30 June 2011


Postconsumers.com is an interesting site with an odd twist.

The site provides educational content to help readers become more frugal, act with greater environmental awareness, and move beyond material consumption toward something more meaningful.

Recently, they put up a post urging readers to unsubscribe from all those newsletters that promise deals -- but end up persuading people to buy stuff, thus spending money they wouldn't have spent if they hadn't gotten the message in the first place.

Good point.

I went through my email trash and unsubscribed from several of those newsletters. I kept only Landsend, because they send messages with actual good deals that I use a few times a year to keep my quickly-growing son in clothing. (I can, and do, get him used shirts, but pants are hard to come by because he needs slim sizes.)

The other places offer free shipping or some other fairly insignificant promotion to get me on their site, or they send deals that have to be used in a store, where I'm unlikely to find what I was looking for but fairly likely (having made the trip) to buy something I wasn't looking for and didn't think I needed until I found it on the rack.

A few days ago, there was a piece about how to cut back on air conditioner use. Their recommendations include closing shades/curtains where sun is shining in at midday; using fans to move air; and turning off all possible appliances, because they all emit some heat.

I also sip ice water continuously in very hot weather, and if possible, I avoid cooking during the day -- I wait until late evening after it's started to cool down and then cook things up to eat cold the next day.

We have yet to get our portable air conditioner out of the closet, though we were tempted that week early in June when temperatures got close to 100 degrees for a couple of days. Rather than blocking several windows with a/c units that cut off air circulation and provide easy temptation to just turn them on, we have a single portable unit that can go in different rooms at different times of day or night.


The postconsumer twist? It appears that the whole site exists to sell their "interactive guide" or their book about how to cut back on material consumption. There's a button that says "start your assessment now at no cost." I clicked on it, entered some information, and then got to a page where I had to give them money to get any output.


Another One of those New York Things

Grace Church, Bach at Noon on Wednesdays. Took the Offspring yesterday, now that school is out for the summer. Half an hour of keyboard music for a meditative pause at midday.

I was enjoying the cool calm, when I felt and then heard the subway rumbling along below. A fairly faint vibration, not enough to disturb the atmosphere within, but I almost laughed out loud.

I've been in churches in New York City before, but seldom. I think of churches in rural European tourist contexts, and the juxtaposition of church and rail took me by surprise.

And I remembered the sauna at the Chinatown Y, where, lying in a different kind of meditative calm, one hears the F trains rumble by.

Afterward, Offspring and I stopped at the Strand, and he browsed the outside cart of children's books and picked himself out yet another tale of dragons and fantasy. Odd juxtaposition there: books for children mixed in with books for parents, some not remotely suitable for children's consumption. (And now, of course, I can't remember any of the titles.)

27 June 2011

The Problem With White

I feel as though I've been really slow to figure this out, but it's dawned on me that white clothing (and towels, and pretty much anything else) is a problem.

My black t-shirts last pretty much forever. White ones, though, get stains in various places from various sources, and I end up throwing them away because they look god-awful long before the fabric itself has worn out.

Decision, then: When the whites I currently have reach the point of utter grubbiness, I'm going to do two things.
  1. Try dyeing them, and see if I can get them to a color that hides the stains and leaves me with a few more years of wear.
  2. Stop buying white clothing, hand towels, napkins, and so on. Look for sources of unbleached cotton, linen, and/or hemp clothing, and use darker colors more of the time.
That's all for today, folks.

22 June 2011

Little Ag in the Big City

Last night, we picked up our weekly allotment from the Grand Street CSA. We paid for the crop year in advance, and each week we get a share of what Woodbridge Farm produces. Local, sustainably grown, seasonal produce. Right now, there are lots of greens, plus rhubarb, strawberries, and some herbs. Later in the season there will be squashes and beans; in the fall, potatoes and pumpkins and apples.

After we weighed our greens and garlic scapes, we sat down to stay for a concert by the string quartet Ethel. The Offspring got to hear a bunch of fairly recent music, some composed by members of the quartet, and to experience a performance of John Cage's 4'33".


This morning, I dropped off two bags of compost at the bins maintained by the Lower East Side Ecology Center at the Union Square Farmer's Market.

Some nice stranger clued me in a couple of years ago about keeping compost in the freezer so it doesn't get stinky -- a big improvement over keeping compost on the counter if you don't have a place to dump the stuff every day.

Why compost? It keeps a lot of garbage out of the dump, where it might take a few centuries to decompose. No Impact Man did a year-long zero waste project a few years ago, and others are attempting to follow his example, but even if you don't want to go that far, reducing the amount of stuff you send to the dump is a good thing.

How does composting work? You collect carrot leaves, corn husks, egg shells, apple cores, coffee grounds, tea bags, grain products, food scraps -- pretty much any vegetable matter. If you have your own yard, you dump it in a bin and let it turn into dirt. (More on what you can and can't compost: here.)

Depending on your composting philosophy, you might just move the pile every year or so, maybe toss a little dirt over it when you move to a new spot, or you might get a fancy bin and add ingredients in careful proportions and turn the mixture every day.

If you're adventurous enough, you can get a worm bin and compost on an apartment windowsill. I am not that adventurous.

There are other places in the city to take compost if you're not anywhere near Union Square. When we lived in Washington Heights, there was a neighborhood group that accepted compost on the stairs at Pinehurst Avenue and 181st Street. Poke around the community gardens and public parks in your neighborhood and ask around.

If you know of composting locations in the five boroughs and beyond, please leave them in the comments.

21 June 2011

Water For Chocolate

Something else to consider about making ecological choices regarding food consumption: how much water does it take to produce?

Some scientists from the Netherlands wrote a report on the issue that includes this chart:
I know, I know, the print is tiny. I was shocked to discover that the item with by far the highest water footprint is ... chocolate, at 24,000 liters of water per kg.

The comparisons between items might be slightly more meaningful if they were organized by serving size rather than by weight, but still, after chocolate, meats are most of the the biggest consumers of water. In decreasing order:

Beef 15,500 liters/kg
Cheese 5,000 liters/kg
Pork 4,800 liters/kg
Olives 4,400 liters/kg
Chicken 3,900 liters/kg

Coffee, I'm relieved to discover, requires only 140 liters of water per 125 ml cup -- very low in comparison to meat and cheese (but how much per kilo?) but still nearly five times the water footprint of tea, at 30 liters per 125 ml cup.

I feel the need for more information, but I will be considering this information next time I'm contemplating a chocolate bar.

17 June 2011

Green Ink

This is Johnny Collado.
Johnny wears his environmental commitments on his sleeve:
... and on the back of his leg:
The tree is an oak, and on his arm he wears bamboo, because of its versatility and environmental sustainability.

Pretty cool, eh?

15 June 2011

Russell and the Gigantic Fish

Every once in a while, Whole Foods gets a really big fish.
Russell was also photographing this particular Big Fish. He's here to help with perspective: otherwise, how do you know it's not a really big picture of a little fish?
I guess somebody must buy this stuff. Or do they just put it out, and end up fileting it the next day?

13 June 2011

A Moderately Successful Hike

There was rain in the forecast, so we decided to stay low and relatively flat, walking over some old Revolutionary War trails just south of Bear Mountain. We were getting pretty close to Doodletown when The Offspring stepped in a patch of wet leaves hiding a hole between a root and a rock and went down, twisting his foot.

We applied Advil and an ace bandage, Mom shouldered his pack, Dad helped him limp along as we turned around for the walk back out. The trail runs close to the road for a while, so when we reached the point of convergence, Offspring and I cut through the underbrush to the road while The Mate went to get the car and meet us.

The foot is still aching today, but the injury is fairly minor and should heal on its own soon. The Offspring said as soon as it's better, he wants to do the hike again and make it all the way to Doodletown. He discovered some of his own strength in pushing through pain on the way out, and he's learned that an injury doesn't have to ruin an outing.

Other bonuses: Mountain laurel was riotously in bloom in the low-lying areas. I don't recall ever seeing it like that, because by June we're usually up on the ridges, looking for breeze and a view into the distance. It didn't rain, despite the forecast, but because of the forecast, parking was easy and we had the trail to ourselves.

Also: we found, and harvested, some rhubarb growing wild. It turned out to be too tough and bitter* to eat, but the farmers-market rhubarb and strawberries we picked up on the way home made a really tasty pie.

Which, as I was eating it for breakfast this morning, made me think of my grandmother, who was a gentle, loving, kind person, and though not much of a cook made delicious rhubarb pie from a patch of rhubarb growing behind her house in Maine.


*"Only by the wildest stretch of the imagination can rhubarb be included in this chapter [Fruit]..." -- Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, Joy of Cooking.

11 June 2011

Two Bikes. No, Actually Three

A guy with a Brompton towing a trailer with two kids:While I was living in Cambridge (the English one) a few years ago, I regularly saw people, usually women, with two and sometimes even three kids on a bike, using some combination of front-mounted seats, rear-mounted seats, and trailers pulled along behind.

When I lived in Shanghai, many years ago, it was quite common to see a whole family on the bike at the same time, frequently also with the day's groceries. Dad would be pedaling, Mom sitting on the rear rack carrying a child, and a second child might be sitting on the top tube in front of Dad. Bags of vegetables or or a chicken with its feet tied together would likely be dangling from the handlebars.

The third bike? There I am with my Brompton, reflected in the glass behind that orange cargo bike.

09 June 2011


The Guardian has an article this week on reducing one's garbage by "precycling" -- making choices about purchases based on the volume of packaging they come with.

Cutting back on packaging, and in particular packaging that can't be recycled -- is partly about different choices at the supermarket -- some manufacturers use more layers than others, and it's usually possible to buy some of the fruits and vegetables without adding any packaging at all. (You don't actually need to put loose apples or oranges into individual plastic bags for the convenience of the check-out clerks, unless maybe you're buying dozens of each at a time.)

But any serious reduction of waste requires lifestyle change: changes in decisions about what to eat and where to shop. Buying ingredients and cooking at home, rather than buying prepared food, limits packaging. It also extends beyond food: purchases of clothing, kitchen gadgets, home decorations and anything else need to be treated as permanent acquisitions.

The reality is that stuff wears out and has to be replaced. But what's needed is a shift from buying with the idea that things will be discarded soon, to buying with the idea that any given item -- a frying pan, a pair of pants, a candle holder -- is likely to last for a long time, and then caring for stuff to maximize its useful life.

Lifestyle change doesn't have to -- and in fact shouldn't -- be sudden and drastic. The only way to make stuff stick? Change one thing at a time, stick with it until it becomes habit, and then move on to another thing.

Me? I'm still working on reducing plastic packaging. Anybody out there know ... can you buy hair conditioner, or dish soap, in bar rather than liquid form?

Update: Some surfing when I should be working led me to a post over at Life Less Plastic about using Dr. Bronner's bar soap to wash dishes, and to the website of Lush, where you can buy bar conditioner. The Offspring's blond locks need conditioner, so we'll be giving that a try soon. And why didn't I think of good old Dr. Bronner? I've used it for everything while backpacking.