Sunday, January 30, 2011

This Week I Will Be a Locavore

Locavore. Great new word coined in 2005. Oxford American Dictionary word of the year for 2007.

It means a person who eats locally grown and produced food. This food can come from home or community gardens or from local commercial farmers. Since the point of eating locally is to encourage sustainable food practices and enjoy healthier, tastier food, locavores generally care about how food is grown and prepared. Most want to buy from growers who use no or minimal pesticides and chemical fertilizers. While there are many really good reasons to be a locavore, the one that got me willing to try it, is the tremendous cost to the environment of moving food around. Food transportation has become one of the biggest and fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The average food item on an American plate has traveled almost 1500 miles. Even foods grown close by are often shipped hundreds of miles to be processed and distributed and then returned to where they started. Oh, and I also like that local food doesn’t need to be packed to travel, so forget those big plastic clamshells. The exact definition of locavore is open to some interpretation. Most locavores try to keep their food sources to a 100 mile radius. Though, while this might be fine in California, locavores in regions without much agriculture expand their areas. Also, some people pick a just few items to eat locally, at least to start. My plan for this week is to eat as locally as I can as much as possible. I’ll try for the 100 mile radius and to stay conscious of where my food comes from. 

How will I eat locally?
I am fortunate enough to live in northern California, where some of the best produce in the world is grown. So I figure, why do I need cherries from Chile in January? When I was growing up I had no expectations of getting watermelon in the dead of winter. I got food in season. Fruits, vegetables, fish even some meats had a season. We waited for peaches, zucchini, apples and snapper. We ate canned and dried fruits in the winter. This wasn’t all that long ago, but I’ve grown accustomed to making my favorite soup whenever I want with ingredients from all over the globe. I usually don’t think about cooking with what’s available this time of year. I decide what I want and then buy the ingredients. So, change number one will have to be to let what’s in season drive what I make for dinner. I will also try some of these are some suggestions from Jennifer Maiser’s 10 Ways to Become a Locavore:

  • Go to a farmers market.
  • Ask the supermarket manager where their meat, produce and dairy are coming from.
  • Choose 5 foods in your house that you can buy locally. Rather than trying to source everything locally all at once, try swapping out just 5 local foods. Fruits and vegetables that can be grown throughout the continental U.S. include apples, root vegetables, lettuce, herbs and greens. In most areas, it's also possible to find meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and cheese—all grown, harvested and produced close to your home.
  • Find a local CSA and sign-up! Through a CSA—Community Supported Agriculture—program you invest in a local farm in exchange for a weekly box of assorted vegetables and other farm products.
  • Find out what restaurants in your area support local farmers. You can do this by asking the restaurants about their ingredients directly, or by asking your favorite farmers what restaurant accounts they have. Frequent the businesses that support your farmers
  • Visit a farm. (I’ll probably save this for the spring and take the kids)

Why should I be a locavore?
To start with, local food tastes better. Fruits and veggies can be picked ripe and are often picked only hours before you buy them. Also, tastier varieties are grown when a farmer isn’t trying to maximize for travel durability. Eating local foods also may actually force more variety into my family’s diet. If I can’t get that New Zealand apple, I might try a local purple cauliflower. And I know there are local, healthy choices for bread, honey and cheeses, which I bet are pretty tasty too. I just have to find out what they are. And, as I mentioned above, less travel means lower CO2 emissions and less packaging. A study in Iowa found that a regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country.

Originally, I was afraid of this week. But after doing a little research, I’m actually looking forward to it. There were more resources to help me be a locavore than I thought. I went from feeling overwhelmed to feeling excited to try new things. I’ll have some fun with food while doing good for the environment. That sounds like a good week.

Find a 100 mile radius:

USDA’s farmers market guide:

Community Supported Agriculture

There’s an app for that:
The reviews are mixed, but for $2.99 I’d try it – if I had an iPhone

The Worldwatch Institute

“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This Week I Will Plant a Tree

Yesterday was Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish new year just for trees. How cool is that? On Tu B’Shevat we celebrate trees. We are thankful for what they give us and appreciative of how important they are to our survival. We acknowledge their slow growth and long lives. We wait patiently for young trees to bear fruit. We affirm our commitment to protect existing trees and plant new ones. We eat lots of fruit. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, in a Jewish household, but somehow Tu B’Shevat didn’t make it onto my radar until my kids came home from Sunday school with flyers about planting trees. Now, I celebrate Tu B’Shevat in various ways. This year I will write about the importance of our forested lands and this week I will plant a tree. Oh, and this bit about being good to trees, it comes from the Old Testament.

Why do we need trees?
Sounds like a silly question, but when I started gathering facts, some of the answers were astounding. For example, according to the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. forests sequester 827 tons, or nearly 10% of our CO2 emissions each year. Also, trees are so important that deforestation is the second biggest contributing factor to global climate change. That’s huge.

Here are a few more points adapted from Twenty-nine Reasons for Planting Trees compiled by Glenn Roloff, USDA Forest Service (

  • 1 acre of new forest will sequester about 2.5 tons of carbon annually.
  •  Trees can absorb CO2 at the rate of 13 pounds/tree/year.
  • Trees reach their most productive stage of carbon storage at about 10 years.
  • Planting 100 million trees could reduce the amount of carbon by an estimated 18 million tons per year and at the same time, save American consumers $4 billion each year on utility bills.
  • Trees prevent or reduce soil erosion and water pollution.
  • Shade from trees can reduce utility bills for air conditioning by 15-50%.
  • Windbreaks around homes shield against wind and snow and reduce heating costs by as much as 30%.
  • One of every four pharmaceutical products used in the U.S. comes from a plant found in a tropical forest.
  • Trees provide habitat for wildlife.
Where will I plant a tree?
I don’t know yet. There’s nowhere to plant on my property right now, so I will look into the organizations that will plant a tree for me. In the past I have done this through the Nature Conservancy and through the JNF. Many organizations will plant trees in honor or memory of a loved one and will send you a certificate to keep or give as a gift. And planting a tree won’t break the bank; you can spend as little as a dollar a tree. Here are a few organizations that will plant a tree for you or help you plant your own:

Friends of the Urban Forest

The Nature Conservancy

Jewish National Fund

United Nations Billion Tree Campaign

Arbor Day Foundation

Happy planting!

“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How Not Using Plastic Bags is Going

So, the very first day I had a bag dilemma. I bought a flat of strawberries at the farmers market and the only way to keep them from getting squished by the other vegetables in my canvas bag was to keep them together in a plastic bag. The grower, bag in hand, thought I was nuts as I stood there unable to decide what to do with my strawberries. Then I got home and in the mail was a catalog I actually wanted to get. Neatly sealed in a plastic bag. I’m okay with a messy catalog. I’m not leaving it out on the coffee table for guests. But I don’t get any say in the matter except to cancel it, which I’m loath to do since I need this pristine supply catalog for my business. Then I got to work, which led to another bag debacle. I was designing and making earrings when I started to accumulate a tiny plastic mountain of itty-bitty Ziplocs. All of my jewelry components are shipped to me in very, very small plastic bags. And once I use up the supplies the bags get tossed. Over the following days I’ve been presented with one bag crisis after another. It seems like my whole life is wrapped in plastic. I’ve been good about taking my own bags with me for all my shopping, and I’ve stayed away from all but the most necessary plastic wrapped food staples, but it’s been impossible to avoid plastics bags like I’d hoped.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This Week I Will Not Use Plastic Bags

I’ve been trying to figure out how to address the whole scary issue of plastics and break the issues down into manageable bits when a friend sent me a video on plastic bags. What a great place to start. Being environmentally conscious, I already keep an assortment of plastic, paper and cloth bags in my car for when I shop. But I don’t always remember to take them into the store. And I’m usually too lazy to go back to the car. Or, I go into the supermarket for a couple of things and remember to bring a bag, one bag - for what turns into a full cart.
I already know this is going to be a challenge because I’ve started to scope out the food possibilities for things that don’t come in plastic bags. Sounds simple? Try buying bread the kids will eat. Even so, my original plan was to buy no plastics at all for a week. No bags is way more manageable.

So, this week I will not accept or buy anything in a plastic bag. Also, I will not put anything in a baggie or Ziploc. This will reduce my plastic consumption and eliminate my contribution to the plastic bag refuse. (I want to disclose one exception I have to make. I have a very large dog to clean up after. I bought biodegradable bags with the hope that these are more environmentally friendly than Safeway bags.) I also won’t just opt for paper, since it’s no environmental bargain either (but that’s for another week). I’ll carry my veggies loose and bring previously used or reusable bags. I’ll even go back to the car when I forget!

Why Bother?
Most of us are pretty savvy about the problems with plastics sitting in our landfills. Many of us reject bags offered to us at stores. Even so, when I started looking into this issue I was surprised at how huge and detrimental the problem really is. The good news is that it’s within our power to fix it.
  • Plastic bags aren’t biodegradable. They go through a process called photodegradation—breaking down into smaller toxic particles that contaminate soil and water, and enter the food chain when animals ingest them.
  • Over 380 billion plastic bags are used in the United States every year.
  • According to various estimates, Taiwan consumes 20 billion plastic bags (900 per person), Japan consumes 300 billion bags (300 per person), and Australia consumes 6.9 billion plastic bags (326 per person) each year.
  • A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
  • Hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine mammals die every year after eating discarded plastic bags they mistake for food.
  • Plastic bags are almost everywhere from Spitsbergen 78° North [latitude] to Falklands 51° South [latitude]
  • Plastic bags litter has even become commonplace in Antarctica and other remote areas.
  • Ireland, Taiwan, South Africa, Australia, and Bangladesh have heavily taxed plastic bags or banned their use outright.

Awesome Plastic Rap Video
Good Video
Good Article
Good Website

“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet