10 April 2011

99 Skills Challenge: #1 Read and understand product labels

Click here to see the 99 Skills that I am challenging myself to explore.

For those of you who read this, I want to invite you on an adventure/challenge with me.  This challenge will introduce us to new ideas and ways of doing, especially in terms of being "eco-friendly."  What do you think?  Are you in?  Maybe you'll also blog about your adventure?

But first, I'd like to start this post by disclosing how lazy I am.  For those of you who know me best, this will come to no surprise.  My purpose for this disclosure is to hopefully convince those of us who think that "being green" takes too much time or energy or is too hard, that most of the time, it's actually pretty easy.  Basically, what I'm saying is, if I can do it, you can do it.  It's just a matter of exploring how and understanding why these actions are important.

I sleep on average 10-12 hours a night, spend most of my waking hours drinking coffee and sitting on the internet, and honestly, contrary to popular belief, I don't really like being outside (especially when it's cold or hot).  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the occasional backpacking and camping adventure, but I could never live in a yurt.  I used to run daily and ride my bike everywhere, using my car only for out of town adventures, but lately my running shoes and my bike have been gathering dust.  Nowadays, you can also find me in the Starbucks or Burgerville drive-thru, even without my own to-go cup (egads!)!  I'm hoping to either change some of these habits or explore why I do them (laziness? cheap-skate? convenience? brain washed?)

A friend recently posted a link on facebook to this article.  It's more a list than an article.  A list of things people can do to be more "eco-friendly."  I think it's a pretty good list and that it might be interesting to explore them all both in real life and via this blog.  Some of the skills, I have already aquired or explored, and for those I hope to polish them, find ways I can do them better, or encourage others to try them out.

I won't go in order, but I will hit try to hit all 99.  What do you think is a good goal?  At least one a month?  I'll try.  Here we go!

#1 Read and understand product labels
Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food:

I'm not sure exactly when I started thinking about what I ate...well besides, "is this delicious?"  I grew up eating grilled cheese sandwiches, french fries, cheese pizza, and cheese burgers...sense a pattern?  And my idea of a "healthy" meal was what we ate in Ireland on a Sunday after church: peas, mushy carrots, roasted potatoes, and some meat.  And to be honest, now that I think about it, not much has changed!

At some point, however, after high school graduation, I decided to stop eating meat.  I think it was a combination of living in a college dorm and not having access to real kitchen and not knowing where to begin when it came to preparing meat (I'm still a little unsure).  There was also the convenience of veggie burgers, veggie pastas, and grilled cheese sandwiches prepared in the local university cafeteria.  I felt good about the decision to not eat meat, because of the environmental degradation caused by most of the meat industry in the United States.  The number of hog farms in North Carolina was declining, while at the same time the total number of hogs was increasing exponentially.  You couldn't travel across the state without smelling a hog farm and during the hurricane seasons the hog waste lagoons had potential to flood and contaminate the water supply, effecting mostly low-income communities.

Factory farms have quickly replaced local, family-owned, generational farms and are a major contributer to global environmental degredation.  The need to grow feed contributes to deforestation and often uses excessive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers.  Such high concentrations of waste pollutes water sources and soil.  The farm workers, surrounding communities (again, both mainly low-income), and consumers are also negatively effected due to the amount of chemicals, pesticides, and growth-hormones used in production.  And lastly, let's not forget about the treatment of the animals.  Whether you're a vegetarian or an omnivore, it's hard to argue that animals in factory farms are treated humanely.  These animals live in overcrowded buildings (rarely, if ever, seeing the outside world), are over-bred and genetically mutated, and are restricted from doing what they were born to do (roam, hunt, forage, nest, etc.).  Yet, whether intentionally or not, we still consume a mass amount of factory farmed meats.

I could go on, but since this isn't a post about factory farms or whether or not I should eat meat, I'll stop there.  It's a post about understanding what we eat.  About understanding what I eat and why.

Ok, so I stopped eating meat in college and after I moved out of the dorms, I started to experiment in the kitchen.  I started with what I would say 99-100% of college vegetarians make and eat at home: tempeh, broccoli, some Bragg's Amino Acids, and rice - maybe add a little more vegetables here and there.  I really hate that meal.  

When I finally stopped working and volunteering 50 plus hours a week, I really started to spend a lot more time in the kitchen.  I had time and I was interested in saving money by not eating out.  I wanted to really enjoy eating at home.  I wanted to enjoy my grilled cheeses, my pizzas, and my high carb diet without all of the processed foods, packaging, or guilt.  In order to do this, I looked up recipes on the internet: how to make my own bread, vegan cheese sauces, seitan, etc.  I also started reading food focused books like Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," and Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food."  But like I pointed out at the beginning, I'm not perfect and I occasionally enjoy an overly processed fast food meal.  But I try.

So, to really get to the point of this post, I thought it would be a good idea to evaluate the labels and ingredients of what I consumed today:

Breakfast: English Muffin Sandwich and a cup of coffee.
  • Nayonaise - This is a soy-based alternative to mayonnaise.  We normally have a giant tub of Vegenaise in the house, but when we ran out I found a jar of this stuff for 49 cents (!!) at the local Grocery Outlet.  I couldn't resist.  I've also made my own mayonnaise, but I wasn't super satisfied.  There is just something special about Vegenaise.
    • Nayonaise ingredients: soymilk (water, organic whole soybeans), cane juice (dried), corn starch, distilled vinegar, salt, xanthan gum, mustard seed, lemon juice concentrate, onion powder, garlic juice, natural flavor, spices (huh?).
  • Pepper Jack Cheese - We received a giant pack of cheese from a neighbor of ours who volunteers with the local food bank.  It wasn't labeled, so honestly, I have no idea what was in it.  But it was free and delicious and has been of great service in our kitchen lately.
  • Lentil Sage Deli "Meat" - Field Roast is a company based out of Seattle, WA and they make some of the best meat alternatives I've ever had.  
  • Coffee - bulk coffee.  Not sure of the brand, but definitely fair or equal trade, from a local roaster.
  • Milk - I've recently started to buy milk and creamer from a local dairy farm.  They are a family-owned farm that produces and bottles their own Jersey Cow milk.  They are sustainable, grain-fed, and hormone free.  The bottles are glass and re-usable - you pay a one time deposit and return the bottles to the store.
  • English Muffin - This isn't something we normally have on hand.  We purchased this 12 pack of Fred Meyer brand english muffins a few months because they were on super sale and Willis really wanted them.  We've kept them in the freezer and after eating them for breakfast every now and then, we're finally down to one.  I think I'm going to make some from scratch next weekend.

Lunch: Raspberries and Granola & Soda
  • Raspberries - organic raspberries purchased to get me through a graveyard shift at work.  These are the left overs.
  • Granola - the cocoa hazelnut granola I recently made. 
    • Ingredients: rolled oats, hazelnuts, cocoa powder, sea salt, olive oil, cane syrup.
  • Izze. - Every now and then, I'll treat myself to a soda, sometimes a Dr. Pepper, sometimes an IZZE.  IZZE is an all-natural sparkling juice drink.  This one was grapefruit.
    • Ingredients:  pure juice made from apple, white grape, orange, and grapefruit juice concentrates, sparkling water, citric acid, natural flavor, gum arabic, red radish juice.

Dinner: Pizza & Beer
  • Dough - I made the dough today.
    • It contains: flour (from the bulk section), yeast (bulk), sugar (bulk), canola oil (bulk), salt (bulk), organic dry milk.
  • Sauce - I also made the sauce today.  It was super easy and fast.  Just a few ingredients simmered and blended together.
    • Tomatoes from last summer's garden, onion, garlic, basil, and canola oil.
  • Cheese - Same Pepper Jack Cheese from this morning's sandwich.
  • Kale - from our garden.
  • Beer - Willis' home brew.
    • I'm not really sure what's in there except malt extract, yeast, and sugar.
Currently listening to:
Adele - Someone like you

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