january in photos

Happy February! My January, as told in purchases, looked something like this:

(Not Pictured: 2 produce boxes, 2 gas fill ups, 2 half gallons of milk & 1 taco dinner @ Virgil’s)

I went back and forth about posting all these pictures – something about it seemed to enter into a level of intimacy not to be shared with strangers on the internet – but decided they tell the story about as well as (or better than) I could with words, so here they are.

Upon inspection, it becomes clear that almost everything I purchased was related to food or transportation, with a few miscellaneous things tossed in. This would also explain why, though I’m not writing a food blog by any means, matters of food seem to sneak into my posts more often than other topics – though I have so many other things I’d like to write about at some point.

This first month wasn’t especially difficult – though I am quick to acknowledge I’m only responsible for myself and not another person or family, and have the flexibility offered by a student schedule, albeit busy. The primary challenge was combating the urge to frequent the grocery store, or remembering to check and see if an item I need is sold in bulk in the area. Having jars on hand for stops for bulk items is another habit change to make.

Things to Celebrate

  • Food Sourcing: Overall, I generally stuck to my goal of buying farmers market, local, or bulk foods with a couple exceptions. By not frequenting the grocery store, I didn’t find myself making extra purchases of sale items on the basis of “I’ll use that up, eventually”; it’s true – I would – but it’s also an action that speaks to a lack of mindfulness in consumption. Frugal, perhaps, but not mindful. It’s also increased my awareness of what really is in season produce wise, and eating more seasonally-focused meals. Shout-out to sweet potatoes for being in season year round here in the top sweet potato producing state, North Carolina.
  • Trying New Things: Before this month, I had never made my own yogurt or pasta from scratch (I’ve made käsespätzle – what might be described as “fancy german mac & cheese” but that’s a different excerise. On a sidenote, y’all may get a kick out of this video of a woman preparing the dish with a finesse unlike anything I’ve ever seen). Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge to do something different, and this challenge has certainly provided that. I may find that some DIY things are simply impractical, but others are totally doable & I’m looking forward to making them part of a routine.
  • Target: I’ll be honest, I enjoy Target. Not that I frequently buy things on a whim there, but trips to Target for staples like TP or soap often involve perusing of the clearance racks. My only trip to Target this month was actually to make a return on a pair of shoes I bought for a wedding in December but didn’t end up wearing. Target, looks like our relationship from here on out may be a bit strained.

Things to Work On

  • Bike More: This may seem like a ridiculous suggestion for February, but NC weather is totally unpredictable, and it’s far from unheard of to have freezing temperatures and temperatures in the 60s or 70s in the same week. This being said, it’s hard to develop a routine of biking, but it is easy to get stuck in the routine of driving. So here’s to seizing the inevitable not-so-chilly days.
  • Meal Planning: As it turns out, I’ve stocked up on a lot of freezer and dry foods over time, like beans and bread. This has been great for this month, since I could usually find something between those items and our produce box to pull together a decent meal or snack. Eventually, however, there won’t be a bag of pretzels hanging out in the pantry, so I’ll have to decide what things I want to continue to get from the grocery store, what things I want to make, & what to get from the farmers market – then plan accordingly.
  • Time Online: Though it’s not related to purchases, I suppose conscious consumerism could be broadened to incorporate the conscious consumption of information. It’s all to easy to get sucked in to all the news (real and fake), opinions, politics, and clever memes associated with the happenings of the day. I think it would be wise to limit time spent subjecting myself to this information to certain times of the day to prevent it from overflowing into work & leisure time.

What’s Next?

Moving forward, I’m think of other ways to quantify consumption outside of dollar values. I’m thinking things like miles driven or trips to the store. Or perhaps metrics that capture the absence of conventional consumption: books read, board games played, meals cooks, dinners shared, and so on. While numbers are so often considered objective, I’ve learned that the mere act of collecting certain data is an inherent value judgement. Perhaps if we placed more of an emphasis on tracking the things that we like or want to see, we could change our mentalities and the lens through which we see the world a bit.

It’s quite the open-ended question, and if you have any ideas I’m all ears.

Here’s to a happy & productive February! It’ll be all eyes on our friend Punxsutawney Phil tomorrow.

 

 

week 02: houston, we have a lesson

Last week when I sat down to write my first weekly update, I was nestled into my couch in Raleigh amid pretty bitter winter weather. This time, I’m coming to you from Dulles International Airport in Virginia en route to Houston – after a few days of 70°F weather back home.

This week, amazingly, involved next to no purchases. Hannah and I picked up our weekly produce box, I bought fuel for the drive up to my parents in DC to catch this flight, and I stopped in for a pint of cherry tomatoes for my mom from Wegmans to add to a salad.

However, the yogurt saga continues. As you may recall, last week I began gathering supplies to make my own yogurt, including a (used) instant-read food thermometer. The thing arrived this week, however, the battery inside was dead and corroded. Naturally, it was a unique button battery only available online or at Batteries Plus, so I needed to order another one. Only after getting the new battery will I find out if the corrosion has rendered the thermometer unusable. This brings me to the matter of buying used: functionality.

I inherently harbor the notion that “used” equals “better”, that an item that is available for resale is well-built, well-loved, and predates the era of planned obsolescence. I suppose that, while young, I subscribe to the idea that “they don’t make things like they used to” and therefore prefer certain used items over new equivalents. Perhaps you’ve heard stories of changes in the composition of Pyrex cookware, rendering it more temperature sensitive, or the substitution of plastic mechanical parts for those that once were metal.

However, this position can get me into trouble sometimes, as with this thermometer. The fact of the matter is, used means, well, used; there’s no guarantee of whether or not an item will work as intended or work at all. While I may like to think they will, that’s simply not always the case. Also, take a used car for example: at some point, maintenance costs begin to outstrip the benefits of having an older vehicle. After getting the batteries, I’ll likely have spent the same amount I would have on a newer, nicer thermometer and, while I don’t regret that (recall, I’m trying hard to not buy new things for a variety of reasons), it’s a reminder of the perhaps overly optimistic view I take on used goods. The point here is – buy used when you can, but try to avoid the purchase of used good sight-unseen.

So in summary for this week:

Plus:

  • Very few purchases were made this week!
  • I have still managed to largely avoid the grocery store. My farmers’ market purchases have tided me over through this week, and the overabundance of arugula I picked up has encouraged me to make salads more consistently.
  • It’s almost time to start planning my summer garden, so I’ve been thinking about what seeds to start & when. It’s a welcome sunny, warm thought for cold, damp days.

Delta:

  • I’ll feel pretty silly if this thermometer doesn’t work and I have to buy another one. It’s also a race against time with the milk I bought, currently sitting in the fridge. The yogurt saga has taught me a lesson similar to the one that my mom gives when it comes to baking: get all your ingredients out before you begin to make sure you’re prepared. This thermometer is the equivalent of a middle school baking adventure in which, halfway through making brownies, a friend and I realized we only had olive oil, rendering the final product a bit.. olivey. But a lesson is a lesson – note taken.
  • Part of my decision to pare down my purchases is environmentally motivated. Which brings me to the sticking point of air travel. As highlighted in this New York Times piece, the average American generates 19 tons of carbon dioxide per person, and a flight from NYC to San Francisco could produce 2-3 tons per person. And I’m flying from DC to Atlanta to Houston and back this weekend. Ouch. As someone who studies life-cycle assessment, I’m aware that all the figures about what diet or habits are better for the environment can vary widely based on how you slice & dice the calculation, but it stings a little to think that perhaps one weekend could cancel out a number of the other actions I consciously undertake. More on this at another time, though.

For a week with few purchases, the delta list is more substantial than I anticipated, but I’m glad to see that there are things to reflect on regardless of how much I may or may not be consuming.

Have any of you learned something new this week?

Week-To-Week is a series consisting of reflections on purchases & daily events condensed on a weekly basis

 

the game plan

Happy New Year! As we begin 2017 and my pledge to be intentional with respect to my purchasing habits gets underway, the looming questions are now “what exactly will this look like?” coupled with “what exactly do I tend to buy, anyways?”.

My general objective is two-fold: to limit the purchase of new items, and to make meaningful, intentional purchases. I personally would prefer to own used things in most cases, but understand that may prove impossible. Coupled with the fact I also want to support local growers and businesses, I’ve decided I don’t intend to exclusively buy used things or pledge to not purchase anything at all. Instead, I’m looking for a sustainable in-between.

After reviewing the records of my spending from the last year, I’ve discerned that a good deal of it after rent & utilities falls into the following categories, so I’d like to outline the actions I intend to take in those areas. This is not exhaustive, and the bulk of “unnecessary” spending tends to occur on “incidentals”, so I’ll have to evaluate those on a case by case basis and am sure I’ll be engaging with that here as the year goes on.

general rules
For any and all purchases, I plan to keep the following in mind:

  • Make a good-faith effort to exhaust other options before making new purchases
  • Do my research. When buying things, one isn’t simply buying an item, but the associated externalities as well.
  • Prioritize post-consumer/recycled content
  • Avoid shopping (in store/online/even craigslist) “just because”

food
I imagine that one could resolve to spend a year (or more) reframing how they think about food, its sources, and preparation. I would love to be able to grow more of my own food, or do more preserving/freezing/self-prep, but current circumstances limit time and space. My roommate and I currently get most of our produce from a local produce box that is about 50% local, 50% bulk grocer. While I don’t consider myself prepared to go full-on locavore this year, there are a few concrete things I can try to do:

  • Plan meals
  • Buy from the supermarket bulk boxes for nuts, grains and spices. Bring your own container options cut way down on packaging waste, and are potentially cheaper (depending on the item)
  • Attempt to eat (mostly) what is in season locally. Is my vegetarian diet hypocritical if I’m eat plants on the basis of efficiency but predominately get produce from the other side of the world?
  • Actually take advantage of the farmers’ market!! Our local market is open (almost) 365 days a year and is overwhelmingly full of amazing produce from the region

toiletries & personal/home care
I’ll take this one as an opportunity to get a little experimental. I don’t purchase a wide array of things in this area, but use them on a daily basis. Are there products that I could make instead of buy? Are there products that I frankly don’t need?

  • Evaluate what I actually need, and quit buying what I don’t
  • Make products wherever possible
  • Research & purchase environmentally friendly alternatives as needed. (“Environmentally friendly” can be such a buzzword, and I’d like to learn more about labeling/what that truly means in this area”)
  • Invest in reusable alternatives up front where possible. This can range from the simple (bye bye paper napkins) to the adventurous (if I get bold maybe I can give the DivaCup a shot…)

transportation
I’m fortunate to live in a place where I can walk to most of the necessities, particularly school & grocery store. I do own a (used) car, and have no intentions of buying a new (to me) one this year, but in terms of transportation:

  • Bike & walk whenever possible
  • Carpool whenever possible
  • Group errands together to limit gas
  • Log miles as a sanity check on driving
  • Limit air travel (not that I do much of that, but I still want to be conscious of it)

gifts
On occasions where I need to find a gift for someone, it’s tempting to grab something off department store shelves in a rush. Luckily,  I’ve been slowly breaking myself of that habit. By holding myself to shopping local for gifts, or coming up with alternative gift ideas, I hope to be more intentional with my gift giving and put the thought into giving that my friends & family deserve. I will try to:

  • Purchase handmade items
  • Give the gift of experiences – restaurant gift cards, tickets to shows, day trips, etc
  • Find used books; they’re often in good-as-new condition
  • Exceptions:
    • If I know there is a specific item someone wants or needs, and a suitable alternative is not available, I’ll definitely consider gifting that item. Obviously the needs of the people I care about shouldn’t fall by the wayside because of this personal mission, but I want to also do my best to stay true to the spirit of why I’m doing this.

clothing & accessories
This is probably the most straightforward of the categories and can be summed up in two words: buy used.

  • Buy used as needed
  • Borrow for “one time use” events instead of accumulating clothes I don’t intend to wear again & again
  • Support local makers if looking for accessories
  • Exceptions:
    • Purchase new on occasions where uniformity is required. If for some reason I find myself as part of a bridal party in 2017, I’ll spring for whatever it is I’m instructed to wear, for example.
    • Underwear. I’m not a frequent purchaser of undergarments, but if the need arises I think I’ll opt new on this one.

Thoughts? Feedback? Any glaring omissions? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.