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Friday, October 26, 2007

a compact guide to CFL

Somehow, in addition to the few other "projects" I have going in life (Planetfesto and two small kids and running a creative agency...) I have found myself helping to coordinate the distribution of 500 free compact fluorescent bulbs for my daughter's girl scout troop to give away in the community. (It's part of a sensational CFL give-away from PG&E through the Sierra Club--500K bulbs in all.)

We were talking about some top points to discuss with people when handing out bulbs, and here are some that have surfaced that I wouldn't have thought of unless I was doing this project...
  • replace the lights you use the most first
  • don't wait until your old bulbs burn out--the CFL bulbs are so much more efficient (80% savings) that it is simply not worth waiting for the old ones to die first.

  • make sure to recycle the CFL bulbs properly when they burn out (with batteries, paint, etc.) because they do contain tiny amounts of mercury. Don't throw them in the trash, or put them in with regular recycling.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Setting organic priorities

I just finished reading this New York Times article about easy ways to go organic. For a long time, I kept a beat-up old photocopy of a chart showing which fruits and vegetables had the most pesticides, but it got lost in the move, and was from 1993 anyway. But it was really useful in considering which produce I should always buy organic (for instance, I now only buy organic or pesticide-free strawberries).

So this article offers a short and sweet summary of five foods that you should always buy organic. The list is milk, potatoes, peanut butter, ketchup, and apples. The only one of those I would have guessed is milk, so this article will certainly impact the way I shop.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Meeting your meat

I used to have this feeling that the less I knew about the meat I was eating the better. Who wanted to dwell on the nastiness that I knew was inherent in the food chain? Why not just buy those little bits of meat wrapped in plastic at the grocery store and pretend that it had never really been an animal.

For a period of about a year I tried hard to be a vegetarian, but became increasingly sluggish, unable to think clearly, and heavier as a result. I seem to be one of those people who need protein, and lots of it.

Over the last year or so I have had an interesting evolution, and education, about what I'm eating. Spurred on by An Omnivore's Dilemma, I've become quite the farmers' market fan. And one of the main reasons is access to wonderful, sustainably-raised meat.

I used to walk by the meat stand and think "who would be foolish enough to buy meat at the farmers' market?", but the deeper I get into the subject, the more I now think about meat from the grocery store in those terms. It suddenly feels very odd to buy meat that I know nothing about--how it was raised, what it ate, how it lived, how it died. Somehow knowing details about all of these topics has made me so much more comfortable with my carnivore-self. And more responsible about how I walk on the planet.

Some things to look for/thoughts/observations. This is a big topic, so I am just scratching the surface here.

  • Cows were never meant to eat corn (or worse, to eat other cows...). Doing such unnatural things are a by-product of the mass industrialization of raising meat, and are for the profit and convenience of these ginormous corporations. It puts huge stress on the health of the animal, and leads to the need for antibiotics. Corn is pure sugar--the combination of feeding cows this much sugar and limiting their physical activity is what produces meat with the marbling of fat throughout. A lot like if we were to be confined to the couch and fed a diet of only Snickers Bars. I buy almost exclusively grass-fed meat now. The texture and taste is really different (and takes a bit of a change in cooking techniques). The bacon I'm getting is so lean that I often have to put oil in the pan to cook it!

  • The fats in meats that are raised that way they are meant to live is much, much healthier for you. I've been eating LOTS of red meat and my cholesterol is lower than ever before. Farmed salmon has higher levels of the "bad" fats than grass-fed meat.

  • Some farmers are working to increase the genetic diversity of sheep, cows, and pigs by raising "heritage" breeds (yes, like heritage tomatoes, only different...). These breeds have almost been lost because the don't have "high yield meat conversions", but do very, very well out grazing. They are hardy, strong, and lovely to have around. Gets us away from monoculture of breeds that perform best economically for the large companies.

  • Feed lots are nasty, nasty places. You don't want anything alive to have to live like that, nor frankly, do you want to eat anything that lived like that. If we are going to be carnivores we need to take responsibility that the animals we eat lived well, and lived in harmony with the environment.

  • A lot of what is passing for well-raised food, isn't. For instance, those Rosie "free-range" chickens are actually raised crammed in a giant barn with tiny door to the outside only opened in the last weeks of their lives--too late for them to have any interest in going out. Chickens have traditionally run around outdoors, eating a wide variety of grain and bugs, helping the soil as they go. I have been searching out eggs from such chickens (hard to find...) and the difference between these eggs and the "free-range" ones from the grocery store is dramatic. The yokes are bright orange and are much stronger--they stand up in the bowl and perfect spheres. If differences can be this dramatic at first glance, how many differences are there on nutritional and toxic levels? I reckon it's pretty dramatic.

  • I don't feel nearly as guilty eating meat.
  • I buy a lot of meat from Highland Hills Farm, for whom I have the greatest respect. One of many small farms nationwide trying very hard to do absolutely the right thing.

(Photo Credit: Courtesy Dave Van Antwerp,, borrowed from the site)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Blog Action Day

I saw this and thought its a good cause :-)


Simply click the link above.

On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind - the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future.
Blog Action Day is about MASS participation. Simply click on the icon above for further information on it. :-)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Why I actually like to line dry clothes

I got back on the laundry line drying bandwagon a couple of months ago. Since then, I've had a couple of startled friends declare "That's a line I won't cross! No way." So I had to come up with a reasoned rebuttal.

Here are my top 10 reasons for loving line drying:
1) I get to get out of the house and into the backyard when the kids are screaming, leaving john to cope, and I don't feel the least bit guilty because I am doing it FOR THE GOOD OF THE FAMILY AND THE ENVIRONMENT." I love the couple of moments of sanity.
2) I figure that it must be good for stretching, and for the upper arms.
3) The sun bleaches out all sorts of nasty stains. Need I say more?
4) Our electricity use in August went from 26 Kwh/day to 12.8. (Only changes were CF bulbs and much more line drying.)
5) My nice t-shirts last much longer and the vast majority of things can squeak through without being ironed.
6) Sheets turn out divinely. They are less wrinkly and smell wonderful. A real, natural clean.
7) Laundry goes a lot faster because you don't have the hold up of waiting for the dryer to finish.
8) Clothes that I've forgotten in the washer for a bit too long smell great by the time they are dry on the line.
9) I actually think it is pretty to see cotton blowing in the wind.
10) My mom loved it and there are precious few things that she did that I do now.

Some hints I've found:
-- Dry all clothes that you don't want to fade on a small rack inside. Some things that are a close call I'll hang outside inside out.
-- Some things still need the dryer. I draw the line (hardy har har) at stiff towels. I save up all my towels and do one load with them, which goes in the dryer.
-- Make it easy on yourself...make sure the line is convenient, the right height for you, and that you have a container to easily take things back and forth to the line.
-- I do it when I can...especially weekends. I'm not a purist that "all must be line dried." I figure if I can get to it for most loads, that is good.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Recycle Day

Recently, my school organized a recycle day where every clubs members in the school had to bring their old newspapers from home. It was a competition among the clubs. It was an amazing activity, seeing how everyone was involved and contributed. The Chinese Literary Society won, followed by Christian Fellowship and third place by the English Literary Society. An interesting start for the young generation. :) These photos said it all.

Our Mangrove Planting at the Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary at Labuk Bay Sandakan Sabah, will be held on this coming 27 Oct, which involved 50 students and 5 teachers, working together with the wildlife officers. Will update on it. :)