How to: Reduce your paper towel usage by 99%

Peeps, listen up. Eliminating (well, almost) paper towels from your house is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your waste and wastefulness. You do not need paper towels to dry produce, to wipe down kitchen counters, or to wipe up anything. Yes, they are convenient and compostable, but why not use something reusable instead?

Here’s how I did it. I replaced paper towels with a combination of dish towels, bar towels, and rags cut from old shirts. They don’t get gross and smelly because I treat them just like single use paper towels; once they’re dirty, I put them in a mesh laundry bag in the pantry and wash them weekly separately from clothes in hot water. That’s it. 

I have only one roll of paper towels that my parents left behind and the only time I use them is for draining grease off fried food. This occurrence is rare because we kicked the bacon habit, but I did recently discover that cauliflower Parmesan is even better than chicken parm, and yes, I fry it like Cook’s Illustrated recommends. 

Last week's laundry: cloth napkins, cute dish towels, tshirt rags, bar towels, and a washable dust cloth.   

Last week’s laundry: cloth napkins, cute dish towels, tshirt rags, bar towels, and a washable dust cloth.   

Please give it a shot. Next time you want to wipe off the counter or do whatever else people do with paper towels (I don’t even remember anymore!), grab a dish towel rather than a paper towel. Let me know how it goes!

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Meatonomics & Sometimes Vegan

When I was a freshman in high school, I read Fast Food Nation in English class and I didn’t eat a hamburger again for years. I went for hotdogs and chicken fingers instead, which aren’t exactly the greatest alternatives, but everything about a burger was wrong to me. I don’t even remember anymore what part of the beef story convinced me to quit burgers cold turkey (hah), but that book certainly did it. I still sort of feel weird when I eat one, even when I make it myself from grassfed beef.

I just finished reading another book that is going to change my diet a lot more than Fast Food Nation ever did, and it’s called Meatonomics. Written by lawyer David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics explores the “rigged economics” of the meat and dairy industries.  It hits hard in all the areas that get to me; sustainability, humane treatment of animals, and corporate control of consumption.

I really enjoyed reading Meatonomics because it is well researched and clearly written. Each chapter has a thesis sentence, subtitles on almost every page, and a bulleted summary of important points at the end. Everything is described in economic terms, which usually means unfathomably large sums of money, but the quantification is powerful. Simon also devotes a significant portion of the book to outlining solutions to the problems he describes, and they’re not absurd. And finally, of course, I learned a ton reading this book. I’m going to recommend it to my vegetarian economics-major sister, to my sometimes-vegan other sister, and to my parents: read it, because our family has fallen for a lot of the problems described in Meatonomics. Continue reading

Toxic Air Fresheners

I hate air fresheners.  Hate hate HATE.  All they do is cover up smells with other sickly smells.  Seriously people, there are better ways to make your home or car or garbage cans more olfactorily pleasing.  (Is that a word?)

Taylor and I recently came in close contact with a hawaiian scented Febreeze thing that was meant to cover up garbage stench in our building. A few minutes later Taylor was turning pink and having a hard time breathing.  Meanwhile, I was shuddering at the thought of all the hormone disrupting chemicals in those things.

A little research when I got home told me that the only “ingredient” in that air freshener is “fragrance,” which we’ve talked about before. Fragrance is a catch-all term that may include tens or even hundreds of different ingredients.  Fragrances are proprietary, so companies don’t have to disclose what is in them. Additionally, the government does not have any safety regulations in place for air fresheners.

So how do we know what’s in them if the ingredients aren’t disclosed? Continue reading

The Tomato Project: An Introduction

We are in the midst of tomato season right now, which means I am busy stockpiling oven roasted tomatoes in my freezer to use as sauce base for the rest of the year, but my sister told me yesterday that even during the summer she only buys canned tomatoes.  In bulk, she says, they are the cheapest option, and they taste pretty darn good.  I was aghast at the idea of consuming so much BPA, but Mark Bittman made the same point in the Times this past weekend in his piece “Not All Industrial Food is Evil.”  Bittman doesn’t even mention BPA! Canned tomatoes do taste better than the hydroponically farmed ones in supermarkets in the winter, but this is August.

My sister is stubborn, and we argued for a while about the cost of canned tomatoes vs. the risk of BPA exposure.  She is committed to living on the cheap, and will probably never switch away from canned food, no matter how toxic, unless a cheaper option is presented.  And as Bittman points out, canned tomatoes are dirt cheap thanks to the international market.

Home canned tomato sauce, yum! I wish the lids of Ball jars weren’t also lined with BPA/BPS.

My mind is blown by how difficult it is to avoid foods packaged with BPA. You have to really TRY, and in my experience, you pretty much have to spend either a lot of money or a lot of time (i.e. buy organic tomatoes in fancy jars or can your own).  I don’t think that this doesn’t have to be the case, though.  Living in a city, I have a lot of options for buying food, and I bet that I can find cheap, non-BPA tomatoes in bulk for at least a reasonable price.

…and so the tomato project was born.  I am going to be living in this city for a while, and I certainly buy lots of groceries, so I think it will be worth the time to study sources of tomatoes and other major foodstuffs in the city of Pittsburgh. Plus, I need to prove to my sister that it is possible to live cheaply and avoid major, um, not-so-beneficial food additives.

Here’s how this is going to work: I am going to visit all of the places in the city I can think of from which I can buy tomatoes (fresh, canned, jarred, or otherwise) and document them with my camera. I don’t have a car, so everywhere I go will be accessible by public transportation. I plan to check out:

  • Giant Eagle Market District (standard grocery store chain)
  • Whole Foods
  • Trader Joe’s
  • East End Food Co-op
  • various farmer’s markets
  • Pennsylvania Macaroni Co (huge Italian specialty store)
  • Costco

In my assessment, I will be considering:

  • Price (by weight)
  • Packaging*
  • Source (domestic or international)
  • Organic (or not)
  • Additives (sugar and other unnecessary additives are a no go)

*Note: I do not consider cans designated “BPA free” to be ok if they don’t say what replaced it.  Most BPA free plastics use BPS instead, which is a structurally similar molecule with similar endocrine disrupting properties.  It just hasn’t gotten as much publicity yet. 

While I am investigating tomatoes, I am going to research a few other major foods as well. I most often shop around for dairy and nuts because they are expensive.  Because of the high fat content in dairy products, it is important to me to buy organic (and hormone free) because many toxins, especially pesticides, partition into fat rather than water. Nuts I would prefer to buy in bulk because it is usually cheaper and saves packaging, but I have found that the nuts in the bulk bins at Whole Foods are much more expensive per pound than the packaged ones because the bulk bins are stocked with “fancy organic pecan halves” whereas the packaged ones are just pieces and almost half the price. (Whole Foods is probably set up like this just to trick conscientious shoppers.) Finally, I’d like to find the cheapest and least packaged way to buy unbrominated unbleached and preferably organic flour.

The project will start this weekend, and probably will take a while.  In the meantime, the next post in the tomato project series will be an exposé on the threat of BPA with the purpose of convincing you that you should want to pay more to avoid it. Hopefully I will soon be able to prove that you don’t have to.

 Any thoughts, questions, or suggestions for other foods I should look into? Leave a comment!

A New Chapter in the Green Experiment

Today is an important day because not only have I lived in Pittsburgh for exactly one year, but we are starting a new green project: no car.

We’ve been toying with the idea of selling it for a while, and when Taylor’s mother offered to drive it home to New Mexico we gladly agreed.  Pittsburgh is a moderately spread out city but with decent public transportation that we can take for free as students, so we are ready to stop feeling guilty every time we drive the one mile to the grocery store.

My estimated pros and cons of not having a car:

  • Pro: saving about $1600/year on gas, insurance, and parking
  • Con: I will always forget this when we need to rent a zipcar or uhaul for any reason and will not want to spend the money on them
  • Pro: we have bikes and will use them more
  • Con: will make acquiring furniture more difficult
  • Pro: we will not end up with a lot of crap we don’t need
  • Con: will take an hour to get somewhere that would previously have taken 10 min
  • Big Pro: feeling good about using public transportation
  • Pro: new and exciting adventures/vacations via Megabus $1 tickets

Think we can do it? I am excited for the challenge.

Bye bye Subie.  We will miss you. 

I don't have a picture of the Subie so here are a few of our favorite city buses

I don’t have a picture of the Subie so here is a bus instead

Product Review: Safe and Effective Shower Products that we LOVE

Guess what everybody? After a few flops, I’ve finally found a few body products that I like!

Finding safe, effective, and affordable body products has been quite a challenge.  (If you missed why I am doing this, read this.) Many of the most promising looking products are stupidly expensive, and cheaper ones tend to be the most toxic.  Walking into the body products section of Whole Foods is so intimidating when I don’t know what I want, and we have spent hours standing in those isles looking up the safety of products/ingredients on our phones before buying anything.  Hopefully this post will help save you some shampoo isle angst. Continue reading

An Introduction to Slow/Real/Whole Food (for my little sister)

My little sister, who just completed her first year of college, was forwarded this buzzfeed page containing a list of 8 common ingredients in food that are banned in other places of the world.  She wanted to know if it was “legit”, and my answer was YES YES YES this is a big deal and if you don’t know all about this already you should!

Because most of the blogs I read are written by other like-mindedly green people, they (and subsequently I) tend to write about more nuanced aspects of green living, like for example my last post on how to minimize organic kitchen waste. This post is for those of you, like my sister, who not only don’t have a worm bucket, but don’t know how to navigate a grocery store without inadvertently buying carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Continue reading