Thursday, March 31, 2011

Aha! and Huh? (No. 2)

Here we go again with the good and the bad of my lil' ecologics  world..


This is a lecture from Daniel Gilbert, a professor of Psychology at Harvard, who explains why people are in denial when confronting the issues surrounding global warming.
Very informative and incredibly well summarized. Everyone should listen to him, it makes perfect sense!


I went to Fry’s this week and brought my own cloth grocery bags.
As a reward for doing so, I got a sticker! Love it, it says "You saved a plastic bag."

My reward for not using plastic is… a piece of plastic.
Let's not be overly eco-friendly, we wouldn't want to make this too efficient.


Thursday, March 24, 2011


We just came back from a beautiful vacation in Mexico, where I pondered life while staring at the big blue expanse of water in front of me. And although items such as beer, pretzels, and pancakes were consumed in rather large quantities, we also ate some healthy and super ecologic dishes. Cheap, in some cases free, local, and fresh, fresh, fresh.

Not to sound overly cheesy, but it’s nice to connect directly with the food you eat; either with the people who bring the food to you or the animals that make up what you are about to eat. Sorry, I'm coming back from vacation and now I'm feeling philosophical and nostalgic I guess!

A stroll along the peer gave us some fresh shrimp.
They turned into this:

A morning sitting in the kayak, watching the seagulls, and daydreaming.
It turned into this:

Which then turned into this:

And finally into this:

The tortillas were still steaming hot when we bought them from the local market.
And they turned into this:

¡Buen provecho!

Man I want to go back
We don't need to work do we?
We could just fish all day instead...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Eco Costco?

I shop at Costco perhaps once or twice a month and we try to be eco-logic when shopping in general. However, I’m not perfect.
We eat a lot of cereal and that has a lot of packaging, there is no bulk cereal available where we are and I am not ready to make my own granola. We use a rather large amount of disposable diapersand I am really not ready to do cloth diapers quite yet.
Bu we definitely don't always make smart choices.

Exhibit A:
My kids love the Vache-Qui-Rit (Laughing Cow) cheese, which I like to buy because it reminds me of home (France).
Is it the best-tasting cheese in the world? No

Is it an organic, all natural food? Nope

Is it cheap? Not really

Is it well packaged? Heck no; individual chunks of cheese wrapped in aluminum foil, wrapped in a cardboard box, and wrapped again in a larger box.
Do I buy it every time we go to Costco? Yes I do

So I don’t want to sound like I always make the best decisions, I most definitely don’t! And I don’t want to be hypocritical either. But after shopping there for about a year now, here are some of the pros and cons in my humble opinion in terms of environmental-friendliness at Costco.

On the plus side:

1. No plastic at the checkout. You either bring your own bags, or they provide you with cardboard boxes; which brings me to my second point;

2. Cardboard recycling. The boxes used to ship and package the food is reused at the checkout aisle for customers to take home.

3. Organic food. They have a growing selection of organic produce, chicken, cereal, soups, coffee, etc.

4. Bulk food. Some products, such as nuts, cereal, or cheese come in large quantities with less packaging per weight of produce sold than in other grocery stores.

5. Less handling. You buy the food directly from the wholesaler, instead of it being handled by a middleman company. Less shipping, redistributing, shelving, etc.

6. Cheaper. Many of the products available are also much cheaper, both for regular and organic.

However, on the negative side:

1. Shipment Packaging. There is an incredible amount of different types of wrapping, paper, plastic, and cardboard used to ship and store the large quantities of food. Granted, a lot of this is similar to other grocery stores, we just don’t see it elsewhere because the food is unwrapped behind closed doors.

2. Individual packaging. Large quantities doesn’t necessarily equate with smart packaging. You can buy 50 mini bags of Doritos individually wrapped instead of just buying one large bags of chips.

3. Serving size. From a nutritional point of view, I really think that it makes giant sizes the new norm in terms of how much is an acceptable amount to both buy and eat. And although many Costco products are made for the food industry at large, individuals now buy the same large quantities of food for personal consumption.

4. Food waste? I’ve done this before, bought the huge box of yogurt because it was such a good deal, and it went bad before we could finish it. Better to buy smaller quantities, fresher produce, and not-as much frozen food. It’s healthier and you know your family will eat it. And I don’t know the answer to this, but I wonder if they have to throw more expired/moldy food or produce away than other food retailers due to the large quantities that they deal with.

5. Food ‘allure’ part 1. As soon as you are at the checkout, before you can get to your car you have to pass the giant pizza/ice cream/soda area, where you can buy fast food for dirt cheap. Way to promote unhealthy food and unhealthy eating habits.

 6. Food ‘allure’ part 2. And then there are the little tasting booths. Sometimes the options are great, we got free yogurt last time and my kids quietly ate them for the entire time we were shopping. However, when the options are dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and weight-loss cookies, it also leads to having to repeat over and over “no we are not getting that, no you can’t taste it, I know everyone else is tasting them, but you can’t” and telling the nice old lady “no thank you my kids don’t want any,” while they are screaming “but I want one!”

Again, what is my conclusion? I don’t know. I think almost anything in moderation is ok.

And next time you go to Costco you should try some Vache-Qui-Rit, it’s so good!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Would You Rather... Eat Cat Food or a Twinkie?

This sounds like a joke.

Or an episode of Jackass.

Or something you read on the front page of the Enquirer, “Crazy woman eats nothing but cat food for 30 years…

Or a Truth or Dare:
1. Truth: What are the ingredients of a Twinkie?
2. Dare: Try some cat food!

But how bad is cat food, really?

Most obviously, there is a social stigma to eating pet food. Even if your kid eats a clean piece of dog food that just fell out of the bag, man you go bonkers, right? “Aaah, that’s grO-Oss, put that down!!!!”

But if you go to the pet food aisle of the grocery store, it’s almost appealing. There are literally raw diet options for your pets, probiotics, vitamins, and diet supplements. There are all-natural, vegetarian, and organic options. There is a fridge for ‘fresh options,’ and a variety of treats that come in all shapes and colors.

Well, I randomly went with the Friskies brand. And just for that brand there are plenty of options. You got your basic giant bags of dry food, but they’re called “Seafood Sensations.” Wet cat food options include “Seared Filets with Beef and Chicken.” If your cat has been on his best behavior you can buy him “Party Mix Wild West Crunch” treats.

So I decided to pick a cat treat that sounded the least-appealing to me. The best I could find was a nice little snack called “Crunchy Hairball Remedy.” Sounds delish!

Here is the list of ingredients:
Ground wheat, ground yellow corn, brewers rice, petrolatum, poultry by-product meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), animal liver flavor, wheat gluten, tuna, tuna meal, natural and artificial flavors, salt, added color (Yellow 5 and other color), calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, choline chloride. A-6220.

So, without analyzing each ingredient, here some basic interesting facts.
1. Petrolatum is the active ingredient to get rid of those naughty lil’ hairballs.
2. Not sure what the terms “poultry by-product,” “flavor,” and “natural and artificial flavors” all actually imply but it can’t be too good.
3. The colorants are also very vague. Yellow 5 is pretty nasty, can be carcinogenic when combined with other ingredients and can cause hyperactivity in children (how about cats?). And I can’t figure out what A-6220 refers to…
4. However, potassium chloride is just a salt substitute and is considered safe. Calcium carbonate is a calcium supplement, and choline chloride is an additive often found in poultry food. Some people take as a supplement to improve liver health and helps cell growth.

Not loving these ingredients necessarily, but I guess these are ok. Most of the ingredients, tuna, rice, wheat, liver, salt are actually recognizable foods.

I did pick one of the worst-sounding ones, so now I’ll try one of the better sounding brand of cat food. I found another dry cat food called “California Natural” and chose the “Herring and Sweet Potato” option.

Here are the ingredients:
Herring, barley, oatmeal, herring meal, chicken fat, natural flavors, sweet potatoes, sunflower oil, herring oil, vitamins, DL Methionine, Minerals, Taurine, and rosemary extract.

I actually recognize almost everything here. The only odd ones are DL Methionine, which helps reduce the Ph in pet urine, most often due to their eating grass. The other unknown ingredient to me is Taurine, which is an amino acid that is crucial for cat- neurological and cardiovascular health, especially vision. It’s supposedly found in many energy drinks too.

The best pet food seems to be Newman’s organic cat food. Man, range-free beef, no animal by-products, all organic vegetables. Pretty neat. Here is a link to what is, and more importantly what is not, in their pet food:

Now, going back to my original question. Cat food or Twinkie?
Pretty much everyone would agree that Twinkies are not the best for you, but most people would eat that rather than Kitty’s dinner.

Do I get a unanimous YES here people?
Well let’s compare, shall we?

"Inventive and Unexpected"...indeed!

Now here is the list of ingredients for our Twinkies. I should preface this by saying that the ingredients are not available on the Hostess website and it took me quite a while to find that list online!

However, you will be happy to know that although Hostess doesn’t tell you what Twinkies are made of, they have a list of recipes for you to try, my favorite being Hostess Twinkies Sushi.( 
YU-MMY… But I digress. 

Enriched Wheat Flour (enriched with ferrous sulfate (iron), B vitamins (niacin, thiamine mononitrate [B1], riboflavin [B2] and folic acid)), Sugar, Corn syrup, Water, High fructose corn syrup, Vegetable and/or animal shortening (containing one or more of partially hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed or canola oil, and beef fat), Dextrose, Whole eggs, 2% or less of: Modified corn starch, Cellulose gum, Whey, Leavenings (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate), Salt, Cornstarch, Corn flour, Corn syrup solids, Mono and diglycerides, Soy lecithin, Polysorbate 60, Dextrin, Calcium caseinate, Sodium stearol lactylate, Wheat gluten, Calcium sulfate, Natural and artificial flavors, Caramel color, Sorbic acid (to retain freshness), Artificial color (yellow 5, red 40)

So I don’t know enough to even begin to analyze all this. Here are just a few quick interesting things that I noticed. I recognize wheat, sugar, salt, and eggs. And let’s not forget, beef fat!
The rest is all chemical stuff I have to investigate:
1. Here is that Yellow 5 again. Although widely used, causes allergies, hypertension, and can be linked to cancer.
2. Again with the natural and artificial flavors. That could mean anything.
3. Then there is Caramel coloring, which is possibly carcinogenic
4. Now look at that long list of corn byproducts (can anyone say GMO?). You have cornstarch and modified cornstarch (what is the difference anyway?), corn flour, dextrin (usually made from corn), corn syrup solids, and BOTH corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup.
5. How many ways can you say sugar? Well ok sugar, but also corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, corn syrup solids, and caramel color.
6. And on a final note, I am not sure why they need to tell us that there is only 2% or less of some of the ingredients. Are they just following some weird food regulation rule? If it were only one drop of arsenic, I’d think it would be worth mentioning. As if, “well yes there are a couple of weird things in here, but hey it’s only 2% or less, so it can’t be that bad.”

There’s actually a book called Twinkie Deconstructed that already did the work for us. It goes through the list and explains the origins, manufacturing process, health implications, etc. of all 37 ingredients! That you could write a whole book about this is already a pretty tell-tale sign:

This is a short excerpt from the author, Steve Ettlinger’s, Twinkie book:

Eat enough of ‘em, and you’ll be able to suss out the bouquet of fresh, Delaware polysorbate 60, and good Georgian cellulose gum; a hint of prime Oklahoman calcium sulfate, or that fine, Midwestern soybean shortening, if not the finest high fructose corn syrup Nebraska has to offer.”

I’m still going to avoid eating cat food when possible. But if I am stranded on a deserted island and I have to pick between Twinkies and Cat Food, I think I'm gonna go with “Indoor Adventures Crunchy Chicken Flavor Cat Treats.”

Bon Appetit!

Thanks Coralee for this blog post idea!!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Aha! and Huh? (No. 1)

So, I’ve decided to share with you pictures or pieces of info on the state of eco-logics in the world today. Anything goes, cool local projects, statewide politics, international relations, etc. To try and make it even, I’ll look for a positive piece of info so we can feel happy about our fellow humans and their actions, as well as a weird or dumb one for entertainment purposes.

If you would like to share happy, silly, or dumb eco pictures, please send them my way and I’ll post them!

So here we go with our first duo:

I’ve been working for over a year at our local Liberal Arts College and just this week noticed how ecologic it was. Solar panels, xeriscaping, rainwater harvesting, etc.

The entire terracing behind the college is made with recycled asphalt. A little dreary in the winter, but they use the area to grow veggies that they then sell on campus. Great idea, good job Prescott College!

The news has been highlighting the increasing food prices in the US, trying to show the tough decisions Americans are facing when shopping. Here is the picture from the front page of the MSN a few days ago.

I don’t disagree with the topic of their article at all, but come on, pick a better picture. The woman is holding 3 bottles of soda and looking at cake mixes. Apparently, the recession is not that bad, she still has enough money to buy junk food.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jam Session

“Over the bridge and over the dam, looking for berries, berries for jam”

Jam sounds complicated and fancy to make but in reality it is really very easy.

Don’t buy fruit right from the grocery store though. Especially if you want to make berry jam, which would be too expensive. Buy it fresh but on sale, frozen, or buy it bulk. Or even better, get it straight off the tree or bush. Which I didn’t do here, I got a crate of strawberries from my co-op.

Just chop up your fruit in small pieces, the smaller the easier and the faster it will cook. Unless, that is, you like chunky jam. Some fruit keep their consistency better than others. For example, strawberries will stay firm whereas blueberries or peaches will mush up more.

Also stay with the basics, I wouldn't go for kiwi jam on your first try. I wouldn’t mix fruit either, except for berries. Some people are more creative than I am and incorporate flowers (lavender), spices (cinnamon), or even interesting ingredients (dandelion jam, yes it’s good!).

Weigh the fruit and put it in a large pot. Recipes usually call for the same amount of sugar as fruit. I try and put less and for this batch am doing about 30% sugar and 70% fruit. It doesn’t have to be an exact science.

Word of warning, as you pour the sugar in the pot with the fruit it will look like an insanely huge amount of sugar and you will think -for sure that Sarah chick is out of her mind, that can’t be right. But it is.

So in terms of quantities, I am doing two small batches. It’s easier and faster to cook. So about 3 lbs of strawberries and 1.5 lbs of sugar for each batch. When you put it in jars, a good rule of thumb is one pound of fruit will make one medium-sized jar of jam.

By the way, since I was all for honey earlier and refined sugar is probably not the best thing, you can make jellies and jams using honey too. Actually it would be a pretty good combo with peaches for example. However, you have to take into account changes in density, flavor, and more importantly acidity. I’ve never tried it myself but here is a good link to explore.

So just mix in the sugar with the fruit until it boils, and then simmer your concoction for a little over one hour for 3 lbs of fruit. Just make sure you stay close and stir it often or it will cake at the bottom and burn.

The mixture might look a little watery at first but as it simmers it will thicken. Also, don’t worry about the foam that develops, it will just mix itself into the jam.

By the way, there is always the fear of sterilizing and canning food the wrong way and getting food poisoning. Which is something you must be careful about if you are canning veggies, tomato sauce, etc. But for jam, all you need to do it rinse out and scrub your jars thoroughly and rinse them in very hot water, then let them sit to dry. Try to use smaller jars, it is easier to use and it won’t get as sticky.

Once you pour the jam in the jars, make sure you wipe the edges of the glass before you screw on the lid so no jam gets stuck or dries in the cracks. Let it cool; store in a cool, dry place, and enjoy!

The jam will be fine for several years. Sometimes you can get a small film of mold or white stuff at the top of the jam when you open it, it looks funky but just scrape it off and the rest is completely fine.

Then the fun part is to make cute labels so you can feel a sense of pride and kick-assness because damn it you did indeed make jam.

Why is homemade jam eco-logic?
1. You recycle your glass jars. Especially for us, since there is no glass recycling in our town (more on that later!)
2. You chose your ingredients. So you know exactly what is in it (organic, local, etc).
3. It’s healthier. In this case there is a lot less sugar.
4. It’s cheaper than store-bought. Here is the breakdown:
Strawberries, I bought 8 lbs $11.50 and used 6 lbs, so about $8.60
Unrefined sugar Cane sugar $1.79. Total: six jars for roughly $10.50 dollars.
5. It’s educational. My 4 year old son “helped” me, I like that he is interested in food, wants to learn about how food is made, and where his PB&J comes from!