Triumph of the Weeds

Moving to Greener Pastures
July 17, 2009, 1:08 am
Filed under: community, food, shopping, transportation, travel, walmart

I’ve moved. Yayness! I’m now living near the Cumberland Gap. I am also going to be starting school in a couple of weeks. I will try to keep posting regularly, but if a long span of time goes by without an update, then you’ll know why.

Time past, whenever I moved, I simply took stock of the chain stores in the new location. Despite their many drawbacks, box stores have the advantage of comfort and familiarity for people, like myself, who move often and/or have RoadTripping in their blood. I know that wherever I am, I can walk into a Walmart anywhere and know that I will can get exactly what I need and that it will be solid quality for a low price. I’ve got the inventory memorized, and the stores only have two layouts which are mirror images of each other, so it’s also easy to get in, get out, and get on with my life without even thinking about it.

But mindfulness is the name of the game now, which means that moving entails not only physically transferring all my possessions from one place to another, but also reassessing how to acquire all the goods and services I need in the most sustainable manner possible. I’m now living in a small rural town as opposed to living right in the city, which requires quite a significant adjustment in this regard. Aside from Walmart, the town has a Kroger and a Food City, a handful of fast food and casual dining, a smallish mall, a Good Will, and a handful of smaller stores. Like many small rural towns, the downtown is a bit shabby and most local businesses are struggling, though there is supposed to be a nice coffee shop that is a popular hang out. I’m going to be good and check out the local businesses to see what they are like, but I suspect that they won’t carry most of the goods that I use on a regular basis. One promising thing is a farmer’s market downtown that I have yet to check out.

This sounds a little limiting the way I’ve written it, but frankly, I’ve never been a fan of cities or suburbs, and I’m far happier living in the middle of nowhere, like I am now, than be within a stone’s throw of all the shopping I need. It just requires a bit of planning and strategizing, like scheduling long distance shopping trips, mail ordering, and doing without. What I’m hoping to do is make a once a month trip into the city to visit the food coop and Earth Fare and any other shopping that I need, visiting the farmer’s market on a regular basis when it’s open, and shopping at Kroger and Walmart as sparingly as I can. It’s possible that I’ll be able to network at the farmer’s market and find some more local food sources. I’m particularly hoping that I can find milk locally, since I really liked being able to buy local milk from pastured cows when I lived in Raleigh. It’s pretty much the only thing that I won’t be able to get from the food coop, since milk only lasts a couple weeks at most.

There are other advantages of living here too. One is that the town is very amenable to walking and biking, much more so than Raleigh. I may even be able bike commute to school (which is in the next town over). So I’m hoping to limit the driving to these once a month trips into the city and any other necessary long distance trips. That will be a great relief for me, because as much as I love RoadTripping, being forced to drive to get around anywhere in town has always really bugged me. I’m also planning on move to a much more rural location eventually, so living here will be a good way to transition.

As I’ve been packing and unpacking, I’ve found myself pondering about how people moved in the olden days, before our infrastructure supported such a mobile lifestyle and people’s wealth was much more tied to place and community. I guess that the only people who moved frequently were the very rich, who could bring enough material wealth with them to survive comfortably until they could establish themselves in a new place and build new social ties, and the very poor, who having nothing left to lose, either hit the road and survived any way they could…or they didn’t. As much as I love the mobility of contemporary society, I can’t help but be troubled by how it contributes to the eroding of community and the ties between human beings and their environment, when there’s the expectation that almost anyone can up and move to a new location if needed or wanted because of a job or anything else, but wherever one goes, it’s exactly the same, comforting and familiar. Migration patterns end up being based more on economics than on the ability of the land to sustain population.


Garden Update- April 2009
May 2, 2009, 7:27 pm
Filed under: food, garden

Yes, it’s May already, I know. But I took these pictures at the beginning of April and the time got away from me. Everything seems to be doing rather well, but I’m still holding my breath. Also, I discovered this platform of sorts below the porch, so I moved my plants there because it seemed like that’s what all my neighbors were doing.

Lemon Thyme- there’s been some nice growth already. I’m expecting it to start growing gangbusters once now that spring is here.

Greek Oregano- again, there’s been some good growth. Anticipating a lot more in the coming months.

Garlic. I planted 4 cloves and three sprouted. Not bad. I then transplanted them to this larger container.

Chandler Strawberries. Got these at the Farmer’s Market. There’s actually three plants in here, but I only have a limited amount of pots (which I got from Craigslist and other assorted places), so I’m keeping them together for now. I’m tentatively planning on separating them next year to let them grow some more. That strawberry you see ripened the day or so after I bought the plants. Tasty.

Tomato. My roommate got me this for my birthday. She works in a greenhouse and is apparently sick to death of tomato plant so she thought of me when there were plants not being used anymore. She has no idea what variety it is. Possibly a Money Maker? If anyone has an idea, please leave a comment. Also, I’m going to have to figure out the best way to handle tomatoes if/when they do ripen, since I don’t like raw tomatoes, only cooked or in sauce.

Personal Audit II

Here is my personal audit for the past year. I’m going to go into detail about each of these categories in future posts, so I’ll be brief for now.

Health and Hygiene
I switched from disposable to non-disposable options for several health and hygiene items (kleenex–>handkerchiefs, acne pads–>muslin facial cloths and soap, q-tips–>ear syringe (with hydrogen peroxide, water, and rubbing alcohol), tampons and pads–>diva cup). Of the disposables I couldn’t get rid of, I switched to multipurpose products when I could, like Doctor Bronner’s soap which replaces body soap, hand soap, face soap, shampoo, toothpaste, as well as several household cleaning products (more on that later) and vaseline to replace blistex, neosporin, hydrocortisone cream, and rash cream. I started using crystal deodorant which reportedly lasts far far longer than the regular kind; it also doesn’t contain the aluminum chlorohydrates that regular deodorants do. I started using a neti pot, which has done wonders for keeping my nose clear; it’s also supposed to reduce the incidence of colds, but I haven’t been using it long enough to see if that’s true. Other items I may not have replaced yet, but I’ve done some research on them and am contemplating what to do about them.

Hair Dying
I’ve streamed lined this process, replacing the disposable gloves with reusable rubber gloves, wrapping my head only with tin foil (which I later washed and reused) and the t-shirt, and leaving out the plastic bags. I’m also going to skip the paper neckbands.

Not much change here, except since I started using the neti pot, I’ve needed my cold supplies (dayquil, coldeeze, airborne, and visine) an awful lot less. Despite the reports of birth control hormones polluting the water, I’m not willing to give up the nuvaring yet. I’ve also done some some preliminary research about herbal remedies and alternative medicine.

Cleaning Supplies
Huge strides were made in this area this year. I’ve started using Clean House, Clean Planet as a guide, so I’ve replaced my old cleaning products with vinegar, baking soda, Dr. Bronner’s, club soda, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, essential oils, and salt. I’ve started using recycled, unbleached toilet paper and paper towels; I’ve also reduced the number of paper towels I use by opting for washable rags when I can, and using salad tongs and a scrubbie brush for cleaning up pet messes instead. I’ve reduced the amount of toilet paper I use by using cloth wipes for #1. I also switched from disposable dusters to dusting gloves and from disposable lint brush to a reusable one. I still need to find an alternative to disposable mop pads (perhaps a mop pad that can be laundered and reused) and laundry stain stick (maybe hydrogen peroxide, if I can find a safe container to keep in my purse).

Cat Supplies
I changed my cat from Purina to Newman’s Own Organic brand. I figured that if I was changing my own eating habits, it was only right that I do the same for my cat. When I run out of processed cat treats, I’m going to start using canned salmon instead. Pine litter was already a good choice, so no changes needed there. Cat toothpaste I probably won’t change, because the experts are pretty adamant about no substitutes being made. I’ve looked into non-toxic anti-chew sprays, but I haven’t made one yet.

Office Supplies
This area wasn’t a high priority this year, because nothing I had needed replacing. I intend to start buying recycled paper products when the supplies I have run out. I also need to make a better effort conserving paper. I’ve read that’s it’s possible to refill printer cartridges, but I’ve also read that that can be really messy and not very effective, so I’m just going to continue recycling the used ones for now. Rubbing alcohol and a lint free cloth is supposed to be OK for cleaning computer screens but I haven’t tried it myself. I plan to buy a Giottos AA1900 Large Rocket Blaster to replace the canned air I’ve been using once it runs out. I’m not sure what to do about pens/pencils, tape of all sorts, staples, labels, and paste. I also need to figure out how to stop loosing so many pens, cause otherwise buying “green” ones won’t make a bit of difference.

Misc Kitchen/Household Supplies
I switched from regular light bulbs to CFLs, as has everyone else by now. I plan to get usb rechargeable batteries when I run out of the batteries I have. In the kitchen, I stopped using paper napkins, opting to use a handkerchief instead. I’ve continued to reuse plastic baggies as much as I can. There are some reusable options that I have yet to explore, though, and I’ve heard that there are waxed paper baggies to replace the plastic ones should they run out. I’ve opted to replace saran wrap with tin foil when I can and have looked into alternatives like corn husks (or other leaves) for wrapping food. I’ve reused tin foil as much as I can, and bought a silicone baking sheet to cut down even more.

Utility Use
I’ve gained a much greater awareness of my utility use over the past year. I’ve started to air dry my laundry, unplug my electronics when I’m not using them, and take military showers. I also developed a very rudimentary grey water system, catching shower and sink water in order to flush the toilet. When I was living in my own apartment, I didn’t use heat or ac unless I absolutely couldn’t stand it and let the toilet “mellow.” Since I’ve moved into a town house with 2 other girls, I have less control over the utility use, so I can’t do those things, but I’ve been doing the best I can. Since the water is metered in the townhouse, it’s been cost effective enough for me to buy a low flow showerhead. I’ve also covered the windows in my room this winter, but I don’t know how much that’s going to cut down on the gas usage.

This area was not a high priority for me this year, mostly because I haven’t had to replace any of my clothes. I’ve looked into more sustainable clothing options and it looks like they are very expensive and difficult to find. There are also so many factors involved in the production of clothes that it’s a real challenge to determine whether clothing is completely sustainably made. For now, I’m trying to make the clothes I have last as long as I can, and plan to buy clothes second hand when things need replacing. I also intend to learn how to mend clothes as well as make socks and sweaters and such by hand.

Travel and Transportation
The gas crisis meant that I drove less this year than I normally do. I didn’t take any RoadTrips, worked from home when I could and basically didn’t drive unless I absolutely had to. I plan to buy a bike as soon as I can afford it. I’d like to use public transit and Amtrak more, but they usually are incredibly inconvenient or wouldn’t take me where I want to go.

I moved from one suburb to another this year (and I will be moving again in the fall) and I’m still renting, so nothing much changed in this regard.

Waste Production
By switching to reusables and buying fewer packaged foods, I’ve significantly reduced the amount of wasted I’ve produced. I also got more savvy about repurposing my trash items before throwing them out. I started composting, so most of my food scraps, paper, vacuum dust etc were also eliminated from my garbage.

I made vast improvements in this realm, switching from packaged foods and fast food/take out to home cooked foods. I started switching to local and organic rather than conventional foods and started eating more whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. I also vastly reduced the amount of meat I ate, though that was mostly because of economics. In the next year, I intend to start integrate eating pasture raised meat back into my diet though I will probably continue to consume less meat as I have in the past. I’ve started experimenting in making basics from scratch like yogurt and bread.

I lost about 50 pounds this year and my BMI is now down to 32. I’m technically still obese though. I haven’t had another doctors appointment yet, so I don’t now if any of my other stats have changed.

Since changing the type of products that I use, I’ve found that 90% of the inventory of most stores hold nothing of interest to me anymore. Also, I have to shop less for household goods now that I’ve switched to reusables. I’ve been shopping most at the farmer’s market, Whole Foods, natural health food stores, REI, and the thrift stores.

I’ve moved from Greenville to Raleigh. Even though this is also temporary, I’ve made attempts to become more involved in the community by attending events at REI, Whole Foods, and the library. I’m also getting to know and hang out with my roommates a bit.

Current State of My Kitchen
January 4, 2009, 10:09 pm
Filed under: food

My new priorities when choosing food to buy and eat are: 1) it tastes good/I like it, 2) it’s unprocessed, 3) it’s organic and/or local (this one’s often a toss up), and 4) it’s cheap. I’m trying to move away from the nutritionism mentality (which is kind of hard since you still hear about fears about calories and carbohydrates and fats everywhere).

*As the staples in my pantry have run out, I’ve replaced them with organic versions and less processed versions if applicable. For example, I’ve replaced white sugar with evaporated cane juice, regular salt with sea salt, garlic powder with fresh garlic, margarine with butter, and so forth. I’ve stocked up beans, rice, whole wheat flour, and polenta in small quantities to serve as a based for most meals. I’ve gotten rid of all the prepared meals and nearly all the ready made mixes.
*I’ve started tracking the amount of food I buy in order to make it easier to stock up in the future, buy in bulk without over buying, and plan for gardening.
*I’ve started doing more cooking and reduced the amount of eating out that I do.
*Most of my meals now consist of some combination of rice, beans, bread, polenta, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and milk with assorted sauces and spices.
*I’ve learned how to cook with dried beans, tofu, and eggplant. I’ve also learned how to make yogurt and I’ve started baking bread with my new bread maker.

Future goals:
*Try new foods, particularly various grains, various greens, and various root vegetables
*Try different varieties of foods.
*Find alternatives to prepared foods that I’m fond of: Ghiradelli’s brownie mix, Bisquick, Zatarain’s Cajun rice mixes, Stoffer’s veggie lasagna, and Jyoti’s canned dishes.
*Set up a root cellar.
*Develop list of staples and keep kitchen stocked with them
*Continue to explore new recipes.
*Integrate pasture raised meat into my diet.
*Learn food storage techniques, particularly dehydrating and canning.
*Get better at meal planning and big batch cooking
*Learn how to make tortillas, naan, pita, and crackers from scratch.
*Learn how to make tofu.
*Learn how to make cheese and butter from scratch.
*Learn how to make tomato sauce and salsa
*Learn how to make mayonnaise
*Become involved in the Slow Food movement (which is devoted to many of the guidelines Pollan advocates), build relationships with local farmers, and possibly join a CSA.
*Learn how to hunt and butcher
*Learn how to forage (and try foraged foods)
*Learn how to garden

Food, Glorious Food.
January 4, 2009, 10:07 pm
Filed under: food

I’ve used Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma as guides in my endeavor to improve my eating habits. In these books, Pollan investigates our current food system in the US and why it’s so broken. He links together the major environmental, economic, and health problems that we face to this food system and suggests that a lot of these problems could be solved if we opted out of it as much as we could. One of the big takeaway points for me is that Pollan points out that humans have thrived on a variety of diets throughout the history of the world, but the so called modern Western diet- consisting of highly processed and manufactured foods with lots of sugars, refined carbohydrates, fats, salts, and assorted chemicals- is the only one that has resulted in the devastating package of diet related diseases, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, that we are faced with today.

Luckily, I haven’t developed any of these dietary diseases yet (though technically I am obese) but I’ve long struggled with my weight throughout my life and have had issues with food in general, but this past year, I’ve managed to lose about 50 pounds without even trying. Of course, there are a lot of things going on in my life this year that could have contributed to this weight loss, but I have noticed that I’ve been eating less (or, rather, the proper amount instead of overeating) and I have been able to start addressing how my psyche handles food and where my deep-seated problems lay.

Here are the guidelines which Pollan laid out in In Defense of Food, that I’ve been trying to follow:

*Don’t Eat Anything Your Great Grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.: Pollan uses the example of that gogurt stuff, which I’ve never been tempted to try, actually. I think the point is to prefer traditional foods over the newer manufactured food products, or at least to be skeptical of new innovations rather than just blindly latching on to them when they hit the market. And I assume that Pollan means a sort of generic great grandmother, because I’m fairly certain that none of my great grandmothers would recognize tofu, among other traditional foods.

*Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or d) that include high fructose corn syrup: All these are indicators of highly processed foods. This guideline leads me to choose regular version of foods rather than low fat or low carb or low calorie versions (which add a lot of chemicals in order to take these things out).

*Avoid products that make health claims: I think what Pollan here is saying is not to completely ignore nutrition research but avoid getting obsessed with it. The studies used for various health claims are often tenuous and usually sponsored by corporations in order to market processed foods. It’s been my experience that refusing to get caught up in the field of nutrition, removes a lot of anxiety and guilt from eating; that lowering of stress levels alone should markedly improve one’s health.

*Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle: Produce, deli, dairy, and bakery departments, which is where the true variety of food is located, tend to be located on the periphery of grocery stores, while processed foods, which basically consist of the same corn, wheat and soy byproducts arranged in different shapes, textures, and flavors, tend to be grouped in the middle. Of course, baking goods and whole grains are also found in the center of the store, as well as things like frozen produce, while sodas are sometimes found in the back, but the spirit of this guideline is sound.

*Get out of the supermarket whenever possible: I’ve made a concerted effort to start going to the farmer’s market more regularly, and I’ve started getting eggs, bread, honey, meat, most of my produce, and some other assorted foods from the farmer’s market. I’ve found that the there’s more of a community atmosphere and gives me less of that guilty feeling I usually get when I shop. I hope to continue to find local sources for the other foods I buy, particularly dairy products. I’ve also considered joining a CSA, and may do so in the future.

*Eat mostly plants, especially leaves: I found it a little odd, after discussing at length how it’s possible to thrive on a variety of diets and how nutrition science cannot be relied on as much as tradition in guiding our eating choices, that he would include a guideline this specific. Much of his support of this advice is based on the latest Omega 3/Omega 6 research, and Pollan just spent a couple hundred pages arguing that getting caught up in the latest nutrition research is unhealthy. That being said, I have cut back my consumption of meat and added more beans, grains, and fruits and vegetables to my diet largely for economic reasons. It’s also worth noting that meat production in the US, soon to be around the world, is very unsustainable. For that reason alone, it is a good idea for all of us to cut back on meat. As far as dark leafy greens go, they are known to be nutrient dense so eating more of them would probably be good.

*You are what what you eat eats too: This rather complicated sentence basically means that the quality of the meat one eats is affected by the way the animal is raised. In other words, it makes a huge difference whether meat is pasture raised or produced through conventional means, and there is mounting evidence that pasture raised meat is significantly better in a number of ways.

*If you have the space, buy a freezer: The reason Pollan gives for this is that a stand alone freezer makes it more convenient and more economical to keep to an organic local diet. For example, one can purchase a large quantity of pasture raised meat from a farmer that may live far away and only butcher animals in the fall. Or one can purchase large quantities of produce from the farmer’s market when it’s in season and continue to enjoy it out of season. A stand alone freezer would also be useful for CSA subscribers for the same reason. It’s not feasible for me to buy a stand alone freezer at the moment, but I’ve checked out various models and I was surprised to find that they cost significantly less than regular refrigerators and are far more energy efficient. So, a stand alone freezer is on my wish list for the time when I should buy my own property and settle down.

*Eat like an omnivore: In other words, variety is the spice of life. I tend to be a picky eater, but I’m making an effort to expand my palette and to try new varieties of foods that I haven’t liked in the past just to give them another chance. Many booths at the farmers market offer samples of produce which is a good opportunity to try new things. I’m also making an effort to try new recipes and cooking techniques.

*Eat well grown food from healthy soils: This guideline speaks to the benefits of organic agriculture, and I have started switching from conventional to organic foods.

*Eat wild foods when you can: Again Pollan relies heavily on nutrition research that states that wild foods contain more micronutrients than their domesticated counterparts. Aside from that, one advantage to wild foods is that they don’t cost anything, beyond the effort it takes to gather them. The caveat is that many are wild plants and animals are endangered and others are poisonous, so some education is needed before adding wild foods to my diet. With my present knowledge, I’m afraid that I’d end up doing a lot of damage to the environment or myself if I tried to gather any wild foods, but I would like to learn how to forage and hunt and so forth in the future.

*Be the kind of person who takes supplements: I’ve been taking a multivitamin since I took a nutrition class in college, actually. While the benefits of taking multivitamins or any other supplements are not conclusive, there is some evidence that people who take supplements are healthier than those who don’t. It’s thought that this is because people who take supplements tend to take better care of their health, i.e. exercise regularly, make regular doctor’s appointments, and choose whole grains and produce over junk food. I think this is more of a class issue than anything. The logic behind my taking a multivitamin is to fill in the gaps in my diet and if any vitamin is consumed in excess, it is simply excreted. That goes for other supplements, as long as they are water soluble; for fat soluble vitamins, there is a risk overdosing, so its important to be careful.

*Eat more like the French, or the Italians or the Japanese or the Indians or the Greeks: In other words, consult traditional food cultures for guidance. One of the problems with the American diet, as Pollan points out, is that America’s food culture has not yet been given the test of time. He argues that that is one of the reasons why the American diet gives us so much trouble. The science of nutrition is still in its infancy, so aside from a few pointers, it is in no real shape to provide solid guidance about what food we should be eating. An antidote to that is to hold on to or rediscover our own ethnic food cultures or consult the food cultures of others. I’ve started doing some reading about various cuisines and so forth, but what I think I really need to do is to learn from my mom’s cousins, who still cook in the traditional German and Irish fashion.

*Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism: This goes hand in hand with the first bullet point on this list. Pollan also advocates skepticism with regards to traditional foods prepared in nontraditional ways, e.g., soy, traditionally been prepared as tofu, tempeh, and soy sauce, etc, now being used as a source of vegetable oil.

*Don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet: This speaks to curbing the obsession with nutritionism. We should not be looking for miracle foods. It’s a varied diet that leads to health, not a particular food that can save us all. This also goes hand in hand with the bullet above that advises avoiding health claims.

*Have a glass of wine with dinner: Again Pollan cites nutrition research that indicates the benefits of a moderate amount of wine. I don’t like the taste of alcohol, so I’m not likely to adopt this guideline.

*Pay more, eat less: Pollan points out that we Americans spend about 10% of our budget on food and about 20% of our budget on health care, whereas it’s the exact opposite in other developed countries. He suggests that if it’s within one’s means to spend more, it’s worth the extra money to buy organic and to support local farmers rather than agribusiness. It’s better to eschew fast food for a home cooked meal. Basically, we in the US have been so focused on cheap food, that we’ve completely devalued the quality of food. I know that in my own life that has resulted in overeating, driven by the search for satisfaction but never finding it in the cheap foods available. I’ve started to reverse that and focus more on the quality rather than the price, and I’ve found that I don’t over eat any more and I actually finish each meal fully satisfied.

*Eat meals: This guideline speaks to the idea of food as a part of culture. Pollan suggests being more mindful of what we eat and how we eat it. No more mindless snacking. This is pretty hard for me, but I’ve been working on meal planning and so forth.

*Do all your eating at a table: Heh. I don’t have any furniture, so this one is kind of hard. Pollan’s point is that it’s important to take a break and to eat away from the work space and especially not in the car. I tend to eat while I’m working on the computer, and I’m likely to eat in the car if it’s more efficient to do so. I see his point, but I’m not likely to do this one in the near future.

*Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does: In other words, all the food for sale at the gas station convenience store is crap. In addition, interstates usually only tell you whether an exit has a gas station, fast food, or casual dining restaurant, so if you don’t plan ahead, you will miss out on everything else. This is something that I’ve really got to work on. I’ve found two resources on the web so far: The Eat Well Guide, which lets you type in your route and gives you a map with the healthy stores and restaurants and farmer’s markets etc along your route, and Healthy Highways, which compiles a guide of health food stores around the country. Investing in a good cooler and filling it with good food will also help solve the dilemma of eating on the road.

*Try not to eat alone: Heh. I eat by myself most of the time. But Pollan’s point is that there’s a social aspect to eating, which is a fair point.

*Consult your gut: In other words, pay attention to whether you are hungry, not hungry, or full and eat accordingly. The human body is pretty good at providing cues about hunger (thus maintaining homeostasis), but the food industry does everything it can to distract one from noticing these cues from portion sizes to advertising to adding excess salt, fat and sugar. It’s important to make a concerted effort to ignore these distractions in order to get in touch with our bodies again.

*Eat slowly: In other words, really savor the food you eat and how what you eat connects you to the environment. I am completely guilty of mindless fast eating in the past, and I’m now trying to pay more attention to each bite I take and really focus on enjoying the act of eating.

*Cook, and if you can, plant a garden: Cooking from scratch is cheaper that buying ready made foods and eschew the preservatives and other chemicals that ready made foods often contain. Home made meals are also fresher than anything store bought. Nevertheless, ARGH, I hate cooking. I have started doing it anyway and am working on expanding my repertoire. Eating food from one’s own garden means that there is no mystery about how the food was raised. I’m also starting to garden a little, which is a bit of a challenge, since I know so little about it and I’m loathe to buy a lot of gardening equipment that I will have to take with me from apartment to apartment for the next couple of years.

*You can eat anything you want, but only on special occasions: This is actually not a guideline Pollan included in his book, but I’ve paraphrased it from a talk that he gave at Google in last March. Cultures around the world, including American culture, include food as part of celebrations, whether it’s the major holidays, life events like birthdays, or other special occasions. These are typically the only occasions when certain special foods are eaten, and typically more food is eaten than usual. What this means to me is to focus more on enjoying the celebration rather than worrying about the rules outlined above. When being invited to dinner as a guest, I should enjoy the meal and the company and not worry about where my host has obtained the ingredients for the meal. When going out to eat with friends for fast food, I should realize that an occasional meal of this kind is OK and try to find the best choice on the menu that I can. I’ve also interpreted this guideline to mean that I can have dessert once a week and only once a week, on Sundays, but I can choose anything I want for that dessert and have as much of it as I want.

Personal Audit I

Here is a breakdown of my personal habits and commonly used items at the start of the year, before I decided to change. This is just to see where I was starting this journey from and to later use as a frame of reference to see how far I’ve come.

*Health and Hygiene
-Acne pads
-Mouthwash strips
-Body soap
-Diaper rash cream
-Liquid Bandage
-Bug spray
-Foot lotion
-Tampons and pads
-Rubbing alcohol
-Hydrogen peroxide

*Hair Dying Supplies:
-Disposable gloves
-Paper neckband


Cleaning Supplies:
-Disposable floor mops pads
-Plug in air freshener
-Spray air freshener
-Laundry stain stick
-Laundry spot cleaner
-Laundry detergent
-Disposable Lint brush
-Dish washer detergent
-Paper towels
-Toilet paper
-Toilet cleaner
-All purpose cleaner
-Disposable dusters

Cat Supplies
-Anti chew spray
-Cat toothpaste
-Cat litter
-Cat food
-Cat treats

Office Supplies
-Canned Air
-Cleaning Wipes for computer
-Printer ink
-Paper Clips
-Thumb tacks
-Scotch tape
-Duct tape
-Packing tape

Misc Household Supplies
-Light bulbs

Kitchen Supplies
-Plastic baggies
-Saran wrap
-Tin foil

Utility Use
-Water: my water’s not metered, so I’m not sure exactly how much water I’ve used in the past, but according to the USGS, the average American uses 80-100 gal/day.
-Electricity: According to my utility bill, I averaged using 9 kwhr/day.

Note: I don’t have a washer and dryer so I use a laundry mat (1 load/week), so my utility bill and water use don’t reflect that.

I’m most comfortable in t-shirts and jeans, so that’s usually what I ended up wearing day in and day out, except when circumstances dictate otherwise. Most of my clothes come from Walmart; my fancier clothes I bought in places like Lane Bryant or department stores. Shoes-wise, I’ve got sneakers, Crocs (Birkenstock before), flats and heels. And a pair of combat boots.

Travel and Transportation
I’ve got a Toyota Corolla, which has about the best mileage around for a regular car. On average, I drive around 10-20 miles per day to get to work/school and I get about 25 miles/gal in town, 37 miles/gal on the interstates. I’m an avid traveler, both by car and by plane (though that’s been curtailed a lot due to the post 9/11 restrictions). I’d say that I use approximately 1 gal a day to account for the occasional longer trip.

Growing up, my family lived in various houses in various suburbs. In high school and college, I lived in the dorms, and since graduating, I’ve lived in apartments, also in the suburbs. My ability to make changes to my apartment is naturally very limited and my choice of a new apartment tends to be dictated by location and price, not sustainable building or maintenance practices.

Waste Production
I’ve done the basic reduce, reuse, recycle thing since it became in vogue in the early 90s. I’ve also practiced re-purposing, though not as much as my mother, grandmother, or great grandmother. Like everyone else in my family, I suffer from a tendency to be a pack rat, acquiring things (particularly freebies) I turn out not to need and which later need to be disposed of.

Again, I didn’t calculate the amount of trash that I was producing, but according to the Clean Air Council, the average American produces
4.39 pounds of trash/day.


I hate to cook, so I’ve relied on packaged foods, easy mixes, fast food, and take out as much as possible. I’ve also usually opted for low fat and low calorie versions. I’m a regular old omnivore; I tried on numerous occasions to give up meat, but discovered that I loved it too much to do so. On the brighter side, I think I’ve probably consumed slightly less soda and junk food and slightly more fruits and vegetables than the average American, though that’s not saying much.

(As of January of this year) I’ve got a BMI of 40, which falls into the obese (cut off is 30), though fortunately, I’ve never looked like I weighed as much as I do. I’ve never had any major health problems, though my blood pressure and blood glucose level are borderline.

I hate shopping with a passion, but when I do, I usually go to Walmart as a default. In general, I’ve tended to prefer big name stores to smaller ones, and aside from the big purchase items, primarily used price and then quality to guide purchasing decisions.

I have moved around a fair amount in my life and I anticipating making several more moves before settling down (maybe), and for this reason, I’ve tended not to feel a real connection with the communities that I’m a part of (with the exception of high school and college, which are by nature transient). As a result, I’ve been shamefully uninformed about local politics and the communities I’ve lived in in general.