Documentaries That Rocked My World

In the past month I have seen a slew of excellent documentaries that I would highly recommend.  Just a couple of days ago my husband and I went to see Where to Invade Next, Michael Moore’s latest film.  I like Moore’s films despite the gimmicks he uses.  In this smart film, he decides to “invade” various countries around the globe in order to steal or lay claim to some of the great ideas they have come up with and bring them back to America where we can implement them.  Clearly, he is cherry-picking the best ideas and not addressing some of the bad issues these countries have.  But why not take the good and leave the rest behind?  I think Moore’s main goal is to educate the American public about solutions to problems we have.  We are so insular that we are often ignorant of what some of the options are.  For example:

Iceland, where women demanded equal rights to men back in the 70s and got it!  They were the first country to have a democratically elected woman as head of state.  When banks were failing spectacularly in 2008, the one bank in Iceland that was led and dominated by women did not fail.  By law, boards of companies in Iceland must have at least 40% women (and no more than 60% women—they don’t want to make it unfair for men either). They have made real progress in creating equality.

In France, school children have an enviable 3-4 course hot meal at lunch every school day.  Lunchtime is understood to be a learning experience too.  It is also an equalizer—all French children learn about good food, not just the wealthy ones.  The French see it as a right, not a privilege.

German and Italian employees are treated respectfully by their employers.  They are paid fairly, get lots of paid vacation, and have a say in the management of the company which the employers understand is necessary to ensuring productivity, harmony and success.  The employers do not resent it in the least.  And, their productivity is similar to Americans even though we‘re lucky to get 2 weeks paid vacation compared to their 6-8 weeks paid vacation.

Finland used to have a poor educational system, but Finns decided they needed to change that and now they are number one in the world – compared to the U.S. which is 29th.  Their children spend less time in school, have almost no homework and they learn much more.  It’s amazing!  They turned around their schools, why can’t we?  And it wasn’t through more testing…

Then there is Slovenia where a university education is free—for everyone!  They understand that a well-educated populace is essential to the success and well-being of their society.  There are even Americans who have chosen to go to school there and take advantage of this opportunity.  Do they speak Slovene?  No, but so many of the classes are taught in English that it isn’t a problem.

Or how about Norway where the maximum prison sentence is 21 years, even for murder.  Their goal is to rehabilitate, not punish unduly (though the inmates are still punished—they’ve lost their freedom for a set amount of time).  How does Norwegian society benefit from this?  Well the recidivism is only 20% there compared to 80% here in the good ole U.S. of A.  Do we want to create more criminals or reduce criminal behavior?  Moore asks where they got this idea and the gentleman he is interviewing points out that it is in our Constitution that we call for no “cruel and unusual punishment.”  Huh?

The film is a real eye-opener.  I would like to point out that we have only one presidential candidate who has suggested we import some of these very ideas and implement them here—Bernie Sanders.  Under the present system we are unlikely to ever get any of the above benefits.  We have to demand them.  One relatively easy way to start on that path is to vote or caucus for Bernie Sanders.  I will be doing my part on March 26th.  I hope you will too.

But that isn’t the only documentary I’ve seen and been moved by.  I am lucky enough to live in a town which has some amazing people who put on a yearly event called the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival.  All the documentaries are free and they are shown at different venues around town (and a few in the county) to make them accessible to as many people as possible.  The hardest part is choosing which ones to go to.  I ended up going to the following films:

Dirty Gold War shows the glamorous side of gold and jewelry on the one hand and then the exploitive ways in which gold is mined.  No surprise if you are already familiar with the diamond trade and “blood diamonds” coming out of Africa.  The gold industry treats the actual workers terribly while simultaneously destroying the environment of these indigenous people so that the land can never be used for anything else.  Not to mention that this activity then contributes to climate change.  And this is all to get to a metal that 99.9% of the time has no practical use.  It’s not edible.  Neither can anything necessary be made of it.  It is primarily used for decoration of one kind or another.  My one complaint with this movie is now that I know this, now what?  Besides not buying gold, what should I do?  They showed one man who deals only with ethically mined gold, but that is such a small percentage of what is sold as to be barely worth mentioning.  Still, I think it was time well-spent watching the film.

The Hand that Feeds tells the story of immigrant workers (some undocumented) at a New York City bakery who ask management to pay them what they are actually owed in wages, to be able to call in sick without retaliation, and to be treated with dignity among other rather reasonable demands.  This film shows the odyssey these employees embark upon as they risk their livelihoods.  They start out very tentative and become empowered through their actions.  The film shows the value of unions (values which Americans, sadly, have seemed to have forgotten.)

The Hunting Ground is an incredibly powerful movie that discusses how prevalent rape is on American college campuses.  This was not news to me; however, what was shocking was to learn how complicit the colleges are in covering up the rapes and treating the victims as the problem that must be controlled while letting the perpetrators off scot-free.  It is truly sickening.  In addition, you see the journey of two young women who were victims as they travel across the country, exposing the extent of the problem even as they do what they can to support other victims, and put pressure on and litigate against the Universities.  I would recommend this film to everyone, but especially anyone with a child—son or daughter—who they expect to go to college.

I had seen the film Paper Tigers earlier so I did not need to see it again, but I have been urging people, especially parents and educators, to see it.  It tells the story of an alternative high school in Walla Walla, WA which serves highly traumatized kids.  The principal completely changes the school from a lock-down mentality to one that understands that these kids have been damaged by circumstances beyond their control which predisposes them to abuse alcohol, drugs, to become pregnant, and to have physical ailments, even including cancer, among other problems.  Instead of reacting with more punishments when the kids act out or fail, the teachers and support staff respond with love, understanding, and more support.  It shows what can be done to help these kids and set them up for something closer to a normal life.  It is very inspiring.

True Cost traces the impact “Fast Fashion” has on the individuals who work to create today’s clothing and the resulting environmental costs.  I did not realize that after the energy sector, textiles create the most waste and contribute the most to climate change.  Americans consume 400% more clothing today than we used to just 20 years ago!  Every year, on average, each American is responsible for 82 lbs of textile waste.  Then there are the workers who are the victims as clothing companies move from one country to the next always chasing the cheapest labor they can find and the countries which have the laxest safety laws.  (Recall the 1,100 garment workers killed at a Bangladeshi garment factory just 3 years ago).  All the inexpensive clothing we now have available to us comes at a terrible price.

If you live in Bellingham, many of these documentaries either are now, or soon will be, available through either the public library or at Western’s library (which regular library patrons can use). The Bellingham Human Rights Festival donates the copies of the movies they buy to the libraries to make them readily available.  So please, do yourself a favor, learn something amazing today!


Climate Crisis at Home

In early November, my husband and I attended an amazing talk. Mary Christina Wood, an environmental legal scholar, spoke about exciting new ways the law is being used to combat climate change. One is called “atmospheric trust litigation.” Since young people are the ones who have the most to lose, they are the plaintiffs and they have launched legal campaigns in all 50 states and have already had some success. To see more about it, go to Our Children’s Trust. You can click on different states to see where things stand thus far.Map Cherry Point

In the Pacific Northwest, where I live, a company called SSA Marine wants to build the biggest coal terminal (named GPT) in the world at Cherry Point, which is adjacent to my lovely town. This also happens to be the traditional fishing area of the Lummi Nation. The Lummis secured treaty rights from the U.S. government in 1855 and Article 5 of the Treaty of Point Elliot guarantees that “The right of taking fish from usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory. . .” This area includes Cherry Point, or Xwe’chi’eXen, as the Lummis have always calleLummiNation NoCoalExportd it. There isn’t much doubt that a coal terminal of this size would have a negative effect on the Lummis’ fishing rights. And SSA Marine’s attempts to convince the Lummis that GPT would benefit them have been unsuccessful.

It is encouraging that Obama has taken the Keystone XL Pipeline off of the table. But that is not sufficient. As Wood pointed out in her talk, the Pacific Northwest is ground zero for halting climate change. There are something like 16 proposed projects along the coast to serve as shipping terminals for either oil or gas. It is so much more than “Not In My BackYard.” It is about keeping those products in the ground and changing how much energy we use and what kind of energy it is.

It is, perhaps, ironic that our best hope at changing the path we are on rests on youth and North American Indians. Both are groups that are largely dis-enfranchised.

By the most recent science, we must decrease our carbon emissions by 7% each year if we start this year. If we wait a couple of years, it will have to be 15% per year! It is like compound interest except that it is not working in our favor. However, Wood encourages us to think of it as a down payment on our children’s future. It may be difficult now, but we will reap the benefits in the future.

So. What can we do? Support the children and native people in their fight. Demand action from our legislators. Tell candidates for office that you will not vote for them unless they promise to actively fight climate change—and then follow through. In fact, pick up your phone right now and call the White House (202) 456-1111 .  Demand that the President accomplish something meaningful in Paris at the Climate Talks.  Pledge that you, yourself, will reduce your energy use by 7% per year (we actually need it at the global level, but if we reduce demand we send a very clear message). We are trying to do some of the things listed below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. What are some of the things you are doing?  I’d be interested in hearing ideas.

Live in a smaller home (the average amount of space per person has doubled in the past 40 years. It takes a lot of energy to maintain that size of a home. And do you really want to spend all your free time cleaning your home?)

Take out your lawn and put in something that does not require fertilizing, watering etc. Install drip irrigation systems for what has to be watered.

Make your home more energy efficient (eg insulate, reduce drafts, replace incandescent lights with CFLs or LEDs, use Energy Star appliances, unplug devices when not in use, use low-flow plumbing fixtures). Install low-flow fixtures. Often, cities have programs that help pay for this so take advantage of it!

Ever heard “If it is yellow, it’s mellow. If it is brown, flush it down.” In other words, only flush the toilet if you’ve gone #2. This may not be particularly pleasant, but have you seen what’s happening in California recently?

Install a programmable thermostat. We do not have one, but we try to remember to turn the heat off at least 30 minutes before we leave the house.

Wash clothes less often. It wears out the clothes and unless they are smelly or stained they don’t need it. Take shorter showers and try showering less often. I’ll admit, I still shower once a day. However, I now only wash my hair and shave every other day so I can take very short showers half the time.

Reduce or eliminate meat from your diet and do not waste food (Americans throw away a deplorable amount of food). Stop buying/eating junk food. Your body doesn’t need it and it takes an enormous amount of energy to produce it.

Reuse or recycle whenever you can. Buy in bulk so you don’t have all that nasty packaging to deal with. Be a detective and find out what can be recycled. I go to the website of my city’s recycling company and look things up.

Buy less stuff! Our closets have gotten bigger, our garages have gotten bigger. We even have storage lockers for all our extra “stuff.” Is any of this making anyone happier? I buy most of my clothes used (did you know it requires 2,900 gallons of water just to make one pair of jeans?!).

Reduce transportation carbon footprint (e.g., drive as little as possible-walk, bike, take the bus, carpool instead; drive an energy efficient vehicle; restrict recreational flights). When I walk or bicycle somewhere I think to myself “free exercise.”

Consolidate driving trips. This saves time too!

If you are taking vacations, try to take ones that are close to home. For instance, this summer we went to a small town that had a water park, amusement park, and lake with a beach that was only 45 miles away. The previous two summers we had driven 230 miles to a different lake with a water park. The water park that was closer was more expensive and didn’t have quite as many slides that were appropriate for our child, but there were enough and it was a helluva lot closer! We have friends who have moved to the south of France whom we would love to visit, but for us to fly there would put out over 1 ton of carbon. Instead we’ve started skyping. Ditto with relatives in London, Vienna, and Mexico City.

Apparently, taking one less flight per year is the equivalent of doing all of the other things above.  Justin Gillis outlines some of this here.

Take pride in what you are doing to reduce your family’s carbon footprint and do not be afraid to tell others. Ask them what they are doing so you can get other ideas. This is the biggest “group project” ever. We all have to be in on it.

No Such Thing as Too Many Desserts

Lately, I’ve gotten into making desserts. I’ve always loved making them, but in my efforts to eat healthfully, I stopped preparing them as often. In the past, the problem was that I would end up with more left over than I wanted (I was going to say needed, but is dessert ever necessary??). However, since then, I have learned that almost everything can be frozen and then eaten whenever.

Two things in particular got me going. One was a recipe from the magazine Cooking Light which was for Peach Cobbler Ice Cream with a Bourbon Caramel Sauce and the other was meeting the two women who run the truffle-making business, Evolve.

I’d held onto the ice cream recipe for a long time never making it partly because there is no point to it unless one has fresh, perfectly wonderful, peaches. And, I was going to have to make changes because I can’t eat cow dairy and it called for that (as well as whipped topping which I never buy as I think of that kind of thing as akin to ingesting a petroleum by-product).

So, I’ve made three kinds of ice cream over the summer and they were all delicious (is there bad ice cream??). The first was inspired by the aforementioned peach cobbler ice cream which I decided to do as a Peach Pie Ice Cream as that sounded more appealing to me. I used as my base one can of lite coconut milk, one egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla, ¼ cup sugar and 1-2 packets of stevia sweetener. This became the base for my later ice creams. To create the pie crust flavor, I made a quarter recipe of pie crust (just using a basic pie crust recipe), rolled it out flat, baked it on a sheet pan, let it cool, and then broke it into pieces (it was very difficult not to snack on this because I love pie crust. It should be a dessert in its own right. Hmm…maybe that’s an idea). For the peach flavor, I mashed up some chopped peach, added some sugar and a dash of nutmeg, mashed it up some more and then put it into the fridge until I was ready for it. I made the ice cream in my ice cream maker, transferred it into a plastic container and then poured the peach sauce and the pie crust pieces into it and swirled them together. After that, I popped it into the freezer until after dinner when I got to try it out (as if I hadn’t “quality-tested” every step of the way!).

It was so good that I was inspired to make more flavors of ice cream. The next two kinds I made were lemon meringue and butter pecan. I made the lemon meringue by adding home-made lemon curd (made with goat butter instead of cow butter) and broken graham crackers to the coconut milk ice cream base. For the butter pecan ice cream I made butterscotch sauce, swapping goat butter for the cow butter and evaporated goat milk for the cream, and toasted some pecan pieces. Again, I swirled those into my ice cream base (for this one, I subbed in brown sugar) and put it into the freezer.Butter Pecan Ice Cream

The one problem I’ve come up against with my ice cream is that it freezes so hard that I have to let it soften on the counter for a few minutes before scooping as it is like trying to scoop a rock. At first I thought it might be because it wasn’t particularly rich, but now I’m pretty sure that’s not the problem as I purchased some ice cream made with a coconut milk base and it was about twice as rich as mine and it also comes out rock hard. I don’t want to raise the temperature of my freezer as I want everything else to be that cold/frozen. The consequence is that I actually have to wait to eat my ice cream and I’m not very good at that!

So, as I mentioned, the other inspiration was some truffles I had while attending this great musical event called Chucklestock. They are made by this female duo who started a truffle-making business, Evolve, relatively recently and the truffles they make are pretty darn fabulous. I haven’t been one of those people who have gone all crazy for chocolate. I was just fine with plebian milk chocolate and didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Then, I was diagnosed with a cow dairy allergy and could only eat semi-sweet or dark chocolate and I didn’t like them as much. However, I guess our taste buds change over time, or something, because I began to crave chocolate (I also started to crave spicy foods, but that’s another story, … or not) and dark chocolate started to taste just fine with me. A couple of years ago my friend Katharine Kagel was visiting and gave me two bars of a dark chocolate that she helped develop in collaboration with Askinosie Chocolate that had pistachios, ancho chiles, goat milk, and sea salt in it. It was really hard to share because it was so delicious. I was sold on chocolate.

Christy and Shannon Fox of Evolve Truffles also do some unusual pairings. Like, Askinosie, they make it work. Not everyone can use wasabi or beer in a truffle and make it delicious. They also make more regular truffles, but I like how they push the chocolate envelope. The last time I made truffles was when I was in college and went door-to-door in my apartment complex asking for a couple of ounces of liqueur so I could make different flavors (I think I ended up with things like Kahlúa and Peach Schnapps).

This time I wanted to be a bit more creative. Again, I had a “base” for my truffle, which was chocolate and coconut “cream” (refrigerate a can of full-fat coconut and then skim off the “coconut cream”). For my first batch I steamed the cream with some chopped fresh ginger, strained it, re-heated it, added it into the chopped chocolate and stirred it until the chocolate melted, and theCoconut GingerTrufflesn added minced candied ginger. After I had chilled the truffle mixture, I rolled it and chilled it again, and then coated it with some tempered dark chocolate and topped it with a curl of toasted coconut. They were good enough that I wanted to make another batch with different flavors.

My next endeavor featured mangoes and pistachios. I added to my truffle “base” pureed dried mangoes coated with some kind of lime-chile concoction (I bought them from my local co-op so no weird/bad stuff on them). Then I played with different ways to coat them. Some I just rolled in pistachio flour and topped with a chocolate dipped pistachio. Others got the roll in pistachios and a coating of dark chocolate. I also tried mixing the pistachio flour into the dark chocolate and then coating the truffle to see if that made it taste different (it didn’t, but I’m no connoisseur). Lastly, I tried melting sugar until medium brown, dribbling it over the truffle, letting it harden, and then dribbling the chocolate-pistachio flour on top of that and sprinkling a few flakes of salt. That was really different and really good …probably my favorite. However, I kind of ruined them by refrigerating them all. I did not know that if you refrigerate a dry caramel it goes back to a liquid state. At least it did in this instance. So, the dry caramel “melted” off the truffles and made little puddles around each one. Interestingly, the dry caramel that was coated with the chocolate-pistachio flour stayed put. I really liked the crunch it Mango Pistachio Chile Lime Trufflesadded. Of course, the salt made it good too and was an excellent counter-point to the additional sugar.

What I meant to do, and forgot, was to sprinkle each one with some amchur powder. I have some that came with a variety pack of Indian Spices. I never knew what it was until recently. Turns out it is made from dried unripe green mangoes. It has a rather sour taste—not surprising since the mangoes would have been sour if eaten instead of turned into powder. However, the truffles tasted great without it and it would not have gone well with the sea salt, in my opinion.

It has been a fun little journey back into the world of sweets. I learned that if flavors are complex and have depth to them, eating a small amount really is enough. The advice many have given that having a small amount of a quality dessert (like a square of dark chocolate) should satisfy any craving, had never worked for me in the past. Now, I find that that can be possible for me, and it is a little freeing. Also, the freezer solution helps!

You Are What You Eat

For the past several years I have been choosing my produce by using my handy-dandy pocket guide from the  Environmental Working Group that lists the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen in order to reduce the amount of chemicals my family and I ingest.  If you’re not sure if this is important, watch this video:

Over the years I have made amendments (including the top GMO-foods on my Dirty Dozen list) and printed out a ranking of the 50 most common eaten produce (by Americans) from most toxic to least toxic and put in on my fridge.

Earlier this month, I picked up a copy of the May Consumer Reports magazine. In it was an article about how to reduce the amount of pesticides, herbicides, etc. that one eats. There wasn’t anything really new in it for me, but it also included a web address for their Pesticides in Produce website. I checked it out and found that although much of their information was similar to EWG’s, there were also some significant discrepancies. I was alarmed to learn that CR recommended eating only organic sweet potatoes. I’d been buying conventional for many years as it ranked pretty low on chemicals according to the EWG (38 out of 50). And, while EWG ranked cherries pretty high in chemicals (17 out of 50), according to CR they rated the risk level “low” (the two different organizations organize the information differently—EWG ranks them from highest to lowest while CR divides 48 different fruits and vegetables into 5 different categories from very high to very low. CR notes when it makes a difference from which country the produce comes. For example, apples from New Zealand rate “low” while apples from the U.S. rate “high.”)

After studying the two guides and seeing how they differed, I really wanted to know why they sometimes had different recommendations. Was it because CR was taking into account country of origin? Or because they had examined 12 years of data whereas it looked to me like EWG looked at the most recent information? Or what? I emailed both organizations and was basically given the brush-off. I was very disappointed. One solution would be to assume the worst and either buy exclusively organic or try to lessen the blow and combine the two lists and buy organic anything that was listed as high in chemicals if it was on either list. Both would necessitate spending more money on food which really annoys me. Why won’t our government assure the safety of ALL foods? Why is this burden put on us consumers? We are already overloaded with responsibilities!

According to economists who believe in the free-market, the problem will take care of itself because consumers will decide what is “bad” and won’t buy it and then those manufacturers will go out of business. Problem solved! If only we lived in that kind of utopia. It assumes that all consumers have the time to educate themselves. It assumes that consumers actually have access to the necessary information to make educated purchases. It assumes that all consumers have enough money to buy what they actually want (hello, most organic food is much more expensive). And to add insult to injury, it is primarily conventional crops that are subsidized by the government! Instead, we live in the real world where most consumers are harried and just trying to make ends meet. And if they do take the time (as I did), they find it very difficult to find the information they need.

I haven’t decided what I am going to do. How about you? How do you deal with this? One thing I’ve been sure of for a long time is that “voting with my wallet” is no longer sufficient. A lot of us have been doing that for a long time and, although it has helped some (note the increased volume of organic food for sale and the growing numbers of farmer’s markets and CSAs), it isn’t enough. Some years ago I started writing to my Congressional Representatives every time the Farm Bill was up for negotiation. It is a very unsexy bill, but it basically decides who gets agricultural subsidies and who doesn’t (which has a direct effect on the cost of our food) and how much funding programs like SNAP receive (formerly known as “food stamps”). So, I encourage you to do the same. It is completely unfair that Big Ag gets big bucks for growing corn that will be turned into high-fructose corn syrup or ethanol while small farmers who are growing organically can’t get a dime.

Where would you rather see your tax money go?

If you want to see Consumer Report’s or the Environmental Working Group’s websites, just go to the Links page on my blog and you can click on them to get there.

I Flew Through Houston and All I Got Was…

my deli sandwich confiscated. Sounds like a bad joke right? But it’s true. I was returning with my family from a holiday in Mexico City and we had a stopover in Houston, Texas. As a result, we went through customs in Texas. As most know, the airlines used to provide crappy food for free. Now you have to pay for it. Consequently, we always bring our own. Our son hadn’t finished his sandwiches and we decided to play it safe and be honest so we declared it plus one banana. The agents asked us what kind of meat was on it and I replied “pork.” Actually, I had no idea. It was chorizo salami, but the ingredients were written in Spanish—not a language I’m fluent in. I remembered my uncle’s beef stew getting confiscated at the Canadian-American border (because of the mad cow scare), so I went with pork hoping that would pass. No luck though.

The weird part is that they didn’t allow us to eat the sandwich right then and there. When we tried to take a few bites they started yelling at us to hand over the contraband sandwich. You would have thought we were eating marijuana-laced brownies or something considering how excited they got. They claimed it was because pork from another country wasn’t considered safe. I’m still not clear as to why we could have eaten the sandwich 30 minutes prior, but once we were in that room it was worth shouting over. But then, most of the rules one encounters at a border seem arbitrary and the agents more concerned with exercising their power over anyone they feel like than anything else.

Notwithstanding our border experience upon our return, we had a wonderful time visiting family in Mexico!

Below are some of our favorite cartoons regarding flying in this day and age:

Airline Cartoon 001 Airline cartoons Airplan cartoon Sharing seats on Plane

We're All Sheep Now

The Cost of Climate Change

After politicians and other talking heads who have denied Climate Change finally admit that there might be a problem, their response, typically, is “we can’t afford to make changes.” I could not disagree more. On the contrary, we can’t afford NOT to make changes.

While we can’t point our fingers and say with certainty which natural disasters are caused by climate change, there have been more of them than previously occurred and many of them have been much worse than in the past. Not only have countless numbers of people lost their homes, their communities, and their lives, but the financial losses have become staggering.

Here is a list of the top ten costliest natural disasters in the United States:

Katrina Flood Victim
Katrina Flood Victim

Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast and especially New Orleans in 2005
Damage: $145,000,000,000 (that’s $145 billion, but I think it is helpful to see all those zeros)
Deaths: 1,833

Drought & Heat Wave in the Midwest and Southeast in 1988
Damage: $76,400,000,000
Deaths: 5,000-10,000

Northridge Earthquake in Southern California in 1994
Damage: $67,000,000,000
Deaths: 60

Hurricane Sandy along the Eastern Coast, but especially in New York and New Jersey in 2012
Damage: $65,000,000,000 (does not include the Caribbean and Canada)
Deaths: 156

Drought & Heat Wave in the Midwest and Southern Plain States in 1980
Damage: $54,800,000,000
Deaths: 10,000

Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Louisiana in 1992
Damage: $43,500,000,000
Deaths: 61

Midwest Floods along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in 1993
Damage: $32,800,000,000
Deaths: 48

Drought & Heat Wave 2012: Usually, this is a pond where cattle drink
Drought & Heat Wave 2012: Usually, this is a pond where cattle drink

Drought & Heat Wave starting in the West and progressing across the U.S. to the East Coast in 2012
Damage: $30,300,000,000
Deaths: 123

Hurricane Ike 2008 mostly in Texas and Louisiana, but also inland
Damage: $28,400,000,000
Deaths: 112

Hurricane Rita & Wilma in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas in 2005
Damage: $18,600,000,000
Deaths: 35

Where did I get these numbers? Why from an insurance company of course (and The Christian Science Monitor—a pretty conservative publication). If you live in a place that is prone to hurricanes your insurance will be higher than if you don’t. If they happen more often, you will pay higher premiums. Insurance companies are very pragmatic. They are not political or partisan. They just want to make money and the greater the risk you present, the more you must pay. Other organizations that take climate change seriously include the Pentagon and the CIA (when people’s lives and homes are threatened, they tend to get testy) and Pension Funds (again, it’s about money).

If the above numbers seem modest to you (which I take to mean your earnings do not place you in the top one tenth of the 1%), consider that the list only includes disasters in the United States. Here are the other, recent, “big ones” that have occurred world-wide.

Indian Ocean Tsunami
Indian Ocean Tsunami

Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami, 2011
Damage: $210,000,000,000
Deaths: 15,840

Sichuan Earthquake 2008
Damage: $148,000,000,000
Deaths: 69,197

Thailand Floods 2011
Damage: $45,700,000,000
Deaths: 815

Yangtze River Flood 1998
Damage: $26,000,000,000
Deaths: 4,159

Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami 2004
Damage: $15,000,000,000
Deaths: 227,898

Some might dismiss earthquakes as not caused by climate change, but scientists are increasingly finding a link between the two. It seems that if we can send a man to the moon, we can affect plate tectonics. I am not sure if I am more amazed by our hubris or by the scope by which we are changing our planet.

And do I need to say it again—it’s expensive.

Changes are happening, literally, right before our eyes. If I wasn’t so terrified of the future, I could become sucked into the theatre of it all (catastrophes caught on film that look like Hollywood-generated movies, politicians denying that it is happening). If the stakes weren’t so high, it could be pretty entertaining.

Like most people, I have a hard time keeping my focus on the crisis we are headed towards. I get pretty exorcised about other things going on. And they are pretty noteworthy, but, as a mother, most of it doesn’t matter if my child is going to be living in a world more akin to the one portrayed in the Mad Max movie of 1979 than the one I grew up in. I am unsure what skills my son really needs to thrive and survive in the world he is inheriting. Should I emphasize computer science (sounds practical) or survival skills à la MacGyver (yay duct tape and Swiss Army knives!)

Recently, I began reading Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything. She takes climate change very seriously. Which is to say she understands Rome is burning and we’re all fiddling like our lives depended upon it. However, she does see a silver lining: this is an opportunity. If we actually want to survive what we have wrought in some semblance of what we have known (ie not tearing each other apart like mad dogs as everything falls apart), we have to change things from the ground up, and now! Therefore, we have an opportunity to make everything better. This means improving our democracy, our financial system, and reducing widespread inequalities. In effect, if we act decisively, we could not only pull ourselves back from the brink, but improve the quality of all our lives as well.

So, we have a choice.  Pay through the nose for the collateral damage of climate change and suffer through the extreme weather or pay perhaps less and not have as much extreme weather.  It seems pretty simple to me.

The news regarding climate change is pretty grim out there, so we have to take our inspiration where we can find it. I hope all of you will join me in fighting for something good—not just against something bad. I want something better than delivering my son from a nightmare, I want to give him a joyful, hopeful future.

Nose-to-Tail Eating, Vegetarian Style

Over the past few years I’ve read the tales of those who embark upon “nose-to-tail” eating with the kind of interest one usually reserves for looking at dissected frogs in Biology class. I like the idea in principle, but I just can’t get excited about eating entrails and organs. However, in the past 2 years I have embraced what I call nose-to-tail eating vegetarian-style. It began with my habit of snacking on the food I’m preparing. Nibbling on broccoli leaves, for instance. Other times I would find a recipe that intrigued me like pickled nasturtium seed pods (taste like capers!). I have found that it has broadened my view of what can be eaten and allows me to waste even less food.

We Americans waste approximately 40% of our food. It is truly appalling. I do everything I can to avoid wasting food. However, I know I can do more. So, with that in mind, I am sharing one aspect of what I do to reduce waste in my home.

What follows are some of my most useful (and fun!) discoveries.

Carrot greens can be used in a number of ways. I have used them in place of basil when making pesto. Because I find making pesto tiresome, I cram as many carrot greens as I can in my food processor so I don’t have to make it very often. To streamline the process further, I use almond butter instead of nuts and I don’t bother with the cheese. If I want it later, I can just add it then. Next, I freeze it in blobs on a piece of tin foil, peel the blobs off and keep them in a zipper bag in the freezer. They are great for tossing into a pot of cooked orzo for an easy flavor blast. Another place to use carrot top pesto is slathered on roasted vegetables. This is rather like icing on the cake as roasted vegetables are already so fabulous. The addition of the pesto is so good you will not believe it.

Carrot Greens
Carrot Greens

Carrot greens can also be used in place of parsley. Nothing annoys me more than a recipe that calls for a sprinkling of parsley as garnish. And what am I supposed to do with the rest of the bunch of parsley I had to buy? If I am buying carrots with greens anyway, I can just use those! Last summer, a friend recited for me a recipe that is an old stand-by for her: smoosh up some anchovies in a large bowl. Add lemon juice, olive oil (or oil from the anchovies), and pepper. Chop up a couple of bunches of parsley (here’s where you sub the carrot greens) and place them in the bowl with the anchovies. Toss until the greens are well-coated and serve. Anchovies are very nutritious (chock full of omega-3s) and, since they are smaller fish and have a shorter life span, they are near the bottom of the food chain so they add far fewer toxins to your body than larger fish.

Carrot Green & Anchovy Salad
Carrot Green & Anchovy Salad

Now, you might wonder, where am I going to get all these carrot greens? I started out using ones I had grown in my garden. The carrots were pretty puny, but the greens were quite luxuriant! Later, I learned that a good way to be sure carrots you buy are fresh is to choose ones with the greens still attached. Once they get wilty, supermarkets cut them off so that is a good sign that the carrots are getting older and are not as nutritious. I was eating lots of carrots so we ended up having quite the bonanza. It got to the point that my son and I started taking some of them to some chickens we helped take care of as they thought they were quite a treat.

Another under-utilized part of a vegetable is the leaves and stems of broccoli. I started out just peeling and slicing the stems of broccoli that I bought and steaming them with the florets. Then I realized they could be treated like vegetable sticks and served with dip just like carrots and bell peppers (call them “batons” make them sound more elegant). Next, I noticed that a large proportion of recipes published that purported to be “quick,” called for broccoli slaw. I very rarely buy convenience foods like that, but I was curious so I checked out what it was the next time I was at the grocery store. Well, if you haven’t figured it out, what it is is merely the shredded stalks cut off of all those pre-cut broccoli florets people buy, except they jack up the price. What I do is save the stems from a bunch of broccoli and then peel and shred it in one go in my food processor. Then I use it as a salad or in a stir-fry.

The tender broccoli leaves near the florets are also edible. Then can be steamed alongside the stems and florets or sliced and sprinkled on top of a salad.

I have also found that steamed artichoke stems can also be as good as the heart. Simply trim the end, peel the stem, and allow it to be steamed along with the rest of the artichoke. Sometimes it will be a little stringy or bitter, but I have found that to be the anomaly and if you don’t try it, you’ll never know.

Nasturtium Salad
Nasturtium Salad

If you grow nasturtiums (a very easy flower to grow and, so far for me, deer do not appear to like them), almost all parts of the plant can be eaten. The leaves can be torn and added to a salad. The same with the flowers. Both are a little spicy so I wouldn’t use them as the only green in a salad. Near the end of summer, gather the seed pods and pickle them by putting them into a jar and then filling the jar with pickling liquid. You can just use leftover pickle juice. After a few months, the seed pods will be pickled and can be used in place of capers.

Sour Cherry Marzipan Cookie with Chocolate Drizzle
Sour Cherry Marzipan Cookie with Chocolate Drizzle

A year and a half ago I had a bonanza of grapes harvested from some friends’ farm. I used many of the grapes to make jelly. After extracting the juice from the grapes I had a mesh bag full of grape skins. Because I was curious, I ate a couple and was struck by how tasty they were. I was thinking they would be good in muffins in place of something like raisins or blueberries. However, my husband was the one who identified that they taste like sour cherries. Sour cherries are pretty pricey (I’ve paid $5/lb at a u-pick!), but make superior pies. Using grape skins is much more economical and easier as they don’t require pitting. With the grape skins, I made 3 delicious crisps which I froze to have later.

Chocolate Shards
Chocolate Shards

Over Christmas, I made cookies and I used the trick of placing melted chocolate in a plastic zipper bag and then cutting off the corner so I could drizzle the chocolate out. When I was done, I could see there was still a fair amount of chocolate in the bag that wouldn’t come out easily. So, I popped it in the freezer. Later I took it out and peeled off the plastic to reveal beautiful chocolate “shards.” They would be prefect on top of a cake or cupcakes or on top of ice cream and now that chocolate wasn’t getting wasted.

With the lessons I’ve learned, I would encourage anyone to taste new things and see what he or she discovers. Re-purposing food that is getting old or would otherwise be thrown away is not a new concept. Bread that is going stale has long been made into croutons, stuffing or French Bread (in France called “pain perdu,” literally “lost bread.”) A hambone in a split pea soup is divine and turkey carcasses are wonderful for making soup. Also, a cooking error doesn’t need to be tossed. When you burn something, call it “blackened.” If you over-boil vegetables, puree them. Mushy carrots sounds nasty, but how about pureed carrots with cardamom and a drizzle of olive oil? Just think, if you were in a fancy restaurant, you’d probably think it was something very elegant!

If you have any culinary discoveries you’ve discovered that allow you to reduce waste, please let me know.  I’d love to hear about it.

Caveat: Please note that not everything that grows is safe to eat. Sometimes one part of a plant is safe while another part is not. A good example is rhubarb. The stalks are perfectly edible while the leaves are poisonous. So, if in doubt, check first!!