Is it Easy Being Green?

My daily adventures in attempting an environmentally-friendly lifestyle

No Impact Experiment, part 4: Food February 17, 2010

My fourth week of examining my impact was all about food. This week was the highlight so far, as I’m all about food–shopping, finding recipes, cooking, etc. Food is one of my great joys in life, so I didn’t mind giving my food choices a little more thought! The No Impact manual primarily stressed being a locavore, which is something I love to do, but can be a challenge in the middle of winter in anywhere except California. It can also be a stress on the wallet, even though I know supporting local businesses and farms is an important thing to do.

So, for this week I decided to visit (or re-visit) some great local outlets in the city and try to do all of my shopping that way. I started out going to a spot I love, Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand. This great little shop is full of local (within 250 miles), seasonal produce, as well as stuff like milk, jam, bread and spices. I managed to pick up several things, including some veggies and herbs.

Some of the selection at the Downtown Farmstand

Some of the selection at the Downtown Farmstand

No shortage of treats at the Farmstand

No shortage of treats at the Farmstand

What's in season

What’s in season

My next outing was to the Green Grocer, a store not too far from home that I always wish I visited more often. It’s a small shop, but has a great array of local and organic items. The staff is so welcoming there–it’s actually the first store where the owner introduced herself the first time I was there! I bought some local flour there that I’m really excited to try out.

Although I had been to the new French Market several times, I hadn’t done much actual shopping there. It’s only two blocks from home and it’s really a great resource I can be using more. So, I walked over and ended up with a beautiful array of produce.

What fun! I also finally went to the city’s new and only food co-op, the Dill Pickle Food Co-op, which I’m a member of but hadn’t been to since it opened a couple of months ago. I was very impressed–it was actually a bit crowded, but that’s a good thing. I bought a few things from their great bulk section. During the same outing I checked out the Logan Square Farmers Market, but the selection was pretty small so I left empty-handed. I look forward to going again in the spring though!

Meanwhile, I started looking into joining a CSA this year, which is something I’ve done before but missed out on last year. I’m determined to sign up for a CSA this year–it’s so much fun to open up the box each week and start figuring out what to do with some of the more unusual items!

I also decided that we can be eating vegetarian a little more often, so the goal is to go from eating vegetarian 1/4 of the time to closer to 1/2 of the time. So far so good; I made a really yummy West African Peanut Soup and a spicy veggie chili.

As you can tell, doing this whole local thing took a fair amount of time and energy, but is it worth it? I think most of the time, yes. If it’s reducing my “foodprint,” that’s a big thing. Can I be exclusively a locavore? Not quite. But can I be a part-locavore? Definitely.

A few tools that I’m using:
The Eat Well Guide — great resource for finding local and sustainable food sources
NRDC seasonal food tool — tells you what foods are in season in your state
Seafood Watch regional guide — helps you stay informed about what types of seafood are more sustainable
Local Harvest CSA locator — find a CSA in your area


No Impact Experiment, part 1: Consumption November 25, 2009

Ok, I’ll admit it right away: I totally blew the No Impact Experiment. By Tuesday (I was supposed to start on Sunday) I hadn’t done anything and after finally reading the how-to manual, I was feeling overwhelmed and behind. I didn’t want to give up but needed to rethink how to do this. Thanks to a friend’s idea, I decided that what would work best for me would be to do one part each week, rather than each day. I wanted to give this thing proper attention and time and it’s a lot to do in a week. So, feeling much better I focused on the first topic last week: consumption.

The instructions for the consumption day were to: 1) create a list of the things I need to buy this week, then delete the items I can do without and figure out if I can get anything second-hand, borrow them or make them myself; and 2) try not to shop for new items (other than food). For this particular week this task turned out to be pretty easy; I didn’t feel like there was really anything I needed to buy beyond food. I avoided dangerous places like Target. I pulled out the needle and thread to mend some socks (my husband loves to call it darning for some reason; I guess it makes him feel old fashioned). I definitely enjoyed being a non-consumer for a week.

But that’s the thing–it was only for a week. No Impact Man did this for a year! That would be very, very hard. Just this week I bought several things to prepare for Thanksgiving. And then the TV broke, so we’ll be getting a new one soon. Although I’m not No Impact Man and won’t just “do without” no matter what, I did think about what I could do differently long-term. I could be shopping second-hand more (Craigslist is such a great resource–husband recently found an electric keyboard with all the bells and whistles for $20. It’s older but works great!), and although I don’t think I’m purchase-crazy, I could put some more thought into what I buy and think about whether I really need what I’m about to buy.

The No Impact Experiment shared this video that I saw awhile back that helps you get into the mode about thinking (probably way too much) about stuff:


Buying organic: a cheat sheet July 5, 2009

I am so loving all of the beautiful fresh produce available this time of year. I’ve been buying up fruits and veggies like they’re going out of style (actually, soon they will be–out of season anyway). But, this has also made my goal of buying everything organic a bit more challenging; some of the prices are hard to take.

So, I decided to learn more about what really are the most important things to buy organic, and what items I can get away with buying conventional and not feel like I’m poisoning myself. I had heard of the “Dirty Dozen” but could never remember what was on the list when I was at the store. Thanks to a handy pocket card I received from Green America, I now have the list with me when I shop, and hopefully soon I won’t need the cheat sheet anymore.

Here’s the list of what Green America claims are the most important produce items to buy organic:

  • apples
  • bell peppers
  • celery
  • cherries
  • imported grapes
  • nectaines
  • peaches
  • pears
  • potatoes
  • raspberries
  • spinach
  • strawberries
  • (A list put out by the Environmental Working Group I found includes lettuce, kale and carrots in place of raspberries, spinach and potatoes. Probably better just go with the list of 15.)

    I also came across a list of the fruits and veggies with the lowest amounts of pesticide residue. I’ll call these the “Discount Dozen”.

  • onions
  • avocado
  • sweet corn (frozen)
  • pineapples
  • mango
  • asparagus
  • sweet peas (frozen)
  • kiwi fruit
  • bananas
  • cabbage
  • broccoli
  • papaya
  • (The Environmental Working Group list also included eggplant, watermelon and surprisingly, tomatoes.)

    An obvious difference between the lists is that most of the items on the dirty list either have thin skin or no skin, while the items on the discount list have thicker skin that is removed. That’s an easy way to remember at least some of the foods. Environmental Working Group has a more in depth list of 47 fruits and vegetables and where they fall on the spectrum of pesticide residues.

    So far my only big change has been buying non-organic (but fair trade when I can) bananas. It’s good to know that if it’s not realistic to buy everything organic (as is the case for many of us) that there are options to help make buying all of that beautiful produce a little less stressful.

    Download your own cheat sheet from the Environmental Working Group. Happy shopping–and eating!


    Whole Foods, you had me at the first sample May 25, 2009

    Filed under: Green Chicago,Green Foodie,green shopping — isgreeneasy @ 6:40 pm
    Tags: ,

    There’s a new Whole Foods in town, and it’s bigger, more enticing and more fun than any Whole Foods I’ve ever been in. It’s the new Lincoln Park Whole Foods, and I had the chance to go to their sneak preview party last week. I gawked at the store while munching on way too many (in quantity and variety) samples–it was like a foodie Disneyland!

    Whole Foods definitely knows what they’re doing, and how to suck my dollars from my wallet as quickly as I can say “organic vegan gluten-free faux barbeque”. Fortunately at the sneak preview nothing was for sale, so I worked my way through the sushi, mushroom tamales, organic sangria, curry ice cream, chilli pepper truffles, Goose Island brews and deep dish pizza. I know, sounds like a bit much, but what can I say? Gladly, my stomach made it through just fine. Plus, I was glad to know my donation went to Common Threads.

    If you dare, it’s definitely worth visiting this store. I’ve already been back twice! I need to take it easy on the Whole Foods shopping though; I’m so easily manipulated by the good-smelling, fun music-playing, great-looking natural foods mecca!

    Salad bar extraordinaire

    Salad bar extraordinaire

    Bulk foods section includes a DIY trail mix station

    Bulk foods section includes a DIY trail mix station

    Cheese anyone?

    Cheese anyone?

    Really? A bar with Goose Island on tap.

    Really? A bar with Goose Island on tap.

    View from the parking lot level

    View from the parking lot level