week 04: actions speak

In short, it was an exhausting week… the political landscape has been nothing short of distracting, and contemplating the effects of certain actions is a true exercise in empathy. I personally fall into the category of people that wish to stay informed, but also maintain my sanity. News story after news story leaves me feeling a bit helpless. The rhetoric is brazen, it is harmful, and it is loud.

But we must remember that actions speak louder.

This weekend I was driving home, listening to an NPR interview with a relative of the family sent back to Syria upon arrival in Philadelphia. Over the course of the interview I shed a few tears; it’s gut-wrenching to hear the story, to hear what this family had invested to make this move, to hear about their anticipation of reuniting with family in the US – only to hear about how it was snatched away at the last moment possible.

However, there was a small, encouraging moment amid this. Upon being asked how the family was doing, the relative explained that, while they first felt helpless, knowledge of the uproar and protests & that the American people stand with them has produced a glimmer of hope.

I was also uplifted by efforts here in our community to reach out when called upon. Our local bulk-produce distributor, The Produce Project, posted on their Facebook page that a friend had been hosting a Syrian refugee family, and they were in need of car seats and some other supplies for the children. Within 30 minutes, an outpouring of support produced the 2 car seats, $250, and numerous offers of other supplies if or when they are needed.

Our actions mean something. If only making a difference for one moment, or for one family, I think it’s worth it. To those of you out there that are writing letters & postcards, making phone calls, painting signs, organizing & attending protests, and having conversations with or helping your neighbors: those actions matter. They may not be high profile or part of a clear, direct cause and effect, but they absolutely have impact. Remember that.

Also this week, James and I met up for lunch to partake in Triangle Restaurant Week, in which restaurants in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) area participate in a “celebration of culinary excellence”. Afterwards, he presented me with part of a promised birthday IOU that I never really followed up on: an instant film camera.

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While I was thrilled by the gift, I was even more appreciative of the effort put into it. He knows how important it is to me to be conscious of what I consume, and he went the extra mile to find a pre-owned camera via Amazon & film via Craiglist – the seller had bought the wrong size and was looking to unload the package. Even the wrapping paper was saved from a gift given to him & repurposed for this occasion. I think he felt a little strange giving a used gift, but I applaud him for fighting that discomfort and doing it anyways. To say it meant a lot is an understatement and, once again, those actions spoke volumes.

But I digress. This week also had a few things to mention pertaining to consumption habits:

Plus:

  • Got to take advantage of a DIY cleaning & beauty products workshop at the Well Fed Community Garden. It was fun to take a couple hours away from the hectic-ness of everything and make something while sitting in a room filled with like-minded people. We came away with recipes for laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, lotion, and body wash.
  • Made pasta by hand using the pasta press I acquired a few weeks back. I was pleased to find it wasn’t nearly as time consuming as I’d anticipated, and it was pretty successful for a first attempt. There are some things I’d tweak in the future, but all in all an enjoyable, tasty experience.

Delta:

  • If you’ve been reading these last few weeks, you’ll recognize that it’s not truly a weekly update without some mention of yogurt. This week I successfully made yogurt for the second time, but decided to store it in a container that I previously used to hold salsa. The lid was apparently still a little onion-y, so my first few servings of yogurt had some, uh, extra flavor…

I hope you all are doing well. Here’s to lifting our voices a little louder, or perhaps finding them for the first time. Keep it up.

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

 

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

 

week 01: can i blame barbara?

January is now well underway. As I write, it’s a chilling 12 degrees outside and everything is coated in a substantial layer of ice. Serious winter weather in Raleigh is a big-to-do as it’s not a common enough occurrence to warrant undertaking the same preparation as cities in the Northeast, but I frankly find it much more dangerous as any snow is usually bookended by an onslaught of freezing rain & ice.

In any case, I’m generally pleased with how this first week has gone. I’ve managed to not buy anything new, but have acquired some new (to me) items that, on some level, seemed a little ridiculous: a pasta press & kitchen thermometer.

I’ve began the year under the spell of Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I wrote about last week. So much of the book resonated with some of my “do it yourself” spirit, which informed a couple of my purchases.

I had some thank you notes to send out & needed stamps, but the post office was closed for lunch when I arrived. I killed some time wandering through the nearby shopping center and found myself in the thrift shop looking for some cloth napkins to supplant my use of paper ones, but instead came away with a $10 Atlas pasta press. Did I need a pasta press? No. Was I imagining a bustling kitchen of friends on a chilly evening cranking out pasta and sitting down to enjoy the fruits of our labor? Yes. So I made a deal with myself that I’d work to make that image a reality and bought the thing, with a small twinge of regret.

I’ve also been inspired to make my own yogurt – apparently it’s relatively easy.  I can get milk in returnable glass bottles at the grocery supplied by a local dairy (their ice cream is excellent), cutting down on waste. This, however, requires a thermometer to ensure the milk heats enough to thicken properly, and I found one on the used section of Amazon after scouring craigslist and some other forums. It was due in this weekend, but the weather has postponed the delivery. I also need some kind of straining material, but instead of buying cheesecloth or a nut bag, I will try an old t-shirt or a tea towel first. There’s one purchase averted (for now)!  I’ll let y’all know how the yogurt making adventure goes.

In both cases, these items were certainly not necessities. However, they are both a means to an ends, reusable, and purchased with a purpose and intent to use. The goal of this project is not to facilitate a sense of guilt when purchasing certain things (or things at all) so I can’t let that feeling become a shadow over every transaction I make.

Here are a few more thoughts from the week:

Plus

  • Visited the farmers market and spent a while speaking with Suzanne, the matron of a meat farm in the area who was running the market-front for a small cooperative selling meat, milk, eggs, and some of the best goat cheese I’ve ever tasted.
  • All but one of the food items I purchased this week came from the farmers market, our produce box, or the bulk section of the grocery store
  • I largely avoided using paper towels
  • Didn’t run out to the grocery store immediately after getting back to Raleigh and instead worked with what I had. I surprised and impressed myself with a tasty sweet potato sage pasta.

Delta

  • Probably should have sprung for the Chobani single size yogurt cup I bought as a starter for my homemade yogurt attempt (forthcoming) after learning about the company’s efforts to help with refugee resettlement.
  • Felt that the pasta press was a frivolous purchase, but do intend to use it and know that it’s an item from which other experiences and memories may come (wow, that sounds cheesy). Plus, it was an incredible find.

Hope your 2017 is off to a good start! If you have any New Year’s resolutions (consumption related or otherwise) I’d love to hear them.

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