Friday, October 22, 2010

Eating In

Mmmm... supper!

I started by baking my own bread, in an attempt to get affordable bread without all the plastic packaging.  One thing led to another, and I returned to making my own pie crusts, as I had in college--only this time, making one to use now, and freezing the second--buying local produce and freezing it, then pickling it and turning it into jams and jellies, and finally into getting pretty much all of my produce local and organic.

But it's almost winter here in New England, and my favorite farmstand has closed for the winter, and I'm reluctant either to give up fresh produce, or to go back to buying the stuff hauled in from California, plastic-wrapped and ready for me at the local supermarket.

In fact, if all goes well, tonight's salad may be the last grocery store lettuce I'll need.

My fingers are firmly crossed; I've never been much of a gardener, though I lived with one as a child, and I know how much better home-grown anything tends to be.

But I've got this south-facing window.  And some packets of lettuce seeds.

Lettuce does not grow well in warm weather, and round about August, it began to be hard to get local lettuce of any kind, organic or otherwise.  And I thought about that for a while, and took advantage of the remaindered, end-of-season lettuce seeds for sale in the local stores.

I also decided to take into account my personal brown thumb, and I went ahead and invested in a couple of self-watering planters.  And for the past two weeks, I've been anxiously watching over the gradually materializing glow of green leaf lettuce filling those two planters.

I'm almost ready to start using a few thinnings in a sandwich or two.  And so far, they're looking good: very much like, well, young lettuce.  I am hopeful that I'll soon be able to replace the non-local romaine in my salad bowl with the ultimate in local food, stuff from my own windowsill.  There's plenty of sun, and, thanks to chilly New England nights and our stinginess with our fuel bills, it's just about the perfect temperature for lettuce in our house at night.

We're not stopping there, however.  I'm also sprouting alfalfa seeds that I ordered from an organic online source.  It's a little bit of a pain, to rinse them each morning and evening, just before and after work, but the yield is pretty amazing.  For $7.50, I have enough seeds to last me all through the winter, and then some.  A tablespoon of seed fills a quart jar with sprouts in about a week.

Supper tonight?  Besides the store-bought romaine, I've got about 1/2 cup of alfalfa sprouts, some nice local red onion, and the tart green tomatoes from my neighbor's garden.  (It turns out that people who grow things in the dirt will give them to you, just to be nice.  And it turns out to be fun to give things back--stuff like pickles, and bread.)

This has not been a plastic-free adventure.  The planters are largely plastic, and the jar the pound of alfalfa seeds came in was, too, alas.  And it will take a while before the plastic used in producing and packaging these items, as well as the petroleum consumed in getting them to me, will be balanced by the impact of the in-house winter veggie production.

And the lettuce is experimental.  Perhaps it will not work.  (In which case, I'll try my hand at organic microgreens next!)

But there's a particular satisfaction in finding ways that my initial prompting, to try to reduce our plastic waste, has been leading us deeper and deeper into concerns like neighborliness, local food, sustainable agriculture, and now, the joy of a tiny windowsill garden.

Tomorrow, I may eat the rest of that soup I made a few days ago, with local squash and onions and peppers in it.  The day after that, perhaps I will plant the Chinese chestnut saplings given us by a friend.

And someday, perhaps I'll be eating even more locally than I did this summer: from my own backyard.

One small change can lead to others.  (Excuse me, now.  I've got a salad to finish.  Yum!)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Since My Last Confession

OK, so I'm not Catholic.  But it has been a very long time since my last confession here--meaning, the last time I posted our weigh-in of plastic trash and recycling.  (Why do I count recycling?  Because, although I do recycle everything I can, plastic is not like aluminum or glass that can recycle endlessly; plastic actually "downcycles" and becomes, essentially, hazardous waste for thousands of years after only a handful of reuses.  So it all counts, sooner or later.)

The last time I posted our weigh-in was back in July: a two-week tally of 3 lbs. 1 oz.

In the ten weeks since then, we have generated 6 lbs, 7 oz. of trash, which would average out to about 17 lbs of plastic waste per year per person for each of us... in comparison with an American average of over 80 lbs per person.

Of course, I'm not counting my totaled automobile in that amount.  I have to hope that many of the plastic parts will be salvaged, and used on other cars.

But I am counting the dead twenty-year-old eggbeater that we disposed of last month.  And we're still coming in with a lighter yearly average, based on the last few weeks, then we did at the beginning of the project. 

So, while I compromised the weigh-in part of the no-plastics diet, Peter and I did manage--mostly--to stay on it.

So, what made up our trash over the past two months?

  • Construction packaging.  We moved into a new/old house, and some parts--replacement springs and housings for the windows upstairs, for instance--were only available by special order, and came packed in--ugh--styrofoam.
  • Old products we no longer buy, like toothpaste in plastic tubes, or deodorant in plastic.
  • Lots and lots and lots of plastic caps for glass bottles.
  • Packing materials for the canning jars I bought to try to preserve local produce over the winter.
  • Prescription drug containers.  No avoiding these, apparently--and they aren't even recyclable.
  • One yogurt container--we haven't begun making our own yet.
  • Plastic pull tabs on frozen juice containers--and, yeah, there's a thin plastic membrane lining the paper tube, too.  We are starting to regard this as an occasional luxury, rather than a staple in our diet; both from the standpoint of food-miles and plastic packaging, this makes sense.
  • Straws and even one plastic cup from times we weren't quick enough to make sure to tell the waitress not to give them to us.  (We still goof from time to time.)
I will admit that I have on a couple of occasions not only forgotten, when out at a restaurant with friends, to ask for no straws or plastic containers (for sour cream, salad dressing, etc.) but even to bring the offending item home with me at the end of the night.

However, I've come to appreciate the way that requesting no plastic turns into a kind of opening to witness to the importance of reducing plastic trash.  Not because I make speeches, but because the waitress asks about it.

I can see why No Impact Man chose to use a canning jar for his commuter mug, too.  I mean, I'm very fond of my stainless steel mug.  But there's no question that using a canning jar makes its own quiet statement about the need to challenge and change our current consumerist culture.

That's it for now.