I am finishing up a great book on sustainable living written by Barbara Kingslover, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.    Not only is the book well written – Barbara Kingslover writes well renouned works such as The Prodigal Summer and The Poisonwood Bible, but it is also full of useful information, facts and even recipes.

The book explores the Kingslover family quest to spend one year consuming only what they could produce or was grown or produced locally.  Throughout the project, and the book, you and they learn the fine art of gardening, planning, preserving and canning and raising animals for meat. Frightening facts are sprinkled liberally throughout the book such as the water piped into to serve Arizona residents is considered toxic to aquarium fish but safe for humans or how humans are closer to starvation than we know because of our reliance on unicrop food production has dwendled the available food species to just a few, meaning just one blight could put the earth on a course for global famine.  She also pulls no punches on “big food” and their appalling practices such as raising over 1,000 turkeys into a room the size of my bathroom all in the name of mass producing cheap turkeys for the holidays while not criticizing farmers, including tobacco farmers, for making a living.

Even if you don’t plan on living off the land, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a good read and a good opportunity to think about how and where you get your own food and why paying more may be worth the price.

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The answer is most usually yes.  I know, the price of organic foods is high but you really can eat organic and healthy on a budget. 

Here is the secret.  Eat seasonally, buy locally and eat less.  It takes some adjustment and a bit of an adventurous streak but in the end, it is cheaper and healthier for you and the environment. 

Virtually every part of the country has access to either farmers markets or community sponsored agriculture.  The first is where local farmers bring their produce and other products usually one or two days a week.  I am lucky, I live in a city that has not 1, not 2 but 7 different farmers markets going on throughout the week.   The prices on these foods are generally slightly lower than you would find on the same organically grown produce in a grocery store because the farmers have taken out the middle man.  But, wait for it…you get a bonus.  You get the best tasting and the most nutritionally sound produce because it was picked either the day before or more often the morning it was brought to market.  

Produce in the grocery store, even organic produce is nutritionally inferior (organic does not boost nutrition, it simply limits how much poison you and the earth absorb growing that particular item).  It was picked before peak ripeness so it would come to you fresh and pretty and ripe on the grocery store shelves.  When it is picked prior to ripeness, not all of its nutrition has been fully set.  And then once separated from the plant, vegetables and fruits almost immediately begin to lose nutritional content, in other words, it begins to die.  So the week or two it spends between the grower and the grocer it is steadily declining in vitamins and minerals.   Not only that, but most often organic produce is grown in California or south of the border and shipped at great expense and great CO2 emissions to your waiting grocer’s shelves.   

By choosing a farmers market you are not only getting the best produce but you are buying local, supporting local small farms that have a tough time making a living against giant commercial agriculture, you are reducing your carbon footprint by reducing emissions that it took your food to come from where it was grown to your plate and you are getting the best bang for your nutritional buck.

Community sponsored agriculture (CSA) is another great option.  This is where you “buy into” a farm.  You buy shares and receive a box weekly of what that farm produces.  It is just as good as the farmer’ markets but perhaps a bit riskier. Farming itself is risky business and if a farm produces a bounty, all CSA members share in that bounty.  But if it has a hard year, you share in that too.  I would love to do this but you have to find a CSA selling new shares. Most of the farms in my area take advantage of the farmers  markets and the limited markets that buy local produce therefore there are fewer CSA opportunities.

I have the best option.  Living in a very green city, a local entrepreneur started a delivery grocery business.  When possible they buy from local farmers but they also have a nice selection of other grocery items you can buy. It is like shopping at Whole Foods over the internet and it comes directly to your door.  I will post more on that another time. 

For now, check out this website to find your local farmers market or CSA.

Local Harvest

If you live in Central Texas or San Antonio check out Greenling

Break the Christmas Craziness

December 12, 2008

I am not a religious person.  However, I watched this video and was moved by the message – spend less, give more of yourself, simplify Christmas, live simply so that others may simply live.

The Advent Conspiracy

According to this, it would cost $10 billion to provide safe drinking water to every person on the planet.  Yet Americans spent over $450 billion on Christmas last year and many people still lack safe drinking water and die from diseases caused by water contamination.

Something to think about.   Every pebble into the pond causes ripples all the way to the edge.  Every dollar we spend in the United States affects, advertently or inadvertently, someone living in dire poverty in the third world.

Your Money or Your Life

November 19, 2008

Your Money or Your Life  is one of the best resources to changing the way you view money.  It really explains well the actual rather than initial cost of the products you own.  With maintenance, cleaning and repair, often your stuff ends up owning you because the more you own, the more you have to work. 

The authors go about changing the reader’s perceptions about money by putting costs in the form of life hours.  How many life hours will it take you to pay for something and what would you rather be doing with those life hours – working to pay for stuff or doing something on your own terms.

If you haven’t already, check out the website or get a copy of the book (from the library of course) and participate in the transformation.  Let’s face it, since we now all have to pay the bill of our consumer society so we are really not in a position to choose this transformation instead it was foisted upon us.

http://www.yourmoneyoryourlife.org/

Simplify Dinner

November 12, 2008

We need to eat but I hate cooking.  A connundrum is it not?  

I work from home and I have arranged my life around principles of simplicity by not taking on a lot of extra curricular activities so technically I have “more” time than many Americans.   But when you work from home, you have to be extra diligent not to let “life” interfere with actual working.  I have clients I have to answer too and they expect, if they are going to pay me, that I work for them not do my laundry or prepare some elaborate meal for my family.    Besides, since I hate cooking and simplifying life is about ditching those things you don’t like to do for those that you want to do finding ways to cook less is right up my ally. 

But, despite my best efforts, we still have to eat…. so what is a girl to do besides go on the raw food diet?

There are several options – I have utilized pieces of them all to create my own hybrid that works well for my family.

1.  Once a month cooking – You  utilize one day a month to prepare giant portions of meals that you separate and then freeze for later.  I am not really a fan though because I prefer fairly fresh foods, don’t much care for casseroles and I don’t want to give up an entire day for cooking, even if I get to not technically cook the rest of the month.  

2.  Detailed plans – You plan your daily food preparation (and by extension, grocery list) every week.  This eliminates the need for standing blankly in front of the fridge trying to figure out what you are going to cook.  Hopefully it also saves you from having to make last minute runs to the grocery store or the drive through.

3.  Eat simply – Ditch the complicated dinners that takes an hour or more to prepare.  Forget about complex casseroles that contain many chopped ingredients and prepare something simple like poached or grilled fish, steamed vegetable, rice (which takes the longest to cook of all of the items) and salad.

Or you could use my hybrid approach.

I plan meals weekly rather than monthly.   In doing that I plan two simple, yet smaller dishes that take little time and preparation and one larger one-pot dish like a soup or beans (with rice) or a stew.    Soups and stews are an excellent way to get more vegetables into your family’s diet.    Beans are a great source of fiber and protein and I can cook them all day in the crock pot without worry.  

We eat fresh meals three days out of the week and then the other four are leftovers, either from the simple dish or the stew/soup or beans.   If we are planning on grilling anything in a particular week, we take advantage and plan several meals with meats that need to be grilled and put them all on at once.  It seems a shame to waste a good grill fire for just a few burgers, add chicken and beef to have fajitas later in the week. 

We also keep a store of fresh vegetables that are chopped and prepared such as cucumbers, bell peppers, onions and celery.  We can eat it as a quick snack or we can pull out the pieces we need such as bell peppers, onion and celery for recipes. 

There are several kitchen items I cannot live without as they simplify my life immensely.  The first is my crock pot.  I don’t even soak beans anymore. At about seven in the morning, I simply throw dried beans in the crock pot and fill with water.  I put the crock pot on high and forget about it – until dinner.  I then season to taste.   The second is my bread machine.   It takes just a minute or more to toss the ingredients for fresh homemade bread into the machine and turn it on.  It does all the work without any of the worry.  And the final is my food processor.  

And my philosophy toward those that balk at leftovers – if you don’t like what I cook, you are welcome to the kitchen yourself. So far no one has taken me up on that offer and the moaning about leftovers has been reduced to a minimum.

I have always believed you get more from an experience than you do from an object.  Turns out a study published in 2003 supports my theory.

Assistant professor of psychology Leaf Van Boven at the University of Colorado at Boulder concluded from a series of experiments and surveys over the course of several years that people receive more pleasure and satisfaction from an experience.  The researchers believe it is because people can internalize experience and their feelings during the experience.  For instance, my sister and I took our children camping.  Over the course of the trip and being novices, we didn’t sleep well due to the oppressive heat, had to swim across the lake to rescue our children and the canoe they were attempting to steer and had an encounter with a venomous snake and ax wielding neighbors determined to save the “little women next door.”  We ended up cutting the trip short and leaving after dinner on the second evening of our trip.   We all concluded, as we fell into our respective beds exhausted and disillusioned from the experience, that we were not cut out for camping.  However, we all look back on that trip now as a wonderful experience.  We overcame obstacles and realized we could do it all without the “men” and we have hilarious stories to tell especially the one of our kids sitting in the middle of the lake paddling in circles. 

The research suggests that perceptions of experiences change overtime making the memories more enjoyable.  According to Van Boven, the perceptions of an object never change, an object remains just an object. 

So when you write your wish list to Santa this year remember that you may get far enjoyment more from a pair tickets than a pair of shoes. 

Some experience ideas:

Arrange a family picnic

Attend a music concert

Take a trip you have been longing to take

Learn a musical instrument

Learn a foreign language

Visit a museum

Take a hike, literally, with your family through a nature preserve

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This should be obvious but I am going to mention it anyway – it fits green living, minimalist lifestyles and frugality.

One way to reduce resource waste is to visit your public library rather than purchasing books or videos.  Since the library is free, it is also a big money saver.  Most public libraries now have Internet search and reservation options in which you can search for and reserve a title.  Once the title has been secured, you will be notified of its reservation and location, as well as how long they will hold it in your name.   The Internet search and reserve function saves a great deal of time and resources in fewer trips to the library.

If your library does not have a title you are interested in you can usually search and reserve through the inter-library loan program.  Most libraries participate in this option in which you can borrow titles literally from libraries all over the United States.  Odds are if your local library doesn’t have a specific title, a library somewhere else does.  

Libraries don’t just stock books.   They subscribe to newspapers from across the globe, monthly magazines, and resource materials.  If you wish to learn a foreign language they often have language tapes or cds.  For the sight or reading challenged, they often stock books on tape/cd as well as large print additions.  Videos and music cds, including classics, new releases and how-to videos, are another big commodity.  Finally, they often host community programs including story times, book clubs, author lectures, and writing workshops.  Thanks to governmental grants, all libraries have high-speed Internet stations available to the general public.

All of these resources are available to you free because of your already contributed tax dollars.