Feasible Methods of Change: Who should lead the transition to renewable energy?

The question of how we are going to transition to renewable energy has been on my mind lately. It’s clear that America has to do something about its carbon footprint, to move away from fossil fuels, but it’s not clear how we are going to achieve this with the current entanglement of the US government and gas and oil companies. Obviously it’s not going to happen overnight, but when someday the US comes to its senses, who will lead? Who should lead?
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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

My Lovely Green Flame Retardant Free Couch

Our wireless is down right now at home.  The internet that magically comes out of the modem still works, so it isn’t Comcast’s fault (for once!) but my cheap-o refurbished router seems to have kicked the bucket in the middle of a streaming a James Bond movie.  Sad, because we didn’t get to finish the movie, but actually not so sad at all because we’re finding the lack of wireless to be quite refreshing.

In my daily perusal of The Kitchn this morning, I spotted this little piece on a family who has decided to ditch all technology pre-1986.  This is pretty extreme, but I get it.  I don’t like how America’s tendency is to come home from school or work and immediately flip on the TV or browse the depths of the internet (keep me away from the food blogs) for hours instead of doing something, anything.

In our living room, we have a couch, but no TV. (It’s in the bedroom, not hooked up to anything, not even Netflix.) How many American families do you think have a living room that isn’t arranged around the TV? We’re probably one of the few.

I like to sit on my couch and read or even just look out the window. It’s the first couch I have ever owned and I plan to keep it for a long time, so I took great care to find an affordable one that wasn’t going to poison me.

That’s right, toxic chemicals!

A year ago, flame retardants (FRs) were all over the news. The crusade against flame retardants, chemicals put in furniture to slow fires, was led by environmental health scientist Arlene Blum.  Her research in the 1970s contributed to the ban of carcinogenic flame retardants such as the molecule brominated tris in children’s pajama fabric. The tris family of flame retardants didn’t just go away though; they continued to be used in couches, notably by Ikea until quite recently.

TDCPP, or chlorinated tris. Yum.

Since the 1970s, Blum has continued to study flame retardants. She found FRs in 85% of couches purchased in America between 1985 and 2010, mostly polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and halogenated organophosphates such as TDCPP, a relative of the tris from the 70s. Scientists have known for a long time that these chemicals cause cancer.  Some PBDEs were even banned in 2005 because they mimic the thyroid hormone in the human body and bioaccumulate.  These chemicals are persistent, resisting breakdown in the environment, and so are the couches that are filled with them. Continue reading

My Organic Urban “Guerrilla” Container Garden

Living in a rented apartment with only north facing windows has made gardening a little difficult, but my plant babies are off to a good start for the summer.

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I’ve tried to start simply, but it’s hard not to try to grow everything.  I’ve got a variety of herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, green chile, and cucumber started, as well as a spider plant and a small sick avocado tree. (Help, anybody?) They’re all growing in pots on the cement back patio of my apartment building.  When we move to our new condo in July, I intend to put the tomatoes and other sun loving plants on the rooftop deck, where they will hopefully get full sun and not bother anybody (this is the guerrilla part). The rest will go on our little west-facing balcony.

Tomato baby!

Tomato baby!

We started our seedlings indoors with a grow light, which we still use to grow lettuce. We chose a fluorescent T5 lamp with a reflective housing. Fluorescent lights do contain mercury, but they are the most affordable, and the T5 is the most efficient of them all.

We used Burpee’s Growing Pellets for our seedlings, and we hated them because they dried out and compacted easily, harming the roots of the plants.  They’re ok for very young seedlings started in eggshells or other similarly small containers, but growing herbs or anything in them for more than a few weeks is bad news.

To keep my plants happy in their big containers, I mixed my own soil using a combination of organic potting soil from Home Depot, worm castings from Whole Foods (will hopefully be able to use my own soon!), and perlite.  I tailored the contents of the soil to the preference of the plants.

My go-to guide for container gardening has been Gayla Trail’s Grow Great Grub: Organic Food From Small Spaces, which I have had checked out from the library for at least three months. It’s an amazing book. I love that it tells you which kinds of plants grow best in containers, and which you can plant together.

Creeping Red Thyme from a local garden market

Creeping red thyme from a local garden market

I think my two favorite aspects of container gardening are that I can move my plants around easily and that there is no weeding.  We had a late frost last weekend and just moved the plants indoors for two nights.  It’s also pretty easy to repurpose containers as pots, such as our lettuce growing in Earthbound Farms Organic salads greens bins (first picture, on the left).  10-12″ plastic pots are only a few bucks at Home Depot, but I’ve found quite a few discarded by the side of the road.

Any advice for my first urban container garden?