Tag Archives: Environment & Climate Change

Am I being green – even when I’m lazy and unmotivated AF?

Hi all.

Just a couple of hours after my last blog post confession was published, a good friend of mine texted me and said “Yes!! I am sooo in the same spot! I’m so tired of being green and looking frumpy – the world is shit anyway.” See, both she and I have been limiting our shopping for years now (in order to reduce) and we are both just ready to look cute. And new. And relevant. And hot. (Yes!)

However, fashion was just one part of our conversation; the chore of rinsing yogurt cups so they can be recycled without contamination was another.

So, she says the world is shit. And she’s not wrong. Recent studies are predicting we’re heading towards as much as 9 degrees F rise in temperature (!!) and up to 200 ft of sea level rise. That’s kind of shit. The world in all feels very turbulent right now. Personally, I think my lack of motivation has been building up for a while [see this post on my unsustainable shoes] and then re-discovering this summer (on vacation) that the general population in Scandinavia (Denmark and Sweden) hardly take any personal responsibility when it comes to sustainable living, added to it. Here in the US we totally think they’re rocking it. More on the state of things in Le Europe in my next post – #teaser.

BUT there are a lot of good initiatives out there too. Progress in renewable energy systems (to name one area) and hope for change. As a climate optimist with a son who will inherit the earth, I need to believe in the greater good and keep myself motivated. (I should regularly share more good news on the blog actually, so other’s who may feel demotivated like me get a little boost too.)

Time for a list. A pep-talk. A readjustment of expectations. Not expectations from other people, but the ones I have for myself to be this eco-champion.

I am not trying to brag or seem better than anyone (I’m not in that mindset at all believe me!) in listing what I am actually doing; I am reminding myself that I do enough, despite being lazy and unmotivated AF right now.

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  1. I compost.  The occasional banana peel goes in the trash though. Composting is easy and I love the smell of healthy soil.
  2. I eat a plant-based diet and serve my family the same. The most eco-friendly diet as it stands. Happens to also benefit my health.
  3. My kid uses cloth diapers (many of them hand-me-downs) about 50% of the time.
  4. One of two cars we own is electric, and we drive very few miles for living in a large city like Houston.
  5. I use only reusable bags (and reusable produce bags) for all shopping.
  6. I recycle (all though most of that curb-side waste is probably land-filled).
  7. All my kid’s clothes (and most toys) are second (or third) hand thanks to my sister having a couple of kids before I did. Thanks sis!
  8. We use a 100% renewable energy provider.
  9. I buy (almost only) organic food.
  10. I donate monthly to environmental groups and Democrats up for election this year like fantastic Texan Beto O’Rourke.
  11. I blog and tweet about environmental issues. YAY! This might be one of the more important things because this is spreading the eco message.
  12. Our house uses bar soap, natural body products and I don’t use make-up.
  13. I re-use a lot of containers. My husband says I’m a pack rat… (I realize that is not very sexy in this blogger world full of minimalists.)
  14. I never consume water in plastic water bottles.
  15. I have a to-go cup with me every day and refuse straws. Sometimes they happen but mistakes are inevitable.
  16. I try to only shop ethical and local brands.

When I first started looking into living greener, I was only doing number 6, 10 and 5 (partly). So thinking of it that way, I really have made huge positive changes!

Which ones of these do you do?

Now. Here’s expectations I have decided to let go of, or rather things I allow myself to do during this phase (life time?) of being more of a regular person.

  1. Throw away dirty plastic containers. Let’s be honest, since China is no longer accepting our recyclables, most of it is going to be land-filled anyway. Why bother the recycling people with sorting it all? Potato salad tub – consider yourself tossed.
  2. Buy things online that we need as a family, not knowing exactly where they’re from. Sometimes we need a tool or a battery. Our kid needed a made in China booster seat. I’ll just get these type items online. Not sweat it.
  3. Buy clothes when I feel like it. Mind you, I don’t very often! I will allow myself to browse and buy something new when I feel it’s right. I’ll always check tags for China and polyester – that’s in my blood now – but I might get that cotton tee from Turkey (or whatever).
  4. Donate and throw away things our family doesn’t need that disturbs peace at home because we don’t have enough storage. No pressure to find uses for it all or donate to the”right cause”. If I need to toss, I will toss. Freedom!
  5. Post eco things when I feel like it on Instagram. But if I feel like sharing a picture of my toe that has nothing to do with being sustainable, I will.
  6. Any other things/actions as I see fit.

Doesn’t sound so bad… right?

Finally, should eco-bloggers lead by that “perfect example” (also known as “It’s so EASY and FUN and budget friendly to be zero-waste-vegan!!!) or do we need to have real conversations about effort and demotivation?

Much love and ramblings, my friends!

Five surprising ways a plant-based diet has improved my life!

A newly published study in Science Magazine concluded that switching to a vegan diet (from an all-inclusive one) is the single most effective way to reduce ones environmental impact*. Diet change is more powerful than for example switching to green electricity or electrifying travel, because it doesn’t just tackle greenhouse gases but also reduces ocean acidification, agricultural land use and water consumption. The study included data from 40,000 farms in 119 countries.

When I transitioned to a plant-based lifestyle (from vegetarian + sometimes fish or chicken), I did so because of climate change sure, but mostly because of the health benefits and my personal need to clear my perioral dermatitis. Little did I know that changing my family’s diet would improve my life in a bunch of other ways too! Turns out, there are a few surprising benefits to plant-based living that truly enhances quality of life. At least I think so. Read on and then tell me what you think about these five amazing changes I’ve discovered!

benefits of vegan diet

1. Bye, bye gross bacteria

Here’s something amazing and convenient that comes with plant-based living: your trash doesn’t smell. Think about how fast your trashcan goes sour and gross after you toss a Styrofoam tray in there with meat juice on it. After just one day (tops) you have to empty the whole bin. (Since, you know, meats are forbidden in the compost). There’s another benefit to this bacteria thing as well: dirty chopping boards and having the toddler “help” in the kitchen is suddenly no big deal. I know that even if we miss a spot, the “chickpea residue” (lol) will not pose a health threat to any of us. Kids can lick their fingers after helping you out without any risks. If they drop the spatula on the floor, no biggie. Plus, you can taste the bean patties when raw to check if they need more salt. This is a TRUE win.

2. Bathroom breaks are FAST

Let me put it this way; you won’t be seeing any magazines in a vegan family’s bathroom. Because every time plant-eaters consume protein they also consume FIBER, bellies and intestines are generally super happy which means no constipation. Meat is also tough on your belly flora and stays inside you much longer than plant foods do. I hate public restrooms with huge openings around the door, so if I can shorten my time in there; mega win.

3. Serious savings

If you are like me, someone who shops at the grocery store, prefers organic and natural foods and cooks most meals at home, you’ll save money ditching animal products. Soy milk costs the same as organic cow’s milk. Legumes (beans, lentils) are much cheaper per pound than meat is. The savings add up even more when you consider legumes are often sold in a dry state. Did you know one cup dry lentils becomes almost three cups when cooked? Ca-ching! Also at restaurants, vegetarian and vegan meals cost less than that steak or seafood dinner. Every time.

4. More varied menu

How often did we really eat cauliflower steaks before going plant-based? How many fun salads did I actually make? Did we ever reap the benefits of nutritional yeast? The answer is no. Heck, I didn’t even eat squash regularly! I have invited so many new foods into my life since I started to cook vegan, which is what ultimately lead to my love affair with lentils.

5. Learning commitment by limited selections

This may not sound like an amazing benefit, but I tell you, ordering food at restaurants has never been easier. Sure, there are a few places where I can’t eat anything which is kind of inconvenient but in most places there are a few vegan options. And by a few, I mean two. Tops. This is what makes it so easy! Even at the Cheesecake factory where the menu is a thick as a bible, it takes me two seconds to flip to the “superfoods” section and pick the vegan cobb salad. Often, if a menu offers little or no options, combining two or three side dishes will do the trick.

How does those sound?! Great benefits if you ask me.

*A note from me: I am all about “do what you can” – also when it comes to diets. Every vegan meal matters, even if you are not 100% vegan. I call myself plant-based, not vegan, because cheese and leather sneakers, but most meals I cook are 100% vegan.

Defining Sustainability / Just because it’s eco-friendly doesn’t mean it’s sustainable (or does it?)

Sustainability. The buzzword of our time. We throw it around and look for it on companies’ websites and products. Sustainable fashion. Sustainable agriculture. Sustainable growth. Heck, I even call myself “sustainable”. But what does it actually mean? And what do I mean when I say it?

sustainable

First, let’s get the cat out of the bag; being sustainable means something different to every single one of us.

I think most of us agree that renewable energy (wind, solar) is “sustainable energy” because we won’t run out of its sources, it creates jobs and it doesn’t harm the environment long term. (In other words, checks all the boxes!) However, a very-soon-to-retire oilfield worker, supporting their family by working for a fossil fuel company, who knows nothing else, might not agree that the solar power boom is sustainable development – for him.

There are three parts to sustainability:

PEOPLE
ENVIRONMENT
ECONOMY

You’ve probably heard of the “Zero Waste movement” which mostly is about living with as low carbon footprint as possible and sending (almost) nothing to landfill. The people who live zero waste are amazing and put a lot of effort into maintaining their lifestyle. To them, prepping meals, cleaning supplies and beauty products from scratch with ingredients bought without packaging is the sustainable thing to do.

To me, buying ready-made, organic, local, small business [insert item here] is the sustainable choice. Sure, that creates packaging waste and I don’t know if the maker composted their scraps but with that purchase, I am supporting a business I’d like to see thrive and that action is sustainable to me.

I recently saw a post in the eco community that said, “We should all cook more at home because restaurants create a lot of waste”. Despite that being true, I am not comfortable with us not supporting local eateries for that reason. Just because something is “eco-friendly” doesn’t mean it’s sustainable.

All though we all think differently when it comes to making the best, most sustainable choice, a common definition could be that “Living sustainably is to live true to one’s values and to act in accordance with how one wishes the future should look like”.

If I want a future where crops are grown naturally and organically, I must buy organic food.

If I want the air to be clean and safe for all beings on earth, I need to lower my personal emissions and vote for politicians who align with me on this topic.

If I want to see my local community flourish, I must shop small and locally made products.

If I want factory farming to be banned, I must eat more plants (less animal products).

If I want more fish than plastic in the ocean, I have to stop eating them and reduce the plastic waste I create that may end up in their habitat.

There are more hopes and dreams I could mention (I have so many!), and I can’t master them all 100% but this is where I am coming from when I say, “I want to live sustainably”. Maybe, “Because I have the privilege, I want to live responsibly” defines it better. (“Responsible Anna” – what a boring blog title!!)

Last but not least, we must remember that because defining sustainability is subjective we also have different opportunities to act. Personally, I can afford to donate to organizations, shop locally made, lease a Tesla, while I feel I don’t have the time it takes  to live a zero waste life, which can be very time consuming. Someone else may have lots of time on their hands and less funds, opting to be sustainable by making their own clothes and growing their own food. Many might fall somewhere in-between. Some people have very little privilege with neither time nor money and for them sustainability is probably something completely different, like working hard to create a more prosperous future for their children, being a good person in their community or simply just getting by.

There is no “one size fits all”. There is no “right answer”. Luckily, by many of us taking a different approach to sustainability (or responsibility!), we can get A LOT done. Don’t you think?

Note: I wanted to write this post because I felt it was time to share some thoughts. A blogger I follow did a poll on Instagram asking people if they felt inspired or guilty seeing eco-friendliness posts (specifically zero waste) and a staggering 50% chose the “guilty box”, which sure is not the intention when someone is sharing “sustainable” tips and tricks. Renee, the mentioned blogger, followed up with a wonderful article about privilege, zero waste and her take on inspiring change outside the “green living bubble”. Link to read it in full HERE.

It’s 2018, time to gear up and support a sustainable politician

It’s 2018. We have only 10 months to focus, engage, support and get active in order to flip Congress. Yes, I am putting it out there: I absolutely despise Trump and the GOP. (Don’t waste your time commenting that I am wrong about this, if that is your opinion. There is nothing you can say that’ll change my mind.)

You might not know this about me, but I am not even eligible to vote! I am a green card holder, not a citizen, but since I live in the USA and plan to stay here for the foreseeable future, I am super-duper engaged in the political “game” some people refer to as the democracy of the United States. Power-grandpa Bernie dragged me into it.

Now, my guy for 2018 is Beto O’Rourke.

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He is running against Ted scumbag Cruz and he is so awesome. Beto spent most of 2017 visiting townhalls around Texas to get to the bottom of what Texans need and think. He is not taking any money from Super PACs either. (His voice reminds me of Obama’s too! He has that presidential flare about him.)

I’m not going to write down all the policies and his stands on them, you can read up on Beto at BetoforTexas.com. (Isn’t seeing Ted squirm and get the boot enough reason to vote Beto though?!) Since I can’t vote, “all” I can do is write, tweet, talk and donate to Beto’s campaign.

The cool thing about donating is you can donate to any politician you’d like to see get a chair, no matter where you live in the country. I love Elizabeth Warren (MA) so I support her, and I gave to Senator Doug Jones’ campaign in Alabama last year. He WON. No one thought he would. (Thank you people of Alabama, especially Black communities, for voting and thanks everyone who donated to his campaign!) Beto could have the same thing happen in this “red” state.  Let’s flip Texas!

So what does this have to do with a Not Made in China Challenge and leading a green life? Great question. It has everything to do with it.

Republicans are just not interested in preserving our earth at all (which is ironic since they call themselves “conservatives”). Quite the opposite in fact; the EPA has lost 700 people, Trump wants to deregulate big oil, drill everywhere and loosen organic farming standards. If he “pulls out of” NAFTA he can do more harm than good to small American made businesses who rely on imported parts (a rework is needed, yes, but not a cancellation) and his expensive “Border Wall” will harm Texas in many ways. I am not even going to mention the so called Tax bill. Basically, the current government is working against everything I believe in. They are working against economic and environmental sustainability.

In next year’s midterm election, Democrats need only 24 seats to flip the House and two to take the Senate. TWO.

Political speech over! Go support your candidates!

PS. If you’re busy and don’t want to research candidates, you can contribute by supporting Our Revolution which is a democratic group rallying for progressives in all types of elections, from school boards to senate.

How to master going Plant Based – when you have a life (Six quick tips!)

Switching to a plant based, whole foods (PBWF) diet from a “regular” one is super easy!

Said no one.

Ever.

I am a pretty determined lady, yet I will be the first to admit that changing your own and your family’s diet over night is a bit of a struggle. Not so much when it comes to the tasks at hand (find a recipe – make it – taste it) but in the acceptance and adjustment of appetite, taste and lifestyle.

I started my PBWF transformation about three months ago. At the time I was eating a 95% vegetarian diet; I had switched most dairy for plant based alternatives a long time ago and quit beef in 2015. However, I was eating chicken occasionally (when we got Chinese take out), cheese on pizza and eggs. It was a gluten heavy diet with a fair amount of processed foods. I wasn’t by any means a stranger to great vegan food and for a long time I’ve enjoyed cooking and shopping for healthy meals. To me, it was a planet-friendly diet, that didn’t compromise the comfort of my life.

Then came the health issues and I decided to go full on PBWF.

I’ve had ups and downs. Lost weight and cleared my skin. Cheated with cheese.

Either way; I have learned a lot and I want to share with you!! Here are SIX THINGS I’ve learned since going Plant Based, which I hope can help someone else in their transition to the MOST planet-, and health-friendly diet there is :)

1. Go easy on other eco/health/life goals

This is number one because it’s important.

No matter what anyone tells you, cooking from scratch with whole ingredients while reading new recipes takes time. If you are a master chef already, you’ll be good, but if you think making grilled-cheese is cooking, you’re in trouble. (Also, consider how much time you’ll spend figuring out what toppings to put on sandwiches!) Now that I have committed to guiding  my wonderful family through a transition to a PBWF lifestyle, you might be wondering how I make time. Well, I go easy on other things. Hell no there’ll be no cleaning. Do I ever work out? NO. I am not zero-wasting this thing either. This mama can’t be making her own waste-free hummus and bake crackers in order to have an after work snack. I am also not exactly the social butterfly, I like being home. (My situation is I work full time as a project manager, I have a 10 month old, a husband, a house and a blog.) No matter your lifestyle, with a new diet, there is no time for shitty commitments. Or Facebook. Let them slide.

vegan
A balanced, vegan diet. Fancy.

2. Soups are your new (best) friends

I am the kind of cook who freaks out if there are too many steps to a recipe, that’s why I love making soup. Measure, wash, chop and in the pot it goes. Try this awesome Moroccan Lentil Soup, this Minestrone, this Peanut Soup or search for a simple vegan curry. (I know many of my friends love their croc-pot which, I am sure, also makes great PBWF soups.) On a side note, why do carrots taste out-of-this-world amazing when they’ve simmered in a soup for an hour?

3. Broth, broth, broth

This tip is somewhat related to above soup tip, since vegetable broth is included in pretty much every soup. However, you can also use it to add flavor to stews, mashed potatoes, rice, lentils, cooked veggies – anything! You can make your own broth from scratch or like me (in accordance with tip number one) buy meal saving, ready-made, packaged bullion tablets from Knorr.

4. Exploring recipes is your new hobby

Forget Instyle, your new leisure reading materials are vegan cookbooks and PlantBased magazine. The Forks over Knives’ recipe app will become a dear friend as well. Downtime at work should be spent reading amazing health stories on how people survived [insert illness here] by going plant based. Anything to keep you motivated and inspired on this journey. Please note you may develop “militant vegan” type traits. (“My foot hurts” says random person, so you say “maybe you should go vegan!”)

5. Junk food is the hardest thing to quit

I had no problems quitting junk shopping a few years ago (Yay, go not made in China challenge!) but quitting junk food is not as easy. I have no magic trick that makes cheese all of a sudden taste gross. (Sorry animal activists, vegan cheese is not cheese.) I eat too many chips probably. The only tip I have when it comes to this part of it, is to create a directory of local, plant-based friendly take-out restaurants (like Chipotle, salad bars, Indian places) for when you need something quick. Then just do your best and pick something vegan. It may not be all “whole foods” but at least it’s plant based.

6. Find your signature meal

Last but not least, find your signature meal! Our go to is wholegrain spaghetti with vegan Bolognese: marinara sauce, onions, tomato, pea-protein and whatever veggies I feel like throwing in. We love it and baby eats it too. Dinner shouldn’t be difficult or fancy all the time, just nutrient packed.

peanut soup
Meet Peanut Soup with brown rice (cooked in broth!). Yum.

That’s my whole list of wisdom! (So far.)

As for the future, I think Carrie Underwood put it best; “I am vegan but I don’t freak out if there is some cheese on my pasta.” (Cheating with cheese, also referred to as “cheesing”. LOL.)

Even PETA agrees; don’t be the vegan who makes a plant based diet look difficult by asking the waiter to check if there’s dairy in the burger bun. Instead be the person who makes a vegan, or vegetarian, diet seem tasty, easy and inclusive. That’s how you encourage others to cut their meat, become healthier and more planet minded.

Questions?

Let me know if anyone is or have been going through the same transformation!

Conscious consumers, sure, but where the F is the industry?

I once got into a fight with the CEO of the company where I work over the question if the industry or the consumers are responsible for the current environmental destruction in this world. He said consumers like me (and I quote) are and I told him he was dead wrong; industry leaders like him are. (No, didn’t get fired, though some colleagues feared for my survival, and I’m pretty sure I’m on the black list.)

If I had to put a number on it I’d say the industry carries 75% of the responsibility and we only 25. At best, I’d accept a 50/50. Here’s why.

THE PROBLEM

Heading home from work, super late and hungry, I might stop at a coffee shop or gas station for human fuel. Pretty fast, I will discover that there is 1. No tasty vegan food (and no, kale chips don’t count) and 2. Everything is wrapped in or packed in plastic. Not minimalistic style plastic either – huge boxes, double wrap. Should conscious consumers skip the snack because the industry only provides us with bad eco-choices?

There are countless situations like this, where consumers “have no choice” but to swallow the plastic wrap. Like, for example, when

  1. The grocery store automatically prints a BPA-coated receipt and hands it to you like you want it.
  2. The airline serves you and millions of other travelers factory farmed beef on a one-time-use plastic plate. (I’m pretty sure  that what isn’t consumed on the flight is thrown out, so there’s no point in “zero wasting” this one, unless you emailed before and told them not to make a meal for you.)
  3. The municipality where you live decide not to invest in safe bike lanes, side walks and public transport so you can safely skip the car.
  4. The oil companies work full time to make legislation that prevents solar power and electrical vehicles from taking off.
  5. There are no organic strawberries at the store, but you promised to make strawberry cake so you have to buy conventional ones (in a plastic container).

Tell me CEO,  how are these eco-disasters my responsibility?

A few years ago we didn’t know we wanted tablets. Apple invented the I-pad, and suddenly consumers decided they needed one. Industry took the lead, consumers blindly followed suddenly not even remembering how life was before there were I-pads.

If only the industry would be as inventive when it comes to environmentally sustainable practices as it is when it comes to launching new products, the world would look quite different (excluding you Elon Musk!). Consumers all over would automatically buy the eco-friendly choice that was presented to them.

ACTION

Since I doubt that the industry will start acting all “eco” on their own (I just saw that Snapple now comes in a plastic bottle instead of glass! Snapple!!!) we, the conscious consumers, must again act and invest our enthusiasm and energy. This time into generating emails, tweets, posts and making calls. We must

  1. Urge our favorite brands to manufacture HERE.
  2. Tell our local grocer that we need more bulk bins.
  3. Convince clothing stores that receipts and printed coupons are so 1990.
  4. Ask our local eateries to ditch the straws and disposable kids’ cups.
  5. Go to the town hall meeting, demand better infrastructure.

Etcetera, etcetera. AND, of course, we must continue to vote with our dollars, by buying everything made right (here). Our 25% (or 50, whatever) does make a difference – I’ve blogged about us taking charge and changing the market, the industry (and the world) for three years.

It’s time for the industry to wake up, take responsibility and act.

We need to help them get started.

Who are you emailing today?

Six reasons why I’m on a Not Made in China Challenge

Things have changed in this world of ours since I started the Not Made in China Challenge in 2014. Most of these changes are good.

For starters, India and China are investing billions in renewable energy – wind, solar, hydro – more than any other nations. In addition to this, China is shutting down its last coal plant in Beijing in an effort to clear the air (switching to natural gas) for millions of Chinese living in the region. Developing countries all over the world are going from no electricity to solar powered life – skipping the burning of fuels all together. Good news.

Meanwhile Donald (aka the worst president ever) is leaving the Paris Climate Agreement and talking about bringing jobs back in the coal industry as part of his plan to “put America first”. Although coal is never going to happen (sorry Donny boy!), the fact that he’s pro the most polluting technology we have and doesn’t believe in climate change, is bad news.

So, does it still make sense, as a sustainable shopper, to be on a Not Made in China Challenge?

YES!

Of course I would say that – hello blog – but there are great reasons for it too. Here’s why I am on this challenge, and keeping at it in 2017 and beyond.

The President is all talk

We know by now that all the campaign promises made by the Republican candidate were just false. He is not doing anything to bring jobs back here, he is not even ensuring that his beloved pipelines are to be made with American steel. He may have come up with the “Made in America Week” which is a great initiative, but so far, NOTHING has been done to ensure more items are, or remain “made right here”. (Also leaving the Paris Climate Agreement and not investing in renewables would most likely create fewer jobs for Americans down the line.) He talked the talk, but as usual, it’s still up to us consumers to walk the walk. And as far as that goes, no policies have been put in place that would make it easier or more affordable for Americans to choose “Made in USA”.

The core of my Not Made in China Challenge is to support small businesses that use sustainable production practices and eco-friendly materials. That effort supports our local communities; the tax-paying entrepreneurs, makers, builders and artisans living here. (Supporting a small business might mean a family can afford health insurance when/if GOP takes it away!) Basically this challenge is about “Main Street not Wall Street”.

Environmental questions remain

Even though China is switching things up in the energy market, honoring the Paris Climate Agreement and talking about implementing a carbon tax (YES!), small rural factories are still powered by burning coal. Not only by pulling electricity from the coal fired grid, but many actually run their own, tiny furnaces which have no filters, no air cleaning catalyst (NOx being an issue) and low efficiency.

There’s also more to a healthy planet than a low carbon air. China, India and several other countries are still polluting their groundwater and surrounding oceans by uncontrolled wastewater from manufacturing. (So is America, I know, I know, but I find it easier to spot the businesses here who do that, like Georgia Pacific.)

The force is not with the workforce

I have yet to see a certified fair-trade item come out of China. What’s going on with decent wages and healthy workplaces? Not much, I’m afraid.

This is of course also true for many other places; India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, Mexico, neighboring Latin American countries and even, dare I say it, we’ve got some sketchy California sweatshops too. Best to stay away from them all unless we’re talking about certified fair-trade, organic and/or small business/artisan style items we can trust. If it’s too cheap to be true (aka in the West as “A GREAT deal”) – someone suffered to make it.

The trade deficit

Our ginormous trade deficit with China isn’t shrinking. In fact, what we export most to the Chinese is AIR. Yep, empty containers are constantly heading across the ocean to pick up more “stuff” for bored Americans. How much are we talking? The trade deficit with China was almost FOUR BILLION DOLLARS in 2015, and it grows every year.

The issue here is that Chinese business men (and women!) are investing more than ever in the USA, buying land, real estate and factories as we speak. Basically China could soon “own the USA” thanks to you shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Transport hasn’t gone “clean”

There has not been any breakthroughs when it comes to shipping transport. Large container ships are still burning through barrel after barrel of fossil fuel shipping the above mentioned “stuff” and empty containers back and forth. Container ships remain a threat to marine mammals by interruption of sound waves and migration paths as well.

Honestly, it’s the easy way to shop less

Since most everything is imported, reading labels and tags so I can avoid “Made in China” means I can’t buy anything. I feel like this issue is so often forgotten when we talk about Climate Change and the environment. We can elect all the climate friendly politicians for Congress we want, but it won’t matter if we continue down this path of OVER-CONSUMPTION.

I’m not saying that a Not Made in China Challenge fits all, different rules work for different people. This works for me, and I am sure it would work for most suburban Americans with access to Target. 

So I’m staying on the challenge – I am thriving at it actually. Sure as hell doesn’t mean I don’t respect China and their efforts to act on climate change.

Buy less, buy local.

Main Street, not Wall Street.

PS: To find out more about what this challenge means to me, read my entire blog! (it’s fun I promise!) Or maybe start with reading my “About” page :)

 

Vacation, vacation, vacation: dealing with the aftermath (+ back to blogging!)

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog lately because 1. Vacation in Europe with baby and 2. Vacation in Europe without wifi. Yes, there are still places without it! (I did manage to publish one blog post about my new eco-friendly bag which I photographed i Denmark. Check it out here if you missed it :) )

Now, when it comes to vacationing, or traveling if you will, dealing with the guilt of flying is always hard. This activity, which I always try to undertake responsibly (have a great reason to go, travel zero waste) and rarely, is certainly the most unsustainable thing I do. One return trip to Sweden in economy class adds 1.28 metric tons of carbon to my yearly carbon footprint which is a lot. So what to do?

The easy and obvious thing to do is to carbon compensate, which I can do directly thru KLM’s website when buying the ticket (more on that in this post from last year) and/or by planting trees at Stand for Trees. This trip I realized that I could actually “compensate more” by collecting items abroad for baby August to bring home with me. That’s only previously used items – otherwise no point!

You’d be amazed what friends and family are hiding away in closets and are dying to get rid of. Because the people “donating” to me are my closest friends, not only do they have things I want, like and need, but also aren’t offended when I say no (aka “why’d you buy that?”). Most importantly they feel great about giving, they don’t have to spend money to spoil our baby, and together we prevent waste and reduce new material being purchased.

In addition to friends’ used (perfectly awesome) stuff, I also got my hands on a few of my own childhood items (sorting boxes at dad’s) which thrills me so.

The CO footprint of each and every thing I collected probably can’t be found on google, however I know it takes lots of energy, oil, resources and chemicals to produce just one new plastic cup. 

I like lists, so here is one of everything we brought home with us for baby August’s current and future endeavors!

  1. Lots of clothes 
  2. A pair of shoes
  3. A teether that goes in the freezer
  4. Three reusable squeeze pouches for baby food
  5. 10+ Spoons
  6. Four Plates
  7. Eight Bowls
  8. Three Cups
  9. Two baby bottles (not pictured – in the sink!)
  10. Two cans of baby food (my friend’s baby never got to!)
  11. A reflector
  12. Mini flounder for bath time (mine from 1989!)
  13. 20+ Children’s books in Swedish and Danish
  14. Eight baby books
  15. 13 Mini (pixi) books
  16. Five puzzles (one not pictured)
  17. Bib that catches food
  18. Pear-shaped mold for playing in sand
  19. Soft toy reindeer (which baby loves!)  

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Long list right? All of these things aren’t need-to-haves perhaps, but most are! How much carbon would I emit if I were to buy all of these items new?

I’m not sure, but not having to do so makes me feel better about those long fossil fuel burning flights we took. And, it IS more fun to have previously loved things :)

Now, vacation is over, I’m back to blogging (some fun posts coming up!), enjoying my last few weeks of maternity leave and, of course, living it green in Texas.

Is green living even possible with a baby in the house?

It’s a good question. Right?

One I asked myself before we had our baby and one I am still thinking about. Hardcore environmentalists actually argue that having a baby is so bad for the environment that none of us should have any. Articles promoting not having kids have circulated the green community for a while, been enthusiastically shared and, of course, I see their point; an average American’s carbon footprint exceeds 20 tonnes each year so don’t add another one. That number is calculated with today’s consumption behavior and technology – it can most certainly decrease as these improve.

So, a baby is bad for the environment. But what if he’s the new Elon Musk or Bernie Sanders? What if he invents the best carbon trapping technology ever, one that solves our climate issues forever? Yes, this is how we (and other green parents) are justifying our actions.

On that note meet baby August, our little love bug, who turns two months today.

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One month old August!

Now, despite the carbon footprint of a new (western) life – Is it possible to make mindful, eco-friendly, low carbon choices to soften the blow? All amidst intense emotions, new routines and a strange little person to keep alive?

For us, yes and no. We’re trying our best. Let me start by confessing some of our less successful undertakings.

Failure # 1: Trash, trash, trash

I will admit that there was not much cooking going on during the first month of baby’s life. Yes, we ate pre-made food, ordered take out (some of it packaged in Styrofoam!) and lived off of Cliff energy bars. We even had Starbucks (twice!) in their disposable cups. Honestly, I think we created more waste in that first month than we had in the previous six! I felt bad about it, but at the same time I knew it wasn’t a big deal to live like most Americans do all year, since it would be for a very short time. Either way, a green living fail.

Failure # 2: Baby gifts

Baby August has been spoiled with gifts from neighbors and colleagues, people we know but aren’t aware of our lifestyle, thus these gifts have included quite a few sweatshop-made, Asian imports. We took a few things back but kept many of them as they were usable (and we didn’t have gift receipts). Our close friends and family have been super thoughtful and only given us baby gear made in USA, second hand items, handmade crafts or brought us food. I’d say we’ve managed to stay as minimalist as one can hope, having a new baby and being surrounded by kind, generous people who want to congratulate us (and how lucky are we that people feel that way!). All in all, I wouldn’t call it a complete failure, despite some “Made in China” tags sneaking into our home.

Now on to the greener side if things.

Success story # 1: Baby’s food

Going back to the topic of food; we have continued to shop local, vegan, bulk and organic to the same extent we were before, and we have kept up with the compost. August is eating (or should I say “drinking”?) the most eco-friendly, zero waste and natural food possible: mama’s milk! I am thankful that after some practice, baby and I got the hang of breastfeeding. Green living win (and all around nutritiously awesome!)

Success story # 2: Cloth diapers

Though trash was initially piling up in the kitchen, we were (and are) mastering almost zero waste in the bathroom! I was determined to cloth diaper the baby from the very beginning and I am happy to say we started doing so after only one week. We were sent home from the hospital with a packet of Huggies newborn diapers, but about five days in, both my husband and I were ready to switch to cloth – Huggies don’t hold shit (literally) and that gets tired very fast. I definitely have to do a blog post on cloth diapers, the environment and our routine when I have more experience with it! I will tell you now that it is not hard to do if you own a washer and dryer. Cloth diapers and wipes: another green living win.

Now that we’ve settled in and things are becoming less chaotic, we’re back to old habits of me cooking (from scratch) and the gifts have stopped coming (phew!).

My conclusion is that living green with a brand new baby can certainly be done with a little help and superman/woman type motivation. We needed about five weeks before we could get back to being “green” and each week it gets easier to maintain healthy, eco-friendly, low carbon habits. That said, no matter how much we try, August cannot produce zero carbon, just like we, you and I, are contributing to climate change every day.

I am sure there’ll be more eco-compromises as we go along, finding ourselves in new and unexpected “we have a kid” situations! But, I am ok with that, as long as I feel we are doing our very best – for us, the baby and the environment.

When it comes to leather – does it really matter if it’s “American-made”?

Some readers will see this gorgeous bag and think “Oh, look at that FABULOUS, made in USA leather bag!” while, others will say, or more like grunt, “Why is a self-proclaimed environmentalist showing a leather bag on an eco-blog? Yuck!!”

Hear, hear.

Leather is not exactly an eco-friendly material (more on that later), so why am I blogging about a bag made of just that?

Satchel Savannah grey leather bag
Satchel: Handcrafted in Georgia. Worn well in Texas.

Easy. Because I hate seeing individual and stylish women go to Coach, Michael Kors, Fossil or Cole Haan and end up with the same Chinese-made bag everyone else has. This blog is a space of options, and when I say that I mean a space where I am trying to help consumers make better choices. Is an American-made, small business, handcrafted, locally grown leather bag a better choice than an imported Coach bag is? Absolutely!

This one is my friend Mary Beth’s and made by Satchel: three female artisans in a small Savannah, Georgia design studio, handcrafting leather goods and custom handbags. If you’re interested, you’ll have to call and place an order. Though there are some styles in their studio for sale, nothing is “ready to buy” online.

It’s always good to have an excuse to talk about leather too, isn’t it? Ever thought about what the word actually means? Us humans are good at coming up with words that distance us from what we’re actually dealing with. Kind of like how we eat “beef” not cows and “pork” not pigs. Current generations are farther removed from nature than ever before, so it makes sense that when we talk about animal skins or hides, we just call it “leather”.

Leather is the processed and polished version of the skin of the animal, the end result if you will. It’s important to remember that as a conscious consumer.

You may have run into companies that handcraft their goods in USA of Italian leather? Italian leather is known to be good quality and it has a nice ring to it, so businesses like to flaunt it, however the animal that became that “Italian leather” may have emigrated after death; it could have come from any other country, but it was processed in Italy. So, in other words, we have no idea where the hide came from (China? India?).

What we are looking for as conscious consumers in the USA, are key words like “native” or “domestic” hides. Some small businesses will be open about their sources and proudly promise to only use domestics. Cattle is not slaughtered for hides in USA but for cow-meat (see what I did there?), so essentially with current demand, domestic hides are a byproduct of the beef and dairy industry.

It’s hard to argue about or measure a byproduct’s impact on the environment. “Since beef is bad for the environment and its production contributes excessively to climate change, then cow skin must be also” sounds like too easy of a conclusion. Do the fashionistas consume more skin than the steak eaters left behind? No way! But, in many cases the livestock owner gets paid more for the skin than any other part of the animal. What does that mean for the argument? And, what about when animals (other than cows or cows in other countries) are raised for their skin or fur alone? Well, then we have a whole new set of ethics and environmental impact to consider, don’t we?

The processing or “tanning” (what turns “skin” into “leather”) on the other hand is extremely toxic and for that reason alone; leather is indeed a bad eco-choice. No matter where it’s from.

Vegetable tanning is probably the least environmentally damaging process and you’ll see some brands promise that their leather has been tanned that way (it’s expensive though, not stable in water and can discolor over time), however 90% of hides are tanned using chrome (think Erin Brockovich!). That’s what leads to toxic rivers and polluted lands, as well as serious birth defects and cancers in countries with lax regulations, like India and China. (Make no mistake, chrome tanning is used everywhere, here too, it just pollutes a little bit less where laws are stricter!) Processing one ton of skin produces up to 80 cubic meters of waste water, with high levels of chromium, sulfides, fat and other solid wastes, and notable pathogen contamination. Producers often add pesticides to protect hides during transport as well.

Satchel grey leather handbag

Leather bags and shoes last a long time, and despite the fact that leather biodegrades faster than plastic, which is good, I don’t see either product group disappearing anytime soon. That’s why I love to take the opportunity to talk about this, present some facts that might help a reader out who is looking for a new leather bag. There are small businesses out there offering small batch, American-made styles. A bag like this one from Satchel can be yours for around $250 to $300, pretty much the same price as the imported bags sell for. (I’ll have to blog about vegan handbags soon!)

Personally my leather bag shopping days are over. I have a black one (bought in ’07), a brown one (’09) and a blue one (’13) that I am sure will last forever. New boots or leather seats in a new car? Very likely to happen in my life still. It’s a journey. We’re on our way to having mainstream plant-based, “just-as-nice” alternatives to animal leather, but the market is not quite there yet. In the meantime, I will shop locally grown, well-chosen and only when absolutely necessary.

The sweater Mary Beth is wearing, if you are wondering, is by Tea N’ Rose, from its boho-chic Orange Creek premium line. (I LOVE the elbow patches!) Tea N’ Rose is not committed to American-made clothing, though the style we are showing off is, of course, made in USA.

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This is the second post in a four post series focusing on American-made style featuring the beautiful Mary Beth in her own locally made clothes, photographed in some neat Houston locations by our friend Ashley. Check out last week’s post on a cool t-shirt HERE.