Reusable Makeup Remover Wipes

I would undoubtedly be a much more eco-friendly human if I didn’t add cosmetics to my regular consumption of products, but it’s one thing I haven’t yet been able to give up.  I have done a lot of research on which makeup products are the healthiest for my body and which companies have sustainable sourcing and production practices. But the makeup removal part of the equation is just as relevant in my quest to reduce my consumption of manufactured products. After all, how many are made in the form of disposable wipes that get one use and then are dumped into the trash can?  And also of concern, how many makeup remover products include chemicals that are irritants or hormone disruptors? A lot of them! I should know, I feel like I tried them all of the years.

For the past few years, I have used something for removing eye makeup that I’ve discovered to be as effective as the complexly formulated products sold in stores.  Coconut oil. A swipe of it over my eyes removes the makeup and, bonus, moisturizes my under eye area. I already had a container of organic coconut oil in my kitchen for baking recipes, making granola, greasing baking pans, etc.  Now, I also keep a container in my bathroom for removing mascara at the end of the day.

Although the product itself could not be more simple or natural, using cotton balls to apply the coconut oil (and witch hazel for astringent that I use daily) felt wasteful.  1-2 cotton balls per day doesn’t seem like much. But I pictured every cotton ball I’ve used in my life piled up in a landfill, and decided there had to be a better way. So one day, as I was retiring some bath towels that had become faded and thin, I decided to sub them in for cotton balls.  I cut the towels up into little squares, about 3” x 3” and quickly settled into a new routine. Each night I use a mini towel square to apply the coconut oil to my eyes. Because the oil is solid at room temperature, I rub the towelette onto the oil rather than dip it. One gentle swipe on each eye and my makeup is gone and my eye is moisturized! Then I fold over the towelette and use the other side to apply witch hazel to my whole face.  I throw the little towelette in with the rest of my laundry and, voila! Reusable makeup remover wipes.

Do you have any DIY hacks to cut down on consumption? I’d love to hear about them!

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Organic? Natural? Confused!

What is organic food versus non-GMO? What does the word ‘natural’ mean on a food product?  I would wager that every person who has been to a grocery store has been confused by the labels on the sea of products on the shelves. It’s important to always read the ingredients label and to really consider what is printed on a product — from beef, to orange juice, to chips. Remember, food manufacturers are businesses.  The logo, pictures on the box, recipes on the back of the package, and words like “healthy” are all ways to try to sell their product and make a profit.  We should be knowledgeable about the food we buy and what the following labels mean:

USDA Organic

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began using an official USDA Organic seal on food that is certified organic. For a food to display the official seal, the farmers raising the crop/animal have to follow strict guidelines issued by the FDA to meet the requirements. It’s not just a matter of withholding pesticides — there are other criteria that organic food products must meet. According to the USDA, organic farms and processors:

  • Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
  • Support animal health and welfare
  • Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
  • Only use approved materials
  • Do not use genetically modified ingredients
  • Receive annual onsite inspections
  • Separate organic food from non-organic food

When you buy organic food, you know that not only was is grown without toxic chemicals, but it also promotes sustainable organic labelenvironmental practices, and if it’s an organic animal it wasn’t raised in a restrictive tiny cage.

Be sure to look for the organic logo on products noting that it is officially recognized as meeting these requirements.  Although, sometimes you may come across a food item with the word ‘organic’ on it which not display the USDA seal. This does not necessarily mean that the product is not organic. Some smaller manufacturers, farms and farms markets don’t turn enough profit to meet the requirements to apply for certification and do not consistently use the label. Whenever there is any rule or regulation, there are some rule-breakers so it is possible to come across foods claiming to be organic when in fact, it is not.  However, the USDA is strict about enforcing the term and violators can be fined several thousand dollars for non-compliance.

Non-GMO

Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are a hot-button topic in the U.S. and globally.  Advocates say GMOs are a crucial way to feed the world’s growing population and combat hunger in third-world countries. Opponents argue that genetically modifying products all along our food change will have a definite negative effect on our health. Delve into some more research of your own to decide where you stand on the matter. However, when it comes to food labeling, know this. For a food to be labeled organic, as mentioned above, one of the criteria it needs to meet is being non-GMO. However, a food can be non-GMO but not organic. Food producers who can’t or don’t want to meet all the criteria for organic certification but who don’t use GMO crops in their production can still tout the non-GMO on their label.

Natural & Other Claims

You have probably seen terms on many food items like: All-Natural, Raised Naturally, Made with Natural Ingredients/Flavors. Currently, there is very limited regulation on food products labeled ‘Natural.’  The exception is meat/poultry which can calim it’s natural if it does not contain artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed.   However, because the regulation is not air-tight, food manufacturers can take advantage of the context of wording.  According to the USDA, “For example, claims indicating that a product is  natural food, e.g., “Natural chili” or “chili – a natural product” would be unacceptable for a product containing beet powder which artificially colors the finished product.  However, “all natural ingredients” might be an acceptable claim for such a product.”  Consumer Reports did some really interesting research on the topic, showing 7 foods labeled as natural but revealing the very unnatural added ingredients.

 

On your next trip to the grocery store, take a closer look at the food packaging.  On any given product, you will often see an important-looking statement like “made with all-natural oats”, “X grams of whole grain”, or “100% Whole Wheat”.   A statement about one thing like whole grain or protein content, can be a distraction and it is often used as a marketing ploy.  You will focus on how much protein it has but not turn the box over to read how much sodium it contains, or that the top five ingredients include sugar AND malt syrup AND invert sugar.  Don’t rely on the bold statements on the front of the package, but instead on the legally required information on the back which will allow you to draw your own conclusion about the product.
wheat thins full

The more you get into the practice of reading food ingredients, the less confusing it will be when you do your shopping.  You will start to pick up on the marketing tricks of food manufacturers.  There is a lot that needs to be done in the area of improving regulations, and that requires us as consumers putting pressure on the food product industry.  But the most useful resources that we have right now are our hands and eyes.  Don’t just put food into your shopping cart.  Turn it over and read!

 

Share your comments or questions!  What labeling do you look for when you buy food?

Bag It Up

How many plastic bags do you use in an average week?  It may be more than you realize.  Think about buying green beans or apples at the grocery store — what do you put that loose produce in?  How do you bag your groceries when you leave the store?  And if you bring grapes or crackers to work, what do you put those in?  It’s so easy to use lots of plastic bags for food without noticing it.  But cutting back on that excess plastic is completely doable with reusable alternatives.  

Let’s start with the source — produce at the grocery store.  Hopefully you’re eating lots of fruits and vegetables (they should be taking up half your plate at every meal!).  For a while, I was going to the grocery store and farmers’ markets and feeling really good about the large variety of vegetables IMG_4872and fruits I’d bought for the week, yet feeling badly that everything I bought was in lots of separate plastic bags.  What a waste!  I did try to reuse them as much as possible, but they often got wet or sticky or tore apart.  Reusable produce bags are a game-changer.  These sheer mesh bags hold all the produce that I buy, and I never have to worry about throwing them out and creating waste.  When they get dirty,  just throw them into throw washing machine with the laundry.  You can buy sets of them online at retailers like Amazon.com.

For grocery bags, recyclable paper bags are certainly preferable over non-biodegradable plastic bags.  But even better are reusable tote bags.  It’s pretty easy to accumulate these.  They’re given out at special events all the time, or you can buy them from grocery stores.  The tough thing is remembering to use them.  Try to keep them by your front door, or in the trunk of the car where they are easily accessible when you’re going on a grocery run.  After a few times of remembering them, it will come ingrained in your memory to bring them into the store.

I’m also a big proponent of bringing lunch and snacks to work.  It saves so many dollars and calories compared to buying over-proportioned and over-priced meals out.  But after munching on those carrot sticks or trail mix, the zip-locked baggies get immediately tossed in the trash.  What a waste of plastic to use something for a few hours and then send it on to a landfill!  Luckily, there are a lot of companies that now make reusable snack bags.  My favorites are Lunchskins and Itzy Ritzy.  And lots of Etsy stores sell these reusable bags.  I wash these in the laundry or dishwasher after each use.

So try cutting back on plastic with reusable bags.  It will keep heaps of plastic out of landfills, and will save you money in the long run!

Culture Shock & Awe

I just recently returned from an incredible trip to Africa with one of my best friends.  I would love to share every single detail of the camel-riding, souks-shopping, safari-camping experience, but alas I know this is not a travel blog.  However, I did observe something that relates to non-toxic living that I wanted to share: lots and lots of trash.

Our travels took us through Morocco, Tanzania, and Zanzibar and it’s difficult to share just one aspect of the trip, especially one like trash which is such a downer compared to every other amazing thing we experienced: flavorful foods, breathtaking landscapes, and fascinating people.  But perhaps it is because of all the wonders I saw that I was so shocked and saddened by the endless litter scattered around streets and homes in the places we visited.

Now, America is by no means litter-free, especially in cities like DC.  But visiting countries that are still developing is really eye-opening to just how much an organized trash collection system makes a difference in people’s lives.  And going from the U.S. to Morocco and then onto Tanzania was very interesting because it allowed us to see various levels of development in the world.  

The Moroccan cities we visited had buildings, paved roads, and lots of restaurants and stores.  Garbage was noticeable on many of the busier city streets, and in the medinas (old, walled parts of the cities).  We saw some dumpsters in alleyways as a means of trash collection but they were often overflowing and crawling with dozens of stray cats.  

 

Then on our first day in Tanzania, we drove through the small city of Arusha.  It was the middle of the day and there were people crowding the streets on foot, on motorbikes, and with wagons full of goods to sell.  One of the many sights that struck me as we drove through the city was how much trash there was ALL over the place.  Plastic, metal, glass.  It was on the streets, and in the bushes, and floating in shallow streams. People of all ages were walking around in it barefoot.  I saw people eat food and then just toss the wrapper right on the ground in front of them.  There was no trash disposal system, at least not on the outskirts of town and out in the countryside.  No public garbage cans let alone recycling bins.  It was mind-blowing to see that kind of poverty and so much trash, especially because just a few miles away were the most beautiful and pristine national parks, full of lush grasslands and exotic wildlife.

 

At the end of our visit to Tanzania, we had a very heartening experience when we visited Shanga, an open-air workshop in Arusha that employs people with physical disabilities to create beautiful products out of recycled material.  I was incredibly humbled to see such a positive and productive operation.  People who are deaf, or missing limbs from childhood polio would otherwise have no means to make a living for themselves in Arusha.  But here they were part of a supportive community where they could create beautiful art, things like blown glass vases, woven blankets, and beaded jewelry.  To add to the wonder of this place, most of the materials were recycled, like old wine bottles melted to created new glass pieces, and my favorite — a rock tumbler made from a salvaged bicycle tire and an old motor.

My culture-shock coming back to the U.S. was almost as deep as it was arriving in Africa.  I struggled internally with meshing the beauty and luxury I had seen with the destitution and pollution.  I could donate all of my material goods and do volunteer trash collection for the rest of my life and even that wouldn’t make a dent.  What I’m starting to realize is that there are things I can realistically do in my everyday life back here in the U.S. to be impactful.  The first is to continue to cut back on material items that I really don’t need like plastic bags from pharmacies to hold a pack of gum or plastic utensils with a carry-out meal.  Just because I’m lucky enough to live in a place with regular trash pick-up, doesn’t mean I should try to make more trash!  Secondly, I can make a more concerted effort to reuse bottles, boxes, wrapping — anything that can be upcycled (thanks Shanga for the inspiration!).  And thirdly, I can support great organizations like Shanga that make a difference for humanity and for the planet.  If you are interested to learn more or donate, here’s their foundation’s website: www.shanga.org/shangafoundation.  You can also order their beautiful products online!

If ever you have the opportunity to travel abroad, I hope you take it.  It puts so much into perspective.  And the more I see of this world, the more I want to care for it so that future generations can see it too.

Water Bottle Woes

Humans are supposed to drink eight 8-oz. glasses of water a day to stay healthy and hydrated.  And in the past decade, more people actually are reaching for water as their daily thirst-quenching drink rather than soda — a great step towards better health!  But because so many of us are on-the-go, we are much more likely to drink water from bottles in our cars than from glasses sitting at a dining room table.  However, disposable plastic bottles have a huge impact on the environment.water bottle fact text

Most empty water bottles are tossed into a garbage can rather than a recycling bin and end up in a landfill or incinerator.  And by most, I mean billions of them every year.  With billions more to come the next year. The Natural Resources Defense Council states that, “Most bottled water comes in recyclable PET plastic bottles, but only about 13 percent of the bottles we use get recycled. In 2005, 2 million tons of plastic water bottles ended up clogging landfills instead of getting recycled.”

Plastic water bottles also require a huge amount of oil in the process of getting into our hands.  Yes, the trucks and ships that transport pallets of water bottles around the world daily require energy, and don’t forget about the bottles themselves!  Plastic is a petroleum product and water bottle manufacturing in the U.S. alone requires millions of barrels of oil.  Not to mention, when you buy a whole case of water the whole thing comes shrink wrapped in plastic as well.

You can choose help diminish the environmental impact from plastic water bottles with a few simple actions:

  1. Avoid plastic water bottles.  Instead use a water filtration system at work and at home, and use glasses and/or reusable water bottles.  My favorite is the glass Camelbak Eddy
  2. When you must use plastic water bottles, always recycle them.  Even if it’s not convenient and it means carrying around your empty bottle for a while until you spot a recycling container.
  3. Encourage recycling in your community.  If your neighborhood streets and parks have trash bins but no recycling bins, petition your local government.

Also, this quick video does a great job of showing how water bottles are marketed, manufactured and disposed of — with shocking truths all the way through the process…

Vegan Food Diary

I thought that going vegan one day a month during Lent would be a breeze because meat is not an everyday must for me.  But the sacrifice made me realize how much I rely on non-meat animal products for protein in my diet.  I often add cheese or hard boiled eggs to a salad, or make veggie quesadillas or pasta salads with cheese. Without being able to rely on those ingredients each Monday, I had to more thoughtfully plan my meals every week.  Here’s the lowdown on what I ate each Monday for 6 weeks:

Monday #1

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Breakfast – Ezekiel bread toasted with peanut butter and blood orange slices; Lunch – Roasted Brussels sprouts and lentil soup; Dinner – Roasted tomatoes and barley risotto with broccolini and mushrooms; Snack & Dessert – Tortilla chips with guacamole, salsa and black bean dip, white wine and vegan brownies

To prepare for these vegan Mondays, I pored over recipes for a few days and put together a list of foods I could eat over the next few weeks.  However, I quickly learned that choosing Mondays as my day of the week to eat vegan was an extra challenge because with my weekends being so busy, I often lacked the time on a Sunday evening to prepare the next day’s meal.  Case in point was the first Monday, when I did not have time to prepare a lunch, so I had to grab something from the deli near my office.  I guess I can’t be 100% sure that no animal products (like butter) were used in these, but I tried my absolute best.  After dinner, I went to my friend’s apartment to watch The Bachelor (don’t judge).  My kind friend knew about my Lenten goal and bought a bunch of vegan snacks for us.

Monday #2

IMG_0611

Breakfast – Breakfast “cookies” with jam and a peanut butter drizzle; Lunch – Quinoa tabbouleh; Dinner – Veggie burger, sweet potato fries, and kale salad with pecans, cranberries, & homemade vinaigrette dressing

I came across the recipe for these breakfast cookies on Pinterest and they are filling with just a few ingredients like banana, oats, flaxseed and jam.  The sweet and tart plum jam I used was perfect.  I also came across this refreshing tabbouleh recipe online — it was touted as Jennifer Aniston’s favorite.  No idea if it’s true, but if I can look like her in 15 years by eating this salad, bring it on!  For the veggie burger, I had to read the package carefully because some veggies burgers contain egg.  I give this one an unenthusiastic 5 out of 10.  Like most store-bought veggie burgers, it was underwhelming.  I’d like to make my own in the future especially because I could leave out the soy.

Monday #3

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Breakfast – Lemon-Blueberry oatmeal with almond milk and toasted pecans; Snack – Homemade chex mix, Lunch – Kale salad with apples, walnuts and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, and hummus with bell pepper strips; Dinner – Coconut curried lentils over brown rice; Dessert – Coconut milk ice cream

I was more prepared for the second week and prepared a delicious oatmeal recipe for breakfast.  The real recipe includes a dollop of mascarpone cheese which I left out on Monday but added the rest of the week.  I have to say the mascarpone made it bomb dot com, but I guess that’s what made my vegan Mondays a sacrifice.  Salads are easy for a lunch at the office and the walnuts added some protein.  The coconut curried lentils were delicious and creamy and didn’t really contain actual curry so check out the recipe even if you aren’t a curry person.  Coconut milk ice cream is a wonderful non-dairy alternative and the So Delicious brand has a wide flavor selection at most grocery stores.

 Monday #4

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Breakfast – Ezekiel toast with apricot jam, and apple slices with peanut butter; Snack – Pamela’s cranberry almond bar, Lunch – “Niçoise” salad with chickpeas, golden beets, olives, potatoes and green beans; Dinner – Udon noodle and veggie lo mein; Dessert – Apricot jam tart

Ezekiel bread is made from sprouted grains and is actually a great source of protein which you might not expect from bread.  It’s not the most delicious bread ever but I never eat naked bread anyway so once I spoon on the jam or nut butter it’s as good as regular wheat toast.  I love niçoise salads and the hard-boiled egg and the tuna/salmon is usually the best part.  but I got creative with chickpeas and veggies and it made a very hearty, filling salad.  Many noodles contain egg, but udon noodles are just wheat and water, while remaining a normal and delicious consistency, so the lo mein was yummy.  Here’s the recipe.  I made the rustic tart with a bit of dough leftover from a pie I’d made for Pi Day.  Throw any kind of jam into some pie dough and you have a delicious dessert.

Monday #5

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Breakfast – Ezekiel bread toast with avocados, tomatoes and balsamic reduction; Snacks – Cherry fruit leather; Lunch – Mixed greens salad with artichoke hearts and hummus with sliced cucumbers; Dinner – Cuban black beans and rice; Dessert – Coconut milk ice cream bar

Toast with avocados and tomatoes may not seam like breakfast food, but I’m all about savory food in the morning.  It was hearty and filling and the sprouted grain bread provided protein.  It was a busy day so lunch was basic.   For dinner, the beans and rice was delicious and also one of the cheapest and healthiest meals you can prepare.  Check out the recipe I used.  The brand So Delicious makes the ice cream bars and they are so good — they pretty much taste like the real thing you bought from the ice cream man as a kid.

Monday #6

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Breakfast – Handful of raisins and a banana; Lunch – Tabbouleh salad; Dinner – (not pictured) Salad of mixed lettuces and roasted tomatoes with vinaigrette dressing, tomato stuffed with quinoa and nuts; Dessert – Mandarin orange and peach confit with coconut shavings

This was a weird day for me because I was traveling for work.  Because I was nervous for work, some raisins and an airport banana were all I needed for breakfast.  Lunch was at a small bistro in Houston and to my delight, they had tabbouleh on the menu.  I double-checked with the cashier that it was vegan and after looking at me like I had two heads, he had to go in the back and check with the chef.  It was vegan and it was delicious.  Dinner was a catered event that I attended for work, so I couldn’t take pictures of my meal because it would be unprofessional and creepy.  The kitchen did a fairly good job with an alternative menu, although they added a chocolate straw to my dessert, making me question whether they knew the difference between vegan and vegetarian…

 

Overall, I was pretty happy with my vegan trial.  It made me aware of the amount of cheese, eggs, and butter I eat on a regular basis. And cheese is the #1 source of saturated fat in the American diet! (Read more here).  Echoing my original post on the subject, I am going to continue to make small sacrifices when I can to eliminate animal products in some meals.  I feel that it is doing my part to help with the environmental cost of raising livestock for food.  It also makes me more aware of the foods I do put into my body — not just the end-product meal but the ingredients that go into it.  The next time you reach for some cheese crumbles for your salad, consider nuts or beans instead.  It can help your body and your planet!

Speak up!

On a recent trip to Trader Joe’s to stock up on nuts, dried fruit, and frozen foods, I was very happy to come across organic teas at a low price. Cha-ching!  I bought a few boxes of chamomile and ginger-pear.  When I got home and opened the first box I was TJs teadisappointed to find that each tea bag was individually wrapped in clear plastic.  I went from feeling good about the prospect of drinking tea whose leaves had not been sprayed with pesticide, to feeling guilty that each time I made a cup of tea, I was dumping plastic into a landfill. Maybe one tea bag wrapper doesn’t seem so bad, or even the 20 wrappers that come in each box. But picture every plastic wrapper from every tea bag from every box of TJ’s organic tea sold around the country, all piled up together.  I’m guessing that would be an enormous amount of plastic.  Why couldn’t Joe wrap his tea in a more eco friendly package?  Especially given the likelihood that people who are interested in organic tea are also concerned with the environment.

I figured it couldn’t hurt to write to the company to see what they had to say.  I remember my resourceful grandmom often did this, and with online feedback forms now it’s easier than ever.  I was thrilled to hear back from Trader Joe’s customer support a few weeks later noting that they are I am Only 1 text-piclooking into the issue with their supplier.   We’ll see if the next box of TJ’s tea that I buy will be any different.  If not, I’ll have to find a new favorite.  But I hope my little story helps to show that you shouldn’t feel silly or shy about asking your retailers about packaging or sourcing.  It is your prerogative as a customer.  And the more they hear about it, the more likely they are to change their products for the better!

40 Days of Meatless Mondays

Fat Tuesday has come and gone, and now the season of Lent is here for the next 40 days.  As a product of many years of Catholic school, I was immersed in the tradition growing up and it has caught on in my adult years.  I like a healthy challenge and the idea of making a conscious effort over 6 weeks to make a personal sacrifice.  It’s like a new year’s resolution but a much shorter commitment and at the end you get Cadbury eggs and sweet religious greeting cards from elderly relatives.  This year, I’ve decided to do a version of Meatless Mondays during Lent.  Yes, it’s only one day a week over the forty days, but I’m going to eliminate all animal products on those days instead of just meat so I figure the extra sacrifice sort of evens out.  I thought that eating vegan would be a breeze for me, because I’m not a huge meat eater.  Don’t get me wrong, I could never be fully vegetarian in my real life — I love cheeseburgers and bacon and prosciutto too much. But I can easily eat more than half my meals in a week without meat without and not bat an eye by sticking to my normal routine of salads with nuts and cheese, soups and tacos with beans, and rice and pasta dishes with vegetables.  But committing to one day of complete vegan-eating each week makes me realize how many animal products I actually rely on  for my food: deviled eggs for a pre-workout snack, cheese on vegetarian tacos and on salads, yogurt for breakfast or in dressings and sauces, even some pasta is made with eggs and my half-Italian self will never give that up completely.  So while my vegan days won’t be impossible, they will certainly require a conscious effort.

People go vegan for many reasons ranging from issues with animal cruelty to lower-cholesterol diets to food allergies to Vegan Mondays pictextsustainability.  For me, it’s the sustainability factor that convinced me to give it a try.  Even if we aren’t eating huge slabs of meat for every meal, non-meat dairy products take a toll on the environment too.  Take cheese.  Seems completely harmless, right?  No animal had to die to make your brie en croute, true.  But the cow that produced the milk to make that cheese had to be fed, and was most likely given corn and soybean meal — most cows grown in the U.S. for milk are given this kind of feed rather than being grass-fed, as cows would do left to their own devices.  Well, that corn and soy had to be grown, probably on another farm which required a lot of land and water, and then had to be harvested and trucked over to the dairy cow farm.  The cows had to be given a lot of water (think hundreds of gallons) only to produce a relatively small amount of milk.  Then after the cow was milked, the milk had to be shipped in a refrigerated truck maybe as far as 7 states away.  If that doesn’t sound so bad, think of this process for every jug of milk, container of yogurt, slice of cheese, pint of ice cream all 320 million Americans eat in a week.

Livevegan.org suggests that “switching just two meals per week from animal products to vegan products reduces greenhouse gases more than buying all locally-sourced food.”  This speaks to the heart of my little test.  Will I give up all meat and dairy forever?  No.  But having just a couple more meals centered around whole grains, vegetables, beans or nuts rather than meat and eggs and cheese could make a small impact on the water usage, pollution and other problems that come with raising animals for food.

I’ll post at the end of my Vegan Monday Lenten journey, but I’m predicting a lot of whole grains and veggies in my future over the next month or so.  Stay tuned…

 

The end result: My Vegan Food Diary

Field Trip: “Food: Our Global Kitchen” Exhibit

For months, I’ve been seeing ads on Metro trains for an exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC called “Food: Our Global Kitchen.”  The posters described it as a farm to table experience which really piqued my interest.  Learning more about non-toxic food ingredients has made me more interested in where my food comes from and how it is grown, and I try to be a locavore whenever possible.

I had a great experience at NatGeo (despite a handful of rambunctious kids running around wiping their germy hands on all the interactive buttons, ick).  I thought the layout of the exhibit was really clever.  The “farm to table” effect involved taking the museum-goer through the full experience of food, winding us through displays on history and development of agriculture, to facts about food production and trade, to global cooking techniques.

The exhibit was sponsored by Whole Foods so I was curious how topics like organic produce, raising of livestock, and GMOs would be presented.  I assumed that it might be very biased but while all of these issues were mentioned throughout the exhibit, but I never felt it was one-sided or forced.  Because they are all issues that affect food production and consumption, it is important they are mentioned. But the visitor was left to draw his/her own conclusions.  Some highlights of the exhibit were:

  • Learning about cassavas — who knew they were such a staple of the human diet, or that they could grow to be as large as a person!  I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten one, but now it’s on my to-do list
  • A scale of heat rankings for peppers — I’ve seen comparisons like this before, but it was interesting to see it in person and see all the kinds I’ve tried (my experience stopped at about the third from the bottom with the jalapeno.  No thank-you, ghost pepper!)
  • A model scene of a historical food market in South America — very cool to see a life size re-creation of a market and all the different types of animals and produce considered exotic to me, but normal to a person in that time and place
  • A display of cookbooks from around the world, in all different languages — really makes you think that food is one of the few things that all humans have in common as a need.  We’re not so different after all!

One theme reiterated throughout the exhibit is the fact that humans are using more food resources that ever, and growing the food to feed all of us has very real environmental and health consequences for us.  The main take-away is that it is so important for each of us to understand where our food is coming from, and what exactly is in it.  In most cases, ignorance is bliss but with food, increased knowledge of what we eat, how and where it was grown, and how it was prepared, makes it more enjoyable and healthful in the end.


The exhibit is open until February 22 and tickets are $11 — well worth the price.  Hope you can check it out!

You’ve Got Mail

Every time I check my tiny mailbox, I am amazed at how many retail catalogs the poor postman has to stuff in there every day. When I yank them out, I feel like I’m watching a shtick with a clown car.  They just keep coming and coming!  And I never even requested one of them.  When you order something to be shipped to your home, most companies will continue to send catalogs after acquiring your address.  I decided that no good can come of this.  Firstly, I don’t need to be tempted to buy one more thing.  And secondly, I really don’t need paper catalogs because when I do shop it is always online or in a store.  Yet I keep receiving catalogs from Pottery Barn.  And Land’s End.   And Anthropologie.  And Bed Bath and Beyond. And so on.

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I decided to do a New Years cleanse and rid this unnecessary clutter from my mailbox and my life.  For a couple of weeks, instead of tossing catalogs straight into the recycling bin, I kept them in a stack in a corner of my apartment.  Letting them pile up like that made me more motivated about stopping these mailings because I could see right in front of me just how much paper is wasted by sending these booklets out to people who don’t want them.  On New Year’s Eve I sat down with the stack, my phone, and Dirty Dancing on mute (because nobody puts Baby in a corner).  One by one, I went through the catalogs and called the customer service numbers listed on each.  It took about 5 boring minutes per call to actually get through the phone menu and be placed on hold to speak with a human (hence having a movie on for entertainment).  I asked each service representative I spoke with to remove me completely from all mailings, and inquired how long it would take before I would no longer receive anything.  The typical answer was 6 weeks.  I also specifically asked that no catalogs be sent in the future, even if I ordered from the company again.  Some were very accommodating of this, like Anthropologie.  Some, like Eddie Bauer, reacted like I had just asked them to squeeze a cinder block through a garbage disposal.  For those companies that told me they could not guarantee removal from future mailings, I politely asked that they note on the call record or for their manager that I had requested this. I may be the one squeaky wheel at this point but if others request the same in the future, perhaps these retailers will alter their direct mailing practices.  If you are fed up with an overstuffed mailbox, I encourage you to try doing this.  It’s worth the chunk of time you will spend on hold listening to bad music, just to know that you’re not wasting so much paper every week.

I finally made my way through about 13 catalogs, and next I need to find a way to stop that useless free newspaper of weekly grocery specials that is stuffed into everyone’s inbox.  There’s always something…  But come mid-February, I expect I will have a much less cluttered mailbox and therefore an emptier recycling bin!

 

UPDATE: One of my favorite readers tipped me off that there are some websites that can save you time calling individual companies by stopping them all from one place:
catalogchoice.org (to stop mail from specific companies)
dmachoice.org (manage which mail offers you want and which you don’t)
coxtarget.com/mailsuppression/s/DisplayMailSuppressionForm (stop Valpak)
directmail.com/directory/mail_preference (national do not mail list)
optoutprescreen.com (opt out of pre-screened credit card and insurance offers for 5+ years – but won’t affect your ability to apply for a credit card whenever you choose)
valassis.com/1024/Contact/contact_home.aspx (stop red plum coupon packages/grocery specials).

This is great to know about and I hope it saves you some time.  Thanks!