Thursday, February 28, 2008

Traveling Made Me Use Plastic...Again

Well I'm back from my vacation, and I can only report that, similar to my last travel experience, I consumed quite a bit of plastic during my Utah ski trip.

But let's start with the good stuff.

Here are the ways I was able to avoid plastic:
  • Brought my thermos, which allowed me to have plastic-free coffee and water on the go.
  • Tried not to accept free beverages on the plane
  • Found plastic bags in the house where we were staying and brought them with to the grocery store.
  • Did not accept plastic bags at any of the additional stores I visited.
  • Packed my own lunch to avoid buying food at the cafeterias
Now here are the bad, plasticky things I did:
  • Bought a sandwich at the first resort we visited, which came on a bio-plastic plate.
  • Purchased several things at the grocery store that came in plastic because because I wanted to cook all my own food and bring pack lunches to the resort to save money. Things I bought included: yogurt, granola bars, pasta in boxes with plastic windows, and bagged spinach (that's all they had, unfortunately)
  • Got a cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup after being stuck in a horrible rocky mountain traffic jam (we went 2 miles in 1.5 hours)
  • Accepted coffee in a Styrofoam cup on the plane home out of weakness/exhaustion
Anyways, I actually didn't use TOO much plastic, and I was definitely able to determine that my coffee addiction has a tendency to lead to plastic usage.

For next vacation, I need to try not to succumb to my coffee addiction and to also be more cautious in the grocery store. After all, I'm sure I would have been fine without the yogurt.

Monday, February 18, 2008

To the Slopes of Utah

I leave for Utah tomorrow so I won't be posting for several days.

I'll try my hardest to avoid plastic while I'm on the road and promise to provide a full report when I return.

Until then!!

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Night Of Sin?

It was my last day on the job before my big vacation, so to celebrate I went out with my co-workers for a night of drinking.

Problem: When we arrived at the bar, they promptly bought me a jello shot in a plastic cup! Gross!

But what could I do? I didn't want to be rude, so I drank it despite all my inner protest.

At the end of the night, I did redeem myself, however.

Several of us went out in search of food only to find that McDonald's was the only restaurant open. And you know what? I refused to eat MickyD's on principal in front of my co-workers.

You see, this wouldn't be a big deal, but most of my colleagues don't really know how much of an activist I really am these days. In fact, they don't even know that I've given up plastic (hence why they bought me that stupid jello shot). I guess I haven't told them because I know they'll all make fun of me and think I'm weird. But don't get me wrong. They're actually great people, but when it comes to the environment they're pretty clueless for some reason.

So anyway, letting them in on my absolute detest for McDonald's was a big step indeed.

But will I ever actually get up the courage to tell them I'm off plastic? I'm not sure.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Homemade Bread: A Plastic-Free Alternative

The idea of making homemade bread scares a lot of people, but I think those fears are mostly unfounded. It's true that you're bound to screw up two or three loaves in the beginning, but trust me it's worth it. Fresh, homemade bread is truly one of the most amazing things in the world. It tastes delicious, and it also helps you understand something food manufacturers don't want you to know:

Many of the foods that you buy in the grocery store are easy to make at home
.

The Joys of the Bread Machine
Still, making bread does require a bit of elbow grease because of the kneading process, and since I'm lazy, I like to use my bread machine for this step. I can only recommend this.

If you don't have your own bread machine, check out your local thrift stores, Freecycle groups, and garage sales. Chances are you'll find one because half of America bought them in the 90's (just guessing here) and then never used them (Not sure why! Those people must be crazy!).

Easy Homemade Bread
In terms of ease of use, the bread machine is amazing. Here's what I do.
  1. Combine warm water, yeast, and sugar (if required) in the bread machine pan.
  2. Let mixture stand ten minutes to allow the yeast to activate.
  3. Add remaining ingredients, usually flour, salt, and sometimes milk, butter, or oil.
  4. Place pan in the bread machine and select the dough cycle, which last approximately 1 or 1.5 hours.
  5. Once the dough is done, remove the pan from the oven.
  6. Pull the dough out of the pan and shape it into the form you want.
  7. Allow it to rise again for 30 to 45 minutes and then place it in the oven.
  8. Depending on the size of the loaf, bake for 30 to 55 minutes.
And voila! You have ultra-tasty bread!

10 Minutes of Effort = Homemade Bread
If you want to be extra-lazy you can also use your bread machine to do nearly ALL THE WORK FOR YOU!

Here's what you'd have to do:
  1. Combine warm water, yeast, and sugar (if required) in the bread machine pan.
  2. Let mixture stand ten minutes to allow the yeast to activate.
  3. Add remaining ingredients, usually flour, salt, and sometimes milk, butter, or oil.
  4. Place pan in the breadmaker and select the appropriate cycle, which lasts approximately 3 to 3.5 hours.
And that's it. Fresh bread that requires about 10 minutes of work (and being home for an afternoon). I swear it couldn't be easier!

p.s. For no-work bread machine bread, this is my favorite recipe.

p.p.s. For additional recipes for stuff you can definitely make at home, check out this recipe for yogurt and this one for butter!

p.p.p.s I remembered that I wanted to do a post on bread making after reading about Grant's escapades on his blog, Grant's Rants. Check it out!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Another Meme: Six Unimportant Things About Me

Going Crunchy has hit me with another Meme. This one is called the Six Unimportant Things Meme.

The Instructions:
  1. Link to the person that tagged you.
  2. Post the rules on your blog.
  3. Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
  4. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
  5. Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.
My Six Unimportant Things:
  1. I now diligently collect glass jars because being plastic-free basically requires buying from bulk bins and then struggling to find containers for storing purchases afterwards. I think I ALMOST have enough jars now. Maybe three or four more will be enough.
  2. I drink TONS of coffee. I probably have about three cups each morning, and since I feel bad about coffee's dehydrating effects, I also drink about six glasses of water each afternoon. This means I have to pee a lot (he he, I can't believe I just wrote that).
  3. I'm semi-allergic to dust so cleaning usually makes my eyes itch and occasionally brings about fits of sneezing...so I guess that means I'm allergic to cleaning. Awesome!
  4. I love the shows Project Runway and Top Chef. What can I say? I'm addicted!
  5. I learned to swim when I was really young--maybe two years old--which, I think, has caused my general love for swimming. In the summer and on camping trips, I'm always one of the first people to jump in the water and then I'm usually the last one out.
  6. I love hot springs and have had the pleasure of relaxing in springs in four different states. I'm planning on visiting some hot pots while I'm in Utah, which will bring me up to five states.
Six People I'm Tagging:
  1. Plasticless
  2. Enviromom
  3. Brave New Leaf
  4. Zakka Life Crafts
  5. Grant's Rants
  6. Bad Human

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Ireland's Plastic Bag Tax, Etc.

I got the idea to create a list of things I love and hate from the blog Do You Realize...

Love It: That a plastic bag tax in Ireland has curbed plastic bag use by 94%, according to a recent New York Times article. This just goes to show that with a little persuasion people can be convinced to change their ways and kick bad habits. Unfortunately, it sounds like it's difficult to get plastic bag taxes passed because of "heated opposition from manufacturers as well as from merchants, who have said a tax would be bad for business." Now, I understand the manufacturers point of view, but the merchants are just wrong. People will buy stuff regardless of whether they have to bring their own bags. They just have to adjust the way they do things a little bit.

Hate It: That there is a swirling vortex of plastic trash known as the North Pacific Gyre circulating in the Pacific Ocean. Researchers have found that plastic debris in samples from the vortex exceeded that of zooplankton by six times, and that birds and marine life often mistake plastic for food and consume it, thereby introducing plastic into the food chain. Gross! Check out a blog by the researchers studying the Gyre.

Love It: That Whole Foods is ending plastic bag distribution. I think Whole Foods is making a bold move by doing this, and I truly commend the organization for sticking its head out and taking this step. Check out the letter that I wrote to Whole Foods in support.

Hate It: That it is almost impossible to avoid plastic at the grocery store. It's even hidden in places where you least expect it. Fake Plastic Fish did a great and informative post about this a while back.

I've found that to avoid plastic, you've gotta load up on fresh fruits and veggies, buy from bulk bins, bring your own grocery and produce bags, and have meat and cheese either wrapped in paper or put into containers brought from home. You can also buy milk in reusable glass bottles, although since I can't get organic milk in glass, I' ve been buying Organic Valley in a paper carton with a plastic liner.

Questions:
  • What environment-related things do you love? Hate?
  • What do you think of the idea of taxing plastic bags?
  • What are you doing to avoid plastic these days?
Image courtesy of vinylpulse.com and Shawnimals.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Archive Meme: Rewiewing My Plastic-Free Experience So Far

Fake Plastic Fish and Green Bean Dreams have both challenged me to participate in an Archive Meme!

What's a Meme?
To answer this question I had to turn to the internet's most reliable reference source, urbandictionary.com. Here are the definitions I found:
  1. A pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means....
  2. In blogspeak, an idea that is spread from blog to blog.
The Archive Meme
So now that we know what a meme is, we'll need to figure out what this Archive Meme is. Apparently, it focuses on going through your archives, posting links to your own old posts, and than calling on other bloggers to do the same.

Here are the instructions:

Link 1 must be about family.
Link 2 must be about friends.
Link 3 must be about yourself, who you are... what you're all about.
Link 4 must be about something you love.
Link 5 can be anything you choose.

I think this is a great way to circulate some of the great older posts everyone has written, return to a few great places in our memories and also learn a little something about ourselves and each other that we may not know. Post your five links and then tag five other people. At least TWO of the people you tag must be *newer acquaintances so that you get to know each other better....and don't forget to read the archive posts and leave comments!

My Response

Link 1 (Family): Plastic Free Christmas: A Success
This post talks about how my family helped me make the Christmas holiday as plastic-free as possible. My family was incredibly supportive so it was a great experience. (Thanks fam!)

Link 2 (Friends): No More...Computer?
Like other bloggers, I don't write about my friends much so I had to be creative with this one. I'll just say that I chose this post, which was about the many computer problems I was experiencing, because 1) I've been spending so much time on my computer these days that it is becoming my best friend, 2) My friend, Neal, who is a computer expert, ended up making several comments on the post and 3) My boyfriend (he's a friend, right?) eventually fixed my comp, which made me really happy.

Link 3 (Yourself): Introduction
This post basically gives a introduction of why I decided to start this blog as well as my ultimate hopes for going plastic-free. The post definitely talks about me, but it also makes me realize that I need to do a few more posts about me as a person and my motivations for going plastic-free.

Link 4 (Something You Love): No More Ramen Noodles
It's true. I love ramen noodles. This post is about my infatuation with them and how I can't really eat them anymore because they come encased in plastic. I have to admit, though, that ramen noodles are really bad for you so I'm happy that I'm no longer eating them.

Link 5 (My Choice): Traveling Made Me Use Plastic!
This post, which concerns itself with how hard it is to be plastic-free while traveling, is my choice for link 5 so that I start thinking about plastic-free travel strategies again. I need to do do this because I'm going skiing in Utah in a few weeks. Yippee!!

My Tags
I would like to challenge the following bloggers to participate in this here Archive Meme:

Going Crunchy by a fellow Chicago-area blogger
Vegan Ruthie who has also been doing the less plastic thing these days
Towards Sustainability by an Australian blogger making me jealous of her summer garden
Do You Realize by a blogger focusing on the environment, humor, and making things last

And that's it! My first experience with a meme was quite fun, and I look forward to seeing if anyone meets my challenge!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Voting in the Primary!

I'm not writing a big post today so that I can get ready to vote in the Illinois primary. I'll be participating in my duty as a citizen just blocks from my house in a church basement. I'm so happy I don't have to get in the car!

Later, I'll be heading out to the bar to discuss democracy with my friends (or at least partake in the free wi-fi to check election results). It'll be a fun night.

Crunchies, enviros, greenies, eco-freaks--whatever we call ourselves-- let's rock the vote!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Seasoned Popcorn: A Plastic-Free Party Snack

To maintain my status as a good party guest at this year's Superbowl party, I knew I needed to bring along a tasty snack, but, of course, the snack had to be plastic-free. I thought this might be a problem since I knew I wouldn't have much time to cook or bake on this afternoon.

Solution: Seasoned Popcorn!

I grew up eating plastic-free popcorn made right on the stove-top, courtesy of my Dad. It was always delicious, and with a little dressing up, I knew it could be a good snack for the football fiesta.

And I was right. The spicy and savory concoction I put together was quite tasty.

How to Make Wonderful Seasoned Popcorn

I used the recipe for Emily's Famous Popcorn, found on Allrecipes.com, and made a few changes. It took about 10 minutes to make.

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup unpopped popcorn
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Directions
  1. Thinly coat the bottom of a large saucepan or soup pot with oil.
  2. Add kernels, place a lid on the pan, and heat over medium-high heat.
  3. Shake to coat the kernels with oil.
  4. When the corn starts to pop, shake the pan constantly until the popping stops.
  5. Remove from heat, and pour popped corn into a large brown paper bag.
  6. Sprinkle the popcorn with yeast, chili powder, cumin and salt. Then shake the brown paper bag until the seasonings coat the corn.
And there you have it. A party snack that's quick, easy, and totally yummy. Enjoy!


Friday, February 1, 2008

I Don't Understand Ethos Water

Have you heard of Ethos Water?

I first learned about it while waiting for my coffee in a downtown Chicago Starbucks this morning.

It's a bottled water company that aims to "help children around the world get clean water and to raise awareness of the world water crisis." Apparently, for every bottle of the water bought, $.05 will be donated to the cause.

Sounds kind of nice, right? Helping people and all. That's good, right?

But the more I think about this product, the more I think it's the most ridiculous thing ever created.

I mean, this water is being sold in Chicago, a city on the banks of Lake Michigan, one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world and home to 1,180 cubic miles of good-quality drinking water (can you even imagine how much water that is?). But, even though Chicagoans have huge amounts good tap water available nearly free of charge, we are for some reason spending more than $1.50 per bottle for Ethos Water .

Yep. There are 1 billion people in the world without access to clean drinking water, and instead of celebrating the fact that we are lucky enough to have potable tap water, we are buying ultra-expensive "purified" water and, in turn, implying that our tap water isn't good enough.

It's just so ridiculous.

Ethos Water, which will indeed help people without clean drinking water, is like a hypothetical slap in the face to the same people it's trying to help.

It gives me the creeps (even without considering how plastic waste plays into this).

My suggestion: if you're ever tempted to buy a bottle of Ethos water, grab a glass of tap water instead and then donate a full $1.50 towards clean drinking water. Check out the Universal Giving website to find a charity you like.