Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Are You Eating? Part Two

   Continuing on with our food series, today I'm going to talk about some of the various food movements and alternatives that have arisen in recent years to combat the dangers and injustices of the industrial food system which I spoke about on Tuesday.

   You may have heard a term like "localism" or "locavore" before. The local food movement has been emphasizing the importance of buying food locally from farmers who use safe, organic practices at least  since 2000, when the movement gained serious traction. For good reason, too, because local, organic foods cut down on pesticide usage, water pollution, "food miles" (aka your food doesn't travel as far to get to you, making it less of a contributor to global warming), and many other evils of industrial agriculture. They also deliver more nutrients to your body than industrial produce and stimulate the local economy. Farmer's markets, an excellent source of local food, make shopping for food a social experience, socially stimulating the community.

    In response to the local food movement, community gardens and restaurant gardens are popping up profusely in some parts of cities and suburbia, and 35% of American households are growing food at home or in a community garden. This figure increased by 17% in the past 5 years! Why the increase? Perhaps because growing your own is another great way to contribute to the local food initiative! Household and community gardens offer fresh, local, and safe produce as well as opportunities for exercise and social interaction. They are definitely a great solution to the harms industrial agriculture has wrought.

  Some people also choose to raise animals in their home gardens, keeping chickens or goats or other animals for their animal product needs. While the sustainability of animal agriculture in any form is a hotly debated topic, those who do choose to consume animal products will find that raising animals and harvesting from them on their own is at least more sustainable - i.e. healthier, less harmful (emphasis on less - there seems to be no animal agriculture method that is completely harmless to the animal) for the animals, and less harmful to the environment than conventional agriculture methods.

  Those who want to consume animal products but are unable to raise animals can look for local alternatives. At a farmer's market I recently attended, I saw several booths selling cheese and milk, as well as free-range grass-fed meats. My advice is to see if any of these exist at your local farmer's market, and investigate to make sure their practices are organic, safe, and as humane as possible!

   Either way, these are two local sources for animal products, a great alternative to industrially produced animal products (for more on how bad those are, please read Part One). Another option you have is to go vegan! Though I am not an expert on the subject, I suggest reading up on the pros and cons (I find this article helpful), talking to vegans who've successfully and healthfully made the switch, and consider the sustainability aspects of veganism - how much waste, packaging, and oil is used to get your food to you? Where does it come from? If it's plant-based, are those plants grown sustainably? Do some research, weigh your options, and decide what's right for you - as long as you are making a conscious decision to somehow up the sustainability game of your food choices, I'm 100% behind you!

    Just as veganism is a food movement, so too is vegetarianism. Like veganism, it requires research and ultimately your own decision to make the switch. Since vegetarianism offers an alternative to at least some industrially produced animal products, it is a more sustainable option.

   In the next part of this series, I'll be discussing food justice as well as labor and environmental justice movements surrounding food. Isn't it fascinating how far-reaching food and its influence is? That's why so many movements have sprung up around it!

   If all of these options and info is intimidating to you, please wait until the last part of the series, when I will outline in better detail what you as an individual can do to have an effect on our food systems. Also, just remember that the most important thing is to be aware and make conscious decisions about your food, where it comes from, who and what it affects, how it affects you, where it goes, and what you do to effect all of that. Make sure that your food choices align with your values, and you are well on your way to living a healthier, happier, more kick-ass life!


P.S. I highly encourage further research into any of these topics if they interest you! Click on the links provided and do your own searching too :)

Photos: 1,2

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What Are You Eating? Part One


   Knowing where you food comes from, and where it goes, and making conscious decisions to control each, is super important. I'm so glad that I'm not the first, nor will I be the last, person to write about the ins and outs of food and its surrounding movements. However, food is an extremely important issue, which is why I feel I must shed some light on the subject myself. Though I'm not an expert, I will touch on several topics, and if these interest you, I strongly suggest that you google them and do your own research. I will also provide more suggested reading at the bottom of this article.

    Food is, obviously, one of life's daily necessities, so food sources have powerful leverage in shaping the environment. Unfortunately, these days (at least in the U.S., but other countries around the world are in similar situations), our agricultural methods are cruel, poisonous, and downright endangering to the human race. Artificial and chemically engineered pesticides and fertilizers poison plants, insects, and the water supply, and make produce that is not organic potentially dangerous to eat. CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) are inhumane and highly polluting.

    If your food is coming from those places, that is bad. Bad for the environment, bad for the animals, and also very bad for you and your health. Mainstream agriculture breeds its produce to travel well, but what is lost in that breeding process is nutritional value. That's right, a tomato from the supermarket is pretty much the health equivalent of a doorknob when compared to an heirloom (not hybrid) tomato from the garden. Meat coming from CAFOs can also be unsafe to eat for a number of reasons, and is often pumped with antibiotics that were used to keep animals healthy despite their dismal living conditions.

     Beyond the immediate effects that food coming out of the industrial agriculture machine can have on your health, environmental factors can also strongly affect you. Pesticides and fertilizers poison water supplies, rendering it undrinkable for humans (obviously a problem). Cows are a strong contributor to global warming, and the U.S.'s appetite for beef is not helping. Then on top of that, you have to consider how many miles your food travelled from its place of origin to your plate. Virtually all of that travel was facilitated by carbon emitting vehicles and may also have involved electricity to keep it cold. Factoring that in means almost all of your food is a significant contributor to global warming, which has already imposed harmful effects on many human beings, from the surge of diseases like dengue to freak weather events, droughts, and famine.

        Next we must consider what effects the industrial food system has on individuals other than yourself. The treatment and pay of farm workers are dismal in many places, and those who work in animal agriculture also often suffer psychological issues. Many wild animals suffer the consequences of our food system too, their habitats stripped from them along with water and food sources. Domestic animals raised for their meat and other products lead miserable lives full of suffering, usually in confined and unsafe conditions.

    Additionally, we must consider the economic and social ramifications of centralized and industrialized agriculture. Communities and economies would thrive and be much more tight knit if community members depended upon each other and paid each other for something as basic and necessary as food. Instead, many communities contain more than their fair share of Safeways and Americans don't know their neighbors.

      So, are you bummed out yet? I sure am. But there's a reason I'm telling you all of this. I want to show you that your food choices matter! As you can see, they can have extremely negative impacts on yourself, other people, animals, and the planet if you choose food produced by the machine of industrial agriculture. The good news here is that, on the flip side, your food choices can have immensely positive effects on all of the areas we're concerned about if you choose the right alternative food sources. 

     I'll be talking about all the options you have for those alternatives, as well as the many movements designed to create and encourage sustainable and socially just food systems on Thursday. Until then, I encourage you to take note of where your food comes from. Often the stickers on tomatoes or apples will note their country of origin. How far away is it from you? How many miles did that food travel to get to your plate? Question your food instead of accepting it blindly. Food doesn't come from a store. It takes months of work and many intricate parts of a system to bring you just one peach. Please think about that while you eat :)


P.S. Some recommended reading/viewing for anyone looking to understand more about the flaws of industrial agriculture:
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver. A great book all about food and where it comes from! Food Inc., a very exposing and excellent documentary about agriculture. Impacts Of Industrial Agriculture, a great place to click around and learn in-depth about the effects I've mentioned above.

I do not own these images, both were found via Google. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What is Success?

     Success- What do you think of when that word pops into your head? Money? A nice house and car? A family? Yes, there is a reason I'm describing the American Dream - it's not called that for nothin'. When speaking to people my age, I often hear others talk about how they want to succeed, and they are working hard to get the degree, the job, the internship, the grades, whatever it takes, to get them there. Many people I know are hard workers, driven and ambitious to achieve success. They also enjoy their present lives, but they are constantly focusing on the future, driving themselves hard to get there.

    But towards what? Success has many definitions, but a common theme is happiness. This scheme has two flaws, though.

    First, often what people drive themselves toward, what they measure success by, may not bring them true happiness. Will it be true success, then? Often I hear my peers wanting to do things like acquire a prestigious internship or job, earn more money at their job, move far away in order to prove they can make something of themselves on their own, buy a house, buy a car, get married, have a family, etc. While all these things are respectable goals and definitions of success, one has to examine their definition in order to understand if it will really make you happy, and if it's worth working for. For example, do you want to earn more money at your job so that you can live a higher lifestyle because that is what really makes you happy? Or do you want to do it because that's what young people do? Working your way up a corporate ladder is a goal that may bring happiness to some, but if it's not really going to make you happy, then I highly suggest that you redefine success. 

     Second, in their race towards future success and happiness, people often ignore present happiness and potential. Hard work is a virtue, and it is definitely necessary to achieve what you want. However, what you want better be worth all the opportunities you miss out on and sacrifices you make to achieve your goal. Moreover, success is really just happiness, right? You might be missing out on opportunities to be happy now if you are working yourself too hard towards a happy future. I'm sure you've heard people say "Live in the moment.", right? That's good advice.

     Now I'm going to take a big leap here and say something I believe very firmly in: Success cannot be defined by material possessions or prestige. Money can't buy happiness! Yes, it can provide considerable comfort and a desirable quality of life, but after a certain point ($50,000 a year to be exact), money ceases to contribute to happiness.

     What can you do with this knowledge? I suggest, you reevaluate your definition of success and the direction your life and career are going so that those things center on what's really important to you. For me, the most important things are a community of social connections, agency and self-determination in my career and lifestyle, and work and play that better myself, society, and the planet. Those things make me happy, so that's what I strive for. What makes you happy? Really, really think about it. Then re-draw your roadmap to success, and don't forget to stop and smell the roses along the way. Life is full of surprises and turns, and most of all many opportunities to be happy. I hope that you find them, and enjoy them :)
P.S. For more on the topic of reevaluating your life and what satisfies you, check out my video post, The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living.

Photos: 1, 2

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Throw Away Your Television

   I do a lot of things. I'm a full-time college student and a part of several campus organizations most of the year. Right now I work 40 hours a week. I bake, cook, spend time with people I care about, work out, make art, sew, run an Etsy shop, and this blog. And probably a few other things too! I'm not saying all this to brag, I'm just trying to give you a scope of all the activity my life encompasses. You know what I don't do, though? I don't watch TV.

    My family kicked cable out of our house in 2007 and we never looked back. Since then, I have become accustomed to, and highly appreciative of, a TV-less lifestyle. While my family does have a Netflix account, which they use to watch movies and shows, they do so sparingly. Their consumption is usually far less than the amount of TV we used to watch, just because something was always on.

    I have opted even further out of visual entertainment. I very rarely watch a show or movie on my own. I took me months to get through the first season of Gilmore Girls, because I just simply refuse to make time for a TV show in my day when I could be doing one of a hundred other things that is more productive, enjoyable, and/or rewarding. More often than not, watching a movie or show is a social activity for me. It's just not something I do on my own.

   I don't live under a rock, of course. From time to time I do indulge in several episodes of Adventure Time or Parks & Rec. But this is something I do very sparingly, and often while working on a project that requires hands but little brainpower (folding laundry, hand sewing, and rug hooking all do the trick). Most of the time you will find me outside exploring or writing or drawing in my room (or at work - life ain't perfect). People are often surprised at all the hobbies I explore and projects I take on. What they don't know is that they have enough time to do what I do, they simply choose to passively spend their leisure time watching something instead. Let me say, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If that's what you like to do, go ahead! But if you think that maybe you would feel better about the way you spend your time if you used it doing something else, then try this on for size:

   If you watch TV every day or almost every day, go a day or two completely without it. See how much time is left over when it's not being taken up by a screen. You can choose to plan some activities ahead of time that you will fill this time with, or you can wing it and see what you feel like doing!

   If you watch TV less frequently than that but still more than you would like to, start keeping a TV time log. Become a conscious consumer of passive entertainment. Writing down how much screen-time you spend will keep you accountable for it, and also help you see how much open time you really have on your hands.

     After doing one (or both!) of these experiments, it's time for some introspective thinking. Ask yourself, why do you watch TV? Is it because you are bored and have seemingly nothing else to do? Are you lonely? Are you sad or feeling some other negative feeling you would like to avoid? Or are you really just looking to turn your brain off for a little while and be entertained for the fun of it?

   Knowing why you like to watch TV so much can help you deal with the real problem behind it, if there is one. When you can do this, you kill two birds with one stone: You admit to and deal with an issue, and you get more time back on your hands when you no longer feel the need to fill a void with a screen. If this part has got you stumped, read my article for some advice on dealing with tough feelings.

  Once you've freed yourself from the vice of excessive TV (you can decide what level is excessive, it's all up to you <3), figure out what to do with all that time! Will you take up a new hobby? Will you use this time to be super productive? Will you re-dedicate the time to self-care and a mental check-in with yourself? It's all up to you! The world is your oyster, baby!

   I will leave you with this bit of food for thought. Today I was reading PostSecret, and I saw a postcard that read something like "Your last mortal thought will be: 'Why did I take so many days - just like today - for granted?'". I think a life with less TV would be much less regrettable. Don't you?

Photos: 1, 2

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Shopping Ban Update: Month One

    So, it's been a month since I bought anything on my list of things I am not allowed to shop for, which basically means all I've bought this month has mostly been produce and processed items I can't make myself. 
     This month has gotten me into the swing of doing a lot more cooking and baking than I'm used to! I've made bread so that my parents will stop buying prepared bread, and every sandwich tastes so much better now. I've made muffins from scratch, lots of salads and pasta dishes (the pasta was pre-made, I don't know how to do that yet), and caramel candy. I've also made peanut butter, which is a real triumph for me, since I didn't know if I'd be able to make it or not. I'm literally making granola as I write this post, and my next recipe to tackle is homemade Oreos, because I sure do miss 'em!
      One thing I really enjoy about cooking and baking so much is that I can share what I make. I've been bringing extra bread and baked goods to my friends when I visit them and I made dinner with one of my friends last night. It's so fun to share food with others! 
      I also went to the farmer's market in the town I attended high school in for the first time ever! It was really fun and I got some delicious produce, including carrots, so that my parents don't have to buy those ridiculously fakey "baby carrots" anymore. It struck me how much more of a social experience shopping at the farmer's market is compared to shopping at the grocery store. Things I did buy at the grocery store included some produce but were mostly raw ingredients, like flour and chocolate pieces. The only processed foods I recall buying are a tub of yogurt, packages of tortellini, cheese, and a can of beans. 

      I went thrift shopping twice this past month, once to get some new inventory for my Etsy shop, and another time I took a girl that I nanny there just for fun, but I ended up snagging some great tupperware to use in my apartment in the fall! 
     One thing I am struggling with is the issue of washing my hair. For now I have full bottles of shampoo and conditioner, but I'd like to find a suitable alternative to buying more when it runs out. I've been washing my hair less often than usual and smoothing it down with coconut oil rather than the the store-bought oil I used to use. I've been rubbing baking soda into my scalp as a form of dry shampoo, which works quite well! However, I'm still in search of shampoo and conditioner alternatives. My hair gets pretty oily, so only using water, as some people are able to do, is out of the question for me. I tried baking soda and vinegar last year and absolutely hated the way it made my hair look and feel, so that's out too. I've heard that some people use raw honey diluted with water to wash their hair, and I haven't tried natural shampoo bars yet either, so those two are on the list. Does anyone know of any shampoo/conditioner alternatives I might try?
     Another thing that's proving to be a challenge is the fact that I can't buy gifts for anyone anymore. I keep getting great present ideas in my head and then remembering that I can't buy them. Fortunately, the idea I had most recently turns out to be pretty simple to make at home instead, and much cheaper, so my friend is going to get a lot of it for her birthday! In a way, I'm really glad I included this rule in my shopping ban. It's forcing me to be more resourceful, learn new skills, and give more meaningful gifts, all of which are my desired outcomes. 
     Overall, the first month of my shopping ban has gone really well! It's challenged me to cook new things and be more resourceful about where and how I purchase things. I think that in August I would like to track my food purchases more closely, just to see what packaged and prepared foods I still buy. I will also be sharing lots of recipes that I try, so expect some more of those! And wish me luck with the next 11 months! 

Photos: 1, 2

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Minimalist Adventures: Why We De-clutter In A Materialist Culture

   Yep, I've said it before and I'll say it again: I've got too much stuff. Does anyone remember the article I wrote on this exact topic last year? Here I am, still on the journey of purging and de-cluttering. Since setting my noble goal to get rid of 75% of my possessions, I've done quite a bit of chucking things into the Goodwill pile. However, I also did a fair bit of acquiring new things, which slowed the process down a bit. Thankfully, with the institution of the shopping ban, the steady flow of stuff has slowed to a dull trickle. 
   While my consumption is so limited, I'm taking this excellent opportunity to evaluate the things I do have and toss out more of what I don't need. I've already made considerable headway this month. I've gotten rid of about one garbage bag full of stuff! 
      But you may be wondering why I am choosing an existence which might seem austere to some. I'll give you three good reasons why I'm de-cluttering when everyone else seems to be - well - cluttering:

Stuff Takes Time and Space and Money
    This might seem confusing at first, but once examined, this concept is simple. Let's say you have 76 articles of clothing. Each of these items takes time to care for - washing, folding, putting away, repairing (if you're thrifty like me!). Each one takes up space in your closet. And each one took money to purchase and takes money to wash and care for. The less stuff you have, the more time, space, and money are freed up for you! 

Stuff Makes You Unhappy
     Not kidding, this has literally been proven. Possessions stress you out! And with all that time, space, and money you spend on them, it makes sense that they would. What really gets to me is clutter. It's an eyesore, it makes any room feel smaller, and it's just not fun. What if you could spend all the time and money you use to care for, acquire, and house stuff on something else that could really make you happy, like spending time with friends or traveling to new places? That would beat a pile of stuff, any day. 

Lots of Stuff Makes Moving Super Annoying! 
   This last one is rather specific, and it's mostly on my mind because I'm a college student, so I'm in a period of ongoing transition. Every few months I move out of one place, into another. And it sure is easier to move when you don't have as much stuff to pack up. In May, when I was preparing to move out of my dorm, I packed up a lot of my stuff a few weeks early and sent it home. It was all stuff that I did use occasionally, but I new I wouldn't NEED any of it in the last few weeks of school. What I discovered was quite liberating; all that stuff was mostly just useless crap. I had sent off most of my clothes, and suddenly it was so easy to get dressed in the morning. A lot of the things I'd kept in my desk were pretty much useless. Needless to say, moving back into my parent's house for the summer was much easier once I got rid of many of these things. 

   If you're wondering whether I did ever get rid of 75% of my stuff, the answer is: I'm not sure but I doubt it. I realized very quickly that quantifying that sort of thing was not for me. In an upcoming post, I'll give you some tips on getting rid of your crap. Until then, I hope this helped and that you may consider a lighter, less cluttered life :)

Photos: 1

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Super Easy No-Knead Bread Recipe!

     Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have noticed that I triumphantly baked my own bread for the first time this weekend! It turned out great and it was super easy. I was originally going to follow this recipe, but some people in the comments were saying that certain steps weren't necessary. I ended up following the steps I've outlined below:


6 cups bread flour (recommended) or all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface (Note: I used all-purpose and it worked fine)
1/2 tsp instant or active-dry yeast
2 1/2 tsp salt
2 2/3 cups cool water

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated; the dough should be wet and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean towel. Let the dough rest 12-24 hours on the counter at room temperature. When surface of the risen dough has darkened slightly, smells yeasty, and is dotted with bubbles, it is ready.
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot, such as a cast-iron Dutch oven, in the oven as it heats. Sprinkle flour all over the risen dough, using a spatula or your hands to tuck flour down between the dough and the side of the bowl. You can also flip the dough to make sure the whole ball is covered in flour. 
3. When the oven has fully preheated and the dough is ready, bring out the pot and dump the flour into it, placing the side with any seams or wrinkles facing down. 
4. Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the crust is a golden brown. You can check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer; it should be 200 degrees in the middle. 
5. Remove from or leave in pot and cool on a wire rack completely before slicing. 

Slicing Tips:

- This can make two loaves of bread if you cut the bread in half and then slice each half up as a loaf. The second loaf can be saved for later use (apparently it freezes well) or given to a friend, which is what I did! 
- I find it easier to slice the bread by turning the loaf upside down, so that the bottom is on top and you can cut through the bottom first. 
- I recommend using a bread knife :) 

     That's it! Pretty easy, right? This is how I plan to supply my bread for the rest of my shopping ban, so I'm glad this recipe works so well. There are also some variations available in the recipe I linked to above, including Dark Chocolate Coconut, which sounds super yummy. I can totally see making that for a party. Happy Baking!