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 3: Transportation February 1, 2010

My efforts to lower my impact continued into week three’s focus: transportation. I was a little worried about this one but I thought I’d give it my best go. I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what No Impact Man and his family did: they eliminated all forms of non-human powered transportation, so they got everywhere on foot or bicycle. Impressive! The No Impact Experiment instruction manual suggested making a list of all the places I needed to go and to figure out what alternative transportation I could use, altering routes if necessary. I have to admit that living in downtown Chicago gave me many advantages in this challenge; this city is very walkable, and the “El” train is one block from my apartment. I walk or take the train or bus to many of my destinations already. I still do regularly drive though, so I decided to challenge myself and try to not drive at all for a full week.

I found that it really wasn’t difficult at all to accomplish this goal–I just had to plan things out a little more sometimes, give myself more time to get places and make sure I was dressed for the weather (brrr!). Another advantage, although a little embarrassing, is that I just didn’t have that many places to go during the week. I’m unemployed/working from home, so I didn’t have a job to commute to as I would normally. Even so, there were times I wanted to drive somewhere and just stayed put or went to my corner coffee shop instead. I was a little surprised that I was actually glad not to just go to the “safety” of my car, but find alternatives for transportation and ways to spend my time. (There may be something to this whole quality of life thing.) Frankly, although driving seems like the easy answer, it’s often such a hassle and traffic is so frustrating that I’m thankful to get out of the car, so the week without driving as an option was more peaceful. The only downer was the day I had to walk in the cold rain for longer than I would have liked. But, I survived just fine. It was actually almost fun. Almost.

The trickiest part I encountered was when I went grocery shopping. I’m used to loading up and then just getting the groceries in and out of my car, but on foot I had to make sure to buy only what I could carry. So, I wasn’t able to always buy everything I needed, making it necessary to make multiple trips to the store. I decided to look at it like I was living the exotic European lifestyle, so that made it feel a little more intriguing at least. I did my first shopping at the awesome new French Market that’s just a couple blocks from home–now that was fun!

After completing my challenge, I’m ultimately still glad I have a car, but I have realized that I can be a little more selective about how often I use it.