment to keep filling up landfills? Is it fair to all the other people in the world who have to deal with pollution from landfills, and from plastics ending up all over the place, including disposable take out containers? I don’t think it’s “fair,” or respectful, to expect the people of this campus to hand everything to you on a silver platter (or styrofoam container), or to clean up after the many, many containers that end up littering the campus, nor to make the environment and the health and lives of all the people on this planet suffer so that you don’t have to carry a lightweight container with you to class. Many colleges don’t even have take out. Many colleges would just tell you to bring your own container, without taking the extra step of providing brand new containers that are exactly like the old ones but better.

This is a good change for our campus. Long have I heard complaints that we talk about going green without actually taking action. Well, here we are, finally going green, and we are all going to have to suck it up and get used to it. The planet is dying, whether you want to admit it or not, and there are many things you can do to help prevent this catastrophe. Most of them do not require a huge sacrifice on your part. I don’t think I need to explain to anyone that if the planet dies, we (people) die. We cannot live without a planet. It’s our responsibility as living beings to do our part.

The new containers are pretty awesome, anyway. They can go in the dishwasher, or the microwave, and you don’t even have to wash them if you don’t want to, you can take it back to the dining hall and they will do it for you. Though I wouldn’t recommend letting food sit around your room, it attracts bugs. They are also sturdy, durable, lightweight, and should last you forever. And seriously, it’s only $4. What an investment!

Thank you to all the students, faculty and staff who are embracing this change and who gave me big smiles as they walked by with their new containers.


Dining Hall Goes Green!

Starting this Monday, October 13, the Dining Hall will NO LONGER be distributing one-use disposable carry-out containers, but will instead allow students to purchase reusable plastic containers. They are shaped just like the old containers but are made out of plastic and never need to be thrown away. Each container costs $4.00 and may be brought back to the Dining Hall for washing. No need to worry about washing!

One-use containers will no longer be available. While the dining hall briefly made use of biodegradable containers, these still end up filling landfills and require enormous amounts of energy to produce and ship. The supply is also difficult to maintain, as so many colleges are now purchasing biodegradable containers. With the switch to reusable, WC can cut waste in enormous quantities, and save energy by reusing containers rather than producing new ones.

Students will be outside the dining hall on Monday informing everyone about the new containers. Find out more.

In other news, you may have noticed the new recycling bins in the CAC, Goldstein, and the Library. The college has begun a new, very official recycling program and these are our pilot buildings for this semester. Be sure to recycle! For more information visit the CES site.

Go green!


18 September 2008

Sweet... Surprise?

Recently there have been a slew of commercials on TV paid for by the Corn Refiner’s Association, “the national trade association representing the corn refining (wet milling) industry of the United States” (http://www.corn.org/). These ads are meant to disprove the ever-growing rumors that high fructose corn syrup (hfcs) is responsible for the spate of obesity and health problems plaguing our country. They fail to mention that the flux of hfcs into the market was immediately followed by the flux of cases of obesity… insisting instead that hfcs is all natural and healthy, with the caveat that it is consumed in moderation.

That’s all well and good. I’m a big proponent of moderation. Personally, I probably consume about a cup of sugar (200 grams)… about once a month. That’s mostly used for baking cupcakes. But then again, I’ve been aware of the problems of sugar consumption for some years now, ever since a waiter friend came home and told me he’d had a customer who was on a no-sugar diet. Intrigued, like the health nut I am, I started looking into the issues surrounding the consumption of sugars. Here are the basics:

Many foods, particularly fruits, naturally contain sugar known as fructose. Others, such as vegetables and grains, contain varying degrees of other, typically more complex sugars, including glucose, sucrose, and starch. Sugar, as in the crystallized stuff from the store, is typically derived from sugar cane or sugar beets, which are boiled, after which the liquid evaporates, leaving behind sucrose, which crystallizes. What I would call natural sucrose is lumpy and kind of brownish; what the FDA calls natural sucrose is bleached (usually with phosphoric acid or calcium hydroxide) and processed with charcoal, usually from ground animal bone, to make the superfine sugar you’re used to seeing from Domino.

High fructose corn syrup, and this I’m getting directly from the Corn Refiner’s Association, is made from corn, which is first soaked in sulfur dioxide, then processed into fructose and glucose using a variety of mysterious sounding ingredients and processes (check it out). Now, the FDA may call this natural, but by definition arsenic is also natural. I personally wouldn’t go about eating that. I say anything that is processed beyond recognition should at least be subject to a few raised eyebrows.

It’s quite possible that hfcs actually is ok for you, if, as the commercials say, you consume in moderation. However, one soda can contain over 13 grams of the stuff. And that’s presuming you only have the one soda. Hfcs is also found in ketchup, yogurt, bread, candy, peanut butter, processed baked goods, crackers, most beverages… well, try finding something packaged in the grocery store that doesn’t have it. Go ahead. I wish you luck.

In addition to sneakily finding its way into most processed foods, high fructose corn syrup is also harder for us to digest. Different studies suggest different things, but keep in mind that many of these studies are paid for by ye ole Corn Refiner’s Association. The truth is, sucrose, ie sugar, breaks down in acidic environments, like your stomach, making it fairly easy to digest. Hfcs is designed not to break down in acids, hence its use in salad dressing. I’m going to let you put two and two together here.

Most people like to be very wary where these health things are concerned, and wait for about nine million studies to be conducted before they conclude one thing or another. Therefore, no one has conclusively linked hfcs to obesity, and it could be that indeed, in moderation, whatever that is, it won’t hurt you. I, however, prefer to figure people got along perfectly well for millions of years without eating highly refined foods, and what’s good enough for them is good enough for me. The suspicious sounding ingredients involved in the processing of corn into yellowish goo are enough to keep me away.

Do the research, and decide for yourself.

Sugar Coated (from the San Francisco Chronicle)
Sweet Surprise.com
Corn Refiner's Association
Wiki on High Fructose Corn Syrup
Wiki on Sugar


More "Sweet" Surprises

Yesterday I posted on the health concerns of high fructose corn syrup (hfcs). One of the things that drives me mad about the Sweet Surprise commercials is how stumped the actors are when they say, “oh, haven’t you heard about high fructose corn syrup?” and the other person says, “like what?” They can’t seem to think of a single thing to say.

The Sweet Surprise website itself points to one of the very real issues with high fructose corn syrup, the one that has no immediate effect on your health- unless you happen to be a fan of clean water (we’ll get to this in a minute). On their FAQ page, they answer the question, “Why did food manufacturers switch to hfcs?” with this tidbit: “While price may have been a factor in food manufacturers' choice in sweeteners more than 20 years ago, U.S. food manufacturers' continued use of high fructose corn syrup is based on the benefits it provides rather than its price relative to sugar.”

This is an intriguing concept. Until the jump in corn prices this summer thanks to biofuels, corn typically cost more to grow than to buy. It’s readily available. It can be grown in the US, in massive quantities. And the US government puts millions of dollars of subsidies into corn to keep the price level. This keeps the producers of hfcs in constant supply of very, very cheap raw materials for their products. There are a very small number of very large companies who corner this market- and it doesn’t take much poking around to realize they have the corner not only on hfcs, but on almost all of those mysterious ingredients you find in your processed foods (and biofuels! Another surprise): lecithin, maltodextrin, citric and lactic acid, emulsifier, xanthan gum, phytosterols, and all the rest. Food no longer comes direct from a farm, it is assembled and manufactured from a diverse array of mostly corn derived ingredients in a laboratory.

So what about corn? Corn, from which corn syrup is obviously derived, is a finicky plant. Most of the corn crops (about 70%, I believe) are fed to livestock, most of the rest go to make sweeteners and preservatives for your crackers. Either way, we grow a ton of the stuff. And it’s not exactly the most environmentally friendly plant. You see, corn doesn’t take up nitrogen very well (which all plants need to survive), so it’s usually rotated with a nitrogen fixing plant (alfalfa, soybeans). Most people have heard how the Native Americans grew corn with squash and peas (peas are nitrogen fixers). However, we grow corn in monocrops (all by their lonesome), so while it’s in the ground, it needs major amounts of nitrogen input to produce lots and lots of corn. Since the corn isn’t absorbing most of this, it runs off… into the water. Here in Maryland, we typically use a lot of chicken manure for nitrogen input, as it’s readily available (what with Perdue being right down the Shore). And when it rains… into the Bay. Remember that whole Pfiesteria scare, where they kept talking about chicken manure in the water? That would be from corn fertilizer. High nitrogen loads are also responsible for creating the major algae blooms that kill off crabs, oysters, and fish, and create dead zones in the Bay. Agriculture isn’t the only source (sewage treatment is right up there), but it does account for a large percentage.

Now don’t go jumping all over farmers for letting nitrogen into the water. Remember, they wouldn’t be growing corn at all if there wasn’t a market for it, and there’s a market for it because people eat a lot of chicken and eat a lot of products with corn derived ingredients. It wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t growing so MUCH of it, and all together, without any crop diversity. To keep corn inexpensive enough to keep food prices down, we have to grow absurd amounts of it, and grow it with enormous fertilizer inputs. So next time you see one of those commercials, or someone asks you what’s wrong with high fructose corn syrup, let them know. It’s a long list. And remember: pay attention to who pays for what ads.

For more information:
Archer Daniels, one of the big corn processing companies
Cargill, the biggest corn processor of them all
And our favorite, Sweet Surprise.com


29 August 2008

On a lighter note...

1001 Ways to Use Vinegar!

From vinegartips.com

Some favorites:
Clean counter tops and make them smell sweet again with a cloth soaked in undiluted white distilled vinegar.

Clean the microwave by mixing 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar and 1/2 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl. Bring it to a rolling boil inside the microwave. Baked-on food will be loosened, and odors will disappear. Wipe clean.

Remove stains from coffee and teacups by scrubbing them gently with equal parts of salt (or baking soda) and white distilled vinegar. Rinse clean.

Remove dark stains on an aluminum pot by boiling a mixture of 1 cup white distilled vinegar and 1 cup hot water.

Discourage ants by spraying undiluted white distilled vinegar outside doorways and windowsills, around appliances and wherever you find the pests coming in.

To remove a label, decal, or price tag, cover with a cloth soaked in white distilled vinegar. Leave the cloth on overnight and the label should slide off.

To kill germs, spray full-strength white distilled vinegar on doorknobs and then wipe them dry.


Another Argument for Local Foods

"Eating locally not necessarily better"

Another article that fills me with raging annoyance at the complete lack of insight of most paid journalists. Way to miss the point, Mr. Commentator.

First, there seems to be a mistaken belief that buying local foods doesn’t actually help the local economy. I’m puzzled about this one. If I buy a tomato in Fountain Park for $1, then the farmer I just bought it from gets $1. If I buy a tomato at Superfresh for $1 (or less), then Superfresh gets about 10 cents, the oil used to transport the tomato (by truck and by ship) sucks up another 40 or so, marketing gets a good 10, another 35 or so goes to line the pockets of the big international company that’s shipping the tomatoes into the states in the first place, and finally about a nickel ends up with the farmer. That’s a rough estimate, mind.

Allow me to point out that none of that helps the local economy. Except maybe the 10 cents that went to Superfresh. Here’s an article that explains it well.

AS for the carbon footprint of locally grown food- well, here’s another place where this man is vastly mistaken. I don’t care HOW efficient cargo container ships are, they are still cargo container ships. They burn a hell of a lot more fuel than my neighbor’s pickup. He has a point about how food is produced- you are going to lower your carbon footprint a lot more by eating veggies than eating beef, no matter where the veggies are produced- but he misses the profound point that in common sense terms, shipping tomatoes across the ocean when you can grow them perfectly well in your own region is entirely pointless. There are some arguments to be made about suitability of soil types, but he fails to address this, so I’m not going to get into it. This commentator also fails to realize that by dint of the fact that they are growing locally, most local farmers grow more sustainably BECAUSE they aren’t mass producing and shipping their produce all over creation. They are smaller scale, use more labor and fewer pesticides, and are typically more considerate of their location- because their consumers are their neighbors, after all, and they will complain.

This, I think, is the biggest benefit of buying locally. It also ties in to the last point in this article. When I buy a tomato locally, I usually know the person I’m buying it from. If I really wanted, I could ask them politely if I could see their farm, and they’d probably say yes. At the very least they’d bring me some pictures and happily describe their operation. When I buy a tomato at Superfresh, I have no idea where it came from. None. California? Mexico? Hell if I know. I also have no idea how it was grown, who grew it, if they were paid properly, if they are going to die an early death thanks to pesticide exposure, if their land was mercilessly ripped away from them by an international food distributor- oh, wait, I forgot, we aren’t supposed to talk about the new colonialism. Underpaid workers in Mexico and South America grow our food, we celebrate the efficiency of container ships, and enjoy our tasteless tomatoes on our tasteless “beef” patties. Don’t for a minute imagine that the people growing your food would be better off growing their own food, for their own consumption. No, keep patting yourself on the back for supporting poverty stricken countries with a few pennies from your imperial dollar. Mr. Commentator: there’s a big difference between having no money and being self-sufficient, and being in poverty because you don’t see any of the profit of your labor.

The man got one thing right. It is important to pay more attention to how your food is produced. And the only way to do that is to buy from a farm where you KNOW how the food is produced. And that would be local.


25 August 2008

Welcome back!

Welcome back, students!

You’ll notice some changes (for the better) this year as you adjust (or readjust) to campus life. First, and probably most noticeable, will be the new dorms. They are big, brick, and not quite finished (paper on the windows, anyone?). Apparently there are also some issues with the temperature control systems, but presumably this will be repaired in the near future. If you live in one of these dorms and have details, please comment and let me know.

When finished these dorms will have a number of green features, the most prominent being the geothermal wells that were dug in the baseball field last year. These magically create energy by sending fluid through a series of pipes buried in the ground, where it is heated by the more constant temperatures farther down, then brought back up to heat and cool the building. Voila! If you want a more scientific explanation, check out wikipedia.

The second big change occurred in the dining hall. Aside from the fact that it moved and the floor now bounces, within the next few weeks you will also see that the trays are slowly disappearing. As are the take out containers. From now on, if you want to take food from the dining hall, you will need to put down a $5 deposit for a reusable container, which will be yours for the remainder of the year. Well, sort of. Don’t go writing your name on it yet, because when you come back to the dining hall you’ll drop it off and take a new, clean one, and leave yours to be washed. And you can keep doing this all year, as long as you always bring one back with you. Otherwise, you’ll have to put down another deposit. You’ll receive all this back at the end of the year, so no worries! You won’t actually be out the money.

So what’s the deal with hiding the trays and containers? Well, dining halls that remove their trays have found that not only do they save money in washing the darn things, but that students tend to only take as much food as they can actually eat, instead of piling up four plates and then throwing half of it away. So it saves food, as well- and has the additional benefit of cutting calories for students who may be worried about the freshmen 15 (plus you burn more calories walking back and forth to the food).

As for the takeout containers, the answer should be simple. We’re creating less waste by not throwing them out! Even the biodegradable containers we’re using right now use a lot of energy just in the process of being created, whereas with reusables you only need to make one container, one time- as opposed to several hundred over the course of the year. This is an enormous leap forward for our campus- and for the environment!

Keep checking back for more details on how the system works…


11 August 2008

Take on "The Omnivore's Dilemma"

I just finished Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals," one of the heftiest books I've decided to tackle all summer when I realized the college library actually had it. After being unable to put it down for a week, I now have time to do other things, such as uncontrollably telling my boyfriend fun facts about corn and whatever else I can loosely link to any subject we start talking about. The fact is, there are so many facts jammed into this book I can't even begin to cover them all. I highly recommend everyone at least read the first section of the book because it's extremely applicable to all of us: we all eat food, and many of us are omnivores.

Pollan organizes the book into three sections: corn (industrial), grass (pastoral), and the forest (personal). Corn focuses on how our modern society treats food; Pollan calls it our "national eating disorder". America in particular has always had a hard time finding a national identity in food - because of this, we easily fall prey to any diet fad that comes our way. Remember when carbs were bad? Are they still bad? The only bad thing I see about bread is the fact that most of it, even kinds labeled as "whole wheat" or "7 grain" contain high fructose corn syrup. I only found two brands of bread at Superfresh that didn't contain high fructose syrup. And corn is what this section is about: the history of corn, what is made out of corn, and why corn is so prevalent in everything we eat today. In summary, because of government subsidies and the transformation of war chemical facilities into fertilizer facilities (outcomes of WWII and beyond), our country's farmers are now dependent on growing excessive amounts of corn to make any amount of profit. And this excess of corn has led to the question of how to get rid of it. The government does this by forcing cows (which can only naturally digest grasses) to eat corn (along with antibiotics and a slew of other nasty stuff), and then setting the beef standard so that it favors corn-fed beef instead of grass-fed. Corn then also gets used as a substitute for whole ingredients such as sugar (substitute: high fructose corn syrup) and a bunch of other compounds that make up much of our processed food today.

Game #1: Go through all of the food in your kitchen. Put it into two categories: corn products and non-corn products. See how much of everything you eat contains corn (it's scary). Even though I eat a lot of whole foods, there were still a ton of products on the counter that were in the "corn" pile. This week at the grocery store I compulsively read the label of everything I put into the grocery cart. Just now I compulsively read the label of my Clif Bar and celebrated quietly to myself that it didn't contain corn.

Part 2, grass, follows two types of farming: industrial organic and grass-fed beef. Organic industrial is what much of our organic produce is in the grocery store: industrial practices changed slightly to meet government "organic" standards (which, it turns out, isn't very much). Pollan then travels to Polyface Farm in Virgina, where grass pastures form an ecology focused around cattle, chickens, pigs, and rabbits which ensure sustainable practices. Here the focus is on whether or not what we think of today as organic is really sustainable, or if it is an ideal that has been lost in the industrial machine.

Game #2: Go to your grocery store or local whole foods/organic store and look around. How organic is that microwaveable dinner? Where did that lettuce come from? Then, travel to your local farmer's market or nearby farm stand and look around. There is a world of difference. Look into local CSA programs and cattle/chicken farms, and, if it's legal, local dairies (or if you're lucky enough to have small farmers for friends). Eatwild.com is an excellent source for finding local meat.

Part 3, forest, is Pollan's personal reflections on his journey to create a meal that he himself hunted and harvested, including a wild boar, mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables. It turns back to the hunter-gatherer ideal, that although is rewarding, is not possible anymore in society in large scale.

Game #3: Get a book on local wild plants and see if you can find anything that is edible around your house. Chances are, many things are. Dandelions anyone?

There are so many more parts I could cover, but I hope I provided enough to provoke some interest. It really opened my eyes to how I should look at the food ecosystem, from the industrial to the local, and what the real ramifications are for a 99 cent double cheeseburger from McDonald's. Just remember: nothing is cheap.


04 August 2008

Green Guilt

A lot of mainstream journalists seem to enjoy lamenting how painfully difficult it is to go green, and try to tell activists to stop nagging if they want to get their point across. A recent Baltimore Sun article, in fact, made a great point about how the writer’s grandmother was effortlessly environmentally friendly, by virtue of being a low income immigrant in the early half of the century, but then failed to realize the implications of this and chose instead to spend her article whining about how annoying it is when you take a Starbucks cup home to recycle and it spills in your car.

Well boohoo.

My grandmother always reused foil and paper napkins and compulsively hoarded spare buttons and brushes and bits of things until the family began to wonder if there wasn’t something a bit wrong with her head. I, on the other hand, eventually came to the realization that this was the natural product of being the child of Polish immigrants raised during the Depression and World War II- of course you wouldn’t throw away a napkin, when you might be able to use it again.

The authors of these articles are right in pointing out that going green on an individual level shouldn’t be about the numeric value of your carbon footprint. You won’t get anywhere if you’re beating yourself up over every last lumen of light. It’s more about an attitude. If you’ve adjusted your thought to believe that it simply doesn’t make sense to throw things away (particularly if you are a penny pinching pack rat like me), suddenly it doesn’t seem like a big effort to use cloth napkins. Saves me trips to the grocery store, for one. And a more appropriate response to the annoyance of spilling leftover coffee in an effort to recycle would be, rather than whining about the mess, to ask why she was going to Starbucks and getting a plastic cup in the first place.

This may sound strange and masochistic to many people. Imagine! The pain and suffering that may be caused by not going to Starbucks. Or, imagine instead, the ease of taking your own mug (which is much more sturdy anyway). Or instead of taking your coffee with you, spending a half hour in the coffee shop drinking your coffee out of a mug and reading a good book. Heaven forbid!

I have no patience for people who tell me it’s so hard to be green. If you think about it, it’s much harder NOT to be green. It’s expensive. The food isn’t very good. You have to go to the store all the time. You have lots of trash to deal with (I take out the trash once every two weeks, and it’s a tiny bag). There’s a lot of driving involved… I could go on. Or, you could live in a way that makes sense. I make my own yogurt because I don’t like additives and single use, individual serving containers, and it’s easy (took me ten minutes this morning) and delicious. And cheap. I make my own pasta sauce, which is slightly more labor intensive, but the joy I get out of the happy, sated smiles on my friends’ faces when I bring them jars of sauce is more than worth the effort. Plus, I freeze it and eat it all winter, so I don’t have to cook for months at a time. I also only use handkerchiefs. My great grandmother made them and I still have them, and not only are they softer on my nose, but I don’t buy tissues, I don’t have enormous amounts of trash, and every time I use them I think of her.

And when I think of her, and my grandmother, I think, how would they have done this? And rather than whining in a major newspaper about how reduce-reuse-recycle was so much easier for them because they lived through the Depression (still working out the logic on that one), I just do it. And I have to admit, it’s pretty easy.