In the Raw

February 8, 2008

Of all the things we have done as a family to lessen our impact on the environment, the most important and dramatic has been changing our diet. Initially, I switched our home to a vegetarian diet after watching the meet you meat video and started to incorporate more organic and locally grown produce whenever possible (not entirely easy in the Colorado Rocky Mountains). The change was seemless and while it did not reduce our grocery bill, I felt good about our efforts.

Recently, following a NY Times article reiterating some of the things I knew about the effects of cattle rearing on our planet, I began looking deeper into my food consumption habits. Christmas, of course, was a time of indulgence and I awoke in January feeling as if Santa had actually run me over with his sleigh. Poking around the internet let me to the raw food movement.

The theory behind raw or living foods is that the cooking process destroys the beneficial enzymes that live in the food, and since our bodies have a limited supply of these essential enzymes, we must obtain them from living food. There is a wealth of knowledge about the living food world available but I have found Raw Reform to be inspirational, educational and actually humorous.

Currently I make breakfast and lunch my raw meals, and chose a healthy, whole grain dinner that I am able to fix for the whole family. So far it is working out, however, I have struggled with feeling cold and hungry more than I am accustomed to. I do attribute this to the 30 feet of snow that has fallen in my town this season though, and know that my mind is adjusting to eating less just as much as my body.

It’s a fascinating journey and I hope the way my daughter will look at food as she grows into her own decision making years will be forever changed by the lessons she is learning in our home.

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Animal Prisons

December 27, 2007

smalllion.jpgThe concept of putting wild animals in cages for the enjoyment of people has always made me sad, and more than a little disgusted. Circuses, zoos and rodeos top the list of things that horrify me but are deemed ‘entertainment’ to other people, and i’ve never really understood it.

Last year I urged our local free paper (not the local ‘news’ paper) to do an article on how the rodeo is akin to dogfighting in its gross mistreatment of animals, but the editor told me to write it myself and send it in. Obviously, I am no journalist and thus deleted his response without a second thought.

But now I read the headlines about a tiger escaping from it’s pen and killing someone, I feel compelled to revisit my awful feelings of horror that scream ‘why the hell are we surprised when a wild animal breaks free from it’s prison and mauls someone’. Why do people find pleasure in strolling through caged arenas of animals that should be free?

I’m not a total party pooper, I have a child who I am certain would love seeing all the animals in a circus or zoo. But I can’t pretend that these places don’t send a message to her, one that says we humans still see ourselves as superior creatures, ones who have the right to mistreat others for our own gain.

If we don’t eat the animals because they are penned up and mistreated in confined feedlots, why would we go see them locked away in cages at a zoo just for fun?

Waste and More Waste

December 26, 2007

smallcreditcard.jpgThere is nothing green about Christmas.

Of course, the tree, the wreaths, the lights, I get it, but as far as consuming less goes, it’s almost the antithesis of Christmas spirit.

We tried to do what we could: opted for the handed down fake tree, warned the rellies to scale back on purchases, suggested that one gift per person was more than enough, even asked my brother-in-law to buy ‘family’ gifts instead of individually.

We skipped the traditional feast in light of our vegetarianism and enjoyed Christmas Eve fondue with tofu and dipping sauces. We had a simple Christmas breakfast with lots of organic fruit and fake sausage. But at the end of it all, it’s just over-the-top, indulgent, gotta have just one more piece, rubbish.

Piles of cardboard boxes, packing peanuts and plastic bags are clogging the foyer. Junky little trinkets litter the coffee table. And the toys? I can’t even begin to list the things that were purchased for my two year old, but i’ll mention for the sake of clarification, a laptop. It seems the best solution to global warming is to not be wasteful. A brand new, plastic shelled computer is certainly not part of that paradigm.

Is it fair to my daughter to prohibit our family from buying her Christmas gifts because we don’t believe in the consumerism? Or is it unfair to let our daughter believe that on this one occasion we can behave as if we are not facing an environmental apocalypse?

When will we stop thinking the measure of love is in the material things we give and receive?

Greening the Tree

December 5, 2007

smallchristmasangel.jpgWe have a family tradition at Christmas time that entails hiking into National Forest Service land and cutting down our own special tree. Then, when the tree has dropped all it’s needles onto my living room carpet, we tie it to the roof of the car and drop it off for the city to grind up and make fertilizer in the spring.

Well, this year, in light of my born-again environmentalism, cutting down a tree just doesn’t seem appropriate. My husband lobbied hard for ‘the tradition’, claiming there were plenty of trees here in Colorado etc., but for me it felt hypocritical and just plain wrong.

I searched the internet for a recycled aluminum tree and had absolutely no luck. I cannot believe with the amount of tin cans that go to the recycling center every day, nobody has thought to make a christmas tree out of them.

On our weekly video call with my dad, he mentioned that he had a fake tree in a box sitting in the basement. With all the kids grown, he didn’t want to bother putting it up, and since he had already spent the money buying it and getting it from China, I considered this the most ‘green’ option for our family.

I’ve never been a fan of fake trees, and in my 20’s would have scoffed at the notion. But as my dad recently said in an email, the person who leaves the biggest footprint is no longer the winner.

A new tradition is born.

Garden Harvest

October 1, 2007

smallsunflower.jpgI thought my first year as an organic farmer was a total flop only weeks after planting when my then 1-1/2 year old pulled all the starter plants out of pots that were sitting near our window. Things got slightly worst when I finally put the salvaged seedlings into the raised garden only to receive an inch of snow that very weekend.

Believe it or not, a few plants survived and flourished. Nothing remarkable: some squash, corn and a beautiful sunflower that my daughter planted for me for mother’s day. Unfortunately, just as a the squash started to bear offspring, the frost came again and my garden was instantly a tangled web of black.

I decided to help the decomposition along this weekend and as I was pulling dead vines from the dirt, I uncovered a ridiculous bounty of potatoes. Obviously, I was ecstatic and brought the whole family out to watch my treasure hunt.

smallpotatoes.jpgOddly, I never planted any potatoes and assume they grew from the compost that I put on the soil, but still, it made all the effort worth it. I learned so much about gardening and will make several changes before diving in again next spring, but mostly I loved the experience of digging around and watching seeds turn into food for my family. It’s truly a miracle the way it all works, even more reason to protect our precious soil as if its gold.

Tough Love

September 13, 2007

smallstoplight.jpgWe were leaving town in my dad’s gas-guzzling Ford pickup with us kids seated on bean bags in the back when suddenly, the 16 year old son of my dad’s girlfriend opened up the tailgate and jumped out at a stoplight. He didn’t want to go to the beach with the rest of us and apparently nobody could make him. As the light turned green and my dad sped out of the intersection leaving Scott running in the opposite direction, I think now that I was witnessing my first course in tough love.

Tough love is a behavior modification technique that is about not enabling the child to ruin a family unit through destructive behavior. If you apply that notion to a group of people, it is not letting an entire population behave in a way that adversely affects all others and the surrounding environment. Sound familiar?

Americans are the red-headed step children trying to piss off mother earth. We consume more food, more water, more oil than ever before, we dispose of toxic chemicals, electronics and food waste by burying it landfills and then buy more and more and more. And guess what the earth’s response to all this is? Let go.

We throw tantrums about having to cut back on consumption, point the finger at other countries, other races, other political parties. We physically abuse the environment by deforestation and contained feed operations, ignore the warning signs of drought and climate change but at the end of the day, our tough loving earth will say enough is enough, and let go.

We are now faced with the opportunity to either continue our bad behavior and suffer the consequences, or realize that there is a new set of rules to live by if we want to be part of this global family. The earth is not going to give in.

Change is confusing, frustrating and stressful. It seems unfair and painful and from our own selfish perspective, pointless. But if my dad hadn’t driven away from the intersection that day, and let a 16 year old figure out what it takes to be part of a family, maybe he never would have stopped his own downward spiral.

Is our government enabling us to continue our own self-destructive behavior? How bad do the consequences have to be before we decide to change?

Food Isn’t Love Anymore

September 11, 2007

Gum DropWe spent the weekend with a friend and her children a few months ago and I have been bothered by the culinary selection provided for the kids ever since.

On Sunday morning, my friend’s husband made the adults delicious breakfast burritos with fresh vegetables and tofu sausage, while the kids popped open a can of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls with goopy white frosting. The children (mine included) quickly licked the icing from the buns, and loaded up plastic mugs with Ovaltine, to which they added a small amount of cow milk (on it’s own, bad enough). After ‘breakfast’ the gummy bears came out and were grazed upon until we left for the lake an hour later. I was in such shock, I said nothing, but watched as my 2 year old grew giddy with the notion of unregulated sugar consumption, and not just sugar, but fructose, and worse yet, high fructose corn syrup.

Please understand, my friend LOVES her kids and is mostly vegetarian herself (a self-proclaimed opportunivore if you will). She takes great care of them and provides a beautiful home, a loving partnership with her husband, and a stable, active family life in which they can thrive.

So why are we giving our kids substances that are killing them? How do we choose not to ingest these poisons ourself, but willingly pass them on to our children?

Since the 1970’s High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has replaced sucrose in sweetening most processed items on grocery shelves mostly because it is cheap, and manufacturers can realize a better profit if they use it. Sugar, you see, is an import in our country, and therefore subject to import taxes, whereas corn sits rotting in silos, already subsidized by our government. It makes sense to use the food we produce in our country to sweeten other foods produced in our country. That is vaguely what sustainability is all about, except that fructose does not act the same way in our bodies as sugar, or sucrose, and the pillar of sustainability is in producing a healthy, meaningful life that we want our children to inherit.

I’m not a chemist, in fact, I nearly flunked out of calculus in high school AND college but I can understand the basics of laboratory testing, and with HFCS the results are frightening. You feed rats high amounts of sucrose, and not much happens. You feed them high amounts of fructose and you see obesity, anemia, high cholesterol and heart hypertrophy. Male rats fail to develop mature sexual characteristics and females are unable to bear live children. Would you wish even the thought of that on your child?

Perhaps HFCS is ‘the demon of the day’ and no worse for us than sucrose, or trans fats or whatever is popular to hate. If we just eat less and exercise more, our bodies are designed to filter out all the impurities we ingest, right? But still, I’m not willing to take the risk with my daughter, for whom it is my job to protect, keep healthy and teach how to care for herself.

Is the price we are paying for super refined foods worth a few minutes of giddyness? Should our government subsidies dictate what is put in our food at the expense of our health? Ultimately, it’s up to us to decide what to purchase. Nobody is forcing me to eat HFCS, and since I have the choice, i’ll choose not to purchase products containing it. I guess that’s just how much I love my kid.

The first time I found scat outside our house, it was vaguely exciting. The notion that a ferocious bear was creeping outside my window as I slept peacefully only feet away was exhilarating. The next morning, however, when our neighbors trash was strewn about their driveway, I was less enthusiastic. And when the bear, on his nightly rounds, found something in our trash (raw cookie dough to be precise), I felt horrible.

Garbage Kills Bears

The cookie dough itself isn’t really harmful when ingested, but bears easily become addicted to eating out of garbage cans, which puts them in direct contact with populated neighborhoods. A few calls to authorities about a bear stalking the area inevitably means the destruction of the bear.

Let’s get this straight: we move to a mountain town, buy a home as close to the forest as possible, leave our garbage can outside, unprotected, and the bear has to be killed for eating out it. That’s how it is in Skitown, USA.

I am NOT proud that it took a bear spilling our garbage onto the driveway to figure out I needed to put the can on lockdown for the safety of all involved. And our neighbors STILL have not gotten the picture, since for over a week straight I have found the remnants of their trash blown onto our yard. I can even hear the bear testing the chain that I installed on our container outside on some nights.

It’s simple, it’s cheap, it’s easy – here is what you do.

1. Go to the hardware store and purchase two double end bolt snaps, two 5/16″ X 4″ eye bolts, 4 nuts and 4 washers that fit on the eye bolt and one 3 foot section of heavy chain link. Total cost: under $10.

2. Drill 2 holes in the body your garbage can. One on one side of the lid about halfway back and one on the other side.

3. Put one nut and one washer on the eyebolt, push it into the hole you just drilled. Inside the can, screw the other washer and nut onto the eyebolt. Repeat on the other side.

4. Attach one end of the snap bolt to the eye bolt you just screwed into your garbage can, attache the other end to the piece chain. Pull the chain snuggly across the lid of your garbage can and repeat on the other side.

Eye Bolts Inside the Can Bear Proof Can

Your trash can is now bear resistant and you, too, can enjoy the rattling of the chain outside your window knowing that you have not fed the garbage addiction of a bear who really needs to head back up to the mountain and look for berries. This is so cheap, and so easy, I may just install this for our neighbor before the police start showing up with guns drawn.

Butts in the Air!

September 7, 2007

butt.jpgPeople are blown away that my 2 year old is potty trained, particularly when they find out she has been potty trained for months (yes, we do still have accidents). Of course, the first question is ‘how did you do it’. The answer is easy: cloth diapers. Today, disposable diapers have made it too enjoyable for children to walk around with a Big Gulp full of urine in their diapers because they cannot even feel it. Put a cloth diaper on that feels wet, and quickly cold, and it’s a whole different story.

I’m fully aware of the great debate between the energy used to make and launder cloth diapers vs. the energy required to manufacture and dispose of plastic diapers, but let’s face it, 18 billion diapers are entering landfills each year from the US alone which means 82,000 tons of plastic wrapped neatly around human excrement sitting buried in a landfill leaching toxins into our groundwater for a few hundred years.

Believe it or not, many people who use disposable diapers don’t know that you are supposed to throw the solid waste into the toilet before bundling up the diaper and tossing it in the garbage. Seems remarkable since dumping human excrement is illegal in most states, but apparently the poo poo police are not lurking around the landfills looking for violators.

We have just become lazy. Again, the earth is paying the price for us not wanting to deal with our waste. If you are too grossed out by the notion of rinsing your child’s diaper in the toilet and then washing them in your washer, you may want to rethink having kids, because what happens during childbirth is far more unsettling. What i’ve found after becoming so intimate with my daughters excrement is that the better I feed her, the less toxic her waste becomes. Garbage in, garbage out if you will.

Just try cloth, even if it’s only for a few hours a day. One less diaper in the landfill per day would be a great start, especially if 5 million people did it.

Along these lines, check out the challenge that Crunchy Chicken has started for the end of September: the cloth wipe challenge. We have been doing this for our daughter for 2 years, and with the help of the peri bottle the whole thing is really just an exercise in drying up.

Suddenly, dealing with adult excrement on flannel wipes makes cloth diapering seem almost enjoyable – why is that?

Diving In

September 6, 2007

Lab TestingAfter reading Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and renting The Future of Food from Netflix, i’ve decided to do some research of my own on genetically modified organisms.

Modifying the genetic structure of an organism essentially means moving the DNA from one structure to another. It’s not black and white, there is alot of randomness in the process (think mutation) and many unknowns. Mostly, what the long term effects will be for human consumption and for eliminating species diversity. I’ve read that genetic modification is like doing heart surgery with a shovel.

While all the research is still being done (or being buried), biotech companies have planted millions of acres of genetically modified crops which could be wiped out by a single fungus, or be found to cause deadly allergic reactions in humans. These seeds cannot be recalled like a cheap toy made in china once the seeds have been blown to neighboring fields or consumed by birds.

Our government is so intertwined with the companies doing the research, patenting the seeds (that’s a whole other issue), and sueing the pants off the small farmer, that we cannot rely on them to protect us. Read the labels of what you are purchasing. GMO’s do NOT have to be labeled in the US so if the ingredient list says ‘corn syrup’ there is a huge chance that the corn used was genetically modified. The only way to protect my family is to stop buying products that don’t specifically say ‘GMO Free’. It’s worth the extra effort to keep E. Coli out of our food. Believe it or not, E. Coli is often used to make many copies of a gene that will eventually be transferred into a plant. Open wide!