Checking in

Well, it has been about 10 weeks since I started this journey of greening my life, step-by-step. I thought it would be worthwhile to check-in and review what I have done, and provide some reflections so far. So to recap…

Reduce Energy Use
Some of the first things I did:

  1. Turn down the thermostat
  2. Turn down the hot water heater
  3. Consolidate chargers on a power bar for easy shutdown
  4. Unplug small kitchen appliances when not in use
  5. Replace every single light bulb with a compact fluorescent
  6. Implement the 4-light rule when the sun goes down (no lights when sun is up).
  7. Air dry all our clothes.

I still have a long way to go in this department. For example I want to look at installing additional weather stripping around doors. I also want to investigate solar panels. I also would love to get an energy audit done on our house. It is older (1956) so I think there maybe opportunities that could save us money and carbon in the long run. 

Reduce Garbage
After getting some easy quick wins above, I really started thinking about garbage. I had just finished reading “No Impact Man” by Colin Beavan at the time. He analyzed a week’s worth of his trash to see where it was all coming from, so that is what I did too. I was astonished to see how much of it was related to food packaging. I especially hated the single-use items like coffee cups, paper napkins and Styrofoam. So I dug in my heels, and now do the following:

  1. Use reusable or homemade gift bags for presents. I got through Christmas without using a scrap of wrap.
  2. Swore off Styrofoam completely. This meant changing where I go out for lunch at work.
  3. Purchased a pretty coffee travel mug. If I don’t have the mug, I don’t get the coffee.
  4. Swore off all grocery bags that are not reusable. I decided that not one more time, would I forget my bags. I keep an extra stash in the car, and have about 20 of them kicking around. This has been really easy, now that I am totally committed to it.
  5. Swore off all other plastic shopping bags. I purchased these awesome little nylon bags that fold up into a pouch in my purse and have not brought home a plastic bag since.
  6. Use mesh produce bags instead of plastic. They are thin and stretchy, and I like how apples and tomatoes bounce in them! I also reuse woven mesh bags you get with some produce. If it comes in a plastic bag, I either don’t buy it, or I wash and reuse the bag.  All in all, I have greatly slashed the number of these that I send to the landfill:
    Thin plastic shopping bags

    Image via Wikipedia

  7. Swore off boxed food. This actually has been one of the biggest changes. I had a large drawer dedicated to boxed items, now it is box-free and filled with my bulk bin overflow. This brings me to my next point:
  8. Purchase all staples in bulk, using as much as possible, plastic bags that have been reused. This has had the biggest change on the contents of my cupboards. Instead of opening up the door and seeing boxes with pictures of the food on it, I open up the door and see my actual food through glass jars. I have way more space. I appreciate what I have, the bounty of selection and variety. I feed my kids different snacks now, such as peanuts, raisins, and trail mix, or other little goodies from the bulk bins.
  9. Reduce food waste. This means keeping better tabs on the fridge.
  10. Bake my own bread. This saves a bread bag every time! Plus, I love doing it, kneading the dough, providing for my family. It is fluffy and yummy and I can’t go back.
  11. I also bake my own granola bars, cookies, tortilla bread and crackers. It started off as a way to reduce packaging and feed my kids foods that is preservative-free. Now I also use local flour and this is a big benefit for me as well. This leads me to the next big set of changes…

Eating Local Food
I was really inspired by the 100-Mile Diet book by Alisa Smith and James MacKibbon. I now realize that a big part of my carbon footprint relates to the goods I buy, and much of what I buy is food. So this is what I now do:

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

  1. Go to the Farmer’s Market every week. I now buy these items exclusively at the Farmer’s Market: eggs, bison, bacon, sausage, carrots, onions, potatoes, beets, cabbage, leeks, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, pears, apples, pear-apples, honey and mint tea. This list will expand in the summer.
  2. Look for other local foods not available at the Farmer’s Market. Some of this is available at the grocery store, some at specialty bakeries, and some at Planet Organic. Here is a list of local foods I have purchased around town: wine, canola oil, flour, hot cereal, yogurt, sour cream and goat cheese.
  3. Purchase non-local produce sparingly. I purchase bananas once every second week. I have not purchased oranges in a month. The only non-local vegetable I regularly purchase is broccoli.
  4. Set up an indoor herb garden in my kitchen.  This gives me fresh local herbs at my fingertips, and helps to satisfy my longing for spring and greenery.

I am still on the look-out for local foods and have emailed several local companies about where they source their ingredients. Eating local is not that easy, I will admit. But when I prepare a meal, and bask in the realization that it is made from mostly local ingredients, it feels really good.

I have some really big eating local plans this coming year. Eating local here in Canada means you have to store and preserve your produce for winter. So starting this summer, that is exactly what I intend to do. I want to preserve tomato sauce, salsa, peaches, pears and berries. I want to make pickles, apple sauce and jams. I also want to freeze local peas and local corn.

Finally, I want to grow my own food. This is super local. I really want to pass these skills on to my children. Part of me fears that they are going to need these skills in an uncertain future with an uncertain food supply (yes, even here in Canada). But for now, I really want them to have a connection with nature, with the land. I want them to have an appreciation for food. For example, a few days ago I was talking to my 5-year old son about how vegetables grow. It turned out that he did not even realize that all food was grown in the ground! Then just yesterday, he made up a song called the “Farmer of Life”. It was so beautiful. The song started off about a little boy who did not have enough food to eat. Then the little boy met a farmer, and the farmer grew food for him, and became the “Farmer of Life”. Just having this little conversation with him inspired this burst of creativity and my heart beamed with pride. I want to take this further, and let my kids get dirty in the garden.

Reduce Consumption
This was a big one. I made a commitment to not make any purchases that are not related to food or toilet paper for the first 3 months of 2011. Well, one month later, and it has not been a problem. I don’t even miss it. In fact, I am enjoying it (as is my bank account).

Reflections
I have made many changes since I started 10 weeks ago, and have really mixed up my daily habits and how I spend my time. Some of the changes have been totally easy, like the shopping bags and the travel mugs. Some changes have saved time, like the no-shopping rule. However some changes now take up more of my time, like air drying clothes and baking bread. Some take a lot of research, such as eating locally. Overall though, I am enjoying it. I do feel busier on the weekends, between the extra laundry time, the Farmer’s Market and the bread… But I am doing things that mean a lot to me, and that I actually do enjoy doing. My life feels enriched. I feel like my actions have purpose. I feel like I am making a difference.

I feel good.

Alberta Oil Sands

I am feeling down today. Last night I watched the documentary “Tipping Point” by David Suzuki on the oil sands mega project in Alberta, and the impact it is having on downstream aboriginal communities (watch it here). It confirmed my worst fears. The oil sands are polluting the waters, creating high rates of rare cancer among the aboriginal people, contaminating the animals, and now deformed fish swim in the river. On top of all that, the oil sands emissions are equal to that of Switzerland. How is that even possible? Massive amounts of water are used; huge lakes of toxic waste are created. The video footage of the area was devastating. It is a complete dead zone. Forests are peeled back, the earth mined for oil sand, and nothing lives except for the human workers that operate the cranes and trucks. You can see the extent of the devastation from space:

I am so sad. This is my home. Canada is such a beautiful country, with vast areas of wild forests. Yet hidden up north, this exists. It exists in my own backyard, only 450 kilometers (280 miles) from where I live. My city directly benefits from the economic spinoffs of this mega project. But it feels so wrong. Every fiber of my being tells me that this is wrong.

Canada doesn’t want to commit to reducing emissions because of the oil sands. It is the economic heart of Alberta, the country even. Cut emissions, and you may have to shut the oil sands down. So we stall, we coast. We receive some international pressure, win the fossil of the year award, but do nothing.

It makes me so sad and mad and fearful at the same time. Why are we doing this? I know the world needs oil, but at what cost? Why are we the dealer peddling this drug? Why can’t we be peddling something better, something beautiful, something green? Why can’t we be promoting the best of ourselves, the best we can offer, of innovation and perseverance and hard work? Why does it have to be dirty oil?

There are rumours of a provincial election these days, rumours of a leadership race. What scares me is the thought of getting a new government even more bent on promoting the oil sands, even more gung-ho to get all that oil out of the ground, to sell it to the highest bidder, to burn it all up and put it into the sky…

Is there any hope? What can I do to stop it? What can I do to help those people dying of cancer? How can we get off oil?

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what to do. I feel restless, anxious, on the verge of tears. I love my country, my province. But I feel like they are letting us down.

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
                                                                                     – ancient Aboriginal proverb

Let’s not let our children down.



Free Hugs

Today I stepped off the bus on my way to work downtown, and was greeted by what looked to be a homeless man, trying to sell a community newspaper and asking for money for coffee.  I looked at him, gently shook my head, and gave him the warmest smile I could.  As I crossed the street I thought of Juan Mann, the guy that started giving away free hugs to strangers.  These free hugs were a way to connect himself with the people around him, to help people realize that we are all connected, that we all need love and warmth.  We are a community.  I am connected to that homeless man, even if I don’t know him, even if I don’t understand his circumstance.  Instead of giving him my loose change, maybe I should just give him a hug.

I felt my eyes moisten as I crossed the busy street.  I looked around me.  Everyone was rushing about, on their way to work, focused on their destination and on their own busy day.  I did not feel connected.  I am part of something yet I don’t feel plugged in.  Are any of us? 

I really believe that success in the environmental movement will be achieved partly by realizing our connections to each other.  Why should I save those on small island nations, by sacrificing some comforts of my way of life here, when I will not be the one who will lose my home by rising waters, my whole country even?  I will be safe and dry here on the prairies.  Why should I sacrifice for them? 

It is simple.  I am connected to them through our shared humanity.  They suffer, and we all suffer.  I am also connected to non-human life, which is also at stake.  Experts tell us that extinctions are expected to rise horrifically.  How can I be a part of this magnificent creation of life and not care? 

I decide then and there to strengthen my connections with strangers.  I want to chit-chat with the coffee shop girl, make conversation in elevators.  I must thank the bus driver every single time I get off his bus.  I talk to the vendors at the farmer’s market, and thank them for offering me and my family a new choice.  I will push myself to make conversations when I normally would not.  I will listen to people.  I will sympathize with people.  I will congratulate them on good works.  I will connect.

Yet I still feel torn.  I see these huge global problems and very little movement towards solving them.  The strength of the status quo way of life wears me down.  But then I look into someone’s eyes and smile at them, and they smile back.  We are all in this together.  We are all connected.  We all have the capacity to love.  We must have the capacity to find a way. 

In the end, it can all just start with a free hug.

100-Mile Challenge Show

I just discovered a 100-mile diet reality show produced by the Food Network in 2008, and it is currently airing again on Global TV. It follows the lives of several families in Mission, BC. This small town signed up 100 people to eat within 100 miles for 100 days. The show features the authors of the 100-Mile Diet book Alisa Smith and James McKinnon, and they give ideas and moral support to the challenge participants.

Here is the trailer:

You can watch all the episodes online here. If you live in Canada you can also tune in Saturdays on Global at 7 pm.

The last episode featured a family taking their two young daughters to a farm. They wanted to show their children where their food came from, how it grew, how it was raised. The kids collected fresh eggs from a nice, clean, free-range chicken coup. They toured the sunny fields. The parents wanted to impart on their children a love and respect for food, and the time, effort and passion that went into growing it and raising it. This really resonated with me, as it is exactly how I feel and what I want to teach my children. I found myself with tears during this segment.

Another challenge participant noted that he used to buy whatever he wanted from the grocery store, without even thinking about it. He did not consider where it came from or how it was raised. Now he has a new awareness and a new appreciation. This is exactly my story as well.

The 100-mile diet is not easy. It is not something you can just switch to, overnight. For me, I think it will take a full year before I can eat mostly local foods. However, as I do more research I continue to find new products offered here locally. For example in the last week I have found:

  1. Local wine producer en Santé Winery (the first and only wine producer in Alberta!)
  2. Local beer producer Alley Cat Brewery
  3. Local pasteurized cheese from Smoky Valley Goat Cheese
  4. Local yogurt from Bles-Wold Dairy

 I have also found the Eat Local First site, where I can order local groceries online and they are delivered directly to my doorstep. How easy and convenient is that? An Avenue Homesteader tried it and blogged about it here. I am going to try it for the yogurt!

I did not realize that there was such an undercurrent of local eating here, with a growing list of choices. All I had to do is look a little harder and bam! They were right here under my nose all along. Who knew?

I want to support to this movement. I want to support these local producers and farmers with my dollars, and add my voice to conversation. I have some lofty local eating goals for myself in 2011, which I will elaborate on a little later!

Hmmmm. “Think globally, act locally.” Now I am starting to see what this actually means!

Food Friday: Herb Garden

So the weather has been getting me down. I look out at my yard and it is covered in mounds of deep snow. I long for spring, for sunny days, for greenery.

Meanwhile, I continue to think about my food footprint, the garbage it makes, the food miles it travels. I have come to the conclusion that I have to start growing some of my own food. At first I considered a few tomato plants, perhaps a pepper for fun. We already have raspberries and chives. That should be good for my first foray, no?

Then I found Gavin, who is growing a crop in his urban Australian yard, as well as Little Eco Footprints and Eat at Dixiebelles. These are all Australians who grow lots of food, right in their own backyards. Some of them call themselves urban homesteaders, a term that refers to being self-sufficient in the city. So they grow food their own food, they preserve it, and they walk lightly upon the Earth. I admire what they are doing and the efforts they are making. I covet their pretty veggies.

But can I really do it here, this when it is cold 7 months out of the year? Well yes I can, it turns out. Look at An Avenue Homesteader and Kevin Kossowan. They are doing it too, and both live in the same city as me. Wow.

But what about my small yard? My backyard is as big as a postage stamp, literally. We have lots of patio and not much grass. My front is large but faces north. I have room on each side of the house, but those areas are shady. Where am I going to put all these dreamy vegetables?

Well I am not discouraged yet. Look was the Urban Organic Gardener did, with only a balcony? Look at what you can do with square foot gardening. I do have space; I just have to rethink it.

My plan is to figure out a plan, well before spring arrives. This involves figuring out what food will grow here, what will grow for me in my conditions, and what food I want to be able to preserve and can for use next winter. I decided to work backwards on the idea – I am currently reading books on canning and preserving. What is even possible?

In the meantime I have gotten a quick fix for my longing for greenery and home grown food. I have set up an herb window garden! I purchased plants of basil, rosemary, sage, oregano and parsley, for prices less than a small serving of fresh herbs at the grocery store ($2 each). I also saw an aloe plant and a lavender plant, so I threw those into the mix as well, as they might prove useful later on in the homemade cosmetics department.

Instead of purchasing a nice new set of nice new pots for my nice new plants, I braved the deep snow and broke into our shed. I had never been in the shed in the winter before. It was weird, being so high up on the snow and stepping down into it. I rummaged around and found a bounty of pots, soil (frozen solid) and peatmoss. I put these things in our back entry over night until they thawed and then got to work.

I decided to try some self-watering containers, inspired by Michael Leiberman of the Urban Organic Gardener. The idea is that you have a pot that has a cotton wick threaded through the soil and out the bottom. You place this in another, bigger pot. You water the bigger pot and the wick transfers water up to the plant, as it needs it. I improvised with containers and things I had around the house. I cut up an old t-shirt for the cotton.

Here are my pots, ready for soil. Some have rocks at the bottom for drainage, and some will use the wicking method with two containers.

Here is what they looked like once I was done:

I really wanted to put them in the windows to maximize sunlight, but I figured if I did that they would die. It is just way to cold. So I set up a little table for them in the sunniest part of my kitchen. A few days went by and I realized that they just were not getting enough light. The sun actually never even shines into the room, as it is too low in the sky. Plus we only get about 8 hours of sunlight per day right now. I could not let my first little food plants die! So I got them a special compact fluorescent plant light bulb, just to get us over this hump. I put it into an old lamp I found in storage in the basement and brought up an old mirror to further reflect the light. Here is what they look like now:

My son is so interested in the plants, he likes to water them and smell them and even eat a little of their flavourful greens. I used some basil last night, along with cherry tomatoes from the farmer’s market and mozzarella cheese, all drizzled with balsamic vinegar and local canola oil. It made a pretty little dish that was very tasty. Also – sometimes when I walk into my kitchen it smells like an Italian pizza. Nope, no pizza, just naturally growing herbs…

My little indoor garden should tide me over until the big work begins. Bring on Spring!

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Farmer’s Market

This weekend I managed to get to the large farmer’s market. Last weekend I could not go as there was record breaking snow fall, which has continued all week. I cannot remember when we have had this much snow, it is unreal. I heard on the news today that we have not had this much snow since 1989. That is 22 years people! It is all piled high off the roads and sidewalks and driveways. It is supposedly was caused by La Niña, the same weather pattern that caused the horrific flooding in Australia and Brazil. Luckily for us, it did not come in liquid form. But there is just so much of it. In some areas you feel like you are walking in a canyon, it is piled so high. It is becoming such a chore to shovel the driveway, you have to throw it way over your head. Our roof is groaning under the weight of it. I am so sick of it, so tired of the cold… I often get annoyed at the weather this time of year, the heavy slog of January when spring seems so far away. The days are so short. Today I got out at lunch time in hopes of feeling the sun shining upon my face, and was sadly disappointed that it was still so low in the sky that it could not make it over the downtown buildings. Sigh.

The point is though, that I made it out to the large farmer’s market this weekend. It was -25 C (-13 F) but I made it out. It was great. Here is my story:

I walked in and first stopped at Sunworks Farm, a local meat producer who I now think is a leader in this industry. They are certified organic, certified local sustainable, certified by the SPCA. The man who runs the operation was cooking up samples of chicken sausages on a little barbeque. I told him that I saw him on a video online. He laughed and started talking about it, talking about his operation. It felt good talking to the person running this farm, raising the food that I am taking home to my family. He told me that he has a family farm day in September and invites all his customers to come see his farm, see how the animals are treated, see how they are raised. I looked down at their brochure. At the bottom it read “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children“. Yes, I thought, so true. I purchased 2 dozen eggs and some chicken sausage. I had some initial sticker shock over the chicken breasts (more than double the price!) so left those for now.

I wandered on. I purchased beets and cabbage from a certified organic vegetable grower, thinking I would make borscht soup. If you have never had it, borscht is the perfect comfort food in winter, it warms you up inside.

I passed the honey vendor, not purchasing since I already had 1 kg of organic local honey at home.

Next I came to a vendor selling canola, hemp and flaxseed oil. They call themselves Mighty Trio Organics, with the trio representing the farmer, the producer (them) and the customer (me). How great! They are a husband and wife team that produce oil using natural methods, largely mechanical with no chemicals or alcohol. As the man explained it to me, his wife sat behind the booth with their baby son fast asleep in her arms. This is a family, I thought. They are doing this together to provide people with a local, chemical-free choice. As I looked on at their sleeping baby, I felt gratitude. It is because of them, that I can choose better for my family. I purchased a beautiful bottle of canola oil.

Next I came across the BC fruit vendor. I noticed that besides fruit, they also had hazelnuts. I decided to ask the guy if he knew if any nuts grew in Alberta. “Yes!” he replied. He went on to tell me a story about a time last summer when he and his friends found a huge crop of wild hazelnuts, growing in the city’s river valley. The nuts were a bit smaller than what you find in BC, but they managed to fill four grocery bags. They got them home, shelled them and then ground them up into hazelnut butter. They ended up with one small jar. Hmmm. That is a lot of work for one small jar. Next time I see him I should ask him where this hazelnut patch is found – perhaps I will take the kids on a nut hunting adventure this summer. I told him I wanted to eat more local and asked him if pears grew in Alberta. “Yes!” he replied again. They are small, but they grow. Next time I see him I will ask if he knows of anyone who sells these little pears in the summer. In the meantime I bought the best BC pears that he recommended. Yum.

I came across another organic grower and purchased some beautiful cherry tomatoes and a jar of homemade pickles. I found some leeks and bought them too. I have never bought leeks before. What the heck, I thought, let’s try something new and make potato leek soup this week.

I carried my stash back to my car and felt good. I learned more about my food, had some interesting conversations, and came away with my arms heavy with local products.

I made a quick stop at Bulk Barn and then headed home. I happily realized that I did not need to go to the grocery store this week. I had everything I needed.

my Farmer's Market food
my Farmer’s Market food

The 4th R

I would like to propose a 4th “R” in our trio of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle.

REPAIR.

Too often when things break, we toss ’em. The reason is that we just don’t want to fix it, we don’t know how to fix it, or we don’t care to fix it. Fixing it takes work! The other reason is that we like shopping. Our thought process goes something like this:

“Broken, no problem, I can get a new one. I actually wanted a new one anyway, because I can get the one with this added feature and that added feature that my old one did not have. In fact, now that I think about it, I am kind of glad that it broke, since now I have an excuse to go shopping.”

Well I am about 2 weeks into a 3-month shopping ban, so that kind of logic is not going fly. So I have to either get it fixed, or live without.

As it turns out, I have fixed 4 things this weekend alone, all toys. Mama’s toy repair shop is going strong. Here is a sampling of my work:

Here we have a ballerina whose left leg was smashed to smithereens, a dollar-store crocodile whose leg snapped off as I was trying to cram it into a toy drawer, a Gormiti named Fiery Angel whose fiery wing had broken off, and finally, Tinkerbelle’s dainty slipper that had lost its pom-pom.  It is quite the assortment, yes.  Like I have said before, we have way too many toys in our house.  For this motley crew, I just added a little glue here and a little glue there, and they were good to go.

I know, I know, these are relatively easy fixes (except for little miss ballerina, this was a multi-stage process over several days, as there were so many pieces to put back together).  But what happens when the dishwasher breaks, or my cell phone?  Well if we don’t know how to repair it ourselves, then we will get someone who does.  My husband’s cell phone is in the repair shop as we speak!  Mending clothes instead of buying new ones, replacing component parts of a vacuum cleaner instead of getting a new one, getting a garden hose kit to fix the leak… these are things that our grandparents did all the time, our parents even.  Yet we don’t.  It is easier to replace. 

Some of it is not our fault, as many products have built in obsolescence.  The suppliers are depending on the probability that if it breaks, we will buy it again.  Sometimes the cost of replacing it is even less than fixing it.  So they are also to blame in this equation.  It seems like our whole culture is programmed to value disposal over retention, as Tyler from Intercon so eloquently points out. 

So how does this sound? Reduce-Repair-Reuse-Recycle.

Can you think of any other Rs? 

Repurpose?

Better yet – Refuse?

Food Friday: Food Waste

I have a confession to make. I am a horrible food waster.

Typically I am not a waster of food on my plate. Most times I take only what I eat, and don’t toss a bunch in the garbage. My kids however, are a different story. One day they eat a lot, the next day, next to nothing. How do I know what day it will be today when I serve them? Sometimes a lot of what is on their plate is thrown away. Veggies, bread crusts, too much rice… Sometimes as I am clearing their plates I take a few bites of their wasted food, to reduce some of the guilt of trashing it. My husband will do the same, depending on how mangled it is.

Next – I have not been very good at managing the fridge. I normally whip into the grocery store without a plan, making it up as I go along. I see fruit and veggies that I think we will probably eat, so I buy them. I get stuff for a few meals and wing it for the rest. Then the week happens and some of the vegetables I bought don’t get used, some things expire. Every day I am planning on the fly. It is stressful and I often don’t have what I need.

Then when I reach into the food crisper, something slimy and wet crosses my hand. Ewww. I pull out a gross bag of rotting tomato, or cucumber, or lettuce. I look deeper – there is also expired sour cream and salad dressing. I check the mayo, only 3 more weeks until it expires too. Bah!

My husband hates it when I throw out food.

Now that I am really considering my food footprint, I realize that food waste plays a big part of it.  I mean, I am concerned about all the food packaging garbage and the distance my food has travelled to get to me. These things are not good for emissions! Given this, why do I keep tossing?

The reason is simple.  I didn’t care enough. I also was a bit lazy, yes. I did not have a very strong connection with our food, and what it takes to grow it, produce it and get it to our house.

Frugal Girl is really great at tracking her food waste. She has a series called “Food Waste Friday” where she owns up to anything that went bad at her house that week. Last week, it was cilantro, cucumber and chicken. The week before, it was rice and sour cream. She owns up to it all, and challenges others to do the same.

Okay, here it goes:

This is my waste this week – egg noodles, broccoli and carrot. The broccoli has definitely had it. Because it creeps me out that the other stuff might have touched the broccoli, the rest has had it too.

Despite this, I am making progress. I now care more about our food and where it comes from and how it gets to us. I sit down on Saturday morning and write out what we will be having for supper on each night of the week and post it on the fridge. From there I draft the grocery list. Then I go to the farmer’s market for as much as I can, and then get everything else at either the grocery store or my new found love, Bulk Barn. I bring all the food home and fill my canisters, cupboards, fridge and freezer with care. I take stock of my stock. I know what I have on hand and what we will be eating.

Secondly, I actively use up leftovers. I take them for lunch (much cheaper!). I feed them to the kids for lunch (much easier!). I work them into our suppers (less work!). I try to clear out leftovers every 2 days or so. I note dates on the dairy items that expire. I am more careful. I treat our stock of food with the respect and love it deserves.

My husband now comments how he likes our “just in time” food inventory. I like it too.

What about you? How do you manage the fridge?

Jupiter

Here is another little known secret – I sometimes wish I had learned astrophysics in school rather than business/accounting. Strange, yes. Let me explain.

When I was on maternity leave with my second child, I found my brain yearning for some intellectual stimulation. I was happy and content being a full-time mother for the year, but did want some mental exercises. So I started in on the literary classics. You know the bunch – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Scarlet Letter, Tale of Two Cities, Emma, Crime and Punishment, etc. I consumed about one a week for a while there. I was really nerdy about it too, looking up the Coles notes online, to learn about the hidden symbolism and allegories.

After a while the passion for the classics took a backseat, as I came across a series of shows  about planet Earth and its history. I am talking billions of year’s history here, like in the formation of the Earth and all its stages. I was really interested in it, so I dug deeper. I learned that the Earth was 4.5 billion years old, and for a billion years or so, it had no life at all. For another 1.5 billion years, it just had only cyano bacteria, which as it turns out, are responsible for the oxygen we now have in the atmosphere. Another 1.5 billion years went by and there was nothing but single and multi-celled organisms. Only after this, in the last 500 million years or so, did the great tree of life we now have on Earth flourish.

I learned also about the other planets and moons in our solar system. I was intrigued by Europa, a moon of Jupiter that is covered in ice. Apparently it has oceans of water beneath, kept liquid by the heat created by the tidal forces from Jupiter’s massive gravity. There is also Titan, a moon of Saturn, which is the only other object in the solar system other than Earth to have stable bodies of liquid on the surface. The Cassini-Huygen spacecraft landed on Titan in 2005 and found hills, rivers and plains. Could either of these moons support life, even in bacteria form?

Then I learned about how our solar system is one of only billions in the Milky Way galaxy and how the Milky Way galaxy is among billions in the Universe. Where does this put Earth? A tiny speck, that’s where. If the Universe was the size of the Earth, then the Earth would be the size of a grain of sand (my analogy). It is so tiny, so insignificant in the grand scheme.

So why are we are so fortunate to have it? Do we even realize its worth, how rare it is? What if we are the only planet that has life, among the billions and billions out there? What if we are extraordinarily special? If this is the case, why are we not better stewards of this miracle?

At night I can stand on my driveway and look to the south and see Jupiter. It is appears as a massively bright star. It outshines every other star in the sky, as it has for several months now. These days when I look at it, I can see that it has a crescent shape. I can tell with the naked eye, how the sun is currently shining upon it. It is 900 million kilometers (560 million miles) away. Yet I can see it, standing on my driveway. What other mysteries do the other stars hold? What is out there?

It reminds me how small we are, how lucky we are to have this one world, one home:

One light, one sun
One sun lighting everyone
One world, turning
One world turning everyone
One world, one home
One world home for everyone
Raffi

 

100-Mile Diet

I have been reading the 100-Mile Diet, by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon. In fact, I just finished it, moments ago. What they did was amazing and may have been the catalyst to actually get a local eating movement off the ground. In a recently published article on the top 10 food trends for 2011, eating local came in at #3. These guys did this in 2006 and the momentum is still growing. People all over the world are taking up this challenge.

It is quite the challenge. Alisa and James live in Vancouver, where salmon is a plenty and new spring veggies come early (as compared to where I live) but where wheat does not grow. It can grow there, but farmers choose not to grow it because it can be grown more efficiently somewhere else. So Alisa and James went without bread, pasta, crackers, etc for 7 months until they tracked down a farmer that did grow wheat, only to supply a related family restaurant.

In the span of one year they transform their clothes cupboards to store onions and potatoes. They hang garlic from the ceiling. They dry chillies in the front hall closet. They make their own sauerkraut, cheese and yoghurt. They preserve and can many foods for the winter, including tomatoes, pickles, berries, corn, green beans, you name it. They have a small community plot in which they garden. They source all of the rest of their foods from local farms, and have many adventures finding walnuts, hazelnuts, and the elusive olive tree. Much of their free time seems to be spent either researching where to find local food, going to local farms to get their food, or canning or preserving their food at home.

They find that they become much more connected to their food. No longer does it just miraculously arrive on their plates at a restaurant, or appear with bounty on grocery store shelves. They talk to the farmers who grow it, raise it. They go to the farms and see the crops in the field, see how the animals are treated. They watch their own food grow in their garden. They store and preserve and manage their food supply in the winter. Food becomes something to be cherished, worth working for. They research how the early peoples of the area grew and managed food, and realized that they were rich with excess. They note how varieties of vegetables and fruit grown in the area have now been reduced from thousands to a few. They tell us that the average North American dinner contains foods that have traveled an average of 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometres) to the plate.

After reading this book I feel just… sad. A generation ago everyone had a back garden, even if you lived in the city. Now here I am, never having grown a single tomato in my life. I live in the prairies, where the soil is rich and the sun shines brightly in the summer, yet I cannot find local food in my grocery store, even in the summer. Everything is from somewhere else. Everything is shipped. We ship our stuff to them; they ship their stuff to us. We grow the best wheat and canola; they grow the best oranges and peaches. So we trade, even though it takes thousands of kilometres to get here. This is a model I used to believe in. The market works best if resources are allowed to flow to those geographic locations where the goods can be produced the most efficiently. This keeps prices down for the consumer, allowing our money to go further. I want my money to go further, yes.

Now this whole model in which I believed is being turned on its head. Is it always better to be cheaper? What about those costs that are not priced in, those costs to the environment, the land, the atmosphere? We need to cut emissions, yet our global food system relies on shipping refrigerated containers all across the Earth, constantly. How much food is at sea, right at this moment? Or on a train or truck? In my mind I see an Earth criss-crossed with lines. Farms at home grow only a few main crops, and cannot support the full dietary needs of the people. Furthermore, farmable land continues to be reduced, due to the sprawl of our cities.

Today I planned to go to the biggest farmer’s market we have in my city. I checked it out online, researched some of the farmers, watched some of the videos on how they raise their free run chickens and how they grow and harvest their organic vegetables. These farmers are doing this differently than others because they believe in it. They are going against the grain and I want to support them.

But today a huge snow storm hit and ground traffic to a halt, so I was forced to go to my neighbourhood farmer’s market (much smaller), supplemented by Safeway. Since I had been reading the 100-Mile diet, I was considering where everything came from. The farmer’s market yielded onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, bacon, ham sausage, eggs and bison. The grocery store had to fill in all the rest. It took forever. Normally with grocery shopping I get it done in the smallest amount of time possible. I am in, I am out. Sometimes I surprise even myself how fast I can select, load and pay for a week’s worth of groceries. Today was different.

I was indecisive, troubled. With every product there arose a question. Should I buy the strawberries from Mexico or the blueberries from Chile? Perhaps the grapes are a bit more local… no also from Chile. I decided to get the bananas from Ecuador since we are now on a week on, week off rotation with bananas, and this is the week on. I decided on the strawberries, thinking that at least it is on the same continent. Some foods listed Canada/USA as their origin, as if this was a homogenous area. What about the chicken? There was grain fed for twice the price of regular. I would prefer grain fed, but I could not get past the price. Does grain fed mean free run? I went for the cheaper option. I was annoyed that I felt guilty.

I am also a stickler for packaging. Do I get the cherry tomatoes grown in Canada packaged in a clear plastic container, or the ones from the US in a reusable mesh bag? What about juice? I thought I would go with apple, since there was a shred of hope it could have been more local (as compared to orange, mango, and pineapple) but then they were sold out. Orange it was.

So many decisions so much global variety, I felt overwhelmed and frustrated and annoyed at myself and at the world. Damn 100-Mile Diet book, my ignorance used to be bliss!