March 30, 2011

Reducing Food Waste

Monthly food waste for average American family of four  - click to enlarge
North Americans eat a lot of food. We also throw a lot out. In feeding ourselves we waste a whopping 50% of total food production. The average American family of four wastes 122 lbs of food per month, as outlined in the image above. That's a lot of food.

In the 1940's an average food budget took 30% of personal income. In 2007 only 13% of income was required. Cheap food is easier to waste. However, food is rapidly becoming more expensive.

I try to maintain a zero waste kitchen, not only to honour my food and the people who bring it to me, but also to maximize my food dollar. Mind you, running a kitchen takes time, and one must be constantly vigilant for rogue food just waiting to go bad.

Food has been getting less expensive since the 1940s...
until recently.

I like to indulge my taste preferences when I prepare meals, but most important is consuming what needs to be eaten in order to make sure food is enjoyed while it is fresh.

So rather than asking, "What do I feel like eating?" I ask, "What needs to be eaten?" By planning meals according to what needs to be eaten, I have cut down on food waste.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that recovering just 5 percent of waste food could feed four million people a day. A recent survey by the WWF found that 3% of the U.K.'s greenhouse gas emissions come from wasted food. This fumbled food accounted for 6% of the country's water consumption.

Cutting down our food waste may not solve world hunger and greenhouse-gas related problems, but it will go a long way to feeding more of us and taking a burden off our beleaguered atmosphere. And it saves you money.

Tips For Reducing Food Waste

  • If you live within walking or biking distance to a good grocery store try buying smaller orders more often. Fresher food and less spoilage results, although it could also lead you to replace your cavernous fridge with a Euro-sized model.
  • Be vigilant - don't let food hide in your fridge/freezer. Keep tabs on your precious stocks.
  • Use your freezer to extend the life of foods. A full freezer runs more efficiently.
  • Save the boiling water from making vegetables for soup.
  • Cleaned vegetable scraps/peelings can be used to make vegetable stock. Save up scraps in a container in the freezer until you have a few cups worth to boil up.
  • Use all leftovers. For me leftovers are the ultimate fast food.
  • Give food away instead of throwing it away. Is there someone around that would appreciate any food you will not be eating? A baker neighbour of mine had a major cheesecake failure that he could not sell, and was going to toss it. I asked for it. It didn't look like it should, but it tasted perfectly great. 
  • Try gleaning. The term traditionally refers to the act of picking up grain in the fields after the harvest is over. It is used more widely now and could refer to food rescue of any type - picking apples in an orchard after harvest, grocery store dumpster diving, or gathering cast away produce after a farmers market.
  • French documentary film maker Agn├Ęs Varda made an amazing film about gleaners in modern day France.
  • Not as extreme as dumpster diving, you can get produce for a big discount before it hits the dumpster. Most grocery stores sell imperfect produce in a special area, and amazing deals happen here. I get large bags of mushrooms for 50% off, then make mushroom stock to freeze that can later be made into soup or sauces.
  • Any organic material that is not eaten can be composted in a pile or worm bin, then used as fertilizer in your vegetable garden.
What are some of your favourite ways to reduce food waste?

March 27, 2011

Change Happens One Individual Action At A Time

"Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." - John Wooden

The social and environmental problems the world is faced with are seemingly overwhelming. But our problems accumulated by one individual action at a time. One drive to the store. One plastic bag, one act of discrimination, one flight at a time. The solutions will happen one action at a time, too.

Our individual choices have created an unequal, planetary toxic waste dump. They can just as easily create a global garden of sustainability and sharing. Whether this comes around by voluntary actions, legislation, or some combination of the two, it still all comes down to individual compliance to make it work.

The voluntary shift toward increased sustainability needs not be any more of a burden than making a painting, or writing a song. It may take a lot of work, and it may not be easy, but it is a glorious opportunity to create beneficial changes to the social and environmental landscape.

When enough people seize the opportunity, our cumulative decisions and actions create something great, something larger than the sum of the individual parts. Isolated behaviours develop into a movement, then the movement reaches a tipping point. This is when revolutions happen, when we change paradigms and discover new and better ways of living. But it starts with what we think and do. It starts with individual choices.

But first, baby steps. Research shows that individuals choosing to take small steps toward change initially are more likely to choose to take greater steps later. It may start with voting for the first time, buying a fair trade product, or eating one vegetable-based meal per week, but it could signal the beginning of an exciting, liberating lifestyle shift. And if we fall along the way? We will not scold, we will not judge. We will simply help each other back up.

Finding your own answers to "What can I do?" is empowering. Adopting small actions that positively affect social and environmental conditions can have profound impacts down the road, locally and globally. Many times a day each of us has the opportunity to choose actions that will help create a better world.

"What can you do? You can do a lot. You can support justice for all by speaking out loudly to your family, friends, community, politicians, and religious leaders. You can support foundations that do good work. You can volunteer for humanitarian organizations. You can vote regressive politicians out of office. You can do many things to move the world toward greater harmony..."        - Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish

March 25, 2011

There Is A Bench Somewhere With Your Name On It

Benches are beacons of slow in our fast paced world. They are a blast from the past, and a reminder that we sometimes need to STOP. Our culture places such great emphasis on doing, and very little on being. Benches are about being.

I make a point of giving in to the call of the slow, and allow myself to indulge in benches in beautiful locations. The bench above is one such example. It is in Whiffen Spit Park in Sooke, BC, and is one of many strategically placed slow zones provided for rest and quiet contemplation.

The waves come in, the waves go out. The waves come in, the waves go out. The breath comes in, the breath goes out. Ahhh... Everything else fades away.

When you see a bench with your name on it, allow yourself to stop and just be for a while.

March 23, 2011

Coping With Increasing Food Prices

Gardens are good for the pocketbook as well as the soul
Our major expense, like most people, is housing, followed by food. The cost of both are increasing, but food prices have recently hit highs not seen since the global food riots in 2008.

Will coffee prices increase by 45% in 2011? Oranges by 35%? Salmon by 30%? Time will tell, but expect more expensive food and energy moving forward. It makes living on a budget all the more challenging, but many wonderful responses are available.

 Responses To High Food Prices

Cook your own food more often. It is probably safe to say, with all our conveniences and a lack of time, that fewer of us cook than ever before. We are paying the price. Convenience foods are expensive, and their ingredients are questionable. Eating food you have joyfully prepared yourself will reduce your desire for industrial-strength food replacement products.

Change your food habits. You can save money on your food bill by cutting down on processed and luxury foods, such as coffee or pop and fast food. A switch from coffee to green tea will save money, and offer many health benefits. Replace fast food and processed snacks with homemade sandwiches, vegetables, nuts, and fruit.

Grow more of your own food. Growing fresh, nutritious foods from your own soil is one of the best ways to fight high prices. It is also good for exercise, fresh air, and connecting with the Earth. Community gardens are becoming more popular, but any bit of soil will do. Good bye grass, hello green onions. 

Buy local. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way to buy fresh food directly from a local farmer.
Eat less. Most of us eat more calories than we need, and a supervised, low-calorie diet may be better. Some species on a calorie restricted diet lived twice as long as those fed a regular diet in research studies. 

Try one or two vegetarian meals per week. Beans, lentils, tofu, and other plant-based proteins are inexpensive alternatives that lend themselves to a wide variety of healthy, tasty dishes.

    March 21, 2011

    No Hunger Monday

    Click on image for larger version
    Food production is down. Hunger is up. Prices are rising. The United Nations World Food Price Index recently hit an all time high.

    The last time I went grocery shopping I hit an all time high for the most expensive cart of food I have ever muscled to the check out counter. The receipt total was a shocker.

    But still, I was grateful for being able to walk into a store and stock up without a riot breaking out.

    I am not sure we know the whole story behind increasing food prices, because it seems that the stratospheric rise in prices cannot be explained by supply and demand alone. Is greed involved, like in the 2008 financial crisis? Some believe it is.

    Whatever the causes, we will need to find a way to help our brothers and sisters in nations experiencing a food deficit. This is time for generosity and sharing, not greed and hoarding.

    March 19, 2011

    The Zen of Simple Living

    A new monk went to the Master and said, "I have just entered the monastery: please give me some guidance."

    The master asked, "Have you eaten your rice gruel?"

    "Yes I have eaten", the novice answered.

    "Then go wash your bowl," the master advised. 

    - Zen saying

    Just living is a full time job. Simplifying allows one the freedom to give it the time and effort it deserves. It welcomes us to be aware of the moment, and experience it as the gift that it is.

    It speaks to the simplicity of the moment when we focus on living. Zen also suggests, "When drinking tea, just drink tea".

    Certainly we need to set time aside to consider both the past and the future, for we ignore these at our peril. Just don't do it when you are eating a banana.

    March 18, 2011

    Participants Wanted For Voluntary Simplicity Study

    The Simplicity Institute is my kind of organization. I came across them during some on line research, and discovered that they are currently conducting a study on people who choose to live simply in affluent nations. I was happy to give them a few minutes of my time to participate in their research by filling out the on line survey.

    The Simplicity Institute was founded by Samuel Alexander and Dr. Simon Ussher. Mr. Alexander is dedicated to advancing the voluntary simplicity movement, and Dr. Ussher, a medical specialist, is an advocate of the holistic benefits of simple living.

    Their Mission Statement is powerful and direct:
    "The multi-faceted problem of over-consumption lies at the heart of many of the social, economic, and ecological crises which are currently afflicting advanced capitalist societies and beyond.  At the same time, great multitudes around the globe live lives oppressed by material deprivation (i.e. under-consumption)."

    "Our defining objective is to map the road to a world of sustainable consumption – a world in which the entire community of life has an opportunity to flourish safely within Earth’s biophysical limits."
    Why study individuals voluntarily adopting low-consumption lifestyles in high-consumption countries? Because, the institute says, "it is our governing hypothesis that post-consumerist lifestyles will be a necessary part of any transition to a sustainable, just, and flourishing human society."

    That is what this little blog has been talking about for the past couple of years. Those of us in high consumption parts of the world learn to live with less, so that those who don't have enough can attain more. And then there is the matter of the continued functioning of the planet as we know it before it is damaged beyond repair.

    Here is a chance for those choosing simplicity to add to research and policy development. As more of us choose small footprint, sustainable alternatives we create a more enjoyable, balanced, and sustainable way of life that benefits us all.

    If you are someone who is voluntarily living a lifestyle of reduced hours of work, income, and consumption, consider filling out the Simplicity Institute's short survey, and helping create change.

    March 16, 2011

    Eating Seaweed For Protection From Radiation

    Miso soup, tofu, and nori
    Wow. I thought once the tsunami threat had passed that we were in the clear. But now the nuclear news out of Japan continues to get worse. People on the west coast of North America, myself included, are wondering what the risk of increased radiation is here, and how we might protect ourselves.

    The BC Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Perry Kendal is saying that the health risk on the coast is minimal, and that people should not be stocking up on Potassium Iodide supplements. Potassium Iodide protects the thyroid and reduces the incidence of cancer due to radiation exposure.

    Even if you aren't worried about radiation exposure, you can't go wrong right now if you introduced a bit of seaweed into your diet. Kelp, wakame, dulse, sea lettuce, kombu, bladderwack, hijiki, nori and other sea veggies are naturally rich in iodine.

    This natural iodine can reduce by almost 80% the radioactive iodine-131 that is absorbed by the thyroid. Seaweeds are so effective that even the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission recommends that people consume two to three ounces a week.

    Not only that, but seaweed is a super food that is rich in health-promoting nutrients. And as usual, it is probably better to eat an iodine-rich whole food rather than a supplement.
    Radiation is not good for you

    In order to increase our intake of iodine-rich foods we are planning on making sushi over the next few days. Also on the menu is miso soup with tofu and nori.

    Miso, fermented rice, barley, and/or soy, is another super food. It adds flavour when added to dishes, or makes a great quick soup on its own.

    Depending on your location, protecting yourself from radiation does not have to be as conventional as a trip to the pharmacy. Small specialty grocers can provide different types of seaweed that you may not find in big chain grocery stores.

    I am going to take the threat of imminent nuclear meltdown as an opportunity to learn more about my local sea veggies, and how to turn them into tasty dishes. After some research I will head out to the nearest beach and personally harvest the bounty of the ocean for delicious thyroid-protecting goodies. Something the Japanese have been doing for a long, long time. Let's hope they can continue.

    March 14, 2011

    No Mischief Monday

    Take back control of your food - grow a garden!

    Living In A Tsunami Zone

    I have been watching the recent Japanese disaster with particular interest - I live in an earthquake and tsunami zone. Everyone kept a close eye on the ocean all day Friday, but with the exception of small surges throughout the afternoon, there was nothing threatening. Not so with some places in Japan that were completely wiped out.

    I know that when I feel the inevitable earthquake here I need to retreat to higher ground or inland. The tsunami in Japan traveled inland up to 10 km in places.

    I am fighting an urge to relocate to higher and drier ground. Can a car even outrun a tsunami? Should I tie my canoe up on my porch?

    Most of the time the ocean is a benign presence from which we receive gifts of sustenance and beauty. But as usual in the natural world, things can turn nasty in an instant. The waters that spawned us can just as easily take us back.

    The Japanese disaster is a good time to take a moment and think about respect and gratitude for the natural world, the ultimate source of everything. One could also meditate on the fragility of life, and how each and every moment is a precious event to be cherished and celebrated.

    There is no shortage of potential 'tsunamis' threatening the planet at the moment. The financial tsunami which swept the globe in 2007 continues to affect billions. We should be hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

    I am checking my preparedness plan, and I recommend that you do the same. Are you ready, in case of emergency, to be self-sufficient for up to 36 hours? A week? Longer? Are you ready to have the simple life thrust upon you at a moments notice?

    March 10, 2011

    10 Reasons I Enjoy Living In A Small Space

    My dream home
    I read recently that the average person requires about 150 sq. ft. of living space. That was the size of Henry David Thoreau's cabin in the woods. His small living space allowed him "to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms..."

    Could Linda and I live in 300 sq. ft.? I think we could because we both enjoy living in small spaces. Our current home is 582 sq. ft. and sometimes it seems like more than we need. We could reduce our living space even further.

    For most of history people have lived in small spaces reflecting a desire to use materials and energy in a thrifty and efficient manner. Survival depended on a judicious use of resources. It still does.

    Click on image for larger version
    The trend to having an average of almost 1000 sq. ft. per person is a relatively recent phenomenon, and makes me wonder how much space we need. Are we happier with 1000 sq. ft. each than we were with 200? Would our quality of life be twice as good if we had 2000 sq. ft. each?

    10 Reasons I Enjoy Living In A Small Space
    1. There is nowhere to store, stash, and stow extraneous stuff leaving less to think about.
    2. I can vacuum our entire home from a single electrical outlet.
    3. It is close and intimate if you really like who you are living with. I do.
    4. Everything is immediately at hand - most of it can be seen in a single glance. Things rarely get lost, not even socks or keys.
    5. A small space requires us to be selective about our possessions - we only have space for meaningful, useful, and functional things. Double purpose or multi-purpose items are best.
    6. It is less expensive to heat and cool a small space in the era of rapidly increasing energy costs.
    7. Living in a small space makes me appreciate what is outside more.
    8. It reminds me of camping or traveling, or being a student - it is an enjoyable challenge because it cuts life to the essentials so you can concentrate on things that are really important to you (being in nature, seeing new places, learning new things).
    9. It is as cozy as a fort made out of couch cushions and blankets in the living room.
    10. It is enough.
    Could you live in a small space?

    March 8, 2011

    The 100th International Women's Day

    2011 marks the observance of the 100th International Women's Day. For me this is a day like Earth Day - it would be great if we could make changes that would render even noting these days unnecessary.

    This will happen when every day sees us being aware of how we are treating the earth and each other. This will happen as we take responsibility for our role in making conditions better, or worse. This will happen when we take action.

    Speaking of making conditions worse, the International Women's Day website was hit by hackers today in repeated attempts to shut them down through Denial of service attacks.  Looks like somebody is feeling threatened.

    Where the hackers hired by the cosmetics industry? Plastic surgeons? Employers threatened by demands for equal pay for equal work? Or the shaving industry that wants everyone to hate leg hair, but only on women's legs?

    That we need to continue observing special days indicates we have not committed to taking total action in making real, meaningful changes. Our goal should be to render these days obsolete as soon as possible because things have gotten so much better through our decisive changes.

    Today we acknowledge that so long as women are not free, the people are not free. But special days emphasize awareness. What we need is action. Let that begin, or continue in earnest. Perhaps in another 100 years Int. Women's Day will no longer be needed.

    March 7, 2011

    March 5, 2011

    Real Food Happens Here

    "It's not food if it arrived through
    the window of your car."
    I have been reading Michaels Pollan's "Food Rules: an eater's manual". It is a small, no-nonsense guide to wholesome dining that a person could flip through in one read. What I like about Pollan the most is how he considers worrying about your diet to be almost as harmful as a bad diet. He eats a variety of whole foods, and tries to let common sense guide his choices.

    I have been learning more about a whole food diet as my sous-chef and I try to do what is best for our bodies, and our planet. Pollan's manual has excellent suggestions for the cooking curious.

    "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."

    My tiny home has a small galley kitchen. I appreciate the simplicity, the compact efficiency with everything close at hand. It is also easy to keep clean.

    "Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature."

    I like to clean as I cook. Ideally, by the time I am finished cooking the cleaning is almost done. A constantly clean kitchen is a kitchen that is easy to go into, and when convenient processed foods aren't part of your diet, the kitchen had better be an attractive place to be.

    "Don't ingest foods made in places where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap."

    In my little kitchen I cook with mostly vegetable ingredients, whole grains, and limited sodium and sugar. The majority of the food I make is prepared from scratch. I bake all our bread products, and use only 100% whole wheat flour.

    "Eat only foods that will eventually rot."

    For the most part we only eat food we have prepared ourselves, so no eating out, no sugary, salty snacks, no packaged or pre-made meals. Just basic ingredients that could be found in any kitchen 50 years ago. Great-grandma would recognize all the foods in my tiny space. This removes many harmful things from our diet with just one rule.

    "Avoid foods you see advertised on TV."

    The rule of eating only what we have made ourselve limits our intake of tempting, harmful foods, and also saves us money. Many processed foods are so nutritionally deficient that they are no more than minor mouth entertainment. This wouldn't be so bad except that these foods also harm our health.

    "Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients."

    Sweets are everywhere, and are hard to resist. It is no wonder many of us are unhappy with our weight. From sugary soda to snacks to desserts, there is no shortage of tasty temptations. Over the years we have found that the intense sugar craving can be overcome. Once you do pass through sugar withdrawal, the craving is diminished and is easily satisfied with a piece of fruit.
    "Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it."
    I am one of the slowest eaters in the known universe. I do not like to be rushed, especially when it comes time for cooking and eating. It turns out that a relaxed pace, and major mastication and are healthy ways to prepare, and consume our food. You savour the ingredients more, honour the cook that prepared them, experience the total joy of eating and sharing with your companions, and aid digestion.

    I love cooking food that is good for me, and does the least amount of harm to other living things. It is one of the greatest pleasures in my simple life.

    Bon Appetit!

    (All quotes from Michael Pollan, Food Rules)

    March 3, 2011

    The Map Of Freedom

    I am not sure how free any of us are, but some are more free than others. Those of us who are more free (yellow on the map) are in a position to help those who have more restrictions on their freedom (orange and purple).

    One way we can help is through the way we live. We can help by reducing our consumption to a level that reflects our fair share of the planet's resources. When we support deleterious corporations and governments with our dollars we enable them to restrict the freedoms of the people.

    We can help make the world more free so everyone may pursue liberation and self-determination. We can do this through a revolution of love and fairness. We can change the look of the map of freedom.

    Colouring Outside The Lines

    "Conformity is the jailer of freedom, 
    and the enemy of growth." 
    - J.F. Kennedy

    The best way to foster freedom in the world is to attain freedom yourself. Gandhi suggested that we must be the change we wish to see in the world. The method I have chosen to emancipate myself and foster change is through living a small footprint, simple lifestyle. It has not been easy.

    Simple living is a tough sell in a system that promises liberation through the acquisition of larger piles of loot, and the things and services it can buy. As long as consumption is the yard stick of our success, as well as the answer to all that ails the economy, living on less won't garner much attention.

    However, the lack of attention paid to simple living as a solution to many of our problems is, perhaps, a measure of its effectiveness. Because it is an effective agent of change, it is seen as a threat to all we are trained to hold dear.

    We are encourage, or even demanded, to service the system in work and in play. Because of this it is difficult to imagine life being any other way - we are soaking in it. Our cultural conditioning limits our imaginations. We cannot become free if we are unaware that our potential is being restricted. It is difficult to make the step toward simple living, even if it will liberate us.

    Philosopher Herbert Marcuse, in Counterrevolution and Revolt, wrote that, "while it is true that people must liberate themselves from their servitude, it is also true that they must first free themselves from what has been made of them in the society in which they live. This primary liberation cannot be 'spontaneous' because such spontaneity would only express the values and goals derived from the established system. Self-liberation is self-education..."

    Marcuse thought that people were not free because they function within systems such as the economy. If we were free, we would be able to free ourselves from these systems. But extricating yourself from the mainstream is difficult, as anyone who has tried can attest to.

    There is intense pressure to conform to the regular high-consumption, complicated, full time lifestyle. Anyone that chooses not to is seen as radically and dangerously different. It is this pressure, and the difficulty overcoming it, that can keep us in chains and living lies.

    We can overcome our cultural assumptions through self-education. Here in the Age of Information it has never been easier to access the knowledge that will help us to answer our questions and attain liberation.

    Why not work as little as possible to provide for your needs, rather than an established amount of time that is convenient only for employers? How can we know what we really need or want with advertiser's all-pervasive propaganda tainting our decisions? Billions of dollars are spent each year to create "false needs". These misdirections fuel desire and end up enslaving us in their pursuit.

    Simple living helps us break free and gives us the time to seek the truth. We can refuse limits on our free time that render us too tired to fight for what we really want and need. We can demand real choice that doesn't just reinforce social norms that are part of the problem. We can think for ourselves, colour outside of the lines, and create the lives we really want to live.

     "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion."
    - Albert Camus