Archive for November, 2008

It Matters at Thanksgiving, Too

I haven’t linked a bunch of the “sustainable thanksgiving” and “eat local for thanksgiving” and “meatless thanksgiving” posts this year simply because they’re everywhere already- I’m sure if you’re inclined to read news, you’ve run across a few already.  Seen any you particularly liked?

I would like to highlight an anti-sustainable thanksgiving article, though, from one of the hopefully well-meaning people at the NRO.  Normally, I try not to get worked up about ludicrous opinion pieces at small ideologically-driven organizations.  But this column has an insidious message about the importance of personal decisions that I’ve heard echoed other places, plus it’s especially ludicrous, so I’d like to address it directly and completely.

The piece: James Robbins is doing his darnedest to convince us that worrying about sustainability and environmental impact at Thanksgiving is not the point of the holiday, and useless effort anyhow.  Thanksgiving is instead, for

gathering with family and friends, feasting, having fun, and not worrying about consequences.

Family! Friends! Feasting! Fun!  No consequences!  Wait a minute, why is the conservative advocating irresponsibility?  Also, I have no idea what he means by not worrying about consequences, unless he’s the guy who ends up watching football on the couch after the meal until the magic dishwashing fairies come.

Now, my Slavic Rituals and Demonology professor (less interesting than it sounds, the way she taught it) explained how organized societies have festival days where rules don’t apply and everybody wears their pants backwards or whatever so those all those anti-social tendencies we have get let loose in an “acceptable” manner.  This is a good idea, and also really fun.  I’m all for Mr. Robbins being as anti-social as he likes on Thanksgiving.  But I will not allow him to malign the efforts of good, thoughtful people who want to live good, thoughtful lives- and bust a gut on local squash while they’re at it.  Burp.

First, James equates a concern for the environment with a denial of real celebration.  Apparently, people who buy local food aren’t enjoying the holiday as much, since they don’t just buy whatever’s in the main aisle at the national grocery chain?  It’s nice of Mr. Robbins to be concerned for their total experience, but his premise is nonsense.  I invite him to wander the Whole Foods cheese department, then come back and explain to me again how organic types are bad at eating.

Mr. Robbins’ conclusion- that since it’s one day and the relative environmental impact of buying squash is small, there’s no point (and stop ruining his mindless overindulgent fun with your thoughts and calculations!)- is a petty and cynical one (n. b., this cynicism also undermines his own thesis of heart-and-not-head felt holidays).  Yes, if one person skips turkey or buys local side dishes, carbon emissions don’t go down very much.  But they will go down.  And a lot of one persons making these decisions?  I presume you can add.

Oh, also, he’s trying to downplay your individual impact.  He says human impact accounts for 10% or less of carbon emissions around the globe.  He does not cite this, he just says it.  But, in reality, Americans control (directly or indirectly) 65% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US.  The rest of the world manages to influence 43% of the GHG emitted.  Remember this WSJ article?  Cited!  I know it pains Mr. Robbins to remember it, but our individual choices matter.

So, go ahead, please have your sustainable Thanksgiving.  Revel in it, and be thankful you have the wherewithal and time to enjoy it.  Rejoice in the choices we have to live more sustainably, and appreciate that more and more people want to know how they can live better and softer on this earth.  Call your distant relatives and say hi.  Then, don’t eat a turkey leg for Mr. Robbins.  Maybe he’ll thank you later.

Recipe: Sweet Potatoes Without Marshmallows

I do not like marshmallows.  This kept me from sweet potatoes for years, since they were always buried under the goo.  My folks invaded my first apartment for Thanksgiving the year I was fresh out of school, though, so I got a chance to influence the meal.  This recipe is lifted straight from a good friend, who gave it to me when I realized I had no idea even what to do with sweet potatoes after all those marshmallows.

Ingredients:

Sweet Potatoes, washed

Butter

Brown Sugar

Water

Aluminum Foil

Find a baking pan big enough for your group (be sure to have enough potatoes to fill it).  Rub it with butter, sprinkle in some brown sugar.  Slice the sweet potatoes into discs, about 1/2 inch thick.  Cover the bottom of the pan with a lawyer of flat sweet potato discs.  Cover that layer with plenty of butter and brown sugar- I like “lots”.  Add a layer of sweet potato discs on top.  Cover the second layer with plenty of butter and brown sugar.  Repeat until the pan is full.  Add a bit more butter and sugar on top.  Pour a little water in the bottom of the pan (~1/4 in.) so the potatoes steam a bit, cover the pan with foil, and bake it at about 400 until they’re soft (this is probably more than 30 minutes).

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving recipe?

‘Tis the Season

It’s already the end of November?  When did that happen?  I would feel lazy if I remembered October at all, really, but this comes as a surprise. So, here you are:

Giving in 2008

It’s a good year for solemn gift guides.  Glitz and extravagance seem tasteless beside rising foreclosures and hunger in the US, plus who has the money to spare these days anyway?  But all this crisis makes it a great year to focus on the purpose and meaning of gifts-another silver lining in the garbage bag containing the international economy.  Basically, making it about money and stuff this year is finally tacky!  Gauche!  Passe! Sooo 2007!  Thoughtful is so In right now.

FIrst, the general approaches:

1.  How you buy it is as important as what you buy.  Start your shopping at thrift and consignment stores, handmade fairs or websites, and fair trade shops.   Etsy is an incredible handmade resource for items beautiful and practical- browse it, support small businesses, and I bet you’ll find something suited for every taste, from bizzaro to cutsy to classic.  You know the arguments for buying fair trade and used already.

2. Do you have friends with skills?  Commission them (the earlier the better) to make your relatives pottery or jewelry or scarves or whatever their specialty is.  Do you have skills?  Give your dad a year of cheerful IT help.

3.  Give time and attention, even if you don’t have giftable skills (or skills you want to gift…).  A year of monthly dinners together.  A year of regular phone calls to relatives far away (ones that actually care to hear from you, for sure).

4.  Do they already have everything?  Give to a charity they (and you) support in their name.  CharityNavigator.org sells gift cards that recipients can give to a charity of their choice on the site (they can research the efficiency and work of the charity at the same site, too).

5. Are you one of those aunts who always give the nieces scented candles/bodywash/bath froofy-do?  I am not here to judge you, but make the candles beeswax or soy wax and the bath gunk biodegradable, if you must continue in this vein.

Ahh.  Enough generalities, now specifically awesome gifts:

1.  Fair Trade Piggy Banks! Saving is cool again.  From Ten Thousand Villages, piggys and elephants and cats. From One World Projects, various pigs and owls. You can search for more online also, but check the creds of the Fair Trade projects you buy from.  In the same vein, with less adorableness, Elders: your young’uns may not understand what a 401K is if you start them one this year, but they’ll thank you with genuine feeling later.

2.  Coffee.  Specifically, coffee from Mesa de Los Santos, a Colombian farm that helped pioneer organic, shade grown, fairly traded coffee.  They’ve grown organic for over 100 years, built a school for their worker’s kids, and reforested their fields, earning a Bird-Friendly certification from the Smithsonian, USDA Organic certification, and a BioLatina badge.  There’s a personal connection, too: my GF is from a branch of the family that’s owned the farm for four generations.  As to the taste, I do not actually drink coffee- but I still enjoy this stuff black.  Still, don’t take my word for it:  reviews (and online ordering forms) are here and here and here.

3.  Gift certificates to local, organic restaurants.  Self-explanatory, no?  Give the gift of a night far away from your loved ones.

4. Potted plants or Garden Tools/Seeds/Composters.  Scale this one to the gardening level of the giftee.  Apartment-dweller or college kid?  Potted plant(s) (or tree!) with very specific instructions.  Do they have a few flower beds?  Vegetable seeds and maybe some books on growing your own food.  Do they always bring up how they grow their own tomatoes?  Up their ante with a compost bin and a thoughtful little charcoal-filtered kitchen bucket for food scraps.

5. Classes.  Vouchers or promises for fencing lessons, sewing classes, cooking classes, metalworking lessons, language tutoring, and basically any other skill you can think of are useful, and not just for delighting your curious and adventurous loved ones.  Sign them up alone or do it with them, for some quality time.  Added benefits: surely a trained cook will make you meals in gratitude?  Worth a shot (fencing lessons are less useful for this reciprocity principle).

Anyway, now you know what my family’s getting for Christmas.  I wish you a stressless holiday full of delicious smells and guilt-free giving.

PS. If none of this does it for you, check out these ideas from CNN/Oprah and HuffPo.

Gas is Cheaper

I’m sure you noticed.  I did, when my biweekly fill-up was only $28.  Also, Mom informed me that Dad found gas in Central VA for $1.99, after she got it for $2.04.  This was exciting because one of my Dad’s favorite things is procuring cheap gas- once he remapped my route to high school so I’d hit the $.99 station.

According to Reuter’s, we’re still not driving as much as we were last year, even though gas (and oil) has dropped by 50% since July.  Woot!  Perhaps we have finally begun restructuring our lives around more sustainable methods of transportation!

Or not.  The article points out that the economy is so bad right now that even with gas at $2, instead of the $5 or $7 that seemed possible this summer, lots of people still can’t justify as much gas as they’re used to in their budgets.  The reduction may make some able to take holiday trips, so we’ll likely see a normal spike in driving in the next couple of months, but the overall decrease in driving might be here to stay.

I’m torn between being happy about this and cranky at the underlying causes.  I’m not one who thinks the ends justify the means- so let’s focus on trying to see less driving as a thin silver lining?

Environmental Action Plan Is A Go

The Open House Monday night in the bowels of the Lee Center was well-attended, though it was hard to tell who was an innocent civilian and who was with the VA Tech group or the City.  I dropped in and got a copy of the EAP, read through it, and was very pleased.  This is the list of the real stuff Alexandria is going to be doing to become an Eco-City: goals, maneuvers, plots- stuff that, if the City doesn’t do it, we will be able to tell, and get mad at them for it.  I do enjoy accountability.

Representatives from the City explaining various aspects of the plan (8 or 9 main bits, check it all out at the Eco City website, there’s a linked .pdf) were stationed all around the room, and after a bunch of speeches on the process, we were made to ask them questions and give them suggestions.  At this point, I had to go home and do my homework and cook dinner, etc.

I like what I had time to see, and I’ve gotten a few emails reminding me to keep up with them since.  Just from the faces of those attending, thought, it looked like the same people who showed up for the Summit.  Fortunately, during the speech portion, it was emphasized repeatedly that the City is aware of this.  Part of the Plan is a series of community projects, aimed at both making Alexandria nice and getting lots of people all over the City involved in this.  Hope it works out!

I look forward to being able to pitch in on some of the projects.  Going to meetings and filling out surveys is one thing, but I’ll feel much more active cleaning a waterway or whatnot.

Read the EAP Phase I and take the survey on what you think about it at the VT Eco-City website.

Reminder: Eco City Open House Tonight

It’s from 6:30 to 9:30 at the Lee Center, 1108 Jefferson St., Alexandria VA. I can’t find a schedule for the meeting, and the posted flyer (that’s a .pdf file) I just saw asked for an RSVP by November 10th, which I certainly didn’t do.  So, I can’t tell if they want us to be there the entire time, or if I’m crashing, but I’ll check it out when I can.

The Eco-City Alexandria Blog has linked the drafts of the Environmental Action Plans we as citizens are supposed to be reviewing, so you can do your homework.  If you can’t make it, emailed suggestions are welcome (eco-cityalexandra (at) alexandriava.com).

See you there!

The Daily Show on Energy Plans

The Daily Show has had an energy double header this week- Thomas Friedman on Tuesday and T. Boone Pickens, talking about their respective books.

Friedman is a reliably green opinionator for the NYT on Sundays and Wednesdays.  His book is “Hot, Flat, and Crowded”, and I believe it’s about how global warming sucks for the world, and what we should do about that.

Pickens’ is a very rich old man with a yen for natural gas and wind energy and such.  His “The First Billion Is the Hardest” is apparently about his plan for energy independence.  Also, he’s got a wonderful accent, so listening to him talk about trucks is soothing- it’s like he’s everybody’s adorable energy-planning grandpa.

Anyway, head over the the Show’s website to see Friedman and Pickens. I’m too tired to wrassle the video player over here for you tonight.

GreenFestival: Part 1

Part 2 is where I talk about the exciting intellectual part, so part 1 is mostly about how I like their decorations.

img_8867

I liked their decoration ok, though that colorful thing belongs at a preschool, not at the Convention Center.  More photos in the albumz.

I headed over to GreenFestival Sunday (EcoCheap saw the McDonough talk Saturday, so I’ll link you to him when he blogs on it- EC!  BLOG!), and I’m bad at reading charts, so I didn’t see Barbara Ehrenreich speak.  But I did wander around confusedly, and take things from vendors, and pay $5 for mango juice, and see Robert Engelman’s talk on More.

First, I don’t exactly recommend you go to the GreenFestival just to wander around the booths.  They had a bunch of different kinds of booths- fair trade sellers, national organic brands, organic groceries, Planet Green, a bunch of advocacy groups running the gamut from suits to hippies, green builder companies, etc.   Plus people selling mostly vegetarian food, but I’d had breakfast.  So there’s lots to see, but mostly so you can take a flyer or a free sample or get interrogated about your planned home renovations.  The fair trade shopping was very gifty-for-gift sake.  If this is your thing, do enjoy.

No, go for the speakers!  The speakers were all great.  I assume.  EC said his was great, the talk I saw was great.  Definitely go for that- they offer a ton of topics (yes, LITERALLY), and plenty of juice for your mind grapes.  No, fertilizer so you get plenty of juice from your mind grapes.  Yes, better analogy.

Anyway, the highlight for me was Engelman’s talk, since it cleared up some of my confusion after reading his book.  I also got to have a short chat with him.  That will be part 2.  If you want a shorter (than his book) summary of his book, he recommends you try this review at CultureChange.  See, now I don’t even have to review it! Part 2 accomplished.

I will anyway, since that is the nature of a blogger.

Progress: Volunteerism

Welcome to my failure.  I don’t do activism, I don’t do volunteering, I mostly do sleeping late and donating online.  That’s what I’m comfortable with, that’s what I’m good at.

I actually have volunteered since I set it as the October goal.  I spent a couple hours canvassing for Barack Obama November 2nd.  That took two days of personal guilt trips and John McCain’s stance on women’s health to get going.  I started a new job and there were midterms and this wedding and it was cold and I am fantastic at having a ton of excuses to not leave my basement.

So yeah, I lose.  But this is it.  This is what I’m bad at, and it’s always been my problem:  I am no good at giving my time to other people that I do not personally know.  Also I get a little cranky when people invite me to parties while I would rather stay home and sew, but that’s a different issue.  Maybe not.

Point is, I have to work on this until it’s gone.  So, this month, it’s volunteerism again.  Volunteerism and um.  Giving.  Like Christmas, but the organic whole wheat soy fairly traded version.  They’re kinda the same premise, I guess, doing for others the wholesome way, and I need to work on it.

Volunteering/Activism/Acting in general will continue to be a monthly goal until i get it right, and I’m redirecting all the guilt I can muster at it.  I’m finding a local food bank and taking them a bag of groceries a week, in person.  I’m going to see where I can tutor or clean up or something.  I’ll get a friend to harass me until these things get done.  You can help.  Make me feel bad.

I’m looking forward to Giving, though!  A Gift guide!  Recipes, perhaps!  Anything to distract me from argh.

Eco City Action Plan Meeting November 17th

So’s you know- the Eco City Alexandria Initiative has hit that stage where the city has a Plan. There’s an Open House at the Lee Center Lee Center from 6:30 to 9:30 next Monday, where we can comment on their short-term Environmental Action Plan. If you’d like a say on what the city does to get an ecostart over the next three years, stop by- or email eco-cityalexandra (at) alexandriava.com.


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virescent.blog (at ) gmail.com

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